Thursday, February 9, 2017

"That's what I get for praying"



Monday night I was exhausted in every way. Though so many good things have happened in the last couple years, the core issues that tore my family apart remain. Each day I have to put one foot in front of the other, as if those issues do not exist because I am powerless to stop them, and because God is silent. So, so silent. It's a challenge some days just to make food, to shower, to take care of my own broken body, to cope with feelings of grief that well up unexpectedly. Thinking of one more potential issue, one more thing broken, one more flood, or one more crisis makes me feel numb.

That Monday night in prayer, I pierced my usual bullet list of gratitude with an honest cry from my heart. In the midst of thanking God for all that was good, I asked for a reprieve from major problems, from the next shoe dropping, from the crisis that waits just around the corner so that afterward you say, "remember life before it happened?"

As I fell asleep, I knew it was not a surrender prayer but a prayer for mercy. For help. Maybe God would hear how tired I am of trying to pick up pieces and keep pushing forward.

The next morning, I laid in bed for a half hour after waking. I waited for the strength to face the day to seep into me as the fading shadow of sleep fled my mind and muscles. After I reluctantly threw the covers back, washed my face, and used the bathroom, I opened my phone to multiple missed calls and a text message no one wants to read - Your mom and dog have been in an accident on the highway caused by road rage.

I felt like George Bailey that day. A punch in the face after a heartfelt prayer. This is a feeling I've had before but rarely so acutely as this.

But before I could sink into more self-pity or draw back any further from God, I remembered how Clarence later corrected George's misinterpretation:

"Your lip's bleeding, George."
"Yeah, I got a bust in the jaw in answer to a prayer a little bit ago."
"Oh, no no no, George, I'm the answer to your prayer. That's why I was sent down here."

It's a mystery how God works in response to prayer. I'm convinced I know less about how prayer works than I ever thought I knew. But one thing I do know is that we can often misinterpret God's actions. What may seem like cruelty or silence or hardship may actually be unrelated or a mercy about to unfold. What may seem like silence in one key area may be in contrast to a plan or a flourishing garden of blessing in another area of life.

Elijah is the biblical counterpart to George Bailey. Like George, he worked hard to do the right thing all his life. He sacrificed, faced a powerful, evil foe, and triumphed. However, after that dedication and triumph, instead of being rewarded with relief, his very life was in jeopardy, and he ran away, angry, afraid, and deeply discouraged.

It seemed like God's answer to Elijah was the threat of being killed, but it wasn't. Just like in the movie, God's response to George is not the punch. Instead, Elijah receives from God rest, food, comfort, and gentle questions to get him to consider a bigger picture. So too, in the movie, George receives compassion, care, and gentle questions from Clarence to gain perspective.

So in response to the accident, I must resist the urge to get angry and bitter, narrowly viewing this hardship as some divine punishment. I genuinely don't know the ways in which God will work, but in the meantime, I will remember that this world is a broken place. I'm here for God to teach, to use, to be a light, not to be on vacation from all pain. If he can use an accident to shape me and teach me about prayer or get my attention, I need to listen. God is often at work in bigger ways behind the scenes than we can ever expect.

So if you are weary from working hard for the Lord, if you are dealing with silence from God or prayers that feel ignored or even punished, don't miss the gentle hand of Jesus reaching out to you in your pain. It may be through a man like Clarence. It may be in a verse of scripture or a call from a friend. It may be a million different things. But in some way through your discouragement, Jesus is saying: "Oh, no no no, I'm the answer to your prayer."

Thank you, Lord, for sparing my mom and dear dog on the highway despite the evil that lurks in the hearts of drivers who rage on the road. Thank you for encouraging me with a broader perspective. Help me to keep going in faith when life is hard and crises happen.

Monday, October 17, 2016

he is the lamp. He is the sun.

Today I was in a quiet, dark yoga studio. The shades were down on an overcast, late autumn morning. A tall lamp was lit beside me, and it provided a soft, warm glow in the room.

Before the teacher began, she raised the shades, and daylight came pouring in. This is my favorite place to sit. I am not distracted by others, and I can think here. I stare out the window as I stretch and breathe, loosening my body and freeing my mind. I unwrap and unwind. I look out the window at the flag fluttering, at the bird perched on the sill, at the trucks making deliveries, at the tall brick library, at the changing sky. The light wakes me up and reminds me that I am no longer prisoner to my pathological sleep rhythms that once kept me awake all night and sleeping all day. I relish the sun on my face, and it is why I try to get that one space right up by the window every time I come.

