Friday, January 22, 2010

Letting Go-Again!

When I left my second husband in May of 2002, I grabbed an armful of clothes and my blow dryer. I wasn’t running from something horrible like violence. I just could not stand my life the way it was. So I left. The only thing I went back for was the computer. I guess that says something about my priorities-clothes to cover the body, not having to go out with bed head, and the internet!

Slowly, I built a new life with new “stuff” in it. I loved my little apartment overlooking the pond. Then BINGO lupus crash! The first stuff to go was my ability to work, and therefore my jobs. A lot of the time, I struggled to pay for my medical care and food. But when a little extra money came my way, I treated myself to something at the Dollar Store or half price day at the thrift stores. I sold many of my books on as my passion for music, church music, and spirituality turned into a new course of learning how to live as a citizen in the land of the chronically ill.

Four years after the crash, I tentatively and timidly went off disability and back into the work force-that was January of 2007. For three years now, I have hung onto the “stuff” of that disability period. I have notebooks full of ways that I thought I would make a living when I couldn’t even stay awake for three hours in a row! In my closet I have a pysanky kit. Pysanky are Ukranian batik Easter eggs. A really good ostrich pysanky can bring $400. Then there is a notebook with the course of “how to become a medical biller and coder at home.” And let’s not forget the plethora of Christmas ornament instructions, including how to make “icicles” out of thin sheets of tin. Mind you, I could not even grasp a tea cup but I was going to use tin snips to make the icicles! The under-the-bed plastic boxes are full of fabric that I bought on sale with the expectation of saving money by sewing. I have carted some of it around for 7 years now! By the way, I never did make a $400 ostrich egg.

Sometimes we let go because we will suffocate if we don’t. Sometimes circumstances or disease make us let go as we are robbed of our ability and security. Other times, we recognize that it’s time to start a new chapter and we choose to let go. As my life takes me to places I never dreamed I would go, I find that it’s time to let go of stuff again. As I slowly sort through my “stuff” I am remembering periods in my life, treasuring them, and letting go so I can move forward once again.

There is a wonderful story about people in Africa who catch monkeys to eat them. (OK that’s gross, but get over it.) The people take a jar with a narrow neck and put fruit in the jar. The monkeys stick their hands in the jar but can’t pull them out while holding the fruit. They won’t let go of the fruit so they get caught and well, you know what happens next!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Power of Words

In February of 2003, after more than a week in the hospital, the doctors finally came up with a diagnosis for me: systemic lupus erythematosus. My rheumatologist stood at the side of my bed and said, "You have lupus. Do you know what that is?" I muttered something about it being autoimmune, making you tired, and having to stay out of the sun. "Good," he said, and left.

The hospital stay was 14 days. A month after my discharge,I went to see my rheumatologist for a follow up. I wanted to know if lupus was progressive, if I would be able to work again, if I would lose my independence, if I would die a slow lingering death by inches. He didn't give me any concrete answers. I was madder than a wet hen and did what I always do when I am frightened or angry, I go to work learning and looking for a solution. I lost both my jobs and ended up on disability.

In 2007, I went back to work and went off disability. Over those 4 years, my progress was excruciatingly slow but it was steady. I still see my rheumatologist every 3 months. At my last apointment, I thanked him for being so vague back in 2003. He left me to figure a lot out for myself. What I figured out was that this "disability" was going to be temporary. In my mind, it was just going to take longer to get back on my feet than it had all those times I got sick and was never diagnosed.

The words that others say to us and those we say to ourselves are extremely powerful. Words can precondition us for failure and surrender. Words can also light the way out of the darkness. What are people telling you? What are you telling yourself?

If you want to read an excellent book about this check out Counter Clockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility by Ellen J. Langer.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Antibiotic "Ah Ha" Moment

My reading and research has shifted from the emotional side of chronic illness to the "why" of chronic illness. There are about 133,000,000 Americans with chronic medical conditions! Autism, allergies, ADHD, and asthma among children are increasing at alarming rates. Most of us intuitively feel that diet has something to do with all this. In fact, most newly diagnosed lupus patients who call the Lupus Foundation ask me if they can "go natural" and not take medication. My response is that it is not "natural" for your immune system to turn against you, and the cure is not simply natural either, take the medication. But I also encourage them to make lifestyle changes. Stress, toxins, lifestyle and diet all contribute to overall health. Those of us with chronic conditions have to be even more vigilant if we want to have the best level of health.

This brings me to antibiotics. Scientists tell us about super bugs that are antibiotic resistant. Antibiotics are frequently prescribed, not because the patient has a bacterial infection, but because the patient wants the doctor to give them something and the doctor complies. Sometimes antibiotics are life saving. No matter what, when we take antibiotics, the good bacteria that live in our gut are killed off along with the bad. We can replenish them by eating yogurt and drinking Kefir.

No one would take antibiotics on a daily basis for life. But wait! Most of us do! Farmed fish and animals are given antibiotics even if they are not sick. The farming conditions are so unsanitary that this is the only way to make sure the valuable "crop" doesn't get sick and die! If you eat meat, you are eating antibiotics. Antibiotics are in our eggs and milk. And if that's not enough, antibiotics are in our water! Check out the Environmental Working Group report on tap water

When I tell people about antibiotics in drinking water their first reaction is that people may flush unused antibiotics down the toilet. Yes, that happens. But the antibiotics that we take and those that farm animals take are not fully metabolized. Some of the antibiotic passes as waste and enters the water table. They are not filtered out as the water trickles down. Many people say, "I drink bottled water, not a problem." Not true! Where do they think the bottled water comes from? In fact, tap water is checked and regulated, bottled water is not!

Why does it matter if we are consuming antibiotics in everything from our morning tea and omelette to that healthy salmon steak for dinner? We are destroying the healthy bacteria that live in our gut. 70% of our immune system is in our gut. We are making our immune system unbalanced which can result in allergies, autoimmunity (23.5 million Americans), and cancer.

What can we do? Clearly it is impossible to eliminate all the antibiotics that find their way into our bodies, but we can reduce the body burden. If you must eat animal products, choose those that are raised without antibiotics. More and more major markets are carrying these options. Add some organic yogurt to your diet and you have taken one big step to better health.