MS and Self-care

This week Emma Valentine shares what self care  living with Multiple Sclerosis  means to her, what settles her mind, calms her and that feeling of preparedness.

What is ’self-care’?  I think to most people, certainly those with an Instagram account, the idea of self-care is taking time for yourself, away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, involves candles and bubble bath and face masks and maybe some relaxing music. For me, to be honest, I can’t think of anything worse! All those things are fine, and even enjoyable on occasion, but the idea of setting aside time to focus on nothing but those things does not relax me.

For me, what settles my mind, what calms me, is a feeling of preparedness, of being ready for anything. A lot of the time this comes out in a tidy house, a neat list for grocery shopping, being punctual for appointments, formal or social. I am at my most agitated when I am facing a new week, with no lunches made, no beds changed and a kitchen that desperately needs to be hoovered!

This does not mean that I cannot let loose, far from it! In fact, when I have completed  the list of jobs I’ve set for myself, I feel a huge sense of freedom. The rest of the day is my own, to do with as I please. If I know the dishwasher needs to be emptied, I am happier if I do it  then my daughter and I can go on a long walk to count some swans by the river or paint some Easter cards to post to our friends. Rather than rushing through the enjoyable activity because I have things to do, I do those things first so that I am calm and relaxed, ready to thoroughly enjoy whatever it is we find to entertain us. This to me, is ’self-care’.

During the pandemic, and all of the various lockdowns, our family tried to keep busy and keep our energy levels up. We have walked the length and breadth of our 5km limit, we have cycled, we have explored. But again, we also did the housework and the home learning activities first, to free our minds for fun in the afternoons. When I sit down in the evenings and all my jobs for the day are done, I don’t like to completely switch off. If I am watching a film with my six-year-old, I often knit at the same time. I like to keep occupied and feel productive.  In the first two months of 2021, I knit twenty-three hats for friends and family. The postman questioned what I was ordering, as he delivered many soft parcels of wool.  So I have made him one too! I love to draw and journal, as does my daughter, so we invested heavily in art supplies and being outdoors and spent a lot of time documenting our lockdown activities in a book I had printed in 2020.

For some people, this type of active relaxation may sound like their worst nightmare. Believe me, there are times when I do put far too much pressure on myself to be perfect, especially at work. However, as I have gotten older, I appreciate the joy in a clean, organised home and I have become a big proponent of the phrase “Tidy House, Tidy Mind”. I was diagnosed with MS ten years ago and with my diagnosis came a feeling of loss of control. I was 24 years old and for a time, wondered if I would ever feel in control of my own life again.

This feeling still exists, but I have learned to mitigate it by gaining and keeping a sense of control over other aspects of my life. I am still learning, still trying to find a balance, but overall, being in charge of the small things and being organised in my daily life, has allowed room for the rest of it. I am no longer overwhelmed because I make room in my head for the uncontrollable, by making lists of everything else. The satisfaction I get from a completed 'To Do' list is the my best form of self-care.

To learn more about self care and how you can look after yourself, you can visit the wellness section of our website.