10 Ways Chronic Illness Has Made Me a Better Version of Myself

Everyone’s chronic illness journey is different. Each person touched with the “spoonie” brush has experienced different diagnoses, time periods of illness, symptoms, medications, emotions, healthcare plans, doctors, surgeries and prognoses. One thing that each of us may likely have in common though is the experience of some kind of evolution – a growing or changing of identity as who we are as individuals is impacted forever. I stress though that I am not referring to a change from a healthy person to a sick person, as who we truly are is certainly not defined by a diagnostic label. The evolution I refer to is the growth we experience within ourselves as the hardships we endure begin to alter our perceptions of our lives. Whilst our physical selves may seem to run at a loss as we experience pain, weakness, fatigue, surgery or medication side effects on a daily basis, I truly believe that who we are on the inside is largely enhanced and improved by the struggle.

My chronic illness journey began about 12 years ago when, at 17 years old, I began to experience some stomach issues that were identified as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). These symptoms would come and go, “flaring” on occasion. Experiencing recurrent bouts of anxiety meant that many of my symptoms were often linked to my stress levels or even to hyperawareness of my own body. Over the years, I continued to lose small amounts of weight. Following my father’s death from cancer in early 2015, the symptoms began to worsen but were again put down to the stress of his passing. It was lucky that an unrelated gynecological ultrasound detected several swollen loops of small bowel in my lower abdomen that warranted further investigation. One colonoscopy and CT scan later, I was finally diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. After managing my new-found lactose intolerance, intestinal stricture and small-bowel inflammation with diet, short-term Prednisone and long-term Azathioprine therapy, the gynecological issues I had had previously began to exasperate. It was time for the laparoscopy that had long been on the cards. Just two months ago, it was confirmed that I also have endometriosis. Extensive adhesions were found throughout my abdomen (caused either by the Crohn’s, endo or both) and what could be treated was removed during a three-hour surgery. And that brings us to now – and so the journey continues!

When I reflect on my story so far, I notice how far I have actually come, not only in terms of my physical health, but mostly in terms of my mental and emotional well-being. My experiences are certainly none that I would wish upon anybody; however, I am quickly learning the importance of not resenting or begrudging them. One of my favorite quotes is: “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.” Acceptance of our journey as “spoonies” is what allows us to open ourselves up to learn from it and see a positive side to everything we go through (even if not straight away). The lessons I have learned already are countless, but for the sake of this blog, I have come up with a list of 10 that I feel have changed me the most and have helped to put me on a path to becoming a better version of myself.

1. Always be grateful.

No matter how sick you may feel at any given time, appreciate that you are alive and that there is so much in your life to be thankful for. Take time to practice gratitude.

2. Never underestimate your strength.

Sometimes we are unaware of how strong we really are until we are truly tested. Our bravery and persistence cannot fully be realized until we experience fear and challenges. When you learn that you can survive more than you ever thought you could, it’s a pretty amazing feeling.

3. Grow your resilience.

Each hurdle thrown your way may be difficult for a time, but each boundary is growing your ability to recover. You have survived everything you’ve been through to date. Remember this (as well as the strategies that have worked for you) for next time. You will need them again.

4. Your energy and “healthy times” are precious.

When you only have so many “spoons” for each day, savor them and use them wisely. You can never be sure when your next flare-up of symptoms will be, so make the most of the time that you have feeling well. Know the limits of your spoonie body. Listen to it when it tells you to stop.

5. It’s OK to be selfish sometimes.

Take time for yourself without guilt or reservation. If you need a rest, take it. If you want to pamper yourself, do it. Cancel some plans. Learn to say no. You might resent it at first, but you will thank yourself later.

6. There’s something to be learned in every hardship.

In every struggle, find the hidden message. There is always something positive to be gained, no matter how small. Learn. Grow.

7. Take care of your body.

Love, nourish and care for your body for what it is. Never resent it or wish it were something more. It is what it is and it shouldn’t be “blamed” for its shortcomings. Bring your mind and body back together as one. Do some yoga. Love yourself.

8. Educating yourself is important.

Read extensively and critically. Research everything. Know your disease, medication and body inside out. Alleviate some anxiety by being more informed. If something doesn’t seem right, ask questions. Find as many ways to help yourself as possible.

9. Cherish those who support you.

Notice who checks in with you when you’re unwell. Identify who you can talk to about your health and who seems to feel uncomfortable discussing it. It may be that that aspect of your life is just too much for some people to deal with. Accept that, and surround yourself with the right support when you need it. Join a support group. Follow Instagram pages that inspire you. Read a blog. You aren’t alone. There are people who understand.

10. Be positive – always.

There is always beauty in the battle. Perhaps we have been given our journeys to teach us more about who we are and to change our perspectives. Maybe being unwell has made us more grateful for the days we feel good, which many may take for granted. Perhaps we have been enlightened by the understanding that good health (and our lives) are fleeting, and now know that each day truly is a blessing.

