Do You Take Time For Self Care?

Feeling Crappy!

How I look when I’m feeling crappy!

When I took a long break from social media this past winter I found there was a good reason to have the extra time to just plain deal with life. That was when Bill’s knee blew out and I needed the extra time to take care of him. He is slowly improving after his surgery to repair a torn meniscus and to remove the arthritis that had been building up in the knee. But he still isn’t 100%. His doctors are telling him it’ll be another four or five months before he’ll be back to normal. So he goes to the gym, works out on a recumbent bike to keep his muscles working and puts up with feeling frustrated and the almost continuous pain.

Our acceptance of what seems like a major intrusion in our lives is growing and we’ve settled in, taking the summer one day at a time. This week he went off to Ukulele Camp in North Carolina. He drove himself down there stopping every hour or so to keep his knee working. He’ll be bringing home new tunes with which to serenade me and hopefully this adventure will help with his frustration level. Yes, our minds needs care, too.

Now after another three week break, I’m back. It was a much needed time in which I took care of some loose odds and ends I’d been ignoring … like the chronic pain I’ve been experiencing for years and my sometimes complete exhaustion. I am one of those women who takes care of everyone around her but herself, though now those lessons are beginning to take hold.

After spending almost two years watching my daughter deal with Chronic Lyme disease and feeling helpless because I couldn’t help her in any way, I finally caved into the fact that my symptoms were very similar to hers. Because I didn’t have major deadlines for a while, I decided to go see the Lyme Disease specialist here in Charlottesville. It turns out I do have Lyme Disease, along with the Epstein Barr virus, a parasite in my gut, and Adrenal Fatigue.

Finally knowing why I’ve been feeling so crappy has been a blessing. I must say I had an inkling of what my problem was. But still the aha moment was dizzying and very much needed. My unpredictable joint and muscle pains had been getting worse, along with headaches, and lots of brain fog. I needed long naps in the afternoons so that I could stay awake in the evenings. No amount of yoga, pilates, massage and chiropractic helped.  I pictured Bill and myself limping into the future unable to take care of each other.

IMG_1626But the news is good and I’m already beginning to feel like my old self. I’m on a homeopathic protocol. My joint pain is gone, as are the headaches. Though I still have a few sore muscles, I have much more energy and little brain fog. This week will be the third week of eight that I will spray a number of different homeopathic remedies under my tongue three times a day. I will then go to using the sprays twice a day for another eight weeks, and then go to once a day, until I meet to discuss the outcome with my care-giver. That I’ve been gluten free for several years and have recently gone lactose free has helped a lot. Most of the time I watch my sugar intake and try to keep added sugars to a bare minimum, using only honey once in a while. It’s been pretty easy. Though I miss ice cream and cheese, I’ve taken to having one or two pieces of dark chocolate when I’m feeling starved for the things I’m not supposed to eat.

I’ve always vowed I would not allow myself to become what I call a Rocking Chair Granny, unable to do much but rock on her front porch watching the world go by. When I go down I want to be doing something I love to do, still filled with curiosity and the need to learn and experience everything that excites me.

I’ve been at work, too.  I finished rereading my manuscript and sent it off for its copyedit last week, have finished reading a number of books, and am ready to go back to doing some serious work. The big difference between then and now is that I’m listening to my body and giving myself lots of time to let is rest, eat well, and get exercise.  Those things are at the very top of my What is Important list.

When was the last time you gave yourself some time to just be and see how you are feeling? Do you have a list of your most important things to take care of?

The Stigma Of “Crazy”

Out Birding.

Bird Watching

Word has it that I’m a little crazy. Admittedly, I’m different from a lot of other people, but you’re different from everybody else, too. We can all come up with some crazy ideas. They may be foolish, idiotic, silly, farcical, laughable, nonsensical, or half-baked, but everyone gives birth to them and it doesn’t mean that we’re all mentally deranged.

I do go by the name Batty, sometimes. That’s what my grandchildren call me. My nieces call me Aunt Batty. It started when my granddaughter Zoe, now fourteen, started to talk. I don’t know why she started calling me Batty, but it stuck and is quite an apt name. I much prefer it to Granny, Grammy, or Nana.

To me, Batty simply means different. I may be what others call ditzy or eccentric, but I’m not unhinged. I’m dissimilar to many, but we are all different from one another. Janet, down the street, has red hair and thinks vanilla ice-cream is to die for. John, over on Main, has black hair and loves to skydive. They may be poles apart when it comes to religion and politics.  They are both individuals.

Some of us are more open than others and some of us are happier than others. Some people suffer from depression. Others might be bipolar, or possibly, schizophrenic. They are not crazy. They have a mental illness that in most cases is treatable, just like TB, cancer, or the common cold.

When I was small, the talk amongst family members was that my grandmother on my mother’s side was “crazy.” She apparently did some horrible things that no one ever talked about and was eventually found to be an unfit mother. She became the big, dark family secret. Everyone whispered about her and some wouldn’t talk about her at all. They seemed to think that if anyone mentioned her in public, the neighbors would find out that she was insane and shun the whole family. It was all about how they looked in other peoples eyes.

I was never told what her mental health issues were or if she was ever treated. But as a kid, I adored her. I didn’t get to see her very often, but when I did, I thought she was funny, loving, and an original. Her hair was short, frizzy and dyed a strawberry blond color. She laughed a lot in a loud kind of way and had canaries in cages all over her house. I didn’t believe what everyone said about her. But as I got older and my mother told me a few stories about her, I knew she was mentally ill.

As someone who has often struggled with depression and anxiety disorder, I sometimes thought I might have inherited my grandmother’s problems. I was ashamed and feared that someone might discover I was crazy, mad, cuckoo, loony, or wacko. For me that translated into being, “ A bad and worthless person.” My father’s parents knew about Grandma, and delighted in telling my mother that, “The apple never falls far from the tree.” Because of their cruelty, I’m sure my mother felt great shame and worthlessness.

I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD because of childhood abuse. My father had it as a result of his experiences fighting in World War II. My mother came from an abusive home and she most likely had it, too. They were not crazy, nor am I.

In seeking treatment I’ve worked long and hard to minimize my symptoms by understanding how the brain changes when a person is abused. I know that recovery is possible and can provide us with happy and peace filled lives. Sure, I can still get depressed or have a panic attack, but I know what to do to make myself feel better.

Hiding mental illness by sweeping it under the carpet or making cruel judgments about it, only makes the stigma worse. In todays world, many with mental illness are beginning to speak out about their problems, their need for support, and proper care.

 Let’s stand tall to end the stigma of “crazy” together. Speak out. If you struggle with mental illness seek treatment. You have nothing to be ashamed of.


To Sell Or Not To Sell

My Last Bike

My Last Bike

Wanting to up our exercise choices, Bill and I bought us a pair of bikes eight or so years age. We were both members of gyms and worked out on a regular basis. I also did some flat water kayaking on the peaceful river we lived on at the time. Never really a fan of gyms and exercising indoors, I was interested in being outside where there were no membership fees or waiting in line to use a particular machine.

We took our bikes with us when we went to the Outer Banks on vacation every fall, where there are bike lanes along a straight expanse of road. Traffic at that time of year is always light and I felt quite safe when riding there. Along with beach walks everyday, I was getting plenty of exercise, and I loved being out in the chilly air with the wind in my hair and the sound of waves crashing ashore in the distance.

The biggest problem with riding my bike here at home was that there were no great places to ride. Living out in the country, the roads were narrow and curvy, and we knew someone who’d been badly injured when she was struck by a car, as she was biking along one of them.

Sometimes I loaded my bike in my car and took it to a county park, where I rode. But after a while that seemed like a pain in the butt. We lived on a lovely cul de sac that was long enough to get some speed up and also had a few little hills. I happily rode back and forth, burning calories for a while until I got bored with that.

As many things do, the bikes started gathering dust when we weren’t at the beach. When we moved here into town, where we thought we’d ride them more, they took up too much space in our much smaller garage. Though there are some bike lanes here in the city, I’ve seen too many near misses to get up the courage to launch myself into the community on my bike. So, our nice shiny bikes gathered even more dust.Once ion a while we’d  haul them out, wipe off the cobwebs, and pump up the tires. They were ready for a spin around the block, which never seemed to happen.

Last year we decided that it would be best to sell them. We were too busy, or was it lazy, to make the effort to get them ready for rides we’d never take. This past week, Bill finally hauled them out, cleaned them up, and listed them on Craig’s List. I took one last wobbly ride down the driveway and back, just to be sure I wanted to part with my loyal stead. I decided my long morning walks were much safer.

But when the first call came in just after Bill had listed them, I felt very sad. It seemed like the end of an era and my youth. I felt older than my soon to be 72 years, and like I was giving up too easily on my need to stay young and fit.

My bike sold immediately. Bill’s is still in the garage, but I expect it to go soon. Feeling the same way I do, he and I mourned our losses together at Sunday brunch, over a scrumptious frittata, crab cakes, salad, and a Bloody Mary.

I have a friend, a few years younger than I am, who recently bought a new car. She was excited telling me about it. But the conversation ended when she added, “This is my last car.” I was taken aback. Her comment probably has something to do with the way I’m feeling about my bike, that isn’t mine anymore. I’m not that old, but the fact is I have to, “That was my last bike.” I do not intend to get another.

