Category: meditation

New Life

The pandemic has provided its challenges and gifts. A lot of people seem to be looking at this past year as having been all about struggle and loss. A year that we’ll look back on with horror or at least deep sadness. I’m not so sure, at least not for myself.

Sure, there has been sadness. My Dad died last July. He was 92 years old. I miss him. I’ll always miss him. But, sadness at the passing of someone who is elderly and in the grips of dementia is always mixed. I will miss him, but I am also joyful that he could let go, move on, and no longer be held by the pain and fear that had become his life. Yeah, I got laid off. But, I got laid off from a job in Minnesota at a really unhealthy workplace where rumors, put downs, lying, and just generally disrespectful behaviors were the norm and wound up through a series of events finding myself working for a good friend on an incredible creative project and back home in Wisconsin.

It’s been a year for being open to possibilities. Last January a severe allergic reaction to a new medication for my epilepsy led to my doctor and I pursuing options beyond medications. In July I found myself at Mayo in the epilepsy monitoring unit. I started my visit on the anniversary of my Mom’s passing. I ended it a week later just after my Dad died by making the decision to honor them both by getting a vagus nerve stimulator implanted. I came back a week later and had the little device that is changing my life implanted close to my heart, reminding me of them. Now, it sends a stimulus through my vagus nerve every three minutes and, along with my medication, is controlling my seizures and making life normal again. My energy is back. It’s been months since I’ve woken up in the morning to a headache and sore tongue, and best of all my doctors and the state of Wisconsin agree that it’s safe for me to drive and live with the independence that a car provides when one lives in a small town.

A lot of people have gone on about boredom and loneliness because of the pandemic and I confess that I’ve had some moments of wanting to get out too, but mostly I have to admit I’ve appreciated this time alone. I’ve been reminded of the joy in slowness and the importance of creative space. I took guitar lesson for awhile, long enough to give me some basics to work with and to continue to teach myself. I’ve started to work on becoming an author of children’s books. Now that it’s spring I just started doing a little volunteering at Taliesin. I’ve been reading a lot more, continuing to write here, doing a little drawing too. How could I be bored or seeking something else when I am given the opportunity to find the creative space? The world runs us too fast and I am thankful that we’ve slowed down for the moment. It is sad that it took a pandemic to slow us, but I can only hope that we find some lessons about caring for our creative selves from this experience.

It’s not been all bad. It’s been a year for staying home and eating home cooking, a year for being creative, a year for relaxing and getting to know ourselves, a year for embarking on a new stage of life in so many ways. What lessons have we learned? What will we carry forth? What possibilities have we opened ourselves to? What is this new life that we are embarking on as this pandemic, hopefully, begins to draw to a close?

Starting the New Year

For the last few years I’ve posted my New Year’s resolutions here. This year I am a bit late, but that’s okay. 2021 seems to be getting a slow start separating itself from 2020, I can do the same. We humans have a strange time to start a new year these days anyway. It’s not the solstice or the equinox. It’s not the beginning of a new season. It’s just a day it seems to me. Anyway, moving into the goals for the upcoming. First, we start with my resolutions from last year.

  1. Getting my seizures to stop
  2. Getting to my goal weight
  3. Reading at least 12 books
  4. Cutting my screen time

Well, I got my VNS and my seizures have been been roughly cut in half and those I have seem to be less intense. So, I’d say I did pretty good with that one. On getting to my goal weight, honestly, I haven’t really worked on it. I feel pretty good about not gaining any weight and actually losing a couple of pounds during COVID. I think it’s a goal that I can let go of. I think I’m on book 15 or 16 now. A few of those were ones I read before, but they were good enough to read again. So, success on that goal. I can’t say the number of hours by which I’ve cut my screen time, but I feel certain that I have cut it. I took Facebook off my phone. I go out hiking and to dog parks more often. I’ve made a regular practice of daily guitar and piano practice, time for household tasks, and reading time all of which take me away from the screen. I’m guessing that I’m probably dropping 1-3 hours a day. I’d say I did pretty well in 2020 toward reaching my goals.

I think 2021 will be for continuing some these goals and adding in a few new ones.

  1. Becoming seizure free
  2. Reading at least 12 books
  3. Continuing to keep my screen time in check
  4. Writing a children’s book
  5. Finding my Ikigai (Japanese concept meaning reason for being)
  6. Getting back to being intentional about exercise 3-5 times a week

This should keep me going and keep me flowing. Wishing you all well in this year to come. Take good care.

Stories from the Sugar High

Yesterday was the first day of my Mayo Clinic “retreat.” Ann and I arrived at my hotel shortly after noon. It brought back memories of the dorm rooms at UWSP, not bad and it provided a good, not too expensive place to sleep. Ann wanted to get back before rush hour in the Twin Cities and I couldn’t eat lunch because of my PET scan in the afternoon so she left and I took the opportunity for a much needed nap.

