How do you feel about your body? Do you love the physical part of you? How has multiple sclerosis (MS) changed your attitude?
Since I developed MS in the 1980s, my emotions about my body have changed along with my physical condition. Before I got sick, I pretty much ignored my body, as many people in modern society do. I mostly lived in my head: reading, playing music, working, watching TV, trying to succeed in school.
I exercised off and on: playing basketball and table tennis, running and swimming, but I didn’t pay much attention to how my body felt. I kind of took it for granted that it would always be there for me and always do what I wanted.
I was wrong. I should have gotten a wake-up call when I was 14 and developed a severe scoliosis, a curvature of the spine that bends me sharply to the left. No one could tell us what caused it, and there was no way to cure it. (A lot like MS, wasn’t it?) It was a definite sign that something was wrong; my body needed help, but I didn’t think of it that way. I kept ignoring it, kept going, focusing on other things.
Fifteen years later, I developed significant urinary frequency; I had to pee like every 40 minutes, even though I had no infection. I didn’t know that was an MS symptom, and no doctor suggested it, but I knew something was wrong.
Looking for healers, I found an elderly Chinese acupuncturist who told me I was going too fast. “You walk too fast, you eat too fast.” He said I wasn’t taking time to digest my food or to breathe properly. “You’re too busy working and thinking about things,” he said. He advised me to slow down, to stop eating solid food and just drink soups because I was too weak inside to handle anything more.
I didn’t follow his advice. I didn’t feel I was overworking. I thought the opposite; I wasn’t accomplishing enough. Everything else I had to do was more important. I didn’t understand that my body had needs that I was ignoring, for rest, breath, attention, and love, so I kept doing what I was doing.
About 7 years after that visit, I had a big MS relapse, losing vision in both eyes, losing all strength in my right leg, and feeling totally exhausted. That’s when I was finally diagnosed. My body finally had caught my attention.
We Treat Our Bodies the Way Society Treats Us
How did you feel when you were diagnosed with MS? Some people with chronic illness blame their body for ‘betraying’ them. We want our bodies to carry on and do all the work we want them to do, meet all the demands we make of them without complaining. We rarely thank our body. When something goes wrong, we blame it instead of the society we live in or the endless demands we put on it.
I don’t believe my body betrayed me. If anything, I betrayed it, and it’s doing the best it can to cope with a life it wasn’t prepared for. The body likes things simple. It lives in the moment and mostly wants to be rested, fed, hydrated and comfortable. It’s not interested in that project we want to complete for work, but we ignore its needs and focus on desires and responsibilities that are mostly in our own head, such as the need to keep other people happy.
In other words, we treat our bodies the way society treats us: as servants, here to work and produce value for somebody else, not as valuable beings in our own right.
In my book The Art of Getting Well, I wrote: “Our bodies are the most valuable asset we will ever have, and the greatest gift we will ever be given. But we treat them like used cars. And when I say ‘used car,’ I don’t mean a late-model certified Mercedes-Benz either. More like some $200 junker from the back of the lot, not even worth a regular oil change. And when they break down, we take them to a mechanic (with a medical degree) and say, ‘Here, fix this.’
As we have all learned by now, though, when it comes to MS, they can’t fix us. We have to give our bodies the love they need to do their many jobs in our service. We may have to fight for them when the world tries to tear them down. I’m trying to do that now.
What Loving Your Body Means
What does it mean to love your body? I think it’s kind of the same as loving another person. Loving attitudes include admiring and appreciating all it does to keep us alive. There’s probably more activity going on inside your body right now than in all of downtown Manhattan at rush hour.
Love means giving thanks to our bodies for allowing us to experience this world, compassion for its (our) pains and suffering, joy for the pleasures it can bring, such as food, comfort, touch, or sex.
When we experience loss of functions we used to rely on or enjoy, love might include taking time to grieve those losses, just as we would grieve loss of a friend or relative. Then we can reach a state of acceptance and figure out how we can move on with our lives.
Love also means doing things for the loved one. In the case of our bodies, we need to give them rest. We need to breathe calmly so our bodies get enough oxygen. We need to slow down and not live in our heads all the time. Meditation is so good for that; it focuses us on our breathing and on our bodies.
We need to make our bodies comfortable, like having comfortable chairs, beds, work areas, and wearing comfortable clothes.
Touch is a way to show love. If you can pay for an occasional massage, that’s a good investment. Or maybe loved ones can rub your shoulders and neck. Or massage your own feet and legs (a suggestion from a 99-year-old neighbor.) I find it really helps.
Bodies need to move. Move them as much as you comfortably can. If a particular part can’t move on its own, maybe we can move it passively. Gentle exercises are great – they’re the only kind I can do. Modified qi gong or yoga or chair exercises are good if you can’t do more.
With more vigorous exercise, I would say do what you can, but don’t overdo it. I think the workout slogan, “No pain, no gain,” is a classic example of not loving our bodies. It usually translates within a couple of weeks to “No exercise.” I don’t like listening to music or news on headphones while exercising; focus instead on your body’s sensations.
Hydrate consistently and eat properly. Water keeps our cells from getting dried out. Maintaining a good fluid intake helps our bodies function and feel better. It also prevents urinary tract infections (UTIs), a major MS problem.
For me, it’s important to avoid excess sugar intake. In general, pay attention to how what you eat makes you feel, and eat without rushing. Give yourself time to enjoy your food, and give your digestive system time to absorb and process it.
Those kind of things should make your body happy, which might lead to a better experience with MS. Right now, I’m going to bed and will remember to say a prayer of thanks for all my body has done for me today, is doing for me right now, and will do to keep me alive tonight.
To connect with other people living with multiple sclerosis, join our MS Facebook Support Group.
Photo Credit: kupicoo / E+ via Getty Images
Important: The opinions expressed in WebMD Blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Blogs are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.
Do not consider WebMD Blogs as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.