Kindness Matters …

Our relationships are like the seasons — they change with time. Some grow warmer and others are colder. Some may be harsh. Others are soothing … understanding … and loving. How these relationships evolve, or change, in part depends on each of us. Why?We change, i.e. our health, our jobs, our priorities, etc. Often times, that change can effect our relationships — even strain them. Yet, our relationships are an important part of our lives. And that is all the more reason for us to be proactive.

As winter approaches, we pull out our winter clothes. We may even buy a new coat, boots, a scarf, or all of the above. We make an effort to prepare. We take the time to consider what is, or may be, needed. As summer approaches, we do the same. Our relationships need that same kind of attention. It doesn’t matter who your relationship is with, i.e. spouse, partner, significant other, caregiver, children, parents, co-workers, etc. All need and deserve consideration.

None of us are the person that we once were. But we can still be our best, despite age or Chronic illness. We can reach out — nurture ourselves as well as our relationships. And we can be all the better for it. But to do so, we need to embrace kindness.

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“Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”   —   Proverbs 16:24 (NIV)

One the surface, kindness is the quality of being considerate … generous … friendly. But, often times, it requires courage and strength. Though it isn’t regularly seen as such, kindness is a skill. There are different ways that we can practice kindness. We can look at a person, or group, and identify what they need. When we do so, we strengthen the relationship between us and them. Simple gestures, i.e. a smile, a hug, offering a compliment, or running an errand are acts of kindness. A card, an email, or a phone call are also excellent ways to extend kindness. Sometimes, the most helpful acts of kindness are candid and direct. They show our concern as well as providing much needed honesty and insight.

Kindness is linked to happiness and contentment — ours and someone else’s. It has  psychological and spiritual levels. Kindness promotes our gratitude and our empathy. It can encourage the will to live and provide hope to those who feel life is hopeless. Kindness has the ability to connect us, one-on-one or as a group. Kindness can bond an entire community — strengthen it. And Kindness can be good for our own health.

If you, a loved one, or neighbor has a Chronic illness, kindness can be a godsend. Talk with them. Talk to their caregiver, or yours. Talk candidly. Tell them what you need. Ask what they need. There is no shame in asking for help. Nor does it take a great deal of effort to offer some. Little things can and do mean a lot. All of us, chronically ill or well, need help from time to time. Last, but not least, remember to be kind to yourself. Love yourself.

Self-kindness has the ability to promote better health, in patients who are chronically ill. Most Chronic diseases involve pain, fatigue and/or a decrease of functioning. Self-kindness will allow a patient to focus on the positives instead of the negatives. It enables all of us to better cope with stress, setbacks, etc. Self-compassion, or self-kindness, is even being considered for use in clinical settings. Like optimism, it’s a positive thing. And the rewards are worth reaping.

May God bless.

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mdedge.com/jcomjournal/article/146122/role-self-compassion-chronic-illness-care

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/emotional-nourishment/201711/why-random-acts-kindness-matter-your-wellbeing

http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/help-chronic.aspx

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pieces-mind/201712/the-importance-kindness

*Photo by Almos Bechtold on Unsplash

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When Legends Get Sick

I confess. I don’t love baseball. It’s one of those things that I can take, or leave, in life. It’s not a great passion, or a priority. My family was, and still is, the exact opposite. Born in 1960, I grew-up surrounded by baseball fanatics. The kind who could sleep and eat the game, but never grow tired. We were, in our own way, classic All-Americans, from our hot dogs to our Cracker Jacks. My mother’s side was comprised of loyal, patiently waiting, Chicago Cubs fans. And my father’s side, lived for the St. Louis Cardinals. They were zealous, devoted followers of the Redbirds. Then, there was me — caught in the middle.

Don’t get me wrong. I like baseball. Being a female didn’t lessen my appreciation, for the sport. I enjoy watching a good game, every now and then. The kind that keeps you glued to the television … with the bases loaded … suspense mounting … and extra innings. The play-offs, and certainly the World Series, bring back fond memories of my childhood every year. On those crisp, autumn nights, we are all baseball fans; aren’t we? But when I think about baseball, I think beyond the diamond. And I always seem to think of New York (may my family forgive me). I think of the ability and courage of one certain Yankee — Lou Gehrig. He was truly a legend …

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The “Iron Horse”, as he was affectionately called, seemed larger than life itself. He played over 2,100 consecutive games. A record that wasn’t broken until the mid-90s. And his tenacity was amazing. Gehrig played baseball, under any circumstance, including injuries. Every major league player dreams of going to the World Series, just once in their career. Lou played in six. He was the first athlete to appear on a box of Wheaties. Number One, in many ways. As I said, a legend. But it was his fight off of the field that earned my deepest admiration.

