The Pain Before the Transformation

I am living proof that great pain can lead to massive transformation.

I spent much of my life as a peacekeeper and people-pleaser. I put the peace of a space and others’ well-being above my own. I became a sort of chameleon, changing in small ways to try and reduce tension in my house growing up, and later as a way to keep other people comfortable. I had an innate sense that if everyone around me was OK, that I would then be OK too. But I wasn’t OK. With each concession I made to create less waves, I moved farther and farther away from my true self. I didn’t notice it at first and couldn’t have predicted the level of depression and dis-ease that changing myself for others would cause someday.

When I found myself in a loveless marriage where I was lonelier than I have ever felt in times where I have actually been alone, I ignored what my heart was telling me. I had been so adamant about creating a family for my son, to be a happy, intact family that I hadn’t experienced, that to follow my heart meant to leave that dream behind for all of us. So, I ignored that knowing sense that I felt. I buried myself in raising my son. But it could not last forever. Eventually, my heart grew weak and nearly stopped working and I found myself at rock bottom. In one fell swoop, my health was taken from me, and I nearly died of heart failure. An emergent heart surgery later and I slowly began to find my way back to myself.

The recovery felt fast at first, until it became apparent that my heart condition was going to be a recurring theme in my life. Doctors had trouble figuring it out, and so they did what they could to ward it off with a steroid bandaid in the form of prednisone pills.

There are lots of parts to this story, but the take away is much more important at this point, for me and for you.

1. Stop putting yourself second to the wishes of others. Humans are fickle beings, and won’t stay happy for long before you’re feeling the need to do more to feed their happiness. You don’t have the ability to make anyone else happy if they themselves haven’t found a way to cultivate happiness in their own life. We can add to another’s happiness, but we are not responsible for creating it.

2. Stop changing yourself to fit in with the people around you. In the end, you’ll feel like a shell of yourself, plus you’ll soon realize that they’re not your people anyway. Who wants to hang out with people who don’t love you for being 100% yourself? The chameleon game is an exhausting one. You’ll find yourself eventually losing yourself and wondering how it happened. It happens in small, incremental changes you make in yourself to make others comfortable. You likely won’t realize it’s happening until you’ve forgotten even the basics of what you like to do for fun, and who you are at your core.

3. Stop doing things that stress you out, like really stress you out. If you’re in a relationship that adds more stress to your life than happiness, don’t feel bad about putting yourself first and leaving. You don’t have anything to prove to anyone by staying. Life is much too short to spend it with people who don’t light you up. Same goes with anything else in life.

4. Stop doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. It’s not only the definition of insanity, but it won’t get you into a different life that you’ve been imagining for yourself. If you want something different than what you currently have, you’ve got to be willing to move out of your comfort zone and do new things.

5. Start putting yourself first. Do things that make you happy, that bring you joy. What have you been putting off that you really want to do? What steps can you take towards doing it now? Start saying no to things you don’t want to do.

We can use our experiences to guide us in life or we can use them to feel like victims. The choice is ours. If you’re stressed, or sick, or not living your best life, it’s time to look at the areas of your life that are no longer working for you. The days of being a people-pleaser, peacekeeper, and martyr are over. The time has come for us all to realize our limitless potential to create a life of our dreams. Life is much too short to continue to wait for someone else’s permission to fully live! Give yourself the permission you need to go after your dreams like this is the only shot you’ve got!

I am passionate about using a mix of intuitive Reiki Healing and Joy Coaching to encourage others to follow their joy and passion towards living a life in alignment with their soul’s purpose (ie. living their best lives). Guiding others in this way and offering the confirmation that they need to follow their dreams lights me up like nothing else! Please follow me on Facebook and/or Instagram for more written content and impromptu FB Live videos. If my words resonate with you, please feel free to reach out to me at peacefuljellyfish@gmail.com to tell me about it! I love connecting with people!! Maybe you have a topic you’d love me to write about?

Photo excerpt from “Life Visioning” by Michael Bernard Beckwith

Thank you for reading along! If you enjoyed this post, please like and share it with others. Much love!

Are You Grieving for Your Lost Health?

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When I was feeling my worst, I was doing all I could just to keep my head above water.  I went into crisis mode.  On top of feeling terrible and being exhausted all of the time, I really had no idea what was causing my flares of pericarditis.  So I was living in fear.  I was afraid that I would walk too much and have chest pain again.  I was afraid that too much stress from school and home life would cause me to flare.  I never knew when or where I would be when I’d flare and it made me feel paranoid.  I always had to be prepared, so I routinely kept my prescription of prednisone in my bag in case I needed a higher dose.

I was talking with a good friend of mine the other night who is currently living this reality.  He doesn’t have pericarditis, but his illness is no less mysterious or maddening.  In talking with him, I was reminded of a counselor I saw during nursing school.  She was in training to become a licensed counselor, and she had an office on campus at the community college I was attending.  I remember time and again going in and talking with her and just voicing my frustrations with the way that my whole world had been suddenly turned upside down.  I spoke of my fears and the unpredictability of my illness.  I spoke of not recognizing my own body, because I had gained so much weight from being on steroids.  I spoke of my dismay that after a year of struggling with recurrent bouts of pericarditis and even a second hospitalization, that none of my doctors could offer me any answers.  All they could tell me to do was to take prednsione to suppress my immune system and prevent the inflammation around my heart.  One day, as I was really struggling, I went to talk to my counselor.  She pointed out the fact that I was grieving my lost health.  It was a light bulb moment for me, because I had never thought about it like that before.  She was right.  I WAS grieving for my lost health.  My mind was having a hard time accepting my new body and the restrictions that came with it.  It was difficult to wrap my brain around the fact that I had been healthy, had exercised regularly as part of my work, and had eaten healthy as a long-time vegetarian.

