Sunday, July 7, 2019

For the Love of Biking – It Really Can Be for Everyone

In a conversation with coworkers years ago, one person reflected on his summers spent in their backyard pool in California. I responded with excitement and jealousy that he had his own pool when all I had was a bike!  Another coworker who grew up in Hong Kong, exclaimed with awe, “You had a bike?!?”
Wow.  I laughed at my own ignorance to my privilege.  To think she grew up in a large city and didn’t have a bike at all made me realize just how special it was that I could spend my summers biking and exploring. If I’d had to choose between a backyard pool and a bike, I think in hindsight a bike would have been a better choice for me.  
As a child, my bike was my freedom. It allowed my sister and me to spend summer days at the pool in a neighboring town without limitation of our parents’ schedules. We biked to get ice cream, eat lunch in the town square and even to rent canoes.  We’d practice riding without hands and see how far we could go.  Our bikes were extensions of ourselves throughout the summer.
Once we could drive, bikes temporarily lost their appeal for transportation.  Enter my college years where I didn’t have a car, and my bike allowed me to get to classes and work.  Every time I allowed less time for travel meant my fitness benefited from pedaling faster to get there in time.  
As an adult, I’ve enjoyed mountain biking and group rides immensely.  Participating in sprint and Olympic distance triathlons have been rewarding experiences. This summer is a summer for biking for me.  I signed up for the two-day Seattle to Portland bicycle ride, and I’m excited to do what is a bucket list experience for me.  Being able to train and do the ride with friends is gratifying for the camaraderie beyond the health benefits.  
Bicycling suits me well given the impacts Multiple Sclerosis has created in my spinal cord.  I love jogging and manage extremely well, but bicycling allows me to continue when my feet lose feeling and coordination. Hills create natural intervals where I can put forth effort and rest on the downhill to best leverage my energy. Fatigue lessens and I sleep better when I’m active.  

I have a new bike! 

This summer, I was fortunate to have been gifted a bike from the organization Meat Fight.  I love my new light and zippy road bike.  It allows me to go faster and be more comfortable while riding.  Having an expert watch me ride, ask questions and adjust the bike to me was fantastic for improving my experience cycling. Through their Meat Fight’s Meat Bike program, they give bikes to people with MS.  Becoming a part of this group is fantastic for connecting with people with MS of every level of active from extreme endurance events to beginners wanting to start riding.  Bikers ride all types of bicycles ranging from road bikes to recumbent trikes to hand cycles. 

Bike options for all abilities

The more I pay attention on the trails and online, I see that bicycling can be accessible to anyone these days.  The options available accommodate a lot of health issues that result from aging, chronic conditions and disability.  
Recumbent bikes are great when balance might be an issue. Electric-assist bikes can be useful when wanting flexibility and back up for pedaling.  Tandem bikes come in both side-by-side and in-line, and they can be excellent options if vison is impaired. Handcycle bikes are propelled using a person’s upper body instead of their legs.  
When disability advances beyond being able to pedal solo or at all, there are bikes with wheelchair tandem setups that allow people to sit in front of the cyclist pedaling.  An organization near me, Sequim Wheelers, provides free bike rides to elderly and disabled community members, including children.  When I saw this, it heartened me to know that people who are not able to enjoy trails on bikes under their own power can now do so. The fresh air on the face, the beauty of the landscape, socializing with others in an active, outdoors setting – these can be available to everyone.  
I’m encouraged to know that cycling can be adapted to suit my needs should my abilities change with age and Multiple Sclerosis progression. Being outside, active, and among friends improves my health and maintains my well-being mentally and physically.   It comforts me to know this hobby can change and adapt with whatever the future brings. The only limitations are my ego and perspective. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Music Gets Me Through: Shaping My Outlook with Intention

