Brussels, The City of Angels

Why do we keep going, focused only on the finish line or doing a good job? What is it in you that drives you on? I made it to the finish line of the Brussels Half-Marathon but not before a difficult walk.

The race started at 10:30 am. The EMSP Run for MS Team met at Schuman, to meet one another, take some photos and go together to the starting line. I’d trained, was feeling really good, had my lucky pink shorts on and was all set for a gentle pace along the course. Into the middle of the pack I went and, as any runner will tell you, we slowly shuffled in the crowd until the road opened up.

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And I was off! A good pace, not pushing things yet getting good coverage. At the first kilometre there is a hill where we see the brilliant sight of runners stretched out before you, multi-coloured warriors claiming the streets for a short time. Then we ran through an older part of the city with cobble-stoned streets and gorgeous squares. I was a little nervous with the uneven surface but it was going well. Maybe a little niggle so I eased off as we went down and up through the tunnels.

Then it started. My foot wasn’t landing like it should and I started stumbling, almost falling at times. I slowed to a walk, drank water even poured it over my head and started off again. I nearly tripped. I couldn’t run. The muscles in my leg just weren’t working. I was starting to limp and still had 15 km to go….

For hours I walked the route, with police who were lining the way asking a concerned ‘Ça va?’ every kilometre or so. I said I was okay, I wasn’t injured and wanted to keep going. When I looked behind me… the white vans that were coming up the back of the pack were just a few hundred metres from me. I was almost the last person. I started to cry, overwhelmed, stumbling, it was impossible… then a man who was cycling the route started chatting with me. He was nice and cool, said he would cycle alongside me for a while. We chatted and he told me his name, Damien. I told him about Ireland and he gave me strength. It was then time for Damien to turn back; he wished me well and left me by high-fiveing me with a dose of inspiration and “You will do it, I know you will”. On another hill, when I was again doubting, a woman out walking her Schnauser offered to take me home so I could rest (!), while a bin man, clearing the streets after the run, offered me a lift on the back of his truck!

There was then the final unforgiving hill where I stopped briefly to rest and ask the Universe/God why this was happening now of all places? I nearly stopped, I was so tired. When I eventually made it through Grand Platz, close to the end, I asked someone with a medal around his neck where the finish line was? He asked if hadn’t already gotten my medal?? I shrugged and said because of my leg I was only making it there, then. He directed me “just around the corner, 70 metres”. I walked to De Boukiere and found the finish line where workers were dismantling the stage, the finish line. There were no runners left as it had closed at 14:00. It was a lonely space. Then, as I walked towards it I heard cheers. The man with the medal and his friends had followed me to the finish line to cheer me on. Surrounded by the good will of strangers, I finished what had been the toughest walk of my life.

I sat down, shaky, overwhelmed and sobbed. Another “Ça va?” as a young woman put her arm around me and asked if I was okay. I told her yes, just emotional and I had just finished the race, absolute last. With the best smile she left me with yet another gentle gift of human understanding and connection. I had walked, dragging my foot, my doubts and my fears for 10 miles and while I thought I was alone, I walked with the gentleness of strangers propping me up every step of the way.

As I write this, I don’t know why I kept going to cross the finish. I didn’t know I had this part of me, in me and there is no name for ‘It‘, but ‘It‘ is there.

Don’t ever stop doing what you love. You will always find a way. The impossible just takes a little longer (Art Berg).

© Emma Rogan 2014

If you want to quote or use this material, please reference me, Emma Rogan as author. Get in contact with me if you want to chat :) 

Edited 10th October

Foot Falls and Marathons

Less than 24-hours to go before I get to the start line of the Brussels Half-Marathon. Yippee! This is the second year a team from EMSP will take part, raising awareness about living with multiple sclerosis (you can read more about the origins here). Like all good things, the spark was lit over a a delicious lunch in the City of Creative Chat, Dublin!

