Multiple Sclerosis & Cannabis: Marijuana Is Helping Me Get Back to Exercising

As a child I was always doing something. From soccer, swimming, skating and tennis to skiing every winter, getting exercise has always been a big part of my life.  I have always considered myself extremely lucky that I was already in shape, fit and strong when I was diagnosed with MS.  Although what I could achieve looked a bit different (miles logged on the elliptical or in the pool rather than running the hills of Seattle with my kids and dogs in tow) I continued to make exercise a daily priority.

Until the pain got so severe, so all-consuming that dragging my ass to the gym became an insurmountable task.  It hurt so much from the moment I opened my eyes in the morning, hurt so much just performing the most basic of tasks, that all the energy and willpower that I had always applied to my workouts were put towards simply surviving the days.

I have never been out of shape, EVER.  Hell, I swam two miles three hours before my water broke with my first child.  My FIRST child – so you can imagine what I was doing just before child #2 and #3 decided to arrive.  The point is, up until the pain got bad and the pills made me fat I have never had to get BACK in shape.  But I am now confronted with just that – getting back into shape, and making exercise a regular part of my daily activities.  Being motivated to workout has never been something I have had to think about.  It has always just been a part of who I am and what I do.

Over the past 6 months or so, as I have found relief from the pain with medical marijuana and my pain strains.  I have begun to be more active.  I have started going on walks and hikes with the dogs, I’ve worked out both at home and in the gym, we have gone fishing and I even went mushroom foraging this past weekend.  But nothing really seems to be sticking – nothing is bringing back that spark I have always had when exercising.  I have been searching for something that will make me WANT to do it again….and keep doing it.

Swimming has ALWAYS been my zen place, the one place and activity that allows my mind to completely chill and not worry about the million and one things that fly around my brain constantly.  Quite simply, it shuts the voice off and in its place is just this lovely silence, interrupted only by the muted sounds of the pool, the quiet swish of my flip turns, my own breathing steady and even.

When I was diagnosed with MS and my mobility and balance became questionable, hitting the pool was a natural migration from my constant running.  After all, you can’t suffer a severe fall while in the pool.  You can’t fall down while swimming.  I missed running, being out in the world, seeing things and people while exercising, but swimming has always been my “comfort” exercise and given the stress of being diagnosed, it was a great way for me to keep active, while staying safe.  Or so I thought….

I spent hours in the pool at our local “Y”.  I often surprised people, when I would hobble in with my cane, moving unsteadily and awkwardly as I approached the edge of the pool, and gingerly climbed down the “handicap” stairs nestled it the corner of the pool.  But the minute I was in the water, swim cap and goggles in place, I became someone completely different from the “disabled” body that I am living in.   When I am swimming I feel as if I recognize my own body and it’s movements, because that cane-wielding wobbly being that climbed down into the pool isn’t REALLY me.  The REAL me is fit and fast and sure-footed and will take on any challenge presented.  When I am in the pool, there is no stumbling, no falling, no fear of falling….UNTIL…

Three years ago….something happened.  Something that threatened to ruin swimming (at least in pools) for me, forever.  I had actually forgotten about this particular “incident” until recently.  While cleaning out our closet, I came across my old swim bag and as I opened it and looked at my goggles, cap, paddles, and pull-buoy I was hit with the memories of the last time I went swimming at the pool.

I had hit the “Y” just after dropping the kids off at school.  I had hobbled my way into the dressing room and then out onto the pool deck.  I swam for 90 minutes straight- turn and after turn, my mind clearing a bit more with each flip turn.  At the end of my workout, I gathered up my cane, towel and locker key and headed to the showers, which is just a large room with shower heads sprouting out the walls.  There were a few shower benches strewn around the large open space so I hung up my towel, placed my shampoo and conditioner on one of the benches and propped my cane up against the wall.  I had about 45 minutes before I had to be back at the kid’s school to volunteer in my oldest’s art class, and my intention had been to take a quick shower, get dressed and out to my car, where I would rest for a bit before heading over there.  But, that is not how it played out…

