Friday, September 23, 2016

There's Always Something Positive to Be Found

As a teacher, one of my goals is to build my student's confidence.  I often ask them to reflect on what is going right in their life.  As someone who naturally needs to find the positive in every situation, I am constantly startled that this is a huge chore for many people.

Earlier this week, I asked students to share one good thing about their weekend on the board as they were coming in. Every student but one had the same response, "Nothing." My response was always the same, "There is always something good to be found."  It soon became a chant by the other students. For many, I had to dig deep into their weekends, but finally, almost everyone had something small to share about their weekend.
  • I spent time with my best friend.
  • I went to a wedding.
  • I participated in a food festival.
  • I sat in the sun.
Although these were very simple things that might happen any weekend, they were each things that should be honored for the positive energy they brought into these students lives. What amazed me was that as the board filled with positives, smiles started popping up.  As students read the comments of their peers, they were happy for each other. The positives of their classmates sparked new positives they hadn't thought about.  It was spectacular.

As I watched the energy in my classroom change, I was reminded of how easy it is with a chronic illness to forget that there are positives in our lives, no matter how small.  Sometimes on very painful days, we have to dig deep to find them, but they are always there.  It also made me think about how I have the ability to change the environment I am in.  While we definitely need to share that we are in pain with our friends and family so that they are aware of what is going on, we also need to be cautious of how our pain is also affecting those around us. By simply sharing something good about our day, we have the ability to take our friends and family out of a serious mood of worrying for us and feel okay sharing something of their own that is going well.  Many times I think our loved ones fear sharing this because it seems our lives are wrapped around pain.  But stopping and just sharing a few nice things about our day is a nice way to connect and live in a similar world outside chronic illness, even if for only a short time.    

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Essential Oils: Organic Aromas

I have been given this product as part of a product review through Chronic Illness Bloggers network.  Although the product was a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company. 

In my home, I am a stickler about not bringing chemical scents into the house.  They
have always upset my daughter's allergies/eczema and just made breathing in general more difficult. Some people find this a little irritating/picky, but the longer you are without chemicals in your laundry, cleaning supplies, cosmetics, and perfumes, the more aware you are of their negative affects on your body.  When living with an autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis, I feel it is important to eliminate any outside force working against my body that I have the ability to control. Saying that, I do enjoy beautiful scents.  For this reason, I am a huge supporter of essential oils.  Essential oils are a natural way to not only bring beautiful fragrances into your home, but also to use scents that have therapeutic properties.  Lavendar is one I use often when life is crazy and I need to relax. I like it at night too. It's calming properties prepare me for a good night's sleep. When I am sick, I always turn to peppermint or eucalyptus.  A diffuser of one of these two essential oils next to your bed at night makes sleeping much gentler when you have a cold. During the day I use sweet orange or lemon when cleaning. They pep me up a bit. According to Organic Aromas' website, sweet orange has both antidepressant and antiseptic properties. No wonder it is perfect for cleaning days. My diffuser came with an essential oil blend that is very pleasing!
Over the years I have tried several different diffusers. For years I used ones that required a burning candle. Last Christmas I received a water based electric diffuser that until now, I thought was the best.  When I received my Organic Aromas diffuser in the mail, I instantly noticed the differences. First of all, it is simply beautiful. The base is wood (you can have hand-carved bases made) with blown glass that sits on top. Unlike the diffuser I have been using made of plastic that is also lightweight, this one is solid but not heavy. With my clumsy rheumatoid arthritis fingers, I have tipped over my plastic one more than once. The Organic Aromas diffuser is much different. It is made to firmly sit on a counter-top or desk. It even has a little gripper pad on the bottom. And best of all, no water is required. Just add essential oil, plug it in, and it is ready to go. It is stunning at night with its small LED lighting that changes colors. It would definitely be an attractive piece to add to an office, bedroom, bathroom, spa, or in my case, the kitchen.  

As we approach the gift giving season, this would be a very nice present to share with someone special.  If the price scares you off, I want to share something else I really like about Organic Aromas. When I received my first diffuser in the mail via Amazon, it didn't feel like it was misting as it should. I contacted Organic Aromas through email and was pleasantly surprised to receive an email back almost immediately.  The email assured me that they back their product 100%. They asked me to follow a few simple steps so they could figure out what the problem was with my diffuser.  After a few quick emails, it was determined that I needed a new diffuser which was sent out immediately. I have a lot of respect for retailers that work with the customer to satisfaction.  When the new diffuser arrived in the mail, my family and I noticed the difference immediately.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Rethinking Weight Gain

I went to the pool alone a couple times this summer.  It was there that I saw two moms I haven't seen in years. With my kids now grown, I don't go to the pool often. When I saw the women, I saw something exciting.  They had gained weight just like me!   

Okay.  That doesn't sound like a very nice thing to say about other women.  Let me explain. When our kids were younger, we were at the pool almost daily.  Like me, they had lost their baby fat and appeared to be working out regularly. I admired their bodies. They looked really good. Besides their aesthetics, I loved that they were moms who spent time at the pool with their kids. They seemed happy like me.  When I saw them this summer, something important dawned on me. As aging women, we have dealt with a lot. We have raised our beautiful children to adults. We have spent many hours worrying whether or not they would be safe and capable in their lives without us. We have fought with our children and spouses and renewed the relationships over and over.  I am guessing that they are like me and say a silent "thank you" every time they hear the door open late at night allowing them to finally get a good night's sleep knowing their "babies" are finally home.  They may or may not have experienced health issues like me. Perhaps they have lost a parent like me or even shared the sorrow of losing two in-laws in a short amount of time. As women and especially as mothers, we are constantly ready to give our all and because of that, our bodies are constantly in a fight or flight state. As hard as we try to calm our bodies and be good to ourselves, we always have others to think about.  We have also come to a point in our lives that we are starting to put the focus back on our own wants and needs which can be extremely gratifying but also scary and confusing. We are learning who we are again as our children become independent of us.

As I looked at these women, their lives and their bodies, they were absolutely beautiful.  Their bodies weren't a sign of laziness or giving up on themselves.  I knew that from watching them over the years. Their bodies showed me they have loved, been loved, cared, experienced life, and most likely mourned for a lost one or for parts of their life that were no more.  As I saw their beauty, I also saw my own. In the last six years, I have moved away from years of tremendous pain with rheumatoid arthritis and created a new life with the help of biologics. I have raised two teenagers into amazing adults that have given me more love than I ever imagined possible. I have loved the same man for almost 30 years who is also dealing with his own life issues.  I lost my dad who was the one person I could always count on to love me unconditionally.  I felt saddened by the death of my in-laws and have attempted to help my husband through his sorrow. I have had ups and downs as to whether or not the job I love will exist the following year and unfortunately I am still there.  I have helped my two children and husband through their own ups and downs of life.  My life has been enormously wonderful, but not without stress and pain. When I saw myself the through the same eyes I was able to see my neighbors, I instantly felt stunning. Like the stretch marks on my belly that mark the life of my children, our bodies are a reflection of all that is and has been our lives. My body has been through a lot. Why would I expect it to remain as it once was?  It doesn't even make sense. I have been where I needed to be and where I need to be now.  I have matured in so many ways and my body has come along for the ride. We are inseparable. My body is a sign of the journey in which my life has taken.  How can I not see its beauty?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Self Care: Vaginal Dryness/SYLK

This is a sponsored post.  I have been compensated through the Chronic Illness Bloggers network.  All opinions remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company. 

In case the inflammation on our joints isn't enough, chronic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis like to dish out some additional symptoms  One of those is dryness. Often the medications we are taking for our RA or the additional diagnosis of sjogren's syndrome will cause us to experience extreme dryness.  The dryness may be in your eyes, which is a fairly common complaint, but it may also cause vaginal dryness, a less discussed topic. Add perimenopause to the picture and it isn't pretty.  Ah, autoimmune diseases just keep giving.  