The artistry of words inspires me greatly. The ability to express ideas and emotions critically with nuance and creativity moves me to feel deeply. Add rhythm and melody to the poetry of song lyrics, and it becomes something I can use for managing my wellbeing. 
Music is especially useful for coping with any challenge, because it has the ability to replace the thoughts going through my head. If I can recognize when looping thoughts are taking over my mind and mood, I can change my attitude and outlook with music.  
Artistry that speaks to me changes given where I am in my life and what I’m experiencing.  It may feel completely where I’m at and validate me, and it may give hope for where I want to be. 
A soft crooning love song can bring tears of sadness for my losses and tears of gratitude for all I still have.  It can be a salve of melancholy for what is slipping away or a provoking plea for getting my needs met.
When I’m angry or frustrated, a nasally punk rock vent can feel liberating.  Singing about unfairness or injustice can help me get mad and motivated enough to literally get up and keep going.   
I want music that helps me feel strong.  I want lyrics that acknowledge hardships yet tell my truth: I can be a victim, but I don’t have to be powerless over my circumstances and future.  I want songs I can sing along with loudly that recognize I’m taking a hit but still deserve to live well and feel worthy. I want songs that induce power within me to know I will keep finding ways to keep going and like my life.
None of the songs that resonate with me are about living with Multiple Sclerosis or another illness, but it’s easy to substitute my body’s condition for whatever it is causing grief in a song. 
Each person’s songs will be different for them.  Our musical preferences, age, point in life and the condition we’re in will shape how we take in a song.  I’m sharing a few of my songs just to show how they help me.  I strongly encourage people to create their own go-to playlists.  I have different sets of songs for different purposes. So far, I’ve created playlists titled Love, Dance, Jogging, Kick Butt, Yoga, Happy Songs and even one for Breaking Up & Moving On.
The first song that I associated with my chronic condition of living with MS was Pink’s “So What.”  It was released in August 2008, a short time after I was diagnosed with MS.  It gave me hope when I felt really crummy.  I still love it for feeling mad, strong and rebellious. MS, you’re a jerk, but I’m a metaphorical rock star.  While you let me fall and I’m having a hard time right now, I’m going to show you.  You’ve knocked me down, but I’m getting up and I will thrive again.
My Body” by Young the Giant feels so close to my experience when my body is frustrating me and I want to feel strong.  I remember it playing while I learned to trapeze.  In that moment, I was defying my body’s tendency to restrict activities, and I was actually flying from a trapeze bar to a catcher! I still can sing along to the song at times and have it apply perfectly to how I feel:
My body tells me no!
But I won't quit
'Cuz I want more, 'cuz I want more

When I need a song to express how I accept the contradictions of life and rejoice in them to shape my life, I turn to REM’s “I Believe.” A scattered train of thought, clever in transition and hugely meaningful, it expresses for me the challenges of living in a messy world with a messy health condition but believing in good things and a better future.
Born to Run” by American Authors expresses my eagerness to take all I can from where I am in each moment.  It’s greedy and empowering with a positive vibe. I may lose the ability to physically run someday, and I’m going to do all I can while I still can. 
I could list songs for days, but I’ll wrap up with an oldie from my childhood that I’ve loved always: “Anticipation” by Carly Simon.  No matter what my life holds right now, I want to enjoy it.  We are always living amidst what will become “the good old days.”

Sunday, May 5, 2019

My Mother's Lasting Influence

As a young child wrapped in my mother’s arms, I’d hear her ask me, “What am I going to do with you?”
I’d answer in tempo with the script we’d created, “Hug me, and kiss me and love me forever.”  She’d squeeze me harder while kissing the top of my head, and I knew she would. 
She died suddenly at the age of 47, and she never knew I had Multiple Sclerosis. This was 15 years before I was diagnosed with MS, yet she’s been a constant companion as I’ve navigated my life in general and the challenges I face living with MS.
Throughout the past 25 years, I’ve drawn upon her strength and quiet grace when I’m feeling fearful and untethered. She wasn’t without her own challenges, and seeing her life through an adult lens has helped me appreciate how amazing she was.  I was lucky. I had that special relationship of a mother and child where I felt completely loved and supported.  It was so pure, it could embarrass me to have her gush about me to her friends. Yet I held an arrogant confidence that if ever my life fell apart, my mom would be there to help me and she’d be glad she could. 
When she died, it was a glaring realization to me that the one person I felt completely at ease asking for help was gone. After my MS diagnosis, I felt like the one person I needed most and who would have been the most helpful to me wasn’t there.  I didn’t realize at either time that in my 23 years with her she’d become someone who would continue to inspire and guide me throughout my life.  Her physical absence was real, but her strong presence in my thoughts gave comfort and pushed me to continue learning, living and connecting when so much was uncertain.  
I have a lot of wonderfully kind, compassionate and supportive people in my life, and they help me through so much.  At times they treat me in a way that resembles the unconditional love and compassion I felt from my mother.  I’ve had people make suggestions and show concern while worrying they’re overstepping the boundaries of our relationship.  These instances warm my heart profoundly.  They’ve shown me the capacity for kindness and generosity people have even when they aren’t responsible for my wellbeing.  I could dismiss my mother’s influence as required maternal behavior.  I’ve learned though that not all people are hardwired to give selflessly.  
The act of supporting and comforting others is truly a thing to nurture and cherish. It lives beyond the moments we share and shapes our ability to persevere. My mother’s influence many years after her passing is proof for me.  She continues to guide my actions, she inspires me to be someone who gives love and support, and she encourages me to live a life of contribution where I’m able.  Her love endures as a fact of my existence and influences all I do.   

