Thursday, January 19, 2012

Life Lesson 128: Intro: How do you Define Depression?

        Recently, I’ve spent several long and sleepless nights deep in thought, trying to understand and in some way define depression.  In the midst of my sleep deprived search, I made many discoveries; not only concerning depression, but also about myself.  I’m neither a doctor or a psychologist, nor do I have any expertise in this area.  What I do have is many years of field experience (and some hand to hand combat training ;-).  I’ve experienced life and death, (not death personally of course, but nearly several times) love and loss, health and sickness, joy and happiness, as well as pain and suffering.  In my short 34 years, I feel like in many ways I’ve already lived several lifetimes.  Although I don’t have a fancy certificate hanging on my wall, what I can bring to the table is my past experiences and the life lessons they’ve taught me.
    Webster’s definition of depression is, “A state of feeling sad : dejection (2) : a psycho neurotic or psychotic disorder marked especially by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentration, a significant increase or decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping, feelings of dejection and hopelessness, and sometimes suicidal tendencies.”
       Although I agree with Webster’s definition, I feel depression goes so much deeper than that.  As I pondered back upon the many times I struggled with depression in my life, I realized they were all brought about by completely different circumstances.  Looking back at how each situation arose, I found there were similarities, yet they were all totally diverse in other ways.  Each time I had to find new ways to cope and deal with every bout of depression and its corresponding symptoms.  I realized depression is different for most individuals; and usually manifests in different ways depending on the reason and situation for which it comes about. By taking a magnifying glass and looking into my past, as well as brainstorming with many of my friends; I’ve been able to identify various types of depression. I’ve identified five specific types (which I gave my own personal “labels”) and then gave a few examples of each below in this blog. Over the next couple of weeks I will individually blog about each one in detail, along with my own personal experiences.
               “Traumatic Depression” tends to be the hardest to deal with initially.  It strikes unexpectedly right after a specific and usually traumatic incidence occurs.  Typically this type of depression is accompanied by a decrease in appetite, inability to sleep, but usually resolves once the incident is over and you have time to deal with it emotionally.  For example: an accident or shocking event, any type of abuse, dealing with a terminal illness, divorce, a death...
      “Deep Dark Depression” is another type of depression that also involves a negative occurrence, but is likely to be more long term.  The symptoms tend to be all across the board, although the state of depression is usually more severe, due to the circumstance that you have to overcome.  However, there is always the hope that things will get better once you learn to cope with your situation.  Examples of this are: losing your job and struggling to find another one, financial losses/crisis or bankruptcy, unhappy or struggling marriages, difficulties parenting and/or problem children, being diagnosed and living with a chronic illness…
    Then there is just the feeling of “General Depression”, where you can’t get out of bed and for the most part you don’t even know why.  The rain makes you feel miserable, the clouds make you feel unhappy, even commercials make you want to cry.  You find yourself wearing dark colors and either you can’t eat a thing or you crave everything in sight.  Your social life becomes too much work and not worth the effort.  Eventually you find yourself spending hours watching TV and movies, or curled up with a good book to avoid the outside world.  No matter how much you sleep, you still always feel tired.  It seems there is no end to your misery and no hope in sight because you don’t even know why you are depressed in the first place.
    Next is the type of depression that is simply hereditary.  You can be an incredibly smart, fun, ‘normal’, happy person; yet depression can still strike at anytime if it’s “Genetic Depression”.  There is nothing wrong or to be embarrassed about (nor with any of these forms of depression), it just means you may just need a little help to overcome it.  Almost every family has some form of depression in their genes, even in my ‘perfect’ family- Lol.  Many of us are familiar with the term bi-polar disorder, but most of us probably don’t know too much about it.  People suffering from it are oftentimes (and unfairly) are labeled crazy, when they are only misunderstood. With some medication and often times counseling, their lives can totally be transformed.  No one should ever have to live in misery for no reason.
     Lastly, or the last one we came up with, is “Hormonal Depression” or side effects caused from a medication you may be taking.  For instance: postpartum depression, thyroid disease, menopause (or mental-pause as we like to call it in my house) or the one I’m the most familiar with on a regular basis- post steroid withdrawal depression.  Actually, other than ‘sympathetic’ menopause, I’m all too familiar with all of the above.  These are simply an imbalance of hormones in your body, or an imbalance due to a medication you’re taking that’s not reacting well to your body, which can cause all kinds of havoc.
    These are the five types of depression I came up with, and yet I know there are so many more.  As I mentioned before, I’m not a doctor nor a counselor; I’m merely taking this opportunity to blog specifically on each one of the different types of depression that have affected my life.  I’d love all the feedback, comments and input all of you have to offer about any of other types of depression that have affected your life.  I know it’s not easy to open up publically, so I want to thank all of you who are willing to share your experiences.  I would love to have guest Bloggers as well if any of you are interested.
     The word ‘Depression’ has such a negative stigma attached to it, and for years it wasn’t even talked about for fear of being labeled unstable... or much worse.  No one wanted to go on anti-depressant medications, or even admit to being on them, for fear of what people would think.  Lucky for us, society has become much more tolerant, better educated, and social media has recently opened the door for us to be able to reach out and help one another.  This is my goal and I hope many of you will join me in my quest.
