Ankylosing Spondylitis Journey, Happiness, health coaching, Physical Wellness, Working Mom, Working Parent Life

Returning to Work from Maternity Leave and Depression at One Year Post Partum.

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Currently I’m working through a hard season.  I’m in a disease flare-up (severe exhaustion and pain) and a depressive episode.  The two intermingle and make it a very difficult time mentally, emotionally and physically. The gravitational pull is hard to overcome and this is where self-care checklists feel almost impossible to accomplish. You’re just in an entirely different head space, mood space, and body space where any one of the checklist items that used to make you feel good, that you logically know will help you, just don’t appeal enough to overcome the total lack of vitality.

I’m not writing this post to have a giant complaining session, because there’s an important point I want to make at the end when you’ve read through this.

First, that you are not alone, and second, that this kind of stuff is a great gift.  I know, that sounds ridiculous, but read on…

xo

 

I’ve been through both before, but this time it was compounded by driving myself into the ground at work. And truth be told, this round doesn’t feel straightforward to get out of. There is a deeper matter here of who am I and what does my soul need?

I think THIS is the million dollar question that we must ask ourselves, when we find ourselves in a state of dis-ease.  Not just disease (illness) but not at ease.  Unhappy. Dissatisfied.  Frustrated.

With my return to work, I came back to the same pace I had always gone at.  Except, this time I was ill, tired and also the mum of three kids.  I jumped straight back into my old habits . I just kept working bigger, better, harder, faster.  I stopped taking breaks, or self care, or anything.  I love what I do, I truly do and that’s why it was so easy to get back into that crazy unbalanced work mode.

But here’s the thing. My symptoms don’t discern between work I love and work I don’t love.

They discern between  I am taking care of my soul and I am not taking care of my soul. I beginning to suspect that disease + depression are so closely intertwined with whether we are on the right path for our souls at any given point in our life’s journey, or soul’s journey.  I believe they are a reliable indicator that we are ignoring our own intuition, and the body’s best way to yell at us to pay attention 🙂

I had returned to work in the summer fresh off my disease diagnosis, surgery, 3 kids under 5 and major passion for my side projects and full time work.  I was excited that I had negotiated to work 4 days a week for the first few months.

Then, it began to all fall apart.  First, I was feeling great so I came off of my SSRIs. I think that was not the wisest choice in hindsight.  If you are on anti-depressants, no matter how good you think you are feeling, do not come off of them in a major transition!

As I found myself back at a desk and in pain, I began to struggle with a level of exhaustion that I’ve never known.  It was so bad that I desparately sought out places to lie down on breaks, struggled to put my socks on (immobility) in the mornings, a few urgent care trips, and increasing panic at work with every additional meeting, or project in an already full schedule with people waiting weeks to get one of a few coaching slots. I have an hour commute each way, and each commute was filled with this horrible impending sense of dread – dread that work demands were far exceeding what I was capable of.  Doubts that I could keep up to others as a mother of three That I couldn’t handle my own life. Usually, this is a pretty good sign to buckle down and take care of oneself.  Except, I was so far in, I couldn’t even claw back the time for ANYTHING that fuelled my spirit. Nor was I motivated to.  Being outside in nature. A social life. Creative expression.  My happiest places couldn’t lure me back.  Mostly, I just wanted to lie still, sleep away the pain and exhaustion and shut my panicking mind down.

My days became – Just drive to work. Work like a madwoman (keeping up the standards of a worker without 3 kids.) Buy unhealthy snacks and a crazy amount of coffee to keep me going.  Drive home. Make dinner. Put the kids to bed. Pray for no-one to wake up. Go to bed at 9. Repeat.  This is the story of so, so many people out there. 

Nothing was keeping my soul afloat, and I could tell that was making the disease worse too. Yet, I couldn’t clamber out, because in my mind I would say to myself “ah, you’ll get through this just start going to the gym, get an extra nap, etc.” You know, the usual self-care checklist. But I literally couldn’t move past the exhaustion, pain and total lack of desire to do anything.  I ignored intuitive alarm bells.

And that friends, is depression.  You feel so utterly overwhelmed and exhausted that you want to curl up in a ball and hide from the world. You don’t know where or how to begin, because nothing you knew before, seems to work this time (or it still does but you’re in a bleak place and totally unmotivated to do them, and the gravitational pull of the bed / rest is too intense to overcome.)

That is depression and auto immune disease intertwined.  And this, for any of you parents out there reading this,  is when you get your ass to your doctor, and a psychologist and be KINDER and more LOVING to yourself than you have ever been before. That is when you dig deep and listen to what your soul really needs.

It’s time to start listening closely to your intuition in the moments when your brain stops panicking and rushing.  The Universe has been sending you hints all along as to what is right for you, it’s just that you’ve been ignoring them.

So at this point, it is sending you MAJOR hint bombs that what you are doing is not ideal for you at this stage, place, moment in your life’s journey and that change is ahead.

Depression and disease can be one of the greatest gifts you’ll ever receive because on the edge of massive shifts for the better, is suffering.  Suffering prompts us to shift, to change, to grow, to listen to our intuition and get one step closer to who we really are.  Yes, it’s a shitty process, but it is one where pain overcomes fear.  Suffering forces you upward and forward and will not allow you to stay where you are.   There are always, always gifts and rewards from the hardest moments and that knowledge is never lost, even in tough times like these.

 

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Ankylosing Spondylitis Journey, Happiness, Mental health, Nature, Spirituality

How to Release the Grip of Grief and Sadness and Elbow Falls After the Flood

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On the weekend my husband, kids and I took a family friend out to see Bragg Creek and Elbow Falls.  It was a brilliant day out, filled with nature exploring and the joy inherent in watching people experience Kananaskis country for the first time.

With tired toddlers and growling stomachs, we decided to make one last stop at Elbow Falls before driving back into Calgary.

It is a powerful place for my husband and I.

This is where my firefighter husband recovered his first body.  As family cried, a helicopter pulled a body bag out of the frothing water below.

This is where I fell completely in love with the mountains, at the age of 10.

I was newly arrived in Canada. Elbow Falls is the first ‘mountains’ experience I had.  It is where my soul realized its LOVE for the mountains. I was obsessed with this spot. Every year for my birthday, my parents would ask me what I wanted and all I wanted to do was ‘be’ at Elbow Falls.  I just wanted to return there.  The forest.  The mountains.

