Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Enormity of Forever.

I was talking to someone today about healthy lifestyles and how sometimes knowing better doesn't always mean we do better.

I've been on a quest for a few weeks now to improve my health, but it's not just about weight loss.  There's more to it than that.

If you're new to my blog or in case you've forgotten, my mother was completely incapacitated by Multiple Sclerosis before her eventual death from complications of the disease at the age of 61.  She showed symptoms of the illness in her late 30s.  She first used a wheelchair the night of my high school graduation and she never got out of it.  She went into a nursing home when she was 53.

While MS isn't considered hereditary, there are some genetic links.  I know that this is vague enough that I shouldn't worry, but it's also vague enough that I do.

And I should also point out that my age, 36, is pretty close to my late 30s.

Last year, my doctor diagnosed me with Raynaud's Syndrome.  Basically this is a condition where my hands and feet overreact to cold temperatures by not getting blood to flow to them.  My fingers and toes turn white and blue.  Sometimes they are numb; sometimes they hurt.

There are two types of Raynaud's:  Primary and Secondary.  Primary means that the syndrome occurs independent of another illness with no known cause.  It tends to occur in people who get migraines and can have flare ups after caffeine consumption and stress.

The other type, Secondary, occurs as a symptom of another illness like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.  Or MS.  But, you may say, you don't have any other symptoms of MS, so why worry?  Well, sometimes even though the Raynaud's is technically secondary, it can actually be the first symptom of the underlying disease and can sometimes occur 20 years before a diagnosis can be made on the disease the Raynaud's is secondary to.


I'm not saying that I'm worried I have MS.  I am saying I can't help worrying that I'll get MS.  I am saying that I have read enough about MS and Raynaud's to know that I am not living a healthy enough lifestyle to prevent real threats from becoming real problems.  I do not eat like someone who seeks to avoid disease.  I do not exercise like someone who wants her body in top fighting form no matter what enemy it's up against.  I put things in my body that will do nothing other than offer me some temporary enjoyment at the expense of long term suffering.

Very simply put:
  • I should not drink alcohol.
  • I should never touch another cigarette.
  • I should eliminate my caffeine addiction.
  • I should engage in vigorous exercise 5-6 times per week.
  • I should eat a plant-based, low calorie, low fat diet.  And I mean vegan, not lacto-ovo vegetarian.
There's no guarantee that making these changes would save my life.  There's no guarantee that not making these changes means I'd get sick.  There are just no guarantees.

But making the changes certainly wouldn't hurt me.  They can do nothing at all for me, but they can't hurt me.  I don't really have a choice, do I? 

My first thought is that I can do these things.  I can choose a different path and maybe I can worry less. But can I make permanent changes?  Can I change my habits and my diet for the rest of my life?  I know that I shouldn't think that far into the future.  How can I not though?

How do I not think about the enormity of forever?


  1. Oh Michelle, anyone would be worried. But you are right, it's not at all clearly genetic (I used to study MS-and other autoimmune diseases). I'm really sorry about your Mom, that must have been so difficult.

    Oh and Raynaud's? I had that happen to me once (so far). I was able to figure it out on line but what a weird and uncomfortable sensation. 3 of my fingers went completely white and it hurt! I hope it was a one-off but we'll see this winter...

    There are so many reasons to treat your body right - the sad fact is that any of us can get any disease and the risk keeps going up with age. As far as changes, maybe one thing at a time? It would be so hard to make all of those changes all at once.

    I wouldn't beat yourself up about having an occasional drink, although if you want to give it up, go you! Some studies suggest 1 drink/day is good for your heart and that's not enough to damage your liver. I also think you can eat healthy without being vegan or even vegetarian. It's easy to get organic lean meats now (grass fed beef and free range poultry). Maybe you can eliminate the unhealthy stuff first rather than just go vegan suddenly?

    I admire you for writing this post. It's very well-written and thought provoking. We should all be thinking like this, regardless of our family histories!

  2. I remember the Raynaud's happening a few times on and off when I was younger, but I never really paid much attention to it. Now I can't feel my hands going through the frozen aisles at the super market. Since it got slightly colder out, I've had nearly hourly flare ups the past 2 weeks. Of course, I've also been drinking coffee like there's no tomorrow and stressed beyond belief. No coincidence, I'm sure.

    There have been studies linking cow's milk to MS, though you probably know more about that than I do. I'm a firm believer that you can find a study to support whatever position you want to take.

    I can't make any of the changes suddenly, that I know. I've taken initial steps (cutting back on lots of things, smaller portions, exercise, etc.) and those accomplishments are great and I'm very proud of myself. But it's only been 3 weeks. There's a lifetime ahead of me and so many more changes to make. Admittedly, they will take years to make and even longer to perfect (as if that's possible). That's what scares me - the fact that there's no end in sight. I don't know when it will be easy. I'm sure someday I'll look back and say wow - I've had these great behaviors for 20 years! Look at me!! But for now, it seems so big that it's scary.

  3. I am with Stacie-- how could you not be worried. It's hard to make lifestyle changes even for the best of reasons. I am rooting for you and grateful for this educations. (that's incredible timing of when your mom got into a wheel chair.)

    1. You can only imagine the teen angst that went along with my other debuting her wheelchair that night of all nights.

      Thanks for the encouragement. As long as I don't think about how long the road is I'm OK. Writing about it helps - somehow putting it out there in a bulleted list makes it easier to remember it's all about steps.

  4. You can do these things. I have done most of them, although I never smoked. Once you get in the groove you'll see some great rewards. I lost weight like my body wanted to, and slept better, and had better energy. Never woke up feeling toxic. It wasn't always that perfect, but I was definitely a lot healthier and more resilient. Totally worth it.

    Use the fear to get started, but accomplish the plan mostly for those benefits, and to eventually put aside the worry for the future. When you're doing all you can and maintaining it, you have an obligation to leave the fear behind, or at least put it into a much smaller part of your perspective.

    I don't have that history, and I don't know what it takes. There are some things I might share in the future which are in a similar vein.

    Good luck.

    1. I actually quit smoking in 1999, but I had a few relapses in recent years - one or two cigarettes here and there, not months at a time or anything. Still, the desire to smoke is always there. If somehow it became not a bad thing to do, I'd pick it up in an instant.

      I already feel bette from the changes I've made and I know I'll feel even better if I keep going. Trying not to get sidetracked by the "just one won't hurt" mentality and that's when I get tripped up in the long term thinking.

      Thanks for the supportive comment!!