Helping Others can be Healing

For the last few years, I have been making Rice Krispies treats and giving them to others. Although I am a pretty good cook, I have been drawn to make these easy cereal and marshmallow treats with rice cereal or corn flakes, and mold them into seasonal shapes. (They are, after all, gluten free!)

For the Super Bowl, I make footballs. There will be flowers for Spring, Autumn pumpkins, candy corn shapes for Halloween, wreaths for Christmas, and right now, I am trying to design something that looks like a ground hog for our annual Ground Hog Day celebration. I have posted pictures of my creations on social media. My sister teases that my fixation with these sweet creations is an “addiction” and suggests I need an intervention because I “can’t stop anytime I want to.”

But she made me think: "Why am I doing this?" I enjoy a treat with a cup of coffee now and then, and they are so easy to make. (I can whip out four dozen in a couple of hours with my perfected technique of Pam-sprayed, disposable medical examination gloves and food coloring!)

I think the reason I make them is as a way to remember others. Sometimes I give a couple to someone who is sick. Other times, I give them to co-workers or neighbors. They are nothing big, but often a person’s day seems better simply because they were thought of, and remembered. I focus on others in a small way by including a little note along with the homemade treat. It is a simple, spiritual activity for me.

Focusing outside of ourselves can be healing. Facing an illness like MS brings its own challenges, such as getting to doctor’s appointments, managing our medications and doing physical therapy.  Even our simple daily tasks can overwhelm us: getting up in the morning, paying our bills, doing laundry and cooking meals. Emotionally, we can be overwhelmed by all we need to do and our anxiety of our future.

But we can all benefit from giving back, from thinking of others, from volunteering –  even if we have health challenges. According to a study by the Corporation for National and Community Service, volunteers live longer, have higher functional ability, lower rates of depression and less incidence of heart disease. Looking outside of our personal healthcare and health setbacks can be a tremendous way to heal ourselves.

An occupational therapist friend of mine feels that volunteering, “gives people who are ill a reason to get up in the morning: Looking outward takes a person’s awareness away from his or her condition.  Patients who see a purpose in their life usually fare better.” Caregivers often report that some of the “healthiest” patients are those who were able to move from self-absorption to thinking of others. 

Even something small will do. Volunteering for a non-profit organization by making phone calls or stuffing envelopes can be a great place to start. It does not have to be a huge task, but something that shifts our awareness and energy to other people or other causes.

Even those who cannot get out of their homes can also do good by acknowledging their caregivers or healthcare professionals. Maybe it’s thanking a family member or friend who always calls or drops by for a cup of coffee. A simple phone call, a hug, or just saying, “Thanks, I appreciate all you do for me,” goes a long way. A written note, a flower, a bag of tea or a candy bar given to a caregiver can be a touching gift. Everyone needs to be affirmed and loved. Being healthy is a two-way street. The person receiving care needs to be of service, too.

The words of poet Emily Dickinson, are motivating to me:  “If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not die in vain.” 

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Karen Zielinski, OSF

Sister Karen Zielinski was the Director of Communications for the Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania, Ohio, from 1991 to 2008. She is now director of Canticle Studio, a creative office of products which focus on spirituality and health. She holds a BA in education and a master’s in music. She is a monthly columnist for several magazines, including St. Anthony Messenger, and is regularly published in other journals. She lectures on chronic disease and coping strategies. Karen has lived with multiple sclerosis since 1975.

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  • Jay Qureshi   Jan 29, 2015 1:09 PM
    ...yes I went From their prescribed bi-daily interferon injections to increasingly strong strains of marijuana...seems to have actually HEALED the MS...a bit of yoga and I no longer need a cane~ we mustn't let a minor set back get the best of us....keep up the strength...medicate with Marijuana...after a while the outdoor strain grew weak....stronger blends combined with OPC-3 (powerful antioxidant) has me feeling almost perfect...still cannot throw a dart, basket ball or waste into the bin with any accuracy...but this can be dealt with~ .....keep movin', you know you've got to keep moving~
  • Dianne   Jan 29, 2015 1:21 PM
    That is a good story about making rice crispy treats! A couple of years ago I started making birthday cards for my family and friends on their birthday! Last year I started making a batch of cup cakes so we would have a small party!! Everybody seems to enjoy them ans look forward to the next birthday. Sometimes i make muffins too! This gives me something to look forward to also! I like doing this and the birthday person likes to be remembered too!
  • Jonny   Jan 29, 2015 2:32 PM
    Hello Karen,

    I enjoyed reading your post.....

    What is Ground Hog Day?

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    Glassgirl  Jan 29, 2015 3:42 PM
    Thanks for a small but powerful way to give to others. MS is not the focus of our lives, just something we make accommodations. Keep on making the sweet creations for others and the joy it gives back to you.
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    kzielinski  Jan 29, 2015 5:50 PM
    What is Groundhog Day?

    Technically, Groundhog Day is the midway point between the winter solstice and spring equinox.

    What is the significance?

    Whether or not the groundhog sees it's shadow is believed to be an indicator of how much longer winter will last. If a shadow is seen, it suggests 6 more weeks of winter. If the groundhog doesn't see it's shadow, spring will come early, folklore suggests.

    When is it?

    Groundhog Day is celebrated on Feb. 2.

    Who is Punxsutawney Phil?

    To many people, Punxsutawney Phil is the only groundhog that can predict the weather. He never dies (or ages), resides in Punxsutawney and is cared for by the men who volunteer to be a part of the Inner Circle.
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    SmartyPants  Jan 29, 2015 10:29 PM
    Don't listen to your sister, be you, what you are doing is giving something to others , it really doesn't matter what, whether it be rice krispie treats or making a special meal, or just remembering someones birthday, my obsession are sending cards to people, i know it's a dying art but i hear all the time how special it is to get a real card, and there are so many to choose from. So don't let anyone tell you to stop doing what makes you happy. You sound like a very nice person.To All nay sayers go jump in a lake.
  • Carolyn Cordon   Jan 29, 2015 11:56 PM
    What a beautiful post! I love doing things to help other people and recently wrote a blog post about it. Positivity is my weapon against MS, that and healthy eating, exercise as possible and of course Gilenya.
  • Kim McGiveney   Jan 30, 2015 7:58 AM
    Thanks for all you do! I too have MS since 1991 and it is always a blessing when I reach out and help others!
  • Glenn C. Quaintance   Jan 31, 2015 9:37 PM
    Hi There Karen, I would be interested in attending your lecture on chronic disease and coping strategies. So please notify Me if you are in the Denver, CO. area for a lecture. Thank-You for your time & efforts, both in this matter as well as for what You do ! ! ! Sincerely, Glenn Thank You ! ! !
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    kzielinski  Feb 2, 2015 4:34 PM
    Dear Smartypants,
    I am continuing to make my easy to make treats--it keeps me thinking of others. You were kind to encourage me!
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    kzielinski  Feb 2, 2015 4:36 PM
    Hey Carolyn Cordon,
    We should do coffee or tea sometime! We are kindred spirits.
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    kzielinski  Feb 2, 2015 4:40 PM
    Hey, Kim, when I think of others, and reach out to them, I really feel my body relax, and I can put my MS into perspective. Looking outward shifts my focus from me, and me alone, to my sisters and brothers with MS.
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    kzielinski  Feb 2, 2015 4:44 PM
    Glenn, I would love to come to Denver sometime. Someone has to invite me to give a talk. Of course, I would make sure to bring a few of my Rice Krispies creations! Thanks for your kind words.
  • karen Bosek FTL   Feb 3, 2015 6:39 PM
    Simply AWESOME !!!!!!!! Great idea !!!
    so nice to give back to ANY one person...... ;-)
    u made my day, and just maybe I can do the same for others, some thing so simple can make a persons day by kind ness. thanks for sharing.
    xoxo Karen Bosek- / 2/3/2015
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    moz205  Feb 5, 2015 10:42 AM
    What a wonderful thing to do! Wishing we could have a few here at work to enjoy with out coffee.
    Thank you for sharing your special talent!
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    kzielinski  Feb 6, 2015 9:28 AM
    Karen Bosek,
    thanks! Do something little for someone. We never know what a person is going through, or facing, living with MS. It is good for others and good for us!