Archive for category Alternative Medicine

Invisible Illness Week

Alright, officially Invisible Illness Week was Sept 9-15th, but better late than never, right?

1. The illness I live with is: Rheumatoid Arthritis
2. I was diagnosed with it in the year: 2012
3. But I had symptoms since: probably 2010
4. The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make is: listening to my body and taking it easy when I’m in pain or fatigued.
5. Most people assume: they know what Rheumatoid Arthritis is, but they’re usually thinking of Osteoarthritis.
6. The hardest part about mornings are: I move a little slower than I used to. AND remembering to take my vitamins.
7. My favorite medical TV show is: Scrubs
8. A gadget I couldn’t live without is: Oxo Good Grips kitchen tools and my grip jar opener
9. The hardest part about nights are: when fatigue equals a busy mind and insomnia, not sleep.
10. Each day I take 6 -14 pills & vitamins. (No comments, please)
11. Regarding alternative treatments I: will try anything. Personally, yoga, acupuncture and changing my diet (no gluten, less dairy and sugar, more veggies) help a lot. If I could afford it, I would get massages more often.
12. If I had to choose between an invisible illness or visible I would choose: I’m a private person, so probably invisible.
13. Regarding working and career: I’ve kept my career, but I’ve embraced (and have been blessed with an office that embraces) a flexible schedule. This lets me start my mornings slower or work from home when I need to.
14. People would be surprised to know: how bad my symptoms were before I went to the doctor. I was really good at the “grin and bear it” denial technique.
15. The hardest thing to accept about my new reality has been: that this disease is chronic. When I was diagnosed I thought I would be the exception to the rule and go into remission within the year. This hasn’t been the case.
16. Something I never thought I could do with my illness that I did was: RUN a marathon.
17. The commercials about my illness: feature older people golfing and make me roll my eyes.
18. Something I really miss doing since I was diagnosed is: going out for a night drinking with my friends. This is a double no for me because the drugs I take (methotrexate) are hard on your liver and I try to be kinder to my body these days.
19. It was really hard to have to give up: alcohol (see above) and high heels. I still indulge in both on occasion.
20. A new hobby I have taken up since my diagnosis is: blogging!
21. If I could have one day of feeling normal again I would: go-go-go ALL day long – run, climb, dance, party. I’d wear high heels. I’d stay up all night. I wouldn’t even give a passing thought to “paying for it” the next day or even week.
22. My illness has taught me: I’m stronger than I think and everyone is going through something, so be patient and kind with yourself and others.
23. Want to know a secret? One thing people say that gets under my skin is: “But you’re too young to have arthritis!” If this were true, I wouldn’t have it and hearing this just makes me feel ashamed and misunderstood.
24. But I love it when people: ask me sincere questions and want to know more about RA.
25. My favorite motto, scripture, quote that gets me through tough times is: I have two I come back to: “Never, never, never give up.” – Winston Churchill; and “So it goes.” – Kurt Vonnegut
26. When someone is diagnosed I’d like to tell them: It’s tough, it’s scary, it sucks. It will get better. You will feel better than you do today.
27. Something that has surprised me about living with an illness is: the supportive community of people I’ve met (mainly through online support groups).
28. The nicest thing someone did for me when I wasn’t feeling well was: just let me cry and then ordered me Chinese food in bed and hung out all day, watching funny TV shows.
29. I’m involved with Invisible Illness Week because: I think awareness of invisible illnesses is important to funding research and finding cures.
30. The fact that you read this list makes me feel: honored and vulnerable

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Patience Heals

There’s been times on this blog where I’ve complained or wondered about the efficacy of acupuncture. I wanted to share the very positive experience with acupuncture I had this week.

When I first took a chance on acupuncture, I went to an eastern medicine school close to me. They were VERY affordable, at only $25 for acupuncture or herbal recommendations. The only problem was, it was never relaxing.

The students weren’t always sure of themselves and the teachers who answered their questions were teaching more than treating me like a human patient.

And then after they stuck me with needles, they would leave and I could overhear them chatting with fellow students in the hallway. It was not relaxing at all and, being new to acupuncture, I would have panic attacks when they left me in the room.

I gave this clinic about four chances and then pretty much swore off acupuncture. Then my friends started recommending an acquaintance of mine who had just started her own practice. They weren’t just recommending, they were raving.

So despite the hour drive and much higher cost, I decided to go see her. I bought a five session package to save money. So there I was, committing once again to something I’d tried and given up on. I’m so glad I did.

Off the bat, the experience was more caring and relaxing. She took time to go over every bit of my history, from medical to personal, in a very human (read: not just doctor to patient, mhmm, mhmm) kind of way. I found that leaving her sessions would at the very least put me in a better mood. I couldn’t say with certainty that it was helping my RA though.

