Motherhood & Chronic Illness

I once saw a t-shirt that read “Motherhood: It’s more than a job, it’s an adventure!” And I had to buy that shirt. If you’re a mother, you understand why. Sometimes, I think we don’t fully appreciate our mothers until we become one. There is nothing easy about the detail. Motherhood is fascinating and scary … fun and frustrating … rewarding and overwhelming. Yet, I wouldn’t have traded the experience for the world. Some of my most treasured memories in life involve my child. When I look at him, today, I beam with pride. I did a good job, despite my Chronic illness. Though, back in those early years, I often wondered if I was measuring-up. Or if, heaven forbid, he was getting short-changed. 

 

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Let’s be honest; shall we? Motherhood is demanding. Chronic illnesses are, too. And, sometimes, what we want to do conflicts with what our bodies will let us do. Try explaining that to a toddler.

As mothers, we take care of our children. That’s the job. And it’s a 24/7 duty. When we are sick, our responsibility as a mother doesn’t magically go away. It’s still there — packing a lot of guilt. You learn quickly to have a “Plan B”, because that beats doing nothing at all. Think of it as a negotiation, between your condition and motherhood. For example, it’s a snow day. The flakes are falling. And your little one is just dying to play in it. A part of you wants to go, too. Unfortunately, you are aching … stiff … or worse. Reserve such times, for snuggling under a warm blanket … reading a stack of books … or watching a favorite DVD. Maybe, you can even pop some popcorn or make some s’mores (fireplaces do come in handy)? This too is quality time. Sledding can be done with Dad, or cousins. In a day or two, you might even feel like joining in the frosty fun. Until then, be patient. Make the best of the situation. Enjoy every moment — even if it isn’t your “Plan A”.

If you manage your Chronic illness, it will provide you with the best results for living life to the fullest — including motherhood. So, please, keep your appointments with your doctor. Take your medications. Eat healthy. Exercise. Yes, changes in your routine and/or your child’s will take some getting used to. That’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up about it. As strange as it may sound, our children learn from us even when we are sick. If we neglect our health, we send a negative message that tells them it’s okay to neglect theirs. When we take care of ourselves, we send a positive message. That’s a good thing.

Kids understand what “feeling bad” means. They understand terms like “hurt” and “tired”. And they will ask questions. When your child becomes inquisitive about your Chronic illness, be honest with them. Brief answers are usually best, for younger children. So, keep it simple. Teens are capable of understanding more. Then, of course, there is the internet where your child may read anything about your illness (factual or not). Prepare yourself for that, too. Help them find reputable resources online that can provide the best information. Talk openly. It’s good for them and you.

Last, but not least, stay positive. Optimism is key to managing any Chronic illness. It’s good for your health as well as your child’s. Kids aren’t as naive as we’d like to think they are. Our children pick-up on our emotions. If we show fear, they become afraid. If we are depressed, they too can show signs of depression. So, live fearlessly. Live strongly. Live fully. Chronic illness isn’t who we are. It’s just part of the package. We are women. We are mothers. And we are blessed. Happy Mother’s Day!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2017/03/03/how-to-talk-to-your-child-about-your-serious-illness/?utm_term=.f8f4df873208

https://www.fmcpaware.org/why-does-mommy-hurt.html

http://www.igliving.com/magazine/articles/IGL_2013-08_AR_Chronically-Ill-Parents-Helping-Children-Cope.pdf

http://www.copmi.net.au/parents/helping-my-child-and-family/talking-about-mental-illness

https://www.nccn.org/patients/resources/life_with_cancer/talk_to_children.aspx

https://www.accu-chek.com/life/explaining-diabetes-to-your-children

http://talkaboutit.org/how-talk-your-kids-about-your-epilepsy-roger-cross-wendy-miller-phd-rn

https://www.webmd.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/features/ra-explaining-pain#1

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23510498

*Photo of the author & her son at an airshow, Myrtle Beach AFB, 1992.

 

 

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Smile: It’s Good For You

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Reference Links:

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

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

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

*Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

The Greatest Of These Is Love …

We usually talk about Chronic illnesses and treatment, management, awareness, etc. But, for a moment, let’s talk about others effected by the disease — family and especially caregivers. 

No matter the patient’s age, or the specific illness involved, a Chronic condition effects more than one. Family members must also cope. Some may worry about genetic factors. Others may feel guilty, if they live far away. A few may have difficulty accepting the diagnosis at all. Caregivers, God bless them, are juggling everything — the needs of the patient, the family, doctor visits, medications, work, etc.