    My positive thought for the day:  Today  1/18/12) I am so very, very thankful for the six inches of snow we received so that it finally felt like winter (besides just the holidays and frigid cold).  The white winter wonderland was so breathtaking I found curled up in my recliner, wrapped up in my fleece blanket, drinking hot chocolate, looking out the window, lost in happy thoughts for what felt like eternity.  I’m also so very thankful my kids are young enough to still love playing for hours in the snow, making snow forts and building snowmen.  Watching them play blissfully made me happier then I’ve been in a long time. Yet, I’m also so very thankful my kids are old enough to shovel the driveway and the sidewalk, so I didn’t have to do it myself J.  My amazing son also shoveled the sidewalk of four of neighbors as a surprise and “just to help them out”. I am a proud mother!  Today was a good day.  No, today was a GREAT day!!!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Life Lesson 127: Depression: Waiting for the Light at the End of the Tunnel...

I think that most of us are generally seeking the light at the end of the tunnel, and I don’t mean the brilliant light you picture after death when your spirit is floating towards heaven (or at least I hope that’s where I’m headed… ;-).  The ‘light’ I’m talking about is different for each one of us.  Right now for some people, their light is graduating from school, getting a job, giving birth, paying off a loan, or finally getting time off and taking a vacation.  For others, their light is more of a long term goal- financial security, successfully raising a family, possibly retirement, an overall health certificate, independence, etc… Yet for some people, their light is simply to be able to get out of bed in the morning without feeling exhausted, function throughout the day, and feel happy instead of sad/stressed/frustrated/lonely  or whichever ailing emotion has currently taken temporary residence   instead.
I fit into that third category at this present time in my life.  After months of clouds and darkness, I want this seemingly infinite rainstorm to end so I can see the sun, bask in its warmth, and let it fill me once again with light.   As I mentioned in my last blog, ‘Try as you might, Life isn’t always sunshine and roses’, I’ve been having a real struggle lately.  My health has been giving me numerous problems, I haven’t been working much for quite some time, I have no idea how I’m going to continue to be able to provide for my family, and the list goes on and on.  It’s a scary time for me, and if it wasn’t for the book I’m furiously writing, I don’t know what I’d be hanging on to at this point. 
I had lunch with one of my best friends a few weeks ago who ask me if I was depressed.  I immediately refuted “No, of course not”!  You see, I’ve been depressed before and I remember all too well what it feels like.  I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t function, and I dropped out of society completely (this was after my Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis).  I assured myself that I’m not doing anything of those things currently, or at least not anywhere to that extent.  However, after our lunch meeting, his question kept nagging at me.  I began to wonder if there are varying degrees of depression?  In some way could I be depressed and not even realize it?  I pondered this statement for quite some time (more like fought it tooth and nail), yet once I really honestly thought about it, I began to change my mind.
 I feared if I was to succumb to his diagnosis, then I’d wind up in a psychiatrist’s office.  The doctor would have me lay down on his couch and attempt to hypnotize me (at least that’s how they do it on the movies).  Then I’d open up, cry like a baby while I poured out my heart and soul concerning the recent woes of my life.  Then I’d have to fill out his chart listing of all the ‘circumstances I am currently dealing with’. After that I’m pretty sure he’d put me in a straight jacket and immediately commit me into some scary mental hospital. For two reasons, I’d somehow fit right into their own category of ‘certifiably insane’ (who is normal anyways) and they’d see it profitable to be able to rack up my insurance with a pretty hefty bill.  I felt doomed.
There is no question that I’m suffering, both physically and emotionally.  Five years ago I wouldn’t have admitted that fact even if I was captured by the enemy and tortured relentlessly.  But times have changed and I’ve been severely humbled.  Everyone knows you can’t fight a debilitating disease without being both physically and emotionally injured.  We all have our own way of dealing with different circumstances that come into our lives. Some conditions are harsher than others, and demand more time for recovery.  However, you can always find some light at the end of the tunnel if that is what you are seeking.  It comes from within.  It’s your internal light that gets you through each day, but it predominately depends upon your attitude.  Believe me, I know it isn’t always easy to be positive; I’ve spent my fair share of days in bed.  The one thing we do have is a choice, and that is the choice to stay optimistic, be thankful, remember the good, and keep trudging on.
I have decided to dedicate this next month to all those who are struggling out there, and need to know They Are Not Alone!  I’m going to open up and talk about depression, my own personal past experiences with depression, and how I overcame those dark times in my life.  I want to keep it real, honest, and deep down to the core; in hopes that I can reach out to others who are struggling and in need of a lifeline.  Unfortunately, this may not always be cheerful and pretty, and I strive to keep my blog positive and uplifting.  So at the end of each post, I’m going to close with something important in my life I give thanks for each and every day.  I hope each of you will take the time  to do the same in your own lives.  I look forward to your responses. Be well :-)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Life Lesson 126: Life isn’t always Sunshine and Roses...