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I’m optimistic about the weather- it is a fresh morning in Brussels, bright and sunny with not much change due for tomorrow. My body and mind are ready: I started slowly this year, easing my endurance and building up many, many miles on many trails/streets. I’ve brought my gear with me wherever I travelled (Brussels, Elche, Galway, Tipperary) followed the advice of many experts (John Bingham and Jenny Hadfield’s, ‘Marathon Running for Mortals‘, Stuart Mittleman’s ‘Slow Burn’). Food has been hugely important; I’ve been eating as much vegetables as possible, nuts, fish, fruit and we even started juicing in my house to get extra nutrients in. When away I even got a bright pink t-shirt that, absurdly, gives me a great sense of joy. I ran with brilliant, supportive people last year in Brussels, with thousands of others during the Samsung Night Run in Dublin last April and later this month I’m going to do the Dublin City Marathon for first time and I can’t wait!!! To top it all off, I’m getting out into the elements (rain, hot sun), into nature and wherever I am, there’s a sense of freedom that nothing else gives me.

But something has also happened that has scared me. It’s called ‘foot-drop’ and it is a bad-ass, nasty symptom of MS. Essentially, because of nerve damage, some of the muscles in my leg are weaker, not responding as well as they should (peroneal muscle weakness). When I run, my core body temperature increases, again affecting the nerves. All this causes a drag in my toes/foot which in turn has caused me to trip and tumble many times. All the training I’m doing has not caused this symptom, I checked with my neurologist and researched…lots. However, the extra training has me asking for more from my body, it is stressing it more than if I wasn’t running.

I was afraid, hiding from the changes that had me falling on my face. Thankfully, I now ‘see it'; I’ve named it and I can now deal with it. I recognise the symptoms, respected my body and now there is a plan, created by my physiotherapist. It depends on my commitment to myself and the choice to strengthen the muscles. It involves using a stretchy band, repeated exercises and funny stretches. It doesn’t mean the foot-drop will go away, but it does mean I am working on and with muscles that need attention. Someone has said I should stop running, stop trying to do too much – I have nothing to prove. But I love to run, it gives me a sense of enormous well being.

I’m optimistic about the weather and that everything will work out. But I am confident that I’ve done the work, enjoyed my body and tomorrow over the course of the 13miles/18km, I’ll relish the buzz that comes from doing something I love.

What do you do for that sense of freedom? Are you a runner? how do you manage your challenges? If you have some money to spare and want to support the Run for MS team/EMSP activities, please go here: http://www.ulule.com/run-for-ms/

 

© Emma Rogan 2014

If you want to quote or use this material, please reference me, Emma Rogan as author.

A Holiday from MS

Warm sunshine, pool-side and palms. It has been hiatus-time for the last few days.

Thank God for Holy-Days!

I’d forgotten the origin of the word holidays but it’s there. A time to stop the work and worship God, if you’re a believer. If not, you still get time to stop & enjoy something other than work, without bunking off!

I’m somewhere hot- it happened accidentally but it does suit me fine. This morning I ran for 1:10 minutes through Palm groves, along unfamiliar streets, passed chickens caged at the bottom of apartment blocks (!) and got lost. Cooling down was eventful – I did the #icebucketchallenge, twice. Both by my own hand, second time was much colder, bizarrely.

It has been great having time to sit and ponder or zone out. This year has worn me down; lots of travel, deadlines, projects and all sorts if wonderful things to keep me occupied. Now is time for reflection, creativity, maybe even new projects but also letting things go where they’re no longer useful.

It is possible to over-think, to criticise and get down over what has passed and mistakes made. I can get lost in my head-space, with thoughts of what went wrong swimming around or I can sit and enjoy the moments, sitting tea with my girlfriend as we sit in stillness. Do you worry unnecessarily, work yourself into a right state? Try taking a holiday from that way of thinking, put that damn burden down.

Life goes on, no matter how hard we worry. But a wise woman told me to take a holiday from worrying. So taking pleasure in the small moments, the tea from a China cup, the walk in the fields, the clean, starched sheets, call with a friend, things I forgot yet they are the things that make life worthwhile. Things I relish.

Life itself good and wonderful as it is, in the present moment. You see, that’s all I have & no amount of wishing or thinking or anxiety with change that fact.

Back to the pool, Factor 50 included

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Yabba Dabba D!! Vitamin D and Multiple Sclerosis

The Gulf Stream keeps us warm and temperate; the rains wash the fields to keep the tales of Emerald Isle true; our friendliness to strangers remains the highlight of many a tourist’s visit and we habitually talk about the weather. However, there are things that we miss out on being located where we are (Relatively 53 degrees 00′ N and 80 degrees 00′ W, Dublin: 53° 20‘ N6° 16‘), exposure to sunshine is one of them, with lack of Vitamin D in Irish bodies being a consequence of this lack of exposure.