It isn’t unusual for a caregiver’s life to be drastically changed, by their new role. Some will put their careers on hold — hoping for a return to normalcy in a short time. Others literally see their professional careers end, as the role of caregiver consumes every minute of their day. Many allow their own health and well-being to go on the back-burner. This often creates additional health issues (for the caregiver). Weeks turn into months … then into years. It takes a toll. The caregiver finds himself or herself doing things they had never imagined doing, i.e. administering shots, buying diapers for a parent, protecting the patient’s rights, or watching a child suffer with pain. There is nothing easy about being a caregiver. It is a very mentally, physically and emotionally challenging role. And previous experience in no way means that you are adequately prepared for being a caregiver, again. Each patient, each illness, is different. 

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“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” —             1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV

Twice, in my life, I have had the privilege of being a caregiver. I use the word “privilege”, because in some ways it was rewarding, i.e. close-knit talks, deepened relationships, special moments, etc. It was also highly stressful and at times downright scary. My first experience as a caregiver was for my father, 1989-1990, as he battled cancer. The second for my mother, in 2008, when she battled cancer.

Despite the common denominator, they were two vastly different experiences. My father was terminally ill, upon diagnosis, with lung cancer. He ate anything that he wanted and pretty much did anything he wanted, until his death. No medications to administer (seriously). No use of oxygen (seriously). His radiation treatments also went well. He truly lived every moment of life to the fullest. We should all be so lucky. I realize that, now. But at the time, I lived in high anxiety of what might happen. My mother was just the opposite. With Mom, everything that could go wrong … did go wrong. I charted over 20 medications, daily. She had every unusual side-effect to chemotherapy that a patient could have. No nausea or hair-loss (seriously). In the end, she was beating the cancer but succumbed to the worst of these side-effects (a pulmonary embolism or blood-clot). It was frustrating and heart-wrenching. The last thing that she asked of me was to sing. So, I sang … and sang … as she drifted into an unconscious state … gasping for every breath. I would rest for a couple of hours and start singing again … tears streaming down my cheeks.  Then, I’d pause … pray hard … and sing some more. This went on for 10 days. And by the grace of God, I managed. I was with her, voice and all, till the end.

If you know a caregiver, then you know the love that he or she so unselfishly gives. You may know a few of the burdens that they are carrying, i.e. responsibilities to the patient, their family, their job, etc. You may even know some of their fears. So, please, let them know that you care. Offer to sit with the patient, for a couple of hours. Ask if there is an errand that you can do for them, i.e. pharmacy, supermarket, etc. Drop by with a warm casserole for dinner. It may sound silly, but you’ve just taken a task off of their “to-do” list. You have lightened their load and offered support. Many caregivers will never ask for any help. They have their reasons. And, often times, they will neglect themselves before they do. But you can give them the little boost that keeps them going. Because without that caregiver, rest assured, things would be much worse.  So, give them a break … a hug … show your appreciation … share some love. They need it, as much as the patient does!

 

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

https://www.stoptheclot.org/about-clots/faqs/faq-blood-clots-cancer/

Happy New Year!

As the fireworks were bursting in the night sky, what were you thinking last night? It’s 2019! What will the future bring? What should you do? What will you do? Deep questions. Most of us become reflective, with the New Year — even ambitious. Millions make New Year’s resolutions. And, sadly, most people let them slip away. If you are one of the millions who have suffered that defeat, or failure as it is often perceived, you know the burden that comes with it. Hurt. Anger. Frustration. Possibly depression. Nobody needs that added stress. It simply isn’t healthy.

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In 2019, consider a new approach. Let this be the year that you make a list of your accomplishments, in 2018. Or perhaps, a list of 4-5 things that you are looking forward to in 2019? You could even think beyond yourself and think of others instead. When we donate our time, or a monetary donation, we not only help those in need … we help ourselves as well. Research studies have actually shown that when we give of ourselves through volunteering, or a donation, we feel better. It makes us happier. Volunteerism can reduce stress, offer fulfillment, boost your self-confidence, even combat depression. It can help us improve our social skills, provide a different setting for networking, make new friends. All are a plus! When we think of others, i.e. non-profits, community, places of worship, etc., we actually improve our own health and skills. Imagine that! And who doesn’t want better health or happiness in 2019? I know that I do. Best wishes and new discoveries to all!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/volunteering-and-its-surprising-benefits.htm/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-science-willpower/201212/five-things-you-can-do-instead-new-year-s-resolutions

*Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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

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