How an MS diagnosis leads to a practice of healing self-care

In spring of 2006 I was training for Bike MS 150, a fundraising event for multiple sclerosis (MS) research. I was going to ride for my boss, who has MS and who inspired me to raise money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling well. Trying to balance deadlines, volunteer efforts, family obligations, and training for the ride left me exhausted.

That’s not all. Along with fatigue came debilitating vertigo and other symptoms that were inexplicable. My face was numb on one side and my hands tingled.

None of these symptoms were new, but I had never had them all at once, so severely, or for such a long time. I spent months getting tests like MRIs and a lumbar puncture.

Ultimately, I missed the bike ride and was left to face a terrible irony: I had multiple sclerosis.

Facing Truth, Facing Fears

At first, I was afraid that MS would ruin my health, my family, my work, and everything I cared about. Through the fear, I began to search for answers and clues on how to live well with MS.

My research showed me the answer was reducing stress. I could not continue my unsustainable pace, working in a competitive, deadline-driven field. I was always pushing to do more and prove myself by overdoing everything. My lifestyle wasn’t serving my health or, as it turns out, my heart.

For that reason, my scary diagnosis became a blessing. I leaned into uncertainty. MS is unpredictable and everyone experiences it differently.

Realizing there are big parts of MS that I don’t have control over gave me freedom to admit I didn’t have control in other areas of my life.

When I admit I don’t have control over the future, I resist the urge to worry.

My Three S's of a Healing Life

I’ve discovered three things have contributed greatly to my health and quality of life: self-care, simplicity, and sharing my story.

There is no known cause or cure for MS, but I know my busy, stressful life contributed to the symptoms I had and to the disease’s progression. My diagnosis pushed me to rethink the idea of self-care as selfish and gave me permission to take good care of myself.

I began by changing my diet, meditating, and exercising. I lessened my stress by committing to pay off my debt and leave my job to start a business doing work I love. There was no part of my life that I was not willing to overhaul.

Today, more than 13 years later, I am practically symptom-free. I haven’t had a relapse in more than 12 years, and recent MRIs show no new lesions or MS progression.

My commitment to self-care led me to take steps to simplify my life. I wanted to make room for what really mattered to me, to remember who I was and reconnect with my heart. I had been wasting my most valuable resources, and it took the wake-up call of MS to see it.

I started with outer changes like decluttering my belongings, which led to inner changes that meant living more intentionally. I decluttered my mind by changing my thoughts and eliminating complicating elements like gossip and drama.

A New Shape to My Journey

I also simplified just by staying present, realizing that when I admit I don’t have control over the future, I resist the urge to worry.

Finally, story sharing continues to shape my journey. Hearing from people who are living well with MS gave me hope—and stories of people simplifying their lives gave me a road map.

Sharing my healing story continues to make me stronger because it reinforces the lessons I’ve learned and connects me to others whose lessons I can use in my life. It keeps me authentic by reminding me to show up and be real and not hide my imperfections.

I’m inspired by others’ stories because they’re not trying to tell me what to do or to fix me. When they share from their hearts, I can learn on my own and figure out what’s best for me.

When we share our stories, we open our hearts and let people in.

This article appeared in Daily Word® magazine.