I’m sure you’ve all noticed I haven’t blogged in quite a while.  Unfortunately, I’ve had unwelcome thunder clouds that have taken a temporary residency above me these past few months.  I try never to get caught up in ugly thunderstorms, nor wallow in depression or self pity. I know without a doubt that my life, as well as everyone and everything in it are blessings that I’m so very thankful for daily.  HOWEVER, lately I can’t seem to find the silver lining in these freaking clouds that just keep dumping AND dumping down on me.  I’m surrounded by dark skies, pounding rain, and unending puddles to slosh through.  Just when I see a hint of sunshine and begin to have a glimmer of hope, another storm comes in out of nowhere.  When will it ever end?  I keep waiting for the news to change, listening for the weatherman to tell me health, happiness, ease, and bliss are in MY forecast.  Sadly, it just hasn’t happened yet…
Last night I had dinner with one of my Best Friends in the world.  We had a great talk and she gave me some of the best advice I’ve had in a long time.  We’ve known each other for awhile, 11 years to be exact.  I saw my first neurologist who gave me the grim news that I had MS when I was only 21, three full years before I met this dear friend.  She doesn’t even know the ‘Real me, whom was all I could talk about last night (the person before MS and all my health problems hit).  I got teary eyed as I confessed how much I missed the old Heidi; the girl who was intelligent, witty, well spoken, had a nearly photographic memory, no fear, raced motorcycles, loved learning and school, had numerous jobs and boundless energy, never worried about money, and I went on and on.  Although she knows almost everything that happens in my life, I filled her in on my latest crises.  She listened intently, as she always does, but this time with sadness in her eyes (there is nothing like a great friend who will just let you vent and never judges). She then replied with some of the greatest Life Lessons I needed to learn. (Apparently I have a lot of learning left to do!!!)
One of the first things she brought up was the fact I hadn’t blogged in a while, and how she missed reading my comments.  (Cool- someone actually reads my blog ;-)  Then, although I can’t come close to verbatim so I won’t even try (hence no quotes), here is the basic summary of what she said:  Princess Heidi, (oh wait- she didn’t actually address me as princess, I just imagined that) none of the people currently in your life have any expectations of you.  I didn’t know you before you had MS, and I don’t care about the ‘person’ you used to be, who you think could do anything and everything.  I’m not the only one who feels this way.  Most of your current friends would do anything for you, and the majority of them didn’t know you before you had MS.  We didn’t know the intelligent, (I think she said that…) successful and strong woman that you miss.  We all know you for who you are today.  And that person is a good friend, who would help anyone at anytime without ever expecting anything in return, fun loving, spontaneous, and lives her life to the fullest.  So quit trying to be who you were in the past- none of us expect it.  We don’t care that you are so exhausted most of the time, or that you usually can’t remember our last conversation, nor that we have to drive all the way across town to pick you up if we want to hang out with you.  What we love is your smile, the way you laugh harder and louder than anyone else, your zest for life, and your positive attitude. The conversation was more specific than that, then followed by a much needed wake up call…
In a very nice way she called me out on my ability to make new friends, find new activities or acts of service etc., or anything else in order to avoid dealing with all the negative aspects (namely medical issues I haven’t taken care of) that I’m currently experiencing and need to confront head on.  ‘Denial’ should have been my middle name because I’ve mastered it in every aspect.  Instead of feeling deflated, her pep talk gave me courage and made me ready to face every hardship in my life, armed with nothing except a butter knife.  Not much of a weapon, but certainly better than my current defense- DENIAL! 
As I continued listening, I not only began to appreciate Her and all MY AMAZING FRIENDS even more than I already did, but I also saw my own life unraveled before me, in a third person’s perspective.  My eyes were opened and I was forced to confront many truths I’d been evading (actually just hiding from- with my useless shield and pathetic butter knife).  I’d been avoiding seeking medical attention in fear of another scary diagnosis that I simply didn’t want to confront. Not to mention I hadn’t been blogging in fear of posting something someone wouldn’t think was good enough or ever writing something negative (there is enough negativity already in this world).  These are just two examples of my many shortcomings. I listened to every word and was ready at this point to battle any demon in my path.  So that’s what I’m going to do right now, or for as long as I can remember I pledged to do so.  I’m going to face my fears, all of my issues, and those nasty storms head on.  Denial is just a river in Egypt, not my middle name anymore.  I’m going to fear less and fight more (in a good way of course, not the way that lands you in jail bloody and toothless).  At this point in my life, I have nothing to lose… LITERALLY!!!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Life Lesson 125: The Keys to Happiness

Over the past decades, I’ve learned endless lessons regarding life, hope, and happiness.  It was through experience that I learned one of life’s most important lessons- the Keys to Happiness.  I had it wrong all my life; I was expecting to find ‘happiness’ down all the wrong avenues.  As a child, outside of my family’s unconditional love, I thought happiness would come from all the 'things' I desperately wanted.  So I asked for the coolest toys and latest fads, and of course anything my friends had.  I just knew that once I possessed that particular ‘item’, I’d be very happy.  Unfortunately that happiness and excitement never lasted, soon after I’d find myself wanting something else newer and better. 
As an adult, I believed that true happiness would finally come once I got married and had kids.  After that I thought it was dependent on building my dream house, making enough money to get rid of the financial stresses in my life, buying the new car I wanted, and the list goes on.  It wasn’t until I achieved each and every one of these milestones that I realized that once again- this type of happiness was also short lived.
Next I began to speculate whether happiness came from love and relationships.  I sought out to love, and be loved in return.  Surly this would bring me the happiness I longed for.  I met some fantastic people, dated some really great guys, and filled my life with love and amazing friendships.  I was happy most often, yet in a way it was superficial.  Without realizing it, I’d become dependent on the people in my life to make me happy.  If they were happy, so was I.  If they were sad, I followed suit.  I became a chameleon to the emotions of the company I kept, as well as whatever environment I was in.   I decided to surround myself with only cheerful, positive people who made me laugh and who shared their joy unreservedly with me as well.  Although it boosted my spirits significantly, this happiness was dependent on others and also did not last. 
