Using Meditation Strategies to Help Cope with Life While Experiencing Chronic Illness

Using Meditation Strategies to Help Cope with Life While Experiencing Chronic Illness

You’ve probably heard about the health benefits of yoga in improving mental and physical health, and in improving flexibility. Due to the shared benefits, the words ‘yoga’ and ‘meditation’ are often thought of as synonyms. Although meditation can be incorporated into yoga, they are different practices. While I was skeptical of meditation at first, it has indeed helped me to manage my stress and life while living with Multiple Sclerosis, chronic pain, and fatigue.

How Meditation Works

Meditation involves clearing your mind while maintaining a state of awareness. Or at least trying to! It is much more than sitting and concentrating in a quiet area for a designated amount of time; it involves calming your mind of all thoughts, achieving a deep inward peace, and maintaining attention and alertness in the process.

Have I gotten to the complete deep inward peace thing? Nope, not yet. But I have found that meditation is an excellent way to relax, to calm my anxious mind, and to take the focus off of my pain.

People often use certain postures, breathing techniques, and even chants to help facilitate the process of meditating, but these are not required. They are not the act of meditation itself, just the support tools. Personally, I like to meditate in my favorite recliner or in my bed because it’s most comfortable for me.

Meditation with Chronic Illness

Stress as a Spoonie is Extra Hard On Your Body

Meditation makes the body less responsive to stress hormones, which lowers blood pressure, improves blood circulation, improves digestion and immunity, and establishes emotional and neurological “balance.” 

How does this work exactly? 

According to what I’ve learned, it mostly comes down to hormones. Stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin increase blood pressure and heart rate, while “feel good” chemicals, such as serotonin, (which are released in a state of relaxation), work to repair cells.

Tips on Getting Started with Meditation

As a beginner, taking a meditation class, watching a video, or using an app that introduces you to the concept of meditation is the easiest way to get started. A guided meditation teaches you various techniques for facilitating the process. It is not as easy as I thought it would be, but I’m glad to have another calming tool in my toolbox.

Using apps to aid meditation to help cope with chronic illness

You may be able to find a class in your community that is specifically dedicated to meditation, but for me, it’s been easier to learn through online tools. Some meditation videos/audios can be found for free online. Try searching YouTube, or downloading an app. If you prefer a mix of yoga and meditation, the best types of yoga to focus on include Kundalini, Ananda, Jivamukti, and Integral.

Research shows that just 20 minutes of consistent meditation sessions can have tremendous health benefits. When my therapist suggested I try it, I was skeptical. There was no way I could do it for twenty full minutes! So I started with just five minutes at a time. Meditating before you go to bed can help you to fall asleep too. Personally, falling asleep is a struggle, and I have noticed that I fall asleep much faster if I meditate in bed.

Try getting outside! Many people find that sitting in nature – I just sit on my back porch – helps them to facilitate the process of meditation. It’s also a great way to get outside and absorb some Vitamin D.

Try meditation out side to help cope with chronic illness

Of course, everyone is different. To get started, experiment with different ways of meditating to see what work for you and what helps you the most. Also, try meditating at different times of the day and for different periods of time to find what works. It’s okay if you cannot calm your mind completely, (I rarely can!), you can still get many benefits from making the effort. Remember, you and your health are worth that effort!

Jenna Green is the creator Full of Grit & Grace, a blog and community for people who cannot work a traditional 9-5 job. She’s an outspoken spoonie with Multiple Sclerosis, Dystonia, Degenerative Disc disease, chronic pain, and a whole lot of grit. She strives to help others (and herself) to learn to give themselves grace while going through tough times. She’s a dog mom, auntie extradonaire, fashion lover, and (mostly) optimist.

Long QT Syndrome Isn’t QT (Cute)

Long QT Syndrome is not QT (Cute)

Long QT Syndrome is a rare heart condition in which the heart takes longer than normal to repolarize (recharge) after a heartbeat. This can lead to palpitations and/or potentially dangerous arrhythmias, leading to blackouts/fainting, seizures and death. Long QT Syndrome is one of the leading causes of sudden cardiac death in otherwise young, healthy people.

Elastic Heart

I was seventeen years old when I started to experience disturbances with my heart rhythm. My heart rate would ping from one extreme to the other, shooting up at inconvenient times, or it would slow down to the point that I had to sit and wait at the top of the stairs while I waited to feel less faint.

Long QT Syndrome is not QT (Cute)

Author wearing heart monitor

Thanks (but no thanks) to the frequency of these episodes, it was pretty easy for my doctors to prescribe me Propranolol to control my heart rhythm, although at this point I was not yet diagnosed with Long QT Syndrome. ECG monitoring pointed to episodes of supraventricular tachycardia (SVT for short – a faster than normal heart rate) and bradycardia (resting HR below 60bpm in adults) which was briefly controlled by the medication. Off I went to drama school with my medication, a high dose but it was working.

Eventually, the symptoms started to come back, and then they got worse. At one point my chest pain was so bad and continued for a few days so my best friend and I got the Tube to the A&E department, where we spent seven hours (she hates hospitals) and they didn’t find anything new, just the standard extra electrical activity from my SVT. Another time I simply passed out while walking down the stairs and suddenly I was on the floor with a huge gash in my ankle. We started to lower the dose of the Propranolol, and eventually, the cardiologist decided that there was nothing we could do for now as medical treatment was unsafe, but it wasn’t bad enough to warrant any other treatment.

My heart will go on (and on…)

I continued for a few years just living with a random heartbeat. It was annoying, but I got used to it. Most of my A&E visits were not cardiac related, as around the same time the rest of my health conditions started to get worse. I had ECGs (electrocardiogram – tracing of the electrical activity of the heart) consistently enough to be fine with GP input.

Around the age of 23, my SVT really started to play up again and I had a few A&E trips. One time a nurse somehow managed to get the cannula straight through my vein, which he only noticed when I pointed out that my blood was dripping onto my coat and that I was about to pass out. At the time I had a housemate who would give up her time to come and sit with me and escort me to the toilet (not her favorite part of the experience) and buy snacks for when I was finally allowed to eat again. Every time, it was the same thing – it’s your SVT, it’s good you came, if it gets worse come back again.

Long QT Syndrome is not QT (Cute)

So we continued this game. In the summer of 2018, I moved into my own apartment, which was great. My best friend and my mom helped me paint it. A couple of weeks later I experienced some horrible chest pains that were making me almost constantly dizzy, so after a couple of days, I called 111 who sent me an ambulance although by now it wasn’t quite so bad. I wasn’t having a heart attack or anything life-threatening, so they said I don’t have to go to the hospital, but they asked me “did you know you have a prolonged QT?” – I did not. I didn’t even know what that really meant. They advised me to see my GP urgently, but call the ambulance if it got worse again. I saw my GP the next day, who gave me similar advice – I was due to see a new cardiologist in January.

Continuing Problems

A month later, I woke up just after midnight with the worst chest pain I had ever experienced. I honestly thought I was about to die. I literally reached for my phone and was ready to text my family group chat that I love them, my colleague that I wasn’t coming into work because I was dying, and call myself an ambulance. I was too dizzy so I sat up for a few minutes trying to breathe, grasping at my chest in tears. For whatever reason, I decided to put a halt on my plans. In retrospect, calling the ambulance would have been the correct thing to do so they could see exactly what was happening. I did text my mom, just to say that I had really bad chest pains and that I was going to see how things go.

Blood Pressure testing equipment for Long QT Syndrome

After about an hour, in which the pain didn’t subside but I did feel calmer, I got up and slowly walked around my apartment to see if the movement would help. I had a glass of warm milk, and did my basic obs (yes, I have a blood pressure/HR machine by my bed) and decided I was too tired to deal with the hospital. I was too scared, too wired, and too chest pain-y to sleep. My breathing wasn’t the best but manageable. I decided it was safe to close my eyes around 5am, and after two hours of sleep I got up and went to work, where I felt okay at my desk but during a meeting kept fading in and out with a spectacularly low HR. 28bpm is not normal for me when awake, even if the meeting is boring.

