Learning to Adapt

Some of us are better at adapting than others. I can adapt to weather changes, changing my furniture around, even moving 1900 miles from where I grew up wasn’t hard. But changing the way I eat? That’s a different story.

It began soon after my brain injury. Within one month, I visited the emergency room twice and urgent care once (or maybe it was the other way around, and maybe it was more – this is where my brain gets confused). It seems I had acquired chemical allergies and a whole host of food allergies, which were revealed to me later by my doctor.

Allergies, along with all kinds of bizarre symptoms, can appear after brain trauma, though it’s hard to say if they are lurking in the system, and the injury causes them to come out, or if they are the direct result of the brain injury. (www.holisticprimarycare.net) In any case, I had a new list of items I could no longer eat.

I’d long been allergic to dairy, and avoided it best I could. When I was given this new list, I listened to my doctor, and stayed away like a good girl. But I am human, and a girl, and I have cravings. Like yeast. And sugar. I wanted French bread, and I wanted the sugary cupcakes at the birthday parties we attended. It wasn’t long before I gave in. Nothing major happened when I ate sugar and yeast, just a few little patches of red skin, and an irritated throat. Warning signals I chose to ignore.

Do you know what happens when you don’t listen to your body? It rebels. Within time, I developed a host of symptoms: hives, dark circles under my eyes (known as allergy ‘shiners’), nasal congestion, joint pain, muscle aches, and wheezing. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? As bad as those symptoms were, it could have been worse. Allergies can also cause fibromyalgia, asthma, headaches, and fatigue, and of course, anaphylactic shock.(www.recipe4wellness.com)

Over a month ago, I went back to the doctor, and I am happy to report, I am the proud owner of a beautiful list of 31 foods I can no longer eat.

It’s hard to say exactly why my list grew. Some professionals say that allergies increase due to malabsorption problems, some claim IBS or leaky gut. But in my research, what I discovered is this, new allergens are sometimes born when we ignore the ones we have.

I didn’t listen to my body. I refused to adapt.

Adapting isn’t always easy, and not always fun. But when it comes to health, it is a true necessity. Our lives depend on our ability, and our willingness, to adapt.

If you think you have allergies, I strongly encourage you to see a doctor. Your body will thank you for it.

Here are a few facts about food allergies:

1. Allergies can get worse, or change, over time. What may appear as a ‘shiner’ one time can turn up as nasal congestion the next time, or worse. Never count on a food allergy reacting the same way twice. http://www.allergy-clinic.co.uk

2. 80% of the immune system surrounds the digestive system. Your body sees food coming in, and says, “Is that safe?” When you are allergic to a food, your body becomes more sensitive, and sometimes more allergic. www.olsonnd.com

3. Getting rid of food allergies could have helped me better fight my environmental allergies. I suffered this winter and early spring with outdoor allergies. They may have been less severe if I’d been eliminating the foods on my ‘don’t eat’ list. www.olsonnd.com

4. Some people are ‘atopic,’ meaning they have a tendency to develop allergies. (I was already allergic to dairy and dust mites before the other allergies occurred.) www.nhs.uk

5. If you are allergic to one food, you may react to other foods with a similar structure. This is known as cross-reactivity. (I was allergic to cranberries, and now I am allergic to blueberries, part of the cranberry family.)

6. There is no scientific evidence, but there are claims that if we don’t rotate our foods often enough, we can become allergic to them. Being a daily chocoholic, and a constant consumer of bell peppers, I can testify there may be some truth to that (as I can no longer eat either).

What it comes down to is this, I should have adapted the first time around. Now I am paying the price. We can adapt to anything, if we want it bad enough. I want my health. This time, I’m determined to follow my allergy list. I really don’t want a longer one.

I guess the good news is this, I learned a few things, and in turn, I hope I can help you.

This is what I’ve learned:

*Health is important. Yeah, I already knew that. But when it’s taken away, you realize how good you had it.

*I’m lucky (most of) my allergies aren’t super-severe. And if I stay away from my allergens, I can’t give them the chance to morph into a life-threatening monster.

*Allergies do affect the body. In one weeks’ time, after eliminating my allergens, my aching, tight muscles are limber, my wheezing has improved, and I have more energy.

A tough way to learn lessons. A tough way to learn to adapt.

**I am not a medical professional. If you have any medical concerns, or think you have allergies, please see a doctor.

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Simple Steps to a Good Night’s Sleep

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I swear my brain never stops. It is always thinking, making lists of groceries and projects, birthdays and holidays I need to remember. There are appointments to make, vacations to plan, people to call. If that weren’t enough, this wacky head of mine is always dreaming, constantly creating.Yup, my brain is an endless stream of activity. But believe it or not, I’m better than I once was.

A few years ago, this crazy brain of mine kept me from sleeping. While everyone in our house slept soundly, I would lay in bed thinking of all the things I needed to do. A little voice inside me would whisper, “Get up. You have chores to do, a million things to take care of.” When I finally did drift off, it was a restless slumber filled with bizarre dreams that would soon wake me up.

Immediately, my head was barraged with lists and umpteen projects I was certain were more important than sleep. I’d jump out of bed, make lists, do laundry, and clean. By the time everyone in my family was awake, I’d already had a full morning.

On the outside, I was the perfect organized mom and wife, everything neat and tidy, the house completely arranged. But inside, I was one stressed-out tired mess. I was never relaxed. I was always thinking of what needed to be done, the next thing to cross off my ever-growing list.

I didn’t know it then, but my lack of sleep was catching up with me. I lived in a foggy kind of dream, not really living life. And my health, well, it became a series of illness requiring many visits to doctors for viruses and infections I could no longer fight off.

I needed a serious wake-up call. Many years later, I got one.

It happened the day I was in an auto accident and sustained a brain injury. It sounds terrible, because it was. And yet, in some weird way, I think it saved my life.

After the accident, both my body and brain were broken. I would find that the only true way to heal would be with a ton of sleep. I think it’s safe to say I slept more than I was awake. It took me a few years to heal, and during those years, I made a discovery.

I liked sleep. I’d never known what good sleep felt like, or what it meant to wake up refreshed. Even as a teenager, I’d never been a good sleeper, and now, here I was, sleeping eight hours at night, waking up with energy and a fresh mind.

Unfortunately, I’m a slow learner. Soon, my old personality crept in, and along with it, that little voice that said, “Don’t sleep. You have too many things to do.”

In some ways, I’d missed that voice. It represented the old me, the one before the accident. And yet, I knew I could no longer stay awake at night like I once had. My brain would never be able to function.

It was time to still that voice. I came up with a plan, one that has me sleeping through almost every single night. This plan has changed my life. It’s now a rarity for me to wake up during the wee hours of the morning. And unless I’m having a severe allergy attack, I hardly ever suffer from foggy-brain.

What is this plan that helps me sleep sound every night? I’m so glad you asked.

My Simple Plan to a Better Night’s Sleep:

Yoga – I learned yoga after my brain injury. The stretching helped my body, but it was the breathing that saved me. My blood pressure went down, and my muscles relaxed. Even my spirit was lighter. I do deep breathing as I go to sleep.

Exercise – Working out is important to me. Something, every single day. Walk, turn the radio on and dance, garden, play with children, lift weights, do push-ups. Something to get the heart pumping. Try it. Your body will thank you.

Eat healthy – We all know that healthy eating is important for many reasons, but one is helping you sleep better. Avoiding excess sugar, especially before bed, can aid in a good night’s sleep.

Drink Water – Drink plenty of water. Water keeps muscles lubricated, which helps to eliminate those pesky nighttime leg cramps.

Magnesium – According to Dr. Mercola (mercola.com), eighty percent of Americans do not get enough magnesium. Magnesium can be found in spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, and a host of other foods (do a search for “foods with magnesium”). If I do have that rare bad night of sleep, I know I need a magnesium boost. The next night, I add Calm (a powdered form of magnesium) to a glass of water. Voila. I am out cold the rest of the night, and wide-awake the next morning. Another great way to get magnesium is by taking a hot bath in Epsom salts, something I try to do once a week in the winter. The bath alone is relaxing, but the Epsom salts soak into the muscles and skin, relaxing every inch of the body.

Be Quiet – One hour before bed stay calm and quiet. Watch something silly, read something light, drink tea.

Have a Routine – I used to think routines were just for kids, but it seems as if everyone’s body likes routine. Keep it the same every night, as much as possible. That includes bedtime.

Give thanks – I give thanks for something before I fall asleep. It sounds kind of silly, I know, but there’s something about this simple little routine that makes my night go better. I don’t go to sleep stressed, or angry, or upset. I go to bed happy, because I have found something to give thanks for. I love falling asleep happy.

Most of all, still that nagging little voice -Nothing is important enough to keep you from sleep.

There you have it, simple ways to get a good night’s sleep.

Good night everyone.

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12 Simple Steps to Get Rid of a Holiday Hangover

I have chicken-chunk, beef-bloat, pork-belly, holiday-hangover, sugar slump. It seems no matter how determined I am, each year I manage to eat a little too much, and even a few things I shouldn’t be eating (like gummy bears and store-bought eggnog). In the last two weeks, I have seen more sugar in this house than I have in the whole previous year combined. And now, I am suffering dearly. But my guess is, I am not the only one.

It’s easy to eat too much this time of year, with all those gravies and succulent meats sitting on tables, all that sugary goodness hanging out at every party, filling the shelves of nearly every store. It’s too much for even the most dedicated health-nut. What is a person to do?

I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to cure my holiday hangover as quickly as possible. But how does one do that? I’m so glad you asked.

I have a plan. A very simple plan. (You knew it had to be simple, right? I hate long and complicated).

All that’s required is commitment, the desire to feel better, and a tad bit of time. It will all be worth it. Are you with me?

Here it is. A Simple Cure for a Holiday Hangover:
1. Start your day off running. Just one minute while the shower warms up. The blood is pumping, and your brain has received its first charge of the day.

2. Hydrate. As soon as you get out of the shower. I keep a water bottle next to the bed, and refill it each day so it’s ready for the next morning. Lifeworks makes a nifty glass bottle with a cool rubber grip on the outside.

3. Eat breakfast. I am a big proponent of the first meal of the day. I’m a slug without it. My daily breakfast usually consists of the same thing: One egg, a green smoothie (hemp, flax, bananas, another fruit, and spinach – the ingredients vary depending on what’s in our house). I top it off with tea (filled with antioxidants, and not as big of a crash for me as coffee), and a piece of chocolate. Whoa! Stop. Chocolate? Yup, that’s what I said. If people can have chocolate drinks, donuts, and chocolate cereal, I figure I can have a piece of chocolate. I make homemade, with three ingredients: honey, raw cocoa, and coconut oil, toss in some cinnamon, maca, sea salt, nuts, and coconut. One piece, and my brain has the extra fuel (read: healthy fats) it so desperately needs in the morning.

As much as I love my simple breakfast (mostly I love not having to think about what I will eat each day), my husband gets a little bored with the routine. Occasionally, we mix it up and have bacon, pumpkin pancakes, homemade granola, or stir-fried veggies. Do whatever works for you – just make it clean, simple, whole foods.

4. Snack. They aren’t just for children. I need snacks, mostly because my meals are small. My body feels energized when I eat smaller amounts with healthy snacks in between. If you do snack, choose something light and healthy: nuts and a piece of fruit, hummus and veggies, banana and nut butter, half an avocado with a tablespoon of tuna.

5. Stay hydrated! Drink, drink, drink. I can’t say this enough. This is one habit I stuck with over the holidays, and I’m really, really glad I did. Water is necessary to fuel our bodies and brains, and keeps our organs running smoothly. It keeps our muscles lubricated (that’s probably not the right terminology, but it does help our muscles). I’ve had muscles lock up and every time it’s happened, it’s been when I haven’t been drinking enough water.

If you get bored with plain water, or find yourself overdoing it, add a lemon, cucumber, or mint. Or if you just need something completely different, try some herbal tea or a real juice drink (as in juice bar, or a make-your-own at home juice drink).

6. Stay active. I know, it’s not always easy. We can be so busy, yet somehow still manage to spend most of our days sitting. And sitting can be really bad, giving us neck pain, back aches, stiff muscles, and headaches. It can also cause weight gain, which leads to a host of other issues.

If you have your own office space, you are in luck. It’s easy to get a little exercise time behind a closed door. Stand up every hour and run in place for one minute, or do a few push-ups or sit ups.

If you don’t have your own office (which most of us don’t), you can still get some exercise. Walk around the building on your lunch break, up and down the stairs, or even back and forth down the hallway. Park farther away from the office, get up and do small errands throughout the day (like bringing papers to someone’s desk, or walking over to talk to someone instead of sending them a message).

7. Take breaks. How is taking a break healthy? When we take a break from work, we are able to release stress from the day. It makes me crazy when I think of all the people who eat lunch at their desk instead of taking a break. I was once one of those people. Believe me, no job is worth your skipping every break. Get away. Close your eyes for five minutes and just breathe. Listen to tunes, read a book, sit outside. And as much as you love your co-workers, sometimes it’s best to take a break away from them. It makes you forget about work, if only for a brief time.

8. Eat lunch. Stop the fast food madness! Eat a simple, whole food lunch. A salad, meat wrapped around carrots, deviled eggs. Simple to prepare, easy to eat.

9. Don’t work late. I think I just heard yelling. How is that even possible, you ask? I don’t know. I did it too many times myself. But I do know this, all those extra hours, all those missed breaks and Saturday mornings spent in an office were not worth one single moment of my life. For work, I missed family time, moments together that can never be replaced. I was stressed, and often tired. I gained a few pounds, got out of shape, all for a job I didn’t really like.

I realize sometimes we are forced to work extra hours. An occasional week, or even month, won’t matter. But what happens when we do that every week of every month of every year? What do our bodies do? They live in a constant state of stress. They overeat to compensate, not just for the stress, but for emotions we can’t control. Stress taxes our brains and our bodies. Stress taxes our whole lives.

10. Go home. Kick off your shoes. Throw on something that makes you happy, your favorite jammies, your soft sweat pants. Listen to music, or a funny show. Unwind with a glass of wine.

11. Eat dinner. Light. Healthy. Not too close to bedtime.

12. Sleep. They don’t call her Sleeping Beauty for nothing. Everyone looks better when they have had enough zzz’s. I don’t believe we are all wired the same way and each require the exact same amount of sleep. One person may get by fine with six and a half hours, another person may need eight every night. But no matter what your needs, make sure you get it. Leave the dishes, leave the laundry, and go to bed. Your body, and your brain, will thank you.

There you go. Your twelve-step program to getting rid of a holiday hangover. It’s simple, really: eat well, sleep well, exercise. Take care of you.

Happy new year!

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Simple Steps to Handle Stress

Have you ever had a time in your life where you’d like to run away and hide in a tiny little cabin in the middle of the woods? Just to escape life, if only for a moment. I am having one of those times right now.

It seems life has handed me a series of events, some unfortunate, and some good (but still stressful). And while I used to thrive on stress, I don’t handle it very well now. My injury changed all that. Instead of taking life as it comes, it seems now that each new event requires a processing time. When I don’t get that, I kind of fall apart.

That’s what has happened lately. In one brief sweep, my husband and I have experienced: job changes, family arriving and leaving (in close succession), trips, changes in extended family and their lives, and health issues. To top it off, we have discussed the possibility of moving, doing home improvements, and a big vacation next year. I know, almost every stress imaginable, enough to send anyone over the edge.

All I can say is, right now, I’m thankful I don’t have a lot of stuff to take care of. I’m thankful for all the things I threw away and gave to the thrift store, for keeping life easy and clean. I’m thankful I haven’t accrued more than I need.

Still, even in my simple life, I have stress. And by last week, I’d had enough. I needed to find ways to let go. I began a series of stress-relieving exercises: working-out longer and harder, practicing daily yoga (I’ve done yoga for a long time, but mostly in moments of desperation, or at the most twice a week). I baked, drew, took naps (of which I failed miserably, not because I wasn’t tired, but because I have always felt guilty sleeping in the middle of the day), made extra protein smoothies, and began taking fish oil supplements.

In some ways, I felt a little better. I think it was the psychological aspect of knowing I was taking some control over my life. But the fact is, those stressors still remained.

I knew it was time for some soul-searching. I pulled out my trusty little journal, wrote down each stressor, how it affected me, and why. And I came to a realization. Most of the stressors in my life were my own fault. What a horrible confession to have to make.

Sure, there were things that couldn’t be helped, like my husband’s job. He had been in an unstable company with the threat of lay-offs. He needed a change. His new company has been around a long time, and was exactly what he was looking for.

The trips weren’t totally optional, at least not one. One was a business trip that we both attended. The other was a trip to the ocean with family, planned many months ago, and worth every bit of time and energy.

But there were stresses in my life I had control over, like family visitations. As much as I love family visits, next year I won’t let them get scheduled so close together.

And home improvements – painting, putting up hooks and blinds – those can wait. They aren’t even close to being important in my life. Moving doesn’t need to be discussed – it’s a plan for the future. Even next year’s vacation, as exciting as it might be, can wait.

When it comes to extended family, I have a bad habit of worrying about them. I guess if I don’t worry, I feel calloused. But here’s the thing, it’s their decisions, their lives. None of it affects me. I need to remember that.

Yup, all those things I had control over, and I let it affect me. But health, that’s one area that can’t usually be controlled. It’s been a rough few months, especially the last couple weeks. But the good things is, when I have less to think about, and less to do, I have the time and energy to take care of me.

Stress happens. Life happens. It always will. Here are a few things you can do to help you through a stressful time:

1. Be prepared by always taking care of yourself. Exercise, pray, meditate, drink water daily, and get plenty of rest.

2. Do something often, just for you. Whatever relaxes you and keeps you calm. Yoga, a walk in the woods, painting, reading.

3. Keep your life simple. A simple schedule. A simple home. A simple wardrobe. Simple cooking and cleaning. With less to care for, stress is easier to handle.

4. Know what’s important, and what’s not. Let go of the things that aren’t.

5. Write about it. Write about every little stress – dirty clothing on the floor, a house that needs cleaning, the illness of a close friend. Pick that one that matters.

Most of all, remember how important you are. Keep stress levels down by taking care of you.

Feel free to share this with others

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Simply Let Go of Too Much Knowledge

I know too many things, like why people get headaches, that infections can be deadly, and brain injuries are more than a bump on the brain. And while I won’t go into details, I know the effects of taking pain medication, and what it can do to your body. I guess it’s the joy of having had many problems.

It’s also the joy of the internet, and a little trauma of a too-curious writer.

Having a recent foot injury, I did a little research. It seems I have an infection, possibly caused by an old fracture. I’m being treated with antibiotics, which is what the internet said would happen. But there’s more to it than that.

The internet went on to tell me that many antibiotics no longer work as well as they used to. Drugs in our society have been so overused that infections are becoming immune. Kind of scary, huh?

I started thinking about this and what it could mean, and I got a little nauseous. What if the infection spread? What if the drugs didn’t work? What would happen then? I read more.

And then I stopped. Maybe I didn’t want to know. They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I can see why. That little bit of knowledge fed my brain, just like the bacteria in my body fed the infection. My imagination went wild, and I pictured all kinds of scenarios.

The internet, with its many facts and figures, can’t tell the whole story. It didn’t know I had a fracture. The doctor discovered that on an x-ray. It also didn’t know I had allergies to medications. I needed a doctor for that. It doesn’t know my health status, or how well I take care of my body. Only another human would know.

It wasn’t only the medical information I received from the doctor that was helpful, it was the reassurance that I would be okay. It was the calm, quiet, comforting help of a human helping another.

There’s nothing on the internet that ever can replace that.

I think I’m done with researching medical issues. It’s too scary. I’m going go of a little dangerous knowledge, and leave it to the experts. It’s simpler that way.

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