As part of the Chronic Illness Bloggers Network, I was asked if I was interested in trying out the product SYLK, for vaginal dryness. Yes, please! This New Zealand product has been around for 30 years and has recently received FDA clearance in the USA.

I wanted to try this product for several reasons. 
  1. I like the ingredients of this product.  My skin has always been very sensitive so I avoid harsh chemicals not only because I know my skin can't handle them, but also because with a chronic illness, I believe we should be as conscious as possible about what we put in and on our bodies. Remember, your skin is an organ too. As always, I avoid products that contain parabens, petroleums, or other chemicals. Years ago I started working towards the idea that if I wouldn't ingest the product, I shouldn't use it on my body. (I am not 100% yet, but it is getting closer all the time.) SYLK is a product that is made primarily from the kiwi vine. I like that. It is water based. (I am happy to ingest both kiwi and water!) The ingredients of SYLK are deionized water, extract of kiwifruit plant vegetable glycerine, sodium citrate, xanthan gum, citric acid, potassium sorbate, and citrus seed extract. Because of the ingredients, SYLK is also safe to use during breastfeeding.. 
  2. I like the philosophy of SYLK.  SYLK states on their website that they use an "ecologically Bio-sustainable process" in the making of their product.  Basically they take the vines of kiwis that are left to rot and extract the good stuff they need. Then they compost the vines.  Awesome!  
  3. I honestly am experiencing vaginal dryness.  TMI?  Too bad! It's true. If not cared for, vaginal dryness can create additional complications such as vaginal itching, soreness, cuts, and painful sex. Personally, I don't have the time or energy to deal with these issues.  Plus, like the rest of my body, I want to feel good down below.  A system that is working properly is always good.  
  4. Issues regarding our private areas are still not talked about often enough and I appreciate SYLK asking us to discuss the connection between chronic illness and vaginal dryness. Sometimes we feel like we are contributing every change in our bodies to our chronic illness and sometimes it really is connected. Vaginal dryness is a real issue for anyone experiencing a chronic illness, even when other symptoms seem under control. For many, sex becomes uncomfortable after symptoms like stiff swollen joints appear. We have to deal with the pain and our insecurities of sex while in pain.  Don't add vaginal dryness to your list of reasons you have to avoid sex. Plus, as we age, the dryness continues.  Learn to care for yourself as soon as symptoms appear.  We don't hesitate to add ointments to our sore joints or dry eyes and we shouldn't ignore vaginal dryness either. 
  5. It's not just for women.  Men can use it too!
Now, how do I like the product? I like it.  It doesn't have a scent which is always a plus for me. When applied, it feels natural enough that you can use it during sex or on days that you feel you need a little more lubrication. I even received individual packets which I think would be awesome to throw in your purse for a dry day.  Don't blush, I keep eye-drops in my purse too. One little warning:  it is runny.  I wasn't expecting that and spilled it all over myself.  But it absorbs quickly and there isn't any stickiness afterwards that some lubricants leave behind.  My suggestion is give it a try.     

*I did check Skin So Deep, a site sponsored by EWG, who rates personal products by safety, but it hasn't shown up there yet. I like to check out products I use regularly and see how they might affect my body and health.  

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Ability to Move Never Gets Old

Feeling loved and lucky!
My sister visiting is always a good thing.  She has always been one of my strongest supporters in life. So, as I was preparing for her trip to visit me last month, I was surprised at how many painful memories came to surface.  I remember a visit where I wasn't able to do a lot of house cleaning beforehand because I was in so much pain.  I remember feeling embarrassed at how slow I had to walk, how I struggled to drive, and how I needed to use two hands to pick up my cup of tea.  I knew I could be vulnerable with her, but when daily tasks become a challenge, it can be hard to let even those closest to us see how challenging life has become.  I also remember her visiting and going with me to pick up my first dose of a biologic and crying in the parking lot.  She asked if I was scared about the side effects of the medication.  I wasn't.  I cried because I "knew" my life was about to change for the better and after so many years in pain, I was both excited and scared.

