Taking A Hiatus (and this is not an April Fool’s joke)

Dear Readers,

I will be taking a short hiatus from blogging as I am dealing with some issues related to my Bipolar Disorder. I have been in a BD depression for several weeks now and have had some days so bad, I considered suicide.

The main issue is that I need to change my medications again as my current regiment has stopped working. I have been living with debilitating brain zaps that feel like an electrical current zipping through my brain. These leave me feeling dizzy and disoriented, and being on the computer is difficult during those times.

I will be back!! I refuse to let this defeat me, but I do need to take some time away until I have my BD back under control. It’s hard enough living with the physical pain of Fibromyalgia, Osteoarthritis, D.I.S.H., and more, but adding the mental health burden has become too much.

Thank you for your loyalty. Comments are appreciated.

Pamela

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All About Parkinson’s Disease

April is Parkinson’s Disease Month and I wanted to talk to you all briefly about this condition as part of my mandate to highlight “invisible diseases”.

Although there can be some visible signs when you have Parkinson’s Disease, it often starts out very subtle and hard to notice. A tremour in one hand might be the only outward sign in the beginning.

Here is an overview taken from the Mayo Clinic website. Click on the link for the full description on Parkinson’s Disease including Testing, Treatments and Living with Parkinson’s.

Overview

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement. Symptoms start gradually, sometimes starting with a barely noticeable tremor in just one hand. Tremors are common, but the disorder also commonly causes stiffness or slowing of movement.

In the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, your face may show little or no expression. Your arms may not swing when you walk. Your speech may become soft or slurred. Parkinson’s disease symptoms worsen as your condition progresses over time.

Although Parkinson’s disease can’t be cured, medications might significantly improve your symptoms. Occasionally, your doctor may suggest surgery to regulate certain regions of your brain and improve your symptoms.

Symptoms

Parkinson’s disease signs and symptoms can be different for everyone. Early signs may be mild and go unnoticed. Symptoms often begin on one side of your body and usually remain worse on that side, even after symptoms begin to affect both sides.

Parkinson’s signs and symptoms may include:

  • Tremor. A tremor, or shaking, usually begins in a limb, often your hand or fingers. You may a rub your thumb and forefinger back-and-forth, known as a pill-rolling tremor. Your hand may tremor when it’s at rest.
  • Slowed movement (bradykinesia). Over time, Parkinson’s disease may slow your movement, making simple tasks difficult and time-consuming. Your steps may become shorter when you walk. It may be difficult to get out of a chair. You may drag your feet as you try to walk.
  • Rigid muscles. Muscle stiffness may occur in any part of your body. The stiff muscles can be painful and limit your range of motion.
  • Impaired posture and balance. Your posture may become stooped, or you may have balance problems as a result of Parkinson’s disease.
  • Loss of automatic movements. You may have a decreased ability to perform unconscious movements, including blinking, smiling or swinging your arms when you walk.
  • Speech changes. You may speak softly, quickly, slur or hesitate before talking. Your speech may be more of a monotone rather than with the usual inflections.
  • Writing changes. It may become hard to write, and your writing may appear small.

When To See A Doctor

See your doctor if you have any of the symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease — not only to diagnose your condition but also to rule out other causes for your symptoms.

Causes

In Parkinson’s disease, certain nerve cells (neurons) in the brain gradually break down or die. Many of the symptoms are due to a loss of neurons that produce a chemical messenger in your brain called dopamine. When dopamine levels decrease, it causes abnormal brain activity, leading to symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

The cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown, but several factors appear to play a role, including:

  • Your genes. Researchers have identified specific genetic mutations that can cause Parkinson’s disease. But these are uncommon except in rare cases with many family members affected by Parkinson’s disease.However, certain gene variations appear to increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease but with a relatively small risk of Parkinson’s disease for each of these genetic markers.
  • Environmental triggers. Exposure to certain toxins or environmental factors may increase the risk of later Parkinson’s disease, but the risk is relatively small.

Researchers have also noted that many changes occur in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease, although it’s not clear why these changes occur. These changes include:

  • The presence of Lewy bodies. Clumps of specific substances within brain cells are microscopic markers of Parkinson’s disease. These are called Lewy bodies, and researchers believe these Lewy bodies hold an important clue to the cause of Parkinson’s disease.
  • Alpha-synuclein is found within Lewy bodies. Although many substances are found within Lewy bodies, scientists believe an important one is the natural and widespread protein called alpha-synuclein (a-synuclein). It’s found in all Lewy bodies in a clumped form that cells can’t break down. This is currently an important focus among Parkinson’s disease researchers.

Risk factors

Risk factors for Parkinson’s disease include:

  • Age. Young adults rarely experience Parkinson’s disease. It ordinarily begins in middle or late life, and the risk increases with age. People usually develop the disease around age 60 or older.
  • Heredity. Having a close relative with Parkinson’s disease increases the chances that you’ll develop the disease. However, your risks are still small unless you have many relatives in your family with Parkinson’s disease.
  • Sex. Men are more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than are women.
  • Exposure to toxins. Ongoing exposure to herbicides and pesticides may slightly increase your risk of Parkinson’s disease.

Complications

Parkinson’s disease is often accompanied by these additional problems, which may be treatable:

  • Thinking difficulties. You may experience cognitive problems (dementia) and thinking difficulties. These usually occur in the later stages of Parkinson’s disease. Such cognitive problems aren’t very responsive to medications.
  • Depression and emotional changes. You may experience depression, sometimes in the very early stages. Receiving treatment for depression can make it easier to handle the other challenges of Parkinson’s disease.You may also experience other emotional changes, such as fear, anxiety or loss of motivation. Doctors may give you medications to treat these symptoms.
  • Swallowing problems. You may develop difficulties with swallowing as your condition progresses. Saliva may accumulate in your mouth due to slowed swallowing, leading to drooling.
  • Chewing and eating problems. Late-stage Parkinson’s disease affects the muscles in your mouth, making chewing difficult. This can lead to choking and poor nutrition.
  • Sleep problems and sleep disorders. People with Parkinson’s disease often have sleep problems, including waking up frequently throughout the night, waking up early or falling asleep during the day.People may also experience rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder, which involves acting out your dreams. Medications may help your sleep problems.
  • Bladder problems. Parkinson’s disease may cause bladder problems, including being unable to control urine or having difficulty urinating.
  • Constipation. Many people with Parkinson’s disease develop constipation, mainly due to a slower digestive tract.

You may also experience:

  • Blood pressure changes. You may feel dizzy or lightheaded when you stand due to a sudden drop in blood pressure (orthostatic hypotension).
  • Smell dysfunction. You may experience problems with your sense of smell. You may have difficulty identifying certain odors or the difference between odors.
  • Fatigue. Many people with Parkinson’s disease lose energy and experience fatigue, especially later in the day. The cause isn’t always known.
  • Pain. Some people with Parkinson’s disease experience pain, either in specific areas of their bodies or throughout their bodies.
  • Sexual dysfunction. Some people with Parkinson’s disease notice a decrease in sexual desire or performance.

