Friday, November 30, 2018

Chronic Conditions and Healing: Part II -- An Integrative Approach

In Part I, I discussed Dr. David Hanscom's methods for dealing with chronic pain as outlined in Back in Control. Today I want to discuss the two other books I found very useful in thinking about the physical aspects and how a good doctor is a sleuth, leaving no stone unturned, listening to clues to aid him in helping him diagnose the underlying causes and treating them. What I found most interesting is that all three physicians said that they never learned pain management for patients while in medical school. The approaches they were taught were highly reductive and akin to putting on a Band-Aid, without looking for the root cause. All three are interested in practicing good medicine by looking for the truth. And for them, the first step is listening and taking a detailed patient history. 

Total Recovery: Solving the Mystery of Chronic Pain and Depression. How We Get Sick, Why We Stay Sick, How We Can Recover by Dr. Gary Kaplan, D.O. with Donna Beech reads like a good detective novel. He covers many interesting cases and they build in complexity. Here are some of his discoveries.

1. All assaults on the body, mental and physical, are cumulative. Surprisingly, the same areas light up in the brain whether the patient is hurting physically or emotionally.

2. The single point of origin are microglia. Glial cells are helper cells in the brain. We are so used to only thinking about nerve cells, we forget that they have to be tended to, and that's what the glial cells do. They protect the brain from injuries and trauma. They are part of the healing process. But if inflammation is sustained, they can become permanently up-regulated, releasing inflammatory agents of their own. Since we don't know how to down-regulate them, it's important to reduce all the factors contributing to inflammation.  

An example he gave was of a woman with multiple sclerosis. She had sustained several setbacks and was experiencing all the symptoms but the MS itself was triggered by untreated Lyme (a tick-borne disease). As each layer was uncovered, she gained partial health. But it's only when the Lyme was treated with an antibiotic course of a month that she finally regained motor control again.

3. There are many connections between food, infections, and childhood traumas that have a bearing on your health now. Examine the things that don't feel right in your life. 

You don't have to put up with aches and pains and mental fog. He suggests: get good sleep, have all infections treated, make sure your gut is in good condition (it is our second brain), that you're not consuming foods that are making you ill, address physical injuries, even minor ones, if you think you've never been the same since, and get help for lingering psychological trauma. If you've truly recovered, you will find yourself feeling strong and resilient. If not, you are still in a wounded state and vulnerable to future assaults. Even talking with a good friend can bring healing, as can praying together, walking together, massage. And last, check how many medications you are taking. His guidelines, "A drug has to work better than the side effects it creates. If it doesn't, get rid of it."

Healing is Possible: New Hope for Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, Persistent Pain, and other Chronic Illnesses by Neil Nathan, M.D. is one of the most detailed books I've read on integrative medicine. Dr. Nathan delineates the six most common culprits, followed by another six less common but frequent imbalances, and discusses new approaches to the relief of pain, as well as alternative approaches to cancer, autoimmune diseases, and autism (it is becoming a growing epidemic). What I liked best about this book is how he explains what to ask our own physicians when we finally make the visit. Educating yourself is key. Oh, and there are lots of medical stories, success stories!

The Big Six that lead to fatigue, exhaustion, tiredness, more fatigue, brain fog, joint pains, more fatigue.

Adrenal deficiency--your adrenal glands make DHEA and other hormones. DHEA is the precursor to estrogen and testosterone. I'd never even heard of a DHEA deficiency but Dr. Nathan notes that 90% of his patients are deficient and if he had to perform only a single test, this is the one. It's easy and if you are low (for your age), you can supplement it. You can buy it at a health food store! Um, please don't be taking this without being tested. It *is* a hormone and hormones need to be just right. Think Goldilocks. 

Magnesium deficiency--we need it for our nerves and muscles to function. Measurement should be inside cells (scrape off some cells from your cheek and send to the lab). You can take oral supplements but they aren't absorbed as well. If you are deficient, the best treatment is an IV cocktail of Mg, Ca, Vit. C, Vit. B12. By the way, taking a bath with Epsom salts is very beneficial. Your skin will absorb the magnesium. St. Thomas Aquinas really did have excellent advice

Thyroid imbalances and Iodine deficiency--this is involved in regulation of all your metabolism so if you're deficient, you will need a supplement. It's important to make sure your body can actually convert the T4 to T3.