Because I fell.  In the shower area. Butt naked.  Not only did I fall, and not only did I fall while completely naked, but it was one of those falls that leaves me completely paralyzed from the waist down, unable to move my legs or get up.  “Fortunately” for me, I was not alone in the shower area.  The “Silver Sneakers” water aerobics class had let out just as I had finished up my laps and so when I decided to go crashing to the tile floor, I was immediately surrounded by six naked octogenarians.  I don’t recall the details of their “rescue” mission or the specifics of my injuries, other than I was pretty bruised up, but I know that having those old ladies help my slippery bare naked ass up and safely into the changing room traumatized me far beyond a few bumps and bruises.  I had experienced plenty of falls over the years since my diagnosis and I was familiar with turning my feelings of embarrassment into humor.  I would find the reasons to laugh and smile at my mishaps.  But this fall was different…

This one stuck with me, to the point that I realized that I have not been back to a pool (any pool) since that day.  I have done some swimming, but only in the ocean or the lake.  That one stupid fall had managed to take away something that has always been so comforting to me.  After finding the bag in the closet, I became determined to get back to the pool and swimming.

This past week I returned to the pool, to swim laps.  Making that first trip last week took every ounce of courage and willpower that I could muster up.  Honestly, I almost left, after having pulled the truck into a parking space at the far end of the parking lot.  I almost chickened out, because as I sat in the truck trying to build up the courage to actually go in and get into the pool I was hit with the overwhelming thought “I really don’t want to fall again.”  Pretty simple want, but as I have learned not necessarily something that I can control.

But I did it!  And then I did it the next day, and then the next.  I woke up this morning and the very first thing I thought of was “oooo, I can go swimming today!”  That is a huge difference from just a few days ago.  I still have reservations each time I head over there.  I worry a bit as I make my way out to the pool deck, wet and slippery from the required “pre-swim” shower.  I worry even more after my laps, as I stand in the shower washing the chlorine out of my hair.  I try not to think about “the naked fall,”  I try and think about the fact that I did it, that I have made it back to the pool and that I am loving it again.

I KNOW that I should be proud of myself.  I KNOW that I should praise myself for getting back into the pool, and for again incorporating exercise into my daily life.  But instead of acknowledging these accomplishments, I find that I am admonishing myself for letting it get this far.  I am disappointed that I could only swim 30 laps when 2 miles (132 laps) used to be a warm-up for a run back in my pre-MS days.  Rather than applauding that I am now doing something about it, I harp on what more I should be doing and feeling disgusted that I let myself get so out of shape.

Prior to finding relief from the pain using cannabis, if someone had said “I get high to go to the gym because it gives me a better workout” I would have said that that sounds a hell of a lot like someone saying “I drink beer while doing P90X in my garage because it helps me lose weight.”  I would have thought it was complete and utter bullshit.  But a lot has changed in the past year.  I have found relief and am feeling more “together” than I have in years.  Taking a few extra puffs of my pain strain gives me the courage and motivation to get my ass out of the truck and into the pool.  It relaxes my muscles and allows me to stretch and move them in ways that I haven’t done for too long now.   I am now the one that is saying “I smoke MMJ before going to the gym because it helps me….

  • It helps me with the pain, which is always significantly worse while exercising.
  • It helps me actually think about my body, what muscles are tight/sore and allows me to adjust my workout around trying to make those areas better.
  • It helps me muster up the courage to get back in the pool and to keep focused on feeling better and getting back in shape.

Exercise and activity have always been about stronger, faster, longer for me.  Because of the help I am getting from MMJ, I am once again focused on setting and achieving goals, but I am doing it in a way that is also helping my body feel better, rather than just beating it up to meet my target.  At this stage in my life, this is exactly what I need.   I am super excited to be swimming again and I am hopeful that it will stick and I will again start waking up each morning, excited about going swimming, or getting exercise.

I need to stop thinking about what I COULD do back THEN and focus on what I CAN do NOW.

I need to be relentless in my pursuit of getting back in shape and forgiving of the differences in my abilities.

