Tag Archives: exercise

Fall

There are so many things that suck about MS, but the longer you live with it, the more they just become a part of your “normal”.  I could list them but I honestly don’t really think about them all that often because I’m just used to living life with MS.

This week I was reminded of something very important that I tend to forget simply because, well… I have MS. Also I can do so many things but when I don’t think about small, menial things while I am doing them, I am inevitably made aware in sometimes painful yet always embarrassing ways.

Here’s what I mean. During the course of a typical work week, I take four yoga classes, I have two private sessions with my trainer, I volunteer one shift at Marty’s Place Senior Dog Sanctuary, and I get acupuncture and chiropractic care. And that’s just a normal week with no doctor’s appointments or other essentials like hair color, reiki, etc. I’m pretty active… and I would even venture to say that I’m fairly fit. As a former teacher, schedules are a necessity for me, and this one keeps me busy, builds my strength and centers me, and feeds my soul.

One thing I might mention is that most of my limbs are neuropathic, which means I can’t feel them. So if I’m not looking at my feet, I don’t really know where they are, except by habit. So when I’m working out or doing yoga I am completely focused on what I’m doing because I have to be.

One would think that with all the things I am able to do in the gym or on the mat, simply walking would be a piece of cake. Not so much. This week, I ran a very rare errand which required me to go into an actual store. It happens so infrequently, and I only do it when I am feeling up to it and at times I know the store won’t be crowded.

As dog owners, we burn candles every single day because we are paranoid that our house might smell like dog if anyone comes over. Also, I’m a bit of a snob and I only use the Yankee Candle jars because they somehow seem the safest to me. So every few months I go to the outlet and stock up on our usual fragrances. I “run” (but not literally) in and out within 10 minutes and I’m done. This week I bought three full crates of candles and the woman working there said if I pulled my car up to the curb, they would bring the crates out to my car for me. Excellent!

So I headed for my car thinking how efficient I was, and before I knew it, I was on the ground. Serves me right for getting ahead of myself! I couldn’t even tell you how it happened. I can tell you that I fell fast and hard. I can tell you that there was a really nice woman who saw it happen and asked if I was ok. I got up quickly, made a mental note that nothing seemed broken or dislocated, and feeling more embarrassed than I can even begin to describe, I told her I was fine, that I have MS and that I fall all the time. She asked if I was sure I was ok and told me I took it like a champ. I think that’s an observation of how hard I fell plus a compliment that I popped up so quickly. It was really out of sheer embarrassment. If I was at home (where I normally fall) I might have hung out on the ground for a bit longer.

I finally got to my car, brought it to the curb, and the 2 ladies from the candle store started asking me if I was ok etc., etc., probably more concerned about a law suit than anything else, but still. They were sweet. As I answered that I was fine, that I have MS, and that I always fall, I was half a step shy (because I wasn’t looking at my feet) and almost… ALMOST went down again. Thank the universe that I managed to keep myself upright, with a huge stumble, but upright all the same.

Most people looking at me would never guess that I have issues such as neuropathy because my body has learned (somewhat) how to compensate when it can. When we are going to places that generate crowds, or where I want people to be aware of my weakness (such as NYC) I use a cane as a visible statement to others. But on a normal day, I don’t use a cane, and certainly not when I have just had a private session with my trainer! My first instinct when I fall (even at home) is always to jump up and look around to see if anyone saw. I know I shouldn’t be embarrassed but old habits die hard, and in the world I grew up in, when anyone fell, it was followed by pointing and laughter, and often never-ending teasing. People always tend to be more sensitive if they see a cane or a walker, but I had neither. I’m so glad that there are some nice people out there, like the lady who said I took it like a champ, who didn’t make me feel embarrassed (I did that all on my own), but rather I felt that she was truly concerned.

Most people who don’t know me, might never even realize that I have MS. Hell, there are days that I don’t even think about the fact that I have it. But I do. Having MS means that I fall more often than your average person… and I have been that way since before I was even diagnosed. I remember the first time my husband witnessed me falling down the stairs, he came running to the bottom of the steps where he found me laughing. I have to laugh at myself because what I really need to do is take my sister’s advice. She tells me that I have to be careful when I am not standing on my head (see below).

2018

As we approach the end of this first month of 2018, I am marveling (still) at what a difference one measly year can make. It seems like such a short amount of time, yet for me, this last year was one for the record books and even though I never wish days away, in the back of my mind it just couldn’t end soon enough.

So here we are in 2018, and my word for this year (more than any other) is gratitude. I can’t say it enough. Every single one of us, regardless of our situation, has the ability to find gratitude in our every day lives. I did it at my lowest points in 2017, and I am already doing it at my highest points in 2018.

I’m starting this year strong and healthy (relatively speaking, of course). Check-ups with my oncology team in the last few weeks have shown that I’m doing great. Plus a change in my MS treatment made me realize that I wasn’t really feeling my best on my last treatment but now I am feeling so much better than any time I can even remember. I have been able to keep social commitments (that I have shied away from in the past), and that alone makes me feel more like a human being and less like a patient.