How I "knew" my life was going to change still baffles me, but after a long hard fight against biologics, my life literally started turning around in less than two weeks. Recently I was reading an article by my good friend Lene Andersen at Health Central titled 10 Lessons I Learned From Using Biologics.  Number six on her list of ten really jumped out at me.  It wasn't only that number six supports my belief that my weight gain started when I began a biologic, but her very last sentence, "for a veteran of RA, the ability to move again never gets old," summed up exactly all the memories and feelings I was experiencing as I prepared for my sister's visit.

My daughter, husband, me, and my sister. Life is good! 

"For a veteran of RA, the ability to move again never gets old."  It has been six years exactly since I started my first biologic.  However, some days I still find myself thinking things like, "This would be an awesome dress for a day I can't button my own pants." or "Wow! Remember last time you were at this park you could barely walk." Certain times of the year, the smell or the temperature bring back exactly how I felt when my pain levels were high and I can't believe how easy it is for me to move today.  I can look back at pictures of myself and instantly remember how brave I was that day to leave the house and experience life with my family and how for days later I paid the consequences of that day out.  As I gave my house a heavy duty cleaning for my sister's visit, I remembered crying before past visits because even putting sheets on our bed was excruciating, if not impossible.  I never stop feeling amazed at where I am today to where I have been in the past.  Feeling good NEVER gets old.  And, I hope it never does.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Equilibrium Energy: Incorporating Superfoods into Your Diet

I have been given this product as part of a product review through Chronic Illness Bloggers network. Although this product was a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company.

Throughout my long journey of alternative ways to calm my rheumatoid arthritis, superfoods have become a regular in my diet. A few examples of superfoods are broccoli, kale, seaweed, and salmon. These superfoods work to give our body the antioxidants they need and help protect us from adding on to our list of diseases.  But whether dealing with a disease or not, adding more superfoods is always a good thing.  Our bodies depend on us to give it foods that nourish and heal, but as many of us know, life sometimes gets in the way of this goal and we turn to foods that do not always provide the powerful protection our bodies need which is exactly why I signed up with Chronic Illness Bloggers to give Equilibrium Energy by HoneyColony a try. Equilibrium Energy is a mixture of 12 ingredients that are intended to provide energy from all their antioxidant traits. With rheumatoid arthritis, more energy is always a plus.

This product arrived at my house in packaging that reminded me of an expensive cosmetic jar. The jar is dark glass which I took as a sign that they wanted to protect the integrity of the product which is awesome. However, my middle aged eyes couldn't read anything on the jar. (If you have this problem too, be use to check out their site. The bottle is much easier to read there.)

At the time my jar arrived, I was feeling a little run down.  I don't know if I had caught a little something or if a flare was trying to make its way into my body.  I decided this was a good time to start the product. Honey is the main ingredient of this product and often one of the go to ingredients we use in our home when not feeling well (like HoneyColony, we buy from a farmer  to make sure the quality is high).  It is recommended that you add this superfood to your morning smoothie or a cup of hot tea, but I chose to just take mine by the teaspoon.  I won't lie.  I wasn't in-love with the taste.  The consistency reminded me of tar.  But, I stuck with it.  As with any new food, I figured it would just take time for my body to get used to the taste.  I was right.  Soon, I was looking forward to my morning teaspoon just like when I used to take fish oil by the spoonful instead of softgels or when my naturopath had me on licorice root (I hated the taste at first but now even mentioning licorice root I am craving it.)  By listening to your body, it starts letting you know it wants more and to please not stop.

Did I have amazing energy while using my jar of Equilibrium Energy?  Honestly, I can't say I did.  I did get over whatever was going on with my body and got motivated to work out...again. But, other than that, I don't know.  I will say that from my experiences with various foods and diets (gluten-free, dairy free, paleo, etc) major changes don't happen immediately.  They take time.  I believe the same is true with Equilibrium Energy.  You would need to try it for several months before making a decision. I think sometimes our bodies just need time to absorb the nutrients and to trust that we are going to continue supplying them.