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I can’t help but think, that nature offers us some pretty powerful experiences in the most unexpected moments.  Very often, to be in nature is to access our most pure form of ourselves.  Let me share with you a deeply personal experience and a ‘pivot’ in my own mindset.

We all know on some level that in nature, we depart from the churning thoughts of our day to day life.  Somewhere in nature, where we are swept up in simply being with the rich life around us, and using our bodies and senses, we quiet that helpful but irritating thing called the mind.

You see, we aren’t just lollipops… we are not stick bodies with giant lollipop heads that rule everything.

To be human is NOT just having a brain.  As a human you also own an emotional landscape, a physical landscape *and* that thinking landscape.  We move in and out of each domain all the time, and have our preferred ‘homes.’  Here’s a great diagram that explains it.  This is a model I use often with clients.

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So hold that model in your mind.  I’ll attempt to combine a nature experience with life coaching and personal story.

In 2013 there was a large flood.  Our city was underwater and our waterways were ravaged, even up in the mountains.

The great flood of 2013 changed the Elbow Falls of my childhood, which involved a large forested area with picnic tables and paths.  The river was adjacent to these lovely picnic sites and the falls were quite spectacular.

I hadn’t been back to Elbow Falls since the flood and I was quite floored to see how much the landscape had changed.  The picnic tables, forested paths of my youth were entirely swept away.  In there place was a huge flood plain strewn with rocks.

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Even the shape of the falls had completely changed.

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It was absolutely wild.  The only things that were similar were the large slabs of rock adjacent to the falls.  Even those had been pounded into a softer shape by the flood.

The forest I walked through as a child doesn’t exist anymore.

On Sunday, the reality in front of me was entirely different from the mists of my childhood memories.

Symbolically, that flood had washed away not only a forest but a piece of my childhood

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I couldn’t help but think how this has meaning in my life, in so many ways.  I wanted to touch on the insight this day had on GRIEF.

I used to spend a lot of time at Elbow Falls with my mum.  My mum is no longer in the physical dimension. She passed away during that great flood.

As I walked along the river with my baby, toward an old rock with special meaning, this hit me, I could feel emotion rising up within me.  It was coming. Oh shit.

You see, I used to deny myself emotion. I used to lock that shit up, push it back down and continue on my merry way. I learnt to do it from the environment I grew up in, the people around me. It was compounded by experiences were negative judgements and disapproval were laid on me if I showed emotion.  Hell, even society doesn’t want a crier, does it? Plus, our old primordial brain gets a bit stressed out and upset when we cry. It goes into fear and survival mode.  It screams at us:

NO! NOPE!  Distract.  Find pleasure.  BUFFER AGAINST THIS BAD FEELING (alcohol, food, whatever you like to use.)  Avoid this situation again (!)

I could feel it chattering.  I kept walking.

There was a very large slab of rock, upriver from the falls with special meaning. I was approaching it with a tidal wave rising inside of me. My mum and I used to sit on that rock.  From the age of 10 to 29 that rock has hosted a lot of memories.

I approached, heart in my throat.

It is still there, but everything around it is different. I clambered up and sat on the rock holding my baby, and my eyes began to prickle and sting.  I decided I couldn’t do backward counting anymore.  I can’t fake things anymore. I can’t deny my own emotions. I was just going to let go and go with it.

I haven’t had a grief burst in a long time.  I call them grief bursts because the sadness comes in like a cloud. It covers the sun and you can smell the rain coming.

The tears begin to flow, like a brief rainstorm.  But then, the cloud passes and the sun shines again.

Through much work, I have understood how to embrace grief and let it pass by me in this manner, like a quick rain shower, and move back into peace just as quickly. This took some deep work with a psychologist but it was well worth it. I recommend it to anyone who is still struggling with the long, pervasive grip of grief, to anyone who wants to just loosen its grip and get glimpses of sun.  Eventually you will live in beautiful sunny days with only the occasional rainstorm, and even then you’ll look up, hold your hand out and casually say “ah just a few drops, it will pass by quickly.”

I’ve learnt that emotions are like the weather. Ever-shifting, especially in Calgary (!) All of them are necessary, and a part of being human – but they do not control us.  They don’t have to control how we think, act, show up and live our lives. They are not permanent.

However, so many of us choose to make them permanent.  See the word I used there? CHOOSE.  We have a CHOICE.

Over the last few years I’ve CHOSEN to embrace grief as a passing weather event.  Even when I didn’t fully believe it, I chose to practice this approach with the faith that eventually something woud shift.  It did.

In 2018 I don’t deny myself grief and ironically, by opening my arms to it with loving kindness, it doesn’t return as often, or stay as long.

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Sitting on the rock, I thought about how I don’t fight life anymore.

I don’t avoid the hard and chase the easy anymore.

Pleasure must coexist with pain.  The only place things will be perfect, is in heaven, and to be honest, I don’t want to go to heaven yet, I have too much stuff to do here 🙂

Man did I cry my eyes out on that rock. I felt the feels. I felt my mums hand holding mine.  I cried for everything that had been washed away in that flood. I cried with the realization I am in a different place and time now, and life is always shifting and whatever else came up in that grief burst.

I cried as I felt the physical loss of my mum (though she was very much present right there in my heart that day.) . The last time I had sat on that rock was  with her, in the Autumn of 2012. We sat on that rock and pondered life.  Though we didn’t talk about dying. we did circle the topic by talking about having a purpose in life.  how a time stamp provides crystal clarity and purpose.  That she knew and had realized its about love and human connection and that all of us, ALL of us just want to be loved and accepted and appreciated and the best thing we can do is BE that loving, accepting, non judgemental person.

Gah.

ALL of that flowed through me like a little video loop in my minds eye.

That was hard.  But with great challenge comes great reward. 

Like a thunderstorm, a burst of emotion releases the pressure in our internal atmosphere and we return to normality

There is always a quiet place, where we feel at peace after big emotions.  if we can stop judging ourselves and let ourselves be with our emotions, we will just as quickly move back into peace.  We also have to practice noticing that peaceful place after an emotion burst. We can’t just become aware.  We have to practice it.

