An MS Journey

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“A Picture of Health on the Outside”

I was only 25 in 1980 when my MS symptoms started. My career was taking off, I was newly married, and my husband and I were active outdoors doing things like skiing and dirt bike riding. Life was good. But like all newly-diagnosed people with MS, the fear of having the rest of my life ahead of me with a chronic, debilitating, progressive disease with no cure was frightening to say the least.

What kind of life could I expect?

Flash forward to present day, 35 years later. Life has been good despite the challenges of living with MS while also dealing with other challenges in life that “normal” people endure. Adjustments to changes in my life seemed constant, as my MS Blogger Buddy Nicole Lemelle would say, would become “My New Normal.” And I’m currently facing two more…

Truthfully, I hate MS—it’s interfering, unpredictable, and invisible in so many ways. I didn’t have a choice about getting it, but I did have a choice about whether I was going to let it control me or manage my life. It took time, but I learned to manage my MS well. It helped that I am a positive person with an “I can do this” attitude.

Difficult decisions had to be made—giving up my career, having only one child, going on disability, having to move out of my house… It was hard. But amazingly for me, in the end each difficult decision resulted in a good outcome.

I can honestly say that I have, and will continue to have a fulfilling  life with my husband of thirty-seven years and my 32-year old son. Not only have I been an avid swimmer, crafter, and reader for as long as I can remember, my love of history and nature was satisfied after visiting all fifty States, seven countries in Europe, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. Many of these trips I made in a wheelchair.

As I journeyed through motherhood, I enjoyed being a soccer mom, wrestling mom, homeroom mother, and a volunteer in my son’s school, church and community. In-between, I learned Spanish and tutored high-schoolers for fifteen years. And I was involved as a volunteer and in other roles in the MS community for the past thirty years. I’m proud to say I authored a book, Managing MS: Straight-Talk…  published in January 2012, and since then learned social media and built a website through which I have interacted within the MS community since.

I have always practiced health and wellness as a critical component of managing my MS and chose my medications carefully. Good sleep, regular fitness, healthy diet choices, stress management… Recently at my annual physical, my doctor said to me “I have good news and I have bad news.”

The good news? Out of all her patients that day, I was the healthiest– perfect scores on all my tests: blood pressure, weight, cholesterol, pulse, circulation, Vitamin D, calcium, and all the other things that are measured when blood is checked.

The bad news? I have severe osteoporosis in my hips and osteopenia in my spine—the worse she has ever seen. I had most of the risk factors for it: genetics, years of steroids, being thin, post-menopausal, and little weight-bearing fitness due to being in a wheelchair for fifteen years. The first of two new adjustments that I have to research and work on. This is serious stuff.

When you look at that picture of me, it is a definite portrayal of that old expression that makes all of us with MS cringe: “But you look so good!” You can’t see the osteoporosis, just like you can’t see so many of my MS symptoms. Though I use a scooter or wheelchair because I can’t walk anymore, many folks have asked me if I had an accident. They can’t see the pain, the numbness, weakness, the bladder/bowel problems, or the fatigue and emotional issues that I live with daily.

And now that the new ridiculous TV commercial about Tecfidera is airing, people are getting the misconception that there is a pill—a cure—that Relapsing/Remitting MSers can take that will give them the ability to be active and normal all day long. What a hurtful setback for me and all of the other MS patients that have been trying so hard to get people to understand what MS really is all about.

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                                                     Shame on you, Biogen.

I don’t know. At first I thought that no awareness was better than misleading awareness, but maybe this commercial will stir up the pot and get people talking more about MS.

 

Throughout my entire life, I have always been a doer and a helper with some purpose to serve. Even in the toughest spells throughout my life due to MS or something else, I forged forward to reach out. However, I’ve reached the point where I’m so tired and I hurt almost all the time now. I have been wrestling with this question for a while, “Is it time to quit?” That means the second, big adjustment into unknown territory—true retirement.

 

Actually, I won’t let go of everything completely; I will share and care about MS on a limited basis through my social media sites. But I’ll let the MS blogging be carried on by great, credible others that I got the privilege of knowing from social media and attendance to a MS Blogger Summit sponsored by EMD-Serono/Pfizer:

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MS Bloggers and some Significant-Other Caretakers

   (Sitting, L to R)
Laura Kolaczkowski
Lisa Emrich
Nicole Lemelle,
Lisa Dasis
Yvonne Desousa
Debbie Petrina
(Standing, L to R)
Jon Chandonnet
David Lyons
Stuart Schlossman
Dave Bexfield

There are other great MS bloggers around too, such as those on Multiple Sclerosis.net, that can be trusted to obtain quality MS info, inspiration and education.

