It takes a team

One thread of this blog since its inception is my journey through healing.  In the summer of 2012, I noticed that my elbows hurt.  The first health professional I saw thought I had tennis elbow — even though I didn’t play tennis or do any other repetitive motion activity other than swiping my iPad. That fall I began to feel tired — reeeeeeeally tired.  As a full-time mom, teacher, school administrator, and basically busy person, I had no time to be tired.  I went to a second health professional who did some blood tests and told me I was fine.

Since I knew I wasn’t fine, I kept pushing and investigating until I landed in a rheumatology office where I was given the diagnosis — psoriatic arthritis.  By then I wasn’t just tired — I was achy and struggling with psoriasis, too. Over the next 18 months I was treated with a series of medications in an attempt to find the one that would allow me to feel the best with the least side effects. I also experimented with acupuncture, massage, and nutritional interventions. All the while, I was still working full time and preparing for a major move, my youngest daughter’s graduation from high school and my oldest daughter’s graduation from college.

Then we moved.  And, if you have been following this blog, you know I committed to some time of rest and recovery.

While resting and recovering, I saw new medical professionals who said I did NOT, in fact, have psoriatic arthritis, but probably fibromyalgia.  These doctors discontinued some of the meds I was on and suggested that I insert more exercise into my life including cardio (I was already walking and doing Pilates). I resisted the fibro diagnosis, got a gym membership, and started building my team.

Now, 3.5 years after my initial symptoms and 1.5 years after moving to Michigan, I am still on the path to healing, but I am not alone.  I have assembled quite a little network of professionals who are believing with me that my health can improve and, indeed, that my entire sense of well-being might be restored.  Let me introduce my team.

Rev. John Rathje, aka my dear husband, is chief executive in charge of encouragement.  From the beginning, he has believed my invisible symptoms are real, has accompanied me to appointments whenever I have asked, has heated flax seed pillows, purchased ice packs, rubbed sore muscles, and supported my couch sitting.  He also makes sure to remind me not to push too hard or do too much.

Rev. William Gatz is chief executive in charge of intercession.  Since the moment he heard of my diagnosis he has prayed daily for my complete recovery.  If you know Pastor Gatz, you know this is serious business.  He is a leader in prayer and intercession, especially prayer related to healing.  He also recommended that I read How Can I ask God for Physical Healing, which challenged some of my thoughts and affirmed others.

Dr. Mary Greiner, D.O. and Integrative Medicine Specialist, is the hub of my medical team.  She spends a great amount of time listening to me.  She takes a varied approach that includes, but is not limited to, pharmacology, homeopathy, nutrition, physical therapy, and lifestyle.  Most importantly she believes that I can experience a better quality of life than I have now and she is willing to walk with me until I get there.

Marcy Boughton, MS PT, is the physical therapy whisperer who is subtly coercing my body into healing itself.  She has manipulated my skull, my spine, my organs, my limbs, and, I dare say, my mind.  The woman is filled with the spirit of God — Biblical truth oozes from her as she applies her hands to my body.  It is really quite miraculous.  I have never experienced anything like it.  Once a week I spend an hour on her table and leave feeling energized and supported.  Marcy recommended that I read Dr. Gary Kaplan’s Total Recovery which is reshaping the way I think about health and the human body.

Dr. Greg Peroff, DC, is the chiropractic support member of this team.  He continually reminds my sacroiliac joint of where it is supposed to hang out and keeps my head screwed on straight. Like the others, he is committed to my overall well-being and applauds me as I walk down this path.

Of course I have other players — my eye doctor who treats the ocular herpes that resulted from my time on biologic medicines, my former therapist who walked with me before and during my diagnosis and helped me begin to see that my pursuit of health is not merely medical, but also psychological and spiritual, and a great team of family and friends. Soon I will be recruiting an acupuncturist and a massage therapist to round out this crew.

