Friday, February 5, 2016

Home Remedies for Cold/Flu Season

Even though I am a teacher to adult learners, I often find myself being "mom". When students come into the classroom fatigued, coughing or coming up for tissues multiple times, I begin my "mom questions".

  • Are you sleeping enough?
  • Is this what you are eating for breakfast? (Usually a can of pop and chips)
  • Are you stressed about anything?
I go through a list of questions that I usually ask my own children and then we end up having a discussion on home remedies for preventing colds/flu and what to do once they have invaded your body. Here's a list of some of my favorites.

1.Stress - Almost 100% of the time when friends or family (or myself) get sick, it is after a stressful event at school, home, or life in general. Be aware of stressful situations and find ways to be good to yourself. Whether we believe it or not, we can always schedule a ten minute Epsom salt bath into our day or find 30 minutes to relieve our minds with a corny Netflix show.  Scheduling downtime for ourselves really ends up saving us time in the end when we aren't sick in bed for days. Here's a great Epsom salt recipe I found on MindBodyGreen:

 What you’ll need:

  • 1 cup epsom salt
  • 1/2 c baking soda (yes, the kind you keep in your fridge!)
  • 4 T ground ginger (more or less depending on your tolerance)
  • Essential oils of choice (I did this twice and used lavender the first time and tea tree the second)
2.  Eat well - We live in a society that seems to honor and encourage busyness. However, the busier we are, the worse we eat. We tend to rely on fast meals that provide little nourishment when we need it most. Find foods that nourish during cold/flu season and have them handy. Bone broth and pineapple are two of our favorites. After I use a whole chicken, I immediately throw the carcass, along with some chicken feet, apple cider vinegar, and veggies into the crock pot for the next 12-24 hours.  Then we drink a cup just like we would tea or I add it to soups. Bone broth is full of goodness. According to Shape Magazine, "Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint, actually calls bone broth a "superfood" thanks to the high concentration of minerals. He says that the bone marrow can help strengthen the immune system." At our house we also like to eat a lot of pineapple when sick. claims that "Pineapples contain bromelain, an enzyme with anti-inflammatory properties. It fights infections and kills bacteria. The juice from fresh pineapples can suppress coughs five times more effectively than cough syrup." Plus, it is delicious. I can't keep my kids away from it!

3.  Wet Sock Treatment- I learned this one from my naturopath. She introduced it to us when my kids were young calling it the "Magic Sock Treatment".  For this one you need a pair of cotton socks, wool socks, and a warm bath. I highly suggest reading more about this.  It works!

4. Essential Oils- This cold/flu season I have kept my diffuser going a lot of the day in our main living area and then take it to my room at night. According to Eden's Garden, "Using essential oils such as Cinnamon, Clove, Eucalyptus, Lavender, Lemon, Sweet Orange, and Thyme all deter the growth of viruses." I love the smell of lemon and orange together.

5. Sunshine - Even when sick, I often recommend getting outside for a short time and soaking up some sun. With many of us spending all of our time inside, we are missing out on the wonderful benefits of sunshine.

6. Sleep - I know we are all busy and without us the world will fall apart, but darn it, listen to your body.  When you are sick, that is your body screaming out to you that it needs time to recharge. Listen! Be a "mom" to yourself. Demand you get back into bed for the day. Mom always knows best.

If these home remedies aren't effective, you might need to contact your family physician. If you don't have one or you are looking for a new physician, check out  I am happy with my doc but enjoyed searching for rheumatologists in my area. I was surprised at how many there are. 

What are your favorite home remedies?

Friday, January 22, 2016

My Story on HealthCentral!

This month I had the wonderful experience of sharing my personal story with HealthCentral and their series "My Story: Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis" . It was more of a reflective experience than I imaged it would be. I felt a little vulnerable talking about my worst days, weirdly guilty that I've had so many good days when others are still struggling, and amazingly proud of who I've become as a person because of my experiences with rheumatoid arthritis. 
We each have an amazing story to share (share yours!) and we have so many inspirational people in our community.  Read their stories here. Thank you HealthCentral for sharing these stories in such a positive and beautiful way.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

