A Time To Laugh …

When you are diagnosed with any form of Chronic illness, it’s no laughing matter. On behalf of those who have experienced the situation, I can assure you that it’s pretty sobering. One might even call it a come-to-Jesus moment. Life suddenly isn’t as easy as it was, in the past. It’s harder. Scarier. For some, their faith becomes stronger. For others, it’s when faith is sought. The unknown has a way of diminishing one’s ability to smile, let alone laugh. Yet, Scripture teaches us that there is a time for everything — even laughter. And modern medicine has actually proven that it’s good for you!



“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens …”                                                                      — Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NIV)


Laughter has the wondrous ability to heal and renew the body. When you laugh, it enhances your intake of oxygen. It stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles. Laughter increases endorphins in your brain. It even burns calories. And all of this helps you. With every giggle, you will relieve tension … fight stress … and relax. But that’s just the short-term benefits!

In the long-term, laughter improves your immune system. It helps to relieve pain. And it increases your level of personal satisfaction. Laughter improves your mood — including your outlook on life. You might even say that laughter sows seeds of optimism. And we all know how essential that is, when living with a Chronic illness. Laughter improves your relationships. It aids in good mental health, i.e. providing joy, relieving anxiety and strengthening resilience. A study conducted in Norway even found that people with a strong sense of humor outlive those who don’t laugh as much!

Today, the medical community is embracing Humor Therapy, also known as Complementary Therapy, to assist in the treatment of many Chronic illnesses. This therapy implements the use of laughter exercises, comedy movies, books, games, etc., to help patients cope with their disease. This has proven especially useful for Cancer patients. So, consider the benefits. 

Life is precious. And any Chronic illness is serious. But laughter really is good medicine. Indulge in it. Tell a joke. Watch a funny movie. Smile and giggle your way through a good book. Laugh. There’s no better time for it!


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* Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash



When The War Comes Home: Living With PTSD

As this Memorial Day Weekend arrives, many of us have plans for the holiday. There will be graduations … cookouts … and vacations. Flags will flutter in the breeze. Countless parades and ceremonies will honor those who have died, while serving in our Armed Forces. Speeches will recall the many acts of valor. And patriotism will surely swell in our hearts. If you have a loved one in uniform, it’s blessed relief to just embrace them on U.S. soil. Most of us can relate to that moment. We have been there, with a loved one. We know the joy. They’re home. They’re safe and sound. But for many vets, the war comes home with them. And it stays … for months … even years. It becomes a way of life that requires courage and tenacity. 


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, has been known by a variety of names, over the years. Once thought to be solely combat-related, we now know that individuals who have never served in the military can have the illness too. PTSD may develop after any terrifying ordeal that involves physical harm, the threat of harm, or even witnessing it happening to someone else.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder strikes, indiscriminately –regardless of age, race, or gender. Over 7M Americans live with the diagnosis. But this isn’t an illness confined to one country. It’s global.

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, the statistics for PTSD vary from one war/conflict to the next. Almost 31% of Vietnam vets have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The number drops among those who served in the Gulf War (Desert Storm) to 10% and rises slightly among Afghanistan veterans (11%). Around 20% of Iraqi War veterans have been diagnosed. Still there appears to be no way to gauge who, or how many, will be affected. One might even call PTSD an expected casualty. Those who have been diagnosed are brave, well-trained vets. They have served our nation. They did their duty, honorably. But when they returned home, the war came with them. It wasn’t planned that way, or wanted. Yet, that is the reality. And PTSD can be accompanied by additional illnesses, i.e. depression, anxiety, substance abuse.

Patients who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder know the symptoms, all too well. The more common ones are nightmares, flashbacks, difficulty sleeping, etc. They may sometimes feel on edge, too. It’s common for them to often avoid situations or places that remind them of what they experienced. It is a way of coping. Knowing what triggers their PTSD symptoms is important, i.e. fireworks. Think of it like a diabetic avoiding the foods that spike their sugar levels. PTSD patients, like a diabetic, are managing their condition.  

Some Post Traumatic Stress patients have relationship problems. Their symptoms can cause issues with trust, closeness, communication, sometimes even problem solving. Others have no difficulty in creating and maintaining healthy relationships. They’re rather good at it. As with any illness, no two PTSD patients are alike. 

If your loved one has PTSD, then you have probably established a good support system. If not, you should encourage them to do so. Some may want to join a Peer Support Group. These groups are accessible, nationwide.  Most meet in person, but some do so online. Those who live with PTSD need to stay connected to family and friends. They need to talk openly and honestly about their illness, as well as their feelings. All we have to do is be there and listen. Support systems are vital to anyone living with a Chronic illness. That includes Post Traumatic Stress. It enables them to enjoy life … relax … have fun … and live each day to the fullest. In other words, it’s healthy!

