If you would’ve told me that I’d be running marathons eight years after I was diagnosed with MS, I would’ve thought you were crazy. My doctors would’ve too. I thought for sure I’d eventually end up in a wheel chair, or with a cane, unable to walk on my own. I was scared and confused. All the drug names and side effects being thrown at me were enough to make me want to crawl into bed and never leave.
My first “neurologist” (if you can call him that) told me, “Hey, these other tried-and-true drugs only reduce your symptoms by 30%, but this one called Tysabri reduces them by 80%. Sounds good to me!” He failed to mention that this drug was considered by many neuros at the time as a “last resort” drug after you had tried everything else, and that there was a risk of getting a deadly brain infection called PML from it. I found this out later when I went to an actual neurologist who specialized in MS.
At that time, Tysabri was a trial, but it sounded promising, so I decided to try it. That’s just what you do when you are diagnosed with MS. You go on drugs and hope for the best. The doctors said my MS would only get worse unless I went on a disease modifying drug. I was scared and wanted to stop the progression right away.
I had to apply for funding to go on Tysabri, because it was still a trial. It was something crazy like $6,000 a month and was not approved for funding yet by our health care system. (I’m Canadian so a lot of our treatment options are free). After I applied, a Tysabri representative called me to set me up for the trial. She sounded super excited, and she sent me fun swag like backpacks, pens and stickers. She called quite often. Just as I was about to get all signed up for treatment, I found out I was pregnant. The nice lady called again to see if I was ready to begin Tysabri. I told her my exciting news. “You can’t go on Tysabri if you’re pregnant”, she sounded annoyed and I never heard from her again.
My pregnancy saved me from starting drugs that I didn’t really want. I know they help a lot of people and Tysabri is more widely used now. There are many patients doing well on it and many other MS drugs. For me though, I feel like they just treat the symptoms. I want to treat the cause. But of course, I don’t really know what the cause is. No one does yet, unfortunately, we can only guess.
After my diagnosis I decided to just start living a healthier lifestyle, by eating clean, reducing stress and exercising. So far, this has worked for me and the more I research the disease, the more I believe this is the best way to do it, either without drugs, or in accompaniment.
Here is what I do to overcome my MS, and maybe you can too.
1. Stop Eating Crap
Processed foods are so bad for us. They are full of sugar, salt, bad fats and chemicals that are hard to pronounce. You don’t need all that shit in your body. Your body doesn’t know what to do with it! Start eating whole foods and introduce anti-inflammatory foods into your diet. Learn how to read food labels and try to make everything from scratch if you can. I can’t remember the last time I bought salad dressing or baked goods from the grocery store. I even make my own bread.
I realize that not everyone has the ability to do this, but we all have the ability to make good choices at the grocery store. My grocery cart is usually full of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and some lean meats (usually chicken breast), although the meat is becoming less and less as we work toward becoming more plant-based eaters. I’ve also cut out dairy completely because I’ve realized I’m intolerant to it, plus it is an inflammatory food. I know my MS will flare up slightly if I eat it. I’ve also considered cutting gluten and becoming vegan, although I’m not quite there yet!
2. Heal your Gut
Many studies have come out about the relationship between gut health and, not just autoimmune disease, but mental health, the immune system, and even cancer.
The term “gut microbiome” refers to the micro-organisms living in your gut. We have tons of bacteria living in our intestines and many of those are beneficial to our overall health. It’s so important that we take care of that biome. I do this by making bone broth and eating fermented foods like kimchi, sourdough bread and kombucha. I also take a daily probiotic.
I can tell when my microbiome isn’t working properly. I get symptoms such as heartburn, constipation and sometimes I will get a minor MS flare up. Once I go back to eating gut healing foods, I start to feel much better.
When my biome isn’t working properly I get symptoms such as heartburn, constipation and sometimes I will get a minor MS flare up. Once I go back to eating gut healing foods, I start to feel much better.
3. Move your Body
Back in the day, MS patients were told not to exercise because it would make them more exhausted. Things have changed though. According to the MS society, a study done in 1996 found that MS patients who exercised experienced less fatigue and depression and had improved cognitive function.
After my diagnosis, I started doing pilates. Then, after my first daughter was born, I started doing Jillian Michaels videos. As I got stronger and stronger, I found I wasn’t getting as tired as I used to. Keeping up with a toddler was easy, even as I got pregnant with our second child, I felt like I could do anything. After she was born, I started running, and then I started racing and went on to run my 4th half marathon in October of last year with a decent time of 1:52.