Driving back from Elbow Falls that afternoon, (my baby sleeping in the back after all that fresh mountain air) I was at peace.  When I got out of my car at the house 45 minutes later, I was not only peaceful, but I was back.

The sun was shining again, I was happy again.

Coaching helps us embrace emotions, and give them the room to flow through us, and out of us. We can gain this understanding and then practice it, and reflect on moments like the above with someone.  We can learn to shut down our brain and all of that irritating chatter and assessments that happen when we’re just trying to experience being human.  The brain and ego is not kind, and you know what, when I am crying, the last thing I need is a lack of kindness. I need loving empathy.  From myself.  Not judging from my ego.  So, you gain the ability to ignore that part.  Then, eventually, it gets the point and lets you do your emotional thing.

it is our job as a human to just be, to be with those emotions, to let them happen.

You can sit and read this blog, gain this coaching tool, but I encourage you to practice it.  When the next moment of grief or sadness arises, choose to embrace it with loving kindness.  Let it run its course.  Take the time to close down your thoughts and judgments around it.  Tell your own brain, “not now ego, it’s not about you. I’m going to experience this with love and kindness and NO judgement, so STFU.”

I invite you to do something different.  See what emerges.  If you do something different from what you’ve done before, I can guarantee you’ll get different results.

Einstein said it perfectly:

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Letting things happen on Sunday naturally, and then embracing a different way to go about things, really landed all of this home.

I cried on a rock at Elbow Falls and permanently changed.  I can’t go back now.

I can’t ‘unsee’ my new awareness.

Today I can officially declare, Grief doesn’t have a hold on me anymore.

I know it is simply a moving cloud in the sky of life.

Just like the sun must shine, the rain must fall.

But nothing is permanent.

The landsape of the Elbow Falls of my childhood was not permanent.

My mums life was not permanent.

I am not permanent.

My sadness on that rock was not permanent.

My way of seeing the world is not permanent.

Go with the flow.  Embrace that impermanence of everything.

This is a key teaching of Buddhism. Of life coaches. Of universal laws.

I just like to take these things and apply them and practice them in real life and then share what it’s like.

Know that we are always changing and evolving to a higher version of ourselves and this is a key practice to add to your toolkit on your ever-unfolding journey. 

I hope you’ll join me on this journey.

xo Carina

Ankylosing Spondylitis Journey, Happiness, health coaching, Learning, Lifestyle Design, Mental health, Personal Development, Physical Wellness

My Favourite Resources for Ankylosing Spondylitis

 

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One of the podcasts I have been listening to as I begin my journey of understanding and addressing my Ankylosing Spondylitis disease and symptoms (I am in a bad flare at present) is the AS Natural Health Podcast with Michael Eisner which has been a wonderful resource.  There are 22 episodes available.  When I began suspecting I had AS back in December, I was in Kau’ai and I will always hold such good memories of listening to the first episode where he interviews Michael Smith (Episode 12) which I particularly enjoyed.  I’ve just finished listening to all of the episodes and I’m eagerly waiting for the next. It keeps me in such a good health / growth mindset and it is incredibly inspiring and illuminating to hear others’ journeys.  Put simply, it makes you feel a little less alone.  Statistically, AS afflicts hundreds of people in each city, but nobody I’ve spoken to has any idea what it is, or have heard of it.  And certainly no other ladies in their 30s with kids.  So, the value of Podcasts, among the many benefits, is feeling a bit less alone.  So thank you, Michael!  Keep doing what you are doing.

In my last post, I talked about how there’s two distinct paths you can go down in the days of diagnosis.

One is fear, fixed mindsets, believing that this problem is permanent, incurable and pervasive, and one that IS your life. I dabbled in a bit of this for a few days and it was a bit terrifying.  Oh, and my flare was terrible, I didn’t sleep, and I made terrible nutritional choices that I KNOW don’t work well with my body (those I knew pre-AS diagnosis.)

The other path is courage, growth mindsets, believing that you have been pain free and you will be again, that it is a very fluid and impermanent condition, that it is only a minor piece of your life.

I decided that the only acceptable path for me is the latter path, and I began to seek out people, podcasts, blogs, resources that would help me begin this journey of rich growth and deep personal healing.

The internet is so amazing, because there is something for every belief, and EVERY path you want to take in tackling this diagnosis and your symptoms.

From my listening to podcasts, reading blogs, watching videos, participating in facebook communities and connecting with others who have healed there are a few pieces I’m adding to my toolkit in the coming days, and it has been a really fun enlightening journey so far (if there’s one thing I really enjoy it is learning.)

So, here are some really helpful resources if you, like me, have been diagnosed with AS and have decided the latter path is the only one forward.

People:

Michael Eisner of the Ankylosing Spondylitis Natural Health Podcast interviews people who have successfully put AS into remission. This is what I started with, while I was on maternity leave, listening to each episode on walks with my baby (bonus:  hour walk and stretching!)

Peter Winslow and the Community of People at AS Victors.Com who share their successes.  There is a vast library of resources. I can’t wait to read Winslow’s Heal for Real book.  One thing at a time though.  It’s deep work. Don’t dive into all of these resources at once!   His blog is a wonderful resource as well.  Take a topic at a time.

Ralph Ruiz, Professional Life Coach and his Website & Facebook Group, Mindbody Healing.    His Youtube video series AS I see it is amazing and so deeply insightful.  Honestly, buy a journal and work through things with him.

I am currently (very slowly) working through John Sarno, M.D. Healing Back Pain:  The Mind-Body Connection.  This is kind of my main starting point of immersion.

This book is confirming so many things I was beginning to suspect and many describe this book as “blowing their world apart.”  Again, deep work and insights.  I personally am reading it on kindle because, well, small children, but wish I had a paper copy so I could write ALL over it.  I am highlighting so many things in this book and going to my “healing journal” with thoughts, insights and things to process.

Finally, the most important book and resource in this process?

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A blank one.  My mermaid journal. I bought this in Kau’ai in December when I decided I was ready to begin this healing journey.  The true work is the inner work, and by putting pen to paper, I am finding that I am able to access deeper thoughts, and feelings, and dive deeper into unconscious and subconscious beliefs, programming and repressed things which I am sure on many levels have contributed to this inflammation and pain.  As I work through things, have insights, collect knowledge or experience shifts in my observer / the lens I see through, I record them here.  With doodles, pictures, even long rambling free writing sessions to allow things to come through my hand and the ink flowing on the paper.  This, this is the single most important piece.  If you’ve never bought a journal or had the chance to bring this practice into your life, perhaps now is the time. 🙂  Pick a beautiful one that speaks to you, and find a nice pen.  You deserve it.

