Unwanted Advice During the Holidays: How to Cope?

By: Meagan Freeman

During the holidays, we may find ourselves in the idyllic, peaceful scenes depicted in a Norman Rockwell painting. Surrounded by loving family and friends, sipping hot beverages and laughing by a crackling fire. Along with those scenes, we often partake in traditional meals, full of wonderful foods and desserts. The downside of this beautiful family tradition might be the hazards of incredibly high calorie, high fat, high sodium foods that may take a toll on those with multiple sclerosis.

For the past 6 months, I have made tremendous changes in my own diet. I have made fruits and vegetables the focus of my diet, along with low fat, low sodium options. I have worked very hard on maintaining this way of eating, and in general, have been supported by my family and friends in this process. In a few short months, I saw dramatic reductions in my blood pressure (I have hypertension in addition to MS,) and I have also seen large reductions in my cholesterol. In combination with my medication, I have reduced the severity of my MS symptoms through this lifestyle.

Why do the Holidays seem to completely derail healthy lifestyle choices? I have already begun to hear comments from family, such as: Why don’t you just take a break from the diet? Why don’t you skip a few days? What is the big deal? Why are you being so extreme? It is amazing how quickly “tradition” becomes the priority at holiday meals, rather than health. I am a believer in the concept that healthy meals can also be incredibly tasty.

In addition to these dietary comments, we may also find ourselves being showered with the ever-present “helpful advice” from family members about how to best manage our MS. “Have you tried———?” I happen to be a licensed family nurse practitioner, and even with my medical background, I have family and friends who ask me this very question constantly. They send me articles about new research, suggest different alternative and traditional therapies, and question my treatment decisions with regularity. Sometimes I feel a twinge of anger, and I have to hold back an emotional response. Instead, I find the response, “Thank you for letting me know about that, I will look into it,” to be the best.

Sticking to our choices while being gracious recipients of unwanted advice can be especially trying during the holidays. The most important thing to keep in mind is that we are loved and surrounded by people who only want the best for us. This is important to remember when you find yourself at the Thanksgiving dinner table receiving your 50th comment about the food (or lack of) on your plate!

Happy Holidays!

*Meagan Freeman was diagnosed with RRMS in 2009, at the age of 34, in the midst of her graduate education. She is a Family Nurse Practitioner in Northern California, and is raising her 6 children (ranging from 6–17 years of age) with her husband, Wayne. She has been involved in healthcare since the age of 19, working as an Emergency Medical Technician, an Emergency Room RN, and now a Nurse Practitioner. Writing has always been her passion, and she is now able to spend more time blogging and raising MS awareness. She guest blogs for Race to Erase MS, Modern Day MS, and now MSAA. Please visit her at: http://www.motherhoodandmultiplesclerosis.com.


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?


It’s Beginning To Look a Lot Like…

The holidays…that’s right. They’re quickly approaching and if you’ve seen any advertisements or store displays you’d think it’s been here since the start of October. Right about mid-November straight into January are some of the most festive times of the year. Gatherings, parties and decorations as the sounds and smells of old holiday classics fill the air. Most people think of this time of year and are instantly thrown back to childhood memories of parades, waiting to open gifts, big family dinners and traditions that predate you. They break out the recipe cards and address book in anticipation of all that the holidays bring.

This year before the holidays actually start (I’m telling you they should begin the Monday before Thanksgiving not the end of September) take some time to look at how you have celebrated the season in the past. Do you gather with family around a warm table and welcome meal? Get together with friends who are from far and wide to celebrate the connections you’ve built over the past year? Do you lend a hand and volunteer for an organization? Spend every waking moment coming up with just the right gift? Plan the details from décor to the meals to the stamps for your cards? Or maybe your holidays are quiet and calm.

keep-calm-holidays-are-comingYour holiday doesn’t have to look just like mine or like anyone’s for that matter. It doesn’t have to be a Norman Rockwell painting or look like the commercials you see for Pillsbury to be wonderful. There’s no one way to celebrate this time of year. Maybe this year your celebration will be completely different than years past and that’s ok. Take the time before the holidays begin and give yourself permission for this year to be this year. Circumstances may be different and life may not look the same. Take a moment to feel any losses and acknowledge the shift. Take in the changes and celebrate even the smallest of victories and good memories.

As the weather begins to turn cold and the days seem shorter take a moment to think back and find those things you most want to make part of your holidays this year and celebrate them.

Happy New Year… oh wait, we aren’t there yet 😉


Winding Down from the Holidays

As the holiday season comes to a halt, signs of the New Year are all around us. While families are taking down and storing away decorations, stores are preparing for the next holiday. Windows and aisles are filled with red and pink candies, hearts, and flower holding bears. With all of the displays and reminders about Valentine’s Day, it’s hard not to be swept back up into another holiday.

January is typically the month of New Year’s Resolutions, with everyone vowing to make changes or set goals for the new year. January can also be a time for a re-set. Before jumping back into another holiday, take some time to focus on you and do something that you enjoy, or perhaps have put off over the last few months.

Changing the mentality of getting a jump start on the new year to one of sanctity and calm, may be beneficial for people who find themselves getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of life and forgetting to care for themselves.

Take some time during the day, even as little as 10 minutes, to do something that makes you happy. Sometimes even just sitting in a quiet space and taking a few deep breaths can calm you and prepare you for your next task. It is OK to take time for yourself. By doing so, you are allowing your best self to come forward.

How do you plan to care for yourself this year?


How Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference in the New Year

By: Matt Cavallo

While most people are planning for their New Year’s resolutions, many of us with multiple sclerosis are just trying to feel normal again after all the holiday activities. The problem with the holidays is that they take us out of our normal routines and create financial and emotional stress. When we go outside of our normal routine or have increased stress, we unknowingly put ourselves at risk for an MS exacerbation, or relapse.

Last year I blogged, “Tips for Avoiding a Post-Holiday Multiple Sclerosis Flare”, which can be read by clicking here. Those tips include: developing a financial plan, changing eating habits, exercising, getting back on your schedule and setting attainable goals. You can enjoy the holidays, but it is critical to have a plan to get back on track.

Most times my tips come from lessons I’ve learned the hard way. Instead of taking my own advice last year I tried to be super dad and ran myself ragged. I spent the next couple of months trying to recover from the MS fatigue, was unable to take off the extra holiday weight and had to buy new pants with a stretchy waist band.

You see, you don’t have to wait until the New Year for a do-over. Resolutions can start at any time. Mine was to ditch the stretchy pants. I made sure to start working towards it before the holiday season began. I also made a couple of smart decisions along the way.

I took extra time off to make sure that I wasn’t stressed with last minute running around. Taking care of the gifts ahead of time also softened the financial stress of the season, because the costs were spread out. We didn’t stray too much from our regular diet, but did allow some holiday goodies. I also made sure to take extra time to rest. Taking the time off to spend with my family allowed me to be super dad and catch up on rest.

With all of the planning I did ahead of time, I am much less stressed and fatigued than last year. I am also down a couple of pounds and can ditch the stretchy pants. I’m still not exactly where I want to be yet, but I am working on it. A pleasant side effect of implementing a resolution before the New Year is that I actually believe that I have some attainable goals that I can stick to.

What I learned is that I don’t need a holiday to commit to feeling better. I cannot control what MS does to me, but I can control other things like fitting into my pants. Making small changes can have a big impact on how you feel or how fatigued you are. What little changes are you going to make in 2015?

Thank you for your continued readership and support. Wishing you and yours a happy, healthy New Year!

*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/


Wishing You a Safe and Joyous Holiday Season

MSAA_Holiday_Cards8There is still time to share holiday greetings and raise awareness about MSAA! Please visit support.mymsaa.org/holidaycards to send a holiday or New Year’s eCard to everyone on your list!

PLEASE NOTE:  MSAA’s offices will be closed Wednesday, December 24th, through Sunday, December 28th. 


Creating New Memories this Holiday Season

“What if Christmas, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”
― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Growing up, one of my favorite activities in school was around learning and exploring new cultures and how they celebrate holidays. Being so young and not yet having a chance to explore the world around me, I found it fascinating that people were different from what I assumed was the norm.

For example, in Germany, December 6th is St. Nicholas’ Day and “der Nikolaus” comes to the home of small children and brings gifts, such as sweets and chocolate, and puts them into the shoes of the children, who place them by their doors the night before. Then on the night of December 24th, Father Christmas brings presents to the children.

In Argentina, families celebrate starting Christmas Eve with a large family meal following with a fireworks display at midnight, toasting to Christmas. Many families stay up late into the night meeting with friends and family, then they will sleep all of Christmas Day.

