The Impact of MS on Everyday life

Earlier this year, MultipleSclerosis.net conducted an on-line study called the MS in America Study (MSIA), which aimed to gather information from people who have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The study was conducted with a goal of gaining a better understanding of the current status and trends in patients with MS. The survey covered a broad range of topics, including diagnosis, symptoms, treatment, and living with MS. A total of 6,202 people started the survey, of which 5,710 were eligible (diagnosed with MS, at least 18 years of age and were either US residents or US citizens living abroad); 5,004 completed the study.

One key area of interest in the MS community is the actual impact that this disease has on the everyday lives of patients and family members of those with MS. A section of the MSIA study asked participants a series of questions that focused on everyday life with MS, and the results are quite compelling. Of 5,514 respondents, the vast majority (77%, n=4,244) said that they are no longer able to do as much as they used to before having MS. Nearly half noted that they are unable to work (43.1%, n=2,374), and a similar percentage of respondents (44.8%, n=2,472) were receiving disability benefits.

The majority of survey participants reported having children (72.5%, n=4,028 of 5,554), and not surprisingly, of those, most felt that MS had impacted their relationship with their children in some way. Check out the pie chart below to see how MS has impacted participants’ relationships with their children:

MSIA children impact

When asked about their relationship status, most reported either being married (61.7%, n=3,417 of 5,541) or in a committed relationship (11.8%, 653 of 5,541). Interestingly, nearly half (46.1%, 1,872 of 4,063) of those who were in a relationship reported being in that relationship for 21 years or more. Similar to the impact of MS on relationships with their children, most participants felt that MS had an impact on their relationship with their spouse or significant other. Nearly half (43.5%, 1,767) reported that MS had “a little bit” of an impact, while 38.7% (n=576) responded either “quite a bit” or “a great deal.” Only 17.7% (n=721) of respondents felt that MS didn’t have any impact on their relationship. Interestingly, an analysis of these data showed that the length of the relationship did not correlate with the level of impact that MS had on that relationship.

Because MS can impact a person’s life in many ways, it is critical that patients have a strong support system in place to help them cope with this condition. MSIA participants were asked some questions related to their support networks, and the majority (58.7%, n=2,941 of 5013) reported having a loved one who is actively involved in managing their MS. Support networks include spouses, children, parents, friends, significant others, and other relatives.

Of the 2,941 people who responded to the question, “How does your caregiver help you manage your MS?,” the majority (74%, n=2,180) said that their caregivers help out during an exacerbation, while most said their caregivers help out with transportation to and from appointments, and many also receive help from their caregivers with managing their medication.

MSIA support system

Fortunately, in addition to loved ones, there are many other resources available to provide support for people with MS. Over 87% (4,267 of 4,881) of those in the MSIA study said that they rely on MS-specific websites to learn about or manage their MS, more than half (68.8%, n=3,357) read MS magazines/publications as a resource, and many (45.2%, n=2,204) also use social media outlets, like Facebook, for support.

Results of the MSIA study confirm that the impact of MS on the everyday lives of patients and loved ones is significant, and that there is great value in the support systems that are available. To read more about this study and to see additional results, click here.

Tell us more about how MS has changed your life! Who and what do you rely on for support?

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My Silent Hero

By: Sheryl Skutelsky

After years of having every part of my body in pain at various times through my twenties, I’ll never forget the day in October 2001 when I finally heard those words, “You have multiple sclerosis.” I didn’t yet really know what those words meant, but I was relieved to finally have a name for what doctors had been telling me for years was just stress.

I went home that day to look MS up on the computer, and I have never stopped learning. Knowledge is power, and I truly believe that my attitude has a great deal to do with how I live my life with MS.

I was very excited when I was offered the opportunity to write for MSAA because it meant I could reach more people with the valuable lessons that I’ve learned over the years.

I’ve been blogging about MS now for years, having covered topics that range from explaining what MS is all about to how to deal with summer heat. However, I have never written about the person that has been my rock through all my ups and downs.

