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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The beauty of a mild winter

     So today just happens to be Groundhog day and for those that believe in it, he did not see his shadow which means an early spring.  Ironically this has been perhaps the mildest winter we have had in decades here in Vermont and so this is just icing on the cake!

      I know that for those who love winter sports and of course for our ski industry it is not such welcome news.  But for many of us, it is reason to rejoice.  Winter brings with it the much more frequent possibilities of falling and as I am getting older I find that more and more terrifying.  I really dread anytime I venture out after a storm or freezing rain. The prospect of having to go out and contend with frozen, snow covered and/or uneven steps and surfaces is very stressful.
     I have found that using detachable treads on my boots like Yaktrax and keeping a set in my car is very helpful and relieves some of the fear.  I also plan ahead so that if a storm is coming I like to get my errands done and then if need be I can hunker down at home.
     I also can work remotely when absolutely necessary so I often bring home work in the winter so I am prepared for the potential of not being able to get into the office.  It just makes no sense to endanger your life when work can be done from your desk at home!
     This mild winter has also meant that I can get to my pool for swimming more often than in past harsh winters.  I head up to a ski resort to use their indoor sports facility and pool and so clear roads is critical for me!
     I also find that I am much more likely to spend time outdoors, walking or enjoying some time in the sunshine if the temperature is not in the single digits.  And so far we have had lots of those opportunities this winter.  
     Of course despite the mild weather one of my favorite pastimes in the winter is to curl up by the fireplace with a good book.  No matter the weather outside this remains a wonderful way to spend a winter day.
     It is so nice to even see some signs of new life peeking through the winter ground.  Even if it only lasts a few days it brings a smile to my face and some color to our landscape.
     So I am going to relish this lovely winter and look forward to an early spring - at least according to Punxsutawney Phil.


Monday, January 18, 2016

Off and running (well not really)

     Even now that I am in my 60's I still find the beginning of each year to be exhilarating.  I think it is the notion that the new year is a like an open road before me offering all kinds of possibilities and adventures to explore. 
     Which road will I take? What will that next bend in the road have just beyond it?  I find these thoughts and questions exciting and invigorating.  And since having RA I also find that moving into the new year can be time to reflect on my own disease management and how the previous year turned out.  What I might adjust for this coming year or what worked great?  
     I discovered the wonders of Tai Chi and intend to keep practicing it forever!  So much so that I now teach it and that has added a depth and joy to the practice that I never imagined.  I feel so much better both mentally and physically since starting Tai Chi.  I highly recommend it.
     I found a medication that is working for me!  I have been through many medications over the 20+ years that I have had RA.  One worked great for 6 years while others worked minimally.  This past year I found the one that seems to be working for me - for now.  I temper this enthusiasm with the knowledge that it may not last but I will enjoy it while it does.
     I also embrace this thought when it comes to feeling good and flare free because as all of us with RA know, flares come and go, often with no rhyme or reason. Taking advantage of the good days to get my exercise and enjoy life is a large part of managing RA successfully.  That means my beloved swimming! 
     I was so happy to get back in the pool after my broken foot episode in October put me on the sidelines once again. Once I was given the go ahead, I "plunged" right into that pool and never looked back.  I look forward to this year being a great year of swimming.
     So I may not be a runner anymore but that does not mean that I am not off and "running" in my own way to make this a great 2016!  Keep up the effort. I wish you the best this year has to offer. Make it your best one yet.  


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Lucky me!

     So Thanksgiving brought with it some really wonderful news this year in that I do not have to have surgery on my broken foot!  I found out just a few days before I left for the holidays and I was elated to say the least.  Everything was going to work out!
     I was somewhat surprised as I had been told by no less than three different medical folks that "this bone does not usually heal well and likely will need surgery".  Despite that dire prediction, I beat the odds!  
     I still am shaking my head in disbelief and wonder that I escaped this.  How did this happen?  Not sure but I have some thoughts.  First of all I did not take the word of all of those folks to be gospel.  I decided to call the surgeon who did my foot reconstructions and get his opinion.  It took a few phone calls and signing releases, forwarding X-rays, etc. but it was so worth it!  When I heard back he said in his opinion I would NOT need surgery and that the boot cast and forearm crutch approach would be just fine. Well that was sure welcome news!  But I still was leery of what the 4 week X-rays might show.  My foot looked pretty bad for sometime.
     That said, I was told at the appointment where they did the 4 week X-ray that the extensive bruising, swelling and pain were largely from the tendon/cartilage injury that really was the root cause of the foot breaking.  That made me feel a whole lot better.  I was very careful to follow their suggestions for how to bear weight, etc. and it really paid off.  At 5 weeks my foot is looking almost normal save for some minor bruising still around the lower ankle and at the toes.  I'll take it!
      I have been careful not to overdo which is always a challenge for me but one I have taken to heart since I did not want the holidays to be hampered with crutches and pain. That certainly kept me on the straight and narrow. The frequent reminders from family and friends kept me in line too.  
     I was so thrilled to be able to return to Tai Chi and swimming just 4 weeks into the injury.  I actually believe that being able to engage in both of those activities helped the healing process considerably. I have to mention that doing Tai Chi was in many ways why the injury I sustained was not a lot more serious.  When my foot slipped I was able to regain stability largely because of the Tai Chi principles and practices of weight bearing.  The foot roll and subsequent injury and broken bone were the result of the uneven surface that I encountered when I put my left foot back down.  Not because of lack of balance.  I could have ended up head first over a balcony if not for the Tai Chi!
So I count myself lucky indeed and very thankful that all is well!


