Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Recovery, Not Rest

I came across an article about how resilience is not about pushing through or just taking a break to rest but rather about recovery. Since then, this difference between recovery and rest has been on my mind as I try to engage in recovery for myself rather than just resting. But what is the difference and why is it important?

I discovered for myself how recovery plays a vital role in our well-being this weekend. I already knew that I require a lot of sleep and when my sleep is limited, I am at greater risk of a Short Bowel Syndrome flare. These flares can last anywhere from half a day to couple of days and medicine such as Lomotil to slow the bowel isn't really all that effective during a flare. In fact, nothing but time seems to help me when I'm having a flare. Sure, sitting up instead of lying down makes a difference but food, drink, and medicine don't play a positive role but rather can make the symptoms worse.

This weekend I spent both evenings awake and active until about 2-3 am. I slept in the best that I could the following day but most days I'm not able to sleep in later than 9 am at the latest. And if I take a nap during the day then I run the risk of not sleeping well that night. And so I overdid it both days and I felt it by Sunday afternoon. My body started to revolt. I wasn't flaring at this point but I was exhausted and in general just felt under the weather. I didn't do anything Sunday but my body paid no heed to my inactivity. The damage had been done and I needed a recovery period. I took a nap in the afternoon and felt some better by the evening. I fell asleep at a decent time that night and slept well throughout the night. However, it still wasn't enough. I awoke to feeling crummy and I felt so horrible I ended up only working half a day. I made it home and crashed until the late afternoon. This time when I awoke, I felt more like myself. I took a Lomotil and was able to enjoy an evening with my mother attending an art performance. This however, meant that I would have a bit of a later night than usual for a work night and I felt it the next day. Whenever I take Lomotil and it's effective, the next day is a bit of a swing day in the effects. Meaning that Lomotil may slow my bowel that day but the next day my intestine is trying to return to its daily normal and so will worsen my Short Bowel Syndrome as it's re-establishing itself. Between increased restroom needs, fatigue, and an overall crummy feeling I was struggling a bit for my usual normal. I was closer to normal than I was the day before but I could tell I still wasn't 100% myself. If I took another Lomotil to help my symptoms then I would just prolong the swing effect another day so I didn't want to take anymore medicine.

So how could I have helped myself besides the obvious of not staying up late, especially two nights in a row? I needed to not only catch up on my sleep but also to allow my brain a break from thinking and stressing. I should have put my phone down, ignored social media and focused on relaxing myself. As it explained in the resilience article, we may think we are recovering when we take a moment to rest but our brain is often remaining active with stressful or agitating thoughts. This activity isn't allowing a recovery period as we spend more energy wrestling with distressing moments.

So next time we are needing to recharge, let us remember to allow for recovery not just rest. Let's put down our technology, focus on our breathing and clear our thoughts. Engage in a light hearted moment with friends, journal, listen to our favorite music or podcasts, take a moment to enjoy nature, meditate or sleep. We all deserve a break from the mental and physical exhaustion of life and particularly that of chronic illness.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Pets and Chronic Illness

Everyday I'm grateful for my pups. I can't imagine not having them in my life in spite of challenges my health can present in the care they require. There are days that I want to stay in bed or am having a short bowel flare and don't want to move except for when I'm required to run to the restroom for the umpteenth time. They have provided me unconditional love and emotional support without fail. They force me to move when I'm not motivated. I truly feel as though I'd be lost without my pups.

