The cloud is shrinking. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve felt great. I’m back in the gym and working hard. As long as I keep it static, I’m ok. Too long on the treadmill and that ankle pain flares up. I still have other aches the day after, and they’re not your typical gym related aches, but they’re MY gym related aches. And I’m ok with them.
I mentioned in my last blog that it is now my time to stop dwelling on what’s happened to me, and just get on with life. This week is National Inclusion Week (in the UK) and in the run up to it, at work, there have been requests for people to film segments of video – just a couple of seconds holding a piece of paper saying their name and a fact about themselves. The idea is that we’re celebrating how diverse we are as a workforce. Your sign didn’t have to specifically relate to a protected characteristic (i.e. a disability, sexual preference, race, religion etc). It could be something that you do in your spare time.
I really think that this is a great initiative and I was keen to participate. I was happy to wave the flag for MS and invisible chronic conditions. For one reason or another though, I missed the deadline.
A week or two later, I was approached (along with others) about recording one of these videos referencing my MS (or other protected characteristics in the case of others). And I chose not to do it.
You might be asking yourself, why would I refuse? I’ve been really vocal and open about my journey. I’ve talked about raising awareness. I want people to have a better understanding and to not feel shy about asking me questions. Why on earth would I pass up the opportunity?
It’s simple really.
I don’t want MS to define me.
I want my #ThisIsMe statement to be something completely unrelated. I want to be the girl that people describe as “you know, the one from Essex” like I’m pretty sure has been the case since moving from down south to up north 8 years ago. Not “you know, the one that’s got MS.”
I’m in the process of trying to restore some normality to my life. On Tuesday, it was a year since I got told that I might have MS. Obviously it took another couple of months until I found out for sure, but I now feel that I’ve had my year of it being at the forefront of everything, and now it’s time to just get on and live with it.
To do this, I’ve been making tentative steps back into the gym this week. Dave joined the same gym as me, which is helping with motivation massively! I’ve been so nervous about going back since Lemtrada and with the ankle pain I’ve been having. I’ve learned that the ankle pain is triggered by walking for more than five minutes though, so it hasn’t actually stopped me training. As long as I’m doing more static stuff, I can train easily. I’ve had three sessions in the gym over the last week and I’ve been enjoying them. It feels good to be back. So here are my Top 10 tips for exercising with MS.
1. Be kinder to you!
I was always so tough on myself in the gym. If I skipped a session I’d feel guilty. If I had a bad session, I’d beat myself up. If I couldn’t hit that new personal best, I’d dwell on it for days. But these things just don’t matter anymore. They’re not the be all and end all. Now I’m so much nicer to me. If I don’t hit a personal best, as long as I’ve tried as hard as I can that day, that’s all that matters.
2. Be honest
If you have a personal trainer be honest with them. Let them know how your MS impacts you in general, but even more so how it’s impacting you that day. They can’t be an expert in MS, but with your honesty, they can tailor your training to fit how you feel on that day. It might also be worth being open with them up front, that you might need to cancel your training at short notice if you’re feeling particularly fatigued that day.
3. Listen to your body
Get to know your body and what it’s trying to tell you. Tune in to it. If your body is telling you that you can’t train today, listen to it. It’s ok to skip a session if you’ve not got much fuel in the tank. Some days you might just need to change the way you train. If your leg is causing you a bit of pain, don’t run so fast, or train your upper body instead. Maybe you need to reduce your weight and go for higher reps. You might need to take longer breaks between sets. Do what you need to do.
4.. Drink lots of water
We all know that with MS, controlling your body temperature can be a nightmare. I’ve literally overheated in the gym before and seen stars because I’ve got that hot. Drinking lots of water while you’re training will help keep your body temperature down. And on that point…
5. …Train near the air con
It keeps you cool and stuff! I find that wearing layers in the gym can be really helpful because as quickly as I get really hot, I can go freezing cold. Keep your temperature comfortable – it’ll make training so much easier.
6. Change the time you train
I used to go to the gym straight from work, but I find this really tough now. Many people don’t have the motivation to go back out to the gym at 8pm at night but this has two advantages for me. I get to have a bit of a break after work which helps to recharge my batteries. Add to that, training later makes me tired right before bed time so I get a better night sleep. You might find changing the time you train means you can have a better session.
7. Change your goals
I was always chasing a 100kg dead lift. I managed to get to 90kg, but it only happened once. Generally, I struggle to get over 70kg as my grip fails me. Grip is something I struggle with because of my MS, and I’ve learned that that will probably hinder me in achieving that particular goal. What I am good at though, is high reps. So my goal has now become less about strength and more about stamina and achieving higher reps. And I’m good with that.
8. Don’t waste time worrying what other people might be thinking
The other day, I was finishing my workout with a 3.5km/h walk on the treadmill. And the guy running next to me was looking at me as if what I was doing was kinda pointless. Before that I’d been dead lifting a 16kg kettle bell next to a girl lifting 75kg. I couldn’t help but think she thought I was pathetic. Firstly, it was unlikely that either of them were thinking those things, and secondly even if they are they don’t know that I have MS and anything someone with MS does in the gym is pretty damn awesome.
9. Remember you’re bad ass!
You really really are. We aren’t MS warriors for nothing. We grin through pain, fatigue and everything else we get stuck with. It doesn’t matter if you’re running 1k or 10k, or lifting 5kg or 50kg. You are bloody amazing for even being there, working out. As long as you can always be honest that you’ve tried as hard as you can on that day, you’re an absolute rock star in my opinion.
10. Don’t Stop!
My number one tip is “Don’t Stop!” When I was told I might have MS, I was physically no different to how I was when I was none the wiser. So there was no need for me to stop. I didn’t need to change how I trained in the gym (at that time). I did stop for a while which looking back, I regret. I should have carried on! It’s so important to stay active for so many reasons. It releases endorphins which can really lift your mood and it helps you to keep your strength up. There’s evidence to suggest it reduces relapses and flare ups. Most importantly, for me it has helped me to feel like “me”.