Living with MS for 35 years and being involved with the MS community in so many ways teaches a person a lot of things. This is the last page of my practical MS guide book Managing MS: Straight Talk From a 31-Year Survivor that I published in January 2012:

Final Words of Inspiration

September 28, 2011

Life is precious, challenging, and worth getting out of it what you can.
Being a lover of American history, one of the items on my bucket list was to visit the actual trail of the Lewis & Clark expedition. I just returned from an RV road trip with my husband and brother to do this. During the trip, I reflected on the similarities of their journey and life with MS.

When Lewis & Clark began their journey to the Pacific Ocean across the continent, they went into unknown territory. Daily they encountered obstacles in the wilderness they had to overcome, and had to rely heavily on the support of each other/ strangers, their skills, ingenuity, and creativity in order to survive and prevail. The team of thirty-three persons suffered; one died. They experimented. They documented. They learned. They managed and accomplished incredible hardships. There were moments of the deep despair and defeat, and moments of high joy and success.

They found their way. I found my way. You will find your way.

                                                                                       Debbie

www.DebbieMS.com 
Author, MS Counselor/Consultant

 

*Image courtesy of “rakratchada torsap” portfolio at Free DigitalPhotos.net

MS: Health and Wellness

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“Critical for MS Management and Control”

It’s the new buzz phrase for multiple sclerosis. And it’s about time it’s getting attention.

But will it get the proper messages and info out about what MS “Health and Wellness” actually is? I’ve seen the words “Diet” “Exercise” and “Emotions” as the main categories for the new Health and Wellness strategy for helping to manage MS. But there are a lot of sub-categories under each of these groups, and there is much more to Health and Wellness than just these groups.

I wrote my book three years ago (Managing MS: Straight Talk…) and listed “My Ten Commandments” as my primary way of handling my MS. Guess what? It’s about the health and wellness ways I follow to not only manage my MS, but also to control the progression of it.

t’s the other side of that coin for MS management strategies—non-medicinal vs. medicinal. A side that has been neglected or not addressed for years.

Here’s the goal for MSers: Until a cure is discovered, or restorative abilities to damaged areas are found, it is paramount that a person with MS lives with their primary goal to prevent as much damage to the nervous system as possible.

HOW DO WE DO THAT?

We know that MS is an autoimmune disease, and when our body is under attack by something like sickness, infection, physical or emotional injury, etc., our immune system’s army of fighter cells screw up on their job and attack our brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves instead of the foreign invaders. Attacks lead to inflammation, relapses, lesions, damage and so on.

• Major attention has to focus on keeping our immune system CALM. Good, conscientious health and wellness will keep the body’s resistance strong against those culprits that trigger activation of the immune system. Develop habits to prevent sickness, infection, injury and chronic stress. For circumstances beyond our control (e.g. a death, a catastrophe…) reach out to get as much help and support as possible.

There are many dimensions of health/wellness that include but are not limited to:

**Physical Wellness: such as sleeping, eating, and exercising properly; watching your   weight; avoiding the use of tobacco, drugs, and excessive alcohol consumption.

**Social Wellness: having healthy, positive interpersonal relationships with family, friends, pets and others.

**Spiritual Wellness: finding meaning and purpose in life. This may or may not include religion.

**Emotional Wellness: understanding our feelings and emotions and knowing action plans to follow when needed

**Intellectual Wellness: maintaining cognitive stimulation to prevent mental stagnation. It is a lifelong process of mental challenges and creativity.

All DMTs (Disease Modifying Treatments) work by suppressing, or altering, the activity of the immune system. These therapies are based on the theory that MS is, at least in part, a result of an abnormal response of the body’s immune system that causes it to attack the myelin surrounding nerves. Corticosteroids used to treat relapses also suppress the immune system.

What does this mean? When the immune system is suppressed, the body is more susceptible to infections and illness, and thus relapses. Therefore, it is imperative that all good health and wellness habits be followed. For example, if you take Solumedrol, avoid people with colds and viruses. At the first sign of a UTI infection, get on an antibiotic. You can take care of your health so that your immune system isn’t ‘triggered’ to act due to illness, etc.

• One must think of health and wellness both in the short and long term. After all, there is no cure yet and nobody knows if/when that will happen. We have one body, and we need to protect it, be proactive, and make prudent choices. For example, every drug that is taken has to be processed through the liver; what are the risks vs. benefits of any drug we take regularly after 10, 20, 30 or 40 years?

Everyone has their own stories and experiences with MS. Here’s mine:

In 1980 when my first major attack happened, I was only 25. Since there was scant literature about MS, it took a awhile to understand the disease and figure out what to do. I finally learned proper health and wellness for MS that I followed for decades and am still learning as new things emerge.

Flash forward 34 years. I just turned sixty. I never took a DMT, had only two MRI’s, quit smoking in 1987 and having been swimming 3x/week for thirty years. I weigh 115 lbs., and have perfect scores on all my tests: blood pressure, cholesterol, pulse, circulation, Vitamin D and all the other things that are measured when blood is checked. Although I have been self-cathing for 28 years, both my bladder and kidneys are as good as a “normal” person’s due to good neurogenic bladder management. Meds are taken for spasticity, depression, and bladder regularly, and for sleeping/anxiety as needed. I practice yoga, deep breathing and stretching for pain and stress. Tutoring Spanish for years and reading/researching technical data surely help my cognitive function.

