No Gluten, No Dairy, No Sugar… Diet Restrictions as a “Cure” and What Happens When You’re a F*cking Foodie?!

Okay, first off, I’ll apologize for the language. I don’t want to turn anyone off from this blog because of it. I’m passionate, in general, and also about food. I grew up in a household where my (white) parents cooked from an authentic Chinese cookbook and would take us out to eat dim sum, sushi, Thai, Vietnamese, and Indian food on a regular basis. We ate fondus while watching the Oscars, and for birthdays we were allowed to pick a nicer restaurant to go for dinner. I’m not blaming my parents for my love of food, on the contrary, I’m thanking them. I will eat anything put in front of me, because I might as well try it. (Last summer, I went to a Mexican restaurant in Kensington with some friends and we had grasshoppers. They were mixed with peanuts, and honestly, just tasted like peanuts).

IMG_0731Sushi from my recent trip to New York City.

The first time I heard that diet changes were good for things like chronic pain, and in my case, lupus, was in some literature on the subject I was reading not long after diagnosis. It seemed hard. Impossible. So I ignored it, like I did much back then (I say that like it was a millennium ago, in reality it was about a year). The second time was when I started seeing a naturopath. She had me give up gluten and dairy for a month. And I did… for just over two weeks of it… I pretty much felt like I was going to die (yes, it’s easy to be dramatic sometimes) because I went from eating whatever I wanted (ALL THE DELICIOUS FOOD) to having very strict rules of what I could and could not eat. As much as I love salad, living off it does not make me happy. I didn’t necessarily notice a change with the amount of pain I was in during the few weeks I maintained the diet, what I did notice was that my stomach was a lot calmer after I ate. In that sense, it took away a certain kind of pain.

b52f35c7ecdda3f6f1607ef19b1e9e12Image from: https://www.pinterest.com/explore/fibromyalgia/

Here is where the problem presented itself: I love food, all food, too much to completely cut something out. I realize my naturopath could’ve also suggested more to be cut out. A lot of people with lupus and other autoimmune conditions also cut out sugar or go on “paleo” diets. I suppose if you’re a picky eater anyway, or just not crazy about food it’s easier (though I have a feeling even then it’s not easy since most first world food is centred around sugar, dairy, and gluten). I have a friend who is just finishing up chiropractic school who also suggested a diet change of cutting all of this out. Not forever, just for now. As much as I appreciate that this totally might work, I’m sure any foodie who is reading this will understand that it is incredibly difficult to think it, let alone do it.

37B16E3D00000578-3764034-image-a-1_1472514961306Paleo Diet: image from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3764034/Could-Paleo-diet-save-heart-attack-Just-8-weeks-cave-man-lifestyle-dramatically-cuts-block-arteries.html

So where did I go? What have I tried instead? As my mother has always said “moderation rules the nation.” Cut back. If you can cut it out, then do it, cut it out. If you’re like me and can’t cut it out, just have less than normal. Switch from milk to almond or soy milk, save cheese for special occasions, eat gluten free cereal, limit the amount of sandwiches and bread consumed, drink less soda and instead have more water. Don’t eat fast food (not something I was ever really prone too) and stay away from all the greasy things (I’ve eaten bacon only once since December). It’s all healthy living anyway. The amount of caffeine consumed can also have a huge effect (I’m saving this one for another post), so alternate between coffee and herbal teas rather than just have coffee. These are all things I’ve been doing for the past seven months. They help. Overall, I’ve been in less physical pain (and this is probably a combination of many things, including diet), and my stomach is certainly happier after a meal than it’s ever been. The best part is, I can still eat all the interesting, ethnic foods I love, as long as I balance them out with meals that follow the more “pain free” suggestions out there.

IMG_7721Remnants of a delicious Middle Eastern tapas dinner in Toronto.

I’m including an article that a friend sent to me. It’s a good read, and everyone should check it out.

