Why Positive Thinking Won't Heal You

Why Positive Thinking Won't Heal You

Many of my clients, whether they’re living with a chronic illness or not, say to me at some point, “I just need to be positive” or “I just need to keep a positive attitude.” This isn't surprising since positive thinking shows up in the workplace, the military, and nearly every corner of our lives  The Mayo Clinic touts it as a strategy for reducing stress and improving health.

My reply to my clients is that positive thinking is for suckers. And to the Mayo Clinic, I’d ask “what about removing the sources of stress? Doesn’t that seem way more efficient?”

Sure, it’s probably better to look on the bright side than to be a negative nancy but those aren’t the only two options, even if popular opinion might say otherwise. There’s not a lot of room in our society for negative feelings around hard stuff like death, illness, and other forms of loss. And our societal discomfort with negativity causes real harm, particularly for people with anxiety, depression, or chronic illness because they rarely feel supported in feeling all the feels. More on that here.

Thinking positively is just not a good strategy for addressing your life’s biggest challenges and it can actually make your physical and mental health worse in two big ways:

  1. It’s an energy suck. To say that you need to think positively assumes that your feelings or experience are bad. So, to think positively, you’re expending energy thinking about how negative an experience is and then you’re spending more energy to engineer some alternate, more positive, and potentially false reality for yourself.

  2. If you’re telling yourself that your pain or suffering isn’t that bad when it’s actually really bad, you’re allowing whatever you’re experiencing to go untreated and worsen. If you’re not acknowledging your pain, you’re also not asking for the support you need to resolve the situation. And as I wrote in a post called “Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Your Pain,” the “I’ll just suck it up approach” doesn’t just hurt you but the people around you as well.

Here’s the thing, negative feelings are 100% normal and worth being acknowledged. Also, not everything is about feelings. That’s an important tenet of the ontological coaching I practice and part of the reason I love it so much. 

When I’m working with a client, I’m not concerned with how they’re feeling. I’m helping them first to just see what they’re telling themselves about a particular situation. The story could be positive, negative, or otherwise. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is whether or not that story is helping them get where they want to go. Often it’s not, and that’s why they feel stuck, worried, helpless, etc. If the client is willing to let go of the false, unhelpful story, it creates space for them to create a new one that is motivating, inspiring, and more true to who they really are. It’s pretty much the best!

So, the next time you have a negative emotion, be compassionate with yourself and know that it’s okay and totally normal. And if you hear yourself say, “I just need to think positively about this,” take a closer look at what “this” really is and what needs to be done about it. That might support you in moving forward. 

 

 

Building a Support Dream Team

Building a Support Dream Team

Modern folklore will have us believe that there are a lot of things we “should” be able to do on our own like start a business, heal from a complex illness, or get into the grad school of our dreams. But that’s about as real as a jackalope riding a unicorn.

In reality, no one, ever, in the history of the world, has achieved great things entirely on their own.

We all need support to achieve the things that are most important to us. And to be successful, we need to be willing to ask for that support. My favorite way to ensure success in any endeavor is to intentionally build a Support Dream Team. In the social entrepreneurship world, this is often called building your own board of directors. Same idea but if you want more than just advice like if you really just want someone to bring you soup once a week, that title might not make sense. Hence, Support Dream Team.

How to build your own support dream team:

1. Get clear on what kind of support you want and make a list. I advise everyone to write a vision statement for the life they’d love because once the vision is clear, you can look at it and ask yourself, “who do I need on my team to help me make this vision real?” If you don't have a written vision yet, read this, and write a short outline or paragraph of what you're trying to do. Then list out all the tasks/projects you are going to want support with.  If you’re writing a book this might look like, “copy editor, graphic designer, writing coach, an accountability buddy, chief cheerleader,” etc.

2. Begin filling in the team roster, i.e. Copy Editor: my friend Kaz, Chief Cheerleader: Barry.

3. Note any holes in the roster and brainstorm how you might find those people. If you don’t already know a graphic designer who can help you make a book cover and you’re not interested in doing it yourself, who could you ask for recommendations? Are you willing to post on social media and ask for recommendations?

4. Start asking! Start with the easy asks – the people who are likely to say yes. This will help build your confidence and allow you to practice explaining your vision before you try to enroll people you don’t know into supporting you. If asking for help feels really hard, get some support to ask for support. Ask a friend who’s good at lovingly kicking your ass, or hire a coach like me.  :) One of the single most valuable things I got out of coaching was overcoming my fear of asking for support.

If you’re asking friends and/or family for support, sometimes it can feel nice to make a declaration to the group as a whole, then follow up with people individually. This might look like an e-mail titled, “Be on my Dream Team?”  If there’s anything you need to communicate to a wide audience like “I’m not going to be able to hang out as much because I’m focused on building this business” you can do that at the same time. Members of the Spoonie Superstars Facebook group can check out a beautiful example here of an email someone wrote to all her girlfriends asking them to come hang out with her so she wouldn’t feel so isolated while she’s healing from Lyme disease. 

Notes on Networking

When you reach out to people you don’t know, or don’t know well, about being on your support team, try to be really clear with them about what you’re asking for. There’s this common assumption that you need to have tea or a meeting with someone to build a relationship. While that might seem like the polite thing to do, it could actually work against you if someone is really busy. So, before you email someone, or call them, or reach out to them on LinkedIn, get super clear yourself on what you’re asking for, whether it’s a recommendation for a person or organization, articles, resources, or some other aspect of their expertise. Definitely, do your research on the person before you reach out and demonstrate that you’ve done so, i.e. “I really appreciated your blog post on baby goat yoga.” This shows respect for their work and their time.

Assume that people want to support you and share your expertise with you. Wouldn’t you?

Follow up at least twice. Do you respond to every single email and message you get on all your social media platforms always, after the first message? If so, you get a sticker. Most of us don’t. If someone doesn’t respond to you, it doesn’t mean they were offended by your message or don’t like you. It could mean that, but it could also mean that your message is drowning in their crowded inbox, or that they’re on vacation, or just had a baby. Definitely, follow up.

My First Dream Team

I built a small but mighty Support Dream Team when I went back to working and living on my own after eight months of living with my parents, resting like a boss. I’d been getting a ton of support from my parents – cooking, paying for food, etc. – and I was going to move in with my partner back in Boston, who also had a chronic illness. I wrote my five closest friends in Boston, explained that I was excited to be back, wanted to see them, but was still sick and in need of support. Would they help in the following X, Y, and Z ways?

One of those friends still cooks me dinner at least once a month because she knows I love it and it brings her joy. Another friend took me out to dinner a bunch at places where I could actually eat. She picked up the tab and it gave us a chance to go out when I didn’t have the cash to. A couple other friends helped me move three different times in the following eighteen months. It was the f-ing best, let me tell you and my friends have told me that they’re grateful that I was real with them and asked for help. Previously they’d wanted to help but didn’t know how. They were so happy to have concrete ways to help me get better.  Contrary to all my biggest worries, I’m still friends with all of them and now that I’m feeling better, I have more and more energy to support them, something I worried I wouldn’t be able to do.

While we like to get super guilty and weird about asking for help, when we ask for support, we are actually being a contribution to the people we are asking. 

To Able-Bodied People: We Have Ambitions Too

To Able-Bodied People: We Have Ambitions Too

A person very close to me told me last week that based on the way I appeared to be living my life, they didn’t think I had any ambition. Hearing that was very painful on a personal level because I feel like I’m busting ass to improve my health and build a meaningful and sustainable business, but the comment also reminded me of how frequently able-bodied individuals misunderstand the experience of having a chronic invisible illness. Just because we’re not applying to law school, or meeting other societal measures of “success,” does not mean we aren’t holding big hopes and dreams in our hearts. Some of us are simply on a different, much longer timeline. Some of us are putting an enormous amount of energy into being as well as possible so we can do even very small things that bring us joy and fulfillment.

It really gets me when able-bodied people wonder what we do with our time, or belittle our dedication to our health, because of the social pressure to prioritize everything else before self-care – job, family, housework – is precisely why so many people struggle with it. Nearly every person I’ve had as a client has said that they know that doing x, y, or z would help them feel better but they aren’t doing it or aren’t doing it consistently enough to get the results they want because they don’t feel justified in putting their health first. Usually, it is a worry about being selfish, sacrificing career goals, or not making enough money that holds people back from doing what they know they need to do.  It’s just true in our society that you need money for basic needs but usually coupled with that financial-flavored worry is a bunch of worries about what others will think if we take time off, say no to a “great opportunity,” or make other choices that seem crazy to a well person.

I used to be there, wrapped up in all that worry and struggling to do things the way other people do them. I chose instead the sometimes unpopular path of putting the health of my mind, body, AND soul first, so I can get back to my metaphorical fighting weight. All I want to do is to kick ass. I envision myself as a changemaker, movement leader, or maybe even elected official, ideally reconstructing the American healthcare system and more generally pushing America to live up to its full potential. I also want to be a dog owner, a published author, a hobbyist farmer, a homeowner, an awesome coach, and a regular hiker and biker. I see, now more than ever, that I can never do all of that as long as I’m belted into my seat on the struggle bus. 