Treatment

There are a number of different drugs that may be utilized in the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease. The most popular include:

  • Carbidopa-levodopa. Levodopa, the most effective Parkinson’s disease medication, is a natural chemical that passes into your brain and is converted to dopamine.
  • Carbidopa-levodopa infusion.
  • Dopamine agonists.
  • MAO B inhibitors.

There is also a surgical option that may prove helpful. This article tells more about it, also from the Mayo Clinic.

For those who are interested in using CBD Oil, this article may prove helpful.

Remember,

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Domestic Violence – It Affects So Many

****Trigger Warning: This post contains depictions of violence against women.

I’m writing about a difficult and personal subject today. Domestic Violence is rampant in North America, and around the world and while I could write a full book on the subject, I want to address it in the context of my own personal story – that of a person who also lived with Chronic Pain.

The Story

I met Dallas on Christmas Day of 1979 when I was 17 and he was 34. I was instantly smitten with him and he was a charmer who got what he wanted when he wanted it. I was delighted his attentions fell on me because I was lonely and on my own – hitchhiking my way around the US and far from any family or friends.

At first, I didn’t realize that Dallas was also a pathological liar. His natural ability to talk to anyone about anything and sound so convincing, plus his good looks had instantly blinded me to anything that could knock him off the pedestal I had placed him on. Oh sure, some things didn’t really “click” with me and he often told the same stories to people that built him up, but I didn’t really think about it.

I learned very quickly that Dallas was also a jealous man and didn’t like other men paying attention to me – especially when they talked to me. We were both traveling the country now, with no set plans in place, and of course he didn’t have a job (a very common scenario as I would soon figure out), but he was good at getting things from people and so we traipsed around, talking about “settling down” and heading to whatever destination would be best for Dallas to come up with a plan. That involved talking to people – or rather, him talking and me trying to make myself invisible.

The first time he hit me was after we had been sitting in a bar on the ground floor of the truck stop we were staying at. He had gone back to our room for something and when he came back, I was chatting to a gentleman next to me, who had literally just asked: “so how are you tonight”? Dallas grabbed me by the arm, dragged me to our room and then started screaming at me about being unfaithful. He backhanded me so hard, I fell across the bed and onto the floor. He yanked me up by my hair and hit me again and I just took it, I was so shocked. It was the first time of many this happened.

But I stayed. I had been living with Chronic Pain for a couple of years at this point in my life and when he wasn’t in a jealous mood, Dallas was so loving and considerate of me. He kept promising to find us a place and get a job and every few months that would happen. We’d settle somewhere, he’d start working and then do something stupid like write some bad checks or shoplift (or outright steal things from people), and we’d have to pack up and leave town, like regular thieves in the night.

Somehow, over time, this pattern became my fault though. If I WASN’T always in pain, we could just travel around the country – that was his theory. He wanted to be a truck driver, but had lost his license so wasn’t able to drive. He resented me for “holding him back from his dreams,” though I’m not sure how he actually reconciled those thoughts. What was apparent was that everything that went wrong was somehow my fault.

One night, while he was in a rage about life not turning out to be fair, he locked me outside of the wee trailer we staying at, in the middle of the night, while I was naked. It was pouring rain, there were no neighbours nearby (we were living out of town) and it was cold. I pounded on the door, but he wouldn’t let me in, and I finally was forced to hide out in the shed on the property, wrapped in a mouldy blanket I found.

The next morning, he acted like nothing had happened. He never apologised, not in words, but sometimes, he would treat me with kid gloves. I never knew from day to day, or even hour to hour, which version of Dallas I was going to get.

I spent 3 years with this man. At one point, he left me for another woman we had met after he completed a 3-month prison stint for a Parole Violation. I returned home to Canada, worked to save up some money and went back to the US to find him. I was that in love and desperate to be with him. So sad when I think about it now. I even ended up pregnant, until a fight with him turned physical and he beat me badly enough that I lost the baby.

We made up, again…I got pregnant for the second time and ended up giving birth to a lovely little boy on Jan. 30th. This time, we were going to do things right! We found a place in Bellingham, Washington to live, and Dallas began working as a house painter. For 6 months, he actually managed to stay at the same job…I truly thought he’d turned a new leaf, with his son being the motivating factor. We still fought viciously, but he only hit me a couple of times, so I thought we could still work things out. Then I became pregnant again when our son was only 6 months old.

This time, it was different. One day, he told me he was going to Seattle for a quote on a huge painting job that could really put us in the money. He left on a Thursday, promising he’d be back on Sunday night.

He never came back.

I sat at the window of the small room we lived in, waiting all Sunday night, not wanting to admit the truth but by end of the day Monday, I had to admit he was really gone. He abandoned his son and child to be, and me, the woman who had stood by him faithfully through all the pain and beatings and lies.

It took a long time for me to recover. I moved back home to Canada, gave birth to my daughter alone and became a single mom to two wonderful kids. I dreamed about Dallas all the time – what could I have done differently to make him happy? How could I have been a better person for him, so he wouldn’t beat me? What did I do that caused him to hate me so much and how could I track him down again?

I didn’t try to find him again. I did see him twice after he left – he contacted me and came to where I was, first when the kids were 1 and 2 and then again when they were 5 and 6. That was the last time I laid eyes on Dallas, and though I grieved for so many things, I had grown some self-esteem by that point and realized how much better I was on my own. I vowed I would never again be abused in any way.

Forms of Abuse

Physical

Physical abuse is probably what we think of first when we hear the word ‘abuse.’ There were always incidents of yelling and screaming at me, hitting me, pulling my hair, punching me in places that the bruises wouldn’t show and little shoves etc, in front of others to keep me under control. I learned quickly not to start conversations with people and to speak only when I was spoken to, so he didn’t get physical with me.

Mental

Mental abuse is almost harder to take than physical abuse. The bruises heal, but the words said cut deeply into the soul and you start to believe the things being said about you. I was repeatedly told I was a burden, stupid and incapable of doing the most basic things. He called me names on a constant basis, told me I was worthless and that I was lucky he let me stay with him.

Financial

Because Dallas often refused to settle down and work a steady job, money was always tight and we often didn’t know where we would eat on any given day. If we were somewhere settled, it was usually better for a bit, but when we were hitchhiking around, we were dependent on Soup Kitchens and Missions and Shelters for a meal. Sometimes I would have to prostitute myself in order for us to have money. I’m not proud of that, but I did what I needed to do in order to survive.

Security

Security abuse is rarely talked about, but it’s when you don’t have the stability of a secure place to be. We slept under overpasses and in the desert, at shelters and missions, at the homes of people Dallas would befriend in our travels…we just never knew where we would be at any given time.

It was especially difficult when I was pregnant the first two times. In addition to my Chronic Pain, I was dealing with morning sickness and cravings, and my body ached in ways it never had before. When you sleep on concrete under an overpass with just a mover’s blanket for covering, it does a number on your body.

So, what are the lessons I learned here?

