Journaling as Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

By: Meagan Freeman 

Unfortunately, things do not always work out the way we want them to. Marriages end, friendships change, and illness sometimes make our decisions for us. I often find myself worrying about the future, and thoughts invade my mind during stressful moments. Will I ever have the chance to swim on a beach in the Mediterranean? Will I see Europe the way I have always wanted? Will my children be embarrassed to be in public with me with my assistive devices? Boy, my thoughts can sure get dark at times, and anxiety can take hold and pull me out of reality very quickly if I allow it to.

Writing can be the most therapeutic experience.

No matter what challenge I am coping with, I find that if I sit down and pour those feelings onto paper, I am refreshed and renewed. It is much like traditional therapy with a counselor, except the paper is your therapist. The words are your medication, and the process of putting your thoughts and emotions into words is your cure.

I am a rather shy person, and some would say I am quiet and private. I have a few extremely close friends and family, but I keep my circle small. The interesting thing is, when I sit down to write I have no trouble communicating and expressing my feelings. Words are my favorite form of expression. Whereas spoken words leave your mouth and cannot return, written words can be erased, changed, and edited after you have reviewed them.

When coping with a chronic illness like MS, expression of feelings is incredibly important. It is so easy to feel alone and without friends who understand. Journaling and writing are great options for those who feel uncomfortable talking. “People who journal find a higher sense of self-awareness and are able to reduce anxiety and gain a sense of empowerment. Many people who struggle with deep emotional conflicts or traumas are unable to express their feelings in a verbal or physical way. Journaling allows a person the freedom of expression without fear of retaliation, frustration, or humiliation.” (http://www.goodtherapy.org/journal-therapy.html#)

My journaling experience has evolved into my blog, and eventually became my recently published book. My hope is that my writing will continue to help me express the feelings I have about each challenge with MS, parenting, and life in general. In addition, I may have the opportunity to continue to heal others through this writing.

In my practice as Family Nurse Practitioner, I encouraged my patients to journal when traditional therapy was not appealing to them. Some of my patients used writing as an adjunct to traditional therapy, and found it extremely beneficial. From the feedback I received from my patients, my suspicions about the therapeutic effects of writing were confirmed. I would encourage anyone coping with illness, trauma, death, or simply life stress to try jotting down a few ideas onto paper. The following are excellent resources for journaling as therapy:

http://www.goodtherapy.org/journal-therapy.html

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/arts-and-health/201311/top-ten-art-therapy-visual-journaling-prompts

 

*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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Summer Heat: The Enemy of the MS Patient?

By: Meagan Freeman

Before my diagnosis, the blistering sun of the summer season was my best friend. I was a swimmer, wake-boarder, and sun worshipper. I enjoyed my teen years, soaking up the rays in the California sun, trying to get a nice tan and reading magazines with friends. The hotter the better was my attitude! Boy, have things changed since my diagnosis in 2009.

Now, I have had to accept that the heat is no longer my best friend, but rather, my worst enemy. The heat of summer can be an incredibly challenging thing for those with MS, and it can lead to staying home alone while the rest of the family enjoys the beach, pool, and outdoor summer activities. For several years, I felt depressed about my situation. I had several relapses each summer, and my family members were enjoying my formerly favorite activities while I stayed home on the couch in my air-conditioned home, a virtual prisoner.

After several years of this seasonal imprisonment, I began to search for ways to beat the heat, and still enjoy family time outdoors. There are many options for combatting the summer heat, and I want to share some ideas for other individuals struggling with this issue. Fortunately for us, cooling technology has dramatically improved over the years. I always avoided cooling vests, merely because of vanity. I did not want to be seen with a bulky, unattractive cooling vest; but fortunately we have some wonderful, stealth options now.

The key is to keep the core temperature at a normal level, and through cooling technology, individuals can enjoy the summer days without experiencing flares and relapses caused by the heat. Heat leads to increased inflammation, which we need to avoid at all costs. Fortunately, simple cooling products can achieve the goal of maintaining a normal core body temperature, despite warm days.

