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Dare to care …

This is the post excerpt.

                        Oak Allee at Brookgreen Gardens, Pawleys Island, SC

 

Did you know that 133M Americans live with a Chronic illness? By 2020, that number will exceed 150M. This isn’t my opinion. This is fact. They are our spouses, siblings, parents, grandparents, neighbors and co-workers. They are young and old. No race or social-class is immune. This is America’s health crisis! One that needs far more attention than it is getting. Awareness of this issue is important. Support for those afflicted is an even greater priority. We are in this journey called life, together. Dare to care!

This Little Light Of Mine …

When I think back to my early childhood, I remember learning this song in Vacation Bible School. I was all of three or four years old. I still remember singing it in front of the congregation. Our teacher had instructed us to hold up our “pretend candles” aka one finger, as we sang. And at 59, I still find this simple little tune to be incredibly uplifting. I think most Christians can relate, which is why I chose it to discuss living with Chronic illness. Sometimes, we allow our diseases to distract us … hold us back … even consume us. If you live with one, you know what I mean. It happens all too often. But, for a moment, let’s focus on making the most of every day … every week … every year. Let’s consider living our lives to the fullest and letting our light really shine!

 

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  “In the same way, let your light shine before others …” — Matthew 5:16 (NIV)

First, accept that change is inevitable. It isn’t your fault that you’re sick. You didn’t ask for it to happen, or want it. But here you are. Your willingness to help yourself is your choice. Making changes to your lifestyle is also your choice. No one can do it for you. And, I know — it’s hard enough just living with your disease. The beauty here is that making changes allows you to feel a measure of control, in what often feels like an uncontrollable situation. And no matter what it specifically entails, change isn’t a bad thing. It’s just different. Healthier even. So, consider what you need to change in order to manage your disease. You might even want to make a list, or keep a journal. Then, take action. Perhaps, you are adding a form of therapy? Maybe, exercise? Or a diet? Your schedule may need some adjustments. You may need to ask for help. By all means, do so. That’s what support systems are for. Talk to your doctor. Stay realistic. Change won’t happen overnight. And patience is a necessity with any Chronic illness. But, slowly, make those changes at a pace that is comfortable for you. Think of it as laying the foundation for your future.

Second, don’t be afraid to set goals or dream. Yes, you have a Chronic illness. But you also have a life. It isn’t over. It’s changing; remember? Despite your diagnosis, you still have interests … pursuits of happiness. We all do. There are things that are gratifying like our careers. And others that we have longed to experience. Perhaps, you’d like to learn a new hobby? Enter a golf tournament? Get more involved in your community or an organization? Maybe, there’s a promotion that you’d like to accept? Or a destination calling your name? While the sky may not be the limit, there are a lot of options available. So, talk to your doctor. A well-managed Chronic illness will allow you to live life to the fullest. You’ll be happier, healthier, more productive, etc. Now, you’re building on that foundation.

Third, stay optimistic. I know it isn’t always easy. Some are naturally pessimistic. Thankfully, optimism can be learned. And, to be honest, it should be. This is one habit that we all can benefit from. Studies have proven, time and again, that optimism plays a positive role on our physical and mental health. Here are a few easy ways to be more optimistic:

  • Stop comparing yourself to others in a competitive way. We’re all unique.
  • Think positive thoughts.
  • Look for the good, even in difficult situations. Silver linings do exist.
  • Focus on positive outcomes. Don’t face a challenge expecting defeat.
  • Consider your own beliefs. What is your definition of purpose? Of life?
  • Strive to improve your health. When you feel better, you are more optimistic.
  • Challenge your mind every day, by learning something new. It helps to provide personal satisfaction.

