Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Is It My Chronic Pain or Am I Just Getting Older?

When I think back 9 years, before chronic migraines and fibromyalgia became part of my everyday life, I can't help but be struck by vast differences. This is expected. Obviously living with chronic pain is very different from living without it. Then again, being a woman in her mid-20s is very different from being in the mid-30s.

These two transitions happened at the same time and have become so intertwined that I don't always know which changes to attribute to which transition. Some changes are obviously caused by my chronic pain, like my increased sensitivities to stimuli. However, many changes aren't clearly attributable to one or the other.

For example, I no longer want to be out past 8pm. Sure, part of the reason might be because being out any later than that would interrupt my schedule, which is an important part of controlling my symptoms. BUT, if I'm totally honest, a big part of the reason why I don't like to be out past 8pm is that I want to be home, in comfortable clothes, snuggling with my husband and my chihuahua. I want to relax with my family and get to bed at a reasonable hour more than I want to be out doing anything else.

I honestly feel like this could be attributed to either my chronic pain or my age - or it could be both. I can't tease out which. Then again, it really isn't important to. Honestly, I'm just glad that not all of the changes I've undergone in the past 9 years have been about unwanted loss. I'm still growing as a woman and a human being. What more can I ask?

Now that I've made the transition and have come to understand, accept and adjust to living with chronic migraines and fibormyalgia I have a new baseline for moving forward. As I gear up to transition into my 40s and eventually into my 50s, 60s and so on, I'll know future changes will be about aging.

And you know what? I'm actually looking forward to getting older. I loved being a teenager more than being a child. I loved my 20s more than my teens. I'm loving my 30s more than my 20s (despite the chronic pain). As far as I can tell, each year is better because each year I know more than before, I'm more comfortable with who I am and I feel more connected to the world around me.

For all of this, I am thankful.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Whimsy Wednesday

I've been rewatching Better Off Ted on Netflix. It's a very funny show. If you haven't already had the chance I would highly recommend checking it out. You can watch entire episodes on any streaming service or even on YouTube. Here is a clip for your enjoyment.

Have a great day!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

5 Strategies To Prevent Chronic Pain From Keeping You Down

We've all been there - pinned underneath relentless pain, frustration and sadness. We start thinking all-or-nothing thoughts like "nothing is going right", which quickly spirals into a vicious cycle of making us feel worse, thinking more negative thoughts, making us feel worse still, etc. This is an easy hurdle to stumble on when you are living with chronic pain.

Over the years I've learned some strategies to prevent chronic pain from keeping me down.

Strategy #1: Get rid of the toxic people in your life. These are the people who bring you down. They can take on many different forms. We all have them in our lives. Maybe they are super negative and always disagreeable. Maybe they think you are faking or exaggerating your pain. Maybe they are bullies. Maybe they just suck the energy right out of you. Whatever they are doing, they are not good for you.

We have enough to overcome without toxic people raising our hurdles even higher.

-A good place to start is by unfriending or blocking people on facebook (depending on the nature of your relationship with them. For example, I unfriend the super negative friends on facebook but I block posts from family members. It's a personal preference. I just refuse to allow facebook to become a stressful place because I love how it allows me to connect with all my far away friends and family. It does take some effort but it's totally worth it.
-You may need to break-up with a friend who you feel has become toxic in your life. Again, the nature of the relationship will help guide you to the approach. With a more casual acquaintance you may be able to just stop making plans. With a closer friendship you may need to have the super uncomfortable break-up conversation. Kindness and honesty should lead such conversations. A toxic person may never see it that way, but you can only do what you can do.
-When the toxic person is a close family member you may not want to rid your life of them. But that doesn't mean you have to allow their toxicity to poison you. In such cases setting some clear boundaries and communicating that with the toxic family member can help. You may want to have a therapist assist you with planning and preparing for an endeavor so fraught.

Strategy #2: Add in positive people. With limited energy, I find that spending it on people who are positive actually extends my energy and encourages my own efforts to lighten up. These people are the opposite of the toxic people. They are accepting and supportive. They don't pressure you to do things you can't do or aren't comfortable doing. They can see you as more than your limitations. Hold on. Invest in them.

