Day One

(Original Blog Post from 2/2/17)

First blog jitters… but let’s just dive right in, shall we?

Today was the first day that I decided not to feel weak.

I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis a year ago, almost exactly. Multiple Sclerosis is basically when your immune system attacks itself. The medical definition of MS is a chronic, typically progressive disease involving damage to the sheaths of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, whose symptoms may include numbness, impairment of speech and of muscular coordination, blurred vision, and severe fatigue.

I was diagnosed with MS by accident. I have dealt with pretty severe lower back pain for years and I finally decided to do something about it. When physical therapy failed, and my x ray looked fine, they decided to do an MRI on my lumbar spine. The good news is they didn’t find any damage of any kind, which warrants us to believe that my lower back pain is a compression issue (which I’m actively working on trying to fix). The bad news is they found a lesion at the very top of the imaging.

They ordered an MRI of my thoracic spine next. This gave a better view of the lesion they saw on my previous x ray. They didn’t find any others, but ordered an MRI of my cervical spine and my brain just in case. My cervical MRI was clear, but my brain MRI came back with several lesions. I have no recollection of any MS-related symptoms prior to finding these lesions, so this was when I was diagnosed with “clinically isolated syndrome” MS.

Since then, I have read countless medical articles about MS. For a long time I tried to believe I didn’t have it, and it must be a fluke. Last Summer, I started to get the numbness and tingling in my fingertips and hands. I soon felt it in my feet. It would come and go, and for the most part it didn’t hinder my day to day life. I felt tired all of the time. My gym workouts just were not the same. So I read more… these symptoms are common for people with MS.

After one particularly stressful work day, I ended up with a minor form of optic neuritis in my right eye. A blinding headache, eye pain, and partial loss of vision were the result. This is just another side effect of having MS. To anyone listening, I definitely got the point. I have MS.

I’m lucky though. So far, those are the only symptoms I’ve had (knock on wood) and by following the Swank diet, I am hopeful I can keep it this way. I came across this diet by sheer curiosity. My husband and I had recently gone vegan, so one day I went to trusty Google and typed in, “vegan and MS.” Links to articles pertaining to this diet resulted, and I’ve followed it ever since.

The Swank diet is a MS-specific diet that was part of a 35 year study done by Dr Roy Swank. The diet focuses on low saturated fast, a monitored number of unsaturated fats, and little to no animal products. If you do have animal products, there are guidelines. It also focuses on stress reduction and proper rest. The success rate is very high, and it helps best those who are newly diagnosed. There is even a Facebook group with close to 2000 members, ranging from people who have been on the diet for 20-30+ years and were actual patients of Dr Swank, to people who are just starting it like myself. It has been a huge help in this journey of mine.

The point of this first blog was to give a short background of my diagnosis, and how I have been managing my life because of it. I feel like I can never be too educated on any topic, especially one that is so close to home for myself. But being so educated on the subject affected me in a way I didn’t expect. With all of my studying of MS, every article tells me what an MS patient should expect. The real major, unpredictable challenge is when you have a flare up – which could mean anything from vertigo, to temporary blindness, to temporary loss of limb function. However, the every day, major, very predictable challenge is the fatigue. I’ve felt it, and it comes and goes. Some days are worse than others.

When I feel the fatigue, it almost gives great validation to every article that I ever read. I think to myself that this is normal and I should be feeling this. My mind has decided that this is my new normal, and in a lot of ways it is, but that mentality doesn’t help me get out of bed most mornings before work and get into the gym. I have slept in more mornings than I’d like to. That mentality doesn’t help me push through my workouts at a pace that is healthy for me. I have given up when I could probably do at least two more reps. I have skipped cardio because in my mind, because I have MS, I should feel fatigued and weak and call it a day.

But not today. Not moving forward. Today I went into the gym and had one of the best chest workouts I’ve had in a long time. I did those extra reps. I did my 30 minutes of cardio. Because starting today, I’m going to be my own motivation. Being healthy is part physical, part mental. If you believe you can’t do something, you will not do it. But imagine if you believed you could… Imagine you felt strong.

I’m not going to let my MS dictate how my life will be. Yeah, I’ve got a new normal, and there will be times when I absolutely just do not have it in the tank, and that’s ok. But I’ll be damned if I let myself think it’s ok to feel a certain way ALL of the time, when I know I can do more. Today is my day one.