When I realized that I was grieving, and my counselor went over the stages of grief with me, oddly enough, I felt a great sense of peace come over me.  It made me feel normal about how I was feeling.  I could see that the ups and downs of anger and sadness and back around again were part of my grieving process.  Knowing this allowed me to release expectations I had for my emotions through this time.  I began to accept my emotions, and I was more open to allowing them to flow.

So I ask you, the one dealing chronic illness, are you grieving for your lost health?  Are you grieving for the life you feel that you have lost?  If so, know that it is normal and OK, and that it is better to feel your emotions and release them as they come up than it is to keep them locked tight inside your chest.  We sometimes think that we’re doing ourselves a service by locking our emotions up so that they can’t spring out and consume our hearts, but the reality is that if we allow ourselves to feel our feelings as they come up, in whatever form they appear, we will be able to heal much more quickly.  Emotions that aren’t expressed get trapped in our bodies and lead to more pain and dis-ease.

It was the most challenging time of my life.  I felt so alone and helpless.  I looked for silver linings as best I could and I pushed through my exhaustion so that I could be present for my son.  I wondered if I would ever regain my health. I wondered if I would ever feel comfortable in my own body again. I wondered if I would always have to be fearful that things I did might cause a flare.

I write this on the other side.  I have gained perspective on life and on my health challenges that I would not have gotten had I never gotten sick.  I have experienced a total transformation of self that was brought on by my years of illness.  I was asked to take a more balanced approach in caring for my body, mind, and soul.  I was asked to tear down the beliefs I held about myself and my life that made me feel bad.  I was asked to reexamine the way I was treating myself and how I was showing up for myself.  My illness caused me to turn over every rock so that I could find all of buried thoughts and beliefs that were holding me back in life.  I was shown what was important in life.  I was taught to not sweat the small stuff and to appreciate everything and everyone I have in my life while I have them.  I was taught the delicate nature of life.  I was taught that there are no guarantees in life and so we should make the most of every day.  What is it that you might learn from your own challenges?  It helps me to look for lessons in challenges now, because I see how perfectly my illness was placed in my path to expand me to heights I didn’t know were possible.  It has made me trust the process now when things aren’t going the way my mind wants them to go.  Even when I can’t see the full picture as to why something is happening, I live with a great sense of trust that the Universe always has my back.  The Universe (or god, source, higher power etc) always has your back too.

Above all, I was taught that self-love is the key to life.  The love we hold for ourselves trickles outwards from us, so that we can love each other in a more balanced, non-judgmental and unconditional way.  How much do you love yourself?  Do you find ways to show yourself love every day?  Self-love involves loving all parts of ourselves.  That can be the tricky part.  It’s easy to love myself when I am happy and laughing.  I have a more difficult time loving myself when I lose my temper or raise my voice in anger.  I am learning and growing just as we all are.  We’re all works in progress, and that process never stops.  We just keep expanding.  We keep learning how to respond to life vs react.  We keep learning to keep an open mind and open heart with how we approach ourselves and others.

If you’re reading this, you survived another day.  Just keep being gentle with yourself in whatever life circumstance you’re in currently.  Your illness may be requiring that you slow down for now, get the extra sleep, limit the stressors in your life, give yourself some extra love, and put yourself first for a change.  Can you see the ways that your body is crying out for more love?  Notice the shift when you view your own illness this way.  When we take care of others when they are sick, we don’t get mad at them and their bodies for needing more care, right?  We don’t curse at our friends and family and make them feel guilty for being sick.  So then, why do we treat ourselves that way?

I went from a time when I was really ill and wondering “why me?” to now when I realize that facing a complicated illness like Lyme Disease and not just surviving it, but thriving beyond it is one of my superpowers in this life.  This is why we humans must be careful with the labels that we place on things, because sometimes it is difficult to know “good” from “bad” when we’re in the thick of it.  I’ve said it before, but I went from calling my illness “the worst thing that ever happened to me” to “one of the best things that has ever happened to me.”

Know that it might take more love and care than you have ever allowed for yourself before, but that we can all rise up above our challenges and see brighter days ahead!

Part of my soul’s purpose is to help others navigate through their own illnesses and challenges in life using  the perspective I’ve gained.  If you’d like some personalized support and guidance, reach out to me at peacefuljellyfish@gmail.com!  My favorite thing is combining the healing power of Intuitive Reiki with Joy Coaching to help others move through their chronic illness with more support than I had during my own healing journey.

Thanks so much for reading!  If you enjoyed this post, please like and share it! Much love!