As I said from the outset, everyone’s chronic illness journey is different. The lessons I have learned so far may be very different from yours. Whatever our experiences may be, I hope we can all learn something, grow ourselves and find the positives within the journey. Whilst we will always experience sad and negative feelings along the way, it is important that we acknowledge our frustrations but be willing to let them go. It is by letting go of the bad that we make room for something better and, ultimately, someone better. If the “beauty in the battle” refers to the silver linings that emerge from our struggles, know that the greatest “beauty” to come out of your journey will likely be you.



5 Things My Loved Ones Should Know About Life With Rheumatoid Arthritis

There are so many things I do not know how to express or explain to the people who love me. The next five bullet points are some of the most important to me.

1. I never wanted to become sick.

I pray every day that God will see fit to heal me. At this point in my illness I do not even fully understand what is going on in my body most days. I just made a list of symptoms to show my doctor which was about 20 bullet points. I am hoping they will connect them to form a more solid diagnosis. I am hoping they have answers, that there is something to be found that is fixable. I have rheumatoid arthritis and have ignored it for many years. Not facing it has only made my symptoms worse. It can take six months sometimes for my body to recover from a flare, surgery, injury or infection.

2. Please be considerate and know I am trying my best.

I am actively involved in a couple different ministries and charities and I love the opportunity to serve. However, if I am there, know it is taking all my energy to get by. Please do not judge me for not being extra social or participating in every event. Please do not exclude me from group activities. I tend to leave as soon as the event is over and I sometimes get left out of group pictures and after event lunches or activities. It can be a painful reminder that I am disappearing from the lives of my friends.

3. There are weeks when I do not leave the house for days.

Texting and social media are very much a lifeline for me right now. Getting up and out of the house is taking an increasing amount of energy. So, I connect with friends via my phone. Sometimes I just need to text and share that I am having a bad day. Even if I do not receive a response, just being able to share it lightens the burden. The friends I do have in my life are very important to me. So, if one of them needs me, even if I cannot make it out, I am always available by phone or text.

4. I have a “knee-jerk” reaction to apologize.

I am always saying I am sorry. I apologize for apologizing too much. I have been trying to shift my behavior to saying thank you instead. Thank you for understanding, thank you for your help, thank you for including me and so on and so forth. Apologizing for my illness only makes me a victim to it, versus having gratitude for what I can do.

5. I do not want to hear how high your pain tolerance is.

That is a phrase I really do not like to hear. It is dismissive, ignorant and comes with an air of superiority. People with chronic pain probably have a high pain tolerance but the pain never goes away! It would wear down the toughest of the tough if there was no end in sight. I am really glad that your pain tolerance is high; that is a good thing. It is just very insensitive to say that to someone who has shared their struggle in chronic pain with you.

Please do not ever take your health for granted because we rarely get warning when things go bad. Becoming chronically ill can go from bad to worse very quickly. If you love someone with a chronic illness, tell them you appreciate the things they can do. Listen to them cry and resist the need to “fix” them. The more you try to fix them, the more broken they feel.


Soon a blood test will help detect brain injury in infants

A team of scientists has come up with a new medical test that may help identify infants who may have had bleeding of the brain as a result of abusive head trauma, sometimes referred to as shaken baby syndrome.

Developed by the researchers at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, the serum-based test, which needs to be validated in a larger population and receive regulatory approval before being used in clinical practice, would be the first-of-its-kind to be used to detect acute intracranial hemorrhage or bleeding of the brain.

Infants who test positive would then have further evaluation via brain imaging to determine the source of the bleeding.

“Abusive head trauma (AHT) is the leading cause of death from traumatic brain injury in infants and the leading cause of death from physical abuse in the United States,” said senior author Rachel Berger.

Missed diagnoses can be catastrophic as abusive head trauma can lead to permanent brain damage and even death. (AFP/iStock)

However, approximately 30% of AHT diagnoses are missed when caretakers provide inaccurate histories or when infants have nonspecific symptoms such as vomiting or fussiness. Missed diagnoses can be catastrophic as AHT can lead to permanent brain damage and even death.

The researchers collaborated with Axela, a Canadian molecular diagnostics company, to develop a sensitive test that could reduce the chances of a missed diagnosis by using a combination of three biomarkers along with a measure of the patient’s level of hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen in blood.

Axela’s automated testing system allowed the researchers to measure multiple biomarkers simultaneously using an extremely small amount of blood, an important characteristic of a test designed to be used in infants.

The test correctly detected acute intracranial hemorrhage because of abusive head trauma approximately 90% of the time, a much higher rate than the sensitivity of clinical judgement, which is approximately 70%.

“The test is not intended to replace clinical judgement, which is crucial,” said Berger. “Rather, we believe that it can supplement clinical evaluation and in cases where symptoms may be unclear, help physicians make a decision about whether an infant needs brain imaging.”

The specificity of the test or the ability to correctly identify an infant without bleeding of the brain who would not require further evaluation was 48%. The researchers aimed for the test to be highly sensitive rather than maximizing accuracy, since missing a diagnosis has more serious consequences than performing brain imaging in babies without the condition.

“This study illustrates the benefits of being able to perform highly sensitive tests at the point of care,” said co-author Paul Smith.


