Myths & Misconceptions about UCTD

One of my diagnoses is undifferentiated connective tissue disease (UCTD) and while according to my new rheumatologist my disease seems to be more-or-less in remissions (still some mild symptoms) I wanted to talk about some misconceptions about UCTD that many people – patients, doctors, family members, allied healthcare professionals, etc. have about it.

2016 year of diagnosis – 2022 remission
  1. It’s a diagnosis given when they don’t know what’s wrong with you.
    Not exactly, technically UCTD is its own diagnosis. It is given when someone has some symptoms of a specified connective tissue disease (like lupus/SLE or rheumatoid arthritis/RA) but doesn’t not have enough symptoms to warrant those diagnoses. Some of the confusion here might be the word “undifferentiated” which is vague at best, but isn’t meant to be that vague. There is also no diagnostic criteria for UCTD, meaning that differential diagnosis is used (the doctor doesn’t have a better explanation and uses a judgment call)
  2. It’s the same as MCTD.
    Mixed Connective Tissue Disease is different in that in MCTD there are symptoms of several different connective tissue diseases present. This doesn’t occur in UCTD, where there are some symptoms of a specific connective tissue disease present.
  3. The symptoms aren’t that bad.
    It depends on the course of the disease of course. The most common symptoms are joint pain and a positive ANA. Other common symptoms include arthritis, Raynaud’s phenomenon, rashes, alopecia, oral ulcers, etc. Again, not enough would be present to give an SLE or RA diagnosis for example. Most of these symptoms are not that fun. The good thing is that there is usually no organ involvement – the kidney, liver, lungs and brain are usually fine.
  4. It will turn into a connective tissue disease like SLE or RA.
    Actually, probably not. Only about a third of people with UCTD end up with a specified connective tissue disease.
  5. It will drastically affect quality of life.
    Controversial, but part of this is up to you. Here’s what I mean. So as in #4, only about one third of people end up with SLE/RA/etc. What about the other two thirds? Well, about one third remain with relatively mild UCTD. The last third end up in remission. The medications used are much milder than immunosuppressants (which is good!) and lifestyle changes can really affect the course of the illness moving forward. UCTD does not mean we should give up!

I hope this helps clear a few things up! I would love to hear what my fellow UCTD warriors think and if anyone has run into any other misconceptions about it!

Keep making the most of it!

How to Use Your Body’s Natural Pain Killers More Effectively.

The other day I was walking into work and there was an older gentleman, probably in his late 70s, looking for the hearing clinic. Honestly, I don’t pay attention to the dozens of businesses in the building, so when he asked I said I wasn’t sure where it was. He ended up not following me into the building. When I went in, I quickly looked at the directory, and then ran back outside and down the street to get him. I went with him to the hearing clinic, before going down to my office. He was very grateful, and I felt good. I also had been in a lot of pain that day (my hip) and I noticed (awhile later) that the pain had drastically reduced. Why did this happen? Because my body released endorphins when I performed an act of kindness.

Endorphins are literally our bodies natural pain killers. We produced around 20 or so different types of endorphins, and they are all released by two parts of our brain – the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland – when we are stressed or in pain. Endorphins bind to our body’s opioid receptors which then gives us some pain relief. Opioid medications basically imitate endorphins when they enter our bodies, also clinging to the opioid receptors. And actually, when we take opioid medications, our body produces few endorphins because it doesn’t think it has to produce as many anymore (part of the reason it is easy to become addicted to opioid medications). Now, you might be saying, if these endorphins are so good, why am I in so much pain? Why would I need pain medications, including opioids, if these endorphins actually worked?

Here’s the thing, endorphins do work pretty well. There is a reason our bodies evolved to have them. Chronic pain is weird though and can affect many areas of our lives, which can increase pain (biopsychosocial approach) that make it more difficult for endorphins to work. Also, when we have chronic pain, we end up doing a lot of things that are the opposite of what would be helpful. We lie in bed all day, we withdraw from others, we become depressed making it hard to laugh for example, we stay inside, etc. Doing a lot of the opposite actually helps to produce more endorphins. Here are some examples of activities and practices that cause our bodies to produce more endorphins naturally:

  • exercise – particularly moderate exercise. I find I always feel good when I work out. There is an uphill walk called the Coquitlam Crunch when I live and I swear it is an endorphin boosting activity (probably why a lot of locals do it). However, if you struggle to exercise, any activity to start will likely get some endorphins going.
  • acupuncture – I get acupuncture at least once a month because it reduces my stress, so it makes sense that it produces endorphins (a lot of people find it helps to reduce pain as well)
  • meditation – I’m a big meditator, if you follow this blog you know that. This is another activity that I always feel good after.
  • Sex – I mean it’s physical activity and an enjoyable activity so it totally makes sense this would produce endorphins.
  • Music – singing, dancing or playing an instrument gets the endorphins going. So, if you’re in the kitchen, blast some tunes and take a few moments to dance! (I love kitchen dancing). Every time I play the piano I feel really good.
  • Laughter – as I mentioned, if you have a low mood this can be difficult, but perhaps turning on a funny movie or calling a friend who always makes you laugh might be helpful. As a therapist, I try to utilize laughter in client sessions as much as possible (and appropriate).
  • Sunshine – yep, getting outside, even if it’s just to sit on your deck or balcony, or sit in a park for awhile. In the winter, investing in a UV light. All of this can boost our natural pain killers.
  • Aromatherapy – particularly scents of lavender and vanilla. I often use lavender in my diffuser, which I always have on when I do telehealth counselling sessions at home. It’s a scent that is meant to help you feel more relaxed, and understanding how this work (endorphins!) is helpful for me at least.
  • Altruism – so my opening story is one about doing a kind act for a stranger. Likewise volunteering (I used to volunteer at a children’s hospital, and then at a crisis lines for kids and teens) also produces endorphins. Honestly, while I love volunteering, I find that even holding the door open for someone feels good. And this is why!
  • Chocolate -it actually contains a type of endorphin within it, which is why it helps to produce more. While I’m not saying you should eat a chocolate bar every day, the occasional chocolatey treat might be a good idea!

Okay, so I’m not saying that doing all of these things will mean you don’t have to take any pain medications anymore. What I am saying is that it can (a) reduce your need for some meds (I went off one from honestly exercising and meditating), or (b) can make you feel even better, while you still take medication. And look, none of this is a guarantee, everyone is different, and there are a lot of factors that affect our pain levels, but I’m always looking for what can help. That way we can all keep making the most of it!

6 Ways I’m Managing a Weather-Caused Flare (+ 5 More Ways I Could)

Long title, I know. But nonetheless I thought I’d share some of my tips with you, plus a few other evidence-based ones I found online as I’m trying to get through this. I’m writing this exactly one week before it will be published so fingers crossed that it’s over by the time you’re reading it, but if not, then I’ll just have to accept it as it is. My flare is likely caused by a few things. First, I recently moved and moving is stressful (even a relatively easy move like I had) and stress can cause a flare. Second, I moved from a dry climate in the interior of British Columbia to the wet, lower mainland of BC. I always notice my symptoms, especially pain gets worse when it rains… but then I knowingly moved to a rainy climate (*face palm*). All jokes aside, my symptoms are increased pain, increased fatigue, really bad jaw pain, my left foot is super veiny and sore (my calf is fine though so unlikely anything super serious). How the heck can I manage all of this?

