About Angel

I am a Client Services Specialist here at MSAA. I hold both a Bachelor's and Master's Degree in Counseling from schools outside the Philadelphia area. I love reading, movies, going to concerts and traveling. Favorite place I've been so far---Disney World!

Anyone else out there…?

As we’ve just finished a very active MS Awareness Month here at MSAA we wanted to take some time to talk about support networks and positivity for this month’s blog theme. When dealing with an illness like MS, its helps to create and focus on connections to others within the community, to know that one is not alone in what they’re experiencing. From our Ask Me Anything events in March we saw lots of similarities in what others were asking when it came to their MS symptoms and disease course. On MSAA’s Helpline we often receive calls from clients asking ‘Am I the only one who’s experienced this?’ ‘Is this normal for MS?’ ‘Does anyone else have this issue?’ And we consistently find ourselves validating all of these questions and concerns, because the fact is that individuals are not alone, as there are many others out there wondering the same things.

I think the feeling of knowing you’re not alone in a challenging experience can help to quiet the fears, concerns and anxieties that accompany it. Asking if there’s anyone else out there going through the same thing and learning that there is, can make someone feel more validated and less isolated. This is why having a support network is so vital, and not only to connect with during difficult times but also to share good times with as well. It’s comforting to vent, cry or scream in times of strife and have others listen, but it’s also important to relay positive experiences, humorous moments and celebratory occasions with those in your circle. Life will have its ups and downs as these inevitably come with the ride, so sharing in the ups when they do occur can help combat the downs. If you find yourself feeling alone and asking questions just keep in mind that you’re not, and there are others out there asking too.

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The Confusing World of MS Relapses

MS relapses continue to be one of the most notorious conundrums within the MS space and community today, which is one reason why the MSAA has made MS Relapse Management one of the MS Awareness Month activities this March. Many individuals living with MS question their symptoms and if they relate to relapses or not on a daily basis, no matter how long they’ve been diagnosed, because this issue remains a head-scratcher to those affected. This occurs because MS relapses can be difficult to diagnose, they’re unique to each person (like many other factors with MS), and they can sometimes be pseudoexacerbations and different from a “true” relapse. Several issues can influence whether or not a true relapse is occurring, these include other illnesses or infection, heat, stress, fever, and exercise. So how do you determine what is a relapse vs. a pseudoexacerbation vs. something else? This is a question that concerns many from day to day.

For a relapse to be considered there has to be certain signs and evidence pointing to it without other factors involved like those mentioned above. Symptoms may present as a worsening or recurrence of existing symptoms and/or new symptoms and need to be present for at least 24-48 hours. This is hard for individuals to distinguish sometimes, especially if it’s a symptom they’ve had before but maybe not recently, if they’re not sure that it’s an actual symptom issue, or if it’s a symptom related to MS at all. Another question that comes up often is how long do relapse symptoms last? The length of time can vary from days to months, again making it hard to know the exact ins and outs of relapses and all they entail. These are the type of great, valid questions to ask the doctor when and if the opportunity presents itself because it’s something many face and are unsure about.

Talking to others living with MS can also help to validate some of these questions and concerns too, to gain feedback and perspective from those dealing with the same types of issues. My MSAA Community, MSAA’s online peer support forum where those affected by MS connect with their peers, is one platform that can be used for this outreach. Additional information about MS relapse management can also be found through the MSAA’s online MS Relapse Resource Center and MS Relapse Toolkit publication.

To continue the conversation about MS relapses during MS Awareness Month, MSAA will be hosting a live Ask Me Anything” event with Annette Okai, MD, today, March 12, 2018 from 6:00 – 7:00 pm Eastern on My MSAA Community. And on Tuesday, March 13, 2018 from 8:00 – 9:00 pm Eastern the MSAA will be hosting a free Live Webinar “Helpful Tools for MS Relapse Management”  featuring Elizabeth Crabtree-Hartman, MD. Be sure to join in!

 

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What is it that stops us?

So I don’t think I’m alone when I say it scares me to try new things. The idea of doing something novel and different is terrifying sometimes and causes all sorts of wonky feelings. I know it’s important to try to experience new things and to step outside of your comfort zone once in a while, but this often elicits feelings of anxiety and stress, so why is that? What is it that stops us from trying new things and reaching beyond what we’re used to doing? It can be a gamut of things, but what is it specifically?

