multiple sclerosis

Resources To Manage Stress and MS

The only thing more stressful than the diagnosis itself is dealing with the symptoms.

MS is a really tough disease that can feel impossible to navigate, but I want to let you know that you have control of the ship and there are so many treatment options available to find relief!

When I first started on the MS path, I thought the only thing I could do was take my medication and “try to stress less”. I had NO IDEA what it meant to stress less (isn’t it a part of life to be stressed?), how to do it, and nothing gave me more stress than taking the medication itself.

I started with injections and I hated it, every single time. I just wanted my disease to go away, but instead, it seemed to get more fierce with each passing day. Everything felt out of control and I didn’t know how to feel grounded again. I needed help and felt completely lost.

That’s why I decided to write this post today. It took me YEARS after diagnosis to reach out for help… but once I did, I was AMAZED at how much is available for MS patients. Non profits like the National MS Society and MS Focus (these are just two of the heavy hitters but there are many small organizations as well) are working day and night to improve the lives of MS patients and I couldn’t be more grateful for all they offer. For example, MS Focus helps to relieve stress with grants for everything from Health and Wellness Programs, Homecare Assistance, Healthcare Assistance, and more!

If you have MS or are affected by a loved one with the diagnosis, use these resources. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Reach out to these networks for support and they’ll gladly direct you to relief…. and that’s what matters more than anything. YOUR RELIEF.

Happy healing,

Carolyn Rachel

Why I Quit My Job For A Check Off My Bucket List

I made the decision to quit my job in the middle of a date. 

It was November and the weather was just starting to change, an inescapable reminder that another winter was on it's way. As we sipped red wine and laughed over dinner, we talked about all the things we wanted to do with our lives. 

After coming from a lifetime of making excuses, my list was long. Ever since I was a kid, I've always put off experiences because of my weight. I wanted to do all those things, but not until I was thinner. Then, when I was diagnosed with MS, that only fueled my excuses. I was happy enough in my day to day routine that I didn't think about all that I was missing.

But eventually, the decline of my health made me hate my daily experience and all I could think about was what I was missing. 

Then, in 2014, I ran out of time. With years of severe chronic pain and a new cane in my hand, I knew that later was quickly becoming never and the sicker I allowed myself to become, the less I'd be able to do. 

From that summer forward, I put all my energy into healing myself and it worked! I lost the weight, ditched the cane, and I went back to work full time. 

I felt like I was on top of the world... except I wasn't. I'd put in more heart and soul than I knew possible to heal my body and the idea that I did all that to work just so I could sit behind a desk seemed preposterous! 

The lightheadedness from the wine kept me giggling, but our conversation felt heavy in my gut. My thoughts were racing and I couldn't stop thinking about how I was wasting time. How I could always get another job. How I needed to go enjoy my life, the life I'd worked so hard for. 

I knew, right there and then, that I was ready for something different. 

I couldn't keep myself together. I looked at him and said "I think I'm going to quit my job in January and go somewhere. Maybe South America." 

He immediately responded, "I absolutely think you should." 

It was the tiny bit of validation that I needed to lock in my decision. Now, I just needed to tell everyone else. 

Visiting Machu Picchu in March 2016

Visiting Machu Picchu in March 2016

Quitting that job was the hardest thing I'd ever done. I loved my boss, my office, and my sweet parking spot right in the middle of Cambridge, but I knew that I needed to have an adventure. 

So I put in my notice and, the following January, I took off for Peru. 

Going on that trip alone was terrifying, nothing l'd ever done before, but at that time, it was the only thing that made sense. 

Life is short, but we make it feel impossibly long. The pain and suffering that came from living with morbid obesity and Multiple Sclerosis taught me that and I wanted, more than anything, to take advantage of the time I'd created for myself. 

I wanted to see the world, to push myself to new limits, to live my life, without waiting.

So, I did. And it was the best decision I ever made. 

For anyone reading this. I want to urge you to listen to your gut. To make decisions based on what would benefit your health and happiness. To stop waiting for the right time and to start experiencing what you want from life right now. Nothing is guaranteed, so what are you waiting for?

