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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 January 14, 2019

7 Ways To Make Exercise Fun For Everyone

7 Ways To Make Exercise Fun For Everyone

From Atkins to Paleo to eating gluten-free despite not being one of the rare few people afflicted with celiac disease, fad diets are everywhere. It drives me crazy because I believe these diets do more harm than good. Your body is made up of a variety of vitamins, nutrients, and minerals, and losing weight healthily isn’t possible when you fill your body with unnecessary synthetic plastics, sugars, and powders. There’s no easy button in life.

What you need to do is exercise, which isn’t very appealing to many people. Workouts take work, so there’s already a stigma involved in going to the gym. Starting a healthy workout regimen becomes easier when you make it fun. If you want to live long and prosper, get off the couch and try these methods to turn your workout into a playout.

1. Take the scenic route.

Walking is an easy way to transition to a healthy lifestyle, and it’s free. Not only do you burn calories (check out this calculator for how many calories you burn based on your weight), but you see the world in a different way. Hiking in nature is great if you have access to it, but don’t let living in an urban area deter you from walking.

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Whenever I’m creatively stuck I get my head straight by walking a couple of miles. It’s also how I discover new paths, meet new people, and stumble upon hole-in-the-wall spots I never would have found otherwise. You could drive past the same place every day and never appreciate the beauty, nor even notice it’s there.

2. Distract yourself.

No matter what exercise routine you choose, use the time to meditate. You may wonder how marathon runners are able to put so many miles on their bodies. It’s because the pain from running that you avoid is something they’ve learned to harness to enter a transcendental state. If you’re aware of the benefits of meditation and exercise but don’t have time to do both, you can combine them, killing two birds with one healthy stone.

3. Listen to music or podcasts.

There are few experiences in life more pleasurable than turning up the music and drowning out the world around you. With so many podcasts and music apps available on your smartphone, you can easily find entertainment options perfectly suited to your personal tastes. Never worry what people may think of you when working out;instead, crank up the volume and get lost in your own world. You’ll be in shape before you know it.

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4. Bring a friend.

Some people can’t go anywhere alone. While I highly recommend dining out and seeing a movie in a theater alone, having company while exercising is very helpful. It allows you to pace yourself with someone else, and gives you a coach to motivate and push harder than you may have on your own.

Many exercises are safer when done with a friend, and some sports can only be played with another person. Involving others in your goals can mean the difference between success and failure. Just remember to continue exercising if the other person flakes, or they’ll be in control of your health.

5. Accessorize.

There are accessories that can make exercise easier, and sometimes buying a new toy can add some much-needed fun to your routine. With apps like RunKeeper and Nike+, your smartphone is capable of tracking your vitals and progress. Wrist weights can add a new dimension to your workout, and, if you exercise at night, a headlamp can help you see what’s in front of you so you don’t trip.

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For urban runners and power-walkers, one of the biggest obstacles is other people. It’s difficult to get in your meditative zone and enjoy your music when you constantly have to dodge people. To resolve this vexing issue, Runbell, a startup in Tokyo, has developed the runner’s version of the bicycle bell. With this lightweight brass bell warning people you’re approaching from behind, you’re free to maintain your transcendental state while continuing your workout. Head to their Kickstarter campaign to pledge your support.

6. Compete.

A little healthy competition can motivate you to push yourself further in your workout regimen. There are apps like Zombies, Run! which turns your run into a video game, and MyFitnessPal which allows you to connect with others in the exercise community. Whether you’re directly competing with a friend, an online community, or against your previous self, setting goals is the key to reaching them. Running with no destination can feel like an impossible task, and it’s easy to get distracted.

7. Relax.

The best part about exercising is how much you enjoy the downtime. If you think laying on your couch all day is enjoyable, it has nothing on that hour you spend as a couch potato after a rigorous workout. Jay-Z said it best, “in order to experience joy, you need pain.” The harder you push yourself while exercising, the better you’ll feel when you’re relaxing.

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With that said, don’t relax too much, or it loses the effect. It’s okay to indulge every so often. Treat yourself to some junk food you’re craving, imbibe a drink here and there, and spend a day vegging out on your couch. Staying healthy doesn’t have to be torture. Just turn down when you can and dedicate some time to better the health of your body. You only get one.

Featured photo credit: tpsdave via pixabay.com

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