Importance of Self-Improvement and Chronic Illness

Chronic Illness & the Importance of Self-Improvement

Why is it important to consider self-improvement if you have a chronic illness?

There’s no real easy answer because everyone’s situation is different. For some, every day is a chore to get out of bed and just manage the disease. The thought of making positive changes in life is a luxury.  Wrapping one’s head around life-changes can be overwhelming because life-changes implies big goals and grand changes.

But, what if I said it didn’t need to be? That perhaps we are all too focused on the implied definition of self-improvement rather than its actual definition? A definition that simply means making personal changes.

That’s what this year is about: acknowledging that taking the time to make minor changes in a positive direction is just as meaningful in the desire to self-improve as making the bigger ones.

Today, let’s reshape our definition of what is self-improvement into something more manageable. More meaningful and more personal.

Altering Our Impressions

In the Western world, self-improvement or self-help is heavily marketed to consumers. If you had a TV as a child, you’ve grown up knowing that around this time of year commercials promoting diets and weight-loss supplements increase.  Read magazines? Ads and articles abound about the various ways to improve your life.

Daily, there are subtle and not-so-subtle ways for the industry to pull you in and want to make changes so you can “live your best life.

Many of these offers come with the caveat: “you can only make these improvements if you buy x,y, z book.” Which leads to a near $10 billion industry.

Does that make self-help/self-improvement a scam? Not necessarily, but you have to be mindful of who you turn to for help. There are scammers that peddle modern-day snake oil and scientifically unsound therapies, but there are plenty of legitimate options to guide a user through the process.

That said, self-help is an industry. Therefore it’s in the industry’s best interest to keep consumers coming back month-after-month; year-after-year. If it feels like self-improvement goals always seem so big, i.e. “I want to lose 50 pounds in six months!” or “I am going to do something new and exciting every day this year!” that’s because there’s this nebulous goal-making process that does very little to encourage participants into smaller and more manageable goals.

There are some programs that encourage breaking goals down into more manageable chunks, but unfortunately, they aren’t as loud as a reality star on TV telling you to buy their product for massive weight-loss. Or the social media influencer who shows off how perfectly they are meeting their self-improvement goals.

If you have a chronic illness, seeing these examples can be extremely discouraging. If getting any form of exercise is a struggle due to mobility issues, watching someone on social media demonstrate “8 easy exercises to tighten that butt” is not appealing nor realistic. Sure, I might want a nice butt, but none of those exercises are doable.

Where might there be motivation to make any changes if your body is already working against you?

This is why looking for the more realistic programs is important. But, the realistic programs get lost in the social media cacophony which leads to the impression that only big changes can be made when we want to commit to self-improvement.

Goals do not need to be huge, they can be as small as taking one step-a-day, or eating 50 calories less, or even saying one positive affirmation to ourselves when we wake up. Goal creation is about starting the process towards self-improvement and allowing it to build on itself. Forward momentum will move you towards greater personal success as time goes by.

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Now What? Beyond the Diagnosis

This post was originally published in March 2018.


On Wednesday I published a deeply personal post about the first couple of months after getting my MS diagnosis and how I went through the coping and grieving process. Because it was an emotionally charged post, I wanted to balance it out with a post about finding acceptance and the healthy ways I’ve tried to manage my MS both physically and mentally.

First, let’s get this out-of-the-way: Any changes made you have to want for yourself and they will occur in the amount of time appropriate for you.

Do not let people, myself included, tell you that you have to make changes in a specific timeline or before you are ready.

Do not read this post and feel like you aren’t doing enough to manage your grief or your diagnosis. You are unique and different from me and that’s okay.

You will make the changes when you are ready.

Despite this, there are things I cannot recommend:

  • Staying stagnant and giving up
  • Engaging in self-destructive behavior
  • Refusing to be open to new experiences

In my last post, I engaged in all of the above behaviors at one time or another, so when I say I cannot recommend them, I say it from personal experience. If you find that you are engaging in one, some, or all of these behaviors, it means you are still working through your grieving process.

That’s okay, but ideally, you want to move beyond the grief at some point because it brings personal peace that makes the pain and frustration more manageable.

