On January 19th, 2007 I had my very first MS (Multiple Sclerosis) attack. For those that are unfamiliar, MS is an autoimmune disease that attacks the brain and the spinal cord. Learn more about the medical specifics here.
As you can imagine, this was a major scare and complete shock. I mean, I didn’t even know what MS was. Was I going to die? Be paralyzed?? What was gonna happen? My mind was spinning. I went through so many emotions and those emotions stay with me to this day. It’s scary, it’s annoying, it’s unpredictable, it’s frustrating, it’s empowering, it’s humbling, it’s an ego blow, it’s no big deal, it’s a pain in my ass. I had to re-identify and it definitely wasn’t easy. First, I had to comprehend that I was sick, that the me that woke up yesterday wasn’t the same me that woke up today.
Let’s back it up just a little bit more:
I was born in 1982 to a big beautiful Greek family. At about 4 or 5, I took my very first gymnastics class. I was hooked. I am forever grateful for gymnastics teaching me dedication and commitment–learning very young in life that hard work pays off and that I was the only one in control of my success. This was the time period I learned to trust my body, my mind, and my resilience.
Flash forward to 2000, where I ended up at Long Beach State. Through my college experience, I became curious about my body’s (both mental and physical) capabilities. I attempted and completed my first marathon, ran several halfs, completed the Mt. Wilson Trail race (that was one of my biggest accomplishments), earned a masters in business, attempted my first business venture – failed, picked myself up and tried again. This is also the time I credit to changing my eating habits, becoming ultimately self-aware, being humbled through sickness and struggle, and building myself back up.
Back to 2007, when I had my first MS attack. As you’d imagine, the first year was pretty bad. I was really sick for about 3 months, just praying the steroids would help. About 6 months in, I started with the medication, Avonex, which I would take weekly, via intramuscular injection, for the next 8 years. The first time was probably one of the worst experiences of my life. I still cannot find the words to express how painful this time was (both emotionally and physically). It felt like my body was rejecting me, going from constant chills to my skin burning and aching. It took about 3 years for my body to assimilate to a more tolerable level. The symptoms became more mild, like having a fever of about 99 every week. It was exhausting. But I had to do to endure it, so I did.
The next attach hit a year later–and it hit hard. It was right before Thanksgiving. I woke up with what I thought was bad vertigo or the stomach flu. As it turned out, it was my second major attack. It took me about 3 months to fully recovery–walk, drive, everything. It took me a good 5 years to actually be OK. It’s funny, I can remember the specific moment–it felt like I had woken up from a dream, with one of those “ah ha” moments. An epiphany, I guess? Since then, those moments keep occurring and I attribute it all to my path of self-growth via my journey with MS.
It was really hard to find the balance in this new way of life. I struggled a lot. But with the help of my family and friends, health professionals, and my nutritionist Stella, I was able to make it out OK. It was constant lessons of how I needed to take care of myself. In 2011 I was blessed with finding an incredible Dr in Santa Monica. Thanks to him (and many more), I’ve been doing great the last 4 years and have actually received an “A+” in self-care and prognosis.
This year, I finally chose to try a different form of medication. A pill. I didn’t realize the impact this change would have on me until I made it home from the Dr.’s office and took a moment to be still and process. That’s when it hit me. Like a ton of bricks and I just started crying. The relief I felt was indescribable, the amount of emotion that I had surrounded that damn shot was crazy! I had no idea. A flood of feelings came over me like a tidal wave and I was finally free now to let them go – feelings that I had suppressed because letting them out would have been too hard. It was intense to say the least. Thank GOD for research and smart Dr.’s. I am a FIRM believer of EAST + WEST when it comes to medicine, health and wellness.