Watch the video for Michael Franti’s song “Once a Day” HERE  This is what Michael Franti posts about this song:

“‘Once A Day’ is about unexpected moments in life. Some days we have unexpectedly beautiful moments and others that are unexpectedly challenging. Last year I had a really challenging moment when my son was diagnosed with a kidney disease called FSGS (Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis). We thought it would break our family apart, but moving through the initial tears, made us realize life is precious and that we need to hug, kiss and be close to each other every day and through that we could ‘rise up’ and face his illness together. I hope that Once A Day brings inspiration to anyone in this world who is going through challenging times. Through music, dance and gratitude for this life we can all ‘Rise Up’!” –Michael Franti

Looking for the Map: Part 2 of My Health Journey

So, between November 2009 and June of 2012, I lived with bouts of recurring pericarditis still without knowing the cause.  With everything I did, I worried that I would have another flare.  A flare basically meant lots of chest pain, bed rest (because it seemed to decrease the amount of time a flare lasted), and another subsequent increase in my dose of steroids.  I limited my physical activity during this time, which meant that I wasn’t spending much time outdoors.  And time outside in nature is what soothes me and my soul the most.  As you can imagine, I wasn’t feeling very good overall during this time.  I noticed apparent patterns like my symptoms seemed to get worse around the time of my period, and I seemed to always have flares of chest pain on my birthday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.  To the point that a friend once suggested that maybe I go to bed before Thanksgiving and not wake up until after Christmas.  I would tell my doctors, but they were unable to make a connection with any of it.

During my son’s naps, I would take time to research pericarditis.  I found an online support forum for people with pericarditis where I was able to connect to others who were also dealing with this strange illness.  I was anxious to find some answers, or at least other people who could relate to what I was going through.  I even went on to be the “leader” of the pericarditis forum for a while, welcoming new people into the group and sharing my own story.  I continue to keep in touch with a few of the women from that group.  At one point, I sought the help of an acupuncturist who would do weekly treatments and send me home with herbal Chinese teas to drink.

During the Fall of 2011, I came across a doctor in my area who had successfully treated someone with pericarditis using IV hydrogen peroxide therapy.  By that time, I was almost to the 2 year mark since my pericardial window, and had been seeing my cardiologist, a rheumatologist, and a had gotten a second opinion from a cardiologist at Stanford.  I was still on daily prednisone, still suffering with the side effects of it, and desperately trying to get off of it because of the known long-term negative side effects. I was also injecting myself with Methotrexate daily in hopes that it would help me get off the prednisone.   No one had any answers for me.  I was desperate for answers and was willing to try anything to get my health back.  I began my IV hydrogen peroxide treatments in September of 2011. I forget how many times a week I would go at the beginning, but I do know that there were some weeks in there once I was successfully off the prednisone that I went 3 times a week when I was sick and at risk of flaring.  Mind you, the office where I went was a 45 minute drive away from my home, and I would generally be there for 2 hours for each treatment, which meant that the whole ordeal of driving and sitting there getting treatment took about 4 hours total.  And I was fitting these sessions in around being a Mom and full-time nursing student.  I once saw a movie where one of the characters was going for chemotherapy and would pull up a black, leather recliner in a room next to the other people there receiving their chemo.  That’s exactly what it was like with the hydrogen peroxide treatments.  A group of people all sitting around in recliners hooked up to IV drips.  The idea behind why hydrogen peroxide can be beneficial is that it adds a large amount of oxygen to the blood stream, and things like bacteria, viruses, and fungi generally do poorly in high oxygen environments.  So even though this doctor couldn’t be sure what was causing my pericarditis, the idea was to oxygenate my system so that the possible culprit would be killed off.  Well, this worked great in that I was able to get off of the prednisone fairly quickly.  Initially, I would chat with the other people there amazed to hear their success stories with a myriad of different IV treatments for various illnesses.  IV hydrogen peroxide does wonders for people with circulation issues related to diabetes for example.  I’d share my story and my seeming success with this new treatment. Later, I would sit and study for class, or sleep during my treatments.  Over time, it became tiring to talk and share my story.  I found myself becoming more and more exhausted all the time, and I would usually sleep through my treatments.  I also noticed that my memory surrounding my exams in nursing school seemed to be declining.  At some point, in a conversation with another patient about primary care doctors, I was told to go to a Nurse Practitioner here in town. My doctors attempted to explain away my severe fatigue (and think even more tired than new parents) by saying that it was because I had a young toddler and was in nursing school, but I knew that it was somehow related to my health. I even questioned if maybe I was experiencing adrenal fatigue, but it fell on deaf ears.  At this time, feeling generally unheard by my other local providers, I sought out the help of the holistic chiropractor in Oregon who had helped me when I bruised the bones in my feet in a fall (see We Are Never Alone) citing extreme fatigue as my most problematic symptom.  She listened to me and agreed that I could be experiencing adrenal fatigue and she had me do a saliva test to find out.  Sure enough, the tests came back definitive for adrenal fatigue and she started me on a natural supplement right away.  I noticed some improvement, but I generally noticed that I seemed to be feeling worse all the time. Between September 2011 and June of 2012, I had a total of 55 IV hydrogen peroxide treatments, multiple infrared sauna treatments, and IV vitamin C and IV DMSO treatments.