So what does it mean to transition into acceptance?

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MS Mommy Blog

For the month of November, I am taking each day to highlight some element in my life that I want to express my gratitude about. This could be something deeply personal or just a passing appreciation for something more superficial. 


In my final post focusing on things I am grateful for, I wanted to spend some time talking about the blog itself.

I started the blog back in September 2017 without any real plan or fully formed goal in mind. I just wanted to have a space to discuss my healthy living plans and how it worked out for me, but with no real long-term intentions. While I still consider this blog in its early stages, it’s refocused into something more: space where I can talk about my MS, my healthy living goals, and an honest discussion of my self-improvement journey.

As I enter my second year of blogging, I’ve come up with more concrete goals and plans to re-focus the blog into something more meaningful and deeper purpose.

This blog has helped me to maintain my sense of self and reconnect with a childhood dream and for that, I am grateful for the blog’s existence.

Childhood Dreams

When I was a little girl I watched the Wonderworks Anne of Green Gables over and over again. I wanted to be exactly like Anne Shirley, a writer when I was older. In my mind, I would be a fiction writer of some sort, the dream evolving into the direction of a fantasy author similar to Martin or Eddings. With that goal in mind, I focused my education so I could become a writer, I took a bunch of creative writing classes in High School, got my undergraduate in creative writing, and when I went to graduate school, chose literature so I could teach for a living and write in my spare time.

Life, as I have said many times in my posts, got in the way and caused me to get sidetracked. I felt worn down and defeated when it came to my writing because I felt I was never going to be good enough to get published. I had ideas, I felt like I had some talent, but I couldn’t compete with what was out there. The market evolved and changed from my childhood and the need for novelists diminished. Those in the field had to be good. I didn’t believe I would ever be good enough.

Graduate school didn’t help because it re-trained my creative writing and focused on the academic-bend. This made my writing and writing process clinical and focused on the technical aspects of writing. No longer could my writing be organic, but it had to be planned out. It did, however, help train me to write under the pressure of a deadline. I am grateful for that.

Best Laid Plans…

I just assumed that my dreams of becoming a published author were just that: dreams. I would end up teaching until I retired and then I would reconsider writing as a second career.

I defined “being a writer” on the fiction side of writing. To me, while I am a fan of non-fiction authors like David Sedaris, a writer was someone who published fiction novels. I wanted to be like Anne Shirley and get a novel published. Fiction writer. Next “great American novel.” That sort of thing.

My ego wasn’t lacking.

So any other writing I did outside of fiction didn’t count in my mind. I viewed my blog writing similar to my academic writing: very clinical with some points here and there to make it more interesting, but not really writing. It wasn’t until a conversation Ash had with me a few months ago that it clicked in my head:

Ash: You’re a writer.
Me: What? No. No, I am not.
Ash: Yes you are! What are you doing?
Me: Writing.
Ash: And…
Me:…
Me:…
Me: I suppose it does count.
Ash: Of course it counts.
Me: Huh. I guess I am a writer.

It wasn’t a loud “aha” moment, more of a slow realization. Ash was right, I was a writer. I have been writing several thousand words a week, writing even more than I did in graduate school. More than when I wrote on my own in my youth. I was writing for myself and what I wanted to write about and that made a huge difference.

I had realized my childhood dream of writing for a living even if it took a different route and form I originally anticipated. That doesn’t mean I can’t spend time working on my more creative pieces, I can foster that on the side. But I can officially say that I am a writer because of my blog.

A Creative Accountability Buddy

What MS//Mommy has done the most for me is keeping me accountable to my plans and goals. I post about what I want to do health-wise and I find that knowing it’s out there helps keep me honest and focused. When I slip up, I try to post about it, but I feel like I am less likely to slip up because I have put my intentions out there.

I like to think that my continued health journey success is in part due to my activeness on the blog.

I also find that the blog helps make my intentions more real, like writing down items for a shopping or to-do list. If I put it to “paper,” then I have said that this is important for me to be more mindful. After finishing up my two-part post about toxic relationships, I’ve made more of an effort to be okay with no longer allowing toxic people in my life.

