Metamorphosis: Coping With Change

By Meagan Freeman

All things are temporary, including darkness.

Butterflies are a wonderful example of this. Look at these incredibly beautiful creatures, fluttering and dancing on flowers like living magical fairies from some other world.

Metamorphosis CompleteThese are some of the most graceful, elegant creatures on Earth, but they did not start out this way, did they? These creatures began as rather ugly caterpillars and worms. They become beautiful after a long period of change.

This period of change is spent alone, in darkness, with no input from the outside world. They depend on no one during this time, only themselves. This metamorphosis, or period of transformation, is one of the most miraculous biological phenomena on our planet.

Middle MetamorphosisThese creatures completely transform every aspect of their lives, and they do it alone. Lessons of our own can be learned just by observing these creatures. Our period of darkness and transformation begins with our diagnosis of MS. Most of us experience a long period of darkness and crisis from that moment on, lasting for months, or even years. Beginning at the moment of diagnosis, we must completely change our self image. This is a difficult process, and no one can really help us through it. We must resolve this new identity within our own minds, and it takes time.

I often refer to my own years following diagnosis as my “metamorphosis.” I changed entirely, and I am not the same person I was before August 24, 2009. Change is difficult, painful, and uncomfortable. Change is awkward, frightening, and exhausting. But, change is an essential part of life. All is temporary, every single thing in this world. This helps me get through the tough times, because I am reminded that the darkness will not last forever. All is temporary.

The transition from “healthy” to “MS patient” is not immediate, and we should allow ourselves time to adjust to this new identity. After all, we spent decades of our lives as healthy people before we obtained this new label. How can we adjust to this overnight? The diagnosis of MS is made on one specific day, and it is shocking.

After time, I learned to accept this diagnosis, though it still makes me angry, frustrated, and sad at times. The first year after diagnosis was the most difficult, when the mind struggles to accept. Slowly, though…I began to realize that this was reality. This was part of me, whether I liked it or not. What else was there to do other than accept it? I learned to predict my symptoms more efficiently, to understand which symptoms were familiar and which were new.

We each spend a period of time transitioning, accepting, and changing after diagnosis. The most important thing to realize is that it takes time. The way you feel after initial diagnosis: The shock, the anger, the fear…won’t last forever. Your life will go on, and it may even be wonderful. MS does not mean that life is over, rather it means that life has changed. Change is never easy, but it can often lead to great things. Try not to fear the metamorphosis, because you never know how beautiful your life might end up being in the end….

*Meagan Freeman was diagnosed with RRMS in 2009, at the age of 34, in the midst of her graduate education. She is a Family Nurse Practitioner in Northern California, and is raising her 6 children (ranging from 6–17 years of age) with her husband, Wayne. She has been involved in healthcare since the age of 19, working as an Emergency Medical Technician, an Emergency Room RN, and now a Nurse Practitioner. Writing has always been her passion, and she is now able to spend more time blogging and raising MS awareness. She guest blogs for Race to Erase MS, Modern Day MS, and now MSAA. Please visit her at: http://www.motherhoodandmultiplesclerosis.com.

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Change Perceptions

By Lisa Scroggins

“In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” – Benjamin Franklin

Death and TaxesI would argue with Mr. Franklin that his famous aphorism should be amended to include the word “CHANGE.” Change happens whether we want it or not, and this is true for all people. However, for people with MS, change, generally, tends to be unwelcome.

Maybe I need to change my perceptions of change.

Maybe, since change is going to occur, I need to change.

You probably know some older people who frustrate you with their rigid approach to life. Those people whose most common complaint is something to the effect of this:

Young people today are shallow and don’t know how to work!

Or this…..

She is such a malcontent. Always complaining about MS symptom this, and MS symptom that. She should just DEAL with it! I’m not even sure that’s a “real” thing.

For me, change in regards to my MS has generally been negative. Changes, especially in the past few years, have meant less mobility. For others, it may mean cognitive difficulties or the loss of another ability. Given the vast array of symptoms presented by MS, there is almost no limit to the loss (DISability) that might be sustained. It’s exhausting, dealing with MS, or as I have written in the past, “I’m fatigued and I’m tired of it!” (Pun is definitely intentional.) I am one of those people who have been dragged into my new normal, kicking and screaming and protesting loudly all the while! Inexplicably, I have recently changed my resistance to change in one small way. For the most part, I get annoyed with the way that many people seem to prefer watching a video for everything. It’s probably related to my learning style, but I much prefer to read about something. For example, when I Googled “multiple sclerosis symptoms,” I got a huge list of links, and many of them were to recordings, a great deal of which were on YouTube, with some to news broadcasting stations and to WebMD. Typically, I would ignore those and look for the links with lists.

But I stumbled upon a new link and a lot of the information there is in recorded videos. The information is new to me, and I find it very helpful. I have actually listened to and watched several of the videos. This particular website was created by a person with MS, and I have found information there that was new: http://www.msviews.org/msviewsandnews4/ I have to fess up: I only listen to some of the videos there and don’t always watch, so I guess I remain stubborn. The website was previously known as Stu’s MS Views and News, but Stu has managed to get a lot of help on his side and his website has grown a lot. There are partnership links there, and you may or may not be impressed by those, but in any event, there is probably something there for you to take in. I really enjoy Dr. Ben Thrower, who is a neurologist and offers a lot of information in a form that people without a science background can understand.

I was diagnosed a long time ago, and have seen many headlines that read as though the misery that is MS was about to end! HUGE breakthrough! Promising treatment! All the excitement has worn thin for me, and I view such headlines nowadays with skepticism. Remembering the time when I was diagnosed means telling you kids a story. It was the early nineties. My resources were limited: the public library, my doctor, and any local support groups. Email was nonexistent, as was the World Wide Web. There were a few national organizations, and they had 800 numbers, and mailed out written publications. I don’t remember when or how I learned about the MSAA, but it was not the first organization devoted to MS that I knew about, even though it was founded in 1970!

The truth is that a lot of change in the field of MS has vastly improved:

  • The availability of information
  • Treatments: there are more than a dozen treatments available
  • Organizations that help patients dealing with MS
  • Research into the etiology of MS

Now, there are many organizations specifically formed for us, the MS patients, and information is overwhelming. It can be difficult to navigate and even to discern which information is reliable. The pace of change is brisk, indeed, which I believe is positive for us.

Dealing with change can be done with grace and likely will benefit you. I have changed my perception of videos about MS.

What change in dealing with change will you undertake?

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MS Symptom Changes

In keeping with the theme of ‘change’ during this month’s MS Conversations, I wanted to talk about MS symptoms and how they can differ for those diagnosed. MS often comes with its’ own agenda and unpredictable course for those affected, often making it difficult to anticipate what symptoms can arise and how they can vary from day to day. And because each person’s experience differs greatly with MS, it’s challenging to try and compare situations in order to come up with guide points and specifics to learn from throughout the disease. The type of symptoms, their range of severity, and their disappearing/reappearing act can all change according to how one’s MS affects them, which further adds to the list of unattractive traits held by MS.

However, because people with MS have a great voice and have been consistent with reporting their symptoms and experiences with the disease, doctors and researchers have an abundance of information to work with for developing more symptom management therapies and treatments that could potentially help reduce these issues. There are several techniques used to treat MS symptoms, but it may take some trial and error along with continued follow-up with a doctor to find what works best and most effectively. While no two MS cases look exactly alike, each individual’s condition brings with it more power and knowledge because it’s so unique, and therefore helps to contribute to the understanding of this ever-changing landscape.

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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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Who Likes Change?

So honestly I’ve never been one to ever really like change. Even when I was younger I don’t think I was as resilient as other kids around me when it came to change because I always seemed to struggle with it. Even as I continue into adulthood change can still create feelings of anxiety, confusion and discomfort at times. And this can occur with good change too; I think it’s the concept of something being different than it was before that I have trouble accepting, especially when it’s a change that I have no say over. Now don’t get me wrong, certain types of changes can be good, when they produce positive and beneficial differences in life and particular circumstances. But in general I think we struggle with change because it has great influence over our control and expectations. It’s difficult to like change if it’s something you didn’t ask for or that was necessarily warranted, especially if its arrival produces unwelcome challenges. So what do you do when change comes along?

Everyone’s coping mechanisms are different when it comes to dealing with change. Some individuals try to meet change head-on and seek out ways to adjust and adapt, while others try to fight change and work hard to deny it and refuse acceptance of it. Some look to others for support during times of change, whereas other individuals prefer to be alone to cope with it. What’s important to know is that everyone has experienced some form of change in their lives, and while none of the changes may look exactly the same, the ways in which people try to cope with it can look very similar. There are no absolutes when it comes to facing change—no specific right or wrong way to work it out. But you have more control than you think in these situations; you’re the one who gets to decide how you want to approach change in those moments and how much influence it can truly have.

How do you cope with change?

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Embracing Change

By Stacie Prada

In the last three years so much of my life has changed.

My beyond-two-decades-long marriage was ending while my career took a completely unexpected and welcome turn. I moved to a new place, and I had a few surgeries. Valued in-person friendships were no longer nearby, and they shifted to Facebook interactions. All of my daily routines I had in place no longer fit into my new life, and I spent a lot of time redesigning them. Often it felt like my entire life was tossed in the air and landed scattered on the ground. Picking up the pieces and deciding how to arrange them again took up a lot of my time and mental energy.

Any of these changes would have been big for me, but juggling them all at once took a lot of effort. MS was a factor in this because I strove to maintain my health throughout these changes. My biggest goal was to avoid an MS exacerbation, and, fortunately, I succeeded.

Experiencing change can alter how I view the world, myself, my past, my future, and the people around me. It’s a mental shift from what I thought I could count on to knowing how vulnerable and impermanent everything can be.  The diagnosis of MS made me question my body’s abilities and health. I thought my body was strong and healthy. Being diagnosed led me to realize that a healthy and mobile future isn’t necessarily in my control. I can eat right, exercise, and get checkups, and still have no guarantee for good health or the ability to walk in my elder years.

Adjusting to change is a skill I’ve cultivated to save my sanity and bring myself mental peace. Some years ago, my New Year’s Resolution was to “Embrace the things that I resist.” It was a great experience acknowledging when I was resisting things and actively shedding the internal resistance I had to doing them. When I was nervous about running a public meeting, I decided to dive in and just do my best. When I liked a fashion choice that I thought might be too flashy, I decided to try it anyway. When the group sang karaoke, I got up in front of the group with my not-great singing voice and sang my heart out. I knew I might sound terrible or look silly, but I let myself have fun doing it.

My personal challenge that year allowed me to think about and recognize why I resisted things, and it helps to think about it when dealing with change. Most of the time my resistance stemmed from the following:

  • Uncertainty for what the next step was or how to decide
  • Being afraid that following that step would lead to an outcome I feared
  • Being overwhelmed from the quantity of things to deal with at that moment
  • Fear of making a mistake, making what I would later judge as a wrong decision, failing, or being judged negatively by others
  • Holding on to a belief that I have control over the future, others, or anything other than what I do, say or believe.

Coping with change:

With MS, a lot of change stems from the domino effect of losing mobility, cognition and physical abilities. Focusing on these losses can lead to depression and a sense of doom. When an exacerbation hits, it’s natural to worry about where it will lead and how it will affect the future. It’s all understandable and natural, but it’s also incredibly unsettling, frustrating and just plain hard. I try to embrace changes I’m resisting by doing the following:

  1. Recognize that feeling unsettled, nervous or fearful is natural. Accept it will be stressful but try to do what I can to minimize the stress.
  2. Think about why the change is stressful. Does it require changing my life, my relationships, or just my attitude?
  3. Seek inspiration and motivation from people who have lived through a similar change. What insight can they lend?
  4. Pace myself. Take on only a few extra tasks each week or month, and reduce some of the things that aren’t necessary for my physical or mental health. Know that my regular life still requires a lot of energy, and something needs to give temporarily.
  5. Know the deadlines and what’s at risk if they aren’t met. Give myself enough time to do things, but not too much so that it feels never-ending.
  6. Break down the steps to dealing with change into smaller doable tasks to avoid getting overwhelmed.
  7. Prioritize based on importance, deadlines, and energy level. If my energy is low, I’ll do the easy tasks for now and the more involved tasks at a time of day when I have more energy. Certain things may also be able to wait months.
  8. Wait to start until I’m ready to commit. I keep a list of things to do, but I don’t start until I’m ready to do them and complete them.
  9. Set realistic expectations and ambitious dreams.
  10. Look forward to something. Whether it’s seeing kids or grandkids grow up and being a part of their lives, traveling, dancing, watching the sun set, or anything else small or large that brings joy.
  11. Enjoy the path I’m on even when portions of it are difficult. Give myself credit for all of the things I do that aren’t hard because I’ve put so much effort in the past into getting better at them.
  12. Trust that I’ll do what I think is right for me each step of the way and that it’s enough.

Dealing with change has been a learned skill for me, and it’s taken a lot of effort to cultivate that skill. It’s been worth the effort to reduce my internal stress and increase my sense of contentment. Relaxing into and embracing change has improved my confidence, given me opportunities and experiences beyond my expectations, and made for a much more satisfied and joy-filled life.

*Stacie Prada was diagnosed with RRMS in 2008 at the age of 38.  Her blog, “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” is a compilation of inspiration, exploration, and practical tips for living with Multiple Sclerosis while living a full, productive, and healthy life with a positive perspective. It includes musings on things that help her adapt, cope and rejoice in this adventure on earth. Please visit her at http://stacieprada.blogspot.com/ 

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New Year – New You

I have to admit, I am a sucker for a New Year’s resolution. Maybe it’s the over-indulgences from the holiday season, or the thought that summer is quickly approaching. But I really enjoy the idea of a reset; or a chance for a redo. The key word there is “chance”; each individual has the power to elicit a change in their lives.

For me, January 1st is the first day of a new life. While we can look at each day as an opportunity for change, for some, the bigger picture provides a sense of ease in that the familiar world we are used to will not be transformed in one fell swoop.

Honor the journey that you have been through thus far, for it has created memories and life moments that can propel you through this new life. Respect the past for what is it, and allow yourself to move forward. The new life in front of you is not designed to change your past experiences, but to allow a place for growth.

This is your choice and your time to make a change that can possibly help with a challenge that is causing you to struggle. Perhaps this is the time to contact that specialist to talk about a troubling symptom, or reach out to a friend from the past which you’ve lost contact. The possibilities for change are endless, but committing to one is the first step.

“It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life for me
And I’m feeling good”
– Leslie Bricusse

Allow this new year to be your chance for change! Comment below or write to us sharing your experience.

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Stick to YOUR OWN agenda

During this month’s blog posts we’ve had discussions relating to resolutions, changes, and goals for the new year ahead. While many people work hard to create their own plans and generate new goals to achieve, some individuals try to impose their own agenda onto others—with the expectation that the objectives they envisioned for that person will automatically be met.

Some of us are not complete strangers to this situation; especially if during your childhood or adolescent years you had parents or other figures hold you to complete certain tasks and require the execution of specific goals. This is usually not done in malice, but rather people wanting the best for others and for them to perform at their highest level of potential. However, for individuals experiencing an illness or disability, these anticipations can be overwhelming and burdensome at times, especially if they don’t match with their abilities and skillsets. Everyone is different and is capable of different things.

Even though it’s done with good intentions, others expectations can sometimes take over one’s own agenda completely, leaving their own goals and aspirations on the sidelines. It’s difficult trying to meet others’ goals for what you should or should not be accomplishing, and it can be downright exhausting trying to satisfy others in this manner. That’s why it’s important to stick to your own plans and agenda—to realize your abilities or limitations and to strive forward with this thoughtfully in mind. You can take others suggestions, if asked for, to take into consideration when you’re forming your objectives, but they should be your own and done on your own terms. It’s hard to please everyone, but if at the end of the day you are comfortable with the decisions you’ve made and the feats you’ve conquered, I’d say to chalk that up as a win!

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It is Never too Late to Make a Change

This time of year sets the stage for big changes in many people’s lives. Little kids prepare for the first day of school. College students embark on a new journey that will change the course of their future. And parents start to see their once little child becoming more independent and less reliant on their help.

As we age, it appears that everything changes and sometimes we accept those changes and sometimes we don’t. For many, change is a scary thing and is met with some resistance or animosity. But for some, change can be exciting and refreshing.

Which category do you fall? Do you find yourself resisting change, or do you fully embrace it?

It is never too late to make a change in your life. A change does not necessarily need to be an overhaul, perhaps something small that you have put off for some time. With the long holiday weekend, it provides an extra day to do something for yourself that may make a significant transformation for the better.

So give it a shot, allow yourself to move freely through the change. If you come across any resistance or hesitation, ask yourself why. Change does not have to be absolute. You have control over your life and if after making the change you find that it does not work for you, you have the power to make the switch.
What is something you have thought about changing?

MSAA Office’s will be closed Monday September 7th in observance of the Labor Day Holiday.

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Sometimes Things Change…

Change is something that can be unavoidable at times and not always favored, nor asked for or necessarily welcomed. Though sometimes it can be difficult, there may be times when change is needed to make certain things more manageable. As it can be known to cause shifts in all types of roles, relationships, plans, or daily routines, adjusting to change can have impacts not just on yourself but those around you as well. One of the significant pieces needed throughout the change process is communication. Communication with family, friends, support networks, medical teams and others within your circle is important to be able to discuss what change has occurred and what can be done to accommodate it.

When dealing with something like a chronic illness, change can particularly affect family and relationship roles and dynamics. This can be difficult for all the family members involved. It can be difficult to change a routine and how things used to flow from one day to the next.  Say one family member has been known to be the ‘caregiver’ to the others, taking care of the household duties and responsibilities. What if they suddenly need to be the one being cared for due to an illness? This can create a shift in how the household duties are shared and now need to be assigned to others.

Communicating how these changes affect the relationships is important. Feeling frustrated, confused, or even angry at times is ok because things are different. The critical point is to make sure that these thoughts and feelings are expressed to ensure that all people feel they are heard and that their feelings are validated and valued. Seeking some type of family counseling supports can be beneficial to talk about change in a safe and open format—so that all of those affected can discuss it.

Has change affected any of your relationships? How did you approach this?

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