Keeping New Year’s Resolutions with Multiple Sclerosis

We’re a couple of weeks into 2013 and I’m wondering how many of you made New Year’s resolutions. And I’m also wondering how many of you have kept them for these past couple of weeks.
In the past, I would make dramatic, sweeping resolutions that would be sure to transform me into a healthier, happier, stress-free person. December 31 would be the last day that I would indulge in any of the habits or vices that I was trying to eliminate from my life.
I would wake up on January 1 and within a couple of hours I would start to waver on something that I was supposed to do (exercise, meditate) or something I was not supposed to do (drink caffeine, eat sugar, lose my patience). Then I’d reassure myself that the first day of the year really didn’t count, as it was a holiday. Of course, the next couple of days didn’t require adherence to my plan, either, since the girls were home from school and we were still winding down from the holidays.
And so it went, with me finally getting to my “start day” around the 10th of the month. When I would start to cave in on that day, I would tell myself that the time had passed to start something new and I would postpone my “official” start until February 1. Then I’d pretty much forget about it until the next New Year loomed ahead.
Last year, I decided to be more philosophical about things and try to figure out why things didn’t work out according to plan. I found that my inability to stick to my plan had more to do with the plan itself than with what was going on during any given day. It basically came down to the fact that my resolutions were unrealistic.
In the past, I resolved things like: exercise every day, learn French in a year, cook every meal for my family, completely eliminate sugar from my diet, keep my house organized and impeccable, and other similar all-or-nothing endeavors. When I failed once or twice to follow through and skipped a day of exercise or caved in and ordered takeout Thai food, I figured that I had blown it and I threw in the towel.
When I eventually actually thought about why I had “failed,” I realized that it is often a bumpy path to get through a day getting necessary stuff done. Emergencies large and small crop up. Even tiny things, like running out of an ingredient for a planned dinner, can derail things. Something like a sick child can kill anyone’s plans to accomplish anything during a day, as all is put aside to tend to that child’s needs.
Then there are the MS multiple sclerosis symptoms. Fatigue can annihilate any resolve to do something. Cognitive dysfunction can lead to things forgotten and schedules needing to be rearranged, mixed-up directions adding time onto scheduled activities. Sometimes, just functioning while feeling “addled” takes all the effort we can muster.
Looking back, I had a great 2012 in terms of making healthy changes and I am looking forward to feeling even better in 2013. My secret is a simple one: Strive for a little better every day. You may have heard me say it before, and it’s not an original thought. However, it helps me to focus on each healthy choice that I make each day, rather than focusing on all of the things that I didn’t get to. Congratulate yourself on the walk that you DID take, the new vegetarian meal you DID serve, and the quality time you DID spend with loved ones. Feel good about these things. Really.
When I do “slip up,” I try to let it go. If I ate dessert and I wished I hadn’t, I spend a little time thinking about what I could have done differently (tried a bite and stopped, substituted fruit, split it with my spouse) and I move on. I acknowledge what was nice about my slip up - it was delicious and a little fun. I try not to take that away by beating myself up.
My bottom line is this: I have MS. I do my best. I am trying to squeeze joy out of this life. I realized that if I spend my time scrutinizing my actions and criticizing myself for my slip ups, I look up and another year has passed, without much progress in feeling better physically, and certainly not emotionally. When I try to find the “good things” in life, it seems easier to make healthy choices and life just seems easier somehow. Try it and see for yourself. Happy New Year.
0 Appreciate this

Julie Stachowiak, PhD

Julie is the author of the Multiple Sclerosis Manifesto, the winner of the 2009 ForeWord Book of the Year Award in the Health Category. She is an epidemiologist who is also a person living with MS, Julie has an in-depth understanding about current research and scientific developments around MS. She also has first-hand knowledge of the frustrations and anxiety surrounding the disease, as she had MS for at least 15 years before receiving a diagnosis in 2003 and has had several relapses since her diagnosis.