My posts about coming to terms with my MS helped me move forward in a more constructive way. While I was in a much better place than when I first got my diagnoses,  speaking about it put any final fears or doubts I had to rest.

Beyond all of that, just the creative act of writing has been extremely cathartic for me. It has allowed me to have a sense of self and self-worth that I was worried I might lose once I became a mother. It is easy for a woman to be defined solely by her children, and I was worried I would get too wrapped up in Jai’s life.

I love my son, but I don’t want to be defined by him. I have nothing against other parents who allow that to happen, that is what works best for them.

I am able to say that while I am a mother I am a writer as well.

The Future

I am hoping that my blog will continue to grow and that it will take on a greater meaning for others and not just myself. I am also hoping it will help open up professional avenues I never imagined possible when I started out last year.

I feel like I’ve been less stressed in my life since starting my blog and for that, I am grateful to have in my life. Any stress I feel related to the blog is the good kind of stress that pushes me forward and keeps me motivated. I can’t wait to see where this takes me in the next five years or so.

Thank you for coming along this journey with me.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


Furbaby Love

For the month of November, I am taking each day to highlight some element in my life that I want to express my gratitude. This could be something deeply personal or just a passing appreciation for something more superficial. 


Before Ash and I had Jai, we adopted three cats.

And we were, and to a lesser extent still are, crazy cat parents. Our cats are spoiled. They have multiple beds (some are heated) around the house, two big kitty towers, a box filled with toys, a drawer filled with treats, and wet food for all their meals.

They are well-cared for and loved by us, with Jai learning how to respect animals and be gentle towards them.

Furbabies for many, as was the case for us, are the first and sometimes the only children for couples. Two were present for our wedding, and all three were there during my diagnosis. They were there when I went into labor and will hopefully be with us for a while longer for some more milestones.

Because they were there for major events in our relationship they are huge emotional supports for Ash and myself. For that, I am grateful to be able to share my life with them and all they do for us as devoted companion animals.

I am especially grateful for Lytton and all the love and affection he gave me from day one.

Little Ball of Love

Lytton is my cat. He’s a beautiful, silky Bombay rescue that has a smart aleck attitude with an emphasis on smart. Sure, I am slightly biased, but he really is an awesome cat. We went into the rescue and Lytton picked me instantly. I was looking at a couple other cats that were available for adoption, but he kept reaching for me and looking for my attention.

How could I say no? We ended up adopting him with his foster brother, Gerard.

Wherever I go in the house Lytton has to follow me. Many nights he sleeps on my pillow or between Ash and myself. Recently he’s taken to nipping Ash if he gets too close to me in bed. If I go away for a couple of days he acts mad with me, but within several hours he won’t leave me alone, nuzzling me until I give him some scratches and my lap.

Most endearing is he can pick up emotional states and will provide comfort when a person (not just myself) feels low. We’ve had several guests come over and Lytton revealed that they are going through something by way of pestering them for attention.

Five years ago, while I was dealing with trying to figure out what was going on with me and immediately after my diagnosis, Lytton filled in where Ash could not emotionally and physically. This is to say that Ash would be at work and I would be at home resting, Lytton would function as an unofficial emotional support animal for me. If I needed to cry in frustration or have a warm body lying next to me while I slept, Lytton was there until Ash got home.

And Baby Makes Six

Lytton has effectively taken on the role as a second father for Jai. When I was nursing Jai he would curl up alongside Jai as a barrier to prevent rolling. I don’t believe this was his intention, I think it had everything to be close to the little heater newborns are, but it was a sweet gesture.

When Jai wants alone time in his room, Lytton will perch on the rocker almost as if he’s watching over Jai. Lytton truly seems invested in Jai’s wellbeing which makes sense considering he never left my side while I was pregnant. Whenever I was home, Lytton was my shadow. I have many pictures of him using my belly as a pillow or reaching his paw out to touch me while we tried to nap.

When I was in early labor, Lytton plopped himself on my lap and slept with his head on my belly and purred until I had to change positions. He was a wonderful comfort to me and I think even for Jai in those moments (I can imagine the vibrations from purring was soothing immediately after a contraction).

lyttonlove

Lytton while I was in early labor.

