Living Like You | MS, exercise and COVID-19

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MS Diet and Body Connection
Woman on a horse

To say 2020 was challenging is the greatest understatement you could ever make! 

Like many with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), I saw appointments being cancelled, and had virtual neurology appointments. I, personally, did not get my MS treatment for eleven months. I got engaged to my fiancé Roger, who lives in the UK. He went home and, the following week, Ireland went into lock down, where I cocooned (isolated) on medical advice. 

However, somewhere during those three months I realized I needed to do something. Fear of what was going on with the outside world, loneliness and depression were swallowing me whole. As I couldn't leave my house, I began to explore ways of how I could keep my spirits up and get my 'happy' back. 

Firstly, I thought about things that make me relax. For me, it's cooking. I looked at food more from a therapeutic and healthy way. I cooked and cooked. I looked at my plate presentation. I tried things I hadn't before. I did batch cooking and filled my freezer. I found that the healthy options I was cooking gave me slightly more energy. This prompted me to look at exercises I could do. 

I found exercise videos online that were suitable for all levels of mobility. Some days I could do more than others but the best advice I received was to never to do something that's beyond your capabilities and risk injury. I did Pilates and found it was great to loosen me out. It was also beneficial for strengthening muscles, coordination and stamina. On the days I found it harder, I did it in a chair. I also tried Tai Chi, which can also be practiced in a chair. I also found that Tai Chi led me to more spiritual endeavors, such as meditation and aromatherapy. 

As I was cocooning, I could only walk around my property when I was able (as per our local governmental rules, those cocooning/isolating could go no further than their own garden) but this was not enough for my dog, Ruby, so I had to get creative. On the days my body didn't want to cooperate, I sat on the floor throwing her toys. It actually helped to strengthen my arms as I began to throw further. I opened doors in other rooms and used my hall to make it more enjoyable for her. Sometimes I walked inside my house and just had her follow me. I went from room to room, around my kitchen island, up and down the hall etc. She probably thought her mother had gone a bit nutty, but she participated all the same! 

The thing to remember is we adapt and we do what we have to. MS is no picnic but we do what we can to keep our bodies, brain and emotional health as functional as possible. For me, I have always had a great love of horses. I made a vow to myself at some point, I would go back to horse-riding if my body would allow it. 

Luckily the local stables are well versed in riding for the disabled. I brought my fiancé too, as he had never been on a horse. As they were aware we both have MS, they ensured we both had aids to help us up on the horses. For me it was magical. I certainly wasn't as agile as when I was a child, but it didn't matter. I still felt the same connection. Sure, my body was slower, and it took me a little while to get the commands right, but I did it. Getting off the horse was doable for me but quite hard for Roger, but both the instructor and I were able to help. 

Experiences like horse-riding, Tai Chi, Pilates etc. reminded me how different each person's MS is. One of my good friends with MS is now in a wheelchair, but can walk short distances with a frame. He goes to the gym on a regular basis, where I don't have the energy or balance to do that, though, on better days, I may do other exercises. Yet when I got back on a horse, my balance is so much better! I walked with a rollator or a crutch a year and a half ago. I tied the dog to the rollator to walk her. Mentally, I didn't want to, but my desire to try to stay mobile, and get Ruby walked, made me push through. 

There is power in exercise. Physically, mentally, emotionally. How much you do doesn't matter. How mobile you are doesn't matter. If you need an aid to do it then that doesn’t matter either. If you need a physiotherapist to help, it all counts. Every day, we do what we can, when we can. That in itself, is a strength us people with MS don't give ourselves enough credit for.

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