Monday, April 15, 2019

Getting Organized and Staying Organized: It’s a Lifesaver When Living with a Chronic Illness

I love being organized. I love containers and labels. I love having my finances organized and being able to find paperwork when needed. It brings me a sense of peace to plan things, be prepared and know what to expect.  When everything has a place and is put away, it brings me joy.  Living with a chronic illness like Multiple Sclerosis can be the exact opposite of that. It’s unpredictable, it disrupts plans, it can be invisible, and often it doesn’t have a logical reason behind the symptoms it brings. It can be manageable, but it’s not curable.  Unlike my belongings, it can’t be fixed and controlled.
I know not everyone shares the love of organization that I have, but I promise you that small efforts into organizing tasks, time and belongings can make any person’s life less stressful. When keys are put in the same spot each time I get home, I don’t spend any time looking for them when I’m rushing out the door. When household goods like toilet paper are purchased before I’m down to the last roll, I don’t need to make a special trip to the store when I might be tired from a long day or experiencing MS fatigue. When I fill up the car’s gas tank when it’s half full, I won’t be late for an appointment because I needed to refuel on the way. If I bring snacks and water when I leave home, I’ll spend less money stopping somewhere to get them and I can control what I eat or drink. I have the option to get something different, but I won’t be forced to have something I don’t want. It takes less energy to stay organized than it does to deal with the chaos disorganization can cause, and putting effort into organization helps me live with MS fatigue with a semblance of grace. 
My days rarely go as planned.  There’s always something that comes up, and if I allow time for emergencies or unexpected opportunities, I’m less likely to get stressed about it. When my finances and home life are organized, I’m better able to roll with inconveniences instead of them disrupting my entire schedule. With MS, having an exacerbation can put everything on hold.  Needing to schedule doctor appointments, get daily steroid infusions to calm down the immune system, travel to clinic appointments, and focusing on recovery becomes a priority. Everything else gets pushed aside.  If I’m not organized, it can be costly and chaotic.  Bills paid late can incur interest and late payment fees. Missed deadlines can create consequences that increase stress even more.  Stress can contribute to MS exacerbations and symptoms, and it can become a downward spiral for our health.
But it’s hard to get organized in the first place. 
I’ve had my share of shame surrounding disorganized papers and things in my life.  When I inherited decades of paperwork from my mother after her death, I kept a lot of it in the attic.  When money was short, it was hard to stay on top of financial paperwork. As time passed and I lacked a good organization method for new papers coming into my home, the boxes of paperwork stored in the attic grew. These boxes held unimportant paper along with important documents and possible treasured keepsakes.  The idea of going through all of them was overwhelming and easy to ignore if I didn’t venture up the drop-down ladder to the attic. 
Along the way, I bought a book that guided me through tasks to complete to become financially organized.  It had assignments to do each week and promised complete financial organization within a year.  I followed it diligently, and the papers in my home along with my financial tracking became something of beauty to me.  The boxes in the attic remained untouched.  
Then I moved, and something needed to be done. My new home was one-fifth the square footage of my old place. I was embarrassed that I didn’t know what was in the boxes, nor could I recycle or trash them without going through them.  Luckily, I had two friends who never judge me poorly and are extremely generous. They offered to help, and I’m so grateful that I overcame my embarrassment and accepted it.  
