With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Miracles

Rob had knee surgery yesterday and God  be praised, it went well. He had microfracture surgery, which means that the doctor made holes in the bone and is trying to grow new cartilage under the knee cap. He also had cartilage trimmed and rough edges smoothed between his kneecap and femur. Apparently he had a LOT of wear and tear on that knee.

Rob's knee is now hooked up to a cool icy cold water machine that continually tries to reduce swelling AND the chance of blood clots at the same time. In addition he now uses a perpetual motion machine for eight hours each day to slowly move the knee back and forth. Amazing. With these tools and his great attitude, healing should come relatively quickly, though he needs both machines for several weeks and will still be on crutches for at least six weeks.

God worked a miracle in getting me well enough to support Rob through this ordeal, and in arranging our affairs so that friends continually help out by bringing meals and snacks, helping with the children, and sending good wishes. We are incredibly blessed and a month ago I would never have believed this possible.I  continue to improve though with a few hiccups, but it's probably healthier for me to be thinking about Rob than about myself. Some lesson in that, I'm sure.

Thanks to all for the well-wishes, love and support. We send it right back to you!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

From Competition to Creation

I have an affirmation tape that was given to me by a friend. I had never heard of affirmations before falling ill but for the uninitiated I'll explain; affirmations are positive statements made by a person with a soothing voice on all aspects of life: health, happiness, prosperity, thankfulness, etc. You are supposed to listen to them daily and in a period of about three months your subconscious mind will reflect these positive thoughts instead of the negative or fearful thoughts that used to run in the background. In the affirmation that particularly caught my ear and attention, the soothing voice intones: "It is now time to stop living out of fear or anger or competition and move toward living out of gratitude, creation and the joy of self expression."  Quite a shift for me.

 I have been competitive since the age of 11, in a variety of sports (especially swimming) and always in school. I noticed that our society rewards competitors and thus striving and straining became my MO. Our society can make any activity into a competition. In my stage of life parents compete through the successes and triumphs of their children, as well as through race results, salaries, and job titles of their own. Influence and power are also seductive and lure us to compete with others in our sphere, whether it be paid work or volunteer positions or opinions offered in a book club.

Alternatively, creative enterprises make us happy in a more peaceful manner.  Not that we can give up jobs or parenting, but we can tackle hobbies and add activities that are not worth money, but provide a great deal of satisfaction. In my downtime these days I have taken to coloring and making mandalas, and to knitting (Rob does not believe this possible), and to writing more on this blog. I think that when we make something new we fulfill our functions as co-creators of this world. Cooking does this too, though I see the benefits more through the efforts of friends rather than through my own work in the kitchen!

So I am shifting, from competition to creating.... if not things of beauty, then at least new neural connections in my brain. That may be all my knitting will accomplish, but a usable scarf would be nice, too.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Sink or Swim

Yesterday I went swimming. A simple enough statement, but a loaded one, as I have not been to the pool in nearly three months. A swimmer since the age of 11, I have rarely (if ever) spent this much time away from the water.  Though it's early in my recovery, I had been meditating on Saturday night and my body called out to my head - let's get wet! So I paid attention and felt wonderful the next day in that warm pool, the sunlight streaming through the window and creating vividly bright bubbles behind my neighbor's feet.

Swimming is part of my identity, a constant throughout turbulent years of teens and twenties, through pregnancy and childrearing, through all other sports addictions. To be away from the pool for three months sent a sort of signal to my mind and body that the circumstances were truly irregular. Hopefully my first return visit sent positive signals that recovery has begun.

As I think about swimming, I realize that my therapist put the thought back into my mind several weeks ago. She said, "picture yourself in the water. Sometimes you can float with no effort, but sometimes you splash and whale away, putting forth so much energy and not able to stay on top of things."  She noted that I was doing the latter, and should aim for "floating" instead.  The analogy seemed especially apt though she did not know about my swimming background.

I mostly floated yesterday, stopping at each wall to breathe and not risking my head to flip turns. But I got wet, and obeyed my husband's call to me as I went out the door, "just don't drown," so I count it as a success.


