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:
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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