Getting a long term diagnosis can change your life. It makes you stop and reevaluate everything. You wonder what you could have done to prevent it. The fact is, this is just another part of life. These things happen to everyone, regardless of how healthy you are. The human condition is vulnerable and anything can happen.
The more I read about the disease the more I feel it is important to slow down and make more conscious decisions centered around my own self care. These decisions will not only make me a healthier but they will have a rippling effect throughout my family and friends. Following are some personal resolutions I have made which not only benefit those with chronic illness but anyone who is looking to reduce stress and live a more healthy and balanced life.
I have been fortunate enough to always be petite so I was never a big diet person. I also like to think I naturally eat a lot of healthy food since I was raised with Muslim Arab culture. I am also pretty active during warmer months, any time its above 50 degrees. I walk everywhere and enjoy being outside. One thing I can improve is reducing the amount of coffee I drink and increase the amount of water. At lunch I have been trying to follow a raw food diet by skipping on the deli meat and making a big salad full of fresh veggies and dressed with only some lemon juice. I want to make fitness a priority and get into a regular habit of exercise that I enjoy. While fatigue makes me want to lie around, I need to stay active to avoid creating bad habits. There are many exercise videos on TV and apps on your phone which make fitness free and accessible at home during the cold winter months. Finally, I plan to bike ride 3-4 times a week once it gets a little warmer out.
Mental health is just as important as physical health, with a new diagnosis, staying positive is a constant conscious decision. When I first experienced my symptoms I was experiencing a lot of anxiety and even my first full blown panic attack. Being alone with my children would make me so upset since I felt guilt for not being healthy and strong and worried I would become a burden on my family. I felt like I had betrayed them since I might not be the active, happy, lively mom that I had envisioned of myself. After getting my actual diagnosis I became depressed, mourning the loss of my old self and angry about my life having to change. Even now as my symptoms have almost fully receded I sometimes feel different and inadequate. Its hard to stay optimistic with so many unknowns but it is crucial. The more I read and reach out to others with MS the more I learn that so many live with the disease who are still active and involved parents. I am making a conscious effort to be less emotionally reactive to outside stress and walk away from any conflict that I feel may distract or consume me. Prayer is another good habit to create. There is something meditative and humbling about prayer, especially Islamic prayer for me. The movements and surahs have a way of calming me. I feel a content and fulfilled. Yoga, similar to prayer, is also meditative. It clears your mind and regulates your breathing. Groupon has great deals on yoga packages. I still have to finish half of a hot yoga package I purchased last year. Reading is also on my radar. Its important to keep your brain sharp to avoid depression and reduce negative thinking. Watching my mother suffer through early onset dementia, I am on high alert to keep my brain active. I like to alternate with something light like travel or a novel to something heavy like history, science, and social justice. Self help books are also great for light reading and you still absorb the information while learning better coping skills. With infusions on the horizon for my potential medications which may take between 1 and 3 hours, I have thought about joining a book club or starting my own.
Self Identity is an important component to mental health. Balancing your own personal life and idea of self with all your other roles as caretaker takes practice and some days feels impossible. I am making an effort to feel less guilty in pursuing my own hobbies instead of using any free moment I have to catch up on cleaning. Lately when my kids have screen time, so do I, we all take a mental break. Writing can be very therapeutic and I enjoy creating something with my blog. The whole process has encouraged me to learn more about fashion, website design, and the business of influencer marketing, its fascinating and accessible. I recently put my younger child in part time daycare in the mornings so I could go to all these MS doctor appointments and visit and take my mother to her doctor appointments. Sometimes I have a free morning or an hour and my instinct is to go grocery shopping or clean something. Instead I am using some of this time for myself. Whether it is watching a grown up show during the day or staying on top of my acupuncture appointments, OK that’s a doctor appointment but I am trying. I do have an idea of spending one day just trying on bathing suits soon. Retail therapy is my favorite. Once it gets nicer out I may even just go for a walk by myself, how relaxing. I live next to the beach of course I should.
Moderation is a another good habit to practice. I have the tendency to be the kind of person that’s rushing. I like to get to places on time and I like to overbook myself. I’m always trying to pack in as much as I can in one day because I tell myself I will have nothing to do tomorrow. But I’m not one to sit still, at least until now. MS has definitely slowed me down and I like it. Similar to when you have a newborn and you are forced to sit all day feeding them every hour for the first month, there is just no alternative, that’s what you are doing. I can still push myself some days but I feel it afterwards, and whats the rush anyway. I can slow down, stay calm, and go with the flow. Its pretty impossible to rush a 2 1/2 year old anyway, throw in a 7 year old for distraction and double the noise and you’re adding 30 min to everything. Moderation in my health journey is just as important. Its nice to take vitamins and work out everyday but its OK if I don’t. Moderation is looking at the big picture and the long term goal, for the week or the month and deciding to be happy with everything you accomplish.
These are a few of the choices I am making to slow down my life and practice self care. I’m sure I will be adding to my list as chronic illness has a way of changing over time. What life changes have you made to preserve your health? I think its important to create goals that you want to meet and that you will realistically be able to meet. Once my children are older I plan to hit the gym harder but I just want to enjoy this time with them while they are young. Life is short.