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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The Importance of Movement

It’s fall, which means colder weather makes it difficult to get moving to either exercise outside or make it to the gym. Perhaps because of the season, it is more important than ever to keep moving. As we head into winter, chances of weight gain increase along with seasonal mood changes that might be mitigated with some form of exercise.

Yesterday, researchers released a study regarding the importance of exercise and health. It’s something I’ve known a long time from health class and personal experience: exercising makes me feel better. If I sit still long enough (even in the span of a few hours), I start feeling bad.

That was the point of this study: the longer we sit during the day, the more danger we put on our health in the long-term. Sitting for vast spans of time and maintaining a sedentary lifestyle is worse than smoking. This study wasn’t providing new information, this article from 2014 discusses how dangerous sitting for hours on end is for our bodies. But this study was another confirmation of what researchers were saying: movement is important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

While the studies weren’t talking about the emotional impact of a sedentary lifestyle, more of the long-term impact, aerobic exercise is a form of anti-depressant for those suffering from major depression. A person should never quit their drug-regimen in favor of running without consulting their healthcare professionals first, but adding running or some other high-aerobic workout to the routine might increase the anti-depressant impact for mental health management.

This information is great to have to make informed decisions without an autoimmune disease that impacts fatigue levels, but living with MS, getting out of bed can be a hardship some mornings.

What to do when your body works against you?

I count myself lucky with my MS: my disease is rather benign and easy to manage compared to someone with PPMS, SPMS, or even some versions of RRMS. But it can cause my mood to swing, my depression to kick into high gear, and send my fatigue into overdrive for no reason other than “just because.”

Getting out of bed to go for a run some mornings is particularly rough when my body just does not want to move. Additionally, I’ve suffered from being overweight and depressed, so I understand how each individual factor can impact personal motivation and ability.

So what can you do?

  1. Speak with a trusted healthcare professional about what you can do to increase movement in relation to your particular health concerns or limitations. You want to find an expert who will be sensitive to your situation to provide positive encouragement, but also one who will point you in an appropriate direction for the types of exercises needed to get you started.
  2. Even if your doctor is providing you with generic information, use that information as a starting point with your own research.* Find simple exercises you can do from bed or the couch while watching television. From there, you can build up your type of exercise and the amount of time spent.
  3. Drink water. Water helps energize muscles to help prevent fatigue, protect joints and the nervous system (a huge plus for MS), and decrease MS symptoms.
  4. Keep your goals reachable and manageable. If you know that getting out of bed will be difficult most mornings, see about adding a different type of exercise that can be done from bed until you have a good day.
  5. If you have to miss a day or forget, just plan to restart tomorrow. Don’t look at a day off as a failure, but just something that happens. Try to maintain an attitude of moving forward rather than dwelling on forgetfulness. Don’t overdo it if you do miss a day – with MS that can set you back from exercising tomorrow.

*Note: your own research must be done with extreme caution and consideration to your ability levels. Do not put yourself at risk.  Read my disclaimer about health advice here.

Lack of Motivation

I find that the lack of motivation is my biggest obstacle to exercising. I wish I could write, “do this and you’ll always be motivated!” but the truth of the motivation obstacle is this: it varies from person-to-person and moment-to-moment. What keeps me motivated may not apply to another person and what keeps them motivated would never work for me.

When dealing with a chronic illness, motivation can run thin, sometimes without being the individual’s fault, but because of the way the illness impacts brain function. Having physical impairments stacked against you can be depressing on its own.

So how to combat this?

It’s never going to be a “snap your fingers and get over it” solution. That is not possible and won’t work. Rather, figure out what is important to you at the moment. Is it disease management? Depression management? Having more energy day-to-day? Wanting to see the numbers go down on the scale? Figuring out that primary starting place may be enough to get the ball rolling and sometimes that’s all it takes.

Having reports released about the importance of exercise are validating for me on my health journey because it shows that I am on the right path, especially on days when my energy and motivation are at its lowest. I just have to move forward and try not to be discouraged by a bad day or my MS.

What prevents you from exercising? What keeps you motivated to exercise? Relate your stories below in the comments section.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


Good for the Nerves: Fall & MS

MS is a disease that’s affected by the weather, particularly extreme temperature variables. Summer and wintertime can be particularly rough because of the temperature swings on either end of the thermometer. The temperate or more moderate weather of the spring and fall can offer some relief for those who need it.

I know that for myself when it’s a consistent mid-70’s with low humidity, I am at my most comfortable. I find that I have more energy, able to sleep better at night and find the need for a midday nap to be lower. I still need naps because I have an energetic toddler, but I can skip the nap with minimal impact on my evening energy levels.

I know that my MS situation is different from others, so what is comfortable for me to function may be uncomfortable for others. That’s the unfortunate truth about MS – while fall is the ideal season for me to be my best, it can make others miserable. If fall isn’t your season, that’s okay because there’s bound to be another season that works best with your illness.

Fall Weather & MS (in the South)

All of this is to say that the fall weather makes me happier. I feel like we get more temperate days in the fall than we do in the spring, though if I looked at the temperature statistics I am probably wrong.

In the South, fall means that while we may still get 90-degree days, it feels like the day’s heat dissipates faster in the evenings and takes longer to be oppressive in the mornings. It also brings more rain during the hurricane season, which is less helpful because of the humidity, but ideal in keeping temperatures lower.

More Activities to Keep Moving & Healthy

As discussed on Tuesday, fall festivals are a great way to get out and enjoy the outside with family and friends. Going on hikes, particularly in the South, are more pleasant because the leaves haven’t dropped just yet, so there’s enough shade from the sun in the forest.