For me I think the main issue is the fear of failure. I’m not too naïve to believe that everything is and has to be done perfectly, but it’s always been an innate expectation for me to do the things that I know well, and to thus shy away from the unknown for fear that it won’t be done right or perfectly. This may be the case for others too; the idea that we won’t succeed at or conquer something, that feelings of inadequacy will abound and really derail us from trying things again. The unknown of new things can be frightening, it’s a normal and reactive response for many to not want to try because we don’t know what’s on the other side. But you also have to think, if no one ever tried anything new, we wouldn’t have all of the wonderful things we have today. Innovations, technology, art, and music were new to its creators and inventors, and without them taking the leaps they had and diving into the unknown, we’d be lost without these treasures.

It’s surely not easy trying new things – nothing ever is that results in success and beauty and grace. But isn’t it worth it, to try that one new thing to quiet expectations and norms? To settle the fears that taint the mind and to make the decision that if you attempt something different and it doesn’t work out, that that’s ok? Fear can be overwhelming and deafening and can interfere with bold choices at times, but it’s our own insecurities that often interfere with achievement. We have to be kind and patient with ourselves long enough to experience the new and see what could have been. So what will you try?

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New Year, New Beginning

As it turned midnight on January 1st of 2018, I think a lot of people, including myself, held hopes that this new year would bring with it more optimism and hope, especially more so than its previous 2017 counterpart which brought controversy and devastation throughout the year. Entering a new year can mean new beginnings for things and more possibilities, but most importantly, a chance to reassess what your needs are and how to fulfill them. For some this may be physical needs as it relates to the body and addressing medical issues or concerns. For others this may mean focusing on emotional or spiritual needs and how this influences day to day and self-care. No matter what the needs look like, the beginning of a new year represents another fresh start to prioritize things and to take care of you.

It’s not always easy to do this with the chaos each day can bring, but that’s why you prioritize, so certain things take precedence over others when there’s not enough time in the day for everything. It may come down to making to-do lists with tasks and goals and crossing things off one by one, or setting one specific need as a goal to focus on for the week or entire month. The method of prioritizing needs doesn’t have to be perfect and it surely won’t look the same for everyone; it’s going to be tailored to each person and what their specific needs are. But it all begins with an act of self-respect; to increase awareness of what it is that’s needed and telling yourself you deserve it.

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Finding Holiday Spirit

I don’t think anyone would argue the fact that 2017 has been a pretty difficult year, to say the least. National tragedies, devastating natural disasters, political and social mayhem, and endless controversy have plagued the year and we’re not yet at its end. So it’s completely understandable if you ask yourself the question, how do I get into the holiday spirit surrounded by this mayhem? Where does one find the incentive “to be jolly” in a season that’s bookended by discord on one side, and potential hope and mystery on the other that comes with the arrival of the New Year? The answer to this can actually be found in those who surround you and the spirit that others project this time of year, you only need look for the light that cuts through the darkness.

If you want to find holiday spirit, look to children this time of year, as they carry so much light and happiness and excitement for what the holiday will bring, that it’s hard not to share in this joy with them. If religion is something of interest or that you already practice, hope can oftentimes be found through faith, especially during this season. Sometimes people just want to believe in something that’s greater than them and elicits peace. Seeing how people volunteer and donate to various causes year round but especially at the holidays also spurs feelings of joy and creates that sought after holiday spirit. It’s not always easy – life can be messy and chaotic and awful at times, but it’s looking and searching for those small signs of hope and peace that keep people moving forward and keeps holiday spirit alive. Without darkness we wouldn’t know light and how powerful it can be, so be sure to embrace it when it shines through, and let your spirit be bright.

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Holiday Assistance

With the holiday season in full swing some individuals may find themselves busy making plans and preparations for this festive time of year. For others this season may represent a time when some extra help is needed to make the holiday special. Financial challenges can make expectations of the holidays a struggle, but it’s important to know that there are resources available that may help support your holiday activities, and therefore lift some of the stress that can accompany these festivities. The following community resources may be able to offer help through the holidays. Be sure to check with the organizations directly about their application requirements and deadlines as many have specific time frames to apply for help.

