I was a driven, goal-oriented person with a detailed 5-year plan when MS suddenly entered my life. I was accustomed to having a packed work schedule during the week, and lots of plans with friends and family over the weekend. Those aspects of my life make me who I am, and at first I stubbornly tried to keep my MS from changing anything about the way I lived my life.
But the unpredictability of life with MS made that impossible. One day I might be able to walk for miles, but the next day it can be difficult just to walk across the room. I would find myself staring at my calendar full of plans and commitments, and wonder what I was thinking -- I would be tired before I could even begin! I knew I had to make my health more of a priority so that I could keep doing the things I loved for as long as possible.
So I started taking the time to stop and listen to my body, and once I did, my quality of life improved tremendously. Instead of pushing my body on days where I had painful muscle spasms, I gave myself permission to rest and try again tomorrow. I have always enjoyed exercising, but because getting overheated makes my legs tingle and go numb, it is difficult to do the things that used to come easily. I would often get frustrated, until I realized that my attitude was hindering my progress and that I needed to be kinder to myself.
Yes, I do have MS, but overall my body is amazingly capable. When I was diagnosed, the neurologist showed me the damage that MS had done to my spinal cord and told me I had a high chance of being significantly disabled within 10 years. He focused on all of the things I would no longer be able to do, but I was only interested in finding ways to thrive in spite of the physical challenges I now faced. Since then, I have had a lot of setbacks, and a lot of triumphs. I have had to figure out how to exercise with the aids of canes and a brace for foot drop, but I have also had days where I can hike or ride a bike with relative ease. Overall, I am grateful for everything that I can do, and I have learned that I am capable of facing whatever MS throws at me. If I have to make a few adjustments along the way, then so be it!
I’ve also learned to prioritize rest. It’s extremely important for me to get a full night’s sleep and to stop and rest during the day. I now adamantly stick to my sleep schedule, no matter how busy life gets, which has not been an easy task. I also slot daily “do nothing” time and treat it like any other appointment on my calendar. I know that it is up to me to strike the right work-life balance.
In the past, rest was the first thing I sacrificed, but I now know how important it is to recharge and find enjoyment in the little things. Reading a good book, playing piano, or going for a walk on a nice day rejuvenates my body and soul, which in the long run makes me more productive at work and at home. I owe it to myself to be as diligent about my overall well-being as I am about my medication and neurological care. Medication keeps my MS under control, but wellness allows me to live the best life possible.
I have learned that prioritizing my health is not the same as letting MS take over my life, and it actually helps me to be more productive in the long run. I have also found that when I take good care of myself, I am more capable of caring for my loved ones. My overall health and well-being have to be my top priority because I have ambitions, goals, and passions that I plan to pursue for many years to come.