I drove home and after a few hours I decided to call 111 for advice, and once more they sent me an ambulance. I sat in my recliner while they looked at my medical file (I have a physical copy at home), put electrodes on me and petted my cat Lily who watched the three paramedics suspiciously. They decided to take me to the hospital, and I’m proud to say that was only my second time in an ambulance. Not my planned Friday night, but oh well. The A&E nurse did an excellent cannulation.

Diagnosis

After all my tests were done, an on-call cardiologist came to see me. She ordered some medication for the pain and a chest x-ray, just in case. Eventually, she came back and that’s when I got diagnosed with Long QT Syndrome. She told me that I really ought to be coming in as soon as I feel these chest pains and extreme changes to my HR, which is fair enough. This is important advice for anyone even without a heart condition – it is far better to be safe than sorry in these cases.

I saw my GP, who gave me similar advice and to avoid stress and strenuous exercise. My old NHS trust moved my cardiology appointment to February which was inconvenient but I felt like I knew enough to not worry too much about this. A lot happened with my other health conditions at this time but eventually, it was time for my cardiology appointment. Guess what? Because it was a different NHS trust that I’d left when I moved, they had nothing about my new diagnosis. But the cardiologist did laugh out loud at how quickly my HR changed. Thanks, I find it funny too.

I finally saw my new cardiologist this April 2019 (I didn’t want to see the other one again) and he seemed pleased with the management of my heart conditions, apart from one thing.

“I don’t want you swimming,” he said seriously when I described what kind of activities I do with work. “Don’t do it. You can go in shallow water if you are accompanied. But don’t swim.”

Well… I like swimming. Even with a bad shoulder, a useless ankle and crappy legs, I can swim well. I enjoy going swimming at work (I teach at a SEN college) and I love being in the water. Sure, the ocean freaks me out, but I love swimming in it on holiday. Weirdly, this is probably my least favorite thing about my heart condition. I understand why (if my heart stops in the water, I drown, if I have palpitations in water, there’s too high of a risk I can’t get myself out) but I just want to swim. Shallow water is boring. Swimming is the one thing that despite the restrictions my health puts on me, I could actually manage doing and felt worth the extra pain and fatigue.

Nothing Breaks Like a Heart

Aside from no swimming, and not doing strenuous exercise, Long QT Syndrome can be strange to manage. After doing my research and seeing that sudden loud noises can trigger it, I realised that many of my night episodes were probably because of my phone vibrating on my bedside table – not particularly loud, but in the silence, it does make me jump. I’ve had the vibrate function switched off for about five months now and the night episodes have decreased. Weird adjustment, but it works for me.

There is a lot of monitoring involved, as there always has been since I was seventeen. I hate the goo of the electrodes, and I hate when you walk into the ECG room and its cold and you have to take off your bra. I hate the ambulatory ECGs (worn for 24 hours or a week) because they’re itchy and you can’t take a bath (at the moment I can only take baths, as showers make me really dizzy). I don’t mind echo’s (echocardiogram – an ultrasound of your heart) because I find it cool that I can hear the whoosh-whoosh of my heart. I’m used to the blood tests, which my mom usually does for me (she’s a nurse) so these don’t bother me in the slightest.

A big struggle has been medical management. I have a whole load of other conditions which require medication, so I had to have a long review to decide what was worth the risk and what was not. The problem with Long QT Syndrome is that anything or nothing at all can set it off, so medications that interact with the electrical activity of the heart might just be the thing that top it off. On the other hand, without some medication, I don’t function properly, which is also a risk.

Although this all can sound scary, it’s not. Possibly because I got used to the diagnosis and the warnings a long time ago. The people at my work are incredible and there is an Occupational Health nurse who makes sure that I am supported at work, and my colleagues have adjusted to my humor about my unfortunate health. My friends likewise make sure we can do things together (so if I can’t go swimming, I can join them later for tea) and laugh at my jokes. I think that’s an important part of any illness, disability or condition – having people, whether that is your family, friends, or colleagues – who keep you included and feeling like yourself.

Long QT Syndrome really isn’t the best. While I can rock an ambulatory ECG monitor with a Calvin Klein crop top, the reality is not so pretty. Fortunately, I have a wonderful support network, some great doctors and the wonderful NHS 111 service at hand.

About The Author

Vai is Lithuanian who has lived in England since the age of 2. She has a love of theatre and performance (she danced semi-professionally in her teens) and has a degree in Drama. She discovered her passion is in teaching SEN college students and supporting young people with disabilities. Vai has been diagnosed with several different chronic conditions and thinks it’s important to share her experiences of living with chronic illnesses to support others going through the same thing.

How to Prepare For A Hurricane When You Have A Chronic Illness

Emergency Equipment and Checklist

In recent years, the U.S. has experienced some of the most intense hurricanes on record. Oftentimes, people are forced to evacuate from their homes, usually on short notice. For someone living with a chronic illness, having an Emergency Plan in place can be a real lifesaver!

How to Prepare For A Hurricane When You Have A Chronic Illness

The Threat

Hurricanes form over warm ocean waters and make their way towards land. They carry with them many potential threats to property and life, including heavy rainfall, powerful winds, storm surges, flooding, rip currents and landslides. Hurricanes can happen on any area along the coast and can have an impact up to 100 miles inland. If you live in an area at risk, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages you to prepare for hurricane season, which typically runs from the beginning of June to the end of November.

When a hurricane hits, it can disrupt our lives in many ways. Evacuation is sometimes necessary, which takes us out of our homes and limits our access to things we need. The after-effects of hurricanes, like flooding and property damage, can restrict our access to supplies like food and water. For those with a chronic illness whose health is already compromised, these disturbances can be severe. 

If you or a loved one suffers from a chronic illness, you are more vulnerable to the stress and disruptions of hurricanes than healthy people. While being prepared for hurricane season is important for everyone, it’s especially crucial for you or your loved one. When regular treatment plans are compromised, it can cause complications that result in a quality of life reduction, impaired livelihoods and even death. Here are some tips on how to stay prepared for hurricane season while managing a chronic illness. 

Prepare For An Emergency

Start by signing up for local alerts and warning systems in your area so you can always be aware of potential hurricane threats. If there is a hurricane in the forecast, monitor your local news and weather to stay up-to-date on what is happening.  Gather important documents like proof of insurance, legal documents and records and medical information about you and your chronic illness that may be needed in a medical emergency. 

Emergency Plan

Create a plan with your family about how you will leave and where you will go in case of an evacuation. This plan should include emergency communication plans, evacuation routes, choosing a place to stay and packing a “go bag.”

Create a plan with your family about how you will leave and where you will go in case of an evacuation

People with chronic illnesses need to take the emergency plan a step further by considering how you will manage your condition during hurricane conditions or an evacuation. Talk to your family, friends and those in your support network about your emergency plan and how they can help you in the event of a hurricane. It’s always a good idea to have emergency supplies like a week’s worth of food, water, batteries and first aid gear on hand in case access to these things are restricted. You also need to make sure you have adequate supplies of medication and treatment if you are managing a chronic illness. 

  • Make sure you have at least seven days’ worth of medication on hand, including any vitamin or enzyme supplements you take as part of your treatment plan.
  • Put your medicine in a waterproof container or zippered storage bag.
  • If you need to evacuate, remember to pack any medical equipment you will need.
  • Consider purchasing battery-operated or car-charged medical equipment that is easily portable.
  • If you are on oxygen, make sure you have portable tanks that are full, and consider keeping an extra oxygen tank during hurricane season.
  • Have an identification card with your name, address, medical information (including medication and dosage), physicians’ contact information and emergency contact information.
It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about emergency medical plans and ask them specific questions about your care and what do to if a hurricane strikes.

