Purpose in Life

This famous quote, “The purpose of life is a life with purpose” resonates with me.  I often stop and think about my purpose in life.  I am a mother, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, wife, caretaker, and a social worker.  As I reflect on my purpose, I have come to learn that I enjoy helping others.  Working for MSAA offers me the opportunity to help the MS community.  I hope to provide a safe place for many to call in for help and to find support.  I feel a great sense of pride knowing I can help and navigate others through uncharted waters in a time of need.

So, my question to you is: What is your purpose?  Is it maybe being a friend, maybe being a spouse, or maybe simply it is doing things that bring you happiness?  Sometimes finding the answer is easy, and sometimes it takes time to see where we are appreciated most. If you are struggling to answer this question, do not be afraid to turn to others for guidance and friendly suggestions. Those around you often see the gifts that you exhibit to them that you may not recognize in yourself. This could help you to understand what your purpose is and how to make the best of it.

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Feelings and Flash Mobs: Mental Wellness Looks Messy

By Stacie Prada

Life is not a straight line. Grief, coping, adjusting and recovery don’t follow straight lines from feeling bad to better. They’re more of a spaghetti diagram of past merged with present, conflicting emotions colliding without logic, and highs and lows mixed together as conditions change, time progresses and we adjust.

I can feel sadness, loss, fear, anxiety, love, connection, hope, strength and contentment in a single day. Usually I do. Often, I feel a combination of them all at once, and I think it’s normal for me. 

I’ve learned flash mobs make me cry. Every time. They can be upbeat, fun and joyful, and still tears stream. I love the combination of surprise, music, choreography, people coming together and people dispersing as quickly as they started. They make me happy. They also trigger overwhelm for the connection, surprise and happiness they elicit.

I can analyze flash mobs for why I can’t keep my emotions level while watching them, and I can accept I don’t need to fix it.  For me it’s a great example of how combinations of feelings can simultaneously occur when they aren’t usually related.

Remembering that feelings can be randomly triggered and illogical helps ease the desire to find the cause, the solution and validation. If I assume every feeling is valid yet temporary, I’m less likely to obsess over them.  They can surprise me, consume me and evaporate as powerfully and fleetingly as a flash mob.

Certainly, if I’m suffering, I want to shorten the timeframe of feeling bad. If suffering persists, I want to have help.   I know I’m susceptible to depression given my multiple sclerosis, and I watch for it.  If I know not every feeling has a logical reason or need for fixing, fleeting emotions are less worrisome.

When feelings persist, having a well-rounded support team is crucial for my mental health and living well with MS. This team includes:

  • Primary care provider who tends to my overall health
  • Neurologist who monitors my MS progression, symptoms and mental health
  • Counselor to call if things seem too much for me to conquer solo
  • Friends and family who will listen and help me assess my condition
  • MS Self-Help Group where I can share and learn from people who have MS

Not everyone has access to health care, and I encourage anyone who needs help to contact MSAA to see if there are services and support that might help. If you have a different condition and don’t have a care provider, search “mental health services near me.” Local health departments often have a web page with a list of resources.

To contact MSAA, call their helpline at (800) 532-7667 to speak with one of their trained staff members, or email them at msquestions@mymsaa.org.

*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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Enjoyable Ways to Improve Your Mental Health

Mental health plays such a large role on your psychological and emotional well-being. It is super important to find enjoyable ways to improve your mental health. To help get you started, here are some cool ideas.

Sleep

Getting a good night’s rest is not only enjoyable, but it also comes with amazing benefits. Catching about 8 hours of sleep has been shown to strengthen the heart muscle, improve memory, and it greatly lowers your risk of depression and anxiety. Wow! *searching for my favorite pillow and blanket as I write this*

Pet Your Pet

Pets are AMAZING for improving mental health. Dogs are amongst the most common pets known to provide emotional support for individuals, but they aren’t the only ones. If you have a pet that brings you joy and happiness, you should totally pet your pet. Ha! See what I did there? Whether your fur baby is a dog, cat, bunny, squirrel, or guinea pig, petting your pet has great emotional benefits. I have a 4-month-old puppy named Oreo, and he definitely improves my mood. I love to snuggle him with his wittle cute fuzzy wuzzy face and his adorable big brown eyes and little curly tail and…focus, Selena, focus. *Inserts adorable picture of Oreo below.*

Doodle

Yes, you read that right. Doodle! Doodling and scribbling have proven to relieve stress and anxiety for individuals who are feeling overwhelmed. Doodling has also shown to help improve focus and the best part is that it’s fun too. Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious, bust out the pen and paper and give doodling a try.

Even though these cool ideas are fun and helpful, they aren’t a one size fits all deal. You know yourself better than anyone else does, so I encourage you to find something that is enjoyable to you. Whatever that thing is for you, do that whenever you notice your mental health is in need of some improvement and have fun with it. You are the best person to find enjoyable ways to improve your mental health.

You got this.

*If you ever find yourself struggling to manage your mental health on your own, please be encouraged to reach out to your physician or a mental health professional for help.

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Mental Health and Wellness

By Chernise Joseph

I’ll be real with you, for this month’s topic I struggled to come up with something that felt at least a little optimistic, but then I realized my best response is just to be honest.

Mental health is a tricky thing to discuss. For one, everyone’s story with both mental health and multiple sclerosis is different. There are some of us that are lucky enough not to struggle much with either, but the older I get, the more I realize those sorts of people are rarer than I realized. All my life, I’ve heard how “everybody’s going through something,” and my response was almost always “but they aren’t going through what I’m going through!” as if that somehow validated how I felt despite never actually feeling any better.

Here’s the thing with mental health: just like multiple sclerosis, it’s an invisible ailment in many people and that, to me, is the most unfair part of struggling with either because I’ve noticed the empathy factor from others in the world drastically lowers when you’re able to smile and–to them anyway–you “look okay.” Side note: I’m definitely including myself in that critique, especially pre-MS.

Three weeks ago, Texas did everything it could to put my mental health to the test. Yes, the entire state of Texas decided to perform some sort of survival exercise to see if we’re all prepared for the apocalypse, apparently. In southeast Texas where I live, the temperature rarely drops beneath 30 during our coldest days in winter. We’ll get some snow flurries here and there, but otherwise “moderate” would be a generous descriptor for the 3 months of winter we get each year. However, February decided to deliver a one-two (three, four, five…) punch and not only give us single digit days, but also complete it with snow and ice. I like to think of Dante’s icy layer of hell when I describe what happened that week to people because I had no idea cold could be so awful.

I’ll set the scene: I’m caring for my ailing mother, the temperature is steadily dropping outside, and all at once, the power goes out. It’s around 11AM on Monday at this point and we’re hearing reports from family members that their electricity is out, too, and they’re at least an hour away in Houston. It wasn’t a local thing, it was everywhere. Immediately, panic sets in. The snow has started to fall outside, and the temperature has as well, though we were thankfully still in the double digits. I call a close friend for help because already I’m beginning to see cars collide outside from the icy layers forming on the street. We’re Texan, y’all. We barely know how to drive in the rain.

My mom and I decide that calling an ambulance for her would be the best plan. She’s medically fragile and we knew the hospital would at least have power and nurses who could care for her. The medics arrive and I had to beg them to ignore COVID procedures and allow me to ride with her to the hospital. They agree and let me sit up front. While they’re loading her into the back, I overhear on their radio that all ambulances would be grounded at 5PM. At least in the town where I reside, we were going to be on our own through the night… I think it hit me right then that this wasn’t just a sit around and have hot cocoa situation.

The hospital wasn’t as nice as the paramedics and I couldn’t stay despite the winter storm. Luckily, I have a group of nice friends with big trucks who took a break from delivering firewood to come and pick me up. By then, the snow had started to fall harder than I’ve ever seen before, and we were ice skating through the city trying to figure out a game plan. We drove through town and saw dozens of people dressed up in snow gear roaming the streets in search of warmth just like we were. The power was out permanently it seemed and none of us had planned for that. I think back on it now and forgive myself because there wasn’t a right answer to the situation despite knowing, logically, that a little snowstorm shouldn’t have felt like the apocalypse.

The next few days are a blur for me. We huddled around a friend’s fireplace and ate what we could find while the power and water were down, charging our phones either in the car or in the brief moments when the lights would come back on. It was chaos for everyone, but I think the lesson I got from it was how our mental health can either suffer or improve dependent on how we choose to look at things, not the other way around. That week from hell, its new moniker if I do say so myself, was awful and I won’t try to sugarcoat it. I was lucky to be safe and warm, but I was also fortunate to be surrounded by people with positive attitudes and optimistic outlooks despite how bleak things got.

It was during that week that I experienced the importance of being present again. With the world quite literally frozen over, there wasn’t anything else to do but sit and just be. I got a chance to not think of anything and just sit and cuddle my cat (who had taken up residence in my friend’s bathroom) and wait for life to return to some semblance of how it was, if not changed because of the people who helped me during one of the hardest times of my life.  

*Born in the heat of Texas, Chernise Joseph is an avid writer with perpetual writer’s block. She was diagnosed with MS in 2016 and has been on the ride of a lifetime ever since. Read more from Chernise on her blog millennialwithms.com.

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Resiliency is a Powerful Tool

No secret here-life can be very unpredictable a lot of the time. It can be messy and chaotic and ever-changing. But even after a year filled with such challenge and turmoil as 2020, it’s incredible to see how resilient people are and can be. Yes, life and the changes experienced can have its ripple effects. Impacting not only physical health, but mental and emotional health as well. But it’s how people adapt and overcome these hurdles that helps foster improved wellness of the entire body.

Resiliency, among other aspects, can be an extremely powerful tool when it comes to mental health care and wellness. Learning to adapt to difficult situations and continuing to strive forward despite them helps build resilience. And the great news is-this is a skill that can be learned and taught. Whether it’s teaching yourself the skillset or working with a professional for guidance, building resilience is an important key to overall wellness.

There are different components used to help nurture resiliency, with two crucial ones being self-compassion and self-care. Being kind to ourselves and our bodies is so important for both mental and physical health. This helps to decrease issues with anxiety, stress, and depression. Practicing mindfulness, surrounding yourself with others who support you, and taking care of yourself physically are all key parts to resilience skill-building.

I think many of us would agree that taking time for ourselves and thinking about our own health and well-being usually falls towards the bottom of our daily agendas. This is something that we can all start to do better with. Because taking care of ourselves helps validate that we can take care of others around us too.

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Resources for Mental and Emotional Wellness

Anxiety and depression are among the most common symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis. It can be challenging trying to navigate through life with a disease that affects both your body and your emotions. In this blog, I’d like to share some helpful resources for mental and emotional wellness. I want you to know that if you find yourself battling anxiety and depression, there are resources available to help you manage and improve your mental and emotional wellness.  Continue reading

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Caring For Your Mind and Mental Health

A common misconception with MS is that the disease affects the body mostly in just the physical sense. This can be true for many diagnosed. However, one’s mental health may be impacted as a result of MS too. MS and its unpredictable nature can create a roller coaster of emotions, changes, and ups and downs for those affected. That kind of ride can impact all parts of one’s mind and body. Understandably so.

It’s not always easy to recognize or bring attention to Continue reading

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It’s in the Contract

By Doug Ankerman

Mental wellness? Wait. When given my MS diagnosis years ago, all talk centered around the physical side. No one mentioned anything about the mental challenges of MS.

For this reason, I renege my contract with multiple sclerosis! (Wish it was that easy, right?)

Mental wellness with MSFact is, in my experience, mental wellness is WAY harder to manage. I have AFO’s to help with foot drop. A rollator to Continue reading

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Deciding What I’ll Do and How Much I’ll Do for My Best Health

By Stacie Prada

In true keeping with not quickly remembering the lessons I’ve already learned, it took me a few months of building frustration before seeing a situation I’m experiencing as something I could approach differently.

I volunteer for our local self-help group, and increasing work and personal health demands are making it harder for me to continue doing everything I’ve done for the past six years. I’d asked for volunteers to help. Some stepped forward and I appreciated their help, but still I felt responsible for more than I can continue.

I was getting frustrated, and resentment was building. I was getting Continue reading

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Booting the Mental Devil

By Scott Cremeans

I went through many years of a deep dark depression that enticed me to see just how close I could get to the edge. This game of chicken between the darkness and the light stole my thirties from me and cannot return the years that were taken. This onslaught occurred as the angel and devil on either shoulder taunted me with a ruthless game of truth or dare. Although this atrocity would not stop, the bold brutal battle did not come to the desired conclusion of the dark side. The following is what helped me, and hopefully, others can Continue reading

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