The Zen of MS

That’s what we’re all looking for, isn’t it?

The truth is, when you find your zen, it is much easier to heal. I don’t mean heal in the sense of “find a cure,” but rather in the sense of “I am happy with my life and feel like I am the best person that I can be, disease or not.” I’m confessing to you that I’m the latter.

Is that sacrilege?

There’s a little bonus that goes with it, too. By accepting your circumstances and living a better life, your health improves, and you put yourself in the best position for any therapies to work.

That’s not to say that having this disease is freakin’ awesome, but I am saying that it opened a lot of doors that would have otherwise remained shut. Honestly, happiness, compassion and “lack of attachment” do a lot to get you on the path towards healing. At least they did for me.

Whatever you’re working on, don’t think of it as a light switch where your only options are to win or lose. Think of it as a dimmer switch—you’re better off today than you were yesterday, and you’ll be even better (and brighter) tomorrow.
When I was diagnosed with MS in 2008, it was like being hit over the head with a 2x4. I would call home, crying, because I thought that my life would be forever changed from the marathon running, climbing the corporate ladder and part-time musician persona that I had used to define myself.

The biggest worry I had, though, was how my kids were going to remember me.

Almost immediately, I started looking at nutrition. I was desperate and that was my background.  Truthfully, I didn’t know what else to do. I was scared. I started to figure out what foods really triggered fatigue (for me).
OK—that showed me that I could have an impact on this thing if I set my mind to it. It was on!

Then I started going to support groups and talking about the importance of enrollment and clinical trials, which was something else I had experience with. I really had a knack for it and felt better when I did it.

Not only talking about what I knew, but also helping others to understand it. 
Ever since then, I’ve been trying to take control of the things that I felt like I’d lost control of. We’re talking about the amount of sleep that I get, the amount of stress that I’m under and how to reduce it (e.g. meditation), exercise (again—not being attached to someone else’s definition of exercise, but doing what works for me), and doing things that make me feel good and happy.

I don’t do things that abuse my body, even if they give me temporary pleasure. How often do you find yourself skipping a workout or sacrificing sleep because of perceived necessity? Or because you just don’t feel like it?
I’ve figured out that the temporary pleasure or skipping a workout, makes me feel worse in the long run. That’s not to say that I never indulge—it’s just that everything I do is calculated. 
I’m not preaching or claiming my life is the best and that you should be like me, but I’m telling you that, since “retiring” from my research administration job, I’ve taken to helping others in a lot of areas. I cannot begin to explain the level of happiness that comes from making others happy.

And what it does for my health! “Give and you shall receive.” This really propelled me to focus on my journey through serving others.

Yes, I spend part of my time in a wheelchair. No, my hands don’t really work anymore. Yes, my speech can be garbled, and I’m heat intolerant. Yes, I feel like I have the bladder of a pregnant chipmunk.

And yes, I’m as happy as I’ve ever been and am not sure I would go back in time if I could.
So, take control of your life! Nothing makes me special. Use your gift to serve others and work on making you better—not because I told you to, but because you want to.
Tags Activism & Advocacy, Healthy Living, Research      7 Appreciate this
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Jim Turk

Jim Turk was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2008 and has been featured in many publications, on radio, and on TV. He is an MS activist and has a passion for helping people make the best life for themselves despite their circumstances. If you want to learn his health and wellness tricks, get his free video series here.

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  • Marybeth   Jun 20, 2019 10:11 AM
    Hi Jim

