About Ro Washington

I'm a USC graduate (Fight On) and a bit of a Netflix junkie. I enjoy photography and traveling and photographing my travels. I grew up in an Army family and moved around a good deal but I have found that this has made me an outgoing person unafraid to walk up to strangers and say hello (I have a great story about this by the way, just ask if you would like to know :) ).

How Do You Create Space?

Though it doesn’t feel like it in most of the country, Fall is officially upon us. There’s the activities and the get togethers. The smells and the lead up to… the holiday season! Arguably fall is my favorite time of year and easily also one of the most stressful. In gearing up for the pending holidays, trying to enjoy outings with loved ones and friends and preparing for the end of the year in terms of work and personal life (I’m someone who likes to file my taxes in January if I can help it to get them out of the way) I inevitably run into a wall of burnout. It’s not permanent and to be honest is totally avoidable if I just created some margin. I know, it’s easier said than done when the kids, the spouse, the job, the (insert religious organization you belong to), the neighborhood watch, the scout troop or sports team, the friends, the family…the lists go on… all need something and they need it soon. If you are anything like me you’re a doer. But doers…they need margin most of all. We have to build in safe guards and set boundaries to make sure that while we’re caring for and participating with others, we’re also monitoring and taking care of ourselves. That we don’t run into the situation that we run totally out of steam, burning the candle at all ends and find ourselves in the dark.

Like I said, it’s easier said than done but just think how much better you’d be if you weren’t laying under the desk completely done at the end of the week. So, what have I done to help create space and boundaries for myself? I have people in my life who understand my doer mentality and essentially pull the plug from time to time. They’re there and not only listen to the litany of items on my ever growing To-Do list but also challenge me and say ‘Can someone else pick up the donations from the restaurant’ ‘Who can you call to finish making the activities for the carnival’ ‘Do you need to volunteer to run another event’ and most importantly, ‘What have you done this week that’s just for you’. They ask not because they are nosy or because they are looking to judge or condemn me. No, they ask because I’ve let them in and given them permission to tap me on the shoulder when it looks like I’m headed for the red zone. And vice versa, I’m part of their team. Their team that pulls them from the edge when they’re baking for the 5th bake sale this month or about to volunteer to run the fundraiser that drove them insane last year. You should surround yourself with people who you trust to step into your life and help you keep up with the boundaries you need…not the Jones’ down the block. So how do you do it? How do you build in the buffer? Because creating space and implementing margins in our time and energy may not feel natural at first if you are a doer, but it’ll help keep you from smacking into the wall of exhaustion…and who doesn’t want that?!

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That Tuesday Morning…

“I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection.” –Thomas Paine

There are more lines to this quote, but this first part has always stuck out to me. It struck me the first time I heard it studying Thomas Paine in school and it’s come back to me many times since. It’s simple, directive, yet weighty in connotation – I love it for that.

Every September 11th two thoughts run through my head as I start my day. I think about my childhood friend and her stepdad who lost their mother and wife in the Pentagon. Simultaneously, in that moment of grief for them and others I’m incredibly thankful that my own dad, who was at work that morning like always in the Pentagon, made it home. Today is one of those days that we all share and don’t share at the same exact time. As a country, we watched together as the day turned from a sunny Tuesday morning to a confusing Tuesday afternoon to a devastating Tuesday night. But every person will tell you an individual story of where they were and what their experience was. It’s one of those days that’s burned into our collective memories for better or worse, and if we close our eyes we can recall more details from that one day than almost any other.

For me Tuesday September 11th, 2001 was a slow motion day of disbelief in a school only about a half hour outside of DC in a Virginia town heavily populated by military families, many of whom work in the 5 sided polygon, as teachers tried and failed desperately to keep students sheltered and calm. It’s almost strange not to think back to where I was today 16 years ago when the speakers in my Algebra class cracked to life. The shaky voice of the principal came over the intercom and the school went totally silent, as if all the air had been sucked out of the building. I can still feel what it was like wandering down halls wanting to reach out to home but terrified of even picking up a phone. Seeing tears around every corner as students sat on the floor in groups or hovered in corners holding themselves to keep from breaking and leaned against lockers unable to think of what to do next.

I can close my eyes and feel myself being hugged by people who were strangers an hour before, hugged just because they knew where my dad worked. What it was like finally running home from the bus much later than normal as the stars came out and not realizing how long I’d been holding my breath till I saw my dad sitting distraught and looking lost on the couch through our open front door. Sitting with my friend in her room on the edge of her bed hugging and silently crying just a few miles from where rescue crews were working. Sitting with her on the floor of their living room as we all waited for the list of names while our parents sat silent listening to news correspondents try to formulate coherent sentiments.

I know what day it is before my alarm goes off and I even hear the news click on. Before I start my NY Times app or open my social media feed. I know what day it is because there’s a pull to it, a weight to the hours that other days don’t have. I know what day it is regardless of what day of the week it falls on because of what it means to me, to my neighbors and friends. What it means to the families of men, women and children who lost their lives and everyone who carries their memories. What it means to the service personnel who have given their lives to protect our country and those who reenlist for another tour to continue that work.

For myself, and I know so many others, today is about reflection. It’s about taking time to honor and love and gather strength, and not necessarily about never forgetting the events that happened, the events that it set in motion, or the loved ones we lost, but about remembering that the people we are given and the time that we have, however long it shall be, should mean something. About seeking out the reasons to smile in the face of troubles and allowing ourselves to grow braver and more resilient after we reflect on where we’ve been and all that’s happened. I’m reminded of that and challenged to be sure to take all that I’ve been given and make it mean something, to make it count… Let it remind you today to make yours count too.

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Relationships are…

Dear No One,

Relationships are tough. I mean, I know I’m stating the absolute obvious to you when I say that, but just hear me out. We too often think of relationships in terms of just those we date or are romantically attached to. But relationships are more than that. We have relationships with our family members, our friends – hey even total strangers we strike up a conversation with on a train platform. And they all can be taxing and draining, hard to navigate and at times annoying. They can be stressful and expensive and not just in terms of money but in emotional investment and mental space. If I’m being honest, people can be the worst. I mean really, look around and you’ll find plenty of examples of reasons why we should not like people. Just look at what they do to each other and you aren’t immune if you know someone. People can hurt the people we know just as much if not more than the people we don’t. You see what I mean, relationships… they’re totally insane!

But then things happen like the other day when it was raining and I stopped at a light and I was annoyed by the day and by the rain and by just everything and I caught out of the passenger window a woman walk up to someone on a bus stop and offer for them to share their umbrella. Just out of the blue walked and stood near them and the person, startled by the sudden end to rain pouring onto their head looked up and then over and with a look of bewilderment cracked a nervous smile and tilted their head. And the woman smiled and the light turned green.  Or when I went for a hike not far from my house yesterday evening and saw a dad picking his teary kid up off the unsteady hiking path. Just lift them up into his arms and as sure as the grass is green and the river moving told them that everything was going to be alright, they just took a little stumble. Things sometimes happen like the police officer who is called to a house to investigate a possible concern and ends up comforting a little boy who’s all alone or a teacher who has struggled to get a new student to be respectful and listen, gets an email from a foster mom saying thank you and that she’s seen a big difference at home even if there hasn’t been a big difference in class.

Relationships are tough. They’re messy and difficult. They’re taxing and at times confusing. They take a lot of energy and effort and thought. You spend time worrying if what you said was too much or too little, if you are being too intrusive or too standoffish. You rack your brain with what if they don’t understand or don’t laugh or don’t come back. And all of those are possibilities that we face and can leave little pieces of us chipped off. But being in relationships also make us richer, fuller and more colorful. They make us smile and laugh and become more caring. They make us understand and see things differently and open up. They’re tough, don’t get me wrong, but they’re also worth it. They’re worth saying Hi to the person you meet at the airport and worth smiling and asking how they are doing of the cashier at the grocery store. They’re worth reaching out to people we’ve been thinking about and worth letting those in who we’d otherwise keep at arms length. They’re worth replying to the community post someone started about feeling alone and worth getting into even if it doesn’t end the way you’d hoped. Relationships are worth it and I guess since they are…maybe people aren’t so bad after all.

Affectionately,

Me

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That Thing Nobody Wants to Talk About

You’re just sad, things will get better. You’re kinda blue today, don’t worry about it. Just take a moment to breathe and collect your thoughts, you’ll be fine. Over and over again we hear similar sentiments from friends, family, coworkers even sometimes medical professionals “everyone gets sad, it’ll be ok.” We are often very quick to dismiss the idea that the sad may actually be something more, that thing that nobody wants to talk about. You know, that thing we don’t say so that others don’t feel bad. Or that thing we don’t admit to ourselves because it makes us feel less than, or broken. That thing we push down and hide away until it can’t be hidden anymore and then it causes us shame, worry, and stress. That word that nobody wants to say out loud… Depression. While the state of mental health has become more normalized in conversation we’re still pretty quick to cast aside depression almost out of fear that by speaking the word out loud we’ll somehow cause people to be depressed.

If you’re an information nerd like I am you’ll appreciate that depression has a clinical, quantifiable definition as stated in the DSM 5 (a manual of sorts used by mental health care professionals to officially diagnosis an individual’s symptoms). While depression is individualistic, there are symptoms and time frames associated with the diagnosis of depression. But we don’t mention that there are now 8 classifications for depression. We don’t clarify that the symptoms have to be present for a specific amount of time. Nor do we stop to think that experiencing fatigue or loss of energy, a diminished ability to think, concentrate or indecisiveness nearly every day could be signs of depression. That having thoughts of inappropriate guilt or worthlessness can be attributed to depression. We’re not aware that depression can be diagnosed at any age and isn’t just something that accompanies grief, but can come on for a number of reasons or at any time.

Depression is one of those things that nobody wants to talk about because it makes us realize how little we know about mental health or how much we as a whole (not just you as an individual) are unwilling to admit about mental health concerns. While we know that everything isn’t rainbows and sunshine we somehow think that if we don’t speak about it then something won’t exist. And that just isn’t true. Talking about something like depression is a good first step to identifying and targeting the problem. It allows us to confront the thoughts and feelings we have and work with someone (a counselor, therapist or psychiatrist) to formulate a plan so that nearly everyday, becomes a few times a week, and then falls over into every once in a while. Depression… Major Depressive Disorder, Persistent Depressive Disorder, Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder, Substance/Medication Induced Depressive Disorder and the 4 other diagnosable types of depression all exist and can be experienced by anyone. Let’s not let depression just keep being one of those things nobody ever talks about.

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Umm, I Have a Question…

All this month we’re highlighting some of the least talked about symptoms associated with MS. Some of which can also be some of the most embarrassing symptoms to arise from an MS diagnosis. While there is a lot of territory to cover, one of the things that remains the same is that it’s often difficult to discuss these symptoms with friends, family, or even a heath care professional. It’s one thing to mention to your doctor that you are feeling dizzy or having difficulty with heat, but it’s a far different thing to mention that you are having concern over loose bowels or sexual desensitization. While not easy conversations to have, here are some tips and hopefully helpful tactics to use when you have to bring up some of the lesser talked about concerns you may be experiencing.

  • Use Your Own Words: Too often we try and get technical or complex in our explanations of medical concerns. But explain the problem to your physician or medical team in words you understand and using language that allows you to explain what is going on.
  • Be Honest: It’s habit that when someone asks how we’re doing we’re almost totally conditioned to say “Fine, I’m Fine.” But leaving out details or not wanting to burden your physician during a visit could spell out trouble for you down the line. Be honest about what has changed or is new with you when you speak with your physician or medical team and let them know what’s going on.
  • Don’t Miss Appointments: I know this one can be difficult depending on your situation. But making your doctor’s appointments with some regularity gives you an opportunity to be more comfortable with them and for them to get to know and build a rapport with you. Missing appointments too often leaves gaps in your chart and care that might make spotting or explaining unusual symptoms or embarrassing concerns more difficult to confront
  • Keep Records: There are lots of things we document – when our car needs an oil change, when our kids have soccer games, that meal we had last night on Instagram. We document everything from what we buy, to what we think, and everything in between. Make this apply to your health also. Document changes you notice, feel, experience and any information you can attach to it. This may seem a bit much but when you need to recall how long the mouth dryness lasted or your vision was tunneled you will be glad you kept good records. Having a tracker like the My MS Manager app can help you keep all your notes in one place and have them to refer to when you talk with your physician
  • Know That You Aren’t The Only One: We often don’t want to discuss embarrassing or strange things that occur to us or we experience as part of our health, for worry that we’re the only one having this problem. Even if it is a rare side effect or symptom, the odds are you are not the only person who is experiencing it. Put your mind at ease and know that of the hundreds of thousands of others living with a diagnosis, the chances you are the only one are pretty slim.

There are a bevy or symptoms that are less experienced than the more well-known ones, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t discuss or get answers for them. Knowing who to ask your questions of is another good point to remember (we’ll call this a bonus one). Deciding to have medical conversations with a medical professional or asking mental health related questions of a therapist or counselor give you the best chance of getting some answers. Yes, your neighbor or relative may be able to answer them for you, but making sure to connect with the right people is key to addressing many of the concerns you may have.

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What are you doing to cope?

If you can believe it, we are already in the month of May! 2017 has been steadily moving along and this month we are looking into the topic of coping. Everyone has their own versions and ideas about how they best cope with, and through, stressful or difficult situations. For years professionals have presented, written about, fine-tuned and zenned over the most positive ways that we can cope. While not every example will work best for every person it’s always great to have some ideas in your back pocket when the need arises. There is nothing wrong with testing a few out to see which ones do not work for you and which ones are your go-to when counting to 10 just does not cut it anymore. You can try:

  • Cooking or Baking
  • Scheduling some time off and stick to it
  • Spend some time with young children or animals (both tend to be care free and some of that may rub off on you during your time with them)
  • Create something artistic (this can be any number of mediums such as music, clay, paint, found objects, writing, photography and the like)
  • Visualization, Meditation. Group or Individual Therapy
  • Physical Activity (this too can be any number of things; swimming, dance, yoga, stretching, sex…yep, you read that right…a bike ride or walk)
  • Give of yourself to organizations you are interested in. Volunteering can not only  help you, but also others
  • Explore something in your area that you haven’t before
  • Get some more sleep
  • Seek out speaking with friends or family and expressing your emotions

We all know that we have some negative coping mechanisms that may help for a short period of time in the moment but still leave us a bit in the lurch. Seeking out more positive ways in which to cope, these or others may help us to set up a more positive pattern to help deal with a negative situation. We’d like to hear some of your positive coping skills or ideas that you’d like to share. Take a moment to check out our thread on My MSAA Community.

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Let’s Hear It for the Volunteers!

This week is officially marked as National Volunteer Week. Volunteers are so necessary for many organizations including ours. For this post we wanted to introduce you to some of our amazing volunteers here at MSAA.

Charles Backlin known around our office as Chuck has been volunteering with MSAA for 11 years in our home office.  After retiring from the US Military Chuck was in search of something close to home that he could get involved with when he came across MSAA.  Chuck has been volunteering since he was young, taking part in Boy Scouts and the Ground Observer Core in Junior High “We needed eyes on the ground in area’s where we were watching for potential threats from Russia. We would go out and observe the area and report places that were suspect to be evaluated by a fighter system.” From this early exposure to being part of a volunteer group Chuck was able to experience not only being a part of a group and working toward a common goal but also serving others. When asked what he would say to potential volunteers he stated “They need to get out and do for other people. It’s important.”

Barbara Gershenoff volunteers with our lending library helping clients get resources and connected to writings focused on living with MS, spurred on by having a friend who was diagnosed with MS years prior.  She also takes part in special events such as our annual Golf Tournament . For the past one and a half years Barb has come in to work with the team at MSAA to continue to connect with clients across the US and help raise funds so that we can continue to provide our programs and services to clients. Barb is a retired school teacher from New York who when she and her family moved to NJ was looking for a worthwhile organization to get connected with, googled local volunteer opportunities and came across MSAA. When I asked Barb what she likes most about volunteering she said without hesitation “I love the people here [at MSAA]. I’ve gotten to know them and this place [MSAA] feels like home. And there is of course the fact that I get to help people who really need help.”

Nada Baydoun has volunteered with our MSAA Social Media Street Squad since the summer of 2015. “I signed up to volunteer with MSAA because when I researched, I loved what I saw on the website. I was also encouraged to volunteer with MSAA due to the excellent reviews and comments on Facebook from people suffering from MS.” As part of our Street Squad team, Nada and hundreds of other volunteers help MSAA spread the word about new developments and available resources to the MS Community thru platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. “I like that I feel that I am spreading awareness about MS. Many of my Facebook friends have messaged me privately asking me about my MSAA posts and wanting to learn more about MS. I also like that the posts [from mymsaa.org] offer practical and helpful information to those suffering from MS.”

Each of our volunteers and all of the amazing volunteers who have partnered with us at MSAA over the years are a vital part of what we are able to do for the entire MS Community. They help us to spread the word and make our programs possible; they are our ambassadors to communities and some of our greatest supporters. Thank You So Much to everyone who currently does or has ever volunteered with MSAA. You are not only part of our MSAA family but we also couldn’t do what we do without you.  A big Thank You also to Chuck, Barb and Nada who let me get to know them a little better while writing this post, you all are the best!

If you have any interest in volunteering with MSAA, check out our Volunteer page on our website or contact us at volunteer@mymsaa.org.

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Why Self-Care?

Self Care by it’s very definition is “Care of the self without medical or other professional consultation” (or at least that is what Dictionary.com says). The very act of one caring for oneself would seem would be natural and come without thought. Then why is it so incredibly hard for individuals to practice self-care? We spend hours, weeks and years of our lives making time to care for others, putting others needs first and making to sure to be there for those around us who call. And while I’m sure this is incredibly helpful to the friends, neighbors, coworkers and loved ones who we give our time to, we often suffer in the name of others.

Please don’t get me wrong, helping family, volunteering for organizations, being there for friends and coworkers is valuable and vital to building good community and connection, but taking the time for self is vital to you. Often, and I’m probably not alone in this, I feel selfish and self-centered when I turn down working at a community event, changing plans to help a friend move or asking someone else to take something off my plate. But it’s important to remember that “an empty cup has nothing to pour out.”  So if you are depleted, running on empty, feeling emotionally or physically fatigued, not only will you personally feel the weight of it but possibly the interactions you have with others will also be impacted.

What is self-care? That looks different for every person. I enjoy a cup of coffee in the quiet of the morning on my back steps, going to the movies first thing Saturday morning when I’m the only person there and taking my favorite playlist with my DSLR camera and getting lost exploring my city on a beautiful day. Yours may be similar but it may also be completely different.

I’m a fan of podcasts and educational talks. If you have not heard of them, give TedTalks a try. They have a section on the importance of Self-care. And if you don’t want to take my word for why placing an emphasis on self-care is so important, give them a listen as they give ideas, tips and why behind the what of self-care. Listening to their talks may just be an act of self-care in itself 🙂

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Where Has the Time Gone?

It’s (finally) officially spring in the Northern Hemisphere. While temperatures in the spring-like arena appeared earlier than expected in many areas, today marks the official start of the Spring Equinox, and with it the end of another winter.

Spring, like many of the other seasons, helps us to mark the passage of time. One month ends as another begins while we watch as one season gives way to the next. The passage of time can be something that renews us, but for some it can also be decidedly daunting. Preparing for a change or coming to the end of a journey. When we think of our wellness we tend to parse it out into differing categories and label each with action steps to move it along. Time is one of the few things that inches its way into all aspects of our wellness. The time we take to devote to our physical wellness. Setting aside time to recharge and center for mental wellness. Or the time we give ourselves to work thru emotional times to attend to our emotional wellness. Time and for many of us the lack of it in reserve is another aspect we have to consider when we talk about our wellness. Being deliberate about taking time to ourselves when we need it most and even when we don’t think we do. Taking an intentional (as much as is possible) look at the time we spend and what that says about the things that matter to us. It’s been said that “time has a wonderful way of showing us what really matters”. Where and what and who we spend our time on has the ability to shape the way we view not only ourselves, but also our wellness.

As spring arrives and we are in the mode of thinking of change, take stock of your personal wellness on all levels. See what aspects of your wellness that you may be spending not enough time, too much time or no time at all on and consider making an adjustment to see how thinking about the devotion of your time will impact your overall wellness.

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I’ll Be There for You…

Relationships are pretty often thought of strictly in the context of romantic attachments. Especially this time of year as we emphasize love and romance, couples, and all that comes along with it. But there are other relationships we sometimes forget to emphasize. Friends, family, co-workers, support group members, or neighbors. All of these, too, are relationships. It’s difficult in a world where things move a mile a minute and there is so much vying for our attention to remember to think of these other relationships and place some emphasis on them as well. Not just when the stores turn to red and pink and the costs of flowers rise to somewhat ridiculous levels.

While romantic relationships are important and make up a good portion of our understanding of relationships, support and encouragement for many often comes from those they are not romantically linked to. Friends who are there for us when we need a shoulder to cry on or a hand up when we are weak. Support group members who share their own story and listen to ours as we all try to live our lives as best we can and make the most out of all we have. Neighbors or co-workers who help us pass the time during work or who we bond with over community concerns and celebrations. These relationships, just as important as romantic ones, help shape both who we are as well as those around us and are strong bonds during trying and uncertain times. This month in addition to celebrating and relishing any romantic relationship we may be in and acknowledging the importance of this in our lives, let us take some time to also thank and celebrate the other relationships in our lives with people we love… just not in that way. Remind your friends and family what they mean to you or show appreciation and gratitude to your co-workers or support group members. It may not be the stuff of Hallmark movies but I’m sure they’ll really appreciate it that you took the time.

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