To celebrate the New Year, people in Greece hang an onion on their door to symbolize rebirth and in the Philippines, women wear polka dot dresses and men carry coins in their pockets to symbolize prosperity and happiness for the new year.

The purpose of sharing these variations of holiday celebrations is to show that no matter how you choose to celebrate a holiday this year whether it is Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, remember that it is OK to be different. Value time spent with family, not the gifts that are given, or the decorations that are hung. Create new memories this season and don’t be afraid to veer from the holiday norm. As the Dr. Seuss quote illustrates, the holiday spirit cannot be bought from a store, the holiday is what you make of it.

If you are looking for some inspiration from other countries on how to add some new culture to your holiday, check out the Why Christmas webpage to learn more about Christmas Around the World or 123 New Year to learn about New Year’s Traditions and Customs.

How do you plan to make new memories this holiday season?



Stress and the Holidays with MS

Can you believe it’s already that time of the year again for the holidays? With everything we have going on in our lives and tacking on multiple sclerosis with it, it can be very hectic.

The holidays are meant to be a time to be with family and enjoy ourselves, not stress over shopping, hosting parties, cooking, etc. Then you tack on the crazy weather we have been having on top of everything else, it’s just down right insane.

(Now maybe some of y’all are used to the cold weather, but it’s a bit of a shock to us down here in the South.)

So I thought I would share some of the things that I do, so that I’m not adding stress to my already stressful life. It’s hard to be completely stress free, so I’m not even going to attempt to say something like “stress free.”

Sometimes it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything that we need to get done, completed.

For me, when the day is coming to a close, I feel like it’s family time and time to relax. Not to run around ‘till I’m exhausted getting Christmas shopping done, etc. I don’t have the energy and/or strength to stand in lines, to fight the crowds, and everything else that comes along with holiday shopping.

Many sales aren’t just limited to ‘in-store’ purchases, but are also online. One thing I’ve done in the past – and will do this year as well, is shopping online. I know it’s not the same thing as actually going to the store and buying things, but it’s better for me and my MS, so that’s what I’m taking in to account. I don’t want to run down my body or cause my MS to flare-up trying to shop for the holidays. Where is the fun in that?

You would be surprised on what all is offered online. I love shopping at Amazon, because they seem to have almost everything available because they have outside vendors. Plus, a lot of the time when you’re shopping online certain stores offer free shipping if your total price is over a certain limit. Even if you have to pay for shipping, I think that the same amount would go towards gas if you’re actually driving around and shopping.

Now, whether you are shopping online or in the store, see if they offer gift-wrapping. This is a very big problem for me. I have spasticity in my hands, so if I’m trying to wrap multiple gifts at a time, my hands start giving me issues, and then the wrapping isn’t so pretty.

If you enjoy doing your own gift-wrapping, try and make a schedule out of it, so that you aren’t wrapping everything at once. I’ve done that before, and it wasn’t nice at all.

I know that it can be annoying that we have to make certain changes in our ‘routine,’ but I feel that those changes are worth it personally. By doing some simple, small changes, I can make sure that I’m not going to ‘pay for it’ from my MS in the future.

If you’re hosting a holiday event at your house, kudos to you! I don’t think I could handle all that. But if you are one of those people, don’t feel like you have to do ALL of the cooking for the gathering. Ask family/friends to bring certain dishes. Have a little sign-up sheet online, Google Docs, or something.

Something I have come to absolutely love is my crock-pot. This way it prevents standing for a long period of time cooking certain things. I can throw things for a recipe in to my crock-pot and turn it on, and it’s one less thing to worry about.

I love getting recipes on Pinterest and similar websites. If you just Google search “Holiday Crockpot Recipes,” I’m sure there will be plenty of results to choose from.

One last note… If you are going to make a run to the store to get your ingredients for a recipe, or anything else for that matter, have a list put together. I like to organize my list by section; this way I don’t have to scan through the entire list every time I look at it.

Most importantly, have fun with your family and friends. This is a time to spend time together, and be thankful for what we have been blessed with. I know it’s easier said than done, but it’s okay to allow someone to help you out. There is no shame in asking someone to help out with simple tasks.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Ashley Ringstaff

MSWorld Volunteer



December 2014 Artist of the Month: Celebrating the Work of Artists Affected by Multiple Sclerosis

A special seasonal December Artist of the Month:
David Desjardins – Union, ME

 David Desjardins - Christmas Morning

About the Artist:

“I consider myself to be a very positive and optimistic person, but it was difficult maintaining that attitude when I first learned of my diagnosis, even for me! I’ve always loved to paint, but there constantly seemed to be a situation or reason that demanded my immediate attention first. Now, however, I choose to do something creative with my time rather than giving in entirely to my illness, sitting in a corner mourning my losses.