It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about emergency medical plans and ask them specific questions about your care and what do to if a hurricane strikes. They will help you determine an alternative way to access regular treatments if your clinic or health professional becomes unavailable. Sometimes a family member can be trained to administer treatments and medication during an emergency. More complicated treatments may be done at a neighboring hospital but may have to be delayed due to flooding, road damage or other transportation barriers. 

If you have mobility issues, always notify disaster response teams and local authorities. Make sure to give them specific information about your condition so that they can contact you about evacuation assistance or rescue procedures. If they know about your unique needs, they can be better prepared to help you in case of an emergency. 

Maintaining A Healthy Lifestyle

For many people with a chronic illness, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a large part of their treatment plan. Consider any food restrictions or special diets when preparing an emergency supply kit. Sometimes canned food can be high in sodium, so if you have heart issues or kidney problems, think about alternatives.  

Stress can take a significant toll on the body, so try to keep up with healthy eating and physical activity after a disaster. Consider learning some deep breathing exercises or meditation to help deal with the stress. Talk to your friends and family about how you are feeling, what you need and how they can help you maintain a healthy lifestyle during a difficult time. 

In the event of a hurricane, remember not to panic. Stay calm and simply carry out your emergency plans. Keep your energy focused on the solution, rather than the problem. Preparation is the best thing you can do to get ready for an emergency. Always seek support from your family and friends when making a disaster plan.

About The Author:

Brenda Kimble is a writer and caregiver based in Austin, TX. In her spare time, she enjoys blogging to support local causes and connecting with others in her field. Outside of her work, Brenda loves doing yoga, completing new DIY projects around her home, as well as spending time with her husband and three children. 

Pancreatic Cancer The Quick Killer

Subject of story in formal portrait taken outdoors with family

Pancreatic cancer is one of the fastest growing cancers in North America. According to the American Cancer Society, around 3 percent of all cancers in the United States are pancreatic cancers. In 2018, they expected around 55,440 people to receive a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the fastest growing cancers in North America. According to the American Cancer Society, around 3 percent of all cancers in the United States are pancreatic cancers. In 2018, they expected around 55,440 people to receive a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

Fast Friends

Nobody thinks about Pancreatic Cancer when they meet someone new. The memory of the first time we met Sweet Lou is as clear as yesterday. There was no way to know then that he would be taken away so quickly. Like so many things in life what seemed like a negative situation turned into something positive. We met some of the best humans we have ever known when a landlord defrauded us. Lou was one of those people.

Determined this landlord situation was certainly a sign that the recent relocation to Colorado was doomed from the beginning caused much tension in my marriage. Desperation set in to move back to Georgia where the support of parents and siblings would be certain.  Plus I was surprised my husband decided to share this personal information with people we had just met – that caught me off guard. But, when I stared into the friendly faces of our new neighbors that night I told the truth. Raising kids is hard without family around. Sweet Lou said, “We’ll be your family.”

As you may have guessed this story does not have an entirely happy ending. As I write this now Lou has been gone almost a year.

The Job of the Pancreas

 The pancreas is a spongy, elongated pear-shaped gland organ. It is located in the abdomen and helps your body digest food and regulate insulin
Photo Credit : My Fit Station

The pancreas is a spongy, elongated pear-shaped gland organ. It is located in the abdomen and helps your body digest food and regulate insulin. The pancreas excretes digestive fluids into the intestines and works with the liver and gall bladder to help break down foods. The most important function is to regulate the insulin in your body. “Maintaining proper blood sugar levels is crucial to the functioning of key organs including the brain, liver, and kidneys (Columbia University, 2019). Most people probably do not think much about the pancreas unless they are a fan of Patrick Swayze or Alex Trebek.

Pancreatic Cancer Statistics

  • Pancreatic Cancer is the 3rd leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States
  • More people die from Pancreatic Cancer than from Breast Cancer
  • The average lifetime risk of Pancreatic Cancer in the US is 1 in 64
  • The five-year survival rate for all forms of Pancreatic Cancer is just 7%
  • The one-year survival rate for all forms of Pancreatic Cancer is 20%
  • Death rates for all cancers have declined except for Pancreatic Cancer which has remained the same in the last decade.
  • Every day in the United States 155 people will be diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. Statistics can make it easy to forget that each one of them represents a human being: a father, mother, son, sister, husband, or friend like Sweet Lou

Behind the Pancreatic Cancer Statistics

When it comes to cancers two questions are usually on everyone’s minds. What are the risk factors? And, how do I prevent it? There are certain risk factors for Pancreatic Cancer that you cannot control. Some are a possible genetic predisposition, exposure to certain chemicals at work, age, gender, race, diabetes and chronic pancreatitis. Some factors within our control are thought to contribute to an increased risk and include obesity and tobacco use. Others such as diet, a sedentary lifestyle, infection, or coffee and alcohol consumption are not as clearly connected.

Most advocacy groups will point out that a healthy lifestyle may reduce your risk of getting certain types of cancers. This point should not be mistaken to mean that any individual is responsible for their personal cancer diagnosis. At the end of the day we are all just trying to balance our lives between what is good and what is good for us. In Lou’s case he was not at a high risk and was in generally good health.

Warning Signs

One of the most difficult aspects of Pancreatic Cancer is that there are few early warning signs. This is complicated by the rapid rate with which the cancer spreads. The symptoms are vague: pain in the abdomen or back, weight loss, jaundice, loss of appetite, nausea, changes in stool, pancreatitis or recent-onset diabetes.

One of the most difficult aspects of Pancreatic Cancer is that there are few early warning signs

Sending your husband to the doctor every time he has a stomach ache (as I have done the past year) is not very practical. Here is where it is important to know your body. Pay attention to what is normal personally. If any of the known risk factors or family history is a possibility it is better to err on the side of caution. The Mayo Clinic recommends a person “see your doctor if you experience unexplained weight loss or if you have persistent fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice or other signs and symptoms that bother you.”

Diagnosis and Treatment

Once Pancreatic Cancer is diagnosed the doctor will attach a stage level between I and IV to assign a seriousness of the disease

Imaging in the form of CT, MRI or PET scans are the first steps a doctor will probably take after a physical exam. There are endoscopic procedures if a biopsy or closer look is necessary. A blood test called CA-19-9 is available but is known to be fairly unreliable. Most doctors will record levels before and after treatment, none-the-less. Again, it is important to remember the success in beating Pancreatic Cancer depends in large part on early detection. So, get to the doctor if you suspect a problem.

Once Pancreatic Cancer is diagnosed the doctor will attach a stage level between I and IV to assign a seriousness of the disease. The lower the stage the better. The most effective procedure is thought to be the specialized surgery called the Whipple procedure. Other surgeries including the removal of the entire pancreas are sometimes done. Chemotherapy and radiation are other traditional methods of treating all cancers including Pancreatic Cancer. There are many clinic trials ongoing right now that have shown to increase a patient’s lifespan.

Pancreatic Cancer Palliative Care

Palliative Care is the next step. This is the stage a patient and their family reside in between ‘there is nothing more we can do’ and hospice, or end of life care. Palliative care encompasses a wide range of modalities designed to help a patient and their loved ones cope and be as comfortable as possible. They may also help a patient consider whether actively pursuing trials is a good idea. Alternative therapies like acupuncture may help with pain. Therapies like art and music help manage emotions. And, spiritual counseling can help many manage the complex emotions that accompany a terminal diagnosis.

