Choose from 18 different cards to match the personality of everyone on your list. By sending a card from MSAA, you are telling others that you take an interest in MSAA’s mission to serve as a leading resource for the entire MS community, improving lives today through vital services and support:
2013 has been a pretty substantial year in my life. As I grow older, I start to reflect back each year, just to stay in tuned with myself. I have accomplished a lot this year, in starting my career with MSAA, moving, and feeling more emotionally complete.
It is hard not to be sentimental while reflecting back; some of my favorite times are spent talking about past life events or some of the interesting people who have come into our lives. I strongly believe that there is a lesson in every moment, but sometimes you have to take a step back to see it.
Although our physical surroundings and lives may have changed over the years, our inner souls remain the same. We are still the same person on the inside. For many, it can be a challenge to accept these changes; they wish to be the person they were before. However, I think we are that same person, but maybe we have become so bogged down with all of the “stuff” outside of ourselves, we have lost touch with our inner souls.
There is a quote, by Bryant H. McGill, “Change will never happen when people lack the ability and courage to see themselves for who they are”. Take some time this holiday season to find yourself again. Maybe reach out to an old friend or family member and reminisce about the years.
Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, it is easy to get wrapped up in the holiday bustle. Many people get so focused on decorating and shopping that holiday thoughts change from decorating enough to feel festive and finding gifts that spread cheer, to the bigger and fancier (and more expensive) the gifts and decorations, the better the holiday.
So, before we all get wrapped up in consumerism, I would ask you to think about creating a different kind of Holiday Season this year. Instead of having said your yearly, “Thanks” on Thanksgiving, carry that idea over into the rest of your holidays by creating a Gratitude Journal.
You might be asking, “What is a Gratitude Journal?”
Several studies have shown that individuals who participate in gratitude-based activities may have an improved sense of well-being. So, I would challenge you to get either a specific journal or notebook (or smartphone app) and assign that as a specific place to write each day one thing for which you are grateful. Try to spend at least 10-15 minutes thinking about what you are grateful for, why you are grateful for it, and how it impacts your life before you write it down. At the end of each week, spend a little time to read over all the things you have written down over the last week.
At the end of the month, reflect back. Has this activity helped to keep you centered and focused during the Holiday Season? If so, this may be an activity to keep up throughout the year, reminding us that Holiday Season or not, upon reflection there are things large and small for which we are grateful.
MSAA would like to wish everyone a safe and Happy Thanksgiving! Whether you are celebrating Thanksgiving with family, friends, pets, or in another way, we hope that you have a wonderful day. Please note that our offices will be closed from 2 pm EST 11/27 until Monday December 2nd.
So let’s get the ball rolling on what we are thankful for and I’ll start:
By Gayle Lewis, Ph.D.
It seems inevitable that, come the holiday season, which for some starts not just with an actual acknowledged date of “celebration,” but with the first signs of winter’s cold, it’s not the feelings of cheer and joy and brotherly love that abound, but rather feelings of sadness, loneliness and feeling very much alone and isolated. Why? After all, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, New Year’s are times of social gatherings, shared rituals and reminiscences. How come we all can’t just hop on board and feel festive and full of holiday spirit? And how come someone who has MS might just be feeling those aforementioned lows more deeply and profoundly than someone who is not struggling with MS’s chronicity?
Multiple sclerosis, whether it’s the more invisible kind or the more obvious symptomatic, renders the sufferer to feel “different” ALL THE TIME. And not necessarily different in the “I am special” way. “Different” in this case often means, “I don’t belong,” “I don’t fit,” “No one gets me or understands me.” And holidays, being a time for gatherings, friends and family, when you already feel like you don’t belong, it can feel more intensely uncomfortable being a joiner because it’s what is expected during holiday season. In addition, the common Norman Rockwell–like characterization of the holidays can seem unreal to people whose families don’t fit the traditional-nuclear-family mold due to circumstances beyond their control, and having MS can exacerbate some of the complications there already in trying to fit into the mold.
It’s been my experience that many family members of people diagnosed with MS have not made an effort to understand their family member’s disease due to fear, disinterest, or distance that existed even prior to the time of diagnosis, and/or the patient actively deciding NOT to tell that he/she has MS. In the latter situation (which happens quite often), whatever holiday loneliness or feeling as if they do not fit, it is due to active participation of the patient with MS. To be sure, I am not blaming the patient for not sharing about their disease. There are often family histories and dynamics that inform that decision…and inform ANYONE’s feelings about the holidays, whether joyful or lonely. But MS IS a lonely disease, even if you tell someone about it, because most patients, at least the ones with whom I work, feel like no one gets it. And how could someone with MS not feel especially alone during the holidays at a time when you already feel like you don’t belong, as per usual anyway?