Even on a flare I’ve managed to explore my new neighborhood.
  1. Acceptance. Yes, I know some of you are rolling your eyes or saying that this is ridiculous or unlikely to work. But I find it does. I accept that my pain is here, while knowing that the intensity changes hour by hour, sometimes even minute by minute, and I know that when my flare is over I’ll go back to baseline. Acceptance is helpful. I’ve been doing body scans and other mindfulness activities to help with the acceptance, but honestly just acknowledging my experience without getting wrapped up in it is helpful. Check out this acceptance practice.
  2. Exercise, Movement and Stretching. If you read this blog regularly you know that I like to exercise. And I still pace myself by trying to stay consistent with what I do. I definitely increase my stretching during flares. Particularly I focus on the areas that seem to hurt or need it the most. For example, my jaw is the worst today as I write this, and I’ve made sure to do jaw stretches throughout the day. For more on jaw pain specifically, check out this podcast episode with Dr. Shirazi.
  3. Warm Baths. I LOVE my baths. I literally take a bath 4-5x a week in the winter months. And with the rain, I’m definitely needing them. They help relax my muscles, keep me warm, and are very relaxing. Trust me when I say I could never (and would never) live in an apartment without a bathtub. Knowing what is vital to your self-care is essential to dealing with a flare. Check out this podcast episode on it.
  4. Dressing Warmly and in Layers. Vancouver, if you’ve never been, is a city where everyone dresses in layers. It will likely rain at some point during the day, though you never know exactly when. It could also start off cool and warm up, or vice versa. So I’ve been making sure to put on 3 layers when I go out, and have a pair of mittens on me. I need to remember a hat and/or an umbrella, but I’m working on it!
  5. Hydration. I tend to drink a lot of water. Admittedly more when I’m working. Staying on top of my water intake is so important to managing my flares and really my health! I’m trying to drink 5 full glasses of water a day minimum. I basically keep a glass of water next to me all day and every time it’s empty, I refill it. Listen to my podcast conversation with Beau Berman about gut health and how important drinking water is to him.
  6. Omega-3’s and Vitamin D. I typically try to get these from the foods I eat. Lots of fish mostly (rich in both), as well as mushrooms, spinach, avocado and tofu and really a variety of others foods are rich in vitamin D. These are really important for reducing inflammation naturally and honestly are just really good for you! Also, Vitamin D is a way to combat with the “winter blues” (which I often get) and the more severe, Seasonal Affective Disorder.

So those are the 6 things that I am doing, but what are the 5 things that I’m not but probably should be?

  1. Acupuncture. This is actually an evidence-based and recommended treatment for chronic pain. I’ve had it in the past and I’m hoping to start back up with bi-monthly sessions next month. Listen to the podcast episode on recommended treatments for chronic pain for more info.
  2. Massage. I miss getting massages. It’s been nearly a year since I had one, and this is also a service I used to get bi-monthly. I’ll likely also start these back up soon as well. Clearly I need to. The benefits of massage can be heard in the podcast episode with Danielle Potvin.
  3. NSAIDs. I’m not a fan of these drugs to be honest. They can cause stomach problems when on them long term. I’ve drastically cut back on them and only take them to supplement the more natural medications I take (i.e., CBD). If you’re aware of the risks and find them helpful then this can be a helpful solution.
  4. Natural supplements. The only natural supplement I currently take is magnesium bis-glycinate which is a muscle relaxant (and I mainly use it when I’m menstruating). Other recommended supplements are fish oil, ginger (which I sometimes have in food and/or tea), turmeric (which I sometimes have in tea), and gingko. These are definitely worth checking out to use in addition to some of the other suggestions.
  5. Limit Stress. Oh I can’t wait until I’m passed the stress of the move and starting up new counselling practices. The truth is there is always some kind of stress in our lives and it really comes down to how we manage stress. I typically do a good job with mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and relaxation practices. So this might just be a reminder to do a bit more of that. And also, if you are able to avoid stress then that’s a good plan (I do not plan on moving again for quite some time!).
Taking it easy on Halloween. Needed some time to relax after the move.

So that’s it! 11 ways in total to manage a flare. Keep making the most of it everyone!

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Was My Hip Surgery Worth It?

This is a bit more personal of a post than I’ve written for awhile, but I thought it would be important to share my thoughts and feelings about the subject. As some of you may know (if you’ve been a reader of this blog and/or have followed me on social media for awhile), I had a hip arthroscopy to repair a labral tear on my left hip last November.

Post-surgery selfie.

The surgery lasts for about 4 hours, is totally laparoscopic. I was extremely nauseous coming out of the anaesthesia which is no fun. And then there is the recovery period. The first 6 weeks you can’t put any pressure on that side (so again, for me it was the left) so I had to use crutches to get around (which was exhausting, especially because I live alone – though I did have some friends come to help throughout). You also can’t bend at more than 90 degrees during those first six weeks, and obviously, no exercising that hip. (I found some chair workouts to at least get some upper body exercise).

My very tiny scars have faded quite a bit since the surgery.

Then after the 6 weeks, you can start walking again and bending, but no “exercise” for 6 months. And by that I mean there are some physio-approved exercises including light walking and recumbant bicycling as well as specific strength exercise for it, but overall it is pretty limited. And for me, well I help my other UCTD and fibro symptoms with exercise, so being limited is not overly helpful.