And then, last week, something very miraculous happened. It had been about three weeks since my last session with her, and I’d been struggling with joint pain and all over aches and fatigue pretty consistently for about a month. I was bordering devastation because I had been feeling so good before and during my March trip to Spain.

Not to mention, I had consulted with a doctor in March who had given me the go-ahead to get off methotrexate since I was doing so well. My constant pain that seemed to getting worse and worse was making me really nervous about getting off MTX, so I haven’t done it yet.

So last week I go to her and tell her the positives – my digestion’s been great, my wrist is no longer shooting nerve pain up my hand – and the negatives – I’m stressed and freaked out, achy all over with pain points in my joints, and struggling with fatigue.

We chatted and she stuck me with needles and let me relax (yes, actually relax) for about thirty minutes. By the time she took the needles out  and I left her office, I felt like a new woman. I wasn’t in pain.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve had mild pain in specific joints – my left wrist, my right foot. But that is more par for the course and hasn’t stopped me from signing on for training for a sprint triathlon or running a 15k benefit run for Boston yesterday. The mysterious, horrible, unrelenting all over achiness has lifted.

I don’t know if it was actually being able to relax, or venting my problems, or the needles, but I’m so happy I could kiss her. 🙂 I settled for sending her this card:

I have now decided to buy 10 more acupuncture sessions with her. I hope each one is as magnificent.

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Eww…Wow.

It’s gross, but, then again, so are autoimmune diseases…

BBC – Future – Health – Worm therapy: Why parasites may be good for you
http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20130422-feeling-ill-swallow-a-parasite/4

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The Last Best Cure

I just finished The Last Best Cure by Donna Jackson Nakazawa, author of The Autoimmune Epidemic.

A sufferer from autoimmune diseases herself, in this book she takes a year long journey into the world of alternative medicine. Her quest is to find joy and see if she can improve her health even more than her drug therapy has accomplished.

I was a little wary of this book because it screamed self-help esoteric hippies, but I was such a fan of her previous book, I thought I’d give it a try.

This book really resonated with me. It isn’t over the top, she’s as skeptical as I was at the start of her journey. And since she’s a science writer, there’s an emphasis on how these alternative therapies may be working. This is a good read for anyone feeling like they’re at the end of their rope with Western medicine, or just curious about how yoga, talk therapy, acupuncture, acupressure and tai chi could help them.

The start of her quest leads her to therapy to discuss childhood trauma (ACEs). She, like me, is pretty skeptical. She’s a grown woman who doesn’t resent her childhood and, though she may have had some trauma (father’s death, distant mother), she knows other kids had it way worse. But there actually is some science behind journeying back into your past. A study showed that every trauma (ACE score) you have before age 18 increases a woman’s likeliness of being ill or hospitalized with an autoimmune disease by 20%. That’s huge. It basically works like this, as a kid, you develop responses to stressful and traumatic situations that serve you in the moment. As you move into adulthood, you carry those learned stress responses with you, but they may not be the healthiest coping mechanisms and may not be serving you anymore. Luckily, according to recent science, the plasticity of our brain allows us to re-train our stress responses.

As Donna sets out to re-train her stress responses and find joy, she tries out various forms of meditation, yoga, acupuncture and moving qi. Each of these were well worth the read. In fact, the book may have finally pushed me to try out meditation. (I’ll let you know how it goes…)

In a nutshell:

But something else happens as we look through that quiet window into our own experience. “When we put down the mantle of stress that we carry every moment, we become keen observers of what those stresses are,” Janet says. “I watch, over time, as the women I treat finally start to see the blocks and behaviors that have been holding them back. The grief they can’t let go of, the patterns they’ve been repeating that are keeping them stuck.” … “Becoming that calmer, wiser observer unleashes something in them – their own healing qi. Their back pain gets better, their fatigue lifts, their hormonal imbalances balance out. Their physical symptoms subside. And at the same time, they feel a new energy – that allows them to become who they are meant to be.”

Check out more here: http://donnajacksonnakazawa.com/last-best-cure/

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When To Get a Second Opinion

Wise words from Thomas Edison. You can get this poster @ behappy.me

I’ve been a bit concerned about the relationship between Interstitial Lung Disease and Methotrexate over the last couple weeks (yet trying not to worry, because worrying leads to flares which leads to more of a chance of RA complications…ha! FML!).

I will still talk to my primary rheumatologist about this on Tuesday, but in the meantime, I’ve decided to seek a second opinion. This wasn’t as easy a choice as it may sound. It felt like I was choosing to cheat on my rheumatologist and giving up on my treatment plan. As I told my friend, my relationship with my rheumatologist is something I want to be sensitive too – he might be in my life for many years to come!

I started by going to my allergist, who also happens to be a respected immunology expert. Up until 2008, I was seeing him once a year for checkups on my recovery from Interstitial Lung Disease. In many ways, he knows my medical history better than I do.

