An Involuntary Adventure into a Type of Retirement

Cara Brown, BMR (OT), MSc* recently studied the role of occupational therapy practitioners in enhancing the quality of life for people in work-cessation transitions.  She was particularly interested in folks like me who made this transition when not of traditional retirement age.  Although I am still not convinced that my working days are over, I felt compelled to introduce my own involuntary adventure into a “type” of retirement.  My letter follows:

Thank you for your recent article in AJOT on Expanding the Occupational Therapy Role to Support Transitions from Work to Retirement for People with Progressive Health Conditions.**  I found it useful and respectful of persons facing both situations in life.  There may be another category to consider:  those with sudden loss of work roles who enter into “retirement.”

I am an Occupational Therapist who worked over 30 years before entering into this latter category within one night:  October 11, 2011!  I continued to work part time for a short time then decreased my hours to a few home health visits per week.  When it became clear that the onset of a serious illness made it a struggle to focus on the needs of my patients and direct the care of our Occupational Therapy Assistants, I had to stop working altogether.  My last day of paid employment was February 2, 2012.  I spent the next 2 years being my own OT by researching my condition and seeking various medical and alternative health interventions.  Energy conservation and work simplification were my way of life.  Returning to work was always my intention.

It is now 7 years since the onset of a biotoxin illness and numerous other medical conditions that continue to restrict my ability to function.  It took me those first 2 years to realize that the daily convulsive episodes and other illness factors were not going away any time soon; just the orthopedic injuries and deconditioning made it difficult to care for my activities of daily living.  Several times per week I needed to be carried to the bathroom, assisted with bathing after the worst of those episodes.  I developed, by the grace of God, dozens of new coping strategies (e.g. making my breakfast the night before and putting it bedside in a lunch bag in case I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning).  Still, I missed working.  I started making jewelry in the middle of the night and selling them online to keep my brain stimulated and some adaptive role involvement going since I was up all night long anyways.  It was the only way to avoid more seizure attacks.  My life was upside down in many ways for sure.

It took me weeks not days to eventually sell my jewelry business and start to develop a professional website akin to my occupational therapy practice in home health.  I designed a bathroom safety product and began to develop the concept while networking within every aspect of this new venture hoping it would be a transitional activity  back into practice.  In doing so, I could monitor my activity level, continue to challenge my brain, learn new computer and marketing skills, and get excited that what I had learned when off of work was not “wasted.”  After about a year in this new direction, I had to stop.  Things got even worse before they got better.  The convulsive episodes progressed, aggressive treatment took its toll, and just caring for my basic needs was all I could do.  My spirit was crushed.  That was 2016.  By the end of the year I was hospitalized with shingles.  The stress was unbelievable and my body was breaking down further.  I changed the focus of Two Step Solutions several times; my personal blog (www.justjuliewrites.com) tells the medical and emotional story.  Gee, I did learn how to blog and design simple websites (and helped 2 others with theirs)!

But my personal financial resources in addition to my physical and emotional resources (of which you mention in your article) were gone.  The isolation was staggering even with a plethora of online support groups and a Prayer Group I started with two other largely home-bound gals.  Eventually some specialized care funded, in part by a Go Fund Me campaign and an unexpected tax refund, improved my condition enough to start some volunteer work this past year.  I hoped that the volunteer work could progress to part time employment whether within or outside the field of occupational therapy but later in the Fall my health started to slide again and new medical conditions emerged that required my energies, my attention such as it remained!  I needed to keep things low key despite any “goals” I continued to set every morning, 7 years later.

The underlying message to sharing my story with you is to express the extreme difficulty I had as an Occupational Therapist to go through all of this who not only loved her profession but loved OCCUPATION.  Every day when I got out of bed since college, I set goals.  This continued through my time of disability.  The items on the list got fewer as time went on and the complications, unpredictability of complex illness continued.  I never stopped trying to find solutions for either the medical conditions or functional limitations posed by them.  If I needed to wear a charcoal mask in public to be able to shop at the grocery store then so be it.  If I needed to sit in my vehicle to rest or in the cafe of a store pretending everything was o.k., I did so.  I never felt ashamed to be online instead of in-person meeting people; genuine friendships came from meeting fellow bloggers with whom I have now met or “Skyped.”  

Dear Cara, I hope that you will keep seeking to understand the role of occupation in the lives of person with not only progressive but sudden, serious medical conditions or traumatic accidents.  Perhaps the cancer literature has studies to further your investigation as many cancer survivors do return to productive lives.  And note as you go along that there are tens of thousands of folks like me out there just hoping for the opportunity to do the same; we just don’t know if that will be our outcome . . . yet!  In the meantime, I am not giving up.  If I did not have my faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ, I would have done so by now.  Not even my drive for meaningful occupation can come close to keeping me going as knowing my future is secure in eternity because of my faith (regardless of the simplicity, setbacks, and sometimes messiness of my daily life). I submit to you that those facing progressive and sudden loss of primary occupations will require assurance from the Creator God to ultimately succeed in this involuntary type of retirement. 

