Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Medical Paradox

It's no secret how I feel about modern medicine. While it has saved my life more than a few times, when I got sick with something no doctor understood, modern medicine's apathy almost took me down. Hindsight is so clear, and looking back nine years later I can contribute a significant amount of my suffering with chronic illness to a lack of medical acceptance. Being sick sucks. Being sick for a lifetime sucks harder. And being sick for a lifetime, and nobody believing you, well, it doesn't take a genius to point out that's like taking a slow boat ride to crazy.

For so many years just thinking about the way doctors dismissed, degraded, belittled and judged me used to send me into an epic meltdown of Chernobyl proportions. Luckily my heart and soul have healed a little, and my mind is determined to evade negativity, so I can now talk about it without anger-hives breaking out all over my face. It's what happened, and getting all hot and bothered over a past I cannot change is futile. Had I not found a way to turn the disease train around, however, I don't know if such a detached, observant point of view would be mine.

There is no substitute for a competent and compassionate doctor for anyone with chronic illness. Tons of malfunctions are occurring within many different bodily systems, which frequently aren't the same for any two patients. Once I found a doctor interested in treating me as a patient, not just a disease profile, my symptoms became far more manageable. Of course the bevy of prescription medications that go along with modern medicine's theory on how to treat chronic illness created another nightmare entirely, but I didn't know there was another way. Now I do. My doctor has become someone who I see for health maintenance, not someone I expect to heal me. She makes sure my thyroid is balanced and metabolic panel in the healthy range. Every other bit of progress came about when I stopped obsessing over what was making me sick, and started investing my efforts in being healthy.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

I Learned

When I got sick in 2005 my doctor insisted was there was nothing wrong with me. Seeking a second, third, fourth and fifth opinion didn't change my non-diagnosis, despite my worsening health. After a ridiculous breakdown I was finally given two diagnoses of exclusion, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia. Little good it did, however, because I was told there was no way to treat those illnesses. Once again I was sent home with a patronizing pat on the head, except for this time it included the terrible advice to learn to live with something that was in the process of ripping my life apart. I guess it was progress, but it sure didn't feel like it.

The people I came across who didn't think I was crazy, because they too had been sick with something mysterious at one time, all knew the answer. One lady had a parasite, so she insisted that's what was making me sick. Another person had a candida condition, a different one Lyme disease, and about 75 people a thyroid problem. Everyone knew how to fix me, yet none of them had a clue. It used to drive me crazy, so much unsolicited advice, until I realized if I stopped complaining nobody could tell me what to do, because I wasn't asking them to! 

Instead of relying on the experiences of other people, I started studying health and sickness for myself. Boy was it a rough learning curve. Not only was my knowledge sorely lacking, it turns out there are as many different theories on health and wellness as there are stars in the sky! So I kept studying. Eventually I came to recognize things like the 'immune system' and 'stress response' weren't foreign systems invading my body. They were part of how I stayed healthy. Which led me to conclude they must be doing a bad job, so I researched how to change that. Before I knew it, sleep started to seem like a valuable thing to waste time on. The more I learned the more I changed, until eating processed food made me feel like crap because I just didn't do it very often. And then my ultimate breakthrough finally came late last year, when I was able to link the concepts of happiness, intention and outcome with good old fashioned healthy living. The craziest part of this insane journey is I didn't get here because I listened to what any one person had to say, I got here because I listened to what everyone had to say, and then figured out what was right for me.

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Monday, January 13, 2014

D For Determination

One week into my little New Year's resolution action-plan to revitalize my life, and I've erased four marvelous months of progress. Just gave it away, like there was a never ending supply of changed behavior sitting in my closet somewhere, and all I had to do was go grab more. I feel silly, more than a little greedy, and altogether certain the only way I can regain my lost ground is to get back on the horse of determination. It's nuts, how quickly expecting measurable improvement knocked me on my ass. Allowing the tiniest seeds of discontent to blossom for just a second sent me into a full-on meltdown twenty minutes later. And then they just kept on coming. Before I knew it, everything was wrong, bad, awful or terrible. Like, everything. Clearly my grand plan to ignore any and all unhappiness, for fear of sinking into the miserable pit of despair, is the only state of mind I can exist in.

Perhaps I should think it's odd all this upheaval was accompanied by the familiar symptoms I spent the majority of 2013 plagued with. However, by now I only raise my eyebrow with mild interest at the ins and outs of this weird illness. A sore throat, aches, chills, and Shingles-type pain ripping through my face, are all strangely consistent with the end of the world doom-and-gloom mood I spent the majority of 2013 in, as well. I assume it's pretty obvious I didn't particularly care for 2013. At all. In my efforts to run screaming in the other direction to get as far away from last year as possible, I neglected to remember two key rules. 1. Be grateful for what is today. 2. Never expect perfection. Instead of remembering those two gems, I got mad that my life is my life. Once I got mad about the circumstances surrounding my mere existence, there wasn't a thing in the world that didn't piss me off.

The past is too big of a burden to bear. There is too much bad there, nothing in the world I can do will ever make it good. I could spend the better part of the rest of my life trying to clean up the past, and it would never fix the injustice, sacrifice and misery floating around back there. Part of choosing to change my behavior and move forward was to recognize I am simply not strong enough to right so many wrongs. And even if I were, is that honestly the best use of my efforts? The past is dead, over, inflexible and concrete. If it hasn't already happened in the past, it's surely not going to at this late date! But the future, now that's something different. Fluid and full of promise, hope, inspiration or even dreams, the future is still to be determined. It's a wonderful place where the hard work of today pays off, interpretation is nine-tenths of reality, and without a doubt where life actually happens.

