Welcome 2019! It’s a brand new year! A time of celebration! A time to remember the year past and set goals for the future.
But for me… this year is different… this New Year is truly special, and it represents more than just the change of calendar year and making resolutions…
I’m extending my personal celebration this year because… well, I deserve it! I refuse to put away my dancing shoes… because as of January 1st, 2019, and after more than a decade of suffering through CVS episodes occurring on average every 1-3 months, I’ve completed an entire calendar year without having one!!!
That’s my longest remission since the onset in 2006! Once, I made it 6 months… but just once, several years ago. An entire year feels different somehow… It feels like I’ve broken through some invisible barrier of healing… Some switch has flipped. I really can’t describe it any better than that.
This post is about how I (think I) did it…
I haven’t been to a traditional western medical doctor regarding CVS in over 3 years. Haven’t been to the ER in even longer. They generally don’t help me, and I grow weary of experiencing the effects of stigma… not to mention the wasted time and expense. I have no prescribed pharmaceutical medications for CVS. They haven’t been necessary for several years now.
I also have a decent amount of my own medical knowledge, because… well – I am a doctor too. I’m a veterinarian. And in case anyone doesn’t realize it, many animals are physiologically similar to humans. I’m fortunate that I can use my own medical knowledge to research and help myself to a large degree.
But when I need the ER to prevent dehydration and electrolyte depletion during an episode – usually neither my medical knowledge nor my doctorate help me. Unfortunately, I’m rendered helpless by my symptoms and treated like shit in the ER too, just like many of us are. Treated like an annoyance, a burden, a malingerer, a liar, a drug-seeker, and even a criminal.
I think some medical professionals don’t realize the emotional anguish and mental damage that occurs when they treat sick, scared, desperate, helpless people as if they’re faking or exaggerating or drug-seeking. I know how I feel when it happens to me… I feel frustrated, confused, and terrified I’ll be tossed out untreated and will later die. Consumed with anxiety. Afraid of death and also afraid of a life spent suffering. I simultaneously feel helpless, then hopeless, and then angry… so angry.
Anger is what fueled my motivational fire. And while it was anger that gave me the initial motivation I needed to make changes, I soon realized that anger makes my condition worse. Anger is nowhere to reside, nor is it a place from which sound decisions can be made. I needed to find peace. “Physician first heal thyself”. I needed to heal myself…
I had already been experimenting with holistic treatment beginning a few years after my diagnosis, and over the past several years I’ve noticed a clear pattern… My body and my disorder respond exceptionally well to holistic therapy, while only minimally to pharmaceutical therapy. In fact, pharmaceutical therapy caused as many new problems and side-effects as I was trying to eliminate, while the only side-effects of holistic therapy have been continually improving total body health and generally feeling better than ever before. To be fair, some pharmaceuticals helped me in the very beginning, because they helped me to break the negative feedback cycle of anxiety and the fear of vomiting leading to more vomiting. Once the cycle was broken, it then became important to initiate holistic therapy in efforts to heal, eliminate episodes, and reduce the need for pharmaceuticals gradually over time. That’s what I did, and that’s where the real healing began for me.
And if I’m making it sound easy… it’s not. It takes years and is extremely gradual and it is not like taking “magical” pharmaceutical pills and expecting to feel better instantly. The holistic route requires patience and the ability to think outside the box. It requires research and a willingness to operate outside the medical and insurance “systems” to a certain degree. It requires faith and hope.
I realized that I already have the tools to research, learn, understand, and to a large degree – treat myself holistically. I made a firm decision. I would find peace within myself and wouldn’t rely on others to provide it to me. I would use my medical knowledge and personal power overcome my disorder on my own.
Just making this decision caused a positive change in my mentality. I went from riddled with anxiety, helpless, and afraid – to feeling in control of my own situation and life. As my physical health improved the anger faded and a purpose emerged. My general attitude towards life improved. I began to enjoy exercise and even crave it. My body is changing in a good way and the positive results keep me wanting more. The more I exercise – the better I look and feel. It’s nearly easy to keep going when the rewards are so great. Now I love exercise and feel bad when I don’t get it! I’ve found a certain happiness within exercise and I now give mental focus to that rather than my disorder.
The continual improvement of my health, the gradual reduction over time in episodes, and the feeling in shape and fantastic in general have provided all the motivation I need to continue down the path of holistic health. My goal for several years has been to have no need for the medical system and bypass them entirely when treating myself for CVS. For the most part, I have accomplished that.
