What’s it like to be diagnosed with MS? What does living with Multiple Sclerosis mean? Can you have a good quality of life with MS? Today, Courtney shares the story of her MS diagnosis.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
Hi! I’m Courtney Carver. I moved to Salt Lake City, UT 11 years ago from New Hampshire. I live in a small apartment downtown with my husband and daughter. I write and speak to inspire people to find their way back to love by simplifying and slowing down. For fun, I go to yoga, hike, ski and travel. I also love reading and writing. Even though it’s part of my work, I do it for fun too.
For those of us who don’t know, what is M.S.?
M.S. stands for Multiple Sclerosis. The MS Society describes it as an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. I’d add that our nerves have a coating called Myelin to protect them.
It’s like the rubber coating on an electrical cord. MS is an autoimmune condition that causes our T cells to damage the protective coating leaving scars which results in the disruption of information. Symptoms vary considerably from person to person but can include, vision problems, numbness and tingling, balance issues, muscle weakness and others.
What lead you to make a doctor’s appointment?
Honestly, I thought I had an ear infection. I had just come back from visiting my sister from Germany, and a little jet lag turned into a lot of vertigo.
When I look back now, I can see that I had been having symptoms for close to 10 years, but they were mild, and could all be explained away by stress, or something else. I thought my tingling hand was caused by a pinched nerve, extreme fatigue was just from being too busy, and my balance issues sounded like they were ear related.
How did you feel when you first heard your diagnosis?
I was in a bit of denial when doctors suggested MS as a possibility. I was training for the MS 150, a cycling event to raise funds for MS research. It never crossed my mind that I’d be diagnosed with the same disease I was fundraising for. I was mostly scared, but in some ways relieved that now I knew what I was dealing with, so I could begin to take action. I was being tested for deadly neurological conditions, heart issues, and brain tumors, so MS was in some ways a relief.
Being diagnosed lead you to make some really huge changes in your life. Where did those changes start?
My big changes have all been a result of very small, mostly slow changes. In researching M.S. I discovered that stress can exacerbate symptoms and cause decline, so I made it my goal to eliminate stress. (are you laughing at me?) I thought it was a lofty goal, and while I can’t control all stress, I knew I could make a dent in my very busy, stressful life.
I started with my diet though. I wanted to eliminate the stress which was appearing as inflammation in my body first. Over the course of a few months I eliminated animal protein, one adorable animal and bird at a time. I quit drinking milk and cut out most dairy too. Then I continued to bump up the greens in my diet. This wasn’t a doctor recommended diet, but one my doctor supports for me.
How did changing your diet lead to other changes?
Making such a big change in my diet, and noticing the positive benefits gave me the confidence and motivation to make the next. I looked for the next source of stress in my life which was debt, and the next, stuff/clutter/, and then my high stress job in advertising sales, and lastly our big house.
It wasn’t an overnight transformation. Over a span of a seven years, all of those things were gone. Seven years doesn’t sound very sexy or exciting, but that slow, steady change made it sustainable and so damn meaningful.
Now you’ve simplified and pared down pretty much every area of your life! How have you made your professional life simpler? Your social life?
My professional life is much simpler because I work for myself now. I don’t have to attend weekly meetings, write reports, go to an office, or do any of the things typically involved in a traditional job.
I also created my own business in a way that didn’t require 80 hour weeks, or doing things that I didn’t really get excited about. Most of my social life was wrapped into my career with work events. Now I am much more socially selective. As an introvert, that is a dream come true.
How have the people in your life reacted to these changes?
My family has been very supportive, and although they joked in the beginning when I was experimenting with vegetarian dishes, “you know what would be really good in this? meat” they’ve really helped me with every change I’ve made.
When people do struggle with that external resistance, I suggest that they stay focused why they are making the changes. With close family, explain the benefits, and then walk the walk. If you want people to see the joy in less, live joyfully with less. For other people who challenge you or your new direction, that’s not your problem. Be nice, and get back to living your life in a way that works for you.
If your 10-years-ago self could see you now, what do you think she’d say?
That’s funny to think about. If she could see me now taking long walks in the morning instead of attending meetings, she’d probably say, “What are you doing? Get a real job.” And, if I might have a word with myself 10 years ago, I’d have said, “It’s ok, you can stop now. Even if you don’t do one more thing, everything will be ok.”
Are there any books/blogs/apps/resources that have particularly helped you with your MS? Or with your simplifying journey?
I don’t recommend any books written specifically about MS that were written before 2010 unless they are memoir. So much has changed. Diet, exercise, and stress reduction are finally being recognized as having the ability to change the way people experience MS and so many other conditions. Older books do not reflect that.
I think a lot of people are intrigued by the concept of simpler living but they’re not quite sure where to start. What are three small things that any of us could do today that would make our lives easier and more simple?
This might sound ironic coming from someone who prefers less, but I want to give you more than 3. These seven steps are a great place to start.
Thanks so much for sharing your story, Courtney! Do you guys have any questions for her?