When I finally made an appointment (June 2012) with the Nurse Practitioner I had received a rave review about, I really felt like I was just going so that she could meet me and hear my health story, with the hope that she could be a sort of overseer for me of all things medical.  I had a lot of specialists involved on my case, but did not yet have a primary care provider that I could trust to keep track of everything as it was happening. During my first appointment in June 2012, upon telling her my experience with pericarditis and the ensuing loss of my health, she began asking me questions.  I should say that there had been a time for me while living in Oregon where I got lucky to have health insurance through a job after at least 5 years without it.  I had a kind of running list of all of the questions I wanted to ask a doctor during that time about small things related to my health that I had noticed.  My ex-husband once reminded me that I would sometimes see natural remedies for things at the food co-op in Oregon and wonder if they would help me.  He just thought that I was a hypochondriac.  My point is that some minute symptoms may have appeared prior to November 2009.  But back to my appointment…after maybe 5 to 10 minutes of asking me questions and examining me, the Nurse Practitioner told me that I should be tested for Lyme Disease.  I explained to her that I had been tested for Lyme Disease during my second hospitalization in February of 2010, and had been told that the test was negative.  She explained to me that the tests for Lyme weren’t very sensitive and that because of that, diagnosing Lyme was supposed to be based more on clinical findings than the tests.  SEE LYME DISEASE SYMPTOM CHECKLIST HERE  She also explained that because ticks carry more than just Lyme Disease that it was very possible that I was also experiencing symptoms related to other co-infections I likely had.  She gave me a test kit for the Igenex Lab Inc. (IGENEX WEBSITE) here in California that has developed one of the most sensitive tests for Lyme disease in the world, and suggested that I make an appointment with a Lyme Specialist in the Bay area.  I left that appointment completely stunned.  Could she have figured it all out so quickly? Could my almost 3 years of health problems be explained by Lyme Disease and other tick-borne illnesses?  Did this Nurse Practitioner just solve the mystery that several specialists could not?

I went home and dug out my lab results from February 2011 that I had because I had a copy of my chart made when I went to Stanford for the second opinion.  I found out that on my old Lyme test, I did have one band present, band 41. (Understanding Bands on a Western Blot Test) I began to fervently research Lyme Disease.  I found the Lyme Disease symptom checklist and was amazed with the number of symptoms I could check off on the list!  I began to get excited that I might actually have some answers!  And I had a lot of hope that this meant that I would finally get proper treatment!

If you recall from other posts, for my first career, I had spent the better part of 10 years traveling the country as a wildlife and fisheries field biologist, so I definitely had plenty of exposure to ticks in the wild areas where I lived and worked.  I have lived in 1. West Virginia 2. Florida 3. South Carolina 4. North Carolina 5. Maryland 6. Alaska 7. Utah 8. Oregon 9. New Mexico 10. California.  I also worked and/or spent time in 1. Ohio 2. Pennsylvania 3. Georgia 4. Arizona 5. Washington.  I never had a bull’s-eye rash often associated with Lyme Disease. And I only recall having one tick for sure while working in Washington. But the nymph form of ticks can be very very small, like the size of the period at the end of this sentence, so they are easily missed.

You may be wondering why I needed to see a Lyme Specialist rather than just being treated by my Nurse Practitioner.  Well, there is a lot of controversy surrounding the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme Disease.  There are two trains of thought about appropriate treatment for Lyme.  One group includes the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), insurance companies, and most doctors who believe that Lyme can be easily treated with a short course of antibiotics. They explain away persistent symptoms post-treatment by saying that the problem is then either psychosomatic (all in the person’s mind) or an autoimmune response.  The other side includes the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS), Lyme literate doctors who have a specialization in Lyme Disease, and lymedisease.org that believe that Lyme Disease is resistant to treatment and that longer courses of antibiotic therapy is needed to successfully treat Lyme.  They explain that there is a such thing as chronic Lyme Disease that persists after treatment, especially when Lyme goes undiagnosed and therefore untreated in individuals.  Most doctors aren’t really trained to recognize Lyme, let alone treat it.  Lyme has so many different disguises and an extremely wide-range of symptoms.  In the United States, the health insurance companies have a lot of say on the kind of treatment doctors can provide to their patients with Lyme Disease.  Doctors who have given their patients long-term antibiotics for Lyme have had their licenses threatened and in some cases taken away. So the Lyme literate doctors as a rule don’t accept insurance, and instead require patients to pay out-of-pocket for their services, because they have found the most success in treating people with long-term antibiotics, and insurance companies would limit them.  If you want to learn more about this controversy, I HIGHLY recommend that you watch the documentary “Under Our Skin”.  It used to be available on Hulu or Netflix, but I found it for rent on YouTube for $3.99 here: WATCH Under Our Skin

In a very round about way, I ended up having my first appointment with my first Lyme Disease Specialist in Los Angeles in July 2012 before flying to Colorado to visit family.  Prior to my visit, I was asked to provide my medical records and was asked to fill out extensive paperwork detailing my symptoms, and was also required to write a one-page paper outlining my health concerns.  As soon as the specialist entered the room, she told me that she definitely thought that I did indeed have Lyme Disease as well as at least Bartonella (Cat Scratch Fever), because of the involvement of my heart.  She surprised me by saying that it would be better if I had AIDS, because it was easier to treat than what I likely had.  At that time she began to mentally prepare me to get either a PICC line or Mediport for IV medication delivery in the future, because of my heart and brain involvement.  She thought that the IV hydrogen peroxide treatments likely helped reduce some of my bacterial load, and said that I was likely beginning to feel worse, because when Lyme is killed off, it emits neurotoxins into the body which can start accumulating in the brain if you’re not taking any kind of supplement to bind to the toxins as they are released.  She believed that this is why I felt so exhausted all of the time and why I was having issues with my memory. She filled out the paperwork for the Igenex Lab Inc. test kit and decided to test me for a whole host of infections at this time. Igenex does not accept insurance, so you have to pay out-of-pocket for their testing unless you have Medicare, or your health insurance covers out of network labs, which mine did not at the time.  Luckily, I was able to apply for and receive assistance from the Lyme Test Access Program (Lyme-TAP) for my extensive testing.

