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Why a MS Diagnosis Was the Beginning of My Life

Why a MS Diagnosis Was the Beginning of My Life

Being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2007 was the best thing that has happened to me.  Bet you don’t hear that statement too often!  But seriously, my diagnosis was a turning point in my life.  It woke me up and got my attention back where it needed to be: the basics.

I was on vacation in sunny Ft. Meyers, Florida burning my winter-pale skin on the third baseline of Fenway South.  Most vacations are memorable, but this one will always hold special meaning to me, for it was that Red Sox spring training vacation in 2007 that I noticed a numb spot on the bottom of my right foot.  It felt weird, but wasn’t causing any major malfunctions so I continued to enjoy winter baseball.

Months later I would visit a neurologist who explained to me that I might have Multiple Sclerosis.

For those of you that are unaware of MS and its wonderful symptoms, I will allow the National MS Society webpage to explain:

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Multiple sclerosis (MS) involves an immune-mediated process in which an abnormal response of the body’s immune system is directed against the central nervous system (CNS), which is made up of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. The exact antigen — or target that the immune cells are sensitized to attack — remains unknown, which is why MS is considered by many experts to be “immune-mediated” rather than “autoimmune.”

Basically what happens is your immune system decides to attack your central nervous symptom.  It wreaks havoc on nerves and causes countless side effects including: severe fatigue, nerve pain, hyper-reflexes, banding in the chest, lightning flash pains, headaches, joint pain, skin sensitivity, noise sensitivity, depression, anxiety and in rare instances, death.

Now back to our story.  As any normal, self-diagnosing expert does, I conducted an extensive internet investigation and immediately starting designing my coffin!  All joking aside, my initial reaction was to excuse myself from the doctor’s office, go outside and cry.  After all, the only knowledge I had of MS was Annette Funicello… and she died!  What I would eventually discover was that MS was the best thing that could have happened in my life; it was a gift!

Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption said it best:  “I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.” So, I turned a “death sentence” into my own personal new beginning.

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My disease forced me to focus on my body, my mind and my spirit, which is why a MS diagnosis was the beginning of my life!

My Body

Up until a few years ago I didn’t think much on what types of food I put in my body, nor what quantity.  It was not uncommon for me to eat fast food several times per week or lay around the house on my days off.  Then it dawned on me that carrying around too much body fat and a lack of physical activity was actually helping MS destroy my body!

I had to make a change.  I developed a plan that would involve introducing lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and water into my eating regimen.  I began to track my daily caloric intake with a mobile app and began to walk the dog 2-3 times per day for exercise.  I spoke with a nutrition expert to check my plan for weaknesses and to gain a better understanding of how the body operates.

My plan was a huge success.  In 6 months I trimmed down from nearly 200 pounds to 170 pounds, mostly due to a keen awareness of the types of fuel I put in my body.  I knew that if I were going to be successful I would have to focus on a strict eating routine due to the fact that I would not be as active as a healthy adult male.

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The benefits of losing that weight have been immeasurable!  My symptoms, although still present, are more tolerable.  My knees and hips hurt less when walking up and down stairs.  My feet hurt less when taking the dog for a walk.  My confidence has been elevated, which helps tremendously on the bad days.  There is a reason why military personnel go through extensive physical training, because if the body is weak the mind will be weak.  I had to have a more fit and healthy body to help my mind deal with the stress of living with MS.

My Mind

One of the worst symptoms associated with MS is cognitive impairment, and for me it is a new and developing issue.  I have moments when I forget how to spell my wife’s name or forget where I’m going or can’t remember my social security number.  Now for most this would seem normal as we’ve all experienced walking into a room to retrieve something, only to forget what that something was.  With MS it is like that scenario, but slightly more often and a little more extreme.

To combat this my neurologist suggested I incorporate activities into my life that would act as cognitive therapy.  So I decided to start blogging.  Writing would challenge my mind, keep me fresh and would allow me to purge some of the internal baggage I had been holding on to.

