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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Physical Wellness

What Bra Should I buy for Breast Reduction Surgery? Recommended Post Surgical Bras.

I typically get asked, what Bra should I buy for breast reduction surgery? What bras did you buy for breast reduction surgery recovery?

I’ve had quite a few messages on instagram also asking for an update on how recovery from my breast reduction surgery has gone in July – so here’s my first post, on bra recommendations!

I can definitely say recovery has gone very well! This past Saturday I was able to run 15 km down a mountain as part of a team for the Lewiston Ultra Trail Race in British Columbia. I wore a backpack that had straps across my chest, and a Lululemon running bra, and I didn’t have any soreness.  I feel fully healed at this point.

So let’s jump straight into the bra recommendations, I had two for post surgery that I spent money on (definitely not as much as my old, engineered bras from Addition Elle to contain my massive boobs, but there is a range of price points for post-surgical bras so I wanted to show you this and what I would have done with the power of hindsight.)

I got two bras:

1.) Clear Point Medical Bra $32.00. This is a general post-surgical bra with a front closure from ClearPoint Medical from my surgeon’s office (the classic comfort bra) that fit C Cups with a 42 band size.  I went into surgery about a 40 DDD/E and came out a C36.  $32 online.  Screen Shot 2018-10-02 at 12.09.37 PM.png

The 42 band (bigger than what I am) was useful because I wound up putting gauze in underneath my breasts on the incisions, so you want something a little larger in band size.

The key is to have a bra with no underwire and a front closure  and the same cup size or down depending on how far you go down (to be determined with your surgeon, just ask them what cup size bra you should buy) – you’ll be swollen *and* you don’t want a tight or compressive bra.

You won’t be able to pull a bra over your head or use a rear-fasten bra the first 3 or so weeks.  It is cheaper to buy white or skin tone bras but I preferred black because then I didn’t have to deal with getting all sorts of stains off (and I could use it.  My Clear Point Medical one I wound up throwing out.)

2.) The other bra was a Glamorise Comfort Front Open Underwire free Leisure Bra which are pricey, at $40 and NOT available on Amazon prime, so shipping.  $$$.  I was all stressed about surgery and having a good bra so I paid.  Whoops.

Honestly you really don’t have to pay much for that post-surgical bra, which is why I added a third recommendation below.

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All you need is a comfortable, basic bra with a front opening.  With that knowledge in hindsight, I would have gotten one of these below in black!

3.) Carole Martin Women’s Wire-Free Full Freedom Cotton Bra $15

The best price / good review combo though, are the Carole Martin front closure cotton ones  available on Amazon for $15 (below)

Recommended Bras after breast reduction surgery

 

Once your boobs have recovered, the swelling is down and you are feeling good and ready for a rear closure bra, have fun! I cannot tell you how liberating it is to shop for bralettes, and pay less than $15 for a good bra.

Honestly I was used to having to pay $70+ for bras that could handle (and contain) my huge boobs before surgery.

I am enjoying the underwire-free life as well, that’s a huge benefit of reduction surgery, because your breasts are lifted along with reduced.   🙂

Good luck!  I don’t speak for all breast reduction surgery patients, only my own unique experience, but I thought by adding my voice and experience to the interwebs would be helpful to the larger dialogue.  This is (not) medical advice, so please consult with your surgeon / specialist, especially on sizing for a post-surgical bra!

Good luck, it is one of the best things you’ll ever do for yourself.  The results are amazing! xo

Physical Wellness

My Ankylosing Spondylitis Video Diary – Understanding Our Own Stories About Pain, and Why Cultivating Flow State is Important for People with AS

Hi everyone, I am sharing the Vlogs that I record on Youtube here on my blog, a well. This Video covers a few things that have been on my mind lately.
-Understanding WHY AS came to me (beyond genes)
-Why cultivating flow state is *very* helpful if you have ankylosing spondylitis
-Uncovering your own personal stories about pain

Enjoy! xo

Carina

Grounding, Happiness, health coaching, Lifestyle, Lifestyle Design, Mental health, Nature, Personal Development, Physical Wellness, Trail running

Advice for Trail Runners. The Diary of a New Trail Runner and Life Coach.