How Being an Introvert Benefits My RA

Growing up, I didn't understand that there were different types of personalities or that as a society we tend to cater to extroverts while introverts are left to feel like odd beings. Well, that is always how I felt anyhow. I dreaded new conversations with people of all ages because I knew that I made them uncomfortable with my inability to make small talk and/or with how comfortable I have always been with quiet. While I have always had friends, I've also always avoided multiple nights out and especially sleep overs preferring instead quiet nights at home talking with my dad, hanging out in my bedroom reading, learning new recipes, or trying to figure out how to sew. It wasn't until I had two kids of my own and saw the huge difference in their personalities (one strong introvert and the other an extrovert with some introvert tendencies) that I began to learn about and appreciate my own personality. I finally stopped feeling like a freak and started realizing these characteristics are who I am and are the exact reason I attract the friends I do.When rheumatoid arthritis became a part of the mix, my personality seemed like a good match because I was already learning how to honor my introvert personality which in turn honored my rheumatoid arthritis.

As an introvert, I gain energy from down time. When I know an event is coming up that will zap a lot of my energy, it is as if I have to save up as much energy as I can beforehand. I do this by spending a few days at home doing absolutely nothing. A cashier at Trader Joe's once asked what my plans for the weekend were and when I said, "Absolutely nothing," she replied back, "That's a surprise. Most people pack every minute of their weekend with something." When I am flaring or feel a flare coming on, I don't hesitate opening up my schedule as much as possible with nothingness. For some people this is really hard, for me, it comes with ease.

During Christmas season, a rheumatoid arthritis Facebook page asked something along the lines of  "What do you do during the holidays when you don't feel well enough to go to parties/get togethers?"  This made me chuckle. My introvert personality has prepared me well for this part of rheumatoid arthritis also. I've been avoiding parties my entire life. I always have fun when I go (I do like people and I am often attracted to extroverts!), but I am also always trying to figure a way out of going because I know how much energy it will require to talk to a variety of people when I know I would be quite content spending the evening at home.

There have been times over the last few years where I have over-committed myself and I am sure it will happen again, but for the most part, I keep commitments to a minimum. This is something important I have learned about my personality. When I over-commit, I shut down and don't accomplish anything. This is important as someone who deals with the ups and downs of RA. When you over-commit and then have a flare, it is hard to back out of those commitments so the stress builds up as the flare intensifies. I have found that for my type of personality and because of the unpredictability of RA, keeping commitments to a minimum is the best thing I can do for myself and the most respectful thing I can do for others.    

Conserving energy, backing out of social events, and not over committing are all things that benefit our bodies when we are flaring. For me, these are all second nature for me. My personality doesn't really allow for anything different. I do often wonder though what it must be like to be an extrovert with rheumatoid arthritis. How do you slow down?      

To learn more about introverts, watch Susan Cain's TED video or join Quiet Revolution on Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Sometimes RA is My Friend

I know we aren't suppose to like rheumatoid arthritis, but I am going to share something with you. Sometimes RA is my friend. Sometimes rheumatoid arthritis is the only friend that won't stop telling me that it is time to rest. It is the friend that isn't afraid of hurting my feelings and telling me I have overdone it. It has taken me a long time, but I have finally gotten to a place where I listen to the first messages sent from my friend RA that something isn't right.

This has been a tough semester. Several things have been going on at home and without a budget in place for Illinois, I have not known if I have a job in January. (I do! Just reduced hours.) Late last week, all the issues that we've been experiencing seemed to climax. The stress I felt was overwhelming, but when I stopped long enough to take a breath, I felt RA talking to me. It was first in my hips and then in my shoulder. I wasn't experiencing a huge flare yet, but RA was telling me that I had taken on too much and if I didn't take the time to care for myself, things would get out of control with my body. I listened. I got my walking shoes on, put a leash on my border collie, and headed out for a long walk. I even turned off my phone. I let the sun shine on my face and let all the tension slowly release from my mind and body. I then came home and did a relaxing Pilates/Yoga video and took a long relaxing bath. It felt good to listen to my friend. Rheumatoid arthritis knew what I needed and luckily I listened. The next day I woke up and all the RA tension was gone! Thank you RA for being my body's reminder to be good to myself.      

What's Not Moving Is Just as Important as What is Moving

Since my bilateral hip injections in September, my hips have been inflexible.Sitting on the floor cross-legged, which I love, has been a struggle for my hips. When squatting down to help a student, my hips feel like they don't want to move with me. After walking for a while I feel my hips tightening up even more. So, I decided to start doing something about it.  For me, it has been Pilates videos and after a few weeks, I'm already noticing a difference.

