Wednesday, December 31, 2008

This Year I Resolve To...

My horoscope for today talked about focusing on the future and new opportunities over the next twelve months. It suggested writing a letter to myself to be read a year from now about what I'd like the new year to bring.

So here goes.

Dear Lenore,

I hope this past year has brought you better things than the previous year. I hope you've been able to get back into the working world in a way that allows you to work around your fatigue and not have to give up the comforts that come with having a regular paycheck.

I hope you've cut out the bad feelings or anything that was making you feel bad is no longer doing so. I hope you've been able to move on with your life and let others you've been disappointed by go on with theirs and wished them luck. Maybe someday they will come back to you and want to be the kind of people you need in your life. In the meantime, you know you've always had one person in your life who never lets you down - you.

I hope you are happier now and have achieved everything you wanted to achieve this past year. Hopefully you're feeling good physically and have dropped some of the weight you wanted to lose:) I hope you've made some new friends or maybe reconnected with some old friends, and more importantly, family you had lost touch with. Hopefully everything is going well with all of them, and your relationships with them are good and strong.

I hope you got everything you needed this past year, and that your money troubles were eased.

I hope you are on track to becoming the person you want to be and living the life you want to live.

I know you wish the same things for everyone that you wish for yourself.

Happy New Year.

I think writing this letter has helped me sort out what needs changing in my life and it will help me to keep my resolutions this year. This was a good idea. I think everyone should do this New Year's letter.

My New Year's resolutions:

  • Return to work in some capacity.

  • Eat healthier.

  • Continue working on my blog and finish my other projects.

  • Be happier.

  • Stick to my resolutions.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Finding Inner Peace

We talk a lot about peace. We all want to see world peace. During the holiday season, we often hear it said - "peace on earth and good will toward men".

But as mankind struggles to get along, it seems peace is nowhere to be found.

In general, we'd all like to live quiet, peaceful lives, but all the hustle and bustle of everyday life makes it difficult. We're always running around between home, school, work and errands and coping with work overload and stress.

Where can we find peace?

Peace begins within ourselves. Even though the world around us may not always be a peaceful place, we can achieve inner peace.

We can find inner peace by:

Getting rid of the turmoil in our minds. Throw away all that "mental garbage" you're lugging around - all the thoughts of things that didn't happen for you, all the worries over things you can't control, all the negative thoughts - just pitch it all.

Focus on the things you can control, the realities that you can make happen and the positive, self-affirming thoughts and beliefs you need to get there.

Wiping away anger and bitterness. We've all heard the expression, "I've made my peace with it." If there are people in your life that have angered you, try to reconcile with them. Sometimes you can't reconcile because the person who angered you has passed on. In that case, make your own peace with what happened by releasing yourself from the burden of carrying around that anger.

Don't be bitter over things that didn't go your way or if you didn't get something you wanted. Life doesn't always go the way we want. Focus on being positive and trust that at some point you'll find something else that will make you happy and things will go your way.

Seeking out calm. Stress rattles us and robs us of energy. It may not always be avoidable, but we can control our responses to stressful situations. Take a moment and stay calm. Don't give in to the urge to get worked up.

Slow down the pace and don't make life more hectic than it needs to be. Don't be a slave to your email and cell phone. Set them aside when you're off the clock and go for a quiet walk in the park or on the beach. Spend time taking it all in. Let the sound of the birds singing or the waves meeting the shore replace the cell phone ringing. Breathe deeply. Meditate.

Being happy with who we are. Sometimes we wish things were different. I wish I didn't have MS. I have made my peace with it though, by accepting that it is something about myself that I can't change. It doesn't take away from who I am as a person. It doesn't define me.

Being comfortable with ourselves gives us peace of mind and happiness in life. Accept what you can't change; change the things you can if you need to in order to be happier.

Treating ourselves and others well. Take care of yourself. Develop healthy habits and live well. Show kindness toward others. Give yourself credit for all the good things you do. Knowing that you are a good person and being good to others will help give you inner peace.

If you have peace within yourself, you can be a much happier person and get along better with the people around you. If everyone in the world could find inner peace, the world could be a much better place.

"Nothing can bring you peace but yourself." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Remembering My Grandma

Tomorrow is the twenty-sixth anniversary of my Grandma's passing. I have been thinking of her a lot lately, as I have been struggling with so many things in my life. I know if she were here she would help me, and I would feel so much better.

My Grandma was a very special person in my life.
She was, to me, the very essence of family. As devoted to her family as the day is long, Grandma always seemed to put all of us ahead of herself.

Grandma had a hard life in a lot of ways. She grew up in the Great Depression and later lost two of her children. But I remember she always had a positive attitude, and she was the most giving person I have ever known. She always helped my mother and I whenever we needed anything. I remember she used to babysit me when I was little. She'd carry me around over her shoulder singing "Sack of potatoes". I remember she always used to sing funny old songs.

As a child I liked to play with paper dolls, make up stories and draw pictures. Grandma always encouraged my imagination and creativity and said she liked my pictures (even though they were probably awful.) I used to love spending the night at Grandma's house. We'd watch TV, and I'd fall asleep on the couch. Then in the morning she'd make me Cream of Wheat. Later we'd laugh at my grandfather as he danced the polka around the living room.

My Grandma and I were very close. I felt like I could talk to her about anything. I remember when I got into that awkward puberty stage where you start to like boys and you want them to like you, and you start to worry about your looks. I remember Grandma told me to always keep a little smile on my face. I've had people comment about my smile and say they wonder what's behind it. It's more like who - Grandma.

