About Angel

I am a Client Services Specialist here at MSAA. I hold both a Bachelor's and Master's Degree in Counseling from schools outside the Philadelphia area. I love reading, movies, going to concerts and traveling. Favorite place I've been so far---Disney World!

What Should I Say?

Someone you know has just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. You’re not alone if you are one of the many people that aren’t sure how to approach this situation. ‘What should I say?’ Or ‘what can I do?’ are questions often asked and contemplated by those surrounding an individual who has been diagnosed. Unfortunately there is no specific script or dialogue mapped out that can guide this interaction, however, there are some things to consider when communicating about MS. Being mindful, respectful, and considerate of others’ feelings and sensitive to the circumstances are good starting points in this situation.

If you’re not familiar with MS and do not understand the disease, this is ok. MS can be a challenging condition to absorb information about and there is a significant learning curve when it comes to educating oneself about the disease. It’s not something to be learned overnight, so knowing this going into the situation can help reduce stress and expectations. Telling the other person you’re not sure what MS is but showing interest in how they’re feeling and learning about the disease can open this communication exchange. Sometimes just saying ‘I’m here for you, and if you want to talk I’m happy to listen’ can make the other person feel comforted knowing they have support if they need to reach out.

Many people may feel pressured to not say the ‘wrong thing’ or worry if they don’t react in a certain way when hearing of an MS diagnosis. This can sometimes circle back to your relationship with the individual who has been diagnosed and how you’ve interacted and communicated. You may already have an idea of what would be helpful for them to hear or to not hear in the situation. Your relationship with the person has not changed, so maintaining a balance of support and a matching bond as before can help steady this novel circumstance. Validating their feelings and the symptoms they talk about experiencing can help guide the conversation; be sure to listen and engage with them so they know they’re being heard.

Often the person diagnosed with MS may need time to process the news of a diagnosis, and this may lead to them subsequently distancing themselves or refusing help from those around them. You can’t force someone to ask for or accept help, or push them into disclosing their feelings. So in these instances telling them ‘I’m here if you need me,’ and ‘I care about you’ can be a support in itself—and knowing they have supports in place when needed can be reassuring to those diagnosed.

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Hello there, Earth!

Today individuals around the world will celebrate Earth Day, an annual event known to promote environmental awareness and energy conservation. Sometimes it’s easy to take advantage of our planet and all the wonderfulness it has to offer. This is to no fault of our own—life gets busy and chaotic, and our day to day routines get in the way of appreciating the world around us. But if we consciously make the decision to stop just for a moment to take a look around at the beauty of the Earth, it will no doubt create a moment where being present and mindful of our surroundings will ignite this newfound appreciation and gratitude for the world in which we live. And there are some things we can do every day to try and preserve the splendor of the planet and its nature.

Earth-Day-2016-Poster-Earth-Day-Network

  • Recycle, recycle, and recycle!
  • Conserve energy by turning off lights and running water when not in use
  • Opt for using another mode of transportation instead of driving if able
  • Plant or garden to bring more life to the Earth
  • Raise awareness in your community for environmental protection causes

 

So this Earth Day, take a moment to join a movement, a cause, a venture to help care for our planet and all its beauty and glory. Our Earth is precious and allows us to do so much; shouldn’t we help take care of it in return?

 

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This is Spring? (When expectations don’t quite match realities)

So the spring equinox supposedly arrived for us living in the northern hemisphere on March 20th this year, marking it as the first official day of ‘spring.’ However, for those of us living on the east coast, it hasn’t quite felt like spring this past week. When it comes to weather changes we can usually deal with the clichéd ‘April showers bring May flowers’ notions, and even March’s infamous reputation that it ‘comes in like a lion and out like a lamb,’ because we’re hopeful that the next beloved season is right around the corner.  But with temperatures in the 40’s and flurries impeding on morning commutes this past week, it appears that spring has decided to abdicate its duties (at least for the time being). Not quite what we expected so far, right?

Ok, now the weather has been increasingly unpredictable over the years due to a number of factors and elements so it’s not a total surprise that our desired seasons don’t occur quite how we hope. But it further highlights this notion that sometimes what we expect to happen doesn’t quite match reality; and this becomes the continued barrier we encounter and struggle with through all phases of life. We know that life itself and the day to day can be very erratic—with varying degrees of triumphs or defeats, but when additional factors are added to the mix it can be even more challenging to match expectations to reality. No one holds the expectation that they will become ill or be diagnosed with a chronic illness, so again reality doesn’t match up at times.