Pancreatic Cancer Unspoken Survivors

The survivors of pancreatic cancer are most often those left behind when a loved one passes. When I reached out to Lou's Lady here is what she offered:

The survivors of pancreatic cancer are most often those left behind when a loved one passes. When I reached out to Lou’s Lady here is what she offered:

“I guess I would say do your research, get second opinions or third. Utilize clinical trials as they really do prolong life. But weigh the pros and cons when it gets towards the end as sometimes keeping someone alive longer isn’t more important than spending quality time. Go on vacation or do things that are important to you and your family. See people and make memories when you can. But don’t be afraid of offending people by setting boundaries of what the patient and caregiver can manage. Enjoy the time you are given and say everything you need to say. That goes both ways. The time you are given goes by quickly.”

Pancreatic Cancer Means Saying Goodbye

For my part, I have to add that one of my greatest regrets is not getting back to Colorado in time. Our family did eventually make our way back to Georgia. Our daughter is a Chargie with POTS and life seems complicated for us sometimes. A combination of our difficulty accepting the truth and the complications of leaving behind a chronically ill teenager for a trip out of state had us wait until it was literally too late. By the time we landed in Colorado, Lou was actively dying.

It had been suggested to us maybe we wait until the funeral. Two trips was not feasible for us. Given the chance again, I still would have chosen to try to make it in time to see him alive. Still, getting on that plane to come home without seeing him was one of the saddest days of my life. I will always regret that we never got to tell him how much his friendship meant to our family. Within a few days we got the message he was gone. Because of the amazing man he was his legacy still lives on in innumerable ways. He will always missed.

About the Author

Author T.J. Madden for The Unchargeables

TJ Madden has been a regular volunteer with The Unchargeables community wearing many different hats. She is a Caregiver for a Chargie with Dysautonomia. You can find her on Instagram sharing her life as a reader, writer, teacher, baker, chicken soup maker, and fighter for all things healthier, stronger, kinder and better than yesterday here.

My Celiac Story: How I Found Out my Entire Family has Celiac Disease

celiac disease, gluten, elimination diet, autoimmune protocol diet, autoimmune disease

Let’s Start at the Beginning

I have had stomach problems since I was a teenager, but I took me a until I was in my thirties to figure out the cause of my issues was actually Celiac Disease. As a teenager, I always had terrible cramps and acid reflux. By the time I was sixteen, my doctor put me in acid blockers to try to control my symptoms. I took the medicine every day for years and it helped, but my symptoms still persisted. Being that I was sixteen, the doctor’s attributed the cramps to my monthly cycle and figured the acid blockers would resolve the rest. But they didn’t. I eventually just learned to live with the symptoms and go about my life. I thought this is just how my life would have to be. After all, I was feeling better, just not good.

When I was about twenty, my cramps became even stronger and more frequent and I was having trouble coping with the pain. I once again returned to my doctor, and he suggested that I do an elimination diet to see if what I was eating may be contributing to my symptoms. He suggested I replace the multigrain bread I normally ate with plain white bread or spelt which would be easier to digest and that I should eat a lot of yogurt, which has good probiotics and is easy to digest. He also prescribed a medication to help with the cramps. I made the dietary changes, took the medication, and it helped a little, but I was still suffering.

It’s Hard to Work when You’re Chronically Ill

While I was trying to figure out the cause of my gastrointestinal issues, I was also working a full-time job at a call center. This was the type of job that required you to clock in and out every time you took any kind of break. Even if you were just going to the bathroom, you were required to clock out when you left and back in when you returned. My symptoms had gotten so bad that I would have to go to the bathroom six or more times a day and I could be in there for ten minutes each time. Well, my employer took notice of this and I was called in for a meeting. As much as I tried to explain that I was legitimately ill and couldn’t help it, all my employer saw was the time and my contract was not renewed. After about six months, this extreme flare finally calmed down. My stomach ache and acid reflux were just a part of my everyday life, but we’re not so bad that it was disruptive to my day or my life.

celiac, bloating, acid reflux, abdominal pain

On Vacation, but not from my Symptoms

Some time passed and now I was about 26 and I went on a vacation to the Azores, Portuguese islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I looked 4 months pregnant! My stomach was extremely swollen and it hurt a lot. I had been been living on antacids and other medicines, but nothing was really working anymore. At the time, I thought my body may be reacting to the different foods I was eating. In this area, they tend to prepare everything using a lot of butter and I had stopped eating butter years ago, so I thought I must not be used to it anymore and that’s what was probably causing my reaction. I was convinced the butter was the cause of my problems. Even when I just ate a salad, which obviously had no butter, I still felt really badly. It was so extreme. I was only there for a week or two, but when I showed people pictures from my trip, my physical transformation was so drastic that people would ask me if I really was pregnant.

celiac disease, stomach pain, bloating, cramps, acid reflux, gluten, diet

I didn’t know what was going on. As chronic illness life goes, you get some bad days, then you get some good days. Every year you have is different. Still, I was undiagnosed and I went on with my life. All the while, I kept taking stomach liners, acid blockers, and other medicines for my bowels. This became my daily regimen in order to live without constant abdominal pains and cramps.

Making Changes

Some more time past and now I was 31 or 32 years old. I started researching more into my health and looking into natural remedies and the holistic way of living. I wanted to change my lifestyle to try to feel better. I had stopped eating sugar years prior and it made me feel so much better, but I noticed after a couple of years, the effects of that wore off or something. I decided to make some other changes I hoped of regaining that feeling. I knew I had to do something drastic. That’s when I started the autoimmune protocol diet. For this diet, you cut out all sugar, lactose, gluten, rice, seeds, and beans and then slowly start reintroducing them back into your diet to see which ones are aggravating your body. For me, cutting out gluten was the hardest. I’d literally dream of bread and croissants and pizza. It was crazy!

celiac, diet, autoimmune protocol diet, elimination diet, gluten, food allergies

After being on the autoimmune protocol diet for about 3 or 4 months, I really did start to feel better and I tried to introduce things back into my diet. During that time, I would get together with a group of friends monthly, and we would cook and eat dinner together. This day, we each brought something to be grilled and so we would all prepare the food and then share it amongst the group. One of my friends made something breaded. I don’t remember what is was, but it was being cooked on the same grill with everything else. As I was still not eating gluten, I did not eat the breaded food, but instead partook in the other options. but it was in the same grill.

By the time I got home and I was so sick! I got cramps and I had major brain fog. I couldn’t think straight. I was sweating profusely and was sick and exhausted for three days. I thought this was an extreme reaction, so I started doing research into what could have caused it. That’s when I discover the cross-contamination that can occur with gluten. Still, I was surprised that I had such a strong reaction. I learned that this is actual quite normal when someone is exposed to gluten after long periods of time without it.

My Daughter is Following in my Footsteps

About six months later, I noticed my daughter, who was about four at the time, was very tired and cranky all the time. She was a picky eater and would only really eat bread, potatoes, doughnuts, and of course candy. This seemed strange to me, so I brought her to he pediatrician thinking she may have picked up a bacteria or parasite somehow. We went to the doctor and had her tested, but the tests were negative for any bacteria or parasites. Still, I knew something had to be wrong, so I asked her doctor what else could be done. He told me there were two things we could try. The first option was to virtually turn her inside out running tests to look for anything and everything. Since she was still so young, her doctor thought that would be extreme. The second option was far less invasive. He suggested eliminating gluten for about two weeks to see how she responded. This made a lot of sense to me in light of my own experiences with gluten, so we decided to give it a try.

kids, celiac, symptoms, gluten

Going gluten-free was very upsetting to my daughter at first. She had seen the strict autoimmune protocol diet that I had been following and thought that was what she would have to do too. I explained to her that what she was doing was not nearly as strict. She would not have to give up everything, only the gluten. Over the next three days, we finished all the bread and doughnuts and other gluten-containing foods in the house and went 100% gluten-free. The rest of my family wanted to support, so they stopped eating gluten too so she wouldn’t feel so badly. Her dad, my mom (her grandma), and my sister (her aunt) all gave up gluten so my daughter wouldn’t feel alone.

