Friday, December 31, 2021

Omne Trium Perfectum

I’ll leave 2021 with those that left us with so much. Our shared humanity has never been more important moving forward. Wishing us all a happy and healthy New Year. 

Betty White 
January 17, 1922 - December 31, 2021

You can lie to anyone in the world and even get away with it, perhaps, but when you are alone and look into your own eyes in the mirror, you can’t sidestep the truth. Always be sure you can meet those eyes directly. Otherwise, it’s big trouble, my girl.
If You Ask Me: (And of Course you Won't); Betty White

Archbishop Desmond Tutu
October 7, 1931 - December 26, 2021

If you are setting out to be joyful you are not going to end up being joyful. You’re going to find yourself turned in on yourself. It’s like a flower. You open, you blossom, really because of other people. And I think some suffering, maybe even intense suffering, is a necessary ingredient for life, certainly for developing compassion. ― Desmond Tutu 

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World; His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams Bookshop Link

Joan Didion
December 5, 1943 - December 23, 2021

We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. 
Joan Didion - The Year of Magical Thinking 

Monday, December 27, 2021

When the dog bites ...when the birds sing...

A Cerulean Sky

My goodness the acoustics are great in here and damn I can sing! These simultaneous revelations ran through my head while I was belting out the chorus from  My Favorite Things. I was singing it as if my life depended on it for that golden ticket to Hollywood.  I can't ever recall singing in the shower before right now; sure I may have hummed a few lines or sang along under my breathe to something on my playlist. This however is all disconcerning; it is the day after Christmas my body ravaged by the sustained energy of extra stimulation that comes with the holidays and I am legit singing at the top of my lungs with the confidence of a Broadway star. If you read no further; the take home message is I highly recommend this form of therapy.

The preamble is it took a few hours to get to the shower. I didn't have the energy but my body felt as if it was vibrating from exhaustion and a bath was too much effort. So I turned my head to the right where I can see my shower door and willed my aching body to the bathroom a few feet away. It turned out those few feet transported me into another world. 

So here I am with no conscious thought; the warm water melting my tired nerves and as if Julie Andrews herself possessed me I belt out "when the dog biTes, when the birds sinG when I'm feeling SADDDD I SIimPLY REmember my FAVoRITe things and thennnn I DON'T feeeellll So baD!" What the actual fuck am I doing? But I do it again. I sing it again and again louder and louder more guttural each time. It has no longer become a song but a mantra. A chant. I also ask myself what is so bad about birds singing? Oh, haha it's the bees sting; makes much more sense. Is it bad or matter. I know no other words even if I had tried and I didn't care. Each time I belt out this chorus emphasizing the "T" on biTe I feel better and better. No wonder Keith Richard defies all odds; who doesn't want to be a rock star? I'm getting high and my only audience is my voice echoing back at me from the white subway tiles. And I no longer feel bad or sad. I feel alive; there is nothing better than feeling alive.

My vagus nerve must be rocking. There is an entire theory for ME/CFS based on the vagus nerve. Long story short the Vagus nerve is really important. Think of it as Golden Gate Bridge important without it your connection is lost. It is the longest of the cranial nerves. Vagus, from Latin meaning wandering and wander it does all the way from the brain stem to the colon. It is a major regulator for sensory, special sensory motor and parasympathetic functions. Everything You Need to Know About the Vagus Nerve The link is a bit of an over reach for the title but I would encourage you to read more about this fascinating 10th cranial nerve. For example ever wonder why deep diaphragmatic breathing brings a sense of calm; thank your vagus nerve decreasing the stress response by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. The ME/CFS theory is that an infection may damage or silently take residence in the vagus nerve hence the wide range of multi system organ dysautonomia. I mention this because many in the ME world do a lot of Vagus nerve work. There are exercises to strengthen ie stimulate the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve importance stretches far beyond ME/CFS medically but it has been circulating in this sphere for a long time. Voila; you guessed it singing is an excellent vagus nerve stimulator. Many people with ME have difficulty speaking and swallowing; swallowing in particular controlled by the vagus nerve. When I am incredibly fatigued those close to me notice the second I say hello no matter how hard I may try and hide it what kind of day it is; my voice has a different tenor. I also for years had moments where I would be eating and it would be as if my brain forgot how to swallow. It is an awful bizarre feeling and like a poker player it is a tell that my body is crashing. So the fact that I could sing and sing loudly was a great gift that it energized versus depleted me; pure joy.