Yes, I am the one in four who ended up in a wheelchair, but the strength and agility in my upper body and trunk enable me to do many things independently, including driving.

Is it easy? Quite frankly, no. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline, determination, and control. And now that I am starting my seventh decade of life, I am slowing down.

But I know two things. First, if I didn’t practice good health and wellness, my MS would be so much worse. Second, if/when that breakthrough for remyelination or a cure arrives, I’m in great shape for it.

www.DebbieMS.com
Author/ MS Counselor/Living with MS

 

*Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

 

The Power of the Brain: A Coping Mechanism

 

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                  This has been what my head and life has been these past several months.

Scrambled. Out of order. Unfocused. Need of repair.

My usual ‘normal’ MS life was severely disrupted several months ago. For me, first a virus that took a long time to go away, then a badly injured right shoulder rotator cuff, then cancer surgery. Meantime, my hubby has been going through the process to determine the cause of his severe joint pain and swelling; possible RA? Don’t know yet, but only know that sometimes he’s worse off than me. I’m now a caregiver and patient. And then the problems with my aging mother, finances…

Somehow we manage to cope and find the strength to keep going.  How?

One of my favorite MS blog posts I wrote is “The Power of the Brain” http://blog.debbiems.com/?p=310 . I pull it out from time to time and read it for my own inspiration.

Since I can’t seem to find the time, energy, or the focus to write and continue my blog yet, I thought I would repeat this post. I hope it will inspire you, too.

www.DebbieMS.com
Author, MS Counselor, Living with MS

Why MS Doesn’t Scare Me Anymore

“Overcoming Fear”

January 11, 2015

Fear can be paralyzing. It interferes or overtakes one’s thoughts and actions. Fear causes immense stress. People with MS are confronted with it before, during and after diagnosis constantly. After all, there is no cure for MS, no two cases are alike, and it is highly unpredictable in its course.

To make matters worse, fear is intensified by what is read or said by others, health professionals and social media. The fear of ending up in a wheelchair or becoming very mobility impaired; the fear of losing cognitive abilities, the fear of losing employment or becoming incapacitated….

Even MS Associations who try to portray MS in a positive light often unintentionally create fear due to their messages of “get on a treatment ASAP” or “you need to call your doctor…” Lately, all of the emphasis on cognitive issues causes misconceptions that losing one’s mental faculties is inevitable; or a memory problem such as brain fog is due to MS.

I lived with that fear of the unknown, and with the thoughts of the many “what-if scenarios.” After my first ten years of living with MS, I didn’t fear it anymore; and I still don’t.

Why not?

• As time went, I realized that the more knowledge and experience I gained, the less fear I had. I got to know my body relative to my own MS patterns and responses, adjusted my lifestyle, and learned how to manage both my MS and my personal life. I felt more in control of my MS; the more control I acquired, the less fear I had. Yes—MS is a manageable disease.

The most common triggers of MS symptoms are stress, fatigue, and temperature/weather changes. Learning how to manage these triggers usually settle the symptoms down and prevent a relapse. By not managing them, they will become chronic which will lead to a flare/relapse.

• Research taught me that statistics were on my side. Here are some major fears, with research to show that they are not as bad as many think:

**It is estimated that 40-50% of people with MS experience mild to moderate impairment; severe cognitive decline like dementia are extremely rare (source: MSIF.org). Check out this MS post—“Are Cognitive Problems Blamed Too Much on MS?”

** Over a lifetime, only 20-25% end up confined to a wheelchair. That was the statistic in 1980, and it probably is less today due to the development of the disease-modifying drugs that have been available since the mid-90’s.” Check out this post “The Truth about MS and Wheelchairs”

**There are more benign cases of MS than publicized. For example, a current starting point is to get specific data on DMT’s from reliable sources. On Page 13 of “The Use of Disease-Modifying Therapies in MS: Principles and Current Evidence” (The MS Coalition– http://bit.ly/1oEnTqY ), the colleagues point out that 50% of persons diagnosed will have “benign MS”. People with benign MS will have an Expanded Disability Status Score (EDSS) 6 and 23% had converted to SPMS.
Read closely, and always double-check hear-say. Another post to read–“Where and how to get your information.”

• Reaching out and accepting support from family, friends and the MS community helps immensely in minimizing stress. My physical, mental and emotional states were significantly improved. I wasn’t alone. Those that really want to help—let them and tell them how.

• Having a focus on overall wellness and health is a priority. When one feels better physically, one will also feel better emotionally and mentally. It is common sense but it’s amazing how many people lose sight of this. In addition, I take all measures to prevent flus, colds, sickness and injuries. These will lead to relapses, thus frequently resulting in MS progression.

• The advancements in research for treatments and a cure have been increasing exponentially. It WILL happen in your lifetime.

