About Samantha Schech

I am a Client Service Specialist here at MSAA. I have my Master's Degree in Social Service from Bryn Mawr College, a school just outside of Philadelphia. Originally from the Baltimore area, I am a huge Baltimore sports fan and am often heard cheering for the Ravens and Orioles. In my spare time, I enjoy cooking, traveling, and playing kickball with my friends in an adult sports league.

Planning Around the Holidays

As the holiday seasons steadily approach, so do the holiday events and planning. Perhaps you have already received an invite or two, or are a part of an elaborate e-mail chain or Facebook group. For some, the mere thought of having to plan around the holiday season is stressful; and for those living with MS, an often unpredictable disease, the stress burden can increase even more.

So how do you tackle the holiday planning in a polite and self-determined fashion, while making sure to keep your health as a priority?

  1. Recognize your limits and be honest with yourself. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies when it comes to planning. We want to be able to do everything, but realistically, it is not in our best interest. Knowing your limit and sticking to it can help alleviate the overwhelmed feeling that is commonly seen in planning events.
  2. Have a game plan. Use a calendar to keep track of events and use this to track tasks that must be completed for these events. For example, you signed up to bring a side dish to a friend’s holiday party; write down the day of the party, and plan ahead the grocery shopping day and cooking day and build those into the calendar. This will help avoid the last minute day of dash to the store that often leaves you too tired to cook or even go to the party!
  3. It’s OK to say no! For some, this is an on-going struggle; but saying “no” from the beginning of planning is a lot easier than the last minute “I can’t make it”. Place yourself and your health first, and build around that. Use the prior two steps to build a holiday plan, and know which events to say no to.

Eleanor Roosevelt said “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” When having to say no to an event, don’t allow others to make you feel bad about yourself because you cannot attend. By choosing to place your health and wellbeing on a pedestal, down the road one day, you will see what was actually important and thank yourself.

What tips and strategies have you established to help manage holiday planning?


Election Day and Disability Voting Related Concerns for the MS Community

While most of the media has already turned their attention to the upcoming Presidential Election, it’s worthy to note that there are still important issues and elections occurring this Election Day, Tuesday November 3rd.

Voting provides us the opportunity to weigh in on the issues that are most important to us as well as how our hometown and state are governed. For those living with disabilities, following and supporting elected officials with similar goals in mind is critical. For example, many who rely on public transportation as a means to get around town should know which officials support expanding transportation services, versus those who may plan to shut them down.

We have the power to create change through our votes. While on a local level it may seem insignificant, state level policies have a way of affecting those living with disabilities. Disability Rights organizations often open up their phone lines on Election Day to help answer disability related voter questions. Contact your local Disability Rights group to learn how you may be affected in this upcoming election.

Having an issue getting to the polls? Visit our Accessible Voting blog for information and guidance around access issues.

Happy Voting!


Mental Illness Awareness Week

Mental health awareness

Each year Mental Illness Awareness Week occurs during the first full week of October. Every year there is a recurring theme that spreads across the country. This year, the theme revolves around building a movement through the Stigma Free initiative.

“Being Stigma Free means learning about and educating others on mental illness, focusing on connecting with people to see each other as individuals and not a diagnosis, and most importantly, taking action on mental health issues and taking the Stigma Free pledge.”

The hashtag for the theme is #IAmStigmaFree

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness in America. Mental health stigma affects each and every one of us as well as the people we love. Stopping Mental Health Stigma is an imperative first step which provides those who silently struggle with mental illness, the opportunity to reach out for help.

Did you know that the risk of suicide was 7.5 times higher among persons with MS than the general population? In a study of individuals with MS who experienced thoughts of suicide, one-third had not received any psychological help. If you have concerns regarding mental illness, or thoughts of suicide, please reach out for help. Depression is a treatable condition and needs to be discussed with the doctor.

For more information regarding Depression and MS, please visit the MSAA website at http://mymsaa.org/about-ms/symptoms/depression/.

National Alliance on Mental Illness: https://www.nami.org/miaw


Managing the Hectic Schedule

“It’s how we spend our time here and now, that really matters. If you are fed up with the way you have come to interact with time, change it.” –Marcia Wieder

While many things in life may seem out of our immediate control, there is one constant that has the ability to change; time. While we can’t make more hours in a day, we can change our perception of time and how our days will look.

Start your day off right. While preparing for the day, take a moment to jot down a few notes on things that need to be accomplished. Personal calendars, phone reminders, or dry erase boards are a helpful way to organize tasks.

Take into consideration MS symptom management. When planning out the day, consider your MS symptoms. Are you more productive in the early mornings, or late afternoons? Does your MS disease-modifying treatment cause symptoms or side effects? If so, make sure to plan around your treatment dosage time.

Reprioritize. It’s OK not to check everything off of your to-do list in one day. Sometimes that’s easier said than done. Take a moment during the day to look over your list and consider what not to do that day.

