Goal Achieved: Warrior III Yoga Pose

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Image courtesy of arztsamui at freedigitalphotos.net

I have some super exciting news….I just nailed it with the yoga pose Warrior III! Also known as Virabhadrasana III, this yoga pose is one that took some work. I had set a personal goal a while back, and I’ve now successfully held this pose – both sides – for a count of 30 each. This may not seem like a huge accomplishment, but with Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease, I’ve found that slow and steady is the only way to go – which I have to remind myself daily since I tend to run at things full force.

I’ve been working on building my exercise routine for just over 2 years, slowly adding stretch by stretch for flexibility and then strengthening. I have slowly advanced stretches, or added yoga poses that will help take me to the next level. Having already conquered the Warrior I and Warrior II poses (and getting so much help from both), it was finally time to attempt the next pose.

A couple weeks back, I thought I would try it, and I could not get into the pose. I tried to extend from Warrior I and was completely unable to extend my back leg. I fell out of the attempts multiple times – threw my sacrum out in the process – and decided I needed to wait until after my OMM adjustment last week.

First try – I failed. But that’s OK because it’s a goal to reach – something that takes hard work to achieve.

It was time to get back on the horse (so to speak). After a few days of stretching out after my OMM adjustment, I thought I’d give it another shot.

This time – I nailed it! (Woo hoo! Yea!)

I’ve attempted it several more times since – sometimes totally holding it – others, not so much. But I haven’t thrown my back out again and have been able to get into the pose more than not – which is totally winning in my book!

A great pose for strengthening your core, Warrior III also tones your body and helps with balance – something I struggle with constantly and especially when my sacrum is out of whack. Which is why it’s so exciting that I’ve finally been able to try AND accomplish this yoga pose, on multiple attempts no less. (A great description with images on how to accomplish the Warrior III can be found here.)

It’s important to set achievable goals – especially with autoimmune disease – so that you can reach those goals and feel a sense of accomplishment along the way. Every time I hit that mark, I set a new achievable goal and work my way to the next victory. As they say – you win some, you lose some – but I think it’s the small victories are the ones that keep you going.

What’s your next exercise goal? What have you been doing to get there? Share your journey on a mission for health in the comments.

 

DISCLAIMER:  I am not a health care professional.  This information is based on my personal research and personal health experiences. The statements here are not intended to suggest or replace medical care, but provide information and education. Please contact your doctor if you have any questions about and before attempting any at home remedy, treatment or exercise routine.

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Homemade Apple Cider Vinegar Toner

imag0571_1.jpgFor the last few years I’ve been really struggling with my skin. As a kid and into adulthood, I always had significantly oily skin and bouts of horrible acne. I know most teens claim their acne was the worst, but I was one of those unlucky few that suffered for years with various topical treatments and medications – none that stopped the acne, just helped to lessen it to some extent. I tried everything from Tetracycline and Benzyl Peroxide to taking strong doses of Bactrim daily with Retin A topically added to the Benzyl Peroxide. For over ten years I struggled with skin so oily that 10 minutes after a shower I was already glistening in the sun. I finally took Accutane in my twenties and for the first time I liked my skin. I heard horror stories of how horribly dry the Accutane would make your skin – which is part of why I wanted to give it a try! Nothing I had used had stopped the oiliness. I took it for 3 months, and never had the horrible dry issues my friends claimed. It was like it was made for me specifically. I stopped the meds, and for years had great skin without having all the pills and topical treatments I’d been on before.

Suddenly in my 30’s, when my symptoms all started, I began to get dry skin that I could not control. I was putting hand lotion on my face and still having dry, itchy spots. For the last several years I’ve spent significant time and money trying to find a face wash and lotion that would actually work and stop the itching! I tried organic, all natural, full chemical and everything else along the way but nothing seemed to help. About to give up, I found Cetaphil face wash seemed to help a bit, even though the face lotion wasn’t strong enough. Remembering bouts of eczema I’ve had on and off, I started researching eczema creams instead of face lotions, and I found Cetaphil calming eczema cream. Finally, the dry, itchy cheeks were better. I couldn’t believe it – I actually went days without scratching at my face!

But it was just a little too good to be true. I started getting worse breakouts on my face than I’ve had in over 10 years. Clogged pores from the heavy lotion seemed to be the culprit – but I couldn’t get rid of my lotion, it was too hard to find it in the first place. So I decided to check into toner that will help exfoliate. After years of medicating my skin, I’m just hesitant to put any more chemicals than needed on my face.

That’s when I stumbled upon Apple Cider Vinegar Toner.

It sounded too good to be true – a fix for acne, large pores, age spots, exfoliation, rosacea and more – this could be just the remedy.

So, I tried it out by mixing 1 part ACV to 4 parts water. Using a cotton ball, after washing my face I simply wipe my face with the ACV mixture, let it dry and lotion as usual. You can increase the ACV as needed for your skin up to a 1:1 ratio, but start small – less ACV is better for sensitive skin.

Here’s what I learned during the first week:

Day 1 – I applied the ACV toner and it felt like other toner I’ve used. My skin was a bit dried out, but it felt smoother right away. My cheeks were red and looked a little irritated, but didn’t feel that way – and the redness went away in a little while. After applying lotion, my face still felt a bit dry in the cheeks so I added a bit more lotion. The dryness went away. (I read that you can add Lavender oil to the ACV toner which I may do to help calm my rosey cheeks.)

