Oh yeah – I have MS, that’s why…

Men weary as much of not doing the things they want to do as of doing the things they do not want to do. ~Eric Hoffer

Is it just me, or do you ever find yourself wondering: “Why am I so tired?”

Sometimes, believe it or not, that is exactly what I find myself asking. “Why am I so tired?” “Why can’t I focus?” “Why am I having so much trouble thinking?” “Why can’t I remember things?”

Then I remember. “Oh, yeah – I have multiple sclerosis…that’s why.”

As many of my friends, family, and followers know – I like being active (mentally and physically). It is hard to hold me still, especially if I am passionate about something. I work full-time (and I am an A-type high achiever); I swim competitively; I do yoga regularly; I volunteer my time in various efforts; I take care of my family; I help out friends wherever I can.

So when I have days that I simply cannot think, or pain flares big-time, or I am so fatigued that I literally sleep for 20 hours in a row or more…it still stupidly surprises me. I actually ask myself “why?” Then remember – “Oh yeah – I have MS.”

My capacity for forgetting seems to be limitless!

Yes, I work full-time – but from home, as a result of an accommodation agreement with my managers. Yes, I volunteer – but in a capacity where I offer my time, and it is not physical and I can do it from home or face-face.  Yes I am very physically active – but in a self-regulated and methodical way, and because it is a management tool that helps reduce my pain, which in turns helps reduce the fatigue. In other words – I have MS, and my life and how I cope is directly affected by that fact.

Now I consider myself very lucky because I am abe to be so physically active, and the docs say my MS soes not seem to be taking me down a path where that would change anytime soon. (Cognitively however…that is a different story for another day…) The very fact that I am so physically active, and often more physically active than my “healthier” friends, is the very reason that sometimes I can find myself wondering WHY I am so exhausted or in such pain, or so mentally fogged. I mean, I “look good for being so sick”, as some people would say. (That phrase irritates so many of us…)

And the one thing I do know, and never forget, is that being physically active is good for ALL of us, MS or no MS. The more active I am, the more active I am able to remain. (Though there is a critical tipping point one must be aware of for maximum benefit.)

And yet -The more active, engaged, and passionate I am in my life, the more often I find myself “surprised” by being taken down by my MS at various points. You see, the more I do, the more I feel i can do and am able to do with ease. I will be trucking along at what I think is a fine speed, then WHAM – all of a suden I can barely think, speak, move or keep my eyes open, and my pain is high, and brain fog thickens. And I still ask myself “Why am I feeling like this?”

Oh yeah – I have MS. That’s why.

At those points, I basically have no choice but to let go, and do what I must : sleep and recover. (The latest episode had me sleeping almost 30 of 36 hours. Whoa.) But giving in to the body signals for sleep is a good thing, even though today’s society can often infer a stigma of “laziness” on it. You hear it in comments like “Lucky you – you got to sleep the day away!” It is really not such a lucky thing…it is a matter of sheer necessity. And that is OK.

‘Tis healthy to be sick sometimes. ~ Henry David Thoreau

Namaste.

Carolyne

Push through! Push through! You can do it.

Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude. ~ Thomas Jefferson

As many of you know, I manage my MS by maintaining a strong exercise program – which includes swimming, walking, and yoga. This daily exercise routine is necessary to manage my fatigue and pain levels. Too much lying around causes my leg pain to skyrocket, and makes me more fatigued and less mobile. Two days of inactivity can cause painful immobility – and I really don’t like it, so hence I maintain as high a level of physical activity as possible. Luckily, my earlier years as a synchronized swimmer, lifeguard team member, waterpolo player and weight training enthusiast have given me a “push through the pain” discipline and mentality that serves me well now when I need it for my own survival.