Sex hormone imbalances--I don't think I need to say much here. Both men and women are affected. Think Goldilocks. Hormones need to be just right.

Food allergies--this is a biggie and can be hard to pin down if it's not an immediate reaction (can be life-threatening). But a delayed reaction to food items can be judged if you keep a food diary. The correlations must be 100% otherwise you'll end up thinking you're sensitive to everything.

Intestinal dysbiosis--this refers to our gut health. Many people have pathogenic bacteria and yeast in their gut. They need to go (you will need antibiotics for this). Take probiotics, eat fermented foods. Populate your gut with good bugs (Lactobacilli, Bifidobacteria, etc.).

The Little Six are related to blood sugar imbalances, insulin resistance, heavy metal toxicity (if you have silver fillings, the mercury in them might be leaching out and making you sick), mold spore, chronic infections, amino-acid or neurotransmitter imbalances. All these are treatable. For example, if you're low in serotonin, you're going to be depressed, irritable, and anxious. So you can eat foods that have the precursor to it or take a drug that increases the lifetime of the serotonin in your brain.   

I know this is a lot of information in a short space, but I will add one more thing: the spiritual element. In the Catholic church we have the Sacrament of Healing. I have received 50% healing each time (better than the placebo effect, which hovers around 30% and I often don't even receive that with some of the medications I've tried). I do not know why I'm never healed completely, and it's something I take up with God on a routine basis. The way this works is that after making a good confession (usually a week or month prior), the priest anoints you with Holy oils and prays over you. You don't have to be Catholic to receive this. These are minor exorcisms. Never underestimate the power that sin has over you but when the priest absolves you, Christ's Precious Blood is being poured upon you, cleansing you. Your sins are forgiven, your soul is pure again. And you can begin healing. 

I pray for all who are sick, suffering, and dying every single day. I pray you will be well and take joy. "For I know I have the plans for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." ~ Jer 29:11.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Chronic Migraines and Healing: Part I -- Back in Control

As many of you know, I've spent a good decade of my life wracked with migraines. I've been to family doctors, neurologists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, but I've not had long-term relief. I still remember being pain-free for 17 days in a row and how exciting that was, like getting a new lease on life. Over the years, I've learned a lot about pain physiology, but until now, I never connected all the dots--our bodies, minds, and souls are inextricably linked while we are alive--and what happens in one realm affects the other.

When I was coming home from the Carolinas SCBWI conference, I rode home with Rebecca Ivester, and she mentioned a book, Back in Control, written by Dr. David Hanscom, a spine doctor. It took a while to get a copy from the library but well worth the wait. From the beginning, his sound advice resonated. This doctor almost put himself out of business. He still performs surgeries for patients who truly need it but for those suffering from chronic pain, he has other tools. You can start right away by visiting his website: 

First, understand that pain is a good thing--it protects us from damaging our bodies. You're probably not aware that you're shifting continuously as you sit in your chair to prevent one spot from getting too sore. Pain is a survival mechanism. But chronic pain is a mechanism that's gone awry. In the beginning, the injury that causes pain is helpful in healing. But after some time, when the injury itself is healed, the pain signal can still be the brain. The pathway is cemented. Think of amputees who experience pain in a limb that's no longer there. Chronic pain, then, is an overreaction to sensory stimuli in the brain and it only gets worse with time. It's caused by both physical and emotional factors and the best way is to treat all underlying causes simultaneously.

Emotions First:

Here's a progression of negative emotions. We go from being alert > nervous > anxious > afraid > paranoid > terrorized. And as the good doctor learned in medical school: neurons that fire together, wire together. In my case, I've gotten increasingly anxious about getting a migraine that I avoid even pleasant things such as movies, concerts, and vacations. It's easier to stay at home in an environment I can control. Loud noises, flashing lights, hormonal changes, a drop in barometric pressure, all trigger a migraine. 