The Lessons

First off, I learned that nothing I could have done would have changed Dallas. Change has to come from within and you have to want to change in order to make change happen. He didn’t see anything wrong with the way we were living except I was a constant burden to him with my chronic pain. When he wasn’t treating me with kid gloves, he was screaming and berating me.

Secondly, I learned that sometimes, people don’t show you exactly who they are right from the start. It took me a long time to accept that the real Dallas was the one who stole and lied and hit and screamed – not the one who could charm the pants off of you.

Thirdly, I learned that there are various forms of abuse and being beaten isn’t the only way that someone can hurt you. It’s especially hard to accept abuse in your life when you already live with chronic pain or illness of some type.

Fourthly, I learned that there are ways of getting out, but you have to find your own inner strength to do it. You have to stop believing the lies being told about you and realize you are worthy of better treatment. For a long time, I didn’t believe that, and I put up with the abuse because that was all I knew. When Dallas was actually loving me, he loved me so good that I could forget the nightmarish parts of our life.

It wasn’t until the next incident would happen that would put him over the edge before I’d be right back in the middle of the terror and despair and wonder why I was allowing this to happen. My self-esteem was being beaten out of me at every turn and it came to the point that I accepted I really was as stupid and worthless as he made me out to be.

Words of Advice

Does any of this sound familiar to you? You may be a victim of Domestic Violence without even realizing it, especially if your spouse isn’t physically abusing you. Financial abuse (withholding money from you), emotional abuse (berating you and calling you names) and mental abuse (separating you from family and friends, keeping you from working, etc.) are all ways that you can be abused without recognizing it at first.

If you realize that are in an abusive situation, you need a plan to get out. Don’t believe for an instant when the person says they’re going to change. They’re not and they never will. It took me 3 whole years to realize that, 3 years of being beaten and downtrodden. Even after I was finally on my own, it took time to accept that I was the innocent party in all of this.

I had a lot of guilt. You may be experiencing some guilt, as well. If only…if only I’d been a better partner. If only I’d kept my mouth shut. If only the house was cleaner or the kids were better behaved. If only I hadn’t asked for grocery money or needed tampons. The “if onlys” are so hard to deal with, but you need to accept that you are not the one who is at fault. The abuser chooses to abuse…it’s as simple as that. We all have a choice in how we handle situations and most of us choose not to hurt other people.

There are shelters and organizations that can help you if you are in an abusive situation and need to get out. It’s true that most shelters are overcrowded, but you still owe it to yourself to try them. Talk to people who run them to find out what all your options are. Start building a plan to get out, even if it can’t happen immediately. Start by calling the crisis lines in your area or any mental health organization. Here’s a list to help you get started: List of International Domestic Violence Hotlines and Advocacy Organizations

Document everything that’s going on including injuries and outward marks on your body. If you’re able to take pictures that you can safely keep (or send to someone and then delete), do so. If you can safely keep a journal, do so. If you can safely confide in one person…do so. All of this will become helpful if you decide to prosecute your abuser.

Above all, remember that there is always hope. Do what you can to minimize the violence in your situation while looking for ways to get out safely. It may not seem possible now, but don’t give up hope. Confide in someone, and be prepared to make a clean break, without going back to the abuser. You have a beautiful future ahead of you and you deserve every good thing in your life. Remember…

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Pet Therapy for Chronic Illness

Previously posted on The Zebra Pit

Fibromyalgia can be a lonely disease. Staying connected with friends and family becomes difficult when chronic pain and fatigue make it hard to get out and about like you used to. Sometimes, having a pet can make all the difference in the world!

Not only will a furry friend give you some companionship, but it turns out that pet therapy can actually be a pretty effective way of dealing with fibromyalgia pain. Here’s how it works.

What Is Pet Therapy

woman holding adult siberian husky
Photo by andres chaparro on Pexels.com

Pet therapy is a guided interaction between a person and a trained animal. It also involves the animal’s handler. The purpose of pet therapy is to help someone recover from or cope with a health problem or mental disorder. Basically, it involves using specially trained animals like cats and dogs to provide comfort to people who suffer from diseases like fibromyalgia, cancer, dementia, etc. The animals provide companionship while the patient pets or plays with them, reducing the amount of stress and pain they feel.

The biggest concern when it comes to pet therapy is making sure that the animals are well-trained and vaccinated. Because pet therapy is often done in hospitals, doctors want to be sure that a dog won’t get loose and run around contaminating the area.

With that being said, pet therapy, when done by a professional, is perfectly safe and can be very effective in treating fibromyalgia pain.

What Are The Benefits Of Pet Therapy?

Pet therapy builds on the pre-existing human-animal bond. Interacting with a friendly pet can help many physical and mental issues. It can help reduce blood pressure and improve overall cardiovascular health. It can also release endorphins that produce a calming effect. This can help alleviate pain, reduce stress, and improve your overall psychological state.

How Can Pet Therapy Ease Fibromyalgia Pain?

siamese cat
Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

While the idea that simply petting a cat or dog can actually help your fibromyalgia pain seems a little far-fetched, there’s some basic science that backs it up. You see, petting an animal has been shown to cause your body to release lower levels of cortisol, which is the hormone linked to stress. And cortisol levels are directly linked to the amount of pain people with fibromyalgia feel.

And in addition to helping deal with your fibromyalgia pain, pet therapy also has other benefits. Depression and anxiety are both common among people with fibromyalgia, and it turns out that pet therapy can also help significantly with those symptoms. People who engage in pet therapy report consistently lower levels of stress and anxiety than people who don’t. There’s something about stroking a companion animal that lends a level of comfort to people who are suffering.

And taking care of an animal also helps people with fibromyalgia get more involved in daily life. Taking the animal on walks or playing with them in the park are great ways to coax yourself out of bed. And that’s especially true on days when your fibro pain makes you want to just close the curtains and go to sleep. So, a therapy animal can even be a link to the rest of the world when you have fibromyalgia.

So pet therapy can not only help you reduce your fibromyalgia pain, it can help you feel happier and less anxious.

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How Can You Start?

woman wearing gray jacket beside white puppy
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Your doctor or therapist managing your treatment will administer pet therapy. A trained handler, often the pet’s owner, will take the animal to every meeting and work under your doctor or therapist’s direction to help you reach your goals. In most cases, the handlers work as volunteers. Discussion of proper pet handling is needed to ensure the safety of both the person receiving treatment and the pet.

Or if you prefer, you can also purchase your own animal that has been trained to be a therapy animal. There are lots of different breeders and trainers. And one should be able to help you find what you are looking for. A quick google search should be enough to find some in your area.

So maybe you’re the kind of person who hates having to leave their loyal pet behind. Well, getting them certified to provide therapy means that you can get comfort from them anywhere you go. And that can be a great thing when you’re suddenly struck by a fibromyalgia flare-up during your daily routine.

Animals make great companions, and it turns out that they might actually be great for treating fibromyalgia pain too. So if you’re tired of trying side-effect riddled medications, some alternative pet therapy may just be for you.

Outlook

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Photo by Dids on Pexels.com

The success of pet therapy depends on establishing realistic goals and expectations and meeting those goals. You and your doctor or therapist will establish these goals at the beginning of your treatment. You’ll also discuss how to reach those goals and how long it will take.