I am forever indebted to this woman who gave me back my confidence when an MS relapse took it away. Her training extends far beyond the gym and I consider her my family.

So obviously at the top of my gratitude list each and every day are three things: my scholarship at the yoga studio, my amazing personal trainer, and the best care partner in the whole wide world. These things are more connected than it seems on the surface. Here’s how it works: my trainer, Diane, has brought me so far in my journey to becoming (and staying) strong. She also instilled in me a love of yoga, which brought me to participate in a yoga challenge that ultimately earned me that scholarship. And now, to connect it all together, Bruce (my other half) has started his own journey with Diane. He is motivated to stay strong so that he can take care of me in the future, although I’m still not sure it won’t be the other way around. Either way, both of us are working for longevity so that we can spend as many healthy years together as humanly possible… plus there’s the little motivation of our wedding that WILL be happening 2020, so that helps, too!

The 12 days of yoga challenge.

What I love the most about this current situation is how much we support each other through this journey. I mean, Bru has always been incredibly supportive, but now that he’s trying to live according to my lifestyle more, there is simply no comparison. He gets why I do what I do, and why it’s so important for me to do the “homework” I am given while fueling my body appropriately. While my lifestyle in itself is empowering because I am fully in control of that single aspect of my life (which is full of uncertainty and question marks), with Bruce living it with me, I feel exponentially more empowered when we are both working towards the same goal.

Keeping each other motivated, knowing that each of us is committed to the other and our future together is beyond priceless. It seems like the older I get, the more quickly time goes, and when I am feeling well, I wish I could slow the time down just to be able to give Bruce time with the closest thing to “pre-MS Rennie” as possible. We have traveled a long way together, and now I know that we are en route to continue together, committed and strong. While we might not ever look like Mr. and Mrs. Olympia, I can assure you that we will always work our hardest to remain healthy and strong so that we can spend our life together however we choose. Just another item for my gratitude list…

Yoga

I know that I have written about yoga before, but my practice has evolved so much in the two short years that it has been a constant in my life. In that time, I have gone from “tolerating” it to loving every single thing about it. The beauty of yoga is that they call it a practice for a reason, and on good days, I astound myself, while on others I try to figure out why the heck I can’t do what I just did the day before. Then I remember that I have Multiple Sclerosis and there is literally a disconnect between my body and my brain. But I never regret my practice because it is so much more than physical for me.

Downward facing dog.

When I get on my mat, I am truly in my space. It’s my time for me to be genuinely present with myself without feeling any pressures from the outside world. I love removing myself from the real world while I connect with my body and feel what I can do when I give my body permission to open up. The mind body connection is so powerful and it puts me in a very meditative state. Now I didn’t always love yoga, but once I found the right instructor, as well as the right mindset, everything changed for me.

Upward facing dog.

In December, a local yoga club ran a “12 Days of Yoga” challenge on Instagram. I was skeptical because in the scope of the world of yoga, I’m an average yogi at best. I work harder than most because MS makes me do that, but I’m ok with that. I don’t compare myself to anyone except me so I am happy with my progress. A friend of mine, who is a teacher that I used to work with, and has since become a yoga instructor (shout out Jess!) tagged me and told me that I should definitely participate in the challenge. I got all frustrated with the logistics: post a flyer indicating your participation, tagging the sponsors, etc., and I found it overwhelming. Then my beautiful friend, in true teacher fashion, messaged me and broke down exactly what to do… for those out there who know teaching terminology, this was true differentiated instruction for this girl (me), who really needed it.

Chaturanga. And Scarlet!

The challenge included a pre-set list of poses, and each day I was to post a picture of myself, with any variations or modifications necessary, and tag all the sponsors of the contest. I do yoga every day anyway, and thought it would be a great way to keep me on my mat and also give me the opportunity to win prizes. Truth be told, I never win anything, so that wasn’t really a motivation for me. I just wanted to prove that an MS patient need not be limited to chair yoga.

Crane (or crow) is a very difficult pose that I have been working on for a while. My modification here is one foot on the wall to help the balance.

I must have made my point because (amazingly) I won a beautiful new yoga mat… more specifically, an amazing Lululemon yoga mat. I was beyond grateful, and also incredibly surprised. The mat is so nice, and like I said, I generally never win anything, especially something so perfect for me and my lifestyle. As if that was not enough, I found out a few days later, that the yoga studio that sponsored the challenge has a foundation, and that they are giving me a year membership to the studio, paid for by the foundation. I was almost moved to tears. Yoga studios are expensive, and rightly so because of the personal attention that is given. It’s something I couldn’t afford without making major sacrifices financially. I have been known to do drop in yoga classes at random studios for $15 or $20 a session, but an actual membership is not something I ever imagined I could have. I couldn’t be more appreciative.

On the day that I picked up my brand new Lululemon mat.