It's time to live your life, Without The Weight. 

With love & light,

Carolyn Rachel

How To Start A Meditation Routine

I started researching meditation the day I yelled at my dad. 

Now, don't misread me... my dad is THE BEST and we're super close (BFFs!), which makes it tough to admit - I used to yell on the phone with him a lot.

It's not that I was mad at him, I was just going through too much. When I was really sick, everything felt like an uphill battle. I'd have complete meltdowns over every little thing because I felt so weighed down by the stress of my illness, the stress of my weight, hell - the stress of my life... I just didn't have the patience for the natural curveballs of life! 

My dad was willing to take the brunt because he knew how much stress I was under (he's actually the best dad ever) and I used him as my personal sounding board day after day.

One night, we were on the phone and I was on one of my usual tirades. 

I was crying, yelling, and arguing with every solution he offered until the true reason for my issues came out. I finally yelled:

"DAD. I DON'T CARE ABOUT THIS. I JUST HAVE NO STRESS MANAGEMENT SKILLS."

I heard it loud & clear the moment it came out of my mouth. When we hung up, I took a few deep breaths and thought - girl, you better get some!

I googled what I could do for stress and hated what I saw. Meditation? Mindfulness?

NO THANK YOU. 

I didn't have the time to "slow down" and the idea of sitting still made my skin crawl. 

So, I just kept on keeping on, getting stressed and having meltdowns. As you can imagine, this was amazing for my health (Hello, sarcasm!) and life felt a little harder with each passing day. 

I didn't know how to get myself to meditate. I tried, but it all seemed so overwhelming, so I focused on the part of my wellness plan that felt easier: diet and exercise. I started feeling better and losing weight and my stress felt a little lighter. I was definitely happier, but I could tell my lack of stress management skills was still making me sick. 

I felt lost and stuck, so in 2016, I quit my job to have an adventure. I decided to travel around the US for a bit but I wanted to do something more. Something wild. So, I decided to head to Peru.

The plan was to spend 5 weeks in South America. Two and a half with a friend and then two and a half on my own. I wanted to see the sights, but I also craved spontaneity. I wanted to wander around and find experiences as I journeyed through. 

Before I left, I only booked two things: Gate tickets to Machu Picchu (of course) and a 5 day silent meditation retreat.. I knew I needed to learn how to do this, away from all distractions, and what better place than on an island in the middle of Lake Titicaca?

While I was on my retreat, I discovered what it felt like to be calm for the very first time in my life. Within a day, I had no MS symptoms and by the end of the retreat, I was unrecognizable to my friend and her family because of how much weight I'd lost. 

I knew then how important it would be to keep this up, so I came home and made it a mandatory part of my routine. I struggled with keeping up with it, making it a habit, but after lot's of trial and error... I figured out how to begin a meditation routine at home. 

Now, I want to share my top 3 tips with you! 

If you're desperate to manage stress but feel intimidated by meditation, these tips are FOR YOU!

Three Tips To Start A Meditation Routine

1. Start with 5 minutes. You don't have to start with 30 minutes of morning meditation, that's actually CRAZY to ask anyone to do! Start with 5 minutes and build up from there. Everyone can find 5 minutes in the morning (turn off instagram and set your timer!) and it's the absolute best way to clear your brain before a busy day! 

2. Listen to a guided meditation. Having a voice to guide you makes it SO MUCH EASIER to focus! There are apps like Headspace, Insight Timer, or even Youtube where you can find easy to follow guides!

3. Simply follow your breathing. Thoughts are going to come into your head and distract you. That's TOTALLY NORMAL. The trick to meditation is noticing that you've gotten lost in thought so you can come back to your breath. In the beginning, this is honestly HELL, but don't get frustrated... every time you do it, you strengthen that muscle in the brain to build focus. I promise it gets easier, practice makes perfect!

When I came home, I started with 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes in the evening and now, I do 30 in the morning and 30 in the evening. My stress levels have dropped SIGNIFICANTLY and the benefits are amazing. I feel confident, aware, healthy, and ready to take on WHATEVER the universe throws at me. 

Do you have any tips or tricks that have worked for you? Comment below and let me know!

With love & light, 

Carolyn

 

How To Work With Your Heart Rate

Note: If you don't want to read the whole story, skip to the bottom to find out how to calculate your heart rate!

Last May, I was given an incredible gift. I went an entire day without pain. 

I couldn't believe it. 

My mom was visiting me for Mother's Day and I was so excited, I ran into her room and jumped on the bed, my eyes filling with tears. I hadn't gone a day without pain in almost a decade!

I went to bed that night with my heart full of gratitude. I couldn't sleep. I didn't know how long this could last and I wanted to appreciate every single moment. 

Luckily for me, that day was just the beginning. With the pain gone, I started noticing other symptoms that I'd forgotten about. Symptoms that had been drowned out by the constant tidal wave of severe chronic pain. 

But before I knew it, those symptoms started to dissipate as well. I prayed every night, swimming in gratitude and not asking for anything, because I was already getting so much more than I thought possible. 

It got to the point where the only time I was getting symptoms was when I exercised.

I loved to lift heavy, do sprints, and run up the stair master. Anything that made me feel strong, powerful, and soaked in sweat, but it left me with numbness in my feet and heavy fatigue. I'd been doing this workout for years, despite the plateau on the scale, but I felt I needed to keep it up if I was ever going to finish losing weight. 

I brought it up with my doctor and we made a deal. He told me that, if I start getting symptoms, I should take a break and drink some water. I agreed and made the promise.  

Just the next day, I'd had a rough time at work and I was READY for a workout. I hopped on the stair master and set it to a level 7, essentially running up the stairs.

Oh man, it felt great. Hip hop music pumped through my headphones as sweat started pouring through my shirt. I was absolutely crushing it and the stress of the day was just starting to melt away when all of a sudden, my feet went numb. I hadn't even been on the machine for 5 minutes!

But, I'd made a promise, so I stepped off the stair master and grabbed some water. As I stood there, waiting for some sort of sign that I could get back on, I realized how hard my heart was pounding. I decided to take my pulse and realized... I have no idea what that number means, so, I did what anyone else does when they don't know something - I googled it. 

I discovered the different heart rate ranges and how, by pushing myself so hard, I was putting myself in my fight or flight stage. My body didn't understand why I was literally running up the stairs and it immediately assumed that I must be in danger.  Why else would I be pushing myself so hard? 

When you're in your fight or flight, there's a bunch of chemical reactions happening in your body, but I'll simplify it for the sake of my long winded story. 

In regards to this conversation - fight or flight does two very important things. First, it burns your sugar stores so you have enough energy to either run from or fight an attacker. Second, it creates inflammation around your cells and tissue, just in case you get tussled up in an attack or a fall from running. 

By stressing yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally, you're constantly burning sugar which means, yep - you guessed it, those sugar stores need to be restored as soon as you're out of your fight or flight state (and into homeostasis). That's why we all get that craving around 4pm to hit the vending machine for carbs or sugar and why binge eating is so prominent at night when you're at home in front of the TV. 

You can be "good" on your diet all day, but if you push yourself too hard, you will have no choice but to refuel. Your body's desire to survive is significantly stronger than your willingness to hit a goal. 

I stood there at the base of the stair master in shock. All these years, I'd been working this hard just to make it even harder for myself to hit my weight loss goals! I was creating inflammation in my body which stimulates my immune system AND setting myself up to binge! Sure, I was burning calories and building strength, but they were calories that I'd most likely make up (and more) later that night!

To say the least, I was pretty upset, but then I had another thought. If I was in my fight or flight, I was also stimulating my central nervous system so that my brain and spine could tell my body how to react to "danger". Not only was I creating inflammation, I was literally stimulating my disease and the numbness in my feet was my body's way of telling me I was going too hard. 

I couldn't believe it, but it made so much sense. 