After my nap I walked to the Mayo campus and, with the guidance of some good Mayo workers, found my way to Charlton North and the area where my test would take place. It was my first PET scan, I think. I’ve done MRIs before. Sometimes I am fine. Sometimes I find the tube and all that it entails just a little crushing, not to the point that I need sedation, but just to that point where I need to remind myself that yes I can breathe, it will be okay, it’s almost done. Yesterday though was very smooth, an interesting journey through my mind.

I don’t quite understand how the PET-MRI works, but for those who haven’t experienced it here’s what happens. With a PET scan you get an injection of fludeoxyglucose more simply known as an F 18 injection. It’s a radioactive sugar injection. Yes, I got to mainline sugar! Then you sit in a dimly lit room for about a half hour not doing anything, but waiting for the F 18 to just work its way through your body. It’s a nice opportunity for those who meditate and those who keep an internal radio station of all their favorite songs. I do wonder how more antsy people especially kids handle it though?

Then, the staff walk you to the room with the scanner. It’s a long tube. They help you put in ear plugs and lay down. Then they gently make things comfortable, sort of packing you in like a holiday gift. You can’t move while the scan is happening because it will mess with the pictures. Once you’re all packed in they hand you a ball to squeeze if you need anything and the fun begins. They go to their control room, turn on the scanner, and slide you into the machine.

I closed my eyes as I entered the machine. I wanted to keep myself centered and not to see how small the space was around me. The noise of the machine was loud. It began with a frequency that felt like woodpeckers just outside doing their work, moved to sirens, and to other sounds, came back to the woodpeckers only they’d moved to the left or the right. The sounds kept changing. Then came vibrations. At one point it almost felt like a the tremors surrounding an earthquake. The interesting thing though was what was happening in my mind.

As the test started I tried to think calming thoughts, but I quickly realized that as the sounds and vibrations changed so did what was happening in my mind. Soon I just opted to go with the film that was playing for me in my head. It was a great show. Much was going through pictures of my life. There were a lot of little things; remembering the front steps where I used to sit as a child, the glasses with the wild animals painted on them in my parents’ liquor cabinet that we used for social gatherings, my first communion, just a whole array of generally happy and comforting things from my life.

Then, late in the scan, we came to a point where it changed. It didn’t get scary or anything, but the memories went away and in their place came colors, mostly blues and yellows I think. They were more vibrant than any I’d ever seen seen before. They shifted and changed, a sort of flowing cloud I suppose. It made me think a couple of things. First, I thought “wow, this is what psychedelics are like!” Then, I thought “yep, left front temporal region, I think they just found where my seizures are located.”

I’ll be interested in finding out if what I saw in my mind really matches what they found in the scan. Our brains are incredible things. This has been a fascinating journey so far. I am hoping for mellow day today with blood and COVID tests and a visit to the allergist.

Be well!

The Next Step

I made it through the detox. It may have helped that I think I had a seizure last week. It left me exhausted and without any appetite. That made it much easier to limit what I was eating. For several days I had nothing but berries with coconut milk and maple syrup for some meals and black beans and cauliflower rice for others. By the end of a ten day detox I’d lost about nine pounds. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. It’s okay that I lost the weight, but it was a lot faster and harder on my body than I wanted. I was tempted to stop and not do the AIP, but it seems a waste to not at least give it a try. So, the plan at this point is to move forward with the AIP for the upcoming month to see what happens.

I’m not going to be too strict. I’m focusing on the big picture pieces; keeping out dairy, eggs, grains, nightshades, etc. I’m not going to put energy limiting my fruits. The goal is just to give my gut a break. I am hoping that I’ll rebuild my vegetable habits. I am hoping that rebuilding my vegetable consumption habits and giving my gut a break will help me get back to feeling healthy.

Over the next month I hope to pay attention to my body and just see what happens to me.

Let the Detox Begin

One of the realities of living in the world today is that our bodies are filled with toxins from before the time we are born. The air we breathe is polluted. The water we drink is polluted. Much of the food we eat is treated with chemicals or maybe isn’t really food at all, but simply a mix of chemicals politely called “processed food.”

There are benefits and there are downsides to this reality. We grow a lot more food then we’ve ever been able to in the past, but it’s generally less nutritious, or at least that’s true of the conventionally grown foods. We have tons more stuff than we’ve ever had before, but I’m not sure that we have as much, much less more happiness. We’ve also got a lot more medicines and health care tools to keep us going. Sometimes that’s great. Sometimes the medicines can add to the disease. That’s what brought me here today.

As many of my readers know, I was diagnosed with epilepsy. I think it’s about seven years ago now. Generally, it’s not a huge part of my life. It’s largely controlled by medication and I go about my day to day like anyone else. Over the past year or two though I had a couple small seizures which I suspect were caused, at least in part, by a stressful job situation. In any case, my doctor and I decided to try some changes to my medications. The changes didn’t work.

