A Different Kind of “Before” and “After”

by Maria Theresa Maggi on November 3, 2015

 

bath tub photo 2

Recently a group I’m connected to on Facebook posted a mad flurry of “before” and “after” photos of folks successfully eating the low fat plant-based way. All of these involved weight loss, lots of them very dramatic. What’s going on?  I wondered to myself Where is all the food?–since that’s often my favorite part of the group. By evening I had finally figured out they had launched a series called Sunday Success Stories–and everyone was jumping right in to the perfectly receptive waters.

Don’t get me wrong. I am happily one of the first to click “like” on posts celebrating the dramatic transformation from illness to health, which most often visibly translates into equally dramatic weight loss. But today, I’d like to celebrate a more humble and ultimately more private “before” and “after” that never ceases to amaze me.

For years I’ve shied away from writing about this, but it just keeps getting better and better over time, and so I break my silence in the hope that those of you who also experience equally astounding private “befores” and “afters” remember to count them, even if you have not lost 80 pounds in the bargain.

As those of us diagnosed with MS know, the symptoms that lead to that diagnosis can vary widely from one person to the next. Often, though, the doctors seem to think that problems with vision or optic neuritis, are the first signs. But in my case, I never had a problem at all with the traditional scenario of losing part or all of my vision temporarily. My initial tell-tale signs proved to be more subtle; they began and ended in the bath tub.

I’ve always been a person who loves to take baths. As a busy mother, I would often pamper myself at the end of the day with calming bath salts, essential oils and even lighted candles in the bathroom. I also used to run the hottest bath I could stand. The warm to hot water also helps relax muscles on the right side of my body that are mildly spastic due to the cerebral palsy I was born with, and so I sleep better after a bath.

But the older I got, the more I noticed this troubling fact: instead of emerging from a bath relaxed, more and more often I was emerging from the hot water feeling rubbery, weakened. I would have to lie down on the bed while my heart would race, and wait for my body to cool off. I would have to wait several minutes, lying down, before it was safe for me to get up and walk around with muscles that would cooperate and support my movements.

The neurologist I was finally sent to see wasn’t all that impressed with the narrative of my fatigue and weakness. I think he was about to dismiss me as yet another “hysterical” woman when I remembered to say, “Oh, and I’m especially weak after I get out of the bath tub.” He wanted to know a lot more about that. Although I didn’t know it at the time, he was keying in to how people with MS often have a terrible time regulating body temperature. The thermostat is slow to adjust and thus the symptom “sensitivity to heat” is a common marker there might be the kind of neurological damage that signals a diagnosis of MS.

It turned out my description of what I went through when I came out of a hot bath tub was enough to have him go ahead and order the MRI from which I would receive his diagnosis. But I still wanted to take my baths, even if I could only be in them for a minute or two. Circling around in a hot shower was equally perilous; I was likely to get dizzy and faint from the combination of the motion and the heat; to me it felt way more dangerous than sitting still in calm quiet water.

The thing was, though, I needed some reinforcements to get in and back out. So  one of the first ways my life and environment was altered after this diagnosis was by the installation of support bars in my shower/tub surround. They were specially placed to help me pull myself up off the bottom of the bath tub and hold on carefully as I turned slightly to step over the edge and let myself out of the tub.

I was very happy and grateful for these additions to my bathroom, because it meant I could go on taking a bath, as long as I did not sit in the water too long or make it too hot. For years they were essential to a slow deliberate process of getting in and out of the tub safely.

When I started eating low fat and plant-based in earnest, many things improved little by little in many distinct yet braided streams of connection. One of these things was my body’s ability to regulate its temperature, which had become terribly compromised on several fronts by the time I started eating this way 12 years after my diagnosis. Still, I had to be careful in that hot water, even if I could stay a little longer, and even if I was not using the support bars as heavily as I once had.

When I moved to the house on Van Buren Street in Moscow just last year, I was initially delighted with the beautiful tile in the shower/tub area. But later I worried about how I’d have support bars put in without cracking the tile. There was still one area of the bars I tended to use when getting out, and so I found the kind of support bar that can be attached with suction to tiled surfaces so I’d be ready when I moved in. Being prepared that way gave me the security to go ahead. Slipping and falling, as those of us with MS know, is one of the things we worry about the most and try to avoid at all cost.

