When I am my own best health advocate

When I am my own best health advocate

I begin by raising a thought that somewhere early on in life, we are taught that children are not yet truly capable of knowing their minds.
And yet, how many times have we heard adults say that children are a good judge of character, still possessing pure natural instincts, that sense when something is not quite right?

Well, it was another appointment day
Sitting in the waiting room wandering how much longer it would be before my specialist consultant came out of his office and called my name, I took great interest in the other children sitting with one or both of their parents-also waiting to be seen.

Did these children have what I had and were they going to be seen by my specialist too?

I remember my consultant being a genuinely warm, smiley gentleman- his voice was calming and reassuring which had a way of disarming the aura of anxiety and tension that threatened to take over the waiting room.

But the doctor’s good energy could only go so far because I really disliked the whole experience of waiting around.

Finally, my name was called…

And just like maybe a 4×4 relay race, a series of handovers were put in place by the lady on the desk…seeing the doctor…being poked-prodded and asked to carry out physical tasks before being sent off to a different department clutching a form for a blood test and then going on to another department to have an x-ray.

As my young body grew, I also visited the plaster department every 9 to 12 months where my torso was wrapped to make a cast in preparation for a new back brace.
Now, this I liked!

I was fascinated to see part of my body copied in a three dimensional form. Did I look like?
With the exception of standing in front of a mirror, how many of us can say that we’ve seen entire sections or our whole body-front & back?

So, a new back brace was made and I needed new clothes all over again.

I sometimes wandered if the specialist had a daughter-maybe a son. I imagined his child or children to be very healthy and happy and wandered if he would use the same treatment for them if they were unwell like me.

So as a child growing up living with a few medical conditions, the whole affair of being told what to do or not do was greatly extended from parents and teachers to doctors, nurses and others involved in my medical journey.

Of course, their training and qualifications placed them in a position to advise my parents about the best way to treat my condition, so at such a young age, why did I often feel like I was taking part in an experiment? Maybe in the grand scheme of things as a child suffering with a spine abnormality, there were techniques, procedures and materials that were actually quite new.

Maybe I felt this way because I found some of the advice and treatment approach a bit strange, bizarre or even a little funny which often led me to ask the medical team questions about all sorts of things.

Of course there were times when I felt less courageous to speak out and would stay quiet- telling the voice in my head that the professionals knew everything.
Well after all, I was only 9 years old!

But try as I might to stay quiet, my instincts would eventually start shouting out-returning me to my ‘SELF’ again where my overriding thought was that the doctors didn’t know how I was feeling and couldn’t be sure about what was entirely best or me.

I have a strong memory of a time after having major surgery and being told that I would have to stay completely still in bed for many days if I wanted to recover from a serious operation.
I listened to the doctors and cooperated for a few days but as an ugly cycle emerged my instinct screamed at me to get up!

This ugly cycle of the drugs for pain, the drugs to treat constipation and medication to address iron deficiency had taken me further away from my reality and made me feel ‘out there’ somewhere. I didn’t like this feeling.
My instinct carried on screaming at me to get up and after becoming increasingly vocal with doctors and nurses, they agreed, with planning to schedule an earlier release from the bed.

Yes, I was in some pain from just simply being helped to sit up but movement really quietened my screaming mind, reduced tension in my body and was a great distraction while my body reconnected with its own abilities to heal.
Whenever I won the battles to stay out of bed, I didn’t feel like a sick person. Instead, I felt that I was having a say in my life and participating in my outcome.
With this new arrangement working well, I was discharged from hospital ahead of time.

So back then over 40 years ago, it’s amazing that my ‘child self’ must have seen something of the future because today, if we have back ache or are recovering from any number of operations and procedures or have a medical condition, we are routinely advised to move around, get exercise, natural light, fresh air and stay OUT of bed unless it’s ABSOLUTELY necessary.

I believe we are ALL born with the ability to develop and nurture our survival instincts.
But when we hand over to others that ability to engage with our intuition or ’gut’ or we totally expect others to make decisions for us we dilute or loose this skill which quickly behaves like a muscle that is unused.
Fortunately though, we can rebuild and strengthen our instinctive muscles again if we put in the work and maintain interest in our wellness.

How do we do this?

Well, before exploring different methods, I first want to be clear by saying that I do not encourage anyone to be a maverick about their health. This is not taking responsibility for your health and could be detrimental in some cases.

1) Instead…If you are told something relating to your health & wellness that doesn’t feel right or make sense to you, remember that in many cases, you have a right to request more time to think about what has been said.
In this case, you might decide to gather additional information, do more research or seek a fresh opinion where needed. Remember…Knowledge is King.