 Over the next couple of years I continued on my quest to find long lasting happiness.  At that point, I figured happiness must come from within, so I began soul searching.  I spent a lot of time in earnest prayer and meditation.  I discovered many things about myself that I’d never known.  Around that same time I went on my first 30 day water only fast.  It was a spectacular experience which opened my eyes to a whole new wondrous world.  Finally, I thought for sure I had it all figured out and that my new found happiness was here to stay.  I was on cloud nine for some time following my fast, feeling that I had achieved some sort of higher learning and nirvana.   
Sadly, within several months I became very, very ill due to my Multiple Sclerosis.  I was housebound, bedridden, and in more pain that I ever imagined I could handle.  To make matters worse, I awoke one morning to find I’d gone blind in my right eye, which sadly to this day the sight has never returned.  This left me feeling frustrated, weak and vulnerable.  My cognitive and physical abilities continued to diminish, as did faith and hope.  I found myself in the deepest, darkest depression of my entire life.  When I lost my health, my happiness disappeared.  I lost my desire to socialize, eat, communicate, get out of bed, and eventually I lost my will to live.  That horrific statement is one of the hardest things for me to admit, but honestly at that time in my life, I just longed to get to the Other Side, where pain, anguish, despair and fear didn’t exist.  (I will blog about this ordeal and my depression soon). 
I struggled day in and day out, thinking things would never get any better.  I’d given up on all hope, isolating myself and feeling completely alone.  At last, one day my boyfriend insisted I go with him to Costco just to get me out of the house.   I finally agreed, knowing I needed a change of scenery.  While browsing down one of the isles, we heard a couple nearby laughing hysterically.  In fact, their laughter was so infectious that we found ourselves inexplicably drawn to them like two moths to a flame.  We followed the sound of their laughter to another aisle, curious to see what had them in such an elated mood. 
To this day, I can still see every detail as if it happened yesterday.  There in front of us was a young couple, barely in their early twenties.  He was seated in a wheelchair, very handsome and sporting a short military haircut.   Further examination revealed that he only had one arm remaining, and to my astonishment both of his legs had been removed above his knees.  Their laughter increased as they continued trying slippers on his ‘stumps’.  I watched them in awe.  Just then his sweet wife bent down and gave him one of the most tender and loving kisses I’ve ever had the privilege of witnessing.  The unconditional love between them emanated as vividly as a warm and colorful sunset.  Watching them absolutely melted my heart and brought tears to my eyes.  
Sadly, I watched the sorrowful stares he received from others passing by, gawking and pitying him.  I initially hurt for him as well, angry that he would have to suffer the rest of his life, confined to his wheelchair as well as forced to be completely dependent on others for most of his needs (my own personal greatest fear since I initially suspected I had MS).  I expected him to feel the same way, to show signs of resentment, frustration, and depression.  Clearly he displayed none of these.  Not only was he head over heels in love, but happiness radiated from his very soul.  I was the one who had misjudged him.  As the scene continued to unravel before my eyes, humility and shame took over, and all I want to do was run and hide.  I realized that I was the one people should have been staring at, full of judgment and pity, for behaving like such a fool in my life.  I didn’t deserve any sympathy for my disability, only for the fact I’d been so self absorbed and shallow.  I knew at that moment I needed a severe attitude adjustment, as well as forgiveness and mercy from my Father in Heaven. I'd been struggling to face this all on my own, when I needed Him the most.
  I’d spent the last year of my life succumbed to a state of depression, plagued by negativity over all the things I could no longer do, because of my MS.  I’d become a pessimist, who was self-absorbed and unable to see past all of my own personal hardships.  My entire focus had been on the things I’d lost; my vision, ability to walk at times, my cognitive abilities, strength, etc.  I was literally obsessing over the ‘what if’s’ of my future, while continuing to wallow in a constant state of despair.  Not once had it occurred to me instead to be thankful for everything I still possessed.  I’d selfishly been too busy being angry for all that had been taken away. 
The devastation I’d first felt after seeing someone so young and full of life, sentenced to this newly disfigured body vanished.  It was replaced with respect and admiration as I now saw him for who he truly was, a fighter who’d beat the odds, conquered depression and negativity, rose above his hardships, and come out on top of a devastating ordeal.  Instead of being angry and miserable over his current lot in life, he was simply happy to be alive.  Life, something we take for granted every day, was the very thing he was so thankful for, not to mention his greatest source of joy.  Despite his youth, he’d triumphed over his tragedy and discovered the keys to happiness. 
I quietly walked away, overwhelmed by my emotions, the need to change, repent, and desperate to apply this new-found bliss in my life.  By observing this valiant young man, I discovered these three keys to happiness.  First, Happiness is a Choice. Until You Decide within yourself to be happy, you never will be happy.  Second, Happiness is a Matter of Perspective.  My perspective of what happiness is may be different than another’s.  Right now in my current situation, living with MS, also struggling with other health problems, bogged down with significant financial issues, unsure some days how I will cope alone as a single parent- especially with my severe fatigue, etc.; may make it seem like I live an unhappy life. Yet I know there are people living all over the world who have been praying for things I have in my life and would trade me places in an instant, regardless of my circumstances.  What may seem like a hardship for me, may be a gift to someone else.  For instance, a personal dying with a terminal illness vs. MS, a person in a third world country whose never had decent food, shelter or clothing vs. financial hardships, or perhaps a mother who’s never been able to bear children vs. struggling single mom.  These are just a few examples of how Perspective is Different for Everyone. The third key is to Simplify Your View of  Happiness.   The best example is the story above, of the extraordinary couple who realized that Happiness is Simply the Gift of Life, waking up each day, and the chance to live here on this beautiful earth. 