Me vs. Fibromyalgia: 3 Key Devices to Relieve Chronic Pain

On Monday night, I was relaxing on the couch watching Law and Order: SVU with my English Bulldog, J.Z., when I realized I forgot to take my vitamin D… again. That’s the second time this week that I’ve messed my meds/vitamin routine up.

I let out a frustrated grunt and J.Z. looks at me like, “What happened? How can I help?? Can I eat it?”

It had been an exhausting day and realizing I dropped the ball (twice) makes me feel bummed out. But as I thought about all of the pills I take in one day, I decided to cut myself a break. So many pills! It’s a miracle that I keep my routine straight as much as i do.

Then, I slipped into a daydream where I pressed an “Easy Button” and all of my conditions were healed.

As I came back to reality, I looked down to my heating pad and thought it kind of resembled an easy button. And this inspired me to share some gratitude for the great gadgets that give me relief from Chronic Pain.

Here are my must-have technological devices, I hope that you may find relief too!

Quell Relief

Sleep is one of the biggest and first things affected by Chronic Pain and Fibromyalgia. Painsomnia is a very real struggle day in and day out. What’s that? Have a quick peek at Painsomnia.

I’ve compared the effects of this to being asked to operate heavy machinery after staying awake for three days straight. It’s disorienting and can rob me of my confidence and focus, so finding a drug-free way to combat this was always high on my list.

It took a few days of getting used to wearing the Quell Relief device on my calf for hours at a time. A few therapy sessions on the right setting, and I could feel the pulses begin to work their magic. Through Bluetooth, I control the settings from my smartphone and have been able to track my sleep, therapy, and pain levels. This device has completely changed my sleep routine and for the most part, Painsomnia is a thing of the past. Dreamy, huh?

This is worth the investment warriors, you won’t regret it. (Plus, Quell offers a 60 day money back guarantee.)

Compression Boots

The second my feet hit the floor every morning, I’m reminded of my condition. There is A LOT of leg and foot pain that comes with Fibromyalgia. My feet feel like they’ve been put between two cement blocks, hit with a hammer and lit on fire. Next, comes the pain in my calves and then up to my knees… it’s an unbearable way to start every day.

For my birthday a few years ago, my husband purchased a pair of compression boots. I use them every night for 30 minutes and they have been “feet” changing! Not only do they give my legs and feet relief but they’re relaxing for my entire body. Think of them like a gentle “hug” for your bottom half.

Arthritis Gloves

Since the very early stages of my diagnosis my hand pain has been a major problem. I have written about them looking like lobster claws and how sometimes holding my toothbrush feels like climbing Mount Everest.

One of my closest friends, Christine, came to the rescue when she found these arthritis gloves. I wear them for 20 minutes at a time, as often as I need to. On good days, 1-2 times a day and on bad days way more. There are no side effects and my pinchers get some relief.

The medical field has made massive advancements with technology as its backbone. With one out of three people in the U.S. suffering from some type of chronic illness, companies are working diligently to figure out new ways to treat patients without the use of a pill.

It’s no “Easy Button,” but this does means more relief and less pills are on the horizon. Maybe then, J.Z. and I can pay better attention and figure out how Benson knew the guy at the deli was the real murderer.

“Me vs. Fibromyalgia” is a biweekly, one-of-a-kind series designed to give readers and warriors affected by Fibromyalgia a comprehensive look into the facts of the disease and the story of a driven, high-achieving business woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer. I’ve chronicled nine years of experience with Fibro including chronic pain and fatigue, low energy, doctors, relationships and more, and hope to offer answers and support to those who seek them.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. All information presented should be regarded as friendly advice and opinions based on my own experience and research.


10 Celebrity Weight Loss Tips That Actually Work

When it comes to weight loss among women in the public eye, you don’t need science to see which strategies work. Here are the most effective weight-loss tricks, according to the celebs who’ve successfully used them to slim down.

1. Eat salad at every meal.

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi credits her postpartum weight loss to laying off carbs and amping up her veggie intake. “Salad is always on the menu with whatever dish I am making,” she told People.2. Write what you bite.

Carrie Underwood is a long-time food journaler who uses MyFitnessPal to record everything she eats. Otherwise, she says, her brain would never get the memo that she’s eaten enough. “[It] helps me make better choices and pay attention to what I’m eating,” she says.

3. At restaurants, order two appetizers instead of a starter and a main.

You could also opt for a main and a shared dessert if your sweet tooth is raging. It’s this advice from Jennifer Lawrence’s former trainer Dalton Wong that helped the actress tone up for body-baring roles like Mystique in X-Men: First Class. In the foreword of his book, The Feelgood Plan: Happier, Healthier & Slimmer in 15 Minutes a Day, Jennifer thanked him for teaching her life-changing weight-control lessons.

4. Plan ahead for hunger when you’re out and about.

Instead of letting hunger catch her off-guard when she was commuting regularly between her home in Los Angeles to her work on The View in New York City, Candace Cameron Bure planned her meals and snacks meticulously: She’d eat before cross-country flights to avoid settling on airplane food, and pack snacks like protein bars to fuel up for workouts. It’s one reason why the actress got into the best shape of her life during this hectic phase.

