Monday, July 21, 2014

June 2014 Our Hands Can! Community Stories

Our Hands Can! Community Stories June 2014: Living Things

Show Us Your Hands! is launching an exciting new community program called the Picture Project. Every month, we ask people who live with inflammatory arthritis to take photos of their hands [involved in] doing something related to the month’s theme and post them on our Facebook page. The inaugural monthly Picture Project was this June on the theme of Living Things.

To celebrate this new program, we asked the Show Us Your Hands! Advisory Council to choose their favorite among the submissions. The winner will receive a signed copy of Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain by Lene Andersen, our Director of Community Outreach. We received a wonderful variety of submissions, some of which have been chosen to be included in this month’s Our Hands Can! Community Stories. Read on to the end of the post where we announce the winner.

And now we’d like like you to meet a few of the wonderful submissions on the theme of what your hands can do with Living Things.

Emily Fowler Eller gave us our very own “Daily Squee” when she submitted this photo of her hand holding one of her newborn English Angora rabbits. Around our international offices, there was a collective awwww. Ellen says that her bunnies are “sweet friends and produce wool which I spin into yarn and knit.”

Robyn Crocome shared a photo from her garden. She said “I am so thankful that I can still feed the winter garden birds under the glorious tree dahlia” We were thankful for her thoughtful perspective on gratitude and giving back to other living things.

Greida Quintero submitted this powerful photo of her hand with a stethoscope. She said that “today I can do my work to take care of my patients.” Thanks for the wonderful work you do, Greida. It’s good to know that there are people like you who have inflammatory arthritis and work in the healthcare system.

Angelica Jacobs shared a beautiful moment with her faithful companion. Angelica shared how important her dog is to her, saying “when I'm not well, she sleeps on me. Follows me everywhere and talks to me (dog talk).” Those of us who have pets completely understand what you mean, Angelica!

Thank you to everyone who submitted photos in our June Picture Project! And now…. The winner!

Congratulations to Greida Quintero! We’ll be in touch to arrange sending the book to you.

Do you want to help us unite and inspire the inflammatory arthritis community? Join the Picture Project! Post a photo of what your hands can do on the Show Us Your Hands! Facebook page. July’s theme is Holiday Fun. All submissions qualify to win a copy of 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain by Lene Andersen.

What can your hands do for Holiday/Vacation Fun?

*Thanks to the Advisory Group for choosing the winner!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Growing Up

Within the last two months, we’ve had big changes in our home.   My oldest turned 18 and not only got his first official job but will also start college in the fall, and my baby turned 16 and is now the proud owner of an Illinois driver’s license.  All of these big changes have created a need in me to reflect on my role in my family’s life.

My background before kids was as a 5th grade elementary teacher.  I taught a class that was slightly over 80% low income and in need of English as a Second Language services.  I absolutely loved my job.  I worked with innovative teachers and principals who genuinely cared about the success of our students.  As a young teacher at the time, I learned from my students.  I observed what was and wasn’t working for them in the classroom and knew early on that when I finally had children of my own, I would provide some sort of alternative education.  I just never imaged it would be as alternative or good as it turned out.

By the time my oldest was two years old, we had moved 700 miles away from my hometown and family.   While this was definitely a difficult time for me, it was also a time for me to become dependent on my own beliefs as a parent.   I was already tandem/extended nursing both kids and we shared a family bed which seemed so out there at the time.  I began to think about my son going away to school in only a few short years.  I wasn’t ready for that.  I liked having him home with me.   I loved watching him explore his surroundings.   It was in those early years that I learned the most valuable lesson I have learned to date and it has guided me through most of my parenting/life experiences – follow your heart.   Sometimes I have let myself slide into what others felt was right, but my heart always protested until I finally listened.    My heart lead me to make decisions that were different from other families, but so very right for ours.  

I keep getting this overwhelming feeling of joy when I think about our journey together.   While I have worked part-time as an adult ESL teacher since my daughter was three, my kids have always either been with  my husband or me.   We have both been so fortunate to be a part of their lives.  I think about all the mornings we woke up and chose to stay in our pajamas all day, the days we got up and decided to explore the backyard, go swimming, make blanket tents, cook together, or snuggle up and reread favorite books.   I got to participate in all of that!

I am going to admit that being a mom to a teenage girl has been the hardest thing I have ever done.  It has challenged me to find new ways to remain calm, to set limits, to let go of limits, and to remember that I helped create a strong minded person and with that comes struggles.  The truth is some days I feel like I have failed as a mother .  I find that listening to my heart is a struggle because it often differs with what my daughters mind/heart is telling her.  Then out of the blue, my daughter comes home and asks me to hug her.   She occasionally wakes me up at night because she needs to talk.  We’ve had long talks sitting in Starbucks parking lot.  It’s with these situations that I quickly forget my insecurities of being a failure as a mom to a teenager and know I have done my job well.   She recently gave me a huge complement.   Her friends told her she has the best mom because I am not strict, but I am always there for her.  It’s true. I don’t believe in setting tons of rules.   I expect respect which might include texting me if coming home later than planned, but overall, I always go back to my original philosophy when I started unschooling, “Trust them.  They have triggers within themselves that will always do what is best for who they are.”   I always told my kids as they were growing up, “You know your body best.”   They do.  When a person learns to believe in what their own body is telling them, they learn to listen to their own needs.   It may seem like their choices are a mistake, but it may also be the exact learning experience they need to have.  My job is not to tell them what is right or wrong for their individual self, but to guide them to listen to their own voice and be a sounding board for them as they figure out what that voice is telling them. 

We have spent our lifetime together following a path that was right for our family.  It went against what most mainstream and even at times unschooling families were doing, but it always felt right to us.  The last few years I have watched my two children transition from unschoolers to school kids.   There were a few small bumps in the road, but overall, they have found where they belong.   They have both always been good at listening to their individual hearts and know their own bodies well, my greatest gift to them.

I think the reason I have been reflecting on my role as a mom is because I know the life we have known is changing and while it is exciting, it is also new and I’m figuring out my place in this new relationship.   I see less and less of both kids.  They still both need me, but when and how varies from day to day.    I am in the process of figuring out my new role as mom and as I always have done, want to excel at it.  I have been a lucky momma to have been a part of so many of my children’s life experiences and look forward to many more.  My heart has lead me well. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

This is Me Today

The other day I looked in the mirror and felt frustrated, as I have for the last two years.  Twenty pounds of extra Cathy was spilling out of my pants and I wasn't happy.   In fact, I felt defeated.   It seems that no matter what I do these days, the weight is quite content where it is.    

I moved on with my day as one must do, but at some point my memory was jogged.   Years ago, I felt that same defeat with my joints.  No matter what I did, I couldn't get the pain to go away.   The pain seemed quite content to stay in my body.  

My journey with rheumatoid arthritis has taught me more lessons than I can count, but they have all been positive life changing lessons.  When I thought back to how I felt when the pain in my joints just wouldn't disappear, I remembered the steps I took to drag myself from the feeling of defeat.   I visualized myself doing the things I wanted to do but couldn't:  ride my bike, jump into a pool without an attack of Rayaund's, lots of hair again, hugging my family without pain, and waking up and jumping out of bed.   There are days now when I find myself amazed that all of the things I visualized myself doing are happening daily now. My rheumatoid arthritis is in a happy place.  We went for our first bike ride of the season two weeks ago and I didn't struggle one bit as we climbed hills and rode over nine miles.

That memory of where I once was with my rheumatoid arthritis motivated me to make some changes with my body weight.  I decided not to use visualization this time because visualizing myself 20 pounds lighter only seemed to focus on who I was in the past. Instead I created a mantra for myself, "This is me today.  Be proud of who you are and all you have accomplished." Wishing I was the weight of a person I no longer am doesn't serve me.

I can't say there has been a 100% change in how I look at myself in the mirror, but there definitely has been a change in the right direction.  I haven't given up on losing the weight, but the simple act of repeating the mantra as I look in the mirror has helped me to accept who I am today.  Today is all that is important. Tomorrow I will be a new person and need to accept that person, wherever and whoever she is.