Time management is a personal journey. What works for someone might not work for everyone, but it is nice to hear how others plan their days. What tips or strategies do you use to manage your hectic schedule?


It is Never too Late to Make a Change

This time of year sets the stage for big changes in many people’s lives. Little kids prepare for the first day of school. College students embark on a new journey that will change the course of their future. And parents start to see their once little child becoming more independent and less reliant on their help.

As we age, it appears that everything changes and sometimes we accept those changes and sometimes we don’t. For many, change is a scary thing and is met with some resistance or animosity. But for some, change can be exciting and refreshing.

Which category do you fall? Do you find yourself resisting change, or do you fully embrace it?

It is never too late to make a change in your life. A change does not necessarily need to be an overhaul, perhaps something small that you have put off for some time. With the long holiday weekend, it provides an extra day to do something for yourself that may make a significant transformation for the better.

So give it a shot, allow yourself to move freely through the change. If you come across any resistance or hesitation, ask yourself why. Change does not have to be absolute. You have control over your life and if after making the change you find that it does not work for you, you have the power to make the switch.
What is something you have thought about changing?

MSAA Office’s will be closed Monday September 7th in observance of the Labor Day Holiday.


Financial Wellness and Multiple Sclerosis

It is known that stress can have a negative impact on MS symptoms. While individuals may try to manage stress in their lives through exercise, meditation, or positive thinking; financial stress is something that is often swept under the rug and ignored. While ignoring the issue may alleviate the initial stress of thinking about financial matters, in the long run it is not a successful practice and often allows the financial matter to come back more stressful than the last.

Talking about money is tough, especially for those with limited incomes; but not talking about money can do more damage than good. Understanding and truly evaluating your financial situation is a great way to develop a financial plan. Awareness of the in’s (income) and out’s (expenses) can be eye opening!

The Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (MSAA) and National Disability Institute (NDI) collaborated on a series of informational webinars to assist the MS community in learning about strategies to protect and improve their financial well-being.

Through the webinar series, topics such as ‘Being Money Smart’ and ‘Working Towards Financial Wellness’ are discussed. For each topic, you can view the archived webinar and download a PDF version for future use and reference. Information can be found right on MSAA’s website at http://www.mymsaa.org/manage-your-ms/videos/financial.

What strategies have worked for you in evaluating or creating a financial plan?


Dental and Vision Insurance

This month as we focus on health insurance, it is also important to discuss two of the often underinsured areas of healthcare, dental and vision services. While we understand the importance of dental hygiene and multiple sclerosis, many individuals still don’t receive the much needed care.

Dental insurance plans can be purchased through the health insurance marketplace as a stand-alone insurance during open enrollment OR if you are planning to make changes to your health insurance plan for the 2016 year, a plan can be selected that includes dental care. Unfortunately, if vision coverage isn’t part of your health insurance plan, it cannot be purchased through the marketplace. To learn about available stand-alone vision plans, contact your state’s Department of Insurance, or a local agent or broker.

Check out the following tips on how to find dental care for the underinsured:

  • Check for a local federally qualified health clinic which offers dental services. To search for a health clinic, use the HRSA website.
  • Look into local dental schools. Most of these teaching facilities have clinics that allow dental students to gain experience treating patients while providing care at a reduced cost. Experienced, licensed dentists closely supervise the students
  • Dental Lifelines Network offers information about free dental services in the area for those that qualify. You can look up information about your state’s program on the program’s website: http://dentallifeline.org/
  • Dial 2-1-1 and connect with your local United Way. You may be directed to free or reduced cost dental services

Check out the following tips on how to find vision care and eyeglass services for the underinsured:

  • VISION USA, coordinated by the Optometry Cares – The AOA Foundation, provides free eye exams to uninsured, low-income workers and their families. For more information about VISION USA, call 1-800-766-4466.
  • Lions Clubs International provides financial assistance to individuals for eye care through its local clubs. You can find a local Lions Club by using the “club locator” feature on the organization’s website.
  • New Eyes provides free eyeglasses to more than 8 million people in the U.S. and around the world. For more information about New Eyes, call 1-973-376-4903 or visit the New Eyes website.
  • EyeCare America, a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, provides free eye exams for qualifying seniors. To see if you qualify, please visit the EyeCare America website.

Battling the Health Insurance Appeal

Insurance companies are like a business. They are out to make money and with that being said, they are looking out for their assets. If insurance companies approved every claim that came through, they would burn through their resources very quickly. This is why insurance companies work the way that they do. By providing a set list of covered benefits, they control the amount of claims that come through and can control the amount of money spent on those benefits.

With that being said, it does not mean that an individual cannot receive coverage for a needed device or treatment. It is just that the insurance company wants to know that this device or treatment is really needed AND is going to be helpful.