    Loved your post...Completely agree with your assessment....I tell most people that yoga saved my life because it gave me the ability to breathe, work through the challenges and stay healthy. Have many challenges but also have tools to cope and stay calm and centered!🧘🏻‍♀️
  • Linda   Jun 20, 2019 10:44 AM
    Thank you, Jim, well said! I was diagnosed in 1982, and I love helping
    others. I volunteer with the Humane Society, and the animals don't mind a bit if I don't make any sense when I talk to them! They know that I love them and I am helping them find a forever home. I still love to garden, and I share my plants with anyone who needs/wants some! If I have to sit down to dig those daisies up, both they, and their new owners will flourish! I will, too.
  • Sarah Lorenzi   Jun 20, 2019 10:50 AM
    Thank you so much for sharing your inspirational story. My husband has lived with MS for almost 20 years, he is doing great, but of course I have so much anxiety for the future, especially since we have young kids. Reading your story is exactly what I needed today. Thank you. ❤️
  • Lois Rutkin   Jun 20, 2019 11:12 AM
    I was diagnosed when my children were 2,3, and 4. They now are 48, 49, and 50. I have some days better than others, but I garden 4 hours at a time, I stay active with my grandchildren and feel that I have a wonderful life and I too have a great feeling when I can help others. My MS support group now consists of five instead of the eight that started,but we have met for 25 years. We share feelings, give each other suggestions and support, discuss symptoms and how to compensate. We are family.
    Attitude means so much. But for those whose ms is getting worse don’t feel guilty that perhaps you are not doing what you should. It is a fine line to draw. I start each day with gratitude. I lived in Nigeria for one year, Malawi for two years ... Peace Corps in the sixties, and even with MS we took our teenagers to live in Peru for three years. I know that I am part of the world that looks at me as being very,very fortunate. I am reminded of that every day and so I live my life with that as my focus, not that I have MS. I have had cognitive difficulties since that 80s, my short term memory hardly exists, however I see a counselor, and we figure out strategies to help me. But I also have a sense of humor about it as well,knowing that I forget, bad things as well as good. All my friends and family expect me to forget so they remind me etc.
    Newly diagnosed individuals should also know about people like me who live an active, wonderful life. The diagnosis is frightening and difficult to deal with. Find a Dr you trust, make use of friends and family., and everyone in their own way be positive about the way their lives. You are now part of a wonderful new family...those that have MS and understand you, and will support you.
    Thank you for your positive suggestions and thoughts.
  • adrian   Jun 20, 2019 11:59 AM
    doctor after doctor have told me that i have a wonderful attitude regarding my m.s.come-on what do u want me to do, life is sooooo blessed,thanks,adrian bernal
  • Cherelle   Jun 20, 2019 12:29 PM
    Thank you for sharing your story. I was diagnosed with MS when I was 26. I am now almost 32 and my MRIs have not changed since diagnosed but I do understand the pain and being terrified.

    When I was diagnosed I did not tell anyone because I was embarrassed. Sounds kinda stupid because this is something that can't be controlled but that is how I felt.

    I'm ok with it now. It took some time. But I believe you have to play the cards you are dealt and I'm playing them to the best of my ability.
  • Gwen Mugliston   Jun 20, 2019 1:39 PM
    I agree with you whole heartedly. Helping others has always been the best job I could have. Being Buddhist is such a fine thing and has lengthened my . I am grateful. Learning how to meditate and the many, many forms it can take was a life saver for me. Reading the wisdom of others from Thomas Merton to Sogyal Rinpoche has been a blessing. At this point I live in a state of grace and I am grateful
  • Satie   Jun 20, 2019 1:50 PM
    Dear Mr. Turk, I have a friend who has been diagnosed with MS. I am a health care professional. I see a lot of "MS" patient come into the office, can you tell me if You are on a drug that inhibits the disease? Kind regards
  • Dreama Brown   Jun 20, 2019 1:53 PM
    Thank you for sharing you Testimony!
  • Chris Fleming   Jun 20, 2019 3:25 PM
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I was diagnosed shortly after my 25th birthday. Iam now 65. I have been very lucky. Yes, I have definitely been impacted by my MS. Many things that I wish to do I cannot do. Some days are better than others. Yet, there is much that I can still do. I have two grown children and I have been blessed to have been with a very beautiful woman for 37 years. We live in Greenwich, CT. Please e-mail me if you wish. Chris F.
  • James Robertson   Jun 20, 2019 4:26 PM
    No matter what you or anybody says, MS really sucks. I am 72 years old and was diagnosed in 2018 having MS, yet getting the money to get the copaxone is impossible. Ten thousand dollars a month for meds is dumb and stupid. Maybe for the young your words are good but for us old folks not so much. Unless you are a millionaire you will not get the meds needed.
  • Sharon Cullers   Jun 20, 2019 6:31 PM
    Copaxone can be had free by contacting shared solutions. They will put you in touch with who has philanthropic organizations that will do so regardless of your income level
  • Michael E Springer   Jun 20, 2019 7:32 PM
    Sharon, That was not what James was talking about.
  • Michelle A   Jun 20, 2019 9:01 PM
    Thanks, Jim, for your inspiring message. I have found very similar impacts from the combined efforts you mention of focus on nutrition, exercise, good sleep, stress mitigation, meditation, mindfulness, and seeking ways to recognize contentment and gratefulness in my life. It is nice to find a fellow traveler on the road in Zen. Best wishes now and in the future!
  • Melissa Treuth   Jun 20, 2019 10:04 PM
    Thank you for your encouraging story. I was recently diagnosed with MS & several brain lesions. I continue to see myself changing and at times limited to what I once was able to do. I am blessed regardless and will focus on what is wonderful in my life (family/friends) verses my MS. I may have MS but it doesn’t mean “it has me”. Something positive always comes from loss and struggles in life. I may not see it now...but later down the road I am sure it will bring strength/wisdom and encouragement to others.
  • Anne Vanderbloemen   Jun 21, 2019 10:47 AM
    Thank you for sharing, Jim! I disagree about you not being special, though! You’re one of the special-est people in my life!!! ❤️
  • Patti   Jun 21, 2019 1:54 PM
    Oh having ms sucks. I struggle everyday and the pain in my back, hips and sides is unbearable. i read all your positive comments and I try very hard. I sometimes can’t conceive myself going on. I have the most awesome husband but he doesn’t deserve this either . I pray and reach out to God all day. I see no changes but more Mts to climb. I’m tired. I’m glad so many of you are doing well. Keep going and believe. I look forward to an end of all this. Thank you for listening. I feel lost and alone. I can’t believe I have gone from the top of the world with, family, friends and love to this life of existence. I’m tired everyday all day. I’m now PMMS. It’s hard for me to see my life again. God Bless you all. Hang in there, I am by a tread.
  • Terri   Jun 22, 2019 9:38 AM
    Just recently diagnosed with PPMS at 53 yrs young
  • Avatar
    JimTurk  Jun 22, 2019 11:14 AM
    Thank you all so much for the comments. It’s great to know that so many people are continuing to make their lives have meaning.