The other major obstacle was shifting the way I spoke to myself. The language I was using was harsh, it was guarded, and was immature, scared, and defensive. I was always in a hurry and quick to make decisions. I hated discomfort and the in-between “grey” area. I always felt like I could do more, that I wasn’t doing enough. This lead to very extreme highs and lows that most people never saw. I harboured most of my feelings most of the time, exposing them to few. Over the years, with lots of therapy, yoga, and meditation, I have learned to be more patient, kind, compassionate, and curious. I attach to less to those things I can not control and worry about me. I work on myself. I move more slowly, or try to at least, I sit in stillness when I can, I always take deep breaths. It’s a constant practice though, I have to think about it all the time, but eventually, this too will become a way of life for me.
Today, I live in Newport Beach, California Living near the ocean brings me peace and offers a sense of calmness to my life that I desperately seek. Yoga has changed my life. It’s seriously the best. It’s made me a better person and the best part of all, is that it never ends – it’s a constant practice – a practice where learning is the very center. I crave self-growth and this practice fulfills this constant need for more, but in a healthy way. Not to mention, it helps me keep my body strong and mobile in a safe and supportive way. It’s awesome and that’s why I decided to become an instructor. To spread the love of yoga and also, to keep me involved. Just like my nutrition, the practice had to become a way of life, an everyday thing. And that’s not to say I actually do physical practice daily, yoga has many parts.
My diet is pretty clean, I must say, but it’s by no means perfect. I like to approach the food I eat like this- It’s got to work for you, based on your needs, in a way that can be consistently maintained. I’ve never considered what I do a “diet”. It’s just the way that I eat. I do it because I want to, because it makes me feel good. I love cooking my own meals, entertaining, and socializing over a great meal. And it’s not just about the food. It’s the experience. If you focus only on the food then that’s when you get in trouble, when you fall out of balance. You don’t want to feel any unnecessary stress around food. It should be an enjoyable experience. Find the balance in “cheating”, for lack of a better term. I actually hate that term, but oh well. Choose to indulge and be OK with it. I’ve noticed that when I consciously choose to go to an event and enjoy the experience rather than focus on my “diet”, I end up having a great time, I enjoy some delicious food, whatever that might be, and I pick back up where I started at the next meal. The ease on pressure in the first instance makes it easier to pick back up in the second. It holds less weight as I’ve put little energy into it. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. That’s setting you up for failure. Additionally, aside from emotional ease, this also allows you to really understand your individual dietary needs. Think about it, if you never “cheat” a little, how would you know what actually bothers you? Plus, the body and digestive tract are constantly changing therefore resulting in different dietary needs over time. Here is yet another reason why I don’t reference any specific diet, I just eat what I feel my body needs at the time. I pay attention to my cravings. I notice how certain foods make me feel, and based on all of the above information, I choose what I’ll eat each day. I try to fill myself up with super nutrient dense foods, but I also like to have a bagel and cream cheese here and there– and sometimes they aren’t organic. It’s all good. Just pick yourself back up in a timely fashion, free of guilt and negative self-talk, and move forward. However, if eating a bagel sends you over the ledge, it’s probably not worth it. Wait until you’ve learned the power of balance and moderation which only happens with time. Finding balance that works for your body takes time, but it’s totally worth finding. Everyone is different when it comes to gluten, dairy, and things like that. Focus first on quality. I try to utilize local farmers, organic and natural food stores, and meats free of hormones and crap, fed proper diets with healthy/active lives. Meaning pasture raised, free ranged, treated humanely.
When I enrolled in the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, I had no expectations aside from learning more. Gaining a deeper knowledge of health and wellness and the relationship it has to food. As it turns out, I now am passionate about my career as a Holistic Health Coach. I’ve always wanted to own my own business as well as make a difference; I just could never figure it out exactly. I came close a few times, but in the end, my heart wasn’t in it. As the program proceeded, I became more and more drawn to this idea. And so it became – ESO live well – my current private practice in Holistic Health Coaching, yoga and personal training. I absolutely love what I do and am thankful each day for being given the opportunity to share it with all of you.
It’s crazy what happens when you follow your gut, trust in your dreams, and do what is actually best for you, in your own time, in your space, in a way that best suits you. That’s when the magic happens. When you build the life that you want, that works for you, that fills you up with love, health, and of course, happiness.
xo – vas