Friday, January 18, 2013

The Faith of Friends

In the New Testament there is a story of a paralytic seeking to be healed by Jesus. Being paralyzed, he could not walk to the gathering where Jesus taught, so he was carried on a heavy rug by four friends. They came toward the house where Jesus was teaching, surrounded by Pharisees and teachers of all kinds, and saw that the crowd was too great and too thick for them to pass through into the house. So the friends and the paralyzed man, instead of giving up, decided to climb the rough stairs around the outside of the house (carrying the man on the rug, remember), cut a hole in the roof, and lower the paralyzed man into the room where Jesus was teaching. (This story is in Matthew, Mark and Luke, but I am primarily working from the version in Luke 5:17 - 26).

Imagine how many things could have gone wrong. The paralyzed man could have slipped off the rug at any point on the way up the stairs, or the one of his friends could have dropped a corner, or fallen himself. Their act of faith was rebellious and risky and profound. As luck would have it, they were successful. The paralyzed man was safely lowered to Jesus amidst the shocked faces of the learned and well-to-do. When Jesus saw the efforts and the faith of the four men and the paralytic he said, "Because of the faith of your friends, your sins are forgiven you" (Luke 5:20). The paralyzed man was then cured physically as well as spiritually, and the entire crowd proclaimed over the miracle that they had witnessed.

Though healing is certainly a great thing, having faithful and determined and persistent friends is similarly miraculous. In my journey to health I have been held on my 'rug' by a cadre of faithful friends. At certain dark times I had no faith myself, but could only rest in the hope and determination of others.  As it happens, I did not remember this Bible story; during one dark week when I could barely move from the couch I heard the story from a friend, who promised to have faith for me and to organize others to help feed me and the family. Two days later I heard it on the radio on the way back from visiting a friend who heals with cranio sacral massage. Then last week, as the crisis was passing, yet another dear friend emailed me about the verses as she prepared for Sunday mass.

There are no coincidences; the universe has blessed me with faithful friends and family and through them and through you I am healing. Thank you for having faith when I had none, thank you for carrying me with prayer and compassion. This verse sums it up for me: "Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, "we have seen strange things today.'"  (Luke 5:26)

Monday, January 14, 2013

I am Enough

"You are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased." - Mark 1:11

Let's switch our focus to emotional / spiritual health and look at this amazing verse, which is one of my favorite in the Bible. Pastor Gary preached on this passage yesterday, and it touched a chord in my heart. In the past year, through painfully deep soul-searching I have become aware that all of my striving and straining, all of my competitive urges and restlessness, came from the belief that I was not enough. Not enough for God, for my husband, for my parents and siblings, and certainly not enough for my precious children. 

I don't know when this belief originated. I do know that throughout the past year, as my abilities have fallen away one by one, my family and friends have continued to stand by and encourage me. They have loved me through the darkest hours, when my only gift to them was my vulnerability. To them, I was enough. Hours of cuddling with my children, lying with my ear pressed against the rhythmic beat of my husband's heart; these were precious times as well as the only way I could make it through the day. And it was enough. One of my affirmations states "I am enough - I was created to be enough from the beginning." To embrace that concept takes my breath away. What would it mean for my life if I was already enough? What would it mean for our children if they felt like they were enough?

Pastor Gary noted that Jesus got in line with the rest of the penitents and sinners on the day of his baptism. He waited his turn to receive a blessing from his cousin John, and when he did, a voice came from the heavens calling him the beloved child, who had pleased his Father greatly.  We are all that beloved child; we have all pleased God/the universe/the unifying spirit. We came into this world enough, and we have nothing to prove by striving or straining. How much would our world change if we could embrace that truth? 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

And the brain is connected to the immune system?

