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Autoimmune conditions often come along with mental health challenges of stress, depression, and anxiety. Today I want to address these challenges and talk about the mental health journey and the various steps along the journey. Here are some key points to help you along the way.
Acknowledge the need for counseling/therapy
Sometimes it’s difficult for us to get into the realization that we need help. For many years, I refused to seek medication and treatment referrals from psychiatry. I was often successful at getting through dizzy spells, panic attacks, and feelings of dissociation for many years of my life. However, right before my autoimmune relapse, I realized that I was facing new levels of anxiety and panic disorder which were more intense than ever before.
After a period of time spent finding ways to ignore, get past, ride through, or self-treat mental health challenges, there may come a point where we realize the patterns have been becoming way too frequent and we are too exhausted to get through this alone anymore.
When the autoimmune relapse started and the anxiety became unusually high, I spoke gratitude to myself for getting through this far in life without seeking treatment. But I realized that I could no longer do this alone.
Once I sought help, I was so glad I had done it, and really wish I had done it sooner, because my psychiatrist stabilized my mental health, and my therapist changed my life. (I’ll share more about this in an upcoming post.)
Health Insurance Concerns
I wish I could tell you that coming to terms with needing therapy was enough, but it’s often just the beginning. Unless you are able to pay full price for mental health therapy, it can take several weeks to find a therapist that is in your health insurance network.
It has been over a year since my last therapy appointment. Since then, I have moved to a new location and would like to find a therapist near my new location. However, finding a therapist close to my new location has not been easy and the saga continues! So far, I have recently made 5 calls to various therapists under my health insurance plan. Two called to let me know that they weren’t taking any new clients. Two never returned my call. And there is one where we left two voice mails back and forth without any information on next steps. After a few weeks of these interactions, it’s time for me to contact my insurance provider and have them assign someone, anyone to me who is available. My next strategy is on being available to drive a bit farther out to see if this will help with availability of a therapist/counselor.
Finding the Right Therapist
This leads me to the next part of the journey, and this is about finding the right therapist. In an ideal setting where therapists are available to meet your insurance needs and there are many options, it’s important to find the one who is actually helping you. Some therapists are available just to act as a sounding board, some provide relaxation and awareness therapies, and some are able to provide clear guidance on solutions to mental health struggles. It can sometimes take a few tries, meeting different therapists until there is a good fit. In the past it took me a few visits to different therapists until I found someone who could help me make true changes in my mental health and well-being.
If the first therapist/counselor you meet is helping you make improvements to your mental health, this is wonderful! If you feel like they are not helping, it is important to call up a new therapist.
The mental health journey is just another step in proactive wellness. Continue to be your own advocate in achieving mental health wellness options. Believe that it is achievable, and that it is possible. Continue the process of seeking options to make your mental health a priority.
To learn more about integrative autoimmune wellness, join our group, the Sisterhood of Limitless Living.
Maintaining a positive and proactive perspective is a crucial endeavor in the journey to autoimmune wellness.
So, with this understanding, how can we maintain positive thoughts as women with undiagnosed, chronic or autoimmune conditions?As Mary Beth Janssen states in The Book of Self Care, ”our issues are truly in our tissues”. It is possible that various emotional challenges are a root cause of disease in our lives. In what she calls emotional housecleaning, it’s important for us to clear negative patterns, to maintain positive emotions and thoughts that may keep us from beneficial thoughts and behaviors.
Again, as autoimmune women, why does this all matter? Because our feelings and thoughts affect what is taking place in our physical health.
Maintaining positive thoughts can drastically change the way health is expressed in our bodies. For example, if we don’t believe in opportunities for healing, we will be unable to see them when they are in front of us.
What are some examples of thoughts that can keep us away from having a positive perspective?
For example, you may desire to travel but have not traveled for years. And as a women with chronic or autoimmune conditions, mobility or even anxiety may be an issue. The idea of travel could cause an immediate sense of sadness, fear or anger.
Likewise, it could be the thought of interviewing, or starting a new job and the stress of an unfamiliar environment.
It could be other possible challenges such as social interactions. Visiting family, or attending a support group or other social event may seem exhausting or scary to plan out.
There could be a strong feelings that arise at the very idea of activities such as these, and may be difficult to do these things.
These are some examples of how chronic or autoimmune living can be a challenge for positive thinking. But if you are seeking strategies to achieve positive living to achieve your dreams, these are three key steps in the journey:
1.Mindfully acknowledge the feeling. We begin with the process of taking a moment to become aware of what is going on. This first step is about acknowledgement. Some of the immediate feelings and patterns of resistance to a new goal began way back in childhood. Sometimes it was a parent’s response to a life goal or dream.
