Nurse Catherine Asks...
Just like everybody else, people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) have goals for the future. Whether they’re MS-related or not, my patients often tell me that having goals helps keep them motivated. It also helps to share goals with a healthcare provider, who can give guidance based on his or her medical experience. What types of goals have you set for yourself and how have you reached them?
Living life and reaching goals while living with MS
October 8, 2018
I have set many goals for myself since my relapsing MS diagnosis. The first goal I set was to learn all I could about this disease, so that I could have all the tools I need to make the best decisions. I’ve found this goal challenging because new information and new relapsing MS treatments are always becoming available, but I still strive to learn as much as possible.
I search for information from many different sources. I regularly read several MS magazines, browse reputable websites, and participate in MS-related Facebook groups. I also listen to informational webinars, attend MS events, and ask my neurologist, as well as other people living with MS, about the condition. I find that educating myself about MS helps me be a better patient and helps me understand how relapsing MS is affecting my body. That’s why the goal of learning about MS is still so important to me.
Another goal that I set for myself was to have a child. Many people with MS think that you cannot start a family while living with this condition—but after doing my research and working with my healthcare team, I learned that’s not true. My son is now 17 years old and I’m so proud of him. He brings so much joy to my life. I love watching him play baseball and listening to his success stories about hunting and fishing.
While I’m so very proud of my son, I’m also proud of how much I’ve accomplished. Over the years one of my goals was to move up the ladder in my career—and I did. I am currently the Director of the Residential Program overseeing 200 staff and 15 group homes for adults with developmental disabilities. As if that isn’t demanding enough, I challenged myself by setting another goal—this time, to become an EMT. I accomplished this fairly recently and currently volunteer at two fire departments, where I serve as both an EMT and a Community Educator.
You have to set goals. And once you start to accomplish those goals, you'll realize how unstoppable you truly are.
When I decided to pursue my goal of becoming an EMT, I had a lot to think about in regards to my relapsing MS. When you need to respond in an emergency, you have to be on top of your game. You have to be able to focus mentally, keep calm, and be ready to physically lift patients, whether it’s the middle of the night or in the heat of summer. I discussed my goal of being an EMT with my neurologist to ensure he knew what I was planning to do and to determine if there were any reasons why he felt this would not be a wise idea for me. We decided that as long as I listened to by body and didn’t push beyond my limits that I would be able to fulfill this role. Well, there was one exception. It was agreed upon that I’m not to climb any ladders. My unsteady gait, as well as my fear of heights, does not make for a very good pair. I’m very glad I thought to discuss my goals with my healthcare team. It was nice to have confirmation that my relapsing MS was not getting in the way of this particular personal goal.
Although achieving your goals may be more challenging when you have a disease like multiple sclerosis, I’ve found that being determined and thinking smart can help make progress in terms of reaching those goals. Give it a try. You’ll notice that once you start getting closer to achieving your goals, you’ll become even more motivated to push harder and in turn, you’ll accomplish more and more. And I’d love to see what your goals are, so post them in the comment section below!
Living life and reaching goals while living with MS
To me, life is about the journey, and my goal is to keep my overall mobility. In order to accomplish that physical goal, I try to stay active and responsibly push my limits (responsibly being a key word). I think that despite the number of lesions I have, I am functioning as well as I am today because I was in good shape when I was diagnosed with relapsing MS. I still push myself everyday because I fear that if I only work to 80% of my abilities, before long, 80% will become my new 100%.
To help me with my mobility, I use a step counter. 10,000 steps a day is my goal and I do everything I can to hit it, even if it means driving my wife crazy walking in circles in the living room while watching TV. I don’t always succeed, but it’s my target and it keeps me motivated and focused to stay on track. For example, when I came out of the hospital my goal was only 1,500 steps, but with commitment and determination I built up my strength and mobility, and now I’m up to 10,000.
Challenging myself to walk further than expected, or required, is how I continue to work towards keeping 100% of my abilities.
I have a handicapped tag on my car, but I’m happy to say that in the two years I’ve had it, I’ve never used a handicapped parking spot. I actually go out of my way to park far from building entrances because I think I can manage the walk and it adds to my step count! When I go food shopping, I generally park on the outskirts of the lot and walk in, using a shopping cart if I need a walking aid. I seldom take an elevator or escalator if I can find a stairway, and when visiting my primary doctor, I park on the complete opposite side of my clinic. I know this may not work for everyone, but knowing your personal limits—when to push yourself and when to take it easy—is key when you’re living with MS.
After being in the Army for several years, my final Army assignment was working in a government building where my daily commute involved taking the local train. I routinely stayed on the train a stop or two past my destination and then walked to work. I found that, in addition to getting exercise, I enjoyed the extra time to think through the day’s activities in the morning and to wind down in the afternoon. Years later, I still have the same way of thinking, and that mentality is what keeps me moving every day.
Healthcare providers routinely ask whether I exercise, and if so, how often. I share my daily activities with them as well as my goals. After a brief hospital stay due to a relapse, I spent a lot of quality time in physical therapy. As I progressed, my physical therapist asked about physical goals and interests. When I told her I enjoyed hiking, she set up a series of obstacles to simulate trying to navigate over uneven terrain! What a great way to get me motivated! You can bet that once I was better I challenged myself to a hike.
Regardless of personal interests, I think it is very important physically and psychologically to stay active and set goals for yourself. Even if your only goal is to keep yourself moving like mine, it still gives you a drive and something to strive for every day. None of us choose to have relapsing MS, but each of us can choose to fight back every day.
Nurse Catherine Sums It Up
Whether short or long term, setting goals gives us something to strive for. Be realistic when setting your goals—but at the same time, don’t be scared to push yourself. You should always discuss your goals with your healthcare provider so they can help you navigate the best and safest ways to work toward your goals. Over time, you might find that your abilities are changing, and that’s okay. You may feel the need to keep pushing yourself, or you may choose to slightly alter your goals, so you still have something to work towards. No matter what, don’t ever get discouraged. You can do it!