There's a new field that Rob and I discovered via internet search engine: neuroimmunology. One of my doctors carried this one step further and said there was an even newer field of neuroimmunopsychology, but I cannot find that via Google. Either I got the phrasing wrong (no doubt a function of my immuno-compromised brian), or my doctor is so cutting edge the field does not exist yet.  Basically, doctors and researchers are discovering that autoimmune diseases affect brain function, which naturally affects nervous system action and also impacts sleep and mood. When a brain is damaged by stress or a viral or a bacterial infection, it sends inflammatory markers throughout the body. As I know now, I tried to heal my stomach and my body all summer, but my brain was the source of the problem and crying out for relief.

Thus it was that my journey to health started at the dermatologist (for itchy scalp and hair loss) and ended at a psychiatrists office. I knew absolutely nothing about the realm of brain medication and treatment and made several naive mistakes throughout this process that set me back a great deal. For  example, I read that doxepin, an older anti-anxiety medicine and anti-depressant, was often prescribed for burning scalp. So I received that prescription from my GP, and dutifully took it, I felt better after a few weeks (maybe halfway to recovery) but was startled by some side effects, as well as by a warning from my holistic doctor not to take this medication. An allergy test at the immunologist required that I go off of doxepin for at least five days prior to the test, so I did, like the "good girl" that I am.

Let me tell you, do not ever stop an anti-depressant or other mood medicine until you are in a stabilized and healthy condition and have approval from your doctor. When I went off the doxepin (which was only half of a normal dose) I watched my interest in life and my peace and my health slip quietly away - only I could not see it then, only now in retrospect after Rob and I created a timeline of past meds and reactions. A panic attack led me to the hospital and another med, which did not work for me at all, and led to eight weeks of deteriorating health in all regards.

Now, thankfully, I am back on a good medicine (for me) with a better understanding of what my triggers and solutions are.  In the last few days I have spoken with at least three other women in my neighborhood who experienced similar cross-over symptoms, particularly how their thyroid medication (for an autoimmune illness) affected their mood and their functioning.  It's so very real, so very true that mind body and soul are linked in health and well-being. We must heal all parts to become well.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Here's the good news: after an excruciating eight-week trial of a med that did not work for me, I finally got to see an expert, change meds, and see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. For the preceding two months, including the darkest two weeks of the year which painfully surrounded the Christmas and New Year's holidays, there was no light for me except the glow reflected off my children's faces.

By the grace of God and friends and family, Aden, William and Daniel had full stockings, wrapped presents from Santa and relatives, and a chance to go to sing Silent Night by candlelight at our church.  I got to play around of "The Game of Life" with Aden and William on Christmas morning, and after that spent most of my days in bed or on the couch with the ice pack(s) on my head. When I thought the future was dim, and the three doctors Rob and I saw for pain management had no useful suggestions for us, scenes from my life did actually start playing like an old and badly organized slideshow in my head.  It wasn't one of those sudden things where your whole life flashes before you, but some moment of pain or comfort would trigger a memory of all that was good in life.

Such scenes included the fab dance party with my extended family and kids in our rental house at Cape Cod (any dance party, really), laughing madly with joy as Aden and William took their first faltering steps in our rental house in California, meeting Daniel and watching him dance his own peculiar jig in the Museum outside of Guatemala city.  I recalled hikes with amazing friends in the mountains of Colorado, kids splashing in waterfalls, and good dinners and adult beverages after to celebrate. I saw Aden splashing in the Pacific ocean while Karen and I watched her great glee, Rob and I camping in Yosemite, his proposal to me on Mt. Washington, our wedding, our first moments with the babies, any family reunion that ever occurred.

Guess what I didn't see? Any image that involved work or a paycheck. Any race or workout, any prize or recognition. Any time my writing has been published (few as those occasions have been).  It gives a girl a lot to ponder, especially when said girl has never felt like enough, has never felt that a life without achievement would be a worthwhile tenure on earth. I've got a lot to say about the journey of the past seven months, and I have decided to put it out there - or here - since this blog is my vehicle. I don't know if this will be chronological or helter-skelter, but hang in with me. Your love and support fuels my desire to get better, be stronger, and add more joyous moments to my time on earth.