Godspeed lady in life and in your work,

Julie (MS, OTR/L)

Advanced Master Gardener

Editor and Asst Editor of 2 Publications

*Instructor and PhD Candidate, Department of Occupational Therapy, College of Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

**American Journal of Occupational Therapy, November/December 2018, Vol 72/No 6, p 347010

New Skills

1 Corinthians, believer, Christian, not be wasted, don't give up, hope, not in vain,

If I had to create a resume today the contents would be a bit different for these past 5 years.  Web design?  Yup.

When I get concerned that my professional skills have eroded, I remind myself that life is measured more than by occupational achievements.  Later I will write about the journey for meaningfulness that led me to simply trust the Lord with each moment, each day.  For now perhaps what they used to call a “Functional Resume” is in order?  So here I submit a list of new things for which I am grateful to have learned despite being sick every day for over 5 years.  Surely the time was not wasted!

Developed 5 websites:  1 on Etsy and 4 on Word Press.

Self-published an eBook, Hope Beyond Lyme:  The First Year.

Taught myself how to make macramé and handcrafted jewelry, developed Trinity Jewelry by Design, sold hundreds of pieces online and at 5 events, then sold the business 2 years ago.

Learned about Lyme disease, mercury, Candida, seizures, epigenetics, biologic dentistry, shingles-and-other viral infections, biotoxin illness PLUS their respective testing and treatment protocols.

Learned about social media, ecommerce, blogging, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yahoo-and-other online forums, Skype (formed a prayer group), basic video production, online banking/PayPal, how to use a smart phone with Apps, and the like.

Became an Advanced Master Gardener.  Achieved the highest-star rated sustainable garden at our home.  Finally harvested our own blackberries!

Experimented with special diets for health:  ketogenic, low oxalate, low glutamate, gluten-free, SIBO, and the usual dairy/sugar/sweetener/mold-free diets.

Became an Assistant Editor to my Editor/Husband for the quarterly publication Canoe News of the United States Canoe Association.  Learned the basic features of MS Publisher and PowerPoint.

Experimented with various methods of detoxification for health including full spectrum infrared sauna, colon hydrotherapy, Epsom/mineral salt baths, lymph massage, and various binding agents (zeolite, benonite clay, fulvic acid, Intestinal Metals Detox, acai fiber, cholestyramine, chitosan, Welchol, etc.).

Learned about environmental toxins, extreme mold avoidance, types of masks to reduce exposure, cleaning strategies, remodeling, and more.

Implemented energy conservation, work simplification, home safety, accessibility, and novel coping strategies (that I used to train my patients!) to manage changes in my physical abilities.  Trained my husband in same, often in times of medical crisis.

Began a “telehealth” arrangement for part of my healthcare with a naturopath/genetic coach out of State.

Learned to camp in a travel trailer with my beloved hubby, Steve, and our German shepherd pup, Elle.

I bought my pick up truck 5 DAYS before I got sick.  Quickly, I learned to drive a truck then how to pull a trailer, haul stuff, and manage a 4-wheel drive vehicle.

Learned basic upholstery crafting to make all new cushions for our travel trailer and two custom cushions for a medical office.

Successfully navigated a complex and long disability case despite ongoing nightly  seizure attack episodes frying my brain at times!

Perhaps there is more yet I will stop here.  As an occupational therapist, I am trained to assess the life skills of my patients and how these are affected by his or her medical condition or disability.  Its as if the Lord knew that I would need the very skills of my profession to handle the devastating effects of a complex, serious illness 30 years after my career began.  In the past I’d often “re-invented” myself at work, moving from mental health to rehabilitation then home health care.  My work included contract work, consulting, and even a public speaking program called the Living Safely ©Program. Just about everything that I ever learned in my profession has helped me to cope and begin to overcome my current situation.

So when I shed a few tears for the setbacks that come, like last night, they simply do not last very long.  Or at least I can clear my mind more quickly than in the past.  Gratefully, I have other things to think about other than illness:  things I can still do when I can get up and get moving again.  And maybe, just maybe, when the seizures stop for good, all of this learning will bring glory to my Lord and Savior as He has helped me get through each moment . . . oh and Stevers too of course!  My husband is a saint!  And very wonderful.

Be encouraged, Gentle Reader.  Lord willing, I am going to get well!  I will be praying for you too this night.  Let’s hang in there, k?