Day 2 – I woke up this morning with noticeably smoother skin. Some of the tiny bumps were gone and my pores looked smaller! I couldn’t be happier – I expected several days before seeing any results. My skin feels and looks softer. A couple of acne spots have gotten larger, but I expected a “purge” of some sort with the congested skin.

Day 3 – My skin is a bit dried out today. I think using the toner daily may be too much. I’m still noticing reduced number of bumps and smaller pores, but also a few dry patches. I’ve also had a few small pimples show up which I’d expected with all the white heads. (Most of them were gone in a couple of days.)

Day 5 – Used the toner again and it feels less dry, so I think the every other day method will work. I’d really like to add some Lavender oil but I also want to give it a bit alone to see how it works.

Into the second and third weeks I continued to use the toner every other day. My skin was definitely smoother and though a blemish would pop up here and there overall it was getting much better. Only a few white bumps remained and pores looked smaller than ever.

At the end of one month of using consistently, I did add a few drops of lavender oil to the bottle. I do think it added a calming factor and it’s supposed to help fight acne too. Plus it makes the toner smell good. Now two months later, I’m still using my ACV and Lavender oil toner and I’m hooked! Not only has my skin improved, but I’ve also found the toner to help with other skin irritations after an outbreak of hives from photosensitivity!

Apple Cider Vinegar Toner Recipe

2 oz Organic, Raw and Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar (I like Bragg brand)

8 oz Purified Water*

15 drops Lavender Essential Oil

Add vinegar to a 10 oz bottle (I reused an old toner bottle that was cleaned well). Add oil and swirl to mix well. Add water to fill the bottle. Shake well and use a cotton ball to apply to face and neck.

*You can use less water, down to a 1:1 ratio if you prefer or need a stronger toner. Start with a ratio of 1:5 ACV to water which is better for sensitive skin, and add more ACV if you feel like it’s needed.

That’s it! Can you believe it’s so simple?

And to make it even better – a bottle of Bragg ACV is easy to find at your local grocery store, and costs only a few dollars for a 16 oz bottle. At two ounces per bottle of toner, that’s 8 bottles of toner you can make for less than $5!

Cheap, easy and effective – a great homemade product that I hope you enjoy too.

 

DISCLAIMER:  I am not a health care professional.  This information is based on my personal research and personal health experiences. The statements here are not intended to suggest or replace medical care, but provide information and education. Please contact your doctor if you have any questions about and before attempting any at home remedy, treatment or exercise routine.

Did you know…

Did you know that Quinoa is a common trigger for autoimmune disease? Quinoa is often recommended for those eating “gluten free” due to its high protein content. However, quinoa contains a protein called saponin which can cause a negative impact on the gut lining and increase autoimmune symptoms. This gut damage can causes an immune […]

Trouble Getting Blood Drawn

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Image courtesy of tigger11th at Freedigitalphotos.net

It seems that – for most people – getting a quick blood draw at the local lab is really no big deal. Not for me. Today’s blood draw was no different. The door was open, so I could look out into the waiting room and see the expression on my hubby’s face when the phlebotomist threw out the first needle and partly filled vial and began prepping my other arm. He knew I only needed one vial – and the last two visits went so well – he was surprised (more like horrified based his expression) to see the first bit of blood being tossed.

But this was nothing new for me. I’ve always had issues with blood draws, even long before I knew I was sick. Nearly every time I (nicely) mention this and ask the person who is about to insert a needle or three into my arm to please PLEASE use the butterfly needle, I get the eye roll as to suggest I don’t know what I’m talking about. In fact, at one location, I was told that the person knew “how to do [her] own job and didn’t need [my] help”. I photographed the aftermath of that instance. After struggling with the adult-size needle by moving it back and forth inside my arm for several minutes, she WAS finally able to draw blood. I was in agony and had a bruise later that day that measured about 4 1/2 inches long and 2 inches wide. People dramatically asked me what had happened for over a week until the bruise finally started to go away. But at least she knew how to do her job…

Again this was before I got so sick, and the trouble has increased along with my health issues. Today wasn’t so bad with only two holes – one in each arm. And she only needed one vial (13 at once was my max on multiple occasions in the last couple of years). My blood wasn’t flowing today though. While she did find a vein, she was unable to get more than a slight drip from my left arm. She wiggled the needle to no avail, and finally tried the side of my right arm committing to move to my wrists next if this didn’t work. This is typical for me both getting blood drawn and getting an IV started. Both in which I’m far too experienced.

I warned her today as I always do about my veins tendencies to hide when it’s time for the draw. I do everything I can to help, including drinking large amounts of water first thing in the morning and up until the draw. It still doesn’t help sometimes. (According to Doc this has to do with UCTD and Raynaud’s Phenomenon. My blood seems to get thicker and my veins smaller at times.) At least she listened using the butterfly needle – and apologized for multiple pokes. It hurts much less – and the bruises are much smaller – when they listen to my experience based plea. After all, I have been in this body for 36 years so I know a thing or two about how it works.