After four days, I had a different child. She had energy and was not so cranky. I could hardly believe the difference! Just by not eating bread, cookies and other gluten-containing foods, I had my daughter back. I still let her have some treats, like cake, but she ate the gluten-free kind instead, as I wanted her to still be able to eat similar foods to what she was used to. After a month, we went back to the doctor to report how it had gone. The doctor said that her improvements indicated that she has celiac disease.

It’s in my Genes!

By this time, my daughter was feeling better and had gotten accustomed to eating the gluten-free foods, so my mom and sister thought it would be okay for them to go back to eating the regular bread and other foods they had given up to support my daughter, but their bodies had other plans. When they ate regular bread again, they got really sick. Unbeknownst to all of us, we all had celiac disease.

It all made sense now. As a baby, my daughter had the worst acid reflux. She couldn’t hold her milk down and she never wanted to eat the porridge. It was difficult to make her eat stuff because she couldn’t keep it down. Thankfully, now we know why. She had been diagnosed with celiac when she was 4 and now we know that it tends to run in the families.

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Everything is Starting to Make Sense Now

It took me over 30 years to figure out that I have celiac disease. I believe that many of my autoimmune issues stem from me having undiagnosed celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which your own immune cells track the gluten enzymes within your small intestine. Your body is basically attacking itself. Looking at my timeline of all my diagnosis, I think this could be the cause of many of my chronic illnesses. I started having my Graves symptoms at 16, but I only got diagnosed at 19. Then at 28, I had Hashimoto’s Disease that went undiagnosed for about 6 years. After my Hashimoto’s diagnosis, I started having Raynaud’s disease, which is also an autoimmune disease that effects blood flow. If you don’t figure out what’s causing autoimmune conditions, they have a tendency to accumulate. Since I discovered my celiac disease so late, I wonder if that may have been the catalyst for my other conditions. I may never know.

I hope my family’s story helped you in some way. I know by sharing my experiences with my own family, my mom and sister have given up gluten and are now feeling better. It’s not for everyone though. Some people have experimented with going gluten-free to try to lose weight or think it’s the cure for any ailment, but it’s not. Going gluten-free is not necessary for everyone. If you think you may have celiac or be gluten intolerant, talk to your doctor and consider trying an elimination diet to find out. Some people can eat gluten with no problems, but for those with celiac, it is a real and serious autoimmune condition that effects their daily life and not just another dietary fad.

celiac disease, autoimmune disease, diet, genetics, gluten

Top 10 Toxic Cancer-causing Foods that You Need to Avoid

The top 10 cancer causing food that you need to avoid at all costs

If there is one love that has remained constant throughout life, then that is food. But did you know that certain foods can cause cancer? Well here’s a piece of heartbreaking news, from today onwards you need to keep tabs on what you eat and what you ditch from your daily diet. Read on to find out more about cancer-causing foods and why you should avoid them.

What is Cancer?

Cancer is a disease that is caused by the uncontrolled cellular division in the affected part of the body. Amid several factors that cause cancer, one of its leading causes is the type of food that you eat. Foods that are genetically modified, spiced or smoked or pickled, canned, processed, and subjected to chemical treatments are carcinogenic. Consumption of such cancer-causing foods can cause severe damage to health and well-being. The best alternative is to incorporate organic and fresh foods to stay healthy and prevent cancer.

Top 10 Terrible Cancer-Causing Foods that you Need to Avoid from Now

Top 10 Terrible Cancer-Causing Foods that you Need to Avoid

  1. Genetically Modified Foods
  • The production of genetically modified food has exponentially increased, and most of the healthiest foods in the agricultural sector like soy and corn are genetically modified.
  • Experts have sadly declared that most of the genetically modified foods are not adequately tested. This insufficiency in testing implies that no-one is sure about the long-term effects of the consumption of such diets on health and well-being.
  • Diet experts recommend the consumption of fresh, organic, and non-GMO foods to avoid cancer.

2. Microwave Popcorn

From its storage bag to its composition, microwaved popcorn is one of the most toxic foods that can cause cancer.
  • From its storage bag to its composition, microwaved popcorn is one of the most toxic foods that can cause cancer. It is one of the leading causes of lung cancer.
  • The kernel of microwaved popcorn is genetically modified, and it contains artificial butter and synthetic flavors that release poisonous diacetyl fumes.

3. Canned Goods

  • The cans which hold the food contain bisphenol-A which is a highly carcinogenic chemical. Extensive experiments reveal that the chemical composition of the boxes can genetically alter the brain cells of rats.
  • Preserve your health and protect your DNA against unnatural genetic mutations by eating fresh and organic vegetables and fruits instead of canned goods.

4. Grilled Red Meat

Grilled meat is perhaps the king of delicious foods, but sadly it is the king of cancer too. The process of preparation of grilled red meat releases heterocyclic aromatic amines which is a dangerous carcinogenic compound.
  • Grilled meat is perhaps the king of delicious foods, but sadly it is the king of cancer too. The process of preparation of grilled red meat releases heterocyclic aromatic amines which is a dangerous carcinogenic compound.
  • Grilling the red meat changes its molecular and chemical bonding structure, and the resulting structure is harmful to health.
  • Experts recommend the consumption of baked, broiled, steamed, and stewed red meat for the maintenance of good health and body weight.

5. Refined Sugar

  • Refined sugar, especially high-fructose corn syrup, is worst in the list of cancer-causing foods. Brown sugar is refined white sugar with little molasses added for color and flavor.
  • Foods made of refined sugar are the primary causes of insulin spikes that trigger the growth and spread of cancer.  
  • Ditch the cancer-causing foods that contain refined white or brown sugar and switch to organic honey, maple sugar, coconut sugar, and other such natural varieties of sugar to thwart cancer and fight against its ill-effects.

6. Smoked, pickled, and salted foods

  • Foods that are smoked, pickled or salted almost always contain nitrate compounds that are added to enhance shelf life. The synthetic additives of the different foods accumulate in the body and wreak damage in the form of cancer.
  • Cooking of smoked foods leads to the conversion of nitrates into nitrites which are toxic and far more dangerous for the body than nitrates.

7. Carbonated Drinks

There have been numerous health debates that discuss the adverse effects of carbonated beverages like soda and coke. Read more about foods that can cause cancer.
  • There have been numerous health debates that discuss the adverse effects of carbonated beverages like soda and coke. These drinks contain genetically modified high-fructose corn concentrates, artificial colors, synthetic flavors, and other chemical additives that cause cancer.
  • Sodas are one of the worst cancer-causing foods that are not only devoid of nutrients but are also known to deprive the body of nutrients.
  • Diet sodas are worse than regular drinks. They contain aspartame which is a chemical that is as toxic to health as a bottle of rat poison.

8. White Flour

  • White flour is refined flour which is flour that does not contain any nutritional values. The refined flour is bleached with chlorine to make it appear whiter and visually appealing.
  • White flour possesses a high value of the glycemic index. It makes the blood sugar level spike high without providing the body with any nutrients.
  • Excessive consumption of white flour can trigger insulin resistance which can lead to cancer.

9. Farmed Fish

  • Fish is cultivated commercially in a crowded and controlled environment to raise vast quantities of it. The commercially farmed fish go through a variety of chemical treatments like pesticides, antibiotics, and other carcinogenic substances to control and prevent parasitic, viral, and bacterial infection of the fish.
  • The chemical treatment of the farmed fish makes it one of the most toxic cancer-causing foods. Farmed fish are also devoid of essential nutrients and do not possess omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Experts recommend the consumption of wild salmon and organic fatty fish to stay healthy and prevent cancer.

10. Hydrogenated Oils

  • Hydrogenated oil is vegetable oil with chemicals and synthetic additives for color, flavor, scent, and appearance.
  • These oils possess toxic omega-6 fatty acids that can alter the cellular structure of body membranes and wreak cancerous damage.

