Ice ice baby

Yes, you might think I’m weird but I LOVE the cold. My body feels pretty much “normal” in the cold and my mind is super sharp. Even more so after my first Wim Hof workshop where I learned the basic breathing and meditation exercises to relax and stay calm during the cold exposure aka ice bath.

Let it go, let it goooo…yes, I truly felt like Elsa and couldn’t stop smiling in that bath 🙂

There’re so many benefits associated with cold exposure, it decreases inflammation, enhances nervous system health, strengthens your immune and cardio vascular system, makes you sleep better and can help you drop a few pounds, just to name a few. Not too bad for a bit of cold exposure each day, is it? It sounds crazy but Wim can actually control his own immune system and there are currently studies going on to prove it will help ( psst…maybe even halt/ cure) autoimmune disease. Considered all these facts I’m more than happy to finish my morning showers with a minute or two of cold water, this is an ongoing self-experiment.

I actually felt so good, healthy and happy after my first ice bath/ cold showers that I decided to push my limits a bit further and try out a whole body cryotherapy session at FreezLab a few days later. At FreezLab, you walk into a cabin that looks a bit like a traditional steam room BUT the temperature is -111  C/ -168 F, wohoo. I loved it, especially the background music inside the cold cabin as they played Kool & The Gang “She’s so fresh” , perfect! Thanks to a bit of dancing the 3 min went by in no time and I must say, -111C of dry cold felt less cold than ice water. I’ll definitely return for more sessions.

I also did my first “urban test hike” with a heavy backpack, 8km with a 7-8kg load in torrential rain and I already learned a few things. The most important lesson learned -NEVER, never try to squat over a public toilet with a heavy load on your back, just don’t 😉  Hopefully I’ll have some quiet time next week to get my “real” 30-40l expedition backpack to practise with.

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It was a bit (understatement)  of a hectic week and I felt totally overwhelmed as so much is going on right now and needs to be planned. It was that bad that I forgot to boil the water for my oatmeal on Friday morning and wondered why it was cold so I decided to have another hot coffee but I forgot to place a cup under the machine….brain chaos, time for an EMERGENCY break so I spent the entire weekend home in “hermit mode” to calm down, relax and make plans and to do lists. I just need a daily structure in my life as my attention span is like 5 seconds or I’ll end up doing all kind of things but the ones I should do, especially now that I’ll start with the physical training for Mont Blanc and that means I’ll be working out almost every day.

This will most likely be my fittest year ever and I’m so grateful to be part of this adventure and hopefully raise more than enough funds for Study Y as it’s very close to my heart.

Wishing you all a good week ahead, x

Anja

 

“When we embrace the cold, this is when magic happens.”

– Wim Hof

 

 

self-experiment: CrossFit

I kid you not!

CrossFit and MS seem like a horrible match and some people still think I’ve completely lost it but let me tell you, the past 4 weeks were great. Lots of sweat and tears but I’m  convinced this is my way forward and I just signed up for a 3 months UNLIMITED WOD membership as I want to continue this experiment and dig really, really deep.

Yes, I have officially joined the CrossFit cult 🙂

CrossFit can be quite intimidating at first. I have friends doing CrossFit for years and yes, talking about it non-stop ( this is me now, lol) but I never gave it a real chance as I thought, hm, I have MS and CrossFitters seem like the complete opposite, they are like superhumans. Watching the CrossFit Games online or just recently the Netflix  “Fittest on Earth” documentary didn’t really help.

But then a friend shared this video of “adaptive” CrossFit athletes and I thought, hell yeah, I can do this, too!

 

Luckily I found a great box ( CrossFit term for the place you workout, in my case an old warehouse) here in Amsterdam that offers an 8 hour “on ramp course” where you’ll learn most of the movements from weightlifting to rope climbing. I think it’s essential and in my box even mandatory to follow such a course as CrossFit can cause many injuries if you don’t know what you’re doing. I’m glad I did quite a bit of weightlifting and kettlebell training the past 12 months as I’m familiar with the technique.

Then – the biggest surprise during our first lesson! We learned that the MOST important part of CrossFit is – REST. HA! Sounds like the perfect sport to me as I’m a world-class rester 🙂

After completing the course we got 3 weeks of unlimited testing which I did – to the max!