One morning while doing a video, the instructor said something along the lines of, "What's not moving is just as important as what is moving." Yes! That's so true for rheumatoid arthritis too. So many times when we are flaring, that joint(s) that isn't moving gets 100% of our attention. We forget that our body is an amazing machine that is always working to balance us out. Some days are really hard and we have several joints that won't cooperate, but if we look hard, we can always find a joint that is still moving. It is still trying hard to provide for us. I'll admit that finding the positive in our bodies is a skill that takes time to learn, but like Pilates, the more we do it, the stronger we get at it. What's moving in your body today?  

Monday, November 9, 2015

Connecting How I Became My Own Advocate

I constantly tell my adult ESL/Pre-GED students to find connections between what they are currently learning to something they already know. Here's my connection to becoming my own RA health advocate.

When my first baby was born, I was determined I was going to nurse him. I thought I had read everything on nursing I could before he was born. However, what I didn't read was how breastfeeding does not always come naturally for everyone. I was given a lactation consultant in the hospital without much luck and sent home with a bag of formula. At home, my little one and I still weren't getting the latch-on figured out. I could tell he wanted to, but it just wasn't happening which raised my stress levels to new highs. I was determined though and kept trying to move the formula out of my mind. Finally, after an early morning call to our pediatrician, I was connected with a La Leche League leader (a group for breastfeeding moms). She gently encouraged me that I could do it. She asked some questions and quickly figured out the problem. The memory of my son's first real nursing session still makes me cry - 19 years later. Not only was I finally meeting his needs, but I had made a parenting decision that came true with some perseverance.

Having another mom that I could call for help was amazing and I quickly began attending LLL meetings every week. It was amazing to hear seasoned moms share their stories and ask questions of me that helped me become stronger as a mom. They really listened. It didn't take long until I was the one helping others which is an amazing feeling. When my second was born and I chose to tandem nurse, I found a subgroup of moms within the group that helped a seasoned mom with a new concern. (Wouldn't it be cool if we had a similar group for RA?) I took a lot of life lessons from La Leche League, but a few really stood out when I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

First, I learned from LLL that my family and physicians are there to help me as a mom, but ultimately, I am the expert on my child. I know him/her in a way that nobody else will. I learned from other moms how to trust myself. If something didn't feel right, it most likely wasn't right for my child. This was true for RA too. When I returned two weeks after my initial appointment with my family physician, he was surprised to see me, but I knew something wasn't right. A referral was made. Unfortunately, I didn't always trust myself in the beginning and ended up staying with my first rheumatolgoist, who wasn't a good fit, for several years. Instead of listening to what my heart was telling me, I used my rheumy as what my husband referred to as my "drug dealer" rather than a partner in my health. It just never occurred to me that I could change rheumatologists. Luckily, I had created a health team of a family physician I felt comfortable with and a naturopath that left me feeling like Super Woman after each appointment. They both reminded me that I know myself well and I needed to follow the journey that fit my individual needs. A new rheumatologist was found. At the second Joint Decisions Empowerment Summit this weekend, I felt a renewed strength in myself. I was reminded of how different each of the participants journeys have been, but how each one of us know ourselves well enough to speak out for what is right for who we are.

Another lesson I learned from LLL was to share positive stories with my spouse about my child in front of him/her and just as importantly, to let our child overhear me saying good things about them when they weren't the center of attention. Rhonda, our Joint Decisions energy break coach, reminded us that we have a private voice always going on and what we tell that private voice is very important. Over the weekend, I was thinking about how sometimes I hear positives about myself from others, but I don't always share those stories out loud for myself to overhear. A few weeks back, I told my class that the homework assignment I was giving was really important and if it wasn't completed I would be angry. A student raised his hand and said, "Even if you are angry with us, you will still have a smile." That was a huge complement to me. With at risk students, the greatest thing I bring to the classroom is my smile. Imagine if I shared that story out loud for my family and friends to hear? Would I feel like I am bragging to say good things about myself or would hearing it out loud encourage me to carry that smile with me more places knowing I am making a small but important difference in this world?