That night, I researched how to monitor my heart rate effectively. I quickly discovered my "fat burning range" and decided to try it out for the entire week. 

Turns out, I didn't need the whole week to see results. 

The next time I got on the stair master, I had to drop the speed from a level 7 to a level 1. It was brutally slow, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was actually sweating more than I did when I was running. Best of all? I did the entire workout without any MS symptoms. 

Breaking binge eating came later, I still had to reprogram that habit, but working on it became significantly easier after I stopped making it a chemical demand. 

Now, it's been almost a year since I started monitoring my heart rate and not only do I avoid symptoms during my workout, but I go completely symptom free almost every single day. I still have this disease, but I no longer have to live in the experience of it, and that has been an incredible blessing. 

My target heart rate range is 115 - 133 beats per minute because I'm 29 years old. You can find yours by finding 60 - 70% of your max heart rate by following a simple equation. See my example below and then do it for yourself! 

(220 - 29) x .6  = 115

and (220 - 29) x .7 = 133 

It's too simple to ignore and if you struggle with binge eating or have a disease that is triggered by inflammation, you're doing yourself an injustice by not following your heart rate.

Do you monitor your heart rate? If so, comment below and let me know what benefits you get from it! 

With love & light,

Carolyn

Is Stress Good For You?

   Since we're always talking about the negatives, I'm going to take a moment to stick up for stress.

    We need stress to be able to react to dangerous situations. It's what keeps us alive as a species, just in case we're threatened or attacked. Positive stress (eustress):

  1. Releases hormones into your bloodstream to get your heart pumping and give you energy.

  2. Burns off your sugar stores to give you fast acting sugars for an energy turbo boost.

  3. Creates a cushion around your cells and tissues in case you get tousled up in a fight or fall.

  4. Pauses digestion so you don’t have to waste time.

  5. Clears your mind by creating  so you can be totally present and focused.

Stress triggers the sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight response) to get through difficult and life threatening situations. It’s the basic goal of the body to survive and it uses stress as a warning bell to keep us alert and alive when attacked.

I mean honestly, how amazing is your body?! Take a moment.

The reason why stress gets so much flak is because the nervous system doesn’t realize that we’ve evolved and made a society that creates a lot of mental stress without a physical threat. In today’s world, when we experience stress through the day, it’s usually not because we’re in physical danger.

Still, it’s triggering those benefits I listed above EVERY TIME we stress. Think about that… Let's say, hypothetically, that lava is pouring out onto the floor you're standing on. If you needed to climb a flight of stairs once or twice to escape, you could handle that and survive no problem. But what if you had to climb 10 flights? What about 50? Or 100? You’d be on constant alert, stressed, and absolutely exhausted. But that’s what we’re putting our mind and body through every day. Lots of us are living in a constant state of stress (77% of Americans reported physical symptoms as a response to stress!) and that lava is burning out the positive benefits! That’s negative stress, distress, and chronic distress is what people are talking about when they hate on stress.

Chronic distress:

  1. Gets your heart pumping over and over again through the day, creating fatigue and high blood pressure.

  2. Completely depletes our sugar stores making us crave sweets and carbs for a quick refuel.

  3. Creates a cushion, inflammation, around our cells and tissues that stimulates the immune system (affecting those with autoimmune and inflammatory diseases).

  4. Leads to digestive disorders and imbalances.

  5. Creates inflammation around the frontal lobe so our conscious decision making becomes hazy and strained.

    Distress is what everyone is talking about when they connect stress to chronic health issues. If you feel like you manage burnout more often than stress, understand that the first step in overcoming it is becoming aware of it. Don’t let it upset you, but simply notice how often you feel stressed through the day. Notice how fast your thoughts race through all the worries of the day. Become aware of how you feel energetically at the end of the day and whether or not you have cravings. Take time to pay attention to how your body feels physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Stress is a natural part of life, but distress - especially chronic distress, can negatively impact your entire experience every single day. Being aware allows you to recognize and begin to stop situations where stress takes over.  

So don’t hate on stress, it can do a lot of good. Just be mindful and remember... Everything in moderation.