Last but not least … I can attest that every change that I’ve made, either to my lifestyle or surroundings, has yielded positive results. This includes a couple of things that I was initially very skeptical about. While there are no guarantees in life, not mine or yours, there are options. Live fully and let your light shine!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/turning-straw-gold/201509/20-tips-living-well-chronic-pain-and-illness

Intensive lifestyle change: It works, and it’s more than diet and exercise

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ServicesAndSupport/managing-long-term-illness-and-chronic-conditions

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/21st-century-aging/201212/keeping-positive-outlook-when-dealing-chronic-illness

https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=1&contentid=4511

*Photo by Frank McKenna on Unsplash

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Smile: It’s Good For You

Sometimes, we overthink things. This is often true with Chronic illness. We overlook the simple, yet effective ways to help us feel better. Why is that? Are we looking for more difficulty? More expense? More drama? Surely, not. I think, just maybe, we are skeptical of simplicity. In this modernized society, we have somehow conditioned ourselves to believe that we need all the latest gadgets, gizmos, treatments and meds. We tell ourselves that if it’s “new”, if it’s advertised, then it must be better. Yet, in reality, we actually benefit from very simple things … free things … easy, natural things. And the perfect example of this is a smile!

 

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When you smile, you activate neural messaging in your brain and chemicals are released, i.e. Dopamine, Endorphins and Serotonin. Your brain is basically having a party and your entire body is invited to join the fun!

Smiling wards off stress. It relaxes you, if only for a few seconds. It lifts your spirits. You are happier. You feel better. That smile also lowers your Blood-pressure and your heart-rate. It can even relieve pain. Imagine that!

Each time you smile at someone (even a stranger) and they smile back, you both have created a symbiotic relationship. And both of you reap the benefits. In that moment that you exchange smiles, each of your bodies releases those feel-good chemicals into your brain. In those few seconds, both of you feel happier … more attractive … even more confident. This actually increases the chances of living longer and leading happier lives, in both individuals. And it wasn’t difficult or time consuming. Heck, it didn’t even cost a dime!

If you can share a little laughter, the benefits are even greater. In the short-term, a smile that ripples into laughter releases more of those feel-good chemicals … fills your lungs with oxygen-rich air … stimulates your heart and your muscles … relieves stress … and just makes you feel good. But in the long-term, it can improve your immune system … relieve pain … boost your mood … and increase personal satisfaction. Remember that old cliche, “Laughter is the best medicine”? As it turns out, there’s medical proof to back it up.

Now, granted, there are times when it’s hard to smile or laugh with a Chronic illness. But did you know that even a fake smile can trick the brain into releasing these feel-good chemicals? That in turn can have the same positive results on the body and emotions. So smile, even on the bad days — reap the benefits. In the long run, you’ll be glad that you did!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/201206/there-s-magic-in-your-smile

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456

https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/smiling-can-trick-your-brain-happiness-boost-your-health-ncna822591

*Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

It’s That Time Of Year, Again …

It’s Spring aka Hay Fever season. And sufferers surely know it. But they also know it can strike in Summer as well as Fall. Despite its name, Hay Fever doesn’t require hay or cause a fever. It can be rather inclusive that way. Its symptoms are usually caused by allergic sensitivity to airborne mold spores and numerous pollens. Allergic rhinitis, as it is medically known, is a significant Chronic disease that often effects the healthier population. In fact, in the past century, its prevalence has increased 10-fold. Some patients even experience symptoms the year-round, i.e. Perennial Allergic rhinitis.

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While Hay Fever symptoms vary, from patient to patient, the most common are:

  • Runny nose and nasal congestion
  • Watery, itchy, red eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Cough
  • Earaches
  • Fatigue
  • Postnasal drip
  • Swollen, blue-colored skin under the eyes
  • Itchy nose, roof of mouth or throat
  • Headaches  

If you or a loved one is suffering from one or more of these symptoms, talk to your doctor. It might even be time to see an Allergist. Once you are properly diagnosed, you can work toward managing your Hay Fever. This is especially important, if you are already living with an illness that can be worsened by the symptoms of Hay Fever, i.e. Stress, Asthma, Lung Diseases and Heart Diseases.