I learned from my Grandma that family is the most important thing. I was a teenager when she died, and I remember the last time I saw her she was in the hospital, and I remember I just started crying, and I hugged her and said, "I love you so much." She said, "I know." I am so glad we had that special last moment together.

When we are children we have no concept of time moving forward. We are blissfully ignorant of the future and the inevitable adulthood that brings with it greater responsibilities and challenges that we have to deal with on our own.

Sometimes I wish I could go back and be in that time once again when I was just enjoying my childhood. When things were simpler and worries were few. When I had all of my family there for me and could not even imagine them not being there.

I'll always treasure my memories of my Grandma.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Having a Bad Day - Dealing with Negative Emotions

Our emotions can get the best of us sometimes. This time of year we can become emotionally overwhelmed by the stressful holidays or the seasonal depression that often comes around during winter. The current economy has left many of us downhearted and probably even angry that things have gotten this bad. Or maybe we just feel sad, and we can't narrow it down to just one reason.

Having MS can be emotionally challenging as well. The stress and frustration of putting up with all the crazy symptoms can make you just want to scream. Sometimes you can feel very alone in your illness, like no one could possibly understand what you're going through.

Unfortunately, we can't be happy all the time, though we'd probably like to be. For times when your mood is bad or sad, I can offer the following suggestions:

De-stress. Sometimes we just need to step back from whatever is stressing us and take time out for ourselves. I find just putting on my favorite music and relaxing for a while helps me to calm down and renew both my spirits and energy. I also like to go for a drive at a quiet time of day (not rush hour) and clear my head. I stick to the residential streets and let my thoughts meander.

Sometimes it helps to be by yourself for a while. If you're angry, sometimes you need to walk away and collect yourself before you deal with it to avoid possibly saying something you'll regret.
Don't push people away, but let them know you need time to yourself.

Let it out. If you feel like crying, cry. Want to scream? Have at it. As long as you're in a spot where you can let it out, of course. Releasing the pent up feelings allows you to move on and start to heal.

Pamper yourself. Negative feelings are draining. Get some rest, throw on makeup even when you don't feel like it, and get that new hairstyle you've been wanting. Remember, it's better to look good than to feel good. (just kidding) Seriously, though looking your best can help lift your spirits, and there's no sense letting those bad feelings show on your face.

Laugh out loud. Laughter is good for you physically and mentally. It gets your heart rate up, increases circulation and releases those feel good endorphins. It's great stress relief and helps encourage positive thinking. I find just watching my favorite sitcom or a comedy movie really helps take my mind off my troubles and feel refreshed.

Spend time with children and pets. No one can be sad for too long when they're around the natural positive energy of children, watching them play, hearing them laugh. Kids just have a natural ability to make you feel better with their silly little ways.

Pets can pick up on the fact that you're feeling down. They are truly our best friends, never judging us, loving us unconditionally. They are happy just to be around us. Spend some time playing with them and giving them lots of hugs!

Talk to someone. Call up a friend, or talk to an understanding family member or counselor. Get your feelings out in the open and talk about what's troubling you. Getting it off your chest helps immensely.

Above all, being able to think positively and focus on the good things in your life will help chase away those negative emotions.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Coping With The Winter Blahs

The holiday season hasn't even ended yet, and I can already feel the winter doldrums setting in. I usually get tired of winter after the first week. I don't dream of a white Christmas; I actually hope for the snow to stay away.

It happens every winter. At some point the snow and cold become tedious. After the joy and excitement of the holiday season have passed, there's not much else to do. Seasonal depression kicks in for lots of folks, except maybe skiers. Some of us just feel helpless against the weather and shut in with cabin fever.

Sometimes it seems like the only good thing about winter is the end of it.

I used to love the snow when I was a kid. I'd make snow angels and catch snowflakes on my tongue. Now when I see it snowing, I wonder how I'm going to navigate through the the white stuff, both on foot and driving.

It's no fun trudging through the snow when you have MS. I have enough trouble walking without the frozen obstacle. Shovelling snow, brushing off the car, driving along hoping the car doesn't skid - it all gets to be too much sometimes.

Still, in spite of my stiffness and fatigue, I'll plod through the snow every day to fill the birdfeeder hanging off the big tree in the center of my backyard. Then I'll scatter some walnuts for the squirrels. It's become a winter ritual for me, and I do enjoy seeing the birds flying around the feeder and the squirrels bounding through the snow and munching on the walnuts (or occasionally helping themselves to the birdseed).

Simple pleasures like this make winter more tolerable. And even I have to admit a quiet snowfall or the snow glistening in the moonlight can be beautiful.

I don't think I've ever really had what they call seasonal affective disorder, but I do feel more sadness and frustration in the winter, and there is no question the weather is to blame. As the weeks of winter drag on and turn into months, it's easy to get a bit depressed. The days are shorter, the weather is at times unbearable. It seems the only thing to do is look forward to spring.

It's easy to feel trapped in the winter, watching the snow pile up, then having to go out and fight your way through it just to get to work. Or not being able to go anywhere because of a blizzard.

I've noticed on the winter weekends, unless there is a blizzard, the roads are filled with cars. People are out and about, going shopping, doing things. That's the main thing that helps ease the winter doldrums - getting out of the house. Staying home in the winter just makes me more sad. I need to get out whenever possible and get some fresh air and sunlight.

Shaking my fist at the bitter cold wind, I'll go out, brush off the car and head out, hoping I don't get stuck in the driveway, or anywhere else for that matter. By the time I come home, getting back in the warm house and out of my snowy boots gives me such a sense of relief. I made it through the frozen tundra!