But in the flurry of moving in, I threw the support bar on a top shelf in the bathroom, telling myself I would open it later. Then I forgot about it. And one day I realized I was stepping in and out of the shower and the tub just fine without it. I could never make myself get rid of it though, just in case. I told myself it was the position of the tub. I told myself the edge was lower. I told myself  I was still touching the walls to turn around or using the faucet to pull myself up. I told myself a lot of things. But the truth is, I was getting out of the tub–and even the shower when I took one–without support bars.

The other night here in Portland, after a long day, and after reading a series of those Sunday Success Stories, I realized that although I was tired and the tub faced in the opposite direction it had faced on Van Buren Street in Moscow, I was simply stepping right out of it.  I was not touching the tiled walls. I was not pulling myself up on the faucet to get to a standing position either. It was time to realize I can do this now. At a time of life when, sadly, many people my age are getting closer to not being able to do it.

I can’t find words for what it’s like to just step out of the tub. To stand there with the towel over my shoulders and just wait for a minute before I dry off, savoring my accomplishment. I stare at myself in the mirror. Yes, this is me, right out of the tub, letting myself adjust. But my heart is not racing. My legs do not feel like rubber. I do not have to go lie down on the bed and wait for all those acute symptoms to pass. I simply step from the tub onto the floor.

Although it’s simply a physical step, it’s also a step into another dimension, one in which I do not have to find my location in space by holding on to those things that seem to stay still, like the wall, the edge of the sink, the faucet, a support bar, or a nearby door knob, in order to know where I “am” in relation to any or all of them. It’s almost like floating in water. It’s so easy it almost seems wrong. And the best thing of all is that it’s become commonplace enough that sometimes I forget how remarkable it is. But most times I’m still in awe after I realize that once again, I simply stepped beyond the veil of impairment.

I decided to do a quick, impressionist sketch of my bath tub to illustrate this post. It’s not meant to be a perfect representation of my bath tub, though. It makes me smile to see how I’ve instinctively accentuated the dimensions in the sketch so that the tub itself is absolutely central, both profiled and yet open, like a bowl, suggesting all the complexity of light and shadow that involves. I show the side I must step over and the surface I am stepping from–and it all glows as if it were lit from within. The tiles are an uneven blur. They don’t matter except as a back drop I don’t have to hang onto. I think of how if I were still pulling myself up by the faucet how I might have made it larger because it would be so much more important. I might, too, have labored to get all the angles “just right.” Even the shower curtain in the sketch is a foil to the luminous smooth sheen of the bath tub in light and shadow. And finally I made sure to suggest the wooden floor I was worried I would slip on when first I saw it, but which has proved to be a complete non issue. The sketch is full of feeling about my accomplishment, and that is the point.

This, my friends,  cannot be measured on a scale. But it, too, is what I call a Success Story– on any day of the week.

Maria (moonwatcher)

Leave a Comment

{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Debra Maslov November 4, 2015 at 8:01 am

Oh Maria, I so love your success story & your personal “before & after”. How wonderful that your healthy diet & lifestyle has restored enough strength & stamina to allow you to safely resume your beloved baths without any aids whatsoever. That is huge. What a fabulous impressionistic drawing of your bath tub as well – beautiful & very symbolic. Thank you for sharing your personal story so poetically – as only you can.

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2 Maria Theresa Maggi November 4, 2015 at 8:42 am

Hi Debra, thank you so much! I’m happy you also enjoyed the drawing of the bath tub!! Your appreciation of my approach to things is also much appreciated by me. 🙂

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3 Marilyn November 4, 2015 at 8:03 am

Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow!!!! I can’t say Wow! enough!! Thanks so much for sharing such a great triumph 🙂 Your story of gratitude made my day. 🙂

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4 Maria Theresa Maggi November 4, 2015 at 8:43 am

Thank you Marilyn! So happy to hear this!! That’s what it’s all about–the added surprise and pleasure of making someone’s day. 🙂

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5 Stephanie November 4, 2015 at 9:21 am

Oh my goodness, that totally made me tear up! (in a good way!!)
What a lovely read. Thank you!

