Many of us with multiple sclerosis (MS) think of our physical health in terms of symptoms that we have. If someone asks us how we are doing, we often start and end with an inventory of our MS symptoms. I've excerpted a section of my book, The Multiple Sclerosis Manifesto, that explains how I have attempted to break this pattern and gain health:
Thinking about physical wellness in my MS-burdened self reminds me of buying a “perfect” house and having fantasies about family meals and romantic moments and laughing babies in your new home. However, the home inspection then gets handed over and bursts that little fantasy bubble, as it is about all of the problems with your soon-to-be (if you still want it) new house. It contains items as trivial as leaky faucets and as big as foundation flaws, the pictures may show mold, mildew, rot, possible termite damage, faulty building practices and places where corners were cut. From that moment on, as much as you may try not to, you still look at the personal touches and the love that you have put into and onto this house and occasionally still see that it is icing on top of flaws. Even when it is just right, gone is the giddy dream of the perfect house, made even more perfect by you.
It’s hard to learn not to think of our bodies that way, at least it was for me. I would put the effort in to work out, to eat better, to really take care of myself, then I would remember that I had trouble spelling a word that morning or that I had areas of lipoatrophy in my thighs. These realizations took away from the progress that I had made and remind me that I would never be perfect, no matter how much I worked at it. It took me much longer than it should have to realize that we should not aim for perfect in pursuing health and wellness, as that is a certain prescription for failure. However, the goal of “doing better” in our habits and how we take care of ourselves is a noble – and doable – one.
Take Care of Your Body
Having multiple sclerosis has little impact on overall life expectancy in most cases. For the most part, the same guidelines and suggestions about healthy aging and longevity apply for people with MS as do for everybody else. To live a long and healthy life, you have to take care of your heart, your brain and the rest of your body.
I am not going to give you a “prescription” for a healthy lifestyle. I am not going to advocate one diet over another or tell you which supplements I take. I am not going to list out all of the screenings that you should get at different ages or tell you what numbers to aim for in your serum cholesterol.
However, the fact remains that as people with MS, we have extra responsibility when it comes to taking care of the rest of us. I am (and I imagine most people with MS are) especially aware that it is crucial to keep ourselves as healthy as possible in order to keep on functioning well. I think many people, whether they have MS or not, don’t really realize how bad their lifestyles are making them feel, but I certainly can tell the difference in my symptoms and overall ability to keep going when I am in good physical health and shape.
A Little Better Every Day
So, I am going to share with you my philosophy for keeping the body going without getting despondent, obsessed or caught up in circular debates about what is the “right” approach to staying alive: strive for a little better every day. That’s it, that’s all there is to it, but it took me a long time to get here.
What do I mean by “strive for a little better every day,” you might ask. It’s very simple. We know on a fundamental level what healthy choices look like – easy things, like grapes instead of a twinkie, a little yoga instead of that third hour of a video game, sleeping instead of doodling around on the Internet at 3:00 am – things like that. Yet, in many, maybe most, cases we reject those choices because we like to have a concrete plan and strategy, with specific steps and instructions, rather than relying on our own instincts. However, it is precisely because the “right way to live” involves complicated regimens and requires referring to the books touting the approaches that we fail to meet most of the objectives that we had at the beginning of these endeavors. Then we let things slip even more.
Let’s start fresh. Let’s see what we can do to make the most of what we’ve got, but still have a good time and maintain our sense of self, and humor, while doing so. Let’s tune in a little better to what our bodies and minds instinctively know and take it from there.
So, start somewhere. Pick something off of this list or make your own list. Work on something new every week or month. Don't aim for perfection, strive for a little better every day and you will be a success:
- Eat fresh, healthy food. Try to cook at home several times a week.
- Get some exercise.
- Go outside.
- Call a friend and have a good laugh (or cry).
- See your doctor and have all the screening tests you have been putting off.
- Work on kicking a bad habit.
- Try something new.
- Tell someone that you love them.