Ankylosing Spondylitis Journey, Happiness, health coaching, Mental health, Personal Development, Physical Wellness

How to Get Yourself out of a Funk or Climb out of a Downward Spiral.

Our family is growing.

Today I wanted to share one of the models I use on myself (and clients) to get unstuck, and out of funks. It is a beautifully simple yet profound model.  The visual image of a spiral is important, because one of the most important parts of climbing out of a funk, is knowing when you are in one.  That’s easier said than done!  When you are in the grip, you don’t realize how far you are in the grip (the centre of the spiral.)

I used water colour paints in the video below explain because, well, I fell like it illustrated it really nicely, regardless of my actual water colour paint skills (Oh right, I have none!)

This model is great if you are beginning to notice you are going into a downward spiral. In my own mental health journey, I have learnt that sleep  and avoiding fatigue is a key strategy for me, and in developing my “mental health” awareness, I am better able to pick up on little habits that tend to mark a spiral for me, and catch them before it goes too far.

This video illustrates the importance of these simple actions, and the surprising importance of the small promises we make (and can break) to ourselves.

Take five minutes and watch it, let me know if it lands with you in the comments.

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Ankylosing Spondylitis Journey, health coaching, Mental health, Physical Wellness

What to Do When You Are First Diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, Healing Ankylosing Spondylitis, Ankylosing Spondylitis Remission.

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A few weeks ago I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease which I have lived with for about 15 years now, so it came as no surprise, in the first days of diagnosis, I felt only a sense of validation that my gut was right; that something was definitely not right and this was definitely not just the pain of herniated discs, or the fatigue of toddler & baby mom life.

There was also a sense of excitement that I could finally approach this from a different angle.  Now my pain and fatigue was a disease to put into remission, as opposed to what I had done for 15 years; an injury and chronic pain to “work out” and “physiotherapy” out of me and then feel like I was failing when it didn’t resolve.

I guess my professional coaching background is a unique experience on this journey, because now I am taking the tools that I use with my clients, and am applying those very tools to myself and truly walking my own talk.

I hope to write about this in the coming days on this blog so that you can see the combination of health coach perspective and patient perspective.

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In the week following diagnosis, aside from googling a TON (duh, I’m not even going to tell you not to do that, because you will…) I gave a lot of thought as to how I wanted to take this experience and shape the days and weeks to come.

I knew I needed to give myself some time to let myself feel whatever emotions were to come.  In the past, I have repressed emotion which only served to intensify my pain.  Many AS people will tell you a big learning for them is learning not to repress emotion.

In the coaching world, we are trained in moving one step beyond how a person acts and behaves, to understand how they see the world and how that in turn, shapes how they act and behave.

If I take this concept and apply it my own experience, I immediately think of how we let a disease shape us, or how we shape a disease.  These are two distinct approaches.

When I walked out of my rheumatologist’s office with a ton of paperwork, tests to book and a follow up in a month, I realized I was on my own for the next few weeks as everything swirled around in my brain.

In the first days I decided to seek out a few scientifically accurate resource pages, and then once I felt comfortable with the science of Ankylosing Spondylitis, a few communities and Facebook groups to add to my arsenal, because I knew that the first week or two, I’d be embracing and just riding out any emotions associated with the diagnosis, and I’d probably want to talk about it as part of processing it healthily.

I joined a number of facebook and online groups / forums, and I began to notice two diverse streams of people with AS.

One stream very clearly held their AS as part of their identity, but to one extreme, where it dictated what they allowed thesemselves to do.  Ankylosing Spondylitis wasn’t just the human doing life with AS; for them, it was their very being.  Humans being AS.  Everything was shaped through the lens (or personal narrative) of “this disease has me, and I operate from within the disease and its constraints.” Many conversations seemed to spiral down into a rather grim comparison of symptoms, fear, expression of limitations and reinforcement of self limiting beliefs.

As I read through the comments feed, I could feel some anxiety, stress, and fear stacking up as I read story after story about how shitty flare-ups are.  Other people’s stories combined with my own memories of particularly painful debilitating times and it sunk me down into a crappy energy space.  I found myself eating cheerios, staying up late reading, choosing gluten and dairy (which flare me – I didn’t need a diagnosis to do that) and funnily enough, making all of the wrong choices as I steeped in this mindset.  I stopped going for walks at lunch and became hyper-conscious of how uncomfortable I am in an office chair.

After a few days of wallowing, general self-pity and further regression into old habits, I came across significantly more positive communities and resources.  The key difference was their mindset around ankylosing spondylitis.  It was much different from the first handful of communities I explored.  These communities saw it as just a passing phase or even a small side lane, compared to their overall greater journey and life experience. There was a sense of confidence and growth.   A fun challenge to conquer and opportunity to enhance lifestyle –  as opposed to a debilitating progressive disease with no cure.

Rather than the human BEING ankylosing spondylitis, I saw humans DOING AS (among many other things.)     They operated with the mindset that AS was outside of them, simply another (external) life experience happening, to be navigated through.

The disease wasn’t them, just something they were coming across, amongst many other things on their life journey.

What marked the conversations of these communities?  Uplifting comparisons.  NOT of symptoms, but of remission or resolution of symptoms.  Courage, enthusiasm and forward-looking attitudes.  Expressions of potential and reinforcement of expansive, growth mindsets.

In the week or two following diagnosis it became clear to me, as a 36-year-old mom of 3, that I could let AS draw a fence around me and remain within that yard, or I could hop the fence and look at it as a side yard (one of many) as I continued down the road.

Which brings me in a long winded way to my main point.  If you are in the process of disease diagnosis, give intentional thought to the way that you want to approach it in the days to come.  In the space between doctors’ appointments, MRIs, bone scans, meds and blood tests, there is you, yourself, and you.  You’re going to spend some quality time with you and your thoughts about all of this. Personally, I don’t think enough attention is given to this crucial early stage, where you develop either a fixed or growth mindset around the whole situation.