Learning to be your own advocate in your relationships, job, and especially health takes time. It isn't something that just comes naturally for many of us. This weekend I felt very fortunate to be part of the Joint Decisions team of advocates. We weren't just a team of bloggers advocating for ourselves, but I really felt like the entire Janssen and Tonic team was there advocating for us, with us. There were so many times when a blogger would share something we wished was different and a Janssen member would say, "How can we help make this happen?" What a special question to ask.

Good things are happening in the RA world and Joint Decisions is definitely going to lead the way in that. I'll post more about the summit soon, but I am exhausted. We took in a lot of beautiful scenery and memories this weekend that I'd like to spend some time reflecting on.          

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Walking Strike is Over!

Not her best picture, but she was too excited to stop for pics.
Izzy's three and a half month walking strike is finally over and it feels soooooooo good!  After a stormy June, Izzy, my border collie, stopped walking in our neighborhood. I could take her to parks and she was generally fine, but just said "no" to getting leashed up for a walk around the neighborhood.  I missed my daily walking partner. In fact, I was starting to feel very imbalanced. I walked alone many days, but found I missed needing a critical eye for my surroundings. I missed watching for clues from Izzy that something was ahead of us. I even found that I was less observant to the day to day happenings in our neighborhood when I walked alone. I also felt less connected to Izzy which made me feel really sad. Walking together has always been our thing. She has always been my motivator to move, even during my worst RA months. She has walked me through a lot of rough days.

Luckily we have an excellent holistic vet. She recommended slowly getting Izzy back into the a walking routine. My job was to give her special treats for leashing up and getting out of the house. After that, I was to let her lead how far she wanted to go. For weeks that meant we walked to the end of our driveway and got the mail. She was okay leashing up when I told her we were getting the mail, but not a walk. Slowly she started leading me around the front yard and we did that for several weeks. Our vet has also been doing chiropractic care of her since she has had a Hiatal hernia since she was a puppy and it gets out of hand when I go long periods without chiropractic work. In addition, she is treating her for a cough. The cough and hernia go hand in hand and could definitely be a reason she hasn't wanted to walk.

On October 11, she woke up and nudged me to walk. I sarcastically told my son we were going on a "walk" and I'd see him in two minutes. But surprise, surprise! Izzy took off and just kept on going!  We did our usual 45 minute walk around the neighborhood and she has been ready to go every day since then! I am a happy girl.

*Being patient with Izzy has also been a good reminder to me that we have to be patient with our own bodies. Sometimes there is more going on than appears.


Twitter Chat Tonight

Becoming a part of the RA community has definitely been a positive step in my RA journey. While I have often followed my own unique path, I have learned so much from everyone I have come in contact with the last eleven years. Plus, I have met some amazing people who I now consider to be great friends who motivate me to be my best with RA and life in general. Tonight, a fantastic team of bloggers and health care professionals will be joining CreakyJoints and Joint Decisions on Twitter Chat. (If this is your first time on a chat, it is actually a lot of fun!)  The theme is creating a strong health care team as well as gathering other supporters in your RA journey. It's a great way to share some of your own tips while also learning from others in the community. Lucky me!  I generally work on Tuesdays, but I am off tonight and can join too!  I hope to see your there. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Who Taught You to Age?

It's my birthday. I'm 48 today!!!  Lucky me!

As I have been living out my 47th year on life, I've been thinking about aging. I've never been someone who is afraid or ashamed to say my age and often say it out loud (possibly so I don't forget how old I am. I do that occassionally). Pretending to be an age other than your own has always seemed silly to me. But more than that, it has made it more difficult for us to share the aging process with our younger family and friends. If we never stop being 29 years old, how can we teach our own children the beauty of aging?

Recently I read an article titled Aging Better with a Little Help From Our Friends: Recalling Lessons Learned from the Experts.  In the article, writer Patricia Corrigan asks about aging, "Who taught you how?"  That's an interesting question. Who did teach me how? I know I've made a conscious effort to share my aging process with my children, especially my daughter. I want her to be my different ages and remember my experiences so she has something to relate to. I often share with her why I love being the age I am. It is not something to fear. But who taught me?  Why am I okay with being the age I am?

