Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone – A Daughter’s Story

By Rachael Scharett

A father is a very important role in a young girl’s life. I remember growing up thinking that no one was as strong or capable as my dad, Dan Scharett. He worked hard to support our family. He built the house I grew up in and he even came home from work and chopped wood for the wood stove we used for heating. I knew there was nothing my dad couldn’t do. Then, when I was still quite small, the most shocking thing happened; my dad broke his leg while playing softball at a family function. He had been running to a base and when he turned, his one leg didn’t, and it snapped. While everyone else simply thought nothing of it, I cried nonstop. He was a superhero and to see him get injured was something I couldn’t comprehend. What we later learned was that he had been experiencing numbness in his feet and legs which ultimately caused his fall; numbness caused by multiple sclerosis.

As a family, we’ve spent 25 years watching his gradual decline. The man who could do it all slowly lost his ability to chop wood for the wood stove, he couldn’t climb the stairs in the house he built, and now he can’t even stand. Despite this, he still laughs every day. He jokes around with our family, friends and neighbors. He still pushes himself to do things around the house and yard that even the healthiest individuals would hire someone to do. It was his motivation and drive that inspired me to run the Dopey Challenge at the 2018 Walt Disney World Marathon. Seeing him fight to live a fulfilled life despite his MS motivates me to do things I would normally consider too hard. I wanted to run with Team MSAA during this event to help raise money in my dad’s honor, so when I saw the Dopey Challenge, which consists of a 5K, 10K, Half Marathon and Full Marathon, totaling 48.6 miles, I knew I had to choose that event. I am by no means an athletic individual, but if he can push himself every day, then the greatest thing I could do to show my appreciation for all he has done for our family, is to run the furthest and push myself outside of my comfort zone.

I truly hope that one day a cure will be found for MS but until then, organizations like the MSAA are a great resource for families like my own. I am proud to be able to fundraise and contribute to such a wonderful organization…. My dad will be there when I cross the finish line, supporting me, just like he has always done; after all, he is still my superhero.

*Rachael is participating in the Dopey Challenge as a member of Team MSAA during the Walt Disney World® Marathon Weekend presented by Cigna®.  To learn more about Rachael’s run or support Team MSAA, please check out her personal page.

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Tri-Color Pasta Salad

As summer is coming to an end, I thought I would share a family recipe for Tri-Color Pasta Salad.  You can eat this dish as a meal or a side dish.  It only takes about 15 minutes to prepare and is always a hit. You can add extra vegetables, cheese, or even pepperoni to make it your own.

This could be the perfect pasta salad for your Labor Day!

Ingredients

  • 12 oz box tricolor pasta
  • ½ cup black olives, sliced
  • ¼ cup red onion, chopped
  • ½ cup red pepper, diced
  • ¾ cup cherry tomatoes, sliced
  • ¾ cup cucumber, diced
  • 1 cup reduced-fat Italian dressing
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta according to package.
  2. Drain pasta and let cool.
  3. In a large bowl mix pasta, red pepper, red onion, cucumber, cherry tomatoes and black olives.
  4. Add 1 cup of Italian dressing to pasta and gently mix all ingredients together.
  5. Chill pasta before serving.

Enjoy!

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The Not So Good Relationship

Keeping with the theme of relationships on this month’s blog inspired me to do a little Googling into different relationship topics and recent news to see what’s been trending lately. I actually found several pieces on toxic relationships and help in how to recognize these. Usually when people think about relationships the mind doesn’t tend to go towards the dark side necessarily, but the truth is there can be a lot of toxic parts to a relationship that some people don’t even notice sometimes. Often, people believe their relationships look like other’s relationships; everyone has their ups and downs and not-so-fluffy cloudlike days and this is normal. This is true, but when the relationship is in that darker side of the clouds more often than not, it’s something to address.

Psychology Today recently posted about how to recognize toxic people and relationships, and it’s not always easy. In a relationship, sometimes the people involved have blinders on in order to see what they want or need to see in the other person; it’s only natural. Everyone has flaws and no one is perfect, but there are some toxic traits that can’t and shouldn’t be overlooked. Things like selfishness, disrespect, and arrogance are all signs that point towards a potentially harmful toxic relationship. The post also mentions these other red flags as potential signs of a toxic bond:

  • Lying
  • Being unapologetic
  • Manipulative
  • Abusive
  • Narcissistic
  • Spiteful

Examining one’s relationship and trying to recognize red flags is not easy. It can be overwhelming and sometimes shocking to realize that the relationship is causing more harm than good and if it’s contributing to stress and negativity. Sometimes these bonds are ones that can’t be severed so easily either, especially if they’re with family and loved ones. This is why it’s so important to surround yourself with positive energy and loving relationships whenever possible, and taking a step back from the ones that aren’t is sometimes necessary. Reaching out to others for support, seeking therapy, taking time for self-care and self-love are actions that can help combat toxicity. Everyone deserves to be respected and to be in relationships that nurture love and support; anything else is unnecessary distress.

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My MSAA Community – One Year Later

It has officially been one year since MSAA launched its online peer-to-peer forum, My MSAA Community!  This virtual community (powered by HealthUnlocked) has allowed individuals living with MS and their care partners and families the opportunity to share their experiences, discuss a variety of topics, and support others in a friendly and safe environment.  Community members are able to connect with other people affected by MS, contribute to ongoing conversations, or start their own conversation asking for advice or sharing their journey.

Here are just a few of the ongoing conversations being discussed on My MSAA Community:

Commemorate this milestone with us by contributing to these conversations or start your own by joining My MSAA Community!

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Someone Has to be Excited…

In talking about relationships this month on the blog it’s impossible not to think of the bonds I have with the people in my life and how impactful they are in shaping who I am, and in turn, what I am to others.  Sometimes we don’t realize how much we’re touched and influenced by other people. But all it can take is just one conversation, one tiny fraction of an entire day to make an impression on someone else. I had an occasion recently that I wasn’t really feeling up to celebrating much. My husband on the other hand, was very happy and wanted to share his elation; he has a special knack for being positive and optimistic. His exact words were “someone has to be excited for you.”  The sentiment didn’t resonate in that precise moment but afterwards it was all I could think about. That this man knew that I wasn’t able to feel joy in that particular moment but still wanted to mark the occasion and celebrate for me. That is a remarkable relationship trait.

There are going to be times when a day is gloomy, a mood is sour, or chaos arises. It’s a roll of the dice sometimes in how a day will play out — but what matters is who is there with you at the end of that day, being your cheerleader and light in the darkness. It’s difficult trying to be happy and positive 24/7, we’re only human; it’s part of our wiring to experience other moods and emotions. But if you have or can find that other person who can champion for you when you can’t for yourself, find gratitude in that because it’s a truly special trait. Being your own champion is of course ideal, but in those moments where this isn’t possible, having that piece in your relationship with someone else is truly significant.

Unfortunately many people experience toxic relationships that are one-sided and selfish where the other person wouldn’t think to imitate this selfless behavior. That is why self-love and self-respect are necessary in your pursuit of finding relationships that will help foster encouraging aspects and positively influence you. You deserve to be loved and supported and knowing this makes all the difference in what you want or are looking for in others. Being that hopeful light for someone else and having them be the same for you when needed signifies a healthy bond; and a relationship where one person can be excited for the other if and when they can’t be for themselves.

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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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Caregiver Wellness

Caregivers are some of the most important people in the world. They dedicate themselves to caring for someone else with their time, commitment, sacrifice, and compassion. Being a caregiver to someone else means they don’t always have the time to care for themselves. But everyone’s wellness and care are important, especially for those who need to be there for another person. Caregiving is an enormous task that can stretch people thin and make it difficult to carry out or even think about one’s own wellness. It’s no one’s fault – there is only so much time in the day and when the majority of that time is focused on someone else’s care, a caregiver’s own wellness and physical well-being are often just put on the back burner. The same is true of parenting/family roles and helping professions; others needs are simply put first, without question or expectation.

Caregiving doesn’t necessarily mean that person has to do everything themselves either. Knowing when and how to ask for help is a great strength, and for caregivers there are resources that can help. Oftentimes these resources are geared towards those caring for someone elderly, but it’s these same types of contacts that can help those caring for disabled individuals too. Communication is vital in the caregiver role; being able to talk about what is needed or what’s currently going on is essential to maintaining balance and stability. One key element to caregiver support is respite; a period of rest and relief for those carrying out this role. It’s also a significant piece to wellness – taking a break to focus on one’s own needs and having the peace of mind to know that the person they care for is safe in that moment too. It’s not a selfish act by any means; it’s a necessity of life. You have to take care of yourself in order to be able to take care of someone else. Selflessness is an admirable quality but self-care is equally important.

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Physical Wellness with Aquatic Exercise

In the past couple of weeks, we have been looking at strategies for finding the best wellness plan for each person, whether it is watching for signs of depression, or making time for physical wellness in the weekly routine.

When it comes to finding a physical wellness routine, it can be difficult to find just the right exercises for individuals with multiple sclerosis who experience heat sensitivity, balance issues, mobility concerns, and other symptoms.

One easy way to combat these concerns, while still getting in a little physical activity is to look into the benefits of aquatic exercise.  Research that has been conducted suggests that aquatic exercise is effective for improving mobility function, cardiovascular endurance, fatigue level, muscle strength and flexibility/range of motion in individuals with MS.

The best part about aquatic exercise is that it is easily adaptable to each swimmer’s experience level and physical ability.  Swimmers who are more comfortable in the water can aim for a higher-level aerobic workout, or they can opt for a slower workout by moving around a pool, with the water providing slight resistance.

If you are looking to incorporate aquatic exercise into your physical wellness routine, keep these tips in mind:

  1. Always be sure to consult your physician or healthcare team before taking up a new exercise routine.
  2. Locate a pool or facility that works best for your lifestyle. If you need help finding a facility that meets your needs, feel free to check out MSAA’s My MS Resource Locator® or you can call our toll-free Helpline at (800) 532-7667, ext. 154.
  3. Set realistic goals for yourself in the pool. Perhaps you are hoping to improve your balance, or simply strengthen your leg muscles.  Communicate this to your healthcare team and your instructors (if applicable) to help you develop a plan to achieve these goals.
  4. As with any exercise routine or aerobics class, communicate with the instructors and trainers about your concerns or questions. You will feel more comfortable in the pool and be better set to reach your goals.
  5. Lastly, have fun! Physical exercise can feel like a chore sometimes, but the more fun you have exercising, the more motivated you are to keep doing it.

Learn more about the benefits of aquatic exercise for individuals with MS by visiting MSAA’s Online Aquatic Center.

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Ideas for Physical Wellness/Health

Do you often wonder what you can do to improve your physical health?  Many of you may have thought about how to become more mobile, flexible, or just happier about the way you look and feel.  Physical wellness is more than just exercising all of the time or following a perfect diet.  Let’s face it, we are all human; we sometimes indulge when we know we shouldn’t or we don’t keep up on our exercise when life gets busy or we aren’t feeling well.

I am a busy wife and mother of two who works full-time.  I don’t always have time to walk or exercise and, to be quite frank, I sometimes have the time but just don’t want to do it.  But I try to stay positive and not let one or two setbacks every now and then get in my way.

Did you know that there are a lot of ways to achieve physical wellness such as:

  • Staying mentally positive
  • Meditating
  • Doing breathing exercises
  • Trying yoga or tai-chi

These activities can help lower heart disease, improve brain function, lower blood pressure and increase flexibility.

They say “life is about the journey not the destination”, we all need to find the things that work to make our journey easier.  Adopting better happiness habits right away can help you feel better.  Being open to something new might make you feel happier and healthier too!

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Physical Wellness: One Part of the Sphere

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.

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