A few tips to fight against cancer

  • Strictly avoid the foods that are labeled as “fat-free,” “light,” or “diet.” Such types of foods contain more chemicals than the regular variety.
  • Eat fresh and organic food
  • If fresh and organic food is not available then eat it clean frozen or raw. Avoid processed food and junk food.
  • Cut down on the consumption of refined sugar and grains to stay healthy.
The top ten toxic cancer causing foods to avoid

The key to a healthy life is healthy eating. If you can adhere to a strictly balanced diet of fresh, organic, raw, and steamed or baked foods, then no disease in the world can bring down, not even cancer. So dump the cancer-causing foods and fight cancer with healthy foods, courage, and positiveness.

Written by: Dr. Sohill

The Hidden Dangers of Celiac Disease

celiac, celiac dangers, allergy, gluten

I didn’t know I had celiac disease, also know as a gluten allergy, until about six years ago, and now I have to be careful eating everywhere I go. Gluten can be anywhere, even hidden in places that you wouldn’t expect it to be. I have had to become a food label detective in order to keep myself as well as my daughter safe. When you have a gluten allergy, or any food allergy for that matter, there are some things you need to consider in order to remain safe.

Think and Prepare Ahead

Recently, I was visiting my friend, Hemme in her home. She knows me very well and is aware of my dietary restrictions, so prior to my visit, she asked me for a list of foods that will be safe for me to eat during my visit. I sent her a list of foods that are generally okay for me to eat, and she actually did a great job accommodating my gluten allergy. Even still, I nearly had a reaction.

She was preparing fish with a breading and thought that she could simply make mine without the breading and I would be fine. What she didn’t realize is that by having the fish on the same tray or even in the same vicinity, cross-contamination could occur. This is a huge problem people with gluten allergies commonly encounter. She was really happy I caught her and called this to her attention before I got sick, but such realizations are not so easy when dining out in a restaurant.

Then, Hemme was going to prepare some pasta. I eat lentil pasta because I can’t have the corn or rice that is often in other kinds of gluten-free pasta. She consulted the list I had sent her prior to my visit and bought lentil pasta for me to eat with my fish. Hemme bought frozen lentil pasta instead of fresh or dried. I read the package and sure enough, it contained cornstarch and rice flour, so I could not have that either. Sometimes things that seem like they are safe at first glance really aren’t.

The Packages are Lying!

I’m sure we have all been to the grocery store and have gotten lured in by all the different packages. We look at the front of the package and pick which variety of a product to buy. It may list a few key ingredients and maybe some nutritional information, but that’s just the beginning of the story. In order to get the full picture, you have to turn the package over to the back. That is where you’ll find the rest of the information: all the ingredients and nutritional information.

gluten, hidden sources, celiac. gluten allergy, gluten intolerance

Sometimes, you even have to be a scientist or detective to find out exactly what you are eating. Especially with more processed foods, ingredients may go by different names or contain additives to make foods shelf stable for longer periods of time. Sometimes you almost need to recognize the elements of ingredients or certain key words to know if something is safe to eat. It can be very deceiving. For example, something that does not typically contain corn may use corn syrup as a sweetener. If you can’t have corn, then you also can’t have corn syrup or corn starch, and therefore this product is unsafe to eat.

The Dangers of Cross-Contamination

My daughter also has celiac disease. I have to educate people as to what is safe for her to have when I am not with her. She went to my friend’s house one day to play with her daughter. I’ve eaten there many times before and have never gotten sick, so I thought she would also be safe eating there. My friend is always very careful about how she prepares food, but she had gotten her some fries from a takeout place. Well, later that night, my daughter wasn’t feeling well and I recognized her symptoms as a reaction to gluten. I was really surprised. I thought maybe I hadn’t cleaned the oven well enough after my boyfriend used it to make regular (non gluten-free) bread. I questioned my friend about what my daughter ate when she was with her, and she told me about the fries.

celiac, gluten-free diet, gluten allergy, gluten intolerance

What my friend didn’t understand at the time is that even though the fries themselves might be safe, if they are fried in oil with other things that contain gluten, this can cause cross-contamination. That’s why when we go out to eat somewhere, we have to be sure that if she orders something like fries, they are the only thing the oil is used for. The restaurant using the same oils to fry something like chicken nuggets can result in an allergic reaction. Similarly, cooking areas and utensils need to be sanitized or designated as for gluten-free use.

Allergy Vs. Intolerance

Some people may not have a true allergy to gluten, but are rather just gluten intolerant.
When you’re gluten intolerant, you may get sick when you are exposed to gluten. Your stomach may hurt, or you’ll feel tired and just generally may not feel well. With a gluten allergy, also know as celiac, your body will actually attack the enzymes of gluten within the body creating an autoimmune response. This can often lead to other health issues as well. While not confirmed, I suspect that some of my other health issues may actually stem from having celiac disease and eating bread and pizza for 30 years.

celiac disease, gluten allergy, gluten intolerance

Gluten is Everywhere!

Gluten is a group of proteins, termed prolamins and glutelins, stored with starch in the endosperm of various cereal grains. It is found in wheat; barley, rye, and oats as well as products derived from these grains such as breads and malts. It’s is found in many of the most common foods we all enjoy eating and can be very difficult to avoid. It’s in breads, cookies, cakes, pizza, cereals, and many other places that you wouldn’t suspect.

You always have to check the back of the package when you are trying to avoid gluten because, like I said before, the front of the package lies and the back of the package actually tells you what’s inside. You have to make sure that it says that it doesn’t have any wheat or wheat derivatives in it and that it actually says, “gluten free”. Gluten can be in unexpected places, even in foods you’d think would be safe, like chocolate or hamburgers. It is necessary to become a food detective and read what exactly goes in to a given product. This can be tricky as it can vary by brands of similar products and even by different varieties of a particular brand.

While I focused on gluten allergy and intolerance, as that is what effects my daughter and me, the same potential dangers exist when addressing any food allergy or sensitivity. Always consult the back of labels when addressing any food allergy or sensitivity. Even things that appear safe at first glance may not always be. Beware of cross-contamination. Taking these steps will help keep yourself and your loved ones safe and free from food-related reactions.

celiac, gluten intolerance, gluten allergy

When Life Gives You Lemons: What happened when I lost my career due to chronic illness (not once, but twice)

When Life Gives You Lemons: I Lost My Career Due to Ulcerative Colitis, a Chronic Illness

In November 2008 I found out I was expecting my first child, and both my husband and I were over the moon. Life was peachy… Until I started suffering from strange symptoms, which at first I put down to the pregnancy. Slowly but surely the symptoms worsened. I was dashing to the toilet over ten times each day, losing blood, and was in lots of pain around my stomach and back. I became terrified that something was wrong with my baby. I went to visit my GP, who quickly came to suspect that I may have Inflammatory Bowel Disease. The confirmatory tests could not be done due to me being pregnant, so I was given foam enemas to help the inflammation. I gave birth to a healthy baby boy, and could then finally be booked in for the Colonoscopy I needed in order to reach a diagnosis.

Becoming Housebound with Ulcerative Colitis, a Chronic Illness

My Diagnosis

In late 2009 I was diagnosed with Proctitis, which is a form of Ulcerative Colitis affecting the lining of tissue of the inner rectum. I initially kept it under control with medication the doctor offered as the first port of call, and because my disease was mild at this point it worked. Naively I totally underestimated the severity of my disease, and I thought my medication had cured me. I often didn’t bother taking it and generally did not look after myself. I ate too much of the wrong things, drank too much and weighed a lot more than I should have.

Fast forward to 2015 and I became incredibly unwell. I was diagnosed with Pan Ulcerative Colitis which meant the disease was now throughout my entire large bowel and I was flaring terribly. I became housebound and was no longer able to work as a Forensic Science Lecturer, which is a job I adored and had worked so hard for; I had just achieved promotion. My consultant put me on a biological drug treatment called Humira, where I had to self-inject weekly at home.