5. During workouts, stick to the Bs.

When shaping up for her Las Vegas residency at Planet Hollywood, Britney Spears’s trainer Tony Martinez had her focus on what he calls the “Four Bs”: Basketball jump shots, Backwards walking, Balancing on one leg while doing medicine-ball slams, and Bicycling. But there’s a fifth “B” in Britney’s routine, and it stands for Basics. On Instagram, she’s posted push-ups, core work, bar curls, and squats — moves anyone can do.

6. Strive for a diet that’s pretty good — not perfect.

Although Blake Lively gave birth to her daughter in December 2014, and had to shape up quickly to play Nancy in The Shallows the following year, she didn’t try to live a life devoid of pizza or pasta (or joy), or count a single calorie to reach her goals. Instead, she simply stuck to a mostly homemade, balanced diet of proteins, vegetables, fruits, slow-burning starches like sweet potatoes, plus healthy fats like avocado, coconut oil, and grass-fed butter, according to Blake’s trainer Don Saladino. Her goal: To put good-for-you foods into her body at least 80 percent of the time — and to leave room for treats like mac and cheese when cravings call (as they do!).

7. Make wellness — *NOT* weight loss — your goal.

It worked for Lena Dunham who, for the record, is *NOT* trying to lose weight — not even a little! “Right now, I’m struggling to control my endometriosis through a healthy diet and exercise,” she recently captioned a photo posted to Instagram. The girl boss is working out with Tracy Anderson, doing yoga, and trying to eat despite an appetite that’s hindered stress linked to current events. The same goes for Melissa McCarthy, who told Life & Style back in 2015 that training for fight scenes in Spy helped her stop worrying about her weight. “I think there’s something to kinda loosening up and not being so nervous and rigid about it that, bizarrely, has worked,” she said.

8. Include protein in every meal.

Although calorie-counters may be tempted to skimp on protein in favor of lower-calorie veggies, it’s difficult to keep food cravings a bay when you’re constantly starving — which is exactly what happens when you don’t get enough protein. Kim Kardashian, for example, lost her baby weight by following a meal plan that included a 6-ounce serving of protein with every single meal of the day, including cheesy eggs for breakfast, fish for lunch, and lean chicken breast for dinner. If her diet sounds filling, that’s because it is, and it’s proof you don’t have to go hungry to shed pounds.

9. Avoid eating late at night and early in the morning.

Jennifer Hudson shrunk from a size 16 to 6 after teaming up with Weight Watchers in 2010, and she’s since maintained her 80-pound weight loss. In a recent interview with the UK television show, Lorraine, she said one of the keys to maintaining her impressive weight loss is follow common sense when it comes to meal timing. “I’m very careful and cautious of what I’m eating,” she said. “If it’s early in the morning, [I tell myself] ‘OK, I would still be asleep right now, So I’m not going to eat.'” And although she didn’t cite specific hours during which she eats or fasts, the approach follows recent research that suggests limiting your eating hours can protect you from weight gain.

10. Hire help.


The strengths that bring out an introvert’s full potential

Many industries require people who are great with people, especially in the sales world. But there are different ways of successfully handling people, and different strengths you can bring to the table. If an introvert wants to create a business without constantly dealing with swarms of people or being a part of the customer-facing side of the business, fear not—it’s entirely possible.

Introverts must never see their introversion as a liability—it must be seen as a weapon. How many people reading this can think of one extrovert they know who is borderline annoying, a big talker, who pursues quantity over quality? The secret power of the introvert is that they are observers of the world, and by engaging with it less frequently, they can have a greater affect with their selectiveness.

Here’s a few reasons why I believe introverts are better at business:

  1. They’re better listeners. This means the team around them feels more supported and heard, and are more likely to have their suggestions taken on board.
  2. Introverts make great business partners. Pairing an extrovert and an introvert together makes a power couple that can provide two interesting perspectives.
  3. Introverts prefer social quality, not quantity. This means better action on a small group level. An introvert will be more effective going from team to team and department to department, whereas an extrovert may attempt to treat the employees as a collective.
  4. Introverts are often better writers and express things more powerfully through the written word. A great deal of business is in this medium, so make good use of this asset.
  5. Alone time is a recharging time for an introvert, so if they use this space to deal with problems pragmatically and logically, it will serve the business well.

How do I know all this? I’m an introvert entrepreneur. I get scared by big groups, and am always anxious about talking on the phone. People think I’m a sociable guy, but I spend a lot of time recharging on my own, and much prefer to be around one to three people than five or more. As an introvert, I plan my words carefully, and feel that I am great at expressing ideas, especially now I work one-on-one with clients, rather than in a large team scenario. So if you’re an introvert and tentative about succeeding in the business world, take solace in the fact that other introverts have been able to do just that for many years.


9 tips for anyone newly diagnosed with fibromyalgia

You’ve been given a fibromyalgia diagnosis. Now what?

I know you’ve felt like crap for months – maybe even years. You’ve probably shuffled from doctor-to-doctor, trying to figure out why you’re in pain all the time and can barely pull yourself out of bed. You may even be relieved that you finally have a diagnosis. I know I was when I was diagnosed in 2014.