But, as many of my spoonie brethren understand, choosing to step off the struggle bus is not without its side effects. The choice can mean delaying or even eschewing a lot of the common social indicators of success and this can be especially hard for us younger folks, both because we want those things and because we can face scrutiny from people who don’t get it and wonder why we aren’t doing what our peers are doing.

The person who said I had no ambition was holding me up against other 32-year-olds with my education and opportunities. I've been very privileged yet I’m not married, I don’t have kids, and I live in a rented house with six other people. I don’t have a masters degree, and I’m building my own business instead of working a “good” job. I can’t think of anyone in my college educated peer group who doesn’t have at least one of these social success indicators on lock. I’m certain that I could have all those markers of “success” right now, but I’m sure I would be in pain, exhausted, miserable, and isolated. I still want some of those things, but I’m happy to wait.  In my present life, I’m happy, in love, making plans, I have time and energy to do things I love, and while I still have bad days, I’m seeing measurable improvements in my health. The only thing that sucks about being an outlier, other than not getting to eat pizza, is other people completely misunderstanding my motivations.

I can see how it’s easy for someone to assume that I’ve chosen this lifestyle because I’m a hippy, or lazy, or an idealist. The truth is that, at least in the near term, I have chosen to chase a different kind of success. I’m pursuing a PhD in being alive and considering health my wealth right now. I’m looking forward to being the Alice Walton of physical vitality. Just because the choice to prioritize health is not valued in our society, does not mean it’s not incredibly valuable.

Lessons in Emotional Acceptance & The Chinese Medicine Body Clock

Lessons in Emotional Acceptance & The Chinese Medicine Body Clock

One thing that really gets me is not knowing what’s going on with my body. I know I’m not alone in this. I spoke to a brave soul in a consult last week who is on a serious mission to get to the root of her chronic pain. She’s getting all the tests done, and seeing all the practitioners she can, including unconventional ones. All she wants in the world right now is the answer.

I feel her. I know what it’s like to be a medical mystery and nevertheless determined to find a root cause. That’s been most of my experience for the last 17 years. It takes a lot of energy and emotional fortitude. While I’m now more okay with not knowing what’s going on, I still get panicky, or impatient sometimes, and frantically search for people who can help me. It happens when I get depressed too. I think, “I NEED to get support. Who can I call?”

 What I’m learning though, through my experience, and that of so many people in my community, is that a huge part of the answer to what ails us lies within. But, when we are frantically searching for answers outside ourselves, we can’t be present to the answers inside. That perpetual outward gaze sets us up in a cycle that keeps us sick. We spend a ton of energy going to the doctor. We don’t get answers, or the meds don’t work, and then we’re sad and frustrated. A lot of us know intuitively that the outward gaze isn’t working and there is information inside us, but because we’re so conditioned to look outward, we keep doing it, even when it’s not working for us.

Here’s an alternative approach: Create space to talk to yourself and listen to what you hear. If you do it a few times and feel stuck, or aren’t sure what to do with the information you get, call in the support of people who can help you interpret what you’re hearing. I’m not saying don’t go to the doctor. Do! But just as you go to the doctor for support with your body, you’ll want to find folks who can support you with the mind and soul side of healing too. You can learn so much on your own though, simply by creating some space to be with your body’s signals, a.k.a. symptoms and emotions.

I’ll share a recent example from my own life.

Since January I’ve been having intermittent one-sided pain in the middle of my back after I eat. I did my due diligence and got an ultrasound to rule out gallstones. I didn’t have any stones and everything looked normal. I saw a gastroenterologist who said it could be an acid issue or nerve pain. To explore the acid issue, I started taking HCL and it did go away. Then it came back, starting slowly and then getting much more persistent. I also began waking up every morning between 4-5am. One of my practitioners said something about waking up at “lung time” and I wanted to explore that further.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, consistent late night/early morning waking times (and midday sleepiness) are associated with different meridians, or energy channels in the body. Each meridian is paired with an element – earth, water, metal, wood, and fire – and each element is associated with certain emotions. My 4-5am slot is metal, which corresponds to grief and loss.

When I saw that, my first reaction was frustration, “I haven’t had any losses. There’s nothing to grieve.” My herbalist and others have told me that the right side headaches I’ve had for years are associated with anger and my reaction to that has been similar, “My life is pretty great, What is there to be angry about?” But, since I was sick of my back hurting every single time I ate, no matter what I ate, and even sometimes when I didn’t eat, I decided to give myself some space to ask these questions and listen to the answers. I sat down on my back porch with some herbal tea one morning and wrote down the words “grief and loss.” Then I wrote the questions, “What might I be grieving? What have I lost?” And I started writing. It turned out to be a long, emotional list. I had a good long cry about it and it was a pretty cathartic experience overall. My back hurt a lot less afterwards and I stopped waking up at 4am.

In general in my life, I like to focus on what I’m grateful for and how to move forward. Lately, I’ve been so focused on getting treatment and growing my business that, outside of the yoga studio and a couple neat workshops, I haven’t given myself much space to just be with what’s coming up for me. I certainly haven’t allowed myself to acknowledge that living with a chronic illness is actually pretty hard. Sometimes I forget that.

It’s just true that I have to spend a lot of time doing things for my health that other people don’t have to do. It’s true that I don’t have as much money as a lot of my peers because I’ve spent a lot of time not working and spend all my money on treatment.  It’s also true that I can’t just decide tomorrow to take a sweet management job at my favorite solar company, or launch a healthcare revolution, or pursue my dream of being a U.S. Senator. It could be a long time before I’m able to do any of those things.  I may not get to do them at all. And, I’m seeing again that  it’s okay to be bummed about that. Allowing myself to feel that loss and sadness doesn’t mean I’m going to get mired in it and lose everything I’ve achieved so far. (I have that fear sometimes.)

I often tell my clients that positive thinking is for suckers and I really do believe that. We can’t just think our way out of our suffering. We do get to decide how we want to be with whatever is happening in our lives – pain, loss, an annoying coworker –  but first we have to see clearly what the truth about that is for us. Even though most of us in America aren’t taught how to see our truth, there are a lot of ways to do it. It could look like meditation, sitting in quiet reflection, journaling, shamanic journeying, getting hypnotized, getting your butt coached by someone like me, or something else that resonates with you.

When we lose sight of the truth, which everyone does, we can choose to be compassionate with ourselves and simply turn our attention back towards it. All the above tools are there to support us in seeing it again, honoring it, and choosing again how we want to be with it. It’s kind of like getting to have a recommitment ceremony with yourself again and again for the rest of your life. That wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, right?

If you’re thinking, “That sounds nice, you crazy hippy…” I hear you. I would have said the same thing five years ago. And, if all you’ve ever known is science-based medicine, this may sound very foreign and quacky. Just know that we have a lot of wisdom in our bodies and there are many ways to access it. It’s not something you learn overnight. It takes dedication and an open mind.

Sex and Chronic Illness

Sex and Chronic Illness

I don’t think we talk about sex enough in the chronic illness space. There’s so much I could write about but the conversations I have with folks tend to fall into three main categories:

  1. Not being able to have sex, because of pain, lack of energy, and loss of libido,

  2. Figuring out how to have sex in light of health-related limitations, and

  3. Communicating with sexual partners who do not fully understand limitations.

Really we could write books about this but I’m going to do my best to talk a little about all three today. I’m going to get a little personal with you all so if you don’t want to think about me as a sexual being, you can stop here and turn your attention to puppies instead.

First, there are different schools of thought around whether or not we should be having sex while we’re on a healing journey.  I’ve read in multiple places that men, in particular, should refrain from sex while they’re healing. Something about ejaculation being a waste of vital life-force energy needed for healing. I say do what you can and use your best judgment. Even if you can’t do it the way you used to, with yourself or others, it’s worth experimenting. Sex helps you feel alive and it can be an incredible pain reliever. If you have a partner or partners, it can help you feel connected and fight the isolation that can come with chronic health challenges. Of course, if you’re asexual, rock on with your bad self. Sex isn’t the only way to heal and feel alive.

Though there have been times in my healing journey when, even with the best toys, I was too exhausted to masturbate, let alone have sex, I have mostly found sex to be a powerful healing tool. Sex is the only thing that always dissipates my cluster headaches. It can take awhile for me to get me into the mood when I’m in pain, but I feel like a million bucks post-orgasm.

IF YOU CAN'T HAVE SEX THE WAY YOU USED TO

If, because of your health challenges you can’t have sex the way you used to, see what you CAN do. There are more ways to orgasm than there are spoken languages and now we have the internet so you can learn about all those ways. If research isn’t your thing, experiment and play! If you’d like to experiment with toys or get some one-on-one advice, my friend Rachel Dwight runs an online sex shop for people with non-normative bodies and does consultations. 

IF YOU CAN'T HAVE SEX

If you really can’t have sex because of pain or loss of libido, take a conscious break. It can be devastating at first and it can bring up a lot of shame, guilt, and awkwardness if you have a sweetie, or sweeties, who want to make sweet love to you. Plus, it just sucks when you can’t have sex as much as you want or the way that you want to because sex helps us feel alive.

But, pain can be healed and so can the causes of libido loss, and taking a break can be an important part of your healing journey. Remember that it doesn’t mean you’ll never do it again. (Of course, because of paralysis and other conditions, you may not be able to have sex at all. I will not address that in this post.)

 If your libido is missing in action, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • You’re not alone. If you are in a support group for your illness, you will probably find a lot of others in the same boat sex-wise. If you aren’t familiar with pelvic floor dysfunction, vaginismus, or volvodynia, do a quick Google search. Folks with those conditions aren’t having a lot, if any sex, and some have bravely shared their stories on Facebook, blogs, and probably wherever you consume your media.  
  • People complain a lot about loss of libido as a side effect of psychiatric drugs. Sometimes drugs are needed, I’ve taken them, but educate yourself on the alternatives like herbs, breathwork, and the Walsh Approach.
  • Maca powder, ashwagandha, and cannabis are known to boost libido. If you’re not excited about taking another supplement or powder, there is cannabis lube that can be very stimulating.

COMMUNICATING WITH PARTNERS

It’s natural for your partner to be disappointed if your health challenge changes your sex life in a significant way. See if you can have compassion for them and yourself at the same time. If you want your partner to do something differently with you in the bedroom, ask! They can’t read your mind but they’re probably happy to oblige. If you try something new and it’s awkward the first time, it doesn’t mean it’s never going to work. If you try something new and it doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean another thing won’t work. Talk about how you can both create a safe space for creative trial and error with each other.

 If you’re not able to effectively communicate your physical reality to your partner, or they aren’t able to understand it, it might be a good time to get some support from a couples counselor or life coach who works with couples. I was shocked to learn recently that talking about sex is just starting to be an integral part of couples counseling. When you’re shopping for a counselor, seek out one that has training and/or expertise in talking about sex.

If you haven’t already, you might have a conversation about non-monogamy. It’s becoming more popular and it can actually bring couples closer together. It only works if all participants are consensual and happy with the arrangement though. More good info on practicing ethical non-monogamy, sometimes called polyamory, here. If that is something you’re interested in, and you’d like some relationship support anyway, know that there are counselors and coaches who have experience helping couples open up and navigate non-monogamy.

If your partner refuses to hear you or believe you and isn’t open to getting support, or becomes abusive in anyway, seek out support for yourself right away. Nothing will accelerate your health challenges like abuse and/or trauma.

The Upsides of Being Open at Work

The Upsides of Being Open at Work

Clients and other spoonies I meet frequently ask, “how much should I say about my chronic illness at work?” I always say, be as open as you’re willing to be without sharing the juicy details or your bathroom visits and doctor's’ appointments. That said, being open about your health challenges, even just a little, can bring up a lot of what-ifs.  What if I lose my job? What if people don’t understand and give me unsolicited advice I don’t want to hear? What if my boss and coworkers look down on me or stop giving me meaningful work? What if people think that it’s all in my head because I look fine?

Experiencing worry about these things is totally normal. It is true that sometimes people don’t get it and sometimes workplace discrimination occurs. But, being willing to be courageous and open up about your challenges can have huge upsides. I’ve helped a ton of my clients overcome the fear and reap the benefits of being open.

Based on my experience and those of my clients, here are just some of the possible effects of being open about your health challenges. Being open can help you:  

  • Be more honest with yourself about how you’re feeling and what you can and can’t do.
  • Get accommodations so you can work, or keep working with a new sense of ease.
  • Connect with others who have your same challenge(s) and can help you find doctors, support groups, etc.
  • Be yourself so it doesn’t feel like you’re hiding or wearing a mask all day.
  • Save energy because you’re not always pretending or worrying that people will learn your secret, or trying to do things that are really hard for you physically.
  • Ask for and receive support from people who love you and want to make your life easier.
  • Build more meaningful relationships because you’re being vulnerable and courageous and people feel comfortable being those things in your presence.

Not too shabby, eh? If all that sounds good and you’re still scared to be open at work, know that that is normal and consider that, while it’s possible to get a bad response, it’s also just as possible that your employer could be understanding, supportive, and accommodating. And would it be okay with you to work in any other kind of environment?  Think about how much of your time you spend working. If you do not feel safe and supported at work, it can have a huge impact on your physical and mental health. Toxic and unsatisfying work environments can even be the cause of chronic health conditions. Still, people frequently stay in positions that don’t work for them out of fear of losing health insurance, income, etc.  This pattern is so prevalent that another chronic illness coach named Rosalind Joffe specializes in helping folks get out of toxic work environments.  It can be scary to jump ship but it can also be an extremely effective step in regaining your health.

So what does being open about your health challenges at work really entail? It’s entirely up to you. You get to decide how much you want to share and when you want to share it. By law, you don’t have to disclose anything, but even saying that you have something, without being specific, can support you in getting accommodations that might make your work a million times more pleasant.

It might seem like a stretch at first, especially if you’re undiagnosed, but it is useful to see your health challenge(s) as a disability. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination in their place of employment (and elsewhere), you have a disability if you have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. More here on what constitutes a disability under ADA.

And when do you tell an employer that you have a health challenge?  When starting a new job, I’ve both been upfront about my limitations and accessibility needs in the interview, and have waited until receiving a job offer to reveal that I may need special accommodations. It has worked well for me both ways. When I was first diagnosed, I waited until I said I was leaving to tell my boss but I wish I had told her much earlier. She was incredibly supportive and has since offered me part-time positions and connected me with other employers.

If you see that you desperately want to be open with people but you’re having trouble actually doing it, you may want to hire a coach to get you over the hump. It’s totally worth it.

Adventures in Spooniepreneurship

Adventures in Spooniepreneurship

I haven’t written in a month and it’s because I was learning some valuable lessons about Spooniepreneurship, or the willingness to start and manage a business as someone with a chronic illness (people with chronic illness = spoonies).

In late 2014 I hired a coach because I was sick of burning out, and sick of being sick. It became clear in our work together that the best way for me to do work I loved and have the time I needed to take care of myself was to start my own business. I’ve always been entrepreneurial, and I’ve started a lot of things, but I usually got sick before I could see them through. So, I dove into this adventure head first but always with some doubt about how I’d be able to make it sustainable.

Some of my biggest worries early on were that:

  • I wouldn’t be able to work enough to run a business when a) I spend a lot of time in bed and b) I have to spend 20-30 hours a week on self care. (I made a spreadsheet and calculated all the time I spend on self care.)
  • Clients would fire me if I rescheduled them too much.
  • Learning about internet marketing, taxes, and business stuff would be frustrating and mean a ton of time looking at a screen, which I hate.
  • People would think I was dumb because I get brain fog, lose words, and can’t remember things.

 At this point, I’m a certified coach, I’ve been coaching for two years, and coaching is my primary source of income. I can’t speak to people thinking that I’m dumb but so far no one has fired me for rescheduling. In fact, my clients have been very supportive, and I’ve seen that I can keep the business moving even if I can only work 10 hours some weeks. I do a lot of things differently from how a non-spoonie entrepreneur might. I’ve done some pretty productive writing from my bed, for example, and I rarely work more than 3-4 hours at a time without a significant break. In sum, I learned that all those fears I had were pretty silly. My number one biggest challenge, it turns out, was my fear - and in particular, my fear of not being successful.

Recently, I got a little too stressed about my work, ignored signals from my body to take it easy, and ended up in the Emergency Room with heart attack-like symptoms. All the tests came back normal and I later learned the symptoms could have been Lyme-related or related to a viral upper respiratory infection. I had been extra tired before the incident and on either side of the ER visit, I spent a lot of time in bed, and a lot of time crying. I was scared and super sad about being sick again after almost a year of feeling much better. I also felt sure that this recurrence of symptoms would lead to the inevitable moment when I’d have to bail on my business.

I see now that this latest health adventure was really just my body, the essence of my being, the Universe, or whatever you want to call it, telling me that I needed to chill out and take everything down a few notches. Instead of listening to that incredibly useful message, I was listening to my Monkey Mind (the internal dialogue we all experience that’s full of self-doubt, what-ifs, judgment, and criticism) like it was my beloved guru. “Oh yeah, this is gonna suck and you’re going to fail, just like all those other times.” As a result, I was stressed and working more than I should have been to prove my Monkey Mind wrong. You can see how well that worked out for me.

We all have patterns and internal conversations like this that contribute to our dis-ease. Becoming a spoonieprenuer really put my patterns front and center for me. Some amazing coaches and energy healers have helped me see just how clearly the patterns not only hold me back but keep me sick. Seeing that clearly hasn’t always been a party but it has given me the opportunity to choose something different. In my case, I’m regularly seeing scarcity thinking and choosing instead to look for abundance. When I’m not worried about not having enough time or money or health to be successful, I can see so clearly what I do have.

Historically, one of my most familiar worries has been that I’ll have to do everything alone, that no one is going to help me. And, as if someone was trying to say, “oh yeah? Let me show you how wrong you are!” I’ve been showered with support in the last year. An old friend has offered me countless hours of social media marketing advice and even sent me money to sponsor some video content. Someone I met at a support group three years ago called me to offer advice on a new program. My herbalist snuck me in for a last minute appointment last week without charge. Two different business coaches have offered me complimentary access to their programs. Clients old and new have reached out to share how much they’ve been inspired by my work and to urge me to keep it up. In choosing to look for evidence of abundance instead of scarcity, I can see that people want to support me in doing this big thing and I need to allow them to do that.

Coaching is a great way to identify and overcome these patterns and it’s a huge part of the work I do, but there are other modalities too.  I had great conversations about patterns recently with energy healer Heather Smith and yoga therapist Alex Bauermeister in the first two episodes of Healcast, a series of interview and Q&A sessions with holistic healers on Facebook Live. You can watch the videos here. If you feel called to get clear on your patterns, I recommend trying a few of these modalities to see what resonates with you. Heal on!

YOGA FOR TRAVEL

YOGA FOR TRAVEL

I have the privilege of calling the extremely talented and ever-so-lovely multi-instrumentalist Rob Flax one of my yoga clients. He's about to go on a big tour and he asked me this week what kind of yoga he could do on the road. I put together this list of modified poses to keep his body feeling as good as possible between countless hours of traveling and playing.

Of course, anyone, musician or otherwise, can benefit from doing these stretches to counteract all the sitting that comes with modern travel. If you experience any kind of back and/or neck pain while traveling, you are going to like this post! All these poses can while traveling – on a bus, on a plane, or in a waiting area.

Many thanks to actor Glen Moore for being my model.

SEATED FIGURE 4

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You can do this one right in your seat! Start with both feet firmly on the floor, lift the crown of your head and find a long straight spine. Place your right foot on top of your left knee. Flex the foot. Then you can begin to hinge forward from the hips if you have the space. You may not need to fold very deeply to feel a stretch in the back of the right hip. Hold for at least ten breaths, then switch feet and repeat on the other side. 

NECK

Put your hands in your lap and relax your shoulders. Take an inhale and on the exhale, tip your right ear to your right shoulder, stretching out the left side of your neck. Stay for a couple breaths, come back to center on an inhale, and then tip your left ear to your left shoulder on an exhale. Take a few breaths. Come back to center. Then bring your chin to your chest to stretch out the back of your neck. Stay for at least five breaths in each place. 

HAND AND FINGERS

Reach both arms out in front of you, and spin your right hand around so your palm is facing up and your fingers are pointing down towards the floor.  Wrap all the fingers on your left hand around all the fingers on your right and  gently pull your right fingers back towards you. You can bend your right elbow if you want a little more stretch. Take 5-10 breaths and switch sides. 

Then, stretch each finger individually, starting with the pinky and finishing with the thumb. Be sure to wrap all four fingers of the left hand around each finger you're stretching on the right hand. Then switch hands. 

 

QUAD STRETCH

Stand with both feet firmly on the ground. Grab the seat in front of you or next to you for support and grab your right foot with your right hand. Reach your knee down and back and pull your foot closer to your backside. Hold for 5-10 breaths. Switch sides. 

I've done this both at my seat on a bus (while it was parked) and in the aisle on a plane. 

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If you can find the space to stand in a lunge, do that too, and hold for 10-15 breaths on each side. Make sure your front knee is over your front ankle and you have a small bend in your back knee. Always do both sides. 

FORWARD FOLD

This forward fold is also great if you can find the space to do it. 

First stand tall and interlace your fingers at the base of your spine. Reach your knuckles down towards the floor and spread your collarbones wide. Then bend your knees and fold forward. Stay for a few breaths. If you don't have the space to fold, you can still get a lot out of the interlace and stretching your knuckles down towards the floor. 

FOREARMS 

This one is probably best suited for a waiting area as it requires you to stretch out to your full wingspan. Reach your arms straight out at shoulder height. Then lift your fingertips up to the sky for a nice stretch through the underside of the forearms. Stay for a few breaths. 

Keeping your arms out, rotate your arms so your palms face forward. Then fold your thumbs into your palms and wrap your fingers around your thumbs.

Then point your knuckles down towards the floor and pull gently on your thumbs for a nice stretch across the tops of the arms.

LEGS UP THE WALL

I've only been able to do this in the airport. If you can find a mostly empty waiting area with a free wall, you can take the deeply restorative viparita kirani at the wall. I was told by another yogi years ago that 20 minutes of viparita kirani is as restorative as two hours of sleep. As someone who's always tired, this is my go to pose. It is really good for surviving delays, long trips, hangovers, or sleep deprivation.

Sit on the floor with your right hip up against the wall. Rotate your torso and legs to the right so your back is on the floor and your legs are up against the wall with heels pointing to the ceiling. Stay as long as you like but really take your time coming out of the pose. Roll on to your side, stay there for a few moments, then come to a seated position on the floor. Stay seated for a few breaths before attempting to rise to avoid a head rush. 

OTHER TIPS FOR MORE COMFORTABLE TRAVEL

  • Drink lots of water. Staying hydrated will help your body feel better through all the transition. 
  • Have some kind of lumbar support. You can buy a special pillow just for this but even rolling up a jacket and placing it behind the lowest part of the curve of your spine can give you some support and make sitting for long periods much easier. 
  • Most airports have prayer and meditation rooms. Seek one out to get some peace and quiet, and a break from screens. It might even be a good place to put your legs up the wall.
  • Bring healthy snacks. It can be hard to eat well on the road but avoiding sugar and processed foods can make a big difference in keeping your body comfortable. Plan ahead and buy your favorite granola bars, pemmican (like Epic or Tanka), or other snacks in bulk. Travel will often back you up so prunes are a great snack to keep on hand too.  : )

The Challenge of Being Idle

The Challenge of Being Idle

I’ve been coming across more and more people of my generation who are very uncomfortable with unstructured time. Like the rest of America, they are so busy most of the time that when they are not busy, they don’t know what to do. Furthermore, they worry that if they rest or enjoy even a few hours of idleness, it will mean they are being lazy, unproductive, or even worthless. Throw in a debilitating chronic illness that keeps someone in the house, in bed, or generally unable to do a lot of things, and this discomfort and worry is compounded in a huge way.  

Interestingly, it’s our inability to be still and idle that lands so many of us in doctor’s offices in the first place. We’re not designed to be “on” all the time. The brain and body need time to rest. We also know now that idleness actually increases blood flow to parts of the brain which can improve creativity, and make you more productive later on.

So what’s our beef with doing nothing? Some of it is cultural, for sure. The norm is to always be busy, and, as the second article linked above mentions, defaming idleness has been on the rise since the Industrial Revolution. Additionally, some of us millenials had very structured childhoods, full of not only school but endless sports events, club meetings, concerts, and recitals. We didn’t get a lot of opportunities to entertain ourselves and explore. And smartphones certainly don’t help the situation for any of us. Remember how people used to have brilliant ideas while they were on the toilet or in the shower? Now we take our phones into the bathroom to check e-mail or listen to podcasts. We’re allowing ourselves less and less time to space out.

I am a recovering workaholic and chronic overachiever myself. One of my college professors even called me the latter, and while I took it as a compliment, I sort of didn’t believe him and felt like I always had to be doing more to try to make the world a better place.

After burning out from a demanding non-profit job in my early twenties, I took jobs at a cafe and a farm to explore a less stressful lifestyle and take some time to get my health in order. I was surprised to find that I suddenly had ideas for poems and art pieces again. I began blogging about anything and everything, and I doubled the size of my vegetable garden plot. I was pretty happy with my downtime. Then at some point I decided I needed to get back into the career game. I took a cushy academic 9-5 job that I was really pumped about. My boss was great and so were the benefits. I did interesting work but didn’t have to take it home with me. When I stayed late I got overtime. I saved money and had time to do other things.

After about six months of suckling on the teat of academia, I began worrying again that I wasn’t doing enough. I was supporting people in learning about the Middle East but I felt like I needed to be organizing, working in the community, trying to make more change happen locally. One volunteer gig led to another and before I knew it I was the Board President of a brand new non-profit, managing 15 people and building a volunteer program, on top of my day job, at the bright young age of 26. I was always working and always saying “yes.” I went to a ton of parties in that time and felt like I was really crushing life. That is, until I got in a bike crash, got a semi-serious concussion and experienced a huge resurgence in symptoms that I later learned were Lyme and Bartonella. Interestingly the non-profit was a bike advocacy one. The coincidence was not lost on me. It took me a little while but eventually, I saw the crash for the wakeup call that it was.

I had to leave the job and the non-profit because I was sick and my brain wasn’t working anymore. That was my third big burnout. It took one more before I finally began to slow down in earnest and embrace the slower life. I took eight months off from working. I’m very grateful that I was able to do that, because I might have worked myself to death otherwise. It took a little while to settle into doing nothing. I spent my 30th birthday on my parent's couch but surprisingly didn’t feel that bad about it. I was determined to set a different tone in my next decade on the planet. I began meditating, practicing yin yoga (which was so hard but so good), taking walks in the woods when I could, and intentionally cutting down on screen time. It made a difference in my energy, my brain function, and overtime it’s taught me SO much about how to listen to my body. I now regularly take time to stare at the wall or out the window and I treasure that time. None of these blog posts would happen without it!

I’m still an organizer and an activist at heart but I see now that the revolution will not happen from a place of exhaustion. Rest and unstructured time are crucial ingredients in a healthy and well-lived life. Why not strive to march into every battle – personal and political – well rested and with a smile on our face? That is what I’m striving for.

Why You Shouldn't Ignore Your Pain

Why You Shouldn't Ignore Your Pain

It is not normal to be in pain all of the time. If that has been your reality for years, though, it can be hard to remember what life was like without it. If it doesn’t regularly land you in the hospital, or even if it does, you might feel like the back pain, the foot pain, the cough, the stomach aches, chronic migraines, whatever you experience, is just you. That that is just who you are. And when doctors are unable to determine the cause of the pain, they can reinforce this feeling of hopelessness by making you feel like your pain is all in your head. If you’ve had this experience, you know devastating it can be. 

It is extremely frustrating not to know the cause and feel without solutions. It’s not surprising that a lot of us give up on finding the cause and do our best to ignore or push through whatever pain we are experiencing.

But let us take a moment to examine the consequences of ignoring our pain or illness. And I’m writing as a former professional ignorer myself.

At the most basic level, by ignoring pain and other symptoms you are ignoring a distress signal from your body. When ignoring the signal becomes your norm it’s like you’re perpetually living on a sinking ship. Even if the ship is just taking on water for years without sinking, it’s going to be pretty wet on board and it certainly is not going to get to port anytime soon. As the captain of this ship, you’re probably also at least a little worried about drowning or expending a lot of energy telling yourself that you’re not worried about drowning.

Worse still, pushing through or ignoring symptoms all the time makes you an asshole. Think about it. If you have been living on a sinking ship, with soggy socks and cold feet, for weeks, months, or even years, it is only natural that the chronic unpleasantness creeps into the rest of your life and impacts your career, your relationships, and your everyday interactions. It zaps your capacity to be patient, compassionate, kind, and loving, to others and yourself.

If you are living with a chronic condition and have embraced it, chances are you see the suffering in others all the time: that snappy woman at the grocery store, that man who gets unreasonably pissed at the café when his latte has the wrong milk in it.

The good news is that we can all choose a different path. Instead of being an ignorance-induced asshole, we can choose to be compassionate healers, heroes on our own healing journeys.

The first step is simply being willing – willing to acknowledge the symptoms and to do your best to get to the root of them, even if you’re not sure how right now.

So, my healing hero, are you willing?

How I learned to love solitude

How I learned to love solitude

Historically, I have hated being lonely and feared being alone. It started in high school and continued into my early thirties. Sometimes I felt lonely even when I was with people, and I hated that too. Some of it was related to being sick and feeling like no one had any idea what I was experiencing. I also had to opt out of a lot of social things because I didn’t have the energy. Before I was open with people about my illness, there were nights I would be home alone crying my eyes out, wishing someone would just come sit on my bed with me. I felt like there was no one I could call, and like it would be a burden to ask anyone to accommodate my special needs. I got over that but then swung in the other direction when I started feeling better.    

I’ve experienced huge strides in my healing in the last year. At some point, I woke up and had energy that I had not had in years. Suddenly I could go out again, go to concerts occasionally, and make appearances at birthday parties. I remember going to a concert in February 2016 and celebrating with my best friend afterward because I had stood the whole time and my feet didn’t hurt. It felt like a miracle. That energy was not consistent though. I had good days and bad days, and I went through a three-month period of experiencing flu-like symptoms for two days almost every week. But after feeling so isolated for so long, I seized what energy I did have and jumped on every opportunity I could to hang out with people, even if it meant spending a lot of time in bed later. Eventually, I recognized that I needed to reign in the social commitments, and I bumped up against the challenge of preserving my newfound energy. I found a new kind of anguish in having to say “no” to people a lot, sometimes at the very last minute. Sure, sometimes I felt a little guilty, but mostly I just wanted to be with people.  I’m grateful for the trips I did go on and the parties I got to attend, but as a super extrovert, it was painful to miss the wedding of two old friends, the camping trip that I had planned, and countless other events.

I decided that I needed a break from saying “no.” Even though I knew each time I said “no” that it was what was best for me and my health in the moment, it still sucked, and it was zapping a lot of my emotional energy. I realized just how much energy it was taking out of me when I left my home in Boston for two months and lived alone in Western Massachusetts. Within a couple days of being there, I felt an incredible sense of spaciousness. I had a ton of new ideas about my business and my writing. I found a new sense of ease in all my self-care practices and my health responded in positive ways.

Before the move, I’d been worried about being alone. My mom and my friends were worried too. Everyone seemed confused by my decision to step away from my rich support network. While I am extremely grateful for that network, I wanted to prove to myself that I was not wholly dependent on it. I wanted to see solitude as a gift and not a curse. I also wanted to see what it was like to isolate myself intentionally instead of feeling like I was forced into isolation. It turns out choosing isolation really works for me. I so enjoyed having my own space and the ability to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I loved being able to put my supplements all over the house so I remembered to take them, and I loved the chance to go on lots of little solo adventures.  I had a couple visitors to feed my extroverted side, and that was fun, but I loved being alone again when they left. I only felt lonely on one day in the entire two month period and that was inauguration day. I was scared that day and just really wanted a hug. Luckily participating in a local Women’s March the next day cured the lonely feeling. Overall the experience was nothing but empowering.

Now that I’m back in Boston, in my house with six roommates, interacting with friends and colleagues, I’m feeling great about protecting my Noelle Time. I’m also finding a new ease in saying “no” to things because I know that I will be rewarded later for spending more time with me, myself and I. I have seen that when I take more time to be alone, I am much more present in my interactions with others and that contributes to my health, my career, and my relationships. 

After being home for six weeks, I had another breakthrough around loneliness and solitude just last week. I woke up on a Sunday feeling sad, angry, empty, and totally disconnected from my body and what drives me. There was no apparent reason or cause. I didn’t know how to be with it but it felt familiar. I found myself really wanting someone to come distract me from the icky feeling. I worried that maybe I was getting depressed again. Then I realized, this is how I used to feel ALL the time. I saw that there wasn’t anything wrong with me, I had just become disconnected and the reason why wasn’t terribly important. I also saw that what I really needed was some solo time to right my ship. And, after practicing yoga, meditating, crying, giving myself a lot of space, and getting some support from an energy healer friend, I felt like myself again, in less than 24 hours. Even though my instinct was to get someone over to fill the emptiness, solitude was the remedy.

Edited by: Kazmira Pytlak Nedeau

We Need to Stop Hating Our Bodies

We Need to Stop Hating Our Bodies

There are a lot of reasons that so many people in America are sick right now. We’re overrun with toxins in our food, our homes, and our personal care products; and our cultural norms produce a lot of stress. This week I was reminded of just how problematic our culture’s relationship with our bodies is while following the news of the Trump administration's decision to roll back protections for trans youth, and seeing the negative comments garnered by this recent viral video of a woman practicing yoga while her period bled through her pants.

In this piece on NPR, former North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory seemed most worried about transgender and cisgender youth sharing showers. So a cisgender boy sees a transgender boy with a vagina. So what? Why is this so unacceptable? And is this even a realistic fear? When I was in middle school and high school, us girls censored our own bodies — no one dared to use the shower in the locker room for fear of anyone seeing us naked — so McCrory’s concern seems baseless.

Our collective fear of genitalia, menstruating, defecating, fat, and our bodies in general causes great harm. It perpetuates bullying, sexual violence, and eating disorders, among other things. More subtly perhaps, it keeps us very disconnected from our bodies and makes it very difficult for us to appreciate all that they do for us.

I believe very strongly that in order to heal from illness, we must be in loving partnership with our bodies. Cultivating that kind of relationship is a big ask when you grow up in an environment that teaches you to hate your body, that your body is something to hide and to be ashamed of.  Hating our bodies and ourselves a social norm in America. Even some of the wellness movement perpetuates it. We value self-deprecating humor and we’re taught that abusing the body is cool, whether it’s through drinking, doing extreme sports, or simply just pushing ourselves to do everything. This is a big part of why we are so sick. So many of my clients, in addition to having a chronic illness, have a super negative body image and self-image in general. They also see that they’re awesome but they believe that they’ve only achieved what they have by beating themselves up. The result of that outlook is health challenges. The body pleading for a different way of doing things.

The good news is that we can choose to be non-normative in our body relationships. We can choose love and healing instead of hate and disease. We spend so much energy covering or hiding our bodies out of fear, shame, and hatred. When we accept our bodies as our partners in healing, we can shift that energy to listening, observing, and being present to what the body wants. And when we are present, we get a lot of valuable information. It could be that a certain food is a bad fit, or that a particular exercise is really helpful. Over time, all these little bits of information can add up to a whole new way of living.

There’s no one way to get there — it takes time and some trial and error, but it is possible for everyone to build a loving partnership with their body. If you decide to be a lover instead of a fighter when it comes to your body, you’re probably going to want some support. You might meet with a yoga therapist, a coach, energy healer, or some kind of spiritual mentor. Allow yourself to try a few different paths. If you hate the first thing you try, it doesn’t mean you failed. You may love the next thing! And just like with romantic relationships, there will be ups and downs and you will question your body just like you’d question a lover. Know that that’s all normal. Keep breathing, keep listening, and remember that your body already loves you. It is doing everything it possibly can for you. So, just like the girl in French class who has a crush on you, you might give your body a chance. :)

And if you’d love some support on what to try first, send me an email and we can have a chat about it!



 

Not Enough Money for Treatment? Consider Crowdfunding

Not Enough Money for Treatment? Consider Crowdfunding

Here’s what we know:

  1. Healthcare is expensive and not always helpful (sometimes completely useless) when you have a complex illness.

  2. Alternative medicine and healing modalities take some financial investment.

  3. It can be hard to pay for the treatment you need when you are sick, especially if you’re not working, or not working very much.

These truths leave a lot of people stuck. They see treatment options they want to explore but they do not have the funds to try those options or continue them once they start.

If this is you, you might consider crowdfunding for your treatment.

Before you close out of this blog post in disgust and move on, know that it is 100% normal to not want to ask people for money. Most people, aside from professional fundraisers, experience extreme discomfort at the thought of asking others for monetary support. You are not alone.

I too was once petrified by the thought of asking for money, for myself or others, and now I’m one of the weirdos who LOVES fundraising. I have done door-to-door fundraising, big event fundraising, letter campaigns, and a whole lot of crowdfunding, for myself, organizations, and people I love. I paid for most of my first two coaching trainings with crowdfunding campaigns because I was unemployed when I signed up for them. This was my first campaign.

Here’s a little secret that I learned early on: people love to give money to support things they care about, and especially people they love. Not everyone can give, but that does not mean they do not want to.

And here’s another even cooler secret I learned from some wise coaches: When you ask people to support you, you are contributing to them. People want to support you and when you give them a clear way to do that, they are pumped!

Have you ever been to a party or at someone’s place for dinner and when you ask how you can help, they say, “I’ve got it” and then you feel awkward because you have nothing to do? And then have you experienced immense relief when you ask how you can help and someone says “you can open the salsa and put the chips in a bowl?” It’s pretty much just like that. Giving people a clear way to support you is like giving them a gift.

Chances are people who love you have been wanting to support you, even if they don’t know the ins and outs of your health challenge. And maybe you haven’t talked to them in years but you made them laugh so much at summer camp that they’ll say “yes” to anything you ask for. You don’t know this yet, because you haven’t asked, and that’s one of the best parts about crowdfunding -- it’s full of surprises!

You might be thinking, “That sounds nice but who will I ask?” The short answer is anyone who might say “yes.” Think friends, family, family friends, co-workers, former co-workers, classmates, and members of any groups, communities, or sports teams you are part of or have been part of in the past. Of course, you may want to be more choosy if you are not yet open with everyone about your health challenge or disability, or if you do not speak to your family, or for other reasons. Start making a list and see where it takes you. If can list between 50-100 people, you can likely run a good little crowdfunder.

If after doing that, if you think you might want to do this, the next step is to get clear on what you want to fundraise for and how much money you want to raise. My recommendation is to ask for a little more than what you need. This is both to cover unexpected expenses and the transaction fees for credit card payments. I recommend using the Generosity or YouCaring platforms because they do not charge a service fee. If you want to use video in your campaign, choose YouCaring. On these two sites, you only pay the transaction fee (3% + 30 cents on every donation). Kickstarter, GoFundMe, and others charge 5% on top of the 3-5% transaction fees. That’s up to 10% of your hard earned fundraised cash lost to fees. Some people think that being on one of the more well-known platforms will help them get exposure. That might be true if you were launching a cool new eco hammock company but it is unlikely to happen with a campaign for one person’s medical treatment. If you have a really great story, strangers will be inspired to give, but they aren’t going to find you because they’re browsing Kickstarter, they’ll find you because someone they know shared your page with them.

Your next step is to tell a really compelling story. Other than you just being awesome, why should people support you? What are you healing for? What are you about in the world? Focus more on what you’re working towards than how hard things have been for you. People like to invest in hope.

Then, you want to get your campaign out there to ask many people as possible using all your available communication channels. And then you will follow up, a few different times.

It definitely takes some energy, but it will be well worth it when you are getting the regular bodywork you need or seeing the specialist you’ve had your eye on for years.

If you want some more support on running a successful crowdfunding campaign, let’s talk! I’ve coached dozens of people to run successful crowdfunding campaigns and have resources to walk you through every step of the process. I offer 1 hour crowdfunding consultations to help you craft a great story, building your list, and plan your outreach so that all the people who want to give actually do. You can schedule a consultation here. Happy crowdfunding!

My Top Game Changing Healing Modalities

My Top Game Changing Healing Modalities

Especially now that I am feeling 75-85% well depending on the day, I am often asked what worked for me in my healing journey. Documenting everything would require a book, but I’ll start with what I think were the top five game changers for me: diet, coaching, meditation, prayer, and coffee enemas. I know! Eeew! Poop! I find them so great though and I’ll explain why.

My constellation of health challenges includes Lyme and co-infections, parasites, autonomic dysfunction, and mild tachycardia. I operated under a fibromyalgia diagnosis for years before being diagnosed with Lyme in 2013. I want to share this for folks who are curious. Some of it may be relevant to you regardless of what your health challenge is. 

Diet. I went gluten free and thought that was great but it was finally cutting out all the other things my body didn’t like that really made a difference in my day-to-day. A lot of us have leaky gut which means there are A LOT of things we can’t tolerate. The good news is that you can heal a leaky gut. So, even if you have to give up cheese, wine, and cider donuts for now, it may not be forever and working on healing your gut now may support you in enjoying those things in moderation in the future.

I figured out what to eat and not to eat by using the elimination diet outlined in Recipes for Repair. It’s designed to help you learn what does and does not trigger inflammation in your body. I liked it because, unlike other elimination diets, you never have to stop eating food. Because, as I learned later, I was full of parasites, I had to eat a lot of food to function. I could basically eat all day long. The nothing but juice or smoothies for three days required by a standard elimination diet felt like a huge barrier. I also didn’t have to go completely grain-free on the diet because it allows brown rice and a homemade gluten-free flour mix. While paleo diets are a great healing tool for many, especially you auto-immune kiddos, being almost paleo has been a good fit for me.

Life Coaching. I hired a coach with money from savings when I was super sick and unemployed. I wasn’t even sure how I would pay for the whole six month contract but I had enough for the first three and that seemed like a good start. It was by far the best investment I ever made in my healing. At the time I was coming off my fourth health-related burnout and I didn’t want to crash and burn again. I felt that there had to be a way to make a contribution in the world without working so hard that I fell apart. While I was initially very skeptical of life coaching, I trusted my coach Jeremy to help me figure out what that magical career path might look like. I did figure it out but the most valuable thing I got out of coaching was seeing clearly where I was getting in my own way. I was terrified of asking for support. I grew up understanding that it was something you just did not do, like picking your nose in public or accepting seconds from a dinner host without being asked twice. Even though I was so sick that taking a shower and caring for myself was really hard, and my parents lived overseas, I would not ask my friends for anything other than borrowing their vehicles to go the grocery store. Everything else felt like too much. I would literally lie in bed with the phone in my hand, wanting to dial my best friend, sobbing because I felt like I could not make the ask. Since getting coaching, I have built an awesome support team. And, since I have started asking for what I need, my friends have a better understanding of how they can help and they regularly offer support. I moved three times in 2016 and friends helped out every time. Recruiting that help took just an email and a few text messages. My family is also much more supportive now that I am open about how I’m feeling, and ask them for what I need. Life is easier and WAY less lonely.

Meditation and Prayer. I began meditating in 2014. A housemate took the time to show me his practice and a few months later I finally started doing it myself. I started with 10 minutes a day, in bed, in savasana (lying down face up) first thing in the morning. I used the Headspace app and then Insight Timer. When I started feeling better, I transitioned to sitting up and today I practice in viparita kirani because it helps my feet stay happier throughout the day. It has definitely made me calmer and way less stressed. All my biggest triggers, from family to doctor’s appointments to standing in airport security lines, are so manageable now. I’m so much more present to myself, my body, and the people around me. Even on the days when my meditation time is full of jumping, racing thoughts, the day is better than if I hadn’t done it at all. In March I also began praying each night before bed, on the recommendation of a Vodun priestess. I was not given detailed instructions. I was simply told to light a candle next to a glass of water and ask for support in curing my “monster,” which is what she called my illness. I usually express gratitude and ask for support. A few times I have asked for answers in my dreams and have then had really enlightening dreams. And, if nothing else, I have noticed is that I sleep better after I pray.


Coffee Enemas. These are especially good for folks with Lyme because they stimulate the production of glutathione which helps the body detox and get all the toxic garbage (dead bacteria, heavy metals, dead parasites, etc.) out. Coffee enemas are prescribed by holistic practitioners for people suffering from candida, cancer, fibromyalgia, parasites, and chronic fatigue. Probably other things too! I have found that much like drinking coffee, the enema gives me a nice little boost in the morning. I personally can’t handle drinking coffee anymore so it is nice to have something to put pep in my step. Even on days when I wake up feeling like a pile of bricks, post-enema I feel like a normal person. It takes time, about 45 minutes a day if you include brewing the coffee, but I’ve found it to be totally worth the time. Coffee enemas can be dangerous if administered incorrectly and they aren’t a good fit for everyone. Definitely don’t try them without the support of a practitioner you trust. If you aren’t sure how to find someone who can support you with it, send me an email. 

I also practice yoga at least three times a week and get acupuncture every two weeks to keep my internal energy moving. I find it really supports everything else I'm doing for my wellness. Acupuncture has really helped me with acute issues like fighting off a virus or getting good night's rest when I've been struggling with sleep. It can also provide a great reset after traveling or a particularly stressful time. I went weekly for six weeks after Trump's inauguration. 

How to get through the next four years

How to get through the next four years

Here’s a text exchange that I had with one of my clients last night:

Client: Could you tell me that it is okay to go to bed before 8pm as an adult?

Me: You have my blessing. It’s definitely okay, and necessary when your body is going through what yours is. Rest well!

Client: Thanks. :-) I somehow feel guilty for not poring over every piece of news (political or otherwise) given the state of world affairs...but I just can’t.

I have been having this conversation A LOT lately. And I love that this client reached out to me because she is not the only one feeling guilty for wanting to pull away from the news. But in terms of supporting her own healing, her instinct was right on.

Stress makes us sick and “stressed” doesn’t even cut it when describing how most people are feeling right now. This is a time of huge transition for all of America, our president has done some really painful stuff, and there’s more to come. Everyone’s nervous system is totally f-ed. A lot of people have been feeling a stress response triggered by the news on a daily basis since before the election. That’s bad for everyone’s health but it’s especially bad for us spoonies because we managing our own stress in the context of community, national, and global stress.

How the hell are we going to survive this mess?

Here is my three part prescription for staying well and continuing to heal in the face of this epic stress pandemic:  

  1. Have a daily mindfulness practice and stick to it. Nine out of ten people who come to me for coaching say they want to be more present. Practicing mindfulness is how you get present. You can practice meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, walking in meditation, whatever you like. Let it be something you can do daily, ideally at the same time everyday. It doesn’t have to be long or special or done in a certain way or according to a certain tradition. It could literally be as simple as staring at the wall for five minutes after you get up and repeating the mantra “I am experiencing good health.” I was really sick when I began meditating and I did started doing 10 minutes a day, in bed, right after I got up. It was a huge game changer and brought my anxiety to almost zero in just a couple months. Regular practice really takes the edge off.  It may feel challenging to get started, but I believe in you!  Do something, notice what you feel in your body, and express gratitude for that feeling, whatever it is. Insight Timer is an awesome tool for keeping track of your mindfulness practice because it gives you stats on how much you are meditating. It also has hundreds of guided meditations, music, and soundscapes. You can also find your friends on the app, check out their stats and see how they are doing in their practice. This is really awesome if you want to set up an accountability buddy system.  If sitting down to meditate feels challenging but yoga feels like too much, check out Yin Yoga.

  2. Put yourself on a news diet. Specifically, limit what news you consume to particular mediums at particular times. I know, I know. You don’t want to be ignorant and consuming news is an important part of your routine. I get it. Truly. I started watching the evening news with my dad when I was two. I felt like Peter Jennings was my second father and I wept when he passed away. Nearly all my heroes are journalists. But, consuming headlines all day makes it nearly impossible to be fully present in your life because it triggers significant emotional and stress responses. Professional journalists and people who work in the media develop ways of being with the news that work for them so that they can stay on top of all the news. For the rest of us, it’s just not healthy. And if  you’re on a healing journey, or in recovery, you cannot afford to go on a superfluous emotional rollercoaster everyday. That’s right, I said it was superfluous. You are not inhumane if you don’t expend energy every single day feeling sad or angry about the state of your fellow humans. Humans are messy. There will always be things to be sad or angry about. You need that energy. And you really need that energy if you are going to go take action to make the world less messy. There is nothing to feel guilty about so create some boundaries for yourself. It might mean turning off notifications on your phone or limiting your Facebook or television time. I encourage you to experiment and see what works for you.

  3. Drink a lot of tea. Black tea contains L-theanine which can create a calming sensation and there are a lot of great herbal teas that work like anxiety busters and do wonders in calming the nervous system. And just the act of preparing and drinking tea can make you calmer.

No one says it better than my boy Thich Nhat Hanh:

“Tea is an act complete in its simplicity.

When I drink tea, there is only me and the tea.

The rest of the world dissolves.

There are no worries about the future.

No dwelling on past mistakes.

Tea is simple: loose-leaf tea, hot pure water, a cup.

I inhale the scent, tiny delicate pieces of the tea floating above the cup. I drink the tea, the essence of the leaves becoming a part of me.

I am informed by the tea, changed.

This is the act of life, in one pure moment, and in this act the truth of the world suddenly becomes revealed: all the complexity, pain, drama of life is a pretense, invented in our minds for no good purpose.

There is only the tea, and me, converging.”

 

What are you doing to take good care of yourself in these trying times? Share in the comments below.




 

To Spoonies in America on the Eve of Trump's Inauguration

To Spoonies in America on the Eve of Trump's Inauguration

This was originally published on The Mighty. View original post. 

 

Dear Spoonie Heroes,

These are scary times. We don’t know what’s going to happen to the Affordable Care Act or other government programs we rely on and care about. You have a right to be worried – for yourself, for your neighbors, for the country. But, I urge you, don’t let that worry get the best of you. It will make you sicker. And no one understands that better than you.

Never has there been a more important time for us to practice self-love and take the best care of ourselves that we possibly can. From a fuller well, we can better support ourselves, our spoonie tribe, and the other people we love. Tensions are high, people are freaked out. I’m sure you’ve seen it on your social media feeds and felt it out in the world, if you get to leave the house. We are more sensitive and we need to do all that we possibly can not to absorb the stress of others. Drink tea. Meditate. Say your mantras. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. And then breathe some more. In doing this, we can be examples for our friends and family who may not be as skilled in the art of self-care and stress mitigation as we are. Let’s face it, we’re the experts.

If you’re anything like me, your chronic health challenge has taught you a thing or two about what’s most important in life. Maybe you care less than you used to, or none at all, about other people’s opinions. This is because you know that caring about that is a waste of your precious energy. Let us demonstrate our knowing by taking action – personal, political, community, whatever is accessible. We are powerful. Now, more than ever, we must stand firm in that power and share it with the world.

Keep healing like a boss.

Why Everyone with a Chronic Illness Should Have a Vision Statement

Why Everyone with a Chronic Illness Should Have a Vision Statement

Having a chronic health condition often requires you to live differently from your fellow homo sapiens. As so many of us know, it is very easy to get upset about those differences. Even the most positive among us struggle from time to time.

I'm feeling better than I have in years but my internal dialogue sometimes sounds a lot like this:

“I wish I could go on that backpacking trip.”

“I would kill someone to eat pizza right now.”

“I’m sooo sick of taking a million pills everyday.”

When this is what’s going through your head all the time, it can be hard to keep your eyes on the prize - your life goals, the thing(s) you are healing or staying well for, your raison d’etre. Sometimes we do not even know what the prize is anymore because plans changed when we got sick or injured. And, when you are not crystal clear on what the prize is, it’s more difficult to be kind to yourself, stick to self-care routines, and make meaningful changes in your routine that could really get you somewhere.

If any of that sounds familiar, you need a personal vision statement. The process of writing it can remind you, or help you get clear on, what is most important to you. Once you have it and read it daily for a month, you will begin to remember why it's important to take all those pills, stick with the tedious physical therapy exercises, or stay on hold for ten minutes five different times in one marathon call with your health insurance company.

Furthermore, once you are clear on why you want to heal, it will help you enroll others in supporting you. This is true because you will see more clearly where you need the support of others to fulfill your vision, and you will be better prepared to communicate your vision to others so it lights them up and they want to support you. The response you get will sound like, “hell yeah I want to help you start walking again so you can fulfill your dream of taking your daughter to Disney World,” or whatever it is you would love - starting a business, traveling with your sweetie, writing a book, the possibilities are endless.

My favorite way to write a vision is in the first person, in the present tense, and with very specific, vivid details. It could sound like this:

I am so pleased that I started my own upscale dog clothing line. I love the people I’ve met in the industry and my flexible schedule allows me to take care of myself and my family with ease. My favorite part is getting to do so much work from home, in my silk pajamas, with Tex the beagle at my feet.

Let’s assume the person who wrote this is currently working a so-so part-time job and feels pretty sick most of the time. Even though this vision as reality feels far away, they can see themselves in it right now, and that’s where the power is. It is something to get excited about it.

