“The moment you touch your soul, you become fearless." -Yogi Bhajan
This past summer and early fall, I gave myself the space I needed to get in touch with my soul. I found there a fire burning so bright and asking me to change my whole life to feed it. I made some significant changes. I went from homeschooling to working mother. That was the biggest. I decided to move on the grid. I'm packing today. I began teaching yoga, and I applied for and received a grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women to finish an essay collection I'm working on concerning events in my own life as a rural mountain woman. I feel the essays will illustrate the universal experience of being a woman. My 3 year old goes to a babysitter 3 days a week now. Between yoga work, driving, and my work as public affairs director at WMMT, I'm doing this thing 50-60 hours a week.
Another gift I gave myself during this time, was to be honest with me. I searched my heart and let myself be free to experience things my heart longed to experience. We don't have this freedom all the time, and when we do it is intoxicating. I'm 37, so maybe what I experienced some would call a mid-life crisis. I'll be a lucky person to get another 37 years, so maybe it is. For me, it held real meaning. For the first time in a long time, I gained the feeling that there was something to hope for, not just for my daughters, but for myself. I felt like I woke up and had decided to come out of the shadows to live.
However, there were some moments for those who were attending to my needs that became frantic. What I was experiencing while they were assessing my bleeding and getting it under control was bliss. My body grew warm and fuzzy. My ego retreated. I felt whole. I didn't care if I continued on in life in the physcial body. I felt like I was completed. It is very hard to describe, but I haven't felt anything as good before or since. What makes it even stranger to talk about is, if I hadn't been tended to. If I had been alone to care for myself, I likely would have bled too much and passed on. In the moment where the veil between worlds grew very thin for me, I felt most at peace. That makes people uncomfortable. That makes it hard to share because there aren't many who understand.
This summer, I began finding a way to live and recreate those feelings of letting go completely. It isn't as easy to replicate in life as it is when your body actually is letting go of its life blood. Life is complicated. I'm a realist. I fought to keep that energy going, but it became just embers and I've had to accept that for now. I couldn't control the death of it and I've taken that in a hard way. I've sunk into a dark and grieving place. I'm not a crier. I've been crying a lot lately. The hope I built has been put away. I'd say it is gone, but there's always the possibility she will return. She stayed in Pandora's box after all. I just have to not wish for her anymore. I find myself thinking more and more about those moments. "Kelli, stay with me," she said. I thought, why? I decided I didn't care to stay and if it was meant that I go, I'd let it happen. "Just a minute," I said. Another minute in complete surrender. I long to go back there. I'd happily go back there unafraid.
I was fighting tears Monday while driving the girls out of the holler. Right as we were going into the creek, I noticed what appeared to be an old weathered bone on the flat rocks in the shallow part of the creek. I collect bones, skulls, and other natural oddities, and I stopped to get a better look. I opened the car door and discovered this very heavy statue. It's been either buried or in the water a long time. It was painted at least twice. Once red and once black. It had also been mounted to something. Maybe a fence, entry way, or gate. It looks like it is holding a staff or spear. A resting warrior. The Universe had sent me a gift with no explanation of how it made it there on that day for me to find. Universe told me to rest. To be patient. It's ok.
Then, I get word from the artist Bonita Parsons that someone who wished to remain anonymous had bought this piece of art from her and asked her to send it to me! I adore this piece and when I found out I cried. I feel so unworthy of such a gift. I socialize very little. I don't talk on the phone even with family and friends I want to talk to. I forget to answer some messages I get on Facebook. Very few people really know me. I am as a ghost and very alone. I have no idea why someone was compelled to gift me this. It makes me feel very thankful and at the same time sad. When I write about my own life, I write it honest. It isn't a bad kind of sad, but it is a type of sad. I've cried several times over the receipt of this gift. I simply don't feel worthy of it and would like to understand why it was given me.
The Universe has gifted me twice in a week when I just wanted to completely give up. I don't want to stoke the embers. I want a lobotomy. Yet, Universe is telling me that my life is a gift. Don't squander it. It is ok to be sad, but it isn't ok to take yourself away from the collective before it is your time to go, whether you do it metaphorically or physically.
I discovered with certainty this summer that my totem animal is the crow. Crow medicine and those who carry crow as a totem can be intense. It's true. It's not a thing we can help and it comes to use by nature. Crow crosses the veil of existence on the regular and is thought to live outside of time and space. Crow carries an honest message and doesn't care to deliver it. Crow is lonely, a loner, but never without work. Crow has magic. People come to us in private to hear their secrets. It's kind of like what I imagine a priest in the confessional to feel, except we don't absolve or give penance. We acknowledge, accept, and help the processing begin as best we can while still being what we are.
I had a dream this week. A woman with a clipboard met me at a convention and said, "You've been idealized." I got so mad at her I could have hit her. I turned around and went back to the room I had just left instead of entering the convention. I've been worried about what she means. I hope that isn't true of me, and yet, when I receive anonymous gifts, or am told I inspire. It is hard to swallow. I'm struggling with my inner light. I'm just living life as best I can right now. Nothing I'm doing is special or beyond what any other human is capable of. I've been called by some younger women a "hero." That makes me very uncomfortable. I don't understand where it comes from, or what I'm supposed to do with that fact. It's hard.
This week though, Universe told me I have a job. My job as the holder of crow medicine will include these things and it will include them whether I am experiencing the light or the deepest darkness. I hear the crows cawing as I'm writing this now. I can't not accept it. It's what I am. My heart won't let me say, no, as long as I am living. It's just that I don't feel that character in me. That sage hermit woman in the woods who holds the secret the adventurer hopes to find. I've not gotten the ability to fully stand in my own light. Maybe I never will. How can I be anything to others? How can I do what I'm asked while at the same time feeling I have no outlet for it myself? Words though powerful are never enough and that is all I have. Typed or written words.