At this first appointment, I received an IM injection of an antibiotic, a multitude of supplements, and the direction that I should completely eliminate gluten, sugar, and dairy from my diet.  I was educated on the Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction, and was told various things that I could do to reduce the symptoms and detox my body during treatment.  I was given a prescription for an antibiotic (Rifampin) to start once I was home from vacation.  We continued onto Colorado to visit with family, with a suitcase full of pills, liquids, and powders.  Finally, I had some answers, and I felt like I was making progress towards getting some semblance of my health back.

Matisyahu “Step Out Into the Light” Video

…to be continued…

If you enjoyed this post, or any of my others, please like and share them! Thank you!

If you or someone you know has experienced Lyme Disease first-hand, and you have questions or comments to share, please do.  I always try my best to help other people who are also on a journey with Lyme Disease. I have included a lot of very helpful Lyme-related links throughout this post.  Please click on them if you want to learn more!

 

We Are Never Alone

I’ve had enough experiences in my life to show me that we are never alone.  I’m not just talking about our friends and family members who are there for us when we need them, but I am also talking about our spirit guides.  And it isn’t that I knew that or felt that my whole life as things were happening, but as I experience instances in my current life where I am obviously being guided and supported, I can look back to past events and see that I was also being guided and supported back then.  A few examples come to mind right away.

One of them is from the Fall of 2006 when I flew to North Carolina to visit some dear friends in my beloved college city of Asheville.  I flew into Charlotte and my friend Michele picked me up.  We then drove the 2 hours back to her house.  I was exhausted, so I ended up taking a nap in the spare bedroom where I was going to be staying.  Before I went to sleep, I only briefly saw the layout of their house as I was walking through it.  My friends had two young boys who were ages 4 and almost 2 at the time of my visit. At one point, I woke up needing to use the bathroom.  I sort of half asleep walked out looking for the door to the bathroom in the hallway.  I came upon a door that had a little hook latch lock up high locking it from the outside.  I unlatched it thinking that maybe they locked it to keep the kids from going in the bathroom unsupervised. (I did not have my son at this time, so I was pretty clueless about this type of thing).  I unlocked the door, opened it, and sleepily took a step.  As I watched my surroundings fly by me as I fell, I was very confused.  I hit the concrete floor with my bare feet before landing on my side.  As I laid on the floor, I laughed to myself, because I was like “Holy shit!  What just happened??” The door that I had blindly stepped through led to my friends’ basement.  I had fallen 8 feet to concrete. Before my visit, Mike had removed the basement stairs (he was going to replace them), and up until recently had been storing all of his saws and tools in the spot where I landed.  My feet hurt, but it wasn’t an excruciating pain.  But I was a little nervous that maybe I could be more hurt than I felt, so I was hesitant to get up.  I yelled for my friend, Michele.  I remember the look on her face as she peered down into the basement at me lying on the ground.  She called her husband, Mike, at the fire station where he was on duty, because it just felt like we needed advice.  I ended up sort of crawling out of the basement through a door to the outside and up the steps to their back deck.  It was my first day of 7 or 10 days that I was going to be there visiting.  I had health insurance at the time through my job in Oregon, but I really didn’t know how that transferred to getting care in North Carolina, so I didn’t go to the ER or even a doctor while I was there.  Michele felt awful, so she called a good friend of hers and got me in for a massage where the woman focused on my feet and wrapped them in warm compresses.  I felt like I had a guardian angel watching out for me that day. Actually, I remember feeling like my good friend, Matty, who had died in 2001 was watching out for me.  I went on to have an amazing vacation.  The tendons and muscles in my feet would be really cramped up when I woke up in the mornings and it would hurt to walk, but as I walked more, they would loosen up.  I didn’t let my fall hinder any of my activities that week.  I ran around the house with Mike and Michele’s boys, even pulling them around in a carry on suitcase at one point.  Michele and I went and saw a band one night where we proceeded to dance for HOURS non-stop!  I went to my alma mater, Warren Wilson College, and enjoyed a party with dinner and live music with more dancing to celebrate our 5 year college reunion. When I went back to Oregon, I was having pain in the heels of both of my feet, and because my job involved a lot of hiking, I sought the care of a holistic chiropractor. The bones in my heels were bruised, and luckily, she was able to use ultrasound therapy to decrease my healing time.  Later on, I went to a podiatrist who told me that had I broken any one of the tiny bones in my feet during my fall, I could have easily been crippled for life, unable to walk.  I was obviously meant to get through that time unscathed.  I finished up that field season with no problem.  I am seeing that this experience with this holistic chiropractor opened my eyes to a completely different type of health care than I had ever known before, which made me more open to alternative therapies when I needed them later on along my journey.

Of course, if you’ve read my post titled, “Lost: Part 1 of my Health Journey”, you know that in 2009, I landed in the hospital with some serious heart complications from a mysterious illness.  If you pick the story apart a bit more, you see that the timing of when I passed out at home was divine in nature, as if it had happened on any other day during the week, my now ex-husband would not have been home to witness me passing out, and would not have been there to call 911.  I was obviously meant to live through that day.  The Physician’s Assistant from that story was placed on my path then, and again later as I started seeing her for homeopathy.  And homeopathy changed my life!  The Universe we live in is really amazing and connects people up with us so well.  Have you noticed that in your own life?

