As I was walking my dog the other day it dawned on me that I was having an anniversary of sorts. It has been 20 years since I was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I will never forget the day, especially because, looking back, I realize how young and naive I was.
I got completely caught off guard. I had no idea what multiple sclerosis even was.
I remember, still dazed from the doctor’s diagnosis, walking straight to the bookstore. I am a need to know person, I had to buy every book on the subject and figure this one out.
I know that my doctor, and the many doctors I saw after that, wanted to put me straight into the hospital and start me on IV steroids to help calm down the inflammation in my body. I flat out refused. No one was going to tell me to go into the hospital (did I mention I am extremely stubborn that way?).
Even though I had just started on my graduate degree for clinical nutrition, I was fresh out of cooking school, a school that stressed food as a healing method. I felt incredibly grateful that I had the culinary skills to make nourishing, comforting food, which helped heal me mentally if not also physically. It became my mode of relaxation and calm.
Those first years were not easy. Yet, 20 years later, a masters degree under my belt, three children and a marriage, I have learned a lot. Here’s a few:
Being In The Moment Is The Only Place You Can Be. For a long time after that diagnosis I would spend many a day lost in the future and the what if’s. What if I get worse? What if I end up in a wheelchair? How will I handle it? It was maddening trying to look into a crystal ball. I have learned to practice being in the moment because it is simply too stressful to go anyplace you don’t know about yet.
Speaking Of Stress, Autoimmune Diseases and Stress Go Hand In Hand. About 10 years ago, a little news story showed up in the New York Times, talking about stress and the MS link. That article is still taped to my refrigerator, as a reminder to keep my stress in check, rest if I need to and ramp up things like meditating.
Food Does Heal. MS is an inflammatory disease, attacking the nerves in your body. Taking from all I mastered in cooking school and graduate school, I learned first hand to put this into practice in my own kitchen. Anti-inflammatory foods – lots of vegetables, whole grains, seasonal fruits, plant proteins, the healthiest fats – make up the majority of my diet.
Nourishing Food Helps In So Many Other Ways. I gravitate towards comfort foods whenever I am not feeling my best or just need soul nourishment. I’m not talking chocolate and ice cream. A big pot of simmering bean and vegetable soup, a warm cup of chai tea, even a large saute of kale and caramelized onions. I feel better already.
I Heal By Talking (and Writing). When I first got diagnosed I could barely talk about what was happening. It felt bigger than me (and besides, you younger set might be surprised that there was no such thing as a blog back then). I learned that the less I kept my illness a secret and the more I talked about it, the better I healed. And the more I can help others in their healing journeys. Diffusing a secret makes it smaller, and something you can tackle.
Now I would love to hear from you. Have you had an experience with a chronic illness, and how have you managed it? Let me know in the comments below, or share with me privately here.