February 18, 2019

10 Things Multiple Sclerosis has Taught Me about Radical Self-Care.

Have you ever thought about the miracle of our physical form?

Take a nice, deep breath. In your mind’s eye, think about all the things going on inside your body that keep you alive. Our hearts are pumping blood, our lungs are exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide to feed that blood supply, our liver and lymph nodes are filtering out and releasing waste.

Connect to your bones and muscles, providing structure and support. Neurons firing in our brain help us to read this while simultaneously interacting with the nervous system. Nerves extend down our spine into every millimeter of our physical plane, coordinating every bodily function, voluntary or involuntary. Our skin, the largest organ in the human body, wraps us up in a big, protective blanket.

I work as a registered nurse. I am fascinated with the human body. My work allows me each day to feel gratitude for my good health. I probably took a lot of my good health for granted. That is, until six years ago, when my body decided to have its own little revolt.

Waking up one morning for work, my right eye felt scratchy and sensitive to light. Off to work I went, thinking I would get to the doctor later. As the day went on, it became apparent that I had lost a significant amount of vision, particularly the upper field of vision in my right eye. I learned that if I covered the left eye and looked around, my coworkers had no heads.

I got myself to the doctor, and as they performed visual field tests, my vision loss became increasingly apparent. My thoughts went to a coworker who lost vision in one eye and died three days later.

Luckily, it wasn’t fatal. It was, however, life-altering.

The eye doctor told me, “I think you have MS.” I was walked down the hall to a neurologist. I knew about MS. Multiple Sclerosis. My paternal grandmother spent the later years of her life in a wheelchair, then in a hospital bed, due to MS. She was a year older than me when she was diagnosed, and she died when she was 60.

Tests, tests, and more tests. IV steroids to treat the inflammation in my eye, and my vision improved somewhat. I went through hours in the MRI machine to find I had some tiny spots on my brain. My spinal cord was unaffected. I learned that, while this disease would not kill me, it would affect my ability to walk and to control my bowels or bladder. But nobody knew for sure.

MS is an autoimmune disorder that attacks the myelin sheath that wraps around our brain and spinal cord. Disruption of the myelin sheath disrupts the connectivity of the nervous system, which results in multiple symptoms. Basically, my body decided to attack itself.

There are two types: relapsing remitting and primary progressive. I am lucky to have the relapsing remitting type, with acute attacks followed by resolution of symptoms.

Sparing a lot of details, I am happy to report that six years later my health is mostly recovered. I don’t think about MS most of the time. I initially chose the traditional medical path, then pursued some holistic treatments and decided to do what my neurologist called “watch and wait.” My last MRI was almost three years ago and was unremarkable. In the medical world, the doctors would like me to take medication “just in case” and have regular scans, but for right now I feel most comfortable not focusing on illness. Instead, I choose to focus on my wellness.

We are blessed to have modern medicine, but I believe it takes a combined holistic approach. We live in these astonishing human forms, but true wellness is not simply the absence of illness.

I choose quality of life over side effects of medications that have questionable benefit. This isn’t the path for everyone. In the future, I am open to medical treatments if my disease progresses.

It was a rough time in my life, and it took a long time for me to adjust to the new normal. I found strength I didn’t know I possessed, and today I feel pretty darn proud of myself for finding the courage to follow my own healing path.

My body gave me a wake-up call, and below are some of the lessons that emerged from my healing journey.

1. Moving through illness makes us warriors.
Fatigue, chronic pain, foot drop—I moved through them all. It often felt like anything I tried to accomplish was harder for me than the average person. It really sucked a lot of the time. I kept on going.

It’s easy to feel weak, to feel broken when the truth is we are fighting the battle of our lives. Acknowledge your bravery, acknowledge your strength.

2. It takes some trial and error to find the best path to wellness.
I attempted to eat nine cups of brightly colored fruits and vegetables per day. I drank Chinese herbal concoctions. I made green juice, did yoga, I meditated, saw the chiropractor, saw the acupuncturist. I repeated affirmations while lying on the chiropractor or acupuncturist table. When something stopped working, I tried something else.

When we keep an open mind and listen, our healing path becomes clear.

3. Check in with your chakras.
Energy work was imperative in my healing. Reiki, along with some other body treatments, helped me release energetic blocks and assisted in recovering my wellness.

If you feel heavy or dull, some simple breathing exercises and healing light visualizations can work wonders. Fresh fruits and vegetables, sunshine, and rest can also bring lightness into your being.

4. Do a stress check.
I attempted to relieve as much stress as possible. Stress in all forms causes inflammation, and inflammation is not your friend.

Meditate, exercise, laugh. And then find a way to laugh some more. What can you let go of just for today?

5. Keep an open mind.
Everyone will have an opinion about what you should do. My family was upset that I did not pursue traditional treatments. I still get articles from my parents about the latest potential cure.

Seek out traditional medicine. Seek out alternative medicine. Speak with other people who have experienced the same illness. Take what applies, and leave the rest.

6. Get the support you need, and realize your family needs support as well.
My family had a hard time coping with the fact that I was ill. I had to forgive that and acknowledge that we were all going through this illness together. It helped to find support from people outside of my family.

Ask for help when you need it, and say no when you’re not feeling up to something. Drop the guilt. Take care of your emotional needs and realize you may need a whole cheering section to get you through the toughest days.

7. Practice gratitude and acceptance of our bodies just as they are.
Realizing all the things that were going right in my body helped me get through the realization that parts of me were broken.

Give thanks to your body for carrying you through your life in spite of too much junk food, late nights, or emotional breakdowns. Give thanks to your breath, your heartbeat, and your nervous system for carrying out your bodily functions without the need for conscious effort.

8. You are not your illness.
And repeat: you are not your illness. You are still you.

9. Radical self-care.
I still struggle with this one. Loving myself and having compassion for my shortcomings, physical or otherwise, are the biggest keys to feeling well.

True self-care often means doing things when I don’t feel like it. Hello, getting up early to exercise and meditate.

What is one small step you can begin to take better care of yourself today? Repeat that same thing tomorrow.

10. Practice patience.
Patience with myself, with others, and with the state of my health. The only constant in life is change.

Be present with what is. How can you relax into what is, rather than wishing life was different?

Focus on your wellness. Focus on your laughter, your wit, your humor, your compassion for others. Maybe your superpower is the ability to sing pitch-perfect or bake the world’s best apple pie.

Despite our ailments and imperfections, we have so much to offer the world. Perhaps it’s our “imperfection” that can reveal our greatest contribution.


“The six best doctors: sunshine, water, rest, air, exercise, and diet.” ~ Wayne Fields

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