The times of the day

In my profession of occupational therapy when I specialized in mental health, I often asked my patients to describe a typical day in his or her life.  A practitioner can learn a lot by the presence or absence of structure to one’s routine among other characteristics.  Someone who is depressed, for example, usually starts the day later with a disrupted sleep/wake cycle and has difficulty keeping a meaningful routine.  The days often lack variety, physical activity, creative pursuits/hobbies, social activities, appropriate self care, and regular breaks (for sleep and relaxation).  This can lead to a lack of satisfaction with how a person spends his or her time, an altered sense of identity in the absence of meaningful roles with which to identify, and can even erode the structure needed for at least part of the day that is needed to manage everything from daily habits (self care routines, for example) to emergencies.  The person spends an extra amount of energy just getting through the day and the day lacks enjoyment as well.  A person with an anxiety disorder or an addiction often presents with a completely opposite activity schedule generally characterized by chaos!  Perhaps the mental health issues came first?  Or was it the challenge of achieving a balanced lifestyle in one’s living dysfunctional environment that eventually compounded the issues?  It was my job to figure out the answer these questions and to design an occupational therapy treatment plan accordingly.

I have written on the topic of time management before but not within this context.  And not this personally.  I’ll leave out the assessment forms, graphs, charts, comparison tables, high math, and excruciating detail that would afford me a truly cathartic experience but provide you with a very boring blog post!  Perhaps this summary will be more meaningful than a formal occupational therapy evaluation?

This is what it is like to center one’s life around recovering from a serious illness.

Trying to get enough sleep to function:                   10 hours per day

This includes time that feels wasted trying to fall asleep, waking and go-to-sleep convulsive episodes, recovery time from the latter of those two, ruminating if I should take nap or not during the daytime (increase the hours if I am too chilled/sick to make a decision), waking up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, additional episodes trying to go back to sleep after getting up, waking up when my beloved is snoring post exhaustion from caring for me, more additional episodes trying to go back to sleep, bedtime preparations (donning the blue light-blocking glasses to foster melatonin production, experimenting with bedtime supplements, arranging pillows and other positioning devices to minimize pain, pre-heating the mattress pad heater to minimize the shock of cold sheets that can trigger seizure attacks), preparing my emergency “lunch” bag of waking supplements/water/snack (to manage blood sugar drops, dehydration, and remedies that sometimes help), struggles to enjoy nighttime snuggles with my beloved husband until the episodes start, and most definitely:  talking to Jesus!

Medical appointments and treatments:                   3.5 hours averaged per day across the week

Medical activities include appointments with my Family Practice Physician/Chiropractor, other Doctors and professionals, IV antibiotic treatments at the hospital 3x/week and recovery time before I can go home, transit time, scheduling, communication (phone, internet, text, and messaging), coordination of transportation when needed, various lab test procedures, detox treatments, pain management-related services, and preparing all food/records/water/supplements/detox materials needed for each appointment.  “Treatments” also include various methods of detox; foot baths; salt/mineral baths; skin brushing; liposomal, topical and oral supplements; updating my daily treatment log; medical filing/billing; special nebulized and dissolved supplements; and an occasional use of essential oils.  (For the past month I have had an average of 7 medical appointments per week!  Eeeek!)

Food and nutrition                                                              3.5 hours per day

Includes making dinner and lunches for my husband daily; making separate, special diet for myself every meal (!); shopping/ordering/freezing/processing groceries from 7 or more sources; planning (research and list-making); portioning-and-freezing (since no cooked food can be stored for more than 24 hours); recipe conversions/managing recipes; updating quick reference sheets of current protocols to keep myself sane and moving forward; and symptomatic adjustments as necessary.

Research and learning                                                     1.5 hours per day

Online medical research dominates my thirst for both information and recovery.  I also include here the review of professional literature and various publications, blogging about various health topics at http://www.justjuliewrites.com, and the investigation of various treatment approaches and providers via a variety of outlets including social media.

Socialization                                                                          2 hours per day

Whether connecting with my really smart and beloved spouse (Steve), texting/messaging/emailing friends, talking with friends or family on the phone, sending someone a card, or the rare chance I get to meet with someone in person, socialization is a highlight of each day!  Skyping with a couple of gals regularly for prayer, scripture, some laughs and tears has become a treasure!  Social isolation plagued me for about 3 years of these past four years of illness when I had to stop everything:  Bible studies, church activities, womens’ retreats, visiting, most travel (when all of our family is out of State), etc.  For a long time my most regular communication outside of our home was largely limited to superficial chats on Facebook!  Many people have left my life . . .  Thank the Lord for those faceless acquaintances on Facebook who were there when I was awake in the middle of the night!

Christ-centered activities                                                  1 hour per day

Here’s another improvement in consistency that includes listening to our pastor’s messages online (since I cannot be in the building due to sensitivities), reading my Bible, prayer, some blogging, and the reading of inspirational Christian publications (ministry newsletters, etc.)

Extreme avoidance activities                                           1 hour per day

Extra loads of laundry, additional cleaning, wiping surfaces with a diluted ammonia solution, management of various masks, preparation of barriers to minimize exposures in public places, nasal washes, and a myriad of other activities not reflected above.

Physical activity                                                                  .75 hours per day

This is the newest addition to my daily routine and comes in the form of more regular housework, walking our dog once per week, 10 minutes on a stationary bike once per week, and some gardening.  This figure is divided by the total over 7 days:  lately I can move around a little longer about 3 days per week for more than a few minutes in a row, yeah God!