It had been years since I exercised my mind on a regular basis and boy was writing a workout!  Developing post ideas, outlining, writing and editing was just what the doctor ordered.  No pun intended!  Writing my blog has changed my perspective on having MS, as well as, the world around me.  I met new and interesting people that had diseases and health situations far more drastic than mine, which allowed me to appreciate my life and my disease.  I am reminded of a quote by Regina Brett: “If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.”  Writing challenged my mind and led me to a brand new world that put my life in perspective.  And trust me, the mental drain of hurting everyday is intense and unrelenting!  Having my mind in the right place made it easier to deal with the daily grind of dealing with constant pain.

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My Spirit

Our spirit is one of the areas I think most people neglect and one of the first areas sick people reclaim.  I met a doctor through my blog that had abandoned traditional medicine and had replaced it with what he referred to as Integrative Medicine.  I had never heard of this method before, but once I educated myself I realized this was for me.  Integrative medicine incorporates treating the mind, body and spirit with many types of treatments, including traditional medications. The primary difference being that a traditional doctor will prescribe you medications to treat only the body.

I would come to understand how neglecting my spirit, my essence, had negatively affected me as a person and my ability to deal with my MS.  I began to introduce some meditation practices into my morning routine as well as prayer; something I had not done in nearly 20 years.

Needless to say awakening my spirit has been invaluable in better understanding myself, my disease and my place in this world.  I don’t have to fret and worry about the future.  I don’t have to wonder why.  I don’t allow these types of thoughts to enter my mind as I have learned they are unproductive.

Prior to my diagnosis I took my life for granted.  I took life in general for granted.  I took walking for granted.  I under-appreciated living in a healthy body.  MS has opened my life to meeting incredible people, volunteering as a public speaker for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and becoming a blogger and soon to be author.  None of these things would have happened had it not been for MS.

Sure the daily grind of being in pain is tough, but I wouldn’t trade my experience thus far for any amount of money. One day we will live in a world where MS is a thing of the past, taking its place beside polio where it belongs.  Until then, you’ll find me writing, eating veggies and maybe doing a little meditation.

If you’d like to find out more about my experience, please click on the link in my author bio.

Featured photo credit: On the Fence/Steve Wilson via flickr.com

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Last Updated on November 27, 2020

12 Stretching Exercises to Increase Your Flexibility

12 Stretching Exercises to Increase Your Flexibility

When thinking about stretching and learning how to become flexible, consider you are doing more than just elongating and strengthening your muscles. You are, in fact, improving circulation of the blood (lymphatic system), and optimizing the depth of your breath, which further enhances circulation[1].

Stretching and yoga aren’t just trends; they are practices that have been utilized by humans arguably for hundreds of thousands of years or more. In many cases, modern humans have simply forgotten much of their ancestry, and stretching/yoga is certainly an integral part.

The following stretching routines, if practiced consistently (every day, or a few times a week), will improve your physical and mental well-being, so let’s get into them!

Here’s a breakdown of all the exercises I’ve covered in the video:

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1. Standing Hamstring Stretch

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    • Stand straight and tall with your feet hip-width apart, knees just slightly bent, and arms by your sides.
    • Exhale as you bend forward (think of a door hinge movement at the hips), lowering your head toward the floor (imagine the top of your head being parallel with the floor), while keeping your head, neck, and shoulders relaxed (do not tense up).
    • Wrap your arms around the backs of your legs, or simply grab and hold the back of your legs; holding anywhere from 45 seconds to two minutes.
    • Bend your knees and slowly “roll up” back to the standing position when you’re done.

    2. Downward Dog

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      • Start standing with your feet hip-width apart.
      • While exhaling, hinge at the hips and lower your head toward the floor.
      • Place your hands/palms on the ground.
      • Step back with your feet while keeping a neutral back/spine and with your head/neck in-line with your shoulders and arms.