Don’t get me wrong, I do like my newly found blood draw lab. It was my 3rd visit in as many months. This was her first time making multiple punctures, and she listens every time I ask for the butterfly needle (without the eye roll). This is the nature of my disease and she listened while being compassionate. I’ve left other places with more wounds, several that would try and turn me away to go try somewhere else. I wait a week or so to heal in between attempts.

My current record – five attempts at three separate locations before finally getting someone who could get blood from my arm. They quickly apologize and suddenly any eye rolls turn into empathy as they realized how many times they stabbed me still unable to get any blood. On the 3rd occasion when the girl finally drew blood, it still took her three pokes using both arms. By the time I was done with that one (a fasting draw), I felt faint and needed put my head between my knees and drink juice for a period of time before being able to leave. It took me a couple of days to recover from that instance. This is why I do not drive myself to get a draw.

But, today wasn’t bad – especially if you consider the worst case scenario. The blood was finally drawn and my lightly bruised arms will recover. And hopefully this test comes back normal so I don’t need to get poked again for a while.

What is Autoimmune Disease?

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Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There are over 80 types of autoimmune diseases currently identified in modern medicine. Getting diagnosed with one is complicated due to overlapping symptoms that can disappear and reappear randomly causing widespread inflammation. Fatigue, muscle aches, low fever, sore throat and even general malaise are typical early symptoms – ones I experienced first hand during the early onset of UCTD.

Spending years searching for a correct diagnosis has led me to hours of research and dialogue with various doctors all trying to understand a complicated immune process. Writing about my understanding and sharing the information has become a part of my mission for health.

What is autoimmune disease?

Our bodies immune systems create and use cells called antibodies that defend against anything showing up in your body that isn’t supposed to be there. Viruses, bacteria and other cells that are foreign to the body are fought off by these immune cells. Whenever needed, your immune system sends out these antibodies to fight the bad cells and help our bodies heal. But in autoimmune disease, your body gets confused and is no longer able to tell the difference between good and bad cells. Instead of antibodies, a new immune defense is created – the autoantibody. Autoantibodies are similar to antibodies in that they are out to kill invading cells and germs, only they can’t tell the difference between good and bad cells and wage war on your entire body – including helpful cells and organs! Each of the known autoimmune diseases attack a different part or parts of the body, often overlapping in symptoms with the other diseases.

Personal Note:  My diagnosis, Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease (UCTD), means that my connective tissues are attacked during these disease ‘flare ups’. That includes skin, cartilage, and a thin connective tissue which covers internal organs.

What are the symptoms of autoimmune disease?

Autoimmune disease symptoms can vary significantly from person to person. Generally, most people with autoimmune disease first report problems with fatigue, pain, dizziness or even low grade fevers. (These were all present symptoms before my diagnosis.) Each autoimmune disease also has a group of symptoms more commonly present, although many do overlap. A list of the more common autoimmune diseases and symptoms can be found here. This page includes symptoms of Scleroderma (Systemic Sclerosis), Sjogren’s, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Lupus (SLE) which are several of the connective tissue autoimmune diseases. (Most of my focus on writing will be in the area of connective tissue autoimmune disease which is where UCTD falls as well.)

How is someone diagnosed with autoimmune disease?

The short version – it’s extremely complicated. The process is usually long and tedious taking 5-10 years for most with autoimmune disease to get a correct diagnosis – many suffering a life time of symptoms before knowing the name of the disease. As of now, there is no one test to concretely diagnose autoimmune diseases. Instead, each disease has a list of criteria of which some portion needs to be met in order to be classified – or “differentiated” – into a specific disease or diseases.

For Example, a link to the Scleroderma Classification – Adding up points per symptom, 9 points gives a definitive diagnosis of Scleroderma.

Personal Note:  I hold a solid 7 points with Telangiectasia, Abnormal Nailfold Capillaries, and Raynaud’s Phenomenon. This is why I see a Rheumatologist that specializes in Scleroderma.

Blood tests are first typically run by your general practitioner to look for antinuclear antibodies (ANA) prior to a referral to a Rheumatologist. Antinuclear Antibodies are antibodies that attack the nuclei of the cells in your body. A positive result typically identifies the presence of autoimmune disease. But here’s the kicker – positive blood work doesn’t mean you have an autoimmune disease and negative blood work doesn’t mean you don’t either. This is part of what makes the process so complicated. To even get in to see a Rheumatologist, doctors expect the first round of blood work to come back positive. This delays the process significantly for those who are unlucky enough to have negative blood work. Since this blood work can be negative for an indefinite time, Rheumatologists also must take into account other blood markers that would suggest chronic inflammation. C-Reactive Protein, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and a complete blood count are also considered to make an autoimmune diagnosis. Along with the blood work, symptoms, health history and genetics are also taken into account.

Personal Note:  My first ANA test was negative, resulting in the assumption I did NOT have a connective tissue disease. It has since come back positive and with a speckled pattern. My inflammatory markers show elevated as well as my Rheumatoid Factor, which was historically consistent with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Because of this I had an additional test – the Vectra DA – to measure Rheumatoid disease activity. My number came back as high-moderate for Rheumatoid Arthritis. I’ve found contradictory information regarding this test result, so I’ll be researching it further (and sharing what I find).

How is autoimmune disease treated?

