Daily Stretches: Upper Body

Okay, I think we’ve now covered all the different body regions when it comes to stretching. That doesn’t mean there won’t be more stretching videos though (assuming everyone reading/watching wants more!) so don’t worry. On that note, if you’d like to see more stretching videos, please leave a comment! And if there’s anything specific you’re requesting let me know that too! I’ve also done some amazing podcast episodes that are relevant here: “Exercise for Chronic Pain with Dr. Frank Nhan,” “Pelvic Floor Physio with Queenie Woo,” “The Essentials to Health with Dr. Stephan Bohemier,” “How Stress and Anxiety Manifest in the Body with Dr. Alex Triendl,” and “Massage Therapy for Chronic Pain with Danielle Potvin.” Head over to the “Podcast” page to get access or check out – Chronically Living and how to make the most of it – wherever you get your podcasts!

https://chronicallyliving.buzzsprout.com/

And remember, keep making the most of it!

Dealing with Ableism

I will admit that I haven’t had too many issues dealing with ableism. However, it’s an experience that everyone dealing with a chronic illness (visible or invisible) or a disability has had to deal with at some point. Emotions can range from moderate annoyance to incredibly frustrating depending on the situation. At work in the past I’ve been up front about my health, which also acted as a preventative measure against ableism. But ableism (like sexism, racism, ageism, and for forth) can happen anytime and anywhere. So how can we deal with it?

I wonder if Spike ever had this issue.

My recent experience actually happened at my apartment building. I was carrying three grocery bags and waiting for the one elevator in the building. Because of Covid it’s just one person in the elevator at a time (unless you live together) which totally makes sense. Now, I’m young and obviously my health issues are invisible, but also I was carrying three very full grocery bags and had walked ten minutes with them already. I live only two floors up so I do often take the stairs when I’m able. And the building is only four floors total. Well, this young guy comes in from outside, sees me waiting for the elevator and then says, “even if it weren’t Covid, I would take the stairs.” And then he proceeded to take the stairs. Now, there is a chance he wasn’t making a comment about me taking the elevator, but I certainly took it that way. I would say I was moderately annoyed, because again, even if I was totally okay I was holding groceries!

Abilities can sometimes change from day to day.

I feel like there are two approaches to take with this kind of scenario and it really depends on the specifics of the situation.

  1. I can let it go: This means realizing that while this guy should not have commented, he probably didn’t know any better. Does that make it okay? No, but sometimes there isn’t a chance to do #2. Part two of this answer is that I can regulate my emotions well enough to not be upset by one simple interaction. If I was running into this guy every day and he kept saying similar things, that might be different. I can choose to take this one incident to heart or not.
  2. It’s time to educate the other person: Again, this depends on the situation. Is there going to be enough time? Will the person be open to listening? Is the setting appropriate? And so on. However, I think this is an important thing to do when possible. “Sometimes people who look healthy have invisible illnesses or disabilities. How familiar are you with that?” I’m sure this is not the best worded example of what to say (feel free to comment better ones!) but you get the picture. Take back the power in a respectful way!

The truth is, any time of “-ism” will not disappear unless the community (both those directly effected and those not effected/allies) stand up to it!

Check this out!

I also, want to take a moment to let everyone know that I was recently a guest on a podcast called BeFun BeKind. Check out my appearance here, where I talk about self-acceptance. Until next week, keep making the most of it!

Daily Exercises: Limited Mobility Cardio

My hip arthroscopy left me limited mobility for 6 weeks so I decided to find some safe ways I could still get some exercise in. Chair cardio is one of those ways! Make sure you always consult with your healthcare team before starting any type of workout and you can always modify to keep things within what is safe for you.

I like chair cardio workouts on Youtube by Paul Eugene but there are tons on there you can find!

Remember, exercise is one of the essentials of health! Check out my podcast episode about that here!

Keep making the most of it!

Premium Content: Deep-Dive into Emotional Self-Care

The Power of Words

I know most of us are probably familiar with the phrase, “the pen is mightier than the sword,” and I definitely think that is true. Not just because I’m a writer (I love to write everything – this blog, self-help books, fiction novels and short stories, poetry, screenplays/teleplays) but because there is research that shows that writing (and very specifically journaling) is good not only for our mental health, but our physical health as well. This is one reason Chronic Illness Warriors might want to jump on the journaling bandwagon.

Apparently I’ve always been a writer.

So the whole reason I wanted to write about this is because I was re-reading a textbook for my practicum (basic counselling skills, etc) and one of the interesting things that I read was that a researcher named Pennebaker found that people who record “troubling experiences in diaries showed better immune system responses and significantly better health than those who did not.” Now, I’m not saying I think that any kind of writing is going to suddenly magically cure any of us and we’ll just feel 100% better by doing so. The research though is super interesting. I think that most people can acknowledge the mental health is helped by sharing our story – through therapy, support groups, and writing/journaling. I personally find it just good for my mental health to do any kind of writing, including creative writing, whether or not it directly has to do with my struggles (let’s face it, every writer has a character who is more like them). It can feel good to journal because it can allow you to process, be reflective, and just get something off your chest, and it’s particularly effective if you are struggling with your mental health on top of your physical health.

