Gratitude and Thankfulness

By Susan Russo

The holiday season is once again fast approaching. I honestly feel like I just finished boxing up all my decorations from last year. This is a time when everyone tells us to be thankful and to be grateful. But why are these sentiments so pressured into us at this time of year? Why not all year around? I don’t actually have an answer for you except for what these graces mean to me in my own life and why I choose to celebrate all year long.

I remember when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Was I grateful and thankful for this disease at the onset? Absolutely not! I was angry and frustrated and in a serious “why me” phase. But, as time seems to heal all wounds, over the following months, my heart softened and I started appreciating MS for what it is; a disease that can crush you or build you up. I chose the latter.  MS taught me a strong lesson about gratitude and being thankful, I promise you.

I am a single lady with no man to date as far as the eyes can see. My son is grown and my family lives out of state. So when Thanksgiving arrives, I tend to feel really sad and lonely. It’s a time for families to celebrate. And I’m reminded it’s just me.

I try to chalk it up as just another Thursday in a world of Thursday’s. But the season itself reminds me I am alone. Many people are alone. I get that. I can choose to wallow in self pity or I can choose to see what is all around me.

I have a home which did not flood during Hurricane Harvey. I have people who love me. I have a strong faith in Jesus. My son has grown up into an amazing man. (I raised him by myself; jus’ sayin’). I can still walk and when I can’t, I’ll buy myself a purple scooter. I’ve always wanted one anyway. And purple is my favorite color.

My point is this: being thankful and grateful are a choice. It’s not easy to be appreciative of life when all around us, our world is falling into pieces. But here’s the thing: choose to take a long hard look at all you have in your life. I am certain there is always something to be grateful for. If you feel stuck, begin a life of service to others. I did, and this one choice completely changed me for the better.

About a year ago, I became a member of the Pearland Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association. I volunteer to serve our officers and believe me, if anything will teach you to be thankful, it will be the police officers and their stories of courage and strength against all odds. These men and women leave their homes every day to keep us safe, not ever knowing if they will come home. But they do it anyway. This choice alone has made me eternally grateful for our men and women in blue.

Here’s the thing: becoming a police officer was never a choice for me, but serving them and my community are; MS was not a choice. But becoming healthier in mind and spirit was a decision I happily made. Being alone at the holidays is not my choice. But giving back to others is something I have grown to love. Not having a decent, God-fearing man to share my life with is not my choice. But believing God will one day answer my prayers, well, that truly is my choice.

And baking apple and pecan pie is not my choice either, but eating every single one in sight until I disappear into a sugar coma, well, now that’s a decision I never regret.

Until I stand on the scale…

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Hidden Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis We Just Don’t Talk About – (which happens to be all of them)

By Susan Russo

I recently visited my local CVS store. As I was in the checkout line, a gentleman and I struck up a conversation. Our discussion eventually led us to the topic of multiple sclerosis. I mentioned to him that I have MS. With a startled and unbelieving expression on his face, he said, “You have MS? No way, you have MS! You aren’t walking around like a drunk person!”

I just stood there with my mouth agape and proceeded to give him my best eye roll possible. (Eye rolls usually prompt a vertigo attack from me, but it was worth the risk). Then he asks me, “Are you sure you have MS?” I was so stunned by this ridiculous comment that I wanted to throw myself onto the floor or slam into a wall, but I politely refrained.

As I finished paying for my items and stepped away from the line, I noticed a woman giving me the, “girlllll….go-get-em-kick-his-butt look” for asking me such a stupid question. Finally, I said, with the utmost respect for his ignorance, “Yes, in fact, I do have MS.”

Believing our conversation had ended, I headed for the store exit. But this guy apparently decided to push the issue and said, “What are some of your symptoms, if you don’t mind me asking?”

Actually, I did mind, completely, but being the really nice person that I am, I said, in the longest run-on sentence I could muster, “I have burning and electric shock sensations, severe dizziness, vertigo, trouble putting my words together, fatigue so bad, I call it my “wet noodle” phase, extreme mood swings including periods of outrageous, uncontrollable laughter and moments of such despair, I think I’m in hell itself. I also have constant ringing in my ears and oh, yeah, I almost forgot, a really strange sensation of hot water being poured inside me, if you can believe it, and don’t even get me started on the incessant itching in my feet!” But hey, at least I’m not stumbling around like a drunk person!

He looked at me like I was absolutely insane, and said “Wow. That’s a lot of weird stuff. I don’t think you should talk about it because people probably won’t believe you.”

Exactly!

At this point, I wanted to smack this guy all the way to China, but, instead, I said, “God Bless you sir and have a nice day”, then, I said, “I will pray for you. You’re gonna need it.”

Here’s the thing. So many of us with MS don’t want to talk about it. Especially those really weird, unexplained sensations. Because, like the gentleman in the CVS store, people simply do not believe you. And sometimes, that even includes our own medical professionals.