Like many other things in life, winter can sure test a positive attitude. It's not easy to fight off the winter blahs. For me, it's the little things that get me through it, like feeding the birds and squirrels, sipping hot cocoa or seeing the occasional snowman when I drive down the street. Sometimes I can't help but smile when I see kids outside riding on their sleds or having snowball fights. It takes me back.

Maybe I'll try to make a snow angel this winter. I'm going to have a heck of a time getting up afterward!

So if you find yourself feeling blue this winter, remember - Spring is coming back!

(And please remember to feed the birds.)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Life's Little Challenges

I remember how quickly and easily I used to go up and down stairs. I didn't even think about it at the time; it was like breathing - I just did it. Now, because I have MS, it takes me a little longer to climb up a staircase and going down stairs can be even more laborious. I definitely have to use handrails these days, too.

Taking the stairs is a challenge for me now. It's not a major obstacle; it's just not as easy as it used to be.

Sometimes when we get hit with a problem in life, a bunch of others come falling on top of it, like candy spilling out of a broken pinata. When we're faced with a big problem, it can also cause a lot of everyday things to become more challenging. These smaller challenges can be the most frustrating, as they are a constant reminder of the larger problem. Just going grocery shopping is complicated these days because of higher prices and tighter budgets in our struggling economy.

When things become challenging, whether it's because of health conditions, money woes, or some other negative circumstance, I've learned it helps to do the following:

Practice patience. I used to be kind of an impatient person, but being slowed down by MS has definitely changed that. Since I already have to have a lot more patience with my own body, it's gotten easier to have patience with others. Things that may have irritated me before, like waiting in line, don't bother me as much now.

Patience is said to be a virtue. It's also necessary when circumstances get tough. Things won't get better overnight. It takes time.

We may feel like we're burdened enough, and then something else goes wrong. Right now on top of the fact that I'm dealing with my MS symptoms, I have a sick cat, a car that needs new brakes, and oh yeah, it's the holidays! I could become impatient because the problems can't be taken care of quickly or easily enough, and I could take my frustration out on someone else, but what good would that do?

Getting impatient doesn't help. It doesn't make the situation go away; all it does is make us tense and irritable.

Relieve stress. Dealing with challenging circumstances is stressful, and that means getting some downtime is a must. Do what you can to relax as much as possible. Try to have some fun and take your mind off the things that are stressing you.

Taking care of ourselves is of the utmost importance. It's easy to skip out on doing things like getting enough rest and taking time for ourselves when we're stressed. I often find myself stressing over situations and then realize I've gotten myself to a point where I am either physically or mentally exhausted. So I take some time to just watch a little TV and relax, or I go for a quiet drive to clear my head.

Find ways to adapt. Being flexible and innovative helps when life throws a challenge our way. If it's going to be around for a while, we may just have to get used to it. We may have to make drastic changes or even call upon the people in our lives for help.

We can always find ways to change how we do things and still keep up with the demands of our daily lives. The current economic woes have brought about a lot of frugality. In dealing with MS of course, I've had to adjust daily activities because of having limited energy to work with. I've learned to prioritize and give myself extra time to do things.

In some cases we have to adapt emotionally. I find it easier now to keep my spirits up when I am hampered by MS. It wasn't always that way, but both time and the realization that there were other areas of my life where I could still find happiness helped me to better handle the situation and develop a more positive attitude.

Dealing with our challenges we may feel anger and frustration, and that's understandable. We just can't let those negative feelings overtake us or cloud our judgement.

Keep your chin up. Whether you're dealing with an ongoing situation like having MS or a temporary setback that makes day-to-day things tougher, it's important to maintain a positive outlook.

In a previous post, Pathway to a Positive Attitude, I wrote more about doing just that.

Life's journeys don't always take us over a smooth road. We do hit some bumps now and again. How we react and deal with them is our challenge. I still take the stairs from time to time because I like a challenge.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Importance (and Fun!) of Making Lists

I love to make lists. I write them all the time. Mostly it's the standard 'to-do' list of course (which never gets done, but that's okay), but I also make lists just for fun and sometimes to keep things in perspective.

Around this time of year we're usually making lots of lists (and maybe even checking them twice). We're listing what we need to do to get ready for the holidays, what presents we need to buy, maybe even our New Year's resolutions.

Lists are important because they serve as a guide, a plan or even a record. They are a necessary instrument in helping us get things done and helping us to remember things. From the simple grocery list to the list of names on the Veterans Memorial, lists are everywhere.

We need lists, but making them need not always be a serious chore. Here's how to have some fun with lists:

Make a list of your hopes and dreams. Write down all the things you'd like to do - travel, start a family, become a doctor, whatever it may be. Put together your wish list for life.

Start your own book of lists. Buy a blank journal style book and write down some lists. They could be anything from your favorite childhood memories to your favorite movie moments.

I have an old cloth covered blank book I bought at a bookstore that I've written lists in over the years. I have lists of things that make me happy, my favorite songs of all time, things I hope they never stop making (like Diet Dr. Pepper), memories, etc. It's a fun hobby, and it's something I can look at from time to time and enjoy.

Write down all the things you want to remember. They could be funny things that happened or what flowers you want to plant in the summer or plans for decorating the living room. Any ideas that come to you or little stories you want to be able to share with others later. This is especially important if you like to write. I have a list of things I want to write about on my blog, and I add the ideas as they come to me.

Some great things about lists:

  • They help you stay motivated.

  • They help you stay on task.

  • They give you a sense of accomplishment when you finish something and cross it off the list.

  • They help you remember things and generate ideas.

  • They can inspire you.

Don't be afraid to go "off-list" from time to time. Just because something isn't on your shopping list doesn't mean you can't get it. There's nothing wrong with impulse buys if we can afford them. And if a task on your to-do list doesn't get done, it's certainly not the end of the world.

Sometimes we have to break away from the structure of our list and improvise.

Recommended reading:

The Book of Lists by David Wallechinsky, Irving Wallace & Amy Wallace. This book has lists dealing with all different topics from animals to sports to movies. A good read for anyone who's a fan of lists.

Friday, November 21, 2008

An Attitude of Gratitude - Being Thankful

With the Thanksgiving holiday just a few days away, we're probably taking stock of the things we're thankful for. Giving thanks may be a holiday tradition, but life gives us so many things to be thankful for year round.

When we make a list of the things we're thankful for, our family and friends probably top the list, followed by our successes and the good fortunes that have come our way. Besides reciting our list at the Thanksgiving dinner table, there are other ways we can show gratitude in our lives.

Here are a few simple ways to be thankful every day:

Hug a loved one. Let those close to you know how much you appreciate them. Make an effort to spend time with them and do something special for them.

Don't overlook the small kindnesses. Express your gratitude for small favors and acts of kindness. Simply saying "thank you" when someone does something nice like holding a door open can make them feel good and makes us feel good in return. Random acts of kindness and polite gestures are too uncommon these days to let them go unnoticed, and appreciation is always appreciated.

Count your blessings. Take stock of what you have. If you feel like things aren't going your way, make a list of the things that are in your favor. It could start with things as simple as having a roof over your head, or having your health. Don't take anything for granted.

Look at the world around you. There are so many ordinary things to be thankful for in life. Sunshine, the laughter of children, our favorite song on the radio, an unexpectedly warm day in December. Take a moment each day to notice the little things around you and enjoy them.

Stay connected to the past. When thinking about your family, don't forget the loved ones who've passed on. Be grateful for the memories of the happy times you spent with them and the love you had for each other. Remember the things you learned from them. Maybe you still fix things the way Grandpa showed you or you cook with some of Grandma's recipes. These are year-round ways we pay tribute to those who are no longer with us.

Look to the future. Be grateful for new opportunities, your children, anything that represents the future for you. Be thankful for each new day.

Make a list of things you're thankful for anytime. I am thankful for every sunny day, for the ability to create a blog and express myself, for those reading my blog, and I am thankful for every step I take.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Pathway to a Positive Attitude

I'm not an expert on how to have a positive outlook on life. I haven't attended any seminars or read any books about the power of positive thinking. All I know about having a positive attitude I've found within myself.

Part of it has come from living with MS. It can be difficult to maintain a positive attitude when you're living with an illness, but it's necessary. Sometimes you have to try to stay upbeat for the sake of the people around you. Mostly, it's a matter of not letting your illness get you down.

I guess after my symptoms began to get worse, I saw it as a challenge. I discovered strength in myself that I never knew I had. And I'm amazed that from within me, a person who has always been very prone to thinking negatively and coming down on herself, a positive attitude was able to emerge.

It's not always easy to keep it positive. I have my moments. I receive treatment every month with a drug called Tysabri, which is administered through an IV. Last month I got very upset because the nurse was having trouble with my veins disappearing on her, and she had to keep sticking me. I ended up in tears, and all I could think was, "I don't want to do this anymore."

I didn't feel that way for long, though. Another nurse was able to find and hang onto a vein in my arm, so it all worked out. The IV was started, and life moved on. I didn't let that moment of feeling down about the treatment allow me to develop a negative attitude toward it that might have led me to discontinue the treatment altogether. I just came to the conclusion that while I can usually stay upbeat, there's only so much I can do when needles are involved!

I also sometimes find it hard to keep a positive outlook in other areas of my life, like not working, being in debt and knowing that I may have to move. Uncertainty can throw a monkey wrench in your efforts to stay positive about things.

I constantly remind myself that life is full of things we can't control, and even if things happen that upset us, it's up to us to turn things around. Sometimes we just have to make the best of things. We have to make a conscious choice to try to be happy even when things aren't going the way we want.

These steps help in keeping a positive frame of mind and projecting positive energy:

Squash negative thoughts. It's only natural for negative thoughts to pop into our heads. We think we won't do well enough at something. We think we're not good enough. We think that things won't work out.

Don't listen to those inner voices that make you doubt yourself by telling you there's something wrong with you or that you're not good enough. Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses. If you find yourself getting upset about the things you can't do, think of all the things you can do.

Don't go into a new endeavor thinking things won't work out. While it's important to have realistic expectations, don't let your thoughts drift toward the negative. Thinking negatively can set you up for failure. If even after thinking positive you do fail at something, think of the old saying: If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

Don't dwell on negative events. If something happens that had an outcome you didn't expect or want, deal with it, be upset about it for a little while, then let it go. Continuing to go over and over what happened in your mind won't undo anything. It's best to move on and, if possible, prevent the situation from happening again. Don't sweat your mistakes, learn from them.

Appreciate all the good things. Counting your blessings helps when things start to look dark. Being grateful for what you have and the people who are close to you enhances your overall outlook on life.

Find the good in people and situations. Let others know how much you appreciate the things they do for you. Appreciate the little things. Things that may not seem like a big deal can bring about positive feelings.

Find positive mantras. Make up a positive expression or find some that you like and use them often. One of my favorites is that Fernando Lamas quote Billy Crystal used to say in a skit on Saturday Night Live: It's better to look good than to feel good.

Humor is also very important in maintaining a positive attitude. Finding humor in everyday situations and laughing often increases positive feelings and lowers stress.

Focus on what makes you happy. Spend as much time as possible doing the things that make you happy. It makes the less enjoyable things more bearable making it easier to have a positive attitude.

Remember it comes from within. Whether or not you want to have a positive attitude ultimately is up to you. It takes work, but if you're willing to find it within yourself to take a positive approach in life, it is very rewarding. When you have a bright outlook, others will respond accordingly. People will want to be around you. Relationships with others can be better, and things will probably go better at work because your positive attitude won't go unnoticed.

If you make the determination to stay on a positive path, you can feel better, be happier and achieve more.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Steep Uphill Battle: Dealing with Fatigue

We go at it every day. It's a never ending good against evil kind of battle for control over my body. It's me versus the fatigue.

The biggest problem I have with MS is the almost constant fatigue. That weary, run-down feeling that makes you feel like you just want to fall over and makes it difficult to get things done. Everyone gets fatigued, but I have it no matter how much or how little I do. It's there, making me feel like I just ran a marathon when all I did was walk across a room.

I work against it, fighting to do the things I want to do and need to do. It resists me every step of the way, slowing me down or making me want to collapse on the couch. Every once in a while I give in. Most of the time I plow forward, fatigue be damned.

The reason I push myself and fight the fatigue is because I want to maintain as much power as I can over my body. MS can make you feel powerless sometimes.

It's not easy to stay upbeat when you're dragging yourself around. Or having to plan every little activity and limit the number of things you can do in a day just because you're easily tired.

I've learned to live with the fatigue. We'll never totally get along, but we have to coexist. I have things to do, and I cannot let fatigue stand in the way of that. Maybe working full time is not an option, but I still have plans and goals I want to shoot for.

Working against fatigue is like walking up a hill. As you go up your body begins to resist, every step becomes harder, and the higher up you go, the more strength it takes to move your body forward. It can be a struggle, but if your mind is in the right place you can overcome the fatigue and make it to the top of the hill.

In dealing with fatigue, I've learned the most important thing to do is maintain a positive attitude. Fatigue is a challenge, but it's not a barrier.

Also, it's necessary to strategize. I've broken it down into the following key areas:

Time and energy management. Time and energy are two precious commodities for me right now. They're both limited. My energy is like sands running through an hourglass sometimes. With less energy, it can take more time to do things, or things may have to be cut short because I don't have the energy to go on longer. I've eliminated words like "rush" and "hurry" from my vocabulary when it comes to physically doing things, because I don't have the ability to do that anymore.

Sometimes I need to set aside a block of time or reserve some energy by resting up before a big task or trip. I always have to remember though that it may not be possible to set anything in stone, and of course to never, ever overdo it.

Organization. Managing fatigue means running a tight ship. With limited time and energy to work with, planning is a must. Daily activities are mapped out, shopping lists are made, time of departure is predetermined. No whims here. No energy for that. It's not just get up and go.

Schedules can be hard to stick to, though, so it's necessary to prioritize. The tasks that don't meet the 'must-do' criteria get pushed to another day.

Rest and refuel. Since I have yet to find a medication that will adequately suppress my fatigue, I pretty much have to work around it. Vitamin B12 helps somewhat. Mostly I find I just have to go with taking little rest and refuel breaks when I need them to get through the day.

I think that's something everyone can benefit from. We run ourselves down sometimes. And even when we chug energy drinks, we still end up hitting a wall. Taking breaks during the day is a must.

Who's in charge here? Above all else, it's important to remember who's boss, and it's not the fatigue. Staying in control is of the utmost importance. Sometimes I feel like a drill sergeant. We'll rest when I say we rest! We'll go where I want to go and do what I want to do!

The bottom line is that I don't let fatigue take over my body without a fight. MS may have placed limitations on me, but when it comes to the things I can still do, I will continue to do them on my own terms. I relish the fact that I can still do the everyday things that need to be done, and even if I could get someone else to do them for me, I wouldn't want to. That would make me feel helpless.

Focusing on the bigger picture. Sometimes in life we have to make adjustments in order to stay positive and maintain contentment. Accepting things that we can't change is part of that. I can't change the fact that I have fatigue, and I'm faced with the challenge it presents.

Accepting things doesn't mean giving in. It's about finding ways to deal with them. It means staring down the challenge, whatever it may be.

Meeting challenges head on and fighting that uphill battle takes strength and determination. It means taking control of the situation and never backing down.

I can't back down. Otherwise, I'll never make it to the top of the hill.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Simple Pleasures

Too often we seek out the most exciting activities and surroundings and forget about the simple things in life.

Or we get so bogged down with the stress and the mundane details of our jobs and daily lives, we sometimes forget about the little things that make us happy.

It seems that as adults we lose some of our ability to enjoy the simple pleasures. Think back to when you were a kid. You were easily entertained. You were happy just licking an ice cream cone that was dripping down your arm or lying in the grass looking up at the clouds.

Now, it seems that if it doesn't involve a high definition television or a plane trip, we act like it's not worth doing.

There is certainly a monetary aspect to seeking out fun and entertainment. When we have money to burn, we want to spend it on nice things and good times, and why not? We work hard, and we deserve it. We feel we need to do something big to compensate for the dull and often challenging daily grind.

We need to spend more time focusing on life's simple pleasures. We need to stop and smell the flowers once in a while. Or walk on the beach and enjoy the feel of our toes squishing into the wet sand. Or hold a purring kitten.

Ditch the dinner plans at the fancy restaurant and just grab a couple of burgers and dine under the stars.

The really great thing about simple pleasures is that they are all around us. You don't have to go far or work hard to find them. And they usually cost nothing.

Some of my favorite simple pleasures are picking lilacs in the spring, going barefoot in summer, rubbing my cat's soft belly, staying up late to finish a crossword, rock hunting in the creek at the park near my home and going for a drive to look at houses.

Taking the time to savor simple pleasures is important to our well-being. It can give us much needed relaxation and stress relief. It can give us warm feelings and help us to maintain a positive outlook on life.

If you don't know where to start, here are a few ideas:

Go for a walk. Getting outside into the fresh air and just walking with no particular destination is a great stress reliever. It gives you time to think (and you'll burn off some calories).

Go to the park. Lots to do and no charge for admission, parks are an awesome source of simple pleasures. Bring a bag lunch and sit in the grass. Soak in the relaxed atmosphere and the nature. Bring some nuts so you can feed the squirrels. Take a walk and look at the trees and listen to the birds. Toss a ball or frisbee with the kids or dog.

Connect with your inner child. Visit a place you used to go to when you were a kid that was special to you. Go to a playground and swing on a swing. Let that awesome feeling of soaring through the air free your mind and take you back to when life was simpler and you didn't have all the stress.

Doodle and daydream. Draw silly pictures or make lists of all your favorite things - songs, movies, memories. Write down all the little things that make you happy - a baby's smile, a light rainfall - whatever you can think of. Make a list of your hopes and dreams.

Follow your nose. Get some aromatherapy into your life to enhance your mood. Certain fragrances are known to relieve stress and have a calming effect. Fill your home with your favorites.

Do something nice for someone. One of the greatest simple pleasures is giving someone a gift or doing something for them. It makes them happy, and it makes us feel good.

Life's little pleasures are easy to find and enjoy. They help us slow the pace, feel better, connect with our past and make new memories. They remind us just how wonderful life is.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Playing Up The Positive - The Basics of Contentment

The old song says, "you've got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative". That's good advice. It may not be the ultimate key to happiness, but doing just that can increase your contentment in life.

Most of us would probably agree that there are things in our lives that need improvement, things we would like to change. There is always room for improvement, but we need to be content with the way our lives are, too.

Positive thinking is a must. Letting the negative thoughts in or dwelling on negative issues just brings us down. Positive thinking makes us feel better and gives us more energy as well as encouragement and a clear path to contentment.

Part of banishing those negative thoughts is doing some examination of our lives. If our 'lot in life' seems like a raw deal, looking at things a little more closely may prove that we have it better than we thought.

Basically we can break this down into three categories: being content with who we are, being content with what we do and being content with what we have.

Being content with who we are. Look at yourself. Not just your physical appearance, but your personality, your habits, your skills, your feelings and your overall identity. What do you like about yourself? If there are things you wish you could change about yourself, how important are those things to your overall contentment in life?

Our friends and family play a major role in our contentment with our lives. They are a part of who we are. Think about how the people in your life see you. What do they like about you? What do you like about them? There are probably hundreds of positive things we can identify about ourselves and our relationships with our friends and family.

Don't worry about it if someone doesn't like you. It's more important to like yourself.

Don't think about how you wish you were more attractive or athletic or talented. Don't compare yourself to others. Identify your strengths and your good qualities and focus on those.

Being content with what we do. Most of us definitely have things we dislike about our jobs. We may not like our boss, or the hours are horrible. Maybe our work is too challenging, or too boring. Try to zoom in on the positives, though. The biggest positive is your paycheck. Maybe you'd like it to be bigger, but at the end of the day, it's still a positive.

Do you get along with your co-workers? Usually there are some people we don't like at work. Compare the number of people you don't like to the number of people you get along with at work. Think about the co-workers whom you consider friends. These are the folks who really make the work day more bearable, and that's an important factor in being content with your job.

Having goals and ambitions is essential. Many of us aspire to do what we love for a living. But being content shouldn't be postponed until our dreams are realized. We also need to find a way to enjoy the work we do now.

What do you like about your work? Do you feel a sense of accomplishment? Do you like what you do at work every day? Are there opportunities to try different tasks you think you might enjoy?Finding things you like about the work you do is the most important part of being content on the job.

If you're really miserable at your job, and other than a paycheck nothing comes up positive, you can always change jobs. There's no sense trying to force yourself to be content with a job when it's just not possible.

Celebrating your accomplishments is a great way to boost your self-esteem, a must for being content with your life. If you are doing well at your job, be proud of yourself. Do something special to reward yourself.

If you feel like you've botched something up, don't be too hard on yourself or put yourself down. No one is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes. Think back to what you have identified as the positives about yourself. Vow to do better.

Don't think about how much you hate your job. Think of the benefits of having that job and focus on your goals and ambitions.

Being content with what we have. There always seems to be something we want. Some new toy or gadget hits the market and we just have to have it. If we can't get it, does that mean our lives are going to be empty and meaningless? Of course not.

Material possessions don't fill any kind of void in life. There are some that are basic essentials, and some folks don't even have those. We don't need the latest model appliance or the more expensive car. As for the shiny gizmos, they may give us some happiness, but it's usually not for long, and then they get tossed aside.

Take stock of the things you have. Do you have everything you need? How much stuff do you have that you don't really need?

Don't feel like you have to keep up with the Joneses. They're not better than you because they have more stuff.

It's important to devote more attention to the positives in life than we do the negatives. That may not always be easy, but it's essential to our contentment.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why I Like to Rake Leaves

Now the leaves are starting to change color and fall from the trees as the seasons shift once again. I like this time of year. The warm yet cool days with just the right nip in the air. The crunch of the fallen leaves under my feet.

Of course it means the cold of winter is closing in. I dread the snowy days ahead. At least for now though I get to enjoy the pleasures of fall. The beautiful foliage, the pumpkins and apple cider, and of course, raking leaves.

Raking leaves? That may not sound like a fun time, but I actually enjoy this particular chore. I always have.

At this time of year, when the temperatures become a lot cooler, the thing I most look forward to is grabbing my rake and some trash bags and heading outside. Partly because it brings to mind the happy childhood memory of jumping into a big pile of raked leaves and lying there surrounded by the aroma of autumn. Then tossing handfuls of leaves into the air and watching them fall around.

Having MS has given me a whole new reason to like raking leaves -because to me it represents physical capability. Everyone I know is always amazed that I actually do things like this. Well, why not? I can do them, so there is no reason not to. I enjoy it and it's good exercise, which I need.

So what if they think I should get someone else to do it because I am 'disabled'?

I hate the word 'disabled' sometimes. I am able. I have abilities. Why do I have to be considered disabled? Raking leaves is an ability. For me it is also a joy.

So what if after a short time I get tired and have to sit down? Or by the time I'm done for the day (which is probably after about half an hour) I'm using the rake as a support as I slowly make my way back into the house?

I don't have the endurance I used to. I accept that. You work with what you've got in life.

It's not about productivity for me. The task of raking leaves represents capabilities and hope. All those dead leaves could represent challenges and problems that life throws at us. Being capable of raking the leaves also makes me hopeful that I am capable of overcoming those problems and making positive changes in my life.

For me the change of the seasons as the year comes to a close is always a time of positive energy. Autumn and winter cover up all the things that have gone wrong during the year and all the bad feelings. They bring about a time to look forward as they pave the way for the renewal of spring and the hope that the coming year will be better.

Meanwhile, I'll enjoy raking the leaves. But when it comes time to shovel snow, I'll definitely have to call in some reinforcements.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Taking on The Boogeyman

Now that Halloween is almost here, it's time to put up the spooky decorations and get out the scary masks. We sure do like a good fright this time of year. Only on All Hallows' Eve do we get to have fun with fear, an emotion that plagues us throughout our lives.

As children we were afraid of imaginary things. We feared the boogeyman and the monsters that we thought lurked under our beds. As adults we find the fears become more real. We fear losing our jobs, getting sick, not having enough money to pay our bills.

Nothing to fear but fear itself? I don't know about that.

Our fears are intensified by what is happening in our world. The economy, war, natural disasters. All these very real fears can make those monsters from our childhood look like sweet little cartoon bunnies.

It's hard to not be afraid of a looming hurricane or job loss. Or being diagnosed with a scary illness like MS. I can't and would never tell anyone not to be afraid when something bad happens. I've been there. I've been scared. I still get scared. Fears are hard to get rid of, and they're made worse by uncertainty.

We worry about what will happen if we get sick or lose our jobs. Thinking about the effects that there could be on ourselves and our families is unsettling to say the least. We worry about growing older and whether we'll be able to take care of ourselves or be taken care of.

Perhaps the future is the new boogeyman.

As adults, we have to face our fears and deal with them. Sometimes we may yearn for the simpler times when all we had to do was call out for Mommy from our darkened bedroom when we thought the monsters would get us.

My strategy for dealing with fear of the future is to focus on what is happening in my life right now and how to deal with it. It's not that I don't think about the future. I just want to spend more energy on enjoying my life now. I've already been diagnosed with MS and had to stop working, and I'm still standing. I've gone through periods where I felt like I was being chased in a scary movie. The boogeyman didn't get me though.

I don't spend time thinking negative thoughts about what could happen. I know when I get another job, I could lose it and have to start all over again. I know my condition could get worse. I could scare myself silly thinking about all the bad things that could happen, and I don't want to live in fear.

Being afraid is unavoidable. We can't prevent the things that frighten us from ever happening, but letting fear take over our lives is useless and senseless.

We can only deal with things as they come. We can draw on our inner strength to deal with the scary stuff if and when it happens.

Our lives are complicated, and just getting through the often very stressful days is challenging enough without having the boogeyman chasing us. We need to lose him and try not to think the worst when things go bump in the night.

Happy Halloween!!!!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Going It Alone

I am kind of an expert on being alone. I am not married, I live alone, and what few family members I have live far away, so I don't see them often.

Spending time alone is a necessity. We need time to ourselves to think and reflect and to just enjoy the peace and quiet. But while there are times when the solitude can be welcome, being alone isn't always a good thing.

As part of my effort to maintain a positive attitude in life, I think I've managed to embrace all that's good about being alone and to deal with the bad and the ugly of being alone.

The Good

Living alone is mostly a good thing. You have the whole place to yourself, which is awesome. No one else is there to get in your way; there's no one to pick up after (unless you have messy kitties like mine). There are no fights over the phone or the bathroom. The space is all yours. Every room is your domain, your retreat.

Some people don't like going places alone, but it actually can be very fulfilling and relaxing.

Traveling alone can be wonderful. You get so much more out of the experience when you don't have to worry about schedules or arguing about where to go and what to see. The whole itinerary is at your discretion. You can gain so much more from the experience and notice so many little things you might otherwise miss.

I traveled to Europe with a group once, and I didn't feel like I was able to enjoy it. Everything was planned to the letter. There was too much running about and no opportunity to just relax and immerse myself in the culture.

I remember when I spent a summer in New York, I spent a lot of time by myself, walking through various parts of the city, taking it all in. It was great just absorbing the sights and sounds of the city. I felt like I was a part of it. Having another person to share it with might have been nice, but I liked being on my own in a different place.

Just going anywhere alone can be great if we make an effort to enjoy it. There is so much to appreciate in life, and we need to take advantage of it. We don't need someone to accompany us every step of the way.

Another good thing about being alone is that you get to be kind of selfish. It's probably the only situation in life where it's okay to feel selfish.

You get to have everything in the house to yourself ("It's all mine!") and you get to do whatever you want and go wherever you want. Outside of your job, there's no one to answer to, no one else whose needs you have to worry about.

The Bad

The downside of being alone of course is you don't have the readily available love and support of a close family in your own home. Sometimes I do wish I had that.

It helps to remember that I am not the only person in the world who is alone. There are lots of people who don't have families, who live alone.

Another disadvantage of living alone is that you have to do everything around the house yourself. When you have MS, this can be overwhelming physically, and sometimes you really wish there was someone else around to pitch in and help. Assuming they would, anyway.

I once wrote an article for an online magazine about being a single woman with MS. In the article I mentioned how I sometimes wish someone else was around to help take out the garbage. I remember the married editor told me her husband was not home much, and when he was home he seldom took the trash out, so you don't really have any guarantee about the help.

Swinging back to the good side of being alone for a moment, living alone can give you a greater sense of self-sufficiency. Having the ability to get things done and not having to rely on others
can actually make you feel pretty good.

The Ugly

The biggest drawback to living alone is that you occasionally get lonely. Of course you can always pick up a phone and talk to a friend or family member if you need company. Sometimes, in these hectic times it's not that easy to get a hold of people though. You reach out for someone only to get the dreaded voice mail.

I always find it helpful to use that lonely time, to just fill that time up with as much activity as I can, whether it be cleaning the house or writing or playing with the cats. Or, Heaven forbid, turning on the TV. I'd rather reflect on my life, look at pictures or work on some of my lists, though. I am always finding little projects to work on around the house. I also think about what I like about being alone, and that helps.

Sometimes if we are feeling lonely, it helps to just get out of the house and go where there are lots of people and lots of activity. The park, the mall. We may not know anyone there, but we are among other people, and thus not alone.

Being alone can bring about insecurities and fears. Why am I alone? What's wrong with me? Will I always be alone? All I know is we can only take life one day at a time. If our destiny is to be alone, then that is what we will be. Finding one special person to share our life with, a soul mate, may or may not happen. Meanwhile, we need to cherish the people in our lives who matter the most to us.

The important thing to remember is to get out there and live. To not mope around about being alone and to treat ourselves and others well. Being the best people we can be makes all the difference. Letting others see our good nature and positive energy will draw them toward us.

It's Mostly Good, Though

Overall I think being alone is something to be savored. It's crucial that we make some time to be alone as often as possible. To experience the freedom of doing the things we want to do and taking the time to really think about and appreciate things. Just enjoying the quiet stillness of an empty house or maybe playing some music and dancing around. Being alone with ourselves.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A New Journey Begins

This is my first post on my new blog. I haven't blogged before, but I love to write, and I keep my own personal book of lists, which I'll probably write about sometimes. I thought about doing this blog for a long time. What would I write about? What would I call it? After going back and forth on titles, I decided to call my blog Every Step Is A Journey.

I guess the main reason I thought of the title is because I have MS, and I walk rather slowly now, so for me every step sometimes does feel like it's a journey. But I also got to thinking of how throughout our lives we are constantly going on journeys, how the different stages and facets of our lives are all journeys.

I thought about how important it is to have a positive attitude, to learn from and appreciate life and not take things for granted.

I want to share some of my knowledge of living with MS, but I also want to focus on dealing with some of the other things in life that may challenge us and, more importantly, appreciating things that make life wonderful.

So for me, this is a new journey. I am going into the world of blogging. I hope I will be able to keep my posts fresh and interesting. I hope that whoever reads my blog will enjoy it.

I'll start by talking about another journey I have been on for nine years now. I was diagnosed with MS in 1999 after I began experiencing weird numbness. Over the course of about a month, it had spread from my feet to my abdomen. It was a frightening time for me. Getting the diagnosis answered the question of the numbness, but left me facing what is still an uncertain future.

Over the years I have seen some worsening of my condition. As I mentioned, I walk much slower now, and my coordination isn't the greatest. I also experience a lot of fatigue. It is sometimes difficult to do the things I want to do. I've had to stop working for now, but I hope to begin working again in some capacity soon.

The one thing having MS has taught me is to think positively. I don't get downhearted because of my MS. It's just another thing I have to deal with. MS is rarely at the forefront of my thoughts. I've learned to appreciate things so much more. I maintain a healthy sense of humor which helps a lot. I think my patience has improved also (well, a little bit anyway). Probably the thing I dislike most about having MS is that I can't run now. I've never been a runner in a sport sense, I just miss having the ability to run.

There's a music video by James Blunt for his song "High" that shows him running through a forest. I have to admit my eyes well up with tears when I watch the video. I love the song, though. And I imagine that I am running through that forest. Then I feel happy. I suppose it's because I remember what it feels like to run. That freeing feeling, the wind in your hair, the exhilaration. I am glad that I've known that feeling.

It's a small thing to feel good about, but sometimes it's the small things that make us the happiest. I'm a big believer in appreciating little things, little moments, special memories. I'll probably write more about that sometime. I just think it's important to stay connected to the past, live well in the present and to make sure those little things don't escape us in our busy lives.

So what else can I say about myself? Well, I have three cats. I live in the city, but I am a big nature lover. Besides writing and doing word puzzles, I guess my only other hobby would be spending time outdoors. I feed the birds and squirrels in my yard. I love to plant flowers. I love to go to the park near my home and sit and dangle my feet in the creek and maybe find a pretty rock. Like I said, little things. I'm a simple gal, I guess.

So my new journey has begun. I guess now I'll take a deep breath and look forward to continuing on it.