I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome! Hahahaaaa!

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Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about laughter and how I could use more of it in my life. Last night, my daughter and I somehow landed on a YouTube video about Laughing Yoga, featuring a woman leading a crowd. She introduced herself and immediately broke out with the most contagious, enthusiastic chuckle, drawing in the others to open up with some all-out belly laughs. About her name. It was hysterically funny, really. Members of the audience then introduced themselves one by one, had a good giggle, and then revealed a personal challenge. “I have breast cancer,” followed by rollicking laughter. It was bizarrely hilarious.

For the past several years, I’ve been trying to heal several autoimmune conditions that appeared mysteriously and have turned my active, healthy life upside down. I went from being fit, optimistic, socially active, and busy to being REALLY FRICKEN TIRED, putting on almost half of myself in pounds, depressed (don’t even be near my house when I’m trying to get dressed in non-yoga clothes), and almost living the life of a hermit. I do have some meaningful interactions with the kind people who work at the grocery store. I just could no longer stomach the doubtful, “Are you still dancing?” questions and the not-so-subtle looks-over at parties and events from the competitive runner/zumba lady/tennis set.

Okay, so back to the laughter. We recently discovered that our house is awash in environmental toxins, and, wouldn’t you know, a toxic body can become a body with an immune system on high alert, leading to autoimmunity. Autoimmune conditions can lead to chronic fatigue, weight gain, achey joints, dry eyes, swelling, and a whole slew of other symptoms. You know, true knee-slappers. We are pretty much living in a comedy club here. Although experiencing different symptoms, my husband and daughter have also come down with heretofore mysterious illnesses. Super funny, right?!

So, the whole idea behind Laughter Yoga is that laughter contributes meaningfully to our well-being as some even believe it can help heal disease. Mind over matter and all that. And even fake-it-until-you-make-it laughter makes a difference to put our minds in healing mode.

Do you realize how much influence your mind has over your body? I had a crash course during my labor with my second child. When my first baby turned one, I discovered that I was pregnant again. Ummm, okay, quicker than I had planned, but life is adventurous like that. So, during my pregnancy, I quietly worried. How would I manage two teeny humans? How would my first-born respond to a new, needier person hanging around his mom? Would I ever sleep again? You know, worries most, if not all pregnant-with-next-children moms have. I took these concerns and tucked them neatly behind my exhaustion and carried on.

I labored for 2 days. On the second day, I progressed to 4cm dilated and stalled out. Birthing a baby requires 10cm of dilation. I was stuck. The operating room was prepared. My wise and impossibly perky doula turned to me and asked, “Are you worried about something?” It all came tumbling out of my mouth, followed quickly by the contents of my stomach. (Hello, transition). My doctor examined me, and I had magically dilated to 10cm in those 5 minutes. My daughter made her grand entrance without surgical intervention within the hour. Moral of the story: never underestimate the power of your mind!

Okay, so back to today. That baby is 18. I’m newly worried, and in need of healing. How do I reset my frame of mind when I’m thinking about ripping the house apart, remediating and clearing toxins, and getting myself back to feeling like ME? On top of finding a supportive, knowledgable doc, I’ll take a small truckload of supplements, and add a daily dose of funny. What better to take with Omega-3s and activated charcoal than (selecting from the following) Steven Colbert, Ellen DeGeneres, Key and Peele, Will Ferrell, Melissa McCarthy, Carol Burnett, Tina Fey, or Amy Poehler. Or, I’ll just say my name out loud, announce that I am exhausted beyond belief, and have a huge fake cackle, trusting that my cells will move into healing mode, and set me on the right path again.

I must say I have learned so much on this journey, and continue to add to my knowledge, you know, with all of these crazy symptoms – hahaha! If you find yourself in a similar pickle and are looking for support, I am happy to help coach you in the right direction. A great team makes all the difference sometimes.

Healthy Habit: Spit it out!

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“Cervical cancer. You’ll need chemotherapy and radiation.”

This was the way my dear friend was told she was sick.  No emotion at all in the delivery, flung from across the room.  Like a clean, crisp swipe of a sword through the wisp of hope reaching for a false alarm.

“Do you have any questions?”  So many.  But even I, sitting as support, and rarely at a loss for words, had a difficult time imagining which to ask first.  So, we said no.  And the doctor left the room.  So much for my role.

I was dumbfounded.  How could an oncologist share that diagnosis in such a cold way? I imagined him breaking the worst news to people day after day, and I wondered how he dealt with such a difficult task. Maybe he had to numb himself just to cope. Regardless of his reasons, I wanted him to acknowledge my friend’s feelings, to sit next to her while he shared the news, and exhibit some sense of empathy.

Instead, it felt like there was no room or time for emotion. There were labs to be drawn, paperwork to sign.  My friend never shed a tear until she was alone at home. What happens to our bodies when we don’t feel safe expressing emotions? I know from personal experience that what goes on in the privacy of our minds directly influences the way our bodies function.

Alone

During my pregnancy with my second child, I had silently stressed about my very sensitive boy having some sort of toddler breakdown when a newborn stole the show. I did realize that first kids survive the arrival of a sibling all the time, so I chalked it up to pregnancy hormone-induced anxiety and kept my craziness to myself.

Once I went into labor, my body decided not to cooperate. Despite laboring actively for more time than it would have taken me to walk a marathon, really slowly, I was stuck. Not even halfway there. As the hospital staff readied an operating room for my cesarian section, my brilliant doula quietly asked me if there wasn’t anything I was worried about. That I should verbalize any concern I might have.  I let the cat out of the bag and told her I worried that my son might never forgive me for producing a sibling.

Well, guess what?  Instantaneously, I became violently ill; one of the delightful signs that birth is imminent.  Well, imminent, as in after an hour of pushing.  My doctor was floored.  Note to self: do NOT stuff feelings.  Ever.

So what does that mean for my friend, for health care professionals that deal with sad situations every day, for worried parents or children, or anyone who happens to feel feelings? According to social psychologist James W. Pennebaker, talking or writing about problems or worries helps improve health. In his book, “Opening Up,” Pennebaker reveals that individuals who experience the death of a loved one frequently develop health problems the year following the death if they choose not to talk about it.  Those who are able to express their emotions end up developing significantly fewer health problems during that time period than their silent counterparts.

Actually talking about how we feel also helps us process and resolve fears.  One UCLA study took a group of spider-phobes and exposed each to a spider. Out of four groups, only the one in which subjects expressed their feelings about the spider (“I’m terrified!”) were able to move closer to it at the end of the experiment. Even using language to disempower the spider (“that spider can’t hurt me”) had no effect on the subjects’ fear.

So? Feelings should be aired out. Talk about them. Maybe not with the  person standing next to you in line at the post office; choose someone you can trust, and who won’t judge, correct or fix you.  It doesn’t mean the situation that created those feelings will be resolved, of course, but it may prevent any further harm that harbored fear, sadness, or worry can cause.

Depressed girl gets counseling and comfort from a caring therapist.

If you’re not one to talk about your personal business, or your trusted, non-judgmental ear is unavailable at that moment, write about it instead.  You don’t need to show anyone else your writing, so if you’re not into sharing, this is the method for you. Take the time to put pen to paper when you are going through a tough time.  Write about the incident that upset you, or whatever you may be feeling, and don’t hold back.  Let those ugly, crazy, perhaps embarrassing, emotions spill out on paper, and if you want, destroy your writing when you finish.

It is so easy to shelve our feelings as we move through our days. For many, keeping busy creates a safe distance from those feelings, but the price of avoidance may be high.  For your own wellbeing, steel yourself and address even the hardest emotions at some point.  Sit with them, feel them, and express.  Moving them along and bringing light to them will make you happier and healthier.

Beautiful young woman jumping on a green meadow with a colored tissue