When my daughter was young, she used to ask about the stretch marks on my stomach from pregnancy.  I chose to tell her they were trophies of what I had accomplished by bringing her and her brother into the world.  It is what I believe and when I see other women with pregnancy stretchmarks, I feel pride for them.  Moms are awesome.   With my new mantra guiding me, I am looking at the extra weight as my trophy for surviving all the stress that has come the last several years of working more hours, transitioning to being a mom to teens rather than children, long hours sitting in the car, periomenopause, and much more.  My weight is here for a reason, just as I believe my rheumatoid arthritis is a part of me for a reason.  It is my job to figure out what it needs from me before it can move on and I believe it will move on when the time is right.   For now, I am going to continue working on nourishing my body with healthy foods, thinking positive thoughts about myself and others, getting good sleep, exercising, and finally buying clothes that fit around the waist rather than expecting the weight to magically disappear. This is me today.   :)  

Monday, June 2, 2014

Show Us What Your Hands Can Do!

Show Us What Your Hands Can Do!

A Show Us Your Hands! Photo Campaign
Building hope, one hand at a time

Help Show Us Your Hands! inspire and unite the inflammatory arthritis community and qualify to win a copy of Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain by Lene Andersen!

We need your help! At Show Us Your Hands! we aim to inspire and unite the inflammatory arthritis community. In the hope of building a stronger community, we are asking that each one of you share photos of your personal successes as a way to motivate and encourage others.

How Can You help?

Each month Show Us Your Hands will present a new theme. Use this theme throughout the month to take photos of yourself either using or engaging in this theme (hands, body, etc) and post it to Facebook and Twitter.  Post as often as you’d like and encourage others to join you.

Tag Show Us Your Hands so we can see your post and hashtag #showusyourhands to share with everyone!

Our theme for the month of June is Living Things.

We’re also adding an extra exciting feature this month. Our Advisory Council will look at all the entries and choose one they think is the best. That person wins a signed copy of Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain by Lene Andersen, our Director of Community Outreach!

We look forward to seeing your posts! Don’t forget to tag Show Us Your Hands! to be considered to win.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Always Changing

It seems like my blog and I have become long lost friends. I often think about it and sometimes even visit it to write a new post, but nothing seems to transpire. So yesterday, when I checked email and saw that I made Healthline's Top Rheumatoid Arthritis Blogs, I was pleasantly surprised.   Thank you Healthline.

In my absence, my rheumatoid arthritis has been very good to me. I have had a few flares here and there, mostly in my hips, but overall it has remained very calm. Thank you RA!

It seems that just when my rheumatoid arthritis was ready for a little down time, life moved on to other hurdles.  Recently I have been dealing with some perimenopause issues.   With rheumatoid arthritis I felt the need to share everything I was going through.  Menopause has been different.  I often feel more private with a need to only share with a few close friends and family.   I have found it to be a frustrating time of dealing with stubborn weight, hot flashes, and a few other issues, but also have found that it has been a very reflective time. My oldest is finishing high school, just got his first job, and will be attending college next year. (Luckily still living at home.) My daughter will be a junior in high school next year. I have been married for 25 years. As my body is changing and entering a new phase of life, I have taken a lot of time looking back over my past. I am so proud of the decisions I made to stay home with my children and to give them an alternative education. I am glad that my husband I have worked through hard times together over the years and enjoyed tons of happy times together.  My children are true gifts to this world and my husband still seems to surprise me with all the goodness he has inside of him. I feel excited about all that is happening with my family and know that all will be good.

I feel like I'm at a good place in my life, even if I wish the old methods of weight loss still worked and my students didn't have to see a sweaty teacher first thing in the morning, but those things are minor in comparison to all that is good in my life.

*I'm not on my blog often, but you can find me more frequently on my Facebook account.  

Friday, February 21, 2014

Figuring Out Positive Psychology for Cateepoo

I recently listened to a podcast on "positive psychology".  This was a new concept to me, but it has been whirling around in my mind and forced me to take a good look at myself....again.