Treatment is possible, however there is no known cure for autoimmune disease. In most cases, diet and exercise change are crucial to management of symptoms. Physical therapy, especially through a pain clinic, is usually part of the initial treatment program for most. Identifying and treating individual symptoms – vitamin deficiency, hormone imbalance, inflammation, spinal alignment, sun sensitivity, etc – is necessary to help reduce the immune response. Medications can then also be prescribed, which would depend on which autoimmune disease is being treated.

Personal Note:  I was prescribed hydroxychloroquine to take indefinitely by the first two rheumatologists I consulted. The third, and my current rheumatologist, is working with me without medications and is supportive of my holistic approach, as are the rest of my medical team. I have allergies/sensitivities to many medications (including anti-inflammatory drugs) and we decided this approach was best for now.

What to do if you think you might have an autoimmune disease?

Do your research and talk to your doctor. Knowing the signs and symptoms of autoimmune disease can help you discuss the possibilities and next steps with your doctor. Being able to document and articulate specifics can make a difference in how quickly someone with autoimmune disease is diagnosed.

Be persistent. It took me several years of complaining about various health issues before a diagnosis. Along the way, my ailments were chalked up to various other health issues from vitamin deficiencies to an ovarian cyst the size of a softball. Treatment of these issues didn’t help and I continued to go downhill. As I said before, it can take 5-10 years to get a proper diagnosis because of the large number of related autoimmune diseases and the still murky understanding about each.

Reach out. Talk to others with autoimmune diseases. As soon as I started to meet other people having the same issues and dealing with the same lag in diagnosis, it became clear that there is a huge disconnect among the rheumatological sciences. Supporting one another and sharing notes helps in treating symptoms. Doctors know only what’s in the research, but people who can provide tips and resources that you may no have thought of will prove invaluable.

Resources:

Autoimmune basics – https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/autoimmunediseases.html

Autoimmune Fact Sheet – http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/autoimmune-diseases.html

Autoimmune Disorders – http://www.healthline.com/health/autoimmune-disorders#Diagnosis5

Autoimmune Diagnosis Story – http://www.prevention.com/health/healthy-living/autoimmune-diseases-how-one-woman-found-her-diagnosis

American College of Rhematology Disease Criteria – http://www.rheumatology.org/Practice-Quality/Clinical-Support/Criteria/ACR-Endorsed-Criteria

Hydroxychloroquine – https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/meds/a601240.html

 

DISCLAIMER:  I am not a health care professional.  This information is based on my personal research and personal health experiences. The statements here are not intended to suggest or replace medical care, but provide information and education. Please contact your doctor if you have any questions about and before attempting any at home remedy, treatment or exercise routine.

Homemade All-Natural Toilet Bowl Cleaner

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As part of my mission for health, I’m working on cutting out chemicals and other unhealthy things from my home. I’ve made several cleaning products, but this one put to use some liquid castile soap I had on hand – and it works great! The bathroom cleaning chemicals are the ones I was more hesitant to lose – after all, we really want those bathrooms to be clean – but in my research of the ingredients I’m confident in the cleaning power. Not only that, but it smells great, is cheap to make, and safe to use without protective gear.

 

The recipe below calls for only 4 ingredients – one being water – and these were all items I just happened to have on hand. Adding castile soap, baking soda and Tea Tree essential oil make this cleaner amazing!

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Tea Tree Oil – Tea Tree essential oil has amazing properties that are great for cleaning. It’s antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiseptic, and antiviral. It is also a topical fungicide and can be used to treat a variety of ailments. You can check out other great benefits of this amazing oil here.

 

Baking Soda – Baking soda straight from your cabinet – or fridge. I use baking soda in the fridge to keep it fresh and then recycle it into cleaning products when it’s time to replace. Many people already use baking soda for various cleaning and polishing products, or even as a tooth paste.

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Castile Soap – Castile soap is amazing and versatile! I like to use Dr. Bronner’s brand because I love their product and their company utilizes Ethical Sourcing and Fair Trade with their products. Water, olive oil and potassium hydroxide are the main ingredients of this non-toxic soap. Uses range anywhere from bathing to use in cleaning products.

 

Now for the good stuff – how to make this fantastic cleaner!

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First of all, find a container you can use to easily store and use this cleaner. I used a 32 oz liquid hand soap refill bottle. It works to easily mix the ingredients, store tightly and use to get around the toilet bowl. Here you can see pictured my bottle with the completed cleaner inside. (You can use a paste of baking soda and water to remove the sticky labels.)

3 1/2 cups water, divided

1/2 cup liquid castile soap

4 Tbsp baking soda

20 drops tea tree essential oil

Using a funnel, add 3 cups of water and baking soda to the bottle. Measure out your castile soap and add tea tree oil, mixing lightly. Add soap and oil mixture to bottle, followed by the last 1/2 cup of water to rinse the funnel. Close and shake well.

To use, simply squirt into the toilet and scrub as you would with other toilet bowl cleaners. I let it sit for a while to allow the oil to kill germs before scrubbing, then a quick flush and you’re done. The bathroom will smell great and your toilet will be spotless – with no harsh chemicals!

It’s that easy to start cleaning your home with products safe for you and the environment. With the added bonus of saving money, why not switch today?

 

DISCLAIMER:  I am not a health care professional.  This information is based on my personal research and personal health experiences. The statements here are not intended to suggest or replace medical care, but provide information and education. Please contact your doctor if you have any questions about and before attempting any at home remedy, treatment or exercise routine.

