Finding my way to keep moving

Thu 29 July 2021

Emma Smith

As I lay here in the sunshine, soaking up as much vitamin D as I can, I contemplate doing some exercise.

Usually, I plan to exercise on my days off from work. I work 3 long days a week. By the time I finish, around 5pm, all I’m ready for is my bed. But it’s on days like these, hot and humid, that my motivation dwindles. I would much rather lay here with a good book and an ice-cream.

Exercising to recover

My love of exercise really started after my relapse in 2019. While I was on holiday with my family and friends in Spain, I woke up one morning with pains in the back of my calves. I hadn’t a clue what was happening. It was sporadic at first and not so severe, but by the time I got home, it was happening every day and I was in agony. It was really scary.

After a few trips to see my neurologist, I was prescribed a course of oral steroids to overcome the relapse. And they did help.

But on a very timely routine appointment to see my occupational therapist, she told me I was experiencing spasticity. I had no idea. I underwent a course of intensive physiotherapy to stretch out my tight muscles. I also had Botox injections in my both my calf muscles to help them to relax which I continue to have regularly.

As I’m over 40, I have asked if they would mind putting a couple more in my forehead, but you can probably guess what their response was!

Starting that intense physiotherapy got me into a routine. It involved doing exercises 3 times a day for several weeks. My neurophysiotherapist also got me doing lots of exercises to build up my core strength, which really helped with my balance.

At the time exercising was a necessity, but then it turned into something I looked forward to. It was a bit of time I could focus on myself and block out the rest of the world.

From recovery to recreation

As I got stronger, I joined a local rehabilitation centre that did exercise classes. I arranged to meet the instructor first to discuss my problems with MS and what I wanted to achieve. They recommended some low impact classes, such as ‘total tone’, to help with my balance and some relaxation classes such as yoga and gentle Pilates.

I was going to 3 classes a week and I really enjoyed both the classes themselves and meeting new people. Then lockdown happened and the gym had to close. Immediately I contacted the instructor to see if they could continue doing the classes online, which they did, and it was great. All the classes were recorded so if I couldn’t make them live, then I could take the class when best suited me. This tends to be on my days off and in the morning when I felt at my brightest.

Headshot of Em after a workout looking happy

The highs and the lows

One thing with this condition is it’s so up and down. I’ve learnt I need to roll with it. I always have my moto in my head: “Roll with the bad and make the very best of the good”. It keeps me going.

After losing my dad to cancer in December of last year, my life really did turn upside down. Grief acts in strange ways and everyone copes with it very differently. For me, it had a real impact on my health. In February, I ended up completely losing power in my left leg, to the point where I couldn’t lift it up without aid. So all my exercising and love of walking with my family on those crisp, winter days went out of the window.

I was very low as I felt like I was back to square one again. However, I said to myself that I have been here before so I know that I can get through this. More steroid treatment and physiotherapy certainly helped, but I struggled to get back into exercising like I had done before. I was incredibly frustrated.

Hubby to the rescue!

My wonderful husband saved the day by suggesting I try something else as a form of exercise that we could do together. Out of the garage came an old, pre-loved bicycle, kindly donated by our previous next-door neighbour.

I was incredibly wobbly at first - I fell flat on my face after being thrown off when my tyre clipped the curb.

But despite all of this, I absolutely loved it. The wind through my hair, exploring the flat (thankfully) plains of the Lincolnshire countryside and soaking up the many smells (some not the most pleasant I have to say!)

This has now become my new ‘thing’ and we have all treated ourselves to new bikes so we can more comfortably ride for miles as a family. I now even venture out alone on my days off work, even when there is a light rain shower as it’s quite refreshing.

I also have an indoor stationary bike for when the weather is really bad. I don’t necessarily need fully functioning legs or full feeling in my feet to pedal, as I have learned, with practice, how to be safe and in control.

Find your thing

Often I feel the word ‘exercise’ can be off-putting, but what is important is finding a way to keep on moving for my general health and wellbeing.

It doesn’t have to be anything grand. It’s about finding your ‘thing’ that is right for you. That might not be something that you find straight away, but it is fun trying out new things for the first time.

Of course, there are still days when I could stay in bed all day as I struggle to even lift my head off the pillow due to the fatigue. But that’s ok. There will be a better day around the corner and I just look forward to that.

Explore ways to keep active with MS including yoga and Pilates videos