After a while, it was clear the injections alone were not completely working. I felt a bit better but still not right. I was still not able to go out for long periods. After trying many different diets which didn’t work I decided to try to adopt a plant-based lifestyle. The combination of my new medication and ditching dairy and meat worked. I got my life back, I lost weight, and I could go out with my family again. I even dared to go on holiday. However, I had lost my job, a job I had spent effectively five years qualifying for and just having qualified with my masters, this was a huge blow.

A Fresh Start

I couldn’t see myself doing anything other than teaching, but I had to try to remain positive. I clung on to the fact that not working meant I could be there for my children during the school runs, the bath and story times, and all the school plays and assemblies. I also had the exciting thought that I could potentially do something for myself, something I had always dreamed of doing but had never thought was possible.

I decided to go for it, and thought ‘what better way to earn a living than to work doing something I love?’  Clearly, I love food… (a little too much, but I’m working on it). So far I’ve lost four stone but still have two to go. I set up Glow, a meal delivery business, in January 2017. After a slight blip with my medication after it failed in October 2017, I seemed to settle on a new regime of eight weekly infusions with a drug called Vedolizumab that was administered at hospital. Again, I felt well, the combination of a plant-based diet and the vedolizumab made me feel great. I continued to drop the weight and found myself falling more and more in love with the vegan way of life! I have now switched all beauty products, cleaning products and clothes over to cruelty free brands and even my children decided to come on board in February 2018 and they became (mini) vegans too.

Becoming Vegan with Ulcerative Colitis, a Chronic Illness

I was so happy with my new-found wellness and lifestyle, I should have known it was too good to be true… Once again, my medication failed! It also left me with horrendous joint pain which was later diagnosed as Inflammatory Arthritis, and also Erythema Nodosum, which is a painful condition where the fat cells under the skin become inflamed. This results in tender, red lumps, usually on the shins. In my case both my shins became terribly inflamed and painful. Once again I had had to face losing the career I had worked so hard for and had built up to a point I was very proud of, simply because I couldn’t stand for periods long enough to complete my cooking and I couldn’t leave the house to complete my deliveries.

A Fresh Start… Again

I became so poorly in December 2018 that I decided to cease trading with my meal delivery business, thinking I could start up again when I felt better and was settled on new medication, or having had surgery if it was necessary. These plans were not meant to be, in January 2019 my Dad who had suffered for many years from Parkinson’s and Vascular Dementia passed away. Despite him being poorly, his passing was still a huge shock as he had been physically well up until only a week or two before he was taken into hospital.

When such a life-changing event happens, it makes you re-evaluate your life and what is important. I thought a lot about what Dad would have thought about the situation, and I had found myself in and listened closely to the opinions of my close family members. I realised I had been continuing with my business far longer than I should have, simply to keep up appearances. I didn’t want to lose face and for people to think I’d failed. When Dad passed away I realised I could not give a damn what people think anymore! I needed to do what was right for me and my family. I knew I needed to create a career that works for me, one I could still run from home but could do sitting down, or even laying down if I needed to. But the question was, what?

I have always enjoyed reading and watching other people’s blogs, facebook pages, and inspirational talk videos and wondered if it was something I could try myself. I was lucky that I had made a friend in the chronic illness world who runs the wonderful blog A Balanced Belly, a blog all about Jenna’s life with Crohn’s Disease and how she helps her gut health through a gluten and dairy free diet. After chatting things through with Jenna I decided to give it a whirl, what did I have to lose?

Starting a Blog with Ulcerative Colitis, a Chronic Illness

I still needed to earn a small wage, so I started buying and selling clothes, again something I can do from home. I set up my little blog House of Herbivores, which is all about life as a mum to vegan children. I share plant-based recipes, review vegan products, and also chat all things Ulcerative Colitis too. My recipes prove really popular with vegans and non-vegans alike, as the meat-free food movement becomes ever more popular and families are incorporating more and more meat-free meals into their weekly menus. It’s very early days, but things seem to be going really well. I have had lovely feedback on my fledgling site and have had my writing published on other blogs. My aim is to be able to monetise my blog in the near future, but I am still very much in the early stages of my plans.

It has been quite the journey over the last ten years with Ulcerative Colitis. I count myself as incredibly, incredibly lucky. Yes, I have been diagnosed with a chronic illness, but that does not define me! Over the last ten years, I have also had two wonderful, intelligent and compassionate children. I qualified as a teacher and completed my masters (yes it nearly finished me off but that’s beside the point, and is a story for another day). We have moved into our forever family home and added a silly puppy dog into our family. I have made such happy memories with my family and friends, been on holidays I will never forget, and have made new friends thanks to Colitis and Veganism too.

I am constantly fighting for wellness and will never stop.

I am a mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunty and a friend. That is what defines me, and it is for those wonderful reasons that I will get through the challenges that inevitably lie ahead on this crazy journey that is chronic illness.

Always try to find the positive.

Emma is a freelance writer and cook who created the blog House of Herbivores – a vegan family blog. Emma was inspired to switch to a plant based lifestyle three years ago for health reasons as she suffers from Ulcerative Colitis, inflammation of the bowel. Emma shares her family favourite recipes, vegan product reviews, tips and tricks for the new vegan and insights into life as a vegan family.

Expert Advice on Battling Arthritis Pain

With over 100 different forms, arthritis is not only common among Americans, but it affects people of all ages across the globe. It would be wrong to say that arthritis is a single disease – because it’s an umbrella term that stands for joint inflammation. In short, it stands for a group of joint conditions that affect one’s mobility by restricting the ability of their joints to function effectively.

Expert advice in battling arthritis pain
Arthritis in Hands

A principal cause of disability in the US, arthritis is more common among people above 60. 

According to the Arthritis Foundation, “Almost 300,000 babies and children have arthritis or a rheumatic condition.” It further says that “The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which affects an estimated 31 million Americans.

And the worst part is, by 2040, over 78 million Americans are expected to suffer from this problem. So what’s essential for us to realize at the moment is the fact that when this condition affects someone, it not only creates a problem for them alone, but it also has a severe impact on their loved ones, friends, and colleagues.

When you have a loved one living with pain and discomfort, it affects more than just them. You may find yourself struggling to focus on your own job and the rest of the areas of life. The illness of your loved one affects your own mental state to a great extent because you are concerned about their health and well-being. And since you can’t always see them struggling with life, you tend to worry more from afar. Make sure you talk about your own concerns with a trusted friend or therapist if you feel you need a safe place to vent.

Here Are Some Common Forms Of Arthritis

Osteoarthritis

Stems from the overuse of joints with age, osteoarthritis is by far the most common form of arthritis. Also known as wear and tear arthritis, it’s a degenerative joint disease that worsens with age. People with this condition have cartilage damage, which leads to pain in the joint. 

Cartilage is a thin, firm, and flexible connective tissue that safeguards the end of the bones in a joint by working between them as a cushion. It prevents the friction between bones; however, when it becomes damaged, it fails to fulfill its purpose, which eventually results in joint pain. 

The factors that put you at the risk of osteoarthritis include age, genetics, obesity, joint injuries, and high-intensity physical activity. Some of these factors are beyond your control such as age; however, you can certainly avoid the risk that comes with obesity, joint injuries, and high-intensity workouts. 

Rheumatoid Arthritis 

A chronic autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis is a condition that occurs when the immune system attacks the joints, which eventually results in inflammation and pain. If you fail to treat this condition, you will end up damaging your joints permanently. People with this condition get rheumatoid nodules – which are nothing but the lumps on the skin in areas that are subject to pressure like elbows and heels. 

The immune system attacks the synovium – which is a thin layer of connective tissue surrounding the joints. And when it becomes damaged, it releases a chemical that affects bones, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments. 

Risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis include smoking, genes, and hormonal effects. It is more common among females. 

