Workouts More Fun than MS and Epilepsy: Mary Ellen Ciganovich’s Inspirational Exercise Story

Guest post by Mary Ellen Ciganovich

Mary Ellen

Mary Ellen - beautiful in and out

When you feel fit, you feel alive, energetic and R.E.A.L.: Really Enthusiastic About Life!

For me, fitness has always been fun! I was lucky enough to have been born at a time when fun meant coming home from kindergarten, doing my homework or chores then grabbing my bicycle and riding around the neighborhood with my friends. In summertime we would ditch our bikes for a game of kickball in the street. Or if we could find a mason jar we would catch fireflies! My neighborhood had a small creek running through it, so on really hot Atlanta nights we would wade through the creek like a band of pirates.

Then at the age of six, I was diagnosed with epilepsy.

I had a very simple case of petite mal temporal lobe epilepsy but my family took it very hard. They tried to explain to me what epilepsy was but nothing made sense at that age. I was told what I “couldn’t” or “shouldn’t” do but I did not feel any different so I continued to play and stay fit as much as possible. If it was fun, why should I stop? Plus playing outside got me out of the house.

My home life was not the best. We looked like the model family at the movies or restaurants, especially on High Holy days when we would go to church.  I was very well-dressed, and as my mother often told me, “at least you don’t look like you have it,” “it” being the epilepsy. I used to wonder what people with epilepsy were supposed to look like!

Our true home life was verbally and emotionally traumatic. When mom and dad fought it would just tear me to pieces. I believed they were fighting about me or I had caused the problem somehow. I am a very sensitive person and did not like to hear them yell and fight and …………… I think you get the picture. When I would get on my bike to ride around the neighborhood I could leave all of their turmoil behind me.

I continued to involve myself in activities that were athletic. My epilepsy was well-controlled though medication so to me it was not a worry. In fourth grade I tried out for cheerleading and continued to cheer through high school. I also took ballet through the Atlanta School of Ballet catching rides to get to my lessons with several worthy friends. I went on to attend The University of Georgia, graduating Magna cum Laude in Education and becoming a member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority.

Even though my mother and sister told me I could never get married nor have any children–at this time it was illegal in most states for people with epilepsy to marry and/or have children–I did get married and have a beautiful daughter! (You can imagine the ignorance about epilepsy back then.)

Then in 1986 I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

I remember when my neurologist told me this diagnosis, my first question was, “Can I still work out?” Exercise always made me feel good and normal, something I never felt growing up. She hesitated for only a moment before saying, “You’re going to work out anyway, aren’t you?” I said “yes” so she told me to “go ahead. It probably won’t hurt.” In 1986 there were no medications or shots to take–nothing but prescriptions to deal with the symptoms. My first symptom was a sharp knife-like pain through my right eye. Prednisone took care of it. Then a sol-u-medrol IV treatment put me back on my feet.

I read everything I could get my hands on about multiple sclerosis. I even called the National MS Society asking them to send me their literature. In 1986 this literature was NOT optimistic. When I received and read this horrible “junk” I called the MS society and told them what they could do with their literature. Then I slammed the phone down and tore it ALL up! I was determined to learn what I needed myself.

What I read  about MS pointed at keeping three things in balance

  1. My mind through meditating and reading;
  2. My body through lots of exercise and a detoxifying, nutritionally fortifying diet;
  3. My spirit (soul) through letting go and allowing God to work his magic through me.

I now work out almost every single day.

Usually you can find me at the Sports Barn on Lee Highway in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I take lots of classes–such as power flex class, step aerobics, cardio dance, and yoga–because I enjoy them. I also work out on the Precor machines.  I played tournament racquetball for awhile but I had to give that up because when I get hot my MS flares up and I start seeing two balls or stumble around as if drunk!

Lately in the heat of the summer I’ve had to back down just to keep my MS under control. You have to know your body. Listen to it. Push yourself to get out there and work out. Meet new people. Make new friends. Find a fitness routine that works for you and DO IT! There are no excuses!! Even on my bad MS days I push myself to exercise because when I finish I feel so much better and I know my MS “monster” is back in its cave!

Being active is fun! It means getting together with some of the most wonderful women in Chattanooga who have become much more than workout buddies – they are my friends, my own little support group. (I would like to tell them Thank You!  I hope all of you know how much your kindness, love and unending support have meant to me!)

To all of you reading my story: what is your excuse if you are not working out regularly? Lack of time? Money? The old “I don’t look good enough to go to a gym” excuse?

  • Lack of Time? I taught middle school all day and still went to the gym before going home to grade papers even with MS and epilepsy;
  • Lack of Money? No, this is not a stopper. You can always find free ways to work out, or a club that can work with your budget, unless you are looking for an excuse.
  • Not looking good enough? Who is looking? We all started out somewhere!

Healing Words, by Mary Ellen Ciganovich

You can become fit – you can stay fit and you can become  R.E.A.L. – Really Enthusiastic About Life!

Sincerely with love,
Mary Ellen Ciganovich, author Healing Words, Life Lessons to Inspire

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