Me trying to walk for the first time in 6 weeks.

Recently someone posted in an online group that I belong to, that she was diagnosed with a labral tear and was still undergoing testing for autoimmune diseases. She was asking questions about the tear and treatment options including surgery. Someone else responded to her post saying that she was told by her rheumatologist that labral tears (which can occur in almost any joint) are common in people with lupus and other connective tissue diseases. (Mind you my rheumatologist and orthopaedic surgeon said nothing about this). In my own research I had found that people with fibromyalgia tend to have much longer recovery times from the surgery. In my own experience, I realized over the summer that the pain in my left hip had returned. Not nearly as badly as it used to be, I mean I can sit (including cross-legged) for much longer than I used to be able to, but it was back nonetheless. This leads me to believe that (a) I re-tore the labrum, or (b) it just never healed properly. So that’s what I responded to this other woman’s post.

Still wondering how I survived on crutches for that long.

So, was the surgery worth it? Would I do it again? I don’t know to be honest. Perhaps not. At this moment if someone said to me, well we can go in and fix it again, I would definitely decline. So what I learned, and I suppose what this post is about, is to do A LOT of research before committing to a surgery that some doctors think will help. Unless they are making specific connections to your illness overall, something like this which is elective (because the other treatment option is physical therapy), I would say do not jump into it. I thought I had done my research but I probably didn’t do enough. That being said, I am self-compassionate and acknowledge that I made a decision based on the information I had, and that’s okay. And I choose not to forget that it perhaps did improve the quality of my life in the long-term (remember, I can sit longer now, and as a therapist that is super important). Just many things to consider.

Thanks for reading everyone, and keep making the most of it!

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What’s the Matter? —> What Matters to You?

When you have a chronic illness, there is always something that is the matter with yourself. I have chronic pain every day, throughout the day, that ranges in intensity from a 1 to an 8 (though it rarely gets to an 8 nowadays). I can get tired easily, have the occasional brain fog. All that kind of stuff that comes with having UCTD and fibro. I also have to wear glasses or contacts, and not use cold medications when I have a cold because of my glaucoma. But I feel like I have choices. Give in to all of this stuff that is “the matter with me” or do what matters to me. I’m not saying that this is always an easy choice to make, and sometimes we do have to “give in” in the sense that we have to have balance where we take care of our needs, though I posit that doesn’t necessarily mean fully giving up on what matters to you.

Spending time with family is definitely important to me.
(Vienna, Austria, 2017)

What this is called is values-based living. You’ve probably read this on this blog before, and heard about it on the podcast if you listen to that too. It really has two parts. First, values. Second, committed action, which yes, even as Spoonies we can do (it’s about allocating the spoons wisely if you like that metaphor). I read a post in a Facebook group recently about someone asking how others with autoimmune diseases manage to go on vacations. They had recently gone on a weekend trip with family and really struggled. I replied that I have gone on trips with my family (Europe), friends (NYC, Europe, Costa Rica), and 2 solo trips (LA, Vancouver), since being diagnosed. Travelling, and adventure/exploration are part of my values, so I’m not letting my illness dictate this part of my life. However, I do plan appropriately, alternate high activity days with low activity days (think going ATV-ing one day, and then lying on the beach the next), and I only go with people who are considerate about my illnesses. But let’s back up for a minute.

ATV-ing in Costa Rica (2019) aligns with my value of adventure!

We need to start by clarifying our values. “Values are words that describe how we want to behave in this moment and on an ongoing basis. In other words, values are your heart’s deepest desires for how you want to behave – how you want to treat yourself, others, and the world around you.” (Russ Harris, ACT Made Simple). I have many values including compassion/self-compassion, trust, loyalty, health (I know that may sound weird to say considering my health conditions, but taking control of them as much as I can falls into this for me), and so on. There are lots of ways to figure out your values. I often give my clients values checklists with a list of ideas. You can also think about your character strengths:

  • what strengths and qualities do you already have?
  • which ones would you like to have?
  • what does all of this tell you about what is important to you?