When I write it all down it seems a little excessive and somewhat selfish to need so many people. That is, when I look at it with my natural mind.  My natural mind wants to be self-sufficient and to soldier through any difficulty without the support of anyone else.  I want to kick butts and take names.

Good thing I also have the mind of Christ that reminds me that butt-kicking and name-taking contributed to me being in this position in the first place.  The mind of Christ reminds me that God connects us with others for a variety of reasons.  This team is supporting me, yes, and perhaps, in some way, I am also blessing them.

I didn’t choose the path of chronic illness, but I am choosing the path to wellness — body, soul, and spirit.  I am turning away from thinking with my natural mind, and turning toward the mind of Christ. Moment by moment, I am turning.

I Corinthians 2:14, 16

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

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Integrative Medicine

About a year ago I saw a doctor who practices integrative medicine for the first time.  Although I had experienced some progress through acupuncture, massage, and nutritional counseling while we were still living in St. Louis, I didn’t really know what integrative medicine was.  However, after almost three years of symptoms — fatigue, joint pain, psoriasis, and multiple issues with my eyes — and little help from traditional medical practice, I figured I had nothing to lose.

When I arrived at the office on the west side of Ann Arbor, I found it to be understated; it didn’t have all the glitz and glamour of the powerful University of Michigan.  It was a small suite of rooms in a strip mall.  The receptionist called my name, weighed me, took my temperature, found my blood pressure, and asked me to fill out some forms. Some of the forms looked familiar — family history, insurance information, etc. — but mixed in with those were others that were asking me questions no doctor had ever asked me before — questions about diet, mood, temperament, lifestyle, and sleep that went beyond the quantitative I had experienced in the past.

The doctor, an unassuming middle-aged woman, talked to me for over an hour.  She took notes, asked questions, examined me, and then gave me a place to start. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might remember that last December I followed the Ultra Simple Diet on the recommendation of this doctor.  She ordered some blood work and also had me submit saliva samples — yes, saliva samples– to a lab to determine my level of adrenal functioning.

I followed her recommendations, and then — bam! — life got a little crazy at our house for a few months.  I kept eating wisely, but I worked too  much, lost track of my exercise plan, and stopped seeing this doctor.

By the end of summer, I had taken a few steps backward health-wise.  I had fallen into some of my old soldiering habits, ignoring my symptoms and pushing through for the sake of family, work, and, most honestly, selfishness.  My fall visit to my rheumatologist at the U was very disappointing.  I was told I had fibromyalgia and that I should find a doctor who would help me manage my symptoms.  Period.

Well, that was the impetus I needed to go back to the integrative medicine specialist.  I limped into the examination room complaining of pain, fatigue, and — a new one — hot flashes!  I was having up to eight extreme hot flashes during the day and that many again at night.  They stopped me in my tracks during the day and woke me out of a sound sleep at night. Furthermore, I was nearing hopelessness because of the verdict from rheumatology.

Step by step, Dr. Mary Greiner, addressed my concerns.  She used homeopathic medicines to address my symptoms. (Some other time I may write about how affordable these remedies are in comparison to pharmaceuticals.)  She also encouraged me to re-adopt my healthy practices of exercise and rest in addition to the dietary changes that I had been following — no gluten, no dairy, no soy.  And, she said I needed to get in to see a physical therapist in Chelsea, Michigan.  She said it would take me a while to get in to see her, maybe months.  However, I needed to see her because she is the one who could help me.   In fact, I’m pretty sure that Dr. Greiner recommended I see Marcy Boughton during that very first appointment almost a year ago.  I didn’t follow through initially, but finally around August, I called and made an appointment.  Last week I met Marcy for the first time.

Just like Dr. Greiner, Marcy listened to me for over an hour.  She wanted to know my physical history, yes, but she also wanted to know about major life events — my parents’ divorce, my experience with anorexia nervosa, the births of my children, our relocation to St. Louis, my reentry into the work force, and our relocation to Michigan. She wanted to hear how I had managed the stressors and, get this, she wanted to applaud my resilience.  Then, she wanted to affirm that this is a good time to allow my body some time to recover.