Although this brave and wise young man is responsible for the entire shift in my life, as well as unlocking the keys to happiness in my life; it doesn’t mean I’m  happy every second of the day and that I run around singing “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah” all day long.  I wish it were that simple.  I truly am a very happy and positive person, but I still have my bad days too.  My emotions rise, my temper may flare, and once in a while depression still rears its ugly face.  At least now I have the tools and knowledge to get down on my knees, put my life back in perspective, choose to be happy once again, and thank God that I am alive.  It is my hope that each of you will also be able to apply these keys to happiness in your own life as well.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Life Lesson 124: Life is a very Precious Gift we should Never take for Granted!

             This is by far the most difficult blog I’ve written.  As I’m typing I can’t stop the tears from streaming down my face.  Knowing what I’m about to share makes my heart ache in a way I’ve never experienced.  This blog has been a work in progress, most days I’ve been too emotional to write more than a few lines or so.  I’m still trying to sort through the pieces and come to terms with this devastating situation that has hit my family like a hurricane.  Through the tears and emotional rollercoaster, I’m learning some of the greatest lessons of my life.  Yet I don’t want to learn them this way, not through the potential loss of a loved one, accompanied by mind-numbing pain and sorrow.  I don’t think any of us truly comprehend how precious life is until it’s threatened to be taken away from us.  My hope by sharing this very intimate and personal blog is that together we can all learn from this unfortunate and heart-wrenching situation, then make any necessary changes in our own lives without having a doctor tell us we only have ‘X’ number of days or years left to live.
                A few weeks ago I received the shocking news that my oldest sister was in the hospital, struggling for her life.  Less than two months prior, she’d been in an automobile accident while on vacation.  They took X-rays of her chest, which led to a CT scan, and to everyone’s astonishment they unexpectedly found her lungs covered in cysts.   The doctor gave his best guess as to what may be causing the problem, but it was a small county hospital that wasn’t equipped to deal with her unusual situation.  She was told to see a pulmonologist immediately when she returned home.  For several reasons (denial runs deep in our family;) she put off seeing the specialist right away.  She was also struggling with a kidney and sinus infection, which she was treating and hoped to have under control before she saw the pulmonologist.  Unfortunately she waited too long and suddenly became so weak she could hardly function, and she was struggling to catch her breath.
      By the time she was admitted to the hospital she’d gained nearly 30 pounds of fluid and her potassium and sodium levels were so low it was amazing she was still functioning.  The doctors struggled to slowly increase these levels, while draining the fluids from her struggling lungs, and they began running numerous tests.  What they saw in the CT scan, along with her symptoms, has led them to diagnose her with Lymphangioleiomyomatosis  (LAM), an extremely rare lung disease that mostly affects women in their mid 30’s and 40’s.  There are less than 1,500 documented cases in the United States, making treating her difficult.   In LAM, abnormal, muscle-like cells begin to grow out of control in certain organs or tissues, especially the lungs, lymph nodes, and kidneys.  It is a genetic disease, which except for a few rare instances only affects women, so the hormone estrogen also may play a role in causing LAM.  Unfortunately there is no cure, and the disease tends to worsen over time. How quickly the disease worsens varies from woman to woman.
                I keep asking myself over and over again, why did this have to happen to MY sister?  She is the most kind, sensitive, thoughtful, and loving person.  She takes extremely good care of her body with an exceptional diet of organic foods, exercise, and she has been an advocate of complementary medicine even before it became the ‘fad’.  All she ever wanted in her life was to get married and become a mother.  She tried for over 20 years to become pregnant and has undergone every fertility measure available in order to conceive.  At last, five very happy years ago, she and her husband were able to adopt a baby.  Her life was now complete, and watching her as a mother would absolutely melt your heart.  Finally, she has been living her dream until less than a month ago, when she was delivered this horrific blow.  While in the hospital her doctor roughly gave her five years to live, possible eight years if she is able to get a lung transplant. What do you do, how do you function, and in what manner do you live your life after finding out you only have a short time left to live? 
                My sister is my hero now more than ever.  When given the devastating news, instead of collapsing into a state of anger, denial, and depression; she informed the doctor that the life expectancy he gave her was plenty of time to heal herself.  Her strength and courage absolutely blow me away.  I couldn’t be more proud of her and the example she is setting.  If there is anyone in this entire world who has the ability to heal themselves, I can promise you it is my sister!  She has told us in no uncertain terms that she didn’t spend her entire life doing everything in her power to become a mother, to then leave her child behind.  I admire her tenacity and I know it will take her far.  She has had the most optimistic attitude and is constantly reminding us of the Law of Attraction.  She only wants to talk and think positively, and is solely focusing on the things she wants in her life, (especially good health) instead of letting fear and negative thoughts take over.  She is amazing!
     As a mother myself, I can’t even fathom all the emotions and thoughts that are going through her head as she struggles to process her situation and all that is ahead of her.  Just thinking about it causes my tears once again to spill over and pool on the keyboard of my laptop.  Not having all the answers is one of the hardest parts, followed by coming to terms and relinquishing control (which we never had in the first place).  This is in God’s hands, as it always has been.  Knowing that He is in the driver’s seat, with my incredible sister beside Him in the passenger’s seat, gives me a feeling of complete peace; although at times I still have a hard time accepting the circumstances.