CVS is complicated. Research can’t yet answer all our questions about what causes it, and the causes are multi-factorial. I don’t simply focus on one thing or another when it comes to staying healthy. My approach to healing is dynamic. It changes as I change. I’m learning to go with the flow, adapt, and overcome. As my body heals I’m finding the things that help the MOST, and I’m learning to focus on those things. I let the other things fall away. When those things change – I change… go with the flow… I adapt… I overcome.
That said, the general focus of my holistic treatment is on my nervous system and trying to calm it.
CVS is dysautonomia (a general term which basically means the nervous system goes haywire). It’s a bit like a seizure of the brain-gut-neuronal axis, for a lack of better way to describe it. Our nervous systems lose the ability to regulate their speed or put on their brakes. The pedal is stuck to the metal. The vehicle spins out of control, and crashes. Instead of having an epileptic seizure, CVSers commence full force vomiting.
There are probably about a trillion things which affect our nervous systems. Some of those things originate in the environment, and some within our own bodies. We’re unaware of many of these things despite that they’re a part of daily life. Some of them we know a lot about, and some we might not even know exist. Some of them help us and some of them harm us. Some we embrace, some we reject, and some we treat indifferently.
All people – especially CVSers – are affected by those factors to different degrees. That’s why we all seem to manifest this disorder a bit differently and have different triggers, and why different things appear to help people who have the same disorder. That’s why I think no has “figured it out” yet.
Our nervous systems need care and maintenance just like the rest of our body systems do. Our muscles need exercise… we must eat food to provide energy for those muscles to be able to exercise… energy from also food creates chemical reactions in the body which allow our organs to operate and function normally. Higher quality nutrients and food means better functioning body. Everything is connected, and the support of one will support another. Your brain, spinal cord, and nerves require energy and exercise just like muscles do.
Weak muscles shake – weak brains are anxious. I’ve lived my entire life with hundreds of thoughts spinning out of control simultaneously within my mind, feeling fearful, and constantly trying to please others. I thought that was normal. I thought it meant I was a “thinker” or “smart” or “considerate”. Maybe I am those things – maybe I’m not… but my failure to recognize and address my own severe anxiety was detrimental to my health. I completely believe that compounding anxiety is what triggered the emergence of my disorder at age 26. My attempts at meditation and calming my mind since then have improved it.
How does one exercise the nervous system?? I’m so glad you asked!!
Proper care of the nervous system is to keep it strong – which keeps it toned – which keeps it calm. There are several activities in which a person could engage which help support and calm the nervous system.
For example… to attempt meditation is to “give the brain a workout”. Trying not to think is flexing the brain muscle. Just like lifting weights makes your muscles stronger, meditation makes your brain stronger. Below is an excerpt from an article which does a good job of explaining why that is.
Typically, doctors prescribe medications to combat inflammation. However, there’s growing evidence that another way to combat inflammation is by engaging the vagus nerve and improving “vagal tone.” This can be achieved through daily habits such as yoga and meditation
…Healthy vagal tone is indicated by a slight increase of heart rate when you inhale, and a decrease of heart rate when you exhale. Deep diaphragmatic breathing—with a long, slow exhale—is key to stimulating the vagus nerve and slowing heart rate and blood pressure, especially in times of performance anxiety. A higher vagal tone index is linked to physical and psychological well-being. Conversely, a low vagal tone index is associated with inflammation, depression, negative moods, loneliness, heart attacks, and stroke.
…and/or CVS…? Connections everywhere. Click here to read the entire article.
You know how people rarely meditate because they think they suck at it? Well I suck at it too. I’m constantly thinking about something when I was supposed to be thinking of nothing. Only people who meditate all day, every day, are good at it. Like monks. The rest of us are in the same boat of meditative sucky-ness. Hardly anyone is good at this. That’s beside the point. Meditation is essential it is for health. It’s something that must be done, and you may as well look at it like brushing your teeth. So no more excuses… Just do it.
Like I said, being good at it isn’t really the point at all. It’s true that the better you get, the easier it gets… but the magic happens when you simply TRY. Meditation trains the brain and nervous system to calm down. Just TRYING to meditate does this… You don’t have to be good at meditating to receive the benefits from it.
The good news is the more you practice meditating, the better you get at it – just like anything else. And the only contest is with yourself to get better. There is no need to match anyone else’s ability.
You don’t have to sit in a pretzel and chant “Om”. You can lie flat in the bed or sit upright in a chair. You can walk or run or hike when you meditate. Simply try not to think and focus on your breath. That’s all. The magic is in the TRYING, so just do it… just TRY. Try for 5 minutes. Then 10. As often as you can. Increase gradually to 30 minutes or even an hour! And then keep trying no matter how good or bad you are. This is a life skill, and there’s no giving up allowed.
Try meditating during or after an intense physical workout. You might find like I do that it’s easier to sit with a quiet mind in a state of relaxation during or after physical exertion.
Another example is yoga. Practicing yoga stretches and tones the spinal column and nerves just like it does the muscles. Yoga teaches a focus on breath and ability to control it. I meditate while I do yoga.
Also running… When I run it’s very easy for me to focus on deep breathing, and it’s hard for me to think about anything other than the exertion. That’s meditation. It’s a period of time when my lungs breathe my body works, and my mind goes quiet. Running tones my nervous system just like it simultaneously tones the muscles in my body. Running eliminates the excess pent up energy within my body which leads to stress and anxiety in the first place.
Hiking is my personal favorite way to tone my nervous system. I get to spend all day enjoying the spectacular scenery of the Pacific Northwest while simultaneously toning my muscles, breathing deeply, clearing my mind, and allowing nature to be my teacher and healer.
I recently came across an article claiming that “Leg Exercise is Critical to Brain and Nervous System Health“. Check it out by clicking here. It’s a fantastic article and it has everything to do with CVS, even if it makes no mention of the disorder. Here’s an excerpt:
…The research shows that using the legs, particularly in weight-bearing exercise, sends signals to the brain that are vital for the production of healthy neural cells, essential for the brain and nervous system. Cutting back on exercise makes it difficult for the body to produce new nerve cells — some of the very building blocks that allow us to handle stress and adapt to challenge in our lives…
…The researchers gained more insight by analyzing individual cells. They found that restricting exercise lowers the amount of oxygen in the body, which creates an anaerobic environment and alters metabolism. Reducing exercise also seems to impact two genes, one of which, CDK5Rap1, is very important for the health of mitochondria — the cellular powerhouse that releases energy the body can then use. This represents another feedback loop…
Notice any more connections? Stress? Mitochondrial health? All things which we know are factors in CVS. So get up and get moving people. If you are limited, do what you can and push challenge yourself every day to do a little more. No matter how little. Every little bit helps.
There are non-exercise and non-pharmaceutical related things which will calm and repair the nervous system. Like cannabis. Cannabis is full of endocannabinoids which also happen to be natural substances produced by our very own bodies’ endocannabinoid system which are vital to the proper function of all our body systems and especially our nervous systems. Stress and sickness deplete the body’s natural store of endocannabinoids. Cannabis is a medication which provides the ability to replenish endocannabinoids when the body is stuck in a negative cycle and needs help.
Depending on the state you live in you may have access to different cannabis products which could help you. There are many ways to use and consume cannabis, and it can treat many disorders. It has been unfairly stigmatized and I encourage conversation to combat that.
Click here to check out this great podcast of a “self proclaimed goody-two-shoes mom” who changed her tune after cannabis was the only thing to prevent the death of her teenage son with severe Crohn’s disease. Her son’s name is Coltyn and he is is a very intelligent young man who said two things which I think are very share-worthy:
- “I’d rather be illegally alive than legally dead”.
- Discussing the time his parents were afraid to take his medicine across state lines and he became sick again after a long remission.
- “From the Devil’s Lettuce to God’s Medicine”.
- Discussing the reversal of his parent’s perspective of cannabis after they relied on their own experiences with it as opposed to listening to those without knowledge, experience, or research who demonized it and the use of it.
I understand Coltyn will soon be doing his own podcasts. Click here to watch a video where he answers questions about the treatment of his disorder with cannabis. Takes him a few minutes to get rolling, but when he does it’s great and very educational. He and his mom are both excellent advocates who deliver their message in a positive way. I hope more CVS advocates gain the same speed!