My partner not only has to imagine what it’s like each day for me to deal with pins and needles, numbness, shooting pain, aching, dizziness, nausea, and overwhelming fatigue, but she also has to live with the same uncertainty of waking up each day and not knowing if we can do the things that we had planned. She is the only one that truly understands how I can look so good on the outside and feel so miserable on the inside. She gets it when I have to cancel plans because I did too much the day before.

When we met, I was relatively healthy. She did ask me what hurt every day. It got to the point where she asked me if my left earlobe hurt because she was just trying to find some part of me that didn’t hurt, but she didn’t sign up for a chronic disease. That news came as a shock to both of us.

Thanks to MS, I’ve learned to truly take one day at a time. I wake up grateful for each day that I can walk, but I also wake up grateful that I have someone in my life that will stand by me no matter what. It would do us all good if we remembered to let our significant others know how much we appreciate all that they have done for us by sharing in living with the uncertainty of life with MS.

*Sheryl Skutelsky, diagnosed in 2001, has learned how to live positively with multiple sclerosis. Sheryl’s passion has always been graphic design. Her symptoms have become an inconvenience to her work, so she now uses her skills and creativity to reach out to others about MS. Sheryl is a patient advocate speaker for Biogen Idec. She also writes for Healthline.com, and she is an Internet radio host with her own show, Fix MS Now. Check out her Fix MS Now page on Facebook which has more than 10,000 followers. You can help raise MS awareness one “like” at a time by visiting: http://www.facebook.com/fixmsnow.

 

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It’s all relative.

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Sometimes it may seem like things are spiraling. Maybe the bills are piling up, the stress level in managing home life or work is rising, and you are worried that you are headed for an MS Relapse if you keep going at your current pace. When things feel like they are outside of your control, it is easy to “cycle”  or consistently think of the negative aspects of what is going on. The whirlwind of negativity can affect not only your mood and health, but also your relationships and ability to accurately read cues from others and be empathetic.

When your co-worker is acting totally checked out and you are annoyed that she hasn’t helped you with a joint project, you might think she is acting uncaring, but maybe she didn’t tell you her brother is very sick in the hospital. When the dentist office calls for the third time to cancel your appointment and you just feel like screaming at the scheduler, you may not know that she is stressed out because other office staff keep flaking out on their scheduled appointments and making her job harder.

Yes, it is okay to have a bad day or a bad week. It is okay to not put on a “fake it ’till you make it” smile when you feel like nobody understands what you are dealing with, but when you start to get caught up in the negativity tornado and are on the borderline of snapping, remember that everyone is dealing with something. Yes, some of those “somethings” are more manageable than others, but they all impact and make a difference in the lives of the people living them. Focusing on the idea that everyone is living their own journey with different successes and challenges can help us to maintain balance; we are not alone for the ride. When things start to spiral, try to remember that everything is relative.

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Communicating Effectively with MS

By: Matt Cavallo

One barrier to accepting that you are now a person living with multiple sclerosis is communication. When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, it seemed that every conversation I had ended up being about my MS. Whether it was family, friends or co-workers, inevitably during the conversation the person I was talking to would pause and ask, “So, how do you feel? You look great.”

While these conversations were well-intentioned, no one picked up on the fact that I didn’t want to talk about my disease. All I wanted was to do was have regular conversations about sports, work or the weather. The kind of conversations we would have before I was diagnosed. More and more I found myself avoiding conversations rather than reliving my diagnosis over and over again.

This was causing a tremendous amount of stress in my life and that stress was affecting all the relationships in my life. Whether it was at work, friends, family or my wife, all these relationships were suffering as a result of the breakdown in communication. I then realized that I wasn’t going to be able to control the way the people talked to me about my disease. If I wanted to end the stress of talking to people about MS, I was either going to have to cut everyone out of my life or change how I communicated my illness.

For me, change does not come easy. One of my 7 Steps to Living Well with a Chronic Illness, is Learning to Communicate Effectively. I believe that when you are diagnosed with a chronic illness, like MS, you go through five stages of grieving: denial, anger, fear, grief and finally, acceptance. Learning how to communicate effectively is what helped me go through these stages. Instead of losing relationships because of my MS I started to make changes that allowed me to accept my MS.