Encouraging New Doctor

This week I had an appointment with a new Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM) doctor. OMM is a type of ‘adjustment’ that is done by a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, or DO. I have gotten chiropractic and DO adjustments in the past, but this time I got a referral to a clinic specializing in osteopathic manipulations and sports medicine. With eight herniated discs and a twisted sacrum, keeping my spine in correct alignment is a necessary piece of my health routine to allow my body correct movement while exercising – otherwise I risk further injury and increased pain. So my doctors and I decided adding a specialist for regular adjustments would be ideal for ongoing disease management.

As excited as I was to add this doctor to my team, I was also worried about what kind of doctor I would find. For those of us with chronic illness it’s a trying process as we never know what’s waiting on the other side of the table. Some doctors are uninterested, taking quick notes and only hearing part of what is said. These tend to be the doctors to quickly throw prescriptions at you, offering little reason as to why they’re necessary. A good way to just get you out of their office so they can move onto the next insurance claim. Some are overly attentive, wanting to coddle and offer hugs for support but lacking any substantial information. Others yet can be arrogant and condescending, sticking to their own small understanding of medicine unwilling to acknowledge new research and developments. I was pleasantly surprised with my new doctor to find encouragement, understanding and help. It’s not every time that I feel like I’ve won the draw, but today I did! Not only do I feel like she will help with my spinal health, she has a strong understanding of autoimmune connective tissue disease and has already shared some insights about the connective tissue involvement in my spine.

This time, I was fortunate to find a diamond in the rough.

My new doc is happy to help and excited about my positive attitude, while being encouraging and supportive of my goals – and even this blog! She showed me on a skeleton where my connective tissue was likely causing the problems she identified in my sacrum and explained how to do certain exercises more effectively. She agrees with my idea of reducing and eliminating prescription pills – not adding them into my routine. She explained the autonomic nervous system dysfunction I’ve been experiencing and how it can be the cause or effect of autoimmune disease and even something I experience during or after the treatment. (She was right as I experienced a surge of symptoms after treatment including nausea, pain, dizziness, as well as hearing and vision changes throughout the day. Sleeping for several hours helped – and I woke feeling sore but aligned.)

They’re out there – the doctors who care, listen and will communicate with you in a partnership for better health. Because that’s it really – a partnership. Doctors being only a piece of the puzzle – it’s up to you to participate and work together toward decreased pain and increased ability. Finding a doctor who understands this partnership and provides necessary encouragement – jackpot!

I’ll be seeing my newest Doc every 4-6 weeks for OMM treatments. I’m happy to say, looking forward to what I will learn from her and to the next steps on a mission for health.

 

DISCLAIMER:  I am not a health care professional.  This information is based on my personal research and personal health experiences. The statements here are not intended to suggest or replace medical care, but provide information and education. Please contact your doctor if you have any questions about and before attempting any at home remedy, treatment or exercise routine.

Essential Oil Miracle Spray

imag0315.jpgI’m going to let you in on a little secret – plants have healing powers! For thousands of years holistic practitioners have been using plants and their essence to cure disease, clean, sanitize and even repel insects. Eastern medicine cures are often overlooked even though the basis of the treatment has been proven for centuries. I’ve spent a lot of time and energy researching just this topic – and I’ll have lots more to share – but to start I have concocted an Essential Oil Miracle Spray recipe that I want to share with you today.

Essential oils are a great way to harness the therapeutic power of the plants used by holistic practitioners for so many years. I first started using essential oils a few years ago when I began getting so sick. A friend of mine had used oils for a variety of things and suggested a couple for me to use that might help with my symptoms, specifically nausea and vertigo. Considering they worked better than any of the medications the doctors had me try, I knew I had to learn more and so began my journey with essential oils. Since then, I’ve been creating oil rubs and sprays to clean, kill weeds, reduce symptoms and a variety of other uses. I’m excited to share all the things I’ve learned!

Ok – so miracle spray sounds too good to be true. But what if I told you this one spray, which costs only cents to make, can replace several bottles of expensive products from your medicine cabinet?  Things you probably have on hand – loaded with chemicals – that can be replaced using only a few natural ingredients. A non-toxic spray that repels bugs, treats allergies, stops the itching and stinging of bug bites, treats burns and smells amazing? I’d call that a Miracle Spray! And these are only the uses I’ve found so far. Of course I had to share this magic with everyone.

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Essential Oil Miracle Spray Recipe

20 drops Lavender essential oil

10 drops Peppermint essential oil

15 drops Lemon essential oil

1 1/2 tsp clear alcohol, preferably vodka

Distilled water

2 oz glass spray bottle

In the glass bottle, add all drops of essential oils and swirl to mix. Let set for a bit – around a half hour – to let the oils blend. Add vodka and swirl again to mix. Add water to fill the spray bottle and shake well. Let set for a day and then shake well before each use.

USES:

Spray all over yourself when going outdoors to repel mosquitoes.

If you forgot to spray and you get bit by a mosquito, spray directly on the bite to reduce itching. Repeat a few times if itching returns and bite will get smaller and be gone in a day or two.

Spray directly on a bee sting to immediately stop the stinging and burning. Repeat once or twice as needed, but the bump should get smaller and pain stop almost immediately. My hubby got stung almost every time he mowed last year thanks to some pesky ground bees – this stuff worked!

