Using Belief and Breathing to Change Reality

When I read a book I look for at least one thing to take away and incorporate into my life. If I can find that one thing then it makes purchasing and reading the book worth it. In “Liminal Thinking” by David Gray I did get the one thing and it has greatly influenced how I think about what I think. The big take away for me is not to conflate belief with reality and that I have the power to interrogate and change the “I believe” ideas that govern my behavior.

Liminal Thinking is the art of creating change by understanding, shaping and reframing beliefs according to the author. Nothing in the book is ground breaking or has not been said before. Even the author admits to borrowing heavily from other people’s work. And some of the stories he uses are one’s I’ve heard before and the rest are corporate “turn around” stories about the rebel who helped changed a company’s culture. Not really what I’m interested in reading about.

But the book does have some useful exercises that helped me identify, challenge and begin to change how I look at the “governing beliefs” which I have. Here is one the first exercises: “think about something in your life that is problematic, but you don’t think will ever change. Consider the connection between how you see the problem and how you see yourself. What if you saw yourself differently? If you were the kind of person who should change this situation, what you be like? How would you act?”.

This is a powerful tool just by itself especially for someone who is dealing with chronic pain and chronic illness. In the past I saw myself as chronically ill or suffering from an autoimmune disorder or was cursed with severe unpredictable chronic pain that would always torment me. This is a very limiting belief and it’s kept me from living life. It’s prevented me from making real connections with others, because I believed that my illness prevented me from entering into the dating pool because of my flawed DNA and my current inconsistent behavior and I always felt never good enough to be loved. And I also held onto the belief that I would never be able to contribute anything of importance to the world. Needless to say I was living in misery.

After reading the book I thought its not real useful. How could these simple exercises help me? Then the idea began to soak in, my thoughts about myself aren’t concrete. There are merely a belief. The first step I took to distance and begin to change this view of myself was to say “I believe that I am chronically ill and limited physically, emotionally and socially because of it.” That does reframe the whole issue for me. It was if I took a crowbar to this huge megalithic structures that had become my internal world and the huge almost immovable doors labeled “You are sick and never will be better”, “You’re not good enough to be loved” and “You will never contribute anything useful to others” were now easily unlocked and effortless opened. With these megalithic beliefs I had constructed an almost impenetrable wall with massive heavy doors locked from the inside, that separated me from the outside world. This fortress of belief had become my dungeon and if I didn’t change things soon it was going to be my tomb.

Once I placed the simple term belief in front of these thoughts that I’ve thought a million times it took away their concreteness, they became weightless. They no longer were concrete, immovable, megalithic stones and horrendously heavy locked doors. Reality is a funny thing. We limit ourselves greatly by what we believe. I now believe that I am mostly well, most of the trillions of my cells have no defects and are working just as they should. I believe now that I have now and will in the future have more and more control over my pain and my inflammatory response and that I can live a life with a calm, enthusiastic, curious, loving, open mental state. Once the heavy negative stones of thought became weightless with merely the words “I believe”, I can now consciously shape new “I believe statements” that create my inner and outer world.

I’m done spending any more time in the dungeon. My inner world is no longer dark and protected like a medieval keep, or a dungeon and especially no longer a tomb. It is open and airy. The internal thoughts are full of hope, love and curiosity about the future. My new beliefs are now based on scientific and anecdotal evidence that I can have control over my nervous system and my immune system a This may sound ludicrous but it has been scientifically proven that through mental and physical training this can be done. Wim Hof is an amazing man and has been studied extensively for his ability to control his autonomic nervous system, pain response and immune response. He has done this with many other people as well and his claims have been proven time and time again. I’m starting up again the Wim Hof program along with studying the effects of Flow on Chronic Illness.

http://www.wimhofmethod.com

Flow is the state in which all thoughts flow from one to another without anxiety or the perception of passage of time and your body and brain are working harmoniously at peak performance. It is mostly associated by those in the sports world and its often referred to as being in the “zone”. I recently listened to a Joe Rogan Podcast with Author and Science Reporter Steven Kotler. He suffered from Lyme disease for three years and was so sick he almost killed himself. He has since dedicated his life to studying “flow”. He became fascinated with the concept of flow and credits this state of mind for helping him to heal his Lyme disease and saving his life. He achieved the flow state by surfing. His theory is that the flow state releases positive neurochemicals that reduce stress and help the body to heal.This further strengthens my belief that another proof that my belief that I’ll be able to control and heal my body more and more.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNobzrnSRMc
Along with Wim Hof and Steven Kotler I listened to Alan Watkins TEdx talk recently about using breathing to be brilliant everyday. This guy seems to want to be a corporate guru and even bragged about spending time with top CEO’s blah blah blah. I shut off when I hear that. But later on in his talk he got to the good stuff. In simple terms our prefrontal or advanced cognitive skills are shut down under stress. The brain receives signals from the heart and if it becomes elevated due to stress there are only two options as the brain sees it, Fight or Flight or play dead. This made perfect sense to me. When I feel my worst I don’t feel like myself at all. I can feel these higher levels of thought being stripped away – and since my source of stress is my own body causing me pain and torment Fighting it or Fleeing from it are useless. That is why I play dead. I disconnect form the world into my dungeon with and seal the heavy doors and hope by playing dead long enough my body and brain will get tired of tormenting me.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q06YIWCR2Js
But there is hope and I believe now the tormenting has ended. Through changing my beliefs about who I am and the outside world I no longer see myself and social situations as threats. Yes no matter where I go I carry with me a possible threat (my adhesion filled abdomen, my three major kinks in my small intensive and a gall bladder that likes to lodge stones in my billiard tract plus an immune system that likes to attack my skin and other organs of my body) but this threat is manageable and I believe I soon will be able to completely eliminate it. Yes to completely eliminate what I’ve been told all my life is incurable or that there is nothing anyone can do for me. I reject that thinking. In Alan Watkin’s talk he stresses about the importance of controlling your heart rate with simple breathing techniques to quiet this flight, fight or feign death response.

