Category: mental health

Mixed Feelings

What strange times. I continue to find myself flying about in this bizarre whirlwind of transition where I don’t quite know what to feel or how.

I spoke with a financial counselor this afternoon. I’ve worked most of my adult life in small nonprofits and childcare, so low paying jobs without a lot benefits beyond feeling that I’ve done some good in the world. That means I’m like most Americans haven’t built up a big nest egg and have a few bills to deal with, nothing major. I decided to talk with the counselor though after becoming a beneficiary of a small sum of money. I wanted to use it the best way possible. She was really helpful and we were able to figure out a good plan to address my debt and build my savings. I left the conversation feeling really good. Yet, it feels strange to feel really good about those kinds of conversations.

Mixed feelings came with my VNS implant too. It’s an amazing thing to be there in the doctor’s office getting this little device turned on, to feel that little tickle and feel my voice change, to know that it might really be the ticket to regaining my life and stopping my seizures. Yet, when it was done I couldn’t call my Dad to tell him how it went. All I could do was rely on the belief that he already knew, that he was there in the room with me, taking care of his little girl.

He keeps taking care of his little girl, helping me with my finances, making sure I’m safe and doing all that he can to help me be healthy again. It’s making me so happy, so thankful and at the same time I just want to see him smile, to give him a hug, to tell him I love him one more time. I guess that’s how it always is and that’s how it will be. I am so thankful though and amazed at that power, that power of love that keeps taking care of his baby Amy even after his body is gone.

What Can I Do?

It’s been nearly two weeks now. In typical times, I’d be back in Wisconsin probably getting ready to make my trip back to Minnesota. Family would be all together. We’d have laughed and cried and laughed again. We’d have all come together with prayers and stories. We’d have gathered together in Dacada around the spot where Mom lies and laid Dad’s ashes down beside her and maybe gone over across the street to have Uncle Nicky make us all a Old Fashioned to commemorate the day.

These aren’t typical times. Instead of coming home from Wisconsin and time with family, I just got home yesterday from Mayo clinic and surgery. The last two weeks have mostly been a blur. Coming home from epilepsy monitoring, Dad’s death, going back to Mayo for surgery, spending some time at Ann and Christopher’s house.

Today is the day that my tears start to flow again. Tears of thankfulness for the dear friends who’ve held me together and been watching out for me in these recent days. I really do feel so incredibly lucky to have been gifted with people like that in my life, those friends and family who are smart enough to see when I need them and to step right in, not waiting for me to figure it out. I tend to be rather slow in figuring out such things for myself.

Tears today too as I spend my day just resting and relaxing. The pause is giving me the chance to just randomly have these moments where my system seems to say “Dad is dead.” It’s coming to that point where it’s real and none of the age old ceremony that we relied on is there, only the questions of what is the right way to honor the passing of our loved ones now?

It’s different than when I was a little girl and Mom died. First, I was a little girl. Secondly, I was surrounded by family and friends and immersed in the ceremonies. It was too much for a little girl. The pain was far too real and too constant. This is different. With Dad I know it will be okay. I know he’s found his peace and that the sadness is my own. I know that I will always miss him. That’s not going to change, but I’ll laugh at the stories and seeing his grandchildren smile in the way he used too will touch my heart and give me faith. Still, this is that sneaky sadness and it just hits me with no forewarning, tells me that he’ll never give me one of his Dad kisses again, that I’ll never get to hug him one more time. All I know in that moment is that I want that one more hug, that one more Dad kiss, and it’s all gone.

I guess hugs and kisses are something that are handed down. My Dad hugged and kissed kids and grandkids like his aunt Sr. Christine used to. Maybe the only thing to do is keep handing them down. Keep the hugs and kisses going. Keep telling the stories. Honor the spirit. Guess I’m just going to have to be the old auntie with hugs and kisses. That’s what I can do.

You know it doesn’t really matter what else we do. Nothing really is bigger. Dad used to make point of giving me a hug and kiss every time I came to visit. We always made a point to tell each other that we loved each other. As a young adult, I found it kind of goofy. As I aged and Dad got old, I came to appreciate it and recognized how much it meant to him. Now, I think I’ve come to realize the gift he gave me in that little action. That little act told me that I was somebody special and now I get to always carry that with me.

Wow. If there’s someone in your life that you value, please tell them again and again. Please give them the gift that my dad gave me and let them have that treasure of feeling value and self-worth. It is an incredible gift.

Water Matters and Other Great Lessons from the Day

It’s been hanging out around 90 degrees in Rochester today. It wasn’t a good day to leave my water bottle in the hotel room. It was good that I was smart enough to wander through the Arts Center rather than go with my original idea of taking a longer walk along the river. I suspect that feeling of being worn out and the headache that came about by the time I got back to hotel room a couple of hours ago might have moved into seizure territory had I done differently.

It’s funny. I take much better care of myself now than I used to. Not having my water bottle didn’t mean that I didn’t drink water today. I had a sparkling water with lunch and a couple of glasses of water with dinner as well as the water I’d drunk before I left the hotel and a smoothie in the morning. Once upon a time I might have had the smoothie, but lunch and dinner probably would have included a cherry coke or some other sugar and probably caffeine laden poison. Now water just makes sense to me. It’s the thing that I drink most. I don’t eat much junk food either. It really is something that I have as a treat and even then I tend to go for just a bit of something really good. Life has changed me. I see my relationship with my body differently and treat myself better. It’s good.