• The brain is a powerful organ, and it is gratifying that brain health is finally being addressed. The brain CAN be retrained and repair itself to a certain degree. I had symptoms for years that I no longer have.

I’m an ol’ MS vet, and there are many of us out there. We are folks who have lived and survived MS well for decades, and most would agree with what I just wrote. We know, and we are a positive group. And more positivity will also reduce fear.

It took me ten years to get over my fear of having MS; nowadays, that span of time should be much shorter. After all, it was still the dark ages for both MS and me between 1980 and 1990. Times have changed.

www.DebbieMS.com
Author, MS Counselor, Living with MS

How do you Manage MS?

“Want some help?”

Everybody wants a cure for MS, to halt the progression of it, and restore the damage it causes to us. But what do you do in the meantime until those things happen?

You manage your MS effectively.

If you ask people with MS how they manage it, most would respond by saying what treatments/meds they are taking and then add that they may exercise, do yoga, etc.

While this is true, it’s only a small part of a big answer. Everything about MS is complicated: the diagnosis, the symptoms and relapses, treatments, health team support, relationships, the explanation…  ALL of these things have to be managed effectively in order to survive MS.

One who manages their MS effectively is also helping to control their symptoms, relapses and the course and thus progression of their case. Yes, let me repeat that– One who manages their MS effectively is also helping to control their symptoms, relapses and the course and thus progression of their case.

I know, and I know countless others who know. Beginning in 1980, I’ve lived with it for 34 years, and have been actively involved in the MS community for nearly thirty years. An ordinary person of moderate means, I went through motherhood, had a career I had to eventually give up, managed a household, and enjoyed life.

In a nutshell, these are the main objectives in managing MS:

1. Prevent sickness/infections, physical problems, and long-term chronic stress.
Why?  Because any of these will trigger a relapse. And relapses usually result in progression and nervous system damage.

2. Take care of  your body in all ways to be healthy.
This includes getting enough sleep, exercise, eating sensibly, managing stress, being mentally and emotionally happy, etc. This also includes things like weight watching, no smoking, etc.

Why?  Staying healthy keeps one’s resistance up to prevent getting sick (thus preventing relapses) as well as keeping symptoms from intensifying. In addition, maintaining wellness helps prevent your body from getting other serious problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, poor circulation…

3. Carefully choose and monitor your treatments.
While drugs are often helpful for treating symptoms, relapses and slowing progression of MS, there are downsides.  First, one must remember that all drugs have side effects that add stress and other impairments to the body. Second, MS is a life sentence; one may live decades until a cure is discovered to halt progression or restore damage. Every drug taken is passed though the liver and has other risks. There is not a treatment that exists today that totally halts progression, relapses, or improves symptoms.

4. Use a 2-prong approach when managing symptoms.
In addition to using medications, there are SO many ways that MS symptoms can be managed non-medicinally—pain, spasticity, bladder issues…  Often, using a combination of using medicinal and non-medicinal means together can be helpful as well. For example, I take baclofen and do stretching exercises daily to reduce my spasticity.

In addition, alternative non-medicinal therapies  have been successful like yoga, acupuncture, massage, pilates, etc. to help with symptoms.

Managing MS effectively requires a tremendous amount of knowledge and support. It’s hard, it takes time, requires change, but it works.  However, learning to managing MS is a daunting task because we know that no two MS cases are alike and the disease is so unpredictable. Furthermore, because there is so much information available from so many sources, one can become overwhelmed and confused.

Want some help?

My book “Managing MS: Straight Talk…” is now available on eBooks for only $2.99 . You can also check out my website below for oodles of info—articles/resources with links, videos, my MS blog of nearly seventy articles, my credentials… The information is accurate, easy to understand, and concise.

My personal mission is to help others dealing with MS, and these two tools—my book and my website—will definitely help you with something. There is nothing to lose, and I guarantee something to gain!

 

**Video:  “How to Manage MS: Two Tools”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iliPH66JCaw

www.DebbieMS.com
Author/MS Counselor/Living with MS

The Optimist and the Pessimist

“Attitude is Everything”


August 6, 2014

I am an optimist. My husband is a pessimist. If I say “wow, the sky is so blue”, he’ll say “I hate the sun, I like it cloudy.”

They say opposites attract but sometimes I don’t know how I have survived 36 years of marriage with a person who is a pessimist.

My husband and I just got back from a mini camping trip in our RV and truthfully, it really was frustrating. It rained constantly for almost the entire trip, so we were confined to stay in the RV. For me, it was cozy listening to the rain while reading a novel and watching movies. For him, he seemed to complain about everything and didn’t even want to play cards with me.

After being in this situation, I started writing a post about why the need to vent from time to time is essential to your health. This morning I was going to finish it when I came across this article about optimism and pessimism in the newspaper. I felt like it was written for me.

