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.

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.

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.

 

Philosophy And Chronic Illness

“Sometimes even to live is an act of Courage.” Seneca

I’ve wanted to give up countless times over the past thirty years. I’ve wanted the pain and loneliness to be over. I wanted to be done with the hospitals, the doctors, wearing a bag, getting stuck, taking pills. Even though I’ve wanted to quit many times it was never for very long. I’ve always gotten back up. I credit this to my family and the ideas from the authors I’ve read during my illness. Over these last thirty years I’ve read up a lot on philosophy, self-help and neuroscience.What I’ve concluded after all this reading is that my personal philosophy affects my health more than anything else I can do or others can do for me.

I hate being sick. I hate hurting. There is no philosophy that I’ve found that explains with any logic or merit why I’m sick or what purpose it serves. I used to believe in god but that ended when I was in my twenties. My personal philosophy doesn’t seek to understand or justify or explain why I’m sick or in horrific pain. What I’ve sought out is a practical system of thinking to help me live my best life today, enjoy life more and help others around me enjoy more of life as well. I see a personal philosophy as series of ideas that inform my choices, help me set priorities, and endure in the face of overwhelming sickness and pain.

When I ran my first marathon I came across the concept of having an Internal Locus of Control which I added as a key tenet of my personal philosophy. I decided to complete a marathon after almost dying from complications from a surgery. The recovery was horrifically painful. But I decided when I was in the hospital I would compete a marathon. My intention was to reestablish the paradigm that my mind controlled my body and not the other way around. I started walking around the hospital, then when I got home I started walking around the pool and then into the neighborhood.

I had purchased the book “Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer” years before I started the training. So after the surgery I started reading it. Immediately I knew this would be one of the books that changed my life forever. It introduced me to the concept of having an Internal Locus of Control. This means that my actions determine my fate. The opposite is having an External Locus of Control meaning that external events and other people determine the course and outcome of my life. At the time my doctors and family all thought I was nuts to complete the training let alone complete a marathon. I highly recommend the book even if you never plan on completing a marathon.

https://www.amazon.com/Non-Runners-Marathon-Trainer-David-Whitsett/dp/1570281823

Seven months after almost dying I completed my first marathon, it took me five and a half hours but I finished. Those seven months of training were more about training me how to think rather than how to run. Later on in the training schedule I would use the techniques in the book to breeze through an 8 mile run after work. Look back on that now seems impossible. But at the time it was just what I did. One of the techniques I really liked was the concept of typing out on an imaginary computer positive sentences while I was running. I would imagine my fingers hitting each letter on a keyboard then it would display upon on the computer screen in my mind. I would spell out “I am strong”, “I can run all day” and “I enjoy running”. These ideas became true. Now its been almost 9 years since I completed the marathon and I haven’t ran much recently. But I have begun using this technique again to help me get my chronic pancreatitis under control.

Having a personal philosophy is vitally important to everyone but especially for those who have a chronic illness. For those who are suffering it can feel like your body, your doctors, the insurance companies and the government are in control of your life, instead of you. But that is merely a choice of how to think. Once you decide that a key part of your personal philosophy is having an Internal Locus of Control new cognitive and physical doors will begin to open. Your body responds to your thoughts I’ve not personally been able to heal myself through thinking. I know it’s not a quick fix but I do believe my thoughts have an extremely important part in healing and helping me to make choices that will lead to a fuller more fulfilling life.

A key part of my personal philosophy is that I do have an Internal Locus of Control. I have the ability to find a solution to every health issue I have and to create the life I want to live. Even if its not a full solution or so called “cure” and even if it takes years to figure it out. I will never stop improving myself and seeking to feel better. I do have the ability to finding ways to live better each day. It’s not always easy to feel like and I have my doubts somedays especially on those days when I don’t even want to get out of bed. But the underlying idea of having an Internal Locus of Control that helps me to keep getting back up after I get knocked back down, whether it’s by a bowel obstruction or a severe pancreatitis attack. I want to live. I want to experience all that life has to offer. I want to fall in love. I want to feel good. I want to feel pleasure not merely be pain free. And that desire plus the belief that my actions can change my fate are what keep me going.

My next two posts will be on the ways Stoicism and the Paleo lifestyle have shaped my personal philosophy and my relationship to my chronic pain and autoimmune diseases.