I also like the magic wand question:

  • Let’s say I have a magic wand and when I wave it all of your painful thoughts, feelings, memories, and sensations stop being a problem for you. What would you do with your life?
  • What would you start, stop, do more of or do less of?
  • How would you behave differently?
  • How would others know (i.e., what would we see and hear) that things were different for you?
Image from: http://blog.theaawa.org/3-steps-to-finding-your-orgs-core-values/
I would add authenticity, challenge, contribution, creativity, determination, friendships, growth, happiness, kindness, meaingful work, optimism, openness, resilience, and self-respect to the list I’ve already mentioned for myself.

Once you figure out what’s important to you, you can move on to the committed action piece of the puzzle – doing what is important. “Committed action means taking effective action, guided and motivated by values. This includes physical action and psychological action. Committed action implies flexible action: readily adapting to the challenges of the situation and either persisting with or changing behaviour as required. In other words, doing what it takes to effectively live by your values.” (Russ Harris, ACT Made Simple). I think the last part of this – the flexible action part – is really important for Chronic Illness Warriors. There are often ways we can adapt in order to live by our values, sometimes we just have to be creative. Some of this action might actually be uncomfortable for you, at least at first. It might challenge your thoughts and feelings about your illness, perhaps even your sensations. When I was in LA on my solo trip, I decided to take a surfing lesson because I had always dreamed of doing so. Surfing is super hard! And I wasn’t very good (granted it was just one lesson) and I hit the ground under the water so many times. It was such a challenge to keep going and I was super sore after. But… it was worth it. It falls into my values (adventure, challenge) and while I may not be super keen to jump on it again (I declined taking a lesson in Costa Rica) I’m so glad I did it, and yes, it was worth being sore and tired afterwards.

Post-surfing I was sore but happy. (Los Angeles, 2018)

How will this improve your wellbeing? Feelings of accomplishment, of doing what we love to do, and keep busy with activities that engage in our values have been shown to be helpful for our mental health. And a lot of research in this area has been done with chronic illness and chronic pain. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is worth it.

Keep making the most of it everyone!

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How Did I Prevent a Flare?

Plus who is this blogger and why should you care what I have to say?

I think that I sometimes give off the impression that I’m 100% fine 100% of the time, which as anyone with a chronic illness or dealing with chronic pain knows, is simply not true. What is true, is that I’ve learned several strategies over the past 5 years to improve my well-being, even on my days of struggle. Let’s take this morning (Saturday) as a write this. I had some pain in my hips (both of them). I live alone and needed groceries and don’t have a car, so I walked to the grocery store. My arms killed on the way home because I accidentally bought more than I could carry. Then the apartment building door whacked my right hip (the less sore of the two) which obviously caused more pain. And then I became angry. Like swearing, yelling, grumbling, angry. I got text messages and was annoyed at the people texting me even though they weren’t saying anything bad. Then I noticed what was happening. Was this anger helpful? No, if anything it was making my pain worse. So I took a moment, watched my breath flow in and out of my body, and calmed down mentally… and then it helped my body to calm down physically.

These are my favourite days.

So… who am I? I’m Kelsey. I’m a person with lived experience. I have diagnoses of undifferentiated connective tissue disease, fibromyalgia, and glaucoma. I’m also someone who meditates daily (over 100 days in a row – my longest streak). I’m someone who has bad days, and good days. I make it my priority to have way more good days than bad ones. I’m a person who went to psychotherapy among other treatments (physio, chiropractor, naturopath, massage, etc.) and found it helpful for my anxiety and ultimately my pain. And then I became someone who went back to school to get my Masters in Counselling psychology, which I have now completed, despite the fact that I was working full time and in pain. I am someone who is committed to helping others who are struggling. And I am someone who wants to share what I’ve learned – and what I’m still learning – with all of you. I am me.

Just waiting for my final mark, but it looks like a therapist now!

Why should you listen to what I have to say? Well, there is no particular reason and it’s completely up to you! What I can say, is that I try to bring my personal, lived experience, with research (yes I actually do a ton of reading of scholarly journal articles for my posts) and clinical experience so provide you all with different ways to improve your well-being. Take me this morning for example. Would it have been helpful to stay angry all day? Likely I would’ve had to spend it in bed and probably wouldn’t have written this post. I’ve found this to be helpful for me, so it just might be helpful for you. Along with this blog, I have other resources too. Like my podcast and YouTube channel, which you should definitely check out if you haven’t yet.