I once told my doctor I could feel electric shocks in my legs along with a “biting foil” sensation. He said, “Well, I don’t know what that is, but I don’t think it’s a symptom of MS.”

Here’s the deal. Some of the most not-talked-about effects of MS are the worst and most difficult to handle, especially if our “truth” is not validated.

We want someone to just listen; to really hear what we are experiencing and acknowledge it’s existence.

When we are denied our “truth”, this says to me that my disease is not real. Well, I’m here to tell you, my MS and it’s plethora of ongoing reality is real. Period. End of story.

So, to that I say, talk about your unseen silent symptoms of MS. Share them with those who love and care about you. They will listen. They will believe.

And if they don’t, just do what I do. Roll your eyes in the back of your head, wave your hand, put a little “sass” in your step and say, “WHaaaatttt-Evvvvvr!”

Then, quietly walk away and pray you didn’t just set off a major episode of vertigo.

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June 2017 Artist of the Month: Celebrating the Work of Artists Affected by Multiple Sclerosis

MSAA is very proud to present our 2017-18 Art Showcase – celebrating the work of artists affected by multiple sclerosis (MS).

We have received many wonderful submissions from across the country and are delighted to share their work and their stories with you. Please visit our online gallery to view all of the new submissions.

Susan Russo – Pearland, TX
Love Unconditional
Susan Russo - Love Unconditional

About the Artist:
“I was diagnosed with RRMS in 2001. This disease has changed my life in an amazing way. Funny how diseases tend to do just that. You either give up or battle on. I choose to battle on.

I’m not perfect. I have rough days. I cry. I get angry. But then, I pick up a paint brush and I start to create whatever I am feeling. I get lost in a beautiful world of lines and shades and colors. The creation of something visually beautiful helps me to refocus on the fact that I am so much more than my MS.”
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Resolutions, Goal Setting and Multiple Sclerosis

By Susan Russo

Every year on January 1st, the first thought to pop into my head is “OK, it’s a new beginning, what do I want to do going forward?”

And every January 1st, I say “Well, absolutely nothing comes to mind.” Except coffee. I need coffee. And eggs and some bacon. So I climb out of bed and meander my way into the kitchen, all the while telling my son “Happy New Year Chris! We made it through another Holiday Season, still intact and none worse for wear.” Still not married, still alone, and still no grand babies for me to raise. Chris just grunts in unison, rolls back over in his bed and drifts back into his safe place. What that is, I don’t dare ask. All I hear is a muffled, low grade growl of “just stop it mom, pleeeeeeaaase!”

As I take my cozy seat at the breakfast table with my favorite blanket, (and, yes, it does get cold enough in winter to use a blanket in Houston) I begin to reminisce on the past few years. “How is my MS doing?” I ask. It answers back with a flush of burning, tingling, a bit of numbness, and a side order of vertigo, reminding me, “Hey girl, I’m still here. Did you forget about me?” And I’m like, “geez, sorry I asked.”

No. I have not forgotten. It’s just in the midst of all my goal setting, you simply slipped my mind.

And that’s just it. The thing about setting goals for the new year…it really is so important. Resolutions allow me to forget about multiple sclerosis, even for just a moment. Thinking of my dreams and aspirations brings me to a happy place. And by the time I finished my toast with jelly, I have a list of a thousand things I want to accomplish. We all know that feeling of elation. Yes, I can learn to swim so my MS will stop burning me, as I splash around in the pool like a halibut. Yes, I will become a world famous artist, move to the Fiji Islands, employ a cabana boy, drink ice tea, and paint until my heart’s content. And eat tons of potato chips. I love potato chips. And maybe have a glass of champagne. Just because I can.

Then, Boom! Reality comes knocking on the door. “You can’t ignore me forever! Let me in or else!” I sigh and take a gulp of my coffee, politely expressing to my reality to “go away, I still have bacon to eat.”

The thing about reality…it’s real and it’s relentless, and it never goes away. So, begrudgingly, I focus. One step at a time. One day at a time. One goal at a time.

  • I will take my Avonex on time each week. (I was tired of my MS injections, so I skipped a few. Don’t tell my doctor.)
  • I will swim 2 to 3 times a week.
  • I will eat healthy foods. (Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.)
  • I won’t pester my son about marriage and babies and wanting a corgi puppy.
  • I will create more art because I am totally talented and people like my work.
  • I will volunteer at the local police department because I have respect for officers of the law. (Actually, I adore a man in uniform, just sayin…)
  • And, I will find a cure for MS! It’s gonna happen people!

My point is this. It’s imperative to set goals, especially when we are in a battle with MS or other dreadful diseases. Unfortunately, they are a part of our lives. We cannot ignore them. So, include them in your dreams and aspirations. Keep it simple. Don’t set goals you know in your heart you won’t keep. Be kind to yourself. Reward yourself. Go see that movie that you’ve been wanting to see.

Remember this. No matter how crazy the world gets, if you have just one goal that gives you a sense of accomplishment, set it and follow through. When you succeed, pat yourself on the back. Smile. You did it. Then set another. And another. Pretty soon, you will find that resolutions can be made and effortlessly (well, you may have to exert some effort) accomplished, not just on the very first day of a new year, but anytime you wish.

The choice is yours. And know this, if you falter with your attempts to better yourself and the world around you, do not dismay. Time keeps coming. Days keep flying by. And January 1st will still be the 1st day of the new year. Always.

Time for resolutions and dreams, with an entree of bacon, eggs, coffee, and more bacon. And perhaps a little grand baby to cuddle.

Heck, I’d settle for the corgi puppy! I’ll name her Isabella.

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Introducing Susan Russo – Artist & MS Conversations Newest Guest Blogger

By Susan Russo

My name is Susan Russo and I was diagnosed with Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis back in 2001. I live just outside of Houston, Texas in the town of Pearland. I recall when I first moved here, the local folks said there are three seasons in Texas – Summer, July, and August! And there’s never been a truer statement made. Living in the Texas heat is a challenge for anyone, but when you have multiple sclerosis, a “typical, fun in the sun summer” simply does not exist, as least in my world.

Growing up in Northeast Ohio, my summers consisted of camping in the backyard, catching fireflies, and playing blind-man’s-bluff until midnight. How I remember, the endless days spent swimming in the local pool while munching on frozen Zero candy bars and chasing all the cute boys.

In Texas, my summers are spent primarily indoors, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.

I love my solitude. But I also appreciate being around people and staying active. I schedule my grocery shopping for later in the day, towards dusk, because carrying a few bags from my car to my front door in 100 degree heat can make me feel like I’m going home to Jesus at any moment! Thank you Lord for air conditioning.

I also love to swim. The Pearland Natatorium has an incredible indoor lap pool. My favorite days are when the Houston Texans football team show up for their Spring Training workout schedule. Best day ever! Nothing like beautiful eye candy to keep you motivated! Yup, I still chase cute guys.

Here’s the thing about multiple sclerosis. Just because it’s summer, doesn’t mean you cannot have fun, indoors or out. It took me a long time to understand this simple concept. You just have to choose what is right and most comfortable for you. Work “with” your disease. Not “against” it. Make sense?

Here is what I finally realized:

  • My favorite, year-round footwear are flip flops with glitter
  • I am addicted to binge watching on Netflix, for real, people. ( I think I may need therapy)
  • My Thursdays are spent watching the Blue Bloods marathon
  • I can have all the popsicles and vanilla ice cream cones I want (with sprinkles on top), without it dripping down my shirt and pooling into a huge glob of melted goop, before I even take my first bite
  • I can volunteer for my local community or sign up for interesting summer courses
  • I can see a movie at the local theater with absolutely no crowds, long lines, or someone’s big hair style up-do blocking my view.
  • Did I mention, I can eat all the popsicles I want?

And of course, there is always my precious art. For those who know me, and for those who do not, I am an artist. My creativity is my saving grace, especially during the mundane summer months along the Texas Gulf Coast.

Summer is going to arrive, every year; hot, super hot, or indifferent. That’s a given. But do not despair my fellow MS warriors. The days sprawled outside in my lawn chair, sipping iced tea with lime, under the glorious blue skies and feeling the semi-brown prickly grass under my feet, (along with the mounds of fire ants) are not gone forever.

When autumn and winter arrive in Houston, that is when my true “All Things Summer Event” begins. Just imagine 70 degree days, bright amazing sunshine and no humidity along with crisp, cool breezes that lasts for days and sometimes even weeks. Yes, even weeks.

Oh…and sometimes it even snows. Yup, it snows. My “favorite” time of year, besides summer, of course.

"Seasons of Summer" by Susan Russo

“Seasons of Summer” by Susan Russo

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 2016 Improving Lives Benefit

AOM

Wednesday March 30, 2016
The Downtown Club
Philadelphia, PA

MSAA supporters from across the country will be joining us to honor the accomplishments of MSAA champions in the MS community.

Our Honorees:

Susan Russo, MSAA Art Showcase Artist

Douglas G. Franklin, MSAA President & CEO from 1999-2015

For more information about MSAA’s Improving Lives Benefit,
please visit: support.mymsaa.org/benefit


Our Online Auction is Now Open! Register today for pre-bidding.

 Event attendance is not required for this special opportunity.

Click the Online Auction link below to view the packages and register for bidding.

More packages available soon.

live auction

 Auction will close on Wednesday March 30, 2016 at 9:00 PM EST

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