Tag Archives: health

Forced to Exercise

Standard

I’m grumpy today.  I’m being forced to exercise at work today.

I’ve had a  long standing policy to only run when chased… preferably with a weapon of some sort to provide extra motivation.   And I don’t approve of sweating.  I’m sure it’s against my religious beliefs somehow.

However, today we are having a government mandated “occupational health” day at work.  We’re calling it a staff retreat to soften the blow.  Last year they made us do aerobics.  I am probably the most uncoordinated girl alive, so my exercising is always done in the privacy of my own home.

Maybe if I had some cute work out clothes I would feel better about exercising in public, but I’m basically wearing pajamas with tennis shoes.  All my awkward junior high insecurities are bubbling up to the surface.  So I’ve decided to bring some chocolate chip banana bread to share.  That will make things all better, or at least prevent me from tipping the scales toward anorexia… which has never really been a danger for me, but it will work for today.

Sigh, off to “forced family fun”.

Boundaries

Standard

I’ve spent this last week thinking a lot about the need for healthy boundaries in life.  Normally I understand my own boundaries and limitations without giving it much thought, but when a major life-change comes along, sometimes the boundaries need to be shifted to accommodate that change.

For me, some of the hardest boundaries to draw are between people.  I have no problem enforcing boundaries over non-human elements.  I try not to bring work home with me.  I am retraining myself not to answer work emails on the weekends.  I am starting to shut my office door when I need to focus on some task without being interrupted.  Those boundaries are easy for me.  The more difficult boundaries are between myself and other people.

[Now, please, please, please don’t think that I’m trying to send anyone a not-so-subtle message with this blog.  If you come to me tomorrow and say, “did you write that blog about me?!”  I’m going to smack you and tell you to quit being so self absorbed.  This is NOT about one person, but it is about people in general.]

Photo credit: joiseyshowaa / Foter / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: joiseyshowaa / Foter / CC BY-SA

Here’s what I’ve noticed about boundaries between people.  When you are in a people-focused occupation… like ministry… your automatic response is to want to help people and to fix their problems.  Here’s where I get into trouble and over extend myself.  There are people in our lives who truly need and deserve our time and attention, and then there are people who are just a drain on me emotionally.  And sometimes it’s hard to know the difference.  Sometimes boundaries must be readjusted when I realize that a person is moving from one category to the other.

When a person only wants to talk about their problems, and never reciprocates concern for my wellbeing- it’s time to redraw the boundaries.  When a person’s problems never seem to get any better no matter how many suggestions I give, that’s an indication that I have them in the wrong category, and I need to make some adjustments.  I can spin my wheels in mud forever with them and nothing will be resolved, so now I need to limit the amount of time I give them.

It’s not only for MY sake, but sometimes it’s an indication that I’M not the one who can help them.  That’s not to say that NO ONE can help them.  But if they keep coming to me, they will never seek another avenue.  Plus, it’s like I’m denying that Jesus is really, ultimately the one that they need- not me.  I don’t want to create a dependency issue, so I use boundaries.

Photo credit: Sean MacEntee / Foter / CC BY

Photo credit: Sean MacEntee / Foter / CC BY

Another red flag that indicates that the boundaries are not in the right place is when a person just flat-out exhausts me.  When I start dreading seeing their name pop up in an email or I start navigating crowds to avoid someone, then it’s time to put some space between myself and the person who drains me.  I know that sounds heartless for a missionary to say.   But I need those boundaries for my own health and well being too.  How can I help others if one or two people are draining my limited energies.  For me, my feelings are the fuel indicator lights of my life.  When the big red E is blinking, we have a problem.

The last thing that I want to say about boundaries is that they can be in different places for different people.  For me, I have friends that I never get tired of being around, and others who require me to pull myself inwards and withdraw into myself more.  It depends on the person and how  they either energize me or drain me.

For other friends of mine, the time of day is the thing they need to pay attention to- that’s where their fuel light is located.  I have a friend and fellow missionary who goes to bed early.  We all know that’s her boundary.  We don’t get offended when she leaves a party early or backs out of a dinner engagement because she’s tired.  That’s just her limit.  When she’s on E she needs to go to bed.

[This same friend gave me a handy little phrase that I now use to help me say “no” without offending.  I now say, “That’s not going to work for me.”  So if you hear that from me, it means NO.]

Photo credit: kristarella / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Photo credit: kristarella / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

For others, their limits involve their iPhone or cell.  They are tempted to answer every phone call, every text, every instant message they receive in the very moment that their phone dings.  (They are like Pavlov’s dogs who were trained to drool at the sound of a bell.)  That little ding becomes a demanding little dictator separating them from friends, family, and events happening right at this moment.   These friends need to learn to turn their phones off and give their attention to the present.