There are some negative stigmas that society has attached to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I wish that I could say otherwise, but it happens with most chronic illnesses. This one isn’t immune. When people are uninformed, they react differently. Sometimes, they even react badly. It happens. That’s why facts and awareness are key. PTSD is a medical condition. It’s just that simple.

Those who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shouldn’t be defined by their illness. They have many strengths, i.e. leadership abilities, creativity, job skills, etc. The more you know, the more surprised you may be by their accomplishments. These individuals are our sons, fathers, mothers, daughters, husbands, volunteers, neighbors and friends. They make positive contributions to our society as artists, journalists, authors, nurses, doctors, teachers, businessmen, businesswomen, etc. There are athletes, in the mix. First Responders and passionate activists are there, too. You’ll even find individuals with PTSD sitting in elected office. Thank you to all of them. Their perseverance is part of what makes America the resilient, steadfast nation that it has always been. May God bless each and every one of them.


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* Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash


Waiting For Your Garden

Gardens have a way of teaching patience. It doesn’t matter where they are located, their size, or what you are growing. They are still a lesson in that virtue. My granny was a very gifted gardener. I’ve seen her grow lush plants, bushes and trees from frail cuttings. Even now, when I reflect upon her gardening skills, I am amazed. She made it look so easy. Our lives are gardens, too; remember? Chronic illness, in any form, has the same uncanny ability to teach patience. It’s a lesson that is often learned the hard way. And the waiting, for lack of a better description, can feel hellish. 


        “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” — Romans 12:12 NIV

If you have a Chronic illness, or you know someone who does, then you recognize this garden’s path all too well. You have followed it, with scared and sometimes reluctant steps. The waiting seems to never end. From the initial diagnosis, through the necessary tests, the difficult symptoms and devilish setbacks … you are constantly waiting … for results … for less pain … for more energy … waiting for doctors … for medications … for more mobility … for a good day … maybe, a good week … and waiting … and waiting. Living with a Chronic illness demands tenacity and optimism. But, above all, it requires an abundance of patience — with your body, your illness and the world around you. It isn’t easy. I know. But it is feasible.

For the most part, many people misunderstand patience. When you exercise patience, you aren’t giving up. Nor does it imply that you don’t care. We’re talking about your health, or that of a loved one. Of course, you care. Patience is a quiet power that nourishes the mind, body and soul. It has the ability to make you stronger — healthier. Now, for a moment, consider the alternative.

When you try to juggle life and a Chronic illness without patience, you become frustrated. Angry. This hurts you and those around you. It hampers your abilities. As life begins to spiral out of control, you are overwhelmed. Then, anxiety joins the mix. In some cases, depression follows. You don’t need more health problems. Yet, that’s what you have. Your health, physically and emotionally, has become even more fragile than it was before.

By using patience, you have an advantage. Patience allows you to manage stress more effectively.  You are happier — more at peace with yourself and your life. It provides better mental health. It strengthens and nourishes your relationships, too. And your support system is a very priceless thing. Patience allows you to achieve your goals, no matter how long it may take. It enables you to overcome the inevitable setbacks. You are living — even thriving — under difficult circumstances. How? Because patience has increased your coping skills. And that is an important part of managing any Chronic disease.

Granted, not all of us are patient by nature. But there are things that you can do to cultivate patience:

  1. When life isn’t going as planned, i.e. a flare in your disease, don’t blame yourself or others. Don’t allow negative emotions to take root. Stay calm. Keep your perspective, i.e. setbacks happen even when you do everything your doctor has advised. Chronic diseases often evolve and change happens.
  2. To reduce your pain, do not allow your thoughts to magnify the situation. Does it hurt? Yes. But remind yourself that uncomfortable pain doesn’t equate to unbearable pain. Acknowledge the difference. You can and will get through this. 
  3. Listen to your body. Don’t allow pain, swelling, or whatever symptom, to prevail. Don’t ignore the obvious. You know what is the norm with your body and your disease. When things are worsening, call your doctor and address it.
  4. Never underestimate a self pep-talk. This is no pity-party. Think about what you are dealing with, your options, your feelings, etc. Acknowledge your victories — even the small ones. Embrace what you can do. You might even bounce a few ideas, off of someone in your support system. You will feel better. Then, catch your breath. Focus on your goal. 

