I have been always been aware of the importance of health, of eating healthy foods, and of exercise. I would read the latest health news; that fat is bad, that fat is good, that we should all get more whole grains, that pasta is a no no, and on and on. My husband and I always had some bit of garden in the yard, and occasionally we’d would manage to coax some kale or a tomato to grow.
I was bumping along. I had postponed a hard-won career, as an artist working for an animation studio, to stay home with my 2 kids. I’d traded in my prestigious job, and now I was going to rock this whole mom-thing! My life was busy and demanding. But I loved it, and I was definitely up to the challenge.
Then, it all changed. One cold morning in January of 2012, I woke up with numb feet. It was winter and it was cold; numb feet didn’t seem too alarming. But the numbness didn’t go away, and by the afternoon, both my legs were numb past my knees. The day before, I had been to the gym, and ran (maybe too hard?) on the treadmill. I was trying to lose some stubborn “baby weight”. So I figured the numbness was exercise-related. I had something similar happen maybe a year before, but after a new pair of shoes and a lot of denial, it simply went away and I went on with my busy life.
This time, the numbness kept getting worse. Over the next week and a half, it spread throughout the entire right side of my body. I could barely walk, and I couldn’t use my right hand or arm at all. I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I began a course of IV steroids, but it didn’t help. My symptoms continued to get worse. A month later, I ended up in the hospital with half my body paralyzed and in a wheelchair. I was in the hospital because I couldn’t function at home and had to receive a treatment called plasmapheresis. From the hospital I went to an in-patient rehabilitation center to recuperate to the point where I could return home.
The doctors told my husband to go ahead and pick out my wheelchair now. That he and I needed to prepare ourselves for my continued loss of function. They said there were drugs that could slow the disease, but that nothing would reverse the damage already done.
Refusing to passively accept my diagnosis, my husband and I began to read everything we could about treating M.S. There is a lot of research, and even more varying opinions out there, but we found that despite what doctors had said, there are cases where recovered function and reversed damage had been achieved through lifestyle changes, specifically to diet and nutrition.
Taking into account all the information we could find along with a lot of advice we received, my husband and I weighed all the pros and cons. We decided the best option for me would be to combine the nutritional changes I was finding beneficial with a disease-modifying medication that my neurologist prescribed. While this was the best choice for me, I want to be clear that we are all unique individuals, and that we each have to make the choices that are best for us and our unique situations.
So I began on what I thought was the road to recovery. But what I have really come to discover is that my destination isn’t recovery. It is an accumulation of all the things I learn and the steps forward that I take in my pursuit of living healthier. This journey began by experimenting with all types of diets. Through a lot of trial and error, I learned that what works best for me and the management of my disease is to eliminate sugar and eat as many nutrient-dense vegetables as possible.
I also learned that emotion and stress were huge factors in managing my disease. I thought I was dealing well with my life, the stressors, the dynamics of my extended family, the need to lose weight, to exercise, to raise well-adjusted kids, be a wife, be an artist, the busyness of everything. Apparently, I wasn’t. I had to find ways to mitigate the areas of my life that were causing me anxiety and stress.
Exercise had always been my go-to for de-stressing. But exercise was also the first thing to go when time got tight. As I allowed my life to take on more obligations, I devoted less and less time to exercise. After coming home from the hospital I needed to regain my strength, to get back to the point where I could walk more than a few feet at a time. So I had to change my perspective, to see exercise as a necessity rather than a luxury.
Much like with the experimentation of what food I ate, I had to figure out what worked for me to de-stress, to lower anxiety and to stay physically healthy. I found a therapist who has helped immensely in improving my emotional health. I found that qigong or moving meditation is what works best for me to lower anxiety. I have come to love yoga and pilates. And that getting outdoors to walk or run are essential for me.
I hate that I have a disease, I hate that anyone has to battle with this type of situation. But I am also grateful for what I have learned, and for what I know I will continue to learn. And I am grateful to have a platform where I can share my journey with, and hopefully help other people.