By Stacie Prada
With each new year, I think about what’s ahead, what I can control, and what will make the next 12 months fulfilling for me. Instead of pushing myself to do more or be better, my approach this year for health management is to track what helps me manage my health with methods that are easy to use and visually informative.
Knowing what my body needs is an ever-changing puzzle, and tracking provides clues for what could be the cause or remedy for things contributing to health challenges. Add aging and menopause to living with Multiple Sclerosis, and knowing how to best manage my changing body is not easy.
Tracking helps reveal immediate issues and needs, and over time it divulges patterns and trajectories. It can show similarities and differences in my health condition over time, and it can indicate overall improvement or decline.
Monitoring can be as detailed or general as each person likes, and it can ebb and flow over time. Periodically entering full details for how I’m doing in a moment is terrific for long term health status review. Simple checklists and charts can provide reminders to do things. Over time, they can give clues to explain changes throughout a week or month.
I like systems that easily fit into my habits and schedule instead of forcing me to make drastic changes. I will do things that help my health when I remember, and often a note, comment or routine is enough encouragement to make good choices. When my routine changes, it can completely derail good habits that keep me well.
I’ve often noticed when spasticity and leg pain increase, I’ll realize I’ve forgotten or neglected to do some or many of the treatments proven to help me manage spasticity. I may have run out of supplements or medication, missed my daily banana or stretching, or have just been dehydrated. No one thing on a single day causes my MS symptoms, but missing one or more a few days in a row can really throw me off track.
Without tracking, I don’t notice the correlation as readily. With tracking, I clearly see how frequently my biggest MS symptoms occur AND which good health measures I’ve done or haven’t done.
I use both digital apps and a hard-bound journal to track my symptoms and treatments, and I like them both for different reasons. I’ll share examples for each method in this blog post.
MSAA has an app My MS Manager that is a terrific comprehensive tracking tool for monitoring MS symptoms, treatments, and well-being. I particularly like that the app is flexible and can be customized with items to track or receive reminders to do them. In the daily journal section under “Treatment Taken?” section, I added prescriptions and treatments that I know help me with the frequency desired and an option to set up reminders. Items can be added from a standard list and custom items can be created. To track each item on a given day, I can easily click yes, no or not required for the question, “Did you take this treatment today?”
Seeing my individual symptoms and mood charted over long periods of time and being able to compare current and past data is invaluable. Knowing I’ve experienced similar peaks and valleys helps me weather today’s challenges. Seeing what helped previously offers suggestions for what might help this time.
I use the app My MS Manager to provide comprehensive tracking, and I use other apps for fitness and activity tracking as well. Syncing my watch and scale to other apps makes it easy to access data without added effort or time on my part.
Technology is incredible these days, and apps are convenient. I always have my phone handy, so it’s a good option for a lot of my tracking.
Yet I learned long ago there’s never one solution that will meet all my needs. I like pen and paper for its flexibility and visual reminders. I use it to track and remind myself to do daily or weekly things that help me maintain my health. I use a nicely bound journal with blank dot grid pages. This approach works great for me for symptoms that are helped by a long list of treatments.
By entering treatments and activities next to the symptoms I’m managing each day, I have a built-in visual to connect how I’m feeling, why I might be experiencing symptoms, and what I can try to feel better. I’m including an image below to show the format I’m using and is working well for me.
Image of page from author’s journal depicting symptom and treatment tracking
In this example for spasticity and leg pain in my extremities, I have a number of things that help reduce pain including stretching, movement, supplements, daily banana, a vinegar muscle tonic, staying hydrated and medication. Tracking on the same page the symptom or challenge along with actions I can take helps me see easily what else might help or if I am already doing everything I know helps and it’s getting worse. It was clear to me that when my leg pain became excessive that I could get back on track with stretching, supplements and the vinegar muscle tonic. It’s getting better every day, and I can see that with my chart.
Please know that MS symptoms can often be unpredictable and uncontrollable. Tracking doesn’t prevent relapses. This may be obvious but it is important, so I’ll say it again:
Tracking does not prevent relapses.
If you have a relapse, don’t blame yourself. If you know someone who has a relapse, don’t blame them. It’s easy to judge others and try to assign blame, but it doesn’t do anyone any good. We’re all doing the best we can with what we have and where we are at each point in our lives. Take any Judgy McJudgy-Pants conclusions elsewhere. Okay, this side rant is over and we’ll get back to tracking health items.
It helps me to look at tracking as a monitoring tool rather than a long list of things to do that can put more pressure on myself. I don’t need more pressure, stress or judgment, even if it’s from me. I need to know I’m trying, and I need to remember I’m doing the best I can. A tracking tool can remind me without requiring me to take action. I still get to choose what I will or won’t do in each moment. I aim to tend to myself with compassion and encouragement rather than judgment and harshness. I wish all this for you too.
*Stacie Prada was diagnosed with RRMS in 2008 just shy of 38 years old. Her blog, “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” is a compilation of inspiration, exploration, and practical tips for living with Multiple Sclerosis while living a full, productive, and healthy life with a positive perspective. It includes musings on things that help her adapt, cope and rejoice in this adventure on earth. Please visit her at http://stacieprada.blogspot.com/