Yesterday, during our second visit, after having evaluated my personality type and some other socio-emotional factors, she had me listen to some audio teaching while she was gently applying pressure to assess my body’s needs and address some areas of concern.  Hers is a very gentle practice.  She felt my pulses as my acupuncturist had in the past.  She applied gentle pressure to my neck, my skull, my shoulders.  And, by touch, she found the most troubling area, my right hip.

As she applied gentle pressure to my femur, she played two audios.  The first spoke to my personality — my tendency to do, to achieve, to push, to take charge.  The audio celebrated the strengths of these traits — people like me get things done, they lead people, they have what seems to be unstoppable energy and enthusiasm.  However, the audio also identified the weakness — the tendency to overlook the interior, to neglect self-care, to lose touch with the personal.  The information I was hearing resonated.  On just the second meeting with this practitioner, the dots that I have seen clearly on the page, were being connected with an indelible black Sharpie. The second audio was the next step.  The speaker invited the listener to speak words of affirmation celebrating this driven personality — the strength, the vision, the ability to accomplish.  Then, it invited the speaker to heal, to acknowledge the areas that have been overlooked, to give myself permission to set down my weapons,  to slow down and be kind to myself.  As I listened, Marcy continued to apply pressure to that femur, gently attempting to release its torque.  When the audio was done, she said that during the second half of the second audio she was holding my femur when she felt a snap as though my femur broke and then repositioned itself. Interesting.

This is integrative medicine, folks.  I’m not going to tell you that my pain is gone today (although I will say I am no longer having hot flashes!). But, I’m feeling much better as a whole.  I feel like I am understanding myself — my whole self — a little more fully.  We are, after all, complex beings — we are body, soul, and spirit.  Addressing the needs of the body without attending to the soul and the spirit is, at best, a partial fix.

I’d like to tell you more of this story, but I’ve already used more than enough words for one day.  Perhaps tomorrow I will be able to tell you what I am learning about holding it all together.  For now, though, it’s enough to say that we are complex beings created by an even more complex Creator.

I Thessalonians 5:23

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I love a parade!

Every morning I wake up and make a parade — a parade of beverages.  It’s all part of my quest for wellness.  Each member of the parade serves a purpose (or several purposes).  Let me guide you through.

The first member of my parade is a tall glass of water.  Here in the little house by the river, water comes out of the tap at room temperature or warmer.  Weird, I know.  I run it through my Brita filter,  pour it into my tall insulated tumbler over a few ice cubes, then take the first swig to chase down the handful of pills that I keep in a pill organizer.  Right now I am taking a daily multi-vitamin, two fish oil capsules with Omega-3 fatty acids, 400 mg of magnesium, a 5,000 iu capsule of Vitamin D, and a prescription anti-inflammatory called Voltarin.  And, guys, that’s a reduction.  I take a similar combination in the evening — and it’s not going down without that glass of water.

We all know we are supposed to drink water, right.  Google told me this morning that 50-65% of the human body is water.  In order to be healthy, we have to recirculate that water regularly.  Water cleanses our systems, washes away impurities, and generally makes us feel better.  In fact, it can reduce headaches, improve your appearance, and give you energy.  We have a joke in our house that no matter what your ailment is, it can be cured with a glass of water.  Got a stomach ache?  Drink a glass of water.  Feel crabby? Drink a glass of water.  Can’t sleep? Here’s a glass of water.