When expectations aren’t met and life continues to generate its own agenda-not taking into account how you feel about it, this can be extremely frustrating and overwhelming. So when this happens, what can you do? How can adjustments be made or things tweaked so you’re not getting constantly knocked down or totally thrown off course when life throws a wrench in your plan? You can PUSH BACK. Now this can be very much easier said than done sometimes, but how else can you let life know that you’re still very much a part of it even though it may not be what you expected? And this doesn’t have to look a certain way. Each person has their own unique personality and attitudes and the ability to use and embellish character strengths to the exponential degree. You demonstrate resilience and take control over how you react to changes you encounter. You work on showing life how its changes will work around you and your needs, not the other way around.

Again, this is not an easy thing to do. It can be devastating when life doesn’t work out the way we hoped and expected it to. But this is where there can be strength in numbers-where people can reach out to others for support and find hope. Learning what others have done to overcome a situation, where they’ve found their strengths and how they’ve pushed forward can be incredible assets to embrace. Everyone has experienced moments where reality doesn’t happen like we expected, but we find ourselves together in that, and once again surrounded by potential hope.

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The Unspoken Symptoms

As we discuss various MS symptom challenges during this month’s MS Conversations blog, we wanted to talk about some symptoms that may be more challenging to disclose or discuss with others at times. This week we touched on the condition of PBA and its difficulties, but there are also issues with bladder, bowels, and sexual function that are some of the other more private, less disclosed symptoms experienced by those with MS. These symptoms can feel a bit embarrassing to talk about or discuss with others at times, and for this reason are sometimes the ‘silent’ symptoms one shies away from even discussing with his/her doctor. Even though silent, these symptom challenges can be loud in their presence for individuals.

Symptom issues with bladder can vary in MS. Because MS affects the nerve responses sent to the bladder that control sensations and contractions, symptom issues can include difficulties with emptying and storing, or both. There are several different medication treatments along with diet and fluid management planning that can assist with these symptoms. If you experience these issues, talking to your doctor about your symptoms can help to initiate some type of treatment plan to address these issues and help manage them. If your family and friends are not aware of this symptom and its relation to MS, this can possibly be an opportunity for them to learn more about the disease and its symptoms so they have a better understanding of what you’re experiencing. But remember, it is your body and the information you wish to disclose or not is your decision. However, when others are more educated and aware it helps to keep lines of communication open so that if needed, it may be easier to discuss the issues you’re facing with additional support.

Issues with bowel function in MS can be due to various causes as well, including lesion effects in the nervous system and medication side effects. Constipation and diarrhea are symptoms that can occur and be influenced by diet and medication practices. Discussing these symptoms with your doctor can help to form a plan of action to manage the challenges and decrease their effects. And again, while including those around you in your experiences can be difficult at times, it may increase understanding and communication when you want to reach out to talk about some of these more challenging symptoms.

Being a private and personal matter, sexual dysfunction symptoms in MS may not always be disclosed and talked about, even with one’s healthcare team. It can feel awkward at times to discuss such personal issues and the difficulties you may be having. Both men and women can experience these symptoms which can present in different ways; loss of libido, sensation and arousal changes, or even pain during intercourse can occur. Along with medication management for these symptom challenges, counseling can be another strategy used to discuss sexual issues being experienced. Communicating openly about the problems can increase cohesiveness and support amongst partners and allow for discussion of alternative sexual satisfaction practices. Education around the ways in which MS can affect sexual function and intimacy is an important piece and allows your partner to understand what you’re going through and how you can work together to manage it. That is why it’s important to try and include your healthcare team as well, to recognize and talk about the issues in order to find ways to manage the symptoms.

The symptoms that can occur with MS all have varying degrees of difficulty and challenge they bring to those affected. But it’s important to know that you are not alone in your experiences—others have faced similar obstacles and have also been reluctant at times to discuss symptoms. This is another element that MS unfortunately tries to impose on those affected—to intimidate or shame because of certain symptoms. But this elicits the moment and opportunity where individuals with MS can recognize their symptoms and discuss or disclose them as they wish—to educate others and increase awareness to bring MS out of the shadows and darkness and into the light.

What are some ways in which you’ve managed these unspoken symptoms of MS?