MSAA has a wonderful program, offering free vests and cooling products to individuals who qualify for the program. The link for the MSAA cooling vest program is: https://mymsaa.org/msaa-help/cooling/. There is a short application to fill out, and this program can offer a vest to qualified patients at no cost. For those who may not be financially eligible, there are several other companies offering these types of cooling products. A good cooling vest can mean the difference between missing out on family activities, to being an active participant.

In addition to these products, I have found several MS vacation organizations, including the “MS Cruisers.” This organization offers cruises to many ports of call around the world, specifically tailored to meet the needs of MS patients. “This cruise is open to all MS patients, family members and friends who share an interest in the MS community, believe that health and fitness are powerful tools for overall well-being and independence, want to travel and interact with others who are facing the same challenges; and are aiming for the same goal of enjoying life to its fullest as they go through the process of adjusting their lifestyle to best suit their constantly changing needs.” (MS Cruisers.com, 2015.) Consider checking out this site for many options for amazing summer cruises. The site is located at: http://mscruisers.com.

I believe that the key to finding happiness and acceptance during a life with MS is to continue to enjoy all of the activities we enjoyed before our diagnosis. Through the use of simple cooling technology, and finding the right vacation options, we can continue to participate in life, enjoy the sun, and feel as “normal” as possible. If you find yourself imprisoned at home in the AC all summer, consider reaching out and trying one of these amazing programs. This can be your ticket to a wonderful, active summer season. Go enjoy it!

*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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Managing Cognitive Difficulties

By: Meagan Freeman

When we think of spring, we think of renewal, spring-cleaning, organization and clarity. We think of new growth, birth, refreshment and a new beginning. This can be especially difficult for patients struggling with memory loss and multiple sclerosis. How do we achieve organization when we have a difficult time recalling why we walked into a room?

How many times have you misplaced your keys? Lost your phone? Forgotten someone’s name?

Cognitive difficulties brought on by MS are an incredibly tough thing to accept, especially in the very young. We aren’t supposed to experience memory loss like this in our 40s, 30s and even 20s. When that familiar face says “hello,” on the street one day, you know you recognize this person…but you think: “what was that name again?” Embarrassing to say the least.

Like any MS symptom, these changes are caused by lesions and brain atrophy over time. Medications used to treat MS symptoms may also be responsible for causing cognitive issues. Pain medications, anxiety medications, and muscle relaxants may cause patients to become sleepy, fatigued, and even confused. We should all be cautious when using these types of medications, especially when driving or doing other dangerous activities.

What can be done about these issues?

Occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, and neuropsychiatrists can perform a specific battery of tests to determine the severity of the cognitive impairments. Then, computer-assisted tools such as memory aids, and other forms of cognitive rehab can be used to improve memory and learning. The other key point is that lesion load, or the number of lesions seen on MRI, can correlate with cognitive problems. Therefore, it is natural to assume that staying on a disease-modifying drug is important in keeping the lesion load low.

In my own life, I have experienced a great deal of cognitive decline over the last few years, and I am only 40! I began to notice that I was forgetting the reason I entered a room, where I put important things in my home, where I set my keys, and even names. I was horrified when I noticed these changes! Some of these things can be blamed on normal aging, stress (6 kids!), and perhaps lack of sleep/rest. However, I am quite sure that MS has a lot to do with it. All we can do as patients is educate ourselves, educate our families, and be aware. Communication with our providers is important as well, and we need to be sure that we are receiving every available treatment. Don’t ever assume that nothing can be done for you. Training your brain by reading, writing, and continuing to learn are excellent ways to keep the mind working! “Use it, or lose it,” as they say!

Use your spring-cleaning time to organize your life. Keep things in specific places that you will remember clearly. Label things, and use a pill sorter to remind you to take your medications, if needed. Write everything down, and set reminders in your phone. If we prepare for those moments of memory loss, we will find them less worrisome. Happy Spring!

*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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MS Awareness Month: A Chance to Make a Difference!

By: Meagan Freeman

Every March, we have the opportunity to share our own stories and participate actively in spreading awareness about multiple sclerosis. The possibilities are endless, ranging from the MSAA “Swim for MS” fundraiser, MS biking events, MS walks, read-a-thons for our children in schools, and any other activity that might assist in spreading knowledge about our illness. This disease continues to be poorly understood by many, and it is still considered rare, with an incidence of 1 in 1000 in the US currently. The need for awareness has never been greater, and we can all have a hand in educating others. If we each take on the task of sharing information with those around us, knowledge can spread like wildfire.

Many patients find that they are unable to participate in these activities to support MS awareness. Many fundraisers are physical, such as running, walking, biking, and swimming events. Sometimes, the thought of participating in an event like these can be daunting for those with physical disabilities. Some patients might think, “How can I possibly participate in these?” There are a myriad of options for those who may not have the ability to actually take part in a physical event, however.

Fundraising while a family member or friend completes the physical part of the event is a wonderful option. I have had several friends participate in local MS “muckfest” and running events, while I took on the task of raising donations. I helped advertise and share information, while my runner friend completed the event. We managed to raise $2000 together last year alone. No amount of money raised is too little, and no one should feel like they cannot make an impact.

Another option is to spread awareness through blogging, speaking and writing. My personal contribution to MS awareness continues to be my blog. I started this blog with the goal of sharing my own personal experiences with MS in order to educate, and to ensure that no patient ever feels isolated or alone. The simple act of sharing your story may have a greater impact than you ever imagined. The thought of helping others simply by sharing your story is incredible! You never know who needs to hear your experience at that very moment.

Whether you choose to donate to an MS organization such as MSAA, to participate in an MS event, or simply share knowledge and educate through writing or speaking, you can make a difference. If every MS patient takes on the challenge of increasing awareness about our illness, we are capable of making sweeping changes. Let’s work together during the month of March (and beyond,) to increase knowledge, share our stories, and have a personal impact on finding the eventual cure for multiple sclerosis.

*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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Love Conquers All… (Including MS!)

By: Meagan Freeman

Valentine’s Day brings to mind images of unconditional love, commitment, and romance. We see the theme as we stroll through any store during the month of February, the candy hearts, the red roses, and the chocolate. Sometimes, we forget what this concept truly means, and get caught up in the “commercial” aspects of the holiday, instead. If anyone is looking for a true story of love, hope, inspiration, and unending devotion, I have one for you.

My grandparents met on a Southern California Beach in 1944. My grandmother wore a bright yellow bathing suit, as she sat in the sand under an umbrella. My grandfather always described her as “the most beautiful girl I have ever seen.” Both of my grandparents served in the military during World War II, and both were stationed in Santa Monica, CA. It was love at first sight, according to both of them. This bond grew in the following year, and they were married in a beautiful ceremony in 1945. This strong bond they had formed would be tested in the coming decades, and it would carry them through the most difficult times.

In the following decade or so, my grandparents had seven children, three girls and four boys. My mother was the oldest child. Sadly, my grandmother began to develop neurological symptoms such as weakness and emotional instability. Eventually, she experienced seizures on a regular basis. This led to a fairly rapid decline, leaving her wheelchair bound by age 40, and bedridden by age 45. Eventually, she was diagnosed with a rapidly progressive form of multiple sclerosis. The advice regarding MS in the 1950s-1960s was generally to “get in bed and stay there,” and “do not ever exercise.” As we know, this is some of the worst advice for MS patients.

When my grandfather was faced with the decision whether to move his beautiful wife to a nursing home or keep her in the family home, he insisted she remain with him. He lovingly cared for her for over a decade in the home, all while raising the seven children and working to support the family. He helped her to dress in her best clothes during family gatherings, brushed her hair, and made sure she was a part of the family in every way. My grandfather was a photographer, and he took hundreds of incredible family photos, always including my grandmother.

Eventually, my grandmother lost her battle with MS. My grandfather carried on for many more years, visiting the grandchildren (myself included,) gardening, attending church, and waiting for the day he would see his wife again. His faith was strong that he would see her again someday, and he spoke of her often. He passed away in 1994, and on their grave is the quote that sums up the undying dedication they showed for one another through the most difficult times life could throw at them: “Suffering disappears, love remains.”
Love is indeed forever.

meagan feb blogMy grandparents on their wedding day, 1945

 *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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New MSAA Guest Blogger

Meagan Freeman

I am thrilled to join the MSAA organization as a guest blogger, and I would like to introduce myself. My name is Meagan Freeman, and I am a licensed family nurse practitioner, blogger, MS patient and mom of 6 from Northern California.

I was diagnosed with RRMS in 2009, after experiencing dense numbness of my right torso. This was numbness like no other I had felt, like my torso was not even a part of my body. I was in the middle of my Bachelor’s program in Nursing, working as a full time ER nurse, and a mom of 6 at this time. The diagnosis was devastating, and demotivating. Quitting school was something that I thought about almost immediately, and over and over for months. I tried to ignore those demotivating voices in my head. The ones that say, “you should just stop now. What is the point? Take the easy road, forget it.” I was halfway through my Bachelor’s program, should I quit? I was just going to end up in a wheelchair. Bedridden. Nonverbal. Just like my grandmother. What was the use of finishing school? What was the use of doing ANYTHING now? Images of my grandmother raced through my mind. My maternal grandmother was incapacitated in my memory, due to a long battle with progressive MS. These images were terrifying to me, and I pictured myself in that same state.I thought about quitting school many times, but fortunately I continued.

I finished by Bachelor’s degree in 2010, and began my Masters in Nursing/Family Nurse Practitioner program that fall. It was the greatest challenge I had faced since diagnosis, and I would not be allowed to take “short cuts” because of my MS. This was the first time in my life that I realized that my disease would not grant me any free passes. I would have to achieve and complete this program purely on my own, despite any illness.

An important lesson I learned during the 3 years of higher education I pursued as an MS patient was that we are capable of self -defeat. It would be so much easier to quit, right? On those difficult, painful, fatigue ridden days? It is so tempting to give in and take the easy road, and many people succumb to this path. It doesn’t require MS, either; many individuals find any excuse to give up and take the easy road. You must find that voice that encourages rather than discourages. Find that voice that will carry you through those days. Nothing worth doing is ever easy, so make the choice to be the hero of your own story. You have the ability, now you just need the psychological strength.

On my graduation day, in May of 2012, there was light. Spring, warmth, and brightly colored flowers surrounded me like a renewal, out of the cold winter and into the sun. Every detail of that day is frozen in my memory, never to be erased. The smell of the freshly cut grass, the slow march into the ceremony, the smiles. Like a wedding or the birth of a new baby, this was a day that would live in my mind for the rest of my life, though there was a sense of disappointment along with the accomplishment. There was a pre-graduation let down, and I knew that with the completion of this goal, I would need another. Yes, this was a successful endeavor, but what would be next? For now, I could not focus on anything but that moment. This was a day to spend celebrating, laughing, and feeling a sense of pure joy and relief. Why trouble myself with the future today? Today was a day just to be present.

After graduation, I began to practice in a primary care office as a nurse practitioner. I saw many patients during my day, managing chronic illnesses and performing physicals. I experienced the irony of being both a healer as well as a patient, and some days were not easy. I also began to write more frequently, which was always my lifelong passion. I started to blog, and it was incredibly therapeutic to get feelings down on paper. Today, I have the opportunity to blog weekly on my website, and guest blog for several wonderful organizations. I am happy to be able to pursue these things, and with the support of my husband and family, I hope to continue for many years to come.

Being the “hero” of your own story is the theme of most of my writing today, and I encourage every MS patient to think of life as a story that will someday be told. You have the power to make that story whatever you want it to be, so make it incredible, powerful, and positive. Make that story one that will inspire generations to come. You have the power to achieve anything and everything, regardless of a multiple sclerosis diagnosis.

*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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