I am so honored to participate in my second Art Showcase, and I am humbled to be in the company of so many talented artists. I used to paint only for my own enjoyment, but now when I hear how others enjoy my work it really makes my day!”

Read more

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


Air Travel Tips for the MS Community

By: Matt Cavallo

As the holidays approach, many of us living with a chronic illness are fretting holiday travel. Maybe you would like to travel to see friends or loved ones, but are hesitant because of your illness. You are not alone. Travel is stressful for everyone. Airports are big, busy and fast-paced. Security lines can be long and the thought of standing, unpacking, and repacking at TSA is enough to unravel even the most seasoned traveler. Compound traveling with the upcoming holiday lines and ticket prices and it may be enough for you to forego holiday travel and just stay home.

If you need to travel during the holidays and you are living with a chronic illness, there are several steps that you can take to ensure your airport experience doesn’t exacerbate your illness. The following steps will ensure that your holiday airport experience is as smooth as possible:

Five Steps to Stress-Free Air Travel for People Living with MS

1. Book your travel early. As a rule of thumb, booking your ticket fifty days in advance will get you favorable ticket prices, preferred seating (unless your airline has open seating like Southwest) and better flight time selections. Business travelers typically book fourteen days in advance, so if you wait to the last minute seating will be limited, as will flights, and the price will be higher.

2. Fly during off hours or off days. Much like morning traffic, the airport has rush hours too. My preference is to get the first flight of the day, even if it means being at the airport before the sun comes up. Airports are generally running once the sun goes up until the sun goes down. Whatever you do, avoid the last flight of the day, especially if you have a connection. If you are on the last flight, you have a greater likelihood of missing connections and then being rebooked on a flight the next morning. Mondays, Thursday nights and Friday mornings are business travel days. Sundays can be busy as well. Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are light traffic days and typically have cheaper flights.

3. Notify the ticketing agent or gate agent of your condition. If the airport and airline staff are aware of your illness, you can get wheelchair or transportation service (if necessary), medical clearance to get to the front of the TSA screening line and pre-boarding status at the airline. If you have trouble standing or waiting in line, be sure to tell the agents or TSA that you are a fall risk and have weight-bearing precautions making you a risk to stand in line for long periods of time. The number one goal at the airport is the safety of passengers and if you are a fall risk they will make every effort to prevent you from falling.

4. Limit carry-on luggage. Checking a bag is an extra cost (on most airlines), but that cost is well worth it. Check the TSA website for the items that they allow to get through screening. Make sure that if you have to pack liquids in your carry-on, they are a size that meets the TSA standard. They will confiscate any items that are prohibited for travel. Also, if you have limited strength or range-of-motion, it can be difficult lifting your carry-ons to the overhead storage.

5. Relax. The stress and anxiety of flying has many components that are out of your control. Stressing over the things you cannot control during air travel can be enough to make you sick and ruin your trip. If you follow the four preceding steps, you will be able to minimize most stressful airport situations. Unforeseen stressors like weather delays, mechanical failure and gate changes are situations that you cannot predict. If you can relax and take these steps into mind, knowing that whatever unforeseen delays are out of control, you will feel much better both during and after travel.

I fly a lot. Four out of my last six flights have had some kind of issue. I was delayed three hours on a one hour flight to Palm Springs. They loaded the plane, only to unload it and switch us over to a new plane after the delay.

Another time, I arrived in Detroit with plenty of time to make my connection to Akron, but there was no gate available. They said they notified the gate agents, but when I finally arrived at my transfer gate after a half hour delay, the gate agent had just shut the door. And even though four of us were standing there, she refused to open it or hold the plane per policy.

In this case, I didn’t take my own advice. I was on the last flight of the day and they couldn’t get me to Akron until 3:00 PM the following day. I had a speech in the morning, so I had to drive overnight and got to Akron at 4:15 AM. I was tired and groggy, but luckily able to caffeinate myself enough to give a great speech. Even though it worked out for me, the stress and delay were not worth going through that again.

As always, my advice comes from my mistakes. As a seasoned travel, I understand the do’s and don’ts of air travel. I hope that these steps help to make all of your air travel stress free. Safe travels!

*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/