I got back into bed reflecting again wondering why this song?  I hadn't just watched The Sound of Music or even seen an advertisement for it this holiday season. In fact there are a number of famous movies that I do not like; never have. In no particular order: ET, The Sound of Music, It's a Wonderful Life and The Wizard of Oz. I only tolerated the Wizard of Oz for the cute dog, the fabulous shoes and Glenda. But the Sound of Music never enjoyed. Mainly because it's so damn sad and at a young age I was not immune to the cruelties of the world. The suffering of others based on hideous actions by their fellow humans rocked my nerves to the core. Then just add the obvious: Julie Andrews horrible haircut, that song the children sing to get to bed - my goodness do we need the production just go to sleep. I can pin point many reasons but those were just discrattionary critiques of the horror beneath the musical governess efforts. The meat of the story I never would be able to shake - the war, the escape and the journey ahead. We know they made it based on the true story of the Von Trapps but the movie always left me numb to those that didn't. Just because they sang through the hilltops it wasn't the end of the story it was actually the beginning.  I still get a pit in my stomach knowing their refuge wasn't everyones. (Side-note if you haven't read Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale do yourself a favor it's beautiful historical fiction on the war and mountainous efforts; soon to be a movie) I would go to bed as a child not humming I am sixteen going on seventeen but rather my brain immersed in the the suffering avoided in a vacuum; reflecting on so many stories untold. 

The Nightingale

This is a hard time; and just when we think it is getting better a little spiked virus says not so quickly my deary. Who wouldn't want to be lying in a field of poppies or befriending an alien with Reese's pieces? This past 19 months way too many angels have gotten their wings with bells ringing literally as people took to their windows to applaud health care workers. I thought about all my not so favorite movies and how the  melancholy felt disguised as beauty. Lessons of love and loss; sacrifice and longing  are playing out in front of us while we all wait for the ending. We all have entered a chronic condition and living with one I know how many people don't want chronic. They want the bell curve; the beginning, middle and end. We are currently in a state of recycling the middle at a mind numbing pace. Chronic is not an easy place to live. 

We have been here before in history; the demarcation of pre and post. The days we don't forget and alter our lives in ways both big and small. These demarcations extend to our personal lives and just like history they aren't all bad or good. The most difficult pre and post lines in the sand are when the line keeps moving. The lack of a clear ending and ever evolving information puts our coping and tolerance to a test; a painful one. Some are more effected than others; and like the Von Trapps some escape while others are left behind. It is a time when we need a lot of grace for ourselves and others, sometimes we see that beauty and triumph and yet often all we see is the anger and pain.

During the pandemic Amanda Kloots would share her morning ritual of starting the day off singing with her son. I then adapted that and each morning send my helper Chrissy in AZ a good morning song. This morning there was no doubt what song but I hadn't anticipated the breadth of artists that have covered My Favorite Things. Take your pick of genre: Kelly Clarkson, John Coltrane, John Legend, Mary J. Blige, The Supremes, Audra McDonald with Carrie Underwood to name a few. From Kenny G's saxophone to Tony Bennet's swooning I listened to a lot of them; but not one had the grit. They were bouncy and jolly; in my mind rewriting the history. These favorite things aren't really things at all they are life pre...when it was safer and kinder.  Julie Andrews' version has that sing song feel but the chorus has the fortitude that behind sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles we have a whole other story really being told. The other versions all sugar coat the song; missing the desperation the pain behind the favorite things. Will we once again be effortlessly seeing girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes? Or are these favorite things going to be willful memories? This is not an Annie Hall La Di Di, La Di Da oh shucks remembrance. Those are real dogs showing their teeth and when this was written they didn't even predict murder hornets. This song is demanding joy while fighting for survival; willing there will be a day we reclaim our favorite things without looking over one's shoulder. I have lived the last decade plus missing my favorite things and adapting to new ones. I know the pain of missing fluidity, normalcy and predictability. Many of you know it we do remember our favorite things or add new ones; gratitude for a grey day to become a breathtaking Cerulean sky and a new Dolly mug where Icon meets Coffee. These little things make the day not feel so bad. National Archives Von Trapp Family ( Spoiler alert; they didn't travel across the Alps)

I'm not sure if I'll continue belting things out in the shower; and highly doubt Julie Andrews will mysteriously overtake my body again. However, I do know that birds singing sure as hell beats bees stinging. Wishing us all better days ahead and plenty of favorite things; the most important things not being things at all - each other. 

One of my new favorite things
Coffee plus Dolly....Heaven.

xo Heather 

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Cortisol Calm - Supplement Highlight

Daisy trying hard to keep eyes open

If you are reading this and are not experiencing a little extra stress or find yourself wrapped tightly as the presents under the tree; then please send me your elixir ASAP. I have always used this blog as a safe space to reflect and inform on living with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. I found the biggest thing you learn in medical school which then I fast tracked to being a patient (where I learned more) was how much you don't fucking know. I feel it would have been much easier to write a health blog without a medical degree; especially a Naturopath where one size does not fit all. However, I have decided to start using my knowledge both personal and schooling to highlight products and tools I have found useful; and hope you will too. There of course will be an disclaimer at the end of this post; but goes without saying please discuss any medical decisions with your physician.

Consult with Physician before adding any medication or supplement

So thank you for joining me on the first ever supplement highlight Pure Encapsulations Cortisol Calm. When I first was ill; I was medically anorexic. That was about the only useful diagnosis that Mayo Clinic gave me; however they missed that minor subclinical hyperthyroidism. Bravo brainiacs. My point that I am getting to was I was too weak to handle any supplements except for two herbs that are known to decrease thyroid output. (That's for another day) Even years into this illness the traditional herbals/supplements and even medications either did way to much and aggravate or did absolutely nothing. It is only recently I would acutely notice shifts when taking or stopping certain supplemental protocols. 

"Don those are berries"

The first thing you learn in herbal medicine is the synergy of the plant. It's fascinating how they have all these natural built in protections to balance out potential toxicities. While most medicines come from plants; the most famous being aspirin. Aspirin's origins date back more than 3500 years ago when the bark from the willow tree was used as a pain reliever and to reduce fevers. Ironically the Spanish Flu bolstered the use of aspirin. Aspirin History From Willow to Wonderdrug; Pub Med. The previous two articles are one among many of the history of aspirin. The science of finding the "active ingredient"worked in  isolation for aspirin. But often it doesn't; removing the parts of a plant to create a drug at times could be compared to saying just eat a bunch of vitamins instead of food. We can see the current shift with cannabis and medicinal mushrooms. It’s not to say pharmaceutical companies aren’t going to continue to try to mimic the “essential molecule” and package it up; but demand and education of these medicinal plants is speaking louder. Have you ever listened to a weed pharmacist? They will give you a god damn headache so big you will be shouting just give me a fucking aspirin! The art of medicine.


So to our product de jour; Cortisol Calm. Cortisol Calm combines: Vitamin D, Ashwaganda (little side note also known as winter berry; cue last post...), Rhodiola, Magnolia and L-theanine. Per the label the product is recommended to support relaxation, sleep and mood. My personal opinion is Pure Encapsulations did an excellent job of synergy with this product. The herbs listed are all under the broad category of adaptogens, ie: help the body adapt to stress. They work on the GABBA neuropathway. GABBA keeps us cool; like sunglasses on a beach cool. Vitamin D more and more research is popping up every day; from immunity, depression and anxiety. It’s currently the Belle of the Ball vitamins; I’m always a little mindful when someone is named Prom Queen. Therefore please use caution if someone is recommending the excessive dosing of Vitamin D. It it is not always about consumption but absorption; Vitamin D is fat soluble high doses should be carefully monitored. I am very comfortable with Cortisol Calms amount. L-theanine a non protein amino acid is found primarily in green tea and some mushrooms. It  helps to increase mental function and simultaneously decrease anxiety. All these ingredients rolled up into one capsule I find a really well rounded product.

These herbs have been used for centuries. An interesting fact about the Magnolia species; is this tree is rooted in history before the introduction of bees! Can you believe that? Beatles were the trees' source of pollination. Ninety Five million years ago these roots were planted; if the supplement doesn't ground you perhaps that little factoid will.

If you are fist starting out in the world of supplements and herbals it can be a bit overwhelming. A helpful way to begin is to find a framework. One such framework is getting an overview of your Ayruvedic "doshas" Vata, Pitta and Kapha. No one fits neatly in one box, however we all tend to have our predominant leanings to these ancient categories. In the most simplest terms Kapha's think earth mother grounded and calm, Vata your easy breezy head in the clouds feet off the ground and Pitta the little fire pistol with a short fuse. If anyone has had toddlers I bet you can spot their dosha mood in a hot minute. There are plenty of places online that can help you find you overall type which is a good starting point of where to best support your current state. Dosha Quiz This was a quick google search, there are many more.

The reason I took that little diversion besides the fact that I'm a “tad" Vata myself is that this formula is helpful in the Vata or Pitta state. If your head is spinning and you are screaming at the cashier because they grabbed the wrong bag or if your mind is buzzing around faster than you can keep up this may be the formula to aide you. However, if you feel heavy and slow, having difficulty getting motivated would tend towards an excess of Kapha energy and this wouldn't be my first choice. This is a simple example of how knowing your baseline constitutional state is a helpful place to begin.

The biggest dilemma when dipping your toes into holistic and preventative medicine is thinking you need it all. Between bloggers (wink) and influencers there is a huge market and payday for "wellness culture". Wellness culture don't be fooled is currently being monetized by everyone that is healthy and health conscious; a genetic goddess selling you CBD gummies.  I used to call it the Reader's Digest Syndrome; to get with the times the Gwyneth GOOP. My grandmother was the queen of that particular affliction. I would come over and she would have pages torn out of what was good for what. This for her eyes that for her bones this for her stamina etc etc. The problem is it is true; these vitamins, minerals and whole foods are all good for you; however that doesn't mean you need all of them all the time. When I was in school we would ask patients to bring in all of their supplements. They almost always left with fewer than they brought in a more efficient protocol.  

The other important factor is dosage. Just like prescription medications too much or too little yields ineffectiveness or side effects. With a product like Cortisol Calm I would personally do what's called a loading dose. For the first week take more a few times a day especially if in an overly stressed state. Then slowly decrease til you find your sweet spot. Please remember herbals and supplements are medicinal therefore can react and enhance or decrease medications you may already be taking. It is wonderful if reading this you want to begin to take more control of your health and well being. Preventatively and acutely however please do it with care and respect. 

Herbal use is the bark; but this is just so pretty

Wishing you all a restful and joyful holiday season. This is not an easy time; try and find your breathe, and root in what and whom you love. Remember the Magnolia Tree and persevere. Meaning Magnolia Tree

Sugar Magnolia, The Grateful Dead

Sunshine daydream
Walking through the tall trees
Going where the wind goes
Blooming like a red rose
Breathing more freely
Light out singing
I'll walk you in the morning sunshine
Sunshine daydream
Walk you in the sunshine

Disclaimer: The information provided is for educational purposes only and does not substitute for professional medical advice. Consult a medical or health care provider before seeking any new treatment or changes to medications including OTC supplements.  Consult to make sure there are no herbal/drug interactions. I am not affiliated with Pure Encapsulations or any of the websites I provided. Do not self diagnose and immediately seek medical attention if anxiety or depression is life limiting or thoughts of suicide. All medications herbal or otherwise should be monitored by ones own personal medical doctor and any change to medications are done at the readers own risk. Do not discontinue any medications without aide of your physician. 

Thursday, December 16, 2021

The plans that we made

When it was everyone that was pained with isolation the world opened up for all of us. Now that it’s back to some of us the doors slammed shut again; slamming us in the hearts. I am disabled. I have never until this pandemic really thought about it because I had so many coping strategies to trick myself and everyone else I wasn’t; it was a lie. This all started very funny; hysterical actually. Maybe that’s how all the best cries of the soul happen from laughing to crying all in a matter of seconds that amplify the circumstances. My sister texted me she accidentally got locked inside the auditorium where my niece’s winter concert is tonight. She walked in with my niece early because they practice beforehand and decided to go up to the balcony and get seats. While she was inside they locked the doors. I chuckle while I write this as she was texting me and hiding because she didn’t want to make a scene.


Meanwhile over in my bedroom my parents are both here having dinner before they head to the concert. My mom may have made me an early dinner and headed home but we had horrible high winds last night and they among thousands were still without power. This lead to the discussion that they hadn’t gotten my niece flowers and weren’t sure if our local grocery store had opened back up yet. I had left my room and told them not to worry since my sweet friend Renee had sent me 19 red and white roses for Christmas that arrived yesterday. I said you can take some of these for my niece. Well a half hour later my dad is antsy so he decides he will go see if the store is open. So I am back in my room; Daisy fast asleep perhaps sensing she doesn’t have to leave yet tonight deeply snoring. I am in the midst of 007 texting me about her hi-jinx at the Wilson Center and I hear “Don those are berries” … again I burst out laughing. 

So now the exchange between texting with my sister trapped in the auditorium and my dad making a special trip as my mom explains these are fillers; no not mini roses it all feels like a bad sitcom playing out before me. I yell to my mom and tell her to just add the roses not wanting my dad to feel badly. Well soon enough they get ready to head out and my sister texts me again. 
My phone beeps; this time she texts a video. I click it without any anticipation of any other emotion than being excited to see a sneak peak of her bootleg recording. Then I see my niece; hair pulled back, oversized glasses, white button down shirt looking so earnest as they sing “in the meadow” and it starts. I start. 

This is chronic illness. It’s ugly and brutal and breaks every part of you. And then you put yourself together again. This is the moment we spare for a few. It’s embarrassing, lonely and some day I wonder if it doesn’t kill me my broken heart will. 

The tears and the shaking and the other 1,000 of things missed and then the anger that if this had happened a year ago w seating restrictions it most likely like everything else would be live streamed. But no; us the most vulnerable have been sliced open again to have our pain pour out of us as we continue life in purgatory for a crime we didn’t commit. The pain in this moment knowing maybe I could have pushed it when I shouldn’t have to but with COVID it is a risk I can not afford to take. There is no mask mandate in the auditorium. There is a more contagious variant looming. I am still not close to recovered from becoming acutely ill with COVID March 17, 2020. I don’t have the luxury of chance. 

The emotion surprised me. It clearly has been festering hidden in the recesses not allowed to show its face because getting through most days has been often too much. I had tricked myself that I was lucky I didn’t have to sit through a middle school winter concert. I had fooled myself I was use to missing things and perhaps they will have a recording so that will work. No it’s not okay. It’s not fair; because there is the capability I could have been there “live” from home. But how quickly everyone forgets what it felt like. The abled. This is the term I’ve learned; the equivalent term that would be unkind to call disabled. I was in a pretty bubble of denial that I was one of them. Tonight I am acutely aware that there comes a time when the smoke fades and the mirrors crack and you can finally see clearly; and you must remember it was a beautiful sight despite the plans that you made…to face unafraid this new wonderland.

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?
In the lane, snow is glistening
A beautiful sight
We're happy tonight
Walking in a winter wonderland
Gone away is the bluebird
Here to stay is a new bird
To sing a love song
While we stroll along
Walking in a winter wonderland
In the meadow, we can build a snowman
We'll pretend that he is Parson Brown
He'll say, are you married?
We'll say, no man
But you can do the job when you're in town

Later on, we'll conspire
As we dream by the fire
To face unafraid
The plans that we've made
Walking in a winter wonderland
Jeremy Stuart Smith 

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