Today I signed up for the 2014 CrossFit Games Open! A worldwide fitness competition with heavy workouts that include weightlifting, cardio, gymnastics etc.
I had taken part in the 2013 Open as well, scoring better than expected and being very happy about not being last.
The reason I gave myself this real easy goal of not being last is simply that I have had experiences with my body that I wish no-one had. I am in fact very very lucky (#touchwood) that I can still use my arms and legs at all.
Diagnosis: Multiple Sclerosis
In 2004 – 10 years ago – I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Apparently I had had it since 1999 or so.
The reason I found out that year was that during a very very bad period of my life over the course of a few days basically the whole right side of my body turned numb and paralyzed. It started with a slight feeling of numbness in my right arm, then it was the leg, suddenly also my torso and when the right side of my head felt numb I realized that something was severely wrong. Up until that point I thought I had maybe just pinched a nerve or so.
I went to the doctor and was lucky I had one that saw the signs right and sent me straight to get an MRI scan. I remember sitting in the waiting room crying. I think there was no pain at that point, the shooting pain sensation like electro shocks set in a bit later. I was just scared because I was unable to move the way I should and I couldn’t feel parts of my body.
When they started scanning my brain I couldn’t stop crying and the nurse held my hand saying “I understand it’s scary having your brain checked when you can’t feel parts of your body.”
I took the images straight back to my doc and it took him seconds to announce “You have MS!”. I had no clue whatsoever what MS was, so I went home and started googleing… maybe not the best idea as there were scary things to be found about wheelchairs, lower life expectancy etc etc.
For hours I just sat there crying my eyes out not knowing if I will ever regain control of my body or if this was what I will always be like.
You see, it’s not the pain, the numbness, the inability to do things… it is really the uncertainty that is the most scary thing. My doctor had said a weird thing when I said “MS, hm? Glad it’s not a tumor!”… he said “I’d rather diagnosed you with a tumor because at least you know what your up against!”. First I found this terribly rude, but it didn’t take me long to understand what he meant…
Having MS means you have a 50% chance to be in a wheelchair by the age of 50, you could gradually get worse, fast or slowly… you could need 24-hour care, you could at any point lose any body function as you never know which part of the brain might get affected next, you could lose the ability to speak, see, walk, smell, you could lose control over your limbs, your bladder or other body functions.
This shit is SUPER SCARY!
Recovering from the first (and so far only) relapse
I took steroids and painkillers, could only sleep 1-2 hours every night, got very depressed and didn’t know what would happen with me. My face started to be the famous “moon face” from taking steroids, I was white as snow and puffy.
My friends were there for me which was amazing. They visited me, brought food, cleaned my flat, even offered to help me wash me if I’d struggle to do it myself. They picked me up to go to an outside concert, using my bike to lean on and move forward. I was very very glad to have such good friends during that terrifying time of my life.
Well, and then after 2 weeks it became apparent that things were picking up and I could feel the right side of my body more and more again. Now the question was “How much strength and sensation will I regain and how much will be lost forever?”. It seems like almost all is back to normal. Sometimes when doing CrossFit (the world’s toughest workout regime) I wonder if I would do better without MS…if I have hit limits that others wouldn’t have.
One thing that saved me back then was my will to fight. I was in a Newly Diagnosed group in Hanover, Germany. Most of the people there gave up. Some even seemed to “like” the fact they had a genuinely valid excuse now and they will need looking after. In my head was this big neon sign though saying “NOW more than EVER!”. I decided that as long as I can use my body (as I’d never know when it would give in) I would do whatever the hell I want!
So, I decided to give everything away that I owned, bought a backpack and left Germany in 2005 to go traveling. I lived in England, Ireland, back in Germany and now the Isle of Man working for my dream company, feeling safe, happy and healthy.
Over those past years I rarely had MS problems because I changed my way of thinking and adopted a positive mind frame. I had adjusted my diet and started with yoga and other workouts. Usually I could clearly see why MS problems happened. Like in very stressful situations I might lose my sight partially. Normally I then went home, stayed on the couch and tried to relax as well as I could to calm myself down. Usually that does the trick.
The last time I had MS problems though was during my first 2 CrossFit sessions. Up until then I thought I could only have these issues from mental stress, but it turned out that the physical stress of these hard workouts triggered visual problems as well. I didn’t give up, kept on pushing through, and, again #touchwood, since then my fitness and health improved and I hadn’t had issues since.
I know I am very lucky! I can only say the psychological journey I went through and the ability to turn my mindset from a deeply negative one to being one of the most positive and cheerful people you will ever meet helped me to be where I am today.
I spend time fundraising for the MS Society to support those that aren’t as lucky as me and to hopefully find a cure for this terrifying disease.
Nowadays I lift heavy weights, where 10 years ago for a short time of my life I wasn’t even able to lift my own arm or leg, I run and row remembering that time I couldn’t walk…
…I got a second chance to look after myself better and I am taking it!
Last year in the CrossFit Games I reached my goal and didn’t come last. I was somewhere in the lowest quarter and endlessly happy about it.
This year I am standing a good chance to improve my result and I am not done. As long as my body does what I want it to do I will continue pushing the limits and show the world that you can do so much more if you just get your mind to it and eliminate negativity.
We only have this one life. Let’s make it the best we can!