2) The best doctors are not stuck to their drug prescription forms or standard medical journals.
Where possible, the best medical professionals want you to participate in the job of keeping you well. Often with little time to spend on individual patients and appreciating that they don’t know how you’re feeling (unless you say), good doctors are in favour of not just working for your benefit but working with you.
This kind of working relationship allows for ideas, suggestions, wellness plans and programs to be explored and used for the best treatment results.

When dealing with wellness plans or programs, possible ideas and suggestions that could not only be very affective and also resonate with you could also be important consideration especially when you and your doctor work together.

The long and short of it is:

You can have a huge rewarding part to play in your own life when you decide to be your own best advocate. This means: listening and trusting your instincts, having the courage to question and dismiss the things that do resonate with you and striving to live a life that feels like yours instead of someone else’s.

Too busy to notice the Stranger Lurking inside me

Too busy to notice the Stranger Lurking inside me

“I was too busy to think about what might be going on inside me. Whatever it was, it could wait…right?”

So, while I tried to ignore the signs of a medical catastrophe-as it lay fairly dormant and only occasionally came to the surface, ‘IT’  happened…and just like a volcano erupting, my immune system was raging and out of control.

So, there it was…

I could no longer ignore, brush aside or pretend it wasn’t there or happening and I knew that its impact would be significant enough to alter and change my future life ‘landscape’ just like hot molten lava leaving land unrecognizable after rolling over everything in its path.

It happened to me

It was the gradual, progressive kind of medical condition that during the first episodes (mild tremors), was easy enough to ignore because symptoms were short-lived and didn’t have a lasting impact on me. But these episodes were accumulating-becoming more frequent and collectively revealed pockets of damage.
These pockets of damage were slowly building up and merging into a bigger problem that soon told a different story about the state of my health.

Before these tremors of disease, I was excited about life! Sharing good times and places with family and friends and making plans for the future. I was an energetic designer and ran a business that depended on me for survival but I was gradually losing the ability to keep both my company and some future plans alive.

Now, a sense of loss, panic, fear, denial, anger and doubts about the future held me in a place where ‘that’ person I grew into and knew very well had slowly become a stranger to me.

One day as I sat down thinking, I remembered as a child being told never to trust or talk to strangers but here I was – feeling forced to live with the stranger in my disease – never knowing when it was happy or angry or what it would do next but knowing that my life would be affected without a minutes’ notice.

I know that for a while, I sat in a state of confusion and despair wandering when ‘I’, the old me would return to my normal level of wellness. I just wanted the stranger- the invader to go away.

Is this or has this happened to you too?

What would become of you if you were no longer able to be that person you’ve grown up with your entire life because of a sudden accident or progressive medical condition that significantly impacts and changes your landscape?

It’s a question that many of us tend not to think about or ask ourselves until we’re having to contemplate living life with that health stranger in an unpredictable position that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and undermined.

Of course, prevention is better than cure but what can you do to start building a healthier life & lifestyle after a health crisis?

Like many people looking for instant results, you could go head to head with your disease by launching an attack- just reaching for and relying on drugs to fix the problems and heal you but I don’t recommend this plan of action!
The body registers many of these drugs as invaders too and releases a barrage of chemicals to fight them off which creates more ‘fire’ (inflammation) in the body.
This new inflammation causes unfavorable symptoms, attacking the nervous system and creating further damage that in time often becomes another one of those conditions or diseases that appear.

I have come to learn and understand the importance of preventing those attacks ‘fires’ from taking hold in the first place because without certain kinds of bad inflammation diseases is not fuelled and the damage that usually follows can be prevented.

So it’s safe to say that staying as close to our body’s natural makeup in terms of what we eat, drink and use when treating complaints, conditions and diseases creates a much better environment for us to maintain wellness in and initiate repairs.
We are all very different so our experiences with alarm, inflammatory activators will vary but there are some triggers that most of us would do well to avoid all together.

Refined Sugar & Artificial Sweetners . Vegetable Oil . Fried Foods . Refined Flour . Dairy . Artificial Additives Saturated Fats . Prescribed Medicines . Emotional and/or Physical Stress

These culprits might appear relatively harmless and with occasional exposure, the body might be able to manage their negative effects but it’s worth consider their ability to create inflammation each time we encounter them and then remember that reoccurring inflammation leads to damage and disease.

You see…as long as we keep bad inflammation damped down, that stranger we know as inflammation will be less encouraged to lurk around us.

