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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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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MS, Do you mind?

When talking about MS symptoms, many know how different and varied these can be with the disease – from the different types that can occur to their various degrees of severity, what affects one person can be very different to another. The symptoms that MS causes can not only have impact on the person experiencing them, but on those around them as well. Certain symptoms can impact relationships and unfortunately, once again, MS acts as if it has complete control over all facets of one’s life, but this is not the case. Not when individuals can do things and make choices to manage these symptoms and work hard to combat them as much as possible. It’s not easy or always a possibility, but MS has to know that it’s getting a fight from the other side and the disease is not always going to be victorious.

One of the MS symptoms that can have direct impact on relationships is issues with sexual dysfunction. This is usually a less talked about symptom and one that many shy away from discussing or disclosing. But it is one that deserves attention and awareness, because many can experience it and it’s important to know they’re not alone in this. It’s bad enough that MS causes symptoms that can impact daily routines, schedule, work habits and other factors, but really—does it also have to come between individuals sexually, in their most private moments and encounters? Come on MS, do you mind?

For those who have experienced these symptoms, one key element to battling MS in this scenario is communication. Again, we know this can be uncomfortable to disclose and openly talk about, but if these symptom issues go unaddressed, the persons involved in the relationship may not know or understand what’s going on, and if not given a chance to learn or be aware of it, it’s hard to move forward and manage with it together. Talking about it with a doctor or counselor can help to create a safe atmosphere to openly discuss what’s going on and brainstorm strategies and ways to help manage it. There can be other ways to help improve intimacy and interaction between each other, but it starts with recognizing the issues that are at play and what’s influencing them, because different factors in MS can attribute to these sexual dysfunction symptoms.

Again, MS may think it dictates everything that occurs in one’s everyday life, but there are some things that it really has no business being a part of…

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What’s the reference point?

So this past month we’ve been talking about various issues related to the topic of wellness in our MS Conversations, but what really is wellness? And how do you know if you’re truly living ‘well?’ What is the guiding point to reference when trying to determine this? All good questions, but not ones that necessarily produce easy, one word answers. Wellness can encapsulate many different factors, and its outcome can definitely be subjective at times according to each person’s view of it. It can be defined in very unique terms and the way each person lives their life can differ because of this. That’s not to say that one person’s take on wellness is better over another, it’s just different and relative to their own needs.

There are many components to the notion of wellness and that’s why its possibilities are abundant. Capturing not only the physical piece, but the emotional, spiritual, social, and intellectual factors too, also contribute to the vast definition of what wellness means for each person. It’s not measured by just one part but by many, and who’s to say that if a person focuses on one piece of it at a time that they’re not still living ‘well’ in their own understanding of it. That’s why it’s so hard to quantify exactly what the picture perfect frame of wellness is; everyone is different and lives by distinct belief systems and practices. Because the concept of wellness can change so subjectively, it’s challenging to try and identify an exact point of reference for it. So instead, ask yourself questions that gauge your own well-being and include things that are most important to you—health, spirit, relationships, values, beliefs, the list can go on…

 

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Social Benefits

Sometimes it’s really difficult to maintain relationships and stay social with others around you. This can be due to a number of reasons and factors. Life in general creates enough hurdles and curveballs that prevent us from staying engaged and interacting with others, at times it’s simply because things get in the way. Having a chronic illness like MS can certainly make staying connected even more challenging as the disease comes with its own agenda and unpredictability. But it’s important to try to stay socially linked to people and support networks around you, because it can be beneficial in more ways than one.

It’s understandable if there are times when you don’t want to reach out to others and engage in social interactions, it happens to everyone. There are moments where we just want to be alone and process things on our own. However, making ties and maintaining relationships can create added benefits to one’s life. Positive connections can help to boost your mood and attitude, especially when surrounding yourself with encouraging and optimistic people. Staying social can create a sense of cohesiveness and camaraderie with others. These bonds may form even stronger if the same types of values, goals and experiences are shared—or if they are not, there is infinite respect in the relationship to appreciate these differences.

Having a chronic illness can sometimes cause feelings of isolation and separation for those affected—a feeling of being alone in what’s happening because others do not know or understand the condition. That’s when connecting to others who have similar backgrounds or experiences can help. Sharing the same types of feelings, thoughts and hopes with others increases a sense of belonging and validation in knowing you’re not alone in your experiences. Social engagement can help decrease stress levels and keep your mind active which can also aid in improving your overall health. And it doesn’t matter what type of social activity you’re engaged in; whether it’s taking a walk or ride, going out to an event, talking on the phone or attending a group, what matters is the connections you’re making and the positive benefits they have on your well-being.