The last three years or so, my mind has felt a little out of whack.  I added to my work schedule and was stressed out for a while, so that seemed an easy answer to the problem. I reduced my stress and reorganized my schedule to fit my needs better, but things still didn't feel completely aligned. My take away from the positive psychology podcast was that I need to look at my past, especially the parts of my past that were successful and build on those times. In doing so, I had two revelations.  One, I have become a podcast addict.  There.  I said it.  It's true. With large amounts of time in the car, I have been filling every minute with constant noise rather than letting my mind have some quiet down time as I did in the past and really need. Two, I have been listening to what these podcast "experts" think I should eat and how I should live my life rather than listening to myself, the true expert on Cateepoo.

After figuring out what has changed for me, I had to ask myself, "Why?".  The majority of the podcasts I listen to are Paleo related. I started the Paleo diet almost four years ago because it fits well with how I feel about food and life in general. It highly recommends buying local, organic, and free range food which I have been doing more of for the last 10-11 years.  The diet/lifestyle promotes eating fresh whole foods - minus grains, legumes, and dairy, putting the focus on meat, vegetables, and fruits. Movement is encouraged, especially lifting weights. Since I tend to want to know all there is about the philosophies I believe in and have tons of time in the car, it makes sense that I started listening to a variety of Paleo podcasts.

I  believe in the philosophy of this lifestyle and hope to continue making it more of a part of my life.  In order to do so, I need to make some changes. To me, the Paleo lifestyle is all about simplifying your life and finding balance. (A little humorous since it seems like I have become less balanced.). So first, I need to reduce the number/amount of time I spend listening to podcasts.  There is an enormous amount of information out there as this movement grows and develops.   There are blogs, books, and podcasts in ever growing numbers.  I sometimes feel my brain is bombarded with information, especially as many people are making this their living and constantly promoting themselves. There is a lot of fantastic information out there, but there comes a point when it is too much to consume.  I realized this while listening to the podcast on positive psychology. I have to go back to the days when I got in my car after work, left the radio off, and just had time to decompress rather than right away taking in more information.

In addition to spending way too much time listening to podcasts,  I have been spending too much time taking the advice of all the Paleo pod-casters I listen to.  Sure, a lot of them have fantastic information, but not when it sacrifices me listening to myself. Calm minded Cateepoo of the past listened to her own advice.  I have been allowing the "experts" to dictate what type of food to eat (I enjoy a little rice a few days a week), sleep to get (I love sleep and get as much as I can, but with crazy schedules, my priority is seeing my family), and exercise to get rather than doing what comes best for me - listening to myself.  An example of this is that I had stopped doing some of my cardio workouts because the host on this same podcast repeats in every podcast that it isn't good for us. "Lift weights and sprint. Avoid cardio."  That is the message heard over and over.  I like lifting weights, but honestly I hate sprinting so I don't do it.  It isn't enjoyable to me and it hurts my knees.  Wanting to go back to what worked in the past,  I found some cardio type workouts similar to what I did in the past and instantly my mind felt clearer.  My energy levels increased.  I look forward to working out. I even look forward to moving more during the day. Research and case studies that are shared on these podcasts are great, but when it comes down to it, I know myself better than anyone else. I am the expert on Cateepoo. This is how I have lived my life as a homeschooling mother and how I have dealt with my rheumatoid arthritis.  It only makes sense to be the expert in all areas of my life.

Once again I want to let my mind have time to rest after work.  I want to take my morning walk without earbuds so that I can listen to the birds, the wind, and other outdoor noises again. I want my mind to be clear so that when my husband or children laugh or want to share something with me, I have the room in my mind to listen.  My mind has felt like it is overflowing with information.  It is time to slow it down and go back to listening to my internal voice rather than the voices of  ten different podcasters that feel they know what is best for me.

I like the idea of positive psychology.  It makes sense to build on what has made me successful.  I know that eating well, reducing my stress, exercising/general movement, quiet time alone and with family are what works for me.  My mind is doing a happy dance as it realizes it is once again listening to the one person who knows what is best for it- me!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Live Bold, Live Now with Lene Andersen

Lene Andersen, a good friend and fellow Show Us Your Hands Board member, shares her rheumatoid arthritis story at Live Bold, Live Now.