I think there were about 30 boxes that we took directly to a friend’s garage.  The following Friday night, we met for dinner and afterward each brought a martini to my friend’s garage where we spent five hours going through boxes.  My instructions were to sort through things into recycling, donation, trash and keepsakes. We would identify anything that might look important and hold it up so I could say whether I wanted to keep it or not. As stressful and overwhelming as the project seemed to me to do alone, it ended up being a really productive and fun evening.  We laughed over old photos, drawings and notes, and we told stories about ourselves.  By the end of the evening, we’d whittled the number of boxes for me to keep down to five that could fit into my new place and be dealt with another time. That weekend, we took the paperwork to shred to a local free shred event, and we dropped off items for donation at a local charity.  Trash was picked up with the garbage within a week.  What would have taken me months to go through and caused a lot of stress became an opportunity to connect with friends and make a fun memory.  
For tasks that need to be done regularly, I prefer to do them throughout the week.  Growing up, my family’s method for cleaning the house was to do an all hands-on deck cleaning session once a week. Sure, we cleaned up the kitchen each night and tidied up after ourselves, but a full-home clean would take a few hours each Saturday morning. I hated it.  It felt like punishment, and it had to be done before we could do anything fun. I learned years later of a method where cleaning could take 15 minutes per day, and I joyfully converted my approach.  Now I use that method for a lot of things I need to do.  I don’t combine everything into one session; I split up chores into small fairly quick tasks. Some are maintenance done daily or weekly, and others are done monthly, seasonally or yearly.  I wish I had a cleaning person, but for now I don’t feel comfortable with the expense. With this approach, I’m able to keep my place tidy and company ready within a few minutes.  This works well with my MS fatigue issues, since accomplishing something in 15 minutes and resting is doable.  Saving it to do all at once can be exhausting, it might limit my ability to do anything else that day, and it might require recovery time beyond the one day.  
How to get organized: There are lots of good reasons to be organized, but that doesn’t always lead to action.  I like the specifics of what I can do to make my life easier.
  1. Enlist help. This is especially useful for big projects that only need to be done once.
  2. Break up tasks into small and consistent routines. Success builds on success.  
  3. Do one thing at a time. Don’t worry about everything, just focus on one thing to improve.  Getting overwhelmed will just lead to inaction and no improvement at all. Any improvement is better than none. 
  4. Cleaning in five to 15-minute spurts rather than long sessions can accomplish a lot while accommodating fatigue issues. 
  5. Pick the one thing that causes the most stress and focus on how it could be streamlined. The library and internet offer a wealth of suggestions and resources.  Find one that makes sense and try it.  Keep it if it works, and try something else if it doesn’t.  
  6. Consider organization as a lifelong component of living well. It might take five years to get each aspect of a life more organized. As life, health and obligations change, so will our organization methods.  
Having control over things in life builds confidence and eases stress.  Chronic illnesses like MS can be unpredictable and suddenly disrupt our plans significantly.  Being organized with belongings and doing tasks as part of a routine ease stress.   Knowing what needs to be done and where to find things makes it easy for friends and family to help us when called upon.  Tasks become more difficult when we don’t feel well, and being organized can allow us focus on our health and recovery. If things are organized and planned, then impromptu things don’t worry me. I can add them without overloading myself. I know for certain that being organized enriches my life and allows me to say yes to more experiences.  





Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The People Who Surround Me: Those I Keep and Seek

As I age, I’m getting more intentional about who I spend time with and how I shape interactions.  We can’t always completely avoid people who drain us, but we can shift how we approach our interactions.  We can’t always spend enough time with the people we love, but we can shape our relationships to maximize our joy and connection.  A lot of our daily lives involve acquaintances who with a small amount of attention can become friends. Our friends and family won’t always have the skills or perspective to meet our needs, but we can find circles of friends who will fill the gaps.
People who drain me: If I can limit time with them, great.  If I can’t, I like to assume they’re doing the best they can, I’m not going to change them, and perhaps they shouldn’t change. I’m not perfect, and I likely have aspects of my personality that some would find irritating.  I’m not going to come up with a comprehensive list of personal flaws, because I think that would be extremely bad for my self-esteem.  I’d rather look at it as we all have our issues that are both good and bad.  Some find our quirks endearing, while others find them unbearable.  The aspects of others that drain me aren’t inherently bad. They just don’t mesh easily with me and my set of character traits and preferences.  For interactions that I find extremely difficult, I’ve spent time listening while repeating a mantra fitting to the challenge.  In the midst of having someone spout off at me at work, I’ll mentally repeat to myself, “They’re teaching me to be better at my job.”  For times when I get frustrated I’ll repeat, “They’re helping me practice being patient and kind.” I might even have to get clear with myself about how I’m contributing to the tension and repeat, “It’s not their fault I’m crabby today - get it together.”  
For the people I would love to spend more time with but am not able due to distance or schedules, I find ways to connect in hopes of enriching the relationship with limited interaction.  Certainly we can call, text and facetime, but simple things like playing online games keeps me feeling in touch with people I don’t talk to often. One friend plays one move of a Scrabble game each morning, and I play one back. When I saw her recently after many months, she verbalized what I felt too – we feel connected with just one play per day.  Random messages about things that make me think of them are easily shared via text, email or social media.They know I was thinking of them, and I feel good letting them know.  
We spend a lot of time with a lot of people in short spurts of time.  They may be our medical care providers, baristas, grocery store checkers, mechanics and neighbors.  These are the relationships that aren’t close, but they can be immensely helpful to living a high-quality life.  When we make them friends and contribute to quality interactions, our lives are richer for it.  Smiles that brighten our day help us be more likely to react with grace when encountering rudeness or frustration. If we expand the circle of people we consider to be part of our life, we recognize how much they contribute to our happiness and how much we may influence theirs.  
Online groups can be instrumental to meeting some of my emotional needs when I don’t personally know people similar to me.  Very few of my friends have a chronic health condition like I have. I know even fewer who are experiencing my health challenges and have an activity level similar to mine.  Social networks like My MSAA Community and closed Facebook groups have been excellent for me to connect with people similar to me in one or more ways. I belong to one group with women who do triathlons.  Another is for women with chronic illnesses who do triathlons.  I belong to a group for people interested in sharing research related to MS. Another is a personal share site for people with MS.  These sites feel like safe places to learn more about things that can be embarrassing from people who know what it’s like to live with chronic conditions.  These sites provide me with inspiration, motivation and helpful tips for my fitness goals. They also provide validation for the frustration I experience when my body holds me back and I’m sad that my life includes Multiple Sclerosis.  I get a lot from them.  And because I get so much, I’m compelled to share and support others in these groups. Receiving support from others helps, and so does giving.  
The people who surround me give me inspiration, motivation, comfort and strength. They validate my struggles and celebrate my accomplishments. Even the challenging relationships teach me where I have opportunities for personal growth.  Whether they are close friends, quick daily interactions or distant online acquaintances, they help me navigate my journey and contribute to a life I love. 

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Dating and MS: Loving and Risking Heartache

