I’ve missed you! And, I wrote a new book!

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It’s been way too long since I’ve written here, and so much has happened. I’m not sure how to organize it all!  I’ll just dive in, and hope you can follow along.

If you’ve followed my story, you know that I have struggled to write because of severe and chronic pain that makes it difficult to type. I have been able to type in short bursts, but rarely more than a page at a time. I tried dictation software, and it functioned fine, but my brain just doesn’t work that way. My thoughts flow more elegantly from my fingertips than they do from my mouth.

Last year, we moved to a new city for my husband’s job. We were just settling in to our new home when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was stunned. My family has no history of breast cancer, and I didn’t have any of the known risk factors. Fortunately, it was caught early (please do all the recommended screening tests!). I had surgery and then went through five weeks of daily radiation therapy. The radiation left me exhausted. I spent most afternoons in my recliner, with my two Bichons (Lily and Larry), curled up on my lap.

When I was nearing the end of my radiation treatments, I was approached by a publisher with an offer to write a book on self-confidence. Initially I said “no.” I had written four books in the past, and I assumed that part of my career was over. It wasn’t physically possible for me, with my chronic pain and now my fatigue, to write a book. But, the idea kept popping up in my head!

Who thinks of taking on a huge task when they’re exhausted and in pain? I do!

Writing makes me feel alive! I want to do this!

One of the things I like about myself is that I’m a creative problem-solver. I knew if I were to write this book, I would need help. If I could find a co-author, it would decrease the workload while still giving me a meaningful project in which to immerse myself. Immediately someone came to mind—Celia Ampel.

I had met Celia in a round-about way through my son years ago. As a graduate of the prestigious University of Missouri School of Journalism, she is a great writer. I also knew she was interested in psychology as we’d collaborated on a few blog posts a while back. She lives in Florida now and I decided to text her to gauge her interest and availability. The timing was perfect! She had just decided to leave her job and do some freelance writing, and she said she was definitely interested. Yippee!

We signed the book contract and off we went! We met over Google Hangouts to discuss ideas and used a shared Google document to write. She was the best co-author I could have. We were always completely in sync (we decided it was because we are both INFJs on the Myers-Briggs test and “Rebels” on Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies test).

We had very tight deadlines, met each one early, and completed the entire book in under ten weeks (while I was also still working my regular job)!

I can’t believe how much I was able to write, or the amount of time I was able to sit at the computer. I was on a mission. Writing with Celia was so much fun I didn’t notice the pain as much, and what discomfort I had was worth it. We both felt good that we were working on a creative project that had the potential to help so many people. At the end of the writing process, Celia came to St. Louis to visit. It was so nice to see her in person. My husband, Greg, took pictures of us together, looking confident, of course.

This week was the one-year anniversary of the tests that led to my cancer diagnosis. I went back to see my doctors and have more tests. Everything came back clean. Even though I had expected good news, I hadn’t realized how much these follow-up tests had been weighing on my mind. It sounds cliché, but facing serious illness changes everything. One thing I learned for sure:

I’m not ready to quit writing. I still have things to say.

Just this morning, The Self-Confidence Workbook: A Guide to Overcoming Self-Doubt and Improving Self-Esteem popped up on Amazon—it officially comes out October 23 and is available for pre-order now. I’m really proud of it, and believe in the approach we present. Celia and I found ourselves becoming more confident ourselves as we became immersed in the material. (We had fun texting each other big and small confidence victories along the way!)

28056538_1629523250464478_8840453932887660622_nAs I type this, I look around my office for inspiration. My eyes land on a small painting that my husband gave me after I completed my radiation treatments. He had asked a local artist to do a one-of-a-kind piece for me. I love the work of Janice Scherer who is known for her “Stripy Arms” paintings. She had met me once and didn’t really know me, but magically her painting fit me and my situation perfectly.

“Show up. Stand up. Speak up. Every day, in every way—I am overcoming and pushing through perceived obstacles and challenges to do what I need to do—to find my courage, my strength, and my voice.”