Strategy #3: Still do things you love doing. Finding the time to just have fun can be hard when you feel like you don't even have the energy to keep up with basic household tasks. Over the years I've learned the benefit of having fun to my mental and emotional well being is great enough that it needs to be a priority when my pain is at a reasonable level. Having fun improves my mood and lifts my spirits, which in turn helps me to cope with the times when the pain and other symptoms are more intense. We need to have fun. We need to have moments that allow us to forget about our pain and problems.

Strategy #4: Spend time each day focusing on your blessings. This is easier once you get rid of the toxic people in your life. I've found that if I dedicate a time each day to recognize and feel gratitude for the many wonderful things in my life that my overall attitude is better. The better my attitude, the better my experiences are throughout the day.

Strategy #5: Allow yourself to experience the inevitable negative emotions but don't allow yourself to dwell in it. This is a big one for me. I don't believe we should ever devalue, ignore or suppress the negative emotions that we experience. Feeling sad, frustrated, angry, disappointed, etc. is a very natural human reaction to the shit we have to go through. It's okay to feel them. In doing so I believe I am honoring my experience and my reaction to it. If I allow myself to feel and process what I'm feeling then I can set it aside and move forward into a more positive space.

I need to be in this positive space to cope with my chronic migraines and fibromyalgia.

Monday, March 23, 2015

An Inspiring TED Talk About the Brain

I came across this TED Talk over the weekend by Jill Bolte Taylor. She is a brain scientist who learned something incredible about the brain after suffering a stroke. 

Basically, she talks about the amazing experience of being disconnecting from the left side of her brain (the part of the brain that collects data from the past and makes predictions about the future) and living fully in the right side of her brain (the part that experiences the now in a very sensory way) during her stroke. 

I could never do her story justice but I hope that you take the time to watch her talk. 

I found it to be quite inspiring. I sure hope some day I can find a way to spend more time on the right side of my brain.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Whimsy Wednesday

Pop culture and social media are rich with comedic opportunity. This clip is a great example of that. 

Have a great day!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Lessons in Home Ownership

I regularly check my Netflix Instant Queue for what programs are scheduled to go. Having just discovered Holmes Inspection, an HGTV program about a home inspector who corrects the various problems bad home inspector miss, is scheduled to be cut on April 1st. So I did what I always do, I start watching in an effort to see as much as I can, while I can.

I was completely hooked right away. Drawn in by the horror these poor home owners are experiencing because the professional inspector didn't do his job AND by the wealth of knowledge unleashed by Mr. Holmes and his team as they find and fix all the problems. I learn something new in each episode. Learning that has translated into more home projects.

The biggest lesson: home builders work as quickly and cheaply as they can. Little to no care is put into quality. It didn't take long for hubby and I to figure out that this is how our home was built but it's interesting to see how universal this can be. Big expensive beautiful homes, new homes, old homes, small homes - they all have the same kinds of problems. And all the problems could have been avoided if the various trades were following codes, knew what they were doing and then did it correctly.

This poor quality is not just from the builders, the same is happening with contractors or trades that come in and do work after the home is completed. Before long these homes need $50,000 or more worth of repairs. It's overwhelming to think about. We can't be expected to know how to do everything ourselves, which is why you hire professionals. How do you ever know if the professional you've hired is doing it correctly?

I've found a great local resource called Verified Service Reports. They have all kinds of great tips and advice for finding qualified professionals in various trades. Even better, they have also prescreened lots of contractors and other service providers. Acting sort of like the BBB but much more detailed and proactive. Mr. Holmes also offers some advice on his HGTV page.

Ultimately, steps can be taken to minimize the risk involved in hiring people to work on your home. It takes effort and time but the stakes are high so it's worth it. Mr. Holmes has convinced me of it.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Big Plans Ahead and a Big Surprise in the Basement

Spring has barely begun and already I have a very long list of projects around the house both inside and out. A list long enough that I'm certain we won't be able to get through. No problem. We'll do what we can and everything else will keep.