Today, as I consider the light pouring in despite the clouds, I notice the lamp still lit, now pale in comparison. I find it remarkable how it was once warm, powerful, my best way to see in this dark room, but overcome by the sun, it melts back to its rightful place as a gift, an aid, a way to get to the window for the real light to come streaming through.

I begin to think of the verses I read about love in 1 John this morning. I think about how, like the sun pours out light, God pours out love in abundance through his Son, and how that love abides in us and is perfected in us when we love one another. I think of my husband and how he has been the lamp in my dark room for so many years. He continues to allow God's love to flow through him to me, through a hug, through non-judgmental listening, through feedback and a gentle example that makes me think deeply and keep seeking God.

In the dark, when someone truly loves God, they can be a lamp, channeling his love. Light in a dark world. And when I wonder in my dark moments - does God see my pain? does God even care when I don't get a response to prayers prayed for decades? I look to my husband and see - here is my lamp of love, sacrificing, serving, lifting me up, reminding me that when the shade is lifted, when Jesus returns, the daylight will come pouring into my soul.

So take heart. It is night. We are not home yet. You may look around at this world, at this election, at all the hate, at all the proud things said. You may pray, and it may seem that nothing happens, that God does not care. But there are still people filled with God's love. You may be one of them. They are not Christians only "in word or talk, but in actions and in truth." And if you know one of these lamps, remember they are your encouragement to keep waiting, to keep longing, to keep persevering until the shade is pulled up, the sun comes flooding in, and you feel love fully, as you have never felt before. This is the promise in 1 John. And we can trust this lamp. He, after all, was "the one whom Jesus loved," and he says:

"Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us." - 1 John 4:11-12

So because of the love Jesus showed us by laying down his life and forgiving our sins, let us believe in him, live through him, love like him, and choose to be a lamp to someone until the Son returns to shine again.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A Song of Longing

A little over a week ago, I was flipping channels. Pausing on PBS, I heard Josh Groban and Kelly Clarkson begin a familiar duet for his Stages tour. I'd heard the Phantom song "All I Ask of You" countless times since I was 10, but this was different. I don't know if it was because the captions were showing the lyrics, because of Groban's beards-ly resemblance to the American idea of Jesus, or the girl-next-door way about Kelly, but as their voices curled and wrapped around each other like fragrant smoke swirling upward, I recognized the universal longing this song described, not just for a perfect love but for an eternal home. 

Returning to our old church this year has been rehabilitating my religiously scarred and weary soul. Chapter by chapter, the church's simple Bible reading plan has been taking us through John's gospel. And as each line of the song was sung, I heard echos of this intimate and powerful testimony of Jesus and his promise of what is yet to come. It touched me more than a fill-in-the-blank Bible study or an overly repetitive contemporary praise song ever could because it tapped into my longing for real, eternal, perfect love. I think by the looks on the faces in the audience, more than one person felt this longing too. It's built into all of us. My mistake is looking so often for the fulfillment of this desire here on earth; this song points to love only Jesus can give - love that far exceeds our dreams.

 
 "All I Ask of You" - Josh Groban and Kelly Clarkson

(Hover over the verses to see them pop up.)

Man:
No more talk of darkness (John 12:46)
Forget these wide-eyed fears (John 14:27)
I'm here, nothing can harm you (John 10:28)
My words will warm and calm you (John 5:24)

Let me be your freedom (John 8:31-32)
Let daylight dry your tears (Rev 21:4)
I'm here, with you, beside you (John 14:18)
To guard you and to guide you (John 17:12)


Woman:
Say you'll love me every waking moment (John 3:16)
Turn my head with talk of summer time (Luke 21:30-31)
Say you need me with you now and always (John 17:24)
Promise me that all you say is true (John 14:6)
That's all I ask of you

Man:
Let me be your shelter (John 14:3)
Let me be your light (
John 8:12)
You're safe, no one will find you (John 10:9)
Your fears are far behind you (John 16:33)


Woman:
All I want is freedom (John 8:36)
A world with no more night (Rev 22:5)
And you, always beside me (John 16:22)
To hold me and to hide me (John 10:29)

Man:
Then say you'll share with me one love, one lifetime (John 14:23)
Let me lead you from your solitude (John 15:5)
Say you want me with you here, beside you (Rev 22:17)
Anywhere you go, let me go too (John 17:20-21)

That's all I ask of you

Woman:
Say you'll share with me one love, one lifetime (John 6:35)
Say the word and I will follow you (John 10:27)

Share each day with me, each night, each morning (Rev 21:3)

Say you love me (1 John 4:19)
You know I do (John 15:9)

Love me, that's all I ask of you. (John 14:21)

Anywhere you go, let me go too (John 6:68-69)
Love me, that's all I ask of you 
(1 John 4:9)

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Healing Process: What the heck do I eat now?

My ex-boyfriend's mother was the first one to tell me.

It was well over a decade ago. She had just had an operation for breast cancer and was radically changing her diet to exclude sugar and other processed foods that feed cancer. When she handed us a book called Potatoes Not Prozac, we thanked her and kept the book around the house, unread.

We thought that she may benefit from a radical diet change, but we were doing ok with our brownie mixes and fresh egg knot rolls and pecan pie. After all, we ate fruits and vegetables and considered ourselves fairly healthy eaters. Lots of people ate what we did and didn't have cancer, and we frankly didn't believe we needed to change such ingrained habits. Sometimes you just need a...cookie, glass of wine, bowl of cereal, cone of ice cream, bagel...fill in the blank for you. Her diet evangelism sadly fell on deaf ears.

It wasn't until an integrative medicine MD from the Cleveland Clinic told me to try cutting out sugar and most carbs that I ever thought of making such a brutal transition. I was desperate after 5 years of severe POTS and debilitating Chronic Fatigue Syndrome to try something new that would improve my quality of life. I remember asking skeptically - "Have your CFS patients really gotten better doing this?" The doctor nodded and offered me a potent prescription anti-fungal and a diet change. I chose the latter, the one least likely to put me in the hospital.

I won't lie; it was terribly hard at first. I had no idea what to eat, so I ate very little. After all, I had previously survived mostly on cereal and juice and macaroni and (fake) cheese. So without any experience, this new diet basically looked like a grilled chicken breast and steamed broccoli every night. Not. Very. Appealing.

But the results were unreal. I suddenly had some clarity of thought. The clouds of constant dizziness began to part. I thought back to Brian and his wise mom Carol, years before I crashed and burned with POTS. I finally read the book she gave us. They had had the answers to my problems then, and I hadn't listened. But why?

Now that years have gone by and people hear about my progress or see the color back in my face as I dance at my own wedding, they marvel - what has caused this? And when I say mainly my diet - when I say that sugar and gluten and grains and processed foods are doing you no favors, they smile and think it's great for me. They smile just like I smiled at Brian's mom. "She's chronically ill. She needed it," they think. They don't want to change their own diet because eating sugar feels good, because it is safe and comfortable. It helps them cope. It's easy. I know because it's how I felt and limped along for years.

What is the best diet?
There are a number of "diets" out there that claim to be the one to follow. No one diet is perfect or best, but these all have the central idea of gut healing in common:
Paleo 
GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) 
Whole30
SCD (Specific Carbohydrate Diet) 
FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols) - I had to look that one up!

These options are great because you can pick the diet that fits your lifestyle best and build off of it - meaning use it as a skeleton and find what foods in that plan work for you and which ones don't. (I still don't do well with chia or quinoa, but there is nothing wrong with eating them if you can.)

So what if you MUST have a pancake or a muffin?
The diets give you recipe ideas, and the people who follow them form an automatic online support community that can help you find substitutes and alternatives. Cookbooks are written about these diets that give you options for treats you crave but won't send your blood sugar soaring.

My favorite baking recipes are written by:
Detoxinista
Kelly Smith
Danielle Walker

Danielle recovered from severe chronic illness by changing her diet and healing her gut. She shares her grain-free recipes to help others trying to do the same.

What are some typical breakfast options?
Breakfast (if I'm up that early! ha!) has been notoriously difficult for me. I usually combine breakfast and lunch and just have eggs and Applegate turkey bacon and some low-sugar fruit. I completely avoided fruit at first but added small amounts of low-sugar fruit (berries or Granny Smith apples with almond butter or cashew butter) back in as I was able to tolerate.

Homemade cranberry relish is a great immune booster: blend organic cranberries, orange, pineapple, and green apple in a blender or Vitamix until chunky relish forms. As for juice, I didn't drink any at all for years. I finally got unsweetened cranberry juice to make Great Lakes Gelatin, and if I dilute it, that has been ok to drink sparingly.

Brunch can also be leftovers - anything from stir-fry to meatloaf. All of these make great first meals. A breakfast scramble with butternut squash and chicken sausage is satisfying for brunch or dinner.

An almond flour muffin (like these I adapted from Elena's Pantry) will give a great start to the day with a cup of herbal tea. [To this recipe, I added a 1/4 cup coconut oil (or organic palm shortening) and 1/4 teaspoon salt with lemon zest and blueberries]

Recently, I've also been enjoying this Paleo cereal with unsweetened almond milk and some organic raisins (though raisins are high in sugar, so I try to use them sparingly!) It is an expensive cereal, so I found it on sale through a free trial at Thrive Market. (If you want to make your own, this granola tastes great as a cereal.)

So how much will this cost?
Cost is an issue when eating an anti-inflammatory diet. Wild salmon is 19.99 a pound. Organic produce costs more than conventional. What if eating grass-fed meat isn't affordable?

This is a valid concern. When I started eating this way, I was not able to work, so I could not pay for my food. I had to have family support to buy groceries, find recipes, and do the physical prep work with these healthy ingredients so that I could gain the strength to start doing it myself. Now that I am buying and preparing the produce and specialty foods, I can try to offer some suggestions to help with cost.

  • Look at the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen lists to find out which foods you should always buy organic and which ones you can compromise on.
  • Load up on local, in-season, high-fiber produce more than meat. Make the bulk of your meal vegetables, and if possible, have meatless days. The fiber from the veggies and the healthy fat used to cook them will fill you up more than you think! (Check out the cauliflower crust pizza below which can be made without meat.) 
  • Buy fish like Verlasso salmon that is well raised but doesn't cost what the premium wild fish does. When you do buy the wild fish, you can buy it canned or fresh, remembering that divided up into individual servings, it breaks down to the cost of a burrito from a local chain restaurant but with powerful health benefits!
  • Avoid processed shortcut foods out of a box or jar and avoid restaurants to cut down on costs and to avoid digestive setbacks.
  • Buy a whole organic chicken (which may seem like a lot) but then after roasting, use the leftover meat in a new dish the next day, like a paleo pot pie with some celery and carrots. Or you could add the leftovers with canned tomatoes and spices to whip up some chicken tacos or enchiladas. The carcass can then be used for bone broth or soup. Once you factor all these meals in, the purchase of the chicken stretches over the week.
  • Intersperse cheaper cuts of meat like humanely raised Gerber chicken thighs.
  • Eat smaller portions of meat or use meat in stir fry so you don't have to buy as much to fill up.
  • Whenever you see a treat or specialty item, think about whether you can make your own. Buying some raw almonds and making your own almond butter is a lot less money than ordering an expensive jar.
  • Finally, realize that the investment you make in your food and your body will help you avoid costly medications and doctor visits down the road. I look at food as my medicine, and when that is my motivation, I cook more and make it a financial priority to eat well.

What do anti-inflammatory dinners look like?
I have relaxed my strict Paleo standards a bit so you will see a little (organic) rice in these pictures, but when I started, I ate the recipes without the starches entirely and doubled up on veggies. Here are some favorite meals at my house:

Grass-fed hamburgers with roasted potatoes (or yam) with turmeric, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Frozen organic broccoli.

Baked spaghetti squash with browned grass-fed meat mixed with jarred organic tomato basil sauce from the local store.

Organic salad greens from a box with sauteed chicken tenders, sliced avocado, tomato, and cucumber. Dressing mixed in a small bowl: organic olive oil and raw apple cider vinegar with garlic powder, Dijon mustard, Himalayan salt, and pepper.

Pork or turkey tenderloin (with fresh rosemary, salt, pepper, and garlic powder) in a grill pan with frozen organic peas

Wild salmon (or Verlasso) baked in parchment paper (15 minutes!) with garlic powder, lemon or lime zest/juice, salt and pepper. Baked yam and steamed zucchini.

Grass-fed meatloaf with cauliflower "mashed potatoes" and peas


Blackened cod with avocado/mango salsa and asparagus from this recipe

Using the leftovers of a roasted chicken for a Paleo (almond flour biscuit) chicken pot pie with Brussels sprouts and spaghetti squash

Pork chops with caramelized onions and mushrooms, almond flour and thyme on acorn squash, and green beans

Butternut squash soup based on this recipe from The Chew with kale chips and a Detoxinista raspberry chocolate chip muffin

Chicken coconut curry based on a recipe from The Daniel Plan

Cauliflower-crust pizza from Detoxinista (using almond flour in the crust instead of goat cheese). Don't have time to make a crust from scratch? A great gluten-free crust option is called MyBread.
 Pork stir-fry based on this recipe but using arrowroot powder instead of cornstarch and Tamari (gluten-free) instead of soy sauce
Tacos with grass-fed meat, sprouted organic corn tortillas*, (*I have avoided corn until just recently and may continue to avoid it. This can also be put on a Paleo Wrap (haven't tried yet!) or a rice flour tortilla, or a bed of lettuce for taco salad.) Seasoning mixed by us rather than using a packet:
2 Tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 dashes cayenne


As you can see, there is a wide variety of food that will make an anti-inflammatory diet a joy rather than a burden.


If I can encourage you to start making steps in the right direction, try to change one thing at a time. Opt for simple meals at first, such as baked fish with frozen organic vegetables. Or try some Green Soup - parsley, swiss chard, and collard greens blended with caramelized onions, garlic, lemon, and chicken broth - an awesome dinner. All of these meals came through trial and error. I am constantly finding new recipes, reevaluating what agrees with me and what doesn't, and keep coming back to the core of bone broth, green veggies, and healthy protein and fats. Some known inflammatory foods will likely stay out of my diet forever (gluten, high sugar/processed foods like candy and cereal, conventional dairy). Some foods I have experimented with adding back in - gluten-free Udi bread, organic fingerling potatoes, and organic rice. Ultimately, I want to keep healing, and so I press on with creative ways of eating what I can while living happily without what made me ill. It's worth the cost, time, sacrifice, and energy to eat better in order to promote true healing.

And if I want a sweet bite at the end of a meal, I can always turn here. After all, a little quality chocolate can make a big difference!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Healing Process Top 10

I wish I could say that cutting out grains, sugar, gluten, and processed food was the one and only answer and that I was suddenly cured from all of my malaise, fatigue, aches, and stomach problems. It was not that easy.
A change in my diet was certainly the most important step I took to heal (which is why it's #1 in my list). But after an immune/neurological reaction to a flu shot in 2011, I needed more help than just eating gluten-free. The following are what I would rate as the top 10 methods that I discovered to help me slowly recover and get more quality of life back.

10. Improving sleep:
     Getting good sleep with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is like trying to catch a fish with your bare hands. This is a chicken vs. egg issue. My sleep improved as a result of my diet and health improving, but I also took steps to improve my chances to sleep well.
  • I try to shower or take a warm bath before bed. 
  • I have to strictly avoid laptop and phone use for at least 2 hours or more before bed
  • I have blue light blocking glasses that I use to watch TV before bed (cheap on Amazon)
  • I keep the lights lower and use candles and yellow bulbs for late evening lighting.
  • I try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.
  • I don't use an alarm unless absolutely necessary. If my body needs extra sleep (always around periods, extra stress, and viruses), then I let it do its thing.
  • Currently trying out a "brown noise" mp3 at night (lower frequency than white noise).

9. Filtered water and herbal tea:
    I used to rely on our fridge filter to clean our tap water. Then I learned that it only removed chlorine *odor,* not chlorine itself. That was enough for me to desire some extra filtration since chlorine in the water can hamper the intestines recovering normal bacterial balance. We use a hand-held filter from Grayl. I fill with water, slowly press the filter down (bicep workout), and pour. All the water I drink and cook with daily goes through the Grayl.

I drink plain water regularly throughout the day. Using this water to make organic herbal tea (no additives or flavorings) has helped my liver and digestion significantly:
  • milk thistle, liver support
  • ginger and licorice, stomach/nausea aid and adrenal support
  • Numi Green Rooibos, overall antioxidant benefit - increased by adding lemon juice
  • Gaia Gas and Bloating or peppermint, gas/bloating
  • Tulsi or ashwagandha - Adaptogenic teas like these can help manage stress. They usually give me funny side effects like drowziness or being extremely wired or diarrhea. If you make it in weak tea form, you can experiment with how you may react with as little fallout as possible.
8. Natural bath and cosmetic products:
    If I'm being careful about what I put in my mouth, I need to be careful about what I put on my skin. Since I didn't want to absorb all the chemicals in soaps and deodorants, I gradually switched to products with ingredients that wouldn't put an added strain on my body.

Some favorite brands I found:

7. Natural probiotics:
   Nothing on this list has caused me more difficulty than finding probiotics I can tolerate. I have been through tons of "probiotic phases." There was the water kefir phase, the store-bought almond yogurt and lactose-free yogurt phase, homemade almond yogurt, soy yogurt, and coconut yogurt phase, homemade dairy kefir and coconut kefir, Phillips colon health capsules, wrapping up with local fermented pickles, and grass-fed Maple Hill Creamery yogurt (dairy). I could probably create an entirely new blog about failed attempts at eating probiotics.

The ones I like right now:
  • Maple Hill Creamery yogurt requires no homemade hassle, but it is grass-fed dairy and can give me some digestive problems if I eat too much of it, especially in the winter when the diet of the cows changes. I can't promote dairy consumption unless it's fermented dairy to get probiotics. If kefir works for you, I'd recommend that over yogurt.
  • Fermented pickles offer a dairy alternative. You can make these in a mason jar or find a local company/farmer's market that offers a line of fermented foods.
  • Redwood Hill Farm Plain Goat Yogurt - Currently under trial and loving it.

6. Natural antifungals:
   I could not have healed without regular dosing of antifungals. Looking back, I went at the dosing too aggressively and wish I would have been more patient. However, it was a good learning experience. I initially took supplements of olive leaf and oregano oil. I still use Gaia olive leaf periodically when I get a virus which greatly reduces my symptoms. I would not ever recommend long-term use of olive leaf or oregano oil like I did. Topical use of oregano oil has recently helped heal an infection under my eye.

Harmless ways to fight bacterial, parasitic, and fungal problems:
  • Cold pressed, unprocessed organic coconut oil (I cook with this and eat it daily.)
  • Garlic (crushed raw garlic in guacamole or on gluten-free toast is incredibly effective)
  • Crushed papaya seeds (taken with honey or in a smoothie can be an effective anti-parasitic)
  • Peppermint (capsules can treat bacterial overgrowth)
Ways to be more aggressive under doctor supervision:
  • Olive leaf extract (I relied on this completely to treat my unresolved viral symptoms)
  • Oregano oil (took for a short time (a couple weeks) to take a break from olive leaf)
  • Candicid-Forte (recommended by integrative health MD - no harmful effects from it)
  • Turmeric (eventually raised my liver enzymes with daily use for about a year, so obviously would not recommend long-term)

5. Soaking in detox baths:
   Oh the relief!  I cannot imagine healing without detox baths. It would be intolerable to bear with all the symptoms as my body struggled to remove the toxins building up during treatment. When I took too much of an antifungal or overdid it on the probiotics, I got such relief from soaking in a bath of:

4. Whole food organic multivitamin:
    The number of failed attempts at finding a tolerable multivitamin approached the level of my probiotic hunt. I even took a break and decided I should juice vegetables to get vitamins instead. I had so many opened and unusable vitamin bottles at one point that I had to do a mass email to my female friends to find new homes for them. Most people can take a normal vitamin and be ok. I had strange side effects, even on the most premium brands - feeling wired, diarrhea, abnormal spotting from added herbs, and sometimes I just didn't see the point of trying anymore pills. Finally, after I'd given up, my mom found THE one.

The brand that agreed with me and gave me a natural feeling of energy and well-being...

3. Stretching with easy yoga and basic Tai chi/qi gong:
  Undoubtedly the best maintenance for my health and mood is my stretching routine. This helps clear my lymph system, increase circulation, helps me sleep, and makes me feel all-around better than any pill or supplement. I do DVDs at home that I tried first for free through the library:
  • Easy Yoga with Suzanne Deason - I started with this DVD because I could lie down for most of it. Here is a preview of the first 5 minutes.
  • Discover Tai chi with Scott Cole - I prefer his Fitness and Back Care DVDs. I would recommended starting with his Beginners DVD to see if you like his teaching style. Special note: I could not do these Tai chi DVDs until my diet changes allowed me to stand up.

2. Gut healing with bone broth:
   The main point of all of this treatment is to heal the gut. For a long time, I didn't think I needed to do anything other than maintain my diet and wait for the antifungals to work. This was a big mistake. My healing really accelerated when I got on the bone broth and gelatin wagon. I had taken L-glutamine powder prior to this, and it did help the lining of my gut heal (a good start), but it was nothing compared to supplemental gelatin (Great Lakes brand is grass-fed - green can/hydrolysate dissolves in smoothies and red can/gelatin makes actual jello, which is what I prefer) and homemade bone broth (natural gelatin). Eating grass-fed gelatin/jello daily finally gave me relief from unbearable period cramping and PMS. Over time, I have gravitated toward the bone broth for my gelatin source because of its additional nutritional and healing benefits.
 [I have also added in a whole-food zinc supplement which I have read can work to heal the intestine from ulcerative colitis as well as correct deficiencies common with digestive problems like leaky gut.]


Easy bone broth recipe:
  • Enjoy a roasted organic "Smart Chicken" for dinner.
  • Wrap the remaining bones, fat, meat, and joints to put in the fridge.
  • The next morning, put the entire carcass and skin in a pot with 8-10 cups of filtered water.
  • In large chunks, chop up about 3-4 medium organic carrots and 3-4 stalks of organic celery.
  • Add 1 tsp salt.
  • Add 1 Tablespoon raw organic apple cider vinegar. (this extracts minerals from bones)
  • In large chunks, chop up 1 medium organic onion.
  • Peel and crush a few cloves of garlic.
  • Optional: fresh leaves of parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme 
Bring to a boil, then cover and lower to a low simmer for about 7-8 hours. At night, you can strain out all the remaining bones and vegetables and pour into mason jars to store in the fridge for 3-4 days. If you want to keep it longer, you can freeze in an ice cube tray and thaw when needed.


1. Complete dedication to an anti-inflammatory diet:
   There is a lot I can say about an anti-inflammatory diet that I have learned since the last time I wrote about diet here. I plan to make the next post entirely about how my diet changed and how I stuck with it without feeling completely deprived.

The most important changes I made to my diet are:
  • Cut out all added sugar
  • Cut out ALL gluten
  • Avoid dairy (other than small amounts of fermented dairy for probiotics)
  • Avoid grains (small amounts of organic rice/rice pasta or gluten-free Udi bread are ok for me)
  • Avoid ALL junk processed foods, additives, dyes, sugar substitutes
  • Increased healthy fats (avocado, organic olive oil, organic coconut oil, soaked organic nuts)
  • Increased organic vegetable intake 
  • Increased the quality of meat when possible - grass-fed organic beef, organic poultry, wild fish

This is a lot of information to take in. If you have any questions about my experiences, please post in the comments! Many of these lifestyle changes occurred gradually through trial and (much) error over the course of years. If you feel overwhelmed and want to make one change right away, I would encourage all people with dysautonimia or autoimmune symptoms to talk with their doctor about going off gluten (all grains if possible), dairy, and sugar/processed white carbs right away and staying off of them. These are not groups of food necessary for our health, and they are widely known to increase inflammation in the body, worsening whatever health issues already exist.

Please be encouraged that progress can be slow but possible; it takes years to recover. Some days I felt worse when I was healing than before I started, but then I would suddenly get a burst of functioning better than I had in months, and it would help me to keep going.

Next blog will be about diet...

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Healing Process Reboot

I had the best of intentions.

Back in August 2014, I started what I planned to be a series about my healing process. That series ..uhh...didn't really materialize. It was a combination of things. I was still experimenting with new supplements like gelatin (quite successfully). I was overwhelmed by the task of trying to accurately assemble names of brands and foods that have proved helpful. I felt inadequate to express all the information that I'd learned about gut health. Combine that with a slew of big life changes, and here I am in 2016. Ready for a reboot. My desire is to share what I've learned about my own health in order to hopefully help others.

As a health history refresher, I've always had stomach and sinus issues as far back as I can remember. Removing lactose from my diet and avoiding environmental allergens in childhood seemed to help. In high school (1995), I got a severe case of mono that required steroids. After that, I was never quite the same, and in 1998, my family discovered black toxic mold in the air of our home. We had to leave everything behind, and my health was badly damaged in the process. I was unable to get enough sleep and often could not function to go to school because of the body aches and extreme fatigue.

Once I left that environment, I felt better and was able to go to college, but during the transitional housing and dorm living, I was routinely exposed to pesticides that caused severe and worsened symptoms. My mold exposure had led to multiple chemical sensitivity. With some careful planning through disability services at college and managing my living environment at home, I successfully completed my engineering degree.

In graduate school, I ate poorly, was under tremendous stress with little sleep, and got sick. I took antibiotics, cold medicine, and inhalers to try to keep myself going, but instead I collapsed one morning at church in 2005. I was never able to truly function after that. I was completely disabled and stuck in bed. After meeting with a cardiologist and doing a tilt-table test, I was diagnosed with POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) which is a type of dysautonomia. I also suffered from chronic fatigue-like symptoms, severe irritable bowel syndrome, severe circadian rhythm disorder called "non-24," and ongoing multiple chemical sensitivities (along with asthma and allergies).

From 2005 - 2010, I attempted to manage my symptoms based on western medicine. I drank Gatorade, ate pretzels and salty foods. I wore compression stockings. I took Florinef and a beta blocker which worsened my constant dizziness. I had a horrible experience trying birth control to suppress my awful, painful periods. Nothing worked. I only felt miserable. I couldn't sit up for meals many times. Forcing myself to walk or exercise just left me exhausted and needing to recover for days. I was incredibly discouraged and felt my life slipping away. I was often awake at night and slept during the day. After hoping and training for a career in medical research, I was now stuck at home, watching TV, and when I had enough mental energy, trying to figure out what had gone wrong with my body and how to fix it.

My turning point came in 2010. I looked online to see who treated chronic fatigue syndrome, and I found an integrative health MD who did just that. My first meetings with her were not what I had anticipated. She kept wanting to focus on my intestines and suggested using a pretty potent anti-fungal medication. I didn't understand this because my symptoms were cardiac and neurological. I agreed to try the least risky of her treatment suggestions, an extreme change in diet. I temporarily cut out all sources of simple and complex carbohydrates (grains), processed food, and sugar. No desserts, juice, cereal, pasta, popcorn, bread, or any of those comfort foods I clung to like life preservers.

And an amazing thing happened. After a couple weeks, my dizziness stopped. Chronic, unrelenting, disabling, 24/7 dizziness was suddenly no longer dominating my life. I was in shock. The extreme diet change of lean meat and vegetables had opened my eyes, and although it was not sustainable due to weight loss and nutritional needs, I was on a new mission. I was going to figure out exactly what this connection was between diet and POTS.

~.~.~

I'm not sure exactly how I will do these new posts, but I have a lot more confidence looking back now. I've come much further in my healing. I have a good grasp on what works for me and what doesn't. I've narrowed down my remedies to simpler and easier fixes. I've experienced the gradual renewal of patiently practicing these remedies over years.


Friday, October 30, 2015

A Dystopian Tango

A few weeks ago, I was watching Dancing with the Stars for switch-up week. A contestant named Alexa had blanked on part of her performance the week before, suffering a dip in scores, and she felt discouraged when her partner Mark kept telling her she might be eliminated. But she got a new partner (Derek) for the switch-up, who told her she could overcome her fears. She believed him, and with his help, scored the first perfect straight 10s of the season.



This kind of thing happens often over the seasons of the show. Some troubling event will spark a contestant to fight back and perform beyond what they dreamed possible. What made this particular dance so meaningful to me? Why did I watch it at breakfast the next day with tears in my eyes?

I asked myself those questions as I kept replaying the song in my head. The lyrics of Pompeii by Bastille go like this:

I was left to my own devices
Many days fell away with nothing to show
And the walls kept tumbling down
In the city that we love
Great clouds roll over the hills
Bringing darkness from above
But if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
You've been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this? 

Even from the first 2 lines of the song, I felt it echo words I've used for years to describe chronic illness - the long days on the couch or in bed, the helplessness and the powerlessness, the failed attempts to soothe my aching soul with things of this world. And the walls of my family that kept tumbling down as my grandma slowly deteriorated, as my dad fell away, as the process of waiting for God to miraculously fix our trauma caused my hope to grow dim.

But this is where the lyrics and the dance came together to move me to to tears. As I watched Derek move Alexa around the dance floor, I thought of all the times I "closed my eyes" - either in despair, or exhaustion, or prayer - and it was another step in my complex dance with Jesus. As I'm watching Alexa hanging on, Derek calling out where to go, guiding her as she's thrown down, lifted back up,  I'm thinking, through all of this pain, God has never changed. He's the same gracious, merciful God, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. And although I have not yet received that "miracle moment" I hoped for, we have moved far beyond the "baby-faith" I had when this began. He moves; I hang on. He moves; we separate and return. We move together.

As the dance ends and a few other dancers embrace and circle around them, it mirrored the very thing that had happened to me. A handful of understanding and compassionate people came around to walk with me as I stepped forward.

So I smiled through the tears of knowing an aching joy, that Jesus has been leading me through a broken city that I loved, great clouds rolling over, and me thinking, "how am I going to be an optimist about this?" in so many terrible circumstances. And I realized how far I have come to be married, to be healing, to be coming out of a long, dark, and lonely place with my love for Christ having been battered and thrown and tested at every stage.

Just like Alexa heard the message that she might be eliminated, I too battle the fear that I don't measure up, that I should freeze and not try to move forward because I might fail or it might hurt too much. But when I recently read in the Bible about Nehemiah's struggle to rebuild (coincidentally) the "walls of the city that he loved," I recognized how intricately the work of evil is tied up in fear. Fear is the tool of evil, like a hot poker, trying to imobilize me, trying to make me back down from what I'm building for God.

But fear has no ultimate power over someone who loves Jesus. Can things we fear happen? Yes. The walls can come down. People can block our progress. We can get sick and even die. But with Jesus leading us through, we will finish well. Don't give up whatever justice you are fighting for. Don't give in and sit down and give up because of fear.

As Vaneetha Rendall says in The Loneliness of Suffering:
Read the Bible even when it feels like eating cardboard. And pray even when it feels like talking to a wall.

Continue to dance with Jesus, even if you need to just collapse into his strong grip and let him carry you forward.

"Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world."
1 John 4:4