Europe – #AtoZChallenge

Oh, my. Traveling to Europe for a six-month trip was impacted by having MS in a variety of amusing ways.

First off, I decided that the best way to enable myself to be active was to take along a cooling vest, since heat can really exacerbate the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis. The deal was, the vest looked puffy but was actually fitted with these long gel packs that you would freeze and then stuff into pockets that encircle your torso. It was so bulky and heavy that I had to wear it on the plane to save room in our bags, so I looked, basically, like a mild-mannered, middle-aged suicide bomber.

Modeling the cooling vest. Note the handy Velcro shoulder and side straps!

That was only the first thing that caused problems for airport security, though! The other was that I needed to bring six months’ worth of medication, so my entire carry-on bag was packed with drugs. Nothing to see here, security people!

Being gimpy and slow had two main consequences on the trip. First, David and Quinland would inevitably drift farther and farther ahead of me. Honestly, this didn’t bother me much, because I like to window shop and they don’t, so I’d have been falling behind anyway, and this was a good excuse. One time in Portugal, though, I tripped and fell while strolling down the street (very gracelessly, I should add; I just pitched over, face-first) and my family was just out of shouting range. Thankfully, I was immediately attended to by the wonderful local folks, whom I tried to assure, without actually knowing any Portuguese, that I was scraped up but otherwise fine.

The second thing was that — and this holds true today — if I over-exert myself on one day, I usually am laid up on the next. D and Q thus got to go on many adventures without me, though we tried to make those days either sites-I-was-less-interested-in or physical-activities-I-probably-couldn’t-do-anyway. It would have been fun to mountain bike in Istria or kayak in Norwegian fjords, but I can’t complain — I can still travel, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.

I’m also grateful that I got to visit massage therapists all over Europe, from the relaxing one in Lisbon to the near-chiropractic one in Barcelona to the health-club vibe of the one in Hannover. (After being introduced to hot yoga in London, I also got to explore yoga studios in Paris and Dublin!)

Fun with yoga

Disclaimer: Totally not me. But this is what I see when I look around in class.
Disclaimer: Totally not me. But this is what I see when I look around in class. Inspiring, yes; demoralizing… perhaps.

Over the past couple of months, I have rededicated myself to Bikram Yoga – the one with the 105-degree room and all the sweat – because it makes me feel wonderful.

Ultimately, that is. All along the way, however, it’s a different story. Its challenging and difficult and HOT.

The first challenge is mental. I don’t have to convince myself that I want to go; in fact, usually I spend my entire week saying, “I really need to go to yoga. I can’t wait to go to yoga. You know what I need? Yoga.” What I have to psych myself up for is the time commitment. A Bikram Yoga class is 90 minutes long from start to finish, not including the getting-into-your-skimpy clothing-and-staking-a-claim-to-your-space time nor the additional getting-all-that-sweat-off-and-packing-up time. That puts you at about two hours between the time you arrive at the studio and when you leave. To top it off, the two closest studios to me recently closed, so I get to drive 20-30 minutes each way to get to the one out in Beaverton. All of you with your Math Hats on can see that this is an easy three hours out of my day. I’m finding it easier to commit to that on Mondays and Fridays (now that I am off work on those days), but any more than that, no matter how good for my health, is not going to happen.

The second challenge is psychological. That skimpy clothing I mentioned is necessary because of the heat, but not something I usually put on… and having to stare at myself in the mirror dressed this way, while surrounded by the young and fit, is a bit demoralizing. Similarly humbling is my inability to do all the poses without wobbling, wavering, falling over, and otherwise drawing attention to myself. I am fully aware that I am – in the infamous words of my child – “diseased,” and that yoga is all about your own practice, your own goals, your own improvement, but I am apparently shallow enough to wish I looked a little better while I actually do it. And then there is the heat. Some days, like today, it is all I can do to just stay in the room for the entire time without feeling like I am going to be sick whenever I try to do a pose.

But right now, a couple of hours later, all of that nonsense has faded into the background. I am less stiff and sore than I have been all week. I’m glad that I have exercised, proud of myself for having put the three hours in, and relaxed and sleepy enough to go to bed early.

Good night!