To Know, Or Not To Know?

That is the question, at least today as it pertains to learning about the disease of MS. As we close in on a month dedicated to MS awareness, many individuals still do not know much about this rare disease. One challenge lies in the fact that the information available on MS can be very overwhelming at times, especially as the internet alone exudes multiple portals of literature and resources about the disease. This can sometimes have the opposite effect on education; rather than pulling people in to learn more, it actually sometimes intimidates people to the point where they shy away from learning more about it. This is completely understandable – MS can be difficult to understand and grasp, so it’s a process to educate oneself and others about it. So the question is, is it better to know, or not to know?

When MS touches the life of someone you know, love, interact with, or share a history with, it can be hard to comprehend what this disease is that’s affecting that person. If you didn’t have knowledge of what it was before, this may be a whole new learning process for you as well. Being part of someone’s support network keeps you tied into what’s going on in their daily experiences, so knowing what MS is and its process can help keep you informed of what they’re going through, and how you may be able to offer support when needed.

It’s not something that can be learned or taught overnight. It’s a process – and one that doesn’t have to be done alone. Talking about MS with family members, friends, peers and other support resources can aid in the significant education piece that comes with the disease. Learning more about it is the first step in knowing what it is and how you can offer your support. It can start with just an overview of MS information, and lead into further discussions and outreach. It’s also important to know that it’s ok to take your time learning about MS – review the information as you’re comfortable doing so at your own pace, and when you have questions reach out and ask. In the matter of MS, the act of knowing can be more beneficial than not.

Share something new you’ve learned about MS…

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Community Thoughts on Missing the Way Things Were

For people living with multiple sclerosis, it’s easy to dream of the life we had prior to being afflicted with this condition. So much of our everyday lives is shaped by MS, we often find ourselves missing the way things were. One of the amazing contributors at MultipleSclerosis.net, Marc Stecker (also known as the Wheelchair Kamikaze), wrote a poignant piece on missing his former self, called “I Miss Me”. We shared his article on our Facebook page and received a tremendous amount of feedback from our community about what it’s like to miss the “old you”. Here is what some of our community members had to say:

I’ve said the same thing to others!

  • Funny, I said that to my neurologist shortly after I was diagnosed last year.
  • I just said something similar to my sweetie the other day…that I would like to have my life back. I feel as though it’s been taken from me.

I thought I was the only one!

  • And I just thought it was me.
  • I really miss me!!!!!! I didn’t know there were others who felt this!
  • I despise that I “miss me” BUT am relieved that I’m not the only one “Missing”.
  • I always have moments of missing the old me. Glad it’s not only me thinking this way.
  • I say this so much, but when I try to put things on my page or try and explain how hurts, even my family ignores it. I was glad to see this and know I’m not alone. I say to myself every day I miss me.

I Miss Me too!