So you see, we all have boundary lines that need to be drawn, guarded, and reassessed frequently just to keep us emotionally fueled up and running smoothly.  That’s where I am with this new school year and new job.  I’m readjusting boundaries and reading the fuel light frequently.  I’m having to say No to people and things, not because I’m mean and hateful, just because I’m human.  Boundaries are necessary.

Hallucinating in Spanish

Standard

Last week a flu bug passed through our family.  Normally we get sick at the most inconvenient times.  But this time we were in between teams, so it was an OK time to be sick.  Is that weird?  It was a total body aching, pounding head ache, thing.  I am thankful that it wasn’t a stomach flu though, because there is nothing in the world that I hate more than throwing up.  Seriously.

But the weird thing about having a fever is that sometimes I hallucinate in Spanish.  I can’t even describe how strange that is.  I do crazy things like trying to conjugate proper names.  It’s just wacky.  This time around I didn’t actually hallucinate in Spanish, but I did translate my own thoughts into Spanish all night long.  It was like my brain got stuck in Spanish mode and I couldn’t shut it off.  I woke up feeling like I had worked all night long instead of slept.  it was awful!  I can now say that I have been sick in Spanish.  (OK that little play on words is lame-o).

Photo credit: ckaiserca / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: ckaiserca / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Here in Costa Rica you can get a lot of medicines over the counter at the pharmacy that would require a prescription in the States.  The Pharmacist can actually do some doctory type things too like giving vaccinations and checking for ear infections.  They aren’t supposed to dispense antibiotics without a prescription, but sometimes they do.  However, they NEVER give you any instructions sheet or cross medications warning or ANYTHING informative with the meds.  If you are lucky, they might write the recommended dose on the box, but nothing more.  I now have a collection of dosing cups and droppers that I brought from America because they don’t usually come with the medications here!

In Mexico it was worse.  You could get anything without a prescription.  (The government once considered giving free Viagra to men over 60 to improve their quality of life!)  I remember once when Lucy was a baby I thought she probably had an ear infection.  So I called her pediatrician to make an appointment and was told, “Just go to the pharmacy and get some antibiotics!”  Oh, silly me.  So I went to talk to the pharmacist.  He asked how old she was and how much she weighed.  Then he handed me a bottle 1/4 full of a white powder with absolutely no instructions.  I was lucky there was a label with the name of the antibiotic on it.

I took my bottle of powder home and called Walgreen’s in my home city in Minnesota.  I explained that I was in Mexico and they had given me this with no dosing instructions.  What would they recommend I give a 6 month old baby.  I read all the numbers off the label to the American Pharmacist.  She told me, “Wow, we don’t even sell that strength here in America!  I would dilute it up to the top of the bottle and give her no more than a teaspoon twice a day.”  She also said to discontinue use if she started acting differently.  Oh great.  Now I feel better.

I know it sounds scary and complicated, but when I’m in the States sometimes I miss the ease of just walking into a pharmacy and buying some high-powered drugs without the hassle and expense of seeing a doctor first.  I just have to remember to NOT go to the drug store when I’m hallucinating in Spanish or else I might come home with a dose of Viagra instead of cough syrup.

I am Anti-Religion

Standard

“Are you tired?  Worn out? Burned out on religion?  Come to me.  Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.  I’ll show you how to take a real rest.  Walk with me and work with me- watch how I do it.  Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.  I won’t lay anything heavy or ill fitting on you.  Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”  ~Jesus

I have to admit, this passage appeals deeply to me.  I AM tired.  I AM  worn out.  I AM  burned out on religion.  It’s like he’s talking directly to me!  I want to live in the unforced rhythms of grace.

For me, grace has been a learning process.  It’s not always been something I have valued.  I have learned how to have grace with myself and my failures, and by the same token, to give grace to others.  The burden of religion that I placed on myself was ill fitting and heavy.  I had to be perfect!  And if I wasn’t, no one else must see it!  Perfectionism is a heavy burden to bear.

Thankfully, that’s not where I am anymore.  Do I have it all down perfectly?  No, but I’m learning to live freely and lightly, comfortable in my skin, not overly caught up in my successes or failures.  I’m not always at peace with my daily cycles of work and rest and learning from God and applying to my walk.  But I see improvement.  I suppose that before I can extend grace to others, I have to first learn to cut myself some slack.  And for me, that is a very difficult thing to do.  I need Jesus to teach me the unforced rhythms of grace.

“Doctor, heal thyself.”

Standard

Memorial Day in the back yard with family

I was a grown adult squeezed into a child’s school desk.  (You know, those desks with the table part attached to an arm attached to the seat?)  I pretended to examine the names carved into the desk top while I listened uncomfortably to the couple sitting next to me.  We were all there to be “debriefed” upon our reentry into America after serving as missionaries in far off countries.  The couple next to me was serving in China.  As I listened to the husband speak, I felt them shutting down and closing off and retreating into themselves.  His voice crackled with hostility, “I don’t know why we have to reconnect with our friends and family.  We’ve just going to be leaving them again once our budget is raised.  Why go through all that work if it’s just going to be temporary?”  I understood what he was saying- it’s going to hurt to say good bye all over again.  I understood.

In our missions organization, the majority of us are on a 4-year-out-1-year-home cycle.  After a while, it’s easy to forget where your home really is.  That year back in the states is mainly for fund raising for the next 4 years, but nearly everyone comes “home” beaten and battered, worn out and raw emotionally and spiritually.  And no one wants to admit it to anyone outside of our circle of co-workers.  It might look bad to our supporting churches.  We might look weak.  “Doctor, heal thyself,” we fear someone might say to us.

I saw this weakness in me, and I listened to the recommendation of the counselors in the debriefing sessions.  I knew I needed to do the work of reconnecting with my friends and family while I was back home.  But I also knew there was a painful parting up ahead.  I took the plunge anyways.  And I’m glad I did.

Backyard water fight

During our year (and a half thanks to medical issues) home I made several decisions that would guard and heal and refortify my family to let us put down roots again.  First of all, we chose to live close to our relatives (more about that in a minute).  Second of all, we chose to put our kids in the same private school that their cousins went to.  This was an out-of-pocket expense for us, but we felt it was important for our kids to be close to their cousins again.  Frankly, this turned out to be the best decision we could have made for them.  Third of all, I chose not to travel with my husband so much during this fund raising cycle.  In the past, we had traveled as a family all over the Midwest, home schooling along the way.  I decided that we would only travel on the weekends, and only if we could be home for the kids to go to school on Monday mornings. We did not travel midweek at all.  This decision meant that our kids could be involved in age appropriate activities at a home church during the week.  My son got involved in a youth group, my middle daughter joined a Bible Quiz team, and my baby girl made nursery friends at a Mom’s group on Wednesday mornings.  We put down roots, even though we knew they would be pulled up again.

In addition to these roots, I made a concerted effort to “carpe diem” every coffee date and luncheon I could arrange with my old friends.  Knowing the time was short made it all the more urgent and important to get something on the calendar with all the people I love from my past.  Knowing that I was leaving again made it all the more precious to me.  I wanted to listen to their stories of their kids growing up.  I wanted to hear about the changes that have occurred in the last 4 years in my circle of friends.  I wanted to feel a part of a group again.  In turn, they listened to some of my stories, reaffirmed their love towards me, and reconfirmed that I still have a place in their hearts.  Those were some of the healing elements that needed to be applied to my dry, thirsty soul.  My roots could once again draw up life into my soul.

Back yard fun with the cousins

The last rooting measure I took was to fortify my tap root- to reconnect with my family.  I am so glad that we chose to live close by and to get involved in their church because it meant that I saw my parents (and the kids saw their grandparents) weekly.  I remember once my dad mentioned that he was craving baklava.  I went home and whipped up a pan of the heavenly dessert.  I got in the car and drove the 10 minutes to my parents’ house to surprise my dad with a pan of baklava… just because I love him.  It was so worth it to me to live close to them so I could do the little acts of love that we had missed during the last 4 years.  To be able celebrate birthdays and holidays together, to drop in unannounced, and to sit in the back yard together was more soul-nurishing than I would have imagined when we were sitting in those desks back in the reentry debriefing session.  The counselor was right, we ALL needed this.  We all needed to put our roots back into our native soul even though it was just for a season.  We all needed to be healed.

My Thyroid tried to Kill Me

Standard

Roses on a cloudy day

January is the month of resolutions and new leafs to turn over for most people.  But for me, January is the month that I celebrate surviving cancer.  I am a cancer surviver.  I discovered that I had thyroid cancer in 2009.  Though in my everyday life I don’t define myself by this, it actually effects me every single day.  Nobody thinks much about their thyroid until it goes bad, but if you can still eat carbs without having them turn to fat the minute they touch your lips then you should drop to your knees and thank God for your healthy thyroid!

It all started in 2006 when I got pregnant with our third child.  We were living in Costa Rica at the time, studying Spanish and preparing to move to Mexico.  It was an uneventful pregnancy and we moved to Mexico without much concern about giving birth overseas.  After all, this was my third child and I was a pro at this, right?  Lulu was born on May 1st which is Labor Day in Mexico.  (I tried to explain the pun that I was in labor on Labor Day, but it just didn’t translate.  My friends just smiled tolerantly.)  Naturally, in the first few weeks of adjusting to a new baby and nursing round the clock, I was tired!  Then to compound the facts we started noticing that Lulu was having some health issues.