Here are a few influences in my life:
My teaching mentors.  When I was a young 22 year old in my first teaching position, my mentors were several decades older than me. Actually, one was the exact age I am now. She was returning to teaching after taking years off to care for her children. I remember thinking of her as "old" when I first met her since she was 47, but I soon thought of her as both my peer and my mentor in life. First off, she never mentioned her age as an issue. She got right back into the swing of work and we had some really fun years. She was innovative and honest. I learned from her things about perimenopause that have made me feel quite normal today. Another mentor was in her 50's at the time. She adored her husband after years of marriage. I loved how they were always doing something new- travel, outings, etc. Life was still exciting as was her sex life. Maybe TMI for some, but as a young married woman it was so beneficial to know things didn't have to change with age.
My grandmother:  There isn't a day that goes by that my grandmother and her influence over me don't become apparent. I always knew how old my grandmother was. She never hid it from me. My fondest memory of my grandmother was her excitement over a new craft she was working on. I was never too young or old for her to take me to her craft room and show me all the projects she was working on. I loved that she always had something new going on and her excitement radiated.  My last conversation with her was one where we both knew she was dying. She said, "Don't worry about me. I have done everything in life that I wanted to do." Some might have thought of my grandmother as a person who wasn't very adventurous, maybe even boring, but she was content with herself and her life. What an amazing gift to have shared with me.
Others: There have definitely been others who have shared their experiences with aging that have left me with a positive feeling about it. There is a woman in her 90's in our neighborhood that gets out with her walker every single day and walks. For me, she has reminded me that movement at all ages is key to aging well.

I think what I like most about aging is knowing who I am.  I am very aware of all the positive attributes I have, but after years of experience, I am also aware of the negative. Life is full of adventure no matter what the age and I want to share that with my children and even with my young students. I feel like it is our responsibility to help guide them along.  So, don't be ashamed to share your age. It is really important.

Corrigan would often invite friends to her home to get aging advice. Here is some of their advice:
  • Talk mostly about your life now, not about the past.
  • Travel while you still have the energy and the patience for it.
  • Adapt to change or don’t, but understand that everything changes.
  • Attend to physical ailments, but don’t obsess about them.
  • Wear your good jewelry every day.
What is your best piece of advice for aging?

Tracking Symptoms: Not As Beneficial as I Had Hoped

With the hip pain I have been experiencing lately, I thought it was a good idea to begin documenting my symptoms somewhere. I have this huge problem of completely forgetting about symptoms if I am not experiencing them at the appointments. So, I started using an app called Rheumatoid Arthritis Diary. I like that you can add your symptom intensity, make comments, describe your symptoms and pain, log triggers, exercise, medications and treatments, and test procedures. You can even email it to yourself and print it out for appointments.

When I left for my appointment with my hip doctor yesterday morning, I was so proud of myself for having everything in print. I circled a few things that I really felt were necessary to discuss. I felt confident that this time I wouldn't forget anything. I would finally be able to give a full description of how I have been feeling. Unfortunately, I would have been just as successful going in with a blank memory.  Here's how the appointment with Barbara went:

B: How are the hips?
C:  Still hurting.
B:  But are they better?
C.  Yes, but the pain has changed.
She listens and has me get up on table as I explain that the pain isn't limiting my activities other than wiping my energy and they don't hurt today. (emailing her to complain last week took care of that I guess).
B:  Does this hurt?  (moves my leg)
C:  No.
B:  Does this hurt?
C:  No. (moves leg in another direction)
She continues moving my legs and me answering "no". Finally she says, "Well, I don't know what to do for you."  I was being dismissed.

I don't really know how to explain the pain I have been feeling. It moves around and can be very mild or very intense. I felt like an impostor sitting there. All the sudden I forgot all my notes and felt like I had made all this crap up in my head. I panicked. "There isn't anything they can do to help me."  I started crying. I mean really crying....hard.

Again, this is why I love Barbara. She stopped, took a deep breathe and explained that my rheumy asked her to do a specific job and she did it.  She then gave me a big hug and asked if I would like something for the pain at night. "Yes, please."

I left and tried to reschedule my November appointment with my rheumy for sooner but there wasn't anything. The receptionist wanted to know if she could leave a message with the doctor and the tears came again. "No, I can't control myself to talk about it now.  I'll email her."  All in all, a disappointing morning. However, the pain is gone for now.

Lesson for me:  Complain about the pain more often and maybe it will just disappear.