Next in the parade is a smoothie.  Last Mother’s Day, my kids got together and gave me an individual blender that whips up a smoothie in just a couple of seconds.  Since then, more days than not, I have started my day with a blend of fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and a variety of other ingredients.  While I was on the Ultrasimple Diet (Mark Hyman, MD) I purchased a prescription shake mix called UltraInflamX — it’s a rice-based formula chock full of nutrients and antioxidants designed to provide nourishment and reduce inflammation.  It’s expensive, but seemed to be effective in starting off my day and helping me feel well.  For the last week, since I ran out of the expensive stuff, I consulted Mark Hyman’s book, The UltraSimple Diet, and found three recipes for the same type of shake that I can make at home for much less money.  The recipe I am using at the moment is 1/2 cup almond milk, one banana, 1 T. cashew butter, 1 T. flaxseed oil, and 2 T. ground flax seeds.  It’s pretty tasty, and, according to Dr. Hyman, provides essential protein, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and anti-oxidants.

Following the smoothie in the parade of beverages is a concoction that also grew out of the UltraSimple diet.  It started as hot water with the juice of half a lemon.  Then someone sent me a link singing the praises of cinnamon and honey, so I threw 1 t. of cinnamon and about 2 t. of honey in with the lemon water.  That is incredibly yummy by the way.  Cinnamon and honey have been said to reduce the pain of arthritis, to improve gastrointestinal health, lower cholesteral, strengthen the immune system, etc. And it tastes good!  So, down the hatch it goes.

A little over a week ago when my doctor called to tell me that my cortisol was low, she prescribed an herbal supplement that should improve my cortisol levels in just a matter of weeks.  I should take 1/2 t. of Licorice (not the candy form) and 1/2 t. of Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng) in water or ‘juice’ 2-3 times a day.  Sounds simple.  Tastes horrible.  So, in the morning, I try to drown these herbs in the cinnamon, lemon, honey goodness, and it almost works.

Finally, my reward for drinking the other three beverages is a cup of green tea.  Can you believe I am calling that my reward after all the whining I did about ‘having’ to drink green tea on the UltraSimple diet? Well, have I mentioned lately what a wonderful husband I have? For Christmas he found me a loose green tea blend that is fruity and delicious! So, the grand finale in my parade of beverages is a lovely cuppa fruity green tea.  Now, you might think by now that I am following some crazy schemes to improve my health.  You may be skeptical, but even medical doctors have cited the research that shows the benefits of the catechin in green tea to do everything from lowering cholesterol to improving brain function to stabilizing blood sugar.  Drink up, kids.

So what do I do after the parade?  What does anyone do after a parade? They exercise, of course.  So, I am off to the gym for come cardio, some strength, and then some relaxation in a warm salt water pool.

I do believe all this work is paying off.  I am feeling better, not perfect, but better.

Proverbs 3:5-8

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes, fear the Lord and shun evil.

This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.

Late night steam-of-conciousness

There will be a day with no more tears, no more pain, no more fears…

Jeremy Camp

It’s almost 7:00 pm and I have actually been up and moving since the other 7:00 today.  Yet, I didn’t fit in a work out.  I haven’t blogged.  I haven’t even watched any junk TV.

What did I do?  Well, I drove across town for an oil change — but I had the wrong time, so I had to reschedule.  I salvaged that trip by going through the car wash.  I came home and mixed up some gluten-free/dairy-free coconut-banana muffins. I sampled one before half of them were sent to my husband’s coworkers.  I got Starbucks.  I read about forty pages in a book I am editing.  I grabbed a quick snack before driving across town again for an appointment.  Three hours later I drove back home.  I made some baked swai and tried a new recipe for quinoa with kale, then shared both with my husband, along with a couple of the muffins from earlier in the day.

And what did this out-of-the-ordinary day yield for me?  Some good food, that is to be sure, some movement on my editing project, yes, and possibly, just maybe, a little shred of hope.

My  appointment  was with a doctor who practices integrative medicine.  Prior to going I had to submit my whole health record including lab reports, family history, a food diary, and list of medications.  I also had to physically carry in all of the medications and supplements that I currently take. The nurse did the usual measurements — weight, height, blood pressure, and temperature and then left me to wait for the doctor.