For example, the Bioness or WalkAide device used for the treatment of foot drop. For many, if they were to contact their insurance provider and inquire as to whether the device was covered under their plan, they would be told ‘no’. This can be very discouraging and can spark some anger in those who struggle with foot drop. But if we look at ‘why’ the insurance companies deny this device initially, it can make sense.

The Bioness or WalkAide devices have not been FDA approved for the treatment of foot drop in MS, meaning that there have not been clinical trials to prove that this device is clinically effective for those with MS. Unfortunately, without the FDA approval insurance companies may have the upper-hand. They are trying to protect their assets and don’t want to provide an expensive device and have that device not be effective.

So what can you do?

Insurance companies require what is called a ‘burden of proof’, meaning that you must provide enough proof and evidence to the insurance company that the device or treatment is helpful to you in your situation. Using the example of the Bioness or WalkAide, by locating a physical therapist that works with this device, or one that can assist with receiving a trial, you can help to build your case against the insurance company. Physical therapy reports of the devices effectiveness can be used in the appeal process to provide the burden of proof needed for the case.

While insurance appeals can be a challenge and possibly delay treatment or assistance from a medical device; decisions can be overturned and won. By understanding the system and how and why an insurance company requires this information, you give yourself the advantage in the appeals process.

 Have you won an insurance appeal? What steps did you take to ensure your success?


Staying Grounded in Thought When Your Mind Wants to Fly

Unexpected moments in life, whether they are an emotional or physical crisis can cause the mind to take off down the racing path of “what if’s”. You know, those questions that no one can answer, like “what’s going to happen” or “what if it doesn’t work out”.

It is easy to get swept up in a panic when those thoughts occur. So what can you do to bring your thoughts back down to earth? Try grounding yourself. No, not physically tying yourself to the ground, more in the figurative sense. Grounding practices have been used in the therapeutic treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for years and are a helpful and effective technique to master.

The concept of grounding is the act of focusing your mind on a single object or action in order to ‘block out’ thoughts that are causing the panic feeling. Grounding techniques often use the five senses (sound, touch, smell, taste, and sight) to immediately connect individuals with the present moment.

Think of it as a distraction for the mind. There is no right or wrong to this practice as long as it works for you. It may take a few attempts to find a technique that is effective for you, however don’t let that set you back. Once you find what works for you, use this as your go-to technique.

Examples of Grounding Techniques:

  • Touch objects around you, and describe them (texture, color). For example, “I’m sitting on a yellow chair, and the fabric is rough; it’s itching my leg. The carpet is beige, and there is a brown stain in the corner.”
  • Run water over your hands, and describe how it feels.
  • Say the alphabet backwards.
  • Smell an orange or piece of fruit. Focus on the smell.

Perhaps you have been using a similar technique but didn’t know the psychological implication or terminology. What do you do to keep grounded?


Mindfulness and Meditation for Multiple Sclerosis

“Meditation can help us embrace our worries, our fear, our anger; and that is very healing. We let our own natural capacity of healing do the work.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

Studies have continued to show how creating a mindfulness or meditation practice can assist those in reducing fatigue, depression, and anxiety associated with living with a chronic illness. Although the study outcomes are positive, individuals are still wary about starting a practice of their own, with fear that they do not know how to start. Starting a meditation or mindfulness practice can be made easier if you create a space in your home specifically for meditation, and commit to a practice schedule.

Creating a Meditation Space
We define the rooms in our home based on their activities. In the dining room, we nourish our bodies and prepare meals for the family. In the living room, we entertain guests or watch television. Defining a space in the home based on relaxation and mediation is important. You have a desk to pay bills, why not have an area to meditate. By designing a space for meditation you are mentally preparing yourself for the task.

You do not need an entire room to meditate, a corner of a room would suffice as long as this is a dedicated space that would not be cluttered or interrupted by others in the household. Decorate your space with images that bring you warmth and peace. Some choose to light candles or incense to promote this sense. The comfort of your space is important as you may be sitting for a long period of time. Pillows and blankets are often used to create a more comfortable sitting environment.

There are no rights and wrongs to a meditation practice as long as you achieve the desired outcome. Whether this meditation time is to relieve stress or become more in tuned to your body, you should be able to measure the outcome and notice a change. Start by slowly closing your eyes and focusing on your breath. Breathe slowly and deeply, noticing how each breath moves through your body. Don’t force your breathing, breathe as natural as possible; in through the nose and out through your mouth. Let your thoughts flow through you. Calming the mind is often the most challenging part of meditation, but becomes easier the more you practice. Acknowledge the thoughts as they pass through your mind and bring your focus back to your breathing.

Guided meditations can be found online, on CD’s, or even podcasts. Working through a guided meditation may be helpful to a beginner while trying to hone in and create their meditation practice. Remember, there is no right and wrong to this. It may be difficult at first, but that does not mean that you “aren’t doing it right”. Stick with it, start slowly, and keep track of your progress.

Have you developed a meditation practice in your home? How did you define your space?