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

MSAA is very proud to present our 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.

February 2014 Artist of the Month:
Lucinda Mierek – Anderson, SC

 Pretty Petals and Peaches by Lucinda Mierek

“My art has changed because of my fatigue and loss of concentration. My images used to be tight and are now loose. The content was edgier and is now more mainstream. However, my color use is getting better possibly because I’m losing my vision and am trying to compensate. I need more energy to do my art and haven’t figured out how to get it.

Even with my problems I feel fortunate. I still walk, drive, and tend to my yard.

My daughter and I still enjoy our time together. She pushes me to do more art. She seems to be my biggest fan!

‘Pretty Petals and Peaches’ is acrylic on matte board. It is very loose in comparison to the detailed older work of mine. I like the color usage of my “MS era.” I have learned to take life a little less intensely and use color more intensely. My work has changed for the better.”

Read more

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

MSAA’s Next Art Showcase for 2014

Thank you to all of the artists who were part of last year’s Art Showcase for artists with multiple sclerosis. The wonderful artwork and personal stories have been inspirational to many who have visited our online gallery and who have sent and received online art cards, celebrating the lives and talents of people living with MS.

MSAA will soon debut the 2014 Art Showcase in March as part of MS Awareness Month. So, get ready for some new artwork and stories to enjoy! As before, each month we will share with you an Artist of the Month with a new online card that you can send to friends and family to spread awareness of MS, while showcasing the wonderful talents displayed by artists with MS.

You still have time for one more look at last year’s collection! Then, get ready to enjoy the many new works to be featured in MSAA’s 2014 Art Showcase.

Check out the complete MSAA Art Showcase online gallery of artists with MS.

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

November 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.

November 2013 Artist of the Month:
Julie Crow – Damascus, VA

Jack - Baby boy - artwork by Julie Crow

From the Artist:
“After a couple of really bad falls from lack of balance and coordination, resulting in hip pins and a broken pelvic bone, my companion, Gino, an accomplished oil painter, brought some pastel pencils and a drawing pad to the hospital for me to have something to focus all of my energy on while I was immobilized. In the hospital and inpatient rehab, I drew pictures of friend’s pets and relatives. The baby is a friend’s first grandson, and I drew this from a photo taken at the beach. She was always there for me during the hard times. I have also drawn a few others for folks to show my appreciation for their time and their love. I’ve created a Circle of Hope link with MSAA…the amazing thing is that I’ve never painted or drawn. I truly could not draw a stick man before this last incident. I haven’t lately due to some problems, but am hopeful for tomorrow.”

Read more

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

Calling All Artists with MS:
It’s that time of year – MSAA is now 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

Making Commitments When You Have Multiple Sclerosis

Before I got diagnosed with MS, I would make plans, mark off the ‘Attending’ box on RSVP’s that I received,and I could also just up and do something if there were plans made abruptly, without a second thought.

That’s not the case anymore; I can tell you that much. And I have a feeling I’m not alone on this…

Now, I’m not saying that since I got diagnosed with MS that I don’t want to attend certain events or go out with friends, etc. I still want to do those things; there are just different circumstances now.

I really hate cancelling plans that have been made or not attending something, (like a wedding) that I had replied I would be attending, but my MS isn’t on a “regular schedule.” I can’t tell people, “Well, on Monday, Thursday & Sunday my MS is not cooperative, so I can only do things on Friday & Saturday.” If only it were that easy, right?

So the reasons I don’t like making commitments to plans are because I don’t know how I’m going to be feeling on that day… or at that particular ‘part’ of the day. I know it seems as if I’m “blowing people off,” but that’s not the case. If I said I wanted to attend something, it means I really did. My MS is just not “allowing” me… Kind of like it’s grounding me, like my mom did to me when I was younger.

So now, when people invite me to do something that evening… or the upcoming weekend, I tell them… “I really want to! But I don’t want to make any promises, so let’s see how I’m feeling when the time comes.” For those people who are close to me, they understand my reasoning for saying this… others don’t, and I have to explain, which can be difficult with people who don’t have MS, or who do not have a lot of knowledge of the illness.

My main message on this blog… “Yes, I want to do things…. But sometimes my MS has other ideas that I can’t control!”