Your doctor or therapist will monitor your progress and help you stay on track to meet your goals. If your progress is slower or faster than expected, they may alter your treatment plan. Remember,

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Let’s Learn About CBD and Cannabis

Today, I’m featuring a guest post by author Bojana Petkovic, Project Manager at Loud Cloud Health

CBD and Cannabis: How They Benefit Our Health and Society 

The good news is that millions of researchers in the field of medicine, pharmacology, and biochemistry put a lot of effort into exploring cannabis and its main cannabinoids. Thanks to research, cannabis and its incredible benefits are quickly gaining momentum. Let’s take a look at some basic facts and stats.

What Makes Cannabis Worth Researching?

Humankind has been familiar with this plant for at least 5,000 years. Throughout history, many people have consumed it as medicine through food and beverages. Some of the most acknowledged effects of cannabis include killing all sorts of pain, helping cancer patients, improving mental health, etc. That is why a growing number of the world’s governments consider decriminalizing or fully legalizing it. 

The plant has an incredible number of complex substances in its buds, fan leaves, and stems. Those substances are called cannabinoids. There are ten most significant ones recognized by modern medicine, two of them being CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). 

Even though the research has been fruitful, scientists believe there is still a lot more to know about cannabis’s benevolent nature. 

What Do We Know About CBD and Cannabis?

First and foremost, we are aware that CBD successfully relieves symptoms such as chronic pain, cramps, and tissue inflammation. Such symptoms are common in diseases like arthritis, fibromyalgia, rheumatism, and numerous other musculoskeletal conditions that typically trouble the senior population. According to the study conducted at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, CBD tends to reduce arthritic and back pain, leaving trauma-related pain behind as well.

Types of Pain - Chronic Pain

Mental disorders and illnesses are common for all age groups. The typical symptoms include anxiety, mood swings, dementia, and insomnia. Less common ones include severe psychosis.  

CBD appears remarkably advantageous in this field of medicine. Research by Bonn-Miller suggests the importance of medicinal cannabis to those who have PTSD by helping them sleep and cope with trauma. Another study from 2006 explains that as much as cannabis might instigate a more regular use, depression and psychotic disorders should be treated with it. Less agitation, more sleep, and success in battling constant anxiety are just some reasons why cannabis should be used in different treatments. 

In adults, CBD and cannabis can help cure more severe addictions. Such addictions include heavy opioids, alcohol, and of course, prescription drugs. That may seem paradoxical since cannabis needs to be used in moderation as some forms can cause dependence. Addiction statistics reveal that adequate use of cannabis helped 26% of people who consumed heroin to opt out of it and smoke marijuana instead. Some 40% of alcohol addicts chose to do so as well. Additionally, 66% of prescription drug addicts switched to cannabis for good. 

Word of Warning

Though cannabis sounds like a miracle plant, that doesn’t mean it has no side effects. THC is mainly known for being psychoactive, while CBD can induce nausea, dizziness, or dry mouth. Most of these occur if one consumes too much. Cannabis use disorder is a form of dependence, so it is of ultimate importance to use the plant responsibly, and always consult a doctor if you have a condition.

What Can We Anticipate in the Future?

Thanks to technological advancement, we are about to see the new and incredible benefits of this plant. We should not fail to mention that, through further legalization and decriminalization, a large number of people will have job opportunities within cannabusiness. This industry has no intention to leave its upward trajectory. Au contraire, it will most probably be “the next big thing.”

Infographic URL: https://loudcloudhealth.com/pros-and-cons-of-weed-infographic/

Thanks for reading and remember:

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10 Tips to Improve Your Mental Health

Previously posted on The Zebra Pit

Mental Health is a hot topic these days. More and more people are recognizing that they suffering in some way with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or other mental health issues.

Today I’d like to share 10 things that can help to improve your mental health. I hope you find these helpful.

1. Recognize There’s A Problem

The very first step to improving your mental health is recognizing there’s a problem. You may be feeling a sense of the blues that you can’t shake, or a generalized anxiety that you can’t control.

Perhaps you’re feeling out of control and going through severe mood swings from mania to depression. All you know for sure is that something is “off” and you need to figure out what it is. Whatever the case may be, recognizing something is wrong is the first step to making things better.

2. Ask For Help

Perhaps one of the hardest things we face in life is asking for help. We like to think we’re capable of handling whatever life throws at us, but it’s not always that simple. You may find that at work, you’re more than capable of tackling whatever you face, but at home it’s a different story. Or, perhaps you’ve faced challenges at home that seem easy, but at work, you’re struggling to find your place.

When you’re dealing with your mental health, you may already feel like you’re a failure. Asking for help could prove to be a very difficult thing to do, but if you don’t ask, you tend to stay stuck in the situation you’re finding hard to manage. Talk to your doctor about what you’re going through, or find a counselor or trusted friend that you can share your concerns with. Sometimes just the very act of sharing with someone can help you feel better without further steps.

3. Accept Help

Once you’ve asked for help, the next step is to actually accept the help that’s offered. This might mean medication for depression or Bipolar Disorder if diagnosed, or your doctor could have other recommendations such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Meditation, Yoga for stress, etc.

Accepting help doesn’t mean you will end up with a mental illness diagnosis. However getting a diagnosis simply means that your body may not be producing the right chemicals to help you feel the best you can. There are hundreds of diagnoses, including Depression, Schizophrenia, Narcissism, Bipolar Disorder, and more.

Basically, your mental health can be simple or complex. A doctor or counselor can help to diagnose what’s going on and offer you treatment options. There is no shame in having problems with your mental health. Mental health issues are not your fault and are no different than having a medical condition. With changing times, terminology should no longer hold the stigma it used to. We live in an age where awareness is everything and more and more people are admitting to mental illness in the hopes that we can eliminate the stigmas all together.

4. Get Active

It’s time to get active with your mental health treatment plan. Exercise is a great place to start and many doctors will encourage you to get out and do something physical to help you feel better. Biking, walking, swimming, golf, tennis…whatever you like to do is the best fit. Even 30 minutes a day of exercise can help to balance hormones, improve mood, lessen anxiety and encourage better sleep. Especially if you can do it in the sunshine!

5. Explore Medication

Your doctor may recommend that you start on an anti-depressant or other medication for your symptoms. Please realize that taking medication is not a sign of weakness…it simply means your brain isn’t producing the right chemicals and needs a boost.

I liken it to other diseases…you wouldn’t refuse medication for heart disease or a kidney problem and you wouldn’t have an issue taking something for Diabetes, so why would this be any different? If your brain isn’t creating the right chemical mix, medication is an easy way to correct the problem and bring things back into balance.

Of course ultimately, it’s your choice. Psych meds can have a range of scary side effects and it can sometimes take years to find one that will work right for you. There are also alternatives to medication use. For a list of options, click here.

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6. Cognitive Behavior Therapy

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) focuses on challenging and changing unhelpful thoughts, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors, improving your emotional response and aiding in the development of personal coping strategies that target solving current problems.