This article is so important, I once again decided to postpone my post-in-process and share this. Not only is optimism necessary to survive life, it is necessary to survive MS. Pessimistic people drag you down, something that is not good if you are trying to cope with a chronic illness.

Optimism trumps pessimism in workplace, life

President Harry S. Truman once said, “A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities, and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties.”

Which do you think will reach their goals, live a happy life and achieve their dreams?

Imagine interviewing two people who have identical skills, but one is always grumbling about how unfair life can be, while the other one talks about what wonderful possibilities exist.

Naturally, you would gravitate toward the optimist. If you choose the pessimist, you would be setting yourself up for plenty of aggravation and disappointment, not to mention the negative impact on your staff and customers. Pessimism can bring everyone down, not just the person with the negative attitude.

Pessimism is nothing more than self-sabotage. Expecting only the worst is not being realistic. Realists hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Pessimists can’t imagine the best, so they prepare for the worst. And then if the worst never happens? Pessimists often find the worst possible result simply to prove that their concerns were right.

The question becomes, would you rather be right than be happy? That’s not being realistic, either. That’s being self-defeating. Pessimism can rob you of your energy, sap you of your strength and drain you of your dreams.

Optimism is the remedy. Optimism doesn’t mean pre¬tending life is always wonderful. Optimism means embracing reality. You accept that there will be bad days, but also good days. When you’re grounded in reality, you know where you are and how far you need to go. Once you know how far your goal may be from where you are, optimism can give you the motivation to make plans to get to where you want to go.

Pessimists see life as one problem after another. Optimists see life as one opportunity after another.

How you look at life can drastically affect how much you enjoy your life. Optimists expect the best out of life.

Does it make sense that pessimists tend to blame others or circumstances for their failures?

Optimists help create some of the good they come to expect, so they are probably right more often than not — and they don’t waste time worrying about what they’re not right about. Optimism relaxes people. When we’re relaxed, there is better blood flow to the brain, which results in more energy and creativity in your life.

There is virtually nothing that you can’t do if you set your mind to it. You cannot control events in your life, but you can control how you react.

Do you want to be a pessimist and have no hope for a better future? Or would you rather be an optimist and believe you can achieve a better future?

Mackay’s Moral: Attitude is the mind’s paintbrush — it can color any situation.

Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times best-seller “Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive.” He can be reached through his website, harveymackay.com, or by e-mailing harvey@mackay.com.

In my situation, I learned years ago how to ignore or escape my husband’s negativity. While I succeeded most of the time, the times that I couldn’t get away from it caused tremendous stress. Not only did the stress impact my MS symptoms negatively, it would make me moody and stifle my motivation to move forward. Fortunately, I am a strong-willed person and almost always found alternative sources of optimism (e.g. friends, enjoyable interests/activities…) to lift me up before I got dragged into the depths of an abyss.

Now, in all fairness, my husband is a great guy and has many positive attributes. None of us is perfect. I am a sensitive person who cries easily or pouts. Personality traits are difficult to change; a person has to recognize a change needs to be made and then take great effort to make the changes. But this is a slow process that requires much patience.

If you don’t live with a pessimistic person, it’s easy to get away from him/her. An optimist living with a pessimist will be a lethal combination if coping mechanisms can’t be accomplished.

I know from experience. And I know that one of main reasons I have survived managing my MS is because I am an optimist. Attitude is everything.

www.DebbieMS.com
Author/MS Counselor/Living with MS

Important Things Others Should Know about Chronically ill People

“An Educating Tool”

I was in the middle of writing a blog about what folks with MS really need from others when I came across this pin I found on Pinterest. What an extraordinary pin to share with my peers!

Because I still look so good after all these years and rarely complain, people around me sometimes still don’t seem to understand my difficulties since MS is invisible, unpredictable, and interfering. And it is probably because I am so good at the way I manage this disease, despite the fact that I use a wheelchair. I make it look so easy, when the truth is, it can be a real bitch.

For people who are just learning about how to live with a person with MS or who is chronically ill, a copy of this will be a good, educating tool.

“People with chronic pain and illness want everyone in their lives
to know these important things about them…”


1. Don’t be upset if I seem on edge. I do the best I can every day to be “normal”. I’m exhausted and sometimes I snap.

2. I find it very hard to concentrate at time for a lot reasons. Pain, drugs, lack of sleep… I’m sorry if I lose focus.

3. Letting my loved ones and friends down by cancelling plans is heartbreaking to me. I want more than anything to be as active as you and do the things I used to do.

4. My health can change daily. Sometimes hourly. There are a lot of reasons this happens. Weather, stress, flare-ups…I can assure you that I hate it as much as you do.

5. I don’t like to whine. I don’t like to complain. Sometimes I just need to vent. When this happens, I am not asking for pity or attention. I just need an ear to bend and a hand to hold.

6. During rough times, I find it hard to describe how bad it is. When I say “I’m fine” and you know I am not, it’s okay to ask questions. Just be prepared if the flood gates open because “I’m fine” is often code for “I’m trying to hold it together, but having a rough time. I’m on the edge.”