Ruhle and Zia
My first real pup that I was solely responsible for was Ruhle, an Aussie mix. I found him at a camp
ground along a river. He ate hot dogs from us for dinner and the next day followed us along the river bank as we canoed down the river. We asked around and he was just a lone campground dog so we took him home. For the entire trip home, he curled up next to my feet in the truck floor bed and was calm as long as he was touching me. My goal was to train him to be a therapy dog and take him to work with me at the nursing home I worked for. He completed three levels of obedience training and obtained his Good Canine Citizen certificate. He loved learning new tricks and loved to perform them. He absolutely loved children and was an incredibly loving pup. When he was 4, we started fostering dogs for the local Humane Society and that's when I fell in love with a little female Carolina Dog and so we adopted her and named her Zia. Ruhle and Zia became extremely close. As he aged, he became like a grumpy old man and no longer enjoyed going to dog centered events. He loved our pup Zia but didn't enjoy other dogs so much anymore. He developed Kidney Disease and he unexpectedly passed when he was 10. Losing him broke my heart and Zia's heart. She wasn't herself without Ruhle so I decided she needed another buddy. I was looking for an older female pup this time, small to mid size, who would get along with Zia well. The female I wanted to adopt was too large and dominant for Zia. Zia is small but all muscle and stands her ground. I wouldn't be able to bear the thought of her fighting and being at risk of being hurt by another animal. And I discovered she does better with male dogs. We went to another shelter and I spotted a medium to large 2 year old male Catahoula mix who
Azriel ad Zia
had spots like Ruhle. And I just knew - I needed to get to know this dog. He wasn't what I was looking for at all as a companion for myself and Zia. The shelter let him and Zia out in a fenced yard and they got along well - he was even submissive to Zia. He has a large scar on his hip and a torn up ear. He spent a year in the shelter and is terrified of men. He definitely has a traumatic history but he took to me right away. We took him home as a trial and within a couple of days I knew he was for us. I named him Azriel. He is attached to my hip, is still learning some commands and although he remains scared of men, he has shown the ability to love on male friends of mine if they're patient with him. Zia even acts like she likes him on occasion and will at times run around with him. She no longer acts withdrawn and sullen.

There are plenty of studies showing the physical and mental health benefits of animals. According to Maslow, one of our hierarchy of needs is belongingness and love. Animals help meet this need, particularly for those who live alone. According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, animals have also been shown to increase fitness and happiness while decreasing stress with lower blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, feelings of loneliness and improving socialization and exercise opportunities. Caring for an animal not only provides benefits to physical and mental health but it can also teach responsibility. Studies are showing that the responsibilities of caring for a fish helped teens better manage their diabetes and helped children with ADHD focus their attention. Children who read to animals have also shown an increase in social skills, sharing, cooperation, volunteerism and a reduction in behavioral problems. Children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder have shown decreased anxiety, improved social interactions and engagement with peers from a few minutes of interaction with guinea pigs. Service dogs, Therapy dogs and emotional support animals have for a long time demonstrated how helpful an animal can be physically and emotionally.

A pet is not necessarily for everyone. When considering adopting an animal, one needs to take into consideration the financial and physical requirements a pet will demand. Some pets may be less expensive in their maintenance and care than others. A high energy animal may not be the best idea for everyone. Housing and outdoor access will vary from animal to animal as well. Who will provide care to your pet if you travel or are unable to care for your pet for a period of time?

We can receive companionship from all sorts of animals though so if a dog or cat is not a particularly good fit, perhaps a different animal would be such as fish, rabbit, bird, hamster, etc. If you're interested in adopting an animal but unsure what may be the best animal for you, talk to someone at a rescue group, shelter, veterinarian clinic, or pet store such as Petsmart or Petco.

Another great option that is an alternative to the lifelong commitment of a pet is to foster for a local shelter or rescue group. Fostering allows a shelter/rescue to free more space for another animal in need, provide a temporary home to an animal and one can still benefit from the companionship of an animal while in their care until they've been adopted. Additionally, volunteering at a shelter/rescue group is another great opportunity to benefit from the care of animals with limited responsibility and is a much needed source of help to such organizations.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Vitamin D Deficiency

life's a polyp

I remember in high school my doctor told me I was low on Vitamin D and to try to go out in the sunlight more. It wasn't suggested that I start taking a Vitamin D supplement until about a year ago when I complained of my struggle with my chronic fatigue to my adult GI doctor. He decided to draw lab testing various elements other than just my Iron and B12. This time he checked my Folate, Vitamins K and D to be on the safe side. Following the results, I was directed to start taking Folate and Vitamin D to bring them back into range and help combat my chronic fatigue. I was started on a high dose of 50,000 IU a week of Vitamin D for a couple of months with my level to be rechecked. With improvement to my Vitamin D level, I was able to change to 1,000 IU daily to maintain my level improvement and I was able to find this amount over the counter at a local grocery store in the pharmacy section.

It seems as though it is a lot easier to be deficient on Vitamin D than one may realize. We process Vitamin D through sunlight, diet, and supplements but we often are not in the sun enough to maintain adequate Vitamin D due to a variety of reasons such as season, cloud cover, air pollution, skin color, and location to equator and there are a limited number of foods with Vitamin D. There is also the risk of skin cancer with prolonged sun exposure to consider. So it may be likely that a supplement needs to be added to one's daily regiment in order to maintain an appropriate Vitamin D level.

