Thursday, May 26, 2011

For Anyone Who Has A Chronic Disease

If you have a chronic illness, take out your calendar. Look at your schedule and figure out where you are spending your time. Are you spending it doing things you love? Are you spending your time with others? Are you doing things to nurture your soul?

On Wednesday May 18th, 2012 approximately twenty multiple sclerosis patients met at Tacoma’s Multicare Medical Center to talk about MS. However, MS was not what we primarily talked about, and that is the way it ought to be. If you have MS or any other chronic illness, you are not your disease. You are yourself. Some of us were newly diagnosed and some have had the illness for twenty or more years. Such is the case with one of the two speakers, former professional bicyclist Maureen Manley.

Manley is a physically fit healthy looking woman who breaks all stereotypes about chronic illness. Most MS patients do break those stereotypes. One first envisions wheelchairs when MS is mentioned. We did collectively laugh at the constant comments from others who say, “But you don’t look sick!” Manley suggested we answer that question quickly by simply saying “thank you.” Most of us have the experience of trying to get others to understand that we are indeed sick, but it wastes our time and energy and that is something we need to savor for the more important aspects of our lives. Besides, no one with a chronic illness is that illness.

Human beings are holistic and encompass at least four behavioral areas: spiritual; biological; psychological and social. When a person becomes ill, and many people are ill a long time before they might even know they are ill, everything changes. However, even in illness, one must stop and ask the question “What did I do before I knew I became ill and what can I do now that I am ill?” Maybe, like Maureen, you raced competitively. Perhaps you loved to go hiking. Maybe, like me, you enjoyed playing tennis and running and aerobics and have even tried dragon boating. Depending on the level of ability, those things do not have to be discarded. The National Parks are indeed much more accessible than ever. Perhaps you can no longer take that ten mile hike, but you can take your scooter up to the mountain and ride it along the pathways.

I can no longer do a three hour long aerobic workout, but I can do sixty minutes of pilates. Depending on the day, I can walk a half mile a mile or even several miles. In 1998 I thought this would be impossible. I could not walk further than half a block. Determination did not stop me. I called myself a “lawn splasher” because I would force myself outside to walk and just fall over onto neighbor’s lawns. I would rest until I could get back up and start walking again. You get the point. Do what you can. Studies show the single most effective way to battle any chronic illness is exercise.

An interesting aspect of wellness comes from the study of the mind-body connection or psychoneuroimmunology. Stress has been shown to change hormone levels of cortisol, epinephrine and norenpinephrine in the brain which are all linked to depression. Fear, resentment and sorrow have been clinically proven to raise stress hormones. When these levels remain elevated, insulin output increases and leads to the release of inflammatory hormones knows as cytokines and leukotrienes. The result is inflammation at a cellular level which leads to all sort of disease like cancer, according to Dr. Christiane Northrup.

Our beliefs about health and healing have a tremendous impact on our well being. What messages do you tell yourself about your health? If you think you are sick all the time, then you become what you think. Perhaps a shift in thinking could be, “Right now I do not feel well” rather than telling your brain you are sick.

Have you ever known someone who has a story? If you have ever worked with the elderly as I have, you know people have a story. A story happens as follows: there is an event, a belief about the event, thoughts about the event, a story, and then an outcome.

This cyclical process of a story becomes “The Anatomy of a Story.” I remember seeing an English film some years ago called “Cold Comfort Farm.” In this film, an elderly woman keeps repeating the same line. “I saw something nasty in the woodshed!” she declares upon every encounter. Finally she is challenged by an out of town relative who says back to her, “I don’t care!” This interrupted her story and she subsequently came out of the room she’d locked herself in for years.

It’s true that you have an illness. Perhaps you really do want validation that you have an illness. The problem is the only people who will give you that validation are those closest to you or yourself. Everyone else, particularly with a disease that is so often a hidden disease like MS, is going to discount you. The validation you seek will actually be retribution. Worse, people will simply judge you or start telling you stories about someone they know who died of the illness you have.

Even worse, people might try to exploit you offering all kinds of strange treatments that cost a lot of money and ultimately lead you back to needing validation. I have been approached by at least a dozen people selling “cures” for MS but mainly they want me to sell some pyramid scheme vitamin or other product. Others have attempted to exploit me with strange unproven cures. The truth is, if someone had the cure, it would be announced and loudly. Give up on getting validation. You know you don’t feel well, but take responsibility for your health and grieve it. Then move forward. I know that makes it sound much simpler than it is, but it really comes down to personal choice.

It sounds preachy, but be grateful for what you have. Start a gratitude journal. Write down three things every day you are grateful for. They don’t have to be huge like listing your kids or husband or wife or dog. It can be something simple like feeling warm or not being hungry or seeing your plants grow in the garden. On those days when even walking or using your scooter or wheelchair to get into a store seems overwhelming, stop, breathe and think of something you are grateful for. Breathe deeply and think of something. “I am grateful I only have ten things on my shopping list instead of twenty, because twenty would be ten more than I have right now!”

Finally, exercise, exercise, exercise. I am not suggesting anyone go out and run a marathon. Everyone has his or her own level of ability. Perhaps you can only move a bit from a chair. Science has proven the brain has plasticity. With every new movement, the brain actually rewires itself. Imagine yourself driving on the freeway and finding out there is a huge backup ahead of you. As a driver, you take an exit. Your brain does the same thing. Studies have shown that the progression of MS may have more to do with deconditioning and the loss of neuronetworking than the actual process of the disease. This is not true of all patients. Some MS patients get hit hard. However, as with any chronic illness, exercise has been proven to wash the brain and immune system with incredible healing elements.

Lastly, ask yourself who you are. I bet the answer is not MS or cancer or bipolar disease or thyroid or graves or fibromyalgia or anything like it. I bet you are a sister, a mom, a wife, a friend, a person who writes, sews, sings, reads, laughs or gardens. People in this culture usually define themselves by their paid work. If people ask you what you do, answer that question proudly. If you are not working, say you are a mother and say it proudly. If you have a hobby and that is you, say it proudly. Don’t ever let someone steal your dignity by defining you by what you are not. Do not be ashamed of who you are. Stand up straight and speak with confidence. I have been diagnosed with MS since 1998. I have had symptoms since 1979. I am not a disease. My name is Alison. I am a writer, a cook, and an activist for the disabled. –Alison Whiteman

Trump, Schwarzenegger, and Strauss-Kahn: Zero Tolerance

Zero Tolerance: Trump, Schwarzenegger, and Strauss-Kahn

(I am printing a copy of an article by Jim Wallis, writer for Sojourner's Magazine about the recent behavior of men towards women in the media lately. It is not a man bashing article, but a call to decency and the redirection of our moral compass. His writing starts below:)
It's a constant storyline in the media involving powerful men in politics, sports, business, and even religion: Men behave with utter disregard for the dignity and humanity of women -- using and abusing them at will, and somehow believing that they are entitled to do so. These men seem to think that the ordinary rules of decent behavior do not apply to them. We have a never-ending cavalcade of disgusting stories about men cheating on their wives and mothers of their children; abandoning old wives for new ones; serial philandering as a way of life; sexually harassing and assaulting women; and even committing rape. But when all is said and done, the perpetrators are still playing basketball, football, and golf; they are still running for political office, and are still at the helm of the institutions of the economy, and even the church.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Donald Trump, and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the (now former) chief of the International Monetary Fund, have all been in the media lately for sins and crimes past, present, and accused. The stories have now come out about a long-time affair Schwarzenegger had with a member of his house staff, Strauss-Kahn’s alleged assault against a hotel maid, and Donald Trump’s long and blatant history of sexism.

As the secret stories are revealed, there is great interest and perverse excitement in the media. The pain and suffering from the women involved, and the invisible hurt of the children, are brushed aside. Instead, the women are subtly, and sometimes directly, blamed. And sometimes, in all-male circles, there is a wink and a nod, and, most disgustingly, even a little envy of the powerful men who get to break all the rules when it comes to women. The primary outcry is from other women who, in the name of equality and dignity, lament this continual pattern of abuse.

What has been missing from this too-often repeated narrative is the condemnation of these behaviors and attitudes from other men -- especially men who are in positions of power, authority, and influence. While the primary blame lies with the perpetrators, we should look next at the good men who say nothing. It’s time for good men to hold accountable those who abuse women. Those who abuse, assault, and rape are not real men. They distort and destroy any sense of healthy manhood. It’s time to tell our sons that they must never act like these abusers and perpetrators, and to make sure to raise our own sons to love, respect, and be faithful to women.

While Schwarzenegger and Strauss-Kahn have provided ugly caricatures of the moral corruption of men in power, Donald Trump sums it up well. For example, the “Trump Rule,” according to a book by a Miss USA pageant winner, required that all contestants parade in front of Trump, the co-owner of the pageant, so that he could separate out those he found attractive. Trump once said this about his own daughter, Ivanka: “She does have a very nice figure … if [she] weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.” And to show how oblivious to criticism he really is, Trump told Esquire in 1991, “You know, it doesn’t really matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of [expletive].”

The best use I know of for men who treat women this way are as anti-role models for my two sons. They exemplify what I hope my boys will never become. So here is my little contribution to condemning men who need to be condemned for not behaving. When T.V. shows with these unrepentant men come on, we will change the channel. When movies come out with them on the big screen, we will stay home. When sports games are played with them as stars, we won’t be buying tickets. When another media story erupts because of more bad behavior, my boys will be told that men who abuse women are not real men. They might still have money and power, but their abuse of women diminishes their humanity.

Women are already speaking out, and now it’s time for other men to also say that this bad behavior is no longer acceptable. Other men must condemn these men, not only as immoral and sometimes criminal, but also as the worst examples of what and who we are supposed to be. These men have given their humanity over to their animal impulses. We should publicly point out their bad and unacceptable behavior, and punish their acts as an example to others. We need to establish a new principle: that the abuse of women by men will no longer be tolerated. And the voices of men need to be louder to make that perfectly clear.

Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Desiderata--Words written in 1920 that are very moving in 2011

Desiderata - by max ehrmann

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass.

Take kindly to the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann c.1920