Excerpt from 7 Steps to Living Well with a Chronic Illness
Rediscovering My Purposematt blog

I remember sitting in my doctor’s office in the spring on 2007. I had previously shared with her a draft of my memoir, The Dog Story: A Journey into a New Life with Multiple Sclerosis. She loved the passion in which I describe my writing. She said that I had an articulate, succinct way of telling my patient experience story. She also said that there was an opportunity to share my story at an upcoming patient support group meeting. Without thinking about it, I agreed to speak at the meeting.

Then on my way home, a rush of anxiety and fear overwhelmed me. What had I agreed to? I had never given a speech. I didn’t know what to say or where to start. When I got home, I talked to Jocelyn about the upcoming speech. Given all that I had been through with my disease process, she thought that it would be good for me to attend the support group in general. She also thought that I would be good as a speaker. I was skeptical…

… I put on a blue blazer, a button down white shirt, a pair of jeans and some blue tennis shoes. My cousin came with me to film the event. As we drove, the butterflies started to mount in my stomach. I walked into the hotel lobby and followed the signs to the meeting room for the support group.

In an instant I had forgotten everything that I was going to say. I started sweating and paused for what seemed like an eternity. All eyes were on me and the projector beam was like a white hot piercing spotlight in an interrogation room. The doctor introduced me and I walked to the front of the room, raised my right hand and waved.

“Good afternoon everyone!”

I collected myself and began again. Eventually I started to feel my rhythm. The sweat was no longer pouring and I found my confidence and timing. The crowd even erupted with laughter when I interjected a joke. I was surprised. It was a subtle joke, but they got it. When that happened, the words started rolling off my tongue and I told my story better than I ever had rehearsed it. The audience loved it. Everyone came up to me afterwards and said how much my talk meant to them. I was touched.

Looking back, standing up in front of that crowd and sharing my story changed the way I felt about communicating my MS. Up until that point, I was not comfortable talking about MS at all. And it wasn’t because I was sharing my story in a front of a room full of people that caused the change in me. It was everyone in the audience who shared their story with me after the talk that helped me understand that I wasn’t alone. People shared similar experiences and how hard it was to talk about their illness. Since that day, I have made it my mission to spread the word about living with MS.

If you are going through difficulty with you MS or having a hard time accepting your diagnosis, it is OK. You are not alone. Learning to communicate your story of living with MS will help you in accepting your condition. Once you learn how to effectively communicate your story with MS you will find that you are not alone and that you really do look great!

*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/

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Getting Graphic When You Have Multiple Sclerosis

Young couple looking distressed or angry

Sometimes when you try to communicate with others, your point may be misconstrued, or something may be lost in translation, or you feel that no matter what you are saying the other person just doesn’t “get it.”

In my role here at MSAA, I have heard from many people who are frustrated or disappointed that someone close to them, be it a family member, a friend, or even a close co-worker (someone who they know cares about them), just doesn’t “get” MS. They may not understand the daily or even hourly ups and downs of MS, or the invisible or hidden symptoms you are trying your utmost to manage, or maybe it’s just an expectation that everything should be the same as before your diagnosis, when for you it feels like the whole world has shifted.

No one wants to feel that our friends, family, and supporters are clueless, unhelpful, or uncaring…after all you KNOW they care about you, and that’s why you include them and want them to be a part of your life, and that’s why it feels so wrong when you can’t express your needs or they don’t seem to “get” what it is you are dealing with, or struggling with, or needing.

When words aren’t enough, get graphic…and not in the style of an R-rated movie, but instead embracing that sometimes a photograph, picture, or artwork can help support what you are saying. Even a visualization can sometimes be helpful, for example, “Sarah, I know that you are trying to help, but when you say that it makes me feel like you’re asking me to put a bag with a smiley face on my head…can you picture that? ” If you picture it, a person with a smiley face bag is being asked to hide their true emotions, or even if they express those emotions they cannot be seen by others. Sarah may picture that bag the next time she wants you to turn your frown upside down and be more empathetic to your needs.