I had planned to tell you more about the book and why I’m so proud of it—but I think I’ll stop typing for now. I can do that later…

 

 

Monday Mantra

imageI know so many people who are struggling with health problems, myself included. I was recently diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia, on top of all my original chronic pain issues. It’s so easy to focus on all of my troubling symptoms, and lose sight of the fact that my body continues to do so many amazing things for me. I can walk! I can talk! And I can breathe! I’m going to try to shift my focus from all that’s wrong with me, to all that’s right with me. Thank you dear, sweet body for continuing to work so hard. May I be kind to you.

Dear readers, may you be kind to yourselves today, and focus on all that is gloriously right with you.

Every Word Handwritten

I gave away all my scrapbook things. We’re talking everything. New albums. Paper. Pens. Stickers. Funky scissors and rulers. It was really difficult, but it was time. My fine motor skills have gotten worse, and scrapbooking greatly exacerbates my pain.

I’ve been a serious album maker for many years. I got my first stash when our son was a baby. I went to a Creative Memories show and came home with $200 worth of supplies. Back then (well, even now) that was a lot of money. I came in the house and Greg said, “You’d better use that stuff.” I stayed up late that night making my first scrapbook of our son. Since then I’ve made holiday albums, sports albums, ABC albums, quilt albums, heritage albums, everyday happenings albums, anniversary albums, celebration albums… So much time and detail. Every word handwritten. (Link to a cool song that is loosely related)

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One of my favorite memories is walking into our family room and finding my then 10-year-old son and all his neighborhood friends (who all went to school together), gathered around looking at his Kindergarten album. Yes, I have an entire album just for Kindergarten!

It’s been a week and a half since I gave everything away, and I’m still a little sad. Greg has been super nice. I think some guys wouldn’t understand how hard this was. But he did. He also told me, though, that this was a way of taking care of myself.

I found a unique group of young women to give my things to–the “Groovy Girls Collective.” They describe themselves as “a community gathering place devoted to supporting, educating, and mentoring women of all ages, nurturing collaborative creators both locally and worldwide.”  (I may be giving up something, but if it has a world-wide impact, that’s OK with me.) One of my neighbors’ daughters is involved, and I contacted her, who said they would definitely like some scrapbook supplies. Here’s a few pictures from their Facebook page.

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Visiting an animal shelter.

Visiting an animal shelter.

A lemonade stand.

A lemonade stand.

Although I’m sad, I’m also excited, as I can already tell these young women are having lots of fun and great things are happening. Maybe some of these pictures will end up in a scrapbook one day.

50 is the new 60

30-40-50-60-thirties-forties-fifties-old-birthday-ecardI don’t mean to sound negative, but I’m tired of hearing that 40 is the new 30, and 50 is the new 40.

I’m 51 and I feel like 60.

I exercise. I eat fairly well. I take my Centrum Silver one-a-day vitamin. But anyone with chronic health problems will tell you,  the everyday struggles can age you.

I wanted to write a whole post about this, but I lost steam. So instead, I’m rereading some of my own blog. Here are a few posts on taking care of yourself when you’re in pain, or just not feeling well for whatever reason.

Tiny Dreams A reminder to those of us struggling with chronic pain or illness of the need to adjust our expectations (dreams) to fit our current reality. Very short post, with some really nice comments.

People tell you to dream big

but maybe it’s the tiny dreams that matter.

Sometimes my dream

is just to make it through the day.

Coping with Chronic Illness…Compassionately My interview with author of How to Be Sick, Toni Bernhard (be sure and read the whole interview; Toni is awesome):

I always tell people that the single most important thing they can do is to be kind to themselves. I look at it this way. We control so little in our lives, but the one thing we can control is how we treat ourselves. I see no reason for us not to be as kind and gentle with ourselves as we can be. It’s not our fault that we have health problems. We’re in bodies and they get sick and injured. It will happen to everyone. This is how it’s happening to us. I’ve had so many people write to me and say the single most important thing they got out of my book was to give up the self-blame and forgive themselves for being sick or in pain. Many people have said they didn’t even realize they hadn’t forgiven themselves until they read How to Be Sick. Those emails always touch me so much — just to know I’ve been of help to them.