Yes, you are going to have your urges – your background is going to come into play as you develop your mindset.  You’re going to process the diagnosis in the way you know, in the way you have been conditioned to process it.

Perhaps you are still in a place where you repress everything and move on.  Perhaps you are in a place where you’ve become more comfortable with emotions and let yourself feel some sadness, frustration or disappointment, which confoundingly occur simultaneously with happiness and relief.  Or maybe you even go off the other end to sadness, doom and gloom and a pity party.  We all have different experiences and different tools based on our lives up to the diagnosis.

The point is to be aware of these influences and to work with them as you choose a growth approach.  A human doing AS rather than a human being AS.

Remember, regardless of your conditioned tendencies, when you come to terms with a diagnosis, there are two distinct paths that are presented to you and ultimately it is your choice which mindset to cultivate in the weeks between now and your next rheumatology appointment.

You can become your disease and live your life through it. you can sit down in that yard with the weedy grass and piles of dog poop and build yourself a 10 foot fence to ensure you never get out, or ever see the gorgeous yards of the neighbourhood beyond.  And then, you can talk to neighbours with equally terrible yards, that help you build that fence even higher.

Or, you can plonk down in that yard for a bit, honour that you feel a bit sorry for yourself, step in a few piles of poop, but then decide to hop the fence, knowing you don’t just live in a yard. You can leave those neighbours behind. You can keep walking down the road, admiring and enjoying other yards with flowers growing, and know that that delipidated yard that you came from is in your rear view mirror.  It’s still there, but you’re not sitting in that yard with a 15 foot fence picking up dog poop and weeding.

I don’t even know how I got into an analogy of dog poop and weeding as a way to explain how you process an ankylosing spondylitis diagnosis, lol, but there you go, it happened as I typed.

But you know what?  It made sense to me, as someone going through this very process right now.  I hope my combined perspective as health coach and patient is helpful as you negotiate your own way through the weeds and dog sh*t and bust out of that yard and design your days ahead of you.

 

Ankylosing Spondylitis Journey, Happiness, health coaching, Spirituality

My Ankylosing Spondylitis Journey – Understanding Energy and Dispositions and Our Pasts.

Recently Diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis_ (3)

Recently I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, but it was a long time coming and is but a small stage in my interesting journey understanding health (in all senses of the word) and pursuing vitality.

With my diagnosis I’ve been turning my coaching eye onto myself and so many things are connecting for me right now, especially as I listen to podcasts and hear others’ journeys with AS. I wanted to contribute to the blogging space with my own learnings and journey, and add my “me too!” to a few stories out there, especially when it comes to the connection between our own pasts, upbringing, and energy, and our pain.

I am seeing so many similarities between my own background and those of others on the AS journey, and I think that the more people share their story, the more they help others understand their own path back to health and vitality, and spark that creative problem solving process.  Everyone’s AS is so unique, yet many have similar strands and stories and themes.

Though it is important not to live in the past, gaining a bit of understanding about it can illuminate the way forward and help us write new chapters in our book, without getting stuck in repeating patterns or unconscious ways. We can intentionally choose different ways, and reject that which no longer helps us on our new path to wellness.

Today I wanted to write about something I am seeing emerge in people’s AS stories (not all stories, but it IS a common trend) and connect it with some things I’ve learned as a coach.

Energy, Dispositions and the Body’s Messaging System of Pain.

Today I wanted to talk about dispositions.  You can call it energy, or vibes, but those words don’t adequately explain it, because the word “disposition” also describes someone’s physical, mental, emotional, spiritual presence as well. Those of you who are into body language will find this an interesting one.  As a coach I  believe that we don’t exist simply on an intellectual level. We exist in a body, we exist in an emotional space, and we exist in a soul or spiritual space. We spend different amounts of time in each space.  Some people are deeply integrated on an intellectual and body level, or perhaps an emotional level and body level.  Others are not.  Everyone has unique combinations of where they spend their time and awareness. I USED to be strictly intellectual, no emotions, total logic.  My journey has been learning to embrace the other parts and integrate them all as a whole.

How is energy, disposition and posture important to Ankylosing Spondylitis? 

For those of us with AS, an important theme is the hard-charging, forward-pushing type. In coach school they called this the “resolute” disposition. I wasn’t entirely surprised when listening to podcasts, I heard many stories about AS victors talking about this aspect of themselves especially in their childhood and earlier years pre-diagnosis.

Forward momentumEnthusiasm, Striving, ChallengingPushing forwardCourage, High energyBut_High standardsInner + outer pressureexhaustionego

Someone with this energy is dynamic, driven, motivated, always growing, pushing forward and knocking down obstacles left right and centre.  Even as a child, they remember getting frustrated with homework they didn’t understand, having standards for themselves, maybe loving competition and they were noted for their enthusiasm and achievement in various areas.  They wanted challenging things.  They were also quite anxious at times.

This is a disposition that society looks upon favourably. Especially corporate environments.  Gogogo! Energy! Achieve!  Merit!  Recognition!  The ego loves this stuff.

I want to outline that we are born with innate dispositions but they can also be nurtured through our external environment – whether that is family, media, culture or society.

I myself had a fair degree of these inborn characteristics, but they were nurtured to the extreme, which led to an early life full of pressure, perfectionism, anxiety and high standards in every sense of the word.  I was a model student, involved and checked off all of the successful boxes.

Where the disposition piece gets fascinating is how it shows up in the body.  Our emotional, spiritual and intellectual environment doesn’t just exist in the brain.  The brain is just a funny little device connected to another 5-6 feet of body, and it is not separate from all of those other cells.

So how does this kind of forward-charging energy show up in the body?  I think we can all guess!

Common sense tells us this is someone who likes to move forward and upward in life.  Have you seen the body language and positioning of someone like this? Walking through the crowds with purpose, head pitched forward, getting stuff done.  Leaning forward, enthusiastically?

But what if you are also strongly pressured to be like this from the external environment? 

Disease means dis-ease. Not at ease.  Not in our natural way of being.

I think this is really when we get into pain and disease (disease means dis-ease, not at ease, not in line with our natural way of being.)

What if we are being pushed into this way of being?

What if we enter an unhealthy degree or an extreme of this disposition?

If you want someone to go forward, get shit done, and you were standing behind them, where would you want to push with your hands?  Right in the middle of the back.  The thoracic spine.