Most of our projects are labor intensive and require both prior research/prep and all of our hands. I know, it doesn't actually sound all that tricky but between my chronic health crap and hubby's job and the classes he is taking finding the precious time and energy to get things done is actually pretty hard.

This weekend we added another project to our list. A project that has received top priority, in fact it will done later today. See, we found a dead snake in our basement stuck on one of the glue boards we put down to catch insects.

As you can see the snake isn't the only creepy 
thing to get stuck on this glue board.

Oh, it's so creepy. SOOOOO CREEPY!

The very thought of a snake in our house... Well, I have so many questions. Where did it enter? How long has it been there? Are there others? Is there a whole nest? Have any made their way to the main level? Is this something we will ever be able to prevent from happening again?

I know we have snakes in our yard. Heck, we live right next to woods and a hill full of tall grass. We have all kinds of wildlife and have taken preventative actions to keep them away from our house and garage. Obviously, not enough. The exterior is about to be inspected with a fine tooth comb for even the smallest of openings. I've been reading up on it and apparently they can fit through an opening as small as 1/8" and it can be very hard to prevent them from coming in.

On the bright side - if there is a bright side to this development - the glue board caught him and he died. That's definitely better than going down there and happening upon the live version when moving a storage bin or, worse, finding a live one in the kitchen. Of course, that could still happen. We don't know if there are more or not.

All of this is to say that I may not be able to blog quite as much as usual this spring. I will still be blogging as often as I can but these projects will be a drain on my mental and physical energy.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Whimsy Wednesday

Dogs being intimidated by cats - good clean fun. Especially since the dogs get to pass in the end. Enjoy.

Have a great day!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

I've Grown Weary of the Conversation Check-Out

I've long been the type of person who pauses in the middle of a conversation to think. Since my migraines went chronic, I've also become the type of person who suddenly can't recall a word mid-sentence. Thanks to this brain fog, I've found myself in many an awkward, embarrassing and frustrating social situation.

I'm only feeling awkward, embarrassed or frustrated because of what I like to call the conversation check-out. See, it's a rare thing these days to find people willing to slow down enough to have meaningful exchanges. In fact it's become a rare thing these days to find people willing to slow down enough to allow me the time (and kindness) of letting me express myself when I'm struggling to bring my words from my foggy brain into my mouth.

People are moving so fast, all the multi-tasking and technology constantly pulling focus away from humans and the present moment. This rushed feeling, this hurried energy oozes out from every pore and puts all kinds of pressure on our interactions. Then if you don't move quick enough, or you're not flashy enough the people around you check out. Oh sure, they might pretend to listen, nodding or grunting from time to time but you can tell.

Yep, the conversation check-out. That moment when the person you are trying to talk with disengages. It sucks and I'm sick of it. I'm sick of trying to rush through my thoughts to get them out before others disengage. I'm sick of pretending like I don't notice when they have. I'm sick of small talk and conversational platitudes. I'm sick of the frantic energy that kills so many precious opportunities to connect with the humans around me.

I'm actually a reasonably intelligent woman. When the person I'm with is plugged in, my brain fog eases and I can express myself much better. The pressure I feel from the rushed, frantic energy that has become so pervasive is pulling my focus away from the conversation. My migraine ravaged brain can't always manage this distraction and suddenly I can't find my word. Any search for a word that goes beyond a couple seconds seems to trigger a disengagement from others, which quickly cascades into me feeling more pressure and getting more distracted. Suddenly, bringing that word forward becomes impossible until the pressure decreases. But by then nobody cares about what you have to say or what you were saying.

Right or wrong, people do make judgements about my level of intelligence based on these kinds of interactions. Like it or not, having so many of them has impacted the way I'm approached. I want to change this pattern. See, few things flip my switch the way exchanging ideas and diving deep into meaningful conversation does. This is how I connect to people. I need more of it.

I'm deeply frustrated by the ratio of surface interactions to meaningful interactions. It's getting to me.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Result of 5 Months Under the Care of a D.O.