Vitamin D acts as a hormone that functions in the intestine, kidneys, and bone to help stimulate transport of calcium and phosphorus to reduce the release of the parathyroid hormone that reabsorbs bone tissue. Both functions help us to build and maintain strong and healthy bones. Calcium and Phosphorus are both minerals that serve important functions and can be dangerous at too high or too low of levels. Calcium also needs Vitamin D for proper absorption. Vitamin D also helps maintain our muscle function and immune system to fight off illness and infection. Some studies suggest Vitamin D may also help to prevent cancer as well as other diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, dementia, and multiple sclerosis. Vitamin D is essential to help protect bones from becoming too thin, brittle, or misshapen as children are at risk of rickets and adults are at risk of osteomalacia and adequate Vitamin D can help prevent osteoporosis in adults as well.

Infants who are only breastfed are at risk of Vitamin D deficiency as breast milk contains a small amount of Vitamin D. Therefore, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfed infants be given a liquid multivitamin or 200 IU daily for their first two months of life and 400 IU afterwards until they are drinking formula or milk that are fortified.

The highest diet source for Vitamin D is cod liver oil followed by sources such as Swordfish, Salmon, Tuna, Fortified Orange Juice and Milk. Other sources at smaller amounts include Fortified Yogurt and Margarine, Sardines, Beef Liver, Egg Yolk, Fortified Cereals, and Swiss Cheese. Vitamin D is fat soluble therefore opting for fat free or low fat with Vitamin D options will result in poor absorption.

Your doctor can easily check your Vitamin D level with a simple blood test and recommend if you need higher or lower amounts of Vitamin D. The Institute of Medicine recommends for the average adult under the age of 70 to intake 600 IU a day and 800 IU a day if over 70. Some professionals suggest these recommendations remain too low for what is actually needed.

The body may have difficulty absorbing or processing Vitamin D due to issues such as:
  • Kidney or Liver Diseases
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • GI diseases/conditions
  • Gastric Bypass Surgery
  • Obesity
There are medications that may also lower Vitamin D level such as:
  • Laxatives
  • Steroids
  • Cholesterol Lowing Drugs
  • Seizure Control Drugs
  • Rifampin
  • Orlistat
Signs of low Vitamin D include:
  • Frequent illness or infections due to lowered immunity, particularly respiratory tract infections
  • Fatigue
  • Bone and Back Pain
  • Depression
  • Impaired Wound Healing
  • Bone Loss
  • Hair Loss
  • Muscle Pain
It's important to have your doctor monitor your Vitamin D level not only to ensure that you're obtaining enough Vitamin D but also to prevent too high of a Vitamin D level.
High Vitamin D can cause:
  • Nausea, Vomiting, Constipation, Poor Appetite
  • Itching
  • Increased Thirst and Urination
  • Weakness
  • Weight Loss
  • Confusion
  • Heart Rhythm Problems
  • Kidney Damage
  • Pancreatic Cancer
  • Ataxia - a condition that can cause word slurring, stumbling
Vitamin D supplements come in two forms - D2 and D3. D2 comes from plants and requires a prescription whereas D3 is the form that is made by the body when the skin is in contact with the sun and is found in animal sources. D3 is available over the counter and is more easily absorbed and lasts longer in the body from dose to dose.

Even if you are not exhibiting signs of Vitamin D deficiency it can be helpful to request a Vitamin D level check just to be on the safe side.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Balancing Chronic Illness and Socializing

socializing with chronic illness

Belongingness is a hierarchical, psychological need and socializing is an important part of that for everyone regardless of health. But that doesn't mean we have to be in a near constant state of socializing with others, does it?

I'm a bit of an introvert myself so I need time to myself to recharge after extensive socialization and on top of that, I don't feel well a lot of the time due to my chronic illness. Additionally, in order to support myself my priority is maintaining full time employment. To do so, this requires my constant attention to my health needs so that I may recover from the last week of work so that I may work the next week. It is an ever-present cycle of care that I must balance and protect for my livelihood.

