Good Confidants Can Handle the Tough Stuff

By Stacie Prada

Our relationships affect our health, and our health affects our relationships. Our health and our relationships evolve over time as each person ages and life chapters change. These are simple and obvious facts, but I find them to be something I need to remind myself periodically.

Living with a chronic and progressive illness like Multiple Sclerosis complicates the issues to tackle and the dynamics to navigate relationships.  As my body changes, my focus always shifts inward.  Is this symptom new and temporary, or is it a small indication of worse things to come? What do I need to do differently now, and what might it signal for my future?

These are important questions to consider.  Identifying symptoms, possible treatments and available resources are crucial for navigating the physical aspects of chronic and progressive diseases like MS.

In these times, I try to stay logical and pragmatic.  I try not to overreact. I try to work through my fears and frustrations in a healthy way that doesn’t impact anyone else.  They don’t ask me to keep it to myself, but it’s my natural preference.  Unfortunately, the agitation and worry usually seep out, and those close to me sense it.

Stacie Prada relationships on her blog post Sharing the Tough Stuff

It takes a lot of self-awareness and acceptance to disclose when my body isn’t working well. Usually, I’m still trying to get a handle on what it is and whether it’s significant or not. I’m still trying to analyze and monitor the changes.  I often am not yet ready to share, because I’m hoping things might improve and there might not be anything to share.  This means those close to me experience the consequences of my changing health before I even realize I’m stressed and irritable.

My confidants have excellent skills for showing curiosity and support while not pressuring me.  Sometimes unknowingly, they help me manage my feelings, my fears and my frustrations.  They hear me, believe me, don’t compete with me, and share themselves with me. I see their grace when I deflect or shut down an inquiry.  These are the people to keep close, because they’re willing and able to help me.  When I see them hesitate or gently back off, it’s my signal that I should share what’s bothering me.

Yet, I still hold back.  While it’s silly to think saying things out loud will make them worse, it’s exactly how I feel.  If I share that my legs hurt more and my coordination is worse, it means my fears of becoming disabled are warranted.  It means I’m becoming disabled.

I’m seeing disability with MS can be a slow, gradual and very invisible transition.  It appears to me that I will be greatly affected by my disease before anyone sees me with a mobility aid.

I’m going through this life with MS, and the people close to me are going through this life with MS with me. Some made my life harder, and I’m fortunate to no longer rely on them.  Others have proven to be healthy and respectful, and they are my cherished relationships.  They check in, they ask how I’m doing, and they back off when they see I’m not up for saying more.  It’s not until I open up and share the invisible changes I’m experiencing that they can really go through this with me in a way that helps me cope.

Having a body slowly and progressively deteriorate is an isolating feeling.  It takes effort to explain and not complain.  I get sick of living with MS, and I get sick of being tired of it. I want to be low maintenance and easygoing, but this disease is one that requires constant coddling and accommodations for my body’s needs. It takes a lot of time and effort to do the physical tasks that are needed to manage my MS symptoms, and it takes tremendous effort to challenge the negative thoughts that come from having a chronic illness.

I haven’t found the secret to skipping the irritable phase.  I’ll notice I’m grouchy, and I try to override the temptation to lash out. Sometimes I do well. I keep my mouth shut and go for a walk or do yoga.  Sometimes I reveal my bad mood in my tone or curt responses. It’s moments like these when I don’t feel like I’m being as nice as I’d like that I hope to avoid or get through quickly.  Often the best I can do is give myself a timeout and tell those around me that it’s not them.  My goal is to be able to feel pain without lashing out and seek connection to help get me through the feelings of uncertainty and frustration.

Once when I was going through an especially difficult time, a friend wrote in the sympathy card, “We’re hurting with you.”  It hit the right nerve, and tears along with a sob came quickly.  I was feeling very alone, and having someone succinctly address it allowed for a cathartic feeling of connection.  I know the antidote to feeling powerless and alone is sharing with those close to me. It doesn’t fix my problems, but it lightens the emotional load I’m carrying.

If I can be truthful and forthcoming with the people who have my back, and if I can be a source of support for their challenges, I think we’ll all fare well.  The best relationships can handle the tough stuff.

*Stacie Prada was diagnosed with RRMS in 2008 just shy of 38 years old.  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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Learning About Hope

By Stacie Prada

Learning about hope gives me hope. Hope, faith, endurance, resilience, conviction and belief, they all contribute to my level of hopefulness.  They help me feel like I can make it through hard times.  The conditions I’m enduring will subside, or I’ll figure out a way for it not to hurt as much.

Hope

I’m learning that people with hope do better physically.  I’m realizing that it’s not a feel-good thing or coincidence that at my neurologist appointment, the questionnaire asks me how many times in the last month I’ve felt hopeless. You may be familiar with this question. It reads: “During the last 30 days, about how often did you feel hopeless?  Choose among the answers: All of the time, Most of the time, Some of the time, A little of the time or None of the time.”

Some internet research has shown me that this question is from the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale.  It is a measure of exactly that, distress.  People who are hopeful live with less distress.  It doesn’t mean their lives are less challenging or easier.  Actually, they’ve learned that life conditions don’t have a correlation to how hopeful a person is.  People with similar challenges can have vastly different levels of hope, and even the same person can have different levels of hope at different times in their life.  I’ve learned it takes effort to be hopeful, but our circumstances don’t dictate our well-being.

There are things we can do if we’re feeling hopeless.  Hope and motivation do well with ongoing support and inspiration, and often they involve other people. Tell someone you trust, talk to a counselor, reach out, and lose any guilt or shame for needing help.  Answer the question honestly when the doctor’s questionnaire asks you.

We’re all going to have different things touch our souls and give us hope. Just looking for things that make me hopeful leads me to find reasons to be hopeful.  Being clear about what is possible and what is probable narrows my focus for where to direct my attention productively.

I’m excessively aware that I can’t control most of things in life.  I can‘t control what others do, I can’t control the pace of scientific advancements, and I can’t control my body’s multiple sclerosis advancement.

I can’t unilaterally fix the world’s injustices, but I can contribute a little in every interaction I have.

I can’t prevent MS progression and disability in my body, but I can live in a way that gives me the best odds of doing as well as possible.

I can’t speed up medical advancements, but I can stay informed, participate in studies and contribute to causes that are doing that work.

Acknowledging the many areas where I lack control and the few where I can contribute eases my stress level.  It lessens the degree of responsibility to a manageable level where I feel like I can do something that matters. That gives me hope.

*Stacie Prada was diagnosed with RRMS in 2008 just shy of 38 years old.  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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Staying Connected This Holiday Season

By Alene Brennan

The holiday season is often filled with traditions that we look forward to all year long.

There are two moments that I look forward to most each year. Thanksgiving dinner with my extended family where we gather to enjoy good food and laughter together. It’s all about the relationships.

I also love the candlelit Christmas Eve church service that provides such a special feeling inside. Being surrounded with everyone in their holiday attire, the lit Christmas tree and hearing the Christmas hymns, is powerful.

Knowing the holidays have a much different feel this year due to the pandemic, Continue reading

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Jump?

By Lauren Kovacs

I know this is tough. We don’t want to be a burden by trying to connect. I have to remind   myself to let my MS do the talking. We might be having a bad day and we might sound drunk. We might be beyond exhausted or having pain. Connecting with non-MSers can be hard.

You have to take care of you. I often “hit the wall” so to speak and just Continue reading

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Learning About Anxiety

By Stacie Prada

I get anxious, but I never considered I might have anxiety. I’ve heard people talk about how it feels to have panic attacks, and I know I haven’t experienced one. I thought of anxiety as something constant and debilitating. I do yoga, I laugh, I’m active, and I’m productive.  Having a diagnosis of anxiety doesn’t fit in with how I view myself.

But when I research anxiety, I realize that what may not be paralyzing for me could still fall perfectly under the anxiety umbrella.

Anxiety

Grinding teeth, nausea, headaches, problems sleeping Continue reading

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Zephyr

By Chernise Joseph (Zivvy)

Anxiety. I’m full of that right now.

It’s pretty common, but it still feels like something you’d see in a horror movie: it sneaks up on you, there’s some loud, dramatic cue of music, and then suddenly whatever else you’re doing feels irrelevant because now you have to run from It.

Tonight, I sat outside with my friends and watched the tree canopies above us get caught up in the wind. It’s a cool, breezy night Continue reading

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Take the Time to Feed Your Creative Self

By Maria Sammartino

Art has always been a part of my life and who I am. Growing up we didn’t have the luxury of “just watching TV.” My grandparents were both artists and made sure when we were with them, we either had a pen, crayon, paint, knitting needles, or crochet hook in our hands. Thankfully for us, they made sure our hands were always busy and we were creating something.

My grandmother was Continue reading

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Multiple Sclerosis and Communication Issues

A woman and man are having a conversation. The man has his eyes closed and is talking as a paragraph of lines comes out of a speech bubble. The woman's eyes are wide with a broken speech bubble as a completely empty thought cloud lingers over her head.

Although many people think of multiple sclerosis as primarily a diagnosis with physical symptoms, its reach is far more extensive. Since MS begins in the brain, it can impact one’s ability to communicate – namely, it often impairs memory and speech.

To find out more about the speech and memory challenges community members deal with, we reached out to members of our Facebook community and asked “Do you ever suffer from communication issues and expressing yourself with MS?”

More than 550 community members shared. Here is what was said. Continue reading

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Reluctant to Change

By Doug Ankerman

Multiple sclerosis has been, and continues to be, the best disease I could ever have!

(More on this later.)

When it comes to change, I have been reluctant, even rebellious, my whole life.

Strange places, new faces, different situations make me Continue reading

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The Tsunami

By Chernise Joseph (Zivvy)

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with tsunamis.

I know how that sounds, tsunamis aren’t the friendliest natural phenom to be fascinated by, but I think that’s why they’ve caught my attention like they have.

When I think of change, I think of tsunamis. Consider this: tsunamis are the perfect representation of change, not only because they have the ability to change lives in seconds, but because they’re water. Continue reading

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