7. If I am hurting bad enough to tell you about it without being asked, please know that it’s REALLY bad.

8. When you reach out to me with suggestions to help me feel better, I know that you mean well. If it was as simple as popping a new pill, eating differently or trying a different doctor, I’ve most likely already tried it and was disappointed.

9. All I truly want from you is friendship, love, support and understanding. It means everything to me.

10. When someone gives me a pep talk, I understand the sentiment. Chronic illness just doesn’t go away. I wish it did, too! I appreciate your wanting the best for me, but save the pep talk for the gym or the kids’ next volleyball game.

11. It hurts worse than you can possibly imagine when I’m thought of as lazy, unreliable, or selfish. Nothing is further from the truth.

12. I do a lot of silly things to distract myself because any part of my life not consumed with pain is a good part.

13. The simplest tasks can completely drain me. Please know that I do the best I can every day with what I have.

14. Come to me with any questions you may have about my condition. I love you and would much rather tell you about this face to face without judgment.

After all these years I have lived with MS, I may put this on my refrigerator at times; or give a copy of this to the forgetful numbskull or the insensitive ostrich that has their head in the sand! (Yes, I think we all have a person or two like this in our lives.) And, the next time someone says “What’s wrong with you?!” I think I will tell them to read #___.

www.DebbieMS.com
Author/MS Counselor/Living with MS

Use Numbers to Increase MS Public Awareness

“There is strength in numbers.”
June 19, 2014

Numbers can be powerful; they draw a lot attention depending on how they are presented, what is presented, and how big they are.

Maybe if the numbers about the multiple sclerosis population were given more attention, a larger draw of funds donated would be given for research to cure, stop, and restore this disease. And it would increase public awareness about MS.

What kind of numbers and what could be done?

1. Update the number of people who have MS.

The same numbers have been used for years, maybe decades–400,000 in the U.S. and 2.5 million worldwide. These same numbers are used by everyone—MS Organizations, Pharmaceutical companies, Health organizations, the government…
In March, 2006, there is a document that was published that said:

“Steps are now being taken by a federal agency and by the National MS Society… including a proposal to develop a national surveillance system for MS and the launching of a National MS Society Task Force on Epidemiology. These efforts should help to bring researchers closer to identifying a possible cause of MS and should bolster programs and advocacy on behalf of people who have the disease…Conclusions: It has been over 30 years since the federal government has seriously addressed the issue of incidence and prevalence of MS, so the interest on the part of the ATSDR in tracking MS is a welcome and major step forward.” http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/40510.php

Sadly, it never happened. The perspective of 400,000 persons can seem miniscule relative to a population of 300 million in the U.S., and compared to other chronic illnesses and diseases.

Most people involved with the MS community would agree that the current numbers used are much understated. Is it due to people getting diagnosed earlier as a result of more sophisticated technology enabling faster diagnosing, or is MS becoming more prevalent? When it comes to the total number of people living with MS, does it really matter?

When I told people thirty years ago I had MS, there was so little awareness and many people had never heard of it. Nowadays when I tell people, most people tell me they know someone who has MS. I’m not alone in this observation.

2. If the estimated cost to support a person with MS were publicized, the public would be amazed.

Let’s face it, MS is an incurable disease right now, is progressive over time with increasing disability for most patients, and lasts a lifetime. What kinds of costs? Doctors, specialists, physical/occupational therapy, ongoing tests, medications/treatments, walking aids, adaptive equipment, adaptive housing, medical supplies, hospital stays, in-home nursing…the list is endless. Stated on the NMSS website, it is estimated that it costs upward to $70,000/yr. for one patient living with MS.

Who is footing the bill for all of this? If people had any idea of what it costs to help a person with MS (e.g. annually, over a lifetime…), or overall what an estimated cost would be to support all MS patients, I bet those outside the MS community would reach into their pockets more. For example, a power chair can cost up to $20,000; the annual cost of a DMD could cost $20K–$60K annually, a required MRI is at least $1,000, etc.

People don’t think about costs of a health problem until they are personally affected. Making the public aware of costs associated with MS would at least cause them to stop and listen.

3. How many people with MS are on Social Security, and what is their average age?

Information about Social Security generally attracts attention. Numbers about patients with MS on SS should be explained in conjunction with the realities of MS disabilities: educating what the disabilities are and what a person with MS goes through to get on disability. (see http://debbiepetrina.authorsxpress.com/?p=289 )

4. Graphs, like pictures, can be more effective than a thousand words. And what is shown on those graphs can raised eyebrows.

Some examples: a graph could show the percent of persons with MS with various symptoms (% with fatigue, bladder, vision, bladder, walking problems); a timeline of after diagnosis, how soon the average MS patient develops certain symptoms; the process and effect that drugs/treatments has on a MS patient; the rise of MS cases in the military.