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Taking a Break

Sometimes we all just need a break from things. No matter what’s going on around you—whether it be in your relationships, work, family roles, etc. there are times when we need to take a step back and reflect on ourselves and our needs. Everyday challenges and obstacles can be difficult enough, but throw something like MS into the mix and the stressors can sometimes multiply. MS demands much from everyone it touches; unfortunately it makes no exceptions or allowances if there are other things already going on—it’s selfish that way. So there are times when those caring for individuals whom MS affects need some respite care-time to themselves.

The term respite means taking a break or relief period from something that may be somewhat stressful, difficult, or challenging. Those who provide caregiving to others may need periods of respite, even if it’s just for a brief time where they can step outside of their environment and do something else. This can be very important in relationships where a loved one provides care for another family member. Relationships themselves require a lot of maintenance most of the time and for them to continue working there are moments where those involved need space and time to themselves.

It’s an innate, human characteristic to feel the need to distance yourself from others sometimes. There are times when we all need to pause and catch our breath and examine our own needs, especially if we’re providing care to others around us. We need to be able to self-care in order to be depended on. There are different types of respite services and resources available, especially to care partners so that they can take time for themselves or other things and know that their loved ones are being cared for.

The following resources can help when searching for respite service information:

Family Caregiver Alliance
Phone (800) 445-8106 www.caregiver.org

Caregiver Action Network
Phone (202) 772-5050 www.caregiveraction.org

Eldercare Locator
Phone (800) 677-1116 www.eldercare.gov

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Pamper Yourself

This month some people will find themselves celebrating Valentine’s Day, a holiday that celebrates love, warmth and thoughtfulness. The day isn’t made just for couples but for all who wish to rejoice in caring and kindness—whether it be with family, friends, or finding time to care for yourself. You can use Valentine’s Day as a reason to stop and consider what you can do just for you; with no schedule or agenda to follow, just an opportunity for a little ‘me’ time. Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to break the bank spending money on material things to make yourself feel pampered. There is no gesture or act too small when it comes to caring for yourself. Approach it with the question ‘I have time to do something for myself, what would make me happy?’ You may find the list of possibilities longer than you thought and that you’re overdue for some much needed self-care.  In case you need a few more ideas, here are some ways you can pamper yourself, not only for this upcoming Valentine’s Day but throughout the whole year.

  • Devote an amount of time for your favorite hobby or activity that you don’t do very often
  • Check out that book, magazine, show or movie you’ve been interested in
  • Take a day off—from a daily routine/schedule or from work but don’t schedule any other commitments, unless they’re fun and for your own benefit; remember, this is ‘me’ time!
  • If you feel the urge to spend a little money, treat yourself to some flowers or a small trinket you’ve had your eye on
  • Make time to listen to music, or take a walk/ride. Sit outside or look out the window and take notice of things that you don’t usually take the time to see
  • Relax! I know this is a foreign concept for many but try to make the conscious effort to rest your body and mind. Let your shoulders relax, pay attention to your breathing and feel your body unwind (this isn’t always easy to do so it may take some practice, be patient with yourself)

What are some ways you pamper yourself?

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Stick to YOUR OWN agenda

During this month’s blog posts we’ve had discussions relating to resolutions, changes, and goals for the new year ahead. While many people work hard to create their own plans and generate new goals to achieve, some individuals try to impose their own agenda onto others—with the expectation that the objectives they envisioned for that person will automatically be met.

Some of us are not complete strangers to this situation; especially if during your childhood or adolescent years you had parents or other figures hold you to complete certain tasks and require the execution of specific goals. This is usually not done in malice, but rather people wanting the best for others and for them to perform at their highest level of potential. However, for individuals experiencing an illness or disability, these anticipations can be overwhelming and burdensome at times, especially if they don’t match with their abilities and skillsets. Everyone is different and is capable of different things.

Even though it’s done with good intentions, others expectations can sometimes take over one’s own agenda completely, leaving their own goals and aspirations on the sidelines. It’s difficult trying to meet others’ goals for what you should or should not be accomplishing, and it can be downright exhausting trying to satisfy others in this manner. That’s why it’s important to stick to your own plans and agenda—to realize your abilities or limitations and to strive forward with this thoughtfully in mind. You can take others suggestions, if asked for, to take into consideration when you’re forming your objectives, but they should be your own and done on your own terms. It’s hard to please everyone, but if at the end of the day you are comfortable with the decisions you’ve made and the feats you’ve conquered, I’d say to chalk that up as a win!

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Here’s To a New Year!

