It’s been over six months now that I was given the unwelcome news that yes, I’m in the early stages of MS (auto-immune condition multiple sclerosis)…
And that I was advised now would be the time to start medication. To date over the last few years I’ve experienced two obvious symptoms – double vision that came on suddenly and slowly resolved over a few months and ongoing numbness in my fingers, which I didn’t think much of at all. And fatigue, which is a hard one to classify as so many of us experience tiredness to different degrees for a whole host of reasons. But I’ve learnt to recognise my MS related tiredness as the kinds that hurts – you get an unpleasant tingling in varying parts of your body and your eyelids close like weights. Sometimes it passes if you lie down for a while, sometimes it stays with you. A number of MRIs have shown up my separate occasions of lesions (inflammation scars on the myelin sheath that coats the nerves in your brain, effectively preventing information and signals from travelling down that neural pathway – the tiredness is caused in part, from what I understand, by the brain having to compensate for these blockages).
My initial plan was (and currently still is) to hold off on the various medications on offer at the moment (for now there’s no side-effect free magic pill that halts the progression and mends the myelin sheath) and put all my energies into what I eat, how I exercise and how I approach my life.
The food is easy enough. The diet I follow is part of the OMS programme to which I have committed (based on the Swank diet – 50 years of research by Dr Swank showed incredible results for people at all stages of the disease following his nutrition guidance) and is easy enough; especially these days, with oat lattes and avo on toast de rigeur. In a nutshell, it’s vegan plus seafood. The aim is to cut saturated fats, so much of which we consume today in dairy and red meat. By cutting these out and swapping in fish instead, you meet the approx 10g of saturated fat per day guideline easily.
After six months of the diet, sensation to my fingers has completely returned, I rarely get the tingling fatigue (unless I’ve really pushed it) in addition to which, the welcome side effects of my periods pains having almost gone entirely, my PSM dramatically reduced, my rash prone skin much calmed, energy levels massively up and I no longer have, what I now realise was a bad case of brain fog. My mind feels as whistlesharp as it did when I was a teenager. Who knew!
The exercise (which helps neuroplasticity, ie. the brain re-wiring around blockages) doesn’t need to be extreme. At the moment I alternate a ten-minute jog with half an hour of yoga every other day. And with the diet, my body feels strong and limber, and I surprise myself everyday with new physical endurance. A two-hour straight weeding session is something I can do now without giving it a second thought. And I don’t collapse in a heap afterwards.
Other aspects of the 7-step OMS programme are: taking regular doses of Vitamin D, flaxseed oil and practising meditation. Like many on this programme (check the OMS podcasts, so useful to listen to!) I struggle with the mediation. So I’ve adapted my already in-built routines to try and build it up. Ever since I was a teenager I’ve always done a ‘body scan’ to help me get to sleep – focussing on each part of the body to relax with deep slow breaths.
And this leads my into the other key part of tackling my condition. Dealing with stress. Stress is a relapse trigger for many people with MS and looking back it was at times of high stress that seemed to connect with my progression. So removing stress from your life and learning how to deal with it are necessary. Dealing with toxic issues in your life, re-jigging how you live to avoid daily physical stress are things I’ve been working on.
And the result in the physical shape of my life is that I’ve ended up making it alot more home based. Less dashing about here and there, less trying to cram everything into an impossible time frame. More having enough time to do things and going at a slower pace. And of course at home it’s easier to make the right and eat the right food and get the exercise in.
In light of that, lockdown has come fairly easily to me – especially as as a freelancer I’ve worked from home for many years now. And more time at home gives me more control over the shape of my day and allows me to work on being as well as I can. And for the moment, I’m good with that. As I try and stop the progression of my MS in its tracks with a nutrition and lifestyle approach, for the moment I feel positive and that maybe I can do it. And possibly the next step is taking things even further, like many on the OMS programme do and embrace a life out of the city… Next update soon 😉
To read more about the OMS programme visit overcomingms.org