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6 Maria Theresa Maggi November 4, 2015 at 12:49 pm

You’re so welcome, Stephanie, and thank you for telling you teared up (in a good way!!) xo

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7 Veronique Blommaart November 4, 2015 at 9:24 am

Fantastic!!! That is quite the before and after!! You are my inspiration and whenever I have a moment of fear or doubt, I think of you and I know I will be o.k. too!
Thank you so much for sharing your story! XXX

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8 Maria Theresa Maggi November 4, 2015 at 12:48 pm

Thank you so much, Veronique! I am humbled and honored to be your inspiration. I just always hope trying to articulate my experience will ring true for others. Glad to be of encouragement! xo

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9 Nicole O'Shea November 4, 2015 at 10:35 am

<3 Your tub drawing reminds me of a Bonnard painting. <3

I saw all those before-and-after photos the other day too! I was confused…

It is great all the weight loss, and it is so visible, but I agree that there are many other, no less amazing, transformation benefits that are experiential, not visible. Thanks for sharing your story. It might seem really subtle to anyone who hasn't experienced something like it, but it's such a huge thing to anyone who has.

xoxo

Nicole

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10 Maria Theresa Maggi November 4, 2015 at 12:46 pm

Wow, Nicole, thank you–what a great compliment–I love Bonnard. 🙂 <3 (Thanks to you 🙂 ) And glad I wasn't the only one that was confused by all the before and after photos! And I so appreciate your insights–I like your phrase"experiential transformation benefits"–and it's so important that we honor the hugeness in apparent subtlety. xo

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11 Danielle November 9, 2015 at 4:42 pm

I agree, Nicole! The weight loss is the most dramatic, and the most obvious to other people, so it’s the easiest to document. The other benefits are quite subtle, as you said. How do you photograph loss of pain? That would be a great avant-garde photo session 🙂

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12 Jill November 4, 2015 at 1:29 pm

Hi, a great success. You must be absolutely delighted when these things happen, “small miracles” really or sometimes “large miracles”. MS is in our family – my uncle lived with it for many years, some years were good, some not so but he too had his miracles. Take care

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13 Maria Theresa Maggi November 4, 2015 at 3:43 pm

Thank you Jill, for your lovely comment. Here’s to small and large miracles. 🙂

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14 Pam November 4, 2015 at 2:30 pm

Thank you, Maria, for bringing to light and reminding us that the changes we make in diet can affect our MS and quiet the symptoms in such a variety of ways. I needed this reminder today. <3

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15 Maria Theresa Maggi November 4, 2015 at 3:43 pm

You are so welcome, Pam. Always love to know when you are reading along. I’m glad this was the reminder you needed today. xo

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16 Marge Evans November 4, 2015 at 5:48 pm

love your writing “I simply stepped beyond the veil of impairment.”

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17 Maria Theresa Maggi November 4, 2015 at 7:59 pm

Thank you so much Marge. Sometimes I get blessed and a phrase just “comes” to me. That was one of those times.

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18 Donna November 5, 2015 at 1:10 am

Success!! Ahhhh, thank you so so very much dear Maria for sharing this with your readers! Indeed, it cannot be measured on any mechanical scale…but the personal achievement and sense of gratitude for it…IMMEASUREABLE!! xoxoxo bless you forever Maria!

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19 Maria Theresa Maggi November 5, 2015 at 8:34 am

Thank you so much, Donna! I so appreciate your wonderful sentiments and that you took the time to put them in a comment!

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20 angela November 5, 2015 at 4:26 am

Wow! I’ve just looked at the comments and Marilyn had the same reaction as me : )

This is so wonderful Maria!