Get graphic and show realism. There are times and places to show what people with MS can’t do; or, what it takes to help them to be able to do.

5. Show the combined efforts of MS activity on a national scale, more often.

Much independent activity by MS organizations, pharmaceuticals, MS clinics, are going on but the activity is usually within their own domain, on a local level, or in a specialized newsletter or magazine. Collaboration of all of these individual activities, or “the sum of the parts” would demonstrate the magnitude and dedication of MS. Again, there is strength in numbers.

The media thrives on numbers, human interest stories; everyone—“big or small”—can become an advocate alone or with an organization. And there are certainly enough celebrities out there with MS that I bet would participate in sharing the realities of this debilitating disease as they display their courage living with it at the same time.

Yes, getting these numbers and creating strategies would take money and time. But it would be an investment, with a great return on that investment in donations, grants, and funding.

These are my thoughts. Maybe I am wrong, and things are happening that I am not aware of. I am interested in your comments and your ideas about this subject and content.

www.DebbieMS.com
Author, MS Counselor/Living with MS

Please visit my website for more articles, videos, my book, MS information and resources.

MS and Your Relationships

“Strategies & Tips”

On February 15th, I facilitated a workshop entitled “MS and Your Relationships” in Phoenix. The workshop was part of Genzyme’s One Day for Every Day Event. This is a summary of that workshop, as I want to share this information with a larger audience.

I began by telling the attendees that a one-hour timeframe was not enough for this big, important subject. It’s bad enough that everything about MS is complex, from the diagnosis to the symptoms; after all, the nervous system is involved. But people are highly complex too because of their thoughts and emotions. So when you put the two subjects together—yikes!!

Just about everyone in the room with MS was there with someone else—either a spouse, sibling or friend. This was good because everyone living with the MSer is also living with MS. And that goes beyond the immediate family.

My presentation was to discuss communication strategies and tips to create a foundation of open and honest communication. I adjusted this goal to first, make the group interactive, and second, address two other critical aspects of relationships: support and knowledge.

• Support and knowledge reduce the fear one has with an MS diagnosis. The more you have of both, the better chance you have to survive this disease. One has to be careful though where one gets the knowledge since because of social media, there is much information available today that can be overwhelming and inaccurate.

• Since MS is still a lifetime illness, knowledge and support will change many times as time marches on due to disease progression and lifetime changes that will occur.

• Everyone in the room needs it; everyone outside the room needs it. What is NOT a strategy? Doing nothing—doing no communicating, obtaining no knowledge, getting no support. Anyone dealing with MS will not survive it if none of these are done.

Who are the relationships the person with MS interacts with? What do we say to whom? Who do need support from?

• Family: partners, children, parents, siblings (Needs communication at appropriate level; “show & tell” is a great game to play to help a non-MSer understand invisible symptoms. For example, have men walk in spike heels to understand balance issues; put 10-lb, weights around ankles to experience walking heaviness and fatigue; put a knit glove on a person and have them find objects in a purse like tissue, quarters, etc.)

• Friends (How much you share depends on depth/closeness of friends.)

• Workplace people: boss, colleagues, human resources (very subjective area—many reasons to disclose or not to disclose)

What groups were missing from the power point slide in the presentation that are just as important?

• Peers (They are a lifeline for both MSers and non-MSers—someone you can easily relate to because they are “in your shoes.”)

• Healthcare team (Make sure all of them understand and have experience with persons with MS!  For example, a physical therapist needs to understand the effects of heat and fatigue of MS. Also, you need to like and trust your neurologist; if you don’t, fire him/her and get another one, as this is a lifetime, crucial relationship.)

• Strangers (I have had to ask strangers for help many times since I had mobility problems since my early years. For example, helping me reach something in a grocery store, or assisting me in a dressing room. People in general–in all of the above groups too–like and want to help. It makes them feel good, and they hate to see someone struggle. Personally, I will let people help even if I don’t necessarily need it!)

• Pets (Wow—they understand/comfort us the most, don’t they?!)

I had all eyes on me from my audience, and many nods or claps. It was interesting to see hands go up when I asked how many felt they needed better support in various groups or who didn’t like their neurologist.

Talk is good, even if it doesn’t solve anything. It feels good to get things off our chest. I have an old MS buddy who called me recently and asked, “Can you talk to me? Is this a good time?” But if there is someone like a stranger or a fellow employee who asks you something that you don’t want to talk about, just simply say: “It’s a long story…”

Venting is also good, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. For example, when I get stressed out or frustrated, I cry or call a close friend of mine who is a peer. My husband on the other hand will yell or throw things in an un-harmful way. We go our separate ways to vent because I don’t like his yelling, and he doesn’t like my crying. When the steam is released from the pressure cooker, everything calms down. Holding things inside without a release is dangerously stressful, and we all know how stress negatively affects MS.