The Irish Weather: It does make for good conversations and fills the gap in chatter Irish people are eager to avoid (lest it lead to a moment of reflection, talk of more personal topics like how we’re really feeling or what’s really going on in our lives). Example “Hello, how are you?” the usual response of “Sure I’m grand, isn’t it a beautiful/too warm/climate change ha!/miserable/wouldn’t-put-a-dog-out day?”. This is all fine and well but while we moan about the lack of sunshine, other things are going on in our bodies. Yes, it seems like bit of a tangent to skip from the weather to epigenetics BUT without exposure to UVB rays we’re missing out on the sunshine vitamin (Vitamin D) to such an extent that all people on the island really could do with supplementing their diets with Vitamin D.

What is Vitamin D? Not really a vitamin at all but is really a hormone , it is something the body makes itself. There’s a lovely explanation here from Harvard Health Publications here. More information on Vitamin D and MS are available here from the National Institutes for Health and from Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis. Professor George Ebers has done lots of research into Vitamin D and MS and you can see him here give a great explanation about Vitamin D and MS. Expect epigenetics (how our genes are changed by environment through the generations, DNA and all sorts of lovely information!

Multiple Sclerosis Infographic

 

Vitamin D and You: We’re talking about strong bones, immune system regulation and all sorts of other things.  Please note, the frequency of MS increases the greater the distance you live from the equator. While we still don’t know what causes MS, environmental factors such as location added to poor childhood nutrition/circumstances, diet, smoking tobacco, abusing alcohol and other drugs as well as genetic contribute and combine to be a factors in the condition.

This is something I’ve been researching for a number of years and it has become part of my Management Kit for my condition. I enjoy the warmth, dry weather and the feel of the sun on my skin. Recently I had my blood levels checked my neurologist so at least I knew what I was working with. They are at the right levels for preventative health (anywhere between 90-100 nmol/L).

Get Checked: It’s worth doing some research and getting your Vitamin D levels checked and take advice from your healthcare practitioner. It has implications for you now but for women, if you’re planning on having children, take Vitamin D for foetal bone growth, physical development and other important factors.

What I say here is a reflection of what I do in my daily life and is not medical advice.  This and other things I do in my everyday life are to maintain my happiness, lives well and to manage my condition. How about you? Do you follow the Overcoming MS Recovery programme or supplement with Vitamin D? have you any tips you’d like to share? Post your comments and connect on Twitter @emmadragon for a chat.

© Emma Rogan 2014

If you want to quote or use this material, please reference.

Crappy Food vs Kale | Thriving Health Manifesto

When the Universe gives you a nudge, or in my case a serious dose of Optic Neuritis, a numb bum, stumbling feet and needles and pins, it is time to stop resisting and make some changes. These changes don’t all happen all at once. As we get older, situations change and we discover new things we like/dislike, we pick up things that work and put down things that don’t. This may include medications for illnesses or conditions or other treatments.

I’ve learned from living with MS, that it takes more than a pill to be well. I’ve got to move. There are actions to be taken, nothing passive about this challenge when it is the things we do everyday, the choices we make, the food we eat, the exercise we do and the kind of people we choose to be that works for our benefit. Everything counts and the choices really really do matter to your health now and right until you take your last breath.

Arianna Huffinton: 12 Ways to Thrive from http://www.mindvalley.com

Books for the Journey

You have to read to learn from others what you’ll need. There are people who will put into a few words solutions that you may never get to learn in your own life-time. Take what you need, apply to yourself and try things on. Arianna Huffington has recently released Thrive, all about living well and taking time to make the most of this short life. It is about doing things differently and redefining success on our own terms.

Managing MS Naturally by Judy Graham (http://www.innertraditions.com/Contributor.jmdx?action=displayDetail&id=301) was the first book I picked up after diagnosis. It got me back onto earth and provided me with some great information for a newbie MS’er.  I’m also using the updated version which is packed full of advice. I went gluten-free, cut out dairy and went for the better options.

Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis by George Jelinek. It is a great read, there’s a Recovery Programme, oodles of inspiration and it will really add treasure to your health. It is a book I read often and dip into for inspiration and a general pick up when things are getting on top of me. There is a website- http://www.overcomingms.com

Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World is part of the upsurge in awareness of mindfulness. Guess what? It works. My cognition has improved, concentration is better and I’m more productive in my life when I take time out. What else is more important that ensuring your brain functions well? The spreadsheet/washing/phone call/email can wait. Your wellbeing can’t. http://franticworld.com/

Meditation works. I started by reading Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn three years ago and was practising but not every day. I recently took an 8-week course which was a great way to get comfortable and meet some wonderful people. As it turns out, I’m more relaxed, can see what matters and am a better partner and friend.