     Life is a precious gift, one we often take for granted.  I used to take walking for granted until for a time I lost my ability to walk due to my Multiple Sclerosis.  I also took my vision for granted until I woke one morning and I’d gone blind in one eye, and I’ve continued to struggle with the sight in my ‘good’ eye as well.  I used to complain about how much I hated driving, (traffic, idiotic drivers, gas was too expensive, etc.) that is until I lost my ability to drive at times, depending on my vision.  I’ve never thought twice about breathing, because it comes so naturally, that is until my sister was put on oxygen as she was struggling and fighting to get her breath.  I believe we should be spending more time on our knees, our spirits meek and humble, overcome in earnest prayer and meditation.  We should be thanking our Father in Heaven for all the little things, as well as the big things we’ve been blessed with and unfortunately taken for granted all this time.  This is the time to look inside your heart and find compassion, humility, mercy, appreciation, selflessness and unconditional love.  Don’t wait until it’s too late to focus on the positive and all your precious relationships.  Extend forgiveness to those you feel have wronged you and ask for forgiveness from those you’ve hurt.  Enjoy sunrises and sunsets, let your inner child surface, live life to the fullest, laugh, love without conditions, smile often, and when you get the chance to sit it out or dance… I hope you Dance!!!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Life Lesson 123: My 15 day Fast Extended- Unbelievable Emotional & Spiritual Cleansing!

Once I’d completed my 15 day water only fast, not only was I feeling much better than I expected, but I was also continuing to release abundant amounts of pent-up emotions that were fighting to be expelled from my body.  I felt a very strong urge to prolong my fast until I felt emotionally and spiritually ready to quit.  I set a goal for another week, as long as my body could physically handle it. 
                Days 16 and 17 were a breeze.  I wasn’t hungry at all, however I basically cried for the better part of those two days, in addition to a couple of emotional outbursts.  The more I cried the better I felt.  Finally, for the first time during my fast, I actually knew what I was crying about.  At last I was caught up and had dealt with all my past emotions, releasing buried issues and feelings I didn’t even know I was still harboring.  Almost immediately, I became consumed with grief and fear concerning the current emotional crises that recently entered into my life, which somehow I’d been yet again suppressing.  (I will blog about them very soon, however at this point in my fast I couldn’t even talk about any of it without completely breaking down.)  The tears continued to fall and I seriously began to wonder if I’d ever be normal again.  The good news is that I was so emotionally drained and exhausted that I began sleeping again.  Goodbye insomnia!
           On day 18 I woke up starving, but only specifically craving certain foods.  In my gut I knew this was my body’s way of telling me I was lacking something I definitely needed.  I had my blood drawn that very morning and sure enough the results came back showing that my potassium and sodium were now too low, and my kidneys weren’t functioning as they should.  It was now time to break my fast.  I had mixed emotions; although I knew my body needed nutrients in order to survive, I still felt like I had a lot of emotional cleansing left to do.  Unfortunately, it was out of my hands, so that evening I began juicing. You’d think I would have been so excited for my first sip of sweet, luscious watermelon juice (everything tastes exquisite after you’ve fasted and have an impeccably cleansed palate), yet this fast was different.  I can’t exactly explain how, but everything felt unusual and not like any of my previous fasts.  Although my body looked and felt great, as soon as I started the ‘re-feed’ process, I noticed a significant overall decline.  My body rapidly began to retain water again, and you are only supposed to gain back a couple of pounds.

Breaking your fast correctly and introducing foods back into your system the proper way are equally as important as fasting properly.  For each week you fast, you must follow a process and specifically begin to ‘re-feed’ your body starting with one day of juicing (only fresh fruits and vegetables run through a juicer),  one day of raw fruits and vegetables, and finally a day where you can add steamed vegetables to your diet.    Improperly returning to specific foods (gluten and flour, processed foods, meats and other non-organic foods that are filled with hormones and pesticides), or rapidly returning to improper foods, undoes many benefits of the fast.  It’s during the re-feed process when you develop the habits necessary for long term success.  No matter how well you do on your fast, if you don’t make the necessary lifestyle changes and new healthy eating habits, unfortunately your old cravings, symptoms, and problems are going to want to return.  So in this particular fast, although I didn’t quite make it to 21 days, I still treated the re-feed process as if I had.  

During my first three days I only had freshly juiced fruits and vegetables.  I preferred watermelons, apples, carrots, tomatoes, and my very favorite- young coconut milk.  The next three days I relished in diced tomatoes, avocados, cucumbers and zucchini.  For some reason I craved all vegetables at this point and no fruits.  After I’d completed the ‘raw’ phase, I satisfied my cravings for steamed carrots, broccoli and potatoes.  I think you are supposed to wait to eat potatoes, yet I was craving them so badly I assumed my body needed them.  After nine long days  I was free to add regular foods (preferably a vegan diet) and all I’ve craved and wanted to eat since is curry. Weird!  Everyone keeps asking how much weight I’ve lost.  I’d begun retaining so much water prior to my fast that the first three days I lost about 14 pounds of solely water weight.  After that, I continued a very slow but steady weight loss of a pound every couple of days or so.  I didn’t have as much to lose this time, so my weight loss was a lot less than the average.