I didn’t love yoga from day one, but once I found the right instructor, I got hooked, but I never thought it would change me so much. I am more in tuned with my body, and I’m aware of what it needs when I get on the mat. I am able to transcend anything that is happening in my life when I am focusing on my practice. I have learned to keep the positive energy flowing through my body, and to look at others with more compassion as a result. Most importantly, I have learned to challenge myself, without fear of failure. Yoga is a practice, and challenging myself in my practice only helps, even if I can’t do everything perfectly all the time. Like MS, every day is different on my mat, and that’s ok. If I never challenged myself, I might never have grown to love all the different aspects of yoga the way I do.

This one was a modification because I was supposed to do a handstand, but my recently dislocated finger was not ready to bear my weight that way yet.

This is all a metaphor for life itself, really. We never know what we are capable of (or consequently the rewards that await us) if we don’t challenge ourselves to do the thing(s) that feel(s) intimidating. There have been many challenges in my life, and the only ones I regret are the ones I didn’t accept. This yoga challenge was something I knew I could do, even if I had to modify a pose or two in order to participate, and I’m so glad I did. More than anything else I know that taking on a challenge is nothing to shy away from. In the worse case scenario, you learn a lesson to help you succeed at the next try, and that’s as valuable as anything. The next time you are faced with something you want to try but you are afraid, I dare you to try. You just might surprise yourself! Namaste.

For the plank day, I added some variations to challenge myself. See that? I challenged myself within the challenge. It’s how I roll.

Thankful

Having just celebrated Thanksgiving, I am feeling a need to talk about gratitude. Most people don’t think enough about how many blessings they have in their lives because they focus too much on the daily humdrum of life. It is much easier to focus on negativity when it sometimes does take more effort to open your eyes to all the beautiful things that are right in front of you. I live my life, acknowledging my gratitude twice daily: morning and night (through journaling), making a conscious decision to do so. In honor of this month of gratitude, here are 30 (thirty!) things for which I am grateful, and believe me, I could list about a gazillion more than what’s here:

(Aside from the first one, listed in no particular order!)

1. Bruce: my other half, my partner in crime, my best friend, my husband, my fiancée. He never wavers, and he has taught me how to love purely, and with all that I have. No matter what obstacles life throws our way, we conquer them together.

2. A roof over my head, food in my fridge, and love in my heart. These all go together because we had to live in a hotel for 5 months while our home was being built, and I can never take for granted how it feels to be home. We spent plenty of our younger “hungry years” food shopping at my mother-in-law’s pantry, and now we have a well-stocked fridge and pantry, and even when we neglect the food shopping, there is still always enough to make a simple meal. And love because no matter where Bruce and I live, there is always love in my heart.

3. Autumn in NJ. There is nothing more beautiful than the palette of oranges, reds, and golds that naturally decorate our environment, even on years when they say it’s a bad season for foliage. Sometimes I wish I could pull my car over even in the worst of places because the view is that beautiful. The fall also reminds me that I survived another summer and that the coziness of winter is imminent.

4. Every single day when I can put my two feet on the floor and walk unassisted. I work hard to stay strong, and after 14 (+) years with MS, this is something that I am truly grateful for. (Don’t ask me about going up and down steps though!)

5. Yoga. It has taught me to connect my mind, body, and spirit. As much as my lack of balance can make things difficult, I like the challenge, and I never give up. Walk into my house almost any day of the week and you’ll see my mat, evidence that I am constantly practicing.

6. My family (steps and all!). They are spread all over the east coast, but their support is felt from all corners.

7. I feel a special sense of gratitude for my sister, Lorri, and my brother-in-law, Ken. They have been by my side (literally) through all the ups and downs. My sister was there with me the day I found out I had cancer, and both of them were there the day I celebrated the end of my cancer treatment and they witnessed me ringing the gong.

8. My Rankin family. For almost 23 years they have loved and supported me without question. And because I am a Rankin I have been blessed with a little sister and a nephew, both of whom I absolutely adore.

9. My MS family. This motley crew of crazies is essential to my mental health. Although support from family and friends is great, nothing replaces this group who can truly understand the challenges that I face every single day.

10. Living in this day and age where there are treatment options for MS patients to help slow down illness progression, giving us all a better quality of life. While I don’t think I’ll see a cure in my lifetime, as long as they continue to find more treatments for us, my gratitude is infinite.

11. My fur babies, past and present. Rescuing these poor pups that never would have been adopted otherwise has added so much joy to my life, and although it’s heart-breaking to lose them, the happiness they bring on a daily basis is worth it.

12. Diane, my trainer. In addition to working me out, she has become a trusted friend, who I consider family. She plays many roles for me: cheerleader, therapist, trainer, sister, and friend. She has helped me change both my body and my mind, and for that alone I am eternally grateful. She knows what I need when I need it, and words can’t describe how important she is to me.

13. My volunteer job at Marty’s Place Senior Dog Sanctuary. The “residents” are so loving, and I have met so many other like-minded individuals in both the many other volunteers I have met there as well as in the very skeleton crew of paid employees. They never waste an opportunity to thank the volunteers and to let us know how important we are in the daily upkeep of this extremely special place.