Every garden has its trials and triumphs. Yet, despite the obstacles, life blooms. It may take a little longer than we expected. The waiting is inconvenient, at the least. But it’s part of the journey. Life continues — yours and mine. Each day, even the difficult ones, are a blessing. So, thank God for them. Cherish their beauty. Grow in your wisdom. And sow more patience.


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Photo by Finn Hackshaw for Unsplash


We Are Our Brother’s Keeper

Mental Health America is a non-profit that is dedicated to the needs of those with Mental illness and their families. While you may have not heard of them, the organization was founded in 1909. For over 65 years, they have turned the month of May into a time of awareness. With over 200 affiliates in 41 states, MHA is a hardworking national as well as grassroots advocacy. And the need is real.


Unlike other Chronic illnesses, Mental illness is more difficult to diagnose. There is no simple blood-test, or x-ray. But strides have been made in the process, with the help of modern neuroimaging and genetics. Scientists today are working to uncover the biological keys of mental disorders. And the more that we learn … the more we can help patients to lead better lives. Healthier ones.

If you or a loved one has a Chronic illness, this should be something to applaud and pray for. No matter the initial diagnosis, i.e. Diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Heart Disease, Cancer, etc., many chronically ill patients [at one time or another] will also be diagnosed with Depression and/or Anxiety. Setbacks can take a toll — physically, emotionally & mentally. Such forms of Mental illness can often be like that uninvited house-guest and much more troubling. Overcoming one becomes a separate struggle in itself — a difficult complication. Often times, an overwhelming one. 

Chronically Mentally Ill is a medical (and legal) term for a patient who has been diagnosed with a major mental disorder by a licensed physician, i.e. Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, etc. Their illness has led to at least one hospitalization. It impairs their ability to work, their relationships, their thinking and their mood. 

The prevalence of Mental illness in American society isn’t a myth. It isn’t an issue that we can afford to avoid. From the Christian perspective, we are our brother’s keeper (Genesis 4:9, NIV). God challenges us to think of others and not just ourselves. For those less devout, consider the numbers involved. Approximately, 1 in 5 adults struggle with a form of Mental illness. That’s over 48M people. And 1 in 25 adults, roughly 9M, live with a serious Mental illness. Over 20% of our youth experience a severe Mental disorder, at some point in their lives. 

From the social standpoint, 26% of America’s homeless are living on the streets with a serious Mental illness. About 46% live with a severe Mental illness or substance use disorder. If they are lucky, they are able to find refuge in a shelter. If that shelter has an on-site clinic, they can get the medical attention that they need. But, often times, these individuals receive little help — becoming recipients of sporadic, revolving-door healthcare. Just over 50% of America’s children, ages 8-15, received mental health services last year. Did you know that half of all Chronic Mental illness presents itself by the age of 14? Three-fourths will show symptoms, by age 24. And, unfortunately, long delays can exist in treatment. This isn’t uncommon, no matter the socioeconomic factors involved. Years, sometimes decades, can pass from the time symptoms first appear until medical treatment is actually received.

As a result, Mental illness costs America over $190B in lost earnings each year. Approximately 37% of students with a Mental health condition, who are being served by Special Education will drop-out (ages 14-21). Suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death. More than 90% of children who die from suicide suffer from a form of Mental illness. It’s also estimated that we are losing 18-22 military veterans every day to suicide. Most mentally ill patients are not violent. That noted, 3-5% of all violence — including those where firearms are used — can be attributed to serious mental illness. These facts cannot be ignored. The loss … the pain … endured by patients and families is really immeasurable. The loss to our society goes without saying. These patients/families need our  support. We are facing a crisis that, left unattended, will surely worsen. 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It isn’t the time to look the other way, or pretend that the facts do not exist. It isn’t the time to try and convince yourself that this “problem” doesn’t concern you. We are all in this journey called life, together. Now is the time to embrace the statistics … look in the mirror … and ask, “How can I make a difference?”


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* Photo by Francisco Moreno on Unsplash



The Environment & Chronic Illness

When society is asked to think about Chronic illnesses, most people point a finger at a patient’s lifestyle and/or genetics. That’s the culprit, they declare. Some go as far as to say that patients have created their health problems, no matter how young a patient may be. They show little empathy or interest. To be blunt, many could care less. But, in reality, these individuals are misinformed. A patient can change their lifestyle, i.e. quit smoking, diet, exercise, etc. Most do so, or at least try. But they cannot control their genetics. Nor do they have the power to create a pristine environment to live in. In fact, much of the environment is out of their hands. And the environment, more than genetics, causes Chronic illnesses.