I’m still continuing to drink plenty of water, particularly with freshly squeezed lemon.  Emotionally and spiritually, I feel better than I have in years, actually four years to be exact (since my last fast). Each fast I’ve undergone, I’ve experienced some sort of spiritual enlightenment (so to speak).  Each one has been different, yet always life changing.  This fast, as I’ve detailed, was a huge emotional release for me.  However, it became a spiritual awakening where I gained an amazing connection with life (all life- human, animal, plant, etc.), and I’m continuing down this path of developing a sense of oneness with the universe. I feel like I have a new understanding, appreciation, and overall peaceful awareness concerning life and death.  Emotionally, I’m back to ‘normal’ (well at least I’m not walking around in a constant state of tears and acting like a basket case anymore) and I feel like I’ve had the most enormous weight lifted off my shoulders.  Most of my fears, worries, stresses, etc. have begun to melt away (or perhaps they’ve been tearfully washed away) and replaced with feelings of peace and contentment, despite the many unfortunate circumstances I’m struggling with.  It’s the most beautiful and incredible place to be in life, especially since I’ve had so much to deal with lately.  I feel especially blessed and grateful for each and every person in my life, everything I’m fortunate enough to have, and the amazing world I’ve been privileged to live in.  I realize that every experience, relationship, and opportunity I’ve been given are precious gifts, for which I will be eternally grateful for.

I wish I could say that this 18 day fast took away all my illnesses, and that I no longer suffer or feel pain.  Not to worry, that’s an unrealistic expectation that I never went into my fast looking to receive.  However, I do feel peaceful and cleansed; along with a renewed spirit that ironically feels like a fresh start, almost as if I’ve been given a new lease on life.  I’ve come to view my less than perfect body as merely a physical being; which lately has felt like a rented piece of equipment that I’ve leased for ‘X’ amount of years.  I’m pretty sure my body is a ‘lemon’, but I’m sorry to say that in real life you don’t get to trade your body in for a new and improved one.  Instead, you must make the most out of the one you were given, treating it the very best you possibly can in order to get the greatest potential use out of it.  Yet in the end, it’s still just a physical body; which comes in all different sizes and shapes.  Some are beautiful, others more ordinary, and if you’re lucky you get one that’s strong, healthy, and in great shape.  Unfortunately, many struggle to make do with damaged or handicapped bodies that may be crippled or disfigured.  The most critical and important thing to remember is that it’s merely a body, a temporary dwelling and mode of transportation.  ;-)  

During my fast I came to view my body as a glove, which covers and protects our spirit, wherein the soul and our true heart reside.  No matter how your ‘glove’ or body appears on the outside, all true beauty comes from within; where your spirit radiates.  Our soul encapsulates all of our experiences, thoughts, emotions, knowledge, good deeds, unconditional love, and the true intentions of our heart.  That’s why it’s imperative to nourish and fill your spirit with goodness, and only the things that actually matter.  On the inside we are all equal, and here we all have the same opportunity to be beautiful, radiant, and share our love and positive influence with all those around us.  The statement  “Beauty is only skin deep” is so true, and I hope and pray that we all can learn to get past all the superficial nonsense and embrace what is truly lovely.  We should all take the time to work on making what is on our inside beautiful, rather than focusing so much on our outward appearance.  Why do we tend to place all of our time and energy obsessing  about our hair, makeup, shopping for the perfect outfit, dieting and frantically working out it obtain the ideal body, etc.?  Can you imagine how much happier and more content we would all be if we changed our priorities and placed the focus on our INTERNAL beauty?!  Talk about an “Extreme Makeover!”  So when you find yourself unhappy and frustrated with your body, remember that one day it will be six feet under,  and instead it will be your spirit that soars and shines for all to see!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Life Lesson 122: Fasting- Days 8-15 of my Water only Fast & I’m still Alive and Well!

I just completed the 15th day of my water only fast, and not only can I not believe how quickly these past two weeks have flown, but I also feel so much better than I expected to.  I was prepared to be extremely weak, tired, and counting down the days until I could break my fast.  On the contrary, I have an amazing amount of energy, feel great (except for the emotional releases I can’t seem to control), and my body is responding beautifully.  In fact, I’m doing so well that I’ve decided to extend my original 15 day fast to a 21 days (as long as my vitals and lab work continue to look good). 
For me personally, one of the greatest draws of a fast is the emotional cleansing and the spiritual experience that occurs. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced.  I’ve done two previous  30 day fasts (actually I only made it to day 27 on the second one before my blood work indicated that my potassium dropped below the normal range and I had to break my fast early).  Both times were so rewarding that I’ve always looked forward to doing it again.  There is nothing quite like cleansing your mind, body and spirit all on the same journey.
Journal Entries:

Days 8-10:  Apparently I didn’t get all of my tears out on day 7, when I had my emotional breakdown during ‘tear jerker’ movie night.  I still feel like an emotional wreck and I cry at everything I see that is even remotely sad or heartwarming.  It’s ridiculous, but at the same time I’m realizing that I must have a lot more pent up emotions than I can comprehend.  I’m not a crier, except maybe once or twice every few years.  My kids think I’m the toughest mom in the universe because they’ve never seen me cry!  That doesn’t mean I’m insensitive, I just don’t show my emotions the same way others do.  In fact, I prefer to laugh, and there have been certain situations where laughing was totally unsuitable and frowned upon.  I can’t help it; but luckily I recently discovered that inappropriate and uncontrolled emotions are another symptom of Multiple Sclerosis, although not too common.  Fortunately during this fast, my body is breaking down the MS barriers along with all the walls I’ve built; and I’m releasing enormous amounts of unhealthy emotions I didn’t even realize I was holding on to.  It’s a weird sensation though, uncontrollably crying and not even knowing why. 