But looking back at my own fibromyalgia journey, one quote comes to mind again and again: I wish I knew then what I know now. So, today I’m sharing what I wish someone had told me when I was first diagnosed. I hope it lessens someone else’s struggle.

Tip #1 Don’t blindly accept your diagnosis

My first advice to anyone newly diagnosed with fibromyalgia is to question your diagnosis. Fibro is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning all other possible medical conditions have to be ruled out by your physician. Are you sure he or she did that?

Too often physicians label someone with fibromyalgia because it’s the path of least resistance. They don’t know what’s wrong with you, and nothing obvious is showing up on your lab work, so it must be fibromyalgia, right?

But I would encourage you not to blindly accept your diagnosis. Here’s why: A Canadian study found that up to two-thirds of fibromyalgia patients have been misdiagnosed.

The implications of that are huge. That means millions of fibromyalgia sufferers are living with undiagnosed conditions, some of which are probably treatable!

Tip #2 Find a great doctor

I know some people live in localities where medical options are limited, but if you don’t fall into that category, please do not keep going to a doctor who disrespects you or isn’t capable or willing to help you.

I have heard so many physician horror stories over the years from my fellow fibro warriors – doctors who told them fibromyalgia doesn’t exist, who said it was all in their head, who overprescribed medications to the point of putting them in a drugged stupor, who told them they were just getting old or needed to lose weight.

If your physician has said or done any of the above things, then please find a new doctor (if you’re able)! Do not allow yourself to be abused! Do not allow your physician to invalidate your illness!

You are not making it up, and it is not all in your head. Never doubt that! Seek out a physician who believes in fibromyalgia, is highly knowledgeable about the complexities of this condition and is familiar with the latest research.

I will warn you: It’s hard to find a good fibro doctor. Expect to go from doctor-to-doctor for a while before you find the right one, but trust me, having the right doctor is worth the effort!

Tip #3 The “right doctor” probably isn’t your primary-care physician or rheumatologist

Medscape’s 2016 Physician Compensation Report found that doctors average around 15 minutes per patient visit. That’s barely long enough for the patient to rattle off their complaints and for the doctor to write a prescription to try to fix said complaints. That works if you’ve got something simple like the flu, but if you’re living with a complicated chronic illness like fibromyalgia, it’s just not going to cut it.

So, what’s the solution? Seek out medical providers who practice healthcare differently. I spent years going to various primary-care doctors and specialists. None of these doctors held the answers to helping me feel better from fibro. You know why? Because they all just looked at a piece of my health issues.

The only success I’ve ever had at reducing my symptoms has been when I worked with doctors who practice functional medicine. Functional medicine doctors take a more systematic, whole-body approach to healthcare. They understand that symptoms do not happen in a vacuum. Our chronic pain, digestive troubles, migraines, exhaustion and the myriad of other fibro symptoms we experience are all linked and should be treated as such.

In functional medicine, the goal is to restore overall health, not just treat symptoms with the latest pharmaceuticals. Functional medicine practitioners tend to utilize many more tools, such as lifestyle modifications, natural supplements and alternative therapies, than traditional doctors. If I was diagnosed today, I would go directly to the Institute of Functional Medicine website and try to find a local functional medicine doctor versed in fibromyalgia.

I know other fibro sufferers who have had good results with naturopaths, osteopathic doctors and even chiropractors. These kinds of medical providers tend to be more open-minded. That’s important because there is no magic pill for fibromyalgia (see tip #4), and you need a physician who isn’t afraid to experiment with emerging treatments (see tip #8).

I’m not implying all traditional physicians are inept and slaves to the pharmaceutical industry, but I am saying you have a better chance of improving your outcome if you work with a doctor who takes a comprehensive, holistic approach to treatment.

Tip #4 There is no magic pill
In the year after my diagnosis, I tried several of the usual fibro drugs, but none of them helped. They either didn’t work or turned me into a zombie.

When I actually looked at the research trial results of the three drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for fibromyalgia – Cymbalta, Lyrica and Savella – it was quickly obvious why they didn’t work for me. The truth is they don’t work very well for most fibro sufferers. For example, only about one-third of patients taking Cymbalta report at least a 50 percent reduction in pain, and that’s the most effective drug of the three!

These drugs do help some fibromyalgia patients, and I don’t discourage anyone from trying them, but for most of us there is no magic pill.

Tip #5 It’s going to take more than drugs to feel better

While researching, I occasionally run across so-called success stories featuring people who have either recovered completely from fibromyalgia or are successfully minimizing their symptoms. While reading their stories, I’ve discovered a pattern: Every single one of them used multiple modalities to feel better.

Dietary changes are almost always mentioned. They gave up sugar and processed foods and eat a whole foods-based diet. Many of them went dairy, soy and gluten-free.

They majorly overhauled their lifestyle. They meditate or do yoga or tai chi to calm their overactive nervous system. They do gentle walking or aquatic exercise to stay active. They regularly spend time outdoors. They learn to pace themselves. They’ve become experts at stress management.

Sometimes they used prescription drugs, but those were only a small piece of their overall treatment plan. In short, they took a more natural, lifestyle-based approach to treatment.