Spray around your house on curtains and around the door frame to help repel insects.

Smell the spray bottle when seasonal allergies have you sniffling and sneezing – these oils are each helpful to open airways and this combination works great. Spray on inner wrists for a longer effect to smell as needed.

Spray on burns for pain relief and to help with healing – only small burns though, if you blister or worse, best to call a doc.

TIPS:

Glass will help preserve the life of the essential oil, where plastics will absorb the oil decreasing the potency. Dark glass is best to minimize sun exposure, also to preserve.

Store oils and spray away from direct sunlight, in a cool and dry location.

Vodka is the best alcohol to emulsify the oils and not compromise the smell. Without an emulsifier, the oils will float on the water instead of mixing.

Essential oils and spray bottle can be found at your local health food store.

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Now you can go throw out all those toxic chemicals to repel bugs, and keep this Miracle Spray handy for dealing with a variety of nature’s annoyances.

 

DISCLAIMER:  I am not a health care professional.  This information is based on my personal research and personal health experiences. The statements here are not intended to suggest or replace medical care, but provide information and education. Please contact your doctor if you have any questions about and before attempting any at home remedy, treatment or exercise routine.

A Mission for Health After Diagnosis

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Image courtesy of cooldesign at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Recently I’ve shared stories about being Diagnosed with Chronic Conditions and finding answers in Piecing Together the Medical Puzzle. Getting diagnosed, however, is just the first step in dealing with health, leaving the big question – where do I go from here?

Diagnosis when it comes to chronic illness isn’t a quick fix. There is no pill that will cure me and there is no easy way to fast results that will get me back to “normal“. Hard work and education are key in dealing with any illness that is long term. This can mean significant dietary changes, research, networking, self-educating through trial and error, and especially daily exercises to minimize pain and increase mobility. For me, a little of all of the above is what helps. A new and different perspective that I’m learning from and learning how to navigate.

But with chronic illness results take time – and patience.

Over the last couple of years since being diagnosed, I’ve made it my mission to learn as much as I can about my diagnoses and symptoms and take control of my health. Asking every step of the way, can I do something to make this better?  Too often on this uphill battle, the answer has felt like a resounding NO! Trying anything from Physical Therapy, Aquatherapy, medication, chiropractic adjustments, to exercise and dietary changes that are “proven” by people who swear to have the magic “cure”. But finally I realized, I was following prescribed treatments meant for specific manifestations of symptoms, and I needed to modify exercise and diet to fit me specifically.

It occurred to me in the second round of Physical Therapy that these so called “pain management specialists” were taught how to treat symptoms “by the book” and not treat the person. That is – if XYZ hurts, then exercise ABC is prescribed – and it’s expected to work. And if it doesn’t, they get frustrated with the patient because they are taught only to deal with bodies that react how the textbook predicts. But connective tissue and autoimmune diseases don’t play by the rules of pain, symptoms differing significantly from person to person. For me, any time one area of my body is acting up, the rest of my body tries to accommodate for the pain, further throwing alignment out of whack and inducing a flare-up of symptoms and pain. It doesn’t matter if I’m doing the correct stretches or not – since my body doesn’t know the difference between good and bad cells, a full revolt starts whenever the pain is awoken leaving me in a state of constant inflammation, further limiting activity and exercise.

The harder I worked, the sicker I seemed to become, and for me – enough was enough!

I began delving more into symptom specific learning – researching stretching, yoga, connective tissue, pain management, and anything else I could think of along the way that just may help. Learning medical terms and names of muscles only made things more clear as I work toward better health and more mobility. Over the last two years of trial and error with what I’ve learned, I’ve successfully established a personal exercise routine that actually helps! Adding one stretch or pose at a time, and building my routine carefully listening to how my body responded to each. This includes both daily exercises and stretching, and strengthening exercises that I have added a couple times per week.

In addition to exercise every single day, I have found it helps significantly to get regular Osteopathic Manipulation, Chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, and to consult with an Ayurvedic practitioner to try and medicate with food and vitamins. During exercise and daily movement, paying close attention to how each stretch feels I am able to navigate pain and not induce a flare-up – usually – by strategically planning around adjustments and daily symptoms. When I’m following all my stretches, and I still have pain increasing, then I know it’s time to take it easy and let my soft-tissue heal or my body will continue to build inflammation and essentially attack itself. My doctors are good at reminding me of this, since I have a tendency to push myself into a pain frenzy. As I said before, it’s a lot of hard work, and each day is different so listening to my body and how it reacts everyday is also key – making each day’s outcome a moving target.

But I have made some forward progress – slow and steady, it’s still forward motion! My doctors recently commenting that I am gaining noticeable strength. This is a lot to be happy about. Though I still have days where just navigating the daily routine is difficult, to say the least – I also have days of increased ability, something I’ve worked very hard to obtain and maintain. I still have a long way to go, and I’m sure my exercises will be tweaked several more times – but my list of helpful exercises continues to grow and I continue to remain positive. Life after diagnosis is hard, and will continue to be – and I will continue my mission for more answers that will lead to increased health.

Since I’m putting forward all this work on my mission for health, I’m going to keep sharing as I go and hope that it helps anyone else with chronic pain – and I hope that you also check out My Exercise Routine to see what stretches I just can’t live without.