How does this happen? That’s not completely understood. But exposure to contaminants is a start. For a moment, consider some of the well-known environmental disasters: Love Canal, NY; the Hinkley, CA, Groundwater Contamination; Woburn, MA; even Chernobyl. When the environment suffers, it eventually effects all living things. The air that we breathe enters our bodies. The water that we bathe in and drink effects us, too. More recent examples are Flint, MI, and Puerto Rico. 

The water crisis in Flint is believed to have caused a deadly Legionnaire’s epidemic. It is also believed to have caused a pneumonia outbreak. Such illnesses place those with Chronic diseases at an even greater risk than the general population. Other maladies include rashes, hair loss, etc. In the wake of Hurricane Maria, 2M people are living with water contamination in Puerto Rico. Bacteria, like E.coli, is still present in the island’s water system — indicating fecal matter has contaminated the water supply. But these environmental problems go far beyond Flint or Puerto Rico. It’s national.

Bald Eagles are dying from lead exposure, in the Pacific Northwest. Fish and other forms of wildlife are suffering, elsewhere. Contaminants are toxic. Their effects on the body are widely documented. In fact, lead exposure in water is as much of an issue today as it was a century ago. And it finds its way into our drinking systems. By estimation, over 6M American homes still have lead service pipes. And over 80M homes have lead solder and lead-bearing brass fixtures. A little more than a half century ago, few chemicals were considered hazards to children (or adults for that matter). In the last 30 years, we have learned that children are especially vulnerable to such exposures. 

Occupational environments can also expose individuals to risks. Mesothelioma is one example. Asbestos exposure is the main cause. Over 700,000 buildings in America, including schools, may still contain this material. Asbestos exposure has taken place in a variety of jobs, i.e. Shipyards, Manufacturing, Mines, Construction, etc. Second-hand exposure has also been noted, in family members. Our military personnel have suffered from environmental exposures, too. Agent Orange and other herbicides have been linked to forms of Cancer as well as other Chronic illnesses. A Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program, in 2009, narrowed the cause of Gulf War Syndrome to:  Chemical Nerve Agents, Pesticides and the use of Pyridostigmine Bromide pills.

On a global scale, approximately 1 in 4 deaths is caused by an environmental factor. This involves numerous Chronic illness, i.e. Asthma, COPD, Cancers, Heart Disease, Stroke, etc. The numbers are staggering. An Environmental illness can be difficult to diagnose. Symptoms are similar to those found in other illnesses. But it can be done, with the help of knowing a patient’s exposure history (or the possibility of their exposure). 133M Americans live with a form of Chronic illness. In a few short years, that number will exceed 150M. We really cannot afford, as a society, to ignore the facts. Those who are healthy today, may be suffering in the future. The environment effects us all.


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*Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

A Quiet Place …

Before Christ fed the 5,000 — a miracle detailed in all four of the Gospels — he sought rest for himself and his disciples. He did so without reservation. He didn’t scold anyone. Nor was he embarrassed. Christ embraced the idea of resting.

Why then do patients with Chronic illnesses hate to rest? Their reasons are as varied as the individuals themselves. But often times they include feelings of guilt, shame, embarrassment, stubbornness, etc. Society still has its stigmas. We live with them, daily. If you or a loved one has a Chronic illness, you may be all too aware of these stigmas. You may even fear being negatively labeled as a result of one. Yet, modern medicine tells us that rest is vital to managing Chronic diseases. Forgive my bluntness but … you can rest now, or you can regret it later. The choice is yours.


  “… Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”                                         –Mark 6:31 (NIV)

Work and fatigue are not a good mix. We all know that. Yet, most jobs seem to demand more of us every year. Longer hours. Greater stress. Deadlines. Responsibilities. It adds up. And it can take its toll.

The decision to disclose a Chronic illness to your employer, or co-workers, is a very personal one. Some may be comfortable with doing so. Others may not. Whichever path you choose is up to you. But you do need to educate yourself on the fine points of The Family Leave Act. It may come in handy, one day.

If your employer has 50+ employees, and you have been working there for at least 12 months, this law applies to you. Although it isn’t paid leave, it provides the opportunity to rest and recuperate. If you have vacation time, sick time, or personal time, etc., saved up with your employer, you can use it along with your FMLA. In the imperfect world of Chronic disease, this provides a chance to take a much needed pause in the daily grind. It gives a caregiver the time that he or she needs with a loved one. Oftentimes, a small boost is all that is required to regain control of your illness.

