Having Multiple Sclerosis, or any other autoimmune condition, is tricky business. You get diagnosed (in my case, 13 years ago), take an appropriate amount of time to freak out, and then you make a decision. Consciously or not, we all make this decision:
Am I going to be proactive or reactive?
You know the extreme proactive type: researching constantly, questioning doctors, eating vegetables like they’re candy, doing whatever they can to take the reins.
You can imagine the extreme reactive type: following doctor’s orders, waiting until the condition flares before seeking treatment, and basically resigning themselves to a life of disease and pain.
Those examples are extreme, but there’s a spectrum of middle ground too. I’d say I fall in the mid-proactive range. Let me summarize my journey for you and then I’ll share a few lessons I’ve learned along the way. Hopefully they’ll benefit you, too.
I was diagnosed with MS in 2005. My neurologist put me on Rebif, which I took for one long, unpleasant year. I read about the importance of eating low-fat for MS, so I stocked my kitchen with low-fat cheese, cookies, everything (bad move—please don’t do this). After a year, I had a scary flare up and knew something had to change. At that point, some family members started researching other options.
In their research, they came across Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN), which I soon began taking after quitting Rebif. It was a challenge to find a doctor who would see me since I was going “rogue” in my treatment. I finally found one who supported me as long as I promised to get back on traditional treatments if LDN didn’t work. I readily made that promise, and 12 years later I’m still taking LDN.
I learned the importance of a healthy diet but resources conflicted on what “healthy” meant, which was frustrating. Eventually I figured out my body feels best when I avoid sugar, grains, and dairy (and that “good fats” are, indeed, healthy). It’s admittedly hard to maintain, but by now I’ve learned that it’s crucial for my health.
My journey since then hasn’t been symptom-free, but it has been nearly symptom free. There’s one exception which involved a perfect storm of poor health (sinus infection, antibiotics, sleep deprivation, poor eating, childbirth, the stress of considering a big move). My body was depleted in every possible way and it led to a horrendous flare. Thankfully, we had loved ones jump in to help until I was back to good.
That particular flare is a perfect example of how our body systems and minds work together.
I am not claiming to have it all figured out, but after 13 years of managing my MS, I have learned three ways to be proactive about your health:
Own your condition. You may notice I didn’t use the word disease. Personally, I hate the word and avoid it whenever possible. To me, using the word disease feels like I’m resigning myself to a lifelong battle of MS owning me. (Semantics, I know, but still.)
So what do I mean by owning your condition? I mean stop looking at statistics—you are not a number. Stop making assumptions about your future—God holds the future, not you or your diagnosis. Don’t let your condition define who you are—you are more valuable than that. And don’t believe the lie that there’s nothing you can do.
Own your condition, don’t let your condition own you.
Think holistically. Now, if you’re like my husband, the word holistic just made you wince. So relax your face and keep reading…pretty please.
Your body is a complex, wonderful creation of God. You have different body systems, as well as emotions and a spirit that all work together to make you healthy. It’s easy to get diagnosed, let your neurologist tell you what to do, and tell yourself you’re as healthy as you can possibly get because you’re following your neurologist’s orders. I greatly respect doctors, but in general they’re just too overworked to be proactive about every patient’s health.
Your neurologist, or other specialist, is focused on (drum roll)…their specialty! If my house is filthy but I dust, is my house clean? No way! I focused on one element, and while I can be happy the dusting is done, I can’t call my house clean until I address the dishes, vacuuming, etc. Each part is equally important in getting my house clean, or in our case, our bodies healthy. Following the advice of one specialty doctor just isn’t going to be enough.
Take stock of yourself for a minute.
Is your mind healthy? Do you feel defeated or stressed all the time? Do you have people in your life you can count on for help? Do you need to find a counselor to help your thought processes become healthier?
Is your body healthy? Do you need to take the bull by the horns and start exercising? Do you need to prioritize eating real food and set aside the processed food that is making us sicker? (I’ve learned that gut health is key to overall physical health. Just sayin’.)
Is your spirit healthy? Have you even acknowledged your spiritual side and the importance it plays in your overall health? Do you believe that God loves you and wants the best for you every day? (He does, by the way.)
Your mind, body, and spirit are woven together with such intricacy that if one isn’t in tip top condition, it’s going to weigh the others down.
Give it to God. One area where I struggle is getting caught in the trap of believing I can figure it all out myself. If I eat perfectly (etc., etc.) I can heal myself. I have to remind myself that’s as big a lie as believing there’s nothing I can do. Putting all your faith in yourself is a ton of pressure that we were never meant to carry. Accept the grace that God is offering and cut yourself some slack.
God gave us a brain and resources to be proactive in our health, but that doesn’t mean we are in control. Some people are healed through prayer. Some aren’t. Oftentimes eating well and caring for yourself holistically is a game changer. Sometimes it’s not.
At times it’s hard to believe God wants what’s best for us, but he always does—of this we can be sure. And even if he doesn’t bring healing, the peace and strength he offers is the true game changer. Trust me, I’ve never been closer to God than during my biggest flare. The peace he offered was profound.
Isaiah 41:10: So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Prioritize your physical, mental, and spiritual health. You’re worth it—you are a child of God, you know.
If you’ve been hesitant to talk to a counselor (who can be your guide through this often overwhelming process), there’s no time like today to make that phone call. It just might be the missing piece of your puzzle.
Jessie Mattis in an author and blogger. To read more from her, please visit her blog at redirected.life.