Journaling My Story (MS)

By: Matt Cavallo

In July of 2005, I was in a deep depression. I had just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in June of 2005 and I was in the midst of an internal struggle trying to come to terms with being newly diagnosed.

I have a family history of MS. My aunt had MS and died when I was only four years old. Her MS progressed quickly and she left us at a young age. Watching me lose my ability to walk was particularly hard on my family who couldn’t help but think of my Aunt Loretta when looking at me. It was like they were reliving a scene from my aunt’s life that did not end well.

Those emotions that my family experienced in watching my aunt progress through her disease were awakened as I started to progress. Unintentionally, those emotions were transferred to me making it impossible to cope or come to terms with my diagnosis. So, I did what I always do, and turned to the pen.

You see, I’ve been writing since I was a small boy. Whether it was poems or short stories, writing was always therapeutic for me. So when my symptoms first presented themselves, I started keeping a journal of what I was experiencing.

At first, the journaling was very helpful for my memory. Then, as I got admitted to the hospital, I used my journaling to capture the patient experience. I had never been in the hospital before and between the pain meds and all of the tests, I wanted to capture all of this information in my journal so that I could refer back to it when I was discharged.

Little by little, my journal began to grow. I had captured my symptoms, my hospital stay, follow-up doctor’s appointments and now I was capturing my depressive thoughts as I struggled coming to terms with my new fate. I just had no idea what path in my life my journaling would take me on.

Then it happened. I found myself sitting in my pick-up truck at the beach, listening to the waves crash. All of a sudden, the song Moonshadow by Cat Stevens, popped into my head. I used the inspiration from that moment to carry me to Barnes and Noble.

At Barnes and Noble, I wanted to find a personal story of the diagnosis that I went through. I wanted to hear another person’s story, so that I would know that I was not alone. However, the books on the shelf were all technical or diet manuals about MS. Disappointed, I returned home and pulled out my journal.

As I flipped through the pages of my journal, I could recall my symptoms, my emotions, my fears. It was at that moment that I realized I was reading the story I was searching for. It was all in my journal. I would spend the next couple of years transforming my journal, into my memoir. Now, in an ironic twist of fate, Barnes and Noble carries The Dog Story: A Journey into a New Life with Multiple Sclerosis.

My journal has been transformed into the very thing I was seeking. Now it is a resource for other people who are experiencing the diagnosis I had faced all those years ago. Today, I continue sharing my journal though my books and my blogs. Sharing my story with the world has been the most rewarding and humbling experience for me. My best days are always when a reader reaches out to me and lets me know that my story helped.

Journaling doesn’t have to lead to writing a book or blog, but it is an important way to remember how you were feeling at a certain place or time in your life. How are you sharing your story? There is someone in your life right now who may not understand what you are going through. When words fail you, write down your thoughts and feelings and share with that person. If you can’t write, keep a picture journal or scrapbook. You will both be glad you did.

*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 :


Journaling as Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

By: Meagan Freeman 

Unfortunately, things do not always work out the way we want them to. Marriages end, friendships change, and illness sometimes make our decisions for us. I often find myself worrying about the future, and thoughts invade my mind during stressful moments. Will I ever have the chance to swim on a beach in the Mediterranean? Will I see Europe the way I have always wanted? Will my children be embarrassed to be in public with me with my assistive devices? Boy, my thoughts can sure get dark at times, and anxiety can take hold and pull me out of reality very quickly if I allow it to.

Writing can be the most therapeutic experience.

No matter what challenge I am coping with, I find that if I sit down and pour those feelings onto paper, I am refreshed and renewed. It is much like traditional therapy with a counselor, except the paper is your therapist. The words are your medication, and the process of putting your thoughts and emotions into words is your cure.

I am a rather shy person, and some would say I am quiet and private. I have a few extremely close friends and family, but I keep my circle small. The interesting thing is, when I sit down to write I have no trouble communicating and expressing my feelings. Words are my favorite form of expression. Whereas spoken words leave your mouth and cannot return, written words can be erased, changed, and edited after you have reviewed them.

When coping with a chronic illness like MS, expression of feelings is incredibly important. It is so easy to feel alone and without friends who understand. Journaling and writing are great options for those who feel uncomfortable talking. “People who journal find a higher sense of self-awareness and are able to reduce anxiety and gain a sense of empowerment. Many people who struggle with deep emotional conflicts or traumas are unable to express their feelings in a verbal or physical way. Journaling allows a person the freedom of expression without fear of retaliation, frustration, or humiliation.” (

My journaling experience has evolved into my blog, and eventually became my recently published book. My hope is that my writing will continue to help me express the feelings I have about each challenge with MS, parenting, and life in general. In addition, I may have the opportunity to continue to heal others through this writing.