**When used knowledgeably and properly, cannabis is medicinal for nearly all adults – even those without any medical diagnoses. Cannabinoids are like vitamins. Cannabis improves health and is a medication, not a gateway drug. Please vote for across the board legalization which allows for more extensive research and easier access for patients. Even if you don’t need it or want it, rest assured there is someone near you who does. Research what cannabis products could help you and experiment within your own ability to do so.**
I could go on for hours about things which help the nervous system, but for the sake of focus on how I accomplished an episode free year I’ve outlined below for you the things I currently incorporate into my routine which I believe to have the most positive effect on my CVS.
For those of you asking me, “How did you do it?” – THIS is how – at least… this is how I currently THINK I did it:
Running – 3-4 miles per day, 4-6 days per week
- After work each night I go to the gym and bust it out on the “dread”mill.
- I believe that for me – running is hands-down, considering time per effort, the most effective treatment for my anxiety.
- There was a time I couldn’t run more than 0.3 miles without needing to lay down and die. I hated running and it hated me. I have arthritic issues, peripheral vascular disease, and sometimes suffer symptoms of compartment syndrome when I run. That means significant pain which can prevent me even from walking for several minutes. Sometimes I need to slow down. Sometimes I need a break. But I never quit or give up. It always improves. If I can do it, so can you. No more excuses. Start with short distances. Increase gradually over time. It’s about consistency – NOT quantity.
Hiking – 5-15 miles, 1000-3000 ft elevation gain, once per week if possible.
- Hiking is more effective for me than running for stress and anxiety, and I enjoy it much more… but my work schedule prevents me from doing it as often as I would like. If I could hike every single day, I would.
Walking – 2 miles per day, 5 days per week.
- I walk to work every day. It’s my favorite time of the day. I think of it as “walking meditation and my goal is 30 minutes of peace and calm, to collect my energy and quiet my mind, prior to the taxing workday.
Drinking Kava – 3 tsp in small mug of lukewarm or room temp water, once per day
- Kava is a supplement made from a root which only grows on Pacific Islands. It has properties which calm the nervous system and balance hormones. You can order it on Amazon completely safely as long as you do your research and make sure only to purchase from reputable sources. I like Kalm with Kava.
- Prior to trying Kava I was experiencing peri-menopausal symptoms (in my mid 30s). Since beginning this regimen the fibrocystic knots in my breasts are nearly gone and my menstrual cycles have nearly normalized.
- Even though I haven’t mentioned hormones previously in this post, it is widely known that hormones affect both the nervous system and are a factor for many in CVS… so Kava kills two birds with one stone for me.
- It tastes like dirt/muddy water. And it might make your tongue a bit numb and tingly like Chloraseptic spray for sore throat… But it’s honestly not bad when you don’t think of it as bad. I’m used to it. And I don’t care. Because it helps me and the flavor only lasts a few seconds anyway.
Fresh, clean, plant-based diet – daily
- Highest quality fuel = highest quality performance. Not just cars – bodies too.
- I’m not perfect. I eat crap too. The key is to eat as little crap as possible and make healthy decisions every time you eat.
Acupuncture – Once per month.
- It’s fabulously relaxing. It’s scientific, and it’s Chinese Medicine – not voodoo. It treats many body systems including the nervous system. It doesn’t hurt, and it’s not scary once you know what to expect. Open your mind to something you might not understand. Step outside of the box and visualize energy flowing through your body with no blockages or interruptions. Allow negativity to exit and positivity to enter. Do it and thank me later!!
Chiropractic adjustments – as needed.
- My chiropractor and I suspected bulging disc and intermittent pinched nerve in my neck. He has provided me with natural treatment in the form of spinal adjustments for that condition. It works.
- Regular adjustments also help keep the spinal column and nerves in proper alignment for proper functioning. It’s maintenance of the body just like you might align your car tires. I find that the more I run, the stronger the muscles surrounding my spine become, and the less adjusting I need.
Energy Medicine – constantly.
- It sounds like witchcraft – but it’s not. It’s scientific and its results are currently being consistently researched and documented.
- Step out of the box with me on this one a bit… but it’s not even that far. It’s the power of positive thinking. It’s spontaneous and unexplained remissions. It’s the curing of cancer in mice through the Bengston Energy Healing Method® . It’s something we don’t yet understand, but we may have the ability to control.
- If you’ve ever believed in the power of prayer for healing, or believed the universe provided you with healing energy, or believed with all your heart you would overcome your disorder, or visualized/desired a life without CVS (or another disorder), or participated in a drug trial and improved on a placebo – then you have already engaged in energy medicine.
