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.