Keep taking those small steps – they add up

Brad Miller

 

Please leave a comment if you’ve found philosophy helpful in dealing with chronic illness or chronic pain.

 

 

Encouraging Life when you’re chronically sick

My Life Force is interrupted when I am sick. When I don’t feel well my life is greatly reduced. My ability and capacity to think, act and encourage life in plants, pets and family and friends is greatly limited. Love for me is using my life to encourage, support or increase the life of another person, plant or animal.  But in order to do this I must take better care of myself. And this is where researching, planting, tending and eventually eating from the organic perennial plants in my backyard I put into dirt helps.

I always feel better when I am helping to sustain or encourage the life of another living entity.   When I’m feeling the worst its nice to know that I have plants that I have nurtured from seed or sapling in the past into  fully functioning plants. When I look out my window into the backyard and see these plants growing it helps me to visualize a future in which I once again will be able to do the same.  I have hazel nut trees, hardy kiwi vines, a tea plant, asparagus, two avocado trees, and many other types of perennial plants that have endured through my negligence of being sick over the past four months. After only a week or two of attention they are all bouncing back, minus a few.

I know I’m feeling better when I want to plant something new and be responsible for its growth. This responsibility helps me to feel productive even on days when I feel like I’m a giant drain on the world instead of being a contributor to it. My latest project is growing Tree Collard plants. Having a living thing dependent on me is scary. Consistency is something that I am constantly struggling with. But the payoffs are worth the risk. Organic produce I can share, a reason to get up even when I feel my worst, and a tangible reminder that I can impact the world in a positive way.

http://projecttreecollard.org

I’ve studied Permaculture, organic farming, with an emphasis on perennial plants and have never heard of this plant until a few weeks ago. I found out about these amazing plants while reading an article on supplements. The expert being interviewed recommended growing your own organic veggies and mentioned Tree Collards. It didn’t take me long to find the Project Tree Collard website. Their site is full of great information and video tutorials. After reviewing their site I orderdered three of them from their Amazon listing. I found out from past experience its best to start small when trying out a new plant species.

https://www.amazon.com/Tree-Collard-Cuttings-perennial-collards/dp/B01CPQVU3W

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The Tree Collard plants came as advertised and I planted them the same day in one gallon containers. I’ve had a lot of success using smart pots. My back deck is full of perrenial edibles planted in them. The Tree Coolards are looking great and already growing after a week in the dirt. In year two I should be able to harvest the leaves and enjoy organic “greens” that grow from a tree in my own backyard. The more I read about how scientists, big agriculture and the government work together to skew nutrition science the more I want to consume what I grow. This is one small step in that direction.

https://www.amazon.com/Smart-Pots-1-Gallon-Soft-Sided-Container/dp/B002JUU4AU

I love perennial plants. I think of myself as a perennial person. I am resilient and I keep coming back after not producing anything during the winters of my bouts of small bowel obstructions and pacreatitis attacks. That is why I love nut trees, asparagus and hardy vining fruits that take less inputs, are more hardy than annuals and most importantly produce for years. The Tree Collard checks all those boxes, they produce edible leaves that taste like greens and can produce for 20 years with very little attention and best of all I only have to plant them once.

Growing perennial plants helps to amplify my efforts. I have a limited gas tank and my energy levels from day to day fluctuate wildly. For me anything I can do to get the best ROE (return on energy) I do it. Perennials give me the best return on the investment of my life force I transfer into theirs. It’s a way to plant once and harvest for years or even decades. The Hazel Nut trees I’ve planted should produce for over fifty years. Their life helps to support mine and my life helps to support them. Instead of annual plants which you only plant once and have to replant year after year.

The concept of the Life Force sounds like a hippie-dippie idea and I’m sure somebody else can explain it better. But for me the Life Force is simply the energy that started life, propels life to consume, reproduce and create and inhabits and connects every living creature on the planet. It is a force that we can encourage or we can blunt. When I am sick I feel like my life force is being blunted. My choices are dramatically limited. By dabbling in plants and being able to see growth on them after I’ve reemerged from my latest battle with a small bowel obstruction or a bad pancreatitis attack gives me hope that I can still grow and persevere just like my hardy perennial plants.