So what to do? Unlearn the pain. When Dr. Hanscom sees patients, the first prescription he gives is writing. He calls it expressive writing. I call it free writing, but it's one and the same. It's a place to literally write away the pain. I can attest to the power of free-writing, especially the Morning Pages that Julia Cameron preaches. I simply feel better, am more focused, and productive when I write. Even my family knows that after three days of not writing, I can turn into a terrible crab. Better to take 15-20 minutes each day to write instead. Hanscom recommends two sessions each day. The second prescription is meditation. And this is not about emptying the mind but being mindful, paying attention--feeling the breeze upon your face, a cat's soft fur, the rumbling purr, the taste of food. Really being present. The third prescription is getting good sleep because it's enormously healing. So you see, you can begin right away! And aren't they the BEST prescriptions ever?

The second stage is forgiving others who've wronged you,  forgiving yourself for the wrongs you've perpetrated, asking for forgiveness, and really letting go of the bitterness in your life. 

Another prescription is to spend more time playing and practicing what you enjoy. Just as pain is learned (rapid fire by the brain), so are skills like playing a sport or instrument, albeit at a much slower pace. So strengthen those *play* pathways. For me, this means spending some time every day playing the piano, really focusing on learning the songs, and singing. And I am so pleased to see this strategy working. I've been able to reduce the pounding in my head by singing a Byrd Mass. Perhaps because I'm praying simultaneously. Lol. In any case, I'm writing and playing more. Also practicing coloring and calligraphy. See these pretty psalm cards? I mail these out as well.   

Dr. Hanscom encourages you to move forward and create a vision for your life. Address family issues. Get organized. Keep up with the daily practice. Connect with the life you want--step into it with or without your pain. Expand your consciousness. Embark on your inward journey. Go on a spiritual journey. Finally, give back.

He cautions against positive thinking that isn't true (because it masks reality) or mind over matter mentality. You cannot be free of pain by sheer determination. Don't I know this! I have to remember that I didn't become chronically ill in a day (the migraines started five years prior and were sporadic before they became chronic), and neither will I be free from them in just a day. Unfortunately, the pain pathways are permanent, so they can be triggered. He says, "You will fail." So learn to fail well. Keep up with the daily practices and trust that your brain is changing. 

I loved what he said toward the end: Be CREATIVE, not REACTIVE (they're anagrams). We creatives have all the necessary tools to bring emotional and mental healing to our bodies through our art. Next time, I'll discuss physical aspects because no amount of writing will rectify a magnesium deficiency or food allergy. And let's not forget the advice from the Angelic Doctor. Part II, An Integrative Approach next.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

I Apologize...

Why is it that dogs often look contrite but cats never?
...for the numerous typos in Bound. How did they sneak past me, even when it's been copyedited? That's because, my friends, I can't ever seem to leave a manuscript alone, tweaking this, fixing that. And that's how it happened. My fault, not my copyeditor's. I've been fixing them as Michael and my sister and a couple other friends discovered them, and it appears I can't seem to learn my lesson because I tried editing in the Kindle software and introduced even more mistakes. For example, I thought psychologists might be offended by my use of the term "shrink" so I replaced it in a hurry, misspelling it. Gah!  

This kind of carelessness is what gives self-publishing a bad name. Shoddy work. Upload. But lesson learned.

To the reviewers who rejected my book for the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval, thank YOU, not only for mentioning the reason, but marking every typo you found. This is above and beyond the call of duty. Thank you for making it easier for me to find my typos.

I am thankful to all of you who are still willing to read anything I write. I've spent this Thanksgiving copyediting. Eating humble pie now...not a pumpkin or apple or pecan in sight. The one good thing about self-publishing is that I can fix my mistakes. Onwards!

But in good news, my interview with Daniel Island Life was published. It turned out beautifully! And the reaction from readers has been lovely, not a single word about my typos.


Thursday, November 15, 2018

Marian Eucharistic Conference: Part 1 Eucharist and Scandal

Attending the Marian Eucharistic Conference in Greenville has become our November tradition and how it's growing! So thankful to the organizers who bring wonderful teachers to strengthen us in our faith. Many of us are regulars so we're cultivating those friendships as well. And this time, Pauline Books & Media displayed Bound amongst their books! We left earlier on Friday to have time enough to spend at the art museum and a delicious vegetarian meal at Swad, a little Indian restaurant. 