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Being dangerously hot & bothered (1 of 2)

Being dangerously hot & bothered (1 of 2)

Now for some years and for a number of reasons, I have taken a preference in having a shower instead of a bath.

The convenience and speed that showering provides is clearly the main advantage of doing this and the fact that water consumption is also greatly reduced is another.

I also often found the concept of taking a soak in a bath; surrounded by the dirt I want to clean away a contradicting exercise, nevertheless I could see that there are circumstances where the therapeutic benefits of having a soak take priority.

I have a condition that sometimes creates muscle spasms and tension resulting in pain or discomfort in very hot and cold temperatures.
So, the opportunity to relax in a bath of Epsom salt or similar remedies was usually very helpful to alleviate my symptoms and enhance my state of wellbeing.

A number of years after been diagnosed with my condition, I had become aware that if I got too hot, a sense of lethargy often took over my body, causing me to temporarily slow down or gradually ground to a halt.

A cold drink, a fan or simply just stopping activities and resting for a while was usually all that was required to cool me down and allow a full return of body function.

Then one day, things changed and I was alone with my spirit guide.

I remember the evening of this day like it was yesterday. The sky had been covered in a grey blanket for most of the day and the rain fell continuously.
The weather had been pretty miserable and I wasn’t looking forward to my regular 4 mile cycle home but I just kept visualizing being sat with a glass of wine in my lounge room at home.

A few years back, I had restored the cast iron fireplace in this room and I loved this space…listening to the crackling sound of the fire, the smell of burning logs and watching the flames dancing was a treat after a busy day.

I held on to thoughts of being in front of the fire because by the time I set off on my bike, the rain was falling heavier than it had done all day and despite all the waterproof gear I was wearing I returned home tired and thoroughly drenched.

I was looking forward to a long soak in the tub.

I added a few drops of my favourite bath oil to the warm water and lit some tea lights, placing them around the room before getting in.
I sighed deeply as I closed my eyes, getting comfortable and ready to soak the day away. I was looking forward to wrapping up in my thick robe afterwards and sitting in front of the open fire with that glass of wine.

After maybe half an-hour, I became aware that I was slowly sliding under the water, so I tried to lift my knees, and move my arms to prop myself back up again.

This is when I realized that I couldn’t really feel my limbs anymore.

I tried to move but my whole body felt so weighted and the water began to feel like concrete that had just been poured over me in the bath tub.

I carried on sliding further down into the bath so that eventually water fully covered my shoulders and was now approaching my chin.
I could feel my heart beginning to pound so deeply that the water over my chest appeared to ripple.
I tried to call out to my husband and daughter who were somewhere in the house. I tried to shout but the only sound that came out was a whisper.

My head felt stuffy and I couldn’t think about the next thing to do. All the while, I was fixed on a sensation of the water level reaching my bottom lip.
I still could not move my limbs, and suddenly began to cry quietly and I asked my higher power to help me get out.

The punishing thing called Stress

The punishing thing called Stress

What is this thing we call stress?

It appears to be something of a buzzword that everyone uses these days to describe difficult or challenging life experiences.
Simply put, stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you sense danger—whether it’s real or imagined, the body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction or the “stress response”.

Everyone experiences stressful situations in many different forms throughout life. We’re often warned about what stress can do but do we really understand the impact of the wrong kind of stress or being continuously stressed?

To answer the question, we first need to know how the stress response system works.

When we feel threatened, our nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones including adrenaline and cortisol, which prepares the body for emergency action. The heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and our senses become sharper.

These physical changes increase body strength and stamina, speed reaction time, and enhance our focus—preparing us to either fight or flee from the danger at hand.
Once the perceived danger or emergency is over, our stress system is then free to return to a state of calm again-until the next time it’s called on.

Well, it’s true that when working properly, the stress response helps us stay focused, energetic, and alert which in emergency situations, can provide extra strength to defend and protect us in life situations.

In day-to-day living, stress is what keeps us on your toes for that works presentation job interview or maybe taking a driving test and stress can help us rise to meet challenges.

So yes, in an ideal situation, the stress system would work as described but instead, it seems to have so much more to be on guard against these days!

Our nervous system isn’t very good at distinguishing between emotional and physical threats so many more people are experiencing major difficulties managing their stress levels.

Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. It can suppress your immune system, upset your digestive and reproductive systems, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and speed up the aging process.

It can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.