First of all – SURPRISE, there are mainly “normal” people training, all fitness levels,sizes and ages. The average Joe and Jane and we all share one goal – to get and be fit for life, both physically and mentally. It’s the mix between strength training, cardio and gymnastics that makes it very appealing to most people. At the same time it’s also a great mental strengths training as you’ll get pushed to your own limits and are constantly trying to overcome them. It really is for everyBODY as you can scale every single exercise during a workout in many different ways and make it work for you. For example, I can’t do pull ups ( yet 😉 ) so I do jumping pull ups instead and am also using less weights etc.

I was really concerned about the, ok, MY competitive side but notice each time I only compete against myself and don’t compare myself to others. To me  it’s more about overcoming my own limitations that I still set myself mentally. “I have MS, I can’t sprint, can’t do this, can’t do that”. But turns out  – I CAN. Up until now I actually didn’t notice any difference between me and other beginners. I feel more self-confident and surprise myself in almost every workout with what I can do as I’m still limiting myself mentally with the fact that I have MS.

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What?!?! You want me to lift this 42kg atlas stone to my shoulder?  I can’t try because I have MS!  Overcame my fear and tried!

CrossFit has several neurological benefits, especially olympic weightlifting. I can feel my CNS working really hard each time and trying to get these 4-5 movements together looks very easy but it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. How I can tell? I had to take a three-hour siesta after the first olympic weightlifting session and my mind felt like a blank space, it kind of shut down to process this new information 😉 This is exactly what I want as I know my brain builds new connections. Neuroplasticity is so important, not only for people living with MS or other neurological disorders but for everyone. You can only rewire your brain if you give it new input, make new experiences or learn a new skill. With CrossFit, you get it all without traveling places.

I noticed quite a few changes the past 4 weeks and it’s not only that I feel hungry all the time, lol. Even on a bad day (doing physically well but kind of in a weird funky mood for weeks as I’m getting more aware of cognitive issues like my 1 second attention span and that’s just so frustrating. Sorry for the distraction from the main post but this is pretty much how my brain works for me, it’s all over the place at the same time and it’s just overwhelming at times, so I take time outs and hide)  I try to make it to a WOD at least every other day as I feel so much better afterwards, have more energy and less fatigue as I’m adjusting to these new movements and activities.

I finally started to push my limits little by little and lift heavier each week as, well,  it needs to hurt a little. No pain, no gain.  In the past I stuck to my workout plan and didn’t dare to leave the edge of my comfort zone but as we all know, the magic happens only outside our comfort zone. Thanks to the great community there’s a lot of magic happening as you always have people cheer for you if you’re about to give up and we all celebrate our own successes at the end of the workout with a round of high fives 🙂 It’s a very social sport as you get to meet many new people and that’s so important to me. It’s not like in the gym where most people wear earphones and focus on their own workout. You do quite a few of buddy or team exercises and even if it’s a workout without, your neighbors will support and cheer for you if they notice you struggle.

The only tiny issue is my core temperature – but I also found a solution for that 🙂

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I got myself even more ( 8 xxl)  cooling packs , now half of my freezer is occupied with other things than ice cubes and veggies 😉 . When I feel my temperature rise, I just put one cooling pack in my back/ neck area, held in place by my racerback sports bra, and add more to my shoulders and chest if needed. I also drink ice-cold water and it really works! Thanks to this trick I have hardly any  symptoms anymore when working out, just the vision in my left eye is a bit off but I must say it’s been like that for weeks, even without working out. I blame it on the late summer here in the Netherlands as we’ll also hit 26 degrees today which is a no-no for my workout. For the rest – even my right leg feels “normal” for the first time all summer!

So, that’s it for today, I might even start an entire “CrossFit with MS” sub-menu on my blog but we shall see. Here it is again, distraction and my brain is already somewhere else 😉

Thank you for this great experience  coaches and buddies, looking forward to the next 3 months with you!

 

Interview for Rehacare

So excited, my first interview is live since yesterday evening and I still didn’t dare to read it 🙂 Rehacare is a leading international tradeshow for rehabilitation, care, special needs and inclusion.

Thank you again for giving me the opportunity to raise awareness for invisible (dis)abilities and illnesses!

 

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You can read my interview in  English or German.  Enjoy the peek into my lovely crazy life. x

 

self-experiment #fail: Space Muffin

Don’t try this at home kids 😛

Millions of tourist visit this beautiful town every year with only one goal – the famous coffeeshops of Amsterdam. Seems like I’m one of the few people with almost zero experience when it comes to cannabis and a few weeks ago I decided to give it a go.