Trail running is amazing because it puts us into flow state, from which our greatest insights and ideas come. I love to coach in nature (I guess you could say I do “nature coaching” or “nature life coaching”) and for me, trail runs are like a ridiculous download from the deepest recesses of my mind.

Today I offer you a wonderful tool on how to leave your past in the past, and start moving towards your future mindfully.

Xo Carina

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

My Favourite Resources for Ankylosing Spondylitis

 

Recently Diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis_

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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Grounding, Happiness, health coaching, Mental health, Personal Development, Physical Wellness, Sleep, Spirituality

What I’ve Learnt from Five Years of Meditating – Moms who Meditate

What i have learnt from five years of practicing meditation2

My husband and I are always game for a challenge, and last month when my car was stolen, we saw it as a fun opportunity to try and get by with one car for a month. We enjoy challenges like this.  It definitely has been interesting and challenged us in many ways, most notably logistically.  You become an expert at logistics when you have 5 people going in 5 directions and one car between all of you, and you’re trying to get back into work after a year’s mat leave and you’re both kind of spontaneous people.   But I digress.  That’s another blog post entirely.

The reason I mentioned this though, is because it provides a bit of background for why I have had so much time for meditation lately:  I’ve been taking an hour-long train ride to work and am back on the meditation train (pun intended.)

Each time I get on the train, I excitedly open my favourite app, Insight.  I first downloaded the Insight meditation app last year and it was the third app I tried after Headspace, which I still love and use for my kids, and Calm, which I didn’t love.  Calm just didn’t catch on for me.

I enjoy the fun of hunting for and saving new meditations with different voices, approaches, topics and lengths.  Insight is like the facebook of meditation where you can follow people, and do meditations based on how much time you have, topics or even styles. You can follow people, or save individual meditations. I have a stash of meditations saved in my bookmark folder, and I choose them based on what I need.

Lately I’ve needed to ground myself and simply feel peaceful amidst a ton of chaos in external life.  In July I returned to work after a year on mat leave, had my car stolen, been diagnosed with a disease and had a major surgery.  So, it’s not surprising I’ve felt the need to pause.   What marked a major change for me in July, after years of meditating, is my first thought when I considered what I needed was – yes – meditation.  This is a shift.

I have moved from I should do meditation (and then remember here and there) to I am craving meditation (and make it a daily practice) 

(please note this is not a sponsored post, I genuinely love this app and it’s part of my daily habits, which makes it worthy of a mention, in this mama’s pursuit of an elevated life.)

I’ve been practicing (and exploring) meditation on and off since 2013 when I had my first baby and attended a mama meditation workshop.  From there, I was hooked, though I should have known it would be my jam way back in my hot yoga days, when I LIVED for savasana and spent the hour looking forward to that divine rest at the end 😉

As I shift into a daily practice that is now a habit that I crave, there’s a few things I’ve realized.  So I bring to you, the things I have learnt from five years of practicing meditation.

-You have to find the style.  I am picky about voices.  I hate bells and “unexpected sounds” in meditation.  I like deeper voices.   In the early stages, find what seems to resonate with you and soothe you.  We all resonate with different energies and that includes the energy that a voice projects, or the sound waves in a meditation recording.

-There are many styles of meditation:  Music or sound-based (like crystal bowls) walking meditation, nature meditation, guided meditation, mantra meditation, breathing meditation, even swimming meditation. As you go down the meditation road, you have no choice but to try them all on for size, find out what you like and don’t like and take note of the ones that seem to get you into a pretty deep state.  I discovered 2 years into the process, that I loved guided meditations.  These seem to be my jam.  I loved savasana back in my hot yoga days but found the silence too long for my untrained brain.  I still find long silences hard.

-It does get easier to get into a deep meditative brain state with practice, but you have to use it or lose it.  If I have meditated consistently (daily) for a good week, I’ll get into a deeper state faster.  If I haven’t done it in a while, it will actually take 2 or 3 separate meditation sessions to ‘get back’ to that zoned out state.

-Meditation opens up your intuition and creative brain.  In times of regular meditative practice I find myself much more creative, full of good ideas and able to think outside of the box.  There’s extensive neuroscience that supports this theory.  If you want a super interesting googling session, type “meditation “flow state” “creativity” “intuition” in that little google box and prepare to be fascinated (and probably up reading until 1am.)

-It is very  (we are talking profoundly) true that meditation enhances your ability to take a gentle approach to all of the events in your life, and it cultivates a kinder, gentler, quieter version of self-talk.  Meditation cultivates your ability to pause, take a step back, notice what is happening and be able to practice peace and non-attachment.  You find that you begin to treat yourself kindly and gently, as you do the events around you.

Meditation cultivates your outside observer, or spiritual side.  The eternal part of your soul that is watching the human experience unfolding before you (that is your life as you know it) with a knowing smile.  This is one of the main reasons I am so thankful that I discovered meditation.  It has been an amazing tool in tough times.  It has been a key in mental resilience and my eternal positivity.  It has let me handle some wild rides in this adventure called life.  I’ve used it a lot in the last little few years, particularly the most profound moments.

I did one in 2016, before saying goodbye to my father in law who was on life support in the ICU.   It helped me say goodbye with peace and love, without attaching myself to the human drama going on around me that was not of my own.  I was able to think and act with clarity and honour my emotions in the days following, without attaching to them or judging them.

I also went into meditation the night my mum passed away in hospice in 2013.  In that state, I was able to feel the moment her soul departed and sat up, waiting for the nurse to enter to let us know.   I’ll always see that as a special gift and one of the profound moments that led me deeper into exploring meditation and the spiritual side of things.    If you engage with the meditation journey, and stick with it, you will have a few profound moments.  These will be the proof that your mind wants. These will also be the truth that your soul has always known (that your brain may have ignored for a while.)

-Meditation has been the best tool for helping me ‘reset’ when I shift into a different environment or role. Meditating on the train this past week has helped me leave my work behind, re-ground, become peaceful and set a blank slate for the next part of my day:  Returning home a present and mindful parent for the kids (and not preparing dinner in a panicky get-it-down rush.) I do some of these exercises with coaching clients, particularly if they walk into the room with their energy and emotions from earlier events in the day.  Together we clear the space, the energy and their minds before engaging in coaching.

-Meditation before bed has helped with my nightmares.  I’ve always had an extremely creative imagination which makes for some absolutely wild nighttime dreams, many of which have been quite scary.  I go through phases of nightmares, especially when I feel my mental health backsliding a bit or my healthy lifestyle habits slipping.  Meditation seems to help before bed and prevent the wild and wacky nightmares.  I can’t explain why, but once again, I’m sure a bunch of googling and scientific research will reveal that!

If you’ve been fascinated by it, honestly give it a go.  You can’ t just lie on the floor and meditate with kids running around, so some tips from this mama to other mamas:

Sneak it in when you are putting your kids down, try the headspace app or a children’s meditation but go along with it as well as you lie by your kids.  you’re doing a great thing for them too!

Get over worrying about other people. If you do it at work, you’ll be somewhere with your eyes closed, and someone will look at you while you have your eyes closed.  Don’t worry about it.  It’s increasingly commonplace.   Remember that 15 minute break you never take?  Yes…  you know where I am going with that.

Take 10 minutes in on your commute before you “enter” the next stage of your day.  Or, even the next role in your day, ie: from employee, to mom.  From mom, to wife.  From awake, to asleep. It’s a really nice way to transition.  Meditation doesn’t just “clean the slate” of your mind and thinking patterns, it truly does reset your body, your posture and the energy you bring to your next interaction.

The next time you can’t sleep or have a toss and turn night, take 10 minutes and do one, I strongly recommend “bone deep sleep” (link below.)

To get you started, here are a few of my favourite guided meditations on the Insight app, as well as a link to the Mindful Kids youtube channel which has the most AMAZING relaxing music for the kids. We have two favourite videos from this channel which I’ve screen shotted for you (click on the picture and it will take you there.)

 

Insight App – My Current Favourites:

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Jennifer Piercy’s Bone Deep Sleep – A short Yoga Nidra Meditation for sleep

Youtube: My Current Music Favourites / Kids Favourites

This one in the evening or quiet time, the imagery is lovely to play on our tv in the background.

Mindful Kids Meditation Music Channel

 

This one for bed time (it relaxes all of us, not just the kids!)

Mindful Kids Youtube Channel
The Mindful Kids Youtube Channel – meditative bedtime music. Relaxation music for toddlers and young children. Meditation music.
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.

Recently Diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis_

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.

Google

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, 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.

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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