In my practice as Family Nurse Practitioner, I encouraged my patients to journal when traditional therapy was not appealing to them. Some of my patients used writing as an adjunct to traditional therapy, and found it extremely beneficial. From the feedback I received from my patients, my suspicions about the therapeutic effects of writing were confirmed. I would encourage anyone coping with illness, trauma, death, or simply life stress to try jotting down a few ideas onto paper. The following are excellent resources for journaling as therapy:


*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:


Looking Back to Move Forward


Subtle hints of fall have spread throughout the northeast – the falling leaves, cooler nights, pumpkins, and mums popping up in local stores. While summer is slowly on its way out, it is bitter sweet to reminisce about the times had. This summer we talked about ways to beat the heat, many of which involved remaining indoors, or doing activities in cool public places. Regardless of where you made your memories, it is important to keep those happy memories alive and present to take with you into the fall.

Journaling about an event or encounter that makes you smile will bring you back to that moment and hopefully increase your mood. You can look back at those journal entries and remember the good times that were had. Also having pictures or souvenirs from a trip or event can help to bring you back to that moment. Try taking a moment to close your eyes and remember how you felt at that time.

When times are hard or you are having difficult feelings about a situation, take a moment to re-focus your thoughts on one of those happier moments. Re-focusing your thoughts can help momentarily take your mind off of a certain problem or situation and better prepare you for dealing with the task at hand.

When looking back on those happy moments, focus on the feelings or emotions that were created in you at that time. Allow yourself to re-live that moment and take a deep breath.

What moments do you carry with you? How do they help you in times of stress?



Did You Ever Have One of Those Days?


You know the type of day I’m talking about. The kind where it seems like NOTHING can go right. You’re late for something, something breaks, unexpected news is received, and there isn’t enough time in the day to deal with everything? Sometimes it seems like all the elements of the universe got together to plan out a bad day for you to have. It may feel that way when these types of days sneak up on you.

We’ve all experienced our share of bad days, and they seem to stick with us. But I wonder, when we have good days, do they stay with us just as strongly as these other types of days? It doesn’t always seem like it. Sometimes it’s easier to remember a bad day than to recall a good one. But what if we were to do just that-to purposely recount a good day we’ve had? What would that look like? Sure, with bad days we complain, grieve, and vent, but with good days, how do we describe these? How can we pocket and stow away those good moments so that we can retrieve them and re-experience them during one of these other days?

One idea is to write down your good experiences, that way you can take a look back at how the day played out and what good came of it. You can learn to be mindful of the good moments while they happen; when the good times are actively occurring, soak it all in, notice how you feel in that moment, stay present with your breath and what’s going on around you. So that way when you try to remember the good moments, they’ll be fresh in your mind, and you can hold onto them like precious fragments the universe brought you that day made especially for you. Recalling good moments and positive memories can help get you through those other types of days, so why not reminisce more often about the good?


Doing What Makes YOU Feel Good When You Have MS


Multiple sclerosis in itself is a complicated and often unpredictable disease. We here at MSAA hear on a daily basis about some of the trials and tribulations that our clients with MS face. One of the most valuable lessons that I have learned in trying to understand the whirlwind of information provided about MS is to find something that is meaningful to you and to your unique situation. With all of the information available, finding something that will make YOU feel good is a priority.

Through social media, websites, and support groups, information is provided about a number of hints, tips, or things that one person may have done to alleviate their symptom, which is wonderful, but unfortunately may not work for everyone. Not every individual with MS will experience the same symptoms and even for those who may, those symptoms may appear incredibly differently.

The point behind the story and the reason for the title is that everyone has their own needs, and each person understands and knows their body better than anyone else. These experiences and feelings are unique to you and should be treated independently to others’ beliefs and thoughts. Focusing and developing ways that make YOU feel good may help to improve your overall day to day.

Explore yourself; perhaps through journaling you can identify some needs that could be met in order to make you feel good. Guided meditation is another way to explore your inner thoughts and feelings. Sitting in a quiet space with yourself and learning about your body and the way that it feels at any point throughout the day can help to center you and focus on what your body needs.

What can you do for yourself today that will make YOU feel good?


The Other Part of Wellness: Emotional Awareness

Throughout the month of January, we have discussed our personal journeys in wellness, but one piece has been missing. Often when we describe wellness, we think of physical activity and healthy eating. But one important piece that hasn’t been discussed is emotional wellness. Emotional wellness is defined as “being attentive to your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, whether positive or negative” (University of California- Riverside).

In the daily hustle and bustle which is our lives, we forget to think about our feelings and often brush them off or push them away so that we can deal with another task we have been given. The idea behind emotional wellness is to not allow ourselves to push our feelings away.

Becoming aware of your thoughts and feelings can be difficult.  One way to start becoming more aware is to journal. For those who have never kept a journal, starting is the hardest
shutterstock_73933420part. In a previous blog, Dear Diary, I discuss some helpful tips to get started.

Perhaps writing about your feelings is not your thing, maybe talking more openly with a friend or family member would be easier. In everyday conversation, try tuning into your feelings and discussing them more openly. Avoid words like “good,” “fine,” or “OK.” These words are often used when asked how we are feeling, but are not “feeling” words. Some more descriptive feeling words can include “relaxed,” “alone,” or “delighted.” These words provide greater meaning to your emotions and will help you to better understand yourself.

In what ways do you maintain your emotional wellness?