He told me that there is indeed a link between Methotrexate and ILD, and recommended I get a second opinion at a research hospital that specializes in lung disease. They also happen to have rheumatologists who specialize in both ILD and autoimmune diseases. Cool.

Turns out these docs are also in more demand than my current rheumy. I need a referral to even have a chance of seeing one. This left me with the choice of getting that referral from my rheumatologist or from my primary doctor (who I haven’t seen in years because I have another OB/GYN). I chose my primary doc so as not to shake the boat on my relationship with my rheumy. This choice, of course, requires yet another doctor’s appointment (yippee! – where is that sarcasm font when you need it?).

A couple other things of interest came up at my appointment as well.

My doctor said that, given my medical history, he doesn’t think it is likely that I have gluten or dairy allergies or sensitivities. He recommended just eating healthfully and focusing on eating for my marathon training.

I don’t think this means that I will run out and eat gluten again (I’ve already eased up a bit on the dairy), but maybe I’ll think about being more flexible. I also still believe that eating to lower inflammation in my body is a very positive thing I can do to help control my symptoms. My doc is very science-based (as he should be), so until a trustworthy study comes out showing how diet can ease/cure/whatever RA, I think he will be giving this advice.

I ate lunch with my family yesterday and mentioned this, as well as the idea that perhaps GMOs, pesticides and all the other industrial crap that’s made its way into our food supply was more responsible for the rise in gluten intolerance and autoimmune diseases than gluten itself. My brother-in-law and sister’s reaction made me feel like a social pariah. I plan on doing more research on this and posting it here, but I’m certainly not the first person to state this theory, so I don’t believe it’s totally off target… Does anyone have thoughts on this? Or good articles I can forward to my sister??

My doctor provided me with a list of websites that he likes to use for research because they are entirely science-based:

I hope this list helps everyone as you do your own research and become your own advocate for your health.

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Crazy Sexy Advice

The lovely Kris Carr

I happened upon Kris Carr’s blog through a recipe. I loved her recipes and her attitude, so I decided to check out her book, Crazy Sexy Cancer Survivor (apparently there’s a documentary too, which I haven’t watched yet).

I felt a little dramatic reading it because everything she was saying really hit home for me. I have Rheumatoid Arthritis, not cancer. I’m not going to die of RA. My life’s not at stake. But many days, it feels exactly that way. I have the least sexy form of cancer possible. The kind that doesn’t get a book or sympathy. It’s an invisible disease with a name that diminishes its magnitude on sufferers’ lives. A disease that eats you from the inside out and can take everything away from you if you let it. Your joints, your freedom, your hope. So, in that way, I identified with Kris. As I was reading her book, I replaced the word “cancer” with disease, and it became a book about the power of survival.

One of the most important things I got from the book, which I totally wasn’t ready for, was the concept of healing versus curing. She writes that many of the healthiest people she knows are living with disease. This really hit home because I think I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been in my life, minus the RA. I watch what I eat, I workout, I don’t drink, I try not to sweat the small stuff, and I take care of myself. She talks about how people always say they want to be “cured” and get their lives back, but with healing, you can’t go back to that life. You will change your life after a diagnosis. Hopefully many of those changes will be for the better.

She writes about how important it can be to re-align your expectations of a cure and to be OK with healing over clinical remission. All you have to do is look at my “About Me” page to know that this is NOT my current approach. I want to kick this thing in the butt! I want it to be out of my life completely! But it made me think, could I be OK with healing to the point of this disease being manageable with minimal drugs? It’s sure not as much fun as not having it at all, but it is worth a thought. Sometimes the goals of “cure” and “remission” can just be added stressors because they may not be in the cards and they certainly may not be in your control. What is in your control is an attitude of healing. Constantly improving, learning, living, hoping. Not giving up. And maybe that’s enough.

I recommend you give it a read or browse through her blog. There are powerful nuggets there on changing your attitude, diet and lifestyle to promote healing. Here are my favorite quotes:

“During the time of darkest night, act as if the morning has already come.”
-The Talmud

Kris Carr quotables:

  • On making intimidating life/diet changes & just living:
    “You don’t have to be good at what you choose. In fact, go ahead and embrace rotten. You already have cancer (RA, a disease), why would bongos intimidate you?”
  • “Success is six degrees of separation.”
    (i.e. take small steps on big goals)
  • “The secret to happiness is the decision to be happy.”

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The Science Behind Acupuncture

The Science Behind Acupuncture

I’m sure we’ve all been told to get acupuncture for some sort of ailment, but should you expect results? This article looks at studies of acupuncture’s affect on fighting pain in osteoarthritis, and other chronic pains. It then looks at whether those results translate to rheumatic diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis. Like all thing rheumatic, the answers are a bit ambiguous…

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