CBT rests on the idea that thoughts and perceptions influence behavior. Feeling distressed, in some cases, may distort one’s perception of reality. CBT aims to identify harmful thoughts, assess whether they are an accurate depiction of reality, and, if they are not, employ strategies to challenge and overcome them.

CBT is appropriate for people of all ages, including children, teens, and adults. Evidence has mounted that CBT can benefit numerous conditions, such as major depressive disorder, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and many others. Research also indicates that CBT can be delivered effectively online, in addition to face-to-face therapy sessions.

This link gives you a quick overview of what CBT is and how it works. Ask your doctor for a referral to a certified CBT professional if you think this type of therapy could be helpful for you.

7. Yoga* and Tai Chi

As discussed, exercise is a good way of helping you feel better about yourself. Some people find Yoga and/or Tai Chi to be of great benefit when they are struggling with mental health issues.

The discipline involved with following regulated steps in a slow and deliberate fashion helps to calm the mind and put the focus on your overall well-being. Feeling your muscles working together can be very soothing and the slow movements are safe for just about everyone. Mastering the various forms gives you a sense of success which can be great incentive to keep going.

*Please note: Yoga is not recommended for people with hypermobility. Thank you.

8. Nutrition

Your body needs fuel to function and good nutrition is key to feeling well physically and mentally. By following a healthy eating plan and getting plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains and protein, you are aiding your body in running in top condition.

Caffeine may or may not fit into your life – some people find it makes them jittery, others have no problems. Try adding more water to your daily intake – it helps lubricate your brain and joints and keeps you hydrated for optimal function. Avoid sugary beverages as much as possible – they don’t add any value to your health.

9. Spiritual Practices

Being spiritual doesn’t mean being religious, but both can have a place in your life. If you are religious, you may find prayer to be of comfort while you deal with your mental health. If religion is not your thing, spirituality can come from the sense of a Higher Power, Nature, Music or other practices.

Try to engage in your Spirituality/Religion on a daily basis – you may find a time of prayer, being in nature or listening to music to be of value when done at the same time every day. Some people like to do this in the morning, when the day is fresh in front of them. Others prefer to do this at night, so they can reflect on the day.

Whatever time you choose, it’s your time to be honest with your beliefs and to honor them in a way that feels authentic to you.

10. Journaling

Many people who live with mental health issues find journaling to be of value. Being able to honestly reflect on your life without fear of others reading your words can bring great comfort. The key is to write honestly about your feelings, not worrying about recriminations and criticism.

Choose a time to journal when it’s quiet and you won’t be interrupted. Set the stage with a cup of tea or other beverage, find a quiet writing nook and let yourself go. Don’t worry about impressing yourself with perfect grammar – just let yourself go and free flow with the writing. Unless you choose to share your journal with others, this is for your eyes only.

The freedom that comes with writing can bring clarity to your life and help you recognize areas that might need improvement, which then leads to greater understanding and happiness.

A Few Final Thoughts

I hope these 10 steps help you to realize that mental health issues are important and need to be taken seriously. You deserve to feel your best and when you’re not, everything else seems to get bogged down.

By attending to your mental health, you are actually doing your physical body a favor as well, since you’re bound to feel better in all ways when you’re feeling better mentally.

Recognize the problem, ask for help and try some of the steps above and see if things improve. Your doctor is always a great place to start and counseling is almost always worthwhile. You owe it to yourself to be your best version of you. Remember,

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10 Symptoms You May Experience with Fibromyalgia

Previously posted on The Zebra Pit

Let’s start the New Year with a review of 10 Symptoms you may experience with Fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is a tricky condition to live with as there are many symptoms you can experience beyond Pain and Fatigue. Here are 10 of the top symptoms you may experience and how to manage them.

Symptoms_of_fibromyalgia

Symptoms

1. Brain Fog

This is a cognitive impairment that causes problems such as temporary loss of memory, forgetting words or mixing up words, losing your train of thought, or saying things that don’t make sense. It can be frightening when it happens, as these are also signs of other conditions, such as Alzheimers Disease.

Your doctor can do some mental testing to make sure the symptoms you’re experiencing aren’t being caused by some other condition. Ways you can help yourself include keeping a notebook with you to write down important information, taking a moment to pause and collect your thoughts, and keeping a sense of humour about the situation. If you tend to panic about having this happen, laughing is a good way to keep things light while allowing you to start over with what you were saying.

2. Jaw Pain

Jaw pain in the joints on either one or both sides can be mistaken for TMJ (temporomandibular joint disfunction). Pain and swelling are the common symptoms of jaw pain along with stiffness and being unable to open the mouth without pain.

Gentle stretching exercises and muscle relaxants may be helpful in managing the pain. If only one side is affected, try chewing on the other side to relieve pain. If you hear popping or clicking, or if your jaw seems to be “out of joint”, see your dentist to rule out TMJ or other conditions.

3. Urinary Problems

If you are having difficulty with urinating, whether it’s a problem with urgency, leakage or straining, it’s good to check with your doctor to make sure there’s no underlying problem.

Having Fibromyalgia can affect the bladder and kidneys, causing the above symptoms. Some solutions include urinating on a schedule, doing Kegels, seeing a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist, and using bladder control products for leakage issues.

4. Body Temperature

People with Fibromyalgia may have difficulty in regulating their body temperature. In my case, I can have cold skin and goosebumps, yet be sweating from overheating at the same time. It’s a very disconcerting feeling.

Things that may help include keeping a light blanket or sweater nearby for chills and a fan for when heat becomes a problem. I have found that keeping my feet warm helps with the chills and then using a fan helps ward off the sweating.

5. Weight Gain

Weight gain is often caused because of medications you may be taking for your Fibromyalgia. Even if you’re not taking prescriptions, you may find you’re still gaining weight – it’s one of the anomalies of having Fibro. The only way to lose weight is by taking in less calories than you are expending. Fad diets may work for a short period of time, but in general are unsustainable.

Following a proper eating plan from all 4 food groups is essential and exercise is as well. You may find walking helpful (consider using walking poles for extra stability) or water activities, such as Aquafit, Deep Water Workouts, or Pool Walking to be helpful.

6. Chest Pain

Chest pain can be a scary symptom of Fibromyalgia and should always be checked out by a medical professional if you experience the following:

  • Pressure, tightness, pain, or a squeezing or aching sensation in your chest or arms that may spread to your neck, jaw or back.
  • Nausea, indigestion, heartburn or abdominal pain.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Cold sweat.
  • Fatigue.
  • Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness.

The cause of chest pain in Fibromyalgia is often because of something called Costochondritis, which is an inflammation of the cartilage around the ribs. The condition usually affects the cartilage where the upper ribs attach to the breastbone, or sternum, an area known as the costosternal joint or costosternal junction.

Treatment includes anti-inflammatory pain relievers such as Ibuprofen or Naproxen and using either heat or ice (which ever feels best for you).

7. Sleep Disorders

Pain can keep you from getting the sleep you need. You may also be experiencing Restless Leg Syndrome and not even be aware of it. Sleep Apnea is another problem that you may be facing and all of these issues can prevent you from getting the deep REM sleep that is necessary to repair the body.

