Self-Care for multiple sclerosis (MS) is more than the anti-inflammatory diet and the exercise regimen. It’s an attitude and a very important one. In this Creating Health Episode, we look at how to really practice self-care for multiple sclerosis.
Self-Care for Multiple Sclerosis
I wanted to do this presentation because it’s a theme that shows up often in my practice – how to do self-care correctly? To begin I wanted to talk about the two types of MS clients that come to my office:
Styles of Self Care
The first type of client, comes in with a lot of fear that they’re not doing enough. They’re hard on themselves because they can’t seem to stick to the recommended diet and what they’ve been told is good for them. They say things in the first sessions such as, “ Why can’t I stick to the diet?” and “I should be exercising more but it just hurts too much. Why am I not exercising enough?” There is all this guilt and shame and fear that they’re not doing enough. And that they’re not doing it right.
And on the contrary, I have other disciplines clients that are very frustrated with their bodies. They say things such as, “I am eating all the right foods and I’m exercising six day a week even if it hurts; even if I’m tired. I am doing everything I should.” They are mad and ask me, “Why am I not getting well if I seem to be doing everything right? Did I miss anything?”
The Story of Care
And so I always tell them the story about orphanages. There have been many studies in the early 1900’s on how young children in orphanages, hospitals, and institutions die at a rate of close to 90% even when the children are fed and get exercise. This is especially pronounced in children that were two or younger. And it wasn’t that these orphanages were terrible places that tortured the kids. On the contrary, they could be doing everything right, yet the children would not thrive and oftentimes would die.
What this research discovered is that these institutions were missing nurturing attachment. The children needed to be loved. To nourish is not only to take in food and to move regularly. We need care to grow and be healthy. Nurturing care is necessary for our physical and mental health. It is also necessary for growth and creates resilience to stress and self-confidence
Turning Nurturing Childhood Style Care into Self-Care
I wanted to continue with a personal story. When I was little, my mother taught us to be good professionals. She would tell my sister and I that we were going to have to be tough and work hard to excel in the professional world of men. I remember as a child that she would never let me stay in bed on the weekends. She would tell me that I couldn’t stay in bed unless I had a fever. Feeling melancholic, sad, like I just wanted to relax and listen to music, or just needing to recover from the week and sleep just a little longer, that wasn’t excuse enough. I imagine many of you had different experiences yet similar. Your mother was also not a super nurturing-permissive-caring-mother-figure in your life. She meant well of course, by focusing on preparing us to be successful professionals, but she wasn’t teaching us how to nurture ourselves. I remember the message I got from her indirectly was that I needed to be doing something all the time to have value in this world!
But as my mom got older and wiser, her stance changed. By the time I was in my mid-thirties, she had radically changed her tone with us. I worked in a foreign country and I was working hard and had a lot of responsibilities. I would come to visit her one weekend a month and I would be exhausted. She could see how much I was working and how much I pushed myself. And she changed how she treated me completely.
I have this memory of going to her house one weekend, perhaps only a few years before she died. I remember her actually telling me, “Eva, why don’t you just sit on the porch, in the sun on a lounge chair. Just rest for a while.” And she poured me a glass of wine and made me a plate of cheese and crackers. And she said not to worry and that there was nothing I needed to do. She wanted me to just sit, enjoy, and relax some. My week was hard enough as it was. And I sat there with my glass of wine, with my cheese and crackers, in the fall sun…. and it was blissful. And it was such a contrast to who she was and how she was with us as kids. And maybe because it was so shockingly different that I remember that moment so well.
Bringing Nurturance into Our Self-Care
It was so incredible, so special, that I now do it for myself. I check in with myself and, if I am tired, I stop everything and lounge. I have adapted that internal, older mother that I experienced those few rare times. I ask myself by the end of the week, sometimes even the end of the day, “how am I doing? Is everything okay? Am I happy?” And I bring that blissful nurturance to myself in as many delicious ways as possible because life is hard enough as it is.
And that’s what my mom realized as she grew older – life is hard enough as it is. We don’t have to add to that hardness ourselves by pushing, forcing, demanding more of ourselves. To deal with what life brings us, to deal with stress, to have resilience and confidence, we need nurturance. And it doesn’t matter if you are two years old or 50 years old. To stay healthy, we need to nurture ourselves as a mother would.
Louise Hayes on the Cause of MS
Louise Hayes tells us in her book, “Heal Your Body,” that symptoms are only the outer effect. We must go within to dissolve the mental cause and that we’ve got to let go of trying to use discipline to heal because that is not going to work. She emphasizes on not falling into the mental trap of thinking that if you get it all done, then you will heal. What I think is even more relevant to this presentation today is that, in the case of multiple sclerosis, she explains that the mental cause of MS is hardness – hardheartedness. Are you continuing to be hard on yourself in trying to heal MS?
Self-Care is Self-Nurturing
To conclude, I want to invite you to think about and ask yourself, “Am I treating myself and my body like a child in an orphanage, just focused on doing all the right things? Or am I treating myself like Eva’s older and wiser mother because it’s hard enough out there, so no need to be hard on myself as well.” When you think about self-care and healing, think about how you are treating yourself, that inner child. Self-care is really self-nurturing and self-loving. And that is far more important than the diet and exercise regimen you follow.