Take care,

JJ

Psalm, 73, 73:6, God, heart and my portion forever, Lord, sustains, sickness, hope, always with me, Holy Spirit, trials, coping, Christian, believer, Jesus Christ

Revelation, 21, 21.5, make all things new, believer, Christian scripture, hope, help

It’s more than a delicate balance

As anyone who likes to (or needs to) cook knows, it can be a tough balance to make a recipe taste just right.  The host of your fav cable cooking show says to add a pinch of salt and pepper as you watch her grab easily a fistful of seasonings.  Ah ha!  So that is why version mine comes out differently than yours!  Just ditch the online recipe on her website and fly by the seat of your pants!  Taste, taste, taste and make the dish all your own, eh?

I don’t tend to make meals using recipes anyways.  With a limited diet and having to make a wacky version for me and a “normal” one for my beloved, I would become too frustrated trying to follow the masterpiece designed by someone else’s reality!  I just start with what I CAN eat, add more salt with my eyes closed then put one of my go-to seasoning mixes on Steve’s version.  It works for us.  Well most of the time, that is!  And when it doesn’t, that is what salsa is for right?  (O.k.  I know I have offended someone out there now!)

My health situation of late is kinda like the same delicate balance.  Add too much zinc for too many days in a row or take a new supplement or med for more than 3 doses and whammo (!) I get burned at the “steak.”  There’s little more than dog food left of me afterwards.  Gratefully my Doc does exhaustive lab testing to try to coach me in the right direction.  But now even labs cannot predict the outcome anymore.  I seem to react to everything.  It’s worse when the pharmacist of an independent lab starts making suggestions too.  So I try this and that.  Oh how I want things to work out well!  So far, it has not.

I am my own worst enemy in these scenarios.  The results aren’t even back yet for the female hormones that are at a mystery level since going through menopause.  I went through menopause during the almost 4 years of this illness and these tests for me are way out of date.  The significance of the hormones is that a goodly number of women (who have true epilepsy) have worsened seizures during menopause and others have reported a new onset of what is called “catamenial epilepsy.”  While I do not think that I have epilepsy per se and all the fancy labs have supported this, I do find this course of study intriguing.  I joined a couple of Facebook groups on the subject and have hunkered down into some new online research.  Then of course I re-started a tiny bit of progesterone on my own to see what would happen.  Yeah, I know that I should wait until the lab results are back in a total of 6 weeks.  But heck, at the rate I have been going, 6 weeks means up to 210 more hours of convulsive episodes!  Why wait?  I am going to go through hell anyways . . . .

Dr. Erwin Leutzer of Moody Bible Institute teaches that, “when you are going through hell . . . DON’T STOP!!!”  Oh yeah.  That fits for me.  Not sure what to do with some of the symptoms that are emerging though.  Clearly this will need professional tweaking at some point!  Do ya blame me for trying?  What if I finally stumble upon the resolution to this nightmare?  There are so many labs that are off now and the convulsive episodes have escalated to 4 hours or more most days, I just figured that it’s worth a shot . . . worth disrupting the status quo.

The decisions of life can be a delicate balance over here sometimes.  Do we continue with travel plans when I am in the throes of chronic illness?  For us, the answer is yes.  We just adapt things a bit and get on down the road.  Life goes on.  In due time, if it is the Lord’s will, I am going to be well.  In the meantime we will use the portable heater in the Tin Can Ranch (aka travel trailer) instead of the noxious propane mini-furnace so I can be with my beloved overnight at his kayaking competitions out of town.  In the meantime I’ll freeze portions of meals to ease food prep when Steve needs to pitch in for me.  In the meantime I will fold laundry when my brain stabilizes in the wee hours of the morning and scratch the ears of our pup who gets more fractionated sleep than I do.  In the meantime Steve will head into work later to make up lost time and we will be grateful for his flexible employment.  And so it goes, a balancing act on steroids that we have come to master, one ingredient at a time!

Gentle Reader, I’ll bet you understand the need for balance with the stuff of life. Let’s look together with gratitude that we do have some choices even in the worst of situations.  For those who believe in the Lord, Jesus Christ, we know that all things, delicate and less so, will work together for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.  It’s His promise from His word in Romans 8:28.  That is because He knows us and loved us before we were even born.  He knows and cares for all of the details of our lives!  (Psalm 139)  And He knows what choices we will make.  As for me, I will aim to make choices that keep me moving forward, aiming to win.  Sometimes things will be out of balance for a time.  Yet with my eyes fixed on Christ, leaning on His Word and the leading of the Holy Spirit I will run my race of life with endurance:  endurance the produces hope (Romans 5:4) and endurance to finish well too!  (Hebrews 12:1)

surf ski, surf ski racing, river racing, USCA, kayak racing, unlimited class, competition, drafting, Epic kayaks
My River Bear leading in a United States Canoe Association event last year. Gooooo Steeeeve!

Never sacrifice sweet victory for a need to stay comfortably in balance though.  Attend to the tasks at hand with wisdom then get out there and LIVE!  Do not stop!  May we both finish well my fellow sojourner.  The crown of glory awaits!

That is all.  JJ