Category: mental health

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.

Using Time Wisely

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranked the US as the most obese country in the world in 2019. The World Health Organization tells us that we are one of the most depressed countries in the world.

The US is among the highest CO2 producers in the world. We continually are dumping poisons everywhere. We are continually putting poisoning our own food and the water we drink. Why?

We have a fascinating opportunity right now. At other times people might pay thousands of dollars to go on retreats to step away from their regular day to day lives and step into something new. We’ve all been given the opportunity for free. Sure, maybe it doesn’t come with an exotic vacation spot or maybe we’re still doing a lot of our work from before and some new jobs too, but we’ve got something here. How can we use it?

I keep thinking of something a friend use to say. He’d be presenting to groups, talking about all sorts of important environmental issues of the day and he’d tell people. “Don’t worry about protecting the earth. The earth, she’ll be fine. It’s us that we need to that we need to be concerned about. We’re the ones who will no longer be able to drink the water. We’re the ones who will no longer be able to breathe the air. We’re the ones who will no longer have food to eat.”

He was right. I suspect that this virus is simply another warning. The warnings are getting bigger and more intense each one after the other. We need to figure this out. What can we do?

You are there in your personal retreat. How can you take this time to care for yourself body, mind, spirit, soul? How does your relationship to this place where we live, this earth change? How do we show her respect? How do we stop poisoning her and poisoning ourselves in the process? When we walk together again who will you be? Who will we all be?

The Place I Am Today

I used to be a community organizer. I like to believe some days that I still am, but other days I wonder especially as I sit here writing in my bed, alone, with my dog laying on my feet, and not knowing how to impact the place where I live.

I began as a student back in the 1990’s with the fire of a teenager and the wisdom of someone who’d seen almost nothing beyond her own home. I got a lot shocks and a great deal of love. I fell often. My teachers helped me find my footing and brush myself off over and over again. We got a lot done and I found a place where I belonged. I’m still in touch with people from those days. Some, I would say, count among my closest friends.

After my years as a student, I took on being an organizer professionally. I learned the ideas of Myles Horton. I came to understand that it isn’t my job to solve the problems that a community faces, but to ask the questions, to hold up the mirror so that the community members might see the answers that they hold and find the solutions for the themselves. It was in asking the questions that I made connections and built friendships.

I’ve moved from here to there over the years, but so many connections remain along with the lessons we’ve learned together along the way and all the struggles that we’ve won and lost. It sometimes seems that I might reach out almost anywhere and find some connection, someone that I’ve known or someone who’s connected to someone I’ve known.

Yet, here where I am right now it seems the connections are tenuous at best. I can see the challenges. But I am in a strange place. It is one of those places where two communities share the same space and are in some sense tied together, yet in deny each other and I don’t know how to change that. Maybe it is what life is in a small town with a university. There is the university and there is the town. There are some who are really part of both and there are some who just live or work in one and are part of the other. Then there are a few like myself who work here and reside here, but don’t really belong to either. I am not sure what to do with that. This is an interesting time and place to look at it. I wonder if it would be different in a larger town or a larger university? My suspicion is that it would, but I can only hope to someday see.

I wonder how many of us there are in these situations. These places where we work and reside and yet are not a part. How does this change? Can it change with time? What does it take to be in the community and not the organizer or what does it take to be an organizer in a community that has two or maybe more personalities?