In this episode of Sofia Unfiltered, Riley and Lauren speak with Meghan Beier Ph.D., a Neuropsychologist who specializes in Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
How Dr. Beier found her calling
Coming from a family of physicians, Dr. Beier always had an affinity for the medical field. However, she pursued health psychology due to her fascination with the brain's interaction with emotions and the body. Working in a brain injury rehabilitation center before graduate school, Dr. Beier realized the importance of treating individuals holistically.
Witnessing the desire for independence and recognition of intrinsic worth in people with traumatic brain injuries profoundly impacted her and shaped her approach in graduate school. While working with individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS), she recognized the need for mental health support in the MS community. Dr. Beier believes in managing and integrating the diagnosis into one's life, helping individuals with MS thrive and foster meaningful connections while embracing their journey with the condition.
What is emotional wellness?
Emotional wellness means being able to handle life's stresses, adapt to change, and overcome difficult times.
Throughout her career, Dr. Beier has seen that the MS community is open to wellness and mental well-being and thinks this is true for other populations, as it seems to be a growing demand over the past 10 to 15 years. She mentions that there was already a push for wellness in the case of cancer, but now it's extending to other diagnoses where people have to live with a condition for a long time. There is an interest in learning how to live with their condition and manage fatigue, cognitive issues, and emotional challenges, beyond just relying on medication.
Lauren, our co-host for this season, notes that by improving lifestyle, and mental and emotional support, people are not only better able to manage their symptoms but also experience an overall improvement in their well-being. Meghan agrees with this and emphasizes that wellness and medicine should be integrated rather than seen as separate entities. She explains that when people focus on wellness activities such as proper nutrition, exercise, and sufficient sleep, in addition to taking medication, their outcomes are even better.
Riley reminds us that the premise behind Sofia Health is to integrate different practices for improved wellness outcomes. The aim is to move beyond just symptom management and focus on self-care and overall health.
The complex journey of chronic illness
Meghan mentions the challenge of having to adjust to a new life trajectory after being diagnosed with a chronic illness or disability. People may have to let go of their previous visions for the future and grieve the loss of function or abilities. Additionally, there is the practical aspect of learning how to navigate daily life with the condition. Meghan uses the analogy of being in an unfamiliar city, where even simple tasks require more cognitive effort and can be frustrating. People with chronic illnesses often have to relearn aspects of their daily routine and deal with the small annoyances or setbacks that come with it.
Our guest shares an example of a person with MS who experienced difficulty with hand dexterity. Initially, the symptoms were attributed to MS, but through her own research, she discovered that it was actually carpal tunnel syndrome. She emphasizes the complexity of managing a chronic condition and the potential for individuals to be overlooked or misunderstood in medical settings.
Riley agrees and mentions that individuals who appear fine most of the time may face challenges when their symptoms flare up. They discuss how ableism plays a role in this, as the world is not built to accommodate people with chronic illnesses or disabilities. Meghan explains that if someone hasn't personally experienced or witnessed the challenges of living with a chronic condition, they may dismiss or attribute the difficulties to other factors. This lack of understanding can lead to dismissive comments or a lack of support.
Dr. Beier shares a story about how attending an educational event on fatigue shifted a man's perspective on his wife's condition. She emphasizes the importance of community and support partners, suggesting seeking support from people with specific strengths rather than relying on one person for everything. Meghan recommends utilizing resources like videos and online platforms for sharing information and perspectives.
How to increase emotional wellness?
Riley brings up the stress of constantly explaining one's situation. They discuss managing expectations and boundaries in relationships, appreciating the strengths of different support systems, and overcoming the stigma around setting boundaries.
Meghan highlights the importance of identifying values and finding ways to incorporate activities that align with them. She encourages flexibility, acceptance, and problem-solving around the condition while acknowledging that acceptance doesn't mean being okay all the time.
Information is power
Lauren and Meghan discuss the importance of seeking information and support when dealing with illness, managing stress, and navigating life changes. They emphasize the value of listening to our bodies and emotions, highlighting the power of seeking knowledge and finding support to overcome fear and empower oneself.
Our guest stresses the significance of problem-solving and embracing both grief and moving forward while acknowledging and allowing negative emotions. They emphasize self-compassion, the temporary nature of emotional seasons, and the importance of finding resources and supportive communities. Meghan mentions her podcast, "Find Empathy," which aims to train mental health providers and resonates with individuals living with chronic illness. The conversation encourages listeners to embrace their emotions, seek support, and build a toolbox of resources for navigating the challenges of living with chronic conditions.
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