In 1938, Lou Gehrig started to slip physically. The athlete who had made baseball look so easy was fumbling, as he laced his shoes. By the Spring of ’39, he was in Mayo Clinic. There, at the age of 36, he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). His professional career in baseball was over. And a new fight had begun. One that he fought daily, until he succumbed (1941). In the years that followed, ALS became more commonly known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” — a reminder that Chronic illness can strike any of us.

ALS is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease. There are two types: Sporadic and Familial. Sporadic is the most common, accounting for 90-95% of all cases that are diagnosed in the United States. Military veterans are twice as likely to be diagnosed, compared to the general population. Although, to date, the medical community hasn’t been able to determine why.

Patients with ALS may lose the ability to speak, move, eat and breathe. Their lives are altered, by the disease. While each case is different, the challenge is the same. A lot has been accomplished in medicine, since 1941. But there is still no cure. Yet, patients are now better equipped to manage ALS. And that is key. Many patients have a better quality of life, by participating in support groups. They stay socially active. They reap the benefits of occupational and physical therapy. They learn to live in the moment. Life expectancy with ALS has increased, since Gehrig was diagnosed. Today, 20% of all patients will live five years or more. An estimated 10% will live for a decade, or longer. And 5% will live for 20+ years.

When I reflect on the life of Lou Gehrig, I see the whole picture — not just baseball. I see the quiet and unassuming man. Husband. Son. I see the tenacious spirit who refused to let his condition deter him. I see the man who went from professional sports to working with prison inmates. As a member of New York City’s Parole Board, Gehrig was helping others to transition in life — to start over. And he took that job, seriously. Through his illness, he understood the fear and the challenge. He turned a negative into a positive. Gehrig was the kind of individual who squeezed every drop from life and savored it.  We should all, sick or well, heed that lesson. Lou truly lived. And how he lived remains an inspiration.

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.biography.com/people/lou-gehrig-9308266

https://www.history.com/news/the-life-of-lou-gehrig

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/amyotrophic-lateral-sclerosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20354022

http://www.alsa.org/community/support-groups/

https://www.rush.edu/health-wellness/discover-health/living-als

https://www.verywellhealth.com/als-lou-gehrigs-disease-life-expectancy-2223973

*Photo by Chanan Greenblatt on Unsplash

On Eagle’s Wings …

Most of us grew-up with the notion that when you were sick, you went to the doctor and you got well. Life returned to normal. But once you are diagnosed with a Chronic illness, that simple concept goes out the window. In your new normal, you regularly go to the doctor/s … you regularly take medications, sometimes therapy, surgery, exercise, dietary changes, etc., but you are never where you once were. The symptoms remain. Pain is often times as common as breathing. And being well translates to effectively managing your disease. Despite your best efforts, there are setbacks. Those with a Chronic illness will tell you that it’s inevitable. And with time, the struggle can take its toll. Some become anxious and/or depressed. Others just want to give up. Medical science has accomplished a lot, but courage and strength can’t be prescribed. These essential tools must come from within.

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“… but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”  — Isaiah 40:31

Often times, a patient wonders, “Why me?” They may look at their life and try to find where the mistake was made. While lifestyle can contribute to some Chronic illnesses, there are many patients who have a long history of maintaining a healthy one prior to their diagnosis. Genetics and environment also play a role. In essence, there are no guarantees in life.

My uncle was diagnosed with Hypertension, around the age of 30. He successfully managed his condition, for years. In his late-50s, he retired … sold his home in the suburbs of Chicago … purchased a farm near Nashville, TN … and left the Big City grind for an easier gentry. He had chickens, ducks, horses, a well-stocked fishing pond, etc. When he and my aunt chose country-living, they went all in. Gardening. Quilting. Relaxing on the porch. It was a peaceful existence, surrounded by natural beauty. Admired. Perhaps, envied. Yet, a year later, he was stricken with a massive stroke. Left with partial paralysis, he found himself in a wheelchair. And, as he confessed to me nearly a decade later, he wondered, “Why me?” The really wondrous thing was that, according to him, he heard a voice say, “Why not you?” Was this a Divine conversation? Maybe. But, in that moment, he realized that he wasn’t alone. He had his faith to sustain him — to help confront his situation. There were millions struggling with medical conditions, the loss of body function, etc. His new normal wasn’t a rarity. It was a curve-ball in life. And he chose to make the most of it, which is exactly what God wants us to do.