Tip #6 Do your own research

We all know doctors are extremely busy, and most of them don’t have time to stay up-to-date on the latest research and treatments for all of the conditions they encounter in any given day. So, please don’t rely exclusively on them for your healing!

Here’s the harsh reality: The minute you walk out of that examination room, they’re onto the next patient. They probably won’t think about you again until they see your face at the next appointment.

So, it falls to you to become your best health advocate. Get on the Internet and do your own research! Seek out information about new treatments or therapies, and take those to your next doctor’s appointment for discussion. Be proactive in the management of your symptoms by making those important lifestyle changes mentioned in tip #5.

Become an expert in your chronic health condition! I learned early on that I was never going to feel better if I exclusively relied on my doctors for answers. They just don’t have the time or attention span for that.

Tip #7 Connect with others with fibromyalgia

Fibro can be a lonely, miserable condition. Friends and loved ones may commiserate with your pain, but the truth is no one ever truly gets fibromyalgia until they get it themselves.

But there’s one group of people who will always understand your suffering: your fellow fibro warriors! Make an effort to connect with others who have fibromyalgia through local and/or online support groups.

You will learn so much from your fellow warriors! Many of them have been in the trenches with fibromyalgia for decades, and they know better than anyone what works to knock down the pain or how to shorten a flare of symptoms. They also understand all of the emotional stuff that comes with living with an unpredictable, life-sucking chronic illness.

Bonus tip: Local support groups are a great source for finding the best fibro doctor in your community.

Tip #8 Explore emerging treatments

Early on in my diagnosis, I was much more rigid about only using research-proven treatments. However, it didn’t take me long to realize that fibromyalgia research is in its infancy, and there is no one-size-fits-all treatment approach. One of fibro’s great mysteries is that what works for one of us doesn’t necessarily work for the rest of us.

Because of that, I’ve become much more open-minded about treatment. In some ways, I’ve become my own guinea pig. I’m not afraid to try new treatments – after careful research and talking with my doctor, of course! Some of the most effective tools in my current fibro-fighting arsenal would be considered fringe treatments, but they work for me, and that’s what matters.

I learn a ton from my fellow fibro warriors (see tip #7). They are an invaluable resource, and they’re often years ahead of researchers when it comes to natural or alternative treatments.

Tip #9 It’s up to you

A few days ago, someone in an online fibro support group said pain was her friend. Maybe I’m not spiritually evolved enough yet because I have no desire to get friendly with my pain.

But I do see chronic pain as a great teacher. In the wake of your diagnosis, you will learn so much about yourself, your loved ones and the medical community. Your strength will be tested – sometimes daily – and it will be up to you whether you handle that struggle with grace or despair.

Fibromyalgia will change you as a person. The choice is yours whether it’s for the better or worse, but you always have choice. Remember that.


8 Things Science Says We Can Do To Become A Little Happier

Happiness can be fleeting under the best of circumstances. Even people who are basically happy have periods when they’re not, and for those who are prone to depression, it’s always a struggle. The core issue with depression (or one of them) is that it hijacks your urge to want to fix things, which obviously creates a vicious cycle. One strategy that helps with the hijack is to create a little routine that you stick to, and which can become a habit itself, and into which you build other habits (see below for more on this method). And according to science and psychologists, there are other things to do to improve your happiness level, whether you’re depressed or just dealing with “stuff” right now. Here’s what the science tells us we can do to make ourselves a little happier in an ongoing way.

(Note: Meds can be life-changing or life-saving for some people who are depressed, and it’s important to point that out. This article is about other strategies, which you can do with or without meds, and whether you’re depressed or just want to be happier overall.)


Unless you’re one of those people who likes to exercise, you won’t want to hear this, but exercise is well known to help with depression and improve well-being. “Cardiovascular exercise has been shown time and time again to be a wonder drug with regard to overall well-being,” says Ben Michaelis, psychologist and author of the book Your Next Big Thing. It’s actually similar to the efficacy of antidepressants for some types of depression, and this seems to be at least in part due to its neurogenic effects–that is, its capacity to “grow” new neurons in area of the brain known to be affected by depression (and dementia): the hippocampus. In fact, a study last week found that exercise helps release a compound in muscles, cathepsin B, which appears to migrate to the brain’s hippocampus and spark the development of new brain cells. So the exercise effect is not necessarily just about the endorphins from the “runner’s high,” as was once thought, but it’s about other types of changes that occur not only in the chemistry of the brain, but maybe even at a structural level, too.

The things you put in your body

“Avoiding processed sugars has been shown to reduce the likelihood for depression, which is another way of saying it promotes happiness,” says Michaelis. Studies have shown that Western diets in general are associated with prevalence of depression. Others have shown that sugar itself may be linked to depression–and while the mechanisms aren’t totally clear, researchers speculate that the oxidative stress that excess sugar can create may take a toll on the brain. There’s another body of evidence that’s lain out the addictive potential for sugar, which itself can contribute to depression, or at least to unstable mood and cycling ups and downs. And a fast-growing body of evidence has found that our gut microbes seem to affect our mental health in significant ways, and the foods we eat can select for or reduce certain strains of bacteria. More work needs to be done here, but eating a plant-based diet, low in sugar and processed foods may well help promote our mental health.