Life does not stop, because you have Hay Fever. That’s a no-brainer. You have things to do, work to finish, plans to keep and dreams to chase. To get you started, here are a few simple tips for managing your illness:

  • Start medications before peak pollen times (1-2 weeks if possible).
  • Wear a hat and wrap around sunglasses to protect your eyes from pollen.
  • Use a nasal allergen barrier to protect your nose from pollen, i.e. Vaseline.
  • Monitor your local pollen count and stay indoors when levels are high.
  • Keep windows and doors closed.
  • Consider purchasing a humidifier for your home.   
  • Keep your appointments with your doctor, even when you are doing good.

There is no cure for Hay Fever, but there are ways to keep it from controlling your life. So, talk to your doctor. Take your medications as directed. Implement these easy tips. Make smart decisions. It’s Spring. Enjoy it! You don’t have to be in misery!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/allergy-library/allergy-sinus-headaches

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hay-fever/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20373045

https://acaai.org/allergies/types/hay-fever-rhinitis

https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/is-stress-making-your-allergy-symptoms-worse

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/5-ways-you-can-fight-hay-fever/

https://www.allergyuk.org/about/latest-news/648-top-tips-for-managing-your-hay-fever

https://medicinetoday.com.au/2015/october/feature-article/hay-fever-%E2%80%93-underappreciated-and-chronic-disease

*Photo by Jason Long on Unsplash

More Than Tired: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Are you tired? We’ve all been there. For one reason or another, most of us have struggled with fatigue. Perhaps, you couldn’t sleep the night before? Or you burned your candle at both ends until you were exhausted? It happens. A cold, flu, or other illnesses can also result in fatigue. But what if there is no reasonable explanation? Then, like the millions who suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, you may be more than tired. You may be living with a complex Chronic illness.

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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis as it is also known, is a complicated disorder. Symptoms of CFS/ME include:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of Concentration and/or Memory
  • Unexplained Muscle and Joint Pain
  • Headaches
  • Unrefreshed Sleep
  • Extreme Exhaustion

Since these symptoms can accompany other illnesses, it’s important to see a doctor for a proper diagnosis. And your patience is required. It isn’t unusual for the final diagnosis to take a while. Most patients will tell you that they waited months (years, in some cases) and saw more than one doctor. Age and gender play a role, with CFS. Women are much more likely to be diagnosed than men. Patients are usually middle-aged (typically their 40s), at onset. It is also believed that certain “triggers” may initiate the disease, i.e. viral infections, fragile immune systems and hormonal imbalances. Since there is currently no cure or specific treatment for CFS/ME, physicians focus on relieving the patient’s symptoms. This can be daunting and sometimes frustrating.

As with other Chronic illnesses, patients who live with CFS/ME must learn to manage their illness. Daily living becomes a juggling act. But with a few easily implemented tips, it can become easier:

  • Low-impact Exercise done regularly, i.e. walking, Tai Chi, swimming, Yoga, Pilates, etc. It will keep you active & strong.
  • Pay attention to your diet. It’s your fuel. The Mediterranean Diet has been helpful to many CFS/ME patients.
  • Puzzles, Word games, Trivia, etc. will keep your memory sharp.
  • Adjustments to your workload may be necessary, i.e. PT instead of FT, etc. About 50% of all CFS/ME patients remain in the workforce.
  • If you need help, ask for it. Friends, family, co-workers and Support Groups can play an important role in CFS/ME management.

Last, but not least, it is important to keep your expectations realistic. Anyone with a Chronic illness will tell you that overdoing it, pushing yourself, and/or ignoring your illness/symptoms is a recipe for disaster. Be kind to yourself. Make the necessary changes. Stay optimistic. Move forward. Progress, no matter how small, is still a step toward better living. The triumphs do add up. And remember … every day is a gift. Some are better than others. But when you’re living with a Chronic illness, it’s key to make the most of each one. Whether it’s a day of rest in your jammies, or a day doing something really special, it’s important for your well-being. Enjoy it!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chronic-fatigue-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20360490

https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/chronic-fatigue-syndrome

https://ammes.org/diet/

https://www.webmd.com/chronic-fatigue-syndrome/tips-living-with-chronic-fatigue#1

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/low-impact-exercises_n_1434616

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/mediterranean-diet-meal-plan#foods-to-eat

*Photo by Kevin Grieve on Unsplash

 

Great Is Thy Faithfulness …

When life is going well, it’s easy to profess one’s faith. I have heard many do so. And, for the record, I do not doubt their sincerity. They are describing their spiritual journey, thus far. But the real test of faith for anyone comes through difficulties in life. Hardship. Suffering.

