Three years ago today I was lying in a hospital bed having just been told that I had multiple sclerosis. I was in shock; I’d just thought I was tired and stressed. I hadn’t made the connection between the random symptoms I’d been experiencing for years, and a serious incurable neurological disease. Since then, life has been a roller coaster of ups and downs, and I can’t pretend that sometimes it’s anything but shit: the pain, fatigue and numerous other daily symptoms, having to cancel plans yet again, not having the energy of my peers, having to stop working, feeling so run down most of the time…. If I let myself, I could go on and on with this list of negatives, but one of the things I’m understanding more and more is how this can easily bring me down further still, and that a more positive (but still realistic) attitude has a huge impact on how I feel, how my day goes, and my relationships with those around me.
So even though I think it’s important to be realistic, I also think that grumbling and moaning don’t do us much good, whether that’s out loud or just our internal monologue.
Perhaps coincidentally, yesterday I started reading the meditation chapter of Prof George Jelinek’s Overcoming MS, and it felt like such good timing as I reflect back on the last 3 years, how much life has changed and how I want to move forward from here. Two words from what I’ve read so far really stuck out and are making a difference to me already: Empowerment and Hope.
Photo by sydney zentz on Unsplash
I don’t think I’d heard the word empowerment before in the context of health. Professor Jelinek explains that:
‘…empowerment really means becoming the captain of one’s own ship. It means that, through our own efforts, actions and changes, we not only get back a sense of controlling our own health destiny, but also see tangible improvements in our health as a result of our actions.’
I’ll be honest, ‘controlling our own health destiny’ seems to go a little too far for me, but I do understand the underlying message: be proactive rather than sitting back and giving all responsibility to your doctors. The book mentions the following ways in which we can do this:
- What to eat and drink
- How much exercise to do
- How much sun exposure to get (and vitamin D)
- Eliminating risk factors such as smoking
- Being actively involved in stress reduction
- Deciding whether or not to take medication
‘People who are proactive in their health achieve better outcomes than those taking a more passive approach.’
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
The book goes on to describe how this empowerment ‘reinforces a person’s hope for the future, and having greater hope is thought to improve one’s ability to adjust or cope with MS.’
‘Hope has an important protective effect for the health of people with MS.’
I think this refers to how we deal with stress, and that an empowered and hopeful perspective can place us in a stronger position to deal resiliently with stressful events. Anyone who knows anything about MS knows how much stress affects it and so building resilience can only be a good thing (and as those of you who read my last post will know, I have a house move coming up in three weeks’ time, so this is very relevant right now!).
Today on my 3 year anniversary, it feels like I am moving turning another corner with how I am living with my illness. I expect there will be lots more to come, and more ups and downs on the roller coaster. Of course I’ll let things get on top of me some times and feel fed up, but whatever happens, however many bad days I have, I want to continue building my resilience, learning about MS, about myself and how I can continue to make a positive difference. I have brainstormed a few of the things which I find helpful, and would love to hear of different ideas which work for you. The more things in the toolkit the better!
What brings me a sense of empowerment and hope?
- Friends and family who are there for me no matter what xxx
- Having a fab GP who always takes the time to listen. I feel very understood by her, and it always feels like she is on my side
- Being careful with what I eat and drink; reading up about MS and diet, and then making my own choices based on this and the Sattvic diet which yoga teaches us about
- Exercise: as some of you know, I have been trying to increase my walking – I did 27 minutes today! Increase from the 10 which had become my normal walk up until a few weeks ago 🙂
- Yoga: I practise every day, and usually teach 5 times a week. Both help on lots of levels, physical, mental and spiritual, and teaching gives me that sense of making a difference which I mentioned earlier
- Meditation: my own practice usually in the morning helps me start the day positively, and I also use the popular mindfulness meditations from Headspace which I love.
What else would you add to this list? x
Featured image: photo by Jeremy Vessey on Unsplash