Roles Reversed

I’ve been chronically unwell for the last 30 years. During that time I’ve endured 20 surgeries, 40 bowel obstructions, a permanent ileostomy and for the last few years pancreatitis attacks. Through all of it from my search for a diagnosis at age 11 through to my last stint in the hospital in May of this year, my mom has been there for me. Now I’m getting to repay a small amount of the debt that I owe her. Our roles have been reversed.

In September she was diagnosed with Breast Cancer, has had a mastectomy, a removal of her reconstructed breast, tens of doctors appointments, a port put in and had her first chemo treatment last week. Her surgeries, her chemo treatment and her doctors are in a hospital that’s right across the street from the hospital I’ve gone to since I was 11. Now I’m the one driving her up north to some of her appointments to north of Atlanta so she can get well.

Helping mom heal has been just as healing for me.  Over the years mom has invested so much of her time and energy into my mere survival that I’m grateful I’m able to help her now in her time of need. One of my biggest fears when she was first diagnosed was that I wouldn’t be of any help, and I would be unable to step up and be at least a partial care giver. I was struggling horribly with debilitating pain when she was first diagnosed. I was in the midst of months of pain due to pancreatitis caused by a gallstone.

My GI doctor during this time wanted me to have surgery but I refused. Instead I started a course of cannabis capsules and in about ten days the pain was gone. I’d had that horrible pain for at least two months straight. Before I started the cannabis, I would sleep in the bathtub  at night because the hot water along with oxycodone was the only way I could find some relief. Then one Saturday it just stopped. And this was a couple weeks out from mom’s surgery. I knew if i had surgery I’d been unable to help her. I’m glad I made that call.

I owe my life to my mom not only for giving birth to me but for helping keep me alive through all the trials of surgery and chronic pain over the last 30 years. This year I became a Primal Health Coach and mom was my first client. I live with mom and I do most of the grocery shopping and I’ve cooked the majority of the meals since I’ve moved in. Mom has lost nearly 100 pounds in a year. Her doctor told her that for women who are overweight it’s harder to detect small tumors in a mammogram.

Her cancer was super aggressive and if they hadn’t caught the tumors when they did it could have been a whole different outcome. Her doctor said that losing the weight could have saved her life.  I’m grateful I’ve been able to play a small part in helping get her cancer detected as well with her recovery and ongoing journey now with getting through chemo.

Love isn’t about a scale to be balanced. It’s not about clearing up a “debt”. Mom taught us all that love is unconditional and that it’s not a word, it’s an action. During her recent bout with cancer all of our family have been able to show mom how much we all love her by helping take her to the doctor, sit with her during chemo, cook for her and help her get through the nights of bone pain and nausea. We are doing nothing more than merely acting as a mirror reflecting back a small amount of the love she’s always shown us.

Experiencing the care giver role recently has given me a new respect for what mom and what my family have gone through during these many years of my surgeries, illness and all the uncertainty that goes along with it. In the end we do what we must in the midst of the uncertainty of illness and pain, and we are able to endure because of those that love us most.

Breath of Life

The inside of my abdominal cavity is a war zone. I had my colon removed when I was 12, a bunch of surgeries to try and create a “normal” exit for excrement that led finally to a permanent ileostomy that’s been moved a couple of times. Inside I’m filled with adhesions and on the oust side my belly bears the scares of valiant and successful war fought against Ulcerative Colitis, bowel obstructions and the misdeeds of a lying and arrogant surgeon.

Needless to say the last 30 years have been spent trying to figure out how to live with chronic pain, body wide inflammation and three major kinks in my small intestine. After all of this I’ve come to discover that the most important thing that I can do to increase my ability to enjoy the experience of being alive is how I breathe. In the past I’ve been hostile to those who’ve told me to breathe in order to calm down while I’m balled up on a Emergency room gurney while the sixth attempt at an IV is being made. I’ve found that using breathing techniques in that situation wasn’t 100% effective.  But that is why we have the poppy and the cannabis plant. Any other time I’m not experiencing the panicky pain of my small bowel clamping down or my pancreas digesting itself, I’ve found breathing to be a powerful technique that I can use no matter where I go.

“Breathe Motherfucker” Wim Hof

This morning I didn’t want to get out of bed. I mentally went through the list of all the negatives in my life – from the classic of I’m a loser because I’m not brining in any income at the moment, to the thought that my savings will be depleted in another few months and that  I have no idea how I’m going to pay for insurance plus my bag leaked all over last night, my guts hurt this morning, I’ve got a cold, and I really don’t see a reason to get out of bed…

I’ve been here many times before and these type of thoughts have led to months and months of being miserable. I don’t want to be miserable any more.  One way I’ve found not to be miserable is through berating in specific ways so after a mini-pity party I began my breathing exercises which I really didn’t want to do. I started with a new breathing technique I read about that has helped eliminate the symptoms of social anxiety without drugs or therapy. In fact the control group that just did the breathing exercises twice a day had better results than those using cognitive behavior strategies. The breathing technique is called the CART method. I’ve not found a ton online about it but this is my version.

Breath in and out a short breath and hold it. When you naturally want to take a breath do. Then breath normally for ten seconds then take another short breath in and out and hold. Repeat this at least three times.

This breathing exercise actually raises CO2 levels in the body. The researchers doing the study found that low levels CO2 may be partially responsible for producing the symptoms of social anxiety. Last year I had comprehensive blood testing done and I had abnormally low CO2 levels. I believe I do because of my shallow breathing patterns due to my abdominal scaring both inside and out. Most of the time it hurts to breath and definitely hurts to take a deep breath.

Lower CO2 levels could also be a part of the reason why I feel like shit when I hurt a lot and have abdominal soreness. This is why I have start off my breathing exercises with this one. It helps to eliminate some of the physical symptoms of anxiety so that I’ll continue with the rest of the breathing exercises and not just say “fuck it” and pull the covers over my head.

The next breathing exercise is meant to calm the mind further by first calming the heart. I found this exercise actually first on the Joe Rogan Podcast episode #873 with Steven Kotler and a more in-depth explanation and implementation of the concept came from a talk by Alan Watkins. It’s something I do while I’m driving and any time I feel my mental state drifting negative or after I’ve had a negative experience or received bad news.

The exercise is to simply breathe in for three seconds and breathe out for seven. The breathing is to be a steady in and a steady out with a break of a few seconds after each exhalation. While breathing I focus on my heart. When the heart is calm the mind calms down. I do this for six reps. By the fifth my negative state of mind has dissipated and the negative thoughts seem to melt away.

I finished off my breathing set this morning with a round of the Wim Hof method of breathing. I always feel better when I do this. This year I almost didn’t go on vacation because my guts hurt so bad. But during the trip down for hours I did this and by the time I got to the beach I was feeling much better and was able to enjoy three days fishing with my brother. Without this technique I wouldn’t have made the trip. This morning it helped me as well. Again this technique is simple but I don’t recommend people perform it while driving – a few times I did almost black out.

The Wim Hof method is again dead simple. Take a deep breath in somewhat forcefully and only exhale a small amount air. Repeat this for up to thirty times. Then take a deep breath in and exhale fully two times and then hold your breath. Then breath once your body wants to breathe again. Breathe a few times normally and do it again for a total of thirty times.

This morning  I started with ten, then I did fifteen and finished the round with twenty inhales and exhales. While I was doing the breath hold I imagined my body being healed by a white light. Last year when I was doing the Wim Hof method course I was able to hold my breath up to 2:30 minutes. This morning I only held it for about 30 seconds to a minute. But that is still enough to gain positive effects.

By the time I was done with my morning breathing exercises I was feeling much better. The general anxiety, demotivated state, uncertainty and over all malaise was gone. I got up showered and even tested my blood sugar. I’m not diabetic but I am starting to chart my blood glucose as it relates to breathing. A study was done by the Navy that showed that SEALS in ketosis had better breath holding times and I’ve experienced much longer breath hold times in the mornings versus the evenings when doing the Wim Hof method protocol.

How I breath greatly determines my mental state. Having extensive internal and external scaring in my abdomen makes breathing something I have to be conscious of throughout the day otherwise I’m shallow breathing all day long. So far I’ve found these three exercises helpfully by themselves and recently started trying them in combination.  This is something that I don’t have to get a prescription for, no insurance company has to approve it, it has zero side effects, makes me mentally and physically feel better, has zero cost and it’s something I can take with me no matter where I go. In the past I would lament, no matter where I go there I am. That’s because my body has tormented me for the last 30 years and I could never get away from it. But now I have a way to calm both my body and my brain no matter where I’m at or what I have with me.

I still can’t get away from my body but I can through breathing create a different mental experience that allows me to clear my mind of negative thoughts and calm my body. All it takes is less than fifteen minutes and it’s like I’m a different person, or more accurately I’m me, without the filter of chronic pain.

Brad Miller

Adhesions, Exercise and Bowel Obstructions

I’ve been hospitalized many times due to small bowel obstructions caused by the combination of adhesions and exercise. The paradox I find myself in is that when I attempt to get stronger I can actually end up becoming a lot weaker. I’ve had a bunch of abdominal surgeries that have left me with a ton of adhesions, three severe narrowings in my small intestine and an ileostomy. Whenever I begin to feel better I have to be extremely careful how much I exercise or else I can end up balled up on the floor in excruciating pain.

I’m not a doctor and this protocol has been helpful for me. If you think you are having a blockage (painful cramping, nausea, vomiting and no or limited output) call your doctor or go to the emergency room. I’ve had almost 30 years of experience with bowel obstructions caused by adhesions and I know when to go to the emergency room. Once I reach that point of the panicking pain I do go to the emergency room. But this protocol I’ve come up with has helped me to avoid reaching that point and kept me from having my guts completely shut down on many occasions.

Adhesions are the number one cause of small bowel obstructions. And for me any exercise that uses the abdominal muscles causes my adhesions to pull and cause extreme pain and inflammation. This inflammation can then cause further problems with the narrowings and that’s when the blockage can occur. There are no good solutions for adhesions. I’ve been advised by my surgeon that he could go in and fix the narrowings and clear out the adhesions but it only had a 50/50 chance of improving anything. And every time they go in more adhesions are actually created. I’ve held off having another surgery because I’ve learned how to manage the adhesions I already have.

I have found a few things that have helped me to manage my adhesions while still striving to get stronger. I am in the process of getting over a bowel obstruction that occurred in May along with a severe case of pancreatitis.  Now I feel well enough to start exercising. I’ve been doing pull ups lately. And I’ve had two instances in the last two weeks that could have led to complete bowel obstructions but I was able to get output flowing without going to the hospital. Through breathing techniques, epsom salt hot baths, abdominal massage, and cannabis oil I’ve been able to stay out of the hospital these last few times while still being able to get stronger.

The breathing techniques I’ve found most helpful are pulled from The Wim Hof method and from a Ted Talk by Alan Watkins. Wim Hof has a whole program of breathing and cold exposure exercises that help with resetting the mind body connection and increasing one’s capacity to control the autonomic functions of the body. I’ve used the Wim Hof method which consists of breathing in deeply and exhaling only a little, then repeating this for up to thirty breathes many times in dealing with pain and also with improving bowel motility. At the end of the thirty breathes you take a big deep breathe in and exhale completely twice then hold your breathe with empty lungs for as long as you can. I’ve found this technique to be very helpful in getting my bowels moving again, relieving soreness from inflammation and reducing felt pain.

http://www.wimhofmethod.com

The other method of breathing taken from Alan Watkins is one I do all the time. It’s a simple exercise that you can do anywhere. I use it to create a calm and peaceful mental state as well as help get my bowels moving and lessening pain. It is simply breathing in for 3 or 4 seconds then breathing out for 6-7 seconds. The amount of time of the inhale and exhale is your choice but it must be consistent. And the force of breathe should be consistent as well. Do this for at least three cycles and focus on your heart while your breathing. It usually takes me two sets of three to get some noticeable relief. By the fifth cycle my mind is clearer and my body more relaxed. By the sixth breath I am feeling better. I do this exercise when I get up in the morning, while I’m driving, as well as when I’m in a lot of pain.

These two breathing techniques have been an amazing tool that I’ve used to help keep me out of the hospital and to greatly improve my experience of living. These techniques help to reduce inflammation in my body and in my brain. The heart sends signals to the brain all the time. By breathing deliberately in these ways we calm the heart and this in turn calms the mind.  I read today that “Meditation will be the next health revolution” and at the heart of meditation is breathing. When I use these techniques it calms the brain and the body and helps to get my system working again.

Along with the breathing I also have found epsom salt hot baths to be extremely effective when I am hurting or on the verge of a small bowel obstruction. I’m always low on Magnesium and this mineral is critical for people who have ilesotomies because low levels can create problems with intestinal motility.  When I’m in the hospital due to a small bowel obstruction I always get tons of magnesium through my I.V. The large amount of magnesium in epsom salt also helps to relieve muscle soreness.  When my abdomen is inflamed from exercise it creates stress throughout my body. I am unable to relax even when I’m laying on the couch or in bed. But after an hour soak in hot water filled with epsom salts I feel better. When the abdominal cramping gets really bad with a bowel obstruction that’s brewing I take off my bag and just sit in the hot bath with toilet paper over the stoma and I breath. I also change positions in the tub regularly, lift my legs up, pull my knees to my chest, and massage my abdomen that correspond to where the narrow areas are that help to get things moving. This has helped me on more than one occasion to get my guts working again

http://www.tummytemple.com/massage/abdominal-self-massage.html (I’ve not tried these yet but I’m starting them tonight)

The extremely hot water also helps to shock my nervous system. Even when I’m in a lot of pain the almost too hot to stand water, is somewhat painful and creates a tingling sensation that shoots through my entire nervous system. This is momentary but does help to give a modicum of relief and if you’ve had a bowel obstruction or suffered from abdominal adhesion pain you know that is a welcome feeling. With the nervous system occupied with the overwhelming sensation of heat it distracts my mind from the abdominal pain. I’ve found this also helpful when dealing with withdrawals from pain pills and dealing with pain from pancreatitis.

The breathing and the bath have helped me tremendously. And recently I’ve added another tool in helping me to avoid hospitalization and that’s cannabis oil. I take up to four infused Cannabis Coconut oil Capsules per day depending on my pain and inflammation level. It has become a regular part of my pain management strategy and it has been a life changer. Cannabis is a powerful anti-inflammatory. For instance last night I had horrible pain due to a previous exercise session as well as a very slow exit time for my ileostomy due to the inflammation from adhesions being pulled on. After doing my routine of breathing and taking a hot bath with epsom salt I took four of the cannabis capsules. After a couple of hours the pain was improved and I was able to get some sleep. I woke up feeling great this morning. The soreness and pain are almost gone. In the past if I had a partial bowel obstruction or exercise induced adhesion pain I would be sore for at least a week. But after taking the cannabis capsules the inflammation is nearly gone today. Cannabis is an amazing plant. It is a medicine that helps me sleep, helps relieve pain, helps relieve inflammation, helps me to relax,  helps me with anxiety and helps me to live a fuller life.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2828614/

There are almost no treatments out there for adhesions and small bowel obstructions from the medical field besides bed rest, pain management and surgery . But I’ve created my own treatment protocol that has helped tremendously. I no longer fear working out as I did before. I no longer feel powerless when the pain and inflammation comes due to my adhesions or when my output begins to slow. By simply breathing in a different way, taking a hot bath with epsom salt along with self-massage of my abdomen, and taking cannabis capsules I have found a powerful anti-inflammatory protocol that has helped me weather many potentially devastating bowel obstructions and sleepless nights. This has saved me not only thousands of dollars in medical bills but also hours of mental and physical suffering and has saved my family from having their lives disrupted as well. It also empowers me to know that I have powerful tools that can help me to feel better and live a better life. These techniques aren’t 100% effective and I know that I’ll be back in the hospital one day due to a bowel obstruction. But hopefully by using these tools it will be a long time in the future and I’ll have done a lot of living before it happens again.

This routine I use to help get over severe abdominal soreness due to adhesions, avoiding  bowel obstruction, or to help sooth a pancreatitis attack also works wonders for everyday life. I have inherently a ton of inflammation due to adhesions and scaring as well as the state of my small intestine and autoimmune conditions. I’ve begun taking a hot epsom bath soak almost every night even when output is normal as well as one or two cannabis capsules. I also do my breathing exercises throughout the day  for mental calmness and peace of mind and physical relief. These are tools and practices I will do for the rest of my life. I’ve had over 50 bowel obstructions , some requiring hospital stays and some requiring surgery. I wonder how many of those bowel obstructions and surgeries I could have avoided if I discovered this protocol thirty years ago.

Brad Miller

My health is my responsibility

 

 

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.

Trust your gut, hate your guts, gut check

Why are there so many idioms about the gut and how do they relate to living with a damaged gut? Chronic inflammation caused by a GI disorder and the subsequent surgeries to correct them have dramatically altered how these everyday sayings apply to my emotional experience.

Trusting your gut:  The constant pain and inflammation plus the resected vagus nerve after many abdominal surgeries makes it hard for me to “feel” these gut feelings or to trust them when I do think I feel them. There are tons of information the human body processes without going through the conscious portion of the brain. Your guts respond

A study done with Chron’s patients showed that they actually experienced more intense emotions when in the active phase of the disease. The immune response and emotional health is closely related. First it was only thought that emotions effected the immune system but it’s a two way street, the immune response directly affects emotions.

http://scienceblogs.com/cognitivedaily/2007/03/20/stephen-colbert-was-right-guts/

Hating your guts: I don’t hate anyone’s guts except my own. My guts have been a source of pain and misery for 30 years. It could be from the practice of ancient Egyptians keeping the intestines and tossed the heart and brain. No one is certain. For those who have had abdominal surgery or suffer from IBD know what its like to explicitly hate one’s own guts. I have on more than one occasion shouted out that “I hate my guts”.

It maybe ironic that negative emotions like hate, can actually have a detrimental effect on one’s guts. This is why I try to limit the hate to a minimum. When “I hate my guts” I am causing more inflammation which results in my guts hating me even more.

Gut Check:  Gut health has a direct link to emotional health. I’ve known this for decades and for the last few years scientists are starting to figure it out as well. Whenever my adhesions are causing severe inflammation in my gut my mind is directly affected. I feel sluggish, indecisive, and unresolved. The very opposite of what “gut check” means.  Brain inflammation caused by the immune system has been linked to having a detrimental effect on cognitive thinking. The human immune system is centered in the gut. There is actually a branch of science that investigates the relationship between the immune system and emotion.

My guts are at the core of my being.  If my core isn’t functioning normally my body intuitively knows that I should flee instead of engage with external stressors. When I feel sick or hurt or have adhesion issues I want to hide from the world. I choose to flee from threatening situations; which can include something as innocuous as going to lunch with someone My guts are a huge influence over my emotional state due to all the abdominal trauma I experienced and maybe those who originated these phrases did as well.

Burning Skin Pain, Bactine, and Stoma Collars

 

I suffered from burning pain around my stoma since receiving my first ileostomy. My stoma is constantly changing size and shape and I’ve never been unable to get a good seal around it. After trying just about every paste, powder and barrier wipe on the market I had pretty much accepted the pain would always be a part of my life. I would be trapped changing my bag every day or if I was lucky every other day and I was trapped with suffering from this excruciating burning pain that I would never be able to escape. But after one disastrous date with a girl I really liked created the motivation I needed to fin a solution. It took years of research, trial and error and looking beyond the traditional medical establishment to find it. I found that using a numbing spray with Lidocaine plus a Stoma Collar proved to be a winning combination and to this day I am no longer a victim of this horrific mind twisting, social life destroying, self-esteem crushing pain.

The burning pain is like battery acid. It is an insistent pain that I could never escape from once it starting. No mental trick, no staying busy or engaging in other activities ever helped to remove the pain signal from the front of my mind. It interfered with every aspect of my life. I’ve had holidays, weekends, dinners and a hundreds of normal days ruined because of this pain. I tried different powders, pastes, seals wafers, and other products and nothing helped. Then I thought if I can’t protect the skin around my stoma then maybe I can numb the pain. That was an epiphany. All the times I told my doctor, my surgeon and my ostomy nurse about the pain not one suggested this. While I was researching late at night accompanied by the burning pain, I ran across an article about how women after delivery would be advised to use Dermablast to numb their nether regions. I’m not a woman nor have I just had a baby but I did have a painful skin problem so I figured why the hell not give it a try. When I tried Dermablast for the first time I couldn’t believe the result. For the first time after decades of sufferingI had a weapon, besides changing my bag, that would relive the burning pain.

From then on whenever the pain hit I would simply uncouple my bag (I’ve always used a two piece system) clean around my stoma and spray. The pain would vanish in less than thirty seconds. Two problems became apparent early on. The granulated  bleeding seeping skin that had developed around my stoma was still present and the Dermablast cans were too big to fit into my pocket. I was forced to carry a messenger bag or a backpack with me at all times to contain the can. It would take another year and a half before I solved the later problem but I quickly found a better delivery system for the Lidocaine than the Dermablast.

Bactine has been a staple of my ostomy kit every since I first used it. The pump dispenser is far superior and more gentle than the Dermablast and I’m able to fill up a small pump bottle with it that fits discreetly in my pocket. I found a package of small empty pump spray bottles ranging from 10-30ml on Amazon. My regular routine is to carry two of them. One filled with a biologic odor eliminator and one filled with Bactine. They are so small no one knows I have them in my pockets.  I no longer have to carry a messenger bag or a backpack. Traveling light is a great feeling. I can go to dinner with no encumbrances, I can got to a movie and not worry about suffering through it with the burning pain, and I can be assured if I am on a date I can quickly go to the bathroom spray the skin around my stoma and be back at the table, pain free in less than five minutes. This opened up life for me in a way I can’t put into words.

Even though I had found a great solution to my burring pain it didn’t address what was causing it. My granulated tissue still persisted. I was still changing my bag about every other day. I read with envy the stories from people who changed their bags after 3 or 4 days and I thought the people who said they wore theirs for 5-7 days were bold faced liars. On top of that the effectiveness of the Lidocane only went so far. The spray took the pain away but if the pain was particularly bad , the relief would only last for minutes instead of hours. This was something I had to fix. Again I reached out to all the professional medical people I’m supposed to see, ran up more co-pays spent days wasted going to their offices only to be told there really isn’t more they could do for me. One surgeon did use silver nitrate to try and cauterize the granulated skin in an attempt to eliminate it. The procedure was extremely painful and and didn’t help. (He didn’t offer a refund either) Even after this failure I wasn’t going to give up. If I found a solution to controlling the pain I knew I could find one for healing the granulated tissue.

 

After exhausting tons of different wafer designs and another round of trying pastes and different seals I found my solution.  During one of my late night research sessions  I came across a video for the product that changed my life and helped me to heal my skin. It was a video for Salts Stoma Collar. An amazing invention that is a hydrocolloid collar that snuggly encircles the stoma and has a flat bottom that adheres to the skin. It moves with the stoma and prevents stool from getting on the skin. I ordered samples that night. After about two weeks I received a huge bag full of samples including the stoma collar. The one supplied was too big but I could see its potential right away when I put it on.

Salts didn’t and still doesn’t have U.S. distribution. I found a Canadian company to buy from. Unfortunatley insurance doesn’t pay for these. But the cash lay out of about $200 was well worth the investment. I ordered two sizes and one of them fit great. Once I found the right size and started wearing the stoma collar on a regular basis  the pain was almost nearly gone, my granulated skin disappeared after four or five months, and I now could wear my bag for four or five days. While I was in the hospital I could even wear it for seven days, which I thought was an impossibility not more than a year before. The Stoma Collars greatly improved my life. For over a year I used the collars and only stopped using them recently. I’ve had a lot of bowel obstruction problems lately and decided to go back to my Eakins for now. My stoma needs free reign and I’m not eating much so I don’t have as much output and thus not much burning pain. And if the burning pain does show up, which it does a few times a week,  I can trust my ever present Bactine to put a quick stop to it.

If you are struggling with ostomy issues don’t give up. Don’t give up if your doctors and ostomy nurses have no more solutions. Don’t give up if you’ve tried every product available. New products are being developed all the time. Don’t give up on living because of pain. Don’t give up. Pain is horrible. Chronic pain that you can’t do anything about can ruin your life. It can create a sense of helplessness, it can separate you from those you love, or those you want to get to know, it can make your withdrawn, it can warp your personality, and keep you from enjoying life more fully. My life changed only when I refused to lose any more time to the burring pain, The pain only yielded to determination, persistence, and my unshakable belief that I would find a solution. Only then did I find the products and procedures that put an end to the reign of the horrific, mind consuming, burning pain.

The end of pain is the beginning of pleasure.

Brad Miller

Link to Where to purchase Salts Stoma Collars – This website I’ve ordered many times from. It’s a Canadian company and orders usually arrives in ten days or less. Shipping I think is $24.

http://myostomy.ca/search?q=stoma+collar

 

Link to Salts – Stoma Collar information

http://www.salts.co.uk/Our-Products/Stoma-Solutions/Product.aspx?ProductID=PROD20

(copy and past to follow above links)

 

Small Pump Spray Bottles at Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00CL6QE92/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o08_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

 

 

 

 

 

Why keep going?

That is a question I’ve asked myself hundreds of times throughout the almost three decades of being in the Cycle of Suffering. Why continue? Why keep going? Why go to the doctor again? The only answer that has kept me going all these years is that I have to keep going, keep searching for help, and keep living because those who love me need me to.

I’ve felt worthless, burdensome, and down right parasitic most of my life. I’ve lived with family rent free all my life. I’ve never had a place of my own. I do help out where I can. I’m currently blogging and getting a podcast up and running. Needless to say this is a hobby more than a business. As a man its extremely difficult for me to reconcile being chronically ill and still feeling useful.

I’ve always thought that a man should be a protector and a provider. I can see why I don’t have a girlfriend or probably never will because I am neither of these things. I currently can’t even take care of myself and I’m doubled over in pain more often than I’m not. These are not traits that the opposite sex is looking for. I understand that. Unfortunately my biology still wants to have a mate, have kids, and pass on my genes. This emotional pain can make dealing with the chronic pain and everything that goes with it even more difficult.

Life produces life. Isn’t that why we are here?  I know I’m not the only one who can’t have kids. Either it’s a physical issue with fertility or its secondary traits or behaviors that preclude them from passing on their genetic material. I am the reason why I’m unattractive to the opposite sex and why I don’t have kids and probably never will. For me it’s not a fertility issue but the secondary characteristics that make it highly unlikely I’ll ever have offspring.

If I’m not here to pass on my genetic material then why do I exist? What makes the suffering, the pain, the loneliness, the frustration, the humiliation, the loss of control, the loss of organs, the surgeries, the medical bills, the hospitalizations worth while? For me it boils down to those I love. I’ve been very close before many times of choosing not to continue but I’ve always come back to the fact that those who love me, need me to.

Even if I’m not a provider, protector or a procreator for anyone I can still be of value. I can still listen to someone, I can be easy to be around, I can help others laugh, I can  give someone a hug, I can read them a story, I can smile at someone instead of frown, or share some helpful information. The pain is building again. Every breath hurts. I can tell I’m holding my breath more to try and lessen the pain. It doesn’t help. I will not give up or give in. I’ll continue to go to the doctor, I’ll keep making healthier choices, I’ll keep going because that’s my only option, I’ll keep going because my family loves me, I’ll keep going because the pain doesn’t define who I am, I’ll keep going because I want to see my nephews and nieces grow up, I’ll keep going because life can get better, I’ll keep going because I want to own a tiny house and travel the country, I’ll keep going because I want to interview people who are going through the same thing and help them share their stories on my podcast, I’ll keep going because I can choose to define what it means to be successful man for myself.

For me being a man is about being an individual and choosing to judge myself by criteria I choose and not by the values of others who have no idea what I’ve gone through or what I continue to suffer with. It’s not about what I have or what I haven’t accomplished yet.

 

Brad Miller

Helpfulness and Hopefulness: A 21 Day Challenge

 

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

I was diagnosed at age 11 with Ulcerative Colitis and have been in pain, felt sick, and been in and out of hospitals ever since. For most of that time I’ve felt that I was the sole cause of how I felt. With UC and subsequently Psoriasis being both autoimmune diseases and having an immune system causing systemic inflammation,  I am in a sense truly the cause of my suffering. That is the conundrum I’ve faced all my life. My body attacks itself. No matter what I do consciously my immune system is out of control and causing me pain and causing me to feel terrible.

For the last thirty years I’ve been living in what I call the “Cycle of Suffering”. It is divided into three parts: The Lead-Up, The Crisis Event, The Recovery. The Lead-up is where my symptoms become worse and worse, its not a linear process, and there is moments when I feel better, but overall the arch is toward increasing pain, inflammation and fatigue. Then there is “The Crisis Event”. This is usually either a small bowel obstruction or a pancreatitis attack. I go to the hospital about once to twice a year for these but I have far more frequent crisis events throughout the year which cause me to be bedridden for weeks at home After The Crisis Event comes The Recovery Phase. This is where the pain begins to wane,  my mind is clearing and my body begins to get stronger again. I’ve repeated this cycle hundreds of times since the age of 11 with no sign that it will ever end.

That sounds pretty bleak. And it feels that way. But I’m done with dwelling on this thought. I can’t count how many times this type of thinking has caused me to stop an endeavor before I begin or to not finish what I start. I would always think “why does it matter?”. My reasoning was that eventually the lead-up phase will lead to a crisis phase and that will put a stop to what I’m doing anyway. This is what causes the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness to flourish and cause me to ask myself:

Why should I make a new friend? Why should I try a new business idea? Why should I ask a girl out on a date? Sooner rather than later I’ll be so sick I won’t be able to be a good friend and they’ll end up abandoning me, I’ll not have the energy to run a business and I’ll run out of money and I’ll fail, and if a girl I like get’s to know me she’ll find out how miserable I am, how much of a failure I am and will never want to see me again.

I can tell that I’m in the recovery phase of the cycle now because I’m desiring to make changes because I’m realizing how much is missing in my life and what changes can I make to get them. I’ve been here hundreds of times during my hundreds of Cycles of Suffering and  his time I want the positive changes I make to stick even through the next lead-up phase and even carry through the crisis phase as well. For the next 21 days I am challenging myself to replace my negative thoughts  that create the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness for the next 21 day with thoughts that create feelings of helpfulness and hopefulness. I’m going to use ideas pulled from Stoicism, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, NeuroLinguistic Programming and other techniques that experts recommend for breaking the Learned Helplessness mindset.

Day 1 Practical Action:

Five minute walk – I will walk at least five minutes everyday during the 21 day challenge. This is a “proof” that I am helpful to myself and firmly believe that the feelings of hopefulness are strengthened by positive actions.

Day 1 Mental Action:

Thought Replacement 

This is the thought I’m getting rid of today.

“I am the cause of my suffering”

Even just reading what I wrote here caused me to feel a twinge of hopelessness and sadness. I’ve had this thought a million times.

This is the thought I am replacing it with:

“I take good care of myself”

I felt empowered when I wrote that. By going on the five minute walk today I do have evidence that this statement is true. All during the walk I also said my new replacement thought out loud. I did get a look from a passing neighbor but I just waved and kept talking to myself.

Walking is a powerful tool for mental and physical improvement. It helps to relax the mind, strengthens the body and creates  positive neurochemicals in the brain.  It’s a concrete way to help demonstrate positive self-care.

For those who haven’t had to deal with a life of suffering, these two steps might seem meaningless or not worth the effort because they aren’t “big” enough to create noticeable change. I’ve in fact I felt that as well. And I’ve used that as an excuse not to attempt to improve when I only had the capacity for limited actions due to pain and fatigue.  I’ve also used that same logic to justify making too many changes at once, which I couldn’t maintain for long. Both of these approaches have been ineffective for me. That’s why for 21 days I’m focused on making small changes that I can maintain and build upon.

I’m not sure if I can ever truly end my “Cycle of Suffering” but I can adapt and improve my life during the lead-up phase as well as the recovery period. And I’m hopeful I can even shorten the time I’m totally down when a crisis event occurs. I’ve done this type of self-improvement stuff hundreds of times before and each time I do, small amounts of what I learn stick. But the helpless and hopeless feelings are deeply engrained in my psyche and I’ve not been able to get rid of them yet. My hope is that by the end of 21 days I’ll have a better understanding of  how to erase the mental pathways that make it so easy for the feelings of helplessness and hopeless to overwhelm me. I am doing this with the full realization that the physical triggers that have caused them to occur in the past may very well still occur in the future when another “Cycle of Suffering” begins.

I would love to hear from anyone who has been locked into a “Cycle of Suffering” and what they’ve done to adapt to it or even end it. And if you are following along with this challenge please leave a comment below and share what thought you are replacing today and what action you’re taking to rid yourself of the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

Living better today one thought at a time.

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.