Below are the top reasons HoneyColony loves this product (as found on their website). Read through them and also visit their site to get more details on how each of the 12 ingredients can work towards helping your body. Maybe you will even want to use the list as foods to incorporate into your diet a little more frequently.  With rheumatoid arthritis, ginger and turmeric are always good ones to include in our diets.  Read here why they help inflammation.

  • Superfood formula comprised of 12 inidvidual superfoods
  • Provides long-lasting, cellular energy
  • Increases stamina and endurance
  • Improves oxygen utilization for enhanced performance
  • Supports physical adaptability
  • Boosts electrolytes
  • Boosts anti­-oxidants
  • Supports DNA and cellular repair
  • Enhances brain function
  • Anti-inflammation, anti-bacterial, anti-viral support
  • All bee products come from family-owned California farms
  • High quality jar protects from negative influences of light
  • Each batch receives Certificate of Analysis to ensure highest quality
  • Non-GMO
  • All ingredients certified Organic or wild-crfafted
  • Free of added sugar, gluten, soy, nuts, wheat, herbicides, and pesticides

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Self-Love: Sex

On my last birthday I wrote a post titled "Who Taught You to Age?"  I shared, "Another mentor was in her 50's at the time. She adored her husband after many 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."

As I edge closer and closer to 50, I am glad I have had so many wonderful mentors in my life. With each new period of life, they come back to me and remind me of how to live my age fully. The mentor mentioned above taught me at a very early point in my marriage that sex was not something enjoyed only by the young. In fact, the lesson I learned from her was that it only gets better. She glowed when she talked about her husband. Even though I thought she was "old" at the time, I could see that when she was with her husband, she felt gorgeous. She wasn't ashamed that she enjoyed herself. What a lovely gift she gave to me. 

Twenty eight years into my marriage, this lesson means so much to me when it comes to self-love. Sex is an important part of a loving relationship with your partner but also with the way you can see yourself. There have been times when words between us weren't there, but sex was. It held us together. Sex with my husband has made me feel like the most beautiful woman alive through each phase of life. When I was at the height of  pregnancy with our children, I could look into his eyes and see exactly what he was seeing - the woman he loved carrying the life we created together, not the big bellied woman with stretch marks I saw in the mirror. When I was in my worst pain with rheumatoid arthritis, I often felt embarrassed to show how slowly I moved or how I winced in pain, but my husband lovingly moved my joints onto pillows while checking if the position was good for me. While I often wondered how he could find me attractive as I struggled to get into bed, his eyes and gestures showed that he not only still found me attractive but was excited to be with me. To him I have been beautiful with each change life has thrown at me. 

Sometimes self-love comes from allowing ourselves to see ourselves through the eyes of people who genuinely love us. How is our significant other treating us?  Looking at us? Responding to us? Look closely into the eyes of the person who loves you. See yourself as they do rather than how you see yourself. When I stop and really look at what it is that my husband is seeing, I am able let down my guard and let all those negative thoughts about my body go and instead focus on enjoying sex more fully. By seeing myself as my husband does, I have gained the confidence to ask for what I want in our sexual relationship. I don't need to be ashamed to ask for what pleasures me. Confidence in ourselves allows us to ask for and receive the good things in life we deserve. By putting away the mirror and just seeing ourselves as the beautiful, gorgeous person someone else sees us as, we are able to put the negatives aside and instead just focus on the self-love we need to give ourselves.

Life is exciting.  Sex is exciting.  Love yourself at whatever phase of life you are at: young and healthy, pregnant, chubby, disabled, in pain, old, whatever. Be the beauty others see in you.   

