Saturday, April 3, 2010

Feeling attractive when you have MS

One of the most common complaints that I have heard from fellow MSers is “It is hard to feel pretty when you are having an attack”. And this is very true. Balance issues deny you the ability to wear those sexy high heeled shoes. The creepy crawly skin feeling makes wearing clothing unbearable and you can forget about the frilly lacy lingerie. You stumble around like you are drunk, for many of us, we are dependant on wheel chairs and walkers. The bruises that accompany the injections and the blown veins from the IVs don’t help us to feel anywhere close to “pretty”. A lot of days, spending time on hair and makeup robs us of the energy we need to complete other tasks, like getting dressed. The lack of sleep has left dark circles under our eyes, and the fatigue makes us want to crawl into a ball and sleep for days. MS tends to rob you of that sexual image you once portrayed.

When I brought up this issue with my neurologist she gave me an invaluable piece of advice: Ignore messages and stereotypes about beauty from television, magazines and other media sources and embrace your body for what it can do. My best advice is to try to take a day off for yourself whenever you can. There are going to be days, weeks, sometimes months when this is impossible. For me, I pick a day when my daughter is at her dad’s and my significant other is distracted with some other task (work, school, yard work) and I have the day for myself.

As much as I would love to spend the day at the spa, it is one of those luxuries that I simply cannot justify. Plus, for me I enjoy doing these things at home more than in the care of strangers, and if I want to take a nap, no one can stop me. I start by turning off my cell phone, stepping away form the computer and locking myself in my bathroom.

Start with a bubble bath. Amazingly simple, isn’t it? You may notice that you can no longer enjoy the steamy hot baths that once were. But a warm bath, light some candles, put on some soft music and add your favorite ingredients. For myself, I make my own bath salts which I keep in stock in different scents in my bathroom for this very occasion. Glass jar, 2 cups Epsom or sea salt, 4-5 drops of your favorite essential oil (I like lavender or sandalwood, sometimes I mix sage and citrus), and ½ cup dry milk powder. Mix it all together just as much or as little as you like, I also add a drop or two of food coloring which changes the color of your water and does not stain your tub! The result: Your skin feels great, you smell great and you are ready for the rest of the day…or a nap, but this is your day so do what makes you happy.

Next I like to move on to a pedicure. It is amazing how much prettier I feel with a new coat of polish on my toes. And I enjoy the shockingly bright colors on my toes for some reason, it lifts my spirits.

You see where I am going with this. No one feels pretty when they are stressed out. You need to take one day where you can put all of your problems into a box and leave it there for just that day. The problems are not going to go away, so put them all off for another day. This is easier said than done and it is going to take some practice. It is not selfish, you are not robbing anyone else of their needs, and I promise you the world will not cease to exist because you took a few hours off for yourself. Yoga, Tai Chi, Meditation, prayer, exercise, sex, focus on things that take your mind elsewhere, even if it is just zoning out in front of the television.

As far as the clothing and shoes, there are some days when we just have to admit it just isn’t going to work. But that should not stop you from feeling good about yourself. Those sexy high heel shoes you have sitting in the box or on the shelf that you no longer have the balance to wear? Put them on while you are laying in your bed. Maybe instead of that tight lacy lingerie you would be more comfortable in a silk robe. If clothing and lingerie are too cumbersome, I recommend having fun with body paints. They come in a vast range of colors or flavors. This is a joy you can share with your partner. Let them paint your body, or write silly messages on yourself for them to read. Have fun with it. There is a lot more intimacy in a relationship than just sex.

If you have the energy, put on your makeup, style your hair, shave your legs… all of those things you used to do when you had the luxury of doing them. The one thing you need to remember is not to over do it. Your day should not leave you exhausted and cranky. Some days you have to feel pretty from the comfort of your bed, other days you can climb mountains. Exercise when you can. This doesn’t mean you have to run a marathon, but even if you are physically disabled there are things you can do for yourself to get moving.

The one piece of advice I can offer to the significant others: Make your partner feel pretty, show them you appreciate them, kiss them like you mean it (even when they are still in their PJ’s at 4 in the afternoon, and they just don’t feel pretty). Do things together that you both enjoy even outside of the bedroom. And accept that sometimes, our bodies just won’t do what we want them to, and it is frustrating. There will be days when there is numbness, or performance issues. As I said earlier, intimacy comes in many forms, not just sex.

Take time to get to know your body. Learn what your likes and dislikes are, learn what is comfortable to you. For a vast majority of MSers, sensory changes are ever occurring; things that used to feel good may now be painful. Numbness changes everything. Your body may be changing everyday, and you need to pay attention to it. Don’t try to force yourself beyond your abilities, but instead rejoice in those abilities. When you learn to relax and let go of those stereotypes and embrace your own abilities, you will discover a whole new level of feeling attractive.