    I just wanted to briefly address the comments about MS being horrible. First - I wouldn’t ever pretend to know what your experience is. I think that you can gather from the article that there are a number of issues that I have. I’m saying that, in my experience, doing something that you’re passionate about and helping others really makes you feel good. Not necessarily better but it changes your focus. Repeating to yourself and others how miserable you are can only make things worse (that’s science).

    And, I feel compelled to say that I’m no spring chicken. Younger people might benefit from this but that’s not me...
  • Avatar
    JimTurk  Jun 22, 2019 11:27 AM
    One other comment because somebody asked what kind of medication I’m on. I don’t know how to respond to comments so I’m doing it here :-).

    I’m on Ocrevus. I stopped working three years ago due to MS and my insurance is still covering it. That won’t last much longer. I also work a lot, politically, to help lower prescription drug prices and make them more available.

    I don’t credit that as being major part of my health. I do so many other things to ensure reasonable health that I think that has made more of an impact than anything.
  • Mimi   Jun 22, 2019 11:59 AM
    A lovely share Jim and clearly you are inspiring others to be fully expressed. I generally do not enter into this format and decided to expand and comment. I live by the pulse of gratitude and it has been quite a journey the past 5 years. I sold my cherished home of 30+ years this past May. It was not an inspired move instead a necessity. Fortunately, I have support from family and friends. 3 car accidents which totaled 2 cars. A hit and run the last time. I am still unfolding the insurance claims and I am grateful to be alive. I lost both grandmothers within a year of each other. Close to both of them and miss them terribly. Then I lost my best friend to bone cancer December 2018 ;( My husband and I separated. He is dealing with his own medical condition. Considering I have been married a looooong time 30+ years and we also miscarried all attempts in having children. It was not meant to be with the medical blend between us. Always a sense of Spirit Children. I love my husband regardless of the separation. I miss him. I miss our quality time together. it is a practice in being present with what is and quite a dose of stress over the past 5 years. (We all know how stress wreaks havoc on the immune system....whew...) I acknowledge and celebrate 20 years living with MS this coming August. I follow my intuition. I do not engage in taking the MS medication and it is my choice and I certainly take excellent care of me. I deeply honor and respect the research, medicine and how much it has expanded since I began my journey. We all find the path that we need to travel. I am in the flow of life.... all of it. Courage, Blessings and be Grateful~
  • Maureen E Wudarzewski   Jun 29, 2019 9:35 AM
    Wow everybody! Diagnosed in 2009, I retired in 2017 at age 69. I know I want to give back through volunteer work, but feel hesitant because my mobility is impaired and my left hand and leg don't work. But after reading your blogs, I now have courage. Thank you, Maureen
  • Avatar
    JimTurk  Jul 6, 2019 4:12 PM
    Thanks for the comment, Maureen. Yes - volunteer. No - don’t hesitate. I would venture to guess that people appreciate even more and see you as a great example if you do something selfless despite (what you consider) shortcomings!
  • Jodi   Jul 8, 2019 11:19 AM
    Yes to all of this! I too have found that I am happier today despite not being able to walk any longer, than I was 12 years ago. The person I was 10 years ago was fried at the ends - stressed, letting other people's opinions of me define my worth, and having expectations & goals that once achieved resulted only in temporary happiness. Somewhere in the last several years of focusing on me, something just clicked and I'm at peace, happy, in the moment and just enjoy being. Keeping and open heart and serving others feels like the most natural gift in the world. I also agree with you on intentional, calculated choices. That takes the most discipline in my opinion and is an ongoing learning experience!
  • Avatar
    Tracy-D-  Jul 16, 2019 5:06 PM
    Great Read - Inspiring
  • Debra A Mantini   Jul 22, 2019 7:24 PM
    I was diagnosed in 2003 and probably had it for at least 10 years prior. After the initial shock and all that goes with that....I came to a place about a year or so later that if it were not for the diagnosis I wouldn't have realized how important life is...precious is life no matter how difficult certain days can be. Very grateful for your sharing story.