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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 February 24, 2021

How to Find Workout Motivation When You Hate Exercise

How to Find Workout Motivation When You Hate Exercise

It’s easy to fall into a mindset where you hate exercise. It does, indeed, demand a lot from you. You have to use special clothes, develop a routine and exercise habit, get out of the comfort of your own home, and wear yourself out to the point where you just want to collapse into bed. Fortunately, while there are a lot of reasons to dislike exercise, there are even more reasons to love it.

If you want to stop hating exercises and making excuses to avoid it, here’s how to tackle each one of those exercise excuses, get into action, and give your body the attention it craves.

1. You Don’t Have to Exercise 30 Minutes Each Day to Get Results

Most of us have a number that we think we should hit in order to exercise “enough.” For some people, this is the daily recommended minimum of 30 minutes. For others, it’s 45 minutes of weight-training plus another 45 minutes of cardio.

I’m not going to put up a fight with your number here. What I am going to do is challenge your idea of starting with that number right away. You see, even though 30 minutes a day might not seem like a lot, 30 minutes a day for the next 5 years is actually too much for your habitual brain to process.

So yes, everyone can do 30 minutes of daily exercise for one week. But how many people can do that for the next 5 years?

Starting small has the advantage of bypassing your brain’s fight-or-flight response, the mechanism that make you sabotage yourself when you are trying to do something that seems “big” for too long and makes you hate exercise.

This way, instead of mindlessly starting with an exercise program, you focus on building the habit first, and then once you are exercising a little bit every day, you are ready to expand how much exercise you do.

2. You Don’t Have to Force Yourrself to Do It

If you have to force yourself to do it, then there is a 90% chance that you are doing it wrong, and you will never stick to exercise.

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Some people are motivated by challenges and others pushing them, while others hate it.

If you are one of the people who hate it, stop trying to change yourself, and of course, stop treating yourself as if you were one of those people who are motivated by challenges and being pushed. The more you use this approach on yourself, the more you’ll hate exercise and avoid it in the long term.

Instead, change the way you approach exercise. Stop falling into what I call the “Happiness Paradox Trap.” Instead of starting with what you think you “should do,” start with what feels good.

Maybe weight lifting and running aren’t your thing, but have you tried Zumba or Pilates classes? Maybe you hate the feel of a gym, so try getting into cycling instead. Don’t feel that there’s one right way to go about it, and do your best to make it your own.

3. You Can Regain Motivation Easily

We think that motivation is the answer to sticking to exercise. If only we wanted it enough, then we would make it happen.

However, motivation is always there. If you feel you wish you exercised more, then you are motivated to exercise. If you are not doing it, it’s not because you are not motivated. It’s because something stops you.

It might be the activated fight-or-flight response we talked about in #1. For example, when you feel that you have too much to do, the fight-or-flight response kicks in, and you do nothing.

People who have already made exercise a daily ritual don’t depend on boosting their motivation to get off the couch and exercise. They just do it, naturally, without debating it with themselves, desperately trying to get themselves into action.

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Maybe you think you need to devote 1 hour and you don’t know how to do that. Or, maybe you think you need to suffer to get results. Whatever the real reason is, find it. Only then will you be able to figure out a way to remove the obstacle that is on your way.

4. You Do Need Exercise to Lose Weight

Many people only care about their weight. Yet, our bodies are naturally wired to feel good when we move. Here is a quick list of the benefits of exercise:

  • Decreases the risk of various diseases and bad health conditions, like high cholesterol, diabetes, stroke, certain types of cancer, arthritis, and cardiovascular diseases.
  • Increases longevity. Many research studies support the fact that exercise can reverse some signs of aging and reduce chances of death by any cause.[1]
  • Improves mood. Exercise does not just help depressed people; it helps everyone, even those who hate exercise. A quick workout or walk stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed.
  • Increases your energy levels. Regular physical activity boosts your endurance and helps your heart and lungs work more efficiently. And yes, that means more energy available for you.
  • Improves sleep. Regular physical activity can help you sleep better and fall asleep more easily, as long as you don’t exercise a couple of hours prior to bedtime.
  • Improves sex life. Erectile dysfunction? Lack of libido? Just lack of energy? Exercise may help with all of that.
  • Helps you better control your weight. Exercise helps you burn calories, plus you build muscle that generally burns more calories than fat. Exercise is a great add-on to a diet or weight maintenance plan.
  • Gets you better lab results, even if you are overweight. Did you know that an obese person who is fit, i.e., exercises regularly, will show better lab results than a thin person who never exercises?

5. Exercise Doesn’t Require All of Your Attention

Maybe you are currently busy with your work life, or you are planning a trip next week. Maybe your child just got sick and needs your constant attention. Shouldn’t you just wait until you can give exercise 100% of your attention?

This rationale once again sounds plausible, but just like the “I don’t have time” excuse, is it really true? Is not starting because you are not “ready” the best thing for you right now? Is neglecting yourself and your body for a few more weeks/months/years a good strategy?

Finally, how many months or years will you spend before you get all your ducks in a row?

6. Exercise Can Be Interesting

Most advice in response to this excuse tells you to find something that you actually like. Yet, I know that for most people, exercise itself is rarely the thing that makes you hate exercise. Having to do it for “too long” is the issue.

That’s why I said that if 30 minutes are boring, try 5 or 10.

Now, if this idea of starting small stresses you out, let me remind you the wisdom of #1–the fact that you may want to be exercising one hour a day doesn’t mean you have to start from one hour right away. You can start small, and as you feel more and more comfortable, build your way up.

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Getting into a fitness program or hiring a personal trainer for a couple of weeks can also help you find a routine that interests you.

7. You Can Rewrite the Negative Past Experiences

I understand that you came last at the sprint race when you were at school. I understand that you may feel embarrassed when you attend fitness classes. Luckily, your past does not need to define your future.

A client of mine wanted to start jogging. She started by walking around the neighborhood. Yet, she found out she felt really uncomfortable feeling that her neighbors were watching her.

She accepted that, and worked her way around it. Instead of walking around her own block, she walked around the block next to her own block, and the problem was solve. A few months later, she was already jogging 2 miles a couple of times a week.

8. Exercise Doesn’t Need To Be a Hassle

If you think you need to exercise for an hour, take a shower, and drive to the gym and back, then you have two hours gone, just like that. You might like moving your body, but you certainly don’t like having to spend all this time working out!

Luckily, exercise that gets you results doesn’t have to take all this time and scheduling brainpower.

To start, you could do something that takes less time and planning, like exercising at home. You may feel more comfortable if you get to work out within sight of your comfy sofa instead of driving 20 minutes to the nearest gym.

You can also try automating. For example, if you go to the gym after work, make sure your gym bag is ready from the day before, so you don’t have to deal with that during your busy morning.

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9. You Do Have Enough Time to Exercise

Even though we know people busier than us who actually exercise, we keep saying we are “too busy,” and we hate exercise for making us even busier.

Have you ever thought that being “busy” is actually a lie? If there are busier people than you who make it happen, then so could you. Yet, even though we acknowledge that, we still believe it’s true.

It’s time to admit that time is not the main issue. It’s probably the way your are prioritizing things, and you are afraid you’ll have to give up something else in favor of exercise. Whatever the real reason, you need to find it if you want to give your body a chance to thrive.

If you don’t know where to start when finding time to exercise, check out Lifehack’s free 4 Step Guide to Creating More Time Out of a Busy Schedule.

10. Exercise Will Not Take Time Away From Other Things

You might be worried that exercise will take too much of your time, or that you’ll need to give up another hobby or time with your family to do it.

If you don’t want to hate exercise, you must first stop making it the enemy. If it is the thing that will “stop you” from doing other things, you’ll likely never convince yourself that it’s worth it.

However, if exercise becomes the thing that will help you become healthier, be more active for your kids, and focus more at work, it then becomes a necessity that you’re willing to make room for in your life.

The Bottom Line

It can often feel natural to hate exercise. Life is already demanding a lot from us, and exercise is just one more thing we have to squeeze in. However, once you realize all of the benefits you can receive from it, it will feel less like a chore and more like the part of your day you look most forward to.

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Featured photo credit: Minna Hamalainen via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Maturitas: Exercise and longevity

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