Dr. Terry Wahls- The Wahls Protocol is another excellent source of inspiration and get-yourself-sorted tips. Here is the link to more information http://terrywahls.com/about/about-terry-wahls/ Currently I have two pots of curly kale growing on my balcony to make sure I’m boosting my nutritional intake as much as possible! This morning, I discovered 1229 caterpillars also enjoying the benefits of the stuff.

It took decades for MS to manifest itself in me. Thankfully, I have the rest of my life-time to make positive changes, manage and live to the fullest of my being. There are LOADS of healthy diets and plans and all sorts to help us live better with MS but only if we actually make the changes. Life is a ‘chronic condition’- there is no miracle cure but there are so many things we can do to make life better so we can be happier about ourselves and how we live.

Tell me what you think, if anything, about what you eat. What’s your Health Manifesto? Does it matter to you? Join me on Twitter @emmadragon

© Emma Rogan 2014

If you want to quote or use this material, please refer to me as author. It’s good karma and plagarism isn’t nice.

Super computer and brain busting Government

At this stage we all know that there is a super computer in your head that has a speed of light connection with your ‘whole’ body. It controls your breathing (now you’ve noticed it, aren’t you glad your subconscious is handling it!), your heart, cells, neurons, neuroglia, thoughts, sleep, feelings, emotions, let you know if you’ve cut your hand or if you’re going to make that catch.

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Image: Cartoon a Day

Learning to ride a bike, fly a kite, tap on your phone, play football, read a book, get merry with your mates or fall hopefully in love. You’re creativity, brilliance, the way you think about things, your view on the world, your innovation, that unique contribution only you can make all come from that ball of grey wonder in your skull.

So what?

If your computer gets a virus, knocked about, injured or gets scarred for some freaky weird reason, you can’t get a ‘patch’, update it or replace the hardware. This one is the only version you’re going to get until the promises of Star Trek make their way to our present world. When things go wrong with your super computer, it’s hard to try to figure things out. Brain injury or neurological conditions not only literally mess with your head  (MRI scans are ugly/beautiful sight in my house) your whole sense of self is thrown off balance. Metaphorically, people are thrown off their bikes into a ditch.

So there you are in the ditch and looking for someone to help you out or at least to tell you where you’re at and what’s going on and how to carry on. The Neurological Alliance of Ireland (NAI) represents different people/groups that have helped many of us with neurological conditions of different types (700,000 people in Ireland) out of the ditch. Mags Rogers and Sinead Gleeson from the NAI have stood alongside people with neurological conditions as we’ve dusted ourselves off and attempted to return to life and get back to health. They recognise the importance of services, the vitality of life and the quest to challenge the dismissive attitudes to brain health. This Government still hasn’t funded the Strategy…

Pinky and the Brain

Shutting down dissent
In the last few weeks the NAI have had their core-funding cut and are due to close soon if the decision is not reversed. In February 2013 I spoke to an audience of government TDs, Senators and representatives in Government Buildings how my life was restored with the support of MS Ireland, an NAI member group.  We shared experiences and I thought I’d had some effect.

I’m not going anywhere and this chronic brain condition I’m living with isn’t going to be cured. Radical idea: how about we make the blather about Ireland being great for business, Irish people being great trailblazers and innovators, writers, messages being shouted from the rooftops, valid for everyone, with or without a neurological condition. The one thing we have in common is that lovely brain in our head. During this Year of the Brain, I’m celebrating and supporting the efforts of the NAI and others like them by campaigning to get their funding renewed.

The much lauded but not implemented Neurorehabilitation Strategy 2011-2015
http://www.dohc.ie/publications/NeuroRehab_Services.html
An evasive answer to Deputy Nicky McFadden’s questions on the Neurorehabilitaion Strategy (2011-2015) March 2013 from the Minister for Health.
http://www.kildarestreet.com/wrans/?id=2013-03-26a.1334

Disclosure: I worked with the NAI on their Manifesto and other campaigns in 2013

© Emma Rogan 2014