5 Things I Did Right Last Year & What I Want Out Of 2018

2017 went out with more of a whimper than a bang. I spent a solid chunk of December dealing with disease, mired in fear, and feeling pissed at myself for crying at Christmas. Facing another new year with multiple sclerosis while taking stock of 2017, it’s tempting to tick off a list of things lost, things I’ll never do again. Which is depressing AF. You don’t want to read that self-pitying barf, and I must force myself to agree, it’s way more appealing to look at the blank slate of possibilities for 2018, than to obsess over the ways in which 2017 went off the rails. 

But, making resolutions can feel like we’re announcing our shortcomings. Like we’re publicly identifying the (usually trivial) ways in which we feel we suck. And maybe that’s why so many people hate them. Nobody wants to feel like they’re failing at life. Gross. Building a brag-sheet of last year’s wins can help us recognize just what we got right, and give us the confidence to sign-up for what’s to come. Taking stock of 2017 helps me realize that change is possible. Heck, anything is possible. And isn’t that what the new year is all about?

There is no suck. Only degrees of awesome.

How I Slayed in 2017

Travel is hard when you have a dumb disease. With its stupid cobblestones and complete lack of curb cuts, Rome kicked my ass last year, as the least accessible place I’ve ever been. I left Italy feeling smug and secretly satisfied at the fall of the Roman Empire. They deserved it. Despite this, I was truly glad I came and saw and conquered. Instead of feeling defeated, I felt inspired to travel more, and to places even further outside my comfort zone. Because as I’ve said before, if not now, never. 

And I don’t believe in never. 

Stopped Singing
For most of my life, singing was a major part of my identity. For a long time, I believed every lesson, every hour spent practicing, every moment of performance, was saving my life. And it was. Until it wasn’t. It’s too long and boring to get into here, but MS fucked it up for me, and as my body weakened I began to feel diminished by the very thing that once made me feel invigorated. After trying for too long to keep it in my life in any capacity, I was finally able to accept that singing was no longer bringing me joy. I walked away, and somehow, felt relieved. 

Memorized All the Words to Despacito 
Okay, I didn’t totally stop singing. I mean, I’ll never stop Beliebing. 

Gave up gluten, sugar, and dairy
Relax, guys. It’s not like I gave up bacon. This lifestyle sounds so crazy hard but I swear to you it hasn’t been. I think it’s partly because I’m good at making healthy food taste like not garbage, and partly because my tummy and neurogenic bowel feel legit better without cheese. Mostly though, it’s because it’s a way to feel I have some control. When I go to sleep at night thinking there’s nothing that can be done for my progressive MS, I quietly tell myself that maybe this diet will help. That tastes better to me than any croissant ever could. And that’s saying a lot. 

Became a glamorous, rich lady
When I was a teenager, I interned at an opera company where my fancy but terrifying employer would get her hair ‘set’ every week. My blue-blooded, bougie-boss was so sniffy and serious, and guys, did I mention terrifying? Like Anna Wintour, but taller and Italian. I definitely wanted to be her when I grew up. Then, last summer, MS finally gave me the justification to be a little more like, uhm, let’s call her Mary

Because, showering is hard. 

As MS worsens, the thought of holding my arms up long enough to dry my hair makes me long for the days of wearing wigs and obscene amounts of cheap perfume. So in July, I splurged on a package of blow-dry’s and now I can never go back. Can I afford this? Maybe not, but I’d sooner give up groceries than go back to washing my own damn hair like a nobody.

Clearly I nailed 2017. I’m high-five’ing myself for what were obviously some kick-ass self-care habits I’ll be bringing with me into the new year. But self-improvement never stops. It’s what makes you better than other people. So here are my goals for the upcoming year:

What I Want In 2k18

Yup. The old New Year’s cliché. But hear me out: there’s so much compelling research about the effects of exercise on MS that I’m convinced it’s time to step up my game. I’ve always exercised and I work with a great physiotherapist (#megan). But there’s no reason I can’t be at the gym every freaking day. Even if it’s just 5 minutes. Because 5 minutes turns into 6, and 6 becomes 7, and 7 becomes slower disease progression than if I’d just sat on the couch eating raisins and watching The Crown. I know what you’re thinking: ‘This sounds like Sophie’s Choice’. But here’s the thing. The gym is in my building. Which means, I have time for weight training and binge-watching. (Wait. Were you thinking ‘raisins are disgusting’? Then screw you. Raisins are a delicious snack.)