In my healing journey, I have witnessed the right people showing up in my life at the right time with just the treatment that I needed in that moment.  And that continues to happen to this day.  I find that the more aligned with my soul and trusting of the Universe that I become, the more guided and supported I notice that I am.  How have you come to find your own healers?  Can you see that the ones that have helped you the most were divinely placed on your path?

Yesterday, as I was going about my day, a few things lined up in a really cool way.  I went to have labs drawn after not having them done for a very long time.  I got there and the phlebotomist who was working is one that I have known since my early days of losing my health.  One of my labs always throws them off, because it’s not a common one ordered for most people.  So she had to get on the phone with her supervisor about how to process it.  When she got off the phone, I said something about how much I love my primary, a Nurse Practitioner, because she figured out what many specialists could not. I asked her how she had been, and she started telling me that she had been having a lot of mysterious symptoms and that she was frustrated with her doctors and the current plan of care.  I urged her to make an appointment with my NP to at least get her opinion, because my NP is one that will do a lot of research to get to the bottom of her patients’ illnesses.  I think she thrives on uncovering mystery illnesses.  Well, this conversation made me late to meet up with a new friend.  I was feeling bad about it when I finally walked into the coffee shop to meet her, so I told her a little about my conversation and the fact that I felt like I was supposed to have connected the woman with my NP.  Then, this new friend goes on to tell me that someone in her family has been having a lot of health problems that no one can figure out, so again, I recommended my NP!  Now, had I not been getting labs prior to this meeting and not had the conversation that I had with the phlebotomist, I would have been on time for this meeting with a new friend, but a conversation about my NP likely would have never even come up.  At this point, I can’t know for sure that my conversations yesterday will help anyone, but with all that I have witnessed in my life, I trust that they will.  Do you notice synchronicities like this in your own life?  I could write a whole blog post on the magic of synchronicity!  Synchronicity is defined as the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.

My last example is what prompted me to write this post.  This summer, as I was hiking solo off-trail heading back to camp, I veered off in a different direction than I had taken on my way up.  Before I had left the top of the rocky table I had hiked up to, I took in the peaks around and the lake below, so that I knew the general direction to head.  I expected the terrain to look familiar to me on the hike back down. But as I hiked down, I had a hard time finding the same ravine that I had climbed up during my ascent.  So, I just kept walking in the generally right direction.  I did start to get a bit worried at one point, and I asked my spirit guides out loud for guidance.  I acknowledged their presence and the fact that I knew that this wasn’t where my story ended, and I asked them to help get me back to camp.  I told them to get me to something familiar, so that I could get myself to the lake that was the start of the off-trail part of the hike.  Eventually, I made it to a lake, but it did not look familiar to me.  I took a picture of a cool tree in the water with my phone.  I scanned the edge of the lake for the rock formations that I knew the lake I needed to get to had.  I decided that I would skirt around the edge of the lake in the direction I thought I should be heading, but the granite rocks prevented me from staying right at water’s edge for long.  So I kept going, trusting that I would be led to where I needed to be.  It was a hot day with temperatures in the 80’s, and a lot of the hiking was exposed, so I was getting pretty heated up from the sun. After hiking for about 20 minutes, I ended up on the edge of a lake.  In fact, I checked the pictures on my phone, and found that I was indeed at the same spot I had been nearly 30 minutes prior. And I cannot tell you how I even did that!  Nothing until that moment looked the same to me as I hiked.  So it felt a bit “Blair Witch Project” to me, and it made me panic a little. But it also made me get more serious about finding my way out of there.  I knew the direction I had come from the first time I had landed at that spot, so I looked up and got a good sense of where the sun was and that I needed to keep it behind me as I hiked.  I also made note of the rock formation in the distance that gave me an idea of where I was in the scheme of things.  And I asked my guides for help.  I started hiking again.  And this time, I was headed in the right direction.  On my way in, I had noticed a line of rocks on the curve of the trail in one spot where had they not been there, hikers could get confused and veer off the trail.  I remember thinking, “that’s nice that someone did that”. So as I had asked, on my way out, my guides spit me out onto the trail in the only place that I had specifically noticed on my hike in.  And because I remembered that spot with the rocks so well, I knew the direction that I had been walking on it on my way in, and so I knew what direction I needed to go on my way out. And just like that, my guides helped me.  That experience reinforced the fact that we all have guides with us all of the time who are there to help us along our journeys.  But they can only offer their help when we ask for it.

Some people may think that these things are merely lucky coincidences or acts of a god. I personally do not believe in luck or coincidences.   I see that everything in my life has worked out exactly as it was supposed to, and that there have been reasons for absolutely everything I have done, said, written, and been through.  Really, I don’t think that it matters how you explain it, so long as you acknowledge the presence of a power greater than yourself, your own soul/higher power, and ask for help when you need it.  I believe that this is why prayer really does work.  Prayers and asking guides for help is really one in the same.  We all have our own beliefs for various reasons, and that’s OK. It only matters that we understand and connect with the fact that we are always being taken care of by the Universe/God/a higher power to learn and grow in the ways that our souls set out to in this life.

We should all examine our beliefs to see if they create peace or suffering in our lives.  In my life, when I identified with being a victim of life circumstance and felt surely that I was being punished or that I had bad luck, I suffered greatly.  Putting it simply, I got tired of suffering, so I started being open to other ways of viewing things.  I sought new beliefs that offered me more inner peace and happiness along my journey.  Inner peace and happiness are choices, they’re not something that will come when you get that other job, meet that perfect someone, or acquire your ideal amount of material objects.  Inner peace is learning to accept the present moment of your life completely while trusting that that moment is all part of a much bigger plan for your life than you can even imagine.  Life is much too short and beautiful to suffer through it. Nothing in life is happening TO us, it’s all happening FOR us!