God promises us many things. He keeps each and every one. But an all-inclusive membership into some “comfort club” isn’t one of them. Christianity isn’t that. It never has been. In Scripture, He actually warns us of the hard times that will eventually find their way into our lives (John 16:33) and of His own discipline (Hebrews 12:7). Christianity isn’t easy. But it is fulfillment in life … a deeper understanding … a walk with God. And, like the trials we face, it transforms us … molds us … into something greater (Philippians 1:6). The Lord sees to that.

 

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     “I have chosen the way of faithfulness …”  — Psalm 119:30 (NIV)

 

Sometimes as we struggle with a Chronic illness, or watch a loved one do so, it’s difficult to see a reason or worthwhile purpose. It’s hard to imagine that any measure of good can ever come from it. Yet, the Apostle Paul tells us that it’s possible for good to come from horrific things (Romans 8). Imagine that.

Our suffering may seem too long, or unnecessary. We may wonder, “Why, Lord?” Doubts may eat away at us. That’s not unusual. We are all human. And fear is a powerful thing. Still, we wait … we pray … we trust. We cling to our faith, because we believe that God keeps His promises. When it would be easy to ask, “Why me?”, we know the more correct question is “Why not me?” No matter how difficult, or how long the road may be, we are not alone. The Lord is with us. We will get through it … each of us … because great is our faithfulness.

 

Reference Links:

*Photo by Samuel Martins on Unsplash.

MS Awareness Month

It’s March! And most people are thinking of hoops, or St. Pat’s celebrations. They’re scribbling on brackets, or attending a parade. All are good, fun, even exhilarating. But, for a moment, let’s think of something much more serious — Multiple Sclerosis or MS. If you or a loved one is living with this disease, you know how important awareness is. So, let’s spread the word!

But what exactly is Multiple Sclerosis? MS is classified as an autoimmune illness.  In other words, the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. The cause of this disease is unknown. But there are risk factors that can play a role, i.e. age, sex, family history, some infections, race, climate, vitamin D in-deficiency, smoking, etc. It effects over 2M, worldwide.

MS destroys Myelin (the fatty substance that covers and protects nerve fibers) in the brain and spinal cord. Think of it like the coating that protects an electrical wire. As the Myelin is exposed, messages that travel along that nerve are stymied or blocked all together. The nerve itself may become damaged. Complications can and usually do follow, as the disease progresses its way through periods of ebb and flow.

As with any Chronic illness, there is no cure. Its symptoms can get in the way of daily routine. But patients can still enjoy productive lives with the help of treatment as well as lifestyle changes (including setting limits). And that’s important. We all enjoy contributing our knowledge and talents, even those of us who live with a Chronic illness. A condition, no matter what it is, should not solely define a person. It’s just part of who we are.

March is MS Awareness Month. So, please, spread the word — get involved. Order an Awareness Kit. Take part in an upcoming event near you (some are planned beyond March). Volunteer. Donate. You’ll be glad that you did. The more that people know, the better informed we become as a society. Join the MS team and truly make a difference in the lives of others!

 

Reference Links:

https://mymsaa.org/about-msaa/ms-awareness-month-2019/

https://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/multiple-sclerosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20350269

https://www.abovems.com/en_us/home/life/around-home.html?cid=PPC-GOOGLE-AM.DTC.AboveMS_DTC_Unbranded_ConditionManagement_Exact.Exact-NA-28810&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI-ZKN-cOB4QIVB56fCh1EbArwEAAYASAAEgJ01fD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds

https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/10255/multiple-sclerosis