Minimize Time Sucks
It’s hard not to get sucked down an internet hole when you write a blog; when you’re on your laptop at all hours so you tell yourself you’re “working”. But let’s face it, I’m mostly sucked into online shopping and celebrity gossip. OMG PRINCE HARRY AND MEGHAN MARKLE ARE GETTING MARRIED, GUYS. Like, who am I to ignore living history? Furthermore, what kind of feminist would I be if I didn’t know why we’re all pissed at you-know-who, and you-know-who else, and you-know-who else, and so on forever. Strike this. This is no time to cut back on the internet. I’ll just have to cut something else, like laundry or brushing my teeth.  

Obviously world peace and blah, blah, but what I’m really talking about is inner peace, and this might be my biggest commitment to change this year. MS isn’t going anywhere, and I need to get my shit together, figure out how to maintain my sanity when symptoms are at their worst and my brain feels like it’s gonna explode. I think this means learning to meditate and finding some counselling that is more reputable than fortune cookies and the occasional episode of Dr. Phil. I’m going to detox my mind and I’m going to do it with help. 

Happy New Year Trippers. Cheers to possibilities, blank slates and optimism. And if you feel like sharing your own ’17 brag-sheet and 2k18 goals, I’d love to hear them. 

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  1. Hey Ardra, happy new year! Liked this post, a good summation of the regret, fear, and hope that accompanies the holiday when experiencing it with ms.

    Kudos to you for sticking with your gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy free diet. I'm staying pretty much gluten-free, but the dairy free and sugar-free parts are much more difficult. Because, cheese and cupcakes. Whenever I embark on one of those draconian diets, after a while I convinced myself that since eating is one of the few pleasures left to me I'm actually doing myself a disservice by depriving myself of the one bit of decadence in which I can still imbibe. And I never saw dramatic results from doing any of the diets, anyway. Not to discourage you, as I do believe that diet can play an important role, but cheese and cupcakes.

    I just conducted an hour and a half interview with the naturopath I see who specializes in treating people with MS, so look for it on my little chunk of the Internet. I'll probably have to post it in three or four separate posts, since it's so long. Lots of good info, but first, of course, I need to transcribe the thing.

    Sorry about plugging my blog on your blog, so feel free to plug your blog on my blog. Is there an uglier word in the English language than blog? Sounds like something that accidentally flies out of your nose while laughing…

    1. Happy New Year to you Marc!

      I totally get what you're saying about food and joy. I spent the first 5 years living in Toronto in search of the city's best croissant (Pain Perdu and Bonjour Brioche are tied for the win IMO). I miss pizza and Montreal bagels. But I'd been living with an almost daily degree of stomach upset ever since MS came along. I think my digester is broken. When I was in Italy I allowed myself to eat everything and I really noticed how much worse I felt. My rule now is that if I'm super craving something, I will give in. But it almost never happens. I really feel better and anyway, I'm not trying to sell you on it, but the secret to getting over the sugar thing is to just pour yourself a bowl of maple syrup and eat it with a spoon.

      I'm very interested to hear about your MS naturopath and you are always welcome to plug Wheelchair Kamikaze on my blog. I'm often plugging WK on my FB site because I think everyone should be reading it.

      Someone once told me, "You're not a writer. You're a blogger." That was very mean. I prefer "personal essayist" to blogger, myself, but I'm pretty sure that sounds pretentious.

      Now, please fix your weather because I am coming to NYC in a couple of weeks!


    2. Hey Ardra, thanks for the response. A bowl of maple syrup actually sounds pretty yummy. I have been known to eat honey by the spoonful. I'm a bad boy.

      Have you been tested for celiac disease? If not, I would urge you to get the test. Celiac is a common comorbidity with MS, and those with celiac definitely have a negative reaction to gluten and other food groups. That MS naturopath I talked to thinks every MS patient should be tested for celiac, as well as a variety of vitamin and nutritional deficiencies. She's seen some of her best results in patients that test positive for celiac and/or nutritional deficiencies. These are the patients who respond almost miraculously to dietary alterations.

      When will you be in NYC? The weather for the next few weeks sounds pretty horrible, so hopefully your trip is still several weeks out. Shoot me an email, I can give you some tips about navigating NYC…

  2. Lady, you inspire me to do better, do more and cherish every minute, day, month, year! Thanks for opening my eyes to so many blessing that at the best of times, we forget! By the way, you are one of those blessings!
    I know 2018 holds some interesting adventures. All of which I will welcome and cherish! But you asked us to share on 2018. Mostly I want to work on confidence. Hell, we could all use a little humbling but it's the confidence that makes us strong enough to confront all crisis, inner mind and out in this crazy world.
    Let's kick this New Year off with a kick ass attitude. Keep posting what's important cause you push my harder on all levels every day. And yes, all your postings send a message, while allowing me to understand YOU and MS. Most importantly, it helps me understand where I can support you as a friend. Like you do for me regularly!
    Here's to a great year of great possibilities!

    1. Thanks Lisa. Your friendship and support mean so much to me.

      Let's do this 2018!

  3. Happy New Year Ardra, and thanks for a seriously uplifting post. You're so right - it's easy to sink down the rabbit hole of sadness and grief with this illness. I'm always grateful for, and will be sticking to - my yoga program - which usually includes some form of breath work and/or meditation. I've managed to stay pretty sane and calm through it all - and I credit these practices. Not that they've altered my staggering fear of travel... they haven't. And I applaud your goal to seek help with the mental / emotional sledge hammer that is ms - not to mention the blow-dry's!!!

    1. Thanks Barbara and happy new year!

      I've only ever dipped my toe into yoga and meditation but it clearly helps so many. I'm excited to bring this into my life.

  4. Congratulations on another great piece. I think your resolutions do not show any shortcomings so much as some really admirable levels of strategizing and contemplation, in the face of great challenges. And your relentless commitment to fun. All the best to you in 2018. PS - I somehow trust that in your case the counselling won't interfere too badly with that wonderfully warped mind we've come to look forward to in this blog...

    1. Relentless commitment to fun - I hadn't thought about it that way, but I like it. I love it, actually.

      I embrace the challenge of warping the mind of the lucky person who ends up counselling me. I can be very persuasive.

      Happy new year, Emily!

  5. O - what I forgot to add: In December I started to have an Epsom Salt Foot Soak - every night while we watched a movie, or if I was sitting and reading. These are nice hot water soaks that my sweetheart puts together for me, and I just plop my feet in til it gets cool. Then I put socks on, and stay warm until bedtime. I'm now addicted to this because my poor cold feet are transformed. This will decidedly come with me into 2018!

  6. Hi Ardra, Happy New Year. This year I will go to Arya Vaidya Sala in Kottakal again, for two weeks of yoga, massage, bland vegetarian food, herbal medications and being cut off from Western civilisation. The four weeks I spent last April helped my comordities a lot although perhaps not my MS. There's really no way that anybody can tell whether my MS has worsened. Another patch on a MRI but it doesn't seem to affect me. This year I am starting training for my fifth career. And continuing training for improv at UCB.
    Hope that you travel a lot in 2018.

    1. Hi Joe,

      What I remember about your trip to Kottakal from last year, was you telling me how hot it was and how you busted out in the middle of the night for contraband sugar and fried foods. I'm looking forward to hearing about how you make out this year. Maybe pack some snacks.

      So happy to hear you're still doing improv. Laughter really is the best medicine. Except for antibiotics. And maybe insulin. Ooh, and morphine. No, wait. It's birth control. Birth control is the best medicine.