What if the people we need to talk with will not communicate or talk? Then it is essential to find someone who will…

In the beginning of my MS, my family was in denial. I went straight to the local chapter of the National MS Society to get literature and meet others who had MS. Later, when both my husband and my mother wouldn’t talk to me about my MS, I went to a therapist who understood MS to help myself deal with these two close people in my life. Years later, I went to a therapist again when deciding whether to give up my career. My MS was aggressive and it was progressing rapidly.

There’s no question that people living with a person with a chronic illness such as MS, is also living with it too. While open communication is essential for all involved, it unfortunately doesn’t always happen effectively without having an “outside” person/s involved. Perceptions are different, emotions are involved, and more often than not, negative consequences result. Ideally, partner/family counseling is essential in most cases.

Realistically, there are obstacles with professional counseling. The first is that many people–whether they have the illness or not–do not want to go to counseling. This was the case in my own personal situation and though I pleaded with my family to go, it didn’t happen. So I went to counseling on my own and fortunately, it helped me tremendously to figure out how to handle my family relationships and how and where I could get support that I needed. Secondly, I believe it is imperative that a good, reputable therapist who UNDERSTANDS MS is found. MS is complicated in many ways, is generally progressive, and currently lasts a lifetime. Finally, many people unfortunately cannot afford therapy; however, many county health departments have resources available for financially strapped people.

So what are strategies to foster healthy communication?

• Should you always be honest about your feelings? When I asked everyone in the room if they were ever dishonest about their feelings, every single hand went up! It obviously is a judgment call, depending upon the people involved, and their personalities. With your healthcare team, you need to be honest. With everyone else, the group agreed that you can’t be a constant complainer or whiner. Be selective with whom you are comfortable with and trust to discuss your concerns, problems, fears, etc.

• Keep a journal about important things that need to be communicated, whether it is info to discuss with your doctor, modifications that need to be made at work, or just notes about what you want to talk about.

• Pick an appropriate time and place for a discussion. Trying to talk when one is tired, hungry, or stressed out will be a disaster. Try to be in a relaxed frame of mind, when interruptions will not occur.

• Be respectful of what the other person is saying—this is a two-way conversation. Actively listen to each other, and avoid accusations, finger pointing, name calling, yelling, etc. How and what we say matters, as well as the tone that we use. Avoid negativity.

• Two-thirds of communication occurs through body language. Your posture, facial expressions, eye contact, etc. speaks volumes. When someone rolls their eyes or points a finger at you, what does that indicate?

• Ask for help and ask to help. People want to help, and people need help. Be explicit or give examples when talking about this to help clarify your statements. Ask questions and share perspectives. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. And remember—none of us are mind readers. Not only are you communicating here, you are educating.

• Everyone should show and express their gratitude often. Give complements.

• A hug, kiss or smile goes a long way.

• From experience, I believe that we MSers set the tone and comfort level. If we are relaxed and open, the other person will be too.

• My personal advice to all: show and give empathy, not sympathy.

• Use humor when appropriate. Many times, the subject being discussed can be very sensitive and not funny at all. Or, it is hard to be humorous when you are not feeling well.

• Avoid arguing and be patient. If an argument develops or patience is lost, quit the discussion and regroup later.

• Always try. If it doesn’t work, try something else.

Well we ran over our one-hour timeframe, which was no surprise. But it was a start, and I always say that “Getting started with anything is the hard part.” Now everyone has a framework or some ground rules they can try to use to enhance their communication, support and knowledge.

At the conclusion, I gave everyone a copy of a previous blog that I had written entitled “MSers and Their Loved Ones.” http://debbiepetrina.authorsxpress.com/?p=61

www.DebbieMS.com
Author, MS Counselor/Living with MS

Please visit my website for more articles, videos, my book, MS information and resources.

 


MS Blogs

January 12, 2014

I am proud to announce that my MS Blog was selected for Neurology Now Magazine’s list of Patient Bloggers! http://journals.lww.com/neurologynow/Fulltext/2013/09060/Neurology_News__Having_Their_Say___Patient.16.aspx

Neurology Now Magazine:
December/January 2013 – Volume 9 – Issue 6 – p 14

Neurology News: Having Their Say: Patient Bloggers

“While your doctors can give you information and guidance about your condition, they’re not always the best source for practical advice. Patient bloggers offer that in spades as they chronicle their own journey with neurologic disease—sometimes funny, sometimes painful, but above all else, familiar. We tried to find blogs that are well-written, honest, and responsible in the way they handle medical information.”

Neurology Now is sponsored by the American Academy of Neurology and the American Brain Foundation. Free for subscribers, information is provided about various neurological problems in their publications. Included in each of their issues are also stories written about individuals—both well-known and unknown—who are dealing with a disorder/disease successfully. Here is a link to check it out http://patients.aan.com/index.cfm?axon=redirect&&path=/go/neurologynow  .

Also check out my 57 articles within this blog at the bottom of this blog page, as well as my website that contains much info about multiple sclerosis www.DebbieMS.com .

Best-

Debbie
Managing MS, Straight Talk…