Sunday, December 30, 2012

Not Making Resolutions, but Focusing on Small Changes

For years now I have not understood the need for people to choose the beginning of a new year as the time to improve their lives.  It always seemed to me that as soon as you see yourself slipping, it was time to make changes. Why wait until January 1st to make yourself better?  What I realized this year is that sometimes life gets so busy that until you have time to stop and reflect, you don't even realize how much you have slipped or have time to consider how you are going to make things better.

2012 was a good year for me in so many ways.  Most importantly my rheumatoid arthritis has been under control all year!!!!  This has allowed me to accept a second teaching position at a local community college teaching English to adult language learners.  Feeling good and able to move with ease has also allowed me to work one on one with students who I now private tutor.  I love my job and to do full time what I love has been wonderful. Early in 2012 I joined RA Guy and Lene Anderson in forming Show Us Your Hands! Along with community members, the three of us produced a beautiful book showcasing what we can do with our hands while living with inflammatory arthritis.  Recently we added directors that came in and got right to work doing amazing things.  We are now a soon to be non-profit charitable organization. As far as my family goes, many new things happened with them too.  My daughter started high school after a lifetime of homeschooling and loves it!  She joined the cross country team and found that she loves to run. My son also started taking classes at the high school, only he is still considered a homeschooler as he only takes two electives and is home by 10am.  My husband joined a band with awesome dudes and is writing all their songs.  His songs are just as quirky as he is!!! I love it.  Life has been good to us!

A good life can mean a busy exhausting life and if you have been reading my blog for any amount of time, you know I don't thrive on busy or exhaustion.  I require a lot of down time.  This year has provided a lot for me, but down time has not been one of those things.  As a consequence, some things in my life have gotten out of control and although I was aware of it, it wasn't until I had some down time over the holidays that I could really reflect on what I want to do to get those things in order.

I have made enough drastic changes in my life to know that right now isn't the time to do anything big.  I want to make small changes here and there that will benefit me long term rather than for a month or two.  I don't have the time or energy to set myself up for big resolutions that I know I can't keep. So, rather than making a list of resolutions,  I am making a list of thoughts and ideas that I believe will nourish me throughout the year.

I feel like 2013 is going to be a year of inspiration.  I hope that through my work with Show Us Your Hands! and everyday life that I can be an inspiration to others.  I want "inspire" to be at the front of my mind as I make simple every day choices.  I also want "inspire" to guide me in my relationships so that I allow myself to be inspired by those who surround me.
Positive Energy
This is something I have been working on for a few years now and plan to continue in 2013.  I want to continue surrounding myself with positive people and energy.  I have many friends and family that drain my energy rather than focusing on my successes and allowing me to share in theirs.  While I don't want to close any doors to these people, I will keep working on limiting my time with them and spending the time with those who want to find the joy of life.
The best thing about this holiday season has been having down time with my family to watch movies, eat, drink, hug, smile, and just be. Being with my family makes me feel whole again.  I want to remember this feeling and come back to it over and over and over in 2013.   
This morning on my walk the sun was strong.  I found my body requesting me to stop often, stand still, and absorb the sun. My walks with Izzy center me.  Being in nature centers me.  This year I want to take advantage of little and big pockets of time to enjoy everything about nature because when I do, I always feel a sense of completeness.     
While I hate to focus on weight rather than health, I have struggled with keeping weight off this year and to tell the truth, I don't feel good about my physical self.  I have been able to maintain a regular workout schedule and feel strong which is a plus. For the most part I have kept to a mostly paleo-type diet, although I have enjoyed way too many treats, which is definitely contributing to the weight gain. Overall though, I know that the amount of stress (good and bad) I have been under this year has kept the weight on. I feel like I am always on the go with expectations coming every which way. This coming year I will work on ways to get my stress and weight to a comfortable spot.  I have a feeling I will have to try a variety of things, depending on where I am, but just knowing it will be a priority makes me feel calm.   
I love email, text messages, Facebook, and blogs.  However, I feel that they can easily become an addiction.  I took one week off from Facebook a few months ago and found that my brain felt clearer and I spent more time talking to my family, reading books, and just taking a moment to do absolutely nothing. I liked that feeling. I am not setting strict guidelines for myself, but I do know that I will use less of each this year.    
One thing I did this year as my schedule became busier and busier was add little luxuries for myself here and there. I might take a bath one afternoon with a glass of wine or watch a TV show when I felt I should be cleaning, meeting a deadline, or completing some other responsibility. Indulging in these small things reminded me to take time for myself.  It reminded me that before I can give to others, I have to take care of myself.  I will of course be continuing this habit in 2013.

Overall this year I want to be good to myself.  I want to meet my needs of down time and quiet so that I can be good to those I love.  Despite my long "to do" list, I want to remember that I am special to many people.  In all the chaos of life,  I sometimes forget that about myself.  This down time has reminded me that the people who have surrounded themselves with me have done so for a reason!  

Thanks so much for reading my blog this year and for celebrating my successes of 2012.  I hope great things come to you in 2013!
Alexander, Steve, Cathy, and Sophia 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Your Example Will Inspire Others

My holiday vacation started last week.  With some extra time off, my teenage son and I met my husband for lunch one afternoon at PF Changs (they offer a gluten free menu!).  After eating, the boys opened their fortune cookies and ate them.  As always, I opened my cookie (not gluten free) and read the fortune.  It said, 

"Your example will inspire others."  