Fitness is just part of my life now. I do yoga every day, OrangeTheory twice a week, run 3 times a week and do Total Barre once a week. All these things make me feel strong and in control. Obviously not everyone is physically able to do all of this, but even just walking or doing easy yoga can help. Going outside and being in nature can be so healing. I recently read about The Alinker which is a fantastic invention to help people who are physically unable to walk, get out and move their bodies. How amazing is that?
4. Keep the Positive and Remove the Negative
I was actually relieved when I was diagnosed with MS. I was losing my vision (due to optic neuritis) and I really thought I had a brain tumor. Knowing that it was MS and that I wasn’t going to die was a huge relief and I immediately had the mindset of “this isn’t going to beat me”.
I have tried to keep a positive mindset about it ever since. That being said, I can be very negative about the rest of my life. I am also extremely sensitive to other people’s negativity. There are certain individuals that I can’t even be around at times, just because they are so negative and give off such a bad energy. This brings me down, and as someone who is prone to anxiety and depression, this is the last thing I need in my life. Cut those people out. They are toxic.
If you can’t cut them out, then tell them that you aren’t going to listen to them bitch and complain about everything anymore. Change the subject to something positive or just cut them off when they start going down that road. They’ll get the message pretty quickly that you are not interested in their personal drama.
Keep the positive people in your life. The ones who build you up, who are there for you when things suck, but ALSO for when things are awesome. I’ve had people who are eager to hear about my drama, but are never there to celebrate my accomplishments or happy for me when good things happen. I’m trying hard to avoid those people too.
5. Reduce Stress
It’s not a secret that stress is a big factor when it comes to MS. My job was causing me quite a bit of stress around the time of my diagnosis. It wasn’t that it was a stressful job, but there were some issues with a coworker that were causing some problems.
When I got pregnant shortly after that, we knew that going back to work, and finding childcare were going to be extremely stressful. I had terrible anxiety about leaving my baby in the care of someone else, not to mention the financial cost just wasn’t worth it. We made the decision for me to not go back to work after my maternity leave.
It was difficult at first and we had to make a lot of sacrifices, but it was the best thing for our growing family and my health. Now I work from home and have the flexibility to be there for my kids when they’re sick or have weeks off school, plus I don’t have to worry about letting anyone down on days when I need to rest. It also gives me time to make healthy meals and get in lots of exercise.
Of course, not everyone is in the same situation as I am. Maybe you can’t leave your job, or you love your job but find life itself just busy and stressful. There’s still many things you can do to reduce your stress, but I believe self care is the most important. Make yourself a priority. Go for a massage, try a float tank, get a pedicure, have a bubble bath, or most importantly, say no to things you don’t want to do or don’t have time for. You’ll thank yourself later.
This ties into the last one. Meditation is becoming more and more popular in modern society. If you told someone 20 years ago that you meditated every morning, you would probably get a strange look.
Nowadays, you’ll find most self-help gurus make it part of their morning routine. I was skeptical about it, until I read “10% Happier” by Dan Harris. He was also a skeptic, but his insights and journey through learning how to meditate made me want to try it.
It was hard at first, but I actually started to see a difference in my mood during the day. Now I notice my feelings more and am able to push through negative thoughts a lot better than I could before. I believe it’s helped my mental health a lot, which leads me into my last point:
7. Get a therapist
Speaking of mental health, more and more information is coming out that autoimmune disease may be triggered by trauma. If you Google “autoimmune disease and childhood trauma” you can find tons of academic articles and studies that have been done on this.
I suffer from crippling anxiety, mild depression on and off, body dysmorphia and disordered eating. It got so bad last year that I made the decision to go to a therapist. Through her I discovered there may be a link between childhood trauma and chronic illness.
I did suffer a trauma as a child and my therapist has been using EMDR therapy to help me recover. I don’t know if therapy will help my MS but it has reduced my stress and anxiety, and has helped me to not be so obsessive with calories and macros. Less stress = less inflammation and less flare-ups.
There’s no way for me to know for sure if doing all these things is the reason I haven’t had a significant relapse in 10 years. Everyone’s situation is unique. If MS drugs are working for you, that’s fantastic. I would never suggest someone go off their medication. I’m not a doctor. I know that DMD’s do work for some people, but often times, the side effects can be worse than MS symptoms.
One thing I’ve learned in my MS journey, is that there is a growing number of MS patients out there who are going off their meds and trying alternative treatment. Things like supplements (which I take many of!) cbd oil, marijuana, acupuncture, massage, etc. are helping ms patients all over the world. There are patients who are exercising, eating healthy and reducing their stress and are feeling so much better because of it! I believe we are close to finding a cause and a cure for our disease.
My hope is that someone reading this, whether they are newly diagnosed, had the disease for 20 years, on meds, or not, will try these things, and it will make them feel better. Because that’s all we really want. To just feel better and go on living our lives the way we want to.