A few health problems caused or exacerbated by stress include:

Depression and anxiety
Pain of any kind
Sleep problems
Autoimmune diseases
Digestive problems
Skin conditions, such as eczema
Heart disease
Weight problems
Reproductive issues
Thinking and problems with memory

Ok, I have to admit that I enjoy filling my time with all sorts of creative projects and I get a kick out of being ‘on the go’. I’m sure that my attitude developed as a result of having a childhood illness that meant I was sometimes in hospital-laid up in bed for weeks at a time.

So, I guess I am now the sort of person that prefers to be upright… always looking for challenging things to occupy myself with, whether on a recreational level or in my work.

I can sometimes bite off more than I can chew which left unchecked begins to produce the wrong chemicals in the body.
I know first- hand that beyond a certain point, the once productive stress that usually serves to keep us excited and focused slowly becomes like a poison running through the nervous system.
It starts causing major damage to our health, our mood, our productivity, our relationships, and our quality of life.

With an autoimmune condition, I am much more aware about how stress affects me. Negative thoughts, raised ugly voices during rows, anger and frustration are among the top worst emotions for me to engage in as they often result in a sudden, pounding headache, fatigue and numbness in my legs afterwards.
I once even developed a sort of temporary blindness in one eye after having a steaming row with a friend.

The Tragedy of burying loved ones and the mixed emotions I held after shutting down my 15 year design business also created the biggest and most destructive stress triggers that my system had dealt with in many years!
My body was shutting down because it was in a continuously, hightened state of shock.

I no longer had a calm period-but was instead quickly burning out. Around  this time, my autoimmune condition came to life and wouldn’t shut down. It is both fascinating and terrifying just how stress can affect us.

My saving grace was being able to first identify what was now fueling or creating a number of symptoms and then use a number of tools to begin calming my immune system-but it was still only after a couple of years of being so unwell that the ‘drowning feeling’ I’d had battled for so long, finally left my stress system.

If you tend to get stressed out frequently—as many of us do in today’s demanding world—your body may be in a heightened state of stress most of the time. And that can lead to serious health problems.

What can you do to keep an eye on your stress response system?

There are simple things you can do to try and consciously avoid some of the stress triggers I mentioned earlier.

Take a ‘time out’ break before your activities overwhelm you. Short breaks work best and are easier to factor in.
When you are here, use your ‘time out’ to meditate, listen to soothing music or engage your mind in a breathing awareness exercise.

I also believe that the act of recognizing that you are in a stressful situation in the first place and then working to remove it helps to manage and modify the long term negative impacts of living with the wrong kind of stress.
The techniques you can use for instant ‘calming’ are visualization and mantra work.

I like the fact that both can be used-and practiced anywhere and don’t cost anything! If I feel sad, anxious or nervous about something, the first thing to do is to try and slow the pace of your heart which is usually pounding or racing at that moment.

Leaving you with something I do:
To slow things down, I imagine that I’m in a garden surrounded by the sweetest smelling flowers that I really love such as freesia.
I take deep breaths to fully hold on to the smell and as I do this, I repeat a mantra in my head or out loud.
I also use this technique if I’m having some difficulty winding down or sleeping.
Lying in bed, I begin to repeat a mantra in my head and initially feel that it’s not working and I’m still awake but in the morning, I always wander how and when I finally drifted off.

What do you do?

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My ever changing brain

My ever changing brain

Our brains are described a being plastic. They continually remould neural connections as we learn experience and adapt.

When I was a child, I would sometimes imagine being small enough to get into a bubble that would take me on a journey around the inside of the body.
I had it all worked out…Skin was represented by a large blanket that I used to covered my tree house with.
Blood was the river that my bubble was floating on; that took me through the body…and bones were mountains, caves and crevices on the adventure.

Looking back on my imagination and my floating bubble, I realize that at that time in my life, I was just curious about finding the places in my body that were not well, so that they could be repaired.

You see, I spent periods of my childhood in hospital, undergoing surgery for a spine problem I had. It was either that or I was attending appointments with the specialists or having physiotherapy.
Throughout this time, I felt that whatever I was suffering from could be fixed.

Of course now as an adult, I am a little more realistic about what can be achieved when dealing with life’s health challenges BUT I still believe that there is so much that we don’t know about.
Maybe also being a survivor of meningitis and in a critical condition that doctors said I wouldn’t survive is a constant reminder of how unique we all are.

So, it’s safe to say that I’ve always been really fascinated with the complexities and magnificence of the human body and how it works.
If I hadn’t pursued my childhood passion that steered me towards the ‘Arts’, I feel sure that I would have taken a human biology path in the field of research for treatments to solve health problems.

Despite choosing the creative ‘Art’s field, I guess that my earliest life journey and experience with health issues has, in the background helped me develop as an avid researcher.