Love Angela X

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21 Maria Theresa Maggi November 5, 2015 at 8:36 am

Thank you Angela! So happy to wake up and read I’ve made another person’s day, and that you took the time to tell me!! xo

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22 Veronica November 5, 2015 at 11:35 am

Just wonderful, Maria. Things like this give me so much hope. Congratulations on the slow miracle continuing in all the magical little ways!! xoxo

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23 Maria Theresa Maggi November 5, 2015 at 12:44 pm

Thank you Veronica, my dear! And here’s to your very own slow miracle continuing in magical little ways too. xo

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24 Jo-Ellen November 6, 2015 at 8:35 pm

Hi Maria, Thank you for sharing your before and after with us! I was one of the people who posted my pictures. I did it to encourage people who are new to WFPB eating. But the real miracles are stories like your’s. I was eating plant based before I was diagnosed, so I don’t know how I would have been if I hadn’t changed my diet. Every time you post to your blog, I have hoped it was about MS. I love to hear your story!!

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25 Maria Theresa Maggi November 6, 2015 at 9:46 pm

Thank You, Jo-Ellen, for your kind words about my “before and after” story. I am so honored you follow my blog and like to read when I write about MS! You are lucky to have already been eating this way when you received the diagnosis of MS. I hope it brings you many many more years of good health.

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26 Gena November 8, 2015 at 4:52 am

What a lovely post, Maria.

Before and after posts don’t tend to resonate with me, even though I respect and understand why they can feel like meaningful marks of achievement and progress for many people. I think my reaction is similar to yours, which is that I see our journeys with food (all of us, no matter where we come from or what our health background is) as being ongoing and lifelong. I used to talk about my vegan journey and its intersection with my gut health as being a before and an after, a dramatic success story — until I got sick again, very sick, two summers ago, and many of my symptoms returned. But overall, I’m still stronger than I was before going vegan, and even if I weren’t, my transition to a plant-based diet has given me so many other meaningful contributions to health and happiness.

I see my eating disorder in similar terms — from a purely weight-based perspective, there is a before and an after to my story. But the lived experience of healing and making peace with food continues in fascinating and nuanced ways each day.

I love the way you use your experience with baths and bathtubs to illustrate how difficult it can be to capture the subtlety of the healing process, the small moments that catch us off-guard but ultimately serve as evidence of how far we have come. In the end, it’s of course fine to use a before and an after photo as evidence of a great change. But hopefully folks remember that the journey will rarely ever have a clearly defined end-point — wouldn’t life be boring if it did!

<3 G

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27 Maria Theresa Maggi November 8, 2015 at 8:23 am

Thank you so much, Dear Gena, for this brilliantly compassionate and insightful comment. I knew you would have some deep wisdom to share about the “befores” and “afters” of healing from your own experiential perspective, and I’m so glad you shared some of that here. Perhaps my favorite sentence here is “But the lived experience of healing and making peace with food continues in fascinating and nuanced ways each day.” That is so beautifully said and true. Here’s to the nuances and fascinations that keep us from being bored or disillusioned with an illusory sense of stasis, no matter how great our befores and afters, captured on photos or otherwise. We are all on our way to “somewhere else,” always. I am every grateful for your insightful readership and comments, and happy you are part of this ongoing conversation! xoxo

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28 Danielle November 9, 2015 at 4:39 pm

Wow, that’s a great success! It’s magical what a healing diet can do for one’s body.

I love your bathtub drawing. I want to leap right in (assuming there’s nice warm water in there!).

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29 Maria Theresa Maggi November 9, 2015 at 6:02 pm

Thanks so much, Danielle! I’m happy the bath tub drawing made you want to get right in it, too. 🙂 And I love what you mentioned in your comment to Nicole about photographing the loss of pain in some kind of great avant garde photo session! xo

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30 Kiwi Fan November 10, 2015 at 8:30 pm

Dear Maria,
Thanks for another inspiring piece of writing! I have become a bit irregular in my following of your delightful blog lately, sorry – a sign maybe that I’m getting busier, therefore better – so was truly happy to read your tale of bathtimes, before and after! I used to enjoy baths but went through a patch when I avoided them because of the way I felt and now I am unable to step into one. My MS diagnosis explained all this for me. Perhaps my healing journey will mean I can ‘hop in’ eventually. Your descriptions of your ‘small miracles’ keep me inspired. So, thank you. Your drawing is delightful.
I’m so pleased your move to Portland has been a positive one in so many respects. Warm greetings from ‘down-under’ where we are finally getting some hints that Summer will truly arrive soon,
Kiwi Fan

