Thursday April 07 2016 11:07 AM
This week Niamh looks at the adjustments she has made to improve her general well-being.
People with MS know the importance of their health, they are experts in their symptoms, medications and treatments.
But what about our more general well-being? The well-being which can get lost in the cycle of injections, appointments and being too tired or sore to do anything else?
Over the last few years the notion of clean eating, healthy living and mindfulness has gone from something I was vaguely aware of to a full-on in-your-face all over the internet sensation. OK, it has probably been going on for a lot longer than that, but I was the girl who spent her time online looking at shoes, not lentils and quinoa. It has taken me a while to catch up!
I had a few experiences of people telling me stories about how they know someone who had their MS 'cured' by changing what they eat. When I was just getting to grips with having MS, hearing the theories about food and drink was the last thing I needed. I have no doubt that the people had my best interests in mind when they told me, but the timing was just wrong for me and it felt a little like I was being blamed for developing MS.
I am now fully aware that having MS is not my fault. I am also more aware of my health and well-being overall. In particular, I started to look at what I was eating. After a recommendation from a friend with MS, I read about the Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis recovery programme, developed by Professor George Jelinek. I am not going to lie- the first time I read about it, and that it involves giving up meat and dairy (among other things), I logged out of the website and ate a sausage sandwich. With a glass of milk. And I don’t even like milk.
Then I had a big relapse in 2014, which I’ve blogged about before and you can read about here. Thankfully I recovered well in the following months, but I decided that I had to take more responsibility for taking care of myself. I also wrote a blog on why I didn’t think MS diets were for me, but I was beginning to realise that my symptoms and my body were shouting at me to slow down. I had got into a habit of grabbing quick meals and never switching off from the PC, TV or my phone. Resting was done under duress- I can rival a toddler in throwing a strop when I am NOT tired and I DON’T WANT a nap. Just 5 more minutes…
About 12 months ago, I slowly started to adjust from my way of 'barely-being' to 'well-being'. After the small changes I mentioned in my blog, I decided to go for it and I changed my diet drastically. I stopped eating meat and cheese, which was hard. The rest of dairy/animal products followed. I cut back on eating anything that I hadn’t made from scratch. I saw a big improvement in my symptoms and my general health. I wasn’t as tired or achy, and I slept better. My hair and skin cleared up, and people started commenting that I was looking healthier. The biggest bonus was I didn’t have any sick days for MS in 2015. Changing my food has been aided greatly by the huge number of plant based recipe books, websites and social media resources that are available. Many hours have been spent Googling “courgetti spaghetti”
I also went back on the Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis website, and took an interest in the recommendations for exercise and meditation. Exercising is not something I am fond of but I started going for short walks to build up my strength and stamina. I was lucky enough to attend one of Dr Susan Coote’s talks on the 'Step It Up' exercise programme which was developed in the University of Limerick for people with MS. I learned that I didn’t have to immediately take on an exhausting and punishing regime. Instead, I could take things at my own pace, build up my speed gradually and benefit from being out in the fresh air. Even if I just sat in the garden for 10 minutes, it was better than an extra 10 minutes screen time.
Speaking of the dreaded screen time… that has been very hard for me to cut back on. My life revolves around it. If I am not working or blogging, I am chatting to friends online or watching TV. Or doing all 4 at once! I am just not good at resting. Or being quiet. Or sitting still. So, the meditation and mindfulness part of my plan hasn’t been a success! I do recognise its importance though and I’ve made it a mini-goal for 2016. I might have to disconnect the electricity and Wi-Fi first though.
As a foot note to this blog, I want to add- I have never been told by any of the (many) healthcare professionals I’ve dealt with that my MS was caused by eating or drinking certain foodstuffs. They have provided me with, I believe, sound advice about medications and treatments. They have been very open to my own suggestions of eating a plant based diet, and accommodated this by regularly checking my bloods for things like iron deficiencies.
I also don’t think that everyone must drastically change their lifestyle, it’s a big undertaking and it’s not easy. I slip up a lot. I don’t always practice what I preach. And I certainly don’t know if it will make a blind bit of difference to my MS Progression. But I’ve decided to stick at it for now, and see how it goes. There are no hard and fast rules, if I decide to go back to eating sausage sambos; it won’t be the end of the world. Who knows, by this time next year, I might even be blogging about the joys of meditation!
Thanks for reading, I look forward to your comments.