Bishop Guglielmone started it off with Mass. We celebrated the Feast of St. Leo and he focused his homily on what it means to be "missionary disciples." Missionary = reaching out. Disciple = follower of Christ. The first disciple is actually Mary. She brings God to us, believes what God has promised, and remains faithful even in the most desperate times caused by evil. Her Fiat has to be repeated over and over again. Today the church is in a grave crisis. We are called to repair it and through it, the world. We are to answer the call to holiness. Mary is continually asking us to repent and "Listen to my Son!" He is the Way, the Truth, the Life!

Bp. G. shared a story from his childhood. He used to hear Mass in a small country church and afterwards was running about taking pictures. When the pictures were developed, one was striking: a road sign "One Way" pointed directly to the Cross of the steeple! Brian Mullady gave several lectures and we bought more CDs to continue our studies at home. His books were sold out by the time I got to his table. I do an injustice with my summary--he is an amazing teacher. He taught Fr. Bill Casey, and the Dominican nuns in Nashville, who were also in attendance. The joy at seeing his old students and they him was so palpable. He gave wonderful talks peppered with many stories on the centrality of the Eucharist, what it is--a miracle that happens at every Mass through the power of the Holy Spirit and the action of the priest. That bread and wine become the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of our Lord. The properties (accidents) remain the same, but the substance is now Christ: Flesh, Blood, Divinity. This is why we adore the Sacred Host. I know this must sound ridiculous to non-Catholics but it is true! 

Unfortunately, many Catholics still don't believe. Fr. Mullady shared terrible stories about liturgical abuse. Many think it’s a symbol. A Methodist helper in Mother Angelica's studio said: If I believed what you all did, I’d be prostrate. Indeed, many people go to Mass without the faintest idea of the awesomeness of it. The Ven. Ap. Fulton Sheen said, When I walk into some churches, I feel like Mary Magdalene wondering where have they taken my Lord? 

Thomas Aquinas’ Adore te devote translated by Gerard Manley Hopkins renders this mystery, this Miracle of miracles, this Sacrament of all sacraments, beautifully. 

You can listen and sing along here: 

He also wrote the office for the Feast of Corpus Christi (meaning Body of Christ). His sequence Lauda Sion Salvatore is another gem: 

I marvel at how much theology is packed in these old hymns. Christ gives Himself to us in a new way. He is real and present in a physical way and everybody receives the same reality, no matter if it's only a crumb. But one person receives sanctifying grace whereas another condemnation. That's because the latter is in a state of mortal sin--it separates us from God. Every particle is wholly Jesus. Yes, a great and awe-ful mystery indeed.

I found a recording using the music of Buxtehude! I’d never heard of him until my editor and I were discussing a project. I enjoyed learning and writing about the time Bach took a walk from Arnstadt to Lubeck to learn from Buxtehude. But I digress…

Remember, the priest is in persona Christi. Christ is the Eucharist and the priest identifies with Christ at the Last Supper. This *is* My Body…This *is* My Blood…The priest makes Christ present. Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity mingles with ours, transforming us into Him, if we let Him. We unite interiorly to Christ’s sacrifice. Many want to reduce it to a communal meal but Mass is both a Holy Sacrifice and Thanksgiving—makes present Jesus in heaven with all the saints and angels. 

He celebrated Sunday Mass and we heard the story of Elijah and the widow. She makes Elijah a cake from the last of her provisions out of obedience and her flour and oil never run out. Like the multiplication of the loaves, this is a prelude to the Eucharist. 

We also heard the story of the widow’s mite. She doesn’t give from her excess, but all she has. The Scribes and Pharisees burden the people with many rules, but Christ reads hearts. This is why when Christ dies, the veil is rent. The grace of God has been made present to all. The Holies of Holy is now here in our Tabernacles. When we pray “Sursum corda” we are partaking in heaven itself. And we have a continued conversion every time we come to Mass and consume His Body. We depend on Him to grow in holiness. At the end of our lives, we will be judged on how much we loved.

The Real Presence of Christ is the foundation of the Catholic Church. Our soul is filled with sanctifying grace when we receive the Eucharist. And this is why I could never leave the Church; there is simply nowhere else I can go. Bill Casey spoke about the most recent scandal, how it's a scourge upon the Church. It is the most difficult subject to talk about because of the shame and anger over the unspeakable and horrible things done to children, men and women by consecrated priests. But he is not shocked nor surprised because this was entirely predictable and preventable.

We've had 50 years of lukewarm Catholicism, disobedience, and corruption. Large numbers of priests rejected true Catholicism, rejected Humane Vitae, rejected the teachings of Christ on human sexuality, rejected chastity. And action follows belief. Many no longer preach on sexual morality, on virtues and vices. They are afraid of offending everybody but God.

What the media don't report is that 80% of the priest abuse scandals stem from homosexual activity between clergy and post-pubescent boys (teenager or young adult). This is the problem. Only 20% of the priests are committing crimes with minors or are having affairs with women.

The PA Grand Jury reported 300 priests over the course of 70 years and a 1,000 victims. Most of these priests are dead or removed from their duties and the 50K remaining priests (96%) have nothing to do with the scandal. Most of the bishops have nothing to do with the cover up. But even one bad priest or bishop is one too many. 

Many souls have been lost--those of the priests and those whom they were supposed to serve, protect, lead, guide. It is a diabolical attack from within the Church. It's an attack on the priesthood. Without a priest, there are no sacraments, and without the sacraments, no religion. The Heart of Christ is wounded.

Fr. Casey loves being a priest. He exhorted us to pray for priests. He says the devil works triple overtime on priests. It is a great victory for him when a priest falls into sin because many more souls are lost with him. Pray for seminarians. In the midst of public shame, for a man to be a priest, he must be madly in love with Christ. 

The Church in America is dying. There's no moral authority. You strike the shepherd and you scatter the sheep. The reform must come from the laity. We must put an end to this nonsense or else God will. God punishes not just the wicked but the good who fail to stop evil. We must pray and fast, invoke Divine Mercy. Before the Hand of God comes down upon the world, it first comes upon the Church.

What is wrong with the Church? We just have to look in the mirror. We did not take the call to be holy seriously. We have spiritual sloth, habitual sins, time wasted that's taken from prayer. Where is your time and talent going? We set a bad example for our children by our unchastity. We worship false idols. If we were as enthusiastic about religion as we were about sports, we'd be a nation of saints! 

In the 12th century, Jesus said to St. Francis, "My Church is in ruins. Rebuild My Church." So we need to make a commitment now to light this fire, to pray, to fast, to do nothing to deny Christ, to restore the sense of the sacred. The Church is a place of encounter with the living God. 

Fr. Casey exhorted us all to heed the message of Fatima to pray the rosary. It's an assault weapon, concealed, with a 50-round clip! These are our beads of battle. He mentioned a few of the miracles attributed to the rosary including the Battle of Lepanto and the defeat of communism. There are more here:  

Ave Maria, gratia plena! 

And since you stuck with me to the end, some art that we were allowed to photograph! This is the overflow from Bob Jones University--they have the largest collection of Catholic art in the US.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

November Tidbits

It's been so beautiful with hurricane season gone, the temperature dropping off enough to send the mosquitoes packing, and some of our annual traditions--Faure Requiem Mass for All Souls, potluck, the upcoming Marian Eucharistic conference. And this year is the 100th anniversary of the Armistice so Stella Maris will be commemorating a couple of our own fallen--Alexander Izlar and Marion Keenan--on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Our bell ringing tower room is named in honor of the Keenan family! He was only five years old and one of the "sponsors" of the first bell (installed in 1894). I love learning all these interesting tidbits.


I took some pictures while Father read the names of the people who died this year. You can see Michael ready to sing and our organist, Steve Collins, who loves ringing bells whenever he can, and our wonderful new choir director, Huey Waldon, and a couple of the amazing soloists. We are so very blessed to have a reverent and beautiful Requiem Mass.

These were the last of the okra and peppers. Doesn't it look like a family of okra in my hand? Michael has become the expert at food processing. He pickled the peppers. This is our second batch! He's also master brewer. In the background you can see the kombucha bubbling.

It's always nice to see Dagny engaged in making art. I hope she always makes time for it. To really see things. I realize how few pictures I have of our outdoors. I should make more effort to remember to bring my phone on my walks. I've seen gators sunning themselves, turtles, herons, pelicans, egrets, too, and the ever-present squirrels who taunt Sunny. I find even the beetles, spiders, and ants fascinating. What interesting homes they make! Which reminds me, I have a little book I want to write. Kitties will help! Ah, life here is good! Very good! I hope you all are having a beautiful and blessed autumn.