So, the next time you feel like words are just not enough: snap a photo of how you are feeling, draw a picture of your thoughts, or give a visual depiction of your concerns. You may find that a visual display is sometimes the bridge that is needed to help your support person really “get it.”

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You’re My Person…

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So in our day to day we sometimes overlook things that are important to us. It’s not done on purpose or due to an act of spite; it’s realistic that things get pushed to the side when we have so many other things going on. In a world such as ours with life going a mile a minute, how can things not go unnoticed? But when you do have time to talk, to listen, and be with someone else, who brings out the best of who you are? Who’s your person? Who is that being you turn to when you need someone to confide in? What is it about this person that makes you feel so comforted in communicating with them?

Every individual is different; thank goodness for that! It’s a person’s quirks, attributes, and strengths that attract us to them in the first place. We like when someone is different from us so they can offer new perspectives on things, but we also like when we share the same interests and personality traits that make the relationship flow so well. We tend to look for connections that will hopefully bring out the best in us – someone to complement our traits and allow the best part of us to shine through. We confide in others when we need to vent, discuss things out loud, and find validation for what we’re going through. It’s comforting to know that someone else is there when we need to reach out.

Your go-to person may be a family member, friend, significant other, or someone else – the relationship title doesn’t make a difference. It’s the communication and bond you share that matters. Family members may drive you crazy at times, but sometimes they’re the ones you’re closest to, without even realizing it. If you are still looking for your ‘person,’ that one who you can confide in and turn to in times of need, take another look; they may already be a part of your life…..

Who’s your person?

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Identifying Communication Barriers

Young couple in bed - distressed and sleeping

Throughout our lives we have all experienced a time or two where a complete lack of communication has occurred and something has gone wrong, whether someone didn’t get the toilet paper at the store, or someone forgot to pick the kids up at daycare. It’s often easy to say that there is a communication problem, but finding a solution or working towards improving communication is a whole other beast to try and tackle.

Identifying that there is a communication problem is the first step in correcting it. It may also be helpful to try and determine the type of communication problem you are having. When specifically talking about relationships and communication, the following are some of the more common communication problems that can be seen:

    • The “assumers”: those who think they know what the other person is saying or thinking, but don’t ask how they are feeling. Most commonly you will hear from these individuals something along the lines of, “Oh, I don’t have to ask him/her, I know what they will say.”
        • By making an assumption about what another person might say or feel, you are closing out the opportunity to have a conversation about a topic.
        • Start by using phrases such as, “Would you like to?” or, “What do you think about…?”
        • Avoid using phrases such as, “I know what you’ll say,” or “I probably already know the answer.”
    • Those that “read between the lines”: these individuals create false scenarios about every possible answer, thought, or feeling that could be occurring in the other individual. Most commonly, these are the “what if” individuals, who you will hear say things along the lines of “when he/she says ____, do you think they mean ___ what if they really think____?”.
        • By creating these scenarios, the individuals are removing themselves and distancing themselves more from the individual.
        • If you are unsure about a person’s response, use some clarifying statements to learn more about how they may really be feeling: “Can you tell me more about that?” or “Help me understand what you’re saying.”
        • Avoid using phrases such as, “I know what you’re really saying is ___.”; this type of statement pushes the other party further away and does not make them feel secure in their responses to you.
    • The “keep quiet and this will pass” type: for this type of individual, it is the complete lack of communication that leads to more issues in the relationship. These individuals choose not to pose questions or speak to their partners in hopes that things will get better on their own.
        • By choosing to not speak up about concerns that may be bothering you, you are sending a message that things are OK, and the things you were hoping would pass may not.
        • Open yourself up with some feeling statements like, “I feel like ___ when you say/do ___.” When focusing on yourself and your feelings, you give the other person the perspective of how they may be influencing you.
        • Avoid using phrases that may indicate blame such as, “You never ask me about my day.” Using these phrases may spark a defensive reaction from the other individual.

