Lessons learned – 3 years on

in a few weeks it will be 3 years since I was really ill. Then diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS. It seems a good time to reflect on where I am at. I cannot believe where time is going. How my life has changed. All the incredible people MS has brought into my life. The challenges I have overcome and continue to face. Same as you all. With MS. Without it. I have learnt so many things and so many which I want to share.

My life now has become dominated by two main themes. The first and most important is to live as mindfully and fully as I can, with my family and those most important to me. Those that bring strength and joy to my life. If my mind starts to wander, I always think to myself “there’s no place I’d rather be”… (think that’s a song lyric, non?). I am blessed to have been given 3 wonderful years in which to work from home, flexibly, around family life. (oh and complete a PhD..). The second theme for me has been, as it has been for the last 20 years, about Psychology. Mine, yours and the psychology of health. I have fallen in love with the discipline again, and after years of working clinically with distress and the kind of darkness not to be talked about here, that has been a gift.

As a good friend (G’day Ana) told me when I was feeling scared and lost “doors will open”. You just have to keep pushing away. Things will come good. My commitments are different and my motivations have a different energy and depth because of my MS journey. I am not interested in sharing the mundanity of my life which is every bit as interesting and boring as yours. But what I am interested in is sharing information, creating changes in services and systmems. I care less where I am going and more where I am. And what can be changed for others. Okay so life is not without its wobbles. Without the occasional mini-breakdown. But to get up and keep going is what is important, and what is important for my children to see and to learn from.

I can share some of what I have been astounded to learn:

– that following a plant-based, vegan diet has helped me be my healthiest self. That the anti-inflammatory nature of it surely contributes to my being healthier than in years and relapse free. The evidence in the Holism study (see overcoming.MS) builds on that of Swank, and while still not fully signposted by Neurologists anyone who reads the evidence with an open mind would make the changes to their diet. They would quit smoking. They would not blindly do as their neurologist does or does not tell them, after all we used to think the world was flat. Your neurologist could change his mind tomorrow, as they often do about what is the BEST drug for you. How would you feel then? Make up your own mind. Take control.

– that meditation, be it 5 minutes or an hour is key. That I am crap at doing this and that it’s a constant struggle, reflects in part how I ended up in the difficulties I did. That many people with MS have bright and busy minds, which are hard to ‘switch off’. that this can feel almost manic. In fact, there’s a body of evidence that Biploar Disorder is significantly higher in people with MS.

– that regular, 5 times a week exercise is not what we SHOULD do, it has to be a norm. For everyone. If we are to live full and healthy lives. And to set the example to our kids that will enable them to face a healthy future. Surrounded by the sugary crap that is a million times worse than when I was a kid. Run. Hike. Swim. Cycle. Play football, tennis. Don’t make it a chore. Make it LIFE.

– that we are all going to die. That’s for sure. That all our DNA predisposes us to some illnesses. That many factors contribute to whether that illness gets triggered or those symptoms emerge. Most commonly those ‘triggers’ are viral or environmental – stress, lifestyle or environment. That I’m lucky I know about one of my vulnerabilities. It knocked me off my feet 3 years ago with a slap round the face that said “this is NOT how you live well!”.

– that taking a step away from a normal ‘life’ has shown me how busy and crazy life can become for us all. I see people who are too busy to see friends. Too busy to eat well. To busy to hang out with your kids. To read. I read somewhere that you should never become too busy making a life, that you forget to live your life.

– that I am lucky. And strong. And that you can find light in the darkest of places.