“Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire couldn’t conquer the blue sky”
Lady’s and gentlemen of the class of whatever year you’re reading this in….
It’s December already, it’s getting pretty bitter out, most days are overcast at best. Winter is here and sunlight is more and more scarce. Vitamin D cannot be directly received from sunshine at this time of the year. This is a concern for me. There is a definite correlation between lack of sunlight and MS. It is much more common in colder climates with little sunlight. This time last year is when my symptoms started to really show. And because I’m in my final year of college until May, finding time to take advantage of the rare sunshine is even tougher. Exercise is a good substitute but I’m finding less time to do that too. Working full-time and studying part-time is proving tough especially at this time of year.
Lack of sunshine used to never bother me in the slightest. In fact I welcomed it. I used to think the sun hated me. I had a few forgettable sunburn experiences as a kid that I would try to avoid the sun at all costs. When avoiding the sun wasn’t an option I would lash on the suncream before going outside.
Baz Luhrmans Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen is a very inspiring and educational piece. If you’re not familiar with it or haven’t listened to in a while give it a go. One thing I now disagree with Baz on though is his encouragement of applying suncream. Madness, I know. But let me explain myself. Of course suncream (screen/block) is very useful but as I’m learning about most things these days it should be applied in moderation. Whenever I’m in a hot climate or on a rare sun-kissed Irish day I lash on the suncream.
“The benefits of sunscreen has been proved by scientists. Whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience”
When I was told it was evident that I was showing the first symptoms of MS I was advised to get lots of sunshine as it is the best way for us to get Vitamin D. Straight away I thought “not that bastard sun, he hates me!”. But I did as I was told. I went for walks by the sea each day. This, apparently, is also good for your balance which I was struggling with badly. I made sure the sun got onto my baldy head at the very least but also I felt getting the fresh air and having the sea breeze in my face was just as beneficial. Even as the weather improved my doctor advised me not to put on suncream before leaving the house and allow my skin to absorb the sun even for 10 or 15 minutes a day. I still feared getting burnt but it was great advice. I actually feel better when the sun hits my skin probably because I know now how good it is for me. When I eventually went back to work a few people thought I was taking the piss being off. I’d come back with a bit of a tan and lost a bit of weight from all the walking. Turns out the sun was my friend all along. I just didn’t realise. The sun, as with most friends, is great in small doses but spend too much time in their company you can end up burnt 🙂 Everything in moderation.
Still though, I did spend most of this years sun holiday by the pool under the umbrella covered head to toe in suncream but I made sure that I got a bit of natural sun before doing so. I also take daily vitamin D supplements as I know a lot of people do. I’m lucky enough to be prescribed these on my Long Term Illness card so they cost nothing. It’s recommended all people living in climates similar to Ireland’s should be taking vitamin D supplements to compensate for the lack of sunshine particularly in Winter time.
It’s a great feeling the sun hitting your skin directly even if only for a brief period. There’s so many natural things about the world that I’m only starting to open my eyes up to since my diagnosis. I find myself treating MS as a sort of awakening. I wonder sometimes how I wasn’t like this before and why only now when faced with a genuine challenge do I see the world so differently. The main challenge I’ve found recently is how to put a positive spin on everything. Perhaps it’s not always possible but I don’t be far off seeing the positive side to most scenarios. Brief mindfulness sessions have helped but I don’t practice it enough.
A lot of lifestyle changes I’ve made since being diagnosed with MS haven’t felt life changing as I have implemented them slowly and not tried to change everything all at once. I try not to eat too much processed food and I have a lot more fruit whereas before I would have crisps and a chocolate bar. A lot of dairy free and gluten free items in the shopping trolley. I’ve cut back on red meat. I’m loosely following certain diets that people with MS highly recommend. Again, everything in moderation. I try to go out walking or for a run on my lunch break in work. This is not always possible and sometimes I lack the necessary motivation but I try not to be too hard on myself when I go short periods without exercising. I generally feel a fuzziness coming back to my brain when I go for periods of being idle so I use that as my trigger to get back on the horse. This is how I try to live my life now, I know there’s a lot of people who live much healthier ones. For me, it’s a vast improvement from before diagnosis. I still know that there’s something lying in the background that could raise it’s ugly head but I’m confident that if I keep going the way I am a relapse is a long way off. It’s just a reminder that we’re all the masters of our own destiny. Or maybe we’re not. What do I know.
To quote Doc Brown in Back to The Future 3: “your future hasn’t been written yet, no one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it, so make it a good one.”
But trust me on the sunshine.