Funnily enough, this is ground zero of my pain.  The back is ground zero for many of us with AS.

I had some of these forward-moving qualities but then was pushed hard.  Then it snowballed, because I began to associate pushing hard and achieving with gaining attention and love from those I wanted love from the most (parents.) When you connect something intellectually, emotionally and physically it becomes deeply entrenched in the body.

I believe years of this has contributed to the disease symptoms presenting themselvesin my spine.

An interesting thing about healing the body and the complexity of Ankylosing Spondylitis, is that you become immersed in learning about different modalities and what each area of the body represents.  We learn that yes, we exist on different landscapes other than simply intellectual. There is something to be said about emotion, energy, the soul and spirit.  We learn that western medicine can’t always pick up on a clear physical symptom, and our clinical tools and knowledge are not quite there yet.  We learn that a large part of this journey is learning, and that learning is up to us.

As I began to untangle my thoracic spine pain on different levels, and what it may mean I learnt about other modalities and what they have to say about the spine.

I admit I haven’t learnt a lot, but I did become interested in the chakras.  The chakras are particularly fascinating, because they weave together the experience of pain in the body, but also the emotional experiences we have.

As soon as you start reading about the heart chakra, located around the same area as the thoracic vertebrae, things begin to connect.  Pain and personal story interweave.

The heart chakra is about loving not only others, but yourself. Many people with AS talk about their struggles to love and appreciate and be gentle with themselves.  The heart chakra is also about reconnecting with yourself.  Forward chargers are so connected with the external world, with ego, recognition, benchmarks, that they forget about that part so easily.  Again, I speak from experience in my teens and 20s.

Torticullis was a Turning Point:

Another story:  Earlier this year,  the disease affected my neck in a nasty way, which wound up in a few acute torticullis attacks that sent me to the emergency room – they were probably the most pain I’ve ever been in.  I really connected with Sky Denton (AS victor) and his story about being unable to sit up out of bed with neck pain.   It was such a low for me, and was probably a key incident that made me take my symptoms more seriously and advocate for myself in the medical system.

Again, I traced back through emotion, story, soul and pain to understand this area of the body and try and draw some connections.  How am I healing this year? Why am I experiencing massive pain in this area?  What might it be hinting at?

In eastern medicine, this area of the body ties in with the throat chakra. What does it represent?  Self-expression, having a voice, speaking the truth of who you are, authenticity.

This was an interesting discovery, because something that has been on my mind this third maternity leave, and something I am trying to embrace, is speaking my voice, blogging, instagramming and sharing my truth.  I feel a really strong urge to write and connect through story, and share.  Reading others’ blogs has been so, so important to my own self-growth and development that I want to give back – but it takes vulnerability and courage. The internet is a harsh place and we are all scared of being judged, or that troll waiting to hurt us with a stinging comment. I’ve been trying to follow the whisper that says “share your story” because it feels right intuitively, but not without trepidation.

I grew up in a family where my voice and opinions were disregarded even though I felt I had valuable things to contribute.  Over the years I learnt to suck everything up, not share things and protect my inner fortress, and that is a process I am learning to reverse now.  I’ve come to understand that the neck flare-ups this year are not tragic, terrible things but messages that I am on the right path, and that I am dispersing that negative, inflammatory energy through finally granting myself a voice and the authority to speak.  That torticullis attack was, in a way, saying “yes, you are on the right track with thinking about opening up, but  you really need to embrace it and DO IT”  Everything is unfolding for a reason, and nothing is a coincedence, and that friends, is the key lesson of the AS Journey.  It’s all meant to be, and we are meant to uncover the meaning.

 

 

 

 

 

Ankylosing Spondylitis Journey, health coaching, Physical Wellness

I am a Mom Diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis after Having a Baby.

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Last week, ten years of questions and confusion around my back pain were finally resolved, and all of the “hot spots” in my body (that were seemingly unrelated) all came together.  I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis (though I do still have herniations and injuries from a car accident.)  It explained SO.MUCH.IN.MY.LIFE.  Particularly the crushing fatigue which is leaving me struggling to make it past lunch time, the absurd brain fog (forgetting which way to drive home and unable to think out of the box) and the pain.  Ick.  The pain.

Mostly, I felt relief and quite happy.

First, happy that I wasn’t crazy and second, I felt a bit validated to be honest!

For the last…well… forever…  Since my 20s – I have been trying to rehabilitate what I perceived to be injuries and was beginning to wonder what the heck was going on and why my dedicated work in rehabilitation, corrective exercise, nutrition and mindfulness weren’t giving me the results I expected *if* it was an injury I was dealing with.  I had gotten my mind into an optimal state, lost 50 lb, redesigned my lifestyle, yet I was still dealing with exhaustion, pain and strange “incidents” in my body.  Two of which left me debilitated and sent me to urgent care, after having to call my daycare provider to help me off of the floor.  Yup, it was that crazy.

At rheumatology last week, after the initial glow of “ahhh, this all makes sense now” I did had a few sad days.  And that is expected. And totally okay.  You just don’t want to sta in those places.  But you do have to move INTO them and THROUGH them.  It is so important to honour whatever emotions we experience and let them be without judgement.  If we don’t, guess what, they’ll get pushed down into our body somewhere.

There were two reasons for those feelings of sadness.

First, I was a bit taken aback at the medication I had to start to cool the inflammatory jets and get back to a comfortable place.  I went from NSAIDs, fish oil, and a few other multis… to 4 prescriptions and DMARDS.  I’ve always been a bit averse to taking prescriptions, but now I realize the systemic nature of my disease and the damage that has occured in my spine & joints.  In all honest, I am now glad for (and appreciative of)  western medicine and its ability to pause the progressive disease.  It is not a panacea though, and I definitely see it as simply an extra tool in my tool kit 🙂

Since the birth of my 3rd baby I have been very symptomatic and have definitely been in a flare up for the most of the past year, but in previous years, I made some progress in deepening my knowledge and extending the time between flares.

2008-2010 was a very, very bad time in my back pain / body issues life, and I look back and am so glad I am not quite that bad now, and that I had a relatively decent run between 2011 and 2016.

2016 – 2018 have been quite up and down though.  I have had some big stress, and big illnesses not to mention, 3  pregnancies, so this is definitely a stage where my body is kind of in a bit of turmoil.