 

Share

Life with MS and Cognitive Issues: You Never Know What to Expect

By Jeri Burtchell

Ever since telling my family and friends I’d be writing a blog post for MSAA on the topic of cognition, they have been ribbing me. The irony of the most absentminded person they know writing about memory loss is too amusing to ignore.

All kidding aside, cognitive issues can be a serious and bewildering symptom of MS. One that can creep up stealthily and impact every area of your life–and it’s more common than you might think.

My reputation for forgetfulness goes back a long way, predating my diagnosis of Relapsing-remitting MS in 1999. I’ve had memory problems for as far back as I can recall.  However, how far back I can recall is debatable.

I start each day with my cognitive cup full. In the stillness of a quiet house at 5 a.m., I approach life hopeful for a day filled with accomplishments. Morning is when I do my best thinking. But I know what’s coming and I prepare in advance.

As surely as the sun crosses the sky, I’ll begin my descent into a foggy, cognitive swamp by midafternoon.  Having a plan that helps me get through the day without being overcome by frustration is kind of like having a little set of crutches for my brain.

A huge dry erase board serves as my calendar. Using multicolored Post-it Notes, I translate my life’s chores, celebrations and obligations into a color-coded explosion of reminders. When a fleeting thought of something important lands briefly on my conscious mind, I grab it and quickly trap it in a sticky note. The important thought is added to my calendar, displayed like a butterfly on a pin board.

Green Post-it Notes are work-related and sprinkled all over the board. Yellow is for appointments and domestic duties; pink reminds me to pay the bills. Orange is for anything related to the kids, who have so many extracurricular activities that even a fully functioning brain would have trouble keeping up.

Although it all sounds good on paper, in reality, I’m grasping at straws. I frequently find myself herding well-intentioned sticky reminders from left to right in a multicolored cattle drive across the calendar as accomplishments go unfinished.

So why does this happen when I’m determined to plan out my day? Well, because of websites like Facebook and Pinterest. Or it could be as simple as someone asking me a question that leads my brain astray.

“Jeri, do you know where the phone book is?” my mother asks.

“No, Mom, let me look around.” I reply.

Fifteen minutes later, the Great Phone Book Hunt has yielded nothing, I end up Googling the number for her instead, and whatever task I was working on has slipped to the bottom of the cognitive swamp, totally forgotten.

Thankfully, even though my family members tease me, they are my safety net as well. Intuitively, everyone seems to have found their own way to help me stay on track.

My mother, who will be ninety next month, is an expert in the art of the gentle reminder. She keeps her own lists of what I should be doing and gives me a subtle nudge if she sees my memory falter. She does it with such finesse that a politician would be impressed.

The kids and grandkids know that telling me something important once is not enough. I need daily phone calls, texts, or emails to refresh my memory about picking them up at school or taking them to practice.

Although nobody gets angry when I come home from the grocery store without the bread or milk, there might be some exasperated eye-rolling when I explain that I forgot to even look at the list.

I once had to mail a package with only fifteen minutes to spare. I jumped in the car and raced straight there only to get out of the car and look around puzzled. I wasn’t at the post office. I was at the grocery store on the other side of town. Daydreaming about what to fix for dinner had apparently determined my route. Rather than obsess about how I could possibly have done that, I decided to make the best of things. I went grocery shopping.

Living with cognitive symptoms of MS can be challenging. It takes planning and teamwork to pull off a day that, for anyone else, would seem routine and uneventful. Failing at that now and then can be frustrating, but I try to keep things in perspective. As long as I haven’t forgotten to feed my family or pick someone up who was waiting for a ride, then I can forgive myself the other slips.

Living with cognitive problems isn’t all bad – in fact, there is an upside. I can read a good book several times and the ending still surprises me. I forget arguments as soon as they are over, so forgiving takes no effort. I could probably plan my own surprise party!

And even though my family might rib me about my memory from time to time, the simple act of everyone doing their part to help out seems to have brought us all closer together. I’ll have to jot a reminder to thank them for that – if I can remember where I put my Post-it Notes.

*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

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?
 

Share

The American Way of Life for Women (aka spouse, mother, employee, daughter, sister, caregiver, advocate)

By Cindy Richman

Don’t you all agree something’s gotta give? In the twenty-first century I really had high hopes for my daughters’ and son’s futures. I anticipated serious discussion and change around work/life balance issues. Instead we have one disaster after another at home or abroad, and ultimately the entire US government is shut down! No time is spent on how we particularly as women go about improving the business of living our everyday lives.

