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


Recovering with Nature

When I began my health journey nearly a year ago, I wasn’t sure what direction I would take. Honestly, I thought I would give up, go back to my old habits, and be on MS medication by now.

In the back of my mind, I had very few pleasures: eating sugar, fried foods, and not exercising.  These were things I did to self-sooth and help me cope with stress and my diagnosis.

It was my pattern. To try something new, get discouraged, and then give up on it.

This particular venture worked out differently. I think because I am blogging it allows for a level of accountability, perhaps if I didn’t maintain this blog I would have given up sooner. Back in November, I went through a period where I didn’t post as often as I wanted. It may have been discouragement (“is this something really worth doing? I am putting a lot of time into something with little to no feedback”), but I think I was also just busy with life and not sure if I wanted to continue regardless.

Somehow I stuck through it and I’ve continued to notice positive changes. I’ve lost weight, I feel happier, I feel more balanced, and I think I’ve fully accepted my diagnosis. I was on the path of acceptance several years ago, but I really embodied the “things I cannot change” attitude since August.

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Raising Awareness for Multiple Sclerosis

To kick the month off right, let’s have a brief discussion about Multiple Sclerosis. I talk a lot about having MS, but I haven’t provided information to why it’s such a troublesome disease.

Part of the reason is it has taken me until writing this post to acknowledge the down-and-dirty parts of MS. For the last five years, I have allowed myself a vague awareness of the disease itself, but never sat down and understood the particulars. I would research as far as I needed to, but rarely allow myself to dive deeper because it was too painful to acknowledge.

In fact, if we’ve ever had a conversation in person about my MS, I rarely use the word “disease” when discussing it. You’ll find it to be the same throughout the blog. I don’t like acknowledging that I have a disease. I prefer to use the term “condition” or “situation.”

I recognize that if I am ever to be truly successful in treating and managing my MS that I need to be fully aware of the risks, outcomes, and possibilities of the disease.

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that causes the demyelination of the central nervous system. These attacks will disrupt signals from one part of the body to another which are expressed in a variety of symptoms: fatigue, brain fog, weakness, speech difficulty, and more serious manifestations.

Because MS is autoimmune, it means that the body attacks and damages itself sometimes beyond repair. 

There are three different categories of MS a person will receive when getting their diagnosis (Clinically-Isolated Syndrome [CIS] is the fourth type):

  1. Relapse-Remitting (RRMS): symptoms appear randomly and can range in severity. Once treatment of the symptoms is complete, the patient will return to “normal,” though some symptoms may persist after the flare-up. The disease progresses slowly if at all. 85% of new diagnoses receive the RRMS classification.
  2. Primary-Progressive (PPMS): neurological functions worsen at the onset of symptoms though there are no distinct flare-up or periods of remission like with RRMS. 10-15% of new diagnoses receive PPMS classification.
  3. Secondary-Progressive (SPMS): Around 50% of RRMS patients will progress into SPMS within 10 years of their initial diagnosis (specifically those who do not treat their MS). This is a progressive worsening of symptoms and neurological functions over time.

Anyone can get MS. That’s the scary thing. But there are certain groups of people who are more prone to the diagnosis:

  • People between 20 – 50
  • People further away from the equator
  • Women are 2 – 3 times more likely to get an MS diagnosis
  • Parent or sibling diagnosed with MS (~1-3% chance)
  • People with low vitamin D levels
  • People who had mononucleosis or another virus linked to MS at one point in their life
  • Already diagnosed with one autoimmune disease

It is estimated that around 2.5 million people globally have the MS diagnosis.

Why Raise Awareness

As someone who has MS, it is extremely important for me to raise awareness for the disease. The more people know about it, the more funding will go towards finding better treatments and hopefully a cure. Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions about MS and the very nature of the disease can be invisible which is why awareness is so important.

Busting misconceptions

  • Getting the MS diagnosis is not a death sentence. Fifty or so years ago, before anything was known about the disease or ways to help treat it, it may have been. But now that there are so many disease-modifying therapies out there and complementary treatments, it is easy to manage the disease and help slow its progression.
  • No one is the same. If you have MS it is not going to look like mine nor is it going to look like your friend’s cousin. Yours or your loved one’s experience with MS is going to be unique to you and that’s okay. Do not compare yourself to others.
  • Start that family if you want. If you are physically, financially, and emotionally capable, the decision to have a family should not be decided by the MS diagnosis. While there may be a genetic component to the disease, you are unlikely to pass the disease down to your children.
  • No, it is not spread through the blood. Unfortunately, many blood-related organizations are still very backward when it comes to their information about MS. The Red Cross recently opened it up so people with MS could donate blood, but local and smaller blood collection agencies may reject you if you disclose your diagnosis.My heart was broken when Jai’s cord blood donation was rejected based on my MS diagnosis. They claimed they would use it for MS research but I have no way of following up with them.

An Invisible Disability

MS is a disease that can external and internally manifest itself. People with mobility devices like canes or scooters, or have handicap allowances outwardly express their MS so outsiders can be more accommodating.

But there is a whole group where all the manifestations of the disease are internal: no devices, handicap provisions, or a way for outsiders to see that we have MS.

This is what makes it an invisible disability.

Just like people with mobility devices, allowances may still need to be made for us, i.e. opportunities to rest, take extra time to work on a project, or need a few days off to treat a flare-up, but getting those allowances can be met with resistance.

My one negative experience was weeks before my actual diagnosis. I just got out of the hospital from a 5-day round of intravenous steroids to treat my optic neuritis and was in a grocery store with my mother. I was extremely weak from the steroids, lack of sleep, and overwhelmed emotionally from the experience when I slowly rounded a corner with my cart (I needed it as a means of support) and an older man started cussing me out when I got in his way.

He was telling me that I needed to give way to him (I actually had the right of way in grocery store etiquette) due to his age and I needed to move quicker. I tried to explain that I was too weak but he moved my cart while I was holding it, cussed me out, and flipped me off as he walked away.

It was a humiliating experience. And I have been fortunate not to experience anything like it again.

How to Raise Awareness

The rest of this week will detail ways to raise awareness based on your abilities. Wednesday’s post will be about events and opportunities to participate in MS activism and the community. Friday’s post will be about ways to start or participate in fundraising opportunities.

I provided some simple banners you could use on your social media accounts to help raise awareness this month for MS. Please feel free to download them for personal use.

Will there be a Cure?

At this point in time, there is no cure. But there is a lot of positive research coming out around the world about possible treatments and steps closer to a cure. From Cambridge University alone:

There are plenty of drug therapies out there that help minimize the impact of flare-ups and the progression of the disease, but we still have a long way to go before getting rid of MS and reversing its damage altogether. By raising awareness we can help keep the research momentum going and hopefully see it disappear in our lifetime.


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