  • Salvation Army offices offer seasonal services and holiday assistance programs to help families in need with holiday dinners, toys, and clothing. Search for your local office to inquire about direct programs and services and application deadlines.
  • The United Way can offer information and referrals for holiday assistance programs in your community.
  • The Toys for Tots Program provides new, unwrapped toys during the holidays to children in need through community outreach and support efforts.
  • Catholic Charities Services and other local religious organizations may offer seasonal assistance as well, though these programs can vary based on location. Contact the groups in your area directly to inquire of services available.
  • Contact the county department of family/social services in your area, as their office may have additional holiday assistance and resources available.
  • You can also check with local schools in the community that may know of holiday assistance programs for families.
  • Community food banks may also be able to offer holiday assistance programs in your area during the season.

Again, many community assistance programs have specific application deadlines and requirements in order to receive holiday assistance by a certain time. Be sure to reach out to the resources to see what’s available in your area and how to apply.

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Talk About Something You’re Grateful for…

Gratitude is a beautiful concept. Feelings of appreciation can really fill the heart and help to create a more positive outlook on things. When I was in graduate school I had a counseling seminar course and one day my professor asked us to go around the room and talk about something we were grateful for. Now the idea of this was great, however, it happened to be a very difficult time period for me. I had just lost my grandmother and it was my first class coming back, so the exercise was not very appreciated in that moment. I think I said I was grateful I made it to class and that was it. It’s beyond challenging to try to think of things to be grateful for in dark moments, but since then I’ve tried to learn how to look at the things that are still immersed in the light. Gratitude does not always have to be an extravagant or grandiose notion in order to feel it, actually most of the time it’s felt in the simplest of moments. We just have to allow ourselves to embrace it.

A stranger holding a door open. Someone else making dinner. A note of thanks for something you did. Having a day off. It doesn’t matter the action or words but the feelings behind it. Being thankful for things, big and small, can help to improve well-being and attitude. They study gratitude in the research area of positive psychology nowadays and have found that it helps to increase happiness and optimism. Many individuals use gratitude journals each day/week to note specific things they’re thankful for, which can really help to change one’s perspective and views. The world can sometimes be a very dark place with very unfortunate moments, but if you choose to see the light that still lives just as strong as this darkness, that generates hope, and hope is what keeps us all moving forward.

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You Are Your Own Best Advocate

Recently I went to my primary care doctor for an annual flu vaccine and physical exam to make sure everything was in check. I paid my copay when I arrived at my appointment per usual protocol, but after reviewing the Explanation of Benefits (EOB) from my insurance company that came in recently, I realized the appointment was considered preventative and I should not have had to pay my copay amount. After noticing this I called my doctor’s office and they told me that in fact there was now a credit on my account of the copay amount that I had paid. They asked me if I wanted it to stay on my account as a credit or if I wanted to be refunded the amount. This made me scratch my head in perplexity, because I realized if I hadn’t reviewed my EOB from the insurance company and contacted my doctor’s office myself, I would’ve essentially been left in the dark about this copay credit until maybe I’d gone to my primary care doctor next year and was surprised with the copay credit on my account.

I feel like this happens often to individuals who are just trying to follow up with and maintain their medical care. I think this is why it’s so vital to be your own advocate when it comes to reviewing insurance information and benefits because there are not many on the other side that will do this for you, be it insurance companies or medical offices. Now don’t get me wrong, there may be some representatives who are diligent and careful in their work and do their best to ensure accuracy, however, this may not always be the case so it’s good to check and re-check things on your own as well. Human error can occur and mistakes can happen, but if you’re not aware of your own benefits and coverage this can slip under the radar and you could be paying for things out of pocket that you didn’t have to.

Insurance benefits and coverage can be a tricky thing to try to understand, so it’s important to take one thing at a time and to make contacts when you have questions. Calling the insurance company can sometimes be challenging so set aside time you know you can dedicate to this, or maybe your doctor’s office can help you navigate and understand your benefits. Sometimes you can use online customer support services to contact your insurance or connect to patient portals through your doctor’s office too. A relative, friend, neighbor or other resources in your community may also be able to help you decipher your insurance coverage. Again, you are your own best advocate when it comes to your care so being thorough and asking questions and reviewing your benefits is an essential part of the process.

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Medicare Open Enrollment is Coming!

On October 15th Medicare’s open enrollment period begins and lasts until December 7th. It’s during this time period that you can review your current Medicare plan and make changes if needed. You do not need to sign up for Medicare each year, but this is an important time when you should review your coverage to make adjustments if necessary, to ensure your health insurance needs are being met. And with the government currently discussing change that could potentially impact different parts of the healthcare system, it’s also a good time to stay up-to-date on this news as it unfolds.

Medicare beneficiaries who have a Medicare Advantage plan or Part D plan should receive paperwork called “Evidence of Coverage” or “Annual Notice of Change” letters from your health plan showing coverage outlines and any changes that will occur. It’s very important to review these materials to make sure of any changes in the plan’s costs, providers, benefits, drug formularies, etc. so that if something is changing with your plan, you are aware of it and can make changes to your coverage, if needed. These plans can change their benefits so it’s crucial to review your policy and any upcoming changes.

So, what can be done during the open enrollment period? According to Medicare, you can do the following:

Something else to keep in mind is that if you are not satisfied with your Medicare Advantage Plan, you can disenroll from that plan and join Original Medicare during the Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period. This disenrollment period is open from January 1st to February 14th.

The Medicare website offers a Medicare Plan Finder where you can search for and compare health plans, benefits, coverage and estimated costs. You can also contact Medicare directly at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) for information and questions.

For additional help, you can receive individualized assistance and guidance in choosing coverage through your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). This resource provides one-on-one insurance counseling and support, visit https://www.shiptacenter.org/ to find your local office.

MSAA’s My Health Insurance Guide is a helpful source for the MS community to find more information about insurance options and resources, in addition to the Medicare Planning and Multiple Sclerosis brochure that helps to outline important parts and questions about Medicare coverage.

This is an important time to review your plan’s policy and make changes if needed to ensure that you have the appropriate coverage for your healthcare needs.

Resources:

http://www.medicareinteractive.org/get-answers/overview-of-medicare-health-coverage-options/changing-medicare-health-coverage/6-things-to-know-about-fall-open-enrollment

https://www.medicare.gov/sign-up-change-plans/when-can-i-join-a-health-or-drug-plan/when-can-i-join-a-health-or-drug-plan.html#collapse-3190

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Employment Changes

For this month’s MS Conversations blog we wanted to focus on the topic of changes in routine, but with this thought, it was important to highlight employment changes as well, as this is something that comes up often when talking with clients. The timing is appropriate, as Fall always marks a time of change in the year itself, not only in the season’s colors and temperatures but with the familiar sights of back to school and holiday displays (because of course stores are already doing this!).

There are many individuals within the workforce living with MS, and oftentimes its symptoms can impact one’s work routine and abilities in their position. This can be very frustrating and challenging for those affected because with it comes the added stress over job security, self-worth and independence. Because of how our society views work and the roles we fulfill, many people identify themselves by their job and what they do for a living—so if this changes, one’s self-perception can change too. But it’s important to know that there are resources available to help accommodate changing needs in the workplace or help to find another position if an overall change is needed. Separating one’s self-worth and perception from one’s job role is going to be a continuous feat that society as a whole must work on, because individuals are and should be defined by more than just the work they do.

For those who have human resource representatives in their workplace sometimes it’s a good idea to start the discussion with this department if you need something modified in your role; whether it is your schedule, job location/environment or something else, there may be procedures in place for how to ask for these in the workplace. The Job Accommodation Network is a helpful source of information on employment accommodations as well. And for additional help receiving workplace accommodations or finding employment, a Vocational Rehabilitation office is a resource throughout each state that assists those living with disabilities on information and resources regarding employment needs and changes. Working with one’s doctor/healthcare team may be another avenue to assist with employment matters too, especially when discussing symptom issues and their (potential) impact.

Change can be difficult to encounter at times so it’s important to know what resources are in place that could help. Being aware of MS symptoms and how they could impact needs in the workplace can be a good starting point.

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