I've been going to regular D.O. appointments for the past 5 months. For a couple months I was going every other week, then it was every 3rd week and now just once a month. In that time the doc and I have had the chance to get to know one another and I've had the chance to give his methods a good try, I wanted to give you all an update on how this less conventional approach is going.

Back in November of last year I wrote about that initial appointment with this doc. My subsequent appointments have been similar in that we spend a few minutes talking about how things have gone since the last appointment and then he spends 20-40 minutes manipulating various parts of my body. The appointment is only ever scheduled for 30 minutes but he doesn't seem to have a problem extending that appointment if he thinks he needs more time. How about that?

The main focus has been on 3 aspects of my health: my chronic migraines, my fibromyalgia and my weight issues. What's great is that these things don't get compartmentalized the way it happens at a M.D. office. But in an effort to communicate effectively I'm going to break it down by category.

Chronic Migraines
The doc spends a fair amount of time manipulating my neck and my skull. Sometimes using obvious movements and other times the movements are almost undetectable. So far I haven't noticed any real improvement in the severity or frequency of my migraines. Then again, I would have been shocked if anything he could do would make a meaningful impact on either.

That being said, I also think it's too early to tell if any sort of change has occurred. If the past 9 years of living with chronic migraines has taught me anything it's that some months are better than others, some weeks are better than others, some migraines are easier than others... There is an ebb and flow to every aspect of my chronic migraines so only long term data would turn my head. Well, long term data or a dramatic shift in how I'm feeling but that would require a miracle.

Every time I go in, my whole body gets moved. He is twisting my back, moving my arms and legs, head and neck all around. To my untrained self these movements seem like little more than just movements. But to the doc they are quite intentional and personalized to the issues of the day. For a while I didn't notice any difference. Then one day, we were talking about how things were progressing when it hit me. I hadn't woke up feeling like I had been run over by a truck overnight in quite a while. Not long after I also realized I hadn't had a really bad fibro flare in a while either. I've had a flare or two but not as painful as usual.

What's funny is that this change happened and I wasn't even watching for it, probably because I wasn't expecting it. After all, I stretch every day. I move my body. I guess I just didn't really believe specific intentional movements could make such a big impact.

Trying to Gain Weight
I've been slowly losing weight since my migraines went chronic more than 9 years ago. Each year I complain about the weight loss and try hard to put the weight back on. Instead of gaining, I've continued to lose. Now, instead of needing to regain 5 lbs I need to regain 25 lbs. Quite disturbingly none of the M.D.s I saw took it seriously or made any sort of effort to help me tackle the problem. They would tell me things like-"you look great" - "It's not a problem" - or say nothing at all.

The D.O. immediately took this matter seriously. He thought that a big part of the problem might actually be my body's inability to properly absorb the food that I eat. This is the first time anyone has offered up a possible explanation. I've always just guessed that my weight loss was due to the amount of nausea and pain. He gave me some probiotics and digestive enzymes to assist my system. The downside is that now I'm swallowing more pills, something my body has been extremely resistant to. But after a few months I was able to make it a habit. After a couple weeks of taking them regularly I started to see some benefits. Unfortunately, a week later, my body started to reject the digestive enzymes. It must have had an accumulative effect because it wasn't a problem until suddenly it was.

I was disappointed I had to stop taking them just as I was seeing some improvement. However I had put a few pounds on so the doc thought I should restart the enzymes, taking them only until I started to feel wonky. Then stopping, resting and then restarting them again. Basically, he wants me to play with them for the next month to see if I can continue to see the benefit of weight gain and better digestion without regular intake.

Fingers crossed. I really do need to put weight on. I'm not at a healthy weight, plus I'm just not comfortable like this. For the first time since I started to lose weight I actually feel like I have a good chance at gaining some, if not all, of it back. I couldn't be more thrilled to have a professional partner helping me tackle this increasingly squeaky wheel. Such a relief.

