We’ve all been there. Whilst thinking we’re on death’s door from all the sambucca shots last night we’ve sworn we will NEVER drink again. But within a few days it’s forgotten and we’re making next weekends plans.
Granted as we settle down, those night’s out are probably less frequent, but the bottom line is that the majority of us are still willing to have a hangover to end all hangovers in exchange for an awesome night out.
And why wouldn’t we? I think they call that living!
So how is this relevant to MS?
Well, I have to make decisions similar to this everyday. Earlier today, I was explaining to a friend how you often feel that when you make a decision to walk the dog, go to the gym, dance around your kitchen or indeed go out partying or drinking, people are judging whether you really are struggling or not. Because surely if you can do that, you’re fine, aren’t you? Right?
It’s a big decision, whether you do those things or not. Going to the gym is something you might do, not because it doesn’t cause you pain and is easy, but because you know that if you don’t, your disability will get a hell of a lot worse.
You might decide to walk the dog because the dog needs to be walked. It’s unfair not to.
You might dance around your kitchen because you used to love dancing and your condition has robbed you of being able to do it for more than five minutes anywhere else. And you might still go out because you want to retain as much normality as possible, you’re still human and enjoy socialising and if you don’t, chronic illness can be really bloody lonely.
You make those judgements for your own sanity and because you’re not going to let your condition rob you of living. You decide to do it because even though you know you might pay for it for days afterwards, what it will do for your soul, far outweighs the pain and fatigue that will come after it. It’s a conscious choice to have fun knowing full well what the consequences are.
I read an article earlier today which raised the point of being asked to give up a priority seat on the train. It stirred something in me and I felt the need to share my take on this story.
Not long after I was diagnosed, I was on the tram in Nottingham during rush hour. I was knackered and my balance isn’t the greatest – especially on the tram! I also struggle with sensory overload and I’ve found that crowds, like when you’re squashed in like sardines, really unsettling. I’ve come close to experiencing panic attacks in those environments. So on this day, I chose to sit down in the only available seat. A priority one, which we all know are for disabled people, pregnant women or children. If we are sat in one, we know we should move for someone that gets on that needs that seat more than us.
I really needed that seat that day. But someone got on with crutches and a broken leg. So I immediately got up and let them sit down. But the question is, should I have? But then how do other people react to that if I don’t? People certainly look at you with a certain amount of judgement.
Recently it was brought to my attention that someone had questioned the fact that I park on site at work but I can also drag myself to the gym. Which in fairness I haven’t done for a while as I’m struggling with fatigue. Again, it’s that same judgement as on the tram. At work, we’re only allowed to park on site permanently if we are working a late shift, or if we are a blue badge holder. The alternative is that we park a short walk away on the Bolton Wanderers stadium car park. It’s roughly a 7 – 10 minute walk. No, I’m not disabled enough for a blue badge and I wouldn’t want to be disabled enough for one. I wouldn’t wish that upon myself or anyone. But what I can say, is I wouldn’t in a month of Sunday’s park that far away from my destination anywhere else. It hurts me to walk continuously for anything more than 5 minutes. The pain varies. Some days it’s like my calves are on fire, on other days my right ankle is really tight and causing a lot of pain. If it’s not that, I’m just bloody shattered and it’s a walk that I just don’t need. My legs feel like they’re being dragged through treacle.
But back to the gym. It’s not like I’m running on the treadmill. In fact I barely go on the treadmill. If I am in the gym, I’m generally lifting weights, in an attempt to keep my strength up. As it tends to be static, it doesn’t cause the same pain as walking can. And if I’m having a bad leg day, I just work the top half of my body. If I’m tired, I just don’t go to the gym but might do some yoga at home. The bottom line is, if you don’t use your limbs, you might just lose them.
The point is, when you have an invisible illness you’re constantly being judged. Yet it feels as though no-one takes the time to understand. Choosing to remain positive about your condition can be a poisoned chalice too. Because if I’m smiling, I surely can’t be struggling, can I? Yes. Yes I can.
Actually, “how can you go to the gym, but need to park on site?” is an absolutely fair question. Without being in my shoes, I wouldn’t expect you to understand. Same as the priority seating on public transport. The message to take from this blog, is if you have a judgement about someone, seek to understand. And that’s whether it’s about an invisible illness or otherwise.
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”.