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31 Maria Theresa Maggi November 10, 2015 at 10:13 pm

Hi Kiwi Fan! No need to apologize for being “away”–I always love to hear from you whenever you have time to comment–thank you for letting me know you enjoyed this one (and the drawing too!), and for your kind thoughts about my move to Portland. I hope being more busy means you are getting better too. Take gentle care of yourself and enjoy the hints of Summer!

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32 Lee at Veggie Quest November 11, 2015 at 1:46 am

Hi Maria, what a touching post. Your quieter victory is no less amazing than losing 100 pounds, even though there are no splashy before and after pictures to show for it. Being healthy, functional, and happy–able to enjoy a hot bath, create beautiful art, and enjoy life are every but as groundbreaking, if not more so, than major weight loss. As someone who’s also experienced less “obvious” improvements too, (though they have been profound for me!) I so appreciate you sharing your story and reminding me of the many blessings of a plant based diet.

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33 Maria Theresa Maggi November 11, 2015 at 8:04 am

Thank you so much, Lee, for these kind and eloquent words. As a reader of your blog I am fortunate to have read a little about how you, too, have experienced less “obvious” improvements over time. Here’s to the many healing blessings of a plant based diet, wherever on the spectrum our healing falls. And to its ability to help us bounce back when we do face difficulties and challenges or recurrences.

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34 AmyLu November 12, 2015 at 9:54 am

Beautifully said, and I am so happy for you!

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35 Maria Theresa Maggi November 12, 2015 at 11:29 am

Thank you AmyLu! 🙂

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36 Jackie Jardine November 15, 2015 at 3:51 pm

This is a wonderful story…it is familiar to me because I had a very similar experience with suddenly realizing that my arthritis had improved enough that I could just roll over and get out of bed – without the painful struggle that had been the case for a number of years. Hard for me to understand why more folks aren’t grabbing on to the Whole Foods/Plant Based diet – but I can’t help but think stories like yours help people make the decision to try it!

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37 Maria Theresa Maggi November 15, 2015 at 9:25 pm

Thank you so much, Jackie, for your kind words, and also for sharing your own wonderful experience of just being able to roll over and get out of bed! THAT is inspiring to ME. 🙂

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38 Airyfairycelt November 28, 2015 at 12:52 pm

That is such an interesting piece moon watcher.
Many others (Ireland) are doing a rapid weight loss IE successs with pills and I wonder how they are inside, emotionally and physically. Will this remain a thin story or not for rapid weight loss is not healthy.
I have been having with the weight and disability struggle. I often resonate with you. I hear your battles and successes. I applaud them all. All if us having struggles are completely united in this I am sure.
After my four years not walking and huge steroid use (post surgery) I have got some walking too, and do things but no, the bath is beyond. I used to love a good warm and dreamy soak! I am glad you have that. Yes, for all of us battlers we know that we will end up not able again, frustrating! Still that day is not come so….. Some outings to come yet eh? I love the sea so much and I live within hillsides not far away. My eyes are filled with beauty and the seasons and my ears with the birds and small animals in the heddgerows and even the odd fox and bat come by me. I think I am part of the fabric here.
I wondered if with you as moon watcher if you do other watching during the day and so what are you views, the smells and sounds around you?
I,think,environment to be important as our diets, for plants I eat and plants I view and I can walk some now. You are in and out if the bath. ,I wonder how others are having their little victories.

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39 Maria Theresa Maggi November 28, 2015 at 3:22 pm

Hi Airyfairycelt–thank you for all your share here. Portland is a lovely city, full of old trees, gardens, parks and greenery, surrounded by rivers and beautiful mountains too. so yes, I have a lot to connect with on my walks! Very grateful for that. Plus interesting people and animals. 🙂

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