We Need Human Touch …

Most of us don’t put a lot of thought into this subject, but there is much to learn from it.  If you were raised in a family who openly showed affection, you are most likely a hugger. You hug family, friends, new acquaintances, etc. It is a social interaction that is part of your daily life. If you were raised in a family who didn’t easily share affection (by that I mean often or at all), you may not like hugging. You probably don’t even understand why some people are so open to affection. Yet, touch is a basic human interaction. An infant is soothed by it. An adult feels comfort, even joy, from it. And what they are feeling is real. It’s significant. Because we all need human touch — the decent, affectionate kind. It has the ability to relieve us of pain, fear, frustration, etc. It has the power to make us feel loved and appreciated. But how does something like a hug do all that? 

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According to researchers, we all have the ability to communicate many feelings through touch. Physical contact is what distinguishes us from other animals. It is a silent language that needs no words. A mother can cuddle her crying baby, in the night, and the message is clear. The infant knows he/she is secure and their crying ceases. A stranger can go into a natural disaster area and offer a hug to a distraught victim. Again, the message is clear. Help has arrived. That compassion, even from a stranger, can be sensed. And it’s powerful. There is also a difference between a caring touch and an aggressive one. The two categories should never be confused. 

When we offer or receive a caring hug, oxytocin is released in our bodies. This is a “bonding” hormone. It has the ability to reduce stress, lower cortisol levels and increase our sense of trust/security. In fact, in a study conducted by the University of North Carolina, researchers discovered that women who received more hugs from their partners had lower heart rates and blood pressure. That’s healthy! A massage has the ability to relax the body, ease pain and melt away tension. That’s healthy! Even something as simple as eye contact and a pat on the back from a patient’s doctor may boost their survival rate, despite the complex disease they are fighting (University of California research). It may sound too good to be true, but science supports it.

Scientific research actually correlates physical touch with several things:

  • Decreased violence. Less touch as a child will lead to greater violence.
  • Greater Trust. Touch has the ability to bond individuals.
  • Decreased Disease & Stronger Immune Systems. In other words, a healthier you.
  • Greater Learning Engagement. When teachers touch students platonically, it encourages their learning. They are also more likely to speak-up in class.
  • More Non-Sexual Emotional Intimacy. Interpersonal touch has a powerful impact on our emotions. 
  • Stronger Team Dynamics. We touch to initiate and sustain cooperation. Hugs and handshakes increase the chances that a person will treat you “like family”, even if you’ve just met. 
  • Economic Gain. Touch signals safety and trust, i.e. NBA teams whose players touch each other more, win more games.
  • Overall Well-being. Adults need positive human touch to thrive, i.e. hugs, handshakes, a pat on the arm or back, holding hands, cuddling, etc. It is fundamental to our physical, mental and emotion health.

Today, we are even seeing Touch Therapy being used to treat patients. First standardized in the 70’s, scientists are not sure how this technique works. The popular theories are: a) Pain is stored in the body’s cells; b) Think quantum physics. Blood, which contains iron, flows through our bodies and creates an electromagnetic field; c) Good health requires a balanced flow of life energy. And there are many Chronic illnesses that respond to this treatment, i.e. Fibromyalgia, Lupus, Alzheimer’s, Chronic Pain, etc.

Some of us are old enough to remember the social panic that AIDs initially created. People feared that it could be spread by even the simplest forms of human contact. Patients often suffered in near isolation. Until, one day, a certain princess visited an AIDs hospital … and held the hand of patient. No gloves. No mask. Just hand-to-hand touch. Thank you, Diana. You not only helped that patient, you changed the global perception of a disease.

We are all in need of human touch … of its power … its compassion … and its ability to literally make us feel better. Some are starved for that connection. So, stretch out your arms … reach for a friend, a family member, your pet, even a stranger. It’s time that we all embrace a hug for our good health. 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/201303/the-power-touch

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/lifetime-connections/201808/not-everyone-wants-hug

https://www.khca.org/files/2015/10/8-Reasons-Why-We-Need-Human-Touch-More-Than-Ever.pdf

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mind-body-connection/201309/why-we-all-need-touch-and-be-touched

https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-surprising-psychological-value-of-human-touch/

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

https://www.in-mind.org/article/that-human-touch-that-means-so-much-exploring-the-tactile-dimension-of-social-life

https://theweek.com/articles/749384/painnumbing-power-human-touch

https://www.healthline.com/health/haphephobia#symptoms

https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/treatment/therapeutic-touch

https://www.bbc.com/news/av/magazine-39490507/how-princess-diana-changed-attitudes-to-aids

*Photo by Gus Moretta on Unsplash

Taking Care Of The Caregiver

When a person is diagnosed with a Chronic illness, focus naturally centers on the patient. This is necessary, for proper treatment and disease management. While most patients have a Support System (or should for best results), many will at some point require a caregiver. This individual, whoever he or she may be, is an essential part of that patient’s life and a vital part of their disease management. They are also, often times, neglected. And that’s an unacceptable risk. Which is why it is imperative to take care of the caregiver …

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Make no mistake, there is nothing easy about the task. Care-giving can be very difficult. It’s mentally, physically and emotionally challenging. I have answered the call, twice in my life. At age 30, I was my father’s caregiver when he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung cancer. At 48, I was my mother’s caregiver when she was diagnosed with a very rare cancer (Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Primary to the Bone). Both were extremely different experiences, despite the fact that both of my parents had cancer. Never think, for a moment, that previous experience prepares you to be a caregiver. It does not. Each patient is unique. And each will require different levels of care. When I reflect back on both of my care-giving experiences, I am reminded of a quote from the Charles Dickens novel A Tale Of Two Cities“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” By that, I mean that there were special moments that I will forever hold dear in memory. But there were also times that were heart-wrenching, scary, overwhelming and physically/mentally exhausting. That is care-giving, in a nutshell. Yet, if I had to make the decision again, I would do so. But that’s just me. The responsibility isn’t for everyone. And there is no sin in admitting that. 

If you are a caregiver, or considering the duty, take a moment to reflect upon the demands of the position. And by all means, take preventative action for your own health. No caregiver, regardless of age, is immune to stress … fatigue … or depression. In fact, I would wager that a caregiver is more vulnerable. Why? Because a caregiver naturally puts his/her needs, on the back-burner. As a caregiver, the priority must be the patient that he/she is caring for. So, caregivers often neglect what their bodies need. But if you allow your own health to decline, who is that really helping?

When caring for my dad, his Hospice nurse gave me some priceless advice, “Do something for yourself, because he needs you.” Nancy was so right. It can be once a day, for 30-60 minutes. Or possibly, it’s just once a week. It doesn’t matter which you choose. If you are a caregiver, do something for you, i.e. a massage, a yoga class, a walk around the block, a Bible study, an art class, etc. Indulging in a little “Me Time” may feel a bit selfish, at first. Yet it is vital to keeping you healthy, relaxed and mentally sharp. So, get out and indulge yourself. Then, you can consider these additional tips:

  1. Get some exercise. Even in regular, small increments, it can boost your energy level. Exercise also reduces stress, helps you maintain a healthy weight, etc.
  2. Eat healthy. This too will give you more energy. Eating healthy can help prevent other health problems, too. Also remember to snack healthy.
  3. Don’t Forget How To Laugh. Laughter is good medicine. Try to find some humor in your day-to-day experience as a caregiver. Share a laugh with the loved one in your care (he/she needs joy too)!
  4. Watch-out for depression. The demands placed on you as a caregiver can be difficult and stressful. Stay vigilant. Talk to your doctor, if you think you are experiencing symptoms, i.e. sad, anxious, anger, feeling helpless, irritable, weight loss or gain, sleep issues, difficulty concentrating, etc.
  5. Takin’ Care of Business. Remember that retro phrase? Well, it’s good practice. Balance your checkbook. Pay bills. Work when you need to. Save for a special outing, anniversary, or trip. It’s good for both of you!
  6. Keep Your Dr. appointments. If you’re sick, you won’t be able to do what your loved one needs. So, visit your doctor & dentist regularly. Get your lab-work, or flu shot. Your good health is the fuel that keeps this care-giving engine running!
  7. Optimism is key. Refresh your mind, every day. Yes, you have limitations. We all do. So, let go of that guilt. Acknowledge the job that you’re doing. It’s special and important. Like other things, care-giving has a learning-curve. You will get there.
  8. Stay connected. Use the phone, internet, newspaper, etc. But, by all means, stay connected to the outside world & what is happening around you.