Consider, for a moment, the Book of Job. It details the long-suffering of a good man. In my humble opinion, the diagnosis of any Chronic illness isn’t a matter of punishment. It’s a part of life that eventually finds most of us. It’s a time of change, like the seasons. But it is also an opportunity to inspire, to grow, even to thrive. My faith has taught me many things. One is that the Lord will not give me more than I can handle. So, even when a setback comes, I am comforted in that knowledge. Prayer has been a vital part of my daily living, for decades. Through it, I have been uplifted — strengthened emotionally, physically and spiritually. Inspired. And, yes, guided. I have been given the courage to confront my fears, work through my frustrations and move forward. Through the worst of times, prayer has led me — allowed me to soar. And I thank God for that.

Many religions rely on the power of prayer. They believe in the use of prayer for comfort, healing, strength and peace-of-mind. They know that it works, though the how and why may remain a mystery. Buddhists use meditation. Roman Catholics use the rosary. Protestants have individual prayer and Prayer Groups. Muslims use Du’a (personal prayer for healing). Jews turn to dovening and the Mi Sheberakh (a healing prayer for the sick). All are united by the belief that comfort and healing can be attained through sincere prayer.

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of medical studies involving prayer. Even the NIH (National Institutes of Health) has funded one. Thirty years ago, the idea would have been unheard of by the scientific community. But time, as well as data, has a way of changing things. Even those who are not devout, can understand positive results. Prayer, in its various forms, has the ability to relax the patient. Stress is lessened, or eliminated. This in turn promotes healing. The limbic system of the brain, responsible for basic emotion, instinct and mood, is also positively effected. This aids the patient’s mental health. Who exactly gets the credit for the healing remains a matter of debate. Still, the facts remain. Prayer can play a significant role in a patient’s health and well-being.   

When you are diagnosed with Chronic illness, you are in it for the long-haul. If you are a religious person, you will probably turn to your faith for strength and courage. You may even find yourself struggling with it. That too, I think, is natural — human. So, set your hesitation aside and talk to your clergy about it. You won’t be the first, or the last. Others, overwhelmed and searching, may find faith at this time. You too are neither the first, or the last. It might also be the perfect time to join a a Bible Study group, volunteer at a Food Bank, etc. Sometimes, when you see the difficulties of others, it lends perspective. And many religious organizations even have support groups, for those who are living with Chronic illness. This is especially helpful for patients who live alone, or lack a solid support system at home.

Despite your affliction, or your views toward prayer, always embrace optimism. On the difficult days, I know that’s a lot to ask. But remember … an optimistic mindset is a key component for managing your condition. It’s uplifting. Encouraging. Motivating. Optimism is a confidence — a sheer hopefulness — that allows you to fight another day. One that somehow strengthens your body as well as your resolve. If you are anything, as a patient who is living with a Chronic illness, you are a warrior. We all are. Keep fighting the good fight!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1070773/

https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/can-prayer-heal#1

https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/study-cancer-patients-with-strong-religious-or-spiritual-beliefs-report-better-health.html

https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/dec/30/power-of-prayer-healing-and-therapeutic-prayer-in-/

*Photo by Keo Mowat on Unsplash

 

A Lonely Garden …

A little solitude can be a wonderful thing. It allows us to rejuvenate and pamper ourselves … dream … even take a snooze. If you’ve ever taken a quick escape to a garden bench … a porch swing … a hammock … a lake house, etc., then you know what I mean. It’s nirvana.