In practicing mindfulness, we take a moment to stop and reflect on what is taking place. We are aware of the present moment without judgement. Accept the fact that this is taking place. Say to yourself, I am angry, sad, etc. and it is OK.
Let the feelings emerge and bubble to the surface. Mary Beth Janssen calls this emotional housecleaning. It is time to let these feelings emerge.
2. Allow yourself to process the feelings. As human beings, we are given feelings. It is important to acknowledge and allow yourself to feel the feelings. More particularly, we want to understand where the feelings are coming from, and sometimes it takes time for us to gain this understanding. What in particular is bothering me? Why am i so upset? How can I make changes to this pattern? Allow yourself to feel the feelings, and share these feelings with another individual, friend, family member, or therapist. This is where you learn, experience and gain new insights into what has been keeping positivity a challenge.
And some situations are clearer than others, such as the loss of a loved one. But other blocks and feelings require for us to ask some important questions. Is it true that I cannot do the things that I want to do? If it is something you truly desire to do, it is particularly important to explore these thoughts and feelings. I strongly believe that if you are here on earth and you have a desire, there’s a way to make it happen. Believe that God, angels, the universe can find a way, even it if does not look exactly the way you imagined it.
Seek out stories about role models who have been through challenges and have emerged from the difficulties. Amazing and inspiring women exist in the media who are living amazing lives despite chronic or disabling illness. What we thought was impossible has been made possible throughout history.
The key is to understand why we feel that we cannot do something we wish to do. There is learning in this process and in these thoughts. And when you focus on these thoughts interesting patterns and realizations emerge. Acknowledge the feeling stopping you from what will make you happy, what keeps you from the way to your desired life. Ask yourself how you can move forward. This can take a day, week, or longer. Allow yourself to process this. When I was processing the challenges of the autoimmune relapse and diagnosis, I took a day off and spent time at a retreat center for some peace of mind. I will always remember this as a key moment of reflection and meditation. This was where I decided to let God be in control, and that I would be open to learning from this challenge and accepted what God would have take place in my life.
3. Release, accept and be willing to move on. Once the feelings are processed and insights have emerged, it is time for the third step. We let go of the upsetting thoughts and are ready to move forward. We have begun to learn from the expereince and are ready to let it go. For example, just like a breakup, you get to a point where you are ready to move on, realize that the relationship no longer was suitable, and that you are ready for a new chapter.These are the 3 strategies I coach my clients with, to maintain a positive way of thinking and the foundations leading to our next topic on proactive strategies for autoimmune wellness.
How have you been able to process difficult feelings of sadness, hurt, anger and turn around to live positively on the path to your desired life?
To learn more about integrative autoimmune wellness, join our group, the Sisterhood of Limitless Living.
Today in my facebook group, Autoimmune Sisterhood of Limitless Living, I talked about CBD, cannabidinol and its various benefits for autoimmune symptom relief. I shared my personal experiences of the benefits of CBD, and also shared related options for individuals living in places where CBD is not legally available.
The inspiration for me to talk about this was a recent massage therapy I went to. It was a CBD Massage. When I heard about it, I could not turn down the opportunity to reserve this. It sounded like the ultimate self care for my sore, aching neck, shoulders and back.
CBD comes from the hemp/cannabis plant, and is different from marijuana in that CBD does not contain THC. CBD as a result is not psychoactive and does not produce hallucinogenic effects. This Healthline article provides more detail on the differences between THC and CBD.
I don’t personally recommend THC to clients in my coaching practice. When we are working with physical symptom or mental health symptom relief, THC is not useful to the practices I use to coach my clients. However, CBD is something I highly recommend.
The Science of CBD in Recent Literature:
The scientific benefits of CBD for health have been well-documented. Crippa et al. 2018 highlighted some of the benefits of CBD for relief of several chronic physical and mental health conditions. The benefits of CBD are often seen in movement disorders such as Parkinsons, as further highlighted by Peres et al. 2018. Even more recently De Gregorio et al. 2019 highlighted the benefits of low-dose CBD in reducing both anxiety and pain.
From personal experience, I highly recommend CBD for relief from the physical symptoms related to autoimmune disease. Some of the many commonalities of autoimmune symptoms include pain, tingling, burning, numbness, and inflammation, as well as depression and anxiety.
CBD can be used a couple of ways to provide symptom relief, with immediate results. The massage I mentioned earlier used LEEF CBD balm for my neck, shoulders, and spine. It provided another level of relaxation to my muscles, beyond the usual lavender oil I have requested in the past. The massage I had also included hot stones which were rubbed on my back and placed there for a few minutes. Being a bit heat sensitive, I was not sure if I would like to have the hot stones on me, but I was able to bear it, being all in for reducing muscle tension.
But other options exist for using CBD. In addition to the balm or lotion form of the product, you can use CBD extract. Often packaged in a glass bottle with rubber stopper, the extract can be placed either on the skin, or used internally by being placed under the tongue. Some individuals feel stress and anxiety relief by ingesting a drop or two of CBD extract. I find that it helps me to sleep better, and probably reduces anxiety a bit for me. CBD extracts can cost about $100/bottle. The last bottle I purchased was in Switzerland on my summer vacation. This was the Phytopharma brand which was available in many of the drug stores, or what they called apothecaries in Europe, which apparently has changed its name since 2018. Here in the US, another product we have been using is Bluebird Botanicals.
Similarly, during my trip to Europe, I found a lavender lotion made with hemp that was our favorite product ever. This was at Neal’s Yard Remedies in London. It is the best product ever for stress reduction and inviting restful sleep. Unfortunately I forgot to pack the bottle into my luggage, and had to throw it out at the airport gate. It’s not available for shipment to the United States. So I will just need to wait for my next trip to the UK to see it again.
Other Options when CBD is Unavailable:
If you live in a state where CBD is not legal, there are other options with comparable benefits for body and mind. Copaiba is often compared to CBD, and has many similar benefits, such as pain relief and improving mood. Copaiba oil is available online, such as with Doterra or other essential oil companies, and can be used with a carrier oil to place on the skin wherever there is pain. Another option for pain and inflammation is frankincense essential oil, also known as the “king of the oils”. Frankincense is also useful for reducing stress among its many benefits.
When we are looking for physical and mental health symptom relief from autoimmune disease, there are many options, and we do not need to feel limited by the medical and pharmaceutical community. Powerful options such as CBD, copaiba, frankincense and others are available for us. I recommend finding out which options work well for you in
addressing autoimmune physical and mental health symptoms.
To learn more about integrative autoimmune wellness, join our group, the Sisterhood of Limitless Living.
Over the past week I have been getting through an exhausting and achy cold. This cold has worn me down longer than other colds in the past. It’s likely the result of my autoimmune medication, which by design, impacts the immune system.
After several days of still feeling exhausted, I went to Urgent Care. One of the first questions that the nurse asked me was about my weight. This led to me making a comment about my weight being higher than it has ever been. I told her that it was probably because of my prescription medication which despite its benefits, led me into unusual health issues over the past several months.
The nurse said that she doubted that it was because of my medication (a medication she wasn’t familiar with), but concluded that it was probably because of the steroids.
The nurse’s next comment was that I should ask to have my bones observed in the future to look out for any bone damage in the future resulting from the steroids. I had heard remotely somewhere in the past about osteoporosis and steroid use. But I was previously not too concerned because I used steroids infrequently, like a 2-3 times a year.
But this conversation with the urgent care nurse left me feeling concerned, and with more questions then I began with. Why do doctors find it unimportant to talk about protecting our bones? Our conversation here today sounded more like a suggestion to wait around for bones to show damage before taking action.
Prednisone. Methylprednisolone or Solu Medrol. Do these sound familiar? When you have an autoimmune condition, these names get passed around from physician/nurse/pharmacist conversations, to the label on your prescription medication, to the clear pouch of liquid that the nurses are placing by IV into your arm at the infusion center. We learn that they can cause weight gain, insomnia, and I was also warned of the urge to clean the house at strange hours of the day.
But after leaving urgent care, I decided that I wasn’t going to wait for signs of bone damage to come along. Thanks to the internet, I would not have to be alone with this lack of knowledge. I began to explore information on how to protect my bones from steroid use. Thankfully, articles exist out there to tell us what we didn’t know or were too afraid to ask about bone health and steroid use.
During my search, I found an interesting term, bone protection therapy. I hadn’t heard of such a thing before. (I always thought that bone health was a concern of the elderly. At least the nurse’s comment woke me up the fact that with regular steroid use, that it was time to be proactive about my bones.) I felt that it was my responsibility to find out more about what this means. In a web post from the UK, on Guidelines in Practice, I found this information:
“A key recommendation of the guidelines is that all patients taking steroids, whether or not on bone-protective therapy, should be advised about adequate dietary calcium, taking exercise, and avoiding smoking and overindulging in alcohol. We often underestimate the contribution that lifestyle factors can make to the development of osteoporosis and fail to counsel our patients accordingly.”
Based on this information, I’ve begun taking calcium (my nails needed it anyway to stop bending and breaking), I take regular Vitamin D, and I’ve made more efforts to do weight bearing exercise (lightweight dumbbells and an exercise video can work wonders).
Hopefully these will be the protective actions that I needed to protect my bone health for decades to come.
I've returned home from several days of summer vacation in Europe. I was on a boat for several days through various cities in Germany and the neighboring countries.
I loved visiting the Black Forest. I also enjoyed beautiful Heidelberg and the castle ruins. I loved the mountains and forests surrounding this beautiful university town. While at the castle ruins, I found that there was a Museum of Pharmacy located on the grounds, I made sure to wait for the doors to open.
I'm not good with following crowds. By visiting this museum, we risked losing our tour group, whose guide had long lost my attention, but visiting the pharmacy museum was what I really wanted to do instead. (We missed the tour bus and had to find them later, by the way!)
At this museum, we were able to learn about some of the history and origins of medicine - the natural, botanical, and artistic characteristics of apothecary knowledge and practice - before pharmacy later moved into the clinical and pharmaceutical model.
We learned a lot about the properties of plants and other natural materials. We saw beautiful, historical botanical illustrations of medicinal plants and natural materials. If medicine were still like art and poetry in this way, I would love to have been a pharmacist. I love plants and herbs, and strongly believe in their power for healing, often without concern of side effects.
It was inspiring me enough for me to decide to move out of taking daily anxiety medications, into herbal remedies. I was tired of depending on pharmaceuticals every day, but I was told that it couldn't be done since I have been living with anxiety since I was 6 years old. But oh yes, it was and yes it is done.
But during my vacation in Germany, I am pleased to tell you that I moved out of pharmaceuticals for anxiety, and that I have adapted well with herbal alternatives and natural remedies. All of this even while I was on a boat, literally living on a cruise for 8 days.
Never underestimate the power of natural remedies. After all it was the foundation of our pharmaceutical drugs in the first place.
Also, food is medicine. Plants are medicine. So are mindfulness, healthy attitudes, and exercise. I am all "on board" to continue this shift of perspective on health, healing, and wellness.
"Drug stores"/Apothecaries in Germany and Switzerland made it very normal and ordinary to choose natural remedies for colds, congestion and even anxiety over the counter. No big righteous statement about it, but it was the first line of defense.
Best of all, there was no disclaimer of insane side effects. I am pleased to tell you that I finally had my first beer in years without drug concerns. Prost!
#wellness #history #healing #medicine #beerfest
To be honest, it has not been the easiest few months. I have been working on building my business, and also working on more long term opportunities as a university researcher.
I have seen a lot of things not turn out the way that I had hoped. Learning to build a business has come with a steep learning curve, and there is so much of not knowing what I didn’t know, and understanding these things more in hindsight. In the academic world, I have been learning much about how to design research projects, and how to apply for grant funding. To be honest, I have probably learned more about what *not to do!
So this week, I received another email of a grant application rejection. It took me a bit of time to recover from it, as I said to myself, man, all of the effort, time, and help of others in this project that did not come to fruition. It felt like a waste of time!
But I began to realize that it is all a learning process. There is no guarantee that things will turn out the way we initially wanted them to. In fact, I began to realize that I appreciate these challenges, because they will make the success so much more meaningful when it gets here!
We must never give up. Achieving big, audacious goals and dreams will come with failure. It is an important part of the journey.
So, whether we are working on a job application/interview, a college application, or building a business, we must get used to the challenges and embrace failure. We will be able to learn from each step in this iterative process of learning and improving.
Ouch, yes, the disappointments sting. But, in the long run, we can learn so much from these experiences and move forward with, hopefully, exponential growth and improvement in our next attempts!
If we are working toward a dream or a goal, we must never give up. It was not designed to be easy, but it will be worth it.
In preparation for the new year 2019, I spent some time in the desert.
If you are living with an autoimmune condition, the desert is a wonderful place in the winter, where the sky is beautiful and expressive, and the temperatures are mild.
To celebrate the completion of 2018, I enjoyed a couple of days in Palm Springs. Walking around in the quiet downtown area, picking up a chai latte from a corner cafe, I brought a notebook with me and spent some time doing some planning and reflection.
This time, I chose to journal based on prompts that the amazing coach, Lisa Nichols, provided about abundant living. I set out to answer approximately 30 insightful questions in a notebook. To this days I haven’t completed the exercise, but so far, what I’ve learned about myself and my 2019 is that:
I am definitely hoping for a trip to Hawaii in the near future
I am intent on improving my health and fitness
I am planning to expand my business practices in healing through reiki, guided imagery, mindfulness, and hypnotherapy
A nonprofit 501 (c)(3) is in the works
In my academic life, I plan to secure research funding for my autoimmune and other health research endeavors.
There is a lot here on this list, and it may or may not all get completed in 2019. But these are my near-future goals and aspirations.
How did you spend your holiday season?
What are you planning to work on and receive in the coming year? I’d love to hear about what you have planned!