A few days later, I’m now thinking that it’s best that I did sell it. I wouldn’t want it to go unused and be something I’d trip over when trying to find something in the garage. I’m not giving up on my need to stay fit and young. I’m being realistic. I will not say that the car I have now, or that the next one I buy will be my last. But I am allowing myself to feel comfortable with the cross trainer in my studio that keeps me dry when it rains or snows, and the magical walks I go on when the weather is gorgeous.

DSCF0620Like right now. The sun is shining, the sky is cloudless, turning leaves are drifting down in a light breeze, and a flock of starlings are gathering in the trees for their long flight south. I’m putting on a sweater, and am heading out down the street. Selling my bike was not the end of an era. It was an end of a season and the beginning of another. There are many more still left to be lived … a little bit differently perhaps, but always as wonderful as ever.


Is There A Robot In Your Future?

Me and My Mom

Me and My Mom

According to the Population Reference Bureau, by 2050, the elderly population is estimated to be 16 % of the global population. That’s 1.5 billion of us, over the age of 65, tottering about, needing health care, doctors, nurses, and other caregivers to help us navigate our dotage.

When a first child is born, he or she does not come with an instruction booklet.  Parents learn how to care for their new baby through advice from friends and relatives, and plain old experience.  When the child’s parents start aging and ailing, the kid is in the same boat that the parents  were in when they first arrived.  Unless the parents die suddenly while they’re still young and capable, the kids become the ones in charge of of their parent’s  latter years. There is no instruction manuel on how to care for the elderly.

Faced with what to do when my mother’s health started going down hill in 2000, I wanted to help make her last years more comfortable. .  She lived near-by in her own home.  Depending on traffic, it could take anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour to get to her in the event of an emergency.  She had been having mini strokes, and the chances of her falling and doing major damage to herself was a worry.

When she’d first moved here to Virginia, a few years earlier, we visited a number of local senior citizen communities with both assisted living and nursing facilities.  Mom and I were in agreement that she wasn’t yet ready for that and strongly believed that one should be around people of all ages until the very end of their lives.  She was able-bodied, had her faculties about her, and said, “I don’t want to hang out with a bunch of old people.”

But when her health started failing a few years later, I had to make a decision about what to do.  Our relationship wasn’t of the best quality. But I loved her and wanted to help her in some way. Friends told me to put her in an assisted living facility.  They said, “She’ll be well taken care of and you won’t have a thing to worry about.” But on our earlier tour of those facilities, I wasn’t keen on what I saw happening there.

Having been the family caretaker and problem solver all of my life, I spent a number of difficult weeks trying to decide what to do, before I chose to bring her home to live with me.  In my upcoming memoir,  ME, MYSELF, AND MOM,  A Journey Through Love, Hate, and Healing, I tell the story of the seven years I spent being Mom’s primary caregiver. It was a nightmare, as Mom, narcissistic and an  alcoholic, was diagnosed with lung cancer and died a slow, painful death.

Would I do it again?  To be honest, I don’t know.  If I was the person I am today, I’d seriously think about it. But it’s downright terrifying for all parties involved, and is not for those with their own problems or challenging emotional ties with the person needing care. For me, it was a tempestuous,  yet amazing personal growth experience, filled with heart wrenching despair. My own difficulties with an anxiety disorder and forgotten memories of childhood abuse, made those years living with Mom more than contentious.

At the time, robots were not part of the health care scheme. Right now, Japan, is experimenting with elder-care robots in nursing homes.  The thought of being in a nursing home being fed by a machine that talks, is far beyond what I want when I can no longer take care of myself.  Now going on seventy-two-years of age, I hope that by the time robots are on staff in every assisted living and nursing home, I will be a thing of the past. But what about those beyond my generation? Are robots capable of expressing compassion, love, and caring for those who need it as they die, often scared and in intense pain?

While finishing his Phd at the University of Salford in Manchester, England, Antonio Espingardeiro, developed a model robot, that could monitor aging patients, communicate with their doctors, and provide companionship and basic care. I get the monitoring and the communicating with doctors part, but can a robot provide a hug, and the knowing that you are loved and truly cared for?

I am making my wishes known right now, folks. Should they be ready before I move on, NO ROBOTS FOR ME!  I want to be cared for by humans, even with all of their faults and difficulties.  A metallic hand will never take the place of holding the hand of someone who understands our human condition. Only another human being is capable of that.

I Can Do This!

French Beaded Sunflower

French Beaded Sunflower

Have you ever taken on a project that you’ve never finished? I’ve done it many times, especially when it comes to art and writing projects.  I spent several years making French Beaded Flowers using a symphony of tiny glass beads in a rainbow of colors.  Then the day came when other things captured my interest and I stopped working on more than a dozen beading projects that I had started. They’re all waiting for a day when I get the urge to pull one of them out and begin again.