Unfortunately not all loneliness is planned, welcomed, or even short-term. Call me melodramatic, if you must. But there is a loneliness that can come ever so easily, when you live with a Chronic illness. It slips over you — like a fog rolling in. And it’s unlike any loneliness that most have ever experienced. Why? Because it isn’t sought, or expected. It just seems to hit you, with the speed of a sucker-punch. In part, I think it comes from the lifestyle changes that the disease creates. How family and friends react to your diagnosis can also be a factor. How you accept your condition, its restrictions, etc., can be another. Everyone’s life seems to move on. And yours seems to hold you back. At its worst, this can lead to Social Isolation. And somewhere in the midst of it all, you’ll probably find Depression.

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Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” — 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NIV)

Most of us are familiar with loneliness, because we’ve all experienced it at some point in our lives. Many times, by choice. But this isn’t that. Social Isolation, by medical definition, is “A state in which the individual lacks a sense of belonging socially, lacks engagement with others, has a minimal number of social contacts and they are deficient in fulfilling and quality relationships”. It is often associated with Seniors, especially those who live alone. But it isn’t confined to that age group. Depression, by medical definition, is “An illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts and that affects the way a person eats, sleeps, feels about himself or herself, and thinks about things.” Like Social Isolation, Depression can occur at any age.

When a person is diagnosed with a Chronic illness, a second condition sometimes presents itself. Many patients have multiple Chronic illnesses. Juggling these conditions, symptoms, medications, etc., can lead to emotional and mental health issues. Social Isolation can be a facet of Chronic illness. Depression can, too. And loneliness plays a role in both. In fact, loneliness can be as bad for patients as the Chronic illness that they are living with, i.e. COPD, Epilepsy, Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Diabetes, etc. This is why a good support system is so vital for every patient. Some will find that social media is helpful, in filling the void. Others will tell you that it is even more depressing. Studies have actually made the same conclusions — helpful to some, harmful to others. So, what should we do?

If you have been diagnosed with a Chronic illness, you know how your life has changed. Still, living each day to the fullest should remain a priority. It’s important for you to stay socially engaged. How you do so may change, but participation is key. Your support system can help with that. Faith can also be comforting and empowering. Sometimes, just a little conversation on the porch is a godsend. How about a walk? A movie? Maybe, a pot-luck supper with friends? Or a phone call? And if your illness has impacted the clubs, sports, etc., that you once actively enjoyed … don’t allow it to get you down. Millions can relate to what you are going through. They too have made adjustments. So, please look for new options. I assure you, these alternatives do exist.

Chronic illness, as odd as it may sound, can actually open the doors to many positive experiences. But you must be willing to try them. If you need ideas, talk to your doctor. Go online. Many community groups and churches offer options, too. Explore a few. Instead of pulling away from life, be willing to do something new. Get involved. Connect with others. Make some new friends, along the way. It’s healthy. It’s fun. It’s an awakening, of sorts. A chance to find new talents and satisfaction. Your garden, or life, doesn’t have to be desolate. It can be a place of wondrous discovery, despite your health condition. No illness, or age, should be allowed to define you or me. Nor should it be allowed to rob us of fulfillment and happiness!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/769914

https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=2947

https://www.mwhealth.org/Portals/0/Uploads/Documents/Understanding_Social_Isolation_Chronic_Conditions.pdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1070773/

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/12/loneliness-as-bad-for-health-as-long-term-illness-says-gps-chief

https://www.psypost.org/2015/02/study-discovers-new-link-chronic-disease-social-isolation-31691

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/talking-apes/201801/does-using-social-media-make-you-lonely

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-antidepressant-diet/201706/social-loneliness-may-make-the-depressed-even-more-so

https://www.cnbc.com/2015/12/07/many-doctors-cant-manage-multiple-chronic-conditions.html

https://patient.info/doctor/social-isolation-how-to-help-patients-be-less-lonely

* Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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!

 

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“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!

 

Reference Links:

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

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/laughter-is-the-best-medicine.htm

https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/humor-therapy

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_laughter_brings_us_together

* 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. 

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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.

 

Reference Links:

https://medlineplus.gov/magazine/issues/winter09/articles/winter09pg10-14.html

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd

https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-are-ptsd-triggers#1

https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/family/ptsd-and-relationships.asp

https://maketheconnection.net/conditions/ptsd?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI4un68cCZ2wIVCdbACh0FOA0rEAAYASAAEgJ9q_D_BwE

https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/community/ptsd-work-and-community.asp

https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/treatment/cope/peer_support_groups.asp

https://www.barendspsychology.com/mental-disorders-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-statistics/

* Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash