Traditions: Which Ones To Keep & How?

Most of us, no matter our religious preferences, were raised with some traditions. This especially holds true, at the holidays. As adults, we often cling to these traditions (even the ones we weren’t too crazy about in our youth). We watch as they are passed from one generation to the next. We smile. We laugh. We share. These traditions become, in an odd sort of way, comfort food for our heart and soul. But when a Chronic illness enters your life, it can change a lot of things — even traditions. 

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Personally, I have wonderful childhood memories of cookie baking … my grandmother, mother, aunt and cousins were all included. It was marathon baking, at its finest. Batch after batch. The kitchen was filled with warmth … laughter … sweet, aromatic smells … and cookies. Of course, we had to nibble a few. Taste-testing was (and still is) required. Then, the cookies were carefully tucked away in air-tight tins … only to reappear on Christmas Eve. It was pure magic. And this tradition still continues. Despite the loss of family members and the miles that separate us, my cousins and I still bake cookies. We text. We talk. We laugh. We share recipes. And we bake. Chronic illness has found all of us, but it hasn’t changed everything in our life. Moderation, in part, is how this tradition and others endure. We bake, but not all in one day. Once upon a time, I baked 8 different cookie recipes. Now, I bake 4 or 5. And my husband (no typo there) helps me with the Royal Icing. Times have changed, folks. Cooking shows have actually made it cool for guys to have fun in the kitchen. So, don’t be afraid to recruit a little help. You might be surprised at who wants to assist!

Some Chronic illnesses require dietary changes, i.e. diabetes. If you have hypertension, you need to avoid certain foods, i.e. salt, alcohol, saturated fats. Yet, there are many nice and healthy options for your holiday menu, i.e. lamb chops, pheasant, wild duck, turkey, cuts of lean beef, or salmon. If you take a moment to visit a few healthy-eating websites, you might be surprised to find that your culinary family traditions aren’t even effected by your disease. But if they are, again, moderation could be the answer. If not, choose wisely — choose healthy.

Mobility is often impacted by Chronic illness. Dexterity can be another issue. And both can make some traditions difficult (if not impossible) to enjoy. When this occurs, it’s time to find a new tradition that everyone can share. Or you can maintain your old tradition by delegating your duties to another? There is no sin in passing the torch. So, focus on what you have and can do. Share. Love. Laugh.  

Unfortunately, some treatments and medications can impact traditions, i.e. chemotherapy, radiation, etc. If this is your new normal, there’s nothing normal about it. Fatigue, nausea, etc., can quickly take the joy out of you. Do what you can, when you can. Communicate your needs. Focus on the positive, at all times. You might even create a new tradition — one that is easier for you to take part in. 

Last, but not least, be good to yourself. Keep realistic expectations. Make changes if necessary. Manage your disease. As wonderful as traditions can be, they can never replace you or your loved one. It’s people who are the heart of every celebration, dinner, festival, outing, etc. Without them, our traditions would have less meaning. They might not have any meaning at all.

 

Reference Links:

https://www.onlinemswprograms.com/resources/social-issues/resources-family-support-chronic-illness/

https://psychcentral.com/lib/holiday-traditions/

https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/coping-strategies_for-chronic-illness#1

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

https://www.aarp.org/home-family/friends-family/info-2018/breaking-holiday-traditions.html

https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=1&contentid=346

https://www.allinahealth.org/health-conditions-and-treatments/health-library/patient-education/helping-your-heart/healthy-living/nutrition/foods-low-in-saturated-fat-and-trans-fat

*Photo by Rebecca Wiggins on Unsplash

 

 

Abundance & Thankfulness …

Sometimes, when you live with a Chronic illness, it’s easy to overlook the abundance in your life. A few may even tell you that they have nothing to be thankful for. Yet, their perception couldn’t be farther from the truth. We have all had the difficult years. Those that are riddled with flares and setbacks. We have all experienced bad news … followed by worse news. It’s hard to bear. It hurts, in numerous ways. Still, we know that we have been blessed with abundance. And, in our heart of hearts, we are (or should be) thankful … hopeful … even joyful.

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                    “Give and it will be given to you …”   — Luke 6:38

Scripture holds many verses on the subject. All are meant to teach and inspire. In Deuteronomy 24:19-21, we are instructed to remember and provide for, “… the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.” Our abundance exists, whether in our fields or on our tables. With that in mind, I want to expand upon the idea. There are countless ways that we all can share our abundance. And there is no better time than the present to do it.  This holds true for those who live with Chronic illness and those who don’t.

Nothing helps you to understand need better than to give of yourself, your time and your abundance. Volunteer at a homeless shelter, or a food bank. Take a warm meal to a neighbor who is struggling with mobility issues. Give of your abilities to those who can use your help … rake leaves, clean gutters, have a chat, run an errand, invite the lonely, etc. It’s a small gesture, in the grand scheme of things. But to the person in need, what you do is priceless.

Personally, I have always found that giving of myself helps me to keep a better perspective of my own life. Living with multiple Chronic illnesses can be frustrating. I can’t deny that. But when I am helping others, I see beyond myself. Suddenly my flare doesn’t seem as bad, or as overwhelming as it once did. The additional tests and/or medication isn’t as much of an inconvenience. During these moments, I’ve realized that I’m doing pretty good — I’m managing my illnesses. It isn’t the other way around. I’m contributing to the world around me. I’m doing so many things that I enjoy doing. Other times, I have been inspired by people who are physically less fortunate than me.  And I have become even more tenacious … to try harder, eat healthier, etc. My father, a WWII veteran, used to say, “It can always be worse.” This is so true.

So as Thanksgiving approaches, look around you. Embrace your abundance. Be thankful for every good day — for all that you have. Be realistic in your own expectations. Be hopeful. And reach out to those in need. Together, we are in this journey called life. Dare to care!

 

 

Reference Links:

* Photo by Christopher Ryan on Unsplash

 

A Little Rest …

 

Sometimes, I am amazed by the amount of energy that I have. Other times, it amazes me how tired I can get. Totally drained. At age 59, with three Chronic illnesses, fatigue happens. I could blame my age, or my health. From the rational standpoint, it’s probably a combination of both. But, unfortunately, I’m not alone. Approximately 150M Americans live with at least one Chronic illness. Millions, like me, live with multiples. And fatigue is a very real … very stubborn … part of most Chronic illnesses. Do you fight yours? Or do you listen to your body and rest? 

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When you have fatigue from a Chronic illness, it changes a lot of things about your life — even the way you see yourself. You remember the person you were, before diagnosis, i.e. running 5-10 miles each day, whitewater rafting, chaperoning field-trips, maintaining a hectic schedule at work and at home, playing tennis, no pain, no limited mobility, etc. And then you look in the mirror at the person you are, today. Better, in some ways. Worse, in others. It’s frustrating.

Now, when you have energy, you savor it like a fine wine. Because, unlike your old self, you can’t take such things for granted. You know that these energy bursts, come and go. You even prioritize what you will use your energy on. Because, we all know that there are limits. If that isn’t frustrating enough, your fatigue also changes how you relate with others.

You find yourself accepting fewer invitations and not returning phone calls. Instead of posting your selfie enjoying a night out with friends, you look at the ones posted by others. You struggle to keep up with home … work … the kids … friends … everything. You look for a way to manage it all. Then, when things get difficult, you beat yourself up about that. It’s a vicious circle.

First and foremost, let go of the person you once were. Or should I say the person you thought you were? Let’s be honest, here … even before diagnosis … you had other problems. We all did. None of us are, or ever were, super beings. It’s time to focus and to love the person that you are, right now. 

Next, you really need to learn how to say “no” and even delegate. It’s better to do a few things well, than to do several mediocre. No company pays anyone enough to be a one-person act. Work, like home, is a team-effort. Co-workers need to do their part. Personal days are just that — personal. Use them, wisely. Kids can actually do laundry and clean the house. Spouses can cook dinner, run errands, etc. This holds true for husbands or wives. The new you has more time and flexibility. So, if it takes longer to get ready, you have that time. The new you isn’t volunteering on every committee, at every fund-raiser, etc. Hence, there is actually time for a nap on Saturday afternoon. And there’s no sin in taking one!

A very wise man (I’m talking about you Dr. Steve) once told me that if my body didn’t need rest, then I wouldn’t be tired. Though I was skeptical at first, I’ve found he was right. Yes, you can have drowsiness from medications. But that’s not the same thing. When fatigue sets in, it’s like your cellphone trying to function with its last smidgen of power. Nothing works too well; does it? And a nap is to your body like a re-charged battery is to your cellphone — vitally important! 

Some chronically ill patients even have trouble sleeping. If this is you, please consult your doctor. Pain can interfere with your sleep. Depression can, too. Usually, once you gain adequate control of your pain, you can rest. If sleep is still a problem, there are many non-medicinal approaches to help you, i.e. relaxation training, cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback, etc. Exercise is another way to ultimately relax and get your needed rest. Most chronically ill patients need and can do low-impact exercises, i.e. walking, swimming, Tai Chi, Yoga, Pilates, etc. Believe it or not, even Ballroom Dancing qualifies. You could actually combine time with your better half and exercise, into something special for the two of you to share. Healthy and sexy? That’s a win-win. If sleep still eludes you, a prescription may be needed. But realize that you have options. Explore them.

Last, but not least, never underestimate the power of a good recliner. It doesn’t have to be an expensive model. No home make-over is required. What most people do not realize is that a recliner (when reclined) relieves pressure and pain to the body much like a hospital-bed. And that alone may provide the rest you are desperately needing. So, c’mon. Stop making excuses. It’s time to be good to yourself. Find a quiet spot … relax … feel the stress fade away … and rest. You need it. We all do.

Now, shhhh … close your eyes. Heal.

 

Reference Links:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/chronically-me/201804/chronic-illness-fatigue

https://www.nationalhealthcouncil.org/sites/default/files/AboutChronicDisease.pdf

https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/coping-strategies_for-chronic-illness#1

https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/sleep-disorders-sleep-and-chronic-illness

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-does-exercise-help-those-chronic-insomnia

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise-and-chronic-disease/art-20046049

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

*Photo by Zohre Nemati on Unsplash

One Thing Can Lead To Another …

Dare I say it? Yet, if you are living with a Chronic illness, you know it’s true. Secondary conditions happen. In fact, by 2020, it is projected that 157M Americans will be living with some form of Chronic illness. And 81M, well over half of them, will have multiple conditions. But what exactly are these secondary illnesses? The list is long and complex, i.e. Depression, Anxiety, Lupus Nephritis, Pericarditis, Sjögren’s SyndromeCushing’s Syndrome, Secondary Raynaud’s, Secondary Fibromyalgia, Myocarditis, Anemia, Dysphagia, Glaucoma, etc. This isn’t about a low-grade fever, or stiffness. These secondary conditions are serious health problems, in their own right. And when they follow your initial diagnosis, it is both scary and frustrating.

 

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Because of the sheer nature of how a Chronic illness effects a patient, from onset through progression, I want to focus for a moment on Depression and Anxiety. Both are common among the chronically ill. Life is changing. Physical and/or mental abilities are changing. To say that it’s overwhelming is, well, an understatement. The diagnosis alone usually hits a patient like a ton of bricks. Some chronic illnesses, i.e. Parkinson’s, Stroke, etc., actually effect the brain. These changes can directly lead to Depression. Anxiety and stress can also lead to depression. Both are felt by patients who live with any Chronic illness. And a secondary diagnosis can magnify these problems.

If you are experiencing symptoms outside the norm for your diagnosed condition, you should talk to your doctor. You may be living with a secondary illness. And it should be treated — not ignored. A good Support System will help you to cope with your Chronic disease as well as the secondary, i.e. family, friends, doctor, etc. Think of it as a “team sport”! Support Groups are available in many areas. If you are interested, you can contact national organizations for details, i.e. American Cancer Society, SAMHSA, American Lung Association, American Heart Association, The Arthritis Foundation, etc. Or simply ask your physician. These are very beneficial for caregivers, too.

Optimism is also key to living with and effectively managing your Chronic condition. Understand your illness — don’t just accept the diagnosis. If you want another medical opinion, ask for one. It is your body and your right. Learn the facts. Knowledge is power. Find out what you can do, i.e. diet, exercise, medications, etc. Pace yourself. Delegate tasks to reduce your stress level. Understand that setbacks can and usually do happen. Secondary conditions are common. Pursue preventative measures, if possible. If not, maintain your perspective. Blaming yourself isn’t going to help the situation. A Secondary Condition isn’t the end of the world. Let’s say that, again … a Secondary Condition isn’t the end of the world. It’s just a curve-ball that you must deal with. And you can. Millions of patients are doing it. So, give it your best shot! 

Always make the most of every day. Even the difficult ones are a gift. Although, they may not feel like one. With a positive approach, you will also feel better both mentally and physically. You will be able to manage the changes, too. And get back to living!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.nationalhealthcouncil.org/sites/default/files/AboutChronicDisease.pdf

https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000602.htm

Secondary Conditions

http://www.jrheum.org/content/46/2/127

Managing Multiple Rheumatic Diseases: How One Patient Copes with Her Disabilities & Advocates for Others

https://www.cancer.org/treatment/support-programs-and-services.html

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/chronic-illness-mental-health/index.shtml

https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK11438/

https://www.lung.org/support-and-community/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5209342/

*Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Where Is Freedom?

Or, perhaps, I should ask what is it? Often times, we associate freedom with politics. But, for a moment, let’s consider another form. Many Chronic illnesses infringe upon the patient’s freedom or mobility. They feel chained to oxygen, wheel-chairs, catheters, insulin, etc. They feel a loss of freedom. I understand how they feel and their frustration. I have been there. Occasionally, I allow myself to ponder the subject even now. But it’s nothing like the torment that it once was. Today, it’s more of a reflection. Cathartic. Dare I say it? A celebration of my ability and perseverance. How? My faith. The Spirit of the Lord is truly freedom. Nothing accentuates that fact like doing battle with Chronic illness.

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“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”  — 2 Corinthians 3:17 (NIV)

There are skeptics, I’m sure. To them, I can only add that spirituality or faith has shown medical results. Consider those findings. I’m certainly not here to debate His divine existence with you. Faith is a freedom in itself — a personal journey. I know my experience. I’m more than happy to share it. But I can’t make such decisions for someone else.

If you or a loved one are struggling with a Chronic illness (and millions are), take a moment to reflect upon your battle. Consider turning to your faith, for strength and solace. Or, perhaps, finding it? Take a breath. And embrace the fact that God doesn’t create junk. He creates beauty, intelligence, strength, etc. He created you and I — just as we are — for a reason. There are no perfect human beings.

Your illness is only as enslaving as you allow it to be. That may sound too good to be true, but our mental health effects our overall well-being. Things like stress, anxiety and depression only complicate things. They don’t help. But a strengthened mind can lead to a strengthened body. When you think beyond your condition, you can break the chains that are holding you back. You can find ways to regain that precious freedom. You can discover new talents, hobbies, even careers. And you can live … fully … happily. You can even thrive! 

May God Bless!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/tools-resources/pdfs/issue-brief-no-2-mental-health-and-chronic-disease.pdf

https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(11)62799-7/fulltext#cesec230

https://spiritualityandhealth.duke.edu/index.php/the-link-between-religion-and-health

Sharing Mayo Clinic: Eight Lessons on “Compassion in Health Care”

*Photo by Ryan Moreno on Unsplash

Are You Packing?

OMG! It’s June! How did that happen? Time can really fly when you’re busy. And before you know it, vacation is upon you. Most people enjoy traveling. It doesn’t matter if it’s a weekend get-away, or a longer excursion, we are all-in. Eager. Ecstatic. Ready to go. Or are we? If you live with a Chronic illness, a vacation can offer a lot of healthy benefits. But it can also be stressful. To avoid the latter, requires planning. After all, you want to enjoy your vacation!

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By now, you have probably selected a location, i.e. beach, mountains, cruise, etc. No doubt, you have booked your reservations. And if you need to obtain a passport, you’ve most likely taken those steps. So, for a moment, let’s focus on that last month before your departure. If you are traveling abroad, this is a good time to talk to your doctor. You should also discuss your destination, in case specific vaccines and/or medications are needed. Check with your health insurance. Some plans do not cover you abroad. If yours doesn’t, now is the time to buy additional coverage. If you are traveling with oxygen or a CPAP machine, notify the airlines in advance. Some may ask for a letter from your doctor. The TSA can provide more information on their helpline (toll-free at 855-787-2227). They can also give you the details on the screening process, regarding specific disabilities or medical conditions. 

As the days pass, don’t wait until the last minute and stress yourself out. Make a list of things you need to do and check them off, one by one. Are you boarding your pet/s? Confirm that. Confirm your own reservations, i.e. hotel, flight, cruise-line, etc. Think about what you pack. The bikini isn’t your priority item. A Travel Kit is. This kit should include things like over-the-counter meds, prescription meds, your health insurance card, etc. Be sure to pack your kit in carry-on luggage. Nobody needs the hassle of losing their clothes and medications. Your medicines should always be in their actual pill bottles. And if you can, carry copies of your original prescriptions. Pack enough for your trip, plus a couple of days more (just in case there’s a delay). If you don’t regularly wear a Medical Alert bracelet, please add a card that details your medical condition to your kit. In the event of an emergency, it’s a godsend.

Remember the little extras that make managing your condition possible. Do you sometimes need a heating-pad? A neck-pillow? Compression socks? A sweater (even in warm weather)? Make sure to pack these things. You are on vacation. Your chronic illness isn’t. 

Only one week to go. You are almost ready. Stop your mail, if you haven’t already done so. Notify your bank and/or credit card companies that you are traveling. Be sure to make a family-member or friend aware of your itinerary, especially if you are traveling alone.

Finally, it’s time to leave. YEA!!! Vacation has arrived. Enjoy each and every moment. Take your medications as prescribed. Don’t pack too much activity into any single day. Continue to pace yourself. And, by all means, have a safe trip! 

 

Reference Links: 

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/chronic-illnesses

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/traveling-with-chronic-conditions

https://www.americanmedical-id.com/extra/all-medical-id-bracelets.html?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIgpWv793S4gIVzJ6zCh2gwQPPEAAYAiAAEgIfUPD_BwE

Rare Parenting: Traveling with Chronic Illness and Children

*Photo by Deanna Ritchie on Unsplash