Losing My Mind Part Two: Overcoming an MS Cognitive Relapse

By Matt Cavallo

In my last bog, I was in the throes of severe MS cognitive relapse. My short term memory was shot. My word association was gone. Everyday situations confused me. I was a danger to myself and those around me and yet I couldn’t comprehend that something was wrong with me. It took an intervention by my wife, Jocelyn, to get me to schedule a neurologist appointment.

The neurologist immediately sent me for MRI studies. Fitting for the holiday season, the contrast dye administered during the studies lit up the active brain lesions on my films like a Christmas tree. It was recommended that I started a course of treatment immediately.

I found myself isolated in an infusion clinic, depressed that MS had caught up to me again. I was scared. This relapse had affected my ability to work. I had missed time with my mobility and vision relapses, so I was afraid that this would be the final straw at my company. I couldn’t afford to lose my job, not around the holidays. Not because of MS. I also needed to get my mind back. In order to do so, I needed a plan. Here is what I did:

  1. Get a doctor’s note: I had my neurologist write a letter to my boss explaining my limitations. I also had the doctor talk with my wife to help convey my situation.
  2. Meet with your boss: I dropped the letter off at the office and had an honest conversation with him about my relapse.
  3. Create task lists: I got a notebook and listed the things I needed to do each day. I would cross things off the lists as I accomplished them.
  4. Leave sticky notes: I put sticky notes around the house that said “TURN OFF”, “CLOSE ME” or “FLUSH”.
  5. Keep your mind active: I found that reading, writing, crossword puzzles, Sudoku’s or any kind of thinking activities helped with my word association, recollection and memory.

It was early January 2007 and I was two months past my cognitive relapse. Things were becoming crystal clear again in my mind. I was back at work and benefited from a slow holiday season. My boss made accommodations for me and kept me on light duty until I was able to perform all the tasks of my fulltime job. I had made some delicious holiday meals without burning down the house and was able to have an intelligible conversation.

Jocelyn comes home from work, smiles and says, “I’m pregnant!” She grabs me and hugs me in the joy of all we had to overcome to conceive. I knew then that I was going to have to work harder than ever because I never knew when MS was going to strike again. So I set goals for myself that I wanted to accomplish and set out to accomplish them, despite the cognitive issues.

I dusted off an incomplete first draft of my memoir and spent hour after hour writing the story of my MS. My wife and I worked on it together. The writing and the conversations I felt helped rebuild my cognition and my mind was coming back with each page I wrote. Finally, the goal of being published happened in June of 2012 on my seventh anniversary of my MS diagnosis.

During that same month, I graduated with my Master’s in Public Health Administration. I had returned back to school to better understand the health care system to help make a difference in the lives of patients like me. I graduated with a 3.98 GPA, which was the highest in the program.

To realize these goals despite the challenges I’ve experienced with MS is incredibly meaningful. I cannot control what MS does to me, but I can do the best I can with what I’ve got. With my Master’s degree and published memoir, I have accomplished things that I never intended on doing prior to MS. Whatever your goals are if you set your mind to it you will be surprised at the results. If I can do it, you can too!

*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/

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If you have Medicare, get the information you need to know:

Tomorrow, October 15th, is the first day of Medicare Open Enrollment for plan year 2014. The plan that you select now will impact your medical coverage and costs for an entire year. Don’t forget to tune in to our live Webinar tomorrow evening from 8-9PM EST for important information on Medicare Open Enrollment and specific tips for people living with MS.

To register for the Webinar, go to the following link: support.mymsaa.org/aca1

If you cannot attend the live program, don’t worry, you will be able to watch the archive and download the presentation slides from our MSi page after the live program:  http://mymsaa.org/manage-your-ms/videos/.

This year, be prepared. Learn from Medicare experts who can try to help you understand what questions to ask and how to select your best options.

 

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Losing My Mind, Part One: Experiencing an MS Cognitive Relapse

By Matt Cavallo

Back in October of 2006, I was feeling like I had MS beat. My mobility was seemingly back to normal after losing function the previous year due to an acute onset of Transverse Myelitis. It had also been eight months since a bout of Optic Neuritis had claimed the vision in my right eye. Since then, all symptoms had resolved and I was living a normal, symptom free life. Little did I know that I was about to be thrown into the depths of my scariest relapse, losing my mind.