 

 

**This is my personal blog and all opinions are my own.  I am not a doctor, nor do I play one here on my blog. The content here is for informational and entertainment purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of medical professionals.  Be sure to contact your doctor before trying any new medications/vitamins/supplements, physical activities or therapies **

10 Replies to “Multiple Sclerosis & Cannabis: Marijuana Is Helping Me Get Back to Exercising”

    1. Thanks Claire!

      Confidence is a great way to explain it. I know that I CAN do it, I just have to remember that and ignore the doubt:)

      Cheers!
      Meg

  1. Meg I happen to come across your blog while looking to see if others with MS are using Segways. And I see in one of your other posts, that you do (or did). I don’t live in a state that medical cannabis can be purchased, but I heard the great things it can do for those with MS. I’m planning on moving to CO because my health is #1 and living down south isn’t helping me much here (with the heat and humidity). I was diagnosed in Jan 2011 and stopped taking meds thinking the MS wouldn’t progress until I got older. NOT! It has and now I’m on Tysarbi. You are an inspiration to me. Your blogs don’t hold back and I like that. I’m a single parent of 2 girls and I can say I’m fairly young (just turned 46) and I’m not ready for this disease to overtake my body. Can you tell me what MMJ stands for?

    1. Hey Tisha!
      First off – LOVE my Segway!:) Although I have been fortunate to not have to use it for a number of years now, it gives me peace of mind that it is in the garage when/if I need it again.
      Cannabis has definitely been a game changer for me! MMJ stands for medical marijuana – just another term people use when talking about the medical properties of the plant:)
      Thanks for your kind words about the blog – it has served as my journal for a number of years now. I just recently finished re-writing the book I wrote a few years after my DX and it’s amazing how therapeutic revisiting some of the stories has been. It makes me realize just how much I have been through and how far I have come!:)
      I hope you keep in touch – and let me know if you get the opportunity to try cannabis:)

      Cheers!
      Meg

  2. Love your writing and your willing to be vulnerable and tell the unvarnished version, often to some good laughs, too! I’m a quite follower but always look forward to your updates, it helps me come to grips with my own recent dx. L

    ike walking in the wet showers, I was in NYC this spring and was caught in a freak blizzard. Same idea – shuffling around completely terrified and not being very sure-footed, just waiting to eat it on the sidewalk. It’s the worst!

    1. Hey Doug!

      Thanks so much for the kind words! “Unvarnished”….I love working with wood and really like that term when applied to me:). Hoping you made it through the streets of NYC in the blizzard without too much damage?:)

      Cheers!
      Meg

  3. Ah… When this started, I used to Zumba. LOVED IT, LOVED IT. Then I gradually became that woman with the stroke (NOT!!) I have been fit challenged my whole life. My mother exercised religiously every day until osteoarthritis/osteporosis literally stopped her in her tracks one day when she was 79. I always laughed and said it was my adolescent rebellion why I didn’t. That being said I’ve always belonged to gyms. The one that I truly loved had Aqua Aerobics. I used to go religiously with the wrinklies and was buff. Three years ago, my neurologist suggested it might be just the thing but I should get swim shoes. Well, they made me trip more. I was terrified with the cane and slippage. What ended it for me was I was literally not strong enough to get out of my suit. I always had to leaving looking as if I’d wet myself. Now getting to the gym without my husband’s help is impossible, though I am contemplating the walker. And it is a vicious cycle because I get so weak and tired, it’s too much. But if I don’t I get even worse. As to falling, definitely. I have memories of all the places I have fallen. It makes me hesitant every time.

    1. 🙂 You bring up a good point with the vicious cycle – I am EXHAUSTED when I get home – yesterday I couldn’t even get my ass off the couch to make dinner (and that doesn’t happen:) I know that back when I was in shape and working out daily, the MS still made it so that I had to nap for at least an hour after my workout, but then I would feel so much better. HOPING to get back to that point – swim for an hour, nap for an hour?:)

      Cheers!
      Meg

  4. Your post is inspiring. I too have recently trying to see how MMJ can help me with my MS. I have let exercise go and am hoping this will help me get back into shape again. Before I got diagnosed I had lost 70 lbs and was in the best shape of my life at 42. I started running and after falling in front of a moving dump truck I made some changes. I so miss that feeling after I exercise. That fit and strong feeling. I am hoping to achieve that feeling again soon.

    1. THANKS so much Sherry – for reposting. I really appreciate it.

      Also, thanks for reading and sharing. I completely know what you mean when you say the “fit and strong feeling.” It’s like a natural high and I SO want to get back there!

      Cheers!

      Meg

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