Outi Lehtosuo fights the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) disease with Muay Thai, Akita puppy love, and kickass attitude. Feeling inspired by her warrior mindset, we asked Outi to share her story with us.
Words: Meri Frig
What kind of nutrition choices help you deal better with the Multiple Sclerosis disease?
I aim to eat sensibly and I avoid refined sugar and white flour, which can cause frequent infections. However, I try not to worry too much about what I eat and I do occasionally treat myself with sweets and other comfort foods. Once, I was even too strict with myself and I feel that it caused excess stress. I don’t think one is on the right track if they need to constantly observe and think about what they can eat. I do, however, believe that right nutrition is very important, although it cannot stop the disease.
Your dream is to compete in Muay Thai fights one day. How has the combat sport changed your life?
Because of the MS, goal-oriented exercising can be challenging. Due to the symptoms, I might have to take long breaks in training. The fatigue, a symptom of MS, imposes restrictions: I am not able to train as much as a healthy person. Also, recovery takes more time than it usually would. Before, when I was training, I felt fatigued, but I was still pushing myself to the limit. Whereas now I have learned to be more easygoing and I don’t force myself to work out if I am tired. I must manage my energy right to get by during the day and at work. Thai boxing has had a positive effect on my wellbeing: it is the first sport I am genuinely excited about and it has allowed me to find the joy in fitness. In addition to the physical benefits, it has also brought about a lot more confidence and courage. I could say that both, the MS and the Muay Thai, have helped me to find resilience and grit that I did not even know I had in me.
What are your ways to stay positive throughout the difficult times?
The MS has taught me to be more positive. I have consciously changed my thinking patterns. When you have been diagnosed with an incurable disease, you also learn to stop and find joy in small things that you may have taken for granted before. It is a process to accept the illness. And while I do not claim that I am never sad or that I don’t worry at all, it is very important not to dwell on worries, even in those bad moments. I think it is one’s own choice not to get stuck with negativity. I see that the MS has brought about many positive things, such as changes in my thought patterns, as mentioned, or the importance of physical exercise. I have also met and made friends with amazing people. I get so much energy from speaking at events that are for recently diagnosed. It is a great opportunity to be able to give hope and encourage others, to show that the disease is not the end of the world. It makes me very happy. In bad moments, I try to think of all the good things that I have.
"When you have been diagnosed with an incurable disease, you also learn to stop and find joy in small things that you may have taken for granted before. It is a process to accept the illness."
You are an Akita lover. How is life with two Akita dogs?
My dogs, Momo and Koko, give me so much energy, I love them above everything. They sense my feelings accurately, and we have a very strong bond. Even when I am tired and don’t have the energy for sports, I go out with the dogs. Akita dogs are very calm and going out with them is very calming. Akitas consider what they are doing and are unlikely to do anything reckless. I began practising socialising with them from an early age, so it is easy for me to move everywhere with them, or even visit cafés. They are very protective and I feel safe when I move with them. They don’t react for no reason, are generally well-mannered and under control. Akitas are sturdy and strong, have a strong character, yet they are very kind and faithful to the ones that have gained their trust. They say that the owners of Akita dogs should be strong, physically and mentally; and stubborn, gritty, sometimes even very strict, but also extremely kind and loving – because the Akitas are like this.
"They say that the owners of Akita dogs should be strong, physically and mentally; and stubborn, gritty, sometimes even very strict, but also extremely kind and loving – because the Akitas are like this."
What could be your tips for people who are struggling with similar issues?
I would say, look for peer support. It is such a relief to get to talk to people that are experiencing similar issues and hardships. Take good care of yourself and try to do some exercise. That within your own capabilities, of course. Try to keep your thoughts positive and enjoy all the good things in life, don’t get stuck in negativity. The MS is an ongoing process of acceptance, when new symptoms arise. Get help, if you feel like you are not coping well. Depression is frequent among people with MS, so you must remember to take care of your mental wellbeing, in addition to treating the physical symptoms.