Good sleep hygiene is important to follow. You may want to keep a notebook to jot down your thoughts when you wake at night to see if there is a pattern. Keep the room cool, avoid using electronics for one hour before bed, and try using a weighted blanket to see if that helps.

8. Digestive Problems

When you have Fibromyalgia, you may experience digestive disorders including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation (or occasionally both), heartburn and a general sense of feeling “unwell”.

Drinking peppermint tea can help with nausea, eating smaller more frequent meals might make a difference and trying to set up a schedule for bowel movements can help relieve discomfort. Metamucil or other Fibre supplements every day can be helpful for the bowels without resorting to laxatives.

If symptoms persist, see your doctor to rule out other potential problems.

9. Skin Problems

Itching, rashes, hives and tiny red marks can often show up when you have Fibromyalgia. Skin may become more sensitive to soaps and fragrances and you may discover that your normally dry skin has become oily or vice versa.

Use of a mild cleanser for face and body is imperative, especially ones containing oatmeal. Antihistimines are suggested when hives and itching become a problem and the tiny red marks that might show up on your skin are harmless.

If you have problems with skin rash, see your doctor who may recommend a dermatologist for further treatment.

10. Depression

Depression and Fibromyalgia may go hand in hand without you realizing you are showing signs. If you are finding yourself struggling to maintain interest in former activities, you’re isolating yourself, eating less or more than usual or have been unable to shake “the blues”, you may be experiencing Depression.

Treatment includes Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and often, medications. There is no shame to having Depression – you haven’t done anything wrong. You’re not weak, your body is showing signs of a chemical imbalance which should be treated like any other medical problem.

If you are feeling so depressed that you are suicidal, please call a hotline for help. You can find more information on hotlines here for Canada and here for the United States. In the UK, you can use this page for help.

Conclusion

There are over 60 different symptoms that relate to Fibromyalgia. These 10 are just the tip of the iceberg, but are the ones more commonly experienced.

Fibromyalgia is hard to explain

If you are experiencing something new, or if a symptom you’ve had for awhile changes, it’s always important to see your doctor, to rule out anything outside of Fibromyalgia. Better safe than sorry is certainly the key here. And remember…

50 Christmas Quotes

Revised from last year, I thought it was a good time to share my favourite Christmas quotes!

In the Spirit of the Season, here are 50 Christmas quotes to help bring good cheer to your heart during the holidays. Thanks to the website Daring To Live Fully for the list.

1. “I sometimes think we expect too much of Christmas Day. We try to crowd into it the long arrears of kindliness and humanity of the whole year. As for me, I like to take my Christmas a little at a time, all through the year. And thus I drift along into the holidays – let them overtake me unexpectedly – waking up some fine morning and suddenly saying to myself: ‘Why, this is Christmas Day!’”

~ David Grayson

2. “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas;
Soon the bells will start,
And the thing that will make them ring
Is the carol that you sing
Right within your heart.”

~ Meredith Willson, “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas”

3. “Christmas gift suggestions: to your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.”

~ Oren Arnold

Christmas quotes

4.

5. “Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas.”

~ Peg Bracken

6. “Instead of being a time of unusual behavior, Christmas is perhaps the only time in the year when people can obey their natural impulses and express their true sentiments without feeling self-conscious and, perhaps, foolish. Christmas, in short, is about the only chance a man has to be himself.”

~ Francis C. Farley

7. “It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air.”

~ W.T. Ellis

8. “Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.”

~ Norman Vincent Peale

9. “Christmas now surrounds us,
Happiness is everywhere
Our hands are busy with many tasks
As carols fill the air.”

~ Shirley Sallay

10. “Each sight, each sound of Christmas
And fragrances sublime
Make hearts and faces happy
This glorious Christmastime.”

~ Carice Williams

11. “Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love!”

~ Hamilton Wright Mabie

12. “Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts.”

~ Janice Maeditere

13. “Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”

~ Author unknown, attributed to a 7-year-old named Bobby

14. “I wish we could put up some of the Christmas spirit in jars and open a jar of it every month.”

~ Harlan Miller

15. “Christmas is the season of joy, of holiday greetings exchanged, of gift-giving, and of families united.”

~ Norman Vincent Peale

16. “Christmas is most truly Christmas when we celebrate it by giving the light of love to those who need it most.”

~ Ruth Carter Stapleton

17. “Good news from heaven the angels bring,
Glad tidings to the earth they sing:
To us this day a child is given,
To crown us with the joy of heaven.”

~ Martin Luther

18. “The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.”

~ Burton Hillis

19. “Probably the reason we all go so haywire at Christmas time with the endless unrestrained and often silly buying of gifts is that we don’t quite know how to put our love into words.”

~ Harlan Miller

20. “For centuries men have kept an appointment with Christmas. Christmas means fellowship, feasting, giving and receiving, a time of good cheer, home.”

~ W. J. Tucker

21. “Christmas is not just a time for festivity and merry making. It is more than that. It is a time for the contemplation of eternal things. The Christmas spirit is a spirit of giving and forgiving.”

~ J. C. Penney

22. “I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

23. “I love the Christmas-tide, and yet,
I notice this, each year I live;
I always like the gifts I get,
But how I love the gifts I give!”

~ Carolyn Wells

24. “Mankind is a great, an immense family. This is proved by what we feel in our hearts at Christmas.”

~ Pope John XXIII

25. “Let us have music for Christmas…
Sound the trumpet of joy and rebirth;
Let each of us try, with a song in our hearts,
To bring peace to men on earth.”

~ Mildred L. Jarrell

26. “Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”

~ Calvin Coolidge

27. “I don’t think Christmas is necessarily about things. It’s about being good to one another, it’s about the Christian ethic, it’s about kindness.”

~ Carrie Fisher

28. “What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace.”

~ Agnes M. Pharo

29. “May Christmas lend a special charm
To all you chance to do.
And may the season light your way
To hopes and dreams anew.”

~ Garnett Ann Schultz, “My Christmas Wish”

30. “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,
Just like the ones I used to know,
Where the tree tops glisten
And children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow.”

~ Irving Berlin

31. “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

~ Charles Dickens, Ebeneezer Scrooge, A Christmas Carol

32. “And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

~ Dr Seuss

33. “The merry family gatherings–
The old, the very young;
The strangely lovely way they
Harmonize in carols sung.

For Christmas is tradition time–
Traditions that recall
The precious memories down the years,
The sameness of them all.”

~ Helen Lowrie Marshall

34. “Christmas is forever, not for just one day,
for loving, sharing, giving, are not to put away
like bells and lights and tinsel, in some box upon a shelf.
The good you do for others is good you do yourself.”

~ Norman Wesley Brooks, “Let Every Day Be Christmas”

35. “This time of year means being kind
to everyone we meet,
To share a smile with strangers
we may pass along the street.”

