About Ro Washington

I'm a USC graduate (Fight On), a bit of a Netflix junkie and am really excited to have joined the team here at MSAA. 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 :) ).

Yes…It Counts

I think we can all agree that this Election season has seemed much longer than most. While tomorrow may bring an end to the commercials, debates, and political satire on late night TV (for at least 3 years), it is imperative to remember how important this actually is. Voting has been around officially in the US since 1789 when a then-small number of eligible individuals voted in our first President, George Washington, and his right hand men. Since then we’ve sworn in 43 people to serve in the capacity of President and tomorrow we’ll elect number 44.

While it may feel like it at times, we aren’t helpless in what happens; and while not everyone may be satisfied with the outcome tomorrow, being part of the conversation is up to each and every one of us. Voting is our shot, an opportunity for us all to have a say in who governs our cities, counties, states, and country. While everyone has their own reason for voting for their choice, individuals living with disabilities or chronic illnesses have a vested interest in what comes next and whom our elected officials are. These officials will be responsible for upholding our benefit system, enacting our budgets for public transportation, and charged with making decisions on expanding or ending needed services. They’ll be some of the loudest voices for where research dollars go and be in the room where it happens, as conversations determine the fate of programs and plans that impact our healthcare system.

vote3“Where” or “Who” can you ask questions of, you might ask? On Election Day many disability rights organizations are available by phone to help answer voter questions regarding issues that impact disability services. You can contact your local disability rights advocacy group to learn more about how you may be impacted by the pending election. Also, here are a few tips in regards to getting out to vote:

  • Make Sure You’ve Registered! Many states have specific times when you must register to vote in advance. If you missed the deadline this year, make sure to register in advance for future elections.
  • Confirm your poll location! Call ahead to your city or county government office and ask for information on accessible transportation, opening/closing times, available parking, or any other needed updates on your polling place.
  • Get the phone number! Find the contact number for your State Office of Protection and Advocacy, and bring it with you when you vote. If you run into any barriers such as lack of accessible transportation to the polling site, physical accessibility of the building itself, problem in accessing the voting equipment, or understanding your rights, this is who you can contact. This is also the office that can advise you of your rights in general under the ADA.

I know you might be thinking ‘Does it really matter if I vote?’ YES, Yes It Does. You don’t want to be the person asking ‘What’d I miss?’ or wonder later on what impact your vote could have had. Exercise your right to vote on November 8th. The world and history has its eyes on us, let’s make sure we all do our part to elect our next administration.

Bonus Points if you know how many references to Hamilton are included in this blog. But more seriously, get out and vote tomorrow November 8th…Your Vote Counts!
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30… Well Make it 29 Days of Happy

I think it’s safe to say it’s officially fall, the weather has turned cooler (for the most part) the leaves are changing colors and Holidays are just around the corner. I know, I know we can’t rush these things but if some of our stores had it their way we’d be decorating for Christmas on Labor Day…but I digress. This month as we get ready for some of the busiest times of the year we are focusing in on stress and stressors. BUT before we get there I’d like to present an idea, a movement of sorts for this November…. A Month of Happy. I recently read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and at the end thought “A year is a long time to work on this. But if we take it 30 days at a time we should be good” (yes I know it could possibly be the same thing but stay with me).

5374200948_539b10fb1c_z-550x366“Happy,” as we all know, is a subjective term. What makes me happy may not make you happy, or anyone else for that matter. I think that is what makes something like this so important. Because it’s personal to you individually, and you make it exactly what you want. Now there are lots of blogs, planners, charts and How-To guides that will seek to teach you just how to be happy, but ultimately that’s what works for those people, and great for them. What works for you? For the next 30 (technically today is the 2nd so the next 29, but who’s counting) days decide to do one thing that makes you happy (let’s draw the line at one thing that won’t get you into hot water). Go outside and enjoy the leaves, stay in bed all day watching your favorite movies, Pinterest away to your hearts desire and then actually try some of those things. Read a book you’ve had on your shelf, stop in and sign up for that Thai Chi class you wanted to try, eat something you used to love as a kid or none of these things at all. Come up with a calendar and determine that everyday this month you will do something that makes YOU happy. Not for your kids, spouse, boss, family, friends instagram or twitter followers, but just for you. Give yourself permission to enjoy this month before the holidays set in and your plate gets full both literally and metaphorically. Enjoy the time you put into this and you might find that being happy is less about combating the negative or the stressors in our lives and more about making the conscious decision to do something for ourselves. Happy November 🙂

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I’m Not Ready

This month we’re talking about wellness and this sort of fits in to wellness but it also just fits into life. I recently spoke with a young man and being the empath I sometimes am, what he said resonated with me on a person-to-person level. It’s not MS specific or specific for a gender, age, or race. This, I think, can be anyone and when I spoke with him it definitely was me. This young man not yet 25 years old had just found out he has MS and was not even out of the hospital parking lot contacted our helpline to…well honestly to vent. But not in an I just need to yell or scream or I need someone to blame way. His first words after Hello and the usual exchange of courteous pleasantries was “I’m not ready.”

Confused, I sat quietly trying to decide what, if anything, I should say in response and before I had crafted my next sentence he continued “I’m lost and I don’t know if you can help me but I am just not ready. I’m not prepared for this or know what to say or do. I am not open enough or smart enough for this. I’m not sick enough or old enough. I’m just not strong enough for this. I’m not ready.” We spoke for a while about the world he’d just entered, what he wanted to do next and what MSAA did. But mostly he spoke, listed and got lost in thought and I listened as he exhaled a breath he’d probably been holding for some time. Before finishing he asked me, “Do you have any idea what I mean?”

And I did; I do. I can’t relate to the diagnosis but I’ve been there, the I’m not ______ enough place. I’m not friendly enough, prepared enough, knowledgeable enough or good enough. I’m not helping enough, understanding enough, empathizing enough or listening enough. I’m not enough for them or won’t be enough to do this. I know I’m not alone in this (I don’t think I am at least), we all can get there from time to time. We aren’t ready, aren’t available, not right enough, rich enough or poor enough. We’re not well enough or sick enough or we feel we aren’t loved enough or able to love enough. We aren’t able to explain how we feel or why we feel the way we do. We’re not enough for them to stay or we aren’t ready to leave. I’m not sure, I’m not *you fill in the blank*.

It’s hard being able to admit the things we feel we aren’t. What we lack or perceive we lack. It makes us vulnerable and exposed, sometimes sad, but it’s also honest. Part of wellness, I believe, is acknowledging these “I’m not _____ enough” statements and facing the feelings they bring out in us. It’s taking the time to recognize the part they play in our lives and seek the assistance or understanding we need to address them. The “I’m not” statement doesn’t have to have the final say; it doesn’t have to be the whole story. I’m not sure if anyone will be able to relate…but just maybe they can.

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Dollars and Cents? No, Hours and Minutes

When someone mentions the word budget most people instantly think of dollars and cents. But budgeting our time and commitments is just as much work as budgeting our money, and even more difficult for some (myself included). Budgeting to fit in the pull of work, family, friends, school, volunteer activities, participation in groups… regular sleep hours… it takes a lot. I’m a juggler (not really), but I often fill my proverbial plates with more than I should and from time to time something takes a fall. All the good intentions aren’t enough to always keep things going. The start of fall, with all its changes and starting of new activities and programs has been a good time for me to look at all the things in my life that vie for my attention and decide how best to budget out my commitments. Take stock of the things most important to me and learn to say “No” to those that I just can’t fit into the 24 hours a day I’ve got.

catinthehat-214x300Taking the time to really asses our time and commitments can be more difficult than it sounds. If like me you like to stay busy, be involved and take on new things, you’re looking for ways to do it all. Be at the soccer games and make the deadline, help decorate the hall and run the meeting, work on projects and help a friend pick out their wedding favors. While keeping busy and involved can be exciting and interesting it can also take its toll. Realizing that while we’d love to juggle all the objects that life has to offer, it’s best to decide which of them is most important and put the others down takes thought. It takes being honest with ourselves that we have limits and that our time isn’t infinite. Choosing the activities or tasks that are the most important to us and saying no to others. Budgeting with money is important to make sure the bills get paid and there’s something left over to save. But budgeting our time is important to make sure we have something left over. To ensure we don’t burn the candle at both ends and end up missing things, moments or chances that we’ll regret. Yes, I want to be there for my friends and family, do well at work and help where I can but there are times when not maxing out my budget will save me from running in the red in more than just my bank account.

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What is Your Perspective?

On our helpline here at MSAA we speak with clients every day from across the country who contact us for any number of things. Resources for assistance, information on our programs, clarification on something they saw or read on our site or in our publications and at times they’re looking for someone to speak to who they can bounce ideas off of or just have a listening ear. Recently I spoke with a client who was more newly diagnosed and called to get some broad spectrum information. What struck me at the end of our call was that the client taught me probably more than I did them.

During our conversation we happened upon the idea of changes in perspective. They recounted to me how their world had very much changed when they were diagnosed with MS, in the not too distant past, and how at first they were not sure at all what to do. There were lots of questions, some of which were unfortunately met with little, or vague answers. New terminology to learn. Medicine to juggle. Periods of anger, frustration, and sadness. New planning to do they hadn’t thought of before. I listened as they recounted one such day that found them sitting on the bedroom floor in the dark not sure of what to do next. Unaware of the time that was passing, just sitting. “This,” they told me, “was my finding perspective. I sat on the floor recounting stories to myself of events in my life, and in the middle of my thoughts I found a new way to see things.” After a good deal of time angry and upset on their bedroom floor they sat and recounted all the events that made them proud, excited, and happy. The client didn’t want those events to be the only memories with a happy connotation that they would ever have. All in the past.

The client said they pulled out some scrap paper and made lists of the things they were angry and frustrated over.  Things that they felt they had lost or missed. Along with that, they scribed a list of the things they enjoyed, they wanted to do, they were good at or had interest in. This list, they said, was there perspective. This list was longer and when they read it over they found in it thoughts of how to still visit all the European countries on their bucket list, while dealing with the uncomfortable temperatures. How to volunteer and be part of their community while working in different time increments or events. There they thought of how best to use their love of blogs, working with people and photography to connect with others and raise awareness.

They said they had two ways to go about this and the one they were deciding on was to choose their attitude not to let their attitude be chosen for them. They looked at the list of things they were angry over and decided to choose their attitude toward it. Would it always be easy to change the way they thought about being diagnosed?  No. But if they chose to change their perspective, not from the things they had lost, but toward the things they had and could do, and use and focus on those…it gave them a different perspective. “That,” they told me, “got me off the floor onto my bed.” Then a little while longer to their dining room table where they started to brainstorm, make some new plans and objectives keeping their MS in mind, but not letting their MS choose the plans. Perspective is just what you make it and sometimes that’s easier said than done. But we all have a choice to make in changing the way we look at things. What is your perspective?perspective

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Where Did It Go?

I can’t believe that summer is halfway over! I remember as a kid my parents telling me that time speeds up as you get older and to treasure how summer was. Of course being the precocious child I sometimes was, I would respond ‘Oh please, you’re pulling my leg. Time is still the same no matter what”. But… my parents were right. Time has seemed to speed up and it’s weird but not being in school and having summer break to look forward to, the start of another school year to dread and those 3-ish months to soak up and enjoy as much as possible free afternoons and outings with friends, time and the summer just go running by. Remember when summer was special, it was what you lived all year for? You counted down the days right around Memorial Day. Started planning what you were going to do the first day off, how many times you were going to go to the pool, mall, movies, amusement park, Maria or Tim’s house (insert your own childhood friends names of course). The smell of summer, the warm breezes and long hours of light, it was all you could do to keep yourself in your desk ’til the last bell on the last day of the year. Then summer seemed like this endless thing in front of you.

Nowadays summer is the pretty much the same as spring and fall and winter. Work, weekends, occasional days off. Appointments, errands and holidays sprinkled in. Summer is going by pretty quickly and from time to time I sit in my car after a long day at work, on my back patio on a Saturday morning, or on a walk down some nearby trails and think where in the world did the time go. I know we’ve all heard it before ‘Make the most of the time we are given’ or ‘Stop occasionally and smell the roses’ and they seem like ancient clichés that we smile and nod to when people older than us expel them for our benefit. But truly as someone who is at 31 finally, albeit slowly, learning the value of the time I have, I’m telling you… stop for even a few seconds and really take in the sunrises and daylight that lasts past 8pm, cool breezes on hot days and small moments of reflection in this second half of summer before it’s gone. Slow down for a moment and just… take it in. Take in the here and now, the age you are and where you are. Appreciate the things you have and try not to dwell on the things you don’t. Appreciate the sunrises and sunsets, the ocean breezes off the shore, green leaves building canopies over walkways, the light streaks the sun makes thru windows, the sounds of kids playing without a care in the world. Don’t let time just go whizzing by and before you know it end up realizing that it’s August 31st and then think ‘Where did the time go?’.

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Who’s in Your Social Network?

It’s beginning to look a lot like Summer. Rising temperatures have engulfed many parts of the country as we head into three months off for many schools and time marked by vacations, day trips and outings around town. One of the things often associated with summer are the get-togethers with friends and family, cookouts and time to connect. After the long chill of winter and rains of spring, being social and connecting with others can breathe new life into our daily routines. But being social can also be difficult to manage and navigate. Where to start and what to do to put yourself out there are some questions that you may ask as you venture into being social. Here are some helpful things to keep in mind this time of year as you look for ways to put yourself out there.

  • Set a goal: This summer I want to make one new interaction a week. Goals are important, they keep us accountable and give us something to aspire to. Make sure your goals are reasonable, obtainable and of interest to you.
  • Reach out to volunteer: Volunteering is a great way to meet new people, discover a new interest and also give back to the community around you. There are sites such as Volunteer Match as well as your local community center than can help you get started.
  • Plan something you’ve wanted to do: Maybe you’ve been saying you want to have people over or get together with a friend who you haven’t seen in a while. Now’s the time to reach out and put something in the books.discuss
  • Give the internet a try: Now I know the internet is pretty much part of all our lives and one of the reasons is it’s ability to provide us with new and fun ways to interact. Join a new online community such as MeetUp.com where you will be able to find local opportunities to join others interested in board games, cooking classes, paint nights and any number of activities.
  • Give yourself a break: Doing new things and getting out there to meet new people or even planning things with those you know can be a lot, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Give yourself a break if your goal is to make one new interaction this summer or you have to reschedule that dinner with friends. What’s important is that you are seeking the engagement and building new connections.

Staying social is great to our overall well-being. It gives us outlets, keeps us connected and provides other individuals that we can reach out to in times of need. This summer add some points of contact to your social network.

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Ahhh Spring…

162309-It-s-SpringThe birds, the flowers, the sun and the showers! This season is a rejuvenating time where we can cast off the dusty winter and break out the cool breezes of spring. Over the winter all of our favorite outdoor activities close down in anticipation of cold weather (how rude). Park gates shut earlier, boardwalks are silent and activities in general slow to a standstill. Things take a break for winter and sleep waiting for this time of year to come back round again. Now that spring has started to reappear across the country, it’s a great time to get back out to some of your favorite spots. There are festivals and farmers markets. Concerts and exhibits. Parks reopen and stay open longer as the sunshine stretches well past 5 PM allowing you to explore your city or county well into the evening.

There are events both small and large to be attended and taking a look at your state, county or city website can give you an idea of what activities or happenings are going on in your neck of the woods. You may find a new concert series you didn’t know was happening, an art or food festival near by or something new your town is trying out for the first time. Here in Philadelphia we are gearing up to host our first ever Chinese Lantern Festival at the end of the month. In DC the cherry blossoms are all the rage while in Texas the rodeo is kicking up. Seattle is getting expressive with their art festivals and the Wisconsin Film Festival starts at the end of the week.

This spring make yourself a promise to get out and explore one new activity your area offers, you may be surprised by what you find!

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March is almost over…But before we go

This month we’ve been highlighting MS Awareness as we present different topics important to and associated with MS as well as ways in which we can educate ourselves and those around us. In addition to MS Awareness, March is also Social Work Month. Social workers play a vital role in overall health and wellness, mental health, as well as in areas far outside of the health sciences.

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Social workers have been around since before the 1800’s working diligently on issues of injustice, inequality and to help empower individuals and communities to use their collective strength to make a difference. Some of our most noted alums here in the United States started institutions such as the Hull House in Chicago in 1889, which was established to help the surrounding low-income neighborhoods have access to education programs, health care services and recreational opportunities. In addition to reaching out to low-income communities, social workers throughout history have partnered with the Red Cross to treat soldiers returning from war, been civil rights activists, served on presidential cabinets and worked in legislative arenas as catalysts for change. Social workers are often thought of as the caseworkers in hospitals or with children and family services. While those are two of the important roles that social workers take on, social workers also work with the military or international businesses as well as be political campaign workers, community organizers, run nonprofit organizations and are behavior and mental health professionals. Our first lady Michelle Obama has an MSW (Master of Social Work) on her team to initiate new programs and services across the country.

Social work as a profession has evolved from those early years but some things still remain. The individuals who enter into social work are dedicated, compassionate, innovative, inclusive and hard working professionals who cover a bevy of occupations and can be found in almost every avenue. We meet people on some of their worst days and walk with them through circumstances and over obstacles while assisting them to build on their own strengths to come out the other side better equipped to tackle some of life’s uncertainty. It takes a special person to be a social worker and partner with others to be the difference someone may need.

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Thank any social workers you know for all their hard work not just in the month of March but whenever you get the chance.

 

 

 

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The Decision To Go

A friend of mine recently left for a Peace Corps assignment. Two years in Thailand. Not the tourist sector or the flashy areas you see in magazines but very rural areas that you may have never heard of or that ever get much attention. Her journey to finding the Peace Corps and ultimately the decision to go wasn’t easy. She went back and forth and more than once was tempted to say “No, it sounds good but not for me”. Ultimately after one delay and many long stretches of talking with her family and friends she made the decision to go. Listening to her talk about it made me stop to think of the decisions in life that we make. How we come to crossroads, opportunities or big decisions and have to decide left or right, to go or to stay.

There are plenty of times in our lives that we sit down with our trusty pen and paper, or notebook app what have you, to make the list of Pros and Cons that we ultimately hope will clearly spell out what we should do. But what happens when you’re in a dead heat? When the reasons to go equal the number of reasons to stay? When it means leaving familiar surroundings or being uncomfortable? When you aren’t really sure and the idea of just deciding is pretty daunting. If you’re my friend you take the leap of faith and hope that it works out. But many people (myself included at times) find this, making the decision, hard to do. This month we talked about goal setting and resolution keeping, about ways we can branch out and make changes. But change is difficult. It can be messy and complicated and downright scary. The decision to leave a job you’ve been at for a while or to take on a new challenge. To talk with our doctor about a possible prognosis or make changes to our lifestyle. All the changes, they start with a decision.Challenge-Quotes-57

The decisions we make and the paths we go down may be complicated and the path I chose may not look anything like yours. But deciding to go, to change, to work through the problem, to have that tough talk with your spouse or go to see the physician is worth the skipped beat your heart makes when you do it. To get over that first step…the decision… then to move into the next phase and see where it takes you.

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