   Being an emotional wreck, (or so I feel because this is all very foreign to me) and releasing all these buried feelings has left me quite drained, tired and extremely weak.  It make sense though, my metabolism has most likely all but shut down and I’m surviving off very little energy reserves.  I’m still a little bit hungry, which is very frustrating.  I’ve also begun to tire of the taste of water.  I’m still thirsty, just not nearly as much as I was before.  I’ve begun to occasionally boil my water and drink it warm, just to change up the flavor, or so it seems.  Today, day 9, has been my most difficult day so far.  I’m starving and if I had a broom, I think I would actually be able to fly.  Feelings of anger keep surfacing beyond my control, my temper has appeared out of nowhere and now taken the place of my weepy self.   A good friend took my kids to Chili’s tonight for fajita Monday’s, and when they brought the leftovers home, instead of being thankful I didn’t have to cook for them, I was so angry that they made my entire house smell like mouth watering fajitas. It took ever last bit of my willpower not to tear into the to-go box like a ravenous beast.  Today, food is all I can think about and I’ve become so desperate that this evening I began planning my meals for when I come off my fast.  Although I’m definitely more tired, I’m still not able to sleep much, maybe 3-5 hours a night.  What gives?
Days 11-13:  I’m finally over the hump!  These past two days are the best I’ve felt during my entire fast!  I’m no longer hungry or craving everything in sight (who am I kidding- I was craving everything out of sight as well).  I’m not nearly as thirsty and now I actually have to force myself to drink at least 60 ounces a day.  Somehow my energy level seems to be increasing, while my strength continues to decrease.  The insomnia is driving me crazy, although it’s given me a lot more time to write.  On the flip side, my brain function is slowing down, so speaking and processing information has become much more difficult.  Therefore my writing is suffering as well.  I’m taking 10 times longer to write and blog as I usually do.
I can tell my body has been successfully detoxifying in several different ways.  The first week I was continuously sweating and as disgusting as this sounds, I smelled like a cross between a dirty gym bag and onions.  I know- TMI and seriously gross!!!  Not being able to wear deodorant in the beginning about killed me, and although they want you to take showers sparingly, I had a couple of days where I took two, desperately trying to wash all the nastiness off my body.  Now I’m back to normal and smelling good, or at least I think so.  My complexion has also cleared up, to the point it almost has a radiant glow.  My hearing seems to have improved, and my sense of smell is so acute it’s almost eerie.  I’m not sure whether I love it or hate it- mainly because I can smell and name every single ingredient when food is cooking.  I’ve also had extreme success in coming off two of my medications, one of which is for migraines.  Although I had slight headaches the first couple of days of my fast, (which is very normal,) I haven’t had a single headache or migraine this entire time.    Before my fast, if I missed more than two days of this medication, I suffered so severely I usually couldn’t get out of bed because the pain was so intense.
Today is day 14 and I don’t know what has come over to me.  I’ve had absolutely no patience along with a newfound temper I didn’t even know I had, which has repeatedly reared its ugly face.  I got in a huge fight with my daughter, which left both of us feeling just awful.  Out of nowhere, all my frustrations with her over the past couple of years came spewing out and I couldn’t stop them.  You see, I’ve spent the past decade trying to overcompensate for being a single parent as well as being sick for so of their childhood with my MS.  So I wait on my kids hand and foot, completely baby them, all in an effort to show them how much I love them and how sorry I am for the unfair cards they’ve been dealt.  Instead of helping, I think I’ve done them a great disservice, and created overly dependent and lazy kids.  Unfortunately today I’d had it; I simply don’t have to energy to do everything on my own anymore.  Sadly, I hit bottom and had a meltdown, then I blew up at my daughter.  I wish I could take it back, however I did get my point across and then we hugged and made up. 
Day 15- Well, my temper decided to stick around and I just yelled at my son for being the laziest kid I know.  I’ve become a monster and I hate not being able to control my emotions, especially around my kids.  I so wish I was at the fasting clinic right now.  I think I’m going through another ‘healing crisis’ as they call them, although this one is emotional instead of physical.  I feel just awful that I’m so quick to anger and can’t seem to get a grip.  On the bright side, I’m no longer hungry and have even more energy.  Fasting is a cake walk right now, and I feel compelled to continue on for another week.  My blood work looks good, and my body is telling me that I’ve got more vital healing: emotionally, physically and spiritually still ahead of me.  I know this sounds bizarre, but I feel so in tune with my body right now.  Now that I’ve achieved complete rest, I’ve been listening to my inner self and I truly feel the need to continue fasting.  Either that or I’m just hallucinating and completely crazy.  (I’m not going to lie to you- it’s probably a little bit of both. ;)  All I know is that instead of being excited to partake of the most amazing tasting juice in the world tomorrow, I have absolutely no desire to break my fast.  Instead I’m actually looking forward to another week a fasting, cleansing and healing.
I will continue to blog my journal entries for the next week and keep you posted on the status of my fast.