As the calendar approached the holiday season, I started forgetting things. It was simple things at first, like leaving my keys, wallet and phone on the counter as I walked out of the house for work and locking the front door behind me. While everyone shares these experiences, mine were scary because of the lack of cognitive association. I would look at my keys, wallet and phone on the counter, but couldn’t draw the association in my mind that I needed those things to get to work.

On several occasions, I knocked on my neighbor’s door to use their phone to call Jocelyn at work so she could come home and unlock the door for me. Luckily she worked only a mile away, so she was always able to save me. Even though she was having to save me from situations like this more and more often, I didn’t think I was having a problem.

Next my word association started to fail. I would say things like, “Jocelyn did you put the laundry in the dishwasher?” I would look at a common item like a refrigerator and was unable to call it by name. Instead I would say things like, “you know that thing that keeps food cold.” I was also repeating myself over and over. I remember going out to dinner with another couple and asked ten times in ten minutes whether my friend, John, had heard that our mutual friend, Marc, had his baby. My friend John was getting visibly irritated with me, but I was unaware that I had just repeated myself ten times. Jocelyn spoke up to say that I was having one of my MS episodes.

Still, I didn’t think anything was wrong. I didn’t realize that my work was suffering. I was missing deadlines and turning in incoherent reports. My friends and family were concerned because I couldn’t have a regular conversation. It was like I was there in the room with them, but my mind was locked inside my head and my thoughts couldn’t come out.

Then my cognition started to become dangerous. I love to cook, but I was starting meals and forgetting that I left the oven or stove on. There was one time when I was boiling chicken to make soup, left the house and came back later to have the entire house filled with smoke and the smoke alarm blaring. It was this time when Jocelyn confronted me by saying that I needed help before I hurt myself or others.

This hit me hard. Up until this point, MS had affected me physically but I wasn’t ready to cope with a cognitive loss. I also was not able to comprehend the magnitude of what this relapse was doing to my work and personal relationships or how my inability to process things was putting me in harm’s way. When my wife intervened and told me that I needed help, I didn’t want to believe her. I said that I felt fine and while I was a little forgetful, I was still in control of my faculties. She then pointed out that I almost burned the house down while making soup.

As Jocelyn told me about all my symptoms, I broke down. I realized that I was having another MS relapse, only this time I was losing my mind. If I didn’t see my neurologist, I was liable to lose my job, my friends and possibly hurt myself or others. This was a reality I didn’t want to face. This relapse was by far the scariest because I wasn’t fully aware that it was going on and there were no visual signs of disability. I agreed with Jocelyn and set an appointment for the next available time with the neurologist.

Tune in on October 16 for my next blog about how I was able to cope with and overcome this devastating cognitive relapse.

*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/

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Stay on the Tracks….

Many of us have taken different modes of transportation throughout our lives. Some of these modes have included various types of trains, trolleys, and subway cars,
all of which have one common purpose: to remain on the tracks provided to get to the desired destination safely. This may be an easier task for these transportation vehicles than trying to stay on track during everyday life. Keeping things organized and staying on course can be difficult with life’s unpredictable moments and events. This can be especially true when dealing with an illness like MS, a disease that proves unpredictable itself. So how does one try to stick to the tracks when life comes by and occasionally swipes you off course?

Here are some ideas on how to stay on track while dealing with life’s roadblocks:

  • Make lists! Prioritize your responsibilities and tasks so that you can make adjustments if something throws off the day’s expected course.
  • Write notes or use a tape recorder for the day. This can help you organize and remember things to be done. This can be especially helpful if something else comes up unexpectedly, you have the notes to remind you what needed to be done!
  • Reach out for resources and support. There may be ways to receive help to keep things in order for your routine. Asking others for help or making sure someone else is aware of your anticipated tasks/goals can aid in keeping things on track.

What are some things you do to try and stay on track?
 

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October Artist of the Month: Celebrating the Work of Artists Affected by Multiple Sclerosis

MSAA is very proud to present our 2013 Art Showcase - celebrating the work of artists affected by MS.

We have received many wonderful submissions from across the country and are delighted to share their work and their stories with you. Please visit our online gallery to view all of the MSAA Art Showcase submissions.

October 2013 Artist of the Month:
Tammy Jennings – Monterey, California

Ocean Wave by Tammy Jennings - MSAA October Artist of the Month

Ocean Wave

Tammy Jennings - MSAA October Artist of the Month

Oahu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“My name is Tammy Jennings and I lived in picturesque Monterey, California. I am a 53-year-old, single woman, and I have been living with Multiple Sclerosis since 1996; I was 37. I worked full-time until December 2006 when I had to “retire” as the unpleasant “side-effects” of my MS became too much to handle in a work environment. As a result, I had a lot of free time. So I spent the first few years visiting relatives that I hadn’t been able to see when I was working. My cousin, Joyce Quaglino, was one of those relatives. She can take all the credit for introducing me to the wonderful world of painting. I believe EVERYONE can paint, mainly because it is almost mistake proof. Some of the worst “mistakes” turn out to be the most beautiful paintings! The inspiration for the paintings submitted was the ocean. And Hawaii being one of my favorite places in the world, I took a picture of a sea turtle (Honu in Hawaiian) and painted it when I got home. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed painting them.

Both paintings are Acrylic & Oil. First I complete the main painting in acrylic, then go back and touch it up with oil to make it “pop” (as my cousin says).”

Read more

Be inspired – please send an online card featuring artwork by MS artist Tammy Jennings and spread awareness of MS and MSAA.

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The Affordable Care Act and Multiple Sclerosis

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or ACA for short) passed in Congress as a landmark piece of legislation with the intent of securing more accessible healthcare for all Americans. At MSAA, we often receive calls with clients curious and/or concerned about what these changes to the healthcare landscape may entail for them. The Affordable Care Act has enacted numerous changes to both private and public health care coverage (this includes Medicare and Medicaid).

On the private insurance side, here is a short list of just a few reforms that will be enacted starting October 1st:

1. Pre-existing condition exclusions have been eliminated, and insurers can no longer deny applicants based on their MS disease status.
2. Insurers must justify any monthly premium increase of 10% or more before it can take effect.
3. No consumer will be subject to yearly or lifetime benefit caps, which was a major issue for those with MS.
4. If you need to purchase a private plan insurance, it will now be offered through an Enrollment Marketplace in each state.

For Medicare and Medicaid:

1. The percentage for what you pay inside the Medicare Donut Hole will be decreasing every year until it is closed in 2020 and the out of pocket expense will be 25% of the plan’s medication cost.
2. Medicare beneficiaries will receive free wellness exams every year to ensure adequate preventative care.
3. As for Medicaid, for those states that elected to participate, the eligibility criteria will expand to 138% of the Federal Poverty Level or $32,499 for a household of four, for example.

These are just a few of the major reforms that will be taking place under the provisions of the ACA. MSAA has enacted a new initiative to expand education on this topic, including webinars that will focus individually on the changes to Medicare and private insurance.
The first webinar, “Understanding Medicare in the New Era” will take place on October 15th at 8 pm and will be presented by Katherine Fitzpatrick of the Medicare Rights Center and MSAA Client Services Manager, Margaret Weisser and registration is currently open. Registration information for the second webinar on the new State Marketplaces and Private Insurance is forthcoming.

You can register for the Medicare Webinar at: support.mymsaa.org/aca1
We look forward to “seeing” you there!

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Managing Multiple Sclerosis: How an MS Diagnosis Affects More Than Just the Patient

 

By Gayle Lewis, Ph.D.

When thinking about the idea of “managing MS,” more than likely you immediately think about the patient and how he/she is dealing with, incorporating, accommodating to, accepting, grieving…and having many other reactive and thoughtful coping styles for getting used to being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Certainly in my work, this is something that I focus on regularly with my patients: how to help them manage their MS. Whatever that might mean for the individual.

But managing MS is NOT JUST ABOUT THE PATIENT. It is simultaneously about the microsystem surrounding the patient, including partners and other family members. We can consider that “managing MS” needs to be looked at more globally, relationally and more systemically than just individually. That the trauma of MS diagnosis has many fingers of whom is affected and therefore who has to manage it.

My work more often than not involves discussions about my patients’ respective relationships with the people in their lives, particularly if a partner is involved and always when there is no partner, but the wish for one remains. Many relational areas get covered in sessions, but thematically, I hear over and over again the feeling of or actual act of being rejected; the reasons given are either directly stated to be because of the patient’s MS or indirectly communicated that MS has interfered so substantially in the relationship, the situation is no longer viable. Then there are the rejections that occur in which the partner/family member/friend remains as a figure in the patient’s life, but creates enormous distance between themselves and the patient, with the space between them being filled with uncertainty, anger, resentment, loss, sadness, disconnection and the like…feelings felt by both patient and their “people.”

And while I absolutely empathize with patients who feel rejected/are rejected by their “people,” I also have great empathy for the “people,” who are the ones patients rely on, who become the caretakers, who are tasked with increased responsibilities they may not be prepared for nor wished for when they got involved with said-patient. They didn’t sign up for this! Managing MS is NOT just about the patient, as I said. I work with people whose partners have had very strong reactions after a diagnosis of MS was given: some may reduce or stop sexual intimacy; or become increasingly snappish and intolerant when the patient struggles to do tasks at home that were previously rote and done with little effort, like removing dishes from the dinner table and bringing them to the sink; increasingly spending more time out of the house and away from the relationship, finding the patient’s symptoms too difficult to tolerate and too frustrating to face regularly; in some cases a partner may even leave the patient after diagnosis never to be seen from or heard from again. In one case a partner telling the patient that he needed to break up because he could not deal with her MS, even though she was asymptomatic and, in a meeting with the doctor (requested by this boyfriend), the doctor presented a very optimistic picture of the patient’s likely path with her MS. That boyfriend apparently did not want to pay attention. He was mostly concerned that the patient would end up in a wheelchair and he would have to take care of her, which he did not want to do anytime soon.

In all of these examples people are reacting to a situation (MS diagnosis and its sequelae) in ways that speak to how awful and traumatized they are feeling about what is going on. These are not the only examples I have; there are ones in which partners step up, learn about MS, specifically their partner’s MS, where they are supportive in loving, generous ways, when they actively participate in their partner’s treatments and step into not out of what is happening. But even those “angels” have to face and deal with the trauma of being with someone with a progressive, chronic illness. No one is immune from the impact of that. I frequently see or hear about relational pathology as couples/family members adapt to an MS diagnosis. But, I also see that many of the partners or family members willingly participate in treatment or get their own treatment or even join a group with others who have a person in their life with MS and are having difficulty managing what the diagnosis means to them.  All of these latter tactics can be very constructive…and all are a process, as is managing MS…it IS a process that is evolving and ever-changing and one that needs to be open to the idea that it’s NOT JUST ABOUT THE PATIENT.

*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

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Preparing for the Change of Seasons

By Matt Cavallo

Many of us living with Multiple Sclerosis welcome the change of seasons. Gone are the dog days of summer and the pseudo-exacerbations (brief flare-up) associated with heat. While the heat is no longer a factor, the change of seasons can present other challenges to those of us living with MS. In a speech to the University of Lille (7 December 1854), Louis Pasteur said one of my favorite quotes, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” The following self-management techniques will help you prepare for the challenges that the change of season present for those of us living with MS:

Self-Management Tips for Change of Season Issues

1. Eating healthy: Fall and Winter are associated with a lot of festive eating. Halloween candy, Thanksgiving dinner and all the holiday parties, provide lots of yummy food and treats but also provide many opportunities for us to overeat. Some ways to keep your diet in check:

  • Eat three meals a day. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Skipping breakfast may lead to overeating later.
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals to keep your energy up.
  • Avoid large portions and desserts that can increase fatigue.
  • Keep a food diary and write down everything you are eating to stay on track and keep you accountable for healthy choices.
  • Drink plenty of water.  Dehydration can be confused with hunger.

2.  Preventing falls: Rain and snow in fall and winter can lead to an increased risk of falls.

  • Safeguard your entrance and exits with mats to absorb moisture.
  • Wear appropriate shoes with proper treads to provide more grip on slippery floors and sidewalks.
  • Stock up on the supplies you need to weather any storm that hits, so that you don’t have to run out during a storm.

3. Exercise: Cooler months can mean less opportunities for outdoor activities, leaving some less active.

  • Find ways to fit in exercise despite the weather.
  • Work out indoors at a local gym or in your own living room with exercise DVDs.
  • Many local gyms, like the YMCA, have indoor pools. Aquatic exercise is good for those with limited mobility.
  • You can also use swimming to raise awareness for MS through the MSAA’s Swim for MS program.
  • Mall walking is a good way to get in exercise on a rainy day.
  • The key is to keep moving!

4. Managing stress: Fall and winter months can increase stress from increased holiday parties, financial expenses and family obligations.

  • Don’t overextend yourself.
  • Set a realistic plan for what you can commit to and stick to it.
  • Take time for yourself to relax and decompress.
  • Exercise and eating healthy will play a vital role in helping to keep your stress levels at a minimum.

Each season can bring a unique set of challenges for persons with disabilities, but preparation and knowledge of self-management skills will help you anticipate and overcome those challenges to enjoy the best of what the season has to offer.

*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

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Talking with Friends and Family about Multiple Sclerosis & its Symptoms

For this month, we focused our blog around managing MS.  Some helpful tips were provided and the one that sticks out to me was about “asking for help”.  Understanding your limits and what you are able to accomplish in a day is a great way to conserve your energy and focus on what is important.  Often times it is important to involve those around you, but navigating the “how to” is a challenge.

For those who struggle with the symptoms of MS that may not be visible (i.e. fatigue, pain, and cognitive changes), the hidden symptoms of MS, asking for help from a friend or loved one can often be a daunting task.  We frequently hear and read stories from individuals who feel guilty asking for help, because they don’t feel that they “look” sick.  They fear they will be judged in asking for help.

It may be helpful, before you tell everyone about your MS symptoms to think; does this person play a significant role in my life? And, can I rely on them in the future if I need help?  If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then it is time to put on your teacher hat and educate those identified helpers about what types of symptoms you experience and what they may look, or sound like, for you.  MSAA’s The Motivator Winter/Spring 2013 edition discusses may of the hidden symptoms of MS: http://www.mymsaa.org/publications/motivator/winter-spring13/.  This publication can be shared with friends and loved ones to further provide education and information.

Not every person with MS experiences symptoms in the same way, so providing information as to how MS looks and feels to you is very important.  With more understanding and better education, we can hope to reduce the stigma around the hidden symptoms of MS and promote a more positive experience for both yourself and your loved ones.

Please share your experiences, have you had to educate your friends and loved ones about the symptoms of MS?  What has worked for you?

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Dealing with Changes in Weather When You’re Living with Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms

Well, I can honestly tell you that I’m looking forward to the change in weather. Dealing with multiple days of 100+ degree weather is NOT fun.

The heat really bothers my MS, but then again so does weather change in general. I know I’m not the only one… but it’s really hard to deal with the way my MS “acts up” when the weather changes… it’s not something we can control (obviously).

By keeping an eye on the weather forecast, I know what to expect, but I also know that when the weather changes (which it drastically does in the great state of Texas) I need to take it easy. It sometimes feels as if my body is protesting the weather change… it doesn’t help that I have arthritis as well, from being a walking accident most of my life and breaking bones non stop.

I know everyone that lives further north, has a hard time dealing with cool weather, but I don’t have that problem, and I frequently joke on how I want to live in Alaska, or something. Where I wouldn’t have to deal with the constant heat here in Texas!

One way I’ve found to “help” my body’s aches and pains from the weather change is taking an Epsom salt bath. It really helps me relax, and I make sure not to have the water TOO warm. But, it does ease the ache my body gets when the weather is changing.

That’s all I have found that helps a little bit, when dealing with the weather… but I would love to hear how others cope with it.

It’s too bad we couldn’t conquer an Island, and name it MS Island, where it’s a wonderful 70 degrees outside constantly… One can dream :)

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