      3. Deep Lunge and Twist

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        • Start standing with your feet together hip width apart.
        • Take a large step forward with your right foot.
        • Bend your right knee and drop into a lunge, keeping your left leg as straight as you can behind you with your toes on the ground, so you feel a stretch at the front of your left thigh.
        • Place your right hand on the floor or in a pray position, and twist your upper body to the right as you extend your right arm toward the ceiling (for a deeper stretch).
        • Hold for 30 seconds to 2 minutes while taking slow and steady breaths.
        • Repeat on the other side.

        4. Piriformis Stretch

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        See the source image

           

          • Sit on the floor with both legs extended in front of you to start.
          • Cross your left leg over your right, and place your left foot flat on the floor.
          • Place your left hand on the floor behind your body.
          • Place your right hand on your left quad or your right elbow on your left knee (as shown), and press your left leg to the right as you twist your torso to the left.
          • If the spinal rotation causes back discomfort, remove the twist and simply use your right hand to pull your left quad in and to the right.

          5. Figure Four Stretch

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            • Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor.
            • Cross your left foot over your right quad.
            • Lift your right leg off the floor. Grab onto the back of your right leg and gently pull it toward your chest.
            • When you feel a comfortable stretch, hold there.
            • Hold for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
            • Switch sides and repeat.

            6. 90/90 Stretch

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              • Sit with your right knee bent at 90-degrees in front of you, calf perpendicular to your body and the sole of your foot facing to the left. Keep your left foot flexed.
              • Let your leg rest flat on the floor.
              • Place your left knee to the left of your body, and bend the knee so that your foot faces behind you. Keep your left foot flexed.
              • Keep your right butt cheek on the floor. Try to move the left cheek as close to the floor as possible. It may not be possible if your hips are tight.
              • Hold for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
              • Repeat on the other side.

              7. Frog Stretch

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              See the source image

                 

                • Start on all fours.
                • Slide your knees wider than shoulder-width apart.
                • Turn your toes out and rest the inner edges of your feet flat on the floor.
                • Ensure your legs are maintaining approximately a 90-degree angle (squared off).
                • Shift your hips back toward your heels.
                • Move from your hands down to your forearms to get a deeper stretch, if possible.
                • Hold for for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

                8. Butterfly Stretch

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                  • Sit tall on the floor with the soles of your feet together, knees bent out to the sides.
                  • Hold onto your feet (or ankles), engage your abs slightly to keep an upright posture with steady breathing, and slowly lower your body toward your feet as far as you can while pressing your knees toward the floor. Keep a neutral spine during this stretch.
                  • If you cannot lower your torso, then simply hold the stretch and aim to lower your knees closer to the ground gradually.
                  • Hold this stretch for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

                  9. Tricep Stretch

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                    • Kneel, sit, or stand tall with feet hip-width apart, arms extended overhead.
                    • Bend your right elbow and reach your right hand to touch the top middle of your back.
                    • Reach your left hand overhead and grasp just below your right elbow.
                    • Gently pull your right elbow down and toward your head.
                    • Switch arms and repeat.

                    10. Extended Puppy Pose

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                    See the source image
                      • Start on all fours.
                      • Move your arms forward a few inches.
                      • Push your hips up and back halfway toward your heels, or until you feel a deep stretch.
                      • Push through the palms of your hands to keep your arms straight and engaged.
                      • Hold for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

                      11. Neck Stretch and Release

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                        • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, or sit down with your back straight and chest lifted.
                        • Drop your right ear to your right shoulder.
                        • To deepen the stretch, gently press down on your head with your right hand.
                        • Hold for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

                        12. Standing Quad Stretch

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                          • Stand with your feet together.
                          • Bend your left knee and use your left hand to pull your left foot toward your butt. Keep your knees together.
                          • If you need to, put one hand on a wall for balance.
                          • Squeeze your glutes to increase the stretch in the front of your legs.
                          • Hold for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
                          • Repeat on the other leg.

                          Conclusion

                          The key take away here is that consistency with your stretching routine, followed by good quality sleep and lots of hydration, will instantly begin to improve your quality of life. Find which stretches feel the best in your body and add them to a daily routine you can enjoy.

                          More on How to Become Flexible

                          Featured photo credit: Scott Broome via unsplash.com

                          Reference

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