Matisyahu “Bal Shem Tov” Live

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Lost: Part 1 of My Health Journey

I had my son when I was 29, almost 30.  I was not a nurse at that time.  I had been a wildlife and fisheries field biologist for most of 10 years, and had lived and worked in 10 different states.  I was working in Sequoia National Park doing a little bit of everything for various departments before my son was born.  When my son was six months old, I came down with something.  I got sick.  A cold or something, I wasn’t sure. I noticed that I was getting short of breath walking up the steep hill to our mailbox, and on an 8 mile hike in Sequoia National Park, I had to stop to take a break to breathe, which wasn’t normal for me.  The night after the 8 mile hike, I was having pain in my chest when I was swallowing my food, and ended up with a fever.  I felt so awful that I would have likely gone to the hospital that night was it not a 45 minute drive away and night-time which meant my baby was finally asleep.  I remember not wanting to wake him up. I was breastfeeding, and in the few weeks of feeling ill, he started wanting to eat as often as a newborn, and I was completely exhausted.  He was eating almost every hour.  I slept that night and woke up drenched in sweat and feeling better, my fever had broken.  But then, in the following days, I began to run a fever of 102, so I decided to go to the local clinic in town.  The Physician’s Assistant there asked if my heart rate was normally high. I remember telling her that the symptoms seemed to get worse when I hiked, and she asked what I was doing hiking when I was sick.  She thought I had pneumonia.  She gave me a z-pack and an order for a chest x-ray should I start to feel worse.  I took the antibiotic daily, but was not really feeling better, and was still running fevers, so I called the clinic to ask about coming in again.  They told me to finish the whole round of antibiotics and to wait and see how I felt then.

I never ended up calling the office back.  On November 27, 2009, Thanksgiving Day, I woke up exhausted.  I remember being awake for a little while and being hungry, but being so tired that once I had fed my son, I went back to bed with him for a nap.  My now ex-husband was home from work for the holiday.  At one point, I woke up feeling nauseous.  My son was sleeping in my bed, and I remember carefully placing the pillows so that he would not roll out of bed when I got up to go throw up.  And instead of going to the bathroom connected to the master bedroom because I didn’t want to wake him up, I headed out of the bedroom towards the second bathroom.  I remember my husband was sitting in the living room as I walked by.  I told him that I felt like I was going to throw up.  I started feeling dizzy and so I started grabbing out for the walls as I walked.  The next thing I knew, I woke up lying on my back on the living room floor.  My husband was yelling “Jammie! Jammie!” at the top of his lungs.  He was on the phone telling the 911 operator that I was awake.  Apparently, I had passed out.  My husband told me that my eyes rolled back and that I looked dead. He was about to start CPR when I woke up.  After an hour of waiting and lying on the floor, an ambulance came and they placed a neck brace on me and got me on a gurney and into the ambulance for a 45 minute ride to the hospital.  Once I was there, I learned that because of flu season, my husband was not allowed to come into the hospital with our son, so I sat in the ER room alone, waiting for answers.  A chest x-ray and lab work later, a doctor came in telling me that my heart appeared enlarged and that it was a condition that sometimes happened to women after having a child.  It later changed to me having fluid around my heart.  I relayed this info via phone to my husband outside the hospital. Mind you, neither one of us is from California and we had zero family members around. The people we did know locally we had just met about 1.5 years prior when we moved to California from Oregon.  I remember not really knowing what the information about my heart meant.  There was talk of removing the fluid.  I waited in the ER all day with no food or water until they got me a room on 3W, the step down ICU, because they wanted to make sure that I was monitored closely.

At this time, I did not yet have a primary doctor in the area.  After all, I was generally healthy and seldom even went to the doctor.  Somehow, they eventually allowed my husband and son in the hospital to be with me.  We were told that I was going to have the fluid around my heart removed with a procedure calling a pericardial window, and they would also get a biopsy of my pericardium.  They believed that I had pericarditis, inflammation of the lining of my heart.  That night, I passed out 3 more times.  I would get nauseous and then my vision would get blurry.  And I would get so scared, because I knew I was going to pass out.  I’d yell for my nurse and she’d come running in.  I’d wake up with 20 people in my hospital room, and once, I had an ambu bag on my face helping to oxygenate me.  The crash cart (the one used during code blues) lived at the foot of my bed.  Initially, I was still getting up to use the bathroom with assistance, but I would cough and cough.  I had a splitting headache from not eating anything all day, and I remember the beeps of alarms going off all night because my heart rate was high.  By the time they needed me to shower with the soap to prep me for surgery in the morning, I was too weak and told them I couldn’t get up anymore, so they gave me a bed bath.  I was having cardiac tamponade because of the fluid, my heart was not pumping like it should. My heart was starting to fail.  After breastfeeding my son exclusively for 7 months, my husband had to go to the store and buy formula and bottles and hope that he’d take it that night, which luckily he did.  My nurse called the surgeon repeatedly because I kept passing out. And I remember my nurse telling me that she felt bad for my husband because she said that when I passed out, I did it for a minute or more at a time, and that I looked dead. She said it was scary.  Luckily, rather than waiting for 6 am, the surgeon finally came in at 3 am to perform the pericardial window.