Last, but not least, if you need help … ask for it! Call a family-member or friend and ask for some assistance. Talk to your doctor and your loved one. If the patient’s level of care becomes too extensive, it could be time to consider hiring a professional caregiver. If you need to work, consider utilizing Adult Day-care options in your area. Just remember … you aren’t alone. There are many who are willing to offer ideas and alternatives. Don’t be afraid to seek their advice. Take care of your loved one — and you!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/caregiver-stress/art-20044784

https://caregiveraction.org/resources/10-tips-family-caregivers

https://www.cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/caring-loved-one/tips-being-successful-caregiver

https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/taking-care-yourself-tips-caregivers

https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/caregiver-support/top-10-caregiver-tips-for-staying-healthy-and-active

Adult Day Care Services

https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/articles-and-news/2003/04/the-role-of-adult-day-services.html

https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-symptoms-causes#1

*Photo by James Hose, Jr., on Unsplash

Your Privacy, Your Chronic Illness & Your Job

Don’t let anyone fool you. When you live with a Chronic illness, you do a lot of thinking. You make a lot of decisions. Cool tee shirt aside, life really is filled with tough choices. And if you haven’t juggled many in your past, a Chronic illness will change that quickly. Which doctor do you trust? Which treatment do you choose? Which medication/s will work best? And aside from these obvious questions, you also wonder about your privacy. Yes, HIPAA is a great thing. And there are similar protections in place abroad, i.e. PIPEDA, Directive on Data Protection. But, outside of medical community, who do you share your illness with? Who do you entrust with that personal information? How much is, well, too much?

Let’s start with your family and close friends. They are usually part of your support system. And, yes, they need to know about your diagnosis. Especially, those who are closest to you. A strong support system will help you to manage your condition more effectively. Providing them with additional information is also helpful, i.e. the name of your doctor, your medications, etc. Next, is your workplace. And that’s an entirely different animal!

Legally, you are not required to disclose a Chronic illness to your employer. An employer hires you to do a job. If you are capable of doing that job, you are fulfilling your end of the deal. This also holds true, if you are seeking employment. On the other hand, some say the added stress of trying to conceal their condition was/is frustrating and difficult. There is no wrong answer, here. It really depends on what you are comfortable with. You may choose to discuss your illness with HR, but not your co-workers. That too is okay. Nobody wants to be gossip fodder for the break-room. This is about your health and your privacy.

Many patients learn what their group health plans offer, after they have been diagnosed. Better late than never, I guess. When you are living with good health, you are truly experiencing a blessing. But knowing your health coverage is also the peace of mind that will help you to sleep at night. Take a few minutes to actually get those facts. And if you have never taken the time to acquaint yourself with Labor Law, here are two key pieces of legislation to start with: The Family Medical Leave Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act. Living with a Chronic illness, you may need to use one or both at some point. Understanding them is crucial. Sadly, disability discrimination still exists in our society. And many Chronic illnesses can lead to a disability. If you ever feel your employer is harassing you, or is discriminating against you, due to your Chronic illness … you can contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC. Know your rights. They exist to protect you.

Last, but not least, go out and LIVE! Don’t allow your disease to define you. It isn’t what you are, it is just a part of who you are. So, make plans. Work. Travel. Finish Grad School. Buy a home. Start a family. Set goals. Dare to dream. The choices are waiting and they’re all yours!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/security/laws-regulations/index.html

https://www.atlantic.net/hipaa-compliant-hosting/beyond-hipaa-international-health-data-protection-europe-canada/

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

https://www.ada.gov/2010_regs.htm

https://www.eeoc.gov/facts/ada18.html

https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/disability.cfm

*Photo by Jose Llamas on Unsplash

 

 

It Is Well With My Soul

If you have a Chronic illness, then you have experienced that Twilight Zone moment when your diagnosis was first given. A part of you is hearing what the doctor is saying. The other part is almost in shock — engulfed with disbelief. This is the start of an emotional, physical and often times spiritual rollercoaster. One that none of us asked to ride on. One that seems hopelessly out of our control. Or is it? I have heard the diagnosis of a Chronic illness, more than once. Multiples are not unusual. Millions of patients can attest to that. And I have asked, “Why me?” But I have also asked, “Why not me?” One of the most important things that any patient of a Chronic illness can do is embrace it. Those words are easier said than done. I know. Still, they beg the question: Have you accepted your diagnosis?

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A Chronic illness is not the same as being terminally ill. Yet, there are five stages of grief involved: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. The life you had is gone. This is your new normal. Many of the things that you once did are lost to an affliction that you didn’t ask for. And, if you are like most patients, you don’t feel that you deserve. It’s a lot to take in. It doesn’t seem fair. Why is this happening? You lament about what you could have done differently. Some seem to have done everything right and still they are diagnosed with a Chronic illness. It’s confusing, irritating and overwhelming. While you are trying to cope with medications, treatment, side-effects, lifestyle changes, symptoms and emotions … you may also be wrestling with your spiritual beliefs.

Faith is easy to have, when life is good. It becomes a different ballgame, in difficult times. Some people question their faith, when life gets hard. They may even become angry with God — confused by the turmoil that has engulfed their comfort zone. Often times, adults drift away from church and faith. There isn’t a specific reason. It just happens. The diagnosis of a Chronic illness can bring them back. They now need the assurance, hope and peace that faith provided. Those things they shrugged aside — took for granted. For others, who have never had a religious belief system, difficulty can actually lead them to faith. It’s a very personal walk, down an often lonely path. If you are struggling with your faith, you may be asking, “Why did God let this happen to me?” And that’s a good question. We don’t always understand why, at the moment we are going through an ordeal. It may take months — even years — to know. But one day, we will understand (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Personally, I believe that God has a plan for each of us. To get us where He needs us, God uses every tool. He doesn’t create our suffering, but he allows good to flourish from it. He knows that in these difficult moments, we are gaining insight … serving as examples … literally inspiring others. Good emerges. In Romans 8:28, we are told, “… God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”

If you take a few moments to look through the Holy Bible, you’ll note that affliction and suffering are ever present. In fact, there are at least 14 words in Hebrew and Greek that translate to “affliction”. Think about that. Suffering is part of this earthly world. It always has been. None of us are immune. Chronic illnesses, i.e. Alcoholism, Mental illness, Atrophy, Leprosy, Epilepsy, Obesity, Glaucoma/Blindness, etc., were present in biblical times. What you are experiencing isn’t new. Such afflictions have been around for centuries.

Today, thanks to modern medicine, we have options that make living with Chronic illness much easier. Even modern society has changed — becoming more accepting of those who suffer from these diseases. Yes, there are still problems to be addressed. Awareness continues to be a need. The more people understand, the better off that we become as a society. Healthier living. Preventative measures. Learning has its rewards. We cannot control human nature. There will, unfortunately, always be individuals who are bigoted, who discriminate, who bully, who judge, etc. But we can pray for them. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

If you have a Chronic illness, work towards accepting it. Stay optimistic. Take the necessary steps — changes —  to manage your health. It will provide much needed stability to your life. Learn to live each and every day to the fullest. Appreciate what you can do. Maintain a clear perspective — set a few goals. Avoid additional stress. Count your blessings. Your life has changed before. Think about it. Perhaps, it was when you went off to college? Or when you entered military service? Or marriage? This isn’t the end of the world. This is a new journey. So embrace it, as I have. It isn’t the path that I would have chosen. And you probably feel the same. But it is well with my soul.

Have a Blessed Easter.

 

Reference Links:

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

http://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2012/july-online-only/doesgodallowtragedy.html

http://www.jennifermartinpsych.com/yourcolorlooksgoodblog/2013/09/the-five-stages-of-grief-for-chronic.html

https://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-affliction.html

https://www.biblicaltraining.org/library/diseases-bible

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

*Photo by Caleb Frith on Unsplash

The Healing Power of A Pet

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Those of us who are pet owners know how wonderful they are. We brag on them, dote on them, etc.  Those of us, who are also parents, may even distinguish between our children as “those with fur” and “those without”. Our pets live with us, play with us and travel with us. They comfort — even mourn — with us. They are a member of our family and we love them. But did you know that these adorable pets … with their soulful eyes … precocious personalities … cunning wit … and slobbery kisses … actually have the ability to heal?

The U.S. Dog Registry divides dogs (of any breed) into three categories:

  • Service Dogs help with a function/s for a person with a disability, i.e. Blind, Deaf, PTSD, MS, etc.
  • Emotional Support Dogs help people with emotional problems by providing support and comfort, i.e. Anxiety, Depression and Mood Disorders.
  • Therapy Dogs provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living centers. They are often sent, in the wake of horrific events, i.e. the recent mass shooting in Parkland, FL.

But what they all accomplish is that they make a positive impact on the people that they interact with. These pets improve the lives of every human that they touch.

Children with Autism were significantly more engaged, when animal therapy was incorporated into their sessions instead of using the standard approach. The children used more language. They exhibited more social interaction. All positive. All heathful.

Cancer patients have improved from pet therapy, also known as Animal-assisted Therapy or AAT. A session of animal interaction, lasting between 5-15 minutes, provides a welcomed distraction from difficult treatments like chemotherapy and radiation. It brightens their day, lifts their spirits and offers a myriad of benefits overall. In fact, AAT has proven to be so effective time and again for many illnesses that the medical community is embracing the idea more than ever before — regularly including it in patient care.