I used to feel such relief that I was married and didn’t need to be out in the dating world.  It sounded horrible, and I enjoyed having my relationship set with the expectation there’d be no divorce.  Then I started having health issues and was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis after 15 years of marriage.  
When a married person is diagnosed with MS, the rate of divorce is about the same as the general population, but the gender disparity is enormous. A study by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that women diagnosed with MS are six times more likely to get divorced than men diagnosed with MS.  Women tend to stay with their husbands when the man encounters cancer or chronic illness, and marriages tend to end when the woman is diagnosed.  This statistic doesn’t even address the situations where people stay in a marriage with a caregiver partner involving abuse.  People with MS are more likely to be victims of domestic violence including mental, verbal, financial, sexual, and physical abuse and neglect. The fear of being alone or the ability to live independently overrides the pain of living in an unhealthy relationship.
I know my health created issues in my marriage. I enjoyed being a strong, caretaking woman, and that worked in my marriage for many years.  Then MS entered my life, and the dynamics changed.  I changed.  My diagnosis not only added a level of fear for the future, it shifted my perspective on life.  It motivated me to do everything in my power to enjoy life, be as healthy as possible, and learn healthier relationship skills.  Improving my emotional and physical health made the cracks in our marriage glaring. Ultimately, we weren’t able to grow together, and we divorced.  
With years alone and working on improving my life, I recently delved into the dating world.  It was intimidating and made me feel vulnerable.  The landmines to navigate increase when dating and living with MS, and the potential heartache is scary.  
I’m learning that my emotional wellbeing is fragile and can be easily hurt with people who don’t have healthy relationship skills. While I don’t want to judge or demand perfection from people, I am trying to assess whether a relationship that will be good for both of us is possible.  It takes time to get to know someone to see beyond the chemistry, and I’m going to get attached before that point happens in any new relationship.
I’ve come to believe that learning how to recover from rejection is more my style than trying to protect myself from feeling heartache.  Protecting myself feels like withholding, and I’m not comfortable starting a relationship feeling like I’m hiding.  I want to enter a relationship with an open heart and provide full disclosure for possible deal-breakers. I know that some people may take advantage of that or judge me as foolish, but I don’t know of any other way to be genuine and true to myself. 
As such, I embraced dating as an opportunity to meet people and learn more about what matters to me in a relationship.  
I’ve consistently disclosed I have MS on the first date when the match looked promising.  I describe it as a fact of my life that may be a deal-breaker for them, and I let them know it’s okay if it is.  My logic is that I don’t want to waste time with someone who isn’t up for it. I’d rather they have the opportunity to decide early if they’re up for it rather than wait and learn later.  Waiting to disclose would feel like I’m hiding or feeling shame about the facts of my life and health.  I have more information about my possible declining health than others, but the fact is none of us knows what the future holds for us. 
I dated one person who ghosted me after three months of seeing each other.  It was surprising to me in the moment, but it’s not surprising in hindsight.  After a few days of feeling hurt, I shifted to being grateful that he’d ended it for us.  It helped me see which behaviors should be deal-breakers for me. I realized I’d put chemistry ahead of things that matter to me, and I’d dismissed things that won’t lead to a relationship that is good for me.  
Moving forward with a new relationship, I’m planning to review the list of relationship questions I’ll ask periodically.  These questions will be different for each person, and I’m working on feeling confident in mine as reasonable.  If my expectations are too much for someone, it means that person isn’t right for me.   If they end things with me, I’m working on seeing it as them doing me a favor rather than feeling rejected.  
I’m also working on not putting too much pressure on myself to figure out forever right now.  I think anticipating what the future holds and having discussions about how our lives might meld are necessary. These are the fun discussions about our bucket lists, careers, hopes and dreams.  These are also the vulnerable discussions about how my health affects me now and how it may lead to disability someday.  None of us have guarantees for the future, and I’m trying to plan my future with a range of health situations.  I may be exactly as I am now with continued common aging issues, or I may need to live in an assisted living facility with daily care.  For now, I anticipate my future will be somewhere in between. I’m likely to need a cane or walker someday, but I’m optimistic I’ll be able to work until early retirement age and live independently.  I could be completely right, or I may be completely wrong. I’ll know more as each year passes. 
We all have aspects of our lives and personalities that are deal-breakers for someone else.  We are also all worth loving.  The right person for me will acknowledge my health, will want to meet my needs, and will see my MS as a part of me that makes me the person I am. A rejection from someone is something to receive as a gift. They’ve let me know they aren’t right for me, and they’ve freed me to find someone who is. 



1.    Gender disparity in the rate of partner abandonment in patients with serious medical illness.
Study Source: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
November 10, 2009
Summary: A woman is six times more likely to be separated or divorced soon after a diagnosis of cancer or multiple sclerosis than if a man in the relationship is the patient, according to a study that examined the role gender played in so-called "partner abandonment." The study also found that the longer the marriage the more likely it would remain intact.