I used to think that getting flowers when I was sick was a total waste of money. Now I realize why people do it. Mother Nature, the Life Force or simply the Natural World is a miraculous place that is teaming with growth, new life, and ever-increasing complexity. Flowers and plants are a way to reconnect to that energy, especially when your own Life Force is blunted by disease, injury or intense pain.  If you know someone who is sick I suggest you get them a plant that will last a long time like a “Tree Collard”, a Bamboo plant, or an orchid.

The more I can encourage the Life Force of other living beings around me the more of my Life Force I have to share. It’s not a zero sum game. The more I give the more I have to give. Even when I’m not feeling my best I still want to share my Life Force with others and to help those I love grow stronger, enjoy life more and to live a better life because of my actions and attention. Perennial plants give back what you put in and they endure over years and even decades. They are a great way to mulitply your efforts and have tasty organic food you can share with those you love for years to come.

This week I’m increasing and sharing my Life Force by tending to, watching and documenting the growth of my three new Tree Collard plants. When I’m sick and stuck in bed I feel my life force ebb away. When I don’t have an outlet for my creativity or allow creativity in by listening to or reading positive information I feel a lot worse. I am thankful I found Tree Collard plants from a random article about supplements. My Life Force needs to be shared in order for it to increase. I’m still working on this theory but even if you don’t buy into any of the hippie-dippie stuff science has proven getting your hands dirty, planting and tending the plants, eating organic produce you grow all have a very positive effect upon your health and the health of those around you.

Happy Planting

Brad Miller

If you’ve found gardening helpful in your recovery process please share your experience.

Why I shop at Kroger

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Kroger has Simple Truth Organic products on sale a lot. These were 2 for $5.

I used to be a huge fan of shopping at Publix. I felt that they were the best grocery store in town. After I moved two years ago I began shopping at my local Kroger and my opinion changed. This move also coincided with my renewed commitment to use food as a way to help me feel better and improve my health.  As I began to investigate more of the role nutrition has on my health I began buying more and more organic products. Kroger has an Organic Section that is growing and their own Natural/Organic Brand “Simple Truth” is outstanding and is revolutionizing the availability of organic food and organic personal care products.

http://www.simpletruth.com

The Simple Truth brand is both a natural product line and organic product line. There was some controversy last year about some Simple Truth products containing GMO ingredients. That was concerning their Simple Truth Natural line I believe. That is why I buy mostly The Simple Truth Organic stuff and I always read labels. For instance The Simple Truth Traditional Spaghetti Sauce had soy bean oil in it. I didn’t buy it. Instead I read labels until I found one that didn’t include GMO ingredients or vegetable oil. The consumer is still responsible for reading labels. The Simple Truth Brand Organic products are a great way for me to save money and is a better choice than driving hours to go to my nearest Whole Foods.

http://www.businessinsider.com/krogers-affordable-organic-food-2015-9

Kroger is not perfect and there are many Simple Truth stuff I don’t buy. But the products I do buy I think are superior in quality and taste to non-organic brands.  Take for instance their  Simple Truth Organic Cream Cheese and their Sour Cream. Before my pancreatitis was kicking my ass  I could eat the sour cream by the spoonful. It is extremely think and tasty and different from any other Sour Cream I’ve ever tried. Other Simple Truth products I like are the Organic Chicken Breasts, Organic Frozen Blueberries and Simple Truth Artesian water that has a ph of 7.6. For the last two months I’ve been drinking almost exclusively Icelandic Glacial Water and the Simple Truth Artesian Water.

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Simple Truth Artesian Water with a ph of 7.6

I believe that this has been one of the reasons my psoriasis has greatly improved and why I’m feeling better than I have for months. Also I buy Simple Truth Organic potatoes. They are smaller than traditionally grown potatoes and they go bad faster. But I believe buying organic is worth the extra price and is still a better value for my health even though the product could spoil faster. The Simple Truth grassed beef is something I’ve bought a lot of in the past as well. I used to buy that along with White Pasture’s Grass-Fed ground beef. The combination was delicious. I find more of the products I want to use at Kroger than any other grocery store in my area.

(White Oaks Patures is a local family run farm in Georgia who believes in treating animals well and feeding them what they are designed to eat. I’m a big fan.)

http://www.whiteoakpastures.com

This is a great video that explained what happened when a family ate only organic.