Anyway, today’s adventures at Mayo were mostly pretty simple. I started with my blood draw and nasal swab. The blood draw waiting area had the grumpiest group of patients I’ve seen at Mayo, but I didn’t find it bad at all. My blood was drawn by a student and she did really well. I was impressed. I know that my veins can be tough and even that early in the morning I was wondering if I was a bit dehydrated.

The nasal swab was quick. It sucks, but that’s no surprise. It’s just not going to be pleasant to have a q-tip shoved up your nose. That’s an obvious reality. I left there thinking, “I am really glad that I don’t have Lauren’s (the q-tip person) job. Can you imagine putting q-tips up people’s noses all day? Well, I am thankful that she does it and hope that she finds reward in her work.

After that was a trip to the allergist. She’s not convinced that the diagnosis of DRESS Syndrome that I got back in January was correct. She’s wondering too why my rash reappeared several times since then. But, since it’s gone right now it’s a bit tough to tell. She’s going to keep studying the information that we have. I’ve agreed to see about getting a skin biopsy if the rash reappears again. Personally, I think my hope is that whatever it was is just done.

The most interesting thing though about the visit with the allergist wasn’t so much what I learned about the issue, but what I learned about my memory of the past few months. Thankfully, she could access all my records because even with my notes I had jumbled dates and wasn’t even certain what month things happened. It was really interesting. It leaves me wondering how much my memory is being impacted by my seizures and medication and just how much is the stress of life these days, but it was a mess. I suppose I will learn more when I have my memory tests next week.

Until then, I am on vacation enjoying the sites of Rochester and, honestly, mostly just taking advantage of being in a larger city than my current home of about 5,000 and eating a whole lot of good food at all the sidewalk cafes!

Be well!

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?

Being Thankful in Challenging Times

Okay, so it’s been a few days since my last post. I got sick. So far it seems, I am very happy to say, that I haven’t gotten the coronavirus. I am still waiting for results though. What I did get was a reaction to my seizure medication and a recurrence of my DRESS Syndrome.

It’s a fascinating time to be figuring out a minimally known syndrome like DRESS. It’s basically a nasty allergic reaction to a medication that causes my body to start fighting itself and could start doing some major damage to my internal organs. It showed up a couple months ago and reappeared last week. Hopefully, it will be cleared up in the next few weeks to never return again.

Here’s what makes it interesting to me. It reminds me that I really don’t understand what sick means or maybe more accurately I don’t identify with it in some way. I feel it and I am frustrated by it, but I look at it and don’t quite recognize it. People remind that I’ll make it through, that everything will be okay and I think, “Well, obviously. This is just a bump. It isn’t something insurmountable.”

It’s a strange thing. I’ve been given these things, these gifts in some way, epilepsy and DRESS to help me look at the world and come to know myself. There’s a good chance that for the rest of my life I’ll be taking medication to try to prevent my brain from doing internal lightning strikes while using medication that may suddenly push my body into attacking itself. It’s a good chance, I suppose, to let go of that need for control, to instead reach into that deeper being to find trust and balance, to know that I’ll keep breathing until it’s time for me to be done and with any luck that will be a long way down the road.

It does have me looking at this pandemic from an interesting personal light. The medication that I’m taking to clear up the DRESS Syndrome will, for the time-being, lessen my ability to ward off viruses. It doesn’t seem a great time to do that. But, if I don’t my body could beat itself up pretty badly and I’d like to keep all my internal organs in good shape.

So, I am thankful right now for the ability to work from home, the people who’ve helped me with errands and getting my dog out so I don’t need to go out very often, the masks my sister made for me, and for all the people who wear masks, maintain social distance, and do all those other kindnesses keeping others in mind knowing that even if they aren’t sick they could be carrying the illness and could impact someone who might not be able to fight it off as well. Some days I am really frustrated with my health struggles of the past few months, but mostly I am grateful for the gifts I have been given and the life I have the good fortune to have.

I hope that each of you reading this piece can find your gifts and good fortunes and that you are well and finding joy. Take good care.

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.

Too Much For a Morning

Woke up this morning to the news that both John Prine and Charlotte Figi (the little girl who inspired the creation of Charlotte’s Web , the CBD oil that became world known for its effectiveness in treating a form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome) died yesterday from the COVID-19 virus.

Then I read a bit about the voting yesterday in my home state of Wisconsin. Like many, I wonder how many will die from voting this year. I followed that with a look at my email. There I read a message from the university president about the likelihood of budget cuts in the upcoming year. It’s now 8:09 a.m.

You know there are some days that we just need to take off a bit. So, with John Prine in the background I am taking a little time to just write. I’ve got a meeting in a couple hours that I’ll join in, but I’m taking my crocheting with me and my dog too and just taking the time to listen to other folks from around the state to hear how they are handling this situation. It’s good to come together even when we can’t do it in person.

I don’t know what else to do in this moment. I like to solve problems and it’s hard when I can’t. I suspect many of us have that problem with this situation we are in. All I can do is tell myself what I tell my students– be gentle on self.

There’s nothing really new or inspirational in this post, but I feel it needed to be written if only for my own comfort. Still, I hope that maybe, just maybe it could offer a little comfort to someone out there to know that you’re not the only one who is sometime having those days where the bad news just seems to pile up and all you can do is step back to take pause and let it pound its way through. I hope that you’ll take good care of yourself today and know that we will make it. Things will get better again.