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Thank You, Namaste

As I'm doing yoga this morning I started thinking about how far I've come with my practice. I've done it intermittently since high school, but a year or so after getting sick had to stop. Of course I can't remember now if it was pain or fatigue that ended my affair with Downward Dog, but assume it was an awful combination of both. After gaining 50 lbs. of toxic disease and drug weight, spending day in and day out feeling like a sausage about to burst from my casing, and hurting so bad death was a welcome notion, I started doing yoga again. Heavens to Betsy it was awful! Not only did I already hurt so bad I could hardly move, I was so damn mad I couldn't do what was accomplished with ease in my pre-sick years, it made me angry and depressed to even try. Luckily I can laugh at the irony now, because the whole point of yoga is to accept ones natural limitations, and instead of reaching for someone else's ideal, celebrate the peace of what is now.

I guess I had a lot more to learn from yoga than just how to touch my toes. Perhaps simply inserting the expectation into my life was the beginning of knowing I could change things. But looking back at the starting line, all I remember was a bunch of healthy people and doctors lecturing me on the importance of exercise. How if I just moved, Fibromyalgia would magically disappear. None of them understood that simply lowering myself to the floor was an epic feat, and then getting back up again, it wasn't guaranteed! A walk around the block, phlease! Give me the gold medal, I just completed a marathon! Their disdain at my laziness, my unwillingness to try, was a dark cloud hanging over my head, wrapped up in the self-conscious cloak of a woman who had no control over her own health, let alone life.

Last year for Christmas I got the second season of Namaste Yoga on DVD. The unique and challenging series of 25-minute vinyasas were the perfect way to insert yoga back into my life. Short enough that I don't talk myself out of doing it, but effective enough to transform me, it's taken a year to get through the 2-disk set twice. I'm amazed at the increase in flexibility, and decrease in pain, when I compare last year to today. Yoga alone didn't do it, but without it I know I wouldn't be here, now. Namaste

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Saturday, January 4, 2014

Incremental Progress

I'm not much of a New Year's resolution kind of a girl. As much as I love new beginnings to start fresh with brand new habits, a Monday is pretty much all I require. From my observation, it seems like all those vows of health, happiness and prosperity are pretty much forgotten about by Superbowl, anyway. However, never one to be bound by the chains of my existing beliefs, this year I went New Year's resolution hog-wild. I've made tremendous progress, with both my life and health, in the back-half of 2013. But is my inherent type-A ever satisfied? Of course not! I want more!

Discipline, setting limits, and keeping my own rules, are three very hard concepts for me to employ. The intention is always there, but reality seems to be the bigger victor in choosing how my time is spent. Mainly, feeling like complete crap all the time, because I live with chronic illness, wipes away every good aspiration and determination aimed at improving my life. It's a viscous cycle I was stuck in for many years. Looking back at the end of 2013 made me realize how much progress all my bellyaching, self-criticism, and refusal to buckle under insane pressure, actually generated. 
So on January 1st I sat down and wrote out my grand plan to implement yet one more crucial step in getting my life back. And I mean I scheduled it. From 8AM to 7PM, 5 days a week, every hour was dedicated to a specific activity. My house was gonna be clean, dogs groomed, laundry, cooking, dishes and juicing accomplished with ease. And the hours I penciled in to write, oh, it was glorious! I felt fabulous, wonderful, ready to conquer the world! Now that I have a road map, maybe I can actually get there! 

In the back of my mind I knew how ridiculous expecting all this discipline, limit setting, and keeping my own rules, to just appear from thin air, actually was. However, it wasn't until Friday morning, after I set my alarm for 9AM, and pushed snooze for an hour and a half, that I realized what I wrote out is nothing more than the goal. Like, maybe by the end of 2014 I can be operating at a more efficient rate than I am now. Incremental progress, I proclaimed! The only way I have improved my life to date is to never expect perfection. It's the heat seeking missile bent on destroying the path to change. Ahhh, I feel much better now, having shed the pressure of immediate attainability. Because honestly, hasn't everything always been accomplished with nothing more than baby steps?

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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year Renewal

Exactly one year ago today I woke up crying. Doom and trepidation flooded my soul, as I clutched my husband and poured out my terrible, and more than a little superstitious, hunch. Something deep inside told me I was in for the hardest year of my life. So hard, survival itself was not guaranteed. Along with this certain knowledge came a big, fat pot o' gold at the end of the rainbow. If I managed to outrun 2013, I've made it through the worst of times, and will be free to move ahead with life. 

A self-fulfilling prophecy, perhaps, because this year almost did me in. What's odd is I've had "harder" years. For a long string of them, bad stuff, in the way of multiple and life-threatening illnesses, kept happening to me. I liken that phase to the moment the hurricane actually hits. What more can you do but hang on for dear life, and pray something worth rebuilding remains at the end? That first day, when the rain clears and the floods start to recede, is heartbreaking. Destruction and devastation as far as the eye can see. Somehow the strength to put one foot in front of the other is mustered, and the thankless path of rebuilding takes the first tired and weary steps back to life. 

Determination carried me through a pretty chaotic patch. Pretty soon all I had left was outrage. Incensed, furious anger surrounded my every effort. I suppose that's what 2013 was for me. And then I found a whole lot of freedom, and realized the ability to stop enduring, and start living, was within my reach. Holy smoke, did I actually get to the other side? Today I say yes. But if there's anything my life has prepared me for, it's the importance of knowing how to stay on my toes.

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