A Lifetime of Friendship & Comfort

Having the cats there for me during the diagnosis, pregnancy, labor, and even today really helps keep my stress levels down. Lytton or Christopher will curl alongside me on the couch or the bed and even if we aren’t touching, their presence brings a lot of comfort to me.

With my MS, having that emotional support for my stress is extremely important. It wasn’t until I started being more mindful of the connection between stress-levels and flare-ups that I recognized the importance of our furbabies. I started taking the time to sit, stroke, and enjoy my time with them more than before as a means to calm down.

Now, when it’s time for my afternoon nap, I call out to Lytton to let him know I am heading upstairs for a nap. Sometimes he follows and on the times he does not, I wake up with him alongside me in some fashion.

While I know Lytton, Gerard, and Christopher’s time with us are short, I know that they provided us with a lifetime of love and memories. I think we will always have a furbaby in the home with us, whether it’s feline or canine, because of the comfort they provide us. I also know that having a companion animal helps children learn compassion, something that I want to teach Jai. For all that they do, even if it’s nothing but be available for a quick scratch, I am grateful for our furbabies.

Do you have any furbabies that help care for you in little, endearing ways? How have they provided comfort in your life? Leave your stories in the comments.


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Illness as a Positive

For the month of November, I am taking each day to highlight some element in my life that I want to express my gratitude about. This could be something deeply personal or just a passing appreciation for something more superficial. 


Having a chronic illness is no fun.

I know that’s a bit of a shocker for anyone reading this, especially if you have a chronic illness/disability. That said, having a chronic illness did bring about a positive change in my life: I think it forced me to rethink my life and my health and make important changes.

I am not about to turn this post into inspiration porn (don’t worry, that link is safe for work), but I do want to express gratitude for the wake-up call my MS gave me. I call it my “rock bottom” because it forced me to make some decisions about the direction I wanted to take physically, mentally, and emotionally. I do, however, wish it hadn’t taken a chronic illness diagnosis to make these changes

I would be more than happy to give back my illness and keep all the healthy changes if given a chance. 

Prior to the Diagnosis

To understand why I am grateful for my current health, it’s best to compare it to where I was physically prior to my diagnosis.

I’ve hinted at my state in previous posts throughout the blog, but I never fully discussed my mental and physical state. Partially because it was never necessary to the post, but mostly because I was ashamed of where I was at in life.

I was delusional about my physical health. It’s easy to see that on the other side, but living in the middle of it I thought I was healthy. I would eat vegan, run, do yoga, try to meditate when the time would allow, but essentially go through the motions of what I thought was healthy living.

And then I would wonder why I wasn’t losing weight. I justified it by saying this to myself repeatedly:

Ah, that’s just muscle being put on. Muscle weighs more than fat.

I am just stressed out right now, so once I get beyond this period, I will be fine. I need to eat like this because it’s how I am coping with my stress.

Apparently, my 5’3″ body is meant to be 160 pounds. Since I can’t lose the weight, that must be my natural set point.

I also didn’t feel better, I was just grumpier for waking up earlier and sweating a bunch with little to no payoff.

Let me be clear and say that weight is not the absolute indicator of health: athletes can be considered overweight and be at peak physical fitness. A person can be a normal weight and be coping with an illness of sorts. Weight can be a symptom of a bigger problem and it can also cause other issues, but looking at weight for whether a person is healthy or not shouldn’t be the only factor. It is just one of the factors.

Through most of my adult life, I was carrying around an additional 20-30 pounds. This extra weight played a negative role in my overall activity level, my mood, my energy levels, and my depression. I firmly believe that these factors exacerbated my MS symptoms. There were days where I would come home after teaching and fall asleep for hours until Ash got home, wherein he’d have to make or order us dinner.

It was always a slog to get any important work done for school and professionally speaking.

Prior to my diagnosis, I had very little motivation to make any positive changes in my life. I would do it in spurts, but those would fade out when I didn’t see immediate results. I had nothing truly motivating me beyond “this is what our culture tells me to do.” It wasn’t enough and therefore I couldn’t stay motivated to continue.

I figured I could never get into peak physical and emotional condition because I just couldn’t. No other reason other than that: I just was not able to be healthy.

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