Multiple Sclerosis Centers of Excellence
Gloria Baker -- St. Louis County, Missouri
Having MS can make even small tasks seem impossible. It is easy to feel like life is something happening to you instead of something that you are doing. These feelings of hopelessness can lead to depression, weight gain, and further disability. Staying active is important so that we don’t lose essential muscle tone that will keep us mobile for as long as possible. However, it is hard to stay active when we feel depressed and that life is out of our control. When and where MS strikes is not something we decide, but after that diagnosis, we have many choices and opportunities.
When I was diagnosed with MS, I was a young mother of three who already suffered from depression, and it didn’t take long for me to spiral even further out of control. I was severely overweight and I smoked three packs of cigarettes a day; my home was in shambles and I was on the brink of divorce. MS became more than a disease for me; it became an excuse. How was I supposed to change all of these problems when I couldn’t see well and my legs wouldn’t work?
People always told me that I was strong, but they didn’t know how weak I sometimes felt. I hope to help others who are struggling so that they don’t get to a point of desperation. I decided that If I was going to live, then I was really going to live. Not the way that I had been existing before, but in a better way. I felt like I was at the bottom of the highest mountain as I evaluated my life and realized what I would have to do. And I would have to do these things while dealing with MS.
MS stopped being my excuse and became my reason to make the right choices. If I was truly going to live a better life, I needed to be as healthy as possible. Taking one small project at a time, I cleaned up my life. I had a literal mountain of laundry that I sorted piece by piece. I wouldn’t focus on the entire task or I would have become overwhelmed. I took it one step at a time, and I was able to keep my spirits up long enough to make a drastic change. Sometimes the MS would make me tired and I would have a week when less got cleaned than dirtied, but I learned to forgive myself for not being perfect.
According to weight standards I was obese. I loved sugar and used food to cover up my emotions. I had trouble walking because the weight on my legs caused my MS leg symptoms to worsen. The idea of working out seemed impossible when I sometimes couldn’t even walk. When I looked in the mirror and saw myself in photographs I grew increasingly unhappy. I knew that being overweight leads to diabetes and my blood tests always showed that I was pre-diabetic. I decided to take the first step and it was a painful one. I discovered an at-home workout program that enabled me to exercise from home at my own pace. And I found sources of information on diets online, with a home dietary program online serving to provide a large amount of guidance.
The main diet change that I made was to eat a whole food diet. I tried to limit sugar intake to naturally occurring sugars in fruits. I also limited my carbohydrate intake to five servings per day. I ate lean meats like chicken, almost daily. I was eating only natural foods in their most natural form. For example, I would prepare sautéed vegetables with brown rice (I hardly ever ate vegetables before the weight loss). I tend to lean towards a more plant-based diet when I focus on healthy eating. I also limited what I drank to water or unsweetened tea. At some point I even precooked meals for the week ahead so that they were quick and easy during my busy day.
The weight began to fall off. With every lost pound, my legs sighed with relief. I enjoyed looking in the mirror. Not because I was where I wanted to be but because I could see the difference. I started seeing the benefits of exercise right away; my posture improved, my clothes fit better. I realized that persistence was the key to making the necessary changes. I worked out no matter how bad I felt. If I couldn’t walk, I lifted weights. However, it didn’t take long for my legs to stop hurting as much – a benefit I hadn’t anticipated. I had more energy and my MS symptoms improved! I used to dread going to see my MS doctor because I felt like all I ever did was whine and complain, but suddenly I found myself excited to share my progress with him.
Just when I thought I was near the peak of that mountain I had another MS attack. The right side of my body from my rib cage to my toes went numb. I was hospitalized for a week. During that time I was sure that once I got out of the hospital I would carry on like nothing had changed, but that wasn’t the case. Things were different now. I couldn’t do the exercises I could do before. It took three months to recover and get on track. In that time, I gained back some of the weight I had lost from all of my hard work. I was discouraged, but with every choice to take back my control, I found myself once again climbing that mountain. I still haven’t reached the top, but now I never entertain the thought that I won’t get there. I know I will. In the meantime, I intend to enjoy the beautiful view as I climb, even with MS.