And, when you write your vision this way, you are adopting the mindset of someone who already has what you want. Then you can ask yourself, "what would someone with this vision do next?" I promise you that, with a clear vision, whatever actions you take will be much more focused than they would be otherwise. That focus saves a ton of energy and, when physical and mental energy are in short supply, conservation is essential.

I lead online vision-writing workshops to support folks in learning how to get clear on their vision and start writing it down. You should come! Learn more here

Celebrating the past year, no matter how awful

Celebrating the past year, no matter how awful

It’s the end of the year, and the beginning of a new one. A lot of people are saying 2016 was the worst. There was quite a bit of upheaval in human society and it doesn’t look like things will be all roses next year either. I really appreciated this piece on happenings worth celebrating in 2016.

But no matter what is happening politically, geopolitically, or even within our own orbits, it is important for us to honor what this year was for us. Maybe it wasn’t the worst for you personally. Maybe it was actually pretty great. Celebrate that my friend, even if only with yourself. Or if the year truly totally sucked for you, you can choose to find something to celebrate, perhaps what you learned from all that suckage and how it made you stronger.

Personally, I have a lot to be grateful for this year.  I went from looking into the price of wheelchairs to running somewhat consistently. I went on a backpacking trip for the first time in years. I shifted the focus of my business to serve more of the people I really love (kickass people with chronic illness), moved into a really fun house with six quirky roommates, and met the sweetie of my dreams. I also reconnected with several dear friends. Believe me, there is a lot I’m displeased with but there’s also a lot I’m celebrating.

Someone told me once that what you’re doing on New Year’s Eve when the clock strikes midnight will cast light or shadow on the rest of your year. I’ve taken that to heart so I try to be intentional about what I get up to. Twice I’ve done a special New Year’s Eve yoga class that ends at midnight and in both cases the following years were especially good. This year I’m choosing to celebrate with a liver flush (with my herbalist's blessing) and one of my favorite rituals. I picked the flush to demonstrate my commitment to strengthening my body and the ritual to cleanse my mind and heart. I’ll be burning two lists: one of the things that held me back in 2016, things I want to let go of, and another of my hopes for 2017. In past years I’ve done this around a fire with friends. This year I’ll just be setting them on fire and stomping them out in the snow solo. Friends are great but I’m still pumped about it.

Tomorrow, I’ll honor the new year by revamping my life and business vision statement.  This will give me something to push me forward when things get rough in 2017, because they will. I’ve found visioning to be THE MOST useful tool in my healing journey, not only to serve as a pick me up when I’m challenged but also because, when I’m clear on what I’m working towards and healing for, decisions are a million times easier. And, as anyone with chronic fatigue and/or brain fog can tell you, anything that brings ease to decision making is a huge blessing. Visions are also a powerful antidote for despair.

To share the joy of vision creation with others, I’m hosting another session of my free online vision writing workshop for folks with chronic health challenges, Crushing It 101, on January 17. Participants will have the opportunity to learn about the power of visioning, start crafting a vision, and get feedback on it from me and other participants. It’s a fun way to start getting clear on what’s most important to you and connect with other folks who are on a healing journey. Learn more and sign up here.

What are you celebrating in 2016 and how are you honoring the transition from one year to the next? Please share in the comments section below or join the conversation on Spoonie Superstars.

 

How to get good sleep

How to get good sleep

The subject of sleep has been coming up a lot in my client sessions recently. Getting enough quality sleep is such a crucial part of healing that I felt compelled to pull together my favorite tricks for a good night’s rest. These are mostly geared towards falling asleep. If you’re having issues staying asleep, or you’re waking up a lot, definitely consult a professional. It could be a endocrine or adrenal issue, sleep apnea, or something else that requires medical attention. If you have a sleep disorder, you can do all the right things and still not sleep well so definitely get some support. To read more about the science of sleep and sleep disorders, check out the National Sleep Foundation.

Try these to get yourself in the mood for sleepy time:

  1. Take chamomile as a tea or tincture. A lot of people assume it’s not enough but don’t knock it ‘til you try it. If one does not do the trick, brew two tea bags at a time and let it steep for 3-5 minutes.

  2. Journal before bed to get all your remaining thoughts from the day out of your mind. It does not have to be long to be effective. You might also keep a gratitude journal, which has been proven to help with falling asleep. In general, keeping a pad of paper or a journal by your bed is useful to write down ideas or to-do list items that come up, or to write about your dreams in the morning. Keeping a dream journal can be very illuminating. (It may be too wooey for you, but if you’re struggling with sometime, ask God, the Universe, the spirits, or whatever you like, for answers in your dreams and notice what comes up!)

  3. Practice yoga nidra. Also known as yogic sleep, yoga nidra is the state between sleeping and waking. Listening to a yoga nidra recording before bed can get you in a state of deep relaxation so it’s easier to transition from a crazy day into sleepy time. As a bonus, it can also help with anxiety and PTSD. There are tons of guided yoga nidra recordings and videos out there but I recommend starting with Insight Timer. It’s a free app with yoga nidra recordings of all different lengths, among other guided meditations, music for meditation, etc. Practicing a few yin or restorative yoga poses can be really nice as well. Here’s a yin for sleep video to get you started.

  4. Stop using electronics one hour before bed. I know it’s hard, especially for the more tech loving folks, but I believe in you. (You might consider moving your Instagram, Tinder, or Facebook time to breakfast. And yes, you should also eat breakfast.) If possible, leave your phone outside your bedroom. If you’re not a doctor, a firefighter, or someone who must have a phone near the bed, get a fun alarm clock. If you Google “fun alarm clocks,”  you may be amazed by what’s out there. Get computers and modems out of your room too.  Reading is a great way to wind down but save your saucy page-turners for non-bedtime reading so you aren’t tempted to stay up past your bedtime.

  5. Make sure your bedroom is cool, between 60-67 degrees.

  6. Block out noise with a white noise machine, fan, or humidifier. Ear plugs are great but not ideal for daily use.

  7. Block out all light. Blackout curtains are great and eye masks are a good tool for sleeping away from home when you have less control of your surroundings. Ideally you don’t have any electronics in your room but if you have a humidifier or TV or anything that emits any kind of light, put a piece of tape or a sticky note over the light.

  8. Experiment with aromatherapy solutions. Rub vetiver essential oil into your feet. Keep a lavender sachet by your bed. If your nose gets really dry or stuffy at night, put an essential oil diffuser next to your bed so that the vapor rolls over you while you sleep. Fill it with lavender, frankincense, and eucalyptus essential oils. Myrrh, thyme, and oregano oils are good anti-microbials if you’re trying not to get sick, and tea tree oil is supposed to be great for a runny nose. I haven’t tried that one yet!

  9. Establish a calm bedtime routine you love. It doesn’t have to be long.

  10. Quit caffeine. More on that in this other post.

Are there other things that have really helped you? Please share in the comments below!

I struggled with sleep for years and tried a lot of different sleep aids before I realized that I was doing myself a lot of harm and looked for other solutions. I took muscle relaxers, cannabis, and some prescription drugs before I turned to over-the-counter supplements. As I learned, those aren’t always good either. After a couple years of taking melatonin every night a practitioner told me that in doing that your body can stop making it’s own melatonin. Oops! Then a rheumatologist with a fancy non-prescription drug database helped me see that I might have been aggravating a mild heart condition by taking L-theanine every night. I live and learn. Today I just take a tincture with valerian, passion flower, wild lettuce and indian pipe. It doesn’t knock me out but it does make me calm and supports everything else I’m doing to get in the sleepy zone. If you feel like you need sleep aids, don’t make the same mistake I did. Consult a professional, whether it’s an MD, a holistic practitioner or an herbalist to find something that’s safe for your body given the conditions it is working with.

Good luck out there and sleep well!

Want to change your life? Start with a gratitude practice

Want to change your life? Start with a gratitude practice

For folks who celebrate Thanksgiving, the holiday may include sharing what you are thankful or grateful for. But why limit this expression of gratitude for one annual holiday? Expressing gratitude regularly, especially daily, can have a huge impact on our lives. Specifically, the practice can improve our physical and mental health and allowing us to show up more consistently as kind, generous, and empathetic.

How does this work? Expressing gratitude helps us shift away from the negativity bias, or our brain’s natural tendency to focus more attention on bad thoughts, unfortunate circumstances, what we hate about people, etc. By regularly and consistently choosing to be grateful, you begin to experience life as abundant and you will see more of life’s gifts instead of life’s challenges. As Maria Nemeth explains in Unleashing the Energy of Money, when you experience life as abundant, you naturally want to give back to maintain the flow of giving and receiving. In this way, regularly expressing gratitude also makes you more generous.

According to a 2011 study in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, writing down what you’re grateful for before bed can help you sleep better and longer. So between sleeping better and seeing life as abundant, establishing a gratitude routine can really support you in showing up as your best self. If writing in a journal isn’t your thing, ask someone in your life to be your gratitude buddy and see what it’s like to express gratitudes to each other once a day for 10 days in a row. You can do it in-person, on the phone, or even via text. The impact is the same. Then sit back and enjoy as you begin to see your life as lighter and brighter. :)