My work as a social worker involves talking to chronically ill patients all day long 5 days a week. Between providing care to my patients and maintaining my relationships with my co-workers, I'm often exhausted upon my return home and I don't necessarily want to socialize with anyone else. I want to recover from the day. I am emotionally and physically drained by this near daily ritual that is employment. And if I am going to socialize on most days, I prefer messaging versus verbal communication except on rare occasions and of course during in-person interactions. I'm also not one for spontaneous social activities - I like to plan ahead so that I may prepare myself to be able to attend and participate as well as I possibly can. The unpredictable nature of chronic illness does not always allow for activities or socialization even with the best intentioned plans.

Balancing a social life and chronic illness is a common struggle. Too little socialization fosters isolation and depression but too much socialization drains us of our reserves to maintain our physical health. We often pay the following day or days after extending ourselves beyond our physical limits. An occurrence we often push ourselves to do on particularly good health days as we want to leave our homes, our routines, and rejoin the world and our loved ones in activity and socialization. Thus, it is far too easy to isolate ourselves away but then the double edge sword of trying to protect our physical health can also cause damage to our mental health at the same time. Maintaining friendships amidst chronic illness can be quite the challenge as well.

My best relationships with others, platonic or romantic, are those with individuals who not only take an interest in understanding and respecting my daily health struggles but also do not take my at times lack of presence personally. I don't require nor desire constant communication and because of my health, I am not always the most reliable for being able to keep scheduled activities. Even if that activity may be a friend coming to my home while I lie in bed in my pjs, that doesn't mean I will physically feel up to a visit even in the most conducive of situations for my health. Sometimes I feel more comfortable being along than in the presence of others.

Nevertheless, in spite of all the challenges and personal preferences, socialization is important for our well-being. Fortunately, with today's technology it is easier and faster to be able to communicate with others than it has ever been before. In person socialization can't be replaced but we can still develop meaningful, deep friendships with others through the phone and social media. We can receive and give comfort to others through these interactions as well. It may not be the same as the physical touch and care of another but it is not something to be dismissed either. Regardless the format, we must continually strive to balance our social needs and our health needs for the best outcomes for ourselves.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Keeping it Simple

girl looking at ocean

A few years ago I underwent an intensive transformative time as I was separating from the love of my life and in the midst of this heart wrenching, soul destroying period I was also losing others in my life I hadn't expected.

It was at this time that I wrote the following revelations in Let the Fire Burn :
"No longer care what others think of you. When you lose respect for someone, that person's opinion no longer means anything anyway. Don't waste yourself on those who have already lost your respect. Cherish those who are true to you - those who are supportive, loving, caring, and there with you through the brightest and darkest times of your life - not those who try to create dark times, tear you down, harm you with their malicious intent and manipulations, leave you without explanation. Don't let yourself succumb to the power of others, especially when it is a harmful power. You don't have time for that nor should you.

Don't take the dangerous, personal issues of others on as your own. People will attempt and succeed at betraying, manipulating, deceiving, and harming you. The reasons for others to inflict such pain on another is deep seated within them. Stop trying to decipher the reasons behind their actions. Their reasons don't need to make sense. Their reasons are just that, theirs. Not yours. Do not take on more pain simply because another is engaging in harmful behavior towards you."

That year I learned a multitude of lessons, none of which were easy. Not only was I having to cut ties with others of my choosing but I also had others choose to cut their ties with me. I felt abandoned and betrayed by those I held close for so many years, individuals who I had bared my soul to. It had all been in vain. It didn't matter how much I had cherished individuals in my life, nothing could stop what was being set in motion.

And so while in my own depths of depression, I had to learn to let go. Letting go didn't come easy to me but at some point that changed. Instead of holding onto feelings of abandonment and betrayal, I focused on the freedom from drama. My life was chaotic enough as it was, I certainly didn't need added drama. I stepped away and allowed others to do the same and when I accepted that I was able to let go of the stress caused by others.

Nowadays I keep my circle tight. Outside of work, there are few who I deeply engage myself with. It's not anything against others, it's a matter of simplification. With fewer people, there is less stress and mess. Those I remain close to also accept that I may not talk or visit them for long stretches of time. We both know though that the other is just a call away if one of us is needed for anything. We don't take things personally with each other and we don't create drama for the other. These are deep, meaningful yet simple friendships that sustain us. These are the type of friendships I not only want but also need.

It's okay to take a step away from someone or something. Sometimes it is necessary for our mental health. Learning to step away has taught me not to take the actions of others personally even if it was meant to be personal. It no longer matters. What does matter is self care and happiness. These are things that are within our own hands and others cannot take it away from us without our permission. I stopped giving my power over to others and I've never looked back.