Severe pain is also a way of life, for many chronically ill patients. When the pain worsens at night, sleep becomes disrupted. A few of the medications used to treat these diseases are also known to cause sleep problems. If that isn’t overwhelming enough, some patients may struggle with Anxiety or Depression as well. This too makes sleep/rest difficult. If you are having any of these issues, please talk to your doctor. Usually, if the pain can be controlled, you will be able to achieve adequate rest. Consider trying these tips:

  • Limit your daily consumption of caffeine & alcohol
  • Sleep in a dark room
  • Keep noise down
  • Maintain a comfortable room temperature
  • Try a p.m. snack of foods known to induce sleep, i.e. walnuts, almonds, cheese & crackers, chamomile tea, passionfruit tea, or cherry juice

If you are still having sleep difficulties, your doctor may prescribe a medication that can help. When a medication is used, it is best to do so for a limited amount of time (2 weeks or less) to avoid dependency. 

Rest isn’t too much to ask. It’s a necessity for our bodies. So, be kind to yourself. Realize your limitations. Accept that you aren’t invincible. It’s okay. A nap isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a chance to power-up. What may look like an indulgence to some is really a way to maintain control of your Chronic illness. So, use it wisely. Rest plays a vital role in making the most of every day. Denial does not. 

Your work schedule and/or workload may have to be examined, at some point. A leave may become necessary. This isn’t unusual, either. Setbacks happen. Approximately 133M Americans live with a form of Chronic illness. Millions are juggling more than one. Most remain within the workforce. You are not alone. Remember that.

No one is expecting any of us to perform a miracle. But we are still expecting a lot. Let’s be honest, we have goals — you, me and everyone like us. We have plans … dreams … bucket lists, etc. We want to be productive. Successful. Involved. Yes, we have a Chronic illness/es. And we manage it. We want to make the most out of living. Perhaps, the best way to achieve these things is by following Christ’s example? Rest. And it starts with a quiet place …


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* Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Seeds & A Healthy Garden …

Spring is in the air, for most of us. With it, there always seems to be that surge of Spring fever that hits this time of year — an opportunity to rid ourselves of the old and bring in the new. We visit garden centers … plant seeds … fertilize soil … and nourish all that grows. Then, we cross our dirty fingers and say a prayer — hoping for a good outcome. Our lives — our bodies — are gardens, too. Remember? Though it would be easier to care for them, on a seasonal basis, it isn’t the best of choices.

If you have a Chronic illness, you know this all too well. It is a 24/7 job just trying to keep up, i.e. symptoms, treatment, doctor’s appointments, routine tests, medications, side-effects, surgery, therapy, etc. Somewhere on that long list, you have to fit in your work schedule … time for your friends and family … even some exercise. You have to avoid too much stress, when your illness seems to literally breed it. You may need to limit, or omit alcohol. And your diet may also need fine-tuning. Some days, it feels pretty overwhelming. Other days, you just want to give up. You may even console yourself by saying, “I can’t do it all!” But if you have a digestive condition like Diverticulitis … managing your diet is key to managing your disease and your life. You have to do better than try. You must prioritize how you eat.


Diverticulitis is an inflammation, or infection, of the diverticula (small pouches) in the walls of the intestines. Abscesses can develop, as well as perforation of the bowel. The disease may present itself as acute or chronic. In its acute form, Diverticulitis is one or more attacks with periods of stability in-between. Chronic Diverticulitis never clears completely. It is a daily health issue. With time, the disease can cause a variety of complications. Often times, surgery is required.

Exercise, diet and fluid consumption (especially water) play intricate roles in managing Diverticulitis. If you have been diagnosed, you should try to exercise for 30 minutes on most days. It will promote normal bowel function and reduce pressure on your colon. A High-fiber diet will reduce your risk of a disease flare-up. Fiber in your diet absorbs water. This will aid in eliminating wastes from the body.

It was once thought that seeds and nuts aggravated Diverticulitis. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association has proven this to be untrue. There was no correlation between eating nuts, seeds or popcorn and uncomplicated diverticular disease. There was also no significant association between ingesting fruits with small seeds, i.e. blueberries, strawberries, etc., and complications to Diverticulitis. So, by all means, enjoy such foods.

All of these steps promote a healthier colon. And a healthier colon equates to a happier you. Once you are diagnosed with a Chronic illness, lifestyle changes are often beneficial to your overall well-being. There are no cures. But you can choose to make the most out of every day. And choices matter. Maintain a healthy garden and enjoy living!


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* Photo by Jannis Brandt on Unsplash