~ Betty Black

36. “Until one feels the spirit of Christmas, there is no Christmas. All else is outward display–so much tinsel and decorations. For it isn’t the holly, it isn’t the snow. It isn’t the tree not the firelight’s glow. It’s the warmth that comes to the hearts of men when the Christmas spirit returns again.”

~ Unknown

37. “There is a Christmas song upon the air,
There is a joy innate within the heart;
An inner sense of peace, a holy light
Illumines life and sets these days apart.”

~ Edna Greene Hines

38. “I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.”

~ Taylor Caldwell

39. “Christmas in Bethlehem. The ancient dream: a cold, clear night made brilliant by a glorious star, the smell of incense, shepherds and wise men falling to their knees in adoration of the sweet baby, the incarnation of perfect love.”

~ Lucinda Franks

40. “Are you willing to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world – stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death – and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem nineteen hundred years ago is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love? Then you can keep Christmas.”

~ Henry Van Dyke

41. “Ask your children two questions this Christmas. First: What do you want to give to others for Christmas? Second: What do you want for Christmas? The first fosters generosity of heart and an outward focus. The second can breed selfishness if not tempered by the first.”

~ Author Unknown

42. “Bless us Lord, this Christmas, with quietness of mind; Teach us to be patient and always to be kind.”

~ Helen Steiner Rice

43. “Christmas! The very word brings joy to our hearts. No matter how we may dread the rush, the long Christmas lists for gifts and cards to be bought and given–when Christmas Day comes there is still the same warm feeling we had as children, the same warmth that enfolds our hearts and our homes.”

~ Joan Winmill Brown

44. “Christmas – that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia. Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance – a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved.”

~ Augusta E. Rundel

45. “Christmas day is a day of joy and charity. May God make you very rich in both.”

~ Phillips Brooks

46.

Christmas quotes

47. “Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone.”

~ Charles Schulz

48. “Christmas, my child, is love in action.”

~ Dale Evans

49. “Off to one side sits a group of shepherds. They sit silently on the floor, perhaps perplexed, perhaps in awe, no doubt in amazement. Their night watch had been interrupted by an explosion of light from heaven and a symphony of angels. God goes to those who have time to hear him–and so on this cloudless night he went to simple shepherds.”

~ Max Lucado

50. “Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.”

~ Steve Maraboli

Season of Miracles

Thoughts

As we enter the Season of Miracles, I wanted to write today about something that’s been on my heart. Joy and Miracles and hope for the future.

There is so much hope that comes with Christmas and Hanukkah – the Birth of the Christ Child, the Miracle of the Oil burning for 8 days – and I want us to see that despite Chronic Illness, there can still be joy and miracles and things to look forward to.

After living with Chronic Illness for over 30 years, my list of physical ailments is long and continues to grow. I also have a mental illness to deal with which will be with me for the rest of my life.

Having Bipolar Disorder was a frightening diagnosis for me, but after finally getting it under control with the proper medications, it’s become a real non-factor in my life and I often forget that I have it.

To me, that’s a miracle.

Each year though, my physical pain gets worse, and so does my Chronic Fatigue. I struggle more with pain management and all the side effects, but I’ve also learned new tips and tricks to help deal with my days – another reason to feel hopeful.

Making Changes

In a previous post, I wrote about complementary medicine and how it can help with Chronic Pain. I am a true believer in trying new solutions for old problems and had some great feedback about this article. I hope you were able to incorporate some of these ideas, or will look at the post to give them a try.

Living with Chronic Pain can be a bittersweet encounter – bitter because of the pain and side effects and all the negative changes in your life, but sweet because there are still things to be grateful for.

Research

There is new research on the horizon for diagnosing Fibromyalgia – the work being done to develop accurate blood testing has never been more exciting, and with science on our side, things are bound to have a positive impact in our lives.

The sooner we get a true diagnosis, the sooner treatment can start.

Treatments themselves are becoming better too, now that we understand that Fibromyalgia isn’t an autoimmune disorder and that its roots lie in the nervous system and the inability to communicate properly with the brain and spinal canal regarding pain signals.

Although there haven’t been any new medications released to treat Fibro, Gabapentin is being used more commonly in conjunction with the approved medications (Savella, Cymbalta and Lyrica) with good results.

More and more patients are becoming involved in Research for their health conditions, and Clinical Trials are being held across North America on a regular basis.

For more information about clinical trials, you can sign up here at ClinicalTrials.gov to see if you qualify for studies on a variety of health issues, not just Fibromyalgia. Another good spot to try is Patients At Heart. For Canadians, this link takes you to the Health Canada Clinical Trials website.

Advocacy

Another area where I’m seeing hope and miracles is in Patient Advocacy. This is a fast growing area where Patients become involved as authorities in their lived experience and work together with Health Care Partners to make changes in how health care is delivered.

One of the largest national organizations in Advocacy is WEGO Health. WEGO Health works with Patients in a wide variety of areas, offering opportunties to share you stories and help to impact change in a number of different ways.

They highlight a number of different annual conferences that take place in North America, and provide opportunities for you to share your story and get involved in various projects.

Patient Advocacy at an organizational level is becoming extremely important as well. If you want to be involved, simply contact the health organization of your choice, and ask them how you can become a Patient Advocate.

Volunteering your time to share your health story and help others is a great way to give back, beyond simply “making a donation”. Financial help is always needed and appreciated, but you can make a real difference as well in sharing your experiences.

Volunteering

Speaking of volunteering, this is an activity that has given me the greatest joy since becoming disabled. I do volunteer work for a group in BC, Canada called the Patient Voices Network, where I act as a Patient Advocate for a variety of Health Care initiatives.

I currently sit on 5 health-related committees,. Two are with the BC Emergency Medicine Network. Another is a Surgical Quality Improvement committee and another committee is devoted to ensuring Quality Control for all the Laboratories on Vancouver Island, BC.

Finally, I am a member of the Oversight & Advisory Committee for the Patient Voices Network, a role I’ve held for 3 years now. We oversee the activities of PVN and ensure that Patients are getting opportunities to share their voices in making change in health care.

I have also recently been working on becoming a Coach for PainBC.ca, allowing me to work directly with people with Chronic Pain and helping them find solutions for situations in their lives that they require some guidance with. I expect that work to start in 2020 when my training is complete in mid-December.

These volunteer opportunities allow me to give back to the community in a variety of ways while still taking care of my health. I devote approximately 20 hours a month to all of these committees which is manageable without overdoing it.

I love the variety of experiences I get to be involved in, the people I work with (surgeons, Government officials, other patients, etc.) and the opportunity to stretch my wings and try new things beyond my day to day life.

I’ve even been sponsored to travel to various conferences and to take courses such as the San’yas Indigenous Cultural Training.

I share this with you to show you that even if your health isn’t the greatest, you can still participate in volunteering in ways that make a difference.

Another volunteer suggestion is this: if you are a crafter, find out if your local hospital has need for knitted or crocheted items and take on the challenge. Blankets, baby items and more are often for sale in the Hospital Gift Shops and you can have a real impact on someone’s life with this kind of giving.

I know I’ve been very comforted in times in the hospital when I’ve been provided with a beautifully created blanket!