Even so, MS remains confusing to manage and pisses me off sometimes (ok – lots of times).  I can push myself very hard while swimming and maintain amazing cardio benefits as a result. I can do hot yoga and regulate my breathing and maintain flexibility. But push myself a bit hard on a warm sunny day? …that’s another story all together. Hubby and I hiked around the Dingle Tower park here in Halifax recently on a beautiful sunny summer day, then we climbed to the top of the historic tower. It is just a few stories high…straight up wrought iron stairways. No problem, right? I mean – I am fit, and have cardio benefits to burn, right? Well, I get to the top…and the world starts to go grey at the edges and I feel myself about to faint…so I drop immediately and spend 15 minutes on the floor to prevent a full-on faint. All this brought on by being overheated and my MS flaring up, saying: “Nope – don’t like it. I am gonna take you down.”

It made me angry to feel weak and vulnerable. It made me angry to feel “bested” by my own body – despite all my efforts to maintain a good balance. So – that stubborn streak came out yet again. Because I recognized what was happening, I was abe to prevent a full-on faint by resting at the top of the tower, allowing the breezes to cool me rapidly. Once I felt cooler and stronger, I got back up – and I climbed down those stairs on my own, shaky legs and all. And lucky hubby – he did not have to carry me down the tower stairs! Though he chivalrously walked in front of me so he could catch me if I fell. (That man is wonderful – and so patient with my stubbornness! )

To me – it is that “push through the pain” mentality that allows me to push the boundaries of my own body like that – beyond my MS; beyond my fear of having a seizure. I don’t like feeling held back – and I will try to do whatever I can to succeed at my goal. Do I always succeed? Heck, no – we all know that by now. But to me, trying is the most important part – it means I am alive and moving forward. Sheer stubbornness helps too!

Respect your efforts, respect yourself. Self-respect leads to self-discipline. When you have both firmly under your belt, that’s real power. ~ Clint Eastwood

Namaste

Carolyne

Me and my MS: Why I love the water and swimming

“Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it.” ~ Lao Tzu

Carolyne coming up from the depths!

Carolyne coming up from the depths!

Water. H2O. Is there anything more beautiful and potentially terrifying at the same time?? The power of water (as can be seen in the floods we have seen here in Canada this year) is awe-inspiring. It can bring peace. It can destroy. It is a basic necessity of life.

In the summer, people often head to swimming pools, lakes, ocean beaches, rivers, kiddy pools, sprinklers…anything to be in or near water. We do this primarily to stay cool and get away from heat – MS or no MS. With excess heat, often comes irritability and  health distress of some form. With excess heat, those of us with MS often see flare ups of symptoms and severely increased fatigue levels – none of which is good.

Thank goodness for my ability to get in the water and swim, and feel comfortable, and feel cool. Whether I am upside down spinning in some wild synchronized swimming figure, or swimming flat out, or just floating…I am comfortably at peace with my environment.

In the water is the only place I feel no pain. When I am in the water, I feel like I am home.

When I say I feel no pain, I mean that gravity is no longer a factor in my pain. The movement in the water also helps take away the deep burning pain I chronically deal with in my legs.  Daily movement is what helps keep that pain manageable – but swimming helps give me a nearly complete break from it. (That is an emotional and mental bonus, in my books.) But in order to gain that benefit of feeling pain-free, I do have to push myself to feel the “pain” of hard exercise. I have to push my body to gain good cardio benefits and strength – and  that comes with the pain of the exertion, as in “No pain, no gain”.

I have been swimming again with my local Masters swim team…and marveling at the effects it has on me. While Synchro develops strength, grace, agility, and breath control, swim team develops more on the cardio and endurance levels. Gasp!!! The two combined, along with yoga, keep me physically balanced and increase my ability to manage pain. But I still sometimes overdo it – and I learn from it each time.

When one has MS, they have to learn to find the balance between “just enough” and “too much”, or risk the backlash of MS symptoms. I usually only know when I have pushed too much after the fact – such as when I end up deeply exhausted, in terrible burning pain,  and foggy brained for 2 days after a particularly hard training session. (That’s when gentle yoga and resting meditation is really critical!) Hindsight is always 20-20 though, eh? Finding that sweet spot between “just enough” and “too much” takes work – and often with MS, finding that sweet spot is never ending, because MS symtoms can flare and change so unpredictably. Do it anyway!