In fact there have been amazing new imaging studies on people who have practiced meditation and breathing exercises that have created structural changes in their brains simply by breathing and thinking differently. It was done by scientists and doctors at Harvard. This is not woo-woo hippie dippie stuff this is real science, measurable and repeatable. I believe that if Wim Hof and these folks in this study, and Steven Kotler can achieve real measurable positive results in their physiology so can I.

Now I believe that I have more control over my mental state and that I believe life is worth living. I’ve been filled for so many years of self-loafing and self-hatred because I had stuck myself inside this dungeon and all I could do was wait to die. Through first prefacing my thoughts with “I believe” I was able to change some fundamental beliefs I had about myself and see the world and myself no longer as threats. I believe now that I can live a life full of love, adventure, peace, excitement, and accomplishment. I am done being miserable. I do have the power to change myself for the better.

Having a lot of abdominal scarring and pain causes me to take a lot of shallow breathes throughout the day and have to force myself to take deep breathes. But this is critical for me to relax and reduce the amount of stress chemicals throughout my body and brain. I believe now that I have an amazing future ahead of me, that social interactions are not threats, my body is not the enemy, and that I can create a sense of calm, sereneness free from anxiety any time I choose and that one day I will be able to have total control over my nervous system through breath work, exercise and mediation. This is my new reality.
In the past my problem was that my flight or fight mechanism was constantly being triggered by my body. Constant pain, fear of the pain worsening, and the ever present fear that the pain I felt everyday could at any time lead to a hospital stay kept my body in a perpetual state of fight or flight. The issue being I was the source of the threat, I couldn’t fight or flee from myself so I would spiral into depression and cut off all social ties and be absolutely miserable. I hated vacations and traveling because no matter where I went there I would be. I carried around the greatest threat to my emotional wellbeing inside my body.

This constant level of stress takes a toll on a person. I’ve lost 40 pounds, I’m currently not working, and I’ve almost cut out all social ties to the outside world. But I’m done living this way. In the past I believed this would be my fate for the remainder of my life, but that has changed. This is not delusional thinking. I am aware that pain will return, I’ll probably end up in the hospital again in the future, but I will not be held captive by the pain any longer.

My mental state and not the state of my body is what I’m focused on for the rest of my life. Creating a flourishing mind unperturbed by fortune or by pain. That is the goal. I’m reading Seneca’s Letters on the Shortness of life and he wrote to a friend “What is greater than a man who is above fortune?” Stoicism and Buddhism both seek to reduce or eliminate suffering for individuals. My mental state is something I now believe that I can have a greater and greater command over. I believe that through different breathing techniques, different natural medicines, continually challenging and updating the way I perceive myself and the outside world, I can become an ocean of calm in the midst of the storm of life.

That is my task and that is my journey. To create calmness, clarity and peace where there was once hate, fear and pain. I used to believe that I could never love myself or that I would never be good enough to be loved because of my health and my financial and social status. That belief is no more. I now believe that the past is gone, there is only now, and I can take steps to increase the flow experiences in my life, change what I believe and in the process change my reality and love others and want them to be happy and at peace as well.

I am a big fan of Wim Hof and I’m also staring up his program again. He has been able to take conscious control over his immune response and pain response. That is what I believe I can do as well. I want to end the tyranny of pain and be at peace with being me no matter where I am or what I’m doing. I’ve struggled most of my life with trying to avoid conflict and maintain an emotional equilibrium but that is a false hope for happiness because it relies on others. The Stoic and the Buddhist relies on his or her own mind to create calmness despite the chaos of the physical and emotional world around them. Though I will never fully eliminate pain or emotional distress I can greatly reduce its influence over my wellbeing.

I believe now that my chronic pain, autoimmune conditions are not a life sentence. I believe that fundamental amazing change is possible and is happening now. I believe there are ways to create positive mental states in the midst of the storms of illness and all I need to do is to breathe to make that happen. I’m on that journey now and I believe that my trillions of healthy cells are ready to assist me in this endeavor and to aide the few cells that are having some malfunctions so that I can create more flow states in my life and a produce a calmer and more peaceful mind and a body that is strong, vibrant, capable and able to rest. My mental state is all that I have. I am not my scars. I’m not my ileostomy. I’m not my psoriasis. I’m not my adhesions or my pain. I’m excited to see who I will become with the dungeon walls now destroyed and the doors between me and the world are like the automatic glass doors that open merely with me walking up to them. And all this has occurred because of believing and breathing.