On Halloween I was a badass like Buffy.

Okay, so I thought we’d end on a fun note. Two truths and a lie. I’d love to hear in the comments which one you think is a lie.
1. I have spent the evening hanging out with a celebrity.
2. I recently got a new puppy.
3. Pineapple is my favourite fruit.

My podcast topic this week was utilizing your authentic self, and next week is about evidence based treatments for chronic pain. My YouTube channel has a new video for building self-awareness (which is how I knew to calm myself this morning!). Until next week, keep making the most of it!

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What has your pain taught you?

I don’t know if you’re familiar with quicksand, but probably most of us have seen it in the movies or on TV. Our hero is on an adventure in some kind of jungle and they (or someone in their party of merry men and women) falls into what turns out to be quicksand. And they struggle and struggle and sink faster and faster. Usually in the movies the hero saves the day. Struggling in quicksand is a lot like what we do with our pain – both physical and emotional. We fight against it, struggling more and more, sinking deeper and deeper. But do you know how to actually get out of quicksand in real life? Like if you fell in it? Struggling makes you sink, and doing nothing – literally putting yourself into the floating position (arms and legs out, with zero resistance) will help you float to the top. From there you can take very slow, gentle strokes and get yourself out.

What the quicksand metaphor shows is that if you do the opposite of what you think you should do, you can often get to safety. In the case of pain, it means looking at it differently, changing your relationship with it. So that brings me to the question, what are your pain taught you? The answer can be many things. Maybe it’s taught you something about yourself. Or your relationships. Or your values/what’s important to you. Maybe it’s taught you something about the meaning of life. Or helped you set goals. Before straight off answering this question, really take a moment and ponder it. Because often the immediate answer is NOTHING! or THAT LIFE SUCKS! or something to that extent. But is that true? Is that all it’s taught you? Those answers often take us back to the struggle. You’ve fallen in quicksand by responding quickly with the first thing that comes to mind, rather than taking some time to really explore if there is something more you can get out of your experience.

Look, I get it, there is nothing fun about physical (or emotional pain) but that doesn’t mean it can’t do something good for us.

I’m going to use my experience as an example. And trust me, there was a time I was struggling in the quicksand and those would have been my answers. But here is what it has actually taught me, when I’ve taken the time to think about it:

  • I’m stronger – both physically and emotionally – then I thought I was, but it took a lot of work to get here.
  • Being treated with love and respect in romantic relationships and friendships is incredibly important to me.
  • I can do anything that I put my mind to, even if that means I have to adapt some things to what I can do.
  • Loving myself is the most important thing to me.
  • I want to have as many life adventures as possible despite chronic pain.
  • Everything I need is in the present moment, and sometimes the present moment isn’t great and sometimes it is, but that is how life is for everyone.
My first adventure after my diagnoses was to Vienna in 2017.

I’ve probably learned more lessons than that from my chronic illnesses and chronic pain, but should give you a picture of what it can teach you. Your answers will likely be different from mine. This is a key piece to acceptance, and if you can’t accept, you can’t really improve your well-being and quality of life. I want to make a few additional things clear with this post. First, I am not saying that your loss of health is a blessing or that you should be grateful for it. Sometimes as we move through illness grief, gratitude does appear, but that doesn’t mean you have to start looking for it. Also, meaning is not found in loss – it’s what you do after the loss. So the things I listed, are really about things I’ve done after I got sick. This is also not an exercise I’d recommend if you’ve just been diagnosed, because you won’t have had a chance to go through enough to be able to do it.

If you’re interested in contacting the present moment, check out my YouTube channel. This week’s podcast episode is on externalizing language, which can also be quite helpful – find it on Apple, Spotify, and everywhere else you get podcasts. Until next week, keep making the most of it!

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Daily Exercises: Chair Abs – Part 2!

Due to the popularity of the first video (and to be honest my love of working my abs this way) I decided to do a part 2. Make sure you consult your healthcare professionals when making changes to your exercise routine. These chair exercises are great for people with disability, with chronic pain, chronic illness, anyone recovery from surgery, and seniors. Make sure you adapt them to your own abilities (which is what I always do too!). Listen to lupus warrior, Trachele, talk about her experiences with exercising on the podcast.