  • I miss me a lot!!
  • What a well-written blog which perfectly describes the life so many of us live. Or should I say have lived. I am amongst the very elderly whose future time on this earth will be very short. You too, will adjust constantly to your new normal.
  • I mourn and miss the old me. I can’t believe who I’ve become; however it’s a new challenge and who knows what I can be and what new experiences lie ahead that I would never have had. Stay positive guys.
  • I shared with a friend recently, “I miss me, who I used to be.” Her reply… “No, now that person is still down in there somewhere.” I’m exasperated. People really don’t know!!!
  • I just want the old me back!
  • Wow! This is the first time a tag line has smacked me in the face! Even though I’ve been very lucky, as I pondered this “I Miss Me,” I suddenly felt very sad. I do miss me. Even though I haven’t been “obviously” affected by MS, there are so many hidden things, the fatigue, weakness, ability to think quickly, balance, and stamina, that yes, I am not the “me” I once was. I do miss ME. Thank you for a great article.
  • What I miss about the old me is being able to do ANYTHING I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it!! Now, I have to accept the help of others, where I was the one always volunteering my abilities to those in need.
  • ‪I do miss most of the old me!!!! But I have welcomed most of the new me, with very few regrets.
  • I was missing for 15 years. I felt myself slowly slipping away, more and more the last 5 years though. It’s awful.
  • I understand just how you feel. I miss dancing a lot! Stay strong
.
  • I miss myself so much! I just want to be able to be normal again and go to a ball game and climb up the bleachers and just walk around the yard without tripping in a hole and fix a meal or brownies without getting exhausted!
  • I miss me! I miss being able to bounce out of bed, being able to run, to dance to skip/hop/jump whatever! . I miss the reality of being able to chase my dreams. I miss me.
  • I have to believe that everyone misses the earlier version of himself or herself as they age, too.
  • Thank you for sharing. I say this a lot. I miss what I used to be able to do and can’t. I don’t even know who “me” is anymore. My identity was through my work and my child and all the things I could do for others and now I often wonder, “who am I?”
  • I am beginning to hate the new me!!!
  • I get so depressed if I start to think about original me.
  • I miss me like crazy!!!!! I say that to myself EVERYDAY
.
  • I want to run, even though I was not a runner!
  • I read his blog, it’s so insightful. My every move is fraught with thought. I miss the “me” that was.
  • Great article! It’s depressing to think about what MS stole from me but I know there are others who have it worse than I do and I try to stay positive. Keep writing it helps to know I am not alone.
  • I want me back, but I don’t see that happening.
  • Just learning to accept there is a new me but so hard to let go of the old me.
  • Things that seemed so simple are now a struggle. Thanks MS–NOT!
  • I miss being me. Feeling like I can do anything. I miss having a job, and making money.
  • Wow, this is so powerful! I miss me and have been missing me for 16 years now! I don’t know how many times I say I want my OLD life back!

What about you? Do you miss a previous version of yourself? Please share with us in the comments!

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Health Insurance Marketplace: Special Enrollment Period

As individuals prepare their taxes for the 2014 year, many who did not purchase or enroll in a qualified health plan may be facing the penalty fee. According to the HealthCare.gov website, if you did not have health insurance coverage in 2014, you will be responsible for the higher of these two amounts:

1% of your yearly household income. (Only the amount of income above the tax filing threshold, about $10,000 for an individual, is used to calculate the penalty.)
$95 per person for the year ($47.50 per child under 18). The maximum penalty per family using this method is $285.

On February 15th the Marketplace closed for enrollment in 2015 plans, leaving those who did not enroll to face a penalty again when filing taxes next year. The Health Insurance Marketplace is providing individuals and families who owe the fee when they file their 2014 taxes with one last chance to get covered for 2015 to avoid a future penalty for the 2015 tax year.

While the fee for the 2014 year cannot be avoided, this special enrollment period offers individuals another chance to possibly avoid a future fee.

For those interested in enrolling, visit The Health Insurance Marketplace website at https://www.healthcare.gov/screener/. This special enrollment period is only available through April 30th.

References:
https://www.healthcare.gov/fees-exemptions/fee-for-not-being-covered/

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Nurturing Your Roots

By: Shannon Loftus

I have MS. While I am many things, a wife, a stay-at-home, work-at-home, home-schooling mom, it is that last word that reigns supreme over me. I am a mom. I am a mom who has MS. So, this month, I want to share with you how I made it over the hurdle of educating my son about my illness, and my personal thoughts on educating our children, particularly our little ones, when it comes to our MS.

I was diagnosed, finally, when my little guy was 3. I am of the opinion that my health issues are mine, and mine alone. I believe that there is no reason to burden my little guy with my dealings with MS (or the epilepsy, or the spinal stenosis). So, I had made the choice to not tell him until he was old enough to understand what it all meant. I never hid it, but I never went out of my way to chat with him about it. He is my son, not my “bestie.” He looks to me for leadership, and he does not want to be my sounding board. He wants the strength of a parent, not the venting-session of a buddy.

I had had this discussion with a member of our local support group, who always seemed to want to know when and if I had told my son. I always said no, not yet. He came to group with me, and still does, but pretty much spends his time in the venue’s play area. In 2012, at the age of 7, I attended a group meeting and was deep in discussion with another member. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw this person (the one interested in my telling of MS to my son), talking to my boy, and giving him a coloring book. I thought nothing of it. On the way home, he starts asking me; Mommy, are you going to die? What is MS? Why do you have it? Will I get it? I asked him why he was so upset (he was crying by this time). Then he shows me the coloring book. It is a coloring book/activity book/educational book, for children, put out by another organization, and while a fine product, well-written and engaging, I did not think it the right fit for my family, particularly given my son’s age, so I had foregone its use as an “educational tool” or “discussion starter.” I was mortified that another adult had taken it upon themselves to introduce my son to my illness, and in such an impersonal manner (yes, I addressed it with that person).

So, my cresting of the “discussion” hurdle, when it came to educating my son about my MS, was not some heroic event, but rather more of a giant face plant, courtesy of another person’s interference. My son, husband and I made it through what became a mud-run obstacle course of questions and answers, crying, full of hugs, and a little guy being scared his momma was gonna die. He is now just shy of 10, and he does not know all the details of MS. That will come with, according to his interest in learning about it, and ability to understand the science behind. Right now, he just knows mommy is ok; mommy is sick and some days her legs don’t work right, or her eyes hurt, or she is really tired and hurting, and she is definitely forgetful, and sometimes she needs her cane, or even her pirate eye patch. With that latter one, I can still get him to wear one, and it helps to take the edge off of his nerves and we laugh ourselves silly.

You see, I had read the children’s book before, and I knew it was inappropriate for my son, at that age, and what my husband and I were then forced to deal with went beyond MS education or simple family discussion. It became crisis management. Not the desired “teaching moment.” I find tools like that to be a one-size-fits-all approach, and let’s face it…how many times has the one-size ever fit you? It is always too big, too small, too short, too long, and never just right.

Children are like trees to me…they need strong roots to support them as they grow. So, teaching your child about your MS, really needs to be like watering that tree. It needs to be done with care. You don’t just turn a hose on a tree and walk away. You can drown it. Or your hose might be defective and your tree thirsts to death. Our children are the same. You can overwhelm them with too much information that they cannot adequately process in terms of their emotional maturity. You can underwhelm just as easily and then they may think you are keeping something from them (like the water for the thirsty tree).

I still sometimes stress out about my MS and discussing it with my boy. He still has questions. I stress out about not being the physically active mom that I dreamed of being. I look at other moms and dads playing hard with their kids in parks and I am not capable of that. I relayed to my husband once about how much it hurt that I couldn’t be a normal mom of a young boy. He looked at me, and he said, “But you are. You are his normal. You are what he knows, because you are all he has ever known as a mom.”

Those words were priceless. He was right. So, I now relay them to you. You are your children’s “normal.” Given that, you know what information your child needs, wants, and can handle about your MS. You may need to have a talk with them now, or you may not. The children’s book might be the perfect tool for you, or it might not.

Most importantly, don’t not talk to your children. Educate them, make them aware, but do it on your terms, and look to what your “normal” is. In this way, your leap over that hurdle will be magnificent and filled with a sigh of relief. It will not be an echo chamber of a collective gasp of horror. Trust me.

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March is MS Awareness Month, & I’m More Aware Than Ever


By: Jeri Burtchell

I don’t know about you, but life with MS makes “awareness” unavoidable for me. I start the day with a symptom check, happy when I can make it out of bed and put one foot in front of the other. As I progress through my day, I’m constantly reminded of MS at every turn. It might be the alert on my phone that reminds me to take my medication or a check-up for the clinical trial I’m in. It may even be my drop foot that trips me up and sends me into a catbox face plant. And every once in a while it’s a wistful sadness as I take stock of all this disease has robbed from me. I try not to dwell on things I can’t change, but still I am “aware”.

March is MS Awareness Month–when we draw others into our world, giving a glimpse into what our new reality has become, in order to build understanding and compassion. Very few of us who have MS need our own awareness raised.

Sometimes sharing with family and friends can be awkward. I catch myself feeling like I’m whining or complaining when really all I’m trying to do is explain what life with MS is like. Just trying to raise awareness. Sometimes I close up and choose not to share, simply because it means I’m forced to think about it myself when that’s the last thing I want on my mind.

But during March I feel an obligation to “do my part”. I want more heads nodding in understanding than noses wrinkling quizzically at the mention of “multiple sclerosis”. I want more people saying “guess what I heard about a new breakthrough for MS!” The only way that’s going to happen is by all of us sharing our stories, or drawing people in somehow.

We might not have an ice bucket challenge on our side, but there are things we can do besides just posting pictures of awareness ribbons. And there are ways to work in a little levity so people aren’t just awkwardly trying to move on after your conversation has left them feeling sorry for you, or worse, confused. I’ve been giving this some thought and here are some ideas I’ve come up with…

If you’ve lost sensation in your hands, you could ask your friends to put mittens on and try to make it through their morning routine (all except for shaving or pouring coffee, maybe). Tell them you can’t feel things or control your movement as well as you once could. For some people with MS it feels like wearing gloves or mittens.

jeri blogOr how about a “Sit-N-Spin for MS”? Do they still make that toy? Get grown adults to challenge each other to spin like crazy while someone takes a video. When they get up to walk they’ll be walking like we do with MS, stumbling around and bouncing off walls.

When others are forced to experience things that closely resemble symptoms of MS, sometimes they are profoundly moved. “I get it, now!” is something I hear a lot.

If your family and friends aren’t up for the MS experience, maybe recording your thoughts on living with MS in a video would help. Things that are hard to say face to face can be easier to share in a video sometimes. Healthline.com has launched a campaign called “You’ve Got This!” where those with MS are encouraged to submit a video of their experience, giving hope to the newly diagnosed.

Each time you share your experience, whether with your friends at home, through posts on social media, or even videos enlightening and encouraging others, you are building awareness and drawing the attention to the bigger picture.

To end this disease we’re going to need a lot more research, and that means a lot more funding. When people understand how MS can impact our quality of life, the awareness spreads. When you use your own story to engage others and spread the message, it can be a very empowering experience.

Not only will you be helping others to understand what we live with every day, but you will gain so much satisfaction from feeling like you’re doing your part as well. We might not be able to cure MS ourselves, but we don’t have to sit back and passively take what this disease dishes out in silence. Compassion starts with understanding. Understanding comes from communication.

Be the voice of MS, if only for one month, or week, or even a single day this year. You won’t regret it.

Resources:

http://www.healthline.com/health/multiple-sclerosis/youve-got-this

Photo credit: oddharmonic

*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.

 

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Spring Awakening

Boy oh boy, what a winter we’ve had this year! There wasn’t a part of the country that didn’t experience some effect of this peculiar and extraordinary season – whether it was ice, snow, freezing rain or just downright frigid temperatures, we’ve all had a taste of the season! I think at this point spring will be a welcomed phase of the year – even though that means some sweltering summer temps are right behind it. But until then, why not take advantage of the weather change (whenever it does occur), and do some things to enjoy the season?

Spring is a great time to get back outdoors after winter’s hibernation; no matter what type of activity, just breathing in some fresh outdoor air can awaken the senses. Traveling, gardening, walking, exercising, riding or sitting outside are all ventures that can be explored during this period. Spring is a good time to clean things out and get organized – to throw away the old and make room for the new in order to help you keep track of what’s needed.

Explore opportunities within your community – there may be different events and activities occurring during spring that you can participate in. It may also help to talk with your doctor about different activities you can do to help with any MS symptom management issues or finding a task that is appropriate for your needs. Every individual has their own preferences and favorite things they enjoy, so the arrival of spring provides a chance to do something new and start the season with novel hope and promise.

What will you do this spring?

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Spreading Awareness: Advocating for Client Needs

This week, in honor of MS Awareness Month, I spoke with a group of nursing students at Rutgers University in New Jersey regarding chronic illness and the role nurses play in patient advocacy and referral. This event highlights the importance of spreading awareness and educating those working directly with individuals affected by this disease.

While explaining the various factors associated with MS, we explored a variety of resources available to individuals. Nurses have a unique and valuable role in the medical team – they are often the first person a client sees in a medical team giving them the opportunity to hear and learn the ins and outs of an individual’s life. With this knowledge, nurses have the opportunity to discuss options and make referrals for clients.

It is vital that nurses view themselves as patient advocates and make referrals or speak to the medical team regarding any concerns they may have for the clients care. Some conversations are difficult to have with physicians; clients feel pressure during the short visit and do not get a chance to discuss their concerns. Often times, working closely with a nurse for some of the non-physician or non-medical related concerns can be helpful.

Hopefully the conversation with the nursing students set them up to become better patient advocates in their future roles as nurses!

Have you worked with a nurse for assistance with referrals to organizations or assistance programs? How was that experience for you?

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March is MS Awareness Month

By: Ashley Ringstaff

I know there are a lot of questions many people with MS ask themselves… and some of those questions are based upon being involved in the MS Community. How can we get involved? How can we make a difference?

I thought I would try and share my thought on this subject, for the month of March, which is recognized by many as Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month. There are a lot of events that you may see online, on social media, and many other places. But how can we get involved?

I do a lot of advocacy for multiple sclerosis all year round, and I don’t usually attend huge MS events in order to do so. I do small, but meaningful things to raise awareness about multiple sclerosis.

The obvious one, is that I blog… but before I even started writing; I became a volunteer with MSWorld.org where I am a part of an Online Support Group for MS Patients & their Caregivers.

However, I feel that advocating really needs to go BEYOND just the MS Community, and advocated to the general public. When I have been out in public, someone will ask me what MS stands for, because I was wearing an MS t-shirt. So I explained to them what it was. Just passing along information to a few people can spread the word. Once you have given the person information, they will probably relay it to someone else they know.

I use my social media outlets to raise awareness about multiple sclerosis. I’ve done lobbying before; I do as much as I can. However, we can’t just depend on a few people to raise awareness for MS. We ALL need to take part in some sort of way.

Do you remember hearing/seeing about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? I saw a lot of people with MS wanting to do something like that, to bring awareness for MS. While it’s a good idea, it’s very hard to ‘copy cat’ an awareness project. But ALS is also a neurological illness with no cure, so the research being done for ALS, is most likely going to benefit the MS community in some way or another.

I’ve seen videos online of people at the mall putting up a booth, and having people who are shopping at the mall, “Try on MS”. There are so many things being done to raise awareness for MS around the World. I don’t feel like we all have to have a ‘theme’ to raise awareness, just spreading the word can do a lot.

However, I will be contacting my local news stations, letting them know that March is MS Awareness Month – and if they can do some sort of coverage on it. I’m going to make a shirt that says, “Ask me about multiple sclerosis” … original right? But it will get people wondering. Even if they don’t come up and ask me, more than likely, they will look it up on their phone.

Get involved with your local organizations group… whether that’s with MSAA, NMSS, or just something you and others you know with MS in your area get together once a month. Discuss with each other how you can make a difference in your community.

At MSWorld, we made a campaign to “Live Beyond MS: Breaking the Silence”. When I speak to people that have MS as well as their loved ones, they all want to know when a cure will be available for us. That’s a good question… but I’m not going to sit around and just wait for researchers to give me the answers we are looking for. Why? Because the bottom line is, the more people who know about multiple sclerosis, the more funding we will get for research, the closer we are to a cure, re-myelination, Stem Cell… the list goes on and on.

So, what is the conclusion to this article? Don’t wait for someone else to do something to bring awareness to MS… start doing it yourself, every bit you do makes a difference, whether you believe it or not.

xoxo
Ashley Ringstaff
MSWorld Volunteer
Diagnosed in 2010
Blogger for MultipleSclerosis.net
Follow me on Facebook
Follow me on Twitter

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MS Awareness Month: A Chance to Make a Difference!

By: Meagan Freeman

Every March, we have the opportunity to share our own stories and participate actively in spreading awareness about multiple sclerosis. The possibilities are endless, ranging from the MSAA “Swim for MS” fundraiser, MS biking events, MS walks, read-a-thons for our children in schools, and any other activity that might assist in spreading knowledge about our illness. This disease continues to be poorly understood by many, and it is still considered rare, with an incidence of 1 in 1000 in the US currently. The need for awareness has never been greater, and we can all have a hand in educating others. If we each take on the task of sharing information with those around us, knowledge can spread like wildfire.

Many patients find that they are unable to participate in these activities to support MS awareness. Many fundraisers are physical, such as running, walking, biking, and swimming events. Sometimes, the thought of participating in an event like these can be daunting for those with physical disabilities. Some patients might think, “How can I possibly participate in these?” There are a myriad of options for those who may not have the ability to actually take part in a physical event, however.

Fundraising while a family member or friend completes the physical part of the event is a wonderful option. I have had several friends participate in local MS “muckfest” and running events, while I took on the task of raising donations. I helped advertise and share information, while my runner friend completed the event. We managed to raise $2000 together last year alone. No amount of money raised is too little, and no one should feel like they cannot make an impact.

Another option is to spread awareness through blogging, speaking and writing. My personal contribution to MS awareness continues to be my blog. I started this blog with the goal of sharing my own personal experiences with MS in order to educate, and to ensure that no patient ever feels isolated or alone. The simple act of sharing your story may have a greater impact than you ever imagined. The thought of helping others simply by sharing your story is incredible! You never know who needs to hear your experience at that very moment.

Whether you choose to donate to an MS organization such as MSAA, to participate in an MS event, or simply share knowledge and educate through writing or speaking, you can make a difference. If every MS patient takes on the challenge of increasing awareness about our illness, we are capable of making sweeping changes. Let’s work together during the month of March (and beyond,) to increase knowledge, share our stories, and have a personal impact on finding the eventual cure for multiple sclerosis.

*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.

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Communicating about Multiple Sclerosis with Young Children

The diagnosis of a chronic illness such as multiple sclerosis (MS) has the capability to challenge a family on multiple levels. As if the diagnosis of a disease such as MS was easy to explain and discuss with adult friends and family members. Explaining the diverse symptoms of MS to a young child is a new challenge all in itself.

Deciding when to have a conversation with your children regarding the MS diagnosis is a personal decision that every family should discuss. Children are by nature, curious individuals. They may pick up that things have changed, or that Mommy or Daddy is acting differently. Depending on the child, some families may choose to introduce information about the disease early on.

MommyStoryMSAA has published two books to help guide families through this conversation with young children. Mommy’s Story and Daddy’s Story are geared for children age’s three to seven, to provide a starting point for future conversations regarding an MS diagnosis.

For on-going supportive information for children, the National MS Society also publishes a newsletter, Keep S’myelin to provide stories and activities regarding different challenges a parent may face with relation to MS.

If a child appears to have a difficult time with the adjustment to a new diagnosis in a parent, it may be helpful to seek additional professional support. A child therapist can help the child to express some of the fears or concerns that they are having. Different modalities such as art or music therapy can help young children who may not verbally be able to explain how they are feeling.

Do you have young children, and have you spoken with them regarding an MS diagnosis? What resources were helpful to you during this time?

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