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Let's play.

The Oxford Universal English Dictionary defines "play" as something done to amuse oneself, exercise, sport or recreation. MS curtailed my ability to play as I once did and I wondered how it was for the others in my self-help group. So I asked my MS peers if the disease had affected their capacity to play.

As children play came so easily. We rode a bike, kicked a ball, swung on a swing, drew pictures, sang songs, climbed trees, pushed trucks, dressed dolls. In adulthood some of us participated in team or individual sports. We went to the gym, hiked, camped, danced, cycled, gardened, painted, performed music, hosted dinner parties, rode a motor bike.

Our group acknowledged our grief for the loss of how we used to play but we didn't want to dwell on the sadness. Accepting change is certainly not easy, but our attitude is simply to get on with life.

We defined play as something that could make us feel happy, joyful or cheerful. Some members said that play made them feel more alive; others said it helped them take pleasure in small things. I forget that I have MS when I play.

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A few people are so exhausted from managing their disease that they don't have the energy to play. One said that if it was not feasible to play the way she used to, then she would not bother to play at all.

As we talked we found the majority of us had learned to play differently. We had recreated how we recreated. For example, I can no longer jog but I learned I can jog in the water by wearing a buoyancy belt. Another member continues to ski by skiing only half a day instead of a full day. This same member has also learned how to skate with a cane! Other people told how they exercise in their wheelchairs or scooters.

Several members described their computer as an excellent source of fun, games, reading, doing research and answering e-mail. Talking books, movies, TV, the radio, and tapes or CDs provide entertainment. A member who used to dance said she choreographs routines in her head as she listens to music. Another challenges his intellect with games of chess.

Some people spoke about weighing the consequences when it comes to playing. One woman told us she is willing to rest for three days just to be able to experience the pleasure of a special activity.

It was clear that learning to adapt is a key component for continuing to play. Many in our group use a scooter or wheelchair to get around. Whether the mobility challenge is permanent or intermittent, these aids don't just provide mobility, they let us play as well. To experience the park trails I love, I scooter hike--and for short distances use my "bush" walker. Someone else participates in the game of wheelchair curling. (Did I mention we're Canadians?) This sport, which involves pushing a 40 lb. rock over ice, doesn't seem to lend itself to wheelchair playing but her success shows that the opportunities are potentially endless.

Many of us have pets or assistance dogs who need some fun when they are not working, and going for a scooter dog walk, giving a back scratch or throwing a ball are all considered play by us and our animals.

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We realized that laughing is part of play. When we poke fun at the disease and what it does to the body we're practicing black humor.

The common thread throughout our whole discussion was the importance of socializing--from meeting friends or family members for coffee, lunch or dinner, going out for scooter or wheelchair walks, talking on the phone or just hanging out together. Two of our members like to engage strangers in conversations as they cruise the city in their scooters.

We do what we can to get out there and play. I think we have all learned that the physical activities of play may have changed but the emotional rewards are the same.

I'd like to thank the members of the Living Well with MS Self-Help Group at the MS Society of Canada's Capital Region Chapter for their contributions to this article.

A self-help network

Every Society chapter has a roster of affiliated self-help groups, with different purposes and goals. They may focus on support, education, advocacy, or be mostly social in nature. Some are organized for specific groups such as young adults, parents with MS, care partners, or members of the same ethnic group. To find out if there is a compatible group near you, visit "Client Programs" on our Web site or call 1-800-344-4867.

Nancy Chamberlayne, M.Ed., lives in Victoria, BC, and has contributed many articles to the national MS Society in the U.S., as well as to MS publications in Canada. She facilitates the Living Well with MS Self-help Group.
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Title Annotation:Healthy Living
Author:Chamberlayne, Nancy
Publication:Momentum
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2009
Words:818
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