Today, I've decided to give up fighting. I'm on day 3 of a another migraine. I'm home alone with my girls who are getting much better from a bout of upper respiratory illness. They are giggling and horse-playing. I need to work on a radio piece for my new job, but this week has thrown so much at me, I need to clear my head first. So, I come here to write. I also took an Imitrex. The medicine hasn't been helping. I hate taking all this medicine.
A good friend's mother and a regular in my yoga classes, my chiropractor, and some folks in my online support groups for Hashimotos urged me to get my thyroid scanned. I'm on thyroid medicine and my thyroid had never been palpated nor had I had an ultrasound of the thyroid. This last year I have had a few CT scans, 3 x-rays, 2 MRIs, and countless blood tests. My main condition which I MUST have daily medicine for had never been evaluated by anything more than a thyroid panel blood test. I could write a whole other post on my frustration with this fact, but I will just say this. If you work in healthcare (medical, mental, alternative, or spiritual), listen to your patient/client. Even if you believe what they are saying is a crock, listen with all your effort. In their words, you will find the next appropriate steps regardless if their words are medically meaningful to you.
Last week, I had my first thyroid ultrasound. I had been complaining of tightness in my neck, difficulty swallowing my medicine and some food, dizziness, hearing my pulse in my right ear, and the feeling of being in an airplane taking off in my right ear as well. It's messed quite a bit with my hearing. I was prescribed allergy medicine and had an MRI for that complaint. I don't have seasonal allergies. I never have. I very rarely even get a cold. The MRI showed normal blood flow in that region. The symptoms didn't go away even when I gave the allergy medicine a chance despite feeling I didn't need it. I didn't think these symptoms were something I should have to just ignore the rest of my life. Sometimes the swooshing and pressure change in my head is impossible to ignore. Being a yoga teacher, it affects my balance and impacts my practice. It also makes it hard to talk on the phone and at times in person because I can't hear the other person. That's not normal. That's not ok.
I got a call Friday that my doctor wanted to review my ultrasound results with me in person. I went in this past Monday. These are the results. Pardon my coffee stains. I'm a little obsessive when it comes to reviewing my medical records and I had an accident.
I have multiple nodules that are small in the left side of the thyroid - "hypoechoic areas". Lo and behold, I have a complex mass of a significant size (though apparently they can also be larger) in the right side of my thyroid. The radiologist has recommended a fine needle biopsy guided by ultrasound to rule out cancer. It will also need to be assessed if my thyroid needs to be removed even if the mass is benign. If you look at the size of the mass in comparison to the size of the right side of my thyroid, you can see why it is something that needs further testing.
Many members of the population have nodules on their thyroid. Not all of these people have been diagnosed with thyroid issues. However, people with nodules measuring on the larger end and who have a history of thyroid issues, are the most likely to have a malignant nodule. Malignancies occur in few cases compared with the commonality of thyroid nodules. I'm supposed to get my appointment for the biopsy today, and at 3:16pm, I still haven't gotten the call. I'll be traveling to Lexington for the biopsy. It's a 3 hour trip.
I'm starting my first round of employment in a decade on Monday, and I am just now getting this news. For almost a year, I have been having symptoms associated with these findings. I can't begin to explain how angry I am that I am now going to have to deal with this at all. My hormone numbers were improved in my last bloodwork. I had several months of feeling better after adopting an autoimmune paleo diet and a no-holds-barred 7 days a week yoga/meditation regimen. I've added herbs and supplements, cut many of my favorite foods, and tried my best to surround myself with people and activities that feed my soul. I thought it was working. I suppose it was a little.
To me that seemed like a reasonable option. I was done with spending half of every month in pain with the headaches. I told Creator that night that I would take on anything if it helped me move passed this pain. I told Creator I'd accept cancer, brain tumor, craziness, aneurysm, all of it. I'd accept it because it would be a diagnosis and with a diagnosis I could have a plan. Whether I lived and got treatment or died, I'd have more freedom than I was currently having. After seeing the neurologist, I got some improvement in my headaches with medication, but now I have had a headache 10 of the last 20 days. Back to the headache from Hades (not that all of them aren't bad, but I literally would've downed a bottle of pills and died if I hadn't had the ER option that night). I told Creator that I'd use whatever I was given to improve my life while I am here and to try to improve the lives of as many as I can reach through my experience. I said, "Please, bring it on." A diagnosis big or small was the only way out I could see aside from death. Yes, it's a dark place to be, but it isn't a godless place.
I still don't know what I'm dealing with, but I'm closer to an answer. I don't know what road lies ahead. All I know is I am tired. This year I have lost 2 grandparents, 1 grandparent-in-law, had 2 aunts and 1 uncle diagnosed and battling cancer, 1 sister with a cancer scare, a niece with blood clotting issues in the brain, and 1 sister under immense stress and battling Graves disease. I am currently grieving another great loss that leaves me recognizing how alone I really am. Surrounded but alone. All my close friends live away from me and are busy people. None of us enjoy phone calls. My husband must work regular hours. My parents are busy working and caring for the other kids in the family. I've always preferred being a loner, but sometimes, I wish I could just sleep in someone's arms and not have to tend to anything.
breath. Strength comes from the breath and if you become a witness to your inhales and exhales and your body's reaction to the breath, you will discover relaxation and the panic mode dissipates. It is always good to concentrate on basics, and just observe the breath connection from head to toe. Just lay on the floor, stretch and breath, and be a witness. Understand you are strengthenIng inside out. We all should do this on a regular basis, but, I think we view this as no effort towards our practice, when it is the most important part. You never lose a gain...it remains with you."
I stopped and realized that all the pushing, making myself keep going, and searching for answers beyond the medical is wearing me out. I realized that I have not focused on one of the most fundamental aspects of yoga or spiritual practice - equanimity. I have not found my balance. In all the striving, I have built my willpower up so intensely that I do not know when to allow myself a break or to stop, celebrate, and live in my gains. I just plow down the next row. Start trying to fix the next biggest issue. I want so badly to be a light to myself and others that I think I have let my ego get out of control. I have overestimated the impact I can have on a life, including my own. My efforting will only go so far, if it doesn't create space for me to also take the time to live what I have learned. Sometimes, we can try to make up for the lack of self-esteem and self-worth in our lives by building other parts of the ego like self-confidence. I have been relying on my own strength and my own mind to do everything for myself and others. At this moment, I really just want to be loved and carried for awhile. I'm done fighting. I'm going to breathe instead.
I have to make a plan. I have to hone my spiritual and yoga practice. I have to re-think my self care.
"You can't fully appreciate the light until you understand the darkness." - Black Yoga Asanas Ritual Vol. 1
If you would like to read more about this particular aspect of thyroid disease, these links are where I have been doing my own research on what is to come for me.
Thyroid Nodules - Cedars-Sinai
Does the Risk of Malignancy Increase When a Thyroid Nodule is Larger than 2cm?
Risk of Thyroid Cancer Based on Ultrasound Findings
Thyroid Nodules - AAFP
Hashimoto's disease is a condition in which your immune system attacks your thyroid, a small gland at the base of your neck below your Adam's apple. The thyroid gland is part of your endocrine system, which produces hormones that coordinate many of your body's activities.
What makes it incredibly hard to give it my best shot is that because the thyroid gland is essential to producing so many other hormones that regulate my body functions and moods, when I am having a flare up, it can feel as if I'm completely losing control of my mind and body. Dealing with this disease is the hardest thing I have ever done. Harder than a 34 hour natural labor. Harder than saying good-bye to friends and family who pass on. Harder than running to the top of a steep hill 10 times fast with no break. You get the point. It's difficult. Honestly, I don't want to do it anymore. I know it is an endless battle.
Imagine having all the symptoms of a major mental illness such as manic depression, paranoid schizophrenia, psychotic depression, or even a bipolar disorder. One day you wake up with overflowing physical energy, even feeling severely anxious, with a rapid heartbeat, profuse sweating, trembling hands, and diarrhea, and you can’t stop losing weight. Then soon enough, without warning, your energy plummets. You feel like a slug, are constipated, your hair starts falling out, you gain weight no matter how little you eat, and you are severely depressed. You may have difficulty swallowing, sound hoarse, and feel like you have swallowed something that wont go down. And then, suddenly, your old symptoms return, and you feel anxious, sweaty, trembling, and panicky. This cycle can repeat itself again and again.
The thing is, I have to fight. I have things to do. This disease is something that I've been given, it is part of who I am, and who I will become. It doesn't have to be all bad. Sure, I just outed myself as someone who might display signs of mental illness. Is that the smartest thing in the world? I'm not ashamed. Many of us live with illnesses, mental or otherwise, that to folks we encounter everyday are invisible. We seem fine. We are hard workers. We get things done. We are driven. We seem in touch. The fact is, that we may be all of these things because everyday is a new struggle and we know that if we don't do it, we won't. There's no in between.
I don't think any of us who share about a chronic invisible illness are expecting condolences or accolades. It doesn't mean we are heroes for going on with life. It doesn't mean we need sympathy because our lives are over and we'll never see our dreams come alive. No, we share because we inspire one another to reach just a little higher. We help each other gather the information we need to take charge of our health. And, we want everyone to know that if we can do it, so can you. All we have is now. If we can make changes that will help us live our lives more fully and experience our bodies in a greater sense of freedom, why wait? No matter how challenging it is to change, why wait? Now, is the time when we can work. One step at a time.
This week I have driven my friends batty with my looping thoughts and stress. I left my beloved yoga mat at the front desk of the recreation center right within my eyesight. I forgot to grab my phone on a day when it was really important that I stay connected. Yesterday, I went about the day without taking my supplements, my heart medication, or my anxiety medication. I didn't realize it until I was overtaken by heart palpitations and feelings like I was surrounded by a strange glass box. When I'm having a flare up of the disease, it is like all my thoughts are in a fog. I get stuck on a topic with worry and I cannot shake it. It's as if I'm in a never-ending state of multitasking. This doesn't even begin to address the physical symptoms. It all can be embarrassing sometimes.
I will never use Hashimoto's as an excuse for my behavior or my physical issues. Yes, sometimes I may choose to share with someone that Hashimoto's is why I do certain things, or sometimes don't seem myself. It's not an excuse though. It's a reason. It's a reason to take better care of myself. It's a reason to deepen my spiritual connection. A reason to listen more to my body. A reason to be okay with a little comfortable discomfort in order to grow as a person and in strength. This is my body. It belongs to me. There's no disease stronger than me. The disease is just another teacher among many.
The man golfing above is my Papaw Hansel. He passed away earlier this year of bone cancer. My Uncle James is holding him up so he can take a swing and not fall. This is the blood from which I come. We don't lay in the bed until we have to. We grab the bull by the horns as they say. My last moment with my Papaw was my dad and I lifting him to adjust him in his bed. He looked at me with those sly eyes and looked at my dad. Dad said, "She's a brute ain't she, Papaw?" He smiled. He was proud of the strength in me. I have always been one to want to please my elders. Giving up isn't an option.
Yet, on days like today, when the sun is shining and the trees are calling, I just want to rest. I want someone to hold me, tell me its okay, tell me I'm doing a good job, I'm a good person, and I can rest. I want to breathe and feel. I want to cry and laugh. I want to be with those who accept me as I am and like me that way. Today, I'm again alone. Today, I'm going to my yoga mat with Warrior Workout and see what I can become for it's all I know to do.
In the last few years, I've noticed that there appears to be a "gratitude movement". At least, social media, television, podcasts, and blogs would have us believe it. With Thanksgiving coming up, I'm sure we'll all see the 30 Days of Thanksgiving posts on Facebook and Twitter. In the past, I couldn't help but feel somewhat cynical at the thought of people asking me to stop focusing on what is wrong and the problems of life and instead dwell on the things I can be grateful for. I resented it because it felt as if they were saying because I was upset, sad, angry, or really wanting to fix things that I was in my essence an ungrateful person or a whiner. Of course I was grateful, I have three beautiful daughters, a long lasting relationship with my partner, family and friends who love me, food on the table, and a roof over my head! Why were people insinuating that negative aspects of our lives should not be given as much attention as the things for which we are grateful? To me, being grateful was a given. If you weren't grateful for something, you had a big problem for we all are blessed. It was the problems that needed my attention. Being publicly thankful felt like bragging. I don't like to brag.
It's been over the last two weeks that something inside of my being has shifted and I understand what it means now to live in gratitude. I've been a fighter all my life. I've always had a crusade, a cause, a depression, or something to overcome. In always approaching my life with the fighter in me, I had grown accustomed to feeling the cloud of gloom behind everything. I couldn't rest. I couldn't experience myself for trying to fix myself, my situation, or some injustice befallen someone/s I care for. I carried the world on my shoulders and I could never be enough. I grew tired. Lonesome. Invisible. Eventually, my fight began to fizzle and I wanted the darkness to win so I could just stop. I didn't have the faith to think I'd ever have a victory. There would be always something else to fight and my principles wouldn't let me give up.
We every one have and will have hard battles in this life. Somehow, we have to become aware of our own strength and how to utilize the love we have available to us during times of trial. It refines us. It heightens our sensitivities and brings forward the areas in ourselves and our lives that need attention. However, we don't have to let the battles define us. That is what I had done. In becoming the embodiment of the battle, my "self" was caged away. I had become a thyroid problem. A migraine. The lonely wife. The scary and sad birth story. The warrior victim. The thing that just won't die for all the pain it's in.
A month ago, I went completely grain free (all gluten free, of course). I gave up nuts and most cheese. I cut way back on all other dairy. I went soy free. I, also, gave up chocolate! It's recommended for anyone suffering from an autoimmune disorder to try eliminating common food allergens and foods that can cause digestive upset. For the first week and a few days, I felt like CRAP. I was angry and sure it wasn't going to work. I have a rock gut. It wasn't food that was causing my issues to worsen.
I think I was wrong. While I haven't gone completely toward the autoimmune protocol paleo approach to nutrition, I have noticed a tremendous difference with these small adjustments. I'm still waking and going to sleep very tired. At this point, you'll have to pry coffee out of my cold dead fingers. But... I'm not having huge emotional ups and downs. I'm not having any pain or headaches. My face hasn't swollen in a month. I'm still having some digestive issues, but I have a plan for that. Keeping up with a hectic schedule doesn't stress me out nearly as much as it did before. I have heart palpitations regularly, but they don't seem to be brought on by stress or anxiety anymore. Truly, the difference in my ability to cope emotionally has increased 100x.
About three days in, I was about to call it and go back to my normal whole foods diet which included all food groups aside from processed foods and refined sugar. A friend encouraged me to stick with it. I had been complaining of the lack of food options, meaning my favorite foods. He said, "You won't know unless you try." Curious me, I have to know, and I have to be able to say I tried. It was a challenge and I took it. Here I am. It's like I've emerged from a fog. As cliche as that picture is, it is true.
Now, my heart is filled with gratitude for things I didn't even notice before. It hasn't been a effort on my part. It is like it has happened along with this emergence. At the same time, so many things are falling into place. My spirit is being freed from the fighting and allowed to be and do with all the strength it once used to fight endless battles. My dreams are revived to be chased and earned. I'm realizing that I will be okay in whatever path my life takes as long as I am remaining compassionate, open, available, aware and caring of my body, and embracive of my truth by actively knowing and living it.
This week gratitude has taken the form of finding tremendous joy in being welcomed into a new yoga community through Evolation Yoga Kentucky in Pikeville where I am teaching yoga. Enjoying a 7 day a week yoga practice and having the ability to practice/teach up to 3 hours of yoga on 4 of those days. Hearing the new expressive vocabulary my three year old, Gwen, is adopting. She's so full of spunk. The 100% my oldest daughter got on her math test. Seeing the excitement that she and my middle daughter have when going and coming from their school every day. I'm finding myself growing more and more thankful for the time several of my friends take in their day to send me little messages to laugh at, poke fun at one another, or to share burdens and triumphs. I'm wonderfully thankful for my husband being willing to coordinate his schedule with mine and the childcare my friend has been willing to share with me, so that I can take a few hours every day to follow my bliss as an adult woman.