There are many subjects that interest me but none more than of that about the brain.
Over 20 years ago, I learned that scientists were now referring to the brain as being plastic.

This was a huge deal because before then, people did not believe that the brain could change or repair or be fixed if there was something wrong with it.
Scientists had believed that we were born with a certain number of non-replenishing cells that once used, or if damaged could not be repaired and would not be replaced. We now know that this is not true.

Correctly referred to as neuroplasticity, a study in 1998 found that the human brain has the ability to develop new brain cells and many studies followed, proving that the brain can change or be transformed to demonstrate plasticity.

A plastic brain!

I knew they didn’t mean it literally but at the time of hearing this news, I was briefly transported back to my child self again where I imagined everyone having a plastic brain.
I pictured the brain being made of multi-coloured building blocks that slotted together and I imagined that each block represented something that made us function.

Sadly, after accidents or as a result of various autoimmune diseases, many people are often still told that the damage sustained or created is permanent and this is clearly the case for many people.

Having said this, I don’t feel that this is in any way balanced with the fact that there are those that experience partial improvements when they were told this would never happen.
And, why is it that others can also even experience complete recovery of their disability over time?

Well, new connections can form, creating new pathways that ultimately change the structure of the brain. New neurons, also called nerve cells are constantly being born as old ones die but a balance of cells is maintained while the brain undergoes repair.

So you see, while I respect and appreciate the opinions of many medical professionals, they are not encouraged to spend too much time considering the unimaginable power that is always changing the brains potential.

For this reason, I remain completely in awe of the brain and what it is capable of achieving.

I have always referred to the brain as the hub, containing a network of muscles that support everything about us, so it’s easy to understand that some physical or mental difficulties can be downgraded or illuminated by exercising the associated brain muscles.

Below is a link to an interesting article

Repairing the brain

Being dangerously hot & bothered (part 2 of 2)

Being dangerously hot & bothered (part 2 of 2)

I was gripped with fear and terrified that I was going to drown and that my family would be the ones to find me in this state.
I imagined family members blaming themselves for not being there to save me, so I decided that I couldn’t go.

I closed my eyes and started breathing deeply and slowly and I began to visualise being able to move my left arm to reach the chain attached to the bath plug.

When I could eventually feel the chain, it took a while and every bit of focus to hook my finger around the chain, pulling the plug out from the plughole- allowing water to start draining away.
Listening to water draining away was emotionally overwhelming. I cried with joy but it wasn’t over yet…
I still hoped that the water would drain away quicker than the rate that I was still sliding under.

At last, I was lying in an empty bath tub-now cooling to the point that I felt quite cold and as my body temperature dropped, I was able to move my limbs and wiggle my fingers and toes again.

I lay in an empty bath, suffering from shock but thanking my spirit guide for keeping me company while I worked out my survival plan.
When I eventually got out of the bath and out of the bathroom, my husband couldn’t get a proper sentence out of me.

So what was actually happening during this time?

Known as: Heat Intolerance, Temperature or Heat sensitivity

There is a part of the brain called the hypothalamus which is responsible for controlling your body temperature, keeping it at the right temperature in hot or cold conditions. It does this by sending signals to the body to start sweating if it gets too hot, or shivering if it gets cold.

For those who have an existing medical condition, the hypothalamus does not work as well as it should and so may not be able to regulate the body so easily.

Many people enjoy warmer temperatures, but some people with autoimmune or neurological conditions such as; Hypothyroidism, Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia and Parkinson’s to name a few have problems in the heat.

Difficulties regulating body temperature can be a serious issue for this group of people because the heat can stop nerve fibres from working properly. This means that sometimes messages cannot get through to from the brain leaving sufferers to experience fatigue, weakness, difficulty breathing and problems with balance or vision.
These symptoms compromise safety and may create dangerous situations similar to the one I had.

But after almost a decade of avoiding the bath tub, I decided that with careful planning and now with a better understanding, I could return to having an occasional soak in the bath.

What are the things I do or use that make bath time safe again for me?

1 ) Use a rubber suction bath mats (reduces ability of slipping or sliding down in the bath tub

2 ) Position of plughole –
Ensure that the chain is securely connected to the plug and that you can usually reach this easily if required.
The plug hole being positioned in the middle of the tub instead of at the head or tail was a saving grace.

3 ) I keep a container of ice cold water next to me on the rim of the bath and drink this as soon as I begin to feel that I’m overheating.

4 ) On the very few occasions that I decide to have a soak in the bath, I don’t lock the door.

Thank you for reading my article