These are just a few examples of some of the communication challenges that individuals may face. It can be difficult to think of ourselves as doing something bad or wrong, or in any way hindering our relationships. But I encourage you to look at your current relationships and think about how your communication styles may be influencing the relationship. In what ways can you see yourself making changes? Have you found something that works for you and your partner?

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Who’s in your circle?

After attending a retreat this week for helping professionals, there were a lot of things put into perspective for me. One being that we all need to make time for is self-care in our routines, to maintain a balance between things we must do and things we should be doing for ourselves on a daily basis. But another poignant moment at the retreat posed the question: “Who do you want to bring into your circle?” The circle symbolizes your safe space, the area you’re surrounded by that accompanies you through your day to day. It represents your thoughts and hopes and also your vulnerabilities. So the question that was posed of whom you’d want to enter this space with you or who you’ve already accepted into this space was profound. It’s not often that we are able to take the time to consciously think of those we’re surrounded by and why it is we’ve chosen them to be a part of our lives. Being able to reflect on this was moving.

We go through life at times with certain blinders on. We rush through daily activities and sometimes forget that we’re part of a bigger world, full of other people experiencing similar types of thoughts and feelings, though each unique and different in their own way. Our circles intersect with others, and though we may not realize it, some of us have already chosen whom or what we’d like as part of our circle. They are the family and friends we surround ourselves with, those we let in when we need to connect and feel validated. They are the places we like to visit, the things we enjoy doing most. It can really be anything or anyone; it’s up to you who enters the circle, because after all, it is yours.

Who’s in your circle?

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The Expression of Love

Sunset holding hands photo

Valentine’s Day is a day where we open our hearts and make every effort to shower people with our love.  But for some, the open expression of love is a challenge.  Each individual chooses to share their love in a different manner; some opt for gifts, while others may write poems to express their love.

It is important to understand the ways in which you like to receive love and it’s important to have an open conversation with your partner regarding the ways in which you like to receive love and the ways in which you show your love.

There is a book by Gary D. Chapman called The Five Love Languages.  In this book, the author believes in the importance of being able to express your love in a way that is meaningful to you and in a way that your partner can understand.

Everyone expresses their emotions differently and has a different need when it comes to love.  This book helps to identify yourself and your emotional need, i.e. Love Language.  For example, my love language is Acts of Service; I choose to express my love through the act of doing something for someone else.  If I were in a relationship with someone who needs Words of Affirmation to feel love, the relationship may be stressed because of the differences.

Understanding and knowing your Love Language provides you with a great opportunity to have an open discussion with your partner about your feelings and needs in your relationship.  Take some time to discuss this with your partner and find ways to identify it in your day to day.  Perhaps true acts of love are being overlooked, simply because they are not in your Love Language.

This Valentine’s Day, how will you choose to express your love?

MSAA does not endorse the purchase of any specific product(s). Rather, any brand names are mentioned solely as an informational resource.

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Let’s Get Together: 4 Tips for Maintaining Friendships

Life Balance Diagram Showing Family Career Health And Friends

In a world full of chaotic days filled with busy agendas and routines, it’s difficult to maintain some relationships you hold with others. Promises of “let’s get together” are sometimes broken, not that it’s done purposefully, but at times it’s hard to manage all the expectations in a given day.

Certain tasks are given priority, while others are pushed to the side to wait for another day. This is a realistic expectation in the 21st century; people are just plain busy! So what can rsz_shutterstock_14174770you do to keep the relationship connections going, even if the world is pulling you in all sorts of directions?

Here are some ideas to stay connected:

  • Set aside a specific time during the week that you plan to call or get together with friends/family. Work it into your schedule so that you know it is part of the agenda you plan to keep.
  • If you struggle with remembering plans you’ve made, set a reminder for yourself. Make a note and keep it somewhere it can be easily seen, or set an alarm on your phone for the date.
  • Have the other person contact you! If it’s difficult to remember to reach out, request to have that person reach out to you.
  • If something occurs that interferes with your plans, make an effort to reschedule it as soon as possible; that way, it’s already planned for another time.

How do you stay connected?

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