Make a schedule 

“Having a structured schedule that you set and follow is proven to help depression,” says psychologist Shannon Kolakowski, author of the book When Depression Hurts Your Relationship. “It’s the basis of behavioral activation for depression, an evidence-based treatment for depression.” She adds that creating a routine kills two birds with one stone. The structure of a daily routine that you can stick to is in itself comforting, even therapeutic, when you’re down or depressed. But it also makes getting in all the single elements that we know help depression more likely. “By planning activities that you do even when you don’t feel like it,” says Kolakowski, “it ensures you will get the exercise and social interactions, for example, that are so well known to help with depression.”

Social interaction

This one is fascinating because the research keeps showing that social connection is perhaps the single best thing we can do for our mental health. And it seems to occur at the level of the brain. (It may also be the single best thing we can do for our physical health, so it’s really a win-win.) “We know that a sense of community significantly adds to our happiness and overall mental health,” says Michaelis. We’re social creatures by nature, no matter how much you want time to yourself–there’s a thin line between being self-sufficient and being lonely.

And the catch-22 is that when we’re unhappy or depressed we tend to want to isolate; so forcing yourself to stay connected, especially during tough times, can be hard. Luckily, the effects are generally pretty immediate–most people have experienced that even a 10-minute conversation with someone can make a huge difference when you’re feeling really down. Or it can at least bring out of our heads enough to put things in perspective; and it reminds us that human interaction is a really powerful thing, even in small doses.

Marriage, says Kolakowski, is an extension of this one–at least, a good marriage. “Research shows that having a strong marriage can no doubt help depression,” she says. “But having a relationship that is struggling, unhealthy or lacking in support can unfortunately make depression worse in a cyclical fashion. So it’s important that your social relationships be good ones.”

Getting it out

A lot of people are familiar with the ongoing conversation in their heads (or monologue), which can exist whether you’re depressed or not. But it’s particularly loud when you’re depressed, and it creates a vicious cycle of over-thinking, internalization, and unhappiness (in fact, rumination is one of the hallmarks of depression). But directing those thoughts outward, by either talking to someone you trust or by writing it out in a journal, is a lot more therapeutic than just cycling it around in your head. There’s something about the act of telling that directs and releases it in a fundamentally different way from thinking it.

Therapy, of course, partially falls into this category, with the added benefit of feedback from someone who’s trained in problem-solving. More on this below.

Cognitive behavior therapy

This form of therapy is considered the gold standard for a number of different issues–anxiety, addiction and depression, to name a few. In CBT, the general idea is that you first learn to identify various thought processes as they arise, and just note them. Then for the negative ones (which are often fear-based, and kind of ridiculous–“I can’t do anything right”) you learn to replace them with more positive, and perhaps more logical, ones. Over time and with practice, this process becomes less clunky, and more natural and reflexive. Essentially you’re laying down new tracks of connections in your brain, which can be a lengthy process. But it’s very possible over time. Though CBT has been shown to have significant effects on depression, there are certainly others that can be just as valuable.


This is a fascinating practice that, in various iterations, has been around for thousands of years, and the science is just starting to show how it changes the brain over time. Meditation wasn’t exactly developed to improve mental health, but this does seem to be one of its benefits. Studies have shown that eight weeks of meditation training seems to help improve a number of aspects of mental health: One study a couple of years ago from Johns Hopkins found that meditation addressed symptoms of depression and anxiety on the level of antidepressants. Another, out of University of Oxford, found that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is as effective as antidepressants at preventing relapse in people with depression. One of the ways in which meditation seems to work for depression is that it reduces activity in the default mode network (DMN), the group of areas that are active when our minds are wandering, and generally associated with negative or stressful thoughts.

A central component of meditation is mindfulness, which is the act of paying attention without judgment to what’s going on at the present time–this trait itself has been linked to mental health. This is because just noting your present experience, rather than editorializing it, helps release some of the charge of those negative thoughts and feelings. Then they lose a little of their power. (You can see the natural overlaps between mindfulness meditation and CBT, which is why MBCT was developed.)

Be easier on yourself

This one is very hard to do without feeling self-indulgent, but self-compassion is actually a really important element to being happier. And it actually affects your connection to yourself and other areas of your life.

“This is a big one that’s counterintuitive when you’re depressed,” says Kolakowski. “Depression makes you beat up on yourself and feel down about three main components, what’s called the Cognitive Triad of Depression: your self, your future and others. Self-compassion helps you approach your self and your future with compassion as opposed to self-criticism. It also helps you to have compassion for others, which in turn helps you feel more connected and hopeful.”

Self-compassion has been shown to be an even better predictor of the severity of one’s symptoms of anxiety and depression (or lack thereof) than being mindful, which is a fairly good predictor in itself. And having compassion for yourself is actually an offshoot of mindfulness: If acceptance without judgment is a cornerstone of mindfulness, then not judging and being compassionate about you’re going through, and about yourself in general, is a stone’s throw away. In depression, or even in general down-ness or disillusionment, people tend to, at best, abandon themselves, and at worst, criticize themselves extensively and harshly. Here’s a nice rundown, if you need some ideas for how to be more compassionate with yourself.