MS Whammy: The Raw Emotional Impact

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr

Well, I have been “off-line” for a few weeks, you may have noticed. Why? A bunch of things…but suffice it to say the bottom line was because of an MS back-handed WHAMMY!

In recent weeks I have been trying somewhat unsuccessfully to juggle my health management needs, family needs, and work-related needs. As is my wont, I pushed myself much to hard to meet a deadline at work for a high-profile opportunity (which was successful, by the way). At the same time I was dealing with a teenager’s confused and volatile life-searching angst which had direct repercussions on how I manage my household, and dealing with a new “complication” related to my MS. All this combined to bring me down to a state of total disengagement and “cocooning”. I was bone tired. I was at a level of raw emotional pain that literally had me keening in the fetal position in my shower almost daily. Basically – I needed to check out for a bit – from work, from tech, from everything…and simply rest. Rest, rest, rest.

Have I ever mentioned that it is hard for me to “slow down” and actually rest, despite a chronic illness that requires it?

With all the stuff going on, my self-identity took a direct hit, leaving me wondering what my life would be like without MS & seizures. Would major decisions have been different had I never had that seizure that forced my car accident all those years ago? Would my family have been better cared for if I had died in the accident? Did I do enough for them despite my MS? What is my life purpose? Why can’t I stop crying? Who am I? I felt angry as hell at my health situation – angry that maybe it was a main reason behind the teenage angst I was seeing.

What was all this? Grief.

You see, grief that is associated with living with a chronic illness can back-hand you at the most surprising times, and in any of its various stages. The past month I was feeling deep grief and anger and depression – triggered by a decision made by a family member. That in turn made me more ill with a flare of MS symptoms and more despondent, especially since I was already at a low ebb due to giving everything I had to teaching a professional workshop.

I am crawling out from under my rock now. But these past few weeks have served as a strong reminder to me that the grief of living with a chronic illness such as MS sometimes lies much closer to the surface than I am willing to admit.

But it also shows me that there is always a light shining somewhere when that rock is moved away.

“Life is a song – sing it. Life is a game – play it. Life is a challenge – meet it. Life is a dream – realize it. Life is a sacrifice – offer it. Life is love – enjoy it.” ~ Sai Baba

Be gentle with yourself. Namaste.

Carolyne

Chronic Illness and Mental Health: Ghosts We Fear to Discuss

The moment in which the mind acknowledges ‘This isn’t what I wanted, but it’s what I got’ is the point at which suffering disappears. Sylvia Boorstein, Happiness is an Inside Job

Did you know that today, February 12th, is mental Health Awareness day? It’s a day for talking about what most of society wouldn’t talk about in the past. The stigma is HUGE.

Well, by now most of you know how I feel about stigma!

Depression is one of the “side effects” of a chronic illness, like MS… a struggle with maintaining good mental health. Personally, I call my own struggle as a struggle with the Ghosts of Lifetime Past. Let me explain…

What I have noticed over time for myself is that as my MS has progressed, so has my own awareness and understanding of myself – but in ways I never could have seen coming. For example, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a fact of life for me now…for various reasons and at various levels of complexity. When my symptoms of fatigue and pain pull me down, I tend to feel like a burden to family and friends. (Rationality has nothing to do with it!) I then can tend to feel depressed and even more emotionally exhausted…and I want nothing more than to “escape” from this burdensome-ness by disappearing somewhere, anywhere. I understand now that this comes from past emotional trauma from a very young age in which I was the oldest child of an alcoholic parent who would insist that our entire family would end up living on the streets without a home nor food and in rags if I, as oldest child, did not “shape up, do more to take care of the house, and be more responsible for my siblings“. I was 8 years old when that particular burden began being laid on me regularly. (This typical “burdening of the oldest child” usually came after my parents fought over my father’s alcoholism and my mother was ready to kick him to the curb.) So for me – I can begin a cycle of feeling very depressed when my symptoms flare up and create change or havoc in my life. I feel like I am failing at keeping the family together, happy, fed, successful. These are literally ghosts of my past – being exacerbated by symptoms of illness in my present.