I’m like that.  Always finding things I want to learn about. I wade in and out of the water, starting and stopping every time I find a new passion.  It started years ago when I went to a summer weaving workshop to learn how to make my own cloth which I turned into various items of clothing, throw pillows, and whatever else struck my fancy.

That led  me to learn how to spin wool from a neighbor’s sheep into yarn. Hooked,  I bought my own small flock of Romney Sheep and Angora goats to supply me with the raw materials I needed.  What followed that? Why, natural dying of course, using plants to bring color to the yarns I was spinning.

I’ve spent other lengthy periods of time writing poetry, working in photography, and painting. And I never forget that my garden is a work of art, always in progress.  All of my passions are part of my life in one way or another and have combined to make me who I am today, a person of many interests who is rarely bored.

I’ve always been interested in healthy living, cooking, and food.  As a small child, my daughter Lisa, asked Santa to bring her Wonder Bread one Christmas. I baked my own bread at the time in an old wood burning cookstove. She said it  wasn’t as good as the bread she ate when visiting her friends.  She was anemic for a while and my son Mark, had digestive issues. I was always attuned to health problems and  when Bill was diagnosed with ulcers, we became a three menu family, with me eating whatever I had to make for the others.

French Beaded Poppy

French Beaded Poppy

Over the years I’ve continued to keep abreast of the news as it pertained to living a healthy lifestyle.  My diet has always been fairly healthy, depending on what the latest medical wisdom of the day was. I was always confused by what the powers that be were touting as the best way to lose weight. I just kept on gaining.  When I was married I wore a size 4 wedding gown, but over the years graduated to large sizes.

I tried being a vegetarian, but I had a major drop in energy and began having some digestive issues along with major cravings for meat.  I tried a low to no-fat diet. My weight  only crept higher and I was always hungry.  I gave up eggs when the heart people said that they were bad for you and continued to bake bread using the best whole grain flours when whole grains were said to be the only way to go. I still felt low on energy. I couldn’t get rid of my brain fog or my aching joints and sore muscles.

I went gluten free two years ago and started feeling better immediately.  I lost a little bit of weight but that stopped as I tried to take care of my carb cravings with dark chocolate and gluten free cookies made with a variety of other grains.  I began reading about the paleo diet and began experimenting, leaving out most grains. I filled up on veggies, meat, eggs, fish and fruit and again started feeling better.

A month ago, after watching my daughter successfully finish a 21 day sugar detox, I decided to follow in her footsteps.  What a difference it’s made.  I knew I was a sugar addict, but I wasn’t eager to give it up. Now I’ve lost 10 pounds.  But even better than the weight loss is how good I feel.  I have more energy now than I’ve had in years.  My thinking is much clearer and I’m not as forgetful as I was.  And food tastes even better than it did before.

It was initially daunting. My addiction to sugar and carbs brought on craving that I had to try to take control of.  But within days I felt a difference.  Yes, there were still cravings.  My favorite food of all is fruit … berries, peaches, pears, apples, bananas, grapes, cherries.  For 3 weeks I could only have 1 green tipped banana, a green apple, or a grapefruit per day.  I didn’t miss the lack of grains as I’d already stopped eating those.  I didn’t miss beans as I’m not that crazy about them anyway. I loved all of the veggies with a small portion of meat, eggs, or fish for protein. I learned how to make “banola,” a granola made from nuts, seeds, an egg, and green bananas. I made my own ketchup and Bill prepared homemade mayonnaise,  something we used to do but gave up on when life got overbearing and too busy.

French Beaded Wild Flowers

French Beaded Wild Flowers

There were days when it was hard.  I had headaches, felt a bit light headed, and wanted some berries or figs.  But I made it through and surprisingly, I haven’t strayed off course much.  Yes, I’m eating a bit more fruit, but not in the quantity I was before.  I’ve had a few sips of wine and wondered what I needed it for.  So far chocolate or pastries haven’t tugged at me and hopefully won’t anytime soon.  I have given thought to ice-cream, but so far haven’t fallen for it.  I’ve found a few recipes that use no sugar, so I’ll be giving those a try.

This change in eating habits isn’t something I want to drop along the wayside like some of my art projects. I love the way I feel.  I like that so far I’ve conquered my need for large doses of sugar.  When an occasional craving pops up, I just keep repeating:  “I Can Do This!”  Sometimes it takes saying it only once.  Other times it takes ten or twelve times before I believe it.  But in the end the cravings stop and I go on with my day, knowing I CAN it.