The second reason I felt sad after my diagnoses, is that I felt sad for all of those years I had battled against myself and tried to “beat down” back pain with a “suck it up” and “warrior” mentality.  I used to look at my body as an enemy to fight and then conquer and have mastery over.

I moved away from this mindset only in the last few years with the birth of my beautiful little babies.  It is, indeed, one of the greatest gifts they have given me.  Self-love, being gentle, slowing down and surrendering to the universe.

Since the arrival of these three sweeties ( 3 children in the last five years) I’ve changed.  I feel a deeper love and appreciation for my body, what it has done and what it continues to do.  I love it now, but I do feel sad for how poorly I used to treat it.  I don’t feel regret, but I do look back with a bit of sadness for all of those years I spent hating it, controlling it, and trying to gain mastery over it.

In 2018, I don’t see pain as something to be crushed, but something to be embraced with love, because it is our body’s messaging system.

It’s like when my 3 year old comes up crying. It sounds crazy to for me to tell him to STOP CRYING THATS ANNOYING, repress his emotions and ignore him / tell him to suck it up.  Of course I wouldn’t do that.  None of us parents would!

I would embrace him, connect with him down on his level and ask what is happening, how he feels and how we can work through it (while reassuring him that is okay to experience those emotions.)   So why would we take the former approach to ourselves when our body is communicating with us through the language of pain?  Yet, we do.

I wrote an article on managing back pain (note, this was written when I thought I was had the perspective of repairing injuries not an auto-immune disease)  with young children, and what I’ve learnt helps me over the last ten years – and you can see that the improvement all comes from a place of loving and appreciating my body. Not fighting it.    

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In fact, one of my favourite meditations over the last few years of deep immersion into meditative practices, is the inner smile meditation. To feel gratitude and fill my inner world with happiness, gratitude and the warm flow of love, is something my body desperately wanted (and did not get) until a few years ago.  I always recommend insight timer as it’s free, there’s so many meditations you can choose from, and an entire category dedicated to chronic pain management, inner smile, gratitude, etc.  They range from sparkly noises and tweeting birds and woowoo style, all the way to practical no-nonsense style.  There really is something for everyone. You just need a phone, “do not disturb” mode on, and the app open.

On this blog, it is my intent to openly share some of the things I have learnt on my long back pain journey and share the process of implementing tools.  Even though I am in a current flare-up, I truly believe I have found many of the right tools to manage Ankylosing Spondylitis and as I re-implement them in my life with new perspective, I hope to share with you the journey.  I also hope to connect with other mamas with AS as well, so we can support each other in our growth and elevation.

I am early in this journey though, and there are many more tools outside of the realm of western medicine that I am excited to learn about, and try out.  I hope to share these as well!

If you would like to read more posts on this journey, check out these:

https://thegreatmaternityleave.com/category/ankylosing-spondylitis-journey/

 

 

 

 

Ankylosing Spondylitis Journey, Essays, Free Life Coaching Guides, grief, Grounding, Happiness, health coaching, Lifestyle, Lifestyle Design, Mental health, Physical Wellness

Stop Repressing your Emotions. Start Feeling and Start Healing. My Ankylosing Spondylitis Remission Journey.

Recently Diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis_ (4)

 

Image: Stock Image, Colourbox.

This image right below, is of the Hoover Dam. An engineering marvel bordering Arizona and Nevada.  It is a powerful visual for today’s post.  Hold it in your mind, it will make sense in a few minutes.

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Its concrete base is more than 600 ft thick.  Why?  The Hoover Dam holds back 45,000 lb of water pressure per square foot. Behind this massive concrete wall lies 247 square miles of water. That water is carefully controlled and flows through the dam.  A tiny, restricted flow of water generates enough energy in the plant’s turbines, to power the lives of 1.3 million people for a year.

Side note:  If you have attempted to keep bath water in the bath with a toddler, you will have an appreciation for the scale of this dam and water pressure, because with a toddler bath, you (the parent) with 5 or 6 feet of body, are trying to withstand approximately 100 gallons of water.  lol.  Anyways…

The water’s potential energy held behind that wall, is staggering.  It is there, bound up, waiting to be let through that dam.  The water that gets through, explodes with energy, transferring to kinetic energy, and eventually into electric energy for hundreds of thousands of homes.

If you remember back to your high school classes in physics, (assuming you actually attended those classes – I can’t say I did)  you may remember the first law of thermodynamics, the Law of Conservation of Energy: Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; energy can only be transferred or changed from one form to another.

I think about this all the time with parenthood – we all witness a huge range of energies & emotional states that  children move through.  They are incredibly dynamic.  Toddler kinetic energy (racing down the hall) can flash over to emotional energy in a heart beat! They will pick up any energy in the room like a sponge.  Even your baby does.  Trying to put your baby down quickly and easily when you are agitated and restless?  Yeah, good luck with that…

So, back to my point with energy only transfers. The human body experiences many forms of energy. Kinetic energy, chemical energy, thermal energy and electrical energy are all examples.   Energy is flowing within us and through us.   It leaves us, and comes to us.  It is a constant interplay between us and our environments.We’re in one giant circle of energy exchange.

Though we haven’t gotten a good handle on it yet, there are other forms of energy flowing in our body, too.  This energy is described in Eastern Medicine as Qi, but in the west we don’t really have a proper name for it yet other than the very loosey goosey description of someone’s “vibe.”

We have good days and bad days, on days and off days.  We feel the vibes of other people and we can’t help but raise to their level, or sink to their level, depending on where they are.  When our babies or children are in a different energy state from us, we are left trying to stay grounded while helping them move through their various states of being.

If you are super fascinated by energy states of children, I truly recommend Carol Tuttle’s book which describes different energy dispositions and how to work with them in children.   It has been hugely influential in my life and parenting.

Here we, are trying our best to manage our children’s energy and how we react to it, thinking we are the knowledgeable ones… BUT… children have something very, very important to teach us.  Children live in the present moment, and healthily process emotions.  They let themselves experience everything in full technicolour.  Then, as quickly as an emotion arrives, it passes.  Maybe 5 minutes later, maybe 2 weeks later.  It moves on.