Sometimes I feel bad about it as I know for many of you marijuana is illegal while I just need to walk down my road for about 30 seconds to reach the next coffeeshop. Luckily more and more countries prescribe cannabis or medical marijuana and with MS you are one of the lucky qualifiers ( hey, there need to be some perks after all). In case you wonder and are not familiar with it, marijuana is really good for us living with MS, especially it’s compounds THC and CBD look very promising in studies. Don’t worry, I didn’t and won’t turn into a pothead and you actually see very few in the coffeeshops, the customers are of all ages, professions and backgrounds once you leave the center and its very famous coffeeshops where you’ll find most tourists.

A few weeks ago I decided to give it a try and got myself a pre-rolled joint at the coffeeshop down the street – many years ago I tried to roll one and it looked like a ball, not even close to joint. The moment we lit it, it burned down within seconds. So the pre-rolled option comes in very handy for not origami gifted people like me. I smoked it with a friend at my place and it was a fun eve involving lots of giggles and a 4 hour long painting session, I slept like a baby for the first time in ages.

After discussing with two very experienced friends ( you know who you are 😉 ) I decided to try and eat it rather than smoke as it must be healthier and more efficient for the healing compounds. You can dissolve cannabis in coconut oil, butter, cook with it, bake with it – you name it.  Said and done, I walked back to my local coffeeshop and got myself a little “special”muffin. I had a bite that same night and felt great, super relaxed, giggles, slept again like a baby. Had another bite the next eve and the same results.

Yay, maybe this is working for me.

BUT THEN, one day…

I got this big and beautiful muffin for my 4 year MS diagnosis anniversary.

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So pretty, isn’t it? The day I got it I visited my experienced friends and they introduced me to vaping, had some organic cannabis and these cuties even prepared a yummy dinner that contained a bit of marijuana. Thank you again for the great day you two 🙂

I didn’t feel high at any point, just relaxed and that is a feeling I honestly forgot. I’m always on the edge, even when I think I’m relaxed. So experiencing that feeling again was shocking and wonderful at the same time.

The next day I wanted to repeat my experience and decided to have a tiny bit of that pretty muffin. Just look at that size! I ate the dolphin first (of course) and maybe 1/10 of the muffin. I even went for a quick walk with my dog and did groceries afterwards. It all started on the way back, something wasn’t quite right, lol.

10 mins later, all hell broke loose, totally unexpected!  I have just sat down, finished dinner and watched THE (if you’re a fan you know which one)  very sad and dramatic episode of Orange Is the New Black ( I think this is the reason why it turned out the way it did) when my heart started racing and I felt kind of panic coming up. FEAR. I tried to ignore it at first but it got worse by the minute.

What do you do in these situations?

Well, I skyped my mum in Germany ( who is super cool btw and supports me with all my crazy ideas and self-experiments) . Unfortunately she has no experience herself and her google results were not very positive. I also started chatting with my dear friend who got me the muffin as I was sure she could help.

Her first advice – don’t eat anything. That was unfortunately already too late as I just had dinner. AFTER I had the muffin. Bummer.

Drink water and sit on your balcony was the second advise. Tried that, but things got still worse. I even thought about what would happen if I lose consciousness or if that was a heart attack of some kind, I’m all alone with my dog, nobody would find me for days – at least until Wednesday as this is the day my cleaning lady comes around. But it was only Monday night, help!  I even thought about calling an ambulance at one point or just sit outside my door for a while.

Then I freaked out a little more and even considered that I might need to get a boyfriend so I have someone around I could call 24/7 and who would prevent future stupid things I’ll do ( and before I get a ton of messages, I know I can call many of you 24/7 but you know me, I wouldn’t 😉 ) . HA! 😛 It was that bad! But I felt so lonely and totally helpless, I can’t even describe it. After an hour the panic and fear only came in waves, my mum had to leave me on Skype and I decided to join Ruby in her dog bed.

 

It took another 3 hours  until I felt more stable – but it took another 3-4 days until I felt like my old self again. I don’t even want to know what would have happened if I ate the ENTIRE muffin – it tasted yummy though, I never have chocolate muffins anymore so it would have been tempting. The next day I told several friends about this horrible experience and, it seems like I’m the last person living in Amsterdam to have had a space muffin ( why did I miss out on the space cake craze, where was I??) , they all made kind of the same experience at one point or another. It also always depends on your mood I learned and that day, thanks to the dramatic death on OITNB, my mood wasn’t great. I had no idea a space muffin could do that to you. So be warned if you ever come to town, better smoke/ vape a little 🙂

Well, it’s been almost 4 weeks since and I still can’t smell marijuana without feeling sick, so that self-experiement is on hold for a while. But not forever.