Leaving Judgment Behind A post about a story I told to my husband, who then told it to someone at work, and how it made a difference.

My influence may be less direct, but no less meaningful. And maybe it’s not about producing a quantity of work…maybe its about being as compassionate as I can be, to myself and others, and seeing where that leads me.

A Horse with No Name A quirky little post where I lament that there’s no colored ribbon or bracelet for people without a firm diagnosis.

I’m thinking about all the people who aren’t sure what’s wrong with them. They’ve been to specialists, had all the tests, and carried their MRIs down many a hallway.  I  wish there was a ribbon for people like us. I even went to a paint store to look at paint chips, in hopes of finding the perfect color name for our ribbon. The best one I found was “Mysterious Mauve.” It’s a subtle mix between gray and purple. Beautiful.

Today, know that I believe you. I know you’re not crazy. Doctors do the best they can, but they’re human, too. They make mistakes. They don’t have all the answers. They don’t always have a name for what we have, but that doesn’t make it not real. As Toni said in her interview, “The single most important thing we can do is to be kind to ourselves.”

And maybe 60 isn’t so bad; with age comes wisdom.

I “hang out” the most on Facebook. I’d love it if you join me! You can click here or over on the side (no one ever sees it over there).

 

Chronic Resilience

51QsZGoNEEL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-67,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Why do I have chronic pain? It’s a question I’ve wrestled with for years now. I’ve been to surgeons who told me they could cure me, so I’ve gone that route–two back surgeries, one cervical and one lumbar. I’ve had a world-renowned physician tell me I had thoracic outlet syndrome (see this lovely post by my husband). I’ve had a physical medicine doctor tell me I had too little muscle between my shoulder blades and needed to work out more.  (Well, I’m stronger but I still have pain.) I’ve tried physical therapy. I’ve tried massage.  I’ve taken supplements and tried acupuncture. Recently I’ve had a doctor bring up the possibility of fibromyalgia.

In addition, being the psychologist that I am, I’ve explored every mental aspect of this pain thing. I’ve been to therapists and psychiatrists. I’ve read books that said I needed to release some anger.  I’ve learned to meditate and manage my stress. I’ll latch on to one theory, only to find another, and chase that one like a dog chasing after a rabbit. It’s exhausting, and not very productive.

Sunday I was having a bad day and the ruminating began. Why am I in more pain today? Did I sit too long in one position? Did I type too much? Did I work out too hard? Am I stressed out about something?

I tried to distract myself from my worry by surfing the Internet, and I stumbled across a soon to be released book called, Chronic Resilience: 10 Sanity Saving Strategies for Women Coping with the Stress of Illness by Danea Horn. Thanks to Amazon’s “Search Inside” feature, I was able to read some of the first chapter. It was so what I needed!

The author has a chronic health condition and had gone through similar soul searching. She writes, “I searched my psyche for feelings and thoughts that needed to be healed. I prayed to increase my faith…I read book after book, until I had a bookcase filled top to bottom with answers, none of which seemed to miraculously fix what I envisioned as broken.” Years later she asked herself, “Why am I still dealing with the same crap I’ve been dealing with for years?” (I really relate to that question!)

madewithover-10Then it hit her. The answer was simple: She realized that she was human. We come into this world with bodies that can get sick, experience pain, and eventually die. We do anything to resist these truths. We want to think we have more control than we do. She writes, “Each page I turned in all those books was a search for how to get out of being human.”

Of course, I know this. Yeah, I’m human. We’re all human. But somehow, reading her words, it hit me in a profound way. I didn’t cause this. I didn’t wake up one day and say, “Hey, I think I’ll spend the next seven or eight years going to doctors, having surgeries and taking pills.” I think far worse than the pain has been the questioning of my sanity.  (Although I do remember feeling kind of oddly disappointed when my last therapist told me I was normal–just a normal person with chronic pain.)