Infinite Variety Abrev current copy

References:

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/2015/11/anti-inflammatory-diet-can-relieve-pain-age/

https://www.practicalpainmanagement.com/treatments/complementary/diet-patients-chronic-pain

http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20309924,00.html

When You Want to Travel the World But Have to Deal with Chronic Pain

An ex-partner once told me that she had serious doubts about our ability to travel together because I’m in chronic pain. Since traveling as much as possible was a priority for both of us, this statement brought up some sincere doubts about it for myself. But does that mean I give up the idea of seeing as much of the world as I possibly can? Not for me. Not when I’ve prioritized it. The month of April was a big travel month for me, and it taught me what I physically can and cannot do when traveling, as well as how to make the most of my experiences while dealing with pain.

FullSizeRenderJust before take-off to Europe.

Let’s take a short journey through my travel experiences of April 2017. From the first to the fourth, my friend and I went to New York City (my first time, her second). I went with a newer friend so we had never spent that much time together at once, nor had we ever traveled together before. The trip overall was a blast, and I modified what I did, leaving some of what she did up to her. For example, I really could only party one night, so the first night we stayed out clubbing until 2:30am. The next night, she wanted to go out again (and did so on her own) but there was no way that super-fatigued me was going to have another late night. I was in bed by midnight, she shuffled back in around 3. We stayed in an airbnb that was a walk up, and the amount of walking we did during the four days was insane. The few times I was in a lot of pain we were able to take a rest, or I’d power through. Then, from April 28 to May 5, I met my parents in Vienna, Austria. It had been nine years since I was last in Europe (France), so this was a trip I was very much looking forward to, and I knew nothing was going to stop me from making the most of it. My parents also live in a different province than me so I hadn’t seen them since December, and I certainly haven’t done a trip like this with them in over ten years. We did two day trips as well – one to Budapest, Hungary and the other to Bratislava, Slovakia. My parents are older so murmurs about arthritis pains and fatigue fit right in (I try not to be sad that my body also thinks it’s old). The trip included as much, if not more, walking than my NYC trip, and was amazing. I love travel, I love Europe, and I love adventures. The nice thing is, because I was with my parents and not a friend or sibling, I didn’t feel pressured to go out late (quite the contrary, they’d rather start early in the day and go to bed early). There were a few times when the chronic pain got to me (the difference between traveling with a friend and a parent is I would tell my friend but not my parents – don’t want to worry them), but I pushed through. How many times would I get to explore a palace in Bratislava, or walk through Mozart’s house in Vienna? I think that’s the point my ex-partner missed, I wasn’t going to give up experiences just because of some stupid pain.

FullSizeRenderJust me having some breakfast at Tiffay’s in NYC.

After the Europe trip, I took a few days to digest before thinking about what to write in this post. What did I learn? What worked for me? (In regards to traveling with chronic pain, that is). The first and most important thing is POSITIVITY. This is a motto and theme in my life. Sometimes positivity is hard, maybe even nearly impossible (though not while traveling, in my opinion), but it can certainly get you through a lot. I want to see and do ALL the things, so I’m going to. I’m going to start each day positively and not succumb to thoughts about pain or “what ifs”. “What ifs” are terrible. They don’t help you in the moment, only cause worry for the future. As someone who struggles with anxiety in relation to chronic pain, I get my fair share of “what ifs” but I’m learning to not let them control me. And if they don’t control me here in Canada, then they definitely are not going to control me when I’m abroad.

IMG_1322After climbing to the top of the tallest tower in Bratislava Castle.

Pace yourself, say no when you need to, and push yourself when you can. I’m not going to run a marathon (at least not at this point in my life, and to be fair, I don’t like running so I probably never will). If I can’t do something or I need to slow down I will. This doesn’t mean I will have to sacrifice seeing or doing things, but they made need to be modified. I know people who make fun of the “Hop On and Off” Busses here in Toronto, that tourists often use. Well guess what? I used them in Austria and Hungary. They were awesome. You get some history, and it got me off my feet long enough to conserve energy and fight through any pain better when we “hopped off” to go see some sights. I mentioned that in New York, I said no to going out with my friend one night. I had to, and it was fair. Luckily she’s a nurse so she really didn’t give me a hard time about it (well maybe just a little but in a purely joking manner). Did I miss anything super exciting? Nope, just a night at the bar. And by saying no I was easily able to get up early and have breakfast in front of Tiffany’s (Yep, I’m a big movie geek and proud of it). Whenever I can push myself, I do, and I did, on both trips. Walk through the pain to see the sights, sit when I can, but see all that I can see and do all that I can do.