Seniors, who often live alone, also benefit from owning a pet. A pet can provide mental stimulation, erase loneliness, give them a reason to walk around the block and a companion to do it with. Pet interaction has the ability to lessen, even diminish, overall pain. And many seniors live with chronic illnesses that cause a lot of discomfort.

When we are bonding with a pet, we are in the company of a dear friend — a confidante. As a result, our blood pressure lowers … muscles relax … stress fades. On the chemical level, a pet decreases cortisol in our blood. It can raise levels of the brain chemical dopamine that makes us feel good. We are happier and more positive. And when we reach out … touching their fur … rubbing their back … talking to them … we experience an increase of immunoglobulin A. That antibody boosts our immune system. Hormones like serotonin, oxytocin and prolactin are released, when we are rubbing that fuzzy belly or rolling a tennis ball across the floor. Our mood is lighter. We’re smiling … laughing … enjoying life.

Have you hugged your pet, today? Have you felt the nuzzle of a cold nose against your cheek? Or was it soft purring? We all should be so lucky. That furry companion, who greets us at the door, is actually good for us!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.prevention.com/health/healthy-living/healing-power-pets

https://www.curetoday.com/community/mike-verano/2015/12/cancer-and-the-healing-power-of-pets

https://www.agingcare.com/articles/benefits-of-elderly-owning-pets-113294.htm

https://www.uclahealth.org/pac/animal-assisted-therapy

https://www.psychologytoday.com/therapy-types/animal-assisted-therapy

https://www.oncologynurseadvisor.com/from-cancercare/animal-assisted-therapy-enhances-cancer-care/article/372518/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/pet-therapy/art-20046342

* Photo by the author

The Garden of Optimism: What is this place?

Did you ever find yourself wondering how life managed to lead, or drag, you down a certain path? Well, such is my case. When we find ourselves in such a predicament, we usually know how we got there. But sometimes we aren’t too eager to admit it. Still, there are times when life leads us into the middle of uncharted territory. Our reaction depends upon the circumstances, our perception of them and our willingness to take on the challenge. For me, personally, I am humbled and flabbergasted.

Throughout my entire life, I have always felt a strong sense of service — volunteering with various organizations, my church and within the community. But no one would have predicted that I’d become a blogger — including me. I’m not the most tech savvy person on Earth. I freely admit that. Still, God did provide me with a gift for words. One that I’m abundantly grateful for. And He molded me with a very tenacious spirit. So, why now? Why bother?

In all honesty, I have felt a calling. Divine, as from the Lord, but not in the pastoral sense. Persistent. Urging me. Whispering to my conscience. Telling me, of all people, that I need to reach out and do this (Matthew 5:16 NIV). I need to serve (1 Peter 4:10 NIV) others. I need to help them — to become their voice. So, here I am — a Patient Advocate.

I’m not a medical professional, though I’ve seen more than my share of them. I hold no degree in Divinity. My credentials are from personal experience. And, unfortunately, this is subject-matter that I know all too well. I have lived it, for decades.

By now, if you’re still with me, you may be wondering where all of this is going. Patience, Sweet pea. I’m a Southern gal. We sometimes ramble like ivy on an arbor, but we eventually get to the point …

Mine is that our lives are like gardens. For a moment, consider the similarities. There are beautiful, bountiful years. And there are meager harvests. All of the usual things can make growing difficult. The rocks. The lousy soil. Even the daily grind. Too much heat, or stress, is harsh on a garden. And it’s harsh on us, too. The rain, whether in drops or tears, can wash away our plants … our plans … our dreams … even our deepest desires. Then, there are the things that we least suspect. The ones that we never wanted. The ones that, we so often told ourselves, only happened to other people. And our gardens are never the same …

This blog is a place of refuge and support. It is devoted to those who are living with chronic illnesses and their loved ones. I understand what you are feeling. Your garden and mine share common ground. This is about accepting that no garden is perfect, but all have beauty and purpose. It’s about realizing the potential of your garden — finding it. This is about living, each and every day to the fullest in His light (1 John 1:5 NIV). It’s about enjoying the sun on our face and the blooms that we find. It’s about allowing our bodies and souls to dance. Yes, dance — even in the rain. Come … sit a spell (as we say down South) … browse the pages of this site (there’s more than one). Let’s talk. You aren’t alone.

 

Blessings,

Julia

 

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* Photo by Kaeyla McGee on Unsplash

 

 

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!