14. Having taken my cancer diagnosis and used it to build more inner strength.  Today I can look back at the beginning of my journey (starting just about one year ago), knowing that I faced it head on, with a smile on my face…and kicked ass.

15. Being proactive in my medical care, knowing how to use the tools at my disposal and sift out the fluff to understand the meat. I’m not afraid to advocate for myself, and I can do it without getting angry.

16. Having learned to listen to my body, and to understand what it needs and when it needs it. I know when I am over-tired and need rest, and I know when I can push through. I know when I have a gut feeling, I need to listen to it, and I’m grateful that I have learned this lesson.

17. My former students, near and far, who continue to play such an important role in my life. They help me to see the good in others as I watch them blossom as adults, doing amazing things. They make me happy just thinking about how far they have come, and they fill my heart up with endless amounts of pride.

18. Meditation, specifically Transcendental Meditation (TM). Through the process of learning TM, I am generally a more self-aware, calmer version of the person I used to be. TM allows me to settle my mind and give myself those 20 precious minutes of clarity.

19. Air conditioning. It sounds trivial, but when you suffer from heat intolerance due to MS (and you lose your vision when overheated), it takes on new meaning… especially when you live in NJ where the summer months bring what feels like never-ending heat and oppressive humidity. Also, the curly girl in me appreciates the AC as well, but for completely different reasons!

20. On-line shopping. Being that crowds make me anxious (mostly because I can’t feel my feet which throws my balance off), being able to still do my holiday shopping on my own, without fear of walking into people (or things) and embarrassing myself, helps me maintain my independence.

21. Social media. How else could I have reconnected and stayed in contact with so many amazing people from so many different aspects of my life? (Pssst: if you don’t see me on Facebook, it simply means that things got too political for me and I took a little break, but you will always see me on Instagram!)

22. Photography. This little hobby of mine has given me friendships with some pretty spectacular people. I never knew I could feel such a strong connection with friends simply because of a shared passion!

23. My forever friend, MHP, for always ALWAYS loving me. We don’t live ten minutes from each other like when we were younger, but it doesn’t matter. She is forever in my heart and no matter how long we go in between visits, it’s always like no time has passed at all.

24. My “brother from another mother”, BH, for coming back into my life at a time when we both needed a specific kind of friend to suit a specific purpose. He has seen me through so much and I am so thankful for his kindness and support. Not a day goes by without a text or a phone call, which in itself is hugely comforting to know that he has my back always.

25. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and On-Demand. Being able to watch anything we want so quickly, without having to go out to the movies is the best. Aside from the germaphobe in me who gets grossed out by sitting in chairs that who knows what kind of person sat in last, the MS patient in me appreciates not having to choose the right moment to go to the bathroom without fear of tripping in the dark. At home I can press “pause” as many times as I need to!

26. Having chosen a profession and worked long enough to earn disability retirement so that I could collect my pension early, allowing me to take care of myself and my illness, and still contribute to the household bills.

27. The families of former students who have brought me into the loving fold of their own families because of the relationships we established so many years ago. It’s hugely validating to me, not just as a former teacher, but also as a human being. All I did was love their kids and help them to succeed, but that’s all I had to do, apparently. I’m so thankful to feel so loved.

28. Coffee. And certain medications. When chronic fatigue rules your life, you must give thanks for anything that helps you push through the day, whether prescribed by a doctor or otherwise.

29. Texting. Sometimes I just don’t have it in me to have a full conversation over the phone, and texting allows me to check in with (or be checked in on by) friends and family, with less effort expended. It’s not that I don’t want to talk to loved ones, but sometimes, I simply do not have enough energy.

30. I am grateful for this life I’m living. It’s not perfect, nor is it what I envisioned for me and Bru, but it’s the only life I have been given. Despite the obvious, our life is perfectly imperfect, and overcoming so much together only makes it that much sweeter.

So there you have it. With very little thought, I have listed a whole month’s worth of people and/or things for which I am eternally grateful. I’m not saying that you need to physically acknowledge your gratitude twice daily like I do, but I am saying that if you start and end your day with gratitude, there’s no way that you will be able to fixate on any negativity that arises during the day. We all deal with stress in our lives, and I have found the best way to counteract stress and negativity is by focusing on gratitude. I dare you to try it. You’ll be amazed at how differently you view your world. So tell me… What are you thankful for?

PS. I took a little tumble and dislocated my finger the night before posting this blog, so I am adding the fact that I’m grateful that my finger isn’t broken, and should heal up much more quickly than if it were broken. I’m also grateful that I didn’t dislocate a body part more important than a pointer finger.

Depression

Sometimes in life, we find ourselves in a place we are not accustomed to. I’m not talking about a physical space, but rather the space which occupies our minds. For this glass-half-full girl, it is very difficult when my mind wanders off the usual sunny path I follow.

Sometimes the inside just doesn’t match the outside.

People with chronic illnesses are definitely more subject to suffering from depression than your average, healthy person, and many of us do take antidepressants to help us manage the weight of it all. But even with medications, there are times when depression can overtake us, and that’s ok. One of my MS sisters told me she “doesn’t live there but she visits on occasion.”  I love this analogy because it makes me feel like it’s ok, especially because I so strongly believe that as human beings, we need to experience the whole range of emotions in order to appreciate everything in our world.

For me, my frustration has been building since I broke my toes. I never thought that two little toes could affect my entire body the way they have. But it’s true. Those two toes have affected my balance and stability, as well as the alignment of my entire body. I am beyond grateful for my trainer and her patience that tempers my disappointment even though she can’t make me heal any more quickly than I am. I am desperate to get back to working out like an athlete, not an MS patient. Anyone who has ever been an athlete can surely relate to this, the feeling of losing despite the hard work being put forth.

My ankle is wrapped in kinesiology tape in hopes that my stability will improve.

This little setback came right on the heels of breast cancer. It seems like I didn’t deal with the emotions of a cancer diagnosis because I just put myself on autopilot to do what I needed to do, the way I always do… with a smile on my face. Now I have completed treatment,  but opted out of the prescribed protocol of endocrine therapy in favor of handling the continued treatment with a naturopathic oncologist. But I feel like I’m hanging in limbo, waiting for someone to either tell me that I am cancer free or that I have a recurrence of cancer. Plus, while I felt loved and supported through my entire cancer journey, now that it’s “over” (for the others in my life, but will never be for me), life goes on for everyone else while I feel like I am waiting for the other shoe to drop. And meanwhile, breast cancer precluded me from going on a new Disease Modifying Therapy for MS which I have had my eye on for years as it progressed through clinical trials all the way to approval. This was a huge blow and as I see more patients that are lucky enough to take it, I get more bummed out.

Then there are the relationships that have changed, for reasons I don’t understand but I am working hard to accept. I generally find comfort in my MS sisters but it seems we are all in a bit of a funk and dealing with our own issues so it has been way too long since we have been able to spend any quality time together. All of these things together have been adding to the weight I’m carrying that is diametrically opposed to who I am. I mean I cried for six hours the other day, which is so NOT me, especially considering that I often can’t cry even when I want to, thanks to the antidepressants that usually help maintain my emotional stability!

This little girl knew I was upset and she sat on top of me as I cried.

I recognize this place, as I (like my MS sister) do visit occasionally. While I am here, I take note of all of my feelings: the good, the bad, and the ugly, so that I can further appreciate all of the amazing things that I am blessed with when I leave. And I always leave, knowing full well that it’s ok to come back to visit, but it just isn’t where I live.

Gratitude

This week, my MS sisters and I were honored to participate in a video project intended to be shown at a very prestigious annual fundraiser for the MS Center where we are patients. Then to add to my excitement, I was asked to give a speech to the crowd, right after Daniel Rodriguez, the singing police officer who performed the national anthem on almost every major event here in the tri-state area in the wake of 9/11. The whole campus of the hospital is transformed into an elegant venue, as it becomes “an evening in the vineyard”, the biggest fundraiser of the year for our MS Center. Tickets are not cheap, so just being there is an honor in itself.

His voice blew me away!

For me, I am in my element when I am in front of an audience, using my skills honed through years of teaching, educating others. I love being able to share my personal struggles with others so that they can see that everyone struggles in so many different ways. I like seeing light bulbs go on in people’s minds as they make connections that they wouldn’t have made without having me standing in front of them as a visual. I like being able to speak on behalf of so many, especially when the audience is receptive (something I didn’t experience very often as a teacher!).

I’m very comfortable at the podium.

Remembering how despondent I was when I tearfully resigned my teaching position, makes me extra happy to be able to speak at events like this one. I have often been told that I’ll always be a teacher, except now the world is my classroom and my students are not held to the confines of a high school setting.

On the video screen at the entrance to the event.

Throughout the night, I had perfect strangers coming up to me and thanking me for talking to them, and telling me how inspired they were. They were the ones opening up their wallets to support the cause, yet they were quick to tell me how much they enjoyed listening to what I had to say. And all I could do was thank them right back, not only for their compliments but also for their generosity. I witnessed the kindness of strangers in the form of more handshakes and hugs than I could even begin to count. It’s nights like that when I am reminded of how positivity is contagious, and I love that. There was no pity or sadness, but rather celebration of good people doing good things for a community that desperately needs it. My heart literally could have burst out of my chest with gratitude.

My sisters.

As for me, I enjoyed a beautiful night filled with good food, good wine (and beer), and amazingly generous people. Plus I spent it with my MS sisters and my partner in crime, who rearranged his work schedule to be my date. At one point during the evening, I looked around just to take it all in so that I could lock it away in my memory for safe-keeping. At the end of the night I should have been exhausted but instead I found myself invigorated. I’m pretty sure that’s what people mean when they talk about being “high on life”.

All four one. Taken from our video.

With all that I have been through in 2017 with my breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment, this night was exactly what I needed to kick-start a happier, healthier ending to what might have been the most difficult year I have ever had. No medication or treatment plan could have left me feeling better than I did when I left this event. I am so glad that I stopped to really feel the love because the memory will sustain me for longer than you could even imagine.

Just a sampling of the goodies. (photo credit: Carla)

(Also, sending a big shout out to my former student who served me some awesome craft beers. Thanks, John!)

Transformation

It’s that time of year again… the summer is drawing to a close, with everyone taking their last trips down the shore, enjoying the joys that summer always brings, while preparing excitedly for a brand new school year.

At this time every year, I like to reflect upon how insanely different my life (and my attitude) is since MS made the decision for me to retire on disability in May, 2014, after already being on sick leave for all but the first four weeks of the school year.

Back then, I couldn’t imagine my life without the career that had defined me in so many ways, and that I was so passionate about. I considered myself beyond lucky to have a job that I loved, because so many people are not as fortunate. People often told me that I was one of the few people they knew who actually liked her job. And I did. Every damn second of it.

Now that I am a few years removed from the feeling of such a devastating loss for me, I have clarity that I didn’t have before, and gratitude for everything, including the painful, emotional, difficult situation that started me on this part of my journey. I never dreamed that I could ever be in this beautiful place that I currently find myself in, happier than ever, which I could not have imagined when I was still working.

The other day, a Staples commercial came on TV advertising their usual 10 cent sale, and I was brought back to the days when I used to have lists of which retail establishment had things on sale that I needed for my classroom so that I could stock up for the year. I used to get so excited about these things, and now it hardly even phases me. I love that because it shows how much I have grown during the last couple of years.

I’m not saying that I got here without my share of growing pains, but I am saying that I understand it’s all a part of the process. Once I opened myself up to the possibilities of creating a new life, it changed my perception of everything I knew.

What I know now is that regardless of how much I loved my students (and still do!), my own family always needs to come first. I often lost sight of that as a teacher, but I don’t regret it because now I have all of these amazing young adults who make up such a big part of my life, and I love that. I love watching them venture out on their own, doing the adult thing, and spreading their wings to soar.

I also know that taking care of myself is vitally important. When I was working, I overlooked my own wellness in favor of my job and my students. Again, I don’t regret it because of the amount of love and gratitude they gave back to me (and still do), but I know that I am of no good use to anyone if I am not staying on top of my own health and wellness. This includes all the things I have incorporated into my post-teacher life: meditation, yoga, hardcore exercise, acupuncture, reiki, and healthy eating, all of which force me to put myself above all others so that I can stay strong for the long haul.

I remember the days when the weekends meant nothing more than time to grade, write lesson plans, and create dynamic presentations for my classes, leaving no time to actually enjoy spending time being fully present with my loved ones. Once again, I have no regrets about how I lived my career because it’s what the kids deserved and I don’t know how to do it any other way.

But now… now life is better than I ever thought possible. My circle of friends has changed, but in a good way because I am surrounded by other people who take nothing for granted and never waste an opportunity to laugh and smile because we are grateful for the life we are living, regardless of whether we chose it or not. I am more in love with my husband than ever because we have been given this incredible gift of time together. Hell, we even booked a vacation in September, something we have never, EVER done before. Some small part of me still feels like a rebel for doing it, but no matter how much time passes, I guess old habits do, indeed, die hard. But lucky for me, I have worked very hard to help these old habits go by the wayside.

The transformation from Mrs. Rankin to Rennie has not been an easy one, but it is ongoing and I’m getting better at it all the time. I have been transforming my entire world: physically, mentally, and spiritually for the last few years, and my progress has been slow but steady, and that’s ok. I know that as human beings, one of our biggest challenges is having the ability to change according to our life circumstances, good or bad. I’m not going to lie and say that the process has been an easy one, or that I don’t have my moments of weakness, but it does get easier with time and with the determination to live my very best life possible. Rather than crying about the fact that I am not going back to work this week, I am happily wishing my former colleagues the very best of luck as they begin the new school year. Life is, after all, what we make of it, and I am making mine everything I want it to be. So who wants to join me in a glass half full of lemonade?

The sunrise over the Raritan River by Rutgers University, a very symbolic photo at a place that will always hold an extra special place in my heart.

Forever Friend

I have always been of the mindset that I don’t need oodles and oodles of friends. I just need a few loyal friends with whom I have a deep connection. Some have come and gone through the years, as life happens. And it isn’t the quantity of friends that I hold dear, but the quality. Through all the ups and downs of life, I am blessed to have a very special “forever friend”, a name she coined for us back in the 1990’s.

Us… circa 1993

Meg and I went to high school together, but that was just the beginning of our friendship. We also worked together and we spent most of our waking hours together. We spent many hours driving around in her car (usually), car dancing, smoking cigarettes, or just hanging out. Beverly Hills 90210 was a given that we would watch together, and some of my most vivid memories center around those times. Of course, we got into our fair share of trouble together, but we were young and we were not tethered to much more than each other.

With my beautiful “niece”, Peyton.

We connected on so many levels, not the least of which was our shared socioeconomic background and the roles that our parents played at various times through the years. It seemed that no matter what I was going through, she could relate due to her experiences, and vice versa. Sometimes there were little gaps of time when we were both too busy adulting that we didn’t see each other as often, but when we did, we always fell right back into sync like no time had passed at all.

We survived our hormonal teens together, our crazy college years, and even the brutal years of trying to start our lives as adults. We have been there for each other through multiple divorces (in our respective families) and the inevitable drama that ensued, our family homes being sold, moves out on our own, medical issues, and about a gazillion other things. No matter where I am in my life I know that I have my forever friend who has loved me longer and supported me harder than just about anyone else in my life.

Even though life happens and we live farther away from each other than I would like, we still try to get together as often as possible. I absolutely love the way we have grown together even while not living 10 minutes from each other like back in the day. For example, we are both very fitness minded, and Meg has recently become involved in Spartan races. I find it more than coincidental that competing in a Spartan Sprint has been a goal of mine for quite some time, as a way of acknowledging my 15th MS diagnosiversary next year. I discovered that there is a race on the exact day (June 2, 2018), and when I mentioned it to Meg, without hesitation she signed up right along with me. And even though she will have already completed the “trifecta” by then (a sprint, a super, and a beast all in the same year), she is still willing to dial it back as I compete in my first. What’s more, she said it will be her best race ever. I can’t think of a more perfect way to acknowledge this date than with my lifetime friend who knew me before MS, before spinal fusion surgery, and before breast cancer, and who has been by my side through it all.

Proof. We are doing it together.

Megan is loving and kind, thoughtful and compassionate, selfless and sweet. I could never ask the universe for more in a person who I have leaned on so heavily for the better part of the last 30 years. She can still read me like a book, without even seeing my face, and friendships like ours don’t come along very often. In fact many people live an entire lifetime and never get to experience what it’s like to have someone like Meg to call their forever friend.

I remember vividly a session with my therapist long ago, when I first stopped working and was feeling abandoned by so many people. She told me that day that people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. With Meg, there has never been a question as to where she fits for me, because she is the only person in my life who actually defies that saying. Megan came into my life for a reason, has endured the seasons with me, and will remain in my heart and soul for the rest of our lives.


(P.S. I know Meg is happy as can be right now because I have not included any incriminating photos and that we were young and free before the digital age!)

Bad Ass

This is definitely not a term I would use to describe myself. I mean I was the chubby kid who was bullied through elementary school and spent more time crying than laughing. My dad’s job moved us from rural New Hampshire to Bergen County, NJ (a very metropolitan area just outside of New York City) at this very crucial time of my childhood. I’m a lover, not a fighter, so I viewed the bullying as something I deserved, and cried over it in the privacy of my own bedroom. That chubby little kid never would have thought that people would look at her as a bad ass for simply living her life the only way she knows how.

Yet in the past few weeks, I have been called a bad ass on numerous occasions, which definitely makes me laugh. I mean I certainly don’t feel like a bad ass. I spend most of my time smiling, laughing, hugging, and laughing. Did I mention I spend a fair share of my time smiling and laughing? I’ve never even been in a fight where I actually threw a punch, though I certainly was pushed around plenty during those early days living in Northern NJ.

Me on the first day of school, slimmed down after a summer at camp.

I’m the rule girl. When I was working, I consistently enforced the rules in my classroom, and I’m afraid that the same attitude bled into my personal life as well. I am still bound to rules more than I’d like, but not working has made it easier for me to let certain rules slide. Still, in my eyes, that makes me boring, not bad ass. Not that I find this term negative… in fact I find it quite a compliment and also very empowering although I am not sure what qualifies me as bad ass.

I mean, I have dealt with Multiple Sclerosis quite openly for over 14 years now. I used my voice as a teacher to educate my students and colleagues, raising awareness (and money) for the cause, with my only motive being a sincere hope that the next generation can live in a world free of MS. I let them see the good, the bad, and the ugly, but I always approached it as my calling to show that overcoming adversity and rising to challenges in our paths simply make us stronger, more sympathetic, and more grateful individuals. Is that bad ass?

Here I am with my “core” MS Walkers (2010), who represented the over 450 members of our team.

I have accepted the brutal cycle that MS is… one step forward and two steps back. I have worked hard to keep my body moving, even through the times of limited mobility and function, because I am determined to stay strong. I have changed my life, my body, and how I look at exercise, fitness, and nutrition, because it takes on new meaning when it’s not about how you look, but rather it’s about how it makes you feel: strong and in control of the only things that you CAN control. Is that bad ass?

A few years ago, I endured a five hour spinal fusion and laminectomy surgery, not because I wanted to, but because I had to. This was not part what I had imagined my life would be, but I accepted it and embraced it as part of my journey because there was no choice. I worked hard to rehabilitate afterwards and get back to the place where I am most comfortable with my body. I kept moving rather than using it as an excuse to stay still because I needed to take control. Is that bad ass?

My spine and the hardware that holds it together, in all its glory!

The next obstacle in my path was a curve ball, to say the least: breast cancer. I approached it the same way I approach everything in my life. I did what I had to do, never questioning why it was happening to me. I did it with a smile on my face because of the love and support I felt in my heart. In the grand scheme of things, I knew it could have been worse, and it was a huge learning experience for me. I learned about myself and what I am capable of, as well as about the people I surround myself with. Some people live an entire lifetime without having the opportunity to see their own strength and capabilities, which is a true shame since most times we don’t know these things until we are tested to prove them. As difficult as it was, and will be for the next several years, I am grateful to have learned so much. Is that bad ass?

Post-op picture after my lumpectomy and lymph node biopsy: looking blue (literally) from the radioactive dye used to highlight the lymph nodes that were removed.

Finally, and most recently, a little tumble down a flight of stairs left me with some broken toes. Compared to all I have been through, this (although totally painful and extremely limiting to my mobility) is nothing. I laughed my way through the visit to the Urgent Care, the x-rays, the doctor’s attempt at humor (I’m not so young that I’m just growing bone overnight anymore and I must not have given enough in the collection basket that week, as this little accident happened on a Sunday), and even laughed at the silly, ugly boot which will be an extension of my body for another 4-6 weeks. It’s a small setback in the bigger picture of my life, and I just have to laugh at myself because I can do so many difficult things without consequence, but apparently walking down stairs is not one of them. Is that bad ass?

These are my toes after having been re-set by the orthopedist.

My conclusion is that “bad ass”, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. I never thought of myself as bad ass, I’m just living my best possible life. It’s funny that I would never label myself as a bad ass, but other people do. I’m fairly certain that the chubby girl who was so often bullied never would have thought that being pushed around by some assholes would seem so small in comparison to the real obstacles that I have had to face as an adult. And even though I don’t exactly see myself as a bad ass, I can guarantee that she sure would.

Yup. My shirt says “FC” and my socks say “bad ass”. If you don’t quite get the “FC” part, let’s just say that the “C” stands for cancer.

Tough Break

If I thought I was a hot mess before, with a fused spine, Multiple Sclerosis, breast cancer, and recent issues with my back, I had no idea it could/would get any worse. Especially since I’m a big believer in universal karma that gives us back what we put out there. I like to think I put my positivity out to the universe, and I do feel that I have always been taken care of as a result.

This week as I nurtured my back, icing it, stretching it, seeing my chiropractor and my acupuncturist, plus using my portable TENS machine at home, I started to finally feel like I was turning a corner. Then due to a 4 am wake-up call from my beloved Marty  and a subsequent fall down the stairs (which is not really unusual for me except I usually fall UP them) I ended up with two broken toes right at the joint where they meet the foot. I’m used to falling but usually I manage to do it without actually breaking any bones. I have had my share of scrapes, bumps, and bruises (mostly to my ego), but this is a new one for me. When I woke up a few hours later and discovered two of my toes pointing the wrong direction and bruising starting, I knew it couldn’t be good. But, it also could have been much worse.

6-8 weeks of this lovely shoe. Plus no yoga and only upper body workouts. This is a massive bummer for me. Particularly the no yoga part.

It’s true that for the next six-eight weeks, I will be very limited as far as physical activity goes: no yoga, only upper body exercises, and a lovely shoe that I must wear for the foreseeable future. Life with MS does this. I’m always working my butt off to take one step forward and then something silly (and often avoidable) happens, setting me back two steps. It’s an endless cycle.

The truth is that I am not invincible, contrary to how strong I feel at times. My MS family and I talk about this kind of thing a lot. We can do lots of difficult things because we are focused when we attempt them. But it’s the little things we do that we take for granted (like walking up or down stairs), and assume we can do them as easily as always, but that’s just not the case. Everything is harder when you have MS and even more so when you can’t feel your feet. Patience is easy to preach but hard to practice, specifically for someone like me, who likes to keep her body healthy and moving.

In a way, this fall happened for a reason. I tend to push myself too hard and seldom take time to rest. I often need reminders to slow down because when I’m feeling strong I just keep pushing. My body has been through a lot, and I have worked it hard even through cancer. I am 100% aware (now, if not before) that I need to give myself a break (no pun intended), not put so much pressure on myself, and be grateful for all the things that I can still do.

This is just another minor setback and I have no doubt that I will come back stronger than ever, both mentally and physically. A friend of mine shared this ancient Chinese Proverb with me, because he sensed I was feeling low: “Fall down seven times. Stand up eight.” It’s definitely the story of my life with MS, but I’m so glad he was quick to remind me. It’s what I do, and what all warriors do. As much as I may have wanted to throw my hands in the air and give up about a gazillion (or at least 40) times in the last 14 (+) years, I refuse. It’s not an option. I know I’ll rise, stronger, wiser, and hopefully with more self-love and patience when I get to the other side of this.

Plus, at age 45 I finally can say that I have broken not just one bone but two… at the same time!