About mweisser

I am the Manager of Client Services at MSAA and hold a Masters Degree in Social Work from Georgia State University. I currently have a LSW licensure in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. I am the mother of two beautiful children and also the owner of a tortoiseshell cat and a cocker spaniel.

Lessons from “Back to School”

For many families, September means back to school. Maybe you sent your child off for a first day of school (elementary, middle or high school each are a special moment), or maybe you are headed off to a class yourself as a college student, graduate student, teacher or professor. If none of these apply to you, then you at least see the back to school supplies and sales popping up everywhere as people make this transition.

If you are not a student or teacher, then once you leave school it can be easy to forget what a time of optimism and hope abounds at the beginning of the new school year. The hope to make new friends, achieve new academic goals, make the team, etc. is probably on the mind of all of those youngsters. Adult students may be invigorated by the goal of obtaining a successful career or the relief of having only one more year to go to finish toward a hard earned degree.

If you are not swept up in the “new year, new you” madness, take a moment. Remember that it doesn’t take classes to help you set goals or achieve outcomes. You don’t have to be in school to make new friends or have a plan of action. Sometimes, a spark of hope and optimism can help you to dream that big dream before your “first day,” and the hard work throughout the year is what helps you achieve your outcome.

Share

It’s all relative.

rsz_african-american_female_doctor_counseling_distressed_young_female_patient

Sometimes it may seem like things are spiraling. Maybe the bills are piling up, the stress level in managing home life or work is rising, and you are worried that you are headed for an MS Relapse if you keep going at your current pace. When things feel like they are outside of your control, it is easy to “cycle”  or consistently think of the negative aspects of what is going on. The whirlwind of negativity can affect not only your mood and health, but also your relationships and ability to accurately read cues from others and be empathetic.

When your co-worker is acting totally checked out and you are annoyed that she hasn’t helped you with a joint project, you might think she is acting uncaring, but maybe she didn’t tell you her brother is very sick in the hospital. When the dentist office calls for the third time to cancel your appointment and you just feel like screaming at the scheduler, you may not know that she is stressed out because other office staff keep flaking out on their scheduled appointments and making her job harder.

Yes, it is okay to have a bad day or a bad week. It is okay to not put on a “fake it ’till you make it” smile when you feel like nobody understands what you are dealing with, but when you start to get caught up in the negativity tornado and are on the borderline of snapping, remember that everyone is dealing with something. Yes, some of those “somethings” are more manageable than others, but they all impact and make a difference in the lives of the people living them. Focusing on the idea that everyone is living their own journey with different successes and challenges can help us to maintain balance; we are not alone for the ride. When things start to spiral, try to remember that everything is relative.

Share

Adding Up MS: Hey, What Does That Number Mean?

Two doctors looking at brain MRI

Did you know that estimates indicate that as many as 2.5 million individuals across the world may be living with MS currently? MS is generally referenced as a “rare” disease, but that number doesn’t seem small to me!

Where you are living in the world will determine a number of factors, including what diagnostic tools are available to accurately evaluate and diagnose a person with MS. After all, those figures might be harder to estimate in countries that do not have trained neurologists, MRI equipment, and other supportive medical testing. If people are not diagnosed or seeking medical care, then they are unlikely to be “counted” or projected into estimates.

Another major challenge is that many countries – including the United States – do not have an official MS Registry, which is a legislated or mandatory accounting of each person diagnosed with a particular condition within a particular country (or other geographic area such as a state). Without a registry, scientists and epidemiologists must rely on other factors to try and “guestimate” how many people in any particular area may be diagnosed with MS. These types of disease registries do exist in the United States for other conditions, such as ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

Countries such as Denmark do maintain an MS registry. Since the 1950’s Denmark has collected specific information on anyone diagnosed with MS. This type of registry has provided Danish researchers and scientists of other countries valuable information for clinical research and prospective studies. Hopefully someday the United States legislature may agree that a national MS registry could bring many benefits to individuals living with MS.

So, when you see that 2.5 million number, think of all the people who don’t see a doctor because they can’t access one or cannot afford medical care. Think of all the people who are diagnosed with something else because their physicians don’t have appropriate diagnostic equipment. Yes, researchers have tried to extrapolate an “accurate” number, but who is being left out?

When I hear that figure, I think, what does that number really mean, and how does that number impact the MS community? Does the lack of a registry leave researchers without critical information which could be collected to better understand the MS process and who is diagnosed with MS? Is less funding spent on MS research, including causes, treatment options, and individual quality of life and well-being because MS is perceived as “rare”? These are questions that cannot be answered because the true number of people living with MS is unknown, but it is still important to pose the questions.

For more information regarding projected figures of individuals living with MS around the world see the Atlas of MS 2013.

Share

Getting Graphic When You Have Multiple Sclerosis

Young couple looking distressed or angry

Sometimes when you try to communicate with others, your point may be misconstrued, or something may be lost in translation, or you feel that no matter what you are saying the other person just doesn’t “get it.”

In my role here at MSAA, I have heard from many people who are frustrated or disappointed that someone close to them, be it a family member, a friend, or even a close co-worker (someone who they know cares about them), just doesn’t “get” MS. They may not understand the daily or even hourly ups and downs of MS, or the invisible or hidden symptoms you are trying your utmost to manage, or maybe it’s just an expectation that everything should be the same as before your diagnosis, when for you it feels like the whole world has shifted.

No one wants to feel that our friends, family, and supporters are clueless, unhelpful, or uncaring…after all you KNOW they care about you, and that’s why you include them and want them to be a part of your life, and that’s why it feels so wrong when you can’t express your needs or they don’t seem to “get” what it is you are dealing with, or struggling with, or needing.

When words aren’t enough, get graphic…and not in the style of an R-rated movie, but instead embracing that sometimes a photograph, picture, or artwork can help support what you are saying. Even a visualization can sometimes be helpful, for example, “Sarah, I know that you are trying to help, but when you say that it makes me feel like you’re asking me to put a bag with a smiley face on my head…can you picture that? ” If you picture it, a person with a smiley face bag is being asked to hide their true emotions, or even if they express those emotions they cannot be seen by others. Sarah may picture that bag the next time she wants you to turn your frown upside down and be more empathetic to your needs.

So, the next time you feel like words are just not enough: snap a photo of how you are feeling, draw a picture of your thoughts, or give a visual depiction of your concerns. You may find that a visual display is sometimes the bridge that is needed to help your support person really “get it.”

Share

The Time is Ripe…Despite Multiple Sclerosis

Banana_in_hand

If you like to eat bananas, then you know that there are only a few days that they are in their prime. You go from the green tough phase, to one or two days of yellow perfection, and then the brown spots, bruises, and too sweet taste takes over.

If you eat avocados, then you know that when you buy them you have to feel them each day until they get just soft enough, and if you buy them soft, you must consume that day or miss your window of opportunity. In fact, sometimes it may seem like your avocado only has a few hour span where it is perfect for consumption.

So, what do bananas and avocados have to do with anything (aside from eating them, since they can be delicious and healthy snacks…just not served together)?

There are things in life you may want to do, but find you don’t have the time and/or the planning just never seems to work out. You know, like when you belong to a gym, but every time your schedule has an opening you are too fatigued to go. What about that painting class you wanted to take, but it is only held on a weeknight. which is really inconvenient? Sometimes you may be dealing with a banana situation where you only have one or two days which might work or an avocado situation where you feel you have mere hours to make something happen.

Yes, life is complicated and busy, and can be extremely overwhelming.  MS often throws a wrench into all of those carefully laid plans, but if there are things that you want to do: meet up with your friends, take that class, and get to the gym. Despite MS, the time is ripe to take charge and enjoy all of those things you want to do with your life. Sometimes it may take careful planning, re-prioritizing, and positive self-talk to get you there, but it’s worth trying. There may be cancelled appointments and days when you need to take a nap instead, but don’t let those days take over for planning for every other day.

After all, you probably still buy bananas even though you know you might not get to eat each one before it turns brown, and if you aren’t already acquainted, please meet your new friend guacamole.

 

Share

Expediting Travel When You Have Multiple Sclerosis

rsz_older_african-american_woman_with_cane_2

If you are traveling this summer, you may need to do a little extra planning to ensure you have the best experience possible on your trip.

Groups like Able to Travel sponsored by the United Spinal Association act as travel agents for accessible vacation planning and accessible guided tours and cruises. You can also do it yourself by calling ahead to hotels, restaurants, and venues to ensure accessibility of rooms, bathrooms, and fun activities.

If you are using an airport, you can actually call the TSA 72 hours in advance of your trip to arrange for a quick experience getting through security checkpoints (http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/travelers-disabilities-and-medical-conditions). Additionally, many airlines offer assistive services for boarding and navigating the airport, so be sure to make the airline and flight attendants aware of any needs you may have in advance of your flight.

There are also helpful websites like Flying with Disability which may offer helpful tips and suggesting for easing travel burdens.

Remember to do your homework before paying for services or using a company you are unfamiliar with to plan your trip or travel with, and most importantly – enjoy your trip!

Share

Give Yourself Time to Plan for Travel

rsz_young_couple_with_young_child_on_dads_shoulders_walking_in_park

When planning a summer vacation (or any trip for that matter) a great deal of detail is required to figure out the best place to stay, the quickest and easiest way to travel, and what activities you want to do. The list goes on and on.

When you also need to plan for accessibility or special accommodations, it adds extra steps to the traveling process. Sometimes you may even want to throw in the towel if planning the vacation becomes so hectic or frustrating that it causes increased stress or anxiety.

Depending upon your needs, creating a plan of action or checklist of sorts may be a good first step in alleviating frustrations. Here are a few ideas to get you started on your list:

1) What places might be fun to visit/where do I want to go?

2) How much do I have budgeted to spend?

3) Will I need to fly, drive, or take a train/ bus (and what are the benefits and challenges for me getting on a plane, bus, etc.)?

4) Do I want to go as part of a guided tour with a set itinerary and is there an accessible travel option?

5) Where will I stay, and do I need to call ahead to confirm accessible accommodations?

Once you begin to narrow down your choices of budget, location, and means of travel, you can then begin to focus on planning for specific accommodations (picking the seat closest to the bathroom or coordinating with your flight attendant to offer wheelchair assistance) and the fun activities you want to participate in on your trip.

Wherever you go, even if it is a day trip, try to have some fun this summer!

Share

MSAA Attends 2014 Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers

Several members of the MSAA team traveled down to Dallas, Texas last week for the 2014 meeting of the Consortium of MS Centers (CMSC). The meeting had approximately 2,000 registered participants (the largest CMSC ever) ranging from doctors, nurses and researchers, to nonprofit organizations like MSAA. CMSC Booth

MSAA set up our booth and reached out to attendees to try and ensure that providers are aware of our services and can refer to them as needed.

Some of the partners MSAA works with were also in attendance, including the vendors who work with MSAA on our Cooling program:

Steele Booth

The annual CMSC meeting is one of the best opportunities for education, sharing, and collaboration for professionals who serve the MS community. MSAA staff attended a number of helpful classes, lectures, and interactive sessions on everything from research and study updates related to causes and treatments to efforts to improve quality of life and comprehensive MS care.

Stay tuned to MSAA for more information and knowledge learned at the 2014 CMSC.

Share

You Can Contribute to Finding the Cure for Multiple Sclerosis:

rsz_lab_scientists_looking_in_microscopes

If you are looking for a way to get involved or change the future of MS research, the Accelerated Cure Project and NARCOMS (North American Research Committee on Multiple Sclerosis) are great places to get started!

I want to bring attention to these two organizations, which you may not be familiar with and encourage you to look into their websites if you are interested in learning more about what they do.

The Accelerated Cure Project maintains an MS-research repository and also will be launching an online patient powered research effort. They focus on making sure researchers have access to the biospecimens (for example blood, or CSF fluid) they need to conduct research, and then aggregate the results of all of the studies performed using these research samples.The sharing of research information and results helps to expedite the MS research process.

NARCOMS is a voluntary MS registry with over 37,000 registrants currently. They support the increase in collective knowledge of the MS experience through surveys and other activities in hopes that the collective knowledge gained about the MS experience will be helpful to researchers and will also promote a greater understanding of MS.

Share

Which half do you see?

rsz_middle-aged_caucasion_woman_thinking_and_reading_a_paperOptimism – the typical description is if you see the glass half full, you are an optimist and if you see the glass half empty, you are a pessimist.  It can be very empowering and reassuring to view the glass as half full. In most situations, having a positive outlook can help to impact the situation in a beneficial way.

To get more theoretical though, sometimes it may be helpful to remember it is just a glass with water and analyzing our perceptions and personal filters can help determine how they impact our outlook on life. In other words, the facts are the facts and the way we perceive a situation and our resulting emotions are usually based on personal filters of what we believe is good/bad, moral/immoral, happy/sad, etc.

Take for example when you meet a new boyfriend, people may say that you look at him “with rose-colored glasses,” meaning you cannot yet see or choose to ignore his apparent faults because you are so newly engaged in the love feeling that you are ready to brush those other concerns aside. At the end of the day, when your rose-colored filter is removed, you may be willing to deal with the shortcomings or challenges involved with that relationship, or you may be ready to hit the road running in a different direction.

In that scenario, if a person was able to view the actual situation and set aside their personal filter, they might know earlier on in the relationship that their partner is not a good match. Conversely, they might set aside someone they deem too difficult or different when if they had used a rose-colored filter, they may have given the relationship a chance and later found out that their difference could be compromised or overcome.

So back to the glass of water…ultimately, your mind may jump to one assessment or another (half-full/half-empty). While there may be benefits of viewing things one way or detriments to viewing it in another way, sometimes, especially in challenging situations, being more analytic and viewing the glass as a glass may help you to ascertain what personal filters or perceptions may be coloring your thoughts, emotions, and actions. When the glass always looks half-empty, it may be a good reminder to keep analyzing the glass and your own perceptions.

 

Share