My approach to self-care has changed throughout the years as my multiple sclerosis has progressed. I guess it has depended on my priorities and how they have switched places. When newly diagnosed, I wanted to make sure I did everything right to keep MS at bay: nutrition, exercise, sleep, social interaction.
I tried to do everything I hadn’t done up to that moment before it was too late. Or at least, that’s what I thought back then. Now I know I still can do the things I want to do, although with more difficulty, of course.
Giving meaning to everything I was going through and finding my purpose became a main focus at some point. Serving others and helping them with their own MS journey helped me heal.
Once mobility issues started, then it was all about maintaining my functions and retraining my brain. Modifying the way I did things and adjusting to the new changes -- easier said than done, that’s for sure.
One thing I know is that no matter which stage of my journey I’m at, it’s always been important to place my needs first. That wasn’t always the case when I didn’t have MS. I gave my all to my job, my kids, my house. Everything first, me last.
Self-care is the only way you can share with others the best version of yourself. You can’t be a good mom if you don’t take time to relax and recharge. You can’t be a good wife if you’re always tired because you never take time to rest. You can’t be a good friend if you don’t make time to call your friends. You can’t be a good co-worker if you can’t concentrate and you don’t have energy to perform at work.
It all comes down to making time for yourself in order to be the best version of yourself. Meditation, exercise, good nutrition, enough sleep, socializing, all these combined are the perfect recipe to a better you.
I’ve learned that I can’t let anyone drain my energy. Have you heard of “energy vampires”? Those are people that take and take and never give. Friends or family members that are around only for their best interest. We have to draw the line and identify when it’s enough. Those type of people usually disappear when you put yourself first and start taking care of yourself because they’re the ones that benefit the most from when you’re neglected.
Anybody who lives with a chronic disease should know that stress and mood can have a negative impact on their immune system. Sometimes we take on other people’s problems as our own and forget about ourselves, dedicating too much of our time and energy to others. How’s that fair to you? The emotional burden can sometimes be a heavier load than any physical effort.
Once I realized that my unconditional dedication to everybody else but me was taking a toll on my well-being, I almost forced myself to withdraw from certain situations for my own sake. I forced this on everybody else around me too. Unfortunately, I had to be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis to understand this.
Now, I’m not always available. I take time to exercise, to work on my writing, to go to the hair salon, to hold my support group meetings, to work on my social media posts, to travel, to sleep when I need it, etc. I’ve not abandoned my duties, but I stopped abandoning myself.
Practicing self-care means acknowledging yourself and validating your needs. Dedicating time to the most important project of your life, you. Not feeling guilty for saying “No.” Making yourself your first priority and nothing less.
Whether it’s taking a yoga class with a friend, removing yourself from the chaos of the family life to meditate, treating yourself to something you’ve been craving for a while, buying yourself a gift, eating healthy foods and taking care of your body, pampering yourself at the spa, or something as simple as doing “me time,” whatever this means to you, can change your life for the better.
Practicing mindfulness, being present in the moment, and choosing wisely how to react to stressful situations are the pathway to emotional wellness. Be a fierce guardian of your peace of mind and don’t let nobody snatch it away from you.
One technique I use is to make promises to myself. It helps me to stay focused on what I accept and allow or not. For example, “I promise to myself that I’m going to have a good day today.” I don’t want to let myself down, so I’m mindful of anything that could interfere with me having a good day, and I don’t let those things affect me. I walk away, let it go, or disregard what doesn’t serve me.
Nobody comes to your life to make you happy. Instead, you must decide to be happy. Once you make that commitment and keep this as your focal point, you’re on the road to self-care. You’ll do everything to achieve that goal of being happy and will avoid anything that doesn’t.
MS brings a lot of hurdles into our lives and makes it hard to stay focused. But because our immune system is working against us already, we should make an effort to love ourselves more and be kind to ourselves.
Self-care is not an act of selfishness but an act of love. There’s nothing wrong with taking care of yourself, even when that doesn’t please some people around you. Those who really love you will understand and will facilitate that space for you.
To connect with other people living with multiple sclerosis join our MS Facebook Support Group.
Photo Credit: Amy Frazier, Shooting the Kids Photography / Moment via Getty Images
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