Here is the link to the full workout I reference in the video.

Enjoy your exercises and keep making the most of it!

Goal Setting with Chronic Illness

It can feel hard to set goals for yourself when you’re sick and/or in pain. Be it personal goals, work/career goals, relationship goals, or health goals, they just feel harder to attain and when something is so hard it’s so easy for our minds to give up and just not do it. But we have to be careful, because that giving up can lead to hopelessness, which can lead to depression, which can then make it even harder to set goals and live the life we want to live. You might be saying, “but Kelsey, how can I live the life I want to live when I’m in so much pain, and I’m struggling so much?” And that is a valid question. Journeys to living our best lives aren’t easy for people who are healthy, so they are far less easy for those who are not, which is why I believe that starting to set goals for ourselves early on, before that hopelessness sets in, is essential. (For those of you who are already struggling from depression, goal setting is still very important, but I recommend seeking out a therapist to help you on your journey, this post is going to focus on goal setting when our mental health is doing better).

Sometimes we focus too much on obstacles and stop ourselves from setting goals.

Personal, career, relationship, and health goals are all possible to set and achieve. The easiest strategy for goal setting, that is often used in business AND is what we use in counselling, are SMART goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Setting goals this way, will help you have a step-by-step process that will make it easier to reach your goals. With chronic illness, our goals might be smaller than our healthy peers. Maybe a health goal is to walk around the block rather than run a half marathon (or if your ultimate goal is to run that half marathon, we might have to start with the goal of walking around the block). Before we jump into some examples of these SMART goals, I want to just stop for a minute and talk about realistic versus unrealistic goals. I think it gets a little fuzzy with Spoonies because sometimes we can either limit ourselves in what we believe we can do, or we try to ignore our limitations and believe we can do more than we can. The truth is, only you know if you fall into one of these categories, or if you’re being completely realistic about your goals. Using the marathon example, if you believe you could NEVER run a marathon (even if it is technically possible) than you might limit yourself in the box of continuing to struggle with going for walks (I’m not saying this is or isn’t fitting for you and your story, just an example of what could happen). On the other end, if you believe you could run a marathon within a year but you struggle with pain when you take a few steps, that is also not necessarily realistic (again, depending on you). My point is, we want to have realistic expectations of ourselves when we set goals, and sometimes those can change when we make these smaller goals, and take one step at a time.

Goals can still be set if you have chronic illness – in fact they should be set!
(Niagara, ON, July 19, 2020)

Let’s do an example of a SMART goal with something from my life. (By the way I have a million goals, some of them are “life” goals and will take a lot of time to build up to – thus the baby steps – and some of them are smaller goals). This month I’m participating in a 30-day yoga challenge. So, I’m going to use that as my goal.

  • S(pecific) – Participate in Timothy Gordon’s 30-day yoga challenge (found on YouTube here) at around 5pm every day.
  • M(easurable) – Tracked daily by viewing the videos in order: Days 1-30
  • A(ttainable) – the videos are between 15-30 minutes in length, and I have been doing this style of yoga (yin) for 10 months, so yes it is attainable.
  • R(elevant) – this has a dual purpose for me: to get present and centred in my body (which is helpful for chronic pain and mental health), and for light exercise (also helpful for chronic pain and mental health).
  • T(ime-bound) – I started on March 1 so I will end on March 30.

Therefore my goal is: To participate in Timothy Gordon’s 30-day yoga challenge at around 5pm daily from March 1 to 30, which is based on my current fitness level and will improve my chronic pain and mental health through being present and light exercise.

My current Yoga challenge is indoor, but I’d love to do outdoor yoga again!
(near Peachland, BC, August 30, 2020)

If, for example, you wanted to have a similar goal but were not used to doing yoga or this style of yoga, you could spread it out over two months and do it every other day. I hope you get the idea though. It’s important to set a goal around your health when you have a chronic illness. Just setting one goal at a time, and accomplishing it can feel really good and improve your overall quality of life (which then will likely improve your mood as well). If you have questions about this kind of goal setting, or really any questions at all, feel free to reach out! Also, my podcast episode with Katie and my one with Trachele, are really good to check out as they relate to goal setting with chronic illness.

Until next week, keep making the most of it!

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!