*Gayle Lewis, Ph.D. is a psychologist and psychoanalyst in private practice in New York City, Associate Clinical Professor, Department of Neurology, at NYU’s Langone Medical Center, and Staff Psychologist at Juilliard’s Counseling Center. Additionally she is a graduate of both the American Institute for Psychoanalysis and the EDCAS program at the William Alanson White Institute. She specializes in the treatment of trauma, eating disorders and individuals with Multiple Sclerosis. See www.drgaylelewis.com
By Jerri Burtchell
When I was a kid I loved this time of year. Snow on the ground, great food (except for that weird Jell-O salad Aunt Mary always made), and presents at Christmas. Things have changed since I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1999. Now a sense of foreboding overcomes me each year, right after Halloween.
I’m not the “bah-humbug!” type, but I do hail from a long line of worriers. Maybe we were meant to be “warriors”, but some genetic mutation caused a typo. Now we fear things our imaginations dream up. The “what if” syndrome. My MS diagnosis has elevated my worrying to a whole new level.
Holiday time is prime “what if?” time for me. What if I can’t navigate the busy malls and grocery stores? What if the handicapped parking is all taken up? What if I don’t have enough money to give everyone gifts? What if this fatigue keeps me from enjoying the family I rarely get to see? And the biggest one: What if all this worrying stresses me out and I end up relapsing?
One Christmas, that changed when our family shared what other families keep secret. We all admitted that gift buying was stressing us out. Not only the act of shopping, but the dent it was putting in our pocketbooks. Our name isn’t Trump or even Kardashian. We don’t have money or personal shoppers. What a relief to know we all felt the same way!
So we started something new. When we gather at Thanksgiving now, part of our tradition is drawing names for Christmas gift exchange. We’ve instantly gone from buying gifts for ten to buying for one. Stress diminished. To take it a step further, we can only spend $20. Now the stress was melting like snow in the spring.
Christmas morning is no longer spent in a flurry of mindless paper shredding as we tear through one present after another. But the only ones disappointed are the cats with less cardboard boxes to explore. We still have the experience of gifts under the tree, but now it’s a single, more thoughtful, often handmade gift.
And we quit competing with Martha Stewart for the most elaborate side dishes and desserts. Not everything has to be perfect. We’re enjoying things on our terms, not those set forth in Better Homes and Gardens.
One Christmas I got a late start putting up the decorations. It seems MS fatigue brings out the natural procrastinator in me. So imagine my panic when I went to get the fake tree from the garage only to find it was now home to a family of mice.
I took a few deep breaths and channeled MacGyver. Before you know it, a big vase was the base for my silver, spray-painted Christmas “stick” – a dead branch I’d dragged in from the yard. With a string of lights and a few baubles here and there, the problem was solved. The best part is, it was cheap, handy, and I finally made use of an idea I’d pinned on Pinterest.com.
Life passes too quickly and before you can say, “Black Friday,” it’s all over. I can safely say I won’t be lying on my deathbed lamenting over all the bargain basement prices I missed out on. It’s the people in my life and the connections we made that will be my fondest memories.
I won’t be stressing over the perfect gift for someone this Christmas, or if I forgot to put the marshmallows on top of the sweet potato casserole…again. I’m going to be counting my blessings in each smiling face that comes through the door.
So forget what the commercials all tell you to do. When you give yourself permission to lower your expectations of perfection, miracles happen. You have lots of laughs, give lots of hugs, and take lots of pictures. Aren’t those the memories you’ll treasure most in the end?
And that gem of wisdom is my holiday gift to you. (It was handmade and cost me less than twenty bucks – Enjoy!)
*Jeri Burtchell was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999. She has spoken from a patient perspective at conferences around the country, addressing social media and the role it plays in designing clinical trials. Jeri is a MS blogger, patient activist, and freelance writer for the MS News Beat of Healthline.com. She lives in northeast Florida with her youngest son and elderly mother. When not writing or speaking, she enjoys crafting and photography.
Brrrrrr…..Is that winter right around the corner? It sure feels like it! In some parts of the country, people don’t have to wonder what day winter will show up, as some states have already had their first bout of snowfall this season. Because winter is highlighted as the cold and flu season, it’s important to take precautions when you can so you can stay feeling well; after all, it can be a very busy time of year!