As I sat there waiting, utter fatigue flooded over me.  I could feel two years’ worth of frustration pushing up through me and trying to force its way out of my eyes.  Why did I think this doctor appointment would be any different?  Why did I think this doctor would have any answers, any solutions, or even any far-fetched schemes that might help me feel less-tired, less achey, less pathetic?

By the time she walked in almost twenty minutes later, I was feeling a bit defensive.  My answers to her first two questions ended up sounding a bit sharp, so I paused and said, “I’m sorry.  I am tired. I’m tired of feeling sick and tired. And doctors’ visits are very stressful.”  When she answered, “I’m sure they are stressful,” the tears threatened to spill over, but I checked them.  I took a deep breath and tried to answer as honestly and politely as I could for the next hour.  Yes, hour.

“Do you have any pain-free days?” she asked.

“No.”

“Well, let’s start there. Let’s see if we can get you a pain-free day.”

Seriously?  Pain-free?  I think she believes she can do it!  It’s going to take some work on my part.  But, what have I got to lose, besides some pain, right?

So, we started today with more blood work.  Ho-hum.  She changed the dosage on some of my supplements and removed some of the others.  Tomorrow I will do a ‘saliva test’. Then comes the hard stuff.

I agreed to do an ‘ultra simple diet’ for seven days.  It involves lots of veggies, rice, broth, and some shake mix stuff.  And it excludes almost all caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and virtually everything that isn’t veggies, rice, broth, and shake mix stuff.

Yes, I am agreeing to go off caffeine….except for green tea — bleh! — for seven days.  I am warning you now so that you can steer clear of Ann Arbor, spend extra time in prayer, and read my posts with compassion.

I’ll be cleansing my body of all kinds of toxins, she says.  I’ll be creating a blank slate, she says.  We’ll be able to know more then, she says.

I looked at the instructions for the ‘Ultra Simple Diet’ for a long time.  It doesn’t look like much fun at all. But I kept hearing her words in my head, “pain-free day, pain-free day, pain-free day…” She thinks it can happen.  No medical professional has dared hope with me for that in two years.

If I don’t try, I won’t know.

So, I bought the liver cleanse, the probiotics, and the shake mix stuff.  I’ve gotta go to the grocery store to get the specific veggies, fresh herbs, and organic whatevers I am going to need.  And I’ve gotta take two days, at least, to wean myself off caffeine.

This could get ugly, folks.  Good thing I re-committed to prayer a couple of weeks ago; I think it’s gonna be a requirement.

Ultimately I know that God can give me pain-free days whenever He chooses, with or without an ‘ultra simple diet’.  So far, He has provided emotional and lifestyle healing through this illness.  I am not sorry about any of that.  I don’t want to go back to being a soldier kicking butts and taking names. And, the only reason I stopped being a soldier was because I could no longer physically keep at it.  I crashed.  And burned.  And limped.  And moaned.

I am moving slowly and intentionally now because that is all I can do.  If I am physically healed, will I continue at this pace?  Or will I go back to soldiering? Is two years long enough for me to learn this lesson?

I don’t know any of those answers.

I want to be still and know that He is God.  I want to use my gifts to His glory.  I want to rest in the palm of His hand.

I have a pastor-friend who prays each morning that my illness will be completely reversed.  He tells me this every time I see him.  I tell him that not all healing is physical, and that God is blessing me through this illness.  But guys, he is an eighty-year-old pastor and he is praying for me every morning. 

I do want physical healing, if God has it for me.  I also want to be content with whatever He gives me.  I want to hold on to the lessons I have learned in the last two years and continue to learn more.  So, I’m gonna give this doctor’s plan a try, and at the same time, pray to the Great Physician that my healing will be complete.  I know it will be one day, perhaps even on this earth.

James 5:16

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other

so that you may be healed.

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.