Whoa!  I read this fortune and felt a heavy sense of responsibility.  As one person, I have the ability to smile at a person I pass, to say a kind word to a stranger, to open a door for another, to hug my family, to empty the dishwasher with a smile rather than a complaint, to change a negative conversation to a positive one......oh my gosh, the list goes on and on and on.

This fortune reminded me of a quote I found when my kids were young and one that I have read over and over again:  

 “I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.” 

As my family and I have some down time together this holiday season and make our way out into the world, I am going to keep this reminder close to me. I am going to challenge myself to be an inspiration to others.  I have put this tiny strip of paper in my wallet as it is opened frequently and allow it to be a reminder of the responsibility I have each day in every action I make.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Gift of Walking

As my readers know, I love early morning walks with my border collie, Izzy.  Our walks are a great way for me to get my joints moving in the morning and allow me time at the beginning of the day to get my thoughts and feelings organized.

The night before last and all day yesterday, we experienced a lot of rain.  My border collie has become very stubborn about taking walks in the rain - she won't do it!  So, I didn't even bother yesterday.  But, around 6:00 pm the weather changed from rain to wet snow with high winds.  Izzy has absolutely no problem walking in the snow or wind.  In fact, she loves it.

What I found by 6:00 pm last night was that I was getting as antsy about getting outside and walking as she was. I felt my body craving the walk.  That is the great thing about setting healthy habits for yourself.  Once they have been in place for a while, you crave them.

My daughter Sophia decided to join us.  It was awesome to have a little time with her at the end of a school day and before she sat down to study for finals.  I tested her on a few questions and then we had time to talk.

Walking is so simple, yet offers so many gifts in return. What healthy habits do you have for yourself?    

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Show Us Your Hands! Celebrates Its First Year

Rheumatoid arthritis has been a part of my life for nine years now.  When I look back at my beginnings with this disease, I vividly remember the anxiety that came with frequent tears and hyperventilation.  I remember fearing the worst of what could happen to me because that is all I saw on the internet or read in books.  I can still feel the panic I experienced when one book explained ways to have sex while living with rheumatoid arthritis.  Seriously, would I have to make changes even in that department?  The sad truth was I did.  I had to figure out how to make life as a mother, wife, friend and teacher work.

When I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2004, I quickly went from moderate RA to severe RA.  I had several really tough years.  One of my worst fears was that I would wake up in the morning and not be able to move. I started keeping a phone by my bed and whispered thoughts to myself that I would be able to reach the phone in the morning if I needed it.  Some mornings it felt as if there was no way my body could move out of bed, but I did, even if it required help.  My other fear was what I used to call "deformities" which I now refer to as "wonkiness" in my body.  I feared my hands would change in extreme ways.  Truthfully, the knuckles on my right hand do show signs of rheumatoid arthritis, but not anything extreme or that I can't appreciate at this point.  Rather than a lot of joint changes, my body has decided to go with a multitude of nodules ranging in size from very small in my fingers to quite large in my elbows.  (I laugh now because I didn't even know what a nodule was until I experienced them first hand.)

While dealing with extreme pain and fatigue, what I didn't realize when starting on my journey was that we are each unique in our experiences with an autoimmune disease.  I didn't realize that the internet and books often focus on extreme cases or that the people that were doing okay with RA weren't on the internet talking about it because they were out living their lives.

Recently I had a Vectra-DA test run by my rheumatologist.  According to this test, my rheumatoid arthritis is now at a "moderate" level.  Moderate!!!!!  I love that word.  For the most part, my symptoms are under control.  I have little reminders here and there that I have a disease in my body, but nothing extreme.  Flares are now a rarity rather than a regular part of my life.  Yes, we experience this disease differently and two and a half years ago, I would never have imagined I would be where I am now.

By sharing my experiences here, what I want to emphasize is that throughout my journey with rheumatoid arthritis, I have needed to find the positive of living with this disease.  I have been active in the blogger community, clinging to any and all blogs that showed any hint of being positive in nature.  I desperately needed to see other mothers continuing to love and care for their children even if it meant reinventing how they did this.  I have rejoiced when reading about fellow bloggers that still enjoy the company of their spouse/partner.  I have relished the stories of folks continuing to work jobs and do hobbies that they love. I have needed to know that people were out there living fulfilling lives.

Last year Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy posted on his blog and Facebook account asking the community for photos of their hands.  He took each photo and put it into a collage.  Sitting at my computer viewing the collage for the first time brought tears and more tears(and is again as I think back on my first viewing).  For the first time in nine years I saw hands that came in all varieties.  For some people, they had obviously experienced the worst case scenarios of our disease.  But what shocked me was how many people had little to no changes in their hands.  I wasn't the only one.  Other people were like me!

I have been very fortunate to be a part of the Show Us Your Hands! community from early on.  As I worked with RA Guy and Lene Anderson on the book Our Hands Can!, I read story after story of people that have dealt with a lot but in the end realized they still have much to give this world.  Disease may take a lot from us, but finally I was hearing of people that were not letting inflammatory disease rule their lives.  I have been amazed and in awe of the people who have shared their stories, both good and bad.  I have gained strength from positive stories of knitters, artists, musicians, mothers, fathers, and more!

Today, Show Us Your Hands! celebrates one year as a community. I feel this abundance of gratitude to the Show Us Your Hands! team but especially to the community that continues to share their stories.  Finally, I have a safe place to go and feel energized, while also sympathizing with those that are struggling. Thank you everyone for sharing and for being a positive force for me. As the Community Director of Show Us Your Hands!  I look forward to sharing new community projects with you in the coming year.

Happy Holidays!