My exercising pursuits probably started at age one and a half when my foiled gymnastics routine failed to propel me out of the crib. Already I showed signs of being active and rambunctious and my “antics” did not stop despite stitches from my failed attempt. At age six my mother watched in horror as someone pointed to a young girl, her daughter, about to jump from the high diving board. Finally, at age eight she enrolled me in PAL (Police Athletic League), in an effort to allow me to channel my excess energy constructively.
I continued an active life style throughout my life, until I was diagnosed with MS.
In August of 2009 I was training for my first half marathon when I was diagnosed with RRMS. The diagnosis came as a shock to me because I was not only fit but maintained a healthy lifestyle. The news, was a shock to me and I wasn’t sure how to cope.
After the diagnosis I shut everyone and everything from my life, including running and working out. I could not envision going for a run and collapsing from an MS episode. I truly had no idea what to expect but I had anticipated the worst of what could happen. I couldn’t go to the gym and have my ego remind me of what I could no longer do.
As I struggled with the disease I became increasingly depressed. In the past, running would always assuage any crisis I had to face; I no longer had that outlet to release my depression and frustrations. It was a catch 22 – if I went out for a run I could collapse (in my mind) and if I didn’t I would sink further into an abyss that I had created.
It took months for me to realize that I had hit a wall built not out of mortar but fear and indecision. MS had already proven to me that I would not have the same life that I had enjoyed in the past. So, why could I think that I could easily go back to my “old” form of exercising? Reluctantly I had to give up starting off at the high diving board and had to wade into the kiddy pool instead.
And so as my frame of mind changed so did my temperament and condition. I started jogging slowly, almost at a walk, and much less distance than I was accustomed to. I had no delusions of grandeur, only of building up my courage and stamina at whatever pace I could manage at the time.
I also changed to a gym that had a pool. Swimming was an activity that I had not done since I was a kid. I wasn’t strong but I just wanted to get into the pool and swim a few laps at a time. The warmth of the water me gave me the impetus to stay in longer and achieve a little more each time. There was a familiar and safe emotional sensation that would flood my senses as the memories that I had as a kid, swimming in Puerto Rico and the JCC (Jewish Community Center), would come to the surface.
My legs finally started getting stronger and my attitude shifted to one of jubilance. I became more positive about the future and my life with MS. I realized how much I missed exercising. It had always been such an important part of my life. But more so, the endorphins that were released while I worked out had a positive impact on how I felt.
I also realized that it didn’t take much for me to fulfill the joy that exercising once brought me. It was as simple as exercising with light weights, going for a walk, or aerobic swimming.
I didn’t have to try to set out to break any type of record. I needed to listen to my body when it was telling me that it was as important to exercise my body muscles as it was the brain muscles. If I didn’t use them they would atrophy, as they were already doing. And, when my body was tired I needed to heed and do less.
My “baby step” routine continued until I was finally able to run my first half marathon last year and four months later completed an 817 mile hike through the Arizona Trail.
We all have different compositional make ups. Our MS symptoms are different and so we need to tailor our activities according to our capabilities. Any form of exercise, at our own pace, is instrumental to our physical and emotional and well being.
Please note: If you are looking to start any new exercise routine you should first consult with your physician.