Lene is a true pioneer when it comes to rheumatoid arthritis.  She was diagnosed before there were meds that made huge changes in how people feel and live with rheumatoid arthritis.  She has spent years advocating for people with disabilities.

Besides learning more about Lene and her journey in this video book, I loved hearing from Lene's mom, sister, and boyfriend.   Lene's mother and sister very eloquently share their thoughts and feelings on Lene's rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis as a child.  I think we so often focus on our family not understanding how WE are dealing with our diagnosis and forget that they are also dealing with it. I loved how proud they both are of her and her wonderful accomplishments. My favorite part of the video book was at the end when Lene and her boyfriend are walking hand in hand.  So beautiful.

If you have not yet seen Lene Andersen's Live Bold, Live Now video book, please spend some time with it.


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Moving On!

I was always fascinated by my children when they were toddlers and everything about  life was new to them.  On a walk, we would stop and observe ant hills or pretty leaves until they felt they had learned enough and then we moved on.   The ants and the pretty leaves were still there and the kids would occasionally find interest in them again, but there were so many other things in life to keep them busy that they didn't keep returning to the same interests over and over. 

When I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis ten years ago, I was like my children, completely fascinated with something new.  I spent years, rather than minutes, observing, researching, and experiencing everything under the sun about rheumatoid arthritis.  Sadly at times, it became my life rather than a simple fascination which is to be expected since it does make a huge impact on one’s life. 

For the last few years, rheumatoid arthritis has been kind to me.  I have had flares here and there, but overall, things have been good.  Perhaps that is why my interest in RA has been slowly fading away.  In early December, I was stressed and mentally tired.  My body gave me a strong message that I needed a break.  A huge flare arrived that is just now retreating.  While my mind needed time to rest and I was fortunate to have the time off, I realized something pretty awesome about where I am with my rheumatoid arthritis. I have moved on.  Like my children with an ant hill, I have found rheumatoid arthritis somewhat mundane.  I have grown out of the need to find more information, to find a way out of this crazy disease.  I have experienced so many flares in the last ten years that I know the cycle.  A flare comes and a flare GOES. I can share with my family and close friends that I am in pain, but the overwhelming need to talk, share, or learn more  just feels complete.  I can respect myself when a flare is active by taking time to be gentle with myself, but otherwise, I feel like my mind and heart have moved on to other interests. I have two teenage children and a fantastic husband who like spending time with me.  I have a job that I love.  Plus, at 46, I have seen enough family and friends go through ups and downs to know that rheumatoid arthritis has been one of the hardest things for me to deal with, but that life will continue to hand out difficult times just as it will deal out pleasant ones.  I feel content with this flare knowing that it was a flare that was acknowledged, but didn't take my focus away from the pleasant time I have had over my holiday break.  It is time to move on.   Each person should experience every step of the journey, but there are too many things in life to keep me busy and that I want to experience to keep rheumatoid arthritis at the forefront.    

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Carving Out Free Time

Last year for the first time ever, my kids chose to go to public school rather than to homeschool.  Knowing that their lives were about to get really busy, I decided to dive into work about six months before they started school last year.  Rather than teaching the two classes I had been teaching for some time, I took on four classes and six private tutoring students.  Yikes!!!   Let's just say I overdid it a little bit.  No, let's say I overdid it a lot considering all the other changes that were happening in our lives with school.  After eighteen months of this schedule, I have learned my lesson.  This school year I have four classes again, but only  two private tutoring students which opens up my schedule a lot.  I now have two and a half complete days off during the week.  (I teach three classes on Tuesday and Thursday and one on Saturdays.)