Podcasts that inspire: The Joe Rogan Experience

The Joe Rogan Experience has changed my life for the better. My older brother turned me on to the podcast about five years ago and I still look forward to the new ones when they come out. He has over 800 episodes now. Even if you are not an mma fan, a fan of his comedy or if you hated “Fear Factor” you can still get a lot out of listening to his 3 hour long conversations with some of the most fascinating, positive, informative people alive.  I’ve learned a ton of helpful information from him and his guests. He has had people on  from Mark Sisson the Primal Blueprint Author to Neil Degrasse Tyson the famous scientist to Joey Diaz a stand up comedian (who in my opinion is the funniest man alive). Joe Rogan’s podcast is unique because it’s a three hour conversation in which there is time for guests to reveal who they truly are and share their knowledge on a vast variety of topics which include a lot on health and human performance. I’ve gotten a ton of inspiration from the most unlikely of guests as well as helpful information. Here are three podcast guests that I’ve found incredibly helpful in my life, plus a bonus one at the end.

Joe is an athlete with a high level martial arts background. He is all about human optimization and because of this he has a lot of guests on that are investigating how to maximize human potential, and most are involved with working with top athletes. The one thing that chronic illness sufferers and top athletes have in common is how to manage chronic inflammation. Dr. Rhonda Patrick focuses a lot on ways to mitigate and lower inflammation with a focus on nutrition. Autoimmune diseases, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer are just some of the disease  that cause chronic inflammation and maybe are caused by it. She is always a great guest and appears on Episode #459, #672 and #773.

Another guest I recommend listening to is Justin Wren AKA “The Big Pygmy”. This guy is amazing. A current MMA fighter in the Bellator organization, he suffers from recurrent Malaria, and has devoted his life to helping build wells in Africa. His appearance on the JRE podcast blew me away not just because of his work in Africa, but because he went into detail about being bullied when he was younger which led him to struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts. He retells how he overcame these dark feelings by finding a purpose beyond himself. His organization he founded is “Fight For The Forgotten”. They help dig wells in Africa so villages can have clean water. I was struggling mentally because of feeling terrible,  like I usual am, when I heard his story and it immediately turned my attitude around. It’s amazing how you can change your neurochemistry and your thought patterns by hearing another person tell about how they’ve gone through similar struggles in life. I highly recommend anyone who needs some inspiration to listen to JRE episode #826.

http://www.water4.org/fightfortheforgotten

The third guest in which I’ve gotten a lot from is Wim Hof. He’s also known as “The Iceman” for his amazing feats withstanding cold. He holds 20 World Records including longest time in an ice bath. He is able to accomplish these amazing feats because he uses a specific breathing technique (which he teaches in The Wim Hof Method) to gain control over his autonomic systems in the body. Scientific studies on him have confirmed that he is able to influence his immune and other once thought purely automatic responses through breathing and cold exposure. His story is truly amazing. He went on a search for truth after his wife committed suicide leaving him with his boys to raise. From this tragedy he rediscovered (according to him) the amazing benefits of cold exposure as well as the ability to control his body through manipulating his breath Even if you don’t try his breathing technique, just listening to him talk (especially in his first appearance) is inspirational. He has been on the podcast twice now. I recommend you watch Episode #712 before Episode #865,

 http://www.icemanwimhof.com/innerfire

This is Wim’s program. There is a lot of free information on the site but its mainly a portal to his program.  I’ve actually completed his breathing, cold exposure, and exercise program up to the tenth week and had some great results. I’ve used the breathing technique to help me deal with severe pain and to even get a bowel obstruction to pass, which saved me a trip to the emergency room. The breathing technique is simple and can be done by just about anyone. The exercises and cold exposure were challenging for me. My adhesions and abdominal pain stopped me from fully completing the program last year. Now I’m starting up the program tomorrow. I’ve gotten a ton more value out of the program than the $199 price tag.  I’ll be chronically my experience with my second stab at completing the program. My biggest advice to anyone who has abdominal issues or other limitations is to start slow and do as much as you can. The great thing about the program is that once you buy it, you can access it at any time on any device.

There is one guest which is by far my all time favorite. That is Joey “Coco” Diaz. He is one of Joe’s best friends, who is also a stand up comedian,  and in my opinion the funniest guy on the planet. When I want to laugh I listen to one of the podcasts he’s on. What I like the most is when Joey gets going with a rant about something and Joe will be giggling uncontrollably. It’s not just the laughs that draw me to the Diaz episodes, but its also his words of wisdom. Behind the cursing and the outrageous stories that sometimes include reminiscing about committing felonies, are nuggets of true wisdom.  In just about every podcast he’s been on there will be something that he says that sticks with me. Either it will be something extremely motivating or something so funny, every time I think of it I almost laugh out loud. I quit my stressful, unfulfilling, health damaging job at a bank because of the conversations Joe and Joey had on the JRE Podcast. I’m forever grateful for those guys and what they are doing.  They are both individualistic, hard working, empathetic, intelligent, loyal, strong, family men who have blazed their own trail.

Joey Diaz has been on too many Episodes to list so I’ve linked to volume one of his best clips on the JRE. It is a good introduction of his humor and what he likes to talk about. And after you go through all four volumes of the best of Joey Diaz go to JRE Episode #803 which is his most recent conversation with Joe.

The JRE podcast has greatly improved my life. I became a Primal Health Coach because of it, I quit my job I hated because of it, I started doing kettle bells because of it, I did a 30 day Yoga program last year because of it, I signed up for the Wim Hof program because of it. Most importantly I’ve become a better friend and brother because of it. It’s brought me closer together with my brothers because we all listen to it, we’ve gone to see Joe live because of it, we all listen to Joey Diaz’s “Savage Dad” because of it.  The JRE podcast isn’t preachy, pretentious or overly produced. It’s simply Joe talking to his friends or people who he wants to learn from. It is always full of positive energy, laughs, great information, and amazing individuals who share their life experiences and how they’ve overcome life’s challenges.

The JRE podcast has been and continues to be my main source for motivation, inspiration, and cutting edge information concerning nutrition, health, and human optimization.

Brad Miller

 

Saving money on TV

Being chronically ill or suffering from chronic pain or both doesn’t relieve me of my responsibility to handle my finances. I wish it did. Normally that is the last thing I want to think about when I’m sick along with the mounting medical bills. And that’s why I’m glad I’ve recently found a way to save around $800 per year by simply switching over to SlingTv. Combining this 25 channel service with Netflix and Amazon Prime Video along with Audible an audio book streaming service,  I have all the entertainment I could ever want for a lot less than we were paying for DishNetwork Satellite Cable service.

SlingTV is a streaming service from DishNetwork that has limited channel options with a substantially lower monthly cost. Right now I am paying $20 a month for the this service and getting twenty five channels. I’m getting all the channels that I was watching before when the household satellite bill was $83 per month and climbing year after year. This net savings of $63 a month or $756 a year is an easy way for me to improve my financial situation.

You can try SlingTv for seven days for free. I highly recommend checking it out. I learned about it from the Danny Trejo commercials.

https://www.sling.com

I only watch the History Channel, Food Network, Travel Channel, Comedy Central, TBS, and some HGTV. I couldn’t see the benefit of having all the other channels I never watched. I’ve been looking for a way to cut the cord for a while. Millions of people are doing so as well. In fact close to twenty percent of households have done so. SlingTV helped me to cut the cord and I’m thrilled to do it. There is some satisfaction in paying for only stuff I watch.  If you are not happy with only twenty five channels they also offer add on channel packages for sports, kids and movies.

So far I am very happy with the service. I can watch it on my phone, tablet,lap top or television. The picture quality is great, I like the guide better than standard Dish Network and its extremely easy to navigate. Yesterday I watched the first episode of friends and three episodes of Luke Cage on Netflix and a house hunting show on HGTV through SlingTV. The Roku built in to our new television makes it  extremely easy to navigate back and forth between the different services.

I’m laid up a lot right now due to severe pain from chronic idiopathic pancreatitis. Many nights I don’t sleep and the nights that I do, I get a bout two to four hours. I am grateful that Netflix and these other services are available and the pricing is amazing for the content that they provide. I was already paying for Netflix about $14.99 a month (I need to cancel the DVD option and it will go back down to $8.99  per month)before switching over to SlingTV. The monthly on SlingTV and Netflix is less than thirty bucks a month and me provides me with a ton of entertainment. On top of that I already pay for Amazon Prime for shipping and get all of their video library as well.

The hardware costs involved in order to switch to streaming services is reasonable as well. You need either a smart tv that has a streaming box installed in it or a stand alone unit to hook up to your existing television. There are a ton of options out there. Roku, Amazon, Google, and Apple all offer solutions for this.  I bought an Apple TV  unit about six months ago for $90. And there’s no monthly charge after that. Recently we bought the 39′ Insignia Smart TV from Best Buy . It only cost $239 and it comes with a built in Roku machine. Normally a Roku machine will run anywhere from $35-$75. And I bought an HD antenna which I haven’t got to work yet, for $20. Overall not a whole lot of outlay for switching over to streaming full time. Most folks only would need to buy a streaming box to connect their existing flat screen T.V. in order to get SlingTv and the other online video services. Right now I think I like the Roku navigation and setup better than my Apple TV.

A couple of downsides to SlingTV is that they don’t offer local channels and you still have commercials to watch. For me that’s okay. I don’t watch network tv except when a new Big Bang Theory comes on. The most last season plus this year’s episodes have been awful so I don’t feel like this is a big loss. I’ll be able to catch it in reruns eventually anyway. I did buy an HD antenna for local channels. I’m still trying to get that to work. I might have to buy an external one. But the antenna I did buy was only $20 and I think I’ll eventually get it to work. That way I can all my local channels plus other free over the air HD channels.

http://www.bestbuy.com/site/insignia-39-class-38-5-diag–led-1080p-smart-hdtv-roku-tv-black/4863802.p?skuId=4863802

http://www.bestbuy.com/site/insignia-fine-tuning-indoor-hdtv-antenna-black/8234002.p?skuId=8234002

 

I’ve tried other streaming services like HULU but I only watched Seinfeld on it. I couldn’t see paying $12 bucks a month for that.I’ve seen every episode of Seinfeld at least ten times and it’s on TBS all the time as well. Instead of paying the $12 for Hulu I’m thinking about buying Seinfeld on Blueray or from iTunes. I also have UFC Fight Pass but I’m considering canceling that. I just don’t watch it that much any more. And in the past I’ve had Pandora as well. That was a service I just didn’t use much. I’d rather buy a few songs per month and actually own them then use their service.

Being able to laugh and get lost in powerful storytelling is extremely comforting for me when I’m hurting. Whether the story is on Netflix, on the page or in the form of an Audio book.  I’ve recently gotten into listening to old school science fiction on Audible. While I cook, get some sun or drive to the store or even while laying on the couch I can listen to a great story and for a moment or even tens of minutes I can get lost in the struggles of people on far off lands or in galaxies far far away.  I just finished listening to “Farnham’s Freehold” by Robert Heinlein. Very well done story about survival, love and time travel after WWIII. I’m not a fan of how the Audible site works but I love the audio books. For $14.95 per month you get one Audio book per month. That is very reasonable seeing that Audio Books on CD used to be ridiculously expensive.

For me being sick doesn’t give me a lot to look forward to. Having a great story or a new TV show I’m into helps me to have something to put on my “calendar” and get excited about. It’s something small but it helps. “Stranger Things” is a Netflix show that helped me get through a tough week of pain and it was nice to have the next episode to look forward to and I’m really excited about the next season which should come out around July 2017. The show is a mix between The X-Files and the Goonies. It’s set in the 1980’s and the shows producers have done and amazing job recreating the look of that time period. This show along with many others like Luke Cage, Dare Devil and Narcos all give me something to look forward to even when my life is at a stand still and I don’t have anything else going on.

Those who are in the entertainment business have no idea how much they’ve helped me endure. Over the last thirty years I’ve been laid up more than I’ve been upright and I’ve had a chance to watch tons of TV, movies and read hundreds of books. I actually wrote a screenplay almost twenty years ago as a way to get involved in the industry. I even went to LA an shopped it around a little. Right now I’m think about writing another one. There is always a need for content and great storytelling. And as more and more people adopt the streaming services more and more writers will be needed to create new material. I’m no Spielberg or James Cameron but I enjoy trying. Writing is another way that I can get lost in time and forget about the pain.

Laughter has been hailed as a medicine for millennia. I’ve spent countless hours watching Seinfeld, The Big Bang Theory, Archer, South Park and many other comedies. This is what I gravitate towards. For me I always enjoy funny movies or television shows more when I watch them with someone else who has a similar sense of humor. But even when watching shows that I think are hilarious by myself I still get a benefit. Smiling and laughing helps soothe the body and the mind.  Evidence of humans being aware of the power of laughter dates back thousands of years.

“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones” Proverbs 17:22

Having these streaming services grants me access to thousands of hours of laughter. The cost per laugh has to be in the fractions of a penny and I am grateful for that. Researchers are starting to come around and discover why Laughter is an effective medicine but there is a lot of work to be done to find the mechanisms for this. But I doubt they’ll ever discover that it’s the “best medicine”. Some doctors envision a future in which the medical community will recommend everyone get 15-20 minutes of laughter a day just as they recommend 30 minutes of exercise per day. I believe it’s just as important for those who are chronically sick and for those who aren’t. The world needs more laughter.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2762283/

Streaming services offer an incredible value for the low monthly costs. SlingTV is the newest service I’ve tried and I highly recommend it. Being chronically ill is a mental emotional and financial struggle. Any time I can  lower the cost of a service I enjoy plus get it delivered to me in a much better way I call that a win-win. Sometimes I get stuck in a suffering mindset and I don’t seek out new solutions for problems I’ve been dealing with for months or even years. Taking a small step like cutting the cord and canceling DishNetwork’s satellite service feels good. It was a positive step that saves me money and with SlingTV I still have  the entertainment and distraction I need when the pain gets overwhelming.

What streaming services are you currently using to help you weather the storms of being Chronically Ill? Please leave a comment and let me know if you’ve tried SlingTv as well.

Hoping that you can find the time to laugh and get lost in a great story today.

Brad Miller

 

 

Stoicism, Anxiety and Chronic Illness

“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.” Marcus Aurelius

I’ve hated holidays, weekends and especially my birthday ever since I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis at the age of 11. There were emotional, social and physical factors that caused me to dread of these cultural happy events. I still feel anxious when my family mentions going on holiday or when my brothers are planning a fishing or hunting trip. The anxiety wells up because I want to participate but I know that pain, fatigue, fear of new environments, and changes of schedule will 9 times out of 10 back out of going or if I do go I’ll not enjoy myself. That’s because the problem with being chronically ill and in constant pain is that my body and mind are the cause of my miserable state. And I’ve been miserable most of my life and especially during these so called happy times.

I used to think that my reaction to life, my anxiety and fear surrounding holidays, weekends and my birthday was a character defect. I thought that I was mentally weak because I couldn’t consistently overcome my negative thought patterns to build a life I was proud of. During these “happy times” I was always reminded about how much was missing in my life because of my chronic pain and chronically feeling like shit. I don’t have a mate, I don’t have my own place, I don’t have a social life…The don’t have list was constantly on my mind during these events or prevented me from participating all together.

The mental anxiety was warranted because I would get physically ill because of changes in my eating, drinking and resting patterns.  This coupled with the host of negative emotions of being different, worrying about passing gas through my stoma (uncontrollably) and the prospect of experiencing the humiliation of filing someone’s home with the horrific smell that only an ileostomy can produce produced near panic levels of anxiety. Needless to say I’ve not been very socially active in the past 30 years.

I’ve only been to one Christmas party in the last ten years. And I was miserable the whole time. The bathroom was in the kitchen where a lot of people were congregated, there was almost nothing I could eat there without being sick, and on top of that I was in horrific pain. The anxiety of having to dump my bag in the bathroom right beside the kitchen was horrible. So I waited as long as I could but I finally had to give in or my bag would start leaking and then I’d have to tell my brother and his family I had to go home. Ruining other people’s good time is another one of my constant fears as well. I still feel sick to my stomach when I remember the anxiety of dumping my bag there. Going to new places and being away from my home bathroom is a huge deal to me. I’ve actually developed a small kit I carry with along with useful strategies that help me feel less anxious and more in control of my ileostomy variables. (I’ll share my tips and what I carry in my small kit in later posts)

Being chronically ill actually changes the way my brain functions. It has been shown recently that the immune system (lymphatic system) is directly connected to the brain. And nuero-plasticity science pioneered by Dr. Michael Merzenich author of  the book “Soft-Wired” writes about how the brain can be rewired throughout our lives. When we focus intently on something this can strengthen connections between certain neurons and weaken connections between others. These connections are associated with learning, actions and emotions.I’ve allowed negative thoughts to become runaway mental trains that soon overtake all other thoughts while I’m sick and these have create tracks or pathways that become easier and easier to fall in to each time I indulge negative thoughts and allow anxiety to overcome me. But I know that I have the power to further rewire my brain to undo the damage and  that’s one of the reasons why I’ve been drawn to Stoicism. Stoicism is an ancient belief that teaches that we are in control of what we determine is good or bad and that having a positive peaceful mental state is the only thing that is needed for a happy life.

http://www.soft-wired.com

https://news.virginia.edu/illimitable/discovery/theyll-have-rewrite-textbooks (article on the physical connection between the immune system and the brain)

The power to rewire the human brain can have be used for positive and negative effect. Unfortunately  when I’m really sick I tend to lose the rational ability to think and focus on concepts like neuro-plasticity and I fall into old thought patterns of what scientists call “sickness behavior”. In fact its been discovered that cytokines, the chemical messengers of the immune system, can have dramatic affects on the brain. The discipline of psychoneuroimmunology studies these effects on the brain. Sickness behavior is what drives animals to be alone when ill, lose their appetite, and display other behaviors like avoidance behavior that we identify with being ill. There are definite chemical changes that happen in the brain when large amounts of cytokines are released into the blood.

http://neuroschoolrome.univ-lille1.fr/faculty/dantzer/bbimmunity07.pdf (in depth look at cytokines and their role in inducing sickness behavior)

As I’ve grown older I’ve discovered ways of overcoming or at least mediating these anxious and negative feelings. Knowledge about my condition and learning how to lesson some of the more unpleasant aspects of having an ileostomy have all been helpful. But I still have trouble with my thought patterns, staying positive, planning for the future, and being active each day consistently working toward specific goals.. Being sick and in pain separates me from “normal life”. I have to force myself to reach out to my family when I’m sick. I have to force myself to try new things and to finish projects I’ve already started. There are certain biological factors that create my “sick brain” and the physiological changes do effect my behavior and thought patterns in powerful ways. Doing everything I can to lower inflammation or lower my over active immune response is key for me to lower the physical threshold I have for living a healthier and happier life, and that includes lowering my stress response to daily life.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychoneuroimmunology (good overview of this discipline that focuses on the connection between the brain and immune system)

Stoicism is an ancient belief system that developed during the Greek and Roman times. It is a philosophy that focuses on creating a peaceful internal mental state.

“You have power over your mind not outside events” Marcus Aurelius

These are some of the lessons of Stoicism I’ve learned and applied in my life:

  1. Emotions are generated from within
  2. The internal mental state is what is truly important
  3. Your thoughts are powerful and you should guard them accordingly
  4. You have the ability to label an experience good or bad
  5. Live in harmony with nature. Humans are not separate from nature.
  6. Don’t worry about the future. Now is the time to live.
  7. Failure is temporary. It is too be learned from.
  8. Adversity should be viewed as a vehicle for demonstrating virtue – patience, self-compassion, and strength.
  9. Gratitude for what we have is vitally important and creates a peaceful mind
  10. Our life is our responsibility
  11. Being a good friend is one of the best things in the world
  12. Expectations and anticipation can cause unnecessary suffering

“Expecting is the greatest impediment to living. In anticipation of tomorrow, it loses today.” Lucius Annaeus Seneca

A lot of times I’ve suffered needlessly because I’ve held on to the expectation that I would live a “normal life”. I missed most of junior high and high school. My biggest relationship I have is with my pain and illness. I’ve had only one serious girlfriend and that was almost twenty years ago. I don’t have kids or have a home of my own. But I can be happy and content in the present without accepting this as fate. Stoicism doesn’t teach apathy. It teaches strength, courage, and tenacity in the face of adversity and focusing on having a peaceful unperturbed mind even though storms rage outside, or rage inside for those of us who are suffering from chronic pain and autoimmune conditions.

“The wish for healing has always been half of health.” Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Health was a huge concern for the Romans as it is for humans in today’s society. Seneca is one of the three pillars of the Stoic tradition and he understood the connection between the mind and body two thousand years ago. Instead of focusing on everything that is wrong with me I try more and more now to focus on the state of health I want to experience. A strong body that is free of pain and all my organs performing their function properly. This idea also foreshadows the idea of visualization which a lot of health practitioners are recommending to their patients.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/flourish/200912/seeing-is-believing-the-power-visualization

Below  is another one of my favorite quotes. All the Stoic writers were very intelligent and viewed the Stoic philosophy as a practical guide to maximizing a human’s experience on Earth while engaged in living. What I especially like about Seneca is that he participated in life. He was not monk or a priest. He acquired wealth and enjoyed the finer things in life but still he struggled with what I struggle with as well. He suffered later in life with chronic pain and even contemplated suicide. He stuck around because of his father.

“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” Lucius Annaeus Seneca\

This quote has helped me through some of my worst days. I don’t give myself enough credit. I’ve endured for thirty years pain, fatigue, loneliness, financial struggle, uncertainty, hospital stays, surgery, thousands of needles, countless medications and I’m still here. If you’ve endured or are still enduring with health challenges don’t beat yourself up. Sometimes just getting out of bed and showering are acts of courage. Remember your strength. You can continue to endure and even thrive in the face of adversity. That is a lesson I’ve taken to heart from the Stoics as well.

“There is nothing in the world so much admired as a man who knows how to bear unhappiness with courage.” Seneca

When I read Seneca’s letters which are the main source of the above quotes, its as if he is speaking directly to me. Stoics were interested in helping each other live a happier life through controlling one’s thinking. They could be viewed as some of the first pioneers of the self-help movement and even the hippie new age movement. I used to struggle with the fact I didn’t feel I was a part of nature. I was so flawed that I didn’t even feel “human”. This quote continues to inspire and remind me that I am “natural” no matter how many organs I’m missing or if I have to defecate into a plastic bag.

“Everything is the product of one universal creative effort. There is nothing dead in Nature. Everything is organic and living, and therefore the whole world appears to be a living organism.”  Seneca

I view Stoicism as an anti-inflammatory means of organizing my thoughts. My attitudes and beliefs determine my emotional reaction to external stimuli. I have the power to determine if what I’m experiencing is good or bad. This goes along with what Viktor Frankl wrote during his experience while imprisoned in a concentration camp during WWII.

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Applying the teachings of Stoicism in my life helps me to lessen the impact emotions have over my body and mind, helps me to detach emotionally from the outcomes and to accept pain and loss as part of the price of living as a human being. Stoicism isn’t meant to turn me into a robot that has no feeling or passively accept life as it happens. Rather it helps me to experience emotions in a more productive way and that allows for a happier existence in spite of being chronically ill and in near constant pain. Being “stoic” doesn’t just mean suffering in silence. It teaches the old school values that used to be valued in society, patience, kindness, self responsibility, courage, and  having a positive attitude. But the teachings of Stoicism also do help me to endure pain, loneliness, loss, and overcome the anxiety of living chronically ill. I don’t buy into all that Stoicism has to offer. But I do believe in the taking of what is useful from any source and applying it in my own life. And Stoicism is chock full of ideas that I’ve found helpful.

http://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/stoicismtoday/what-is-stoicism/ (an excellent primer on the teachings of Stoicism)

Two thing are occurring in my brain when I feel awful. There are chemical changes and also physical changes. Reducing overall inflammation is a great way to limit my the sickness behavior response. One of the best ways for me is to reduce my anxiety and I’ve found Stoicism to be an excellent tool to do this. The mind-body connection is a powerful one and its a two way street. I have the power to choose not only what I think but also what I feel according to my attitude. Stoicism for me is a philosophy of optimism and empowerment. To this day I still struggle with anxiety. The thought of another tomorrow filled with the pain fills me with dread. But I know that I have the power to create a more peaceful internal mental world by what I focus on. Stoicism helps me to focus on positive actions I can take in the moment and to accept the things I can not change.

One of the most powerful pieces of Stoic writing for me is Seneca’s piece “On the shortness of life”. This is a youtube audio version of it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYWEAa-D5vM

Also check out Tim Ferris’ blog. This is an article on how entrepreneurs can apply Stoic lessons in their lives but I believe it also is helpful for people who are chronically ill or dealing with chronic pain as well.

http://fourhourworkweek.com/2009/04/13/stoicism-101-a-practical-guide-for-entrepreneurs/

Stoic in Training

Brad Miller

If you’ve found Stoicism or other philosophies helpful in your own life please share your experience below.

 

Pancreatitis and Psoriasis How Grapefruit Juice helped me

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“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
― Hippocrates

I hate grapefruit juice. I always have. But I drink it almost everyday now. The reason I force it down my gullet  is that it helps reduce the pain and severity of my pancreatitis attacks. When I feel my pancreas acting up which is almost daily now I start drinking grapefruit juice. There have been studies done on Grapefruit Juice extract that have shown it effective in reducing damage done during pancreatitis attack. There are also studies that show that Naringenin the main flavonoid in Grapefruit is also very anti-inflammatory.

When I drink Grapefruit Juice I immediately feel the result. I feel a “cooling” effect on the inflammation which I experience as swelling, pain and feeling sick, that is associated with the pancreatitis. The compounds in grapefruit juice are also thought to help stop the inflammatory cascade and lower cytokine production. This all leads to less inflammation and inflammation has been linked to heart disease, cancer, and for me psoriasis.

On top of having a pancreas that despises fat I’ve also had psoriasis for almost thirty years. I’ve not had a remission in my psoriasis since I first got it. It’s been a nightmare having it. I’ve tried creams and Enbrel. I had success with both but both require consistent life long applications with unknown long term side effects. I stopped using steroid creams because its impossible to put it on 75% of your body everyday and I stopped using Enbrel after I got pneumonia last year. I remember vowing to myself I would cure my psoriasis naturally about five years ago. I think I’m closer now than I’ve ever been.  I at first tried tons of different supplements but they didn’t work. The changes I’ve made recently are I’ve dropped 30 pounds, eaten a mostly primal diet, drink alkaline water and drink grapefruit juice everyday, and have seen spectacular results.

Another one of the benefits of consuming grapefruit juice is that Naringenin, the main flavonoid in the fruit, it has  been shown to help not only with easing inflammation but it also aides weight loss. I actually am trying to put on a few pounds now but in the past year I’ve dropped  thirty pounds of mostly fat over. I lost it mostly due to changing over to a mainly paleo diet.  I went hardcore at the beginning of February and lost the last ten pounds that have been plaguing me for ever. But the grapefruit juice does help keep the fat off. And keeping the fat off helps lower systemic inflammation in my  body.

Fat cells are linked to psoriasis and inflammation because they produce the hormone Leptin along with other factors. Leptin is a key hormone in the body that regulates everything from hunger to how much fat we store.  There have been studies done that show psoriasis patients have an increased level of leptin in the blood stream and many psoriasis patients are obese or overweight. I’ve gone from 172 pounds down to around 140. Almost 32 pounds of weight loss over the course of a year. Eating a standard american diet leads to leptin sensitivity which promotes inflammation and causes the body to store more fat. A study out of Taiwain speculated that in the future weight loss recommendations will be added to all psoriasis treatment protocols.

I prefer to drink organic red grapefruit juice because it also contains lycopene – white grapefruit juice doesn’t. I’ve also started adding a small pinch of himalayan sea salt to  each glass. This makes it taste better and provides additional minerals. Along with the grapefruit juice I’ve recently begun drinking Icelandic Glacial water due to its high ph of 8.5. I don’t know if it has helped with the psoriasis. Autoimmune issues and the inflammatory response are so complicated that its hard to say what is having an effect or if whether its the combination of the changes that are the key. My goal is to continue adding small steps to reduce my inflammation.

I have a lot of inflammation going on. When I was twelve I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. When I was 15 I got psoriasis extremely bad. I believe that my pancreatitis has an autoimmune cause as well. Anything that helps cool inflammation is vital to my living healthier and enjoying more of my life. Grapefruit juice is now a permanent part of my anti-inflammatory campaign.

Before trying grapefruit juice or grapefruit extract it is recommended that you talk to your physician because it can interfere with many medications.

Please leave a comment if you’ve tried grapefruit juice for pancreatitis or if you’ve lost weight and seen a decrease in the severity of your psoriasis. Also I would like to know what you think about Alkaline water.

Wishing you a healthier today and a better tomorrow
Brad Miller

 

http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/psoriasis/news/20081215/fat-hormone-linked-psoriasis

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18503517

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16579728

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130305145145.htm