Walks are more pleasant to take in the evening, more importantly, less of a mental hassle when you don’t have to consider bringing a bunch of cooling supplies to keep from overheating (for me: ventilated shoes, water, and a hat).

As a runner, I find that some of my best personal records happen between the months of October and April because of the milder weather. I also don’t run into the issues of dehydration headaches after a race that I get in the hotter month. I get these headaches no matter how much I hydrate before, during, or after the race.

If physically able, yardwork is less oppressive as well. Raking leaves is a great cardio activity to get moving, as is trimming bushes.

While hydrating is still extremely important for those of us with MS, I find that it’s not as imperative as it is in the hotter weather. I also find my means of hydrating open up: I am a huge tea drinker and love drinking herbal tea in the fall. While drinking straight water is always recommended, drinking herbal tea is easier to swallow than straight, boring water.

Relaxing Atmosphere: Less Stress, Less Flare-Ups

Scientifically speaking, fall is a more relaxing time of year: we’ve been conditioned to enjoy it at least in the United States. Fall elicits cozy feelings, warmth, and togetherness ahead of the holiday season. The idea of sitting by a fire pit with a cup of mulled cider, a blanket, and good company is extremely relaxing.

My happy place is Pumpkin Spice Lattes which are a huge indicator of fall. That first sip of the year always relaxes me in the  “ah, fall is finally here” sort of way.

Stress is a huge factor for flare-ups, at least for myself, so having relaxing evenings helps minimize my stress. Any stress that comes during the fall is usually the kind I enjoy, i.e. planning gatherings, parties, events, and outings.

While my first flare-up happened at the beginning of December nearly six years ago, most of my flare-ups happen in the winter and summer months. I think because I have worked hard to make fall a relaxing time of the year for myself.

If you have MS or a chronic illness that is affected by the weather, what do you do to help manage it during your favorite seasons? What is your favorite season and why? Leave a comment with your thoughts below.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


Personal Growth (after having a child)

Today is Jai’s 2nd birthday.

I wanted to spend the post reflecting on how much my life changed for the better since his arrival two years ago.  It’s going to be a post about me, but hopefully not too sappy when I talk about Jai and his impact on my life.

Life before a Toddler

To be cliche, life before a child is relatively uncomplicated. Any complications I had to deal with were of my own making. I was in graduate school, dealing with interpersonal drama, and trying to manage my MS. Granted, at the time, I didn’t see how I affected everything around me and how I could untangle myself from my complications, but I wasn’t ready to receive the wisdom that life experience gives to tell me that.

To be fair, life with a child isn’t any more complicated than without – it’s just what becomes complicated shifts and you are now responsible for another human being. Life is complicated in a different way.

Before Jai, my life was completely unfocused. I had to figure out how to handle my diagnosis, I needed to re-prioritize my life, and I needed to figure out what direction I wanted to go in for the long-term. Many moments were spent just allowing myself to be distracted from figuring out what I wanted to do and allowing myself to remain in a rut.

This would include binge-watching TV, comfort eating, playing games, teaching without forward momentum, and finding other means to avoid dealing with what kept me from finding focus.

I thought when I re-prioritized my life after accepting my MS that I was done, but I still engaged in avoidant behavior when it came to making major life decisions. I needed to drop toxic people from my life (and be okay when they left), make serious professional decisions, and do a better job managing my health.

I think in some part having a child was another means of distracting me from making those decisions. I had a biological desire to have a child, but I also wanted to push decision-making down the road for a couple more years. Not a good reason to have a child, by the way. It’s not fair to them and it’s not fair to the parents.

Changing for the Better

It wasn’t an instantaneous change when Jai was born. I had to recover, readjust, and reprioritize my life with a new family member. A newborn provides a great distraction for those looking to be distracted. But after my MRI in July 2017, coupled with Jai’s increasing solid food diet, I realized that I needed to make some serious life changes.

On the days I drove to work I saw a sign that said: “be the person your dog believes you to be.” I always thought it was a silly sign mainly because I am a cat person and I never gave it much thought to the philosophy behind it. Once I had Jai I reflected on what the sign truly meant (but switched out “a dog” for “a child”): a child views a parent as a protector, educator, and comfort. I realized that I needed to become the person Jai thought I was to the best of my ability.

That’s when I decided to begin my journey towards healthier living, not just physically but mentally and emotionally. Jai didn’t make me change, that wasn’t and never will be his responsibility. I was changing for Jai and mostly for myself. I realized that I was extremely unhappy with where I was in life and that unhappiness was going to impact Jai.

But it would be dishonest to say that I would have made these changes with or without a child. I would like to think that I had enough self-awareness to make the changes eventually, that I would get tired of my status quo, but I don’t think I would have gone in a positive direction. I suspect I would have given up on a lot of things and just existed, waiting for my MS to progress to the point of no return.

I think that having something outside of me and dependant upon me, beyond a cat, was my “rock bottom.” Having Jai was both the highlight of my life up to that point, but the wake-up call I needed to have to make necessary changes. Again, not his responsibility, but for me was the kick in the pants I needed to make improvements.

There are plenty of days where I wish I made these changes before having Jai, but I don’t believe in indulging too much in regret, so here I am.

Moving Forward

I am hoping that I will continue to grow and change in positive ways for Jai. I want to be the person he believes I am: confident, caring, kind, strong, and comfort. It’s important that I model positive behaviors for him so he can become the person I know he can be.

I just find it so hard to believe that another person can make someone want to change for the better. I wanted to be a better person for Ash when we first met, but I moved at a glacier’s pace for him. With Jai, when I made the decision to change it was much faster and more persistent.

I think the best birthday present I could give Jai is my commitment to him and continuing to be the best, yet acceptable imperfect, parent he needs in his life.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton