Sunday, January 29, 2012
Chronic illness is a mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically difficult experience due to that fact that is threatens an individual’s sense of self and feelings of well-being, competency, mastery, and productivity. On top of challenging one’s relationship with oneself, chronic illness often challenges the interpersonal relationships caught within its tangled web, including relationships with family members, co-workers, and friends. Through e-mails and on my formspring page, I am often asked questions that are centered around why friends either seem to lack compassion or totally disappear after a life-altering diagnosis. I was asked to write this in the form of a letter to the friends of those with chronic disease, but before I tackle that, there are some important points I’d like to make. I want you to consider the often and famously ignored point of view of your friends and family members. This isn’t going to be a friend bashing post, so if that is what you were expecting, you may not want to read ahead. The points I address may not be the things you want to consider, but they are what you need to hear.
During the acute phase of an illness, friends often rally around to support their beloved while he/she heals, but once disease reaches a chronic state, some may find it too overwhelming of a personal struggle to continue to provide support. To the sick, this takes the form of apathy or lack of concern and can be devastating, but it may just be that the concern is present without proper action. Most individuals have no clue how to interact with someone who is ill, and disease can be terrifying to someone who is healthy because it creates an urgent need to face one’s own and often denied morbidity and mortality. Most people’s biggest fears are loss of control, feelings of helplessness and vulnerability, feelings of inferiority, and ultimately, death or annihilation. No wonder chronic, acute, and terminal illnesses scare the pants off of most individuals.
Severe upset, fear, terror, anxiety, depression, anger, and even suicidal ideation often accompany chronic disease based upon feelings of injustice, loss of control, and helplessness, and this emotional turmoil can put a profound strain on your support system. This may be a controversial statement, so please, try to put yourself in the position of your loved ones – just as you do not want to be around Negative Nelly or Debbie Downer, neither do they (even if your reasons for feeling upset are extremely valid). Your loved ones need to preserve their health, too, and if you are constantly complaining or clinically depressed, they may need to remove themselves to maintain their well-beings. This is not a blame game, so take an honest look at yourself and decide whether or not your mood disturbances are affecting your life negatively. If they are, please enlist the help of a licensed mental health professional, spiritual counselor, clergy member, etc. (whoever you would typically go to for counsel).
Finding non-illness related subjects to talk about at times can help take some of the stress off of your strained friendships. Allow yourself a few minutes to discuss what is happening in your life concerning your disease, and then move on. Think about it, you know that friend that NEVER stops talking about her annoying, unhealthy relationship with that guy that you despise? Constantly complaining about your health challenges can have that same effect. Even though you can’t dump your disease like she can cut her boyfriend loose, with some work, you can dump the negative point of view.
For some time, friends will still expect you to be the same person they knew and loved before the diagnosis occurred, so allow them a grace period as they become reacquainted with the new you. Their attempts at socializing with you may seem callous when they invite you to do something you can no longer do, so communicate your new limitations clearly and firmly and suggest activities that you can participate in. Some family members and friends will never be able to accept your limitations, and this may require you to stretch and strengthen your forgiveness and compassion muscles. Just as you must accept your limitations, you will also have to accept the limitations of others. I have a rule I live by when it comes to this – Don’t expect something from someone that they will never be able to give you. Forgive and move past it because the only person your anger and resentment is hurting is you. Under anger are usually feelings of deep sadness and profound hurt, so getting in touch with those feelings will help you in your journey toward emotional freedom and better health.
This also may be time to clean friendship house. Becoming ill allows you to reevaluate your priorities by affording you with the opportunity to see what truly matters in life – love. If you engage in relationships that are not loving and supportive on either end (yours or theirs), consider revamping them or thank them for the lessons they have taught you and move on. Each person you encounter in life is there to teach you something whether it is for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Change your outlook, and find the lessons within your troubled relationships so that you can grow more into the person you were meant to be.
Friday, January 20, 2012
Trust me, no one dislikes winter more than this former Miami girl. The shorter days, the dipping temperatures, the whipping wind chills, the (dare I say it) SNOW all make me shiver for more than just the obvious reason. Before coming back to New Jersey to pursue my Master’s Degree three years ago, I spent four years attending the University of Miami (GO CANES!) in Miami, FL. Why did I move far away from my amazing family and friends (who mostly stayed in the North East for college) and fly south at age 18? One word – WARMTH. My desire to live in perpetual summer was much stronger than my desire to stay with the familiar, and it was worth it. Sun, sand, warm water, and palm trees all year round is what I expect to see when those pearly gates open and let me in at the end of my life. In other words, Miami is heavenly.
So, what do I do to fight the winter blues when I want nothing more than to be nestled under a palm tree with a good book in the tropics? Here are my six tips for surviving winter with a chronic illness.
1. Change Your Thoughts – I’ve had to drastically change how I think about the winter. Although I still despise the cold, I’ve taken on the mindset of the Eastern traditions that view winter as a time for introspection and reflection. Use this time of hibernation to go deep within yourself and reflect upon the year that has passed and the changes you would like to make moving forward. Meditation is a great tool that allows you to go within, quiet your mind, oxygenate your body, and relieve stress simultaneously. It sure beats seasonal depression.
2. Eat a Vegan Diet – I will preach this until my last days. Eating a whole foods, plant-based diet supports you mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. During the winter, it is especially important to eat in a way that supports your energy levels. Load up on raw fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and green juices, and avoid processed sugars, alcohol, and caffeine. Supplementing with Vitamin D3 when the sun does more hiding than shining is a fantastic idea.
3. Exercise – Exercise isn’t only for maintaining your weight and keeping your system healthy. Exercise oxygenates the body and relieves stress by releasing endorphins, those feel good, natural pain killers. Make time to engage in whatever form of exercise you see the most benefits from. Yoga is a great choice in the winter because it can be done from the comfort of your own heated home.
4. Layer Up – Many of us with chronic illnesses have restricted blood flow to certain areas of the body and lower overall basal body temperatures. Make sure to layer up so that you remain comfortable. Cold puts a certain amount of stress on the body that we can certainly do without.
5. Color – Bring some color into your life! So many people have winter wardrobes bogged down by black, grey, and brown. I was once told that my “closet looks like Miami threw up in it.” My wardrobe is dripping with color, and thanks to the current trends, I just added several neon pieces to my collection. Score!
6. Don’t Isolate – Winter hibernation can lead to isolation, so make an effort to stay in touch with those people in your life that make you feel good. Social support aids in proper health and well-being for a variety of reasons, but it can also make the winter slide by without any major depressive catastrophes.
Hang on tight! The days are getting longer, and spring is around the corner. Happy Healing!
Thursday, January 19, 2012
Hi, healers! A lot has been going on lately. On top of lots of PT, yoga, meditating, coffee enemas, juicing and blending, I have taken the next step in my healing journey – I have begun applying for jobs (full-time and part-time). One full-time job opportunity that I am very excited about came to me over the weekend, so I will keep you updated on my job status as more unfolds.
Of course, my first reaction to applying for jobs and receiving a solid opportunity for full-time work is anxiety, worry, and fear. I have an anxious personality, and old habits die hard. Immediately, my first thought was, “How will I manage my healing routine and full-time work?” And then I said to myself, “Snap out of it! Look how far you’ve come! There is no one more disciplined than you. You will be fine.” The latter, loving conversation with myself is much more authentic than the fear-based former, and I took some time to meditate on the lesson being presented to me at the moment – SURRENDER.
Surrendering to God/Source/Spirit/Creator’s divine plan for my life has never been my forte due to the fact that I have a tendency to want to control my environments, causing me to live often in the future and not in the present moment. Worrying is wasted energy, and no amount of those acidic thoughts (remember, stinking thinking actually creates more acidity in the body) will ever change the outcome. It took much meditating and praying to come to that conclusion yet again but for the last time. I received the message – whatever will be, will be. God/Source/Spirit/Creator has a plan for me, and as I look back on my life so far, I have always been put in the places I needed to be to personally and professionally grow and develop.
Today, I am excited about the steps I am taking toward entering into the work force after several months taken off to stabilize my health and begin my true healing journey. I trust that God/Source/Spirit/Creator will lead me to where I need to be for my highest good and to fulfill my divine purpose. I’m surrendering to that universal energy that connects us all, and I’m loving it!
Saturday, January 7, 2012
Hi, healers! By request, I was asked to write a blog post on how I stay positive as a young woman living with a chronic illness. This topic is extremely relevant because life can be difficult enough to navigate and stay positive through when one is perfectly healthy or just experiencing an acute crisis. Add in the joys of chronic disease (day in and day out crisis), and if you’re lucky, chronic pain, and you’ve got a probable mess in the making and a “glass-half-empty” attitude just waiting to infect every area of your existence.
Let me preface this by saying that mood disorders, specifically depression and anxiety, are very common in those experiencing chronic pain and illness. I went through it, and I made it out the other side a different, more well-rounded, and more-fulfilled individual. If you think this might be you, too, please enlist the help of a licensed mental health professional. Also, low-thyroid, exhausted adrenals, and hormonal and nutritional deficiencies (like magnesium, iodine, B12, Vitamin D, and selenium) that are common in those living with chronic pain and disease have the ability to sink your mood and energy levels. Going for a full blood work-up is a great idea, and please, ask for the saliva test when testing your adrenals. You may have to go holistic to get a saliva test done. All or one of these issues, or somewhere in between, could be adding to your “stinking thinking,” so do your best to address them as ways to add energy and positivity deposits in your health bank. It will go a long way.
To me, the secrets to happiness are gratitude, good mental and emotional health, a strong support system, having a passion, being of service to others, developing a spiritual practice, practicing yoga (exercising), being vegan (having a healthy, whole foods, plant-based diet), and being your authentic self. Let me break them down for you so that you can see how I have learned to remain positive despite living with a “chronic, progressive, and incurable” neurological disease.
Count Your Blessings: By focusing on what you are grateful for and what you do have rather than what you are lacking, you not only attract more abundance into your life, you positively affect your mood instantaneously. If it is difficult for you to begin your gratitude quest, start small. Be thankful that you have hands to type in your blogs, eyes to read this post, food on your tables, clothes on your backs, clean water, heat, your educations, etc. Think of all those basic needs we have met here in America that most third world nations view as unattainable luxuries. Whenever you feel your mood begin to go south, draw on this tool to pick yourself back up.
Become the Observer of Your Thoughts: Most of us go through each day without any awareness as to what we are thinking and how it is affecting our overall health and well-being. Your mind affects your body and your body affects your mind. They are connected at the least – more like intertwined, one. Become conscious of your thoughts. Are they mostly negative? Self-limiting? Positive? Neutral? Loving? Fear-based? Try writing down your thoughts for a few days, and notice the patterns that reveal themselves. Taming the mind is one of life’s greatest challenges, but it is worth all of the effort it takes to rise above the mental monkey into pure consciousness and, ultimately, pure bliss. Emotional management is a learned skill.
Establish a Strong Support System: Humans are social creatures, and we need the support of others to get through trying times. Establishing meaningful relationships and keeping your inner circle tight with those who fully support you will allow you to feel connected, supported, loved, and safe.
Find a Passion: It is important to have a passion in life and to pursue that passion through whatever avenue is available to you. Doing what you love allows you to enter into “flow,” that divine space where time stops, energy is unlimited, creative powers surge, and bliss lives.
Be of Service: Using your God-given gifts to be of service to others not only does good for those you are helping, but it also benefits you. Helping those who need it most releases feel-good chemicals in the brain that actually create a euphoric feeling, lessening pain and sadness and increasing joy and positive energy.
Develop a Spiritual Practice: This can include yoga, meditation, traditional religious practices, solitary prayer, etc. Those who feel connected to a spiritual practice, a higher power, the whole, and themselves find greater meaning in life, especially suffering, and this can aid in them seeing the glass as half full rather than half empty.
Practice Yoga: Yoga’s benefits are endless – increased flexibility, increased strength and balance, increased detoxification, increased relaxation, etc. The goal of yoga isn’t to become more flexible or gain greater strength, although those are wonderful benefits. The goal is to take what you learn during your 30-90 minutes of practice and apply it to the rest of the 20+ hours in your day. Mindfulness, full and complete breaths, flexibility and ease throughout your day, etc. should carry over into other areas of your life and allow you to maintain balance. Balance = Health.
Go Vegan: Or at least eat a whole foods, plant-based diet. Keeping your body’s alkalinity in check and providing it with all of the essential vitamins and minerals will allow it to support all of its necessary and vital functions. HEAR THIS: Without proper nutrition and calorie consumption, body parts will start to fail. Glands like the thyroid and adrenals require adequate nutrients to function properly. Consuming nutrient dense plant foods and avoiding toxins (alcohol, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and neurotoxins) and stimulants (caffeine and sugar) will keep your energy level up, your body functioning properly, and your skin positively glowing.
Be Your Authentic Self: Don’t let society dictate where you should or shouldn’t be in your life. Challenge your belief systems about yourself and your life, and decide what YOU want and what is best for YOU. Right now, I live with my parents while I continue to heal myself with their help, guidance, and support, and I’m ok with that. At just turning 27 years old, I’m not married, and I don’t see myself having a child anytime soon (maybe not ever). Instead, I went for a Master’s Degree and am holding onto the dream of continuing on for my Ph.D. when I feel I am healthy enough to do so. For a 27 year old woman, society would not agree with some of my choices, but I am living out of authenticity, not out of other people’s expectations of me. Be your authentic self. There is only one of you, and what this society deems as “normal” can become painfully boring if everyone followed suit. It may be right for some but not for all. Shake things up! Be a trailblazer! But most importantly, do what brings you joy.
I hope this helped! Happy Healing!