How to Stop Our Fear-Based Stories and Improve Our Life Experiences

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Lake Michigan with my Wisconsin-native hubby

I first learned about metacognition in the early 90’s when I was in graduate school at The University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. My master’s degree is in Speech-Language Pathology which means that in addition to learning about speech and language, I have studied cognitive (thinking) skills extensively.

Metacognition is the ability to think about what we are thinking about. It is the high-level thinking skill which allows us to be aware our thoughts. Originally this was deemed a human skill but there are some other animals who show signs of metacognition.

My ability to think about what I am thinking about became a large part of my hope and healing last summer/fall. I was quite sick and felt extremely discouraged after nearly 17 years of dealing with crohn’s disease, chronic migraines, leukemia and now immunodeficiency due to chemotherapy.

Because I am allergic to the medical treatment for immunodeficiency, I am left piecing together good hygiene with what has felt to be a very limited amount of immune-boosting agents in an attempt to protect myself from infections, viruses, and even common bacteria.

This is not something I ever imagined would be my life experience. I never anticipated that I would beat cancer only to have a future that can feel bleak and hemmed in by isolation due to immunodeficiency. The chemotherapy I take put leukemia into remission, but I have to stay on it to stay in remission. With leukemia back in remission, I feel great. However, loneliness, repeat infections and a complete upheaval from regular socialization left me grief stricken and fearful from 2015-2017.

It is scary to have a paper thin immune system with nothing sizeable to provide backup support other than my faith in a healing God. I feel like I am falling backward with nobody there to catch me. In addition, my body does not fight incoming germs with typical defense mechanisms such as fevers. This means that I can be getting very sick without the symptoms until I am severely infected.

This is both physically miserable and frankly terrifying.

Last summer I found The Work of Byron Katie. Through her work, I came to understand that much of our life experience is not the actual events that occur in our day but it is how we perceive things to be happening.  According to Katie, our minds create stories based on past experiences and emotions combined with future expectations. And if we are not cognizant of our thought process those stories can be daunting during times of duress.

Katie proposes that we create stories in our mind by marrying the memories and emotions of our past with what we imagine to be our future. These thoughts pull us out of the present moment into an experience that is emotionally charged and filled with images that are not our current reality.

Neuroscientist Dr. Joe Dispenza explains that during stressful times our minds create images of our future in the worst possible outcome as a survival mechanism. This is a subconscious method in which our mind attempts to keep us alive, by preparing for the worst. However in reality most of those worst case scenarios never happen.

Last summer I was too sick to take healing walks through nature so I literally wrapped blankets around myself and shuffled back and forth on our back porch soaking up healing rays of vitamin D. I listened to Byron Katie for hours each day and learned how to stop the scary thoughts that bound me.

Over the past 17 years, I have gone through horrifying experiences because of health crises. These experiences provide me a with a very strong, emotionally charged past. That combined with future images of the worst possible outcome sets me up for my mind to create some profoundly sad and frightening thoughts about my life experience.

I reached a new level of hope and peace when I learned how to stop letting my thoughts race back and forth between the past and possible future events; when I learned how to live in the present moment. This required me to first practice metacognition — to think about what I am thinking about. I then went through exercises to stop the past/future thoughts and stay in the present moment.

Since then my fear and grief levels have largely subsided leaving hope and joy in their place.

You don’t have to have immunodeficiency or even leukemia to experience the scary thoughts. You just have to be human, this is what we tend to do unless we teach our minds to stay in the present moment.

I have learned a lot through illness over the years. This is a lesson I wish I had learned before I ever got sick. You can apply these strategies to finance, work, relationships in addition to health and experience a much more peaceful, positive life experience.

“God designed humans to observe our own thoughts, catch those that are bad, and get rid of them.”  

–Dr. Caroline Leaf

 


Kicking off 2018: Happy, Healthy & Resilient

“Even if happiness forgets you a little bit, never completely forget about it.”

– Jacques Prevert

Christmas Day 2017

Christmas Day 2017: Happy, Healthy and Resilient

It is early January and we are wrapping up a dazzling holiday season. For the first time in 4 years I was completely healthy; we were able to go to parties, dine out and even travel.

2014-2017 were almost unbearable. I was home more than 80% of the time fighting leukemia and then immunodeficiency.The days were long and family bolstered my heavy heart reminding me that better times were ahead.

During a time when it seemed that happiness had forgotten me in a much bigger, more agonizing way than ever before, my family refused to let me to forget happiness. 

The silver lining of life’s hard times is that we learn so much through them. 2014-2017 were rife with lessons that I have yet to fully unpack.

One of the fundamental lessons the recent years taught me is the role of mindset in determining our life experience. 

Going into 2014, I thought I understood mindset…

It seemed that years of hospitalizations and procedures for crohn’s disease and leukemia had taught me how to focus my thoughts, how to foster hope when circumstances looked bleak.

I never imagined that I would beat cancer and then be constrained to stay home for years because my immune system was deficient from chemotherapy. Outside of a miracle I will be on that chemotherapy for the rest of my life. To make the situation more dire, I am highly allergicto the only medical treatment available for this type of immunodeficiency.

I have felt completely hopeless and trapped.

Neurologists, psychologists and other specialists who study cognition estimate that between 75-95% of our thoughts are repetitive and that 80-90% of our thoughts are negative. These statistics include everyone; as in people who are out and about in society with all of its distractions. Being at home, feeling profoundly isolated, has demanded that I create systems to take my thoughts captive, to practice mindfulness so that I can move forward and heal instead of staying stuck in sadness.

In addition to developing mindfulness skills, I have become much more attuned to what my body is asking of me and honoring its requests.

I am aware that my body is at a turning point, I can sense that 2018 will be a year of change and that miracles are ahead for me.

I am equally aware that of the role I play in creating space for healing to take place. I am releasing some activities to immerse myself in actives that directly boost my immune system.

The biggest thing that I am letting go of is the Beautycounter business I had for the past 1-1/2 years. I am deeply honored that people believed in me enough to support my business. If you are one of those people, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I recognize that it is time for me to direct the energy I was using to run that business toward boosting my immune system.

A handful of the actions I take to boost my immune system (some of these are already in practice and some are new)

  • Cooking nutrient dense meals
  • Take EnteraGam — a prescription medical food supplying me with Immunoglobulins (more in a future post)
  • Writing daily
  • Daily exercise
  • Increase social opportunities in small groups or outside (less germ exposure)
  • No screen time 1-2 hours before bed
  • Daily positive podcasts
  • Less time on Facebook because I am spending more time on Instagram(I limit the amount of time I spend on social media)
  • Read more books and less mindless scrolling through social media or emails
  • Currently going through Dr. Caroline Leaf’sSwitch On Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health and will do other mindfulness exercises this year

I thought you might enjoy a quick glance at the pictures below. God has brought me through so much these past few years.

Thank you for the support you have given me these past 3 years. It has been intense and I am not sure I could have made it through without you.

I wish each of you a Happy and Healthy New Year

bone marrow room

 

January 10, 2015: the 6th of 7 bone marrow biopsies/aspirations I have had. This was the most painful and traumatic of the 7. It was a crushing day. I later found out that leukemia had relapse.

 

bronchoscopy january 2015

 

 

 

January 18, 2016: After a prolonged, severe respiratory infection I had a bronchospy to rule out some scary stuff. This was such a sad time.

 

January 4, 2017

January 4, 2017 I was officially diagnosed with Immunodeficiency from chemotherapy. Life Altering and crushing.

 

Christmas at Fishers Perdido Key 2017

Happy, Healthy and Resilient the Hubs and I got to travel to the beach during Christmas of 2017!


Sometimes God Really Does Speak…

 

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I focused on BETTER DAYS when I was sick like our wedding anniversary at the North GA Wineries

 

I woke up early Thanksgiving morning and wrote a blog post giving thanks to God for healing me. Later that day I started to feel chilled and crummy.  Really? Really God?

Friday we were supposed to have my husband’s kids and grand kids over to celebrate Thanksgiving; instead I donned a hospital mask and The Hubs and I headed to urgent care.

My heart was on the floor

During the month of October I consistently wore hospital masks when I went out in public to protect myself against the bugs because I have developed immunodeficiency from chemotherapy.

 

Mask

NOT my favorite look

 

Yet despite the precautions I took, there we sat. If this had been an isolated event my spirit would not have been crushed but I have been in and out of hospitals and ER’s for 16 years.

