I love New Year’s, a holiday dedicated to glitter and gold, to getting dressed up and making out at midnight. It’s so ridiculously hopeful to believe the incoming year is going to be better — your best yet — when the logical part of you knows full well you’re going to start the first day of that year with a splitting headache.
It can be even more difficult to expect better days when you’ve got a chronic progressive illness like multiple sclerosis (MS). But here we are, liquored up on optimism — and champagne.
At the end of the year it’s natural to take stock of what we’ve accomplished and what’s left to do. When it comes to living with MS, it’s hard not to look back at the past and assess the damage.
It can be harder still to look hopefully at an uncertain future. One where many of us are only daring enough to quietly ask the universe that we just don’t get worse.
When we do find ourselves ballsy enough to ask for more, we might be motivated by the feeling of running out of time. Bucket list items pile up with the pressure to do all the things that require strength and vitality “while we still can.”
But what’s so great about bucket lists and New Year’s resolutions anyway? For many, these lists are filled with the things we think we should do, and not the things we actually want to do. They’re the fantasy versions of our lives that feed our egos and let Instagram know just how cool we are.
You don’t need a bossy list to remind you of your unmet potential. That’s what parents are for.
If you have a chronic illness like multiple sclerosis, I’m here to sift through some of the most popular resolutions, to figure out which ones are worth the bucket list and which ones you can put on the chuck-it list.
And if you don’t like it, that’s cool. Having MS should be an automatic pass on all the BS things you never wanted to do anyway.
Learn to meditate: Bucket
MS is stressful. And painful. And exhausting. Meditation can help relieve stress, the perception of pain, and fatigue. I’m a smart person and at least an average breather. So, why is it so hard for me to just close my eyes and move some air? Because, anxiety. Which is precisely why this is the year I’m actually going to figure this meditation thing out.
Skydiving: Chuck it
A classic bucket list item. They should call it sky-dying, because it’s basically a dress rehearsal for a terrible and unnecessary death. I’m well acquainted with the feeling of free-falling already, thank you very much.
Alternative: Watch the movie Alive in my centrally heated apartment while enjoying some non-human-based snacks.
Drink more water: Bucket
It’s tempting to turn into a camel when dealing with a nagging MS bladder. But not getting enough H2O can worsen fatigue and lead to bigger problems than peeing your pants. UTIs suck, can cause even more incontinence, and infections can lead to pseudo-relapses that can be difficult to recover from.
The good news is that drinking more water is the laziest, easiest resolution ever. If you want to put something on a list that you can actually accomplish while feeling like a smug wellness expert, start carrying your glittery pink S’well everywhere, and talk constantly about how getting your 64 ounces has literally changed your life.
Change your diet: It’s complicated
If you’ve got a chronic illness, you’ve definitely had someone scream in your face about a miracle food-based cure. There are a ton of plans that claim to positively impact MS, but there is no universally agreed upon diet.
There’s exciting research happening in this area, but if you’re thinking about trying Swank, Wahls, Keto, OMS, or something else, don’t force yourself to unwaveringly follow strict rules, unless following them makes you feel better.
Learn a language: It depends
Cognitive function can be a concern for people with MS, and one of the best ways to make your brain stronger is to learn a new language. Then again, we’ve all heard that English is the hardest language.
If you’re still reading this, then congratulations. You already speak the hardest language. Even if you flunked high school English, you’re probably still pretty good.
Alternative: Watch a foreign movie. Don’t worry. There are subtitles. Oh, you don’t even want to do that? That’s what I thought.
Start flossing: Bucket
Having MS means blaming all my problems on brain damage, but it turns out you can still get cavities when you have a chronic illness. The only thing worse than having MS is having MS and needing a root canal. Plus, repeated use of prednisone can mess up the bones that support your teeth.
See a sunrise: Chuck it
You know what’s better than a sunrise, right? Sleep. Nerve pain and needing to pee, as well as 7,000 other MS-related things, could already be contributing to insomniac nights and narcoleptic days. If you have MS, you need sleep more than your average bear. We heal when we sleep, and lack of quality Zzz’s can contribute to problems of cognition, fatigue, balance, pain and eye rolling.
Alternative: Rewatch Before Sunrise, and eat two bags of Sunchips.
Exercise more: Bucket
Fatigue and muscle weakness can provide easy excuses for not prioritizing exercise when you have MS; and frankly, I look like an idiot wearing a Fitbit. I know this because some confused Normal recently asked me why I wear one. Just because I use mobility aids to get around doesn’t mean I can’t have fitness goals, Joel. Measuring my steps helps me recognize MS trends. Not like cool, Chanel fanny pack trends, more like personal disease progression trends.
Climb a mountain: Chuck it
I said exercise more, not exercise crazy. I don’t know why anyone would want to climb a mountain. I don’t even want to climb the stairs. Did you know it can cost upwards of $30k to climb Mount Everest, and you could die?
Alternative: Literally anything that doesn’t cost money to be cold and maybe die.
Stop smoking: Bucket
I know. If it were easy to quit you’d have already done it. But here’s why you should consider it. Smoking can make MS disease progression worse.
Smoking can hasten the time it takes to go from relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) to secondary progressive MS (SPMS). The good news is that quitting may delay MS progression.
Join a club: Bucket
Feelings of loneliness and depression are 12 times more common in people with MS. Loneliness can have as difficult and dangerous an impact as the worst of what MS can do.
If you’re struggling, look for resources. If you aren’t struggling, reach out to those who are, and protect yourself by investing in relationships and building your own social capital.
Write a book, go back to school, take an exotic trip: Bucket
If you have MS, you got a raw deal. Let your diagnosis give you permission to prioritize doing the thing you’ve always wanted to do. Don’t just put your dreams in a crappy old bucket. Realize that someday isn’t a real day, and put your goals on project status.
This article originally appeared on Tripping on Air.
Ardra Shephard is a devastating-illness expert, whose blog Tripping on Air provides the irreverent, insider scoop about multiple sclerosis. It’s what you’d want your best friend to tell you about what it’s like to live with MS. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram to be part of the movement to change minds about what it really means to live with chronic illness.