Do you have any stretches or exercises that you can’t live without? Share them with us in the comments section below!

 

DISCLAIMER:  I am not a health care professional.  This information is based on my personal research and personal health experiences. The statements here are not intended to suggest or replace medical care, but provide information and education. Please contact your doctor if you have any questions about and before attempting any at home remedy, treatment or exercise routine.

Piecing Together the Medical Puzzle

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I am someone who loves a good puzzle – whether the picture puzzle you lay out or mathematical problem solving. I enjoy seeing a piece of the larger problem and solving the equation. But when it comes to medical issues, I never expected to have to use my own talent to try and solve the puzzle myself. I’ve learned since that many people with similar diagnoses of autoimmune and chronic conditions have had like experiences slowly adding together the smaller pieces until a larger picture is found. This is part of the reason I started these articles – if I have a small piece to anyone else’s puzzle, I need to share my story.

I have already shared a bit about my diagnoses in Diagnosed with Chronic Conditions, but now I want to share how I got from being sick to getting diagnosed. It’s a long and painful story, covering many years of health issues that grew increasingly complex in the last several years. Many people may not have even realized I had health issues, because many of us with invisible chronic conditions spend more energy trying to conceal our illness rather than bring attention to the symptoms we are feeling.

My first surgery was young – at 13 years old – knee arthroscopy to remove floating cartilage (a connective tissue) that had caused significant pain and swelling. I’ve since had a total of four surgeries for cysts. My first chronic condition was a low-back injury at 15 years old – an old soccer wound as I would tell people. I was hit by an opponent mid-kick, sending my sacrum slipping out of place. For most, a quick osteopathic adjustment fixes the problem and off they go back to it, but for me, it began years of back trouble that was never completely fixed.

In my mid-twenties, I had increasing symptoms, inflammatory markers and with a family history of Crohn’s disease, another autoimmune, and I was quickly diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis after my first colonoscopy and upper GI scope. I accepted this as a correct diagnosis, along with significant GERD, and I started my dose of 2.2 grams of Lialda and 40 mg of Prilosec. I blindly took these for about 7 years, as they seemed to help some with my symptoms. Until I started having more problems.

At about 27 years, I started Physical Therapy for my chronic low back issue – my doctor at the time assuming it would also help my neck (if one is out, the other is impacted). Ok, it helped some, but I continued to have increasing neck pain – all chalked up to a stressful job by several doctors – no tests run, nothing other than “if your neck hurts, it must be stress”. One primary care doctor getting angry with me for making appointments when my neck would spasm and I couldn’t move – if not my primary care doctor, who does all insurance required referrals, who else could I see? Bad doctor! (I would love to show her all of my neck MRI’s now!)

For the next few years, I searched for a good doctor, and continued to struggle with one issue after another – vitamin deficiencies, antibiotics “just in case”, neck spasms so bad I couldn’t move for a week – and finally in 2012 I started to become so exhausted with such little effort. I was having strange pains, twitching fingers that would turn purple, rashes all over, dizziness, nausea and a full reemergence of my symptoms that I thought were controlled with the Ulcerative Colitis medication. I saw my Gastroenterologist, went to a new primary doctor who specialized in spinal manipulation, and finally the Gynecologist who expressed further concerns – at 32 years old, I was not yet pregnant – which could be a symptom of a larger issue.

I was sent as a referral to a fertility specialist an hour from home. My first meeting with him, my hubby came along and we just talked – about my health issues, family history and so on – he was very thorough! At the end, he suggested I should at some point follow up with other specialists if my symptoms continued, because I could have other autoimmune issues (having any one in your family increases the odd for others too). He agreed first and foremost, I needed an ultrasound, so we scheduled and I returned a few weeks later – very routine, I went alone.

First, he was a bit concerned during the test – I could tell, and he kept reassuring me, but there was something not right. He and the doctor assisting sat very close, hand on my shoulder and explained I had an ovarian cyst the size of a soft-ball that would need to be surgically removed. And for now, “unexplained infertility”. To this day, no one can explain it to me, other than it’s often a symptom of my larger issues. Wishing I hadn’t gone alone, I called my hubby in tears as I drove home scared about the cyst yet hopeful I finally had answers.

Having the surgery by my Gynecologist in early 2013, I hoped and hoped that this cyst – which could cause several of the symptoms I was experiencing – would take care of whatever was wrong. It didn’t.

After two weeks – when my doctor said everyone else is feeling good – I was sill struggling to walk, having constant abdominal pain, increase in other symptoms and fatigue that I couldn’t shake. Even after a month, I was too tired to work and do anything else, like make an easy dinner. I walked everyday at lunch, but it became so painful and exhausting, I was doing it less and less. I tried to push myself – started a new exercise routine, walking stairs to and from work – I even got a new job with much less stress so I was happy going to work everyday (how many people get to say that!?)

My doctors kept telling me I was just pushing too hard or getting too stressed – even though I knew I should be able to do more and wasn’t feeling anxious – and that I needed to try an antibiotic just in case, or a muscle relaxer to help with my neck. Nothing helped and the pills just made me feel sick.

