Exercising with MS: Why I love the water

It has taken me some time to figure out how to stay active as my MS has progressed over the past five years. Not that there aren’t options. Yoga, Pilates, seated aerobics. I’ve tried all those. I have DVDs and will get into them from time to time. My initiative usually lasts a week or two.

Before I started having trouble walking due to foot drop and muscle weakness, I rode a bicycle. I was able to carry it from my third floor apartment, take off the wheel and lift it into the back of my VW New Beetle. Off I would go to the nearby park that had great paved trails and I would go for 10 to 15 miles rides. I loved it. I loved my bike and I loved going for those bike rides alone, listening to my iPod. When I took a decent spill on my bike in 2005, I knew that it wasn’t safe for me anymore. The end of my bike riding days had been in the works. My rides had decreased to leisurely meanders through my neighborhood. After these short bike rides my legs would feel like they were vibrating for 30 minutes and I had a very difficult time walking. So I stopped. I held on to the idea that I might ride my bike again someday, so it was several years before I eventually sold it.

As my MS limited what I could do physically, I attempted to take up all different types of exercise routines. I even purchased a rowing machine that was used only a handful of times. I thought I’d use it and could watch TV while rowing. But it wasn’t nearly as satisfying as my bike rides on those tree lined trails. I’ve never really been into exercise and it’s taken me all this time to admit that I just don’t really like it. When I rode my bike, I enjoyed it. Sure I was glad to be active, but it was fun for me and that’s why I did it. Exercise is very important for people with Multiple Sclerosis, so I had to find something to keep me active and interested.

After spending years in this phase of trying to find something to stay active I went back to an old love; the water. I learned to swim quite young. My mom loves to swim so she passed her love of the water on to me. At different times in my life I had gym memberships and would swim laps, but this became more difficult as my MS progressed.

A few months ago I decided to try moving around in the water in a different way. I bought a water noodle and bounced around in the water for about 15 minutes. Discovering that my legs could move around easier in a jogging motion, I bought some water shoes and a floatation belt. I’ve now been water jogging for about four months. I’m lucky enough to have a pool, so I go out and water jog now from 25 to 35 minutes while listening to my iPod. And I don’t feel like it’s work. It’s fun.

Water is great for people with MS. It can help keep your core temperature down while you are exercising and there is less pressure on the body. Additionally, most people I know with MS can move around much easier in the water than on land. Balance and strength aren’t as much of an issue, not to mention the buoyancy experienced in water. For these reasons, I love water based exercise for myself and others with MS. It’s always important to make sure you can safely get in and out of a pool. I use my scooter to go out to the pool in my backyard and back inside. I’d always recommend proper safety procedures around the water and on wet surfaces.

I know that having my own pool makes this easier for me, but even in Las Vegas I won’t be able to use it all year. So in the winter I plan on taking my workouts to the city pool down the street. It’s low cost and close to home so I’m willing to make that effort for my health. There are low cost or even free pools in many communities at city recreation centers and schools.

Now that I’ve found a way to get some cardio, I’m working on adding strength training into my routine. It’s not nearly as fun as being in the water, but I know it’s important for me to stay healthy and manage my MS. Check out more information on exercising with MS from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. And for more about exercising with MS in the water, check out their article Come on in the Water’s Fine!

Disclosing MS

In 1998 I was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS). I went about six years with fairly mild symptoms including periodic numbness and tingling, a few bouts of optic neuritis in each eye, and MS fatigue. I was fairly convinced that this would be the course of my MS, but then things changed. In 2004 as I was about to graduate from college and start my first professional full-time job new symptoms started to emerge.

I began to have to urinate often and with urgency. There was no waiting or holding it. When I had to go, I had to go. This really came out of nowhere. I also began to notice a strange change in my gait. What years later was diagnosed as foot drop started as an uneasy feeling in the stability of my right ankle. On several occasions my ankle buckled in and I fell. The first time I was alone, the second time I was in front of several of my college mates. I blamed it on the pavement and high heeled shoes I was wearing.

Until this time, I had invisible MS. No one could tell anything was wrong by looking at me. I was a perfectly healthy person despite the MS. But slowly, my disease began to announce itself to the world. For years it had been mine to tell. I chose when I disclosed that I had MS to others. Now, it began to show and it became harder to keep it to myself.

I went on for about a year this way. Working full-time, pretending nothing was wrong. Avoiding situations where I had to walk long distances, dehydrating myself when I knew I’d be away from the bathroom for longer than one hour. Then my breaking point came because for the first time, MS affected my ability to do my job.

At the time part of my job required me to be out on residential construction sites. I often had to walk on uneven ground. One day while out at a job site my ankle buckled and I fell down. No one was around to see me. I got up, dusted the dirt off my pants, and went back to work. Over the next month I began to have anxiety about going to work. I made excuses for why I couldn’t go to job sites. I avoided it as much as I could. One day I called my best friend on my way to work crying hysterically about how much I hated it. At this point  something had to change.

I always think of this as the point in my life when I went public with having Multiple Sclerosis. My friends and family knew, I told other people when I felt safe, but I hid MS as much as I could from anyone outside my circle. It was on a need to know basis. I scheduled a meeting with the human resources director at my work. As I cried in her office, I told her that I had MS and was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do my job because of it. I don’t recommend the crying, but I do recommend disclosure of MS when it will get you the help you need. I cried because I truly felt terrified that having MS might take away something I worked so hard for; my career.

After my meeting, I felt the greatest relief. I felt like I didn’t have to hide or make excuses for myself. She gave me paperwork for the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  I had to get my doctor to fill it out and then I was placed on FMLA. I didn’t take time off work at the time, but my employer used it as a tool to protect me and my job. This documented my condition so that when I did use practically all my sick time at the doctor and when I finally did need to have some extended time off because of MS complications, my job was protected. Additionally they accommodated me by eliminating the job site work from my duties. I had plenty to do in the office. Eventually they moved the responsibility to another department’s employees whose entire days were spent out at the job sites already.

Disclosing that you have Multiple Sclerosis is a decision not to be taken lightly. The National MS Society has a wealth of information on disclosing your MS that can help you make decisions and inform you of your legal rights. I have never disclosed during a job interview, or to strangers that make stupid comments to me. But in this case it helped me keep my job, relieve anxiety, and feel more comfortable with disclosing MS in social situations. I wanted to share my story because it was a positive, although emotional, experience.

I have Multiple Sclerosis

I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) at 19 right after graduating from high school. I’ve been living with this disease now for almost 15 years. In that time I’ve gone from having a very benign disease to having MS significantly impact my daily life. Through the years I have gone through depression, fear, and pain. I’ve also experienced overwhelming happiness, acceptance, and learned a lot about myself.

I think about MS mostly every day. It’s hard not to. I am reminded each day. I remember when people ask me why I walk funny. I remember when I can’t finish my workout because my legs have turned into noodles. I remember every three months when I go to the neurologist and talk about my MS. My MS is mine. It might be a bit like yours, it might be exactly like yours, it might be nothing like yours.

I consider myself an advocate. I want people with MS to be understood, accepted, and provided the resources needed to be happy and healthy despite having MS. My hope is that I can make a difference somehow in your experience with this disease. My hope is you are able to see beyond MS into the great possibilities of life.

I’m also selfish. This is for me as much as it is for other people. By sharing how I feel, what I’ve been through, the things I laugh at, and the things that scare me the most, I am embarking on my endless need for other people. To be accepted. To hear someone say, I know exactly how you feel.