The Vortex of Pain

fear-4Imagine if you will a tornado following you around each day – for me I envision it sitting on my left shoulder similar to this picture. This tornado never stops spinning and the rate at which it spins depends on the energy that you feed into it. Some days it spins ever so slowly trying very hard to suck you in and gain speed by filing you with thoughts of pain, shame, guilt and worthlessness. Other days it takes you over sweeping you so far away from a version of yourself it causes you to act out of fear and anger – it consumes you. This is what it feels like to live with chronic pain. Each day the pain exists at different levels and there is a constant mental battle to try and come back into balance.
In a lot of ways I have lived with the pain for so long that it has become such a normal part of my day – I expect it to be there and I’m numb to the affect it has on me. The problem with this is clearly stated in one of my favorite TED talks by Brené Brown on the “Power of Vulnerability” she says…

You can not selectively numb emotion – you can’t say here’s the bad stuff – here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment – I don’t want to FEEL these so I’m going to have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin.  You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing your other emotions. So when we numb those we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness – we are unhappy and feel life has no purpose and it becomes a dangerous cycle.”

In order to truly heal from these many years of numbing it will take more than just a surgery and physical removal of my uterus. I have to work on changing the tapes that have been running through my head for quite sometime. Pain has at times been my scapegoat and I have used it to numb all those bad feelings floating around – I don’t want to play with my kids because I’m in pain, I don’t want to be “too connected” to friends for fear that they will ask questions that I don’t have answers to, I don’t want to be kind to my husband because I am filled with such anger toward this disease I would rather take it out on him than deal with it another day, I am feeling pain today and I am terrified there is something the doctors haven’t found.

I have to resist the urge to go back to the tornado that feels so comfortable and normal.  I have to “re-write” the tapes playing over in my head to seek and find JOY in life again.  The only way to do this is to accept that there will be many more moments of fear, vulnerability and yes pain in my life – there will always be some kind of pain physical or emotional circling around us.  The tornado will always be present and spinning I’m just aware now of its full force and the damage that can be done – so when it swoops in to grab a nearby tree, I can protect my soul and heart before it destroys the whole house.

Today is the last day of my year.

when-you-cry-enough-it-waters-the-ground-at-your-feet-so-that-something-new-can-growToday, December 22nd is the one year mark for my overwhelming year of pain and surgeries. December 22nd (neck surgery), February 22nd (neck surgery again due to infection) and September 22nd (hysterectomy) are days I will remember as being filled with fear and uncertainty but at the same time hope and promise for a future free of pain. Over the past few months during my last surgery recovery I have found myself exhausted and unmotivated to do any of the things lingering on my “to-do “list often times getting down on myself about what I “can’t” accomplish. Friends and family are quick to remind me – your body has been through three rounds of surgery, anesthesia and over 20 weeks of recovery it is rightfully so very tired and still in a lot of ways in recovery stage. Some might say what a year of bad luck but as I reflect there are so many things I learned this year – or in a lot of ways was “forced” to learn.
For starters I have an amazing village of people who never stopped asking how they could help, when they could take my kids and even stopped by to keep me company when I was trapped in my brown chair on and off drugs – which probably made for some pretty funny conversations. You know who you are and I am forever grateful for you!
My amazing family – Mom, Dad and In-Laws – every time I asked for help during this year you have traveled many miles to be here – to cook for my family and take care of my kids when I wasn’t able to – such a tough thing for an independent person like myself to ask for and accept. I love you and feel so lucky to have a supportive loving family.
And lastly my incredibly patient and loving husband (CP) and children (TR and MJ) – you have seen me at my best and my worst this year.  I tried for such a long time to hide my children from the pain I was going through until one day I just decided that it was ok to let them see me be imperfect and let’s be honest a hot mess.  I’ve cried in front of them many times, told them that mommy doesn’t feel good, lied down on the couch and used the TV as my babysitter while I took a nap.  They have embraced
me each time with grace and many times provided the comfort I needed to just let go of what was “supposed” to happen and quickly realize that all three of us snuggled on the couch under a blanket is exactly where we were supposed to be.

For better or for worse, in sickness and in health is in the vows but until you are faced with the tough conversations, endless days of caregiving and support those words become more of a reality.  My husband has stood by my side, pushed me at times when I was in pain and stopped me from beating myself up with all the expectations that outside sources or I have put on myself as a wife and mother.  He made me laugh when all I wanted to do was cry and has declared 2017 the “Year of Jessica” he’s so excited to see what the future holds for a “pain-free” version of me and while hesitant to trust that my journey of pain is over, I too am looking forward to seeing what the puddle of tears at my feet will grow.

Let Food be Thy Medicine ~ Hippocrates

donutsOh man, just writing about a donut makes me crave that sugary sweetness – you know when Krispy Kreme has their “HOT” sign on – Yum-O! I have a terrible sweet tooth and I’m an emotional eater on top of that, so really my willpower goes out the window when it comes to food.  Despite all of these things I also believe that a whole lot of what we put into our body determines how we feel and how we fight inflammation. You know that saying, “Feed a Cold”, well I believe that, anytime someone in my family comes down with a tickle in their throat or the sniffles I immediately go out and buy a papaya. Papayas have a huge amount of Vitamin C and when coupled with Strawberries and OJ you have yourself a smoothie packed with some pretty awesome immunity fighters. (scroll down for recipe)

Over the years I’ve tried many different food plans – in fact I knew it was getting bad when our friends hosted us over for dinner and they asked are you still not eating meat/dairy-free/gluten-free/on a juice fast/not allowed to have garlic/mushrooms/beans? Do you even like food?? Ha!  Yes, in fact I love food but the way food is manufactured these days is creating some real issues with inflammation and disease.  So here’s what I have tried over the years and through it all I’ve always been dairy-free because of a diagnosis of lactose intolerance since the age of 15. AND I still have my one cup of coffee a day because let’s be honest – I’m only human and I have a special place in my heart for a Starbucks latte.

  • Vegan –  Least favorite plan – may work for some but I do enjoy meat/fish in moderation and didn’t find any earth shattering results associated with my chronic pain. Favorite Resource: Veganomicon Cookbook
  • Gluten Free – Long commitment – have to give yourself some time with this one to see results since gluten can stick around in your system for awhile.  Helped greatly with increase in energy and the overall feeling of being weighed down.  Favorite Resource: Pinterest for Recipes (just search “gluten free” and pin away!)
  • Paleo – I never was strictly Paleo but enjoyed many of their recipes since they steer away from dairy and grains.  Here’s a family favoritePaleo Tex Mex Casserole
  • Juice Fast – I would throw these in there every once and awhile just to press the “reset” button on my body and in some ways to torture my inner will power – mostly when my husband would travel since meals were very basic and the kids wouldn’t mind cheese and crackers for dinner.  Favorite Resource: Juice from the RAW Organic Cleanse
  • Low FODMAP – this is a super restrictive diet and very specific.  It is geared more towards someone who is struggling with GI issues or IBS (Irritable Bowel listoffodmapsfoods3-217x300Syndrome).  While challenging, I did find the most results with this meal plan and have incorporated a lot of the swaps into my regular diet.  I just used the printed out list below of approved foods as my guide and this article when I was ready to try re-introducing foods: Reintroducing FODMAPs  I hear they also have an app, I didn’t try this but read that a few people who really struggle with GI issues found this very helpful especially when starting to re-introduce foods.

And now for the Flu-Buster recipe courtesy of the Book Super Smoothies– to your health and the fight against inflammation!

 

Flu-Buster

The combination of orange juice, papaya, and strawberries gives this terrific smoothie a triple dose of Vitamin C.

  • 1 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 cup quartered fresh strawberries
  • 3/4 cup diced papaya
  • 1 banana (frozen is best)

Combine the orange juice and strawberries in a blender. Add the papaya and banana. Blend until smooth.

Take one before bed and hopefully there’ll be no need to call the doctor in the morning 🙂

Makes about 2 1/2 cups; Serves 2

 

The First Time I Reached My Limit

img_2062As I prepare for my surgery next week I can’t help but think back to the last time we decided to go in laparoscopically and see what was really going on.  It was September 2012 and I couldn’t handle the pain I was having any more. It was beginning to ruin my quality of life and on top of that creating some serious stress in the baby making department.  As I sat in the office discussing the procedure Dr. S asked me if I understood what she was saying – and judging by my blank and confused stare back she gathered I needed a more visual approach.  She ripped out this picture from an ad for birth control to show me a visual image of my lady parts .  I seriously can’t believe I found it in a folder with all my medical stuff and have kept it all these years!  Dr. S, would always say that in order for you to understand a diagnosis you have to understand the parts of your body associated with that diagnosis.  I felt like I was back in an Anatomy class trying to grasp the very basics of the women’s body and how it functions. She probably spent an hour with me that day in her office.  That is what I truly love about Dr. S she has a practice committed to you and your health.  Her office appointments could take 30min to 2hrs depending on what her patients needed at that time. So I learned very quickly to plan for a long office wait and appreciate how present she was during our time together.

After a long discussion with my husband, we decided to proceed with surgery and scheduled everything to happen in early October 2012.  Our goal was not only to clean up any affected areas with Endometriosis but also to make sure that everything was looking good from a fertility standpoint, since we were still having little success with getting pregnant.  In medical terms we agreed to do the following:

  • Hysteroscopy – A look inside the uterus, possibly collect samples of tissue
  • Excision of Endometriosis – Remove any existing endo and separate any adhesions that may have formed from the scar tissue resulting from my C-Section in 2010
  • Chromopertubation – Inject dye to make sure fallopian tubes are working good
  • Appendectomy – Remove appendix (preventative measure due to all my pelvic pain studies found at the time that there was a high frequency of abnormal findings in the appendix – including endometriosis – so to prevent the endo from spreading we decided to have the Appendix removed

Surgery lasted about an hour and Dr. S shared with my husband that there was a very little amount of Endo, all fertility parts were working great and my ovaries were still in healthy condition.  All great news except for that part about only a very “small” amount of Endo being found.  This discovery meant that the greater part of the disease was still tucked away in my uterus and signs pointed now more than ever to the diagnosis of Adenomyosis.

The Early Stages

29161e0166a0064249f21e4ca25d0036I’ve known a hysterectomy would be coming in my future, I was just hoping that I would have more time.  Four years ago when I walked into my doctors office she had a pretty clear diagnosis after an exam and a few tests – Adeno was the cause of my pain.  She said from Day 1 that the only real cure for Adeno would be a hysterectomy.  At the time that was not an option with TR only a few years old and our hope to someday have another child.  So we agreed to not discuss that option and move onto other alternatives that might help.  Extended birth control was the first thing to try so I went on a number of birth controls trying to find one that would help.  One medication would help with the pain but cause terrible bleeding, another would stop the bleeding but not help with any of the pain.

You have to keep in mind that this was in the early stages of the disease, the pain was and has always been there, but this was at a very mild level.  I was easily able to manage the pain, take care of my family and work through everyday life for at least a year.  I don’t remember having a hard time getting out of bed or having days where I was so exhausted that I could barely make it up the hill to the bus stop, which is the level I am at now.  I do remember going to my doctor in the summer of 2012 and her telling us that if we were still considering another pregnancy then we needed to start getting serious and take some action – ha!  Her concern was that with Endo/Adeno the disease is always growing and spreading.  For every month we decided to wait, our chances of a successful pregnancy were more at risk.

It’s not that we didn’t hear what she was saying, we just already had a busy life with a two year old and a business to run.  My husband was traveling all the time and the pain started to increase in intensity.  So life carried on and so did the pain.

You Always Remember the First Time

img_1902I remember this day vividly.  We moved to the Atlanta area in the Spring of 2012 when TR was just turning two. I was having some strange medical stuff happening but couldn’t seem to get any resolution and brushed it off as GI issues.  I decided a good way to meet some new people might be to sign up for a race and pick-up running again.  I signed up for a local half-marathon and began training.  Running for me has always been so freeing – you can just walk out the door and take off listening to music and escape for awhile.  It was my “me” time and a part of the day that I looked forward to especially after doing another kind of “running” after a two year old all day.

In the beginning it was just the activity of running that would cause pain.  I wouldn’t ever be in pain during running I would feel great.  It was a few hours after that my body would be at war again and my runners “high” would quickly turn into a low.  I ended up pulling out of the half-marathon that year due to the pain.  This was the first time that my body and this disease dictated what I physically could and could not do.  Today I’ve learned to push through the pain and have continued to bike, swim and do a lot of walking/hiking.  Every time I step into the gym or dive into the pool I know full well that the exercise will feel great but the pain will come after.  That’s the funny thing about chronic pain, the doctors always want you to keep moving, but for me more activity always = more pain.

Every Journey Comes to an End.

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Two weeks from now I will have a hysterectomy.  I have struggled with how open I should be about this season of my life and let’s be honest this is not the warm and fuzzy post that you might normally see from me.  Four years ago I was diagnosed with Adenomyosis (Adeno), what I call the evil cousin of Endometriosis (Endo).  To put it simply my Adeno developed from the c-section scar tissue that resulted from the birth of my first child TR.  It is concentrated inside the uterus making it much harder to treat and control the chronic pain.  As I’ve shared this story there have been many women who have shared that they also have Endo/Adeno and have been suffering in silence – I guess that is why they call Endo the silent disease.  So, for that reason I will share with you my journey, the treatments that I tried over the course of my four years and talk about the exhausting and overwhelming challenge of chronic pain and now the grief and heartache I am processing as I near my surgery date.  I know I am not alone in this and I have much to be grateful for, but perhaps a little bit of vulnerability for the next few weeks on my part will give someone else the courage to keep on fighting.

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Start your Engines – Talia’s 2nd Birthday!

I can’t believe my little girl is 2 year old!  Wow just like many people said, time really does fly by fast.   I secretly get really excited when I know her birthday is coming around because that means that I get to exercise my creativity and come up with a fun theme and party for her and all of our friends and family.  This year was especially fun because she is at an age now where she is starting to get an idea of what is going on and equally gets excited about the party.  In fact ever since her party she has been asking for birthday cake.  When she sees another party at the park she says, Mama birthday cake?  And the other day when we sat down at a restaurant she immediately grabbed the menu card on the table and pointed to the dessert being featured and said – Oh mama I’ll have birthday cake.  Here are some of the highlights from her Lightning McQueen Cars Birthday Party – I am a Pinterest addict so most of the ideas here can be found on my Pinterest Page by clicking here – can’t wait till next year 🙂

Top Ten Spots to Visit in Sarasota, FL

Make sure you catch a sunset!

Sarasota treated us well and the weather our last few days there   was gorgeous, tempting us to stay longer, but it was time to head back home.

If you find yourself in the Sarasota area here are my recommended Top 10 Spots to Visit (you will notice that a lot of them are food spots – what can I say we love to eat 🙂

10. Mote Marine – Aquarium where you can catch giant sea turtles, manatees and adorable little penguins
9. – DaRuMa – best sushi and Japanese steakhouse in town
8. – Sungarden Cafe – great breakfast/lunch spot on Siesta Key
7. – St. Armands Circle – Great place to walk, around grab a bite or meet up with friends
6. – Golden Turkey at Corkscrew Deli
5. – Phillippi Farmerhouse Market – fresh seasonal fruit and veggies
4. – Eat Here! – one of our best meals, very casual and really good food
3. – Children’s Garden – a magical place for kids of all ages
2. – LeLu Coffee – coffee shop that has great coffee and yummy food
1. – Siesta Key Beach!  Ranked as the #1 Beach in the U.S. the soft sugary sand feels amazing on your toes and if you’re lucky you might have a dolphin siting!

Goodbye Beaches, Hello Mountains

Corey fishing at Sunset

What a whirlwind this past week has been! After two wonderful months of basking in the sun and soaking up lots of beach time and family time, it was time to pack up and move to our next destination, Atlanta, Georgia. We found ourselves sad to leave Sarasota and all it had to offer (See my Top 10 Spots to Visit in Sarasota below), especially our family and all of the friends we made during our stay. I don’t think we realized how comfortable we were there – we had our local gym, local coffee shop and knew our way around town. We had family close by when we wanted to swing by for dinner, just to say hi, or get a break from the crazy world of raising a toddler.

Sarasota treated us well and the weather our last few days there was gorgeous, tempting us to stay longer, but it was time to move on. We packed our bags and every inch of our car and the boys (Corey and Domino) hit the road while the girls (Talia and I) stayed one extra day to soak in the sun and then boarded the plane to Atlanta. Thank goodness the Delta plane gods were with us and the flight attendant moved us to a seat where no one else was sitting with us – not that Talia is a terror on the plane – she’s just getting so big now I had no idea how I was going to have her sit on my lap the whole time without karate chopping the passenger next to us! Fast forward a few hours and we made it safely to Atlanta and Corey was waiting eagerly to see us and have some human conversation after his two days in the car with Domino.

Our first couple of days here were really tough. Getting the family settled into the new space, finding our way around town and adjusting to cooler temperatures. I got lost on the first time to the grocery store, totally took a wrong turn and ended up on the highway with no idea where I was going! After a short meltdown, I turned to my trusted GPS on my phone (thank goodness for technology) and I was able to navigate my way back to the house and share with the rest of the family that we would be having take-out for dinner because I wasn’t going back out there. I did give it another try the next day and made it there no problem at all and then laughed at myself for getting so flustered – how silly Publix was right there the whole time.

Talia on an adventure walk with TuTu

So here we are now renting a place in a cute little town about 20 miles north of Atlanta called Roswell, Georgia. The weather is definitely not as warm as Florida, but the days are sunny and we are having fun discovering new parks for Talia to play and dogs for Domino to run around with. Corey has found his new office, Land of a Thousand Hills, a very cool local coffee shop and I have been picking up every local magazine I can find to learn more about the area and make sure our weekends are packed with fun things to do and great places to eat.  Who knows what the next two months will bring – we are definitely outside our comfort zone here – but no one ever said that was going to be easy.  We are going to embrace each day as  it comes and try not to take what we have here, or in any another other city, for granted.

If you find yourself in the Sarasota area here are my recommended Top 10 Spots to Visit (you will notice that a lot of them are food spots – what can I say we love to eat 🙂

  • 10. Mote Marine – Aquarium where you can catch giant sea turtles, manatees and adorable little penguins
  • 9. – DaRuMa – best sushi and Japanese steakhouse in town
  • 8. – Sungarden Cafe – great breakfast/lunch spot on Siesta Key
  • 7. – St. Armands Circle – Great place to walk, around grab a bite or meet up with friends
  • 6. – Golden Turkey at Corkscrew Deli
  • 5. – Phillippi Farmerhouse Market – fresh seasonal fruit and veggies
  • 4. – Eat Here! – one of our best meals, very casual and really good food
  • 3. – Children’s Garden – a magical place for kids of all ages
  • 2. – LeLu Coffee – coffee shop that has great coffee and yummy food
  • 1. – Siesta Key Beach!  Ranked as the #1 Beach in the U.S. the soft sugary sand feels amazing on your toes and if you’re with Corey you are sure to have a dolphin siting!