2016 – A Work-in-Progress

By: Matt Cavallo

Last year at this time I wrote about how small changes can make a big difference in the New Year. Some of the advice from that post included: developing a financial plan, changing eating habits, exercising, getting back on your schedule and setting attainable goals. I used this advice to make major changes in my life which led to a year of self-renewal. This doesn’t mean that I achieved all of my goals. Rather, I found that at the start of 2016, I am still a work in progress. Let me explain.

Exercising was one small change in 2015 that led to a big difference in how I felt. Let me first state that I am no workout warrior and have spent a lifetime of avoiding working out, but I knew that it would make me feel better so I took the leap. I started going to the gym three days a week. Not only that, but I was riding my bike back in forth to the gym to get in 10 miles of cardio each day. I started to see real results in about three months. Then, during a routine work out I felt that I tweaked my neck a little bit. Because of my past multiple sclerosis episodes and ensuing cervical fusion, I wasn’t about to risk further injury. So, I called my neurologist who scheduled an MRI and referred me to physical therapy. My goal for 2016 now include starting physical therapy to strengthen my neck so I can return to the gym and resume my previous work out plan.

Developing a financial plan, setting attainable goals and sticking to a schedule were also critical to my 2015 success. My wife and I set a goal of being able to quit my day job and pursue my writing, speaking and clinical education full time by 2016. In order to do this we needed to get our finances in order and create a schedule that allowed me to build my business while still completing my full-time commitments. This required a lot of work and sacrifices. However, careful planning allowed me to make sure that I fulfilled all my commitments while remaining balanced with family life. In December of 2015, I was able to leave my full-time job and pursue to my business full time. We knew that starting a business while having multiple sclerosis and a family is a big risk but now I am living the life that I always wanted to and my multiple sclerosis is not getting in my way.

The one resolution for 2015 that I failed was controlling my eating habits. It is hard to eat right, especially with traveling for work and raising young boys. As I celebrated my last birthday this past summer, I realized that the pounds were not melting off the way that they had in the past. The holidays added some extra weight and as I am writing this I am ten pounds heavier than I was last year. Those extra ten pounds create fatigue and numbness for me and my multiple sclerosis. Now in the New Year, I have started eating salads for lunch each day and cutting back on refined carbohydrates. I am also riding my bike again. I realize now that the metabolism of my youth is not coming back and that my eating decision can affect my MS symptoms. In 2016, I am making a commitment to make change in my diet for my health and well being.

The thing about it is I have realized that I am in charge of all decisions I make in life. Some of the risks I have taken or the changes that I have made have been tough. The easy thing would have been to do nothing. With hard work and determination I took control of my life and you can do the same with yours. If you are reading this post maybe you want to make changes but don’t know how. The MSAA has great resources in all of these areas from financial planning and fitness to goal-setting and diet.

To start 2016, I am still a work in progress and that is OK. The first step in change is making the decision to do so. Once you have, you’ll be glad you did. From my family to yours, Happy New Year’s. Believe that you can be the change you want in 2016!

*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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Wellness: The Importance of the Mind

By: Meagan Freeman

When I was diagnosed with MS in 2009, I never would have imagined that my greatest challenge would be overcoming my own demotivation and fatigue. My struggle over the past six years has involved many physical challenges, but I have found that my mind can truly pose the greatest threat to my own wellness.

I have never been diagnosed with depression, but I do cope with extreme fatigue, and the symptoms can be very similar. It is often confusing for patients to determine whether they suffer from a psychological, MS related depression, or rather the well-known phenomenon of MS fatigue, known as lassitude.

I have made many lifestyle changes since my diagnosis, including adopting a plant-based diet rich in fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly, and challenging my cognitive skills with writing and academics. According to my most recent blood pressure readings (I also have hypertension,) and my cholesterol panel, I am incredibly healthy from a cardiovascular standpoint. However, the one issue that remains my greatest obstacle is fatigue. As I sit on the couch, my life often swirls around me at the speed of light.

I sit, and my family moves around the house, carrying on with a normal day. Children play, my husband bustles around cleaning, picking up toys. Friends come and go, family members chatter on the phone. Children are getting ready for school, a trip to the park, or horseback riding lessons. All the while, I sit.

It is a feeling like no other, this inability to get up and take part in my life. This experience of being an observer, rather than an active participant. My mind wants desperately to get up, to join in and be there instead of here. My mind urges me, “Get up! You can do it! Let’s go! Don’t miss out!” But my body doesn’t listen. My life feels like a movie at certain moments. It is as if I am sitting in a theater seat, watching images on a screen. The only difference is, the scenes passing by in front of me are my life. Laughing, running, spinning, jumping children fly past me, friends call, invitations are declined. And my internal voices do battle. The mind vs. the body: The epic saga continues.

How do we cope with MS fatigue? Are there any good answers? Often, we ask ourselves whether we are just being lazy, or could we be clinically depressed? The answer is typically, neither! 80% of MS patients suffer from fatigue, and it isn’t your average, everyday exhaustion. It is specific to MS, and incredibly debilitating.

What can we do to manage this fatigue? First and foremost, see your provider. Make sure you aren’t missing a treatable reason for your fatigue, such as a thyroid disorder, sleep apnea, or anemia. Once those causes are ruled out, our options (as always) are quite limited. Physical therapy might be helpful. Sleep regulation is incredibly important, and should be addressed first. Stress reduction and relaxation techniques may be helpful. Avoiding extreme heat is a must, as heat may dramatically worsen fatigue. In addition, several medications are approved for fatigue management with MS.

Most importantly, make sure you are taking care of yourself in all the classic ways. Adequate hydration, nutrition, and rest are essential parts of your daily routine as an MS patient. Avoiding excessive caffeine and alcohol, avoiding smoking, and getting as much activity as possible are all effective ways to manage MS fatigue. Though it may seem counter-intuitive, getting some degree of physical activity can actually increase your energy, even if it is the last thing on Earth you feel like doing. Getting up and off that couch and taking in some sunlight can elevate your mood.

Consider inviting friends to visit you at your home, if you don’t have the strength to go visit them. Being completely honest is essential. Let your friends and family know the degree of your struggle with fatigue, and give them the opportunity to understand. It is important not to isolate and withdraw from friends and family due to fatigue. We often jump to the conclusion that “no one gets it. No one will ever understand.” Maybe they will if you give them a chance. Educating our family and friends about our illness is our responsibility, as patients. We should offer as much advice and information as possible to those in our circle. They will likely be happy to help if they can!

My own fatigue continues to be an ongoing battle, but with my Neurologist’s help, I am learning to manage my symptoms more effectively. I believe the most important thing to remember is that we are not alone. Many of our symptoms are entirely treatable, but we can never hope to see improvement until we reach out and ask for help.

*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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Wellness is More Than Just What Goes in the Body

It may just be me but when someone says the word ‘wellness’ my immediate thought is “what physical activity do you have in mind now?” While physical health is very important there are other aspects to consider when you think about your overall wellness. Intellectual wellness is a sometimes over looked car on the wellness train but taking the time to find ways to stretch and build on your own intellectual wellness will do you a world of good.

While in school we are continually challenged to stretch our minds, think outside the box, be open to new ideas and continue to grow our set of learning skills. Then we become adults and too often we stop challenging ourselves to think creatively and others cease pushing us to grow in that way. When we talk about our total wellness we have to include our intellectual measures. Which can cover a wide variety of topics and areas but they all relate back to us valuing the mentally stimulating activities that can help us to rediscover long put away interests or come across new avenues of expression.

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Taking care of your intellectual wellness can be in the form of a number of things. Try your hand at picking up a new hobby such as painting or crafting. You can join a book discussion in a book club or online forum. Spend some time learning about local politics. Stretch your horizons by challenging yourself to learn a new language or take up blogging, which I hear can be very rewarding. How about strengthening your funny bone by writing some jokes to share with friends and family or hone your artists’ eye by capturing your world photography. You could also add to your circle of interest by trying out a Broadway show, music festival, museum or gallery. Growing intellectually doesn’t have to be overthought or something we do only while being challenged in grade school. I’m sure there are plenty of activities you’ve always wanted to try or once loved and haven’t picked back up in a while. The next time someone mentions to you what you’re doing for your wellness you could reply back with ‘Working on a few new words in Italian’.

Arrivederci Amici 🙂

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