Learning to Listen to Your Body with MS
Being a senior in high school, I find many ways to easily fill my schedule. Some of my favorite activities include drama club, student council, choir, church, watching high school sports games, and spending time with friends. I want to do everything a high school student can, as this is the best time to do it!
However, this is not always a good thing. Often, I over schedule myself and quickly run out of time and energy. I simply do not give my body time to reset. In the years following my diagnosis, I have learned to cut back on my activities. I have learned to keep a calendar with me (my phone works great for this!), and only plan one activity per day. By planning one activity per day, I allow myself to continue to be active, without over-doing it.
In previous posts, I have mentioned the "half-full glass" metaphor. People without MS can easily empty their "glass of energy," and it will refill with a short rest. However, those with MS cannot allow their glass of energy to empty past the half-way mark. If too much energy is taken from the glass, it will take much longer to refill.
How do you know when you are over-doing it? This question has varied answers. Each person is unique; each person has their own set of symptoms which affects them differently. It is truly a learning curve of knowing what your body can handle, and when it is time to take a step back. I know I have over-done it when I begin to get a headache, feel as though I am in a fog, tired, dizzy, stressed, or cannot focus.
Headache. My headaches are a strong indication I have gone too far. Unfortunately, a headache can force me to rest for the remainder of the day, and possibly the next. However, staying hydrated and well rested help me manage my headaches. Being in a fog. This is by far one of the hardest symptoms to explain. When I am in a fog, I feel as though I cannot fully wake up. I cannot focus, and I am very fatigued. Sometimes this "fog" can take me down for a few days. Again, rest is the best remedy.
Tired. Sure, everyone is tired after a lot of activity. But no one can truly understand what "tired" means to an MS patient. To me, tired means I do not want to move. I do not want to think, and I just want to be. Perhaps taking a nap, or watching a movie. I find, however, that as I continue to stay active, this "tiredness" subsides. Yes, this seams a little backwards, but I have learned my own limits.
Dizzy. Being dizzy is never good. Heat is one of the key components of my dizziness. When I start to feel dizzy, I stop whatever I am doing, and find a cool place to sit, and drink water. I then continue to rest until I know I am able to participate again (without the spinnies!). Stressed. As stated above, the best way I have found to deal with stress, is to not plan too much, and plan ahead. For example, I had a 10 page scholarship paper due around the same time as finals last spring. I planned ahead and wrote one page per day. By doing that, I allowed myself time to complete the paper and time to study for my finals. This gave me the opportunity to really look through what I was doing, and complete my tasks with ease.
Trouble Focusing. I often notice this symptom while in class. Sure I pay attention, but I sometimes find myself unable to process what the teacher is saying. Sometimes, as I read through my notes that evening, I have no idea what they mean. When this happens in class, I get permission from my teacher to leave the classroom, find a quiet room in which to rest, and have notes emailed to me instead. I am very fortunate to have such understanding teachers!
It has taken me a long time to get comfortable with my own MS symptoms and quirks. Sometimes, my body comes up with something new to learn about! Just keep working at it! I know that I have been able to enjoy so much more - even though I still need to give up fun things once in awhile. It is not always easy to give up the fun - sometimes it's really a drag. However, I do my best to have fun doing the things I can do! As I said before, the best way to answer this question, is to learn what your limits are.
I have spent a lot of time learning about my body and I have been encouraged by family, friends, and school teachers/administrators to listen to what my body tells me! Perhaps learning about my symptoms and how I manage them is helpful. If so, great! Or perhaps my story can help you learn ways to manage your own symptoms.