By September of 2013, my symptoms were growing exponentially. I was losing strength and ability, the vertigo had started so I was dizzy and nauseated constantly, my neck and back hurt no matter what I did – and the harder I tried to exercise the worse the pain would get every day. By the end of October, I had lost 40 pounds, I was unable to lift pots and pans, I struggled opening the refrigerator or holding a toothbrush, I was in constant pain, and my hands would twitch and shake all day. I started getting rashes all over, the color would change in my skin – especially in my hands and feet – my vision changed, and I was in constant pain. I started having fevers of about 99.9 degrees daily along with a constant sore throat. I insisted on my doctor following up further at this point – antibiotics, surgery and vitamins haven’t worked yet, and I could feel myself losing more and more everyday.

This got the ball rolling, but I had a long way to go still.

For the next six months, symptoms persisting, I saw various doctors – Gastroenterologist, Ophthalmologist, Neuro-ophthalmologist, Gyno-urologist, Physical Therapist, Spine Specialist, Neurologist, and finally a Rheumatologist. Each doctor I had seen added to my list of diagnoses, names of symptoms and pieces of the larger puzzle eventually pieced together when I saw the first Rheumatologist.

Since each doctor had their own set of “let’s rule out xyz” tests, in around a year, I was poked, prodded and even fed radioactive eggs – unfortunately I didn’t get any superpowers! I had 2 colonoscopies (my 4th and 5th overall), upper GI scopes, gastric emptying, 4 MRI’s (brain, neck, mid/low back, and hand), MRE, EMG, EKG, and ultrasound imaging (including a vascular ultrasound). I had blood drawn so much, the girls at the lab knew me – and joked that my 13 vials at once was nearly the highest they had seen!

Every test came back and seemed to point to a rheumatic condition, most of the doctors I saw suggesting the Rheumatologist was my key to getting answers.

It was then that I started seeing the larger pieces to the puzzle.

Rheumatology, as I’ve learned, is a weird science. I’ve done significant research all coming back to the same conclusion – every rheumatology diagnosis is made based on a scientific, educated opinion, and every Rheumatologist has a different educated opinion. The tests for rheumatic conditions aren’t concrete in that some people show certain blood work, but others do not, and everyone has a different and unique set of symptoms.

This makes it difficult to get a concrete diagnosis as I learned in my first two visits with a doctor and nurse practitioner who disagreed on my diagnosis (UCTD versus Rheumatoid Arthritis) and even expressed anger with one another for not agreeing, both arguing many years experience. I also showed signs and results suggesting Scleroderma, Lupus and/or Sjogren’s as possible diagnoses. These were consistent with what the previous doctors found, but still just a narrowing of possible diagnoses.

I followed this new lead, and went through Pain Management Physical Therapy and counseling – a requirement of anyone newly diagnosed with chronic pain conditions. I found it less helpful than the PT done earlier that year and full of those people I would say have given up on life (and I certainly wasn’t ready to do that). The doctor had also given me a prescription for Plaquenil, an anti-malarial drug used to treat connective tissue diseases. After researching it, I didn’t get it filled. There is no concrete evidence as to why it works, and it only works for about half of those who take it and many people can’t take it because of the side effects. And the doctor wasn’t confident in prescribing it telling me to try pain management and take the drug “if you want”.  I don’t want, thank you very much! I prefer food and vitamins to unnecessary prescriptions, especially if you can’t tell me why it’s needed. It does seem to work for some people – and I’m glad it does – but it’s not for me right now.

I tried for a second opinion, finding the area’s worst doctor on my second effort. His concern was sticking to his 15 minute schedule at all costs, and again threw the same prescription at me, indicating I should’ve just listened to the first doctor – it seems patients are a waste of time for this guy. As many who go to Rheumatologists, it’s as much a matter of fit with the doctor as them knowing what they’re talking about. In spite of his rushed comments, my medical report again indicated the several overlapping diseases of which I had signs.

After trying out the first two, I’ve finally found my third Rhematologist – and I trust her opinion. That’s just it – each doctor has a different opinion based on what they’ve experienced and learned over the years. it doesn’t mean they’re right, they just may not have seen anyone like you – so ultimately you are still the one piecing the puzzle together.

My new, trusted Rheumy is in the Scleroderma Clinic of a local (about an hour away) University Rheumatology office. She accepted me as a patient because of my strong signs of Scleroderma (including Telangiectasia and nailfold capillary changes). In fact, she said my closest diagnosis would be Scleroderma, but I’m still on the edge of diagnosis, not having as much damage to my fingers as she would normally use for a firm diagnosis. Reassuring me this is a good sign (the worse the Scleroderma, the faster the tissue damage), she has kept me in the Undifferentiated category.

Since seeing her in 2014, I have been working hard at researching and understanding my diagnosis of Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease based on her suggestions and opinions. Using my knowledge and applying daily exercise and addressing individual symptoms, I have improved since things were so bad a few years ago. I still struggle – there are still days I can hardly brush my own teeth or wash my own hair – but now there are days where I can too! I am still learning my “new normal” limitations, and pushing them daily so I can keep growing and advancing. And I am excited to share more here in hopes that my story can help someone else in piecing together their medical puzzle.

 

DISCLAIMER:  I am not a health care professional.  This information is based on my personal research and personal health experiences. The statements here are not intended to suggest or replace medical care, but provide information and education. Please contact your doctor if you have any questions about and before attempting any at home remedy, treatment or exercise routine.