To Sum Up
Slow and steady progress is being made. Progress that I know I couldn't have achieved from an M.D. The nature of what my D.O. does is so different. The goal of going to see the D.O. was to improve the quality of my life. I was certain I could feel better than I did even though I know there is no cure for either chronic migraines or fibromyalgia. I can say with certainty that I am feeling better now than I was. I hope that with continued care I will continue to see progress, especially where my weight is concerned. Time will tell. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Whimsy Wednesday

Here is a little mid-week humor from the good folks at Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Have a great day everyone.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Winter Round Up

Winter Round-Up
Seems like winter weather waited until February to make an appearance this year; dumping all the snow and sustained bitter cold and winds over a 3 week period. But now it's March and that means the arrival of spring. Even though mother nature doesn't equate the arrival of March with the arrival of spring, as I do, I'm sticking to it.

So here's my send off to all things winter.

Winter Favorites:

I've long been a fan of hummus, especially the Trader Joe's brand hummus. Recently I began to grow tired of it but retained a desire to consume it. In an effort to jazz it up for my taste buds a bit, I picked up this Trader Joe's Edamame Hummus. Voila! Just the thing.

Winter Successes:

With the obvious exception of my chronic migraines and fibromyalgia, winter went pretty well. I ended up feeling good enough to enjoy Christmas Eve and Christmas Day plans with family, which was great. We really only had two other goals for the January and February - get a whole house humidifier and a water softener - check and check.

The whole house humidifier was something we really needed to get to keep our wood floors from drying out and becoming a problem. But the benefits extend far beyond that. Right away I noticed a big difference - suddenly that painfully dry feeling in my nose was gone and my skin wasn't nearly as tight and itchy.

Doesn't look like much but boy am I fan.
The water softener is something we've talked about doing for about 6 months. I was excited about all the expected benefits; good for our pipes and appliances, requires less detergent, soap, shampoo, etc. to clean stuff. I've been surprised by a couple of unexpected benefits like losing less hair in the shower and my hair/skin don't dry out nearly as much after getting wet.

Okay, so our winter projects haven't been nearly as sexy as the summer and fall projects but they certainly improved our home and our daily lives.

Winter Failures:

February. The whole month was kind of a loss. It's been a tough migraine month, although that can be said of every month. The real problem was that the last 3 weeks of the month a relentless winter funk has settled over the area. Nothing like what has been happening on the East Coast - thankfully - but it has been unusual for us. We did finally get the snow I wanted but with it came day after day of terrible cold and wind. Each week I find myself saying, "there is no place I want to go bad enough that I'll go out in this." Each week expecting that the next week things will get better - but it didn't. As a result, I've only left the house a handful of times in the past 3 weeks.

Gypsy has been just miserable. One especially bad day the poor little girl was blown over mid-poo by a stiff wind. For a while, she didn't want to walk at all because it was just too cold or too snowy but after about a week of that she became so restless she finally started walking again. But even when she was up for a walk she couldn't go as far as usual (her poor little paws just got too cold) so she was stuck with all kinds of pent up energy.

Walking has also been complicated because the snow. Almost nobody in the neighborhood shovels their sidewalks so we have had to walk in the street and with all the grass being covered with snow she has had little opportunity to relieve herself on the walks. We are the only ones who have shoveled some of our lawn. This is the kind of thing you have to do when you have a chihuahua.


The highlight of winter was, as always, Christmas. The decorations and the gathering with family, the holiday movies and driving around looking at the lights - I just love it.


The lowlight of this winter is the challenge we've had balancing the pH in Gypsy's urine. Ultimately, this all goes back to her bladder stones this past fall. Because of the type of stones she had, we need to keep her urine perfectly balanced in order to prevent future stones. This is done with diet. Sounds easy enough, but so far we have not succeeded. Eventually, it will come together but until then we are doing a lot of urine tests. No fun.

What I am Reading: 

I'm just about to start a new book recommended and lent to me by my mother-in-law called The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. This will be the first time I've read anything by this author so I don't know what to expect.

Monday, March 2, 2015

7 Days In

I'm now 7 days into a migraine.
I just can't seem to fully get on top of the pain.
This happens from time to time.
My whole body has now been sucked into the ugliness.
Each day my symptoms compound.
I need to lay down.