Tips for Avoiding a Post-Holiday Multiple Sclerosis Flare

By: Matt Cavallo

The holiday season is behind us. Packed away in the garage are all the ornamental memories of the season. Driving around the neighborhood at night no longer is decorated by blinking bright lights. And while the majority of people are resuming their day-to-day routine, those of us living with Multiple Sclerosis are unknowingly entering the danger zone.

While the holidays are a magical time of year, they also impose emotional and financial stresses upon us. Many of us are looking at our December statements wondering how we spent so much or how we are going to pay off the bills. We are probably also feeling the after effects of all those great holiday dinners and desserts.

As the stress of paying the bills or trying to lose weight begins to build, we are at a greater risk for triggering a Multiple Sclerosis Exacerbation. According to the National MS Society, “an exacerbation of MS (also known as a relapse, attack, or flare-up) causes new symptoms or the worsening of old symptoms.” A 2003 research study concluded that, “stressful events were associated with increased exacerbations in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.” Furthermore, according to Healthline.com, “researchers considered the four weeks following a stressful event to be a high-risk time for exacerbations.”

Considering that the holidays are a stressful event, for those of us living with MS, this stress can lead to an exacerbation. Here are some tips to help minimize the stress from the holidays:

Tips for Minimizing Post-Holiday Stress

  1. Develop a financial plan – as the bills mount from the holidays, create a financial plan to help successfully budget your expenses. You may not be able to pay off the bills right away, but having a plan to pay off debt can help reduce stress associated with financial obligations.
  2. Change eating habits – the holidays include a lot of emotional eating. Not only do we eat larger portion sizes during the holiday, but we also eat more desserts. Use the time after the holiday to get back on track in terms of eating healthy.
  3. Exercise – the stress of holidays and the shorter days of winter make it easy to skip exercising. Exercising reduces stress and can help with symptom management.
  4. Get back on schedule – the holidays force you out of your routine. The stress of getting to these holiday events or finding the energy to participate in these events can be draining for people living with Multiple Sclerosis. Getting back on your established routine can help reduce stress.
  5. Set attainable goals – two weeks after the holidays and some of us have already broken our New Year’s resolutions. Revisit the goals that you had to start the year and make sure that the goals are attainable. Setting too high goal expectations can bring about unnecessary stress whereas goals that you can achieve could reduce stress.

As a person living with Multiple Sclerosis, understand that the stress of the holidays can leave you at a greater risk for an MS flare up. Managing that stress can help reduce the risk of an MS exacerbation. Exercising, eating right and developing a financial plan are some of the ways that you can manage stress. Following these tips and reducing stress in your life will help you avoid a post-holiday MS flare.

Resources

*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/

Share

December 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.

December 2013 Artist of the Month:
Teresa Grzeslo

 Rooftops by Teresa Grzeslo

“I am 60 years old and was diagnosed with MS in 1999. I have dabbled in a variety of crafts since my youth and have always appreciated fine art. As a parent, I promoted art appreciation in elementary school through an Art Mom program and fun fairs. I made posters and scenery for plays. I enjoyed these activities for 5-6 years and then enjoyed baking as my creative outlet. Over the last couple years of MSAA’s Art Contest participation, I’ve felt evolving confidence and excitement as I look forward to creative experimentation.”

Read more

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

MSAA Art Showcase 2014:
We are still accepting submissions for our 2014 Art Showcase! If you haven’t already done so, submit your best artwork by December 16th 2013 for a chance to be a part of next year’s Art Showcase.

Submit your artwork for the 2014 MSAA Art Showcase.

Share

Why I No Longer Fear the Holidays and Why You Don’t Have to Either (Even When You Have MS)

By Jerri Burtchell

When I was a kid I loved this time of year. Snow on the ground, great food (except for that weird Jell-O salad Aunt Mary always made), and presents at Christmas. Things have changed since I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1999. Now a sense of foreboding overcomes me each year, right after Halloween.

I’m not the “bah-humbug!” type, but I do hail from a long line of worriers. Maybe we were meant to be “warriors”, but some genetic mutation caused a typo. Now we fear things our imaginations dream up. The “what if” syndrome. My MS diagnosis has elevated my worrying to a whole new level.

Holiday time is prime “what if?” time for me. What if I can’t navigate the busy malls and grocery stores? What if the handicapped parking is all taken up? What if I don’t have enough money to give everyone gifts? What if this fatigue keeps me from enjoying the family I rarely get to see? And the biggest one: What if all this worrying stresses me out and I end up relapsing?

One Christmas, that changed when our family shared what other families keep secret. We all admitted that gift buying was stressing us out. Not only the act of shopping, but the dent it was putting in our pocketbooks. Our name isn’t Trump or even Kardashian. We don’t have money or personal shoppers. What a relief to know we all felt the same way!

So we started something new. When we gather at Thanksgiving now, part of our tradition is drawing names for Christmas gift exchange. We’ve instantly gone from buying gifts for ten to buying for one. Stress diminished. To take it a step further, we can only spend $20. Now the stress was melting like snow in the spring.

Christmas morning is no longer spent in a flurry of mindless paper shredding as we tear through one present after another. But the only ones disappointed are the cats with less cardboard boxes to explore. We still have the experience of gifts under the tree, but now it’s a single, more thoughtful, often handmade gift.

And we quit competing with Martha Stewart for the most elaborate side dishes and desserts. Not everything has to be perfect. We’re enjoying things on our terms, not those set forth in Better Homes and Gardens.

One Christmas I got a late start putting up the decorations. It seems MS fatigue brings out the natural procrastinator in me. So imagine my panic when I went to get the fake tree from the garage only to find it was now home to a family of mice.

I took a few deep breaths and channeled MacGyver. Before you know it, a big vase was the base for my silver, spray-painted Christmas “stick” – a dead branch I’d dragged in from the yard. With a string of lights and a few baubles here and there, the problem was solved. The best part is, it was cheap, handy, and I finally made use of an idea I’d pinned on Pinterest.com.

Jerri's x-mas treeSo in freeing myself from the stress that comes with striving for perfection, the reward I got was more quality time to spend with those I love–the only gift that counts.

Life passes too quickly and before you can say, “Black Friday,” it’s all over. I can safely say I won’t be lying on my deathbed lamenting over all the bargain basement prices I missed out on. It’s the people in my life and the connections we made that will be my fondest memories.

I won’t be stressing over the perfect gift for someone this Christmas, or if I forgot to put the marshmallows on top of the sweet potato casserole…again. I’m going to be counting my blessings in each smiling face that comes through the door.

So forget what the commercials all tell you to do. When you give yourself permission to lower your expectations of perfection, miracles happen. You have lots of laughs, give lots of hugs, and take lots of pictures. Aren’t those the memories you’ll treasure most in the end?

And that gem of wisdom is my holiday gift to you. (It was handmade and cost me less than twenty bucks – Enjoy!)

References: http://www.healthline.com/health-slideshow/pictures-multiple-sclerosis-psychological-changes

*Jeri Burtchell was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999. She has spoken from a patient perspective at conferences around the country, addressing social media and the role it plays in designing clinical trials. Jeri is a MS blogger, patient activist, and freelance writer for the MS News Beat of Healthline.com. She lives in northeast Florida with her youngest son and elderly mother. When not writing or speaking, she enjoys crafting and photography.

Share

2010 – An MS Relapse for the Holidays Part Two – Recovery

By Matt Cavallo

As I sat in an infusion suite chair to treat my holiday relapse, I started to feel really sorry for myself.  I wasn’t sure what I had done to deserve this MS fate. I thought about my young boys and how unfair it was to them that their dad was having another relapse. I thought about the additional burden that this relapse was putting on my wife, having to care for two toddlers on her own.  All this was happening during the holidays, just two months after I had gone through an anterior cervical fusion. To top it off, I was experiencing these uncontrollable emotional outbursts, or PBA as my neurologist called it, which were embarrassing me to the point of not wanting to go out in public.

Then my thoughts changed. I knew at that moment that instead of feeling bad for myself that I was going to have to reach deep down and pull myself together for my wife and kids. My wife is a stay-at- home mom and I am the sole provider, so I knew that if I didn’t get my act together, our quality of life as a family was going to go downhill and fast. I needed a plan.

Steps to Recovery

  1. Be honest – During this relapse, I had convinced myself that it was every factor besides MS. I let the symptoms go on for too long and they were affecting my home and work life. I was going to have to be honest with myself and others about what I was experiencing and that it was related to my MS.
  2. Reduce additional holiday stress – The holidays add stress to an already stressful life. If I had to go food shopping or present shopping, I would go at off hours like late at night to avoid the stress of a crowd. I made lists to prioritize my tasks and would check items off the list. For a list of more ways to reduce holiday stress, check out Angel’s Holiday Hustle Blog.
  3. Gain control – When my emotions began to get the best of me, I would take a break. MS emotional outbursts can come on at any time. A good way to manage emotional outbursts is to remove yourself from the situation, take deep breaths or find a distraction. My favorite distraction is to walk my dog.
  4. Do not take on too much – I have a habit of overdoing. During the 2010 holiday relapse, I learned to enjoy the simple things. Holidays are about spending time with family and friends;try to relax and enjoy that time without overdoing it.
  5. Talk to your doctor – I waited too long to see my doctor. If you are experiencing symptoms, you should contact your doctor as soon as possible.

As the calendar turned to December in 2010, I was feeling like the worst was over. The medicine had run its course. I was feeling back to my normal self. Gone were the emotional outbursts, weakness and fatigue. I was back to normal at work and home life now returned to the joy of watching my boys. I didn’t bother with the stress of trying to compete for deals on Black Friday or hanging Christmas lights from the rafters. Instead, I realized that the true meaning of the holidays was to be there in good spirits for the ones you love. As Thanksgiving 2013 approaches, I am thankful for everyone in my life and continue to enjoy simple stress-free holidays with the ones I love.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!!!

References:

http://blog.mymsaa.org/holiday-hustle-and-bustle-tips-for-people-living-with-multiple-sclerosis/

http://www.healthline.com/health-slideshow/pseudobulbar-affect-multiple-sclerosis

*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/

Share

Vote for your Favorite Thanksgiving Card & spread awareness about Multiple Sclerosis

For the third year in a row, MSAA is conducting a Thanksgiving Card Competition! We have six online Thanksgiving Card candidates (shown below), all vying for the top spot as MSAA’s most-popular Thanksgiving Card for 2013.

Vote for your favorite Thanksgiving card

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please vote and then watch to see if your favorite card will emerge victorious! Once the voting is over next week and the selections are tallied, we’ll let everyone know which card is the top choice to email to friends and family, wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!

To vote for your favorite online card design, please visit our Thanksgiving election poll (or go to support.mymsaa.org/voteforcard).

Share

2010 – An MS Relapse for the Holidays Part One – Relapse

By Matt Cavallo

In November of 2010, I was still recovering from neck surgery. My neck had been a problem since 2005, when Transverse Myelitis made my spine swell up. The swelling pushed my vertebrae and discs out of alignment. Eventually, just the stress of daily activities caused a piece of vertebrae to fracture causing severe stenosis of the spine. My neurologist told me that if I didn’t consider surgery that there was a pretty good chance that I might become quadriplegic.

I worked for a Neuroscience clinic at the time and was friends with the neurologists at the clinic. I had them each independently look at my MRI films. All of them agreed with my neurologist- surgery was inevitable. I had my cervical spinal fusion surgery in early September of 2010.  In order to prepare for the surgery, I had to stop taking my MS medicine.  I was also instructed to stay off my medication after the surgery while my body was recovering.  During my recovery period, I became less concerned with getting back on my medication and continuing treatment. I had hit my breaking point, and I just didn’t feel like fighting anymore.

As the calendar approached Thanksgiving, I started to become symptomatic. I hadn’t been on any MS treatment for ninety days and was noticing increased fatigue and weakness. At the time, I attributed my symptoms to working fulltime while enrolled in a Master’s program along with raising two boys, ages three and one, who weren’t exactly allowing for a full night’s sleep.

While the weakness and fatigue were troubling, I also started experiencing uncontrollable mood swings. I would break into hysterical laughter at inappropriate times and then break down and start crying and become inconsolable. I am not a person who typically shows intense emotion, so these kinds of outbursts were completely out of character for me.

Still, I didn’t think that anything was seriously wrong with me. I thought that the lack of sleep with a teething one-year old coupled with my ongoing recovery from spinal cord surgery was why my emotions wer running rampant. Then I started forgetting tasks at work that I typically would complete automatically. I was also dragging my leg and having problems with vision in my right eye.

During the week of Thanksgiving, the clinic was slow. The nurses had become worried about me. The day before Thanksgiving, we had very few patients and my practice manager called my neurologist and got me an order for an MRI. I was resistant. I attributed my symptoms to the stress that I was experiencing at work and at home, saying that having to prepare Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow was the cherry on top of the cake. Still, she persisted and took me over to radiology at the hospital and got me a follow up appointment with my neurologist the following Monday.

My MRI studies came back with my lesions glowing like lights on a Christmas tree. I was defeated. When was MS going to let up? Now, I had to tell my wife on the day before Thanksgiving that I was having yet another relapse. However, when I talked to her about it, instead of crying, I started to laugh uncontrollably. During Thanksgiving dinner with her family, I was having emotional outbursts and crying about how beautiful the Turkey and potatoes looked. After dinner, Jocelyn talked to me and she wanted me to talk to my neurologist about my emotions, along with my other symptoms.

That following Monday, I found myself in the familiar chair of my neurologist’s office. He confirmed that I was having a relapse. He prescribed three days’ IV Solu-medrol to help with the exacerbation. I told the doctor that I was having these weird emotional outbursts and was concerned that the IV steroids would further complicate my already emotionally unstable state.

He told me that it sounded like I was having something called Pseudobulbar affect or PBA. According to a Healthline article, “Pseudobulbar affect (PBA) is a condition in which you suddenly start to laugh or cry. The reaction isn’t triggered by anything—like a funny joke or sad movie. You just burst into laughter or tears without any real cause, and you can’t stop laughing or crying.” He wanted to stay on course with the treatment because the PBA seemed to be related to my MS relapse, but to call him if I started to feel out of control.

Tune in for my next blog to find out how I was able to recover from my holiday relapse and strategies I used to gain control of my emotions and stress levels.

Reference:

http://www.healthline.com/health-slideshow/pseudobulbar-affect-multiple-sclerosis

*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/

Share

Holiday Hustle and Bustle: Tips for People Living with Multiple Sclerosis

The holiday season is upon us! As Halloween has come and gone, we find ourselves faced with the upcoming months of holiday preparations. Cooking, baking, shopping, wrapping, and family visits are just some of the tasks individuals embark upon during this busy time. Because the holidays can be a bit hectic, it’s helpful to make preparations and plans to combat the chaos that can ensue during this festive time. To make time for activities you enjoy and to reduce the stress and anxiety we all know can occur during the holidays, here are some ways to make the holiday celebrations more manageable:

  • Prioritize your tasks. Make a list of things you would like to accomplish, and order them in a way so that important things get done first.
  • Take breaks. The holidays can be both mentally and physically stressful on the body. Be sure to sit and relax in between tasks, even if just for a few moments.
  • Think “Potluck!” If you’re hosting the holidays at your residence, have guests bring something. They can bring their favorite dish or dessert to help contribute.
  • Ask for help. You can ask family members/friends to go shopping, clean, or help with food preparations for the holiday meal to lessen your work load.
  • Prepare in advance. Some meal preparations can be done ahead of time for a holiday gathering. The week of the holiday, spread out tasks that can be completed beforehand so that on the day of there’s less to do.
  • Relax and Enjoy! Even though the holidays can be stressful, be sure to take time out to enjoy the festivities and spend quality time with those you care for!

Tips for Dealing with the Holidays When You're Living With MS

What are some ways you prepare for the holidays?

Share

Happy Holidays

It’s that time of year again! The holiday season is upon us, bringing times of celebration and joy to rekindle holiday feelings that make the season unique. Regardless of one’s traditions or religion, we gather together this time of year to celebrate love, new hopes, and remembrance of times past. It is a time to remember those we hold dear to our hearts and to join with them to celebrate the magic of the season—the lights, sounds, and feelings that make the holidays truly special in their own way. Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for the New Year!

Be sure to read the next MSAA Conversations blog posting scheduled for Wednesday, December 26th, 2012.

Share

Send an MSAA Holiday Card to friends and family

Send an MSAA Holiday Card to your family and friendsSEASON’S GREETINGS

To MSAA’s Family and Friends!

We would like to wish everyone a joyous and safe Holiday Season, plus a Happy New Year too! Please join us in spreading our holiday wishes by sending our festive cards to all of your family and friends.

You can choose from a variety of cards for all holidays to match the personality of everyone on your list. By sending a card from MSAA, you are telling others that you take an interest in MSAA’s mission to enrich the quality of life for everyone affected by multiple sclerosis (MS).

The contributions we receive from caring individuals and businesses are so urgently needed. They enable us to continue to provide vital programs and services to the MS community, such as MRI scans, mobility and symptom management equipment, a toll-free Helpline, and much more. We are extremely thankful for the support we receive and the help we are able to give to others.

Send an MSAA online holiday card today and throughout the holiday season!

Share

Voting Continues for Thanksgiving!

Vote for your favorite Thanksgiving card in our Thanksgiving Card Election Poll

Vote for your favorite Thanksgiving card in our Thanksgiving Card Election Poll

Help Elect the Most-Popular Thanksgiving Card!

The polls have reopened! We hope that everyone was able to vote during our nation’s elections on Tuesday, but the voting continues at MSAA! We have six online Thanksgiving Card candidates (shown below), all vying for the top spot as MSAA’s most-popular Thanksgiving Card for 2012. Once the election is over and the votes are tallied, we’ll know which card is the top choice to email to friends and family to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!

To vote for your favorite online card design, please visit our Thanksgiving Card Election Poll (or go to support.mymsaa.org/voteforcard).

We had so much fun selecting last year’s winner, the “Turkey Cupcake” card, and we hope to have an even better turnout at the polls for 2012!

Please vote for your favorite Thanksgiving Card today!

Share