Season of Hope

I trust you are getting a sense of the hope and miracles I started this post with. There is so much potential in our lives even if we are disabled by pain and our physical and/or mental illnesses.

We must let go of the old ways of thinking that our good days are behind us, and start celebrating the wonderful things we have yet to accomplish.

Think about what you’re good at and find a way to incorporate it back into your life. What makes you smile? What makes your heart skip a beat? Find a way to bring that joy back into your life and see what changes.

Pain is easier to manage when you have good things to look forward to. Fatigue seems easier to handle when you’re active and busy, both mentally and physically.

I hope this post was helpful. I appreciate your comments below and look foward to sharing a magical Season with all of you! Remember…

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Finding The Holiday Spirit with Chronic Illness

As December makes it’s appearance, it’s time to start thinking about the coming Holidays. Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve are the major celebrations for this time of year, and when you live with Chronic Illness, it can be hard to get into the spirit.

Plan In Advance

As Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Years get closer, it’s a good idea to start thinking about what you’ll do and where you’ll go. Are there family traditions that can be changed in regards to who cooks or hosts events? If it’s been you in the past that hosted a large group, perhaps someone else could do it this year and you could be the guest. Start to prioritize the things you most want to do (attend a Santa Claus parade, a Festival of Lights, Religious Services, visiting certain friends, etc.) and then build your schedule around that.

Keep Managing Your Chronic Illness

Once you have a schedule in place, you can start building in rest days before and after events. Don’t forget about the day of the events themselves and how you need to ration your energy to have the greatest chance of being able to participate.

Go to your scheduled doctor’s appointments and take care of yourself. It’s so tempting to cancel these things at this time of the year, but don’t. Make sure you are taking your medications as prescribed. If you have special dietary needs, keep them in mind when eating out and preparing meals. Now is not the time to go off a medically necessary diet.

Make Lists

Make lists of things you need or want to do. Prioritize those lists. Delegate and let some things go. Take advantage of online shopping to save your energy.  And don’t be a perfectionist. There’s no room for perfectionism in a chronically ill person’s life.

Be flexible with how things might change and decide if you’re still able to attend when changes happen. Don’t stress if you can’t…decide what you can change to make things work.

Pace Yourself

If you know you have a party to go to in the evening, that morning is not the time to scrub out your tub. This is another area in which I struggle. Pace yourself throughout the day and over a period of several days. If you are planning on going shopping with friends on Saturday, plan on Friday and even Thursday being light activity days.

Be Honest

If you’re going somewhere else to celebrate and you have energy limitations, let your host know that you may not be able to participate fully in the activities. If you aren’t able to host at your house like usual, ask others to chip in and host instead. Being honest with people in your life about your limitations can be helpful for avoiding hurt feelings later. Think through what you need to explain to others ahead of time to allow the events to go smoothly.

Enlist The Help Of Your Spouse Or Friend

Enlist the help of your spouse or a good friend to be part of your team during the holiday festivities. This should be someone who knows you well and will be able to read your responses to situations. This person will help you feel safe in the situations you’re entering and will watch for any indication that you aren’t feeling well.

My husband Ray, serves in this role for me. Another friend or family member could also do this. Basically, Ray notices when I’m getting worn down and my health is going downhill. He’s particularly aware of my flagging energy, and will often ask me how I’m doing to gauge whether it’s time to leave. I also know I can tell him I’m ready to go and he’ll take me home immediately if I need to leave.

Don’t feel guilty if you have to leave a situation early. Be thankful instead that you were able to attend, even for just a short while. Gratitude plays a huge part in a successful Holiday season.

Be Okay With Your Plans Changing

This one is a big part of normal life with chronic illness. Flexibility is important because things can change on a moments notice when health issues are a concern.  Even if you have everything planned and scheduled, do yourself a favor and release expectations. If you are religious, prayerfully plan your schedule but then hold those plans loosely. Ask God to cover you with perfect peace in whatever situations you may encounter with your health over the holidays.

Ask For Help

Ask for specific things. I don’t like to depend on anyone for help, but if it means making the holidays more manageable, I think it’s worth it. Sometimes, people will offer to help, but they don’t say what they are willing to do. Having a list ready with ideas of what others can do for you will come in handy when people make those kinds of offers.

Do you need help with laundry? Running errands? Housework? How about help with wrapping gifts? Think about all of your regular and holiday tasks and delegate some of them to family members and willing friends.

One thing I ask for when my friends offer to help is that they make me a frozen meal. It helps me to eat healthy but without having to cook during the times I’m either busy or resting. I’ve never had anyone resent the request once they’ve asked what they can do to help me.

Shopping

Shopping can be one of the most stressful parts of the Holidays. Getting out and about can be tiring and painful so make use of the internet to do the majority of your shopping when you can. Most online shops deliver with reasonable pricing and sometimes if you have to ship a long distance, the cost is still worth it to prevent the stress from piling on. Ask for Gift Receipts or Messages so the receiver can return or exchange your gift if necessary.

I keep an Excel spreadsheet with the name of the person I’m shopping for, what was purchased, where and when. It’s easy to refer back to in case there are any questions or problems.

Connect With Others

Try to make time with friends you might not otherwise get to see, even if it’s just for a short while. Have a quick get together at a coffee shop, chat with a girlfriend about a sappy Christmas movie you’ve both watched. Make an effort each day to reach out to someone. Text, Facebook, instant message, make a phone call. You don’t have to carry on an hour-long conversation, just a brief connection can be enough.

Find “Me” Time

Build in some time just for yourself during the holidays to read, craft, rest or do whatever else will help to give you some “me” time. It’s important to recharge your batteries. If being surrounded by people is what energizes you, then do that…it’s all about what makes you feel good.

I tend to enjoy booking a massage once a month during the Fall and Winter months. I find that it helps me physically and mentally – having that to look forward to after a busy time is a relief. I feel better after my body has had the kinks worked out and I’m often more energized as well. Find out if your insurance covers the cost and look for training schools in your area for better pricing.

Make Time For Your Spouse Or Significant Other

It’s so important to carve out time for the two of you. With all the busyness going on around you,  communicating can sometimes take a backseat, especially if you aren’t feeling so well. Be honest about how you are feeling and ask for help when you need it. Try to sneak in a few inexpensive “dates.” Drive around and look at the Christmas lights, stop for some hot chocolate, attend a Christmas program together. Just enjoy each others company.

Laugh As Much As You Can

This one is one of my favourite pieces of advice. Laugh. Just do it. I’ve found that no matter how horrible I feel, laughter can be a source of medicine for me. Laughing helps lift my spirit and makes me feel more alive. Try to enjoy yourself while you celebrate the holidays, and be sure to include laughter in your days!

Remember The Reason For The Season

It’s so easy to get caught up in the baking, partying, shopping, decorating, etc., but that’s not really what it’s all about. If you are a religious person, keep attending church services and go to the special holiday programs. Listen to religious Christmas songs along with the pop tunes. If you aren’t particularly religious or are a nonbeliever, meditate, attend holiday community events, and enjoy finding ways to nurture your own spiritual side. Remember,

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