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Making Relationships a Priority When I’m Tired and Everything is Important

By Stacie Prada

I didn’t worry about needing to consider my social life as it related to my health before I was diagnosed with MS.  The downside was I also pushed myself beyond my limits and consequently averaged two exacerbations per year. Unknowingly I was adding stress to my body and accelerating my MS disease activity.

Spending time with friends and going on adventures were something I believed I should be able to do, and I didn’t see fatigue as a symptom of something larger and more serious. I still believe I should be able to spend time with friends and experience adventures, but I now weigh and budget the energy it takes with the joy I’ll experience.

The Harvard Study of Adult Development tracked men for 75 years (and counting) and showed that people with good quality relationships with family, friends and community are not just happier than people without good relationships, they are also physically healthier. They experience less memory loss, pain doesn’t affect their mood as much, and they’re generally more resilient.

As such, I see my relationships as imperative to my future health.  Investing time in my social relationships is not optional.  MS symptoms like fatigue can make it more difficult to build and maintain those social connections.  When work, bills, housekeeping and everyday tasks take more energy than a person has, it’s easy to turn down invitations to social gatherings and become isolated.

Rethinking beliefs:

I grew up believing that school came first and only after you get all your work done can you get the reward of playing with friends. As an adult with a chronic condition that affects my energy level, I’ve learned that this approach feels like constant punishment. It also neglects the human need to have more in life than work. I’ll never have enough energy to do enough of the good stuff I want to do after all the work is done.  To compensate, I pace myself on things I need to do, reduce the effort it takes to do them, and save enough energy for the good stuff in life. Among the good things are spending time connecting with other people.

I’ve heard the saying that to be rich, a person can make more or want less. I translate that as to be more energetic, I can make more energy or use less energy. I can do things that recharge my energy level, and I can conserve my energy by reducing the effort it takes to do things.

I boost my energy by exercising, eating nutritious food, being organized, pacing myself and resting. I’ll conserve my energy by streamlining, prioritizing, and delaying or delegating tasks. Doing these things allows me to feel confident that I’m doing the best I can, and it allows me to feel justified in placing a high priority on fun and relationships.

Prioritize Joy and Relationships:

A terrific method to maximize joy with limited energy is to double up on the benefits by combining things that need to be done with social interaction. I’ll go for a walk with a friend to combine exercise, social engagement, time outside getting fresh air, and time not eating or doing other things I should limit.

If I need to do some shopping, I might go with a friend who can drive and help me find what I need. I make sure to allow time to rest before, during, and after the excursion. It often changes the experience from one that can be draining to one that is invigorating and recharging.

I’ll reduce the effort it takes to participate in social events.  I’ll shorten the length of time I’ll stay, but I’ll still show up. Sometimes I choose events that are easier to do and less physically taxing.  Other times I’ll choose events that may require a lot of energy but are rewarding and worth the effort.  If I love it, I make sure I streamline and reduce other activities so that I can have enough energy to do the one that’s a big deal.

The level of effort it takes to engage socially vastly ranges. I can choose how I want to connect at any time based on my level of energy and the relationship I want to maintain:

  • Text
  • Write an email
  • Write a letter or send a card
  • Call them on the phone
  • Skype
  • Meet for coffee, lunch or dinner
  • Go to a movie together
  • Exercise with a buddy: Go for a walk, hike, bike ride, swim, etc.
  • Go to an event: Attend a concert, museum, or dance
  • Plan an adventure
  • Take a trip, visit family, explore new places with someone

It also helps to explain to the people in your life how MS might limit your activities and that you’ll do your best to stay connected. While talking on the phone with my sister one night, we were having a very engaging and fun conversation when I hit the metaphorical wall.  I interrupted her, “I’m sorry, but I need to go now so I can go do nothing.”  We laughed at the time, and I still crack up that I could say that to her without being rude and without her feelings getting hurt.  It’s important and empowering to recognize when to push myself to be socially engaged and when to quit while I’m ahead.

biking break cropped

*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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Relationships and MS – check out the new issue of The Motivator

Motivator_WS16_emailheaderThe latest issue of The Motivator is now available to order, download, or read the DIGITAL EDITION right on your desktop, tablet, or phone!

Included in this issue of The Motivator:

Cover Story:Motivator_WS16_digital_spread

Making the Most of Our Relationships: Helping ourselves and those around us to cope with MS

… From family and friends to employers and coworkers, the diagnosis of MS can impact how we interact and care for one another.
Read the full story

Research News:
… Information is provided on three investigational medications as they make their way toward FDA approval, two of which are being studied for progressive MS.
Read the full story

Up Front:
… MSAA’s new President and CEO Gina Ross Murdoch talks about her exciting role as well as important events at MSAA.
Read the full story

Program Notes:
… The launch of MSAA’s redesigned and responsive website, ways to stay informed, and MSAA’s new video on pseudobulbar affect (PBA), are featured.
Read the full story

Read the latest issue of The Motivator – and be sure to check out all of the interactive features in the NEW digital edition by clicking “View Digital Edition” on the page!

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Breaking the Chain of Toxic Relationships with MS

By: Matt Cavallo 

I come from a large, close-knit Italian family that lives in a small town about eighteen miles south of Boston. When I was first being diagnosed with MS, my little brother was on a downward spiral into the world of drug addiction. He is only eighteen months younger than me and as a result we have a lot of common friends. During this time, my friends were telling me about his erratic behavior that was putting himself and others in danger. I decided, as the big brother, that I needed to talk to my parents about his condition and as a family we needed to intervene.

The reaction I got from my family was unpredictable. My entire family turned on me. My mom and dad told family, friends, as well as, people at church and at the country club what a horrible person I was. They were spreading lies about me which was turning people in the community against me. My mother eventually wrote a letter to me disowning me from the family.

My family’s public smear campaign deeply impacted me. The stress of being disowned was exacerbating my MS symptoms. In a small town, gossip travels fast. I was uncomfortable going to public places in my hometown because of the stares and judgment that I felt when I ran into former family friends. The problem still remained that my brother’s addiction was progressing and no one was doing anything to stop it. Rather, they were doing everything to enable it.

As my family relationships deteriorated, the tolls on my health were evident. Even though I loved my family enough to tell the truth about my brother, it was apparent that my decision to do so cost me most of my life-long relationships that I had in my hometown. The only way I was going to be able to stop the stress that was killing me was to eliminate these toxic relationships. I had to come to terms with the fact that I had done all that I could do and that their reaction wasn’t about me, rather it was their denial about my brother.

With my family bonds destroyed, so were my ties to my hometown. Jocelyn and I decided to move back to Arizona, where we met during our college years. About that time, my brother’s drug problem had boiled to the surface. He was now an intravenous drug user entering rehab. It was at this time that my mother realized what she had done.

Right before we left for Arizona, she came and apologized. After that, my dad came and apologized, as well. They both claimed that they didn’t know how bad it had gotten with my brother and that they were in denial. They said that they didn’t mean to destroy their relationship with me and pleaded for me to let them back into their lives. I forgave them and let them back into my life and let them establish a relationship with our children.

The broken chains of our family would not be fixed overnight. My brother’s heroin addiction has now taken an emotional and financial toll on my parents. My brother also contracted Hepatitis from sharing dirty needles. During one of his rehab stints in Arizona, he apologized to me for everything that the family did to me in order to protect him. He was broken hearted that I had been cast aside for trying to stop him from destroying his life. He said that I was the only one who ever tried to help him before it was too late.

Working on these toxic relationships has reduced my overall stress level and has been beneficial to my health. While it was hard to cut the ties, the decision to do so has put me in a better place overall. In my case the old adage was true. I loved them so I let them go and the ones who truly loved me returned. The ones who didn’t are no longer a part of my life. As a result, my life is happier, healthier with a greater sense of self-worth than when I was fostering those toxic relationships.

This was adapted from a passage in my second book, 7 Steps to Living Well with a Chronic Illness. It is accompanied by a Toxic Relationship Exercise and strategies for how to reevaluate toxic relationships in your life. If you are interested in my brother’s story you can learn more on my blog.

*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/

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Taking a Break

Sometimes we all just need a break from things. No matter what’s going on around you—whether it be in your relationships, work, family roles, etc. there are times when we need to take a step back and reflect on ourselves and our needs. Everyday challenges and obstacles can be difficult enough, but throw something like MS into the mix and the stressors can sometimes multiply. MS demands much from everyone it touches; unfortunately it makes no exceptions or allowances if there are other things already going on—it’s selfish that way. So there are times when those caring for individuals whom MS affects need some respite care-time to themselves.

The term respite means taking a break or relief period from something that may be somewhat stressful, difficult, or challenging. Those who provide caregiving to others may need periods of respite, even if it’s just for a brief time where they can step outside of their environment and do something else. This can be very important in relationships where a loved one provides care for another family member. Relationships themselves require a lot of maintenance most of the time and for them to continue working there are moments where those involved need space and time to themselves.

It’s an innate, human characteristic to feel the need to distance yourself from others sometimes. There are times when we all need to pause and catch our breath and examine our own needs, especially if we’re providing care to others around us. We need to be able to self-care in order to be depended on. There are different types of respite services and resources available, especially to care partners so that they can take time for themselves or other things and know that their loved ones are being cared for.

The following resources can help when searching for respite service information:

Family Caregiver Alliance
Phone (800) 445-8106 www.caregiver.org

Caregiver Action Network
Phone (202) 772-5050 www.caregiveraction.org

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