But – Why do I understand it now? Because I talk about it. Because I look into myself. Because I seek self-awareness everyday.

The thing is – everyone has old ghosts. And chronic illness can raise these ghosts in the strangest ways and at the strangest times. It can create new ghosts. The changes brought into our lives by chronic illness can also make us go into hiding as we avoid talking about painful emotions, fears…depression.

If you are feeling depressed – talk about it. Now. Tomorrow. With a friend, relative, professional…with whomever you feel most safe. Just talk about it.

Namaste

Carolyne

A Type-A Personality Trapped in a Type-MS body?

“Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.” ~ Marilyn Monroe

Have you ever felt…well, trapped…trapped in your own body?

I recently was talking to a friend of mine who was experiencing just those feeling, and was down emotionally. She has an injured foot, and it is a permanent injury thanks to the incorrect efforts of a doctor who initially treated her. As an athlete, she can no longer participate in her sport. Walking for her has become a painful experience – and sometimes she needs a cane. Running – well, just forget it. But the loss of her usual mobility has left her feeling trapped – trapped in a body that won’t function like she wants it to do. Her identity is impacted – who is she now, in her own mind, “excluded” from her sport of gymnastics? Depression is a resulting possibility.

As a person with MS and Seizures (or any person with a chronic illness, such as multiple sclerosis), I fully understand that feeling of being “trapped”.

Sometimes, I want to rant and rail at the world too, asking the heavens “Why? Why am I trapped in this body that won’t keep up with my mind?? Why me? Why now?”

Lately, I feel like I have been dealing with an inner simmer of emotions, tears often close to the surface. (Well, that may be due to menopause or just that fact that I am a soft-hearted sappy and sentimental person…but that’s for another story! :) )  I have been dealing with an MS exacerbation for a number of weeks now, and it has weakened & fatigued my muscles to the point of significantly affecting my back injury from my seizure/car accident years ago. I have had to pull out the old cane, and I am on restricted activity as a result. I feel trapped by my own body’s limitations. I am wondering if I am dealing with a new “normal”.

Being an active person, and always “into things”, the idea of having to slow down, or even stop, can really impact my own identity – even though I know that slowing down is necessary as a management strategy for my health. I have SO many things I want to do – go out with friends; be more active with my family; participate in my hobbies; be able to work full-time and with full cognition at all times. Personally, I can get alternately weepy or cranky as the intensity of the feelings of “trapped-ness” vary. Right now – with my exacerbation lasting so very long, this trapped feeling is too real. Having to slow down and really rest is too constraining, irritating, frustrating…and down-right annoying.

So – how does one deal with those feelings? Well – that is very individual. Personally, I deal with it with sheer stubbornness. Is this always good? Sometimes yes, sometimes no – depends on the situation (and how ornery I am being). For example – my back injuries have been so painful of late that only being in the water gives me any real relief. So I went to synchronized swim practice as per usual, despite fatigue, seeking the bliss the water provides me. Well, early into the practice, I had a wave of virtigo hit me so hard that up was down, down was up…and my coach had to steady me on the side of the pool. She asked if I needed the lifeguard, and I said no – determined that this too shall pass. It idid – after about 10 minutes of resting on the side. I then got back into the water and continued the practice but at a reduced level of activity. (Note: I do not recommend this level of stubbornness to everyone. Safety first!!! I am just sharing my stubborn levels and its craziness!) 

I got through the swim practice fine thereafter, and found the bliss of the soothing water once again. But, whew – am I nuts? I just refused to be “trapped” by my body’s limitations that night, dammit! I am a type-A personality “trapped” (at times) in a type-MS body.

So – if this IS my new “normal”, then I have to re-discover myself a bit. I have to re-jig my health management routines and strategies to accomodate that new “normal”. Living with MS, that is simply a fact of my life. Change is a fact of Life – no matter who we are.

