A mind and body therapist friend recently said to me, “we often need a shock in life to help us take stock of everything that matters and determine what truly makes us happy”. I’m not sure my mind and body quite ‘needed’ this kind of wake-up call, but...
I’ve been a lifestyle wellness author and writer throughout my entire career in magazines, books and newspapers, combining my words with visuals to help tell a story that hopefully might inspire someone to take more positive action in their life: a new mind and body ritual, a bit of a home spa regime, or a quick beauty fix to help lift the spirits; we could all do with that, right? Fact is, I spent my career writing such ‘lifestyle goals’, I rarely ever gave myself permission as a busy, guilt-ridden, working mother-of-three, to truly take time for myself.
I’ll admit I contributed a great deal to the notion of the ‘perfect life’ and ‘having it all’. For a while there, I had it pretty good: a seriously loving husband, truly adorable kids, a home I love, and work so creative it ticked my every box. But I was manic. A girlfriend told me ‘you thrive on chaos’. No, no-one does. Time for my shock, right?
In 2011, after 18 months of ignoring niggling yet constant pains and a weird, peripheral numbness in my legs and feet, and repeatedly falling down the stairs almost every day, along it came. I was referred to a neurologist for a series of tests, including a super-luxury two-hour MRI and a lumbar puncture that analyses the cerebrospinal fluid found in the spine and the brain to help confirm diagnosis for several chronic inflammatory conditions. I was then diagnosed with multiple sclerosis- MS. Yes, I was in shock.
For those unaware, MS is an insidious, degenerative, neurological, autoimmune disease that affects the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves in varying, unpredictable degrees. It’s often familial, although there is no record of it in my family. Deteriorating balance, vision, memory, and muscle control occur as the immune system attacks the protective fatty tissue surrounding the spinal cord (the myelin sheath) causing scarring, demyelination (thinning of the myelin) and poor nerve communication from the brain. There is a plethora of immune-suppressing medication, but still there is no known cure – or indeed a known cause.
The good news is that MS, like most autoimmune disorders, is very individual and different for everyone: diagnosis doesn’t necessarily determine a wheelchair. For me, pain is a constant, such as waking and walking with stabbing pins and needles. My feet, ankles and shins are permanently cold – so much so I carry scarves and blankets around with me whatever the weather! My limbs, which I massage regularly and ‘try to love’ more, twitch, sting, always feel heavy, like I’m wearing lead boots wrapped in tight bandages.
I have immersed myself in a desire to learn how to make my mind and body better, stronger, more resilient to infection and my passion is to encourage others onto a similar path
Working in the beauty and wellness industry, disability isn’t exactly very glamorous on the social circuit. So until this year have kept my condition on the low. The irony of calling my video series Jo On The Go (JOGBLiving on IGTV and YouTube ) is surely not lost! I am a fighter.
Because guess what? I feel amazing! I am on such a positive journey of wellbeing and self-discovery that I feel like a whole new me.
MORE GLOSS: Pixiwoo’s Nic Chapman on being diagnosed with MS
Since my diagnosis, I have immersed myself in a desire to learn how to make my mind and body better, stronger, more resilient to infection and my passion is to encourage others onto a similar path. Even my neurologist is on board! I have an anti-inflammatory, healthy eating regime combines The Wahls Protocol, A Radical New Way to Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions Using Paleo Principles by Dr Terry Wahls The Plant Paradox, The Hidden Dangers in "Healthy" Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain by Dr Stephen Gundry . It involves avoiding sugar, processed foods, plus grain, legumes and the nightshade family of vegetables, using paleo principles, along with multiple supplements including vitamin D3, B12, algae, omega 3, coenzyme Q10, magnesium among many; plus regular health fasting every two months, to help ‘clean up’ my cells. I know I feel and walk significantly better and with less pain after a 10-day fast.
Even more crucial has been learning new ways to reduce my mind and body’s reaction to negative stress, a key trigger to my symptoms. As a result, I now have regular sessions of acupuncture, the Bowen technique (muscle alignment), Remedial Pilates (to strengthen individual muscles through exercise), sleep on an infrared mattress, and focus on therapeutic emotional healing by meditating, practising Reiki daily (I became a therapist myself last year), and Autogenic Training (a form of self-meditation). I practice visualisation daily, and experience first-hand how the nerves in my body respond when I replace negative thoughts and emotions with positive ones. So much illness is dis-ease within us, and I very much believe we need to work on the inner self in order to find a better, happier, healthier and more contented self. This is my new focus; this is what matters. I have been taught a lesson the hard way, ‘to take care of me’; now I need to recognise and learn from it.
What’s been my biggest lesson so far? ‘Find your true passion and pursue the things you love doing the most and you will find happiness, whatever your health’.As an individual with a new perspective on disability and other people’s frailty, I am kinder, more thoughtful, more empathetic, less quick to judge, weirdly far more positive, and above all, more holistic in mind, body and soul. I now engage more with my skills and creativity. I still love creative writing and communicating through video and blogs; and as a trained fashion illustrator, I love exploring my creativity again: painting more, sewing for relaxation (one of the most meditative hobbies there is) and, even more key for me this year, I have created my own collection of genuinely pure, mood-enhancing candles.