I mentioned earlier that I’d love to go to an Ayahuasca retreat in Peru – not anymore, EVER! I felt so much fear during these 3 hours after that tiny bite of space muffin that I would just die of fear in the jungle during an ayahuasca session. No, thanks!

I’m sorry that I freaked out some of you as I obviously must have snapchatted and instagramed the incident live – at least I could amuse some of you.

For the ones who missed out this very entertaining event – this is how I woke up that evening, poor Ruby. Poor me. The muffin went into the bin the next morning.

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Arena MoveS

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Amsterdam Arena, the largest stadium in the Netherlands with more than 53.000 seats

 

So yesterday was THE day, I attended the, until now, biggest MS fundraising event in the Netherlands with more than 1200 participants, Arena MoveS, as Team OMS Nederland together with 3 fellow MS warriors following the OMS lifestyle and one of their super moms who climbed an incredible 2500 stairs, wohoo 🙂

The motto of the event was “share your energy – together for a MS free world” and we sure did, the Arena was on fire! I went for the bootcamp workout while others climbed the stairs of the stadium  700, 2500 or 5000 stairs- just to give you an idea, 5000 stairs is more than 3 times up the Empire State Building.

What an atmosphere from beginning to end, I loved to see the different teams and everyone giving their best and outperforming themselves. This was the kind of event some people really went way over their “abilities” and I still get goosebumps just thinking about it. Watching people in the top rows of the Arena fighting with their own bodies and exhaustion but not giving up and going on after a short break. Others even got out of their wheelchairs with an iron will they will finish 30 steps or join parts of the bootcamp – that’s just the most magical thing to see. People overcoming their “boundaries”.

One thing I notice over and over again is that most fellow MSers are just as stubborn as I am 🙂 If we want something, we do it and you better don’t get in our way.

The goal is to fundraise 750.000 Euro for the VUmc MS Centrum ( I’m also a patient there) as they would like to add a new expertise center, the first of its kind in the world, a center focusing on cognitive issues in MS . We all know what MS can do to your body – but did you know that more than half ( between 43-70%) of MS patients have a wide range of cognitive issues, some negatively influencing the quality of life? Don’t even get me started telling you about my 2 second attention span or short-term memory. I might not have any (visible) physical disabilities but I can tell you that sometimes I feel that something is wrong in my head ( no news to some 😉 )  and it can be super frustrating. Especially in stressful times or when I’m tired I can’t really focus on anything and it feels like one chaos in my head. Having a conversation in a loud place like a restaurant with chatter and music in the background requires all of my little attention and energy on a bad day. I write to do lists and even to do to do lists daily – I still forget stuff 😉  So yes, we NEED to look into cognitive issues in MS, their causes and potential treatments for it.

I gave my very best and all of my energy yesterday, still feeling it as it was also quite warm and fatigue hit me hard afterwards but I’ll do it again anytime! I even sprinted several times during the bootcamp workout and I HATE sprints, always have and always will, especially on days with numbness in my right foot and lower leg, lol.

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The amount raised so far is € 155.889,15 which is fab! A big thank you to everyone who donated.

Moves, the organization behind Arena MoveS, held already other great and successful events this year including a MS Hackathon and Klimmen tegen MS. Not to mention the partners from Mission Summit and Niels van Buren who climbed Mount Everest on  May 20th 2016 as the first MAN with MS – but sorry guys, a female was first 😉 . Lori Schneider was the first MS patient on the peak  of Mount Everest, already in 2009, her TED talk about it is both hilarious and inspiring.

So, why climbing stairs in the Arena and not do something else? Because this is the exact location where it all started for Thomas, the founder of Moves.ms and its flagship event Arena MoveS a few years ago. All of a sudden, during a football match, he just couldn’t get up the stairs to his seat anymore and was diagnosed with MS shortly after.

It’s his personal story that made the event even more special to me.

For a few hours, strangers became one family with one goal, together for a MS free world.

 

As Thomas said:

“It’s unfortunate that we have MS…

…but MS is even more unfortunate to have us. “

 

Couldn’t agree more. Let’s rest today and kick MS a** tomorrow again.

 

Thank you for this great experience Moves.ms, Amsterdam Arena, all volunteers, partners& sponsors and especially the great participants and fellow MS Bloggers I met, I hope we’ll repeat it next year!