2.    Relationship Between Domestic Violence and Multiple Sclerosis
Margie O’Leary, MSN, RN, MSCN; Sherie Lammers; Anne Mageras, BSW; Marilyn Boyd, MSCN; Rose Constantino, PhD, RN; Rock Heyman, MD
International Journal of MS Care

3.     Caregiver Abuse and Neglect of People with Multiple Sclerosis(P06.198)
Elizabeth Morrison, Aileen Wiglesworth, Dara Sorkin, Laura Mosqueda
April 26, 2012; 78 (1 Supplement) 
First published February 8, 2016,


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Fresh Starts: Changing Self-Talk to Serve Me Better

Sometimes we want to make changes, and sometimes we need to make changes. We choose some, and some are thrust upon us. It doesn’t always mean we’re ready or able to make them. Making a fresh start can be exciting and intimidating.  

I’m a big fan of trying to make these changes easier. Like the placebo effect can help us feel better when we take sugar pills thinking they’re medication, I’m all for using how our brains work to – for lack of a better word - trick myself into doing things I want to do.  
How we think, our opinions of ourselves, and the language we use can limit us and our personal growth.  I’m considering which of my memories, thoughts and reactions aren’t serving me.  Some of them make me feel like a powerless victim.  I want to lose the ones that are holding me back from doing things I want to do and from being who I want to be. 
With my divorce from a long-term marriage final, I’m making a conscious effort to change the stories I tell.  Things that were funny and garnered laughter when shared previously are now sad given our relationship ended.  With self-reflection and practice, I’m learning to stop myself before telling some of these stories that feel like automatic responses in conversation.  When friends or guests would ask where something is that I don’t have, I initially said, “I used to have some, but I didn’t get them in the split.”  Over time, I changed it to “I haven’t replaced them yet.” Recently I didn’t say anything when it came to mind in conversation.  Soon, I may replace some of these items with things I love in hopes of adding more enjoyment to my new circumstances.  I think once I’ve trained my brain to react with a thought that is pleasant for me, I’ll have completed the transition for the better. 
If I keep telling myself or others about memories that make me sad or feel bad about myself, I’m hampering my ability to move on. I’m actively working on a new life and creating a new outlook in an effort to respond in ways that make me feel good about myself. I don’t need to forget or ignore challenges, but I don’t need to keep giving them power over my future.  I get to be the editor of my life story, and I can be intentional about what serves me well for what’s to come.  
When I think about my body and my health, am I focusing on what I’ve lost or what I’ve gained?  It pains me when I think, “Multiple Sclerosis took this from me.” It’s true, it did. MS has taken a lot from me, and it’s not something I dismiss. It took from me the ability to do some activities I enjoyed.  It took my sense of self as it was.  It revealed my belief about my excellent health to be one of ignorance.  It’s taken years for me to learn how my MS affects me and what helps me live well with it.  If I focus on what MS has taken, it doesn’t feel good.  If I focus on how my life is better today than it was before I was diagnosed, I feel better.  
I’m trying to rewire my brain and my automatic responses to be thoughts and comments that help me feel good about myself. It helps me to notice where my thoughts aren’t serving me in a way that encourage, motivate or inspire me.
Just in everyday living, I aim to be intentional about my word choices.  The word diet feels like punishment to me.  I replace the word diet with nutrition, sustenance, food choices and delicacies. My food choices are somewhat restrictive given food sensitivities. I’d love to lose a few pounds, but I try to think of it as respecting my body by making nutritious food choices.  Some foods are sustenance, and some are indulgences. I’ll avoid foods that don’t sit well with me.  And when I choose to eat them anyway, I’ll refer to it as feeding my soul so that I can stay on track.  Will power, restriction and fear don’t keep me making the food choices I’d prefer long term.  I need to allow for indulgence periodically to maintain overall good health.
When it comes to physical fitness, I avoid saying I need to exercise. Exercise connotes punishment and dread when I hear the word. Instead I write “daily fitness” on my to-do list.  I aim for a mix of stretching, strengthening and improving endurance.  I’ll say I need to be outside and active when I’ve felt I’ve been too sedentary. 
For me, the language I use influences how I feel immensely.  If I can frame things in ways that entice me rather than shame me, I’m more likely to act on them.  
In the last year, I felt like I was getting a lot done, but I also felt like I was coping. I’d really like to shift my thinking to feeling like I’m maintaining and thriving.  Making a fresh start is a perfect time to lose what doesn’t help and build what does. How I talk to myself is a terrific way to start.