According to an NCBI study, “Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic, autoimmune inflammatory disease with a female predominance, and is estimated to affect approximately 1% of the world’s population.

Psoriatic Arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is another common form of arthritis, and it mostly starts affecting people between 30-to-50 years of age. 

It’s a disease that leads to red and patchy areas in the skin, and it affects both males and females equally. 

You can divide different forms of arthritis into

  • Degenerative arthritis
  • Inflammatory arthritis
  • Metabolic arthritis
  • Infectious arthritis

Managing Arthritis Pain

Try Physical Therapy

The pain that results from arthritis can keep you from living a physically active life; therefore, it’s essential that you take the right type of treatment, which can improve your quality of life. People with arthritis, who fail to perform the activities of daily living with ease, don’t only struggle to gather that much-needed confidence but also have poor self-esteem. 

Therefore, to live a happy, healthy, independent, and dignified life, it’s essential that you seek quality treatment. One of the best treatments for subsiding the pain that stems from arthritis is physical therapy. The reason it is considered one of the most effective ways of dealing with joint inflammation is, it doesn’t rely on surgeries and medications. 

Yes, physical therapy is not only pain-free, but it’s also a drug-free and surgery-free treatment for managing arthritis pain and improving flexibility. It enhances the ability of your joints to function effectively.

A physical therapist uses a variety of techniques to minimize the pain that stems from injuries and chronic illnesses. For example, to relieve the pain that occurs due to injuries, they might use physical therapy techniques like Kinesio Taping, passive treatments to relax your body such as massage, heat and cold therapy, TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation), and ultrasound.

However, when it comes to managing the pain that stems from arthritis, they generally use aquatic therapy, and there are several reasons behind that. It is a pain-relief technique during which a skilled physical therapist helps their patients perform effective exercises underwater. 

Aquatherapy for arthritis pain relief
Woman working out in the pool

Water Therapy

Water not only helps in performing the exercises smoothly but it also reduces the pressure on your joints. During the aquatic therapy sessions, your therapist will ask you to carry out only those moves that are healthy for you. It not only helps in minimizing the pain but also offers that much-needed relaxation. 

According to Aquatic Therapy – a trusted wellness center in Atlanta, Georgia “Aquatic therapy is a viable option for treating arthritic joints. The water helps to provide compression, which reduces swelling. Apart from that, the buoyancy of the water unloads the joint, allowing for greater range of motion without the weight of the body compressing joints together.

However, before incorporating the exercises that you need to perform, your therapist will check your range of motion. For obtaining a deeper understanding of your health, they will also check your medical history. 

Lose Weight 

Overweight is the biggest problem for those struggling with arthritis pain. Since it puts enormous stress on your weight-bearing joints, it increases the intensity of the pain naturally. Yes, you got that right, when you perform physical activities, you feel severe pain on your weight-bearing joints such as hips, knees, and ankles because they have to struggle with your body weight. 

Therefore, if you want to shed those extra pounds and improve your joint health, it’s essential for you to adopt a useful workout routine. Since you are already struggling with a joint disease, make sure that you consult a healthcare professional before starting your workout routine. Once they give the thumbs up, you can go ahead with it. 

Also, make sure that you take the help of an experienced fitness trainer; otherwise, you might end up injuring your joints by performing the wrong moves. 

Rely On Healthy Foods 

Consuming healthy food is not only crucial for fighting arthritis pain, but it’s also significant in enhancing your overall well-being. Fish is highly vital for you to beat arthritis pain. Therefore, you should increase the intake of salmon, herring, tuna, and mackerel. They are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which helps control inflammation. 

Apart from increasing the consumption of fish, you should also include soybeans in your diet as they are a rich source of protein and fiber, which is very good for rheumatoid arthritis patients. 

Try and increase your intake of healthy oils such as olive oil, sunflower oil, avocado oil, and walnut oil in your diet. Other healthy additions to your diet include broccoli, cherries, milk, yogurt, and green tea along with following a healthy eating plan. Limit sweets and focus more on fruits and veggies filling half your plate, along with proteins and carbs. Be wary of fad diets that make excessive promises – you may see some initial changes, but it’s hard to maintain these diets over the long run and weight gain usually comes back.

Last but not least, you should always try to maintain a positive attitude, enjoy warm baths with Epsom Salts, stay as active as possible, and get a good night’s sleep. These are all ways to help yourself stay as healthy as possible

EndoMEtriosis and Me

Kristen McRobie EndoMEtriosis

Endometriosis can be a very shocking diagnosis for some. I knew it was coming because I’d already done research into my symptoms and pretty much knew going into my diagnostic surgery that that would be the outcome. I was lucky in the fact that I knew it was coming, my diagnostic process was quick and that I already knew I didn’t want children.

My Endometriosis Journey

I was diagnosed in 2010 when I was 21, I had been having bad periods since I had my first period at 14. I told my doctor about the painful periods, nausea, headaches and back pain. Her recommendation was to put me on birth control which I did and that seemed to help my symptoms up until I had a ovarian cyst burst and went to the emergency room. While at the ER, I was put through a series of test and after several hours was referred to a gynecologist that specialized in Endometriosis. The gynae suggested that I needed to have a laparoscopic surgery to go in and see if they could see the disease. A few months later I was in for the lap and diagnosed with stage 4 Endometriosis.

After trying many medications including Lupron and Visanne I was sent to an Endometriosis specialist. I chose to have a hysterectomy in 2013, the surgery went well and I felt better for 6-8 months after. I felt pretty much the same as I did before the hysterectomy but with some improvement. Now, I’ve been trying alternatives like cannabis, essential oils, yoga, martial arts, etc. I’ve found that movement, diet and cannabis have been my biggest and most helpful changes. Replacing some of my medications with cannabis. Watching what I eat and paying attention to how foods make me feel. Joining a martial arts gym and doing jiu jistu and muay thai have made me motivated to keep active while enjoying it.

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I would encourage everyone to try and make some positive changes and see the reaction you get from your body. I love the changes I’ve seen in myself. Physically, mentally, spiritually and I feel like I’ve really started to grow.

Cannabis Activism

When your remaining options are drugs you’ve already tried and/or more surgery what do you do? I didn’t want to take harmful medications again (Lupron) and wasn’t willing to have another surgery. Cannabis was something I already knew about and refused many times. I was actually against drugs of any kind, including anything you could get at the drug store. I would only take a pain pill very rarely if I could no longer handle the pain, usually one of my bad headaches.

I started using cannabis at a very delicate time in my life. Having attempted to committing suicide because I foolishly thought I’d be better off dead. I immediately regretted it and my best friend drove me to the hospital. After I was discharged, I stayed with my best friend for a week. She introduced me to cannabis and I have never looked back.

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Cannabis gave me my like back essentially. It helped all my symptoms including my severe pain. I realized I didn’t have to live in pain and there was more to life than me being bedridden, lonely, in pain, extremely depressed with no hope. I opened my mind to something new and it ended up turning into something wonderful. I feel like myself and like I can function day to day. Don’t get me wrong I still have my bad days where I stay in bed or set myself up on the couch and just veg out. Overall, my quality of life feels like it is so much better!

Many Forms of Cannabis

There are more ways to consume cannabis other than smoking it. I found that CBD products are extremely beneficial. There are so many products out there so it’s important to research what your buying. When you find out how much CBD you need daily you will see the results in how you feel. Like anything, it’s not for everyone and many not work for everyone. CBD is something that needs to build up in your system like many medications.

Using cannabis in any form should be started slowly. Start small and see how you feel. Like anything if it is not legal where you are, I am not suggesting you do anything illegal. Many places have legalized medical marijuana or legalized for recreational use. I am located in Canada where we have legalized both.

Kristen McRobie endometriosis

Kristen McRobie is the founder of Endometriosis and Me. You can visit her website at http://www.endometriosisandme.com/about-me