Finding ‘Love in Every Stitch’ Parenting My Child With Down Syndrome

I am knitting. There. I’ve admitted it. After all these years, I am learning to knit. And I am loving it.

I’ve never been a fan, it’s fair to say. There were better things to do with my time; not that I had the time to do better things. I felt superior. That knitting was beneath me. Fanciful yet dull. Not cultured enough. I suppose I even looked down on those who spent time and money on this hobby. Believing them and their creations to be less than. Preferring shop-bought perfection over (what I saw as) imperfect and clumsy-looking. Frills and frou frou.

I was the same with houses. Give me a modern, easy to maintain, some say characterless, property over an older one with its quirky features and creaky floorboards any day.

I didn’t see the joy. The love in every stitch. The story in every room. All I knew was prejudice – towards knitting and crafting. Towards joy. Until last week.

In a few short months I have been truly humbled by some new friends. Their love and joy for this most ancient of crafts has made me realize how much I have been missing. I am coming to regard hand-crafted items I once would have been disdainful of as things of beauty. Things that have the power to make my heart sing, even. Love in every stitch.

So last week, I began to learn to knit. It did not start well. The woman in the shop asked me if I had chosen the right size needles. Did they have the right number on them? She obviously saw my hesitation and suggested I could go back and change them if they were the wrong ones.
I just nodded. I hadn’t the faintest idea what she meant. Her next question stumped me completely.

“What are you knitting? What’s it going to be?” Again, I had no idea. But in a moment, across the counter, I knew it didn’t matter. I knew that whatever I knitted would be beautiful. Unique. A one-off. It mattered not what it was, or how long it would take to finish – if ever. It was mine.

I paid, stuffed the needles and a ball of wool into my bag and left the store. Excited.

There’s a verse in the Bible I have always loved. “You knit me together in my mother’s womb… I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” — Psalm 139.

When my baby was born with Down syndrome, I had many other prejudices that needed taking down. Prejudices about people with Down syndrome. Ideas that they were somehow less than other people. I craved the “perfection” I saw in babies without an extra chromosome. I asked why my baby had been given the “wrong number.” I wondered what she would become. How would she turn out?

Others asked this question too. Some asked it before she was born. They said I could forget about her and try again. Hopefully get one with the right number. For all my prejudices about people with Down syndrome, this suggestion was abhorrent to me.

Five and a half years on and I know now she does not have the wrong number. There is no such thing. She has a different number. That is all. She is knitted together — fearfully and wonderfully made. And there is love in every stitch.




5 Ways to Treat Rheumatoid Arthritis Naturally

Go on a Fast

Fasting is one of the first things many natural health doctors suggest to patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Not eating at all often results in a significant reduction in symptoms, including pain, swelling and inflammation. During a fast, which usually lasts from 3 days to 1 week, you’ll drink plenty of water and get lots of rest. People on juice fasts can go for up to 2 weeks without solid food. Just make sure the juice is fresh and organic. However, you should never fast unless you’re under the supervision of a doctor since some people have underlying conditions that make them unable to fast safely.

Try an Elimination Diet

Many people with arthritis find that they are sensitive to certain foods. When they eat these foods, their rheumatoid-arthritis symptoms get worse. To determine whether you have any food sensitivities that may be causing you undue pain and suffering, try to remember what you ate in the hours before a bad arthritis attack. Eliminate that food from your diet for 2 weeks. If you experience a flareup of symptoms again after you re-introduce it to your diet, permanently remove it from the list of foods you eat.

Don’t Eat Inflammatory Foods

Some foods promote inflammation, which you definitely want to avoid if you have rheumatoid arthritis. Dairy products are among the worst offenders in this category. Sugar, hydrogenated oils, white flour and fried foods all contribute to inflammation in the body. Instead, eat anti-inflammatory foods, such as salmon, olive oil, blueberries, ginger and garlic.

Take Cetyl Myristoleate

Cetyl myristoleate is a fatty acid that occurs naturally in some foods. When it’s extracted and taken orally for at least 2 months, it has been shown to stop the disease process of rheumatoid arthritis in some people. Cetyl myristoleate was discovered when it was noticed that albino mice don’t get rheumatoid arthritis. Naturally high levels of cetyl myristoleate in these mice were found to be the protective factor.

Urine May Help

Many people have found that their rheumatoid arthritis symptoms were successfully managed or even cured by urine therapy. It sounds horrible, but it’s really not. Urine is a powerful immune-system modulator, and drinking your own can correct the imbalances in your immune system that have caused it to attack your joints. A typical protocol for urine therapy is to put one drop of your first morning urine in a full glass of water and drink it. Each day, increase the number of drops of urine by five to 10, until you’re drinking 1 to 2 oz. of urine each day. Some people are able to increase the amount of urine they drink more quickly than this, as their senses readily adjust to accept the taste and smell of it.

Once you’ve reached 1 to 2 oz. of urine, take note of how your joints feel. Since you can’t overdose on urine, you can increase your dose at that point if you’re not feeling better yet. Keep increasing your dose until you notice an improvement in your symptoms, and then continue taking that dose of urine each day for the rest of your life.