Life with MS

MS Won't Kill Me, But the Stress of it Might

By Carolyn Kaufman

I'll never forget the first time I experienced a symptom-free day.
After years of suffering, I was blown away that I could actually feel “normal” again. It was something I’d desperately prayed for, and here it was, given to me so simply.
Well, simply in the sense that I had to travel well more than 4,000 miles to find it.
I wasn’t just facing multiple sclerosis, but also struggling with morbid obesity. My weight had always been my priority until MS forced me to pay attention elsewhere. Between the muscle spasms, migraines, blurry vision, tremors, and mobility issues, my weight, while significant on the scale, felt insignificant in comparison.
At 24 years old, I had a flare up that made using a cane my new normal. I realized that if I didn't learn how to manage my health, I’d be giving up my entire future to a disease I hadn’t even tried to fight.
I just wasn't willing to go down that easy, so, I turned to food. Instead of watching calories, I watched chemicals. Instead of buying processed “diet” foods, I got rid of processed foods altogether. Instead of obsessing about the scale, I obsessed about how I felt.
I began the Overcoming MS plan, and within a week I lost 12 pounds. Within a year, I was well enough to ride for an MS bike-a-thon. My life had turned around in a way I never expected. I still had symptoms, but they were becoming more manageable. At 145 pounds down, everything in life felt easier and I wanted to take advantage of the moment. So I quit my job to spend all my savings on a trip to South America.
I left my cane at home and took off for Peru with only two excursions booked: Machu Picchu and a silent meditation retreat. I’d never done a retreat, but something in me pushed me to register. It turns out, that retreat would change the course of my disease forever.
Machu Picchu was spectacular. I climbed through the Inca citadel with an ease that made my heart sing. Gratitude washed over me and I couldn’t stop the tears. I felt like I could do anything!
Visiting Machu Picchu was a huge physical accomplishment for me, but I had no clue that the most challenging part of my journey was yet to come. I was going to have to be silent for five days.
Five minutes of no talking is a long time for me, so I wasn’t sure how I’d fare for five days. We all met at the pier in Puno and traveled by boat to Amantani Island in the middle of Lake Titicaca. There is no crime, no cars, and only solar-powered electricity on the island.
The first day, pain ripped through my torso as I tried to focus on my breath. The inability to voice my concerns forced me to sit with the reality of my illness alone, but I was determined. By day two, the pain felt less severe, but it was day three that really caught my attention.
That morning, I woke up and had no pain. My legs felt strong, my vision was clear, and my hands were as calm as Lake Titicaca gliding against the shore under the sun.
For the first time in my life, I actually felt good. Normal. Suddenly, I understood that my disease wasn’t the trigger for symptoms, stress was, and it's up to me to learn how to manage it. MS won't kill me, but the stress of it might.
I understand now that the diet, meditation, and exercise all do the same thing: combat stress. Eating foods that aren't natural creates stress in the body. Exercise keeps you strong and helps your system work effectively. And of course, meditation helps you stay calm, clear, and confident so you can manage mental and emotional stress.
I still have MS, but it’s been almost a year since I’ve experienced any big symptoms and most days, I don’t experience any at all. I get to live my life, without the physical, mental or emotional weight and I know that if I can get here, anyone else can too. It’s time to live your life, without the weight.