Monday, November 2, 2015

Foot Fault

     I am still trying to wrap my head around the fact I broke my foot a week ago.  I simply stumbled and rolled my left foot and WHAM!  I now have a fracture of the 5th metatarsal.  It seems like only yesterday that I had my two foot reconstruction surgeries.  Actually it was 2012 and 2013.  Thankfully this fracture in no way compromised the wonderful result of the surgery.  Still, I waver between relief that it was not worse and dismay that I may be facing surgery since this is a bone that often does not heal on its own.  This according to several doctors who have seen the X-rays. 
     This photo was just a few days after I broke it and it looks a whole better now thank goodness.  I have to say the pain is not too bad either.  Mostly I am thankful that I can partially weight bear with forearm crutches and a boot.
     The worst part of the past surgeries were the weeks of non weight bearing that I had to deal with.  As a person who loves her independence it was such a challenge to have to rely on everyone around me for the smallest things.  I also like to be up and moving, a lot, and often, and to have to be so stationary was almost more than I could bear!  I never, never, never expected to be doing this again under any circumstances!  
     My husband and I had traveled to DC to visit two of our sons and attend a much anticipated Penn State football game in Maryland.  The day before the game I simply tripped while walking to their balcony and rolled my left foot.  In the photo above I still have on the splint that I had for several days till I got back home to Vermont.  We woke up the day of the game and decided to give it a try.  So off we went and it was a great day, great game and a victory for our beloved Penn State Nittany Lions!
     The amazing staff at Ravens Stadium in Baltimore made the day for us.  They exchanged our tickets for 40 yard line accessible ones and had a wheel chair for me to use as well.  I cannot say enough about how wonderful there were in every way throughout the day!  We were all so glad we went.  It made an awful situation much more bearable.  
After we got home and I went to our local Orthopedic office I discovered I could, at least for now, put some partial weight on it with the boot on and forearm crutches.  Anyone with RA knows all to well that traditional crutches are torture!  I had to use them for a couple of days and my shoulders and hands were totally inflamed.  
     My biggest fear remains not the surgery itself but rather the potential for non weight bearing time afterwards....I am going to hope and pray that I heal in such a way that it will not be necessary but I do not hold out much hope based on what the docs have told me. 
     Yet another foot fault to deal with....


Friday, October 2, 2015

Mirror, mirror....

     Over the years of having RA I have found myself more and more reluctant to look at my image in a mirror (or any surface for that matter). Considering where that comes from is worth some "reflection".
     In a society that reveres all things perfect and youthful it has become increasingly difficult to not let the ravages of RA coupled with simple aging negatively influence my body image.                   

     There are those few occasions when I feel attractive.  A new outfit that fits thanks to a few pounds lost or my husband or sons telling me I look especially nice.  But sadly those times are not common for most of us with RA.  I find myself shying away from form fitting clothes no matter if they would look good or not simply because I have more belly than ever before thanks to years of prednisone use and the fact I cannot do traditional core exercises and, of course, the aging body.  All of these factor into my own assessment of body issues that I am facing.
     Despite trying to do positive self talk around this issue it still remains a problem for me and I am not really confident anymore that I can work through it.  I do know I will try  and perhaps that is the first step.
     Even if I can just LIKE my body that would be a start!  I do have days when the simple appreciation of not being in a flare and being able to move with some degree of ease and comfort gives me a certain confidence that extends to how I feel I look.  It is amazing how pain and lack of mobility can influence how you see yourself.  Of course, coupled with the poor body image is the struggle to stay physically active and how that most certainly influences how we look and feel.

     We need to change our mindset to reflect positive reasoning for working out not negative ones!  This is easier said than done. But if we practice affirmations and positive self talk coupled with not allowing ourselves to be sucked into the body image garbage that surrounds us from all sides, we can develop a healthy and positive self image so that in time, when we look in that mirror we see a perfectly normal, healthy and yes, attractive person looking back at us!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Is it safe yet?

     This is a question that those of us with an ever changing, ever present chronic disease face literally every day.  I often find myself quietly asking myself if today is the day when my next RA flare will commence. 
     When I first wake up I do a "joint check-in" just to see where I stand on that given morning. Is today the day that the answer to that question "is it safe yet?" is a resounding NO or am I spared for another day.  
     My greatest wish is to wake up confident that this day will be without pain and with no possibility of a flare. I would jump for joy if I knew without a doubt on a given day there would be no chance of a flare or unwelcome pain.  I know that is not possible but it sure is nice to dream.
     The fact is I intend to hold onto that dream. You may wonder why.  Well for me it is all part of keeping a positive approach to life.  If you do not dare to dream big where is the joy and hope in life?  I simply will not succumb to the hopelessness and sadness that so often accompanies a chronic disease.  Instead I will wake up each day with an attitude of  YES IT IS SAFE!  Happiness and joy are truly choices we make in life.  Even when things are not going well, when pain is intruding on our every thought and movement, you can CHOOSE to deal with utilizing the many strategies that I have highlighted here in my blog over the last several years and lots of other sources as well.  Exercise, guided imagery, consulting your medical team, reaching out to family and friends, just to name a few options that you have at your disposal.  
     You are never out of choices if you only take the time to look.  Don't be complacent.  Be proactive and you will always be able to handle what lies ahead and when that feeling of doubt creeps in you can push it away confident that you are equipped to deal with any and all eventualities thanks to the time and work and effort you have put in to managing your RA!  


Sunday, August 2, 2015

There is a point to this...

     Over the last several months some unusual and interesting opportunities have come my way and as a result it has prompted me to consider where I am at in life and what matters to me.  All the while keeping in mind my need to manage and balance RA, work, family, fun, etc.  There is a point to this which I will explain and it is all about purpose.
     While carefully considering the options before me, I began to reflect on what each one offered and beyond that why would I consider any of them?  Through that process of reflection it became clear to me that whatever I am doing at any point in time if it has a purpose that holds meaning for me I am much more likely to embrace it, much more inclined to consider it.
     Over the years I believe that I have learned to appreciate and fine tune those skills that most align with my purpose in that moment in time.  So for instance, I enjoy community involvement whether it be serving on boards, volunteering on a variety of projects or simply helping others in some way.  This practice has always been very tied up in how I live, be it work or home.  My purpose feeds that sense of contentment that comes with doing what you love and making that a guiding principle.  So when I was diagnosed with RA, I knew that in order to manage it and move past the overwhelming notion of a progressive, painful chronic disease, it would be necessary to find out how it "fit" into my life's purpose in a way that I could deal with.  
     I can say with certainty that handling and coping with some of the tragedies that have come my way has pushed me to refine what the meaning of life is for me and what purpose I have in it. RA is just another example.  I was not content to simply treat the disease, I needed more, I needed purpose. I truly believe that is what led me to launch and facilitate the RA support group in our city.  Another example was discovering Tai Chi and what an amazing form of meditative movement it is - leading me to get certified to teach it and to start a class.  Sharing my own journey of RA through this blog and other writing opportunities was yet another way to find that meaning in my life.  
     I know without a doubt that discovering the purpose in my life and engaging in activities that support them, be it my work, my recreation, my family life, volunteering, etc. has improved how I feel physically and mentally.  When you are excited to participate in each day of your life, your body and mind sense that! 

     Keep in mind that there is no need to limit yourself.  The sky is the limit in finding purpose.  In addition, your meaning and/or purpose may and likely will change as you move through life.  As a young woman my purpose was centered around my family and raising my sons.  I loved and embraced every moment of it, knowing full well that the time would come when I would need to find a different purpose.  They are all grown up now and although they surely are still a part of my purpose, they have moved beyond that day to day need for guidance and attention.  So, I had to move beyond it too.  I had to take some time to examine and reflect on what was next?  Where would my wings take me now?

     Being flexible in sorting out meaning and purpose is a key as well.  Taking time to consider your own needs, talents, desires, skills, etc is crucial to finding your own special meaning.  And you have to be a bit fearless...
    Listen to your heart and not those cautious little comments that sometimes creep into our mind in the middle of the night.  What harm is there in trying something new and different?  Even if it does not work out, you will have learned some very useful lessons! Explore what you might enjoy, try listing the areas of your life and then considering those areas that are the most satisfying. 


          Once you zero in on that you are well on your way.  And don't be discouraged if it does not happen quickly.  This is a process that takes time and reflection.  Don't give up. Don't give in.  This is your life, your time to find what holds that special meaning for you. 
     I am 100% certain that discovering my purpose was the key to a satisfying life.  It proved to be a magical and unforgettable moment and is the guiding force I live by today.