So, I am super excited to get her book (official release day is tomorrow, August 1).  I love the title, Chronic Resilience. When I first became interested in psychology, I wanted to know what made people go crazy. The more I learned, my question became, “Why don’t more people go crazy?” Life can be hard, yet people survive, and even thrive. From reading the sample on Amazon, reading an interview she did, and looking at the table of contents, the idea isn’t that we have no control. The idea is to let go of asking “Why?” and instead focus on, “What can I do that’s useful?” And for me, I think all this psychoanalyzing has gone too far.  The next time I get stuck in a worry groove asking “Why?” or  “What have I done?”, I’m going to gently tell myself, “Hey, you haven’t done anything wrong. You’ve already got the answer. You’re human.”

Ahhh. To use Danea’s words,  I can feel “all of the cells in my body let out a collective sigh of relief.”

Please join me on Facebook. There’s a button over on the side, but no one ever sees it.

My Brother, My Friend, My Hero

I am so excited. I have been waiting to share these videos until I got the okay from my brother. Bill has early-onset Parkinson’s Disease. He’s managed pretty well with medication over the years, even running several half-marathons and completing triathlons. But the medications were wearing off sooner and sooner, so he and his doctor decided the time was right for brain surgery (Deep Brain Stimulation). He had the surgery at Barnes Hospital, a part of Washington University Medical Center, about 8 weeks ago. I don’t want to write out the whole story now (some time I will). Let me just say that my brother is an amazing person! We’ve always been close, and I’m honored that he’s having me document his journey on film. Our end plan is to submit a 5-minute piece to the American Academy of Neurology Film Festival to help raise awareness of brain disorders. These are kind of practice pieces, although I’m sure many of the clips will end up in the final version. And I’ll definitely have a longer version for our family. I did the filming and editing with a little help from my son (who also drove me to St. Louis for Bill’s DBS programming session). I couldn’t have done all the driving myself.  Bill is back to work full-time and training for a 5K on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, and he plans to run a half-marathon close to his 50th Birthday in August.

What’s With the Cane?

A Big Step

Here are a few pictures.

DBS surgery is four to six hours long with the patient awake.

DBS surgery is four to six hours long with the patient awake.

Bill with Dr. Tabbal, one-week post surgery
Bill with Dr. Tabbal, one-week post surgery

Bill completing his first triathlon in 2007.
Bill completing his first triathlon in 2007.

Life in a Box

Photo by robhowells87 via flickr cc

No, I’m not a homeless person, but I have lived much of my life in a box. Not a cardboard box, but an imaginary box surrounding my body and restricting my every move.

I spent nearly 20 years in school, sitting at a desk.

I wrote a Master’s thesis, a disseration, and four books, typing and sitting at a desk.

I spent another 20 years counseling others, while sitting.

Now I work as a medical consultant, reviewing medical records, typing, all the while sitting at a desk.

My favorite hobby has been scrapbooking, mostly done at a table or a desk.

When I stop and think about it, it’s no surprise that I have pain from my shoulders, down through my arms, and all the way to my fingertips.

But there’s more. And this part is harder to share. Not only have my physical movements been restricted, but my emotional repertoire has been limited as well. I’ve lived most of my life as a people-pleasing good girl. In other words, I don’t do anger well. I don’t want to make others mad, and I definitely don’t want others mad at me. (At least 20 minutes have gone by with me staring blankly at the screen.) I’m drawing a blank at knowing what else to write; that’s how out of touch I am with anger. If you asked me, “What makes me angry?” I would be hard-pressed to come up with an answer. I’m not sure I even know what it feels like. I recently read that anxiety is a reaction to repressed anger. It’s a bit too Freudian-sounding to me, but what if there’s even a grain of truth to it? I may not do anger, but I certainly excel in anxiety.

I’m not sure where this all is going, and it’s disconcerting.

My challenge is not the typical “think outside the box.” No, I have to figure out a way to live outside the box. Even if that means getting off my butt and kicking some ass. (Oh my, that last sentence is so not me.)