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Healthline's 16 Best Rheumatoid Arthritis Blogs 2016

I am honored to once again be included in Healthline's 16 Best Rheumatoid Arthritis Blogs. According to Healthline, "We've carefully selected these blogs because the writers are actively working to educate, inspire, and empower their readers with frequent updates and high quality information.  If you would like to tell us about a blog, nominate them by emailing us at"  Congrats to everyone on the list for the advocacy you do and to all RA bloggers who are giving us a voice. You are appreciated.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Self Love: Listen to Your Body

“Listen to your body. Your body knows best.”  This is a mantra I have used over and over with my kids and myself.  Age though has shown me that for women, listening to our bodies takes a lot of work.   Physically our bodies are changing week by week, day by day. Depending on where we are in a cycle, we may feel fit and thin and a day later, exhausted and chubby. Our hormones are of course our friends, but sometimes they like to mess around with us physically and emotionally. 

I have definitely entered perimenopause, the years before menopause actually occurs.  When I last asked my PCP to run tests on my hormones, everything of course looked “perfect”.  Blah! Sometimes lab work makes me angry.  As an intrapersonal individual, I spend a lot of time listening to my body. I know things are off.  My body is on fire in the morning and my makeup has usually sweated off before entering the classroom. I wake up thinking I am going to burn to death during the night if I have had foods that don’t agree with my body. I’ve gained 30 pounds despite continuing to eat mostly healthy foods. My energy levels have gone down. I no longer enjoy high intensity activities. My body now asks me to do more yoga, Pilates, and walking. When I don’t honor it, it throws a tantrum and workouts cease. By listening to my body, I am aware of so many things that lab work is not able to detect. I know my body is changing. Sometimes I struggle not knowing if these changes are RA related, hormonal, or my guess, both.  I wake up at night with eyes so dry I am afraid to close them. I told my class the other day, "unfortunately, my brain sometimes likes to take little breaks in the middle of conversations."  Are the dry eyes and brain fog due to rheumatoid arthritis or perimenopause?  I have several other symptoms that could be RA or perimenopause or maybe worsened by the other. My rheumy says, “they are still treated in the same way.”

Having now gone through puberty, pregnancy, RA changes, and currently perimenopause, I can say with certainty that our bodies are never mundane.  I gained a lot of weight with both pregnancies and lost the weight quickly. I was actually surprised at how my body bounced back after giving birth. I was happy with the outcome. With perimenopause, I struggle.  I practice a lot of self-love and my inner self feels happy and complete. It’s the outside that needs more of that self-love. I have started adding supplements that support a woman’s body during perimenopause. Mid-life is a beautiful time. There are so many things I love about it and I want to round out the bliss that comes with age by figuring out why my physical body is not in balance with my emotional/mental state.  I have made it the last 12 years with rheumatoid arthritis, surely I can make it through perimenopause too, right?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Self-Love: Our Body is Our Best Friend, Even in Pain

This month I am focusing on self-love. A biggie for me is how I talk to myself.  I strongly believe that when we talk to ourselves, we should be doing so as if we are talking to our best friend because really, that's what we are to ourselves, or should be anyhow.  After several days of dealing with hip bursitis, I felt worn down.  I asked myself, "when will these damn hips stop hurting?"  I immediately felt awful about the words I had used.  Why would I say "damn hips" to a part of my body that is trying so hard to be good to me.  I wouldn't say that "damn friend" to someone who is sending extra love and support when I need it most, would I?  No.  Well, my hips are doing the same thing.  Each day, despite the pain, they move me from place to place.  They allow me to take my morning walks, stand at the stove as I prepare food for myself, and most of all support the rest of my body that isn't in pain.  My wonderful hips are doing all of this while they are in pain.  As my friend, I need to treat them with the respect they deserve.  "Thank you hips for doing all that you do for me each day. Let's take a break.  Let's get some ice."  It may sound silly to talk to yourself or your body parts this way, but when I do, it totally flips things in my mind.  Instead of hating the thing that is hurting, I instantly feel compassion and love.  To me, this is the truest self-love we can show ourselves.  I feel like I have highs and lows in this area of self-love but know that the more I practice it, the better at it I will be. 

What about you?  How do you talk to yourself?