I woke up in immense pain after surgery, because they had not wanted to give me a lot of medications that would affect them determining what was going on with me.  They had removed 400 mL of fluid from around my heart, yet the surgeon was not convinced that this would cause me to have so many problems.  For those of you in healthcare, my sedrate and CRP values were through the roof.  I believe my CRP was in the 200’s.  CRP is a lab test to measure inflammation in the body.  To this day, when I run into my cardiologist in the hospital, he comments on how high my sedrate and CRP were. (And gives me a hug…I ended up with the sweetest cardiologist in town!)  And fellow health care professionals reading this, PLEASE be sure to medicate your patients BEFORE you remove their chest tubes!  The pain was excruciating when it was removed and I screamed loudly several times.  And I have learned that I have a pretty high tolerance for pain.  I swear I harbor some PTSD from having that gigantic hose removed from my chest.

I spent 6 days in the hospital.  I was told that they had not seen any signs of cancer, and that they thought I had idiopathic pericarditis which was a fancy way for the doctors to say that they had no idea what caused my pericarditis.  I went home on prednisone and colchicine to decrease the inflammation.  They said that I had a 10% chance of the pericarditis coming back.  At the time, that sounded great to me, after all, the cardiologist didn’t say I had a 90% chance!  So I went home and started to get back to life.  I even went cross-country skiing in the Giant Forest 4 weeks after my surgery. I was feeling great and was so glad to be alive.  I felt like I was given a new lease on life!

I had always considered becoming a nurse, but this time in the hospital gave me a big push in that direction.  My son was a huge motivating factor in me going back to school, because I wanted more stability and more time off to spend with him.  Even in the hospital as I was recovering from surgery, I remember asking some of my nurses about nursing school and their experience.  As soon as I got out of the hospital, I applied to the local community college, and began emailing the other people in the Park who I knew had started nursing school to ask their advice for getting into the two prerequisite courses I needed for the nursing program.  In the 6 weeks after being released from the hospital, we moved into town, and I started my Microbiology and Physiology classes.  I was healing OK and seeing my cardiologist regularly as he monitored my labs and my medications.  I sometimes biked with my son to my appointments, and we were always the youngest people in the waiting room. During one of the first times that he tried to wean me off the prednisone, I had a flare of pericarditis return, and I began throwing up.  I was so afraid that I would need to have surgery and another chest tube.  I ended up back in the hospital again with a smaller amount of fluid around my heart.  I waited for an echocardiogram to be done so that we would know the doctor’s intended plan of care.  During that stay, they tested me for more things like Valley Fever and Lyme Disease and had an infectious disease doctor consult on my case.  They pumped me full of steroids and even gave me some IV antibiotics.  But still, no answers came.  I was told that all of the tests were negative.  My sedrate and CRP were once again elevated, but not as high as they had been.  After several days, and me begging to be released so that I could get back to my baby and my classes, I was once again discharged from the hospital on prednisone and colchicine.

After this recurrence that landed me in the hospital, I got wise, and stopped going to the hospital for my chest pain.  Instead, my cardiologist would have me increase my prednisone back to 40 mg per day, and then we’d work to wean me off again. In the end, I was decreasing my daily doses by 0.5 to 1 mg per day over a week’s time!  The process was excruciating.  I’d get to 7 mg and have a flare and have to start back at 40 mg a day again.  This cycle continued this way for YEARS. I was referred to a rheumatologist who also had difficulty weaning me off the steroids, and attempted to add daily doses of injectable methotrexate to the mix.  I was taking medications for medications because of the side effects.

During this time, I was exhausted all of the time.  I remember, at times, choosing sleep over studying for big exams.  But, I held my own, and continued being the best Mom I could while also attending nursing school.  I worked to remain positive and hopeful that I would get answers, and eventually, my health back.  The steroids lent themselves to a weight gain of 40+ pounds over my usual weight, the typical moon-shaped face, and hump on my upper back, not to mention insomnia, and irritability.  I remember feeling like I was trapped in a body that was completely unfamiliar to me.  I had spent the better part of 10 years hiking, backpacking, and camping for work, and now here I was, afraid to exert myself physically for fear of triggering a flare of the chest pain.  Strangely, I was living my life pretty normally aside from my personal health struggles, and the people I met during that time had never known me to look any different.  So, I fell into the category of people who look fine and healthy to strangers, yet are facing major health challenges every day.  I have never been one to complain, and I was determined to become a nurse so that I could help other people who found themselves sick in the hospital, so many of my classmates didn’t even know of my health struggles.

During nursing school, I kept up with all of the other students.  I arranged my schedule around classes and clinicals, caring for my son and getting him to daycare, along with frequent doctor’s appointments.  In the summers between semesters, I was home alone much of the time caring for my son and juggling my appointments, the upkeep of a house and two large dogs while my ex-husband went on extended work trips to the back country.  I look back sometimes and am completely amazed at myself!  We humans are capable of handling so much, so very much.

It was my son who gave me the strength to move forward every day.  Every day, I pushed myself to get out of bed for him.  He motivated me to get us out of the house and go on adventures as much as possible. During this time, I struggled with grief for my lost health and also depression, but I never spent my days in bed crying, because my son needed me.  Thank goodness he needed me, because as it turns out, I REALLY needed him.  As humans, we all have a strong will to live.  We hear about it in stories of people in life and death situations.  My son multiplied my will to live and thrive in this life by infinity.  And for him, I am forever grateful.  My son is my sunshine.

Matisyahu “Sunshine”

…to be continued…

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