Tuesday, March 29, 2011


When's the last time you said, "I'm exhausted!"?

Did you say it at the end of a long, satisfying day of work?

Or was it barely a whisper off your lips while you were lying helplessly in bed for hours?

Exhaustion, to me, used to mean that I'd crammed too many classes, experiments, meetings, and social events into a day.

Now, it is a mind/body/emotional bankruptcy from sickness and prolonged trial. A feeling of utter weariness. It's as if I'm one of those vacuum sealed bags on an infomercial; someone inserts the attachment and sucks out every last ounce of air until I shrivel up.

Last week, I watched a Bible study video on exhaustion. As I dragged myself into the room and opened my notebook, I looked forward to finding help with this familiar problem. I was disappointed to hear tips about taking a quiet retreat, accepting assistance, and dispensing with unnecessary commitments. Sadly, none of these tips help someone who can't escape their burdens, is minimally committed, and whose proper sources of assistance have either turned away or dried up.

The final point of the video? A long story about how God had made supernatural provision for an old man to have his tangled hair brushed before meeting his wife again.

I was supposed to feel encouraged, but I left feeling even emptier than when I came in. If God cares for the hair of an old man, why is my family spending years in circumstances that are draining the life out of us? Where is God when I feel exhausted and in pain?

I have been struggling to keep faith in the midst of one trial on top of another, on top of another. I look to heaven for help, and often I just get enough to survive another day of difficulty. Another day, another struggle.

I keep thinking, what is it God wants to show me about exhaustion?

I think the most important thing to know about exhaustion is that it is a breeding ground for temptation. Temptation to doubt God. Temptation to give up. Temptation to justify disobedience. Temptation to pull away from faith and contrive inadequate human solutions instead.

When Satan had taken everything Job had, including his children, the Enemy was convinced that the destruction of Job's health would finally break him.
“Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

We need to remember that when we become physically sick and tired, it can be the Enemy's ultimate weapon to break us. However, Job was determined to cling to God, never giving in to the temptation to curse God and die. Instead, he proclaimed his faith boldly in the midst of his utter physical misery Job 19:25-27.

When David was forced to give up his throne and flee from his own son, his trusted adviser betrayed him in his weakest hour by planning the perfect attack.

"I will come upon him while he is weary and discouraged and throw him into a panic, and all the people who are with him will flee."

If you're exhausted, it's a pivotal time to be on guard. Dr. Charles Stanley, in his sermon series on temptation, reminds us that Satan attacks hardest when we are (HALT) Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. Preparing for the temptations with scripture means we won't be blindsided. We also need to prepare for feelings of fear and isolation. The withdrawal of human support often accompanies intense spiritual attack. We counter that by seeking God's support in prayer.

While David fled, a relative of his old enemy taunted him, cursed him, and physically threw rocks at David along the way.
"Get out, get out, you man of blood, you worthless man!"

This is a taunt, strong rejection, and an accusation all in one. It tore at David's very character and self-image. These words resonate with me because in my grandma's demented state, she can say things like this almost verbatim. ("Get out, get out, you awful woman!") Sitting under a waterfall of nonstop criticism and personal insults is emotionally draining to say the least. Though the accusations aren't true, they still erode my strength.

Satan's name literally means "the accuser," and he specializes in tormenting people with false guilt and condemnation. He knows that as long as we are neutralized by feeling bad about ourselves, we won't be powerful in spreading the gospel, encouragement, or hope in the lives of others. We counter this by rejecting wrong thoughts and memorizing scripture that reveals how God views us.

To summarize, scripture clearly outlines the Enemy's exhaustion attack plan:
1. Physical illness to break us
2. Temptation striking at our weakest moments
3. Isolation and Fear
4. Personal insults/Criticism
5. Rejection
6. False guilt for non-sins/Condemnation for forgiven sins

Knowing the Enemy's attack plan can help us withstand the onslaught and not become victims of permanent despair. Instead of giving up, I can:
A) Determine to cling to God
B) Seek God's support in prayer
C) Memorize/pray these truths from God's word

My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.
Psalm 119:28

Consider him [Jesus] who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:2-3

“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”
So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”
Hebrews 13:5-6

"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand."
John 10:27-28

The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
Isaiah 40:28-29

Though I may not have control over my health or circumstances, I have control over my response to the weight of exhaustion. Like Job, I must cling to my Redeemer no matter the cost. By trusting in his death for my sins, I am destined for a better land where "moth and rust do not destroy, where thieves do not break in and steal," where there is "no more death or mourning or crying or pain."

Determine to persevere through exhaustion on your journey with Christ. The Lord is with you and will reward you for your faith.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Living Better with Dysautonomia (Help #5: Diet)

*UPDATE 2/13/2012: Since posting this entry, I have extended my anti-inflammatory diet to include being strictly gluten-free (and mostly dairy-free). I have updated the suggested foods list to reflect this as well as my avoidance of MSG, soy yogurts with and without inulin, oats, and agave.

Help #5: Anti-inflammatory Diet + Salt

I don't know about you, but symptom flares typically send me running for the nearest comfort food. Daily I used to consume desserts like dark chocolate, ice cream, cookies, and cupcakes. For snacks, I relied on quick fixes like a bowl of cereal, toast, PB&J, popcorn, pasta, or a glass of juice. I didn't have energy to make fancy meals.

These foods helped me to feel good in the moment, but in the long run, I suffered symptoms of hypoglycemia, uncomfortable digestive problems, muscle aches, and terrible fatigue.

Over the past year, I've been equipped with more knowledge about eating an anti-inflammatory diet. Determining to do this has made a noticeable difference in my symptoms, but it is only part of the puzzle. I still experiment with diet choices and other treatments to optimize my health.

First and foremost, I've learned to cut out all unnecessary sugar and white flour.
This may sound impossible, especially when it's such a comfort. I didn't think I'd make it more than one day (two, tops) without desserts or high-carb foods. I decided to try going cold turkey for as long as I could, and after a few days of resisting the intense cravings, it was suddenly easier to say no to sweets. I trained my taste buds to enjoy a sweet potato without brown sugar. I drank tea instead of juice in the morning. Eventually, I grew accustomed to living on a low-sugar diet and began to enjoy the natural sweetness of fruit, the richness of cocoa powder in milk, and the creaminess of plain yogurt. I don't mean to say that I deprive myself entirely of occasional treats, but now that I see the benefits for my health, I don't go straight for sugar when I'm hungry. Instead, I go for protein, which is my next tip...

Second, I make an effort to base meals and snacks around healthy protein sources.
Instead of grabbing for toast when I'm hungry, I now reach for salted almonds. Instead of cereal, I scramble an egg. Almond butter with banana has replaced ice cream with banana. My new rule to include protein (or slow-digesting carbs) in every snack keeps my blood sugar stable and lessens fatigue. I don't experience sudden cravings and lightheadedness between meals anymore. Eating protein regularly gives me a more steady sense of well-being with lasting fullness and satisfaction.

Third, I have added in more organic vegetables and salads to my diet.
Salad used to be the thing I'd put Saran wrap over at the end of a meal because I didn't have room for it. Now, it's become a main course. Salad isn't boring when you can put a lot of protein on it. Some of my favorite salad toppings include crispy chicken sauteed in olive oil, crumbled bacon, shredded cheese, sunflower seeds, shredded turkey, bits of salmon or tuna, diced tomato and cucumber, or even a Mexican twist with seasoned ground meat, fresh avocado, onion, and cilantro leaves. In addition to building tasty salads, I've also learned to enjoy steamed vegetables like carrots, green beans, broccoli, and asparagus. A little salt and heart-healthy margarine make these vegetables delicious, and as a bonus, I don't feel bloated or sick after I eat them.

Learning what foods pack the most nutritional punch has continued to be challenging but fun. The book Anticancer: A New Way of Life started me off in the right direction by pointing me toward a diet rich in nutritious foods instead of settling for carryout burritos and prepared frozen entrees. Pairing this knowledge with a focus on protein and vegetables, while cutting back on sugar and unhealthy carbohydrates, has improved my health even more.

Beware of food allergies and sensitivities!
Hidden food sensitivities can sometimes play a role in how a person with dysautonomia feels. Diagnosing a gluten, nut, wheat, soy, egg, or dairy sensitivity could be vital to aiding your recovery, so I urge you to speak to your doctor about testing and elimination diets. Not all food sensitivities express themselves as stomach upset. Fatigue, rashes, and vitamin deficiencies can all be signals of a food intolerance. *I did not test positive for celiac disease but still found significant symptom improvement from eating strictly gluten-free and mostly dairy-free.*

In the meantime, remember that every food you put in your mouth contains powerful vitamins and nutrients that can influence the amount of inflammation in your body, just like any medicine or pill. Steering clear of sugar, white flour, and unhealthy, high-carbohydrate snacks may help you feel more clear-headed and less fatigued.

What about salt?
If you suffer from low blood pressure (which is common with dysautonomia), it's likely that your doctor has encouraged you to start a high-salt diet. Do this ONLY under the recommendation of your physician because a high-salt diet will raise blood pressure and can be potentially dangerous.

Be aware: Salt and sodium are two different things.

High school chemistry returns to haunt us! Salt is NaCl; sodium is Na. Salt is made up of 39% sodium. I was so sick and disoriented at my diagnosis that I missed this altogether and panicked at the level of salt prescribed.

If a doctor tells you to eat 8 grams of salt per day, they do NOT mean that you should eat 8,000 mg of sodium. They mean you should eat 3,120 mg of sodium. That’s still a lot, but thankfully it does not involve you solely eating SPAM and salt tablets. The best way to get enough sodium in your diet is to be liberal with the salt shaker. Try to avoid sea salt since the large, coarse crystals give you less sodium per serving than regular table salt.

If you need a quick boost of sodium, try chicken noodle soup. My favorite (gluten-free/dairy-free) brand is Kettle Cuisine.

Bottom line: Better fuel = Better function.
The more nutritious foods you can pack into your diet, the better your body will run. Reducing chronic inflammation through diet is a smart decision for anyone looking to improve energy and lower the risk of cancer.

Here are some of my new favorite simple and healthy snacks (*Updated 2/13/12*):

Numi Green Rooibos tea
Alvita Ginger Root tea
Microwaved sweet potato with cinnamon and pumpkin pie spices
Amande yogurt (almond yogurt: dairy-free/gluten-free/soy-free)
Walnuts, pecans, Blue Diamond Roasted Salted Almonds
Papaya smoothies with banana, pineapple, and lime juice
Redmond's Almond Butter with banana
Nuttzo (multi-nut butter, available in regular and peanut-free) on toast with a drop of cherry preserves
Scrambled egg with diced onion, diced bell pepper, and Rice Shreds cheese (also available for vegans)
Egg salad (egg, mustard, mayo) or tuna salad (tuna, onion, egg, mayo) on Udi's Whole Grain bread (gluten-free)
Salted hard-boiled egg
Baby carrots with or without hummus
Kind bars (coconut/apricot/almond)
Microwaved green beans or mixed veggies (as a substitute for chips) with an open-faced sandwich
Quinoa cooked in chicken broth with peas and pieces of roast chicken
Salmon baked in parchment paper with lemon, salt, pepper, and olive oil
Mashed avocado with minced garlic, cilantro, lemon juice, salt, chopped onion
Riceworks brown rice chips with rice cheese, salsa, or guacamole

Low-Carb Banana Nut Muffins
1.5 c almond flour
2 ripe, mashed bananas
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3 eggs
1/2 c organic unsweetened applesauce
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon coconut sugar (heaping)
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 c chopped walnuts or pecans

Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes. (Heavily adapted from "Eating Stella Style")

If you have any healthy snack ideas to share, please post in the comments!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Courage in the Lonely Hour

Courage in the Lonely Hour

Dr. Charles Stanley gives powerful encouragement for those who are struggling.