I could go on. It's easy to be grateful when you are feeling good. It's easy to notice the joy filled moments when you aren't managing with pain or feeling muddled. Right now though, I feel like I'm breathing in gratitude. The scary part is that a little voice in my head tells me it all could be a fluke and the next debilitating headache is around the corner, the next big crisis is imminent, loneliness will overwhelm again, or another tragedy will be brought upon a friend or family member. There are some who I know would tell me to ignore that voice, or to actively direct my thoughts to the good. However, I know good and well that it is more than very probable that any or all of those things are true. What I think I've learned with this go around is that I don't have to go into the ring punching and kicking with all I have. I simply have to have my gloves on, my guard up, and be there. Present. Alert. Knowing where my heart lies, what I am capable of, and that winning or losing is nothing compared to the process and the time we take to be there in it.
At this point, I am angry. I want to feel like a 36 year old who exercises seven days a week, eats a clean, whole foods diet, eats no refined sugar, doesn't smoke or abuse substances, and generally tries to keep a good attitude. Why? That's who I am, but sometimes I wake up and feel like I don't want to wake up anymore. The pain from headaches, procedures on my foot that won't heal, a bum shoulder, a stomach that doesn't want to digest food, is wearing me out. Not to mention, I was told Monday that my insurance won't cover the procedure that would help my foot heal quickly. Nope, I have to a make three hours one way trip to the doctor every month and renewed pain with the treatment I receive until this is healed. Emotionally, while I try to hide it as best I can, I'm up and down. Anxiety and depression takes its toll as well. It's hard to admit you have either of those conditions when to the outside world you appear to be functioning fine. Some days, all I want is to be held by strong arms, smell damp earth, and feel the wind against my face. All day. I'm coping well though. Better than I was, and yoga is the reason. Fatigue is another big obstacle, but at the moment, I'm caffeinating strongly and taking iron to overcome my anemia as my body isn't absorbing nutrients from my food as it should.
I'm seeing three specialists (neurology, dermatology, and orthopedics) with 1-3 months between visits. I see my primary care physician at least once every 3 months for bloodwork, further testing based on prior test results, and medication updates. I have also started seeing my chiropractor regularly in hopes to spread out the visits to the orthopedic doctor. Honestly, it feels really stupid. Stupid. How did I end up here? Genetics is the simple answer. When I asked the girls pediatrician at their recent well visit if there was any way I could keep them from ending up here as well, she said, "Not really. The best we can do is watch for symptoms and catch it early."
Hover the cursor over photos for descriptions.
Because western medicine sees no cure for Hashimoto's and other autoimmune thyroid conditions, the approach is typically to manage a patient's symptoms as best as they can. For many patients, the management is not enough to allow them to live the life of a normal healthy individual. Unfortunately, as in other areas of medical breakthrough and dissemination of knowledge, most primary care physicians are not up to date on the latest information surrounding autoimmune diseases of the thyroid and a very many are not even aware of how to properly test for or diagnose them. Unless they specialize, doctors receive a basic understanding in medical school and not many take up further study in this area. Many people spend years with their disease worsening before they can even get a diagnosis. All the while, they are accused of being a hypochondriac or diagnosed with an array of issues that are not separate at all, but are related to the decline of their thyroid function. It is extremely frustrating for the patients and those close to them who know something more is wrong.
I didn't want to be in this place again. I am now overwhelmed while being in a familiar area. It reminds me of all the researching, writing, advocacy, and healthcare searching I did when trying to uncover why I had experienced unnecessary cesarean surgery and how I could go on to have a vaginal birth after cesarean. So, much of the information women need to make good decisions in pregnancy and birth is not transparent or shared among care providers and the women they serve. I had to become more involved in determining the kind of treatments and healthcare I would receive than those who were providing me that care. I had to take it upon myself to research, learn the science, and take the steps that I could to heal my body. All the while, I was sharing my journey with other mothers and becoming an advocate for the health of women and babies. When I stepped away from the career side of this advocacy, I thought that my focus would no longer have to be split between my passions and my healing. Yet, here I am again. Same thing, another issue. I'm tired.
Eventually, as I am choosing to do this one step at a time, I will be giving up many of my favorite foods and all things that I currently consider a treat - chocolate, dairy, all grain, corn, coffee, tomatoes and nightshades, nuts/seeds, soy, possibly eggs, all preservatives, and alcohol (which I have always had an aversion to). Eating out will be very difficult as will eating when friends and family cook meals. I have to be strict about the changes or it won't work. After 3 months to 2 years, depending on how my body responds, I will be able to reintroduce foods to see if I react poorly. If I don't react, I can continue to eat them if properly prepared for optimal nutritional absorption.
Another piece to this puzzle is medication and supplements. This is part of why I HAVE to adopt the diet and lifestyle pieces. I don't want to grow this mix. I want to reduce it. I will probably write more about that as I know what is helping me and what isn't. I really want to share this journey because Hashimoto's affects about 14 million Americans (along with the other health issues it causes) and no one seems to be having open discussions about it. It's another one of these dark areas where information is clouded and you can feel crazy and very alone.
I also have to make sure that I sleep at least seven hours a night, preferably 8-10+. It is recommended that Hashimoto's patients sleep until they naturally wake up and sleep until 8 or 9am as regularly as they can. This will be hard for me as I get a second wind in the night or I sleep restlessly, having wild dreams. My daughters get up at the first hint of daylight. The bodies of Hashimoto's patients need time to rebuild and to rest from the overburden.
Light exercise is also a must. It isn't recommended that we go for very intense exercise as that will cause further stress to our already taxed adrenals. I'm grateful I already have that under control with my yoga practice. I, now, practice 7 days a week and my favorite teachers have DVDs geared toward my health and fitness goals. Below are a few I'm using. I'm so thankful for my yoga!
The biggest thing I'm dealing with right now is needing to vent and not feeling like anyone wants to listen. I don't want to whine or seem as if I am whining. I'm a very proactive person and I'm not asking for pity or help. I want to be frustrated and have someone hear it, tell me I'm strong, tell me I'm a beautiful person, or simply feed me some positive about myself. Encouragement. I want pep talks. Or maybe I want my basketball coach back. The one that would make me mad in order to have me be fired up to play my hardest. Right now, I'm so worn out I don't want to fight. I just want to move on, whatever that means. It seems though that those with Hashimoto's have a hard time finding support and will often lose the support of friends and family. So, I'm going to blog for that reason too. Maybe I won't overburden those I love if I can let some of it out here.
In the meantime, I'm going to relentlessly pursue my dreams. I'm applying for jobs, seeing the girls into their new school, teaching yoga, cooking good food, and reading and writing a lot. Hopefully, spending times with friends and family will be added in there. I'm going to do my best, because I can.
That's the anger, overwhelm, and the plan.
By the time July 2014 rolled around, I was finding that I could no longer keep up with the form of workouts I had chosen. I was doing CrossFit inspired and HIIT home workouts. I was really worried because no matter my physical size, I had always been athletic and capable of pushing myself to keep up with strenuous exercise. Not only this, but the migraine headaches that I had been having since age 13 had picked up in frequency and were becoming debilitating. I reluctantly went to my family doctor. That began a cascade of testing and seeing specialists. I have seen a neurologist (and will regularly, indefinitely), orthopedic specialist, gastroenterologist, ob/gyn, chiropractor, and a dermatologist. I've had bloodwork every 3 months, MRIs, CTs, x-rays, and cultures of various sorts. Then, the ER visits.
I had to begin taking medications that would significantly lower my heart-rate in order to help prevent the headaches that were interfering with day to day life. This meant that it was now physically impossible for me to keep up with the intense workouts. That is when I took back up with a daily yoga practice. I now practice Kundalini and Vinyasa yoga at least 6 days a week. I eat real food as well as I can manage, and I try to feed my family the same way. See, I wasn't giving up. I have three daughters to raise and provide an example for. If I gave up on myself, what would I be teaching them?
All that said, leads me to why I'm really writing this post today. This region of Kentucky is known as one of the sickest regions in the nation.
Kentucky is one of the sickest states in America, a place where too many people die too soon, and many who live endure decades of illness and pain.
I must say, that what I'm seeing in my neck of the woods, currently, around health and fitness, gives me a great hope for our future. As I research and find the resources I need to receive the healthcare and access the food that I need to live the best quality of life possible for me, I am finding other eastern Kentuckians doing the same. Not only are they taking charge of their health, but they are becoming the change that they want to see in the region.
People I went to school with who are in the medical field are offering free, daily health tips via Facebook and coming back to the region to serve their communities. When I make posts about health and fitness information, I get messages and replies asking for more information or making comments that offer me more information. Area residents seem more interested in local food options. Farmer's Markets are sprouting up all over, and people are learning more about wildcrafting. Yet, the thing that inspires me the most is what I'm seeing as an increased willingness of people to use and explore the capabilities of their own bodies in outside of the box ways. I have recently started teaching yoga in Hindman and Whitesburg and have been so pleased to have no fewer than two and as many as eleven in my classes! So many express interest and a desire to learn how to take responsibility for their health. This makes me hopeful for the health of our young people.
Nick is part owner (along with Stacie Beckett and Carrie Adkins) of the new CrossFit Experior in Williamson, and Cristin instructs and works from the box (gym). I asked Nick why he wanted to make this passion of his into a career, and his answer is so much a part of the solution I envision for the positive growth of our region.
I wanted to open a gym to make a difference in the community, to help people change for the better. I think people are more interested in a healthier lifestyle these days for many reasons, like a better quality of life, to be more physically capable, longevity of life, or maybe to prevent a future health crisis. People as a whole are learning and adapting. 80 years ago everybody smoked. It was the norm. We're at a time now where healthcare and technology make things well known. We know now smoking has many adverse health problems, eating fast food, and drinking soda everyday has adverse health reactions. - Nick Potter
Simply put. He wants to make a difference in his community. Nick and Cristin saw an issue that affected them personally and in their desire to change it for themselves, they are a part of changing it for the community at large. We live in an area that is so naturally beautiful. I see it as very possible that this region can be known for health and well-being in our future. That's part of my vision as I share yoga with those who come to my classes. I know Nick and Cristin are seeing it on a daily basis as they inspire people of all ages to good health.
Jane Austen wrote in Persuasion, "I am half agony, half hope." On the days when my body and emotions feel agony, I look to hope. I'm going to fight the good fight. Others are fighting the good fight. This is just one part of the puzzle that will be rebuilding eastern Kentucky, but it is this type of revolution that makes me not give up completely. It is a clear path to goodness.
I'm going to have to live with this. There is no immediate fix, no sure cure, and no answer as to if this will ever go away except likely not. I didn't want to imagine the rest of my life dealing daily with pain. I didn't want to have to take another medication. I wanted to hear that with a snip, clip, or treatment, I'd be rid of this thing and I'd never have to feel pain so intense that I want to leave my body again. It isn't going to be so.
I spent yesterday wondering how in the world I was going to find the support I need to muster up the motivation to do the work I need to do to not just live with chronic migraine and nerve damage, but to live well. Seeing my grandparents in their transitioning to the next stage of existence, I've done a lot of thinking about quality of life. Quality of life matters a great deal to me.
The thing is, I've been fighting for something my whole life. I've been fighting to be acknowledged, respected, and for my basic human rights since I was a child. If I wasn't fighting for myself and protecting myself, then I was doing it for someone else who deserved fighting for. I'm tired of fighting. I'm tired. I'm ready to be carried some. Life is to be enjoyed as much as it is to struggle through.
Not too long ago, I talked with a life long Christian who had begun to wonder if there really would be something after death and if it would be kind. I told her that if she really believed what she professed to believe, then death is just a step into the future and not to be feared. Sure, there's anxiety anytime we are dealing with unknowns, but to really fear death can cause unnecessary pain. There is something for all of us to believe about death that can pacify fear whether or not we are faithful to a religion.
If I take my own advice, and I truly believe what I believe about life, purpose, and God, then I know this added chronic condition is an opportunity for growth, understanding, and personal freedom. I, the introvert, would like a team for this though. Me, who has always preferred to work alone wants a team. I've supported women in labor; speaking gently, massaging, seeing to their comfort as they came into their own as a mother. They transformed before my eyes and came into a realization that you cannot come to except for in the act of birth as I spoke to their strength. I would like a doula - a cheering squad - a friend.
To step back into my name and do this thing, I need to be able to have rest and reward. I'm already putting forth a lot of effort to make my body temple serve me well. The most important thing for me to do right now is reduce stress and find more effective ways of coping with the stress I will inevitably experience. As everything is an opportunity, dealing with stress has the potential to change my worldview and bring balance to my life. Stress doesn't have to be the bad guy that brings only pain. But, to experience stress in the positive, I am stepping outside of my comfort zone and asking for encouragement from others. I'm baring my heart, reaching out, and accepting that sometimes a kind word from another, a motivating quote, an ancient verse is the strength you need to breathe the next breath and be glad for it.
At this very moment, I'm fighting the urge to not erase this whole thing and think of it as whining. I'm fighting the guilt that is self imposed for not being the friend I might have needed to be for someone else. The ego is stepping in and attempting to make me feel unworthy of feeling the love of others. Maybe this whole thing is God's way of helping me learn to really accept that we are the embodiment of God's love and accept that this love doesn't always have to originate in my own heart. This may be when I finally am able to let down my guard while still being that warrior and defender I have always had to be. Who knows what this is? I only know that for the sake of my children and husband, I cannot let this get the better of me.
I've been laying in bed for hours every night before falling asleep. Not completely unusual except for what is keeping me awake is not my racing mind. It's so loud my mind cannot do any thinking beyond what could be making this overwhelming noise. Swoosh, swoosh, swoosh, gurgle, pop, swoosh, swoosh, to the beat of my heart. It's the sound in my right ear. It is there all the time since September. Sometimes it is so loud I have a hard time hearing people when they talk. Other times it is subtle and barely noticeable. The best times are when there is background noise. At night, the sound is all that there is.
I Googled it. It's potentially a lot of things, some of them major things. Coupled with my terrible migraines it makes me a little wary of it not being looked into quickly. I went to my family doctor as an ER follow-up for migraine and stomach cramps a few weeks ago and mentioned it to him. He looked in there and listened to my carotid. Nothing is clogging my ear. My carotid sounded fine with the stethoscope. He recommended I try to get my neurology appointment moved up. It is scheduled for January. The appointment was made in October. I call. I tell the receptionist why I'd like to get in sooner. She explains that I'll have to go through the ER at the hospital and the ER doctor will do a consult with the neurologist. That will be the only way I could be seen by him any sooner. Thanks and no thanks. To think we wonder why the cost of healthcare is so outrageous. Don't blame it on the docs.
So, I wait. I wait and I analyze. I wonder. I wait. I wait like I've been waiting to see a dermatologist for this thing that has come up that needs examined. Again, the referral was made in October and I don't see her until December. After finding out that no dermatologist in my region of the state will accept my insurance, I had to make an appointment with a doctor in Lexington which is three hours away from home.
This isn't unusual for those of us who live in the Kentucky coalfields. I feel incredibly sorry for people who have limited transportation, funds, and are dealing with a major illness. A good doctor comes into the region and it is like rolling dice as to when you might actually get an appointment. Otherwise, you are referred to the surrounding cities for care - two or more hours from home. Fred D. Baldwin writes in an article titled, "Access to Care: Overcoming the Rural Physician Shortage": "Rural residents must often travel hours to consult specialists, and many rural communities lack even primary care physicians (physicians certified in family practice, internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics/gynecology, and psychiatry). In fact, rural Appalachia still labors under a double burden, according to Lyle Snider, research director in the University of Kentucky Center for Rural Health's Division of Community Programs, Research, and Health Policy: the fewest primary care doctors and the most severe health problems. These situations are related: having too few doctors means that dangerous conditions go undiagnosed too long."
The problem of physician shortage has gotten better as I have gotten older. I can directly see some of the strategies the state and healthcare agencies have used to recruit more doctors into the area. The most obvious one being recruiting residents of these rural counties into the field. I can think of my small graduating class and the class under me and point out at least seven of them who became a doctor, midwife, or PA-C and came home again to serve.
I, too often for the small number of times I have actually used an ER, have had the experience of there being cultural and linguistic barriers to receiving proper care. It seems doctors from outside of the country and/or state were at one time given incentives to practice here. That's a good thing because without them we'd have been up the creek without a paddle. However, I very much doubt that they went through any cultural sensitivity training and I know personally from experience that there is often a language barrier as well. It hasn't been unusual to hear of disappointment in a doctor's visit or a feeling like the doctor didn't take the time to listen and understand. I know people who have left that little room having no clue what the doctor ordered.
So, that said, it is wonderful to have the opportunity to see a neurologist without leaving eastern Kentucky, even if I have to wait until January. It is a step forward. However, the problem is far from being solved. A report, Rural Kentucky's Physician Shortage: Strategies for producing, recruiting, and retaining primary care providers within a medically underserved region says, "Then there is the issue of retention. One source of dissatisfaction on the part of rural physicians could be that the workload and demands placed upon them generally are greater than those experienced by their metropolitan counterparts. Those within Kentucky’s health care industry also point to decreased opportunity for professional contacts in medically underserved areas as a reason for premature physician departures from rural regions. There also are economic concerns. The federal government has become the largest contributor to graduate medical education, paying more than $7 billion annually toward that effort. Yet, federal and state governments have been criticized for failing to develop incentives that better encourage rural practice. Rural physicians typically derive a larger share of their gross practice revenue from Medicaid and Medicare patients, but these publicly supported insurance programs pay physicians at lower rates than private insurers. Rural physicians also typically have received lower Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements than their urban counterparts for performing the same medical procedures."
Well, what do we do? I couldn't imagine serving in the healthcare field here. Being a patient within it can be stressful enough. And, is just another way that living rurally is vastly different from metropolitan living. So, I wait, albeit not very patiently, to figure out what this potentially big deal thing is going on in my head. I pretend like it is no thing at all until I lie down at night and it begs for my attention.
I've had chronic migraines since I was thirteen years old. The only times I haven't had consistent headaches were during pregnancy. Since giving birth the third time, my headaches have become so bad and often that there have been days when I felt that not being conscious would be better than experiencing another second of pain. I've been brought to my knees by these suckers screaming, "God! Help me!" I'm in the process of getting medical help for my headaches and have been to a few different doctors in connection to them. I've only treated them with medication one other time while I was in college. At this point, if I cannot rely on medication or some other remedy (I've tried many) to make them less frequent and more tolerable (dare I hope for them to be eliminated), I will be devastated. The migraines exacerbate some other health and emotional issues that I have and it has created a feeling of being broken.
I turned 36 last month, and I have been confronted with the fact that I'm "older" on many occasions, including trips to the doctor. I've never considered myself "older". The word "old" doesn't even register to me until 70 - maybe. I don't mind the passing of years, and I am so happy to be an adult. You couldn't pay me to be a kid again. Yet, I'm frustrated that at a time in my life when things are comfortable and I am secure in so many areas, that I feel so physically and in turn emotionally down.
Once I get over the fact that a situation has occurred, I am generally very proactive about changing or improving it if it doesn't suit me. I've been doing so much to create health and well being in my life. I eat a diet of whole and properly prepared foods per the recommendations of the Weston A. Price Foundation. I have a daily yoga and meditation practice. I take walks. I'm at a very healthy weight. I'm physically strong. I strive to stay spiritually connected. I don't jump to easy fixes when lifestyle adjustments would produce healing derived from within my own body. In fact, I'm a little obsessive about healthful living. I work hard at it.
Because of my effort, I am often embarrassed or incredibly sad on the days when I feel so sluggish, depressed, or when a migraine has been triggered and I lose a whole day of productivity or forbid I need someone to help me get through the day. I get angry when the pre-headache feelings create within me a mood of less patience and irritability. Having a chronic issue like this isn't something I have invited to stay, or something I want to allow me exceptions to living a full life. I want it GONE. Now! I'm a homeschooling mother of three under age 10. I'm a wife. I'm a writer and spiritual counselor. I'm busy, and striving to be at my best - the way Creator intended me to be.
At age 33, which I referred to as my Jesus year, I gave birth for the third time in an experience that was incredibly profound and blessed. Jesus was the man in the red cape that year. A constant reminder that I am loved, supported, and that my highest good was being written as much as I wanted to seek it out. If age 33 was my Jesus year, then almost three years later, it is time for a Resurrection. A rebirth. Creator saw Jesus through his physical torment and blessed him with Divine life. I still believe I'm loved, supported, and that my highest good is being written right at this moment. I believe in purpose - Divine purpose - and a Love that surpasses all turmoil. I know there is a plan for this. A reason.
I'm tired though. Really tired. And on the days when it feels as if my brain is pressing against my skull with a force that will explode it all into a mush and 1,000 little pieces, I have a hard time reminding myself that there is something more to this issue than pain. I don't want to be embarrassed at needing to spend the day on the couch, or worried that I'm appearing slothful or weird because I can't function normally through the pain. Pain is very misunderstood in our culture. I am also finished with trying to muscle through or pretend the pain isn't there in order to not be a Debbie downer. I have important work to do. I'm not a pill popper and I refuse to go that direction in terms of medication as a band-aid. Where do I find the willpower to keep at this until I find the answers and life in there?
I don't know where this path leads. I think of everything in life in a journey metaphor. A walk through the woods. I don't know where this path leads, but I'm going to chronicle the steps. I'm going to be resurrected and able to feel bliss again.
Kelli Hansel Haywood is the mother of three daughters living in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. She is a writer, weightlifter, yoga and movement instructor, chakra reader, and Reiki practitioner.