Lulu rarely slept more than a half an hour at a time.  When I started focusing on why she was waking up so often, I noticed that she would stop breathing and then suddenly gasp for air and wake up.  “Well that’s not normal!”  I thought.  The next year and a half were filled with doctors’ appointments, visits to specialists, sleep studies, experimental foods, poking and prodding of the baby, and hours spent on the internet searching for answers.  In the mean time, she continued to micro-sleep and gasp for air… and I didn’t sleep at all.

I kept Lulu in bed with me and dozed with my hand on her tummy feeling her breathe.  A few times I woke up and suddenly realized that she was not breathing and starting to turn grey!  We even got into CPR position 2 or 3 times when normal rubbing and pinching didn’t wake her up- then suddenly she would gasp and breathe again though she was lethargic after each of these episodes.  So I wasn’t sleeping and I was feeling worse and worse as the weeks went by.

Shortly after her first birthday we decided to contact the Children’s Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota.  They scheduled an appointment with a child sleep apnea specialist for NOVEMBER!  I thought, “Didn’t you hear me say that my baby quits breathing at night?  I don’t know if she will still be ALIVE in November!!  How does this not constitute a crisis?”  So all fall we kept working with specialists in Mexico while we waited for our November appointment.  And I still wasn’t sleeping.

I knew something was wrong with me shortly after giving birth, I just wasn’t bouncing back from this pregnancy.  I told my husband, “I think I’m low on some hormones or something.  After I’m done nursing I’m going to go to the doctor and have my hormones checked.”  I was tired all the time- but I was a new mom with a baby that wasn’t sleeping well, so that was explained.  My hair was falling out by the handful- but that happens after pregnancy sometimes.  I was cold all the time- and that one I couldn’t explain away.  I lived in Mexico!  Even when it was 90 degrees out I was sitting outside in the sun wearing a polar fleece just to keep warm!  That was odd.  So I tried exercising more to get my circulation going and to lose the baby weight, but I just got more and more exhausted and the weight continued to go up.  I had no energy.  I remember sitting on the couch holding my lethargic baby watching hours of children’s programs, neither one of us had the energy or desire to play.   She just cuddled with me and sucked her fingers.  The dark circles under both our eyes grew deeper and deeper.

Waiting all fall for our appointment at Children’s was terribly stressful.  I was on the verge of tears every day and I was barely holding it together.  You know that feeling you get in your throat when you are holding back the tears… the lump in your throat?  Yeah, that’s what I felt like for several months.  I had a lump in my throat.  I thought it was the stress getting to me.  When we arrived at the Children’s Hospital the sleep specialist took one look at Lulu and admitted her immediately.  Finally, someone was taking this seriously!  I remember a conversation I had with her doctor.  He said, “How can I help YOU through all this?”  I paused and told him, “I’m tired of trying to be the doctor.  We have all these symptoms and I don’t know what they mean.  It’s like having a handful of dots and not knowing how to connect them.  I’m at the end of my knowledge and the end of my strength.  I would like you to be the Doctor and I’ll be the Mommy.  How about that?”  He smiled and said, “That’s what I do best.”  I started to relax for the first time in months.

We moved back to Minnesota in December and continued Lulu’s treatments, she was already starting to improve on her new diet and medicine!  In January we began our standard rounds of physical exams for the whole family which are required by our missions agency.  Then the other shoe dropped.  During my routine physical exam the doctor found the lump in my throat.  “That’s not normal!” she said, and sent me to radiology for the first of a million tests. I wasn’t too worried yet, probably a vocal nodule or maybe a cyst.  In April, the doctor said the word “Cancer” to me.

They operated to remove my thyroid and found a second form of cancer in there.  Radiation was mandatory at that point.  Weeks passed with me laying weakly on the couch with a more energetic Lulu bouncing around the living room.  I watched the movie Wall-E with her every morning… well, more accurately, I fell asleep watching Wall-E every morning.  The lilacs were in bloom the week of my isolation for radiation treatment.  I missed them so badly.  After the radiation I lost my senses of smell and taste for almost 2 months!  I filled my house with lilacs even though I couldn’t smell them.  I ate almost nothing and still the weight crept up.  “Be patient” everyone said, “It takes time for them to get your medicine to the right level.” (Now it’s been 2 years and they are still tinkering with my levels.)

Slowly, slowly life returned to normal and I felt like I was slowly rising from the dead.  I was unthawing.  Waking up from a bad dream.  I still struggle with fatigue and my weight will always be an issue.  I think about all the stuff I could accomplish if I didn’t have to fight through this brain-fog every day.  But every night I take my pills and I think about how my thyroid tried to kill me.  It might not be the last time I hear the word “Cancer” from a doctor, but every January I can celebrate having a clean cancer screening and normal tumor markers in my blood work.  Every January I start a new year with my precious family and rather than looking back, I look forward.