When the clock struck midnight on December 31st, it symbolized the beginning of a brand new year for us to embark on! 2016 is here and it brings with it hope and light and aspirations that will optimistically fill the year ahead. The year of 2015 brought many different types of happenings; some dark, others bright, but also the chance to look ahead to a new time with different opportunities to seize and novel goals to set.

The new year represents new beginnings and a fresh start, a time to look ahead and think about what it is you’d like to do with your time in the coming year. This new time can mean different things to everyone—we are all unique so the things we set out to consider and do in the year ahead will be diverse. There’s no wrong resolution to set or incorrect goal to carry out; what you plan for yourself in the days ahead is up to you.

So what are some the things you’d like to do in the new year? I’ll get this discussion going: I’d like to take a class of some kind, maybe a cooking course (those skills would be welcome in my kitchen, haha).

How about you?

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Some invaluable lessons (from some unlikely sources)

It’s that time of year when the holidays are upon us in full force. With the celebrations of Hanukkah starting last week and the arrival of Christmas and Kwanzaa in a bit under two weeks, the season is in full swing. It’s during this time of the year when many people find themselves taking moments to reflect on the year and what they found important, meaningful, challenging or inspiring. Certain experiences, teachings and life lessons are frequently pondered during the holiday season as people recount what they’re grateful for, things they’d like to learn, and notions they are still trying to grapple with. It’s funny to admit but during this time of year especially there are some very invaluable lessons that can be considered and reflected upon from influences around us. Granted most of these influences may be in the form of animated figures and storytellers, but their lessons are still valid and appreciated as guideposts of direction and conscience.

Take for example the beloved, though mostly outcast, Charlie Brown Peanuts character. Even though his actions of choosing an at first glance unattractive looking Christmas tree to use as a prop for his friend’s Christmas play were ridiculed and contested, in the end it gave way to a most memorable and impactful speech explaining the true meaning of the holiday and what ‘Christmas is all about.’

Lesson: It’s the meaning of the season and why it’s celebrated that matters most, not material items or commercialism.

Another recognizable figure during this time is Dr. Seuss’ the Grinch character. Now he had the most learning to do of all – with his heart two sizes too small. Again he thought the season was just about material possessions and how much the Who’s had. It angered him to see how they reveled in the holiday celebration and thought that by taking away their belongings this would dampen their spirit. But the Who’s blatant joy and celebration despite their loss taught the Grinch more, of course, that ‘perhaps Christmas doesn’t come from a store.’

Lesson: The holidays are a time for appreciating who and what you have in your life that brings you happiness and realizing what you’re grateful for, and being together, even perhaps singing a little ‘Fahoo-dores.’  

And lastly, perhaps one of the most influential, historical characters during this time of year? Why yes, it’s Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge himself, the feisty curmudgeon who could really suck the spirit out of the holiday season – if you let him. Scrooge’s memorable and extraordinary tale of being visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve really captures multiple lessons of the season. By redeeming himself and changing his ways by the end of the tale, which we can only hope continued even after the story ended, he was able to ‘keep the spirit of Christmas close to his heart’ and celebrate all year through.

Lessons: Think and consider those who are less fortunate than you, and when able, spread prosperity (in any form) to others. Think about your actions – they can affect others too, not just yourself. Gratitude and appreciation can go a long way. Keep the meaning and spirit of the holidays close to you always.

Now not everyone may recognize or know these characters mentioned above, but the message remains the same. No matter what time of year, you deserve to think about what’s important to you, what you enjoy, and how these things influence your day to day. Values and lessons are important to consider—not only during the holiday season, but the whole year through.

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Giving Thanks

V2-2015-MSAA_Thanksgiving_Cards5This week many individuals around the country will celebrate Thanksgiving, a national holiday symbolizing the notions of graciousness and appreciation. This holiday and others represent different things to different people and hold varied meanings for all who celebrate them.  But a concept that can be universal and celebrated all year through is that of gratitude. Finding what you’re thankful for, no matter how big or small or different, is a part of this holiday tradition. Expressing your gratitude can help pay it forward and inspire others to do the same, and to hopefully further inspire acts of appreciation and kindness across our society. Celebrating the holiday can simply mean appreciating and reflecting on the words themselves-‘Thanks’ and ‘Giving.’

Please note that MSAA’s offices are closed for the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday, November 26th and Friday, November 27th.

From all of us here at MSAA, please enjoy a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

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