If you are like me, you live like someone is chasing you trying to get everything done on time and fulfill the many roles you play from a mother, to an employee, to a caregiver. Expectations can be unpredictable and change may come in a moment’s notice. Your child has 102 fever and you need to get to the school ASAP. You worked late and the dinner you planned will take too long to cook and everyone is already starving. You have MS and you promised your son you would go watch his game, but you worked all day and have to work again tomorrow and you feel like you can’t take one more step.

“So what’s the solution?”, you ask? The solution is different for everyone, of course. The solution is particularly challenging when you are living with MS or loving and caring for someone who has MS. Living life in America today without a diagnosis or even a short term illness is really over-the-top to begin with and then adding MS into the mix is really signing on to be superwoman! One of the simple things I think we can all do right away is to try and take just a little bit of time for ourselves.

Beware, you will really have to make a thoughtful effort to do this because many women put everyone else’s needs first and completely forget about what they need. Even if the time is only 20 minutes or less to start, just begin practicing getting back in touch with yourself and being present in the moment. It could be as simple as appreciating the scent in a garden or reading a few lines of a poem that speaks to you before you hear the sound of someone’s voice demanding the next thing on the to-do list. The unpredictable life continues…

*Cindy Richman is the Senior Director of Patient and Healthcare Relations for MSAA

Share

Follow the Yellow Brick Road: Planning Ahead When You Have MS

Have you seen the car commercial recently where someone says something along the lines of, “we have to do something about this car”, and the little yellow line pops up and guides them to where they need to be? Wouldn’t that be wonderful, if for every problem in life that we encountered, a little yellow line helped guide us to the right choice?

Although there are no yellow brick roads guiding our way, we do have a chance to prepare ourselves for our future. I have always held true the saying, “hope for the best, plan for the worst.” Although I may be called a cynic for thinking this way, I always feel it is best to have a plan in case things don’t work out the way they were expected.

For individuals faced with a chronic illness such as MS, keeping on track and following the plan are two very important steps. From the very first doctor’s appointment a plan is created; what medications to take, what testing to have completed. It becomes part of a routine. But what happens when that plan falls apart? Maybe you need to switch medications, or you are unable to continue working. You may find yourself asking, “now what’s the plan?”

Having the next step in mind is a way to try and avoid the panic that may set in when life throws you a curve ball. To help keep on track with your MS, it is important to work with your doctor not just about the present MS challenges, but also consider planning for the future. Creating a plan about who to call and what to do if you feel as though you are having a relapse may make the experience feel a little more in your control.

Also, having discussions with family regarding long term plans and making small changes that may assist down the road can lead to less confusion and uncertainty in the future. Perhaps you’ve thought about moving to a more centralized location with more resources, or downsizing to a smaller more accessible home. For some people, these are important considerations for their future plan. What plans have you created or thought of for yourself? Looking back at your life, do you see any areas where you wish you had made a plan?

Share

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?

Share

Where Do I Fit This In?: How to Prioritize When You Have MS

Let’s face it, life is hectic. It can be messy and chaotic, and that could be just your morning. We live in a world that thrives on fast-paced routines and schedules, so people rarely have time to manage their day to day, let alone trying to manage a chronic illness like MS. Medication and symptom management play a significant role in the course of this disease, so it can be challenging to find time in the day to fit these tasks in along with life’s expectations in general. How does one try to find time to rest, or jot down questions to ask the doctor at the next visit, or to document a new symptom that has come on? There seems to be a limited amount of hours in the day to complete all of these demanding limitless activities.

Here are some tips on how to manage these tasks along with the day to day:

  • Make time to take breaks. When you have a chance to rest, do so, even if for just a few moments in the day. It may be what you need to give yourself a boost or to take the time to write down a question for the doctor.
  • Have someone else help you! It’s challenging for some people to ask for help, but if it allows time for you to take care of yourself, ask!
  • Use the MSAA’s mobile phone application My MS Manager to help keep track of your symptoms and medical records, as well as current MS related news.
  • Prioritize! Sometimes there just isn’t enough time in the day to complete all tasks, but your health should be a top priority. Make yourself a list of attainable tasks to perform in a day, and make sure health related tasks come first.

What are some ways you manage the day to day?

Share