My first symptoms of NMO was on Dec 22, 2013 with optic neuritis. I was eventually diagnosed in April 2014, and started imuran and prednisone after my second attack of optic neuritis. It is only been 4 months since starting treatment and I realize that it is totally unpredictable. I am praying and trusting that I can be symptom free for a long time, so far things are going well and my energy levels are good. However I am aware, that being on immunosuppressives will make me more susceptible to infection so two aspects to be aware of. The symptoms of the disease itself and the side-effects of the medication. It is enough to cause despair and depression, but my faith remains in God the great healer and with His grace, this disease can be conquered. The following are things I have learned for coping with this disease;
1. Hippocrates said “”let food be your medicine, and your medicine your food””….So I have adopted what I can best describe as clean eating. I have cut out all the junk in my diet and it started by first cutting sugar. This is not an easy feat for a self-confessed sugar junkie! The Thursday before my second attack, I had eaten a chocolate-oatmeal brownie, what followed was a severe, stabbing pain in my head, which never went away. By the end of the week-end and Monday April 28, I was entering the second attack of optic neuritis and pain. So it was quite the lesson to learn, but there are now no cakes, pies, cookies, candies, sodas, or other refined foods in my diet. I have also removed artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, splenda etc. I was also a diet coke junkie. So now fruits have replaced my sugar craving. Occasionally as a treat, I will have dates, or bars with no sugar added. Sugar can be found in foods like sauces, salad dressings, ketchup, and even bread. So I make my own salad dressing and add lots of spices to my meats to make up for the absence of sauces. If I use sauces, then it is very sparingly, but there is no benefit to adding sugar to my meats.
I have also cut out all processed food, dairy, gluten, and caffeine. So what do I eat- lots of vegetables- I have a green salad everyday and also a vegetable juice to increase my intake of veggies. I also eat fruit, legumes (lentils,chickpeas,splitpeas etc), gluten free grains (eg quinoa), sweet potato, rice,(brown,basmati) chicken, fish and healthy fats – nuts,seeds and avocado, unsweetened dark chocolate.
2. Supplements; We can’t get all the nutrients we need from food, so supplements are important. I am taking quite a lot of supplements now when I didn’t before. I followed the advice of a naturopath, and also the neurologist to counteract some of the negative effects of the medication. So I take calcium and glucosamine as prednisone can promote osteoporsis. Omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin D are also two important supplements, but I would recommend taking supplements on the advice of a holistic health practioner and according to each specific condition.
3. Exercise- I have found that low impact exercise helps me to feel better.Unfortunately high impact exercise can make my condition worse, so I avoid that and just do low impact aerobics and weight bearing exercise. Weight bearing also important to reduce osteoporosis.
4. Listen to your body. I found that I have more energy and feel generally well when eating clean. I pay attention to head-aches, stomach pains and feelings of bloatedness and praise God I have not had any of these symptoms since being on my current diet. So it’s important to pay attention to your body and try to eliminate or replace the food that may be making you feel unwell. We are all genetically different, so it’s not one size fits all, so choose what works for you. But be determined and patient with the process.
5. Build a supportive network of positive people. It is important to surround yourself with people who are also optimistic and share your faith. Negative people will only bring you down. I am thankful for friends who share my faith and who not only prayed for and with me, but also spoke many inspiring verses into my life during the early days.
6. Remain optimistic and hopeful. The Lord has promised never to leave or forsake us, (Hebrews 13:5), He also told us that we would have tribulation in this world but to be of Good cheer as He has already overcome.(Jn 16:33).
No-one knows what that tribulation will look like but I firmly believe that there are two sides to tribulation- a bright side and a dark side. Focusing on the dark side is what creates fear, doubt, despair and self-pity, focusing on the bright side is what leads to hope, determination, and faith. Faith is defined as the evidence of things not seen and substance of things hoped for. (Hebrews 11:1) It is easy to become fearful when facing the unknown, but if you let that fear took root then you have already lost half the battle. It is no wonder that there are over 300 verses in the bible that encourage us to fear not.
So this is my journey so far, it’s been 8 months since it all began. Isaiah 43:1-3 reminds me I am not alone and this is not my forever, by God’s grace and power,this disease can be overcome.
But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, “”Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! 2″”When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. 3″”For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior.