reclaiming health - part one
I had someone recently ask me how I got better from Lyme disease. I get asked that question pretty frequently. I’ve written about it before. But the question was one that got me thinking about all of the things I incorporated to get well and the things I continue to do to stay well. How to sum that up in a conversation without someone getting overwhelmed or zoning out by minute ten? Actually, I’m not all that pleased to just stay well. I want to continue to find a healthy, robust life by continuously learning and changing what I’m doing. I’m not in the same body I was in two years ago, never mind two decades ago. There’s so much I don’t know. So many things I would like to try. But here, for this essay, I thought I might sit down and write out what it actually took for me to get well after a prolonged, so-called “chronic” illness.
Mindset: I will start with that last sentence - the “chronic” bit. A diagnosis, received by the trusting mind, can be akin to a curse. If you believe what the doctors tell you and you believe that you’re body will play out their script as they say it will, there’s a good chance you’re right. Everyone talks about mindset, but implementing it when you’re down in the dregs can be hard. When I was so sick that just moving felt like an accomplishment, I didn’t want to hear about mindset. I didn’t want to hear about perspective. I could barely hold my life together. All I wanted was to find THE RIGHT DOCTOR to help me with their illuminated expertise so I could be done with what ailed me. It was only when I realized that nobody was coming to save me, despite my fervent wishes, that my healing actually began. I refused their prognosis. I rejected their fear. I started taking care of me. Who better?
Perspective: Spend as much time as you need grieving your lot. Be mad or sad or whatever you need to be. You don’t have to put a plastic happy face on your life if it’s not feeling all that happy. As toxic as negativity is, so too is denying your authentic feelings. That doesn’t mean your feelings are true or guides to live by. You can acknowledge how you feel and decide to feel differently. Feelings are not reality, they’re just feelings.
It’s important to hold standards for yourself. Have expectations of yourself even when you feel lousy. Find the things around you that you can hold gratitude for. In practice, you can’t hold self pity and gratitude at the same time. If you feel overwhelmed, recognize that’s because you have a lot to feel overwhelmed by. But you are still responsible for what you do with that overwhelm. You are not a victim. Nothing will keep you sicker for longer than thinking you are. If you’re overwhelmed or exhausted or feeling defeated, you are still responsible to do something about it. Go outside and sit in the sun for awhile and pull in that gratitude again. Say prayers of thanks to your body for its healing even when you see no signs of it. Imagine your body moving with ease and strength even when you are exhausted. No matter what you are confronted with, you must know and feel and act like you are aware that you are blessed. Give thanks for those blessings. Hardest, of all, give thanks for the lessons of your illness. There’s never much learning going on in the peaceful chapters of our lives. The growth comes from the challenges. After so many decades of learning this, I’ve come to be more accepting of the hard parts of our lives. I don’t need to wait for hindsight so much anymore. There’s a great peace in that awareness that can be had by anyone that chooses to have it.
Relationships: Toxic relationships are detrimental on so many levels. There is a cost to such negative energy in your life. I have come to learn that harbouring resentments has a cost to my body. I won’t do it. So, I have a choice. I won’t remain silent and stew in my resentment juices. I’m not giving that kind of power over myself to anyone. So, I can speak. And that’s what our hearts want - they give us messages because they want us to release them. That doesn’t mean I go around telling people off. It means that I speak up no matter my discomfort. There will always be relationships where you are limited by the expression of yourself. Extended family is often like that. The weighing of the costs and benefits of those relationships on your life are up to you. There are some people that you may have in your life where resolution and a mutual, respectful exchange just isn’t possible. With others, you may find an equilibrium that you can manage. Hopefully, there are a few, maybe even one, that allows you to be wholly, wildly you.
“Oh, the comfort — the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person — having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”
― Dinah Maria Mulock Craik, A Life For A Life, 1859
Nutrition: Nutrition is a fundamental pillar in health. If you are eating foods that inflame your body, you are keeping yourself in a perpetual loop of putting out fires instead of generating energy and allowing your body to heal. Whole, organic foods, eaten from your local environment, respectful of the seasons you live in, are the basic foundation of what should be going into your body. No seed oils. No margarines and plastic foods. Stick with foods that don’t have ingredient labels. Learn to cook. Avoid restaurants which are serving you everything I’m telling you to avoid. From there you may have to further refine. I do best without grains and nuts and sugars. I feel great when I make sure I have adequate protein in my diet that’s also full of fermented and cultured foods from our farm. Animal fats for us. Fruit when it’s here. That’s how my mind is most clear, my body the most fluid, and my emotions and spirit most at peace and connected.
If you’re not eating right, you will not get better. But nutrition is not the be all and end all of our health. Other foundational pillars of health include our environments, movement, and spiritual connection. I will endeavour to break those down.
Movement: Movement is different than exercise. But just shuffling around a house is not movement. We were meant to walk and bend and squat and twist and balance and jump. Losing these things as we age is commonplace. We lose our sense of play. We stop climbing trees and crawling into caves. Our joints stiffen and range of motion declines. Walking outside, even better if you’re wearing barefoot grounding shoes, is a simple, free thing that is one of the foundational pillars we need to include in our lives. Even if you’re not well, you can walk. I don’t care if it’s for five minutes, start there if you must.
My husband and I recently noticed that we were making little creaky noises when we got up from seated positions. We didn’t like that. So, we started digging into what movement looked like when not moving and that opened up a rabbit hole for us that we’re still burrowing into. Suffice it to say that we got rid of all of the furniture in one of our rooms. It’s the floor for us now, baby. I will write more about that in a future essay. For now, sit on the floor for part of your day, every day. Better yet, sit outside on the ground. It’s life changing.
Grounding: We used to be in constant contact with the earth. We accept and release electrons all day long. Or at least we should. The flow of the energy from the earth below our bare feet (and here you see the issue with rubber soles) into and out of our bodies is essential for the charge in our bodies. Spend time every single day grounding. That can be be simply walking barefoot. In winter, I wear leather soled mukluks outside that accomplish the same. You can lie on the ground, sit on the ground, hug a tree, meditate against a tree, swim in the lakes or oceans near you, have picnics on a blanket instead of eating inside at a table. It doesn’t matter, just do it every day. It’s non-negotiable.
The beauty of grounding our bodies is that we are also grounding our spirits, our emotions, and our minds. Nature is a touchstone for our souls. It is our home. It’s not something that’s optional, a little walk on a trail once a month. Find nature around you every day and connect to it. It’s where you find yourself.
Circadian health: Our indoor environments are toxic on a multitude of levels. Let’s tackle light first. Get rid of all of your LED and fluorescent bulbs. They off-gas and they flicker. Even if you don’t register it, it’s happening. Their unnatural, blue light is telling your body it’s the middle of the day all day long and that has a diabolical effect on every system in your body. Use incandescent bulbs. We are wondrous, intricately designed creatures. Our bodies react and respond to the signals of light in our days. We need to be outside when the sun is rising and setting. A little walk during those times is lovely, but even just standing outside for five or ten minutes during sunrise and sunset, even better with bare feet, cue our body on where it is and what it should be doing. Everything from our hormones to our immune systems are tied into the circadian rhythm.
During the day, we don’t put lights on in our house. The light in our house is from the outdoors. We try to be outdoors as much as possible which, granted, is easier for a farmer than it is an office worker. If you have to be inside, and if you have to look at screens, purchase blue light blocking glasses or shields for your computer. In the evening, when the sun goes down, your eyeballs need to be kept away from blue light entirely. Our body uses the signals of the setting sun to end and start different processes in our body like the production of melatonin. We use blue blocking glasses, red incandescent bulbs, and we read by firelight. We have small oil lamps that we use in the evening. Not only is that infrared light safe for evening viewing, it’s actually beneficial to creating a peaceful, pre-sleep ritual.
Sleep: Seeing that we’re talking about light, we really should get into sleep. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day as much as humanly possible. Have a ritual, wind-down time every evening. We like to read in the evening. Sometimes we’ll sit down and I will work on some of my wool crafting and my dear man will whittle away at some wood project he’s carving or we play some low key board game. We still have only red light on. If it’s winter the wood fires are always going.
What you sleep on matters, too. We have an organic bed with a wool topper and linen sheets. An off-gassing bed built of synthetic ingredients that don’t breathe but develop mold and dust mites is not great for anyone, never mind a sick person. Years ago, we got rid of our original mattress and bought a wool stuffed, organic cotton futon. It wasn’t the most comfortable, but it made a big impact on how I felt when I was quite sick. We’ve since moved on and have purchased two different organic mattresses since that time. Our present bed is a dream and I hope to have it until I kick the bucket.
You don’t want to get hot when sleeping. A cool, dark room is a must. There’s a lot of talk about having black-out blinds in a room. I think that’s probably necessary if you live in a city, but if you live in the country, I’d say avoid them. It’s important that the moonlight comes into our room with its own secret messages to our bodies. We are as tied to the moon as we are to the sun. Wonderful things happen under the light of a full moon.
EMFs: You can have the most peaceful, lovely night time ritual but if you’re sleeping with dirty electricity zooming all around your head or your wifi is buzzing away all night long, you are disrupting your body’s sleeping tasks of detoxification and rest. We had our house professionally mitigated by an EMF professional. We have a “kill switch” that we press when we go to sleep that makes the house inert. Before we had that done, we manually shut off the power to our house every night. We’ve never had wifi and never will. Even our TV is connected to an ethernet cable so we can download a movie on it every now and then if we want to.
Mitigating your cellphone usage is just as important for your health and the health of the people around you. In our house, all phones are off and in faraday bags. When we need to use them, we use them and then they’re off again. We have a landline and people know that’s how they can contact us. There are no notifications on our phones, nothing to draw us in or excuses to keep them on. We have our screens set to red. Have you done that with your phone yet? It’s quite interesting to see how much interest you lose in using your phone when you take the dopamine hit of blue light away.
There are other things that I had to tackle on my journey to reclaim my health. I always like to remind people that I didn’t come from a processed food, sedentary background when I got sick. I had already been eating a traditional foods diet for a couple of decades. I got sick anyway. I can now look back and see how my perspective ramped up my stress in that time. I can see that the emotional stuff I was jamming down needed to be brought into the light of day. I can see that my idea that movement meant beating myself to a pulp in the gym wasn’t all that helpful. I’ve also come to learn that my brutal, push harder attitude wasn’t serving me any longer.
If you’re unwell, or just not where you want to be with your health, it’s worth honestly reflecting on how you’re showing up for yourself. It’s tempting to look at the worst examples all around us and feel smug about what we’re doing, but that’s not really honest at all, is it? We know how we feel. We know if our bodies are sending us messages that we’re ignoring. What relevance does it have in our lives to look at Mr. Big Gulp or Ms. Dorito Mama and pat ourselves on the back for our choices? Don’t use anyone else as a measure for where you are. Listen to the messages from your soul. Ask questions of yourself. Act out of love and compassion, instead of punishment.
In part two of this essay, I will continue sharing the things I have used and continue to use in my never ending, lifelong quest to show up in this life as fully as I can. In the meantime, I will add some links below regarding the topics I hit on in today’s essay for you to dig into.