The flu vaccine is one precaution individuals take in preventing the spread of the flu virus. It’s important to consult with your doctor to determine if getting a flu shot is appropriate for you. For more information regarding the flu vaccine, see the MSAA article Vaccine Safety and MS at http://mymsaa.org/news-msaa/924-vaccine-safety-ms
- Germ Prevention
Cold and flu season is an important time to be cautious in preventing the spread of bacteria. It’s helpful to keep things sanitary. Use disinfectant wipes to clean surfaces in your home and car. Wash your hands regularly to avoid the spread of germs to your mouth/face, and avoid putting your hands to your face in public spaces, especially in doctors’ offices or health facilities.
- Close for Comfort
With winter bringing holiday celebrations and gatherings in its midst, it can be tricky to stay in a germ-free zone. Be aware of those loved ones who may be sniffling and sneezing, because as much as it’s nice to receive their embrace, it’s not as lovely to receive the germs. Stay alert in public spaces like stores during the holiday rush, as bacteria likes to travel in crowds. Disinfect with antibacterial soaps and sanitizers and leave those germs out in the cold!
What’s your plan in getting prepared for winter?
Don’t forget to sign up and attend MSAA’s live webinar, “The New Insurance Marketplace and MS” tomorrow evening 11/19 from 8PM – 9PM EST. The webinar provides the ins and outs of the Marketplace, explaining everything from common insurance terms down to MS specific policy pitfalls. So, register today and come find out what the insurance Marketplace means for you.
By Matt Cavallo
As I sat in an infusion suite chair to treat my holiday relapse, I started to feel really sorry for myself. I wasn’t sure what I had done to deserve this MS fate. I thought about my young boys and how unfair it was to them that their dad was having another relapse. I thought about the additional burden that this relapse was putting on my wife, having to care for two toddlers on her own. All this was happening during the holidays, just two months after I had gone through an anterior cervical fusion. To top it off, I was experiencing these uncontrollable emotional outbursts, or PBA as my neurologist called it, which were embarrassing me to the point of not wanting to go out in public.
Then my thoughts changed. I knew at that moment that instead of feeling bad for myself that I was going to have to reach deep down and pull myself together for my wife and kids. My wife is a stay-at- home mom and I am the sole provider, so I knew that if I didn’t get my act together, our quality of life as a family was going to go downhill and fast. I needed a plan.
Steps to Recovery
- Be honest – During this relapse, I had convinced myself that it was every factor besides MS. I let the symptoms go on for too long and they were affecting my home and work life. I was going to have to be honest with myself and others about what I was experiencing and that it was related to my MS.
- Reduce additional holiday stress – The holidays add stress to an already stressful life. If I had to go food shopping or present shopping, I would go at off hours like late at night to avoid the stress of a crowd. I made lists to prioritize my tasks and would check items off the list. For a list of more ways to reduce holiday stress, check out Angel’s Holiday Hustle Blog.
- Gain control – When my emotions began to get the best of me, I would take a break. MS emotional outbursts can come on at any time. A good way to manage emotional outbursts is to remove yourself from the situation, take deep breaths or find a distraction. My favorite distraction is to walk my dog.
- Do not take on too much – I have a habit of overdoing. During the 2010 holiday relapse, I learned to enjoy the simple things. Holidays are about spending time with family and friends;try to relax and enjoy that time without overdoing it.
- Talk to your doctor – I waited too long to see my doctor. If you are experiencing symptoms, you should contact your doctor as soon as possible.
As the calendar turned to December in 2010, I was feeling like the worst was over. The medicine had run its course. I was feeling back to my normal self. Gone were the emotional outbursts, weakness and fatigue. I was back to normal at work and home life now returned to the joy of watching my boys. I didn’t bother with the stress of trying to compete for deals on Black Friday or hanging Christmas lights from the rafters. Instead, I realized that the true meaning of the holidays was to be there in good spirits for the ones you love. As Thanksgiving 2013 approaches, I am thankful for everyone in my life and continue to enjoy simple stress-free holidays with the ones I love.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!!!
*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/
For the third year in a row, MSAA is conducting a Thanksgiving Card Competition! We have six online Thanksgiving Card candidates (shown below), all vying for the top spot as MSAA’s most-popular Thanksgiving Card for 2013.
Please vote and then watch to see if your favorite card will emerge victorious! Once the voting is over next week and the selections are tallied, we’ll let everyone know which card is the top choice to email to friends and family, wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!