Cara with a huge lovely smile

Happy birthday to me – a year of changes

It was my birthday recently. This time last year, I was in a bad place and it didn’t feel like much of a celebration.

Exhausted mentally and physically, I was in complete denial about my MS.

Diagnosed just a year before with relapsing remitting MS, I’d vowed the moment I walked out of the consultant’s room it wouldn’t change me.

It did though, of course. That was inevitable. I just hadn’t realised it. At that moment, everything changed.

Reacting to my MS diagnosis

My future became uncertain and I was acutely aware of the limitations the condition might bring. What lay ahead seemed so dark.

To prove I was OK I did the only thing I knew how to do. I worked harder and ran away from facing it.

Kettle bell workouts, 5k runs, cardio. And I hated every single second. I felt a growing panic, an anxiety which eventually would engulf my brain and my body like a giant wave.

But back then, exercise was just a means to an end. If I wasn’t sweating buckets, enduring every minute and feeling pushed to the limit, it wasn’t worth it.

The inevitable happened. I became so tired mentally and physically I crashed. It felt as if I’d run too far, too fast and into a wall. A wall I had built to cope.

Discovering yoga

I was left feeling helpless, hopeless and defeated.

The wall had to be rebuilt, but I knew I had to do it differently. I couldn’t continue like this.

I decided one of the bricks I wanted was to feel physically fit again. My therapist suggested trying different classes like pilates or yoga

I walked into my first yoga class last summer not knowing what to expect. In fact I chose the class because I wanted an ‘easy’ exercise and I thought I’d be able to cruise through it without effort.

From the moment I started, I loved it. Over the weeks I grew confident again and I noticed my anxiety became less and less evident.

Cara practising yoga

Finding balance in my life

I developed a new physical strength and flexibility. But yoga was teaching me so much more than how to touch the floor with my head, or stand on one leg.

It’s taught me life is about balance.

Ironic since MS often strips us of that quality – physically and metaphorically!

On the the heavy fatigue days, the days where your bones feel like lead, the days where energy takes the day off, I adapt my yoga and use the time to do restorative poses, designed to help me relax.

I do not feel guilty for what I’m not able to do, but feel thankful for the time to let my body recharge.

On the days where I do have energy, I embrace it without pushing my body to the limit. My yoga practice strengthens my body, calms my mind and brings me a sense of peace which stops me falling into the habit of over tiring myself.

Tuning into how I feel

Yoga is the eyes into my mind and the ears into my body.

It has taught me to observe my mental state without judgment and listen to my physical capabilities on any given day.

On that mat, I’m not anxious Cara or fearful Cara.

On the mat, I even forget I have MS.

Yoga rippled out from the mat into other areas of my life – I had confidence to write again, set up my own online magazine, be a more connected mum and even train to be a yoga teacher.

All in a year. All post diagnosis.

Focusing on the positives

Yoga has brought such gifts into my life.

Before my diagnosis I had a tendency to be stressed and run about at a million miles an hour. I also took my energy levels and health for granted, as I guess many people do.

MS has brought down days, medication mishaps, MRI scans, worry and anxiety.

But it was also a wake-up call, a chance to pause, reflect and reassess my life and the way I was living.

Without it I wouldn’t have taken a long, hard look at my life and changed it as I have done in the past year.

And for me, that was something worth celebrating on my birthday this year.

Image of Cara smiling by ShootSweet Photography