IMG_1323Crossbow shooting outside of Buda Castle in Budapest, Hungary.

The most important part, whether it’s while traveling or just in life in general, is to have fun! We only get to live once and I don’t want my chronic pain to control how I feel about every situation or stop me from having a good time. So I don’t. A lot of it is a conscious effort and it doesn’t work every day of the week, but I made it work while abroad because how could I not? Travel is fun! I’m already planning my next overseas trip with my parents and younger brother – Egypt and then somewhere in Europe (I’m rooting for Switzerland). If anyone thinks anything is going to stop me from seeing the pyramids or hiking through the Alps, they are gravely mistaken. It’s my life and I’m going to make the most of it. And I truly encourage all of you to do the same.

If anyone reading has any travel advice, feel free to comment or send a message!

Pain Induced Anxiety and How to Get Away From It

This wasn’t my originally planned topic for this week, but it seemed fitting after I woke up an anxious wreck yesterday. Full blown cold, more aches and pains than usual (likely due to said cold), and anxiety through the roof upon opening my eyelids. So how did I get past the pain/health-induced anxiety of the morning?

cucumbers-anxiety-l
https://www.painscience.com/articles/anxiety.php

As I mentioned in a previous post, anxiety versus chronic pain can be a chicken and egg story, however, when chronic pain can be explained by an illness (such as an autoimmune disease, cancer, etc) or an injury, than in most cases it will have probably come before the anxiety started. That certainly was the case for me. I’ve spent the past few months examining my own anxiety and find that it’s usually only really terrible when I’m in a lot of pain or not feeling well in general… i.e, yesterday. The panicked thoughts in my mind don’t necessarily have anything to do with how I’m physically feeling but I would bet some hard money that how I’m physically feeling is the link. Truly, until I started to experience chronic pain, and was ultimately (though tentatively) diagnosed with lupus, I had rarely experienced anxiety (except maybe the occasional looming credit card bill, etc., that most adults encounter from time to time).

autoimmune-disease-by-bishajit-debnath-7-638.jpg
https://www.slideshare.net/GBISHAJIT/bishajit-debnath

How to deal with anxiety caused by chronic pain has been a focus of the psychotherapy sessions I have been having since November 2016 (minus the first month or so which was mostly post-breakup talk). My therapist is still in school and I have to give her a lot of credit for researching techniques to help the anxiety of chronic pain warriors and to help the physical pain as well. The thing I’ve found is that it takes a lot of personal fucking work to deal with this type of anxiety (though I’m going to go out on a small limb and say it probably does for any type of anxiety), especially in the moment. My first thought upon waking up yesterday wasn’t “how do I combat this anxiety?” To be honest, I can’t remember what my first thought was but my heart was pounding and my mind raced several miles per minute as I struggled to breath due to clogged nostrils. Not a pretty picture. The great thing is, I did manage to divert my attention getting out of this anxious state.

44609e113446954a0a3f30d4a2233dd1_-woman-with-a-head-cold-head-cold-clipart_350-307
https://clipartfest.com/categories/view/601880a15acb7ed78b6316d36159c576ca6cf149/head-cold-clipart.html

I bet you’re wondering how I managed to do that? Or maybe you’re sitting there with a guess or some self experience. Regardless, I’m going to take a few minutes to share what worked for me yesterday. As I mentioned, my first thought upon waking wasn’t how to get out of this anxious state, but it was a thought that came quickly. First thing I did was some deep breathing. Four seconds in, four second hold, four seconds out (yes this was hard considering my cold but worth it). Count of ten. That definitely helped to slow my heart and my mind. The next thing I did was divert my attention. Lucky for me (well my own doing but still) my dog sleeps on my bed, and convincing him to have a morning cuddle is never hard. The rhythmic breathing of a dog can make them very calming for anyone who deals with anxiety. I also started to think about what I was working on for writing, my upcoming trip, and whether I felt well enough to go to work (between the cold and the pain, I definitely did not). Once I was up and dressed, feeling much better by this point I might add, I headed out the door to the doctor. Seeing as I’m headed out of the country at the end of the week, and don’t really want to have a terrible cold on the plane, I figured I might as well get checked out. Autoimmune disease warriors often end up more susceptible to colds, flus, etc., anyway so it definitely doesn’t hurt adding in an extra doctor’s visit. While making the short commute I listened to a self-love podcast, which helped decrease some of the remaining anxiety, and by the time I got back to my house a little while later, though still with a cold and in pain, my anxiety was gone.

16508670_10158166788755032_1314205351467722425_nMy dog, Spike.

I’m not saying that these techniques are going to work for everyone or every time. Lately, they do seem to work for me more often than not, but it takes a lot of work and self-awareness to make sure it does. I also highly recommend anyone dealing with a similar situation also seeks out the help of a therapist of some sort. If you’re concerned with costs, my suggestion is to seek out a student. I pay $40 an hour and go every two to three weeks. Sometimes at universities they are free (though there are usually long wait lists). They do discuss your case with a supervisor, but never give out your name. If you can afford and/or prefer to seek out someone finished their schooling and fully qualified, go for it. This is more of a suggestion for anyone, who like me, can’t afford as much.

Having a medical team that understands your diagnosis as a whole is incredibly important. A lot of research has been put into anxiety as a cause of illness but also as an effect of illness. Cognitive behavioural therapy is becoming more and more routinely suggested for anyone dealing with chronic pain, and seems to be an important part of treating it.

I hope this helps give some insight (and for caregivers, friends, lovers, families, coworkers, etc., I hope this helps you to understand your warrior), and that some of these techniques might be useful to you. If you have any additional anxiety-combating techniques you use, feel free to comment on the post, or email me.

cute-girl-warrior-cartoon-illustration-pretty-fighter-sword-wearing-leather-armor-white-background-58963685
https://www.dreamstime.com/photos-images/cute-girl-warrior-cartoon.html

References:

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130508213112.htm
https://www.healthcentral.com/article/the-link-between-anxiety-disorders-and-physical-illness

 

Fighting Chronic Pain: The Body-Mind Connection

Anyone who battles chronic pain is known as a Chronic Pain Warrior. This makes perfect sense if you think about it. We use words like battle, and fight. Who goes to battles? Warriors. Not to mention, it’s a much stronger stance to take than patient or sufferer. Who wants to be known as one of those? I’ll take warrior any day. (Coincidentally, the store I work at is nicknamed the Warriors, so I’m a warrior literally all the time). I initially never thought about a body-mind connection in regards to my chronic pain. What does my mind have to do with my shoulder hurting? (I use shoulder as an example because it’s hurting while I write this). It was seeing a naturopath that changed my perspective on this. She immediately started to focus on healing both the physical symptoms in my body, using techniques such as acupuncture and prescribing natural medications like curcumin and magnesium. As well as mini talk therapy during our sessions. We even have similar conversations, just in less detail, that I have with my therapist. Her belief, and now mine, is that the entire body, which includes the mind, needs to be healed together, as one.

toonvectors-41647-940Image from http://www.toonvectors.com

The perception of pain is different for everyone. When asked how bad my pain feels on a scale from 1 to 10, my answer of 7 may feel different than someone else’s answer of 7 (which is one of the many reasons I hate that question, though I understand why medical practitioners need to use some sort of scale). No one is denying that chronic illnesses cause pain. I can have the happiest day ever and still experience physical pain in an area (or areas) of my body. What I’ve learned and experienced though, is that the amount of pain felt can be controlled, to some degree, by my mental state. For example, when my anxiety was at its worst last summer, so was my pain. Which came first? I feel as though it was my physical pain but it’s the classic chicken and egg story. Physical pain probably caused the anxiety but worsened anxiety could have easily made my physical pain worse. The worst day for pain was the day after I moved out of my ex-girlfriend’s place. I ended up in the hospital. The stress and anxiety increased by the breakup likely had an effect on how much physical pain I was experiencing.

pain-scale-chartImage from http://www.disabled-world.com

So the big question probably is, how does this all work? How do I train my mind to make my body feel better. I definitely have not found this an easy process, nor is there a truly definitive answer. The truth is, I may never find it easy and there may never be a definitive answer. After six months of psychotherapy, naturopathy, physiotherapy, and massage therapy, I do find I am in less pain (what was once a daily 7-8 on a scale of 10, is now about a 4-5), and my anxiety levels have decreased by half (from an 8 to a 4). Healing through self-love and self-acceptance definitely has played a huge role. There are lots of other ways I have controlled my mind to help ease the pain. The hardest part is to remember to do it while in pain. Since for me, it comes and goes throughout the day, it’s using different techniques when it does come that are most important (Except at night, I often feel like there’s nothing to be done – there will be a future post on medical marijuana).
Some mind techniques that have worked for me:

  1. Deep breathing – just take a few minutes to focus solely on your breath. The pain may not fully go away, but at the very least ease for a few minutes.
  2. Altered focus – shifting your attention to parts of your body that are not in pain. Or, thinking about something completely different that has nothing to do with pain. I.e., a happy memory you have, a vacation you plan on taking, a project you have at work or school.
  3. Reducing stress – if there are things in your life that are causing you stress and you’re able to let them go, do just that. Maybe a change in career, diet, letting go of friends that are unsupportive, or using meditation to destress after a long day and busy day.
  4. Distraction – as a creative person by nature, I find that while I do things like read, write, paint, or play the piano I have zero pain. This won’t work for every moment of the day, but whenever I have the chance, I try to do at least one of these things. Even if you aren’t “creative” (by the way, I believe everyone is creative, just in different ways) try doing something anyway. Blast some music and sing or dance along, buy some paints and canvases from the dollar store and make some terrible art. You might be surprised at how well this type of distraction works.
IMG_0848This hilariously terrible painting is done by yours truly.

It’s not about tricking your mind, and honestly, I believe that everyone who struggles with chronic pain should also be seeing a talk therapist of sort sort, as well as a naturopath to deal with any emotional difficulties they have surrounding their chronic pain and other areas of their life. A good therapist will come up with specific ways to help you deal with your physical pain while dealing with your emotions. Keeping a positive outlook on your life, as hard as that might be, helps as well. I hop you have a great, low to no pain week!

References:
http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/guide/11-tips-for-living-with-chronic-pain#1
http://www.spine-health.com/conditions/chronic-pain/11-chronic-pain-control-techniques
http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/chronic-pain-and-mental-health-mind-body-connection-0821135
http://www.lifetimedaily.com/the-mind-body-connection-reducing-chronic-pain/

Tips for choosing a naturopath:

  1. Ask your doctor who they recommend. Usually naturopaths with a ND require referrals from your doctor, so see if they have a recommendation for you.
  2. Decide if you would like a Naturopathic Doctor (someone who graduated from a naturopathic medical school and passed board exams) or a Traditional Naturopath who has a diploma.
  3. Determine if they are experienced in treating your specific health concerns. Just as them about their experience.
  4. See if they practice what they preach. If they lead a healthy lifestyle, they are more likely able to work with you on yours.
  5. Find out if they are willing to work with your other medical practitioners. My naturopath always wants to stay up to date with my visits to my rheumatologist, family doctor, psychotherapist, physiotherapist, and massage therapist.
aid5071902-v4-728px-Become-a-Naturopathic-Doctor-Step-5Image from http://www.wikihow.com

Chronic Illnesses Suck, But That Doesn’t Mean You Do

Life’s great, and then one day you wake up in pain. It’s weird, but it happens… doesn’t it? But then the pain doesn’t go away, or maybe it leaves temporarily but returns with intensifying frequency. Like the cat who came back the very next day. The initial overwhelming thought might very well be – “What the fuck?” Or at least, it was for me. And a diagnosis (usually after an excruciatingly long process) has no play on feeling better – physically or emotionally. So what does this mean? For you, your family, your friends, your coworkers, heck, even your pets? It’s a constant battle for relief and sanity, that anyone can get through, as long as your have a lot of perseverance.

(Just in case anyone isn’t familiar with that song)

Chronic pain is described as pain that lasts for more than twelve weeks. Three months is definitely a fucking long time to spend in pain, though with a lot of chronic illnesses, the pain associated with them comes on for years. And we’re just talking about physical aches and pains, folks. It is estimated that over 1.5 billion people in the world suffer from some sort of chronic pain. The causes vary from post-surgical or post-trauma to cancer to arthritis to autoimmune diseases like fibromyalgia, lupus and multiple sclerosis, to TMJ. As a suffer of chronic pain for the past to years, I can tell you from experience, it really sucks. However, if you’re reading this, you might already know that.

There is a feeling that comes with having an illness that is hard to shake. It’s the “I suck” feeling. The feeling that it’s your fault, or that you aren’t fun anymore. That you aren’t who you used to be. The truth of the matter is – it’s not your fault. You are still fun. And you aren’t who you used to be. Our life experiences shape and change us. Just because you aren’t who you used to be, doesn’t mean you’re not still awesome. In fact, you can probably be more awesome than you were before you got sick. Erasing that mindset, that feeling, is tough and takes a lot of personal self work. What I’ve learned, particularly over the past six months, is that it begins with loving yourself again, despite the pain. The illness is still there, many can’t be cured, but flipping your mindset can improve your overall existence Your life.

IMG_0447(Photograph by me at my doctor’s office in Toronto, ON, 2016)

It’s somewhat about positivity – attitude is everything, after all – but not solely. Anyone can fake a positive attitude:
“How are you doing today?”
“I’m great.” (Smiles, while in the meantime it feels like I’m dying of pain)
It’s also somewhat about acceptance (you know, those lovely five stages of grief) – but again, not solely. Accepting that you have to deal with this for a long time (or forever) is an important thing to do. Coping, truly coping, is much harder.
Take your illness and pain out of the picture for a few minutes is a good place to start. What do you like about yourself? Make a list. Repeat it out loud to yourself
“I am creative. I am kind. I am smart. I am loving and caring. I try to be the best person I can.” Whatever your list is, it’s perfect, because it’s about you.
Step number two in self care and self love – do some of that care. Take a bath if you like baths, go for a massage, play some music. Personally, I like to write (hey, that’s why I’m here!). A lot of this kind of self care activity is not only good for your spirit, but also for your pain. There is a lot to that body-mind stuff naturopaths preach about. In addition, don’t forget to take your medications as prescribed because that is also an important part of self-care.

IMG_0506(Photography of my journal, 2017)

Do chronic illnesses suck? Yes. Does chronic pain suck? Hell yes. Do I suck? Absolutely not. I’m awesome. It waivers and not every day do I wake up feeling that way. Nor does anyone else in the world really. We all have our good days and our bad ones. For me, it’s about not letting my illness define me. And hopefully, for you it is, or will be the same. This blog is designed to offer tips and suggestions for how to cope with the physical pain, and the emotional pain that comes with it. Anyone who has additional suggestions or topics that they’d like discuss, please feel free to comment or send an email. Living a better life, and ultimately, being a better person than before our illnesses is a good goal. At least for me, and hopefully for you as well.

Resources:
http://www.healthline.com/health/chronic-pain

My favourite self-love podcast:
https://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/i-simply-am-podcast-mindfulness-self-love-self-awareness/id708114948?mt=2