 

I also choose to shop at my local Kroger not only for their lower priced organic selection but also because of the people and their operating hours. The women behind the Deli counter are just outstanding and those who help with checkout are as well. I normally use self-checkout but they always have someone there to help with a smiling face.  My schedule is not normal. Depending on how I’m feeling I might be up at 7:00am because I didn’t sleep the night before and need to go to get Organic Grapefruit juice because of a pancreatitis flare up. Or if I’m up late I can go to my local Kroger up until 1:00am to buy more high ph water. This is huge for people who have medical issues who need certain food products that help them feel better and do not keep normal hours. No matte what time I go the folks are always helpful, kind and smiling.

I’ve been extremely sick for the past few months and now I’m feeling much better. But during those times I felt awful I still tried to get out of the house each day and the one place I would go is my local Kroger. For someone who is chronically ill or suffering from chronic pain having a friendly safe place to go to is so important. Some days my shopping at Kroger would be my only contact with other people. I went in there the other day and the Store Manager let me know I dropped a dollar on the floor while I was at the deli counter. Before that I saw him interact with the women working in the deli and he was kind and respectful. You could tell they respected him as well. Those small interactions matter and create an atmosphere that is enjoyable to be in. When I’m sick I need all the help I can get and I need to be around positive energy. On top of treating each other well and friendly with customers, they are also extremely responsive. Before I started buying the Icelandic Glacial Water or knew about the Simple Truth Artesian water I bout Essentia water. When I told the lady who takes care of the Organic Section that I was buying a lot of it she started ordering more and I was always able to get it.

One of the reasons I don’t shop at Publix any more is that one of the owners of Publix gave $800,000 to an anti-cannabis campaign in Florida.  The daughter of the founder of Publix gave to a group that stopped Medical Cannabis Law being passed in 2012 and they are still trying to keep Cannabis illegal in Florida. She currently owns 5% of Publix and is worth a reported $1.8 billion.  I’ve not totally researched Kroger’s donations and in the future I might find that they are a company I don’t want to support. For the mean time I will continue to shop at Kroger and improve my health by buying Simple Truth Organic products and other organic products they offer.

http://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/publix-heiress-donates-800-000-to-fight-medical-marijuana-legalization-in-florida-8631552

I don’t go out of my way to boycott a company because I’m sure every big company does something I don’t believe in but legalizing cannabis is something I strongly believe in. I’ve struggled with chronic pain and autoimmune disease since I was twelve. And I’ve found Cannabis helpful in dealing with my symptoms but I’ve had to travel to Denver twice to find that out. And its because people support politicians and groups that are working to keep Cannabis illegal I’ve spend over $6000 on travel and other expenses. To give money to an anti-cannabis group is an attack on people who are chronically ill and are suffering. It makes their lives harder. Cannabis Prohibition and those who support it are also attacking every individual regardless of why they want to consume Cannabis because its every adults inherent right to choose whether to ingest Cannabis or not.We all have a right to choose what we put in our bodies. No government and no billionaire has the right to tells us what we can and can’t put into our bodies.

I explore this topic further in my blog post on LegalizeCannabisInGeorgia.com

https://legalizecannabisingeorgia.com/2016/09/15/cbd-oil-is-not-enough/

My local Kroger is also carrying more and more local produce as well. Where I live doesn’t have an established Farmer’s Market. That would my preferred option of getting my produce but until that time I’ll buy organic products and veggies from Kroger. If you believe something strongly and a company is going against it you have a right to vote with your dollars to support those who support what’s important to you. Kroger has made a commitment to make organic products and organic food more available at a lower price. Publix has missed the boat on this and on top of that one of the owners is actively attempting to keep Cannabis illegal in Florida. I don’t want to support that.

All of these reasons are why I shop at my local Kroger. We all vote with our dollars every time we spend them. A lot of people have voted with their dollars in support of Kroger to continue increasing their organic selection because they now sell over 12 Billion dollars worth of natural and organic products. The more I buy those products the more of them that will be produced and if enough people do that the prices will continue to come down. Eating organic, drinking alkaline water and supporting companies that are more inline with my personal philosophy are all ways I can live a little bit healthier today and ensure a better tomorrow.

Brad Miller