Self care                                                                                   .5 hours per day

The time spent caring for myself has only recently increased to improve my appearance sometimes.  It feels good.

Recreational and Creative Endeavors                          .25 hours per day

Herein lies my greatest weakness and greatest area of improvement since starting treatment for chronic Lyme disease.  Until now there hasn’t been much fun:  sewing was limited to mending (!); I couldn’t tolerate listening to music, was too sick for kayaking with Steve (my River Bear), and reading consisted only of my Fine Gardening magazine, my hubby’s war-hero novel, and a few monthly local gardening newsletters.  I sold my jewelry business last Fall and my creative juices stopped as the illness got worse.  Maybe this summer I will actually be able to work in the public garden for which I have volunteered?  Stay tuned!  Things are looking up!  This past week I was able to work in our own garden for 3 hours:  a very physical activity as well as something that I love!

So putting on my occupational therapy hat for a moment here is my brief O.T. Assessment:

The loose schemata above reveals my obvious need for more physical, non-medical self care, in-person social, and recreational/creative activities to achieve a balanced lifestyle.  Incorporating other people into the ones that I am able to pursue will probably make everything more fun and meaningful in addition to increasing social time.  Success will depend upon the ability to avoid noxious exposures until my reactivity goes down; gratefully we are entering into the warmer months here in the Midwest so doing things outside is more possible.  As I eventually spend less time in medical and medical research activities, I hope to pursue more of a primary occupational role either by developing my Two Step Solutions business or returning to traditional employment in a suitable environment.  Volunteer work perhaps at our local Extension Office may also increase.  Keeping my occupational therapy license current, continuing to learn, developing some internet and e-commerce skills, and writing, Lord willing, are strengths that may add to the possibilities without too much additional retraining.

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I am grateful to my fellow sojourners who have kept me sane when things have been out of whack! I look forward to finding a way to give back to them and others; perhaps this would be by sharing how the Lord crafted this story or simply living a meaningful life after serious illness.  I will definitely take the time I need to make a good transition knowing that there will be some good days and some that are less so.

Overall, can you hear the hope in my voice, Gentle Reader?  Yup.  Lord willing, I am getting well!  JJ

Torture, water-boarding, and more: Part 1

balance-testing

These 3-part posts are not for the faint of heart.

I wish that I was not writing them.

This was my reality just 24 hours ago and it bears recording for future reference.

A true miracle usually starts with a hell-of-a-story.  So here it is, Part 1:

Many of you gracious, Gentle Readers know that I have been battling a serious illness for just over 4 years.  What began as an acute, viral hepatitis became the introduction of an ongoing drama that has now included (alleged) Chronic Lyme disease, mercury toxicity, poisoning from root-canaled teeth, Stage 2 Candida infection and Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS) including a biotoxin illness.  The most wretched of the myriad of symptoms continues to be daily convulsive episodes.  And for the last 2 1/2 of these 4 years those episodes range from 2 to 10 hours per day rendering me useless for a bigger chunk of daily living.  (See this video for a sample.)  Currently there is no end in sight.

My toe clips failed and I fell off my bike on August 23rd of this past year causing a Closed Head Injury with Concussion.  While my baseline functioning was only mildly affected, the orthopedic and neurologic impacts were measurable.  I hit my left shoulder, elbow, wrist, knee and side of my head on the pavement.  Within the next few weeks I received chiropractic and physical therapies then was referred to “The Balance Center” to assess ongoing dizziness, lightheadedness, ringing in my ears, etc.  I pleaded with my Doctor to delay the 3 1/2 hour test procedures due to the severity of the convulsive episodes and the fact that the acute symptoms had already diminished.  He agreed and we delayed it one month to allow some additional time to heal.

The Balance Center had to get special permission to schedule the appointment after I mentioned “seizures,” for fear that I would not be able to tolerate the test procedures.  Wise concerns.  My Doctor approved their request to proceed!  When the day got nearer I intervened and delayed it another month to October.  My Doctor understood my reasoning back then and pressed for me to complete the assessment as scheduled this past week.  He stated that there still could be some vestibular issues contributing to the convulsive episodes and lingering symptoms noted above although the latter had improved.

I knew I was doomed.  Having worked in occupational therapy for over 3 decades until disabled by this wretched illness, I knew about vestibular testing and rehabilitation.  I had attended a weekend training for it many years ago and referred my home health patients to this very clinic!  Now it was my turn.  I also knew that test devices with moving parts that cause you to lose your balance, spin you around, prompt you to move your eyes rapidly and the like would be hell for me.  I did not think I would be able to complete most of it.  That is exactly what happened:  the first appointment in October had ended after the audiology test portion: a simple hearing test in a quiet, sound-proof booth!  When the audiologist entered the room to review the results after I had just stopped seizing, her perfume sent me into more violent episodes.  It took a long time to recover from everything as I sat in a cold chair in a long hallway, staff and patients busily walking by . . .

They did the best they could with my atypical “case” perhaps.  However, the room with the sound-proof booth was already booked for the next patient and the schedule, the schedule, THE SCHEDULE must go on don’t you know?  Such is life in modern medicine these days.  It was a very desolate feeling to sit there with my unsupported head banging around with no where to lie down to minimize injury.  Gratefully the technician was very nice as she escorted me to my “recovery chair,” and later offered to reschedule me.  Reluctantly we settled upon the last day of the year:  that was yesterday.

See Part 2 for the rest of the story . . .

 

 

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