Granted, we don’t want to go into full toddler style technicolour ranges of emotion and energy.  We are adults and self-regulation is important in environments like oh, say, our jobs? Extended family dinners?

BUT you know what we adults do? We repress our emotions and deny them. We are like the wall of the hoover dam, except we are not 600+ feet thick concrete.  We’re made of tissue, and bone, and organic materials that are constantly shifting and changing. I fully believe whatever emotions are being held back, the pressure of those is felt in our bodily structures.

We swallow emotions down and instead of letting them go through us and out of us. We push them deep into our subconscious and consequently, into our bodies.  They eventually show up, becuase energy changes state.  Perhaps bad dreams, or unconscious behaviours, or even chronic pain and illness.

In my own healing journey toward vitality and away from chronic pain and depressive symptoms and nightmares, I’ve come to understand that many of my own emotions have been repressed over the years, for various reasons.   From family, social and cultural pressure to have a stiff upper lip, to simply needing to get sh*t done in crisis situations and saving the emotions for later.

And here, is the main point of this article.  It turns out that having small children can be one of the most liberating things for your body, mind, spirit and soul, because they get our emotions back into free-flow mode.

Full disclosure, pre-kids, I used to see being emotional and crying as a trait of weakness and extremely undesirable. If I went to a movie with a friend or family, I’d inwardly roll my eyes if they were sobbing, and judge them – yet I’d be picking at my lip or fighting my own battle not to cry, staring at the back of people’s heads and trying to disconnect from the movie.

I took pride in being logical, un-emotional, stoic, etc.  I was simply modelling what I saw around me.  And you know what, for a long time it did truly serve me.  Locking down and getting stuff done and facing challenges was something I had to do for almost all of my teens and twenties.  It’s what I had to do then, and I honour it. That’s why we keep beliefs around, right?  At some point they were useful.

In 2013 I took care of my mum with stage IV lung cancer and I was pregnant at the same time. It was an honour to be in that role. I was locked down, efficient, stoic as F**** while so many people around me fell apart from grief.  I am careful not to judge it as a good thing or a bad thing – I have no regrets about how I handled my cancer caregiver role, however, keeping things on lock down did catch up with me, because those beliefs became more deeply embedded and my emotional range deeply decreased.  

When old beliefs begin impacting your current quality of life, it is time to say:

“you know what?  You served me once upon a time but you are not serving me anymore.  In fact, you are keeping me from moving forward and getting where I want to go in my life. It is time for you to go!” 

After the ultimate application of my ability to remain stoic and unemotional, I was thrown into motherhood, where my old beliefs about repressing emotion began to really backfire.  When my daughter was 3 months old, I was struggling to feel anything.  Joy, happiness, connection.  I realized that I had to get things flowing again, and feel something.  I began counseling, reading, keeping a dream journal and some deep somatic work. 

In order to let the good stuff flow, I learnt that I had to let the sad stuff flow, too.  The earliest hints of this were in my dreams which were really quite tortured and tragic.  Emotion was showing up in my dreams and my chronic pain was intense. 

From 2013 to 2018 I embarked on a journey to create non-self-judgemental space in my life let my emotions flow.  It was terrifying.  It was really hard, too. 

I believe that for any “logical” person, letting yourself finally connect with your emotional states and acknowledge that you are an emotional being, is the ultimate act of courage. Nobody wants to feel the hard stuff.  It’s why people get addicted to things.  We want to avoid it.  But in order to get to the other side (happiness and the good feels) you have to be brave enough to go through the hard feels.  

One of the practices I took on, was to cry in public. This was one of the most intense forms of self-regulation and repression that I used to do as a child and it was one of my most stubbornly held beliefs.  I knew this was a stubborn belief, because the thought of crying in public or around friends instantly made me recoil. 

 It was a hugely difficult practice at first to let myself cry publicly, but after some months of work, I did it! One of the first times I was able to truly let myself be and allow emotions to flow, was on an overnight flight to London Heathrow with my daughter who was 6 months old at that point.  The moment that plane flew over the twinkling Calgary skyline, I lost it. My mum and I had so many special memories of flying on that exact Air Canada flight back over to the UK to see our family (and when she lived there, me flying out to see her.) I was tired, and snuggling a baby and just feeling very, very lonely at that point of my life. I let myself sob.  It let it out, and let it go.  When people asked if I was okay, I said “not really.” I opened up.  That first time crying in front of a plane of concerned strangers was huge, and slowly I was able to do it in scarier situations – in front of my husband and friends.  

I would have NEVER done that pre-baby. Not. In. A. Million. Years.  Honestly, not even for $1000. Even 5 years later after tons of work, I find it hard to be emotional. I don’t think you can just simply decide to let deeply held beliefs go.  It’s a journey and you will move forward and sometimes backward. 

Rewinding back to 2013.  Once I had let myself experience tears,  there was plenty of room for the good stuff. Over the next five years, I was able to truly access joy again.  The water pressure against the dam released as I let some water (emotions) through the turbines.

By letting water flow through the dam’s power plant and turbines, energy is created. I found that analogy so true to my own life.  By letting emotions finally flow through, the trickle of water became a huge flow.  That emotional energy hit the turbines and converted to a different form.  The energy of growth, happiness and engagement. It released more energy to continue working toward the life I wanted, and more energy to access the good emotions.   

I can also say that it (has) helped relieve some of my chronic pain, though this has been something that has really come along in the last year (2017-2018)

  I truly think that when you have emotional pressure pushing against that wall (by the way that concrete wall is your own fear of emotions and “lockdown” mode)  some of that pressure has to transfer to parts of your body.  Headaches, back pain, maybe inflammation and illness or a bad digestive system?  Depends on you.

Energy is neither created nor destroyed, simply transferred elsewhere in different forms, right?  

In 2018 as I write this with far more emotional range, a gentler, kinder and more accepting attitude toward emotion, I can say that my pain is less, in all senses of the word.  I am more willing and able to express myself, embrace vulnerability and with those things has come a beautiful life, greater happiness and the confidence and faith to embrace highest visions for the life of myself and my family.   I am a better friend, wife, mother for being gentle not only with others in their emotional times, but also myself, and I wouldn’t take that back for the world.

I hope the dam visual lands with you, and that perhaps this causes some reflection on your own emotions, energy management, and the gift that your children have given you.

 

xo

 

Carina