The past few weeks were a blur of blue lips, inhalers, antibiotics, steroids and sleeping with my Bible in my bed. It was incredibly difficult to breathe and I wondered if this was the end of my journey.

My husband, parents and sister’s family poured life giving words over me. I forced myself to press into gratitude for seemingly small things: the soft blanket my sister gave me 2 years ago, the pretty trees outside our window, our dog, our peaceful home, my family’s unconditional love.

One night I threw a magnificent pity party for myself. I sat in our bed with my journal and Bible in my lap, tears streaming down my face and cried out to God. And this time I heard His voice in reply. It was not an audible voice but it was clear and spoke directly to my heart, not the words I would have picked.

I cried something along the woeful lines of “all these years my friends have grown families and careers and the only thing that has been consistent in my life is that I have been sick for 16 years”...

I heard “And I have been there”.

I got quiet because, well I wanted to wallow in pity and what do you say when you hear that truth bomb?

I was like “well yes, but still…”

I heard “And your family has been there” “And you have had shelter”.

I smiled faintly and said, “OK. You win”.

Then I curled up with my Bible and went to sleep.

It was not smooth sailing after that night. In fact the weeks were riddled with complication and heartbreak as I crawled through mud to regain health.

I often think of those words God gave me that night to calm my broken heart. Immunodeficiency with no end in sight does not seem fair and it can feel frightening. But those words were peaceful, true and gentle in the midst of my distress.

My goal was to be well by Christmas and I am happy to say that I will meet that goal. I am also believing big for miracles in 2018.

*For the record — the past 16 years have actually been filled with incredible experiences. Yes illness has been a part of my story, but not all of it.

“Call upon Me in your day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.”

–Psalm 50:15

 


Autoimmune Awareness Month 2017

Before MRI

Before an MRI – jgb

MARCH Is #AutoimmuneAwarenessMonth.
I also turn 45 this March. This picture was taken before one of the numerous MRI’s I have undergone since my Autoimmune journey began in 2001. I have had so many MRIs & CT scans that I lost count years ago.
I’ve had 7 Bone Marrow Biopsies/Aspirations, 1 PET Scan and countless other procedures in the cold, sterile parts of hospitals that most people don’t know exist.
For me, Autoimmune Disease means that when I was 28 I got terribly sick and when I was 29 I landed in the hospital for a prolonged period of time with the diagnosis of Profound Crohn’s Disease and C-Diff.
Autoimmune Disease means getting sick and eventually learning that it does not go away: no matter how strictly you live, nor how strong your faith. There is a hiccup in your immune system.
It means that most people have no clue how many steps I go through daily to live what looks like a normal life and that I will always miss the woman I was who lived without these restrictions.
But it also means the small victories become HUGE Celebrations.
It means that you quickly learn who loves you enough to be there for you when you are rather gross (it’s embarrassing to be gross but sickness does that). However it’s temporary and there are people out there who will still love you on the gross days.
Autoimmune disease means finding a way to live your best life even with scary diagnoses.
It has taken me 16 years. I have a history of Crohn’s, Leukemia, Migraines & Immunodeficiency.
There are days that I run fevers, hurt all over and feel trapped.
But those days have become FEW.
After 16 years of putting together a jigsaw puzzle including pieces God has given me from: Modern Medicine, Epigenetics, Functional Medicine, Real Foods, and a Healing Lifestyle I am finally thriving again.
If you are just beginning your Autoimmune journey it is hard but I encourage you to knock on all the doors because you will slowly find your healing path.

I Am Courageous

turmeric-latte

Bulletproof Turmeric Latte — JGB

 

You know that feeling when you are clicking along just fine and someone or something pulls the rug out from under your feet? It is a horrible feeling.

That happened to me at 11:00 this morning and it took all day for me to pick my heart back up off the floor and press forward.

Last week my oncologist checked my immune system. The day I saw her my husband drove me to the appointment because I was curled up in a ball very sick with a stomach virus.

When we entered the patient lobby, I put a mask on so I would not expose the other patients to whatever I had. While waiting to see the doctor I nestled against the Hubs and quietly moaned because that stomach bug was too miserable to be completely silent. Tears pooled in my eyes while I tried so hard to think about anything besides how I felt. Other women who had been sick from chemotherapy brought tissues to me. Assuming I was nauseated from chemo, they tried to comfort me with words of “I have been there sweetie, it gets better”. I so appreciated their kindness, I did. But part of me felt more lonely, more isolated by the fact that I knew I was sick because of immunosuppression from daily chemo that I will probably take the rest of my life.

Since my diagnosis in 2007, I have learned so many things about cancer. A couple of those lessons:

  1. Patients are very kind to one another –> we are all stuck in this together, we hate it and there is a lot of compassion for each other. That incredibly nice and refreshing glimpse at humanity is found in this community.
  2.  Different cancers have different types of treatments. Some people go trough harsh  treatment and they are cured. Other people (people like me) have less harsh treatment but we have to stay on chemo forever and we live in a state of immunosuppression from ongoing chemotherapy.

Last week my oncologist ran a panel to test see how low my immune system is. We already knew it was suppressed because a year ago right now I was severely sick with a drug resistant respiratory infection.

Last March she tried to boost my immune system with an IVIG treatment which is the gold standard treatment for immunosuppression. It usually works wonders for people and lets them live normal lives. Unfortunately I had the rare but very serious serum sickness with chemical meningitis responseAt that point my oncologist told me that IVIG is not an option for me. I cannot take IGG supplements by mouth either. I am too allergic, it is too risky.

So today at 11:00 I opened an email and saw my labs. I saw that my IgG levels are dramatically lower than they were the last time they were drawn.

My levels Are. So. Far. Below. Normal.

I cried. I reacted strongly out of fear. My to-do list dropped and absolutely nothing got done.

I sat in a puddle of tears and allowed my mind go to that worst place. I sent a flurry of texts to my sister, my parents, my husband seeking comfort.

Some of you will read this and criticize me for reacting in fear. I agree, I should have responded better. However, I am a person with all the feelings and at times I break.

While I was waiting for my oncologist to return my call, I made a cup of Bulletproof Turmeric Latte (because I incorporate antiviral turmeric into almost everything these days).

I sat down on our couch and looked out the window. My husband pulled into our driveway and I exhaled. I thought about how grateful I am for this man who has become my rock. God put such a strong man by my side. The Hubs is always steady, even when waves come crashing down in my healing journey.

A nurse from my oncologist’s office called. She was surprised that I had already seen my lab numbers. She argued that was not possible for me to have seen my numbers. I told her they came in an email on my patient portal. She continued to try and argue about the fact that I should not have seen them yet and I told her that none of that mattered, I just wanted some guidance because I felt scared.

I asked if my immune system is going to continue to fall and she said that they don’t think that it will. She said that the numbers today are similar to my numbers a year ago. She said that they they believe this is my new normal.

She told me that I have a condition called Immunodeficiency and I am going to have to learn to live with it.

She went on to explain that “everyone has something: some people have diabetes, some have”…I don’t remember the other examples she listed…

In honesty, I wondered if she had looked at my medical chart because I personally have learned to live with a lot.

The conversation left me feeling like I needed to speak up for myself and my life experience.

As tears streamed down my cheeks, I interrupted her. My voice cracked with heartbreak when I said “I have become quite courageous in my 45 years”.

I asked her what we need to look for, how do I know if my immune system drops further. She gave me guidelines.

So this is where I must practice what I preach. I must walk by faith, dream big, believe for healing. I must look beyond the numbers.

Last year my oncologist told me that most of her other patients who have the same immune count I have are on at least 1 antibiotic per month. I have not had to take any antibiotics since the infection ended last January (a year ago).

She also told me that summer would be my easiest season and fall would be my hardest season. While I did catch viruses this past fall none of them knocked me down severely.

This past fall I started socializing again. I was cautious and picked small groups and I moved forward. We found that for the first time in years my body is strong enough to get over viruses. I am able to use antiviral, nutrient dense foods and juices to nip colds and bugs in the early stage.  In fact, I am healthier than I have been in years. 

So as scary as those numbers are I must look beyond the numbers and walk by faith, speak life, eat nutrient dense foods, drink antiviral juices and focus on health. 

I am well and I am good. Today’s’ news scared me and set me back for a little while. But it was only numbers. Nothing changed.

I am still healthy. I am moving forward.