“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everyone will respect you.” ― Tao Te Ching

Oh – and my friend? She took up a new sport as a way to “un-trap” herself: synchronized swimming! It accommodates her foot injury just fine! See? There is always another option, a way to manage and accept what you are dealing with in life. One just has to be open to looking for it – and seeing it! (But maybe keep an eye on the level of stubbornness in your choices! :) )

Namaste

Carolyne

Allowing for Personal Renewal in 2013!

“I can hardly wait for tomorrow, it means a new life for me each and every day.” ~ Stanley Kunitz

Image Source: http://breastcancerpartner.com/blog/uncategorized/renewal-spring-is-here/

Image Source: breastcancerpartner.com/blog/

As 2012 came to an end, some sighed in relief that the world did not come to the prophetic end. Some did not have any clue that 2012 was supposedly an “end” to anything. Most of the world simply went on living life as usual.

Everyone has their own individual experience with the past year (2012) so I am not going to do any kind of run-down of 2012 events. We all can do that on a deeply personal level. Look back at 2012 and recognize the blessings there. Recognize the challenges and subsequent learning opportunities. Recognize the achievements and appreciate the moments of joy. Be grateful for what 2012 brought to your life, big or small. Then, let go of 2012 and move on to a sparkly shiny new 2013.

The year 2013 for me will be another year of change and goal setting. Here are a couple of my personal goals for 2013:

  1. Get into optimum training form. To do so, I will kick up my synchronized swimming training efforts a notch to make my goal of competing by  my 50th birthday in spring of 2014 a reality. (I have already begun this one by joining a local gym with my hubby and beginning a training regimen tailored to my injuries and medical adjustments and my goal of competing. This should complement my weekly synchro swim training sessions well! ) 
  2. Keep on top of my health management by ensuring I maintain a healthy diet and manage my fatigue properly. To do so, I will follow a healthy diet with as much raw foods as possible. I will not over-extend my energy limits to the point of exhaustion. I will schedule in more relaxation yoga and meditation.

The greatest mistake a man can make is to be afraid of making one. -Elbert Hubbard

The training goal is the tough one physically. While there is definitely excitement to be back in the water and training competitively in synchronized swimming, I battle frequently with a little niggling fear in the back of my mind that maybe, just maybe, I have bitten of more than I can chew this time. Little ghosts of thoughts cross my mind, such as: Will my body be able to handle this? Am I crazy? Am I too old? Am I too “disabled”? Does it stop me? Heck no. But it does keep me on my toes and AWARE of myself and my own qualms.

The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are. -J. Pierpont Morgan

The health management goal is the toughest one. That’s the one where I have to really fight myself to keep…because I can so easily slide into bad eating habits or push myself to  work too much when I am over-tired. When I am fatigued is also when my brain does not seem to function at its best, and I have been known to make really weird decisions in terms of best choices at the times. (I believe my sister often uses the phrase “OMG – Do you need a brick to hit you in the head every time to get you to finally rest???” ) Trying to get a Type-A person to recognize when she is in full Type-A throttle and to scale back can be quite a challenge at the best of times!

So – do I expect to be perfect this year in reaching my goals and resolutions? Heck no. But I will have fun on the path!

OUR GREATEST GLORY IS NOT IN NEVER FAILING, BUT IN RISING EVERY TIME WE FALL. -CONFUCIUS

Have fun on your own 2013 journey!

Namaste.

Carolyne

Health Management still applies during the Festive Season

Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship. ~ Buddha

We are in the midst of the holiday season festivities. This is a happy, busy and tiring time for many. It can also be a lonely time for some. Both ends require efforts to management of health.

When dealing with a chronic illness, there a more challenges afoot: trying to maximize your ability to meet social and family commitments while minimizing the drain on your energy and any impact to your health. Impacts that come not just from the demands on time and energy, but also the changes in diet and drink consumption. (Those mince meat tarts of auntie’s are to die for…oh and the cookies, cakes, hor d’ouevres, tourtieres,…oh my! What do you mean this is not the way to eat every day? Oh…my head…how many glasses of wine did you say?)  We eat differently, don’t sleep the way we normally do, and push our bodies to meet social and family functions. While all this can be fun…we need to pace ourselves and keep our health management need very clearly in mind. Because pay back is a Bi**h!