What I didn't do last year which I now see I really needed to do was allow myself to enjoy some time alone. Always being a homeschooling momma, I have never really had much time in the house alone or even time alone.  Truth be told though I never craved it that much.  I really enjoyed my time home with the kids and would repeat it all again in a heartbeat.  However, having the house all to myself the last month has been a delightful surprise.  For five hours (my son goes to high school part-time) there are no expectations.  No noise.  Nothing.  I can do whatever I want.  I can think whatever I want.  I can watch whatever I want. I  LOVE it! In fact, when these days are interrupted with appointments, I feel ripped off.

I am a hard worker, but I have never been a workaholic and I am happy about that.  I have always been pretty good about carving out down time or lazy time.  However, with the added work that came with very wacky hours, I had to learn to schedule time into my day to be lazy.  I think as mothers, workers, rheumatoid arthritis folks, and people in general, we owe it to ourselves to find time in every day to do something we enjoy.  Here's how I make it work for me.

1.  I schedule everything - morning walk and workout, house cleaning, school work, SUYH! projects, family time, and even my free time.  When I keep my schedule, I find that there is plenty of time for everything. When I don't follow the schedule, I waste time and then feel rushed and anxious.

2.  My free time is to be spent however I feel I want to spend it and never feel guilty.  Currently, that means making coffee (we will see how long this lasts as they effects have not been positive),watching Frasier on Netflix or reading the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy.

3.  I continue to walk.  It relaxes my mind and keeps me centered.  Walks give me a chance to see nature (even in a suburban neighborhood we have coyotes, skunks, deer, rabbits, chipmunks, and squirrels among lots of beautiful trees and plants).  I take time to stop and watch ants scurry around, squirrels chase each other up tress, and my favorite - watch the sun rise.  This summer I have been collecting things I find in nature that make me happy. Here is one day's find:

4.  I set limits for myself.  If my week is really busy, I claim Sunday as a no driving day.  This allows me uninterrupted time to work in the yard, to read a book, to talk with family, or to do absolutely nothing.

5.  Turn off the computer. When I am on a lot,I tend to waste my time.  I think I will research one thing and then two hours later I am still there.  I have now set up consequences for being on the computer outside of my scheduled time.  Every time I get on, I have to do some type of exercise afterwards:  push-ups, sit-ups, lunges, dead lifts, etc.

6.  Two days a week I have 1.5 hours of downtime before heading back out to teach an evening class.  During this time I make dinner, enjoy the dinner at the table with my family, and if possible, sneak in a hot bath or a few minutes of reading.

How do you carve out time for free time and what do you do?

Monday, September 2, 2013

Active Release Technique for Trigger Fingers

    My two hands are very unique from one another. My right hand has suffered the most from rheumatoid arthritis stiffness.  It is the hand that went to physical therapy, but has never yet been able to make a complete fist again or pick up small items like coins or bobby pins and tends to swell up the most when going through a flare.  This is the hand that also has enlarged knuckles.  This hand requires that I frequently do mobility exercises to keep it moving.    My left hand rarely stiffens up.  It swells enough that I sometimes can't wear my wedding ring, but that's it. However, I have trigger fingers on this hand and to me, it is worse than stiff fingers because it really freaks me out.  When my fingers bend, they often don't want to come out of that position.  When they do, they make a popping or clicking noise and it feels that is exactly what is happening.  I often have to stop what I am doing and manually straighten my fingers back out.  My rheumatologist has warned me that it is not a good idea to do exercises with these fingers because it can just make the situation worse.  When they are at their worse, I should try to use them as little as possible. Her remedy is always to do a cortisone shot and to remind me that at some point I may need to have surgery.

A few months back, I was listening to a podcast and a question came in about trigger fingers.  It was suggested the listener have active release technique to help her fingers.  I contacted a local chiropractor and she said she has had success with ART and trigger fingers, but the treatment plan varies for each person.  So, before trying this treatment, I am curious if anyone else has tried it and if they have had success.  Have you done anything else besides shots?  That isn't the route I want to take.  I appreciate your feedback.  

*I did do a month of ART sessions.  While it didn't help with my trigger fingers, it did remove a cyst in my wrist and decreased some of the buildup around my wrists.  Unfortunately, insurance doesn't cover this treatment and the costs became more than I could handle.  If you can afford it, I would definitely give it a try.