We’ve talked about different aspects of wellness here on the MS Conversations blog in the past, and this month as we’ve covered topics related to depression we also wanted to touch on factors of physical wellness too, because all of the elements of wellness can intertwine and are equally important. Living with a chronic illness like MS can make it difficult at times to have control over one’s physical health because of how unpredictable and unknowing the disease course can be. However, there are pieces of physical wellness that a person can try to maintain influence over, even though MS may have other plans in mind.
Daily habits and behaviors can have great influence over one’s physical health and can include things like diet, exercise and sleep practices. With a disease like MS that can affect physical body function, maintaining consistent sleep or exercise routines can be challenging at times. It’s in these cases where people may need to get a little creative and modify/adjust practices to make things work for them. Working with healthcare professionals on symptom management strategies can help with this. Applying good habits to daily routines may improve physical health needs, especially with sleep practices. And though at this time there is no one specific diet known to influence MS and they continue to research this, maintaining healthy eating habits and a well-balanced diet can have positive effects on one’s physical nutrition. Each person is unique and what works for one’s physical health may not for another, so it’s important to evaluate behaviors and choices that can apply to your situation and what your needs are.
Another part of this physical piece includes maintenance and follow-ups when it comes to one’s care. I don’t know anyone who necessarily “enjoys” going to the doctor or hospital, but it’s one of those things that has to be done sometimes. Making sure to see your doctor regularly, notifying them if you’re having an issue or experiencing changes in symptoms are all good habits to try to enforce when it comes to your health. It’s not always an enjoyable experience having to go to the doctor or having medical tests/procedures done, but it’s a way to ensure that you’re doing all you can to keep your care in check and to maintain control over this aspect of your health. There are even tools and resources to help keep communication flowing between you and your medical team for your physical care needs. Though physicality is merely one aspect of the entire wellness sphere, it remains a vital part that contributes to all of the other elements of wellness and to one’s overall care.
This month we’ve been talking about MS symptoms that aren’t spoken about or mentioned as often as other symptoms within the MS community. Some of the symptoms highlighted so far have been issues with incontinence and bowel and bladder challenges. On the My MSAA Community peer-to-peer forum, we recently asked a poll question about which commonly overlooked MS symptoms individuals would like to learn more about, and one of the results has been cognition. Though many individuals are experiencing this issue, it’s still not one discussed very often, and it’s hard not to wonder why.
With the multitude of research that has been – and continues to be – done on MS, issues with cognition are still questioned and sometimes aren’t even associated with the disease itself. Individuals often ask if MS can affect their cognition and thinking when they notice certain changes, and the answer is unfortunately yes – this, too, is another area that MS can influence. If parts of the brain that control judgement, memory, thinking, and reason are affected by MS disease activity and inflammation, then symptoms can manifest and cognitive changes can occur. Sometimes individuals do not know that cognitive changes can be a symptom of MS and they ask if there is something else going on, or is it due to getting older/the aging process itself, or stress, etc. Bringing this and other types of symptoms that aren’t discussed as frequently to the forefront will help increase awareness of them being related to MS, and in turn, start conversations on how to address them.
There are several types of feelings that can be provoked by cognition changes due to MS, and embarrassment is a feeling that oftentimes accompanies this symptom. Individuals can feel self-conscious and uncomfortable if they’re experiencing issues with their memory and thinking—especially when interacting with others or trying to fulfill work or relationship roles. Shame and guilt can be other feelings associated with cognitive difficulties too. People feel they should still be able to do certain things and not have to ask for help or admit they can’t do what they once did. It’s very common for these types of feelings to emerge when it comes to such an impactful symptom that can effect day to day situations so easily. But knowing that you don’t have to feel ashamed or guilty if it does occur is key – and so is knowing that you can talk about it with others who are supportive and can identify with you, as you are not alone in this symptom issue.
MS sets out to be a thief not only of physical body functions, but also of mind operation as well, and it’s to no fault of those affected. It’s important to recognize if you are experiencing cognitive changes or challenges, and to bring it to a healthcare professional’s attention so you can work together to try and address it. MS may have its own agenda, but you can show your power with proactive steps in symptom management and self-care and awareness.
Earlier this month I talked about considering a staycation in regards to planning and preparing for the upcoming summer months. Not everyone may be staycationing around their home this summer so I wanted to talk about travel preparations if summer is going to take you out of your backyard. In a prior post about summer traveling, we reviewed some things to think about and prepare for when creating your travel itineraries. Considering things like accessible accommodations, materials needed for the trip, and who you can work with for assistance were some of the discussed topics. It’s important to do what you can when making travel arrangements so you can be prepared as best as possible, especially when dealing with an unpredictable disease like MS that makes its own plans a lot of the time.
While the planning piece of the trip is significant, let’s circle back to the beginning when you’re thinking about your destination. What’s important to you when deciding where to travel? What does the decision process look like? Everyone has their own needs and wishes when contemplating journey destinations; many even have a ‘bucket list’ of desires that they wish to accomplish at certain points of their life. Some individuals may have a random selection method they use to pinpoint their vacation spot—pick a point on the map and go. Others are very methodical in their decision making because there may be multiple factors that need to be taken into account to plan the journey. Either way, it’s good practice to be mindful and considerate of what your needs and wishes are and to not be afraid to fulfill them. Half the fun is in the planning so enjoy even these smallest of moments along the way.
What are some of your plans for the upcoming summer months?
Wow, can you believe it’s already May? Time feels like it’s flying by and we’ll be headed into the summer months before you know it! Many people spend time traveling and taking trips during the summertime, usually because kids have off from school and different attractions set-up shop and thrive during these warmer months. But many people aren’t able to travel abroad or from state to state for various reasons at times; so you may have to get a little more creative about how to spend these vacation days.
The word “staycation” is an expression that has increased usage within the past 10 years or so as a way to describe a vacation spent at home—spending time seeing local attractions, participating in activities close to home, or just hanging out in the backyard. What constantly amazes me is how many beautiful and remarkable sights so many people have right in their own cities! The world is filled with many extraordinary attractions and wonders, but sometimes it’s nice to be able to start at home with learning and appreciating what’s nearby. From parks and forests to museums and historical landmarks, there can be new things to explore and experience right near home. Traveling can be great, but a staycation can be just as satisfying. A staycation can also reduce stress because you don’t have to deal with long distance travel and spending excessive amounts of money; it may be more relaxing to just lay low and plan day trips and activities at your own leisure.
If you’re going to commit to a staycation, one of the most important things to do is to unplug. This means that if you are employed, disconnect from your email, and do not go into work just because you’re close to home! If you participate in daily groups or activities that you want to take a break from, this is the time to do just that. If you want to stray from your day to day and do something different, this is your opportunity. It’s tempting to stay connected because you’re not truly ‘away’ on a vacation elsewhere, but it’s still YOUR vacation, and you deserve this time as much as anyone. If you want to make other guidelines for your staycation like not using any electronics at all or not communicating to certain folks, that’s completely up to you! After all, it’s your time to do what you wish, and if your wish is for a restful staycation, then sit back and enjoy it!!
Have you ever had a staycation? What were some things you did to enjoy your time?
Ahhh Spring…a time when flowers are in bloom, daylight lasts a bit longer, and everyone tries to come out of hibernation from the cold winter months. Spring cleaning is known to be synonymous with this time as well; to rid households or offices of stale, closed up winter residue and open up to the fresher and rejuvenating seasons ahead. But this period of spring cleaning does not have to begin and end with just cleaning out closets or drawers, but rather a purging of all things unwanted, unnecessary or negative that’s affecting your life.
Now I know this can be easier said than done—things happen that you can’t control or predict sometimes or can even change, but for the situations where you do have control or a say in it, rid yourself of negativity and toxicity. If you have the opportunity to shed things that don’t add or contribute positively to your life, do it. Life is unpredictable as it is and there’s so much that we don’t have control over, so if there are moments where you can actively take charge and remove the unwanted, jump on it.
The act of purging can be cathartic; it can help you discard pessimistic thoughts and even people, which can be so very draining to deal with, especially on a regular basis. This practice may be a lengthy and emotional one because it can take time to evaluate these aspects of your life and day-to-day. To realize what should stay and what should go is an inner learning process and one that only you yourself should decide. It’s not easy breaking ties or cutting things out, but in the end you have to consider what’s ultimately going to be best for you, and finding comfort with the decisions you’ve made and to be able to move forward. Spring cleaning doesn’t have to be defined by just clearing out closets; it can be a clearing of the mind as well.
So, in talking about different aspects of wellness this month I wanted to shine light on one wellness factor that I think is very important, and probably one of the most difficult to measure—emotional wellness. Because the concept of wellness carries with it so many different implications, the emotional piece of it comes loaded with many questions and wonderings in itself. What does it look or feel like to be ‘emotionally’ well?
In a world that’s wracked with chaos and havoc a lot of the time, how many people can say that on a day to day basis that they are emotionally feeling well? Sometimes it’s impossible to keep up this façade, and rightfully so; no matter how much you try to control in your world, life decides to get in the way at times and carry out its own agenda. Obstacles, illness, accidents, frustration, and stress are all elements that can impact one’s emotions and try to change how you react and cope with things. But this is where you get to step in and shake things up; though life does sometimes enjoy giving us a plethora of lemons, we have the choice to make lemonade. It won’t always be easy, and I guarantee there are times that it’ll be even more difficult, but if you consciously choose to stay still with yourself and use the resources you have at hand, you can make the most delicious of lemonade concoctions ever tasted as a result.
One of the main components to emotional wellness is a positive attitude, and I think this is a piece that can be especially hard to maintain at times. But again, while we may not have control over the things that happen to us, we can control how we react to them, and trying to stay positive and optimistic in this may be one of the strongest weapons we have. Being able to seek support from others is another measure of this wellness puzzle piece. Now this can be challenging for many, as asking for help can be misconstrued and thought of negatively at times, but rather than see it in this light, think of it as a strength – reaching out to others in times of need shows that you are aware of and considerate of your needs and what you need to move forward. And if that means it’s a helping hand reaching out to you, then grab hold of it. You know yourself best, so if you find that you don’t have all the pieces to help you feel emotionally well, pin down what you think is missing and allow yourself to look for it.
This month on the MS Conversations blog we’ll be talking about different aspects of wellness and its importance and impact on various parts of one’s life. With it being MS Awareness Month, it’s good to be aware of and shine light on your own well-being and state of wellness, because this can encapsulate many diverse pieces. One aspect of wellness I wanted to discuss is occupational wellness. Now usually when we hear the term ‘wellness’ we think of our bodies and the physical side of this concept, and while this is a significant part, it’s not the only piece of the puzzle.
In talking about occupational wellness I realize that everyone’s situation is unique and the workforce may or may not be a current part of one’s day to day. This is not to say that the elements of occupational wellness can’t be relevant and applied to different situations or encounters experienced by all. Some of the factors related to this piece of wellness are important to consider for any facet of life, again because it circles back to your overall state of wellness. Some basic principles of occupational wellness include satisfaction, motivation, leisure, balance, inspiration and accomplishment. No matter if you’re currently a part of the workforce or engaged in other types of activities and routines, these components are an integral part of daily life to try to acquire to help achieve wellness.
Within the workforce it’s important to try to find work that you enjoy doing—that you’re passionate about and that keeps you interested and continuously learning. Being able to work well independently and with colleagues, and communicate often are essential pieces to this, in addition to being inspired by the work you do and wanting to constantly challenge yourself in it. Sometimes it’s easier said than done, but if you find something, whether it be in work, or another kind of activity or endeavor, make sure it’s something that means something to you. When you engage in a pursuit that has purpose for you and that you can get behind, that makes all the difference.
So again, occupational wellness is just one piece of the puzzle, but it has multiple factors that are easily transferable to other aspects of life and overall well-being. Whatever it is you do – stay engaged, focused, and most of all, inspired.
When talking about MS symptoms, many know how different and varied these can be with the disease – from the different types that can occur to their various degrees of severity, what affects one person can be very different to another. The symptoms that MS causes can not only have impact on the person experiencing them, but on those around them as well. Certain symptoms can impact relationships and unfortunately, once again, MS acts as if it has complete control over all facets of one’s life, but this is not the case. Not when individuals can do things and make choices to manage these symptoms and work hard to combat them as much as possible. It’s not easy or always a possibility, but MS has to know that it’s getting a fight from the other side and the disease is not always going to be victorious.
One of the MS symptoms that can have direct impact on relationships is issues with sexual dysfunction. This is usually a less talked about symptom and one that many shy away from discussing or disclosing. But it is one that deserves attention and awareness, because many can experience it and it’s important to know they’re not alone in this. It’s bad enough that MS causes symptoms that can impact daily routines, schedule, work habits and other factors, but really—does it also have to come between individuals sexually, in their most private moments and encounters? Come on MS, do you mind?
For those who have experienced these symptoms, one key element to battling MS in this scenario is communication. Again, we know this can be uncomfortable to disclose and openly talk about, but if these symptom issues go unaddressed, the persons involved in the relationship may not know or understand what’s going on, and if not given a chance to learn or be aware of it, it’s hard to move forward and manage with it together. Talking about it with a doctor or counselor can help to create a safe atmosphere to openly discuss what’s going on and brainstorm strategies and ways to help manage it. There can be other ways to help improve intimacy and interaction between each other, but it starts with recognizing the issues that are at play and what’s influencing them, because different factors in MS can attribute to these sexual dysfunction symptoms.
Again, MS may think it dictates everything that occurs in one’s everyday life, but there are some things that it really has no business being a part of…
Last week people all around the world celebrated and rang in the New Year; 2017 felt like it came so quickly and of course with it came the routine creation of resolutions and goals for the start of the new year. It’s tradition, right? To make New Year’s resolutions and try to stick with them until at least… the end of January? Lol.
I heard something on the radio recently about resolutions – the question as to why people wait until January 1st to make them and essentially put their goals and hopes of change on hold until this significant date. Sure, it does make sense to wait until the start of a fresh year to initiate change; the New Year has always symbolized new beginnings and a clean slate to start anew. But just imagine if you were to start your own tradition of making resolutions and promises of change in the middle, or anytime of the year for that matter – whenever it is that the idea first pops into your head? You’re under no obligation to delay or put your life on hold because of past traditions and habits. If you’re one who likes to wait and mark these resolutions in the New Year then that’s great! But there’s no reason if you want to make a change now, why you’d have to postpone it. I mean there is something to be said for traditions, it’s nice to have customs and practices that are familiar and safe and comforting, but it’s also ok to spark a new practice within your life. Though the world and life in general can have their own very strong influences and effects in your day to day, you still have power to make decisions that impact your own life too, so that means you can make choices that suit your best interest, not just at New Year’s but all year round.
So the holiday season is here and for some of us that means a lot of extra time spent with family. Now for many people this is a welcome and joyous gathering; spending time with loved ones and those you may not see all year round is longed for and appreciated. For others, being with family may be a bit more stressful, so one’s strength and will can find that it’s tested more so this time of year. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that all family occasions and activities are taxing, they can be very pleasant at times, but there are those moments where we find ourselves maybe wishing we were at Ebenezer Scrooge’s house for Christmas dinner (the Ebbie we see before his change of heart, lol).
I think most of us can relate to those relatives who can bring out the worry, stress and anxiety in us—and for whom we do our best to place a smile on our face and grin and bear their remarks and actions because they come from a place of concern. I know some say that family only wants the best for us, but do they have to work so HARD at it? Tough questions, unrealistic expectations and lingering comments can be very trying to endure, especially for those coping with their own changes or challenges and expectations. No one’s arguing the fact that we do ultimately want to treasure and appreciate the moments we have with family, because we all know that special moments can be fleeting and life can be very unpredictable when it wants to be. But why do some of these moments have to be so hard sometimes? Why can’t we get through a meal or activity without that moment of discomfort because someone asks an unwelcome personal question or comments on something they don’t know anything about?
Again, I’m not saying that all family get-togethers and events bring about these types of feelings; I’m merely trying to validate that these moments do occur for some and they are not without frustration or stress. The question is; how do you approach these more interesting of family encounters, especially around the holidays? What would Ebenezer do? (The changed Ebbie at the end of the tale, that is).