In the old days, it was not called the Holiday Season; the Christians called it ‘Christmas’ and went to church; the Jews called it ‘Hanukka’ and went to synagogue; the atheists went to parties and drank. People passing each other on the street would say ‘Merry Christmas!’ or ‘Happy Hanukka!’ or (to the atheists) ‘Look out for the wall!’ ~ Dave Barry, Christmas Shopping

So, from me and mine to you and yours: Happy Holidays! Happy Hannuka! Happy whatever! (And look out for the wall…)

Oh – and congrats on surviving the end of the world prophecies! ;)

Namaste

Carolyne

What is the End of the World, anyway?

“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”~ Dr. Seuss

Image Source:www.timeanddate.com/calendar/maya-world-end.html

Image Source:www.timeanddate.com/calendar/maya-world-end.html

So – what is the end of the world, anyway? What does the end of the world as we know it mean?

These questions have been flying around as the legendary end of the Mayan long-count calendar approaches, which falls (according to north american “experts”) on December 21, 2012.

Personally, I think the end of the world has come and gone many times over, and will come and go many times over in the future. I believe it is also highly personal. And I believe what can be the end of the world as we know can mean a brand new beginning and a new world to discover.

Just looking at this 2012 year exemplifies that for me.

A friend lost her child when a pre-natal check-up showed no heart beat – the world as she new it ended that day. Couples divorced, fighting bitter battles over child custody or money – the children’s worlds ended as they knew it. Someone gets officially diagnosed with a chronic illness like MS – the world ended as they knew it that day. A maniac kills innocent children and adults for some unknown and whacked-out reason – the world as the families of the victims ended as they know it that day. Militants, rebels, and corrupt governments fight endlessly, killing civilians and military personnel – the world as they and the people around them know it ended, repeatedly.

On the other side of the coin, there is a new beginning. But that new beginning is not necessarily always easy or painless. The person diagnosed with a disease starts a support group and sees a new beginning and a new life managing and coping. The results of the maniacal killing spree of a whacko spurs a new beginning for better and safer gun laws and restrictions. I married my best friend, lover, hero, and the most wonderful man I have ever met; that day the end of the word as I knew it occurred – and a brand knew world began for me.

As human being, we seem to always search for the “end of the world” somewhere. Do we really need to look for the end of the world in things we cannot control, big or small? I say “Stop”. Look a little bit closer to home…and appreciate what you have around you. Appreciate the little endings, the little beginnings – the world around you. Don’t try to control what you simply cannot. Don’t panic about things that have no basis in truth.

The world changes every single day. Be grateful for the world as YOU know it.

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” ― Robert Frost

(See you on the other side of the End of the World. ;)

Namaste

Carolyne

Rest: We will Return after These Messages…

“Sometimes the most urgent thing you can possibly do is take a complete rest.” ~ Ashleigh Brilliant

Two Sisters – Ah…Savasana in the sun….

Summer sun – is there anything more wonderful? The warmth? The heat…the baking heat…frig, it’s hot.

This summer, with much of the continent affected by recorded breaking temperatures, there have been many people seriously affected by the heat. I myself am also experiencing the MS effects of heat more than I ever have in my history with MS. For example – my legs gave out twice on me while out and about in the Rockies. My hubby-to-be, Mike, actually had to catch me in one of these episodes as my legs simple “let go”. (I happened to be on the cliff side of a hiking trail…so I am glad he caught me!!)

I am, as many MS’ers may be, experiencing big flare ups of my symptoms due to the summer heat. So – I am going to rest for the next few weeks, and simply take a break from my “busy-ness” by purposely being less busy. Believe me – that’s not easy for a type-A personality like me! I gots things to do, places to go, people to see, blogs to write…the list is endless. But I mentally, emotionally, and physically need to do this.

“I know exactly what I want. Everything. Calm, peace, tranquility,
freedom, fun, happiness. If I could make all that one word, I would – a
many-syllabled word. “- Johnny Depp

So – see y’all in September. have a great summer – and remember to rest!

namaste.

Carolyne