This kind of journaling has many benefits including self-compassion.

In terms of physical health, researchers have found journaling to help with viral infections such as Hepatitis (so yes, potentially even Covid-19 as well). There was also a study that looked at gratitude journaling by those with heart failure, and found that morbidity was decreased and inflammation was reduced in the majority of patients. Now obviously more research always needs to be done but it is an interesting and promising start. How exactly does it all work? Well, that’s not 100% clear but journaling can lessen overall stress (for those reasons I stated for mental health) and stress and immune functioning are related, so it kind of makes sense that like some other mindfulness activities, journaling (or perhaps other forms of writing) can be helpful. I’m all about the “even if I just feel better today” (or for a few hours) attitude. Why not help ourselves in the present moment? All we really have is this moment, because the next one doesn’t exist yet, and the last one has passed. In this moment, if journaling helps me feel better and potentially helps my body and mind function better, than maybe that’s a good reason to make today the day you start a journal.

I think this tattoo of mine really sums up how important I think writing is (because why else would I have tattooed it on my body!)

Have a good week and keep on making the most of it!

Daily Mindfulness: Turning Off “Auto-Pilot”

Location of video is Lake Okanagan, Penticton, BC, Canada.

This guided mindfulness practice can help you be calm, relaxed, focused, and ready for your day. It allows you tao take a moment to stop and be present. Mindfulness has so many benefits to both mental and physical health. To hear more about the benefits of mindfulness, please check out this podcast episode with Dr. Alex Triendl!

Remember, keep making the most of it!

Pain Scales – The Enemy of Chronic Pain Warriors

Literally my least favourite question when I go into any doctor or specialist appointment is, “what is your pain like today?” or “on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the worst ever, how’s your pain right now?” To someone with chronic pain, these are the most useless, arbitrary questions. Here’s the thing, I understand why doctors and other healthcare professionals ask the question. They want to get a gauge on if your pain is better or worse than it has been in the past. It totally makes sense. However, there are a few things about chronic pain (and pain in general) that aren’t taken into account with this questions.

  1. My perception of what a “10” is may be higher or lower than your perception of what that is.
  2. I’m not always entirely sure what number I should give. Like really, what is the difference between a “6” and a “7”?
  3. Often pain changes throughout the day, so just because I give it a “4” right now, doesn’t mean that it won’t be an “8” in half an hour.
Hm… I’m smiling and happy in both pictures and yet my pain is a “0” on the left, and a “7-8” on the right.

And yet, this is always the first question asked at any appointment. Sometimes I literally just want to say “I don’t know.!” How many of you feel this way to? Plus, sometimes there is this need to want to give a higher number so that the pain is taken more seriously and not just dismissed. Here’s the thing that healthcare professionals often miss – there are better ways to describe pain than using a 1-10 scale. For example, “what type of pain are you experiencing/do you experience?” “What times of day are worst for pain?” “What activities or circumstances do you notice more pain or less pain?” “Are there any points in the day when you feel little to no pain?” And so on. These questions are easier to answer, and honestly, give a more realistic perspective of my pain than me guessing at a number to give my doctor.

Just gonna throw in the random deer visiting a retirement home across the street from me.

The main model used in medicine (and psychology) right now is the biopsychosocial model (except sometimes doctors forget to use it when talking about chronic pain it seems). For those of you not familiar with this, it is the interplay between biological and psychosocial causes (or maintenance) of a medical (or psychological condition). When applying this model to chronic pain, we look at the biological causes of an illness or injury, and how psychosocial factors maintain or increase the physical sensations of pain. It’s that mind-body connection. Here’s an example: the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) system in your brain has been associated with several chronic pain syndromes including fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and MS. It is one of the biological causes of pain (though not necessarily the only). Psychological factors that can maintain or increase this pain include feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Social factors and behaviours that maintain and increase pain include door diet and nutrition, lack of exercise, and substance use (including smoking). Stress is another major psychosocial factor associated with chronic pain. So, rather than asking what are pain is on a scale from 1-10, looking at these factors is likely more productive in both understanding and managing pain!

Image from: https://www.practicalpainmanagement.com/treatments/psychological/biopsychosocial-approach
The paragraph on the biopsychosocial model is cited from this article.

Let’s talk about pain management. Whether you do this on your own, or with the help of your healthcare team, here are some ways to improve your pain management (because let’s face it, chronic pain is unlikely to magically go away):

  • medication compliance – taking all medication as prescribed!
  • addressing psychological factors – such as anxiety – this could be through relaxation and meditative techniques or even exercise, or going to see a psychotherapist
  • utilizing interdisciplinary healthcare teams – do you have a family doctor? A specialist for your illness or injury? A psychotherapist? A physical and/or occupational therapist? Anyone else who can help you with your pain? (I also have a naturopath and chiropractor for example).
Make a therapist part of your healthcare team! We’re here to help!
(just noting that I’m a therapist-in-training right now)

For anyone reading this who is not a chronic pain warrior, please remember that pain isn’t in our heads, and telling us to just deal with it isn’t helpful. In fact it can be stigmatizing, and people with chronic pain always face stigma because of a lack of understanding. We may laugh, smile and have fun, and yet be in pain at the same time. The things are not mutually exclusive. I’m going to link a few episodes of my podcast that complement this post below. For now, keep making the most of it everyone!

Mental Health and Chronic Illness

The “I Suck” Feeling

Locating Our Inner Strength

How Stress and Anxiety Manifest in the Body

Holistic Approaches to Chronic Pain

Cooking with Kels: Protein Pancakes

This episode has a special guest: my mom! She shares her recipe for protein pancakes, which are a healthy, filling way to have some pancakes. Personally, if I eat 3 of these, then I can totally skip lunch because I’m not hungry for at least 6-7 hours. My mom learned about protein pancakes from the pro golfer Phil Mickelson.

Nutrition is such an important part of keeping healthy, especially when you have a chronic illness. For more about the essentials of health, listen into this podcast episode with Dr. Steph!

Until next time, keep making the most of it!

Lessons from Mindfulness

If you’ve been following my blog you’ll know that I’m quite into mindfulness practices. I’ve found them to be quite helpful. Whether you’re dealing with a chronic physical illness, mental illness, or just daily life stresses, mindfulness can be amazingly helpful to get yourself centred and present. Just doing 10-15 minutes of meditation a day, or going for a mindful walk (especially if that gets you out in nature) can reduce anxiety and increase focus and attention. There has been tons of research done on the subject if you don’t want to take my word for it.

I was introduced to mindfulness first by my naturopath, who suggested downloading an app (such as Headspace or Calm) and trying to do some meditations through there. My psychotherapist was not far behind to recommend it as well. I started slow and progressed as I became more comfortable doing the practices. 5 minutes turned into 10 which turned into 15. This is basically how I suggest starting if you haven’t done so yet.

Animals are the best at mindfulness.

So what are these lessons from mindfulness. I have three for you today.

  1. Distinguishing “future problems” from “today problems” – I used to worry a lot more and have a lot more anxiety about the future than I do now. One of the best lessons mindfulness taught me was how to stay present enough to focus on today, rather than worry about tomorrow. As I just moved across the country, this has been very helpful. Many people have asked if I will stay out here after practicum. “I don’t know” is my answer. Why? Because that’s a future problem. A today problem is setting up my apartment or another is getting prepared for practicum (which starts tomorrow!). I no longer worry about future problems until that future is right around the corner. There’s enough on my mind as it is. Mindfulness can help you develop this skill.
  2. Appreciating the moment – this totally ties into being present as the above lesson does. In the past few days when I have been stressed because there is so much to get done, I’ve gone outside for a moment and appreciated that I am literally in the middle of the gorgeous Rocky Mountains. The Okanagan valley is surrounded by stunning nature and I’ve found that to be instantly calming. Even if you don’t live somewhere quite as visually pleasing, mindfulness can help you appreciate the things that you do enjoy. When I lived in Toronto (which is literally the opposite of where I am now), I was able to appreciate the liveliness of downtown (pre-pandemic) and the closeness of Lake Ontario. When I lived in LA, I could appreciate the constant sunlight and beautiful whether. The point is, there is always something to appreciate, whether in nature or in your life, and staying present can help you do that.
  3. The final lesson is non-judgment – I used to be way more judgmental, of myself, of others. Of course, it’s completely human nature to judge and I don’t think it’s possible to be nonjudgmental 100% of the time. However, mindfulness can help with non-judgment more often than not, and it can help you catch yourself when you are being judgmental. I’m not perfect, you’re not perfect, no one is perfect. Hell, my mindfulness aren’t perfect, and they aren’t supposed to be. By letting that judgment go, you can feel more at peace (at least I do), and that is a really good lesson.
Penticton, BC – Day 2

I hope you have some takeaways from today, especially if you haven’t tried mindfulness. I’m not saying that it’s a cure for anything or that it works for everyone. And it definitely requires patience (you might need to practice consistently for a month or more to see any results). What it can do is help you lead a better life and make the most of it (if you give it and yourself the chance).

Exercises for Chronic Pain: Full Body

I know I keep talking about how great exercise is for chronic pain but I literally want to emphasize that any amount of exercise you do is helpful. I worked my way up to this type of workout and found that my pain has decreased. Nope, it’s not a cure by any means, but any symptom relief is good in my book!

For the Chronically Living and how to make the most of it episode on Exercise for Chronic Pain with Dr. Frank Nhan, follow the link to Apple Podcasts below. It is also on Spotify and everywhere else you get your podcasts. If you love the episode please write a review!

https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/chronically-living-and-how-to-make-the-most-of-it/id1521945719?i=1000488425134

Keep making the most of it, everyone!