I had an allergic reaction which became something known as DRESS Syndrome (Drug rash with eosinophilia and systemic symptoms). I can be thankful to say that with a great team of physicians from the Mayo Clinic, mine was caught early and no major damage was done. Still, now and for the foreseeable future, the added toxins in my system mean periodic flares with exhaustion, weakness, rashes, and other symptoms.

So, instead of getting beaten down by this new challenge, I am trying to find the opportunity to learn and to renew. Yesterday, I sat down with my integrative medicine practitioner, Dr. Kelly Felmer, and we agreed on a plan. Over the next ten days I’ll be embarking on a detox diet; no dairy, meat, grains, artificial colors or flavors, and following a strict set of guidelines on what I can eat focusing on lots of healthy fruits and veggies. This morning is starting with a nice smoothie made with blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries, carrots, and spinach. After the ten days of detox I’ll start on the autoimmune protocol, another clearly defined diet to help me heal my gut, get rid of toxins, and determine what foods might causing me harm. That will take at least a few months probably longer.

It’s a journey, but one that I get to define and one that, I hope, will get to the root of the health challenges that I’ve faced and make my overall physical, spiritual, and emotional wellbeing better for the long run. My plan is to share that journey here. I hope that you will come along.

Taking Care of Self

It’s been a few weeks. It feels that I should write something, but I’m not sure what. Life continues to present its challenges, encouraging me to reframe and seek the gifts.

I am continuing to look for a new job. I’m thankful to still be working at UMM, but it’s not the place for me. Maybe I’ve spoiled in my life in grassroots nonprofits, but I’m not interested in the hierarchy or pettiness. There are a lot of good people and I will always be thankful for having had the chance to meet and get to know them. I am thankful too for the opportunity to get to see the university from the inside at this point of my life.

We all know it’s not a good time to be looking for work. I am thankful for all my experiences and for not being held in any one place. I feel confident that I will find a great new adventure where I will be able to take my skills to make people’s lives just a little bit better.

My body remains unimpressed with something. It’s continuing in what is now the 3rd week of a rash that seems to probably be a reaction to my medication. It reminds me how much my body has to work with, how much I need to care for myself. It is a good reminder of the importance of my meditation, time away from the screen, time to play music, to cook, to be outside, to eat good foods with plenty of vegetables, all these things to show myself love. The doctors will give me medication. They will do their roles in providing care. But, it is my role, it is each of our roles, to give our bodies the best care we can. They are the only bodies we’ll have after all.

We all have these times. All we can do sometimes is just take some time off. Today I baked bread and attempted to make dandelion jelly. The bread worked. They dandelion jelly turned out too thin to even be syrup. But, it was an afternoon in the kitchen, just relaxing, doing something different. It was good. How are you taking care of yourself today?

The Caterpillar’s Cocoon

It’s been over a week since I posted last. Where does the time go? Time is operating on a different speed since we went into quarantine and I still don’t quite understand it. Yet, it feels good. My days have adopted a new rhythm.

Pretty much as soon as I started working from home I turned off my alarm clock. Now my alarm is the four leggeds that live with me. It’s a nice way way to be, to wake up slowly, spend a little time just cuddling before the dog needs to go outside or the cats start getting territorial.

I work my day with the creatures telling me when I need breaks by crawling up in my lap or starting to nose at me, encouraging me to step away from the computer for a little while to fill a toy with snacks or open the door to let someone out or to just pause and pet.

When work is over there’s time for long walks, guitar practice, crocheting, getting in touch with friends and family, writing, maybe some Ojibwe language practice, or some time to read or watch a movie. Night comes and sometimes I turn on a meditation video to fall asleep with. It’s a simple life, this time quarantine, but it feels good.

I know many are struggling a great deal and I feel empathy for them. For me, however, in many ways this has been a time of healing and renewal. I find myself continuing to hope that when the quarantine ends that it may find me like the caterpillar coming out of the cocoon, ready to spread my wings and fly into a new phase of life.

The Emotional Winter

This may just be a short post, but it is a thought that I wanted to share before it gets lost somewhere in the cobwebs of my mind.

I was talking with one of my students earlier today. We were just chatting a bit about school and life and just how things were going for them these days. They were feeling rather down. It seems right now that’s how a lot my students are feeling and how a lot of other people I know are feeling too.

The student told me something that I had heard before from several others. They said that they were just trying to keep things going, keep everything normal, and just push on through. I said to them that I respected that approach, but things aren’t normal right now, why would doing the same thing as we do in a normal situation work?

Then I suggested that it’s like the seasons. Right now we’re in a sort of midwestern winter of reality. We can’t walk out in it in only our summer of self-care and expect not to be frozen and in deep pain. We need to wrap ourselves up in caring and gentleness right now if we are to do our work and face our reality. Our reality is there and needs to be faced. There is work to be done. We just have to prepare ourselves for the weather and sometimes just sit by the fire to keep our beings warm.