My New Approach to MS - Thanks to My Toddler

Why does it seem that young children and older adults have things figured out? Really?! They take their time when doing things (mostly out of necessity but also to really enjoy what they are doing), rest, laugh, & read often. Somewhere in the middle of our lives, a lot of us take a left-turn and get distracted by ‘stuff’-away from the little things that really are the big things. We try to fill each day to the max and rush from one thing to the next, always in a hurry. I have recently decided to re-focus on the simpler pleasures in life and de-clutter all of the STUFF (literal and figurative) in my life that takes precious time away from what matters the most; time with my children, husband, and loved ones. I have also been thinking about how an approach to maintaining good health and keeping MS symptoms at bay mirrors the things I try to do or instill with my toddler. Here are the 8 things I recommend doing as an approach to managing MS as learned from raising a toddler (add a 5 month old in for fun too!):

1. Take a Nap. Daily: Self-explanatory but may be the most important item on this list. If not a nap, then REST. Taking the time to rest each day is a key to overcoming fatigue and having the energy to get things done. Try to get a full-night sleep also. Turn off electronics, have a set bedtime, and establish a routine. There is good reason why my toddler takes a nap each day and why we ‘help’ him (car ride, anyone?) fall asleep even when he wants to keep going. When I am able to be home during his naptime and know I should lie down also but worry about the million other things I need to do, I am getting better at pushing those thoughts aside and getting the rest I need to recharge. If not a nap, then rest by meditating, stretching/yoga, or just taking the time to do something for YOU.

2. Plan Activities Around Your Best Times: This ties directly to #1. For me, this means prioritizing works meetings early in the day when I have more energy and focus. It also means as the weather warms up to be careful about how much time I spend in the heat; plan indoor activities when possible. We always plan activities for our son around his nap time and there is nothing wrong with doing that for yourself too.

3. Delegate How You Spend Your Energy: Repeat after me: It is OK to say ‘no.’ If you come to our house, you will know right away what our son’s favorite things are.His days are spent ‘running the bases’ or rather, running between the front and back door, swinging bats, banging on instruments, watching Barney, and reading books. We need to spend the energy that we have on things that we love doing. Of course, there are certain things that we have to do, even if we don’t always want to, and must adjust energy expenditure accordingly. Being mindful of our energy spent and what may be left or not is half the battle.

4. Tell People What Your Needs Are: As much as we would sometimes love it if people could read our minds, they can’t. My son gets frustrated because he does not yet have a word for everything to express his wishes, but most of us do. Use your voice to let people know what you are going through and what they can do to help. After our daughter was born last fall, I let people know how helpful it would be to have meals brought to the home and you know what? We did not have to cook or go to the grocery store for weeks! This may be something that is beneficial to you during an exacerbation and MealTrain is a great way for people to organize who is brining what, when.

5. Learn All You Can & Ask Questions: Do not be afraid to ask ‘why?’ My son is not to that phase yet but will be soon and I know it will be a test to patience but also know if is important for him to ask about things in order to learn about them. When we are first diagnosed with MS, many of us do not know the 1st thing about the disease and spend a lot of time researching in order to understand. Don’t let that stop. Research is ongoing and new therapies become approved. Ask why your neurologist makes a recommendation and learn about the medications that you use. Know your rights in the workplace. Learn by connecting with other people. Also, just learn in general-learn something new!

6. Pick Yourself Up When You Fall Down: There are going to be bad days (as we read almost daily at our house in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day….). Some days are just like that. It may be literally picking yourself up from a fall or figuratively after a bad day with other symptoms or just feeling down about things. Each day truly is a new day and should be handled with the mindset of making the most of it. If I need to hold onto something (strollers work great to help with balance, as do shopping carts) I do, or if I need to 'furniture walk' at times to maintain an upright position, that's ok too.

7. Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously: I love that my son just does the things that make him happy. He will dance when no one else is (I have the cute footage from a recent wedding to prove it), wear whatever he wants, laugh at almost anything, and just be silly on a daily basis. Laughter does do much for us and it is important to also be able to laugh at ourselves. Remember to allow yourself to express emotions (positive and otherwise).

8. Surround Yourself with Good People: I am a lucky girl here. I have THE best people in my life and should remind myself of that daily. There is always room for more, too! There should be people in your life who you know will be there for you no matter what. The people who care about YOU, not whether you have it all together, because trust me, no one really does.

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