https://www.nationalmssociety.org/Living-Well-With-MS/Work-and-Home

https://msfocus.org/Get-Involved.aspx

https://msfocus.org/Get-Involved/MS-Awareness-Month/NMSEAM-Awareness-Kits

When The Chickens Come Home To Roost …

To a degree, I think we are all procrastinators. Some of us are worse than others. Many just don’t want to face specific subjects or decisions. And while the latter may make you feel uncomfortable, the alternative is much worse. Emergencies force us to think quickly, make decisions and act (sometimes instinctively as well as boldly). Emergencies happen. That’s life. It could be an accident, or a natural disaster. Perhaps, your health takes an unexpected turn. If you are lucky, you get the opportunity to address those things left undone. If you aren’t, the wake of your emergency becomes a chaotic nightmare for loved ones. No matter your age, or your health, there are a few things that everyone should have just in case this scenario arises. Because sooner or later, the chickens usually do come home to roost.

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To provide some insight into what you need, here’s a checklist to consider:

  • Disaster Checklist, i.e. for coping with tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, flooding, etc.
  • A Will
  • A Healthcare POA (Power of Attorney)
  • A Financial POA
  • Designated Caregiver (if needed)
  • End of Life Planning, i.e. a DNR (Do Not  Resuscitate), funeral arrangements, burial, cremation, etc.

Communication is vitally important. This is no time to be shy, or skittish. It is important that your family and friends know your wishes. In the event of an emergency or death, they will have a better idea of how to make decisions on your behalf. Since these decisions aren’t easy ones, the more information that you can provide ahead of time is essential. Make sure they know where to find the above documents, who your attorney is, your physician, your designated caregiver, etc. 

Your needs, following an emergency, can vary. The type of care you may require can, too. These needs can range from the short-term assistance of a caregiver to a permanent skilled-nursing facility. When you discuss these topics with your family, it is easy to let your heart (and theirs) over-rule your mind. Do your best to make logical, practical decisions that will meet your needs and be feasible for family/friends to carry out. For example, if you need a short-term caregiver, you may instantly think of your adult child taking the Family Leave Act. But can he or she financially afford to do so? A better solution might be an In-Home Care Provider.

End of Life issues are difficult. Providing care, during this time, is a challenge for everyone involved — even your doctors. Beyond physical treatment, there are also the psychological and social issues of the patient to consider. These issues often times involve family members as well. Patients, in this stage, are dealing with a lot. Pain often drives their decision-making. Many are suffering from anxiety and/or depression. They are coping — not living. Some are better at this than others. They may long to be in control of their disease, their life, etc. And each, no matter their situation, deserves dignity. It isn’t easy on the patient, or those around him/her.

Last, but not least, remember that emergencies for lack of a better description are emotional roller-coasters. They can bring the best and the worst out, in each one of us –patients as well as loved ones. No two are ever the same. Emergencies vary. Experiences will vary. Patients vary. Needs, treatment, response, side-effects, etc., will too. And relationships also vary. Your sibling’s experience with a parent may not be yours. Parents often times raise children, differently. Age, divorce, abuse, changing social norms, gender, etc., can play a role in this. Still, it is feasible to have siblings with different experiences and feelings. Estrangements happen, for a multitude of reasons. So try to respect each other, at this time. Additional stress and tension won’t help anyone. Seek patience instead of hostility. Work together, if at all possible, for the good of the patient. And if someone needs space … help them to find it. This is both a family journey and a very personal one. For better or worse, both are traveled. May God bless …

 

Reference Links: 

https://estate.findlaw.com/living-will/healthcare-power-of-attorney.html

https://estate.findlaw.com/planning-an-estate/durable-financial-power-of-attorney.html

https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/chronic.html

https://www.healthcentral.com/slideshow/emergency-preparedness-with-chronic-illness

https://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/

https://getpalliativecare.org/whatis/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1764519/

https://www.familyassets.com/nursing-homes/resources/skilled-nursing-vs-nursing-home

https://www.apa.org/topics/death/end-of-life

https://www.ajmc.com/journals/evidence-based-oncology/2015/april-2015/palliative-and-end-of-life-care-issues-challenges-and-possible-solutions-in-the-united-states-

*Photo by Brianna Santellan on Unsplash