- EOs are the natural essences found within plants from around the world. Plants are medicinal and essential oils are part of the reason. Sometimes we can’t grow the particular plant which would be medicinal to us in our area… Maybe we don’t know which plant to use… The ability to learn about and treat with multiple and various essential oils is like being able to travel to a far away country and benefit from the medicinal plants native to a different region.
- Why DoTerra? I use DoTerra oils because they are 100% pure, organic, and are produced by a reputable, internationally philanthropic, and environmentally conscious company. Since I purchase them so often it benefited me to also become a distributor. This is a matter of convenience for me and those who I might help through sharing my knowledge of EOs. I don’t do it for financial profit. If you’d like to learn more there are a million online resources to choose from. I’m happy to answer specific questions you might have. If you would like to purchase them through me, you can do so by clicking here and only shopping through that link.
- Lavender is hands-down my favorite oil for calming and relaxing the nervous system. But there are soooo many more…
- I diffuse them, make them into lotions, drink them, and cook with them. I treat various conditions with them and I treat my animals with them. I use them when feeling stressed but enjoy them in general for the lovely aromas and healing properties.
- If nothing else, they make me, and my house smell lovely – without harmful chemicals and carcinogens commonly found in perfumes and candles – while they are simultaneously heal my body.
- They can be used safely in animals, children, and even pregnant women.
And last, but not at ALL least… Probably the most important thing….
Learning “The art of not giving a fuck”.
If the f-word offends you – my apologies… but please let “the word” go for a moment and focus on the intent and profound meaning behind the statement itself. This is about an elimination of anxiety. Yes, there is a book with this title – but I haven’t read it and I’m not referring to it when I repeat the phrase.
What does this mean for me? Several things… It means:
- I’m not worrying about what people think of me – I simply don’t care. It is none of my business what others think of me. What others think of me tells a story about them – not me.
- I’m not rehearsing conversations or rehashing mistakes in my mind – this is a waste of mental energy.
- I’m not having a messy and embarrassing emotional outburst when I feel anxious and triggered – instead I’m creating space and distance within my mind from the emotion until it passes. I don’t react from within the emotion.
- I’m actively listening and asking questions to improve my understanding of others and their perspectives. Regardless the topic. I’m not arguing. I’m openly sharing my opinion and not afraid for someone to disagree with it or otherwise judge it. I’m not afraid to examine my own thoughts or beliefs and consider that I have it wrong. I’m not afraid to say that I think I’m right either. I’m not afraid of someone having a different opinion. I try to gain insight from a different perspective and use differences to enhance understanding and build bridges.
- I’m giving my best effort – I’m doing my best. In everything. To make right choices which serve the effort of love, communication, compassion, understanding, building bridges, tearing down walls. Since I’m not perfect, I make mistakes – a lot of mistakes. Sometimes big ones. When I make mistakes, I try to learn from them rather than dwelling on them or creating more mistakes which piggy-back off the first ones. I let it go and move on. I don’t worry about or focus on the mistake, but rather focus on not repeating the mistake.
- When something is bothering me, and despite all efforts I can’t understand it – I tell myself I’m not supposed to understand at this moment in time, and I let go the concern. I move on.
- When I feel the pain and anger of the world entering my aura – I breathe deeply and remind myself that I’m only affected by those things I allow to affect me. I attempt to separate myself from the outside world and have peace within myself.
- When I feel deeply sad and angry about all the injustice and suffering in the world – I ask myself what I can do right here and now in this day and moment to help alleviate pain and suffering for anyone – and I go do it. Because THAT’S how I can make a difference.
- When I feel inappropriate and overwhelming anxiety – I stop, breathe deeply, and remind myself that “I’m fine.” I force my thoughts to change and take charge and tell my body that it has nothing to fear. I BELIEVE that I’m fine.
- When I feel “that feeling” … that deeply unsettling and indescribable feeling of the loss of control of my own self or my life – I remind myself again that “I’m fine.” And I believe it even if I don’t feel it. I tell myself that this feeling will pass. I BELIEVE it will pass. I breathe through it. I find a distraction to help it pass.
- It means I don’t get upset if I have a bad hair day – instead I wear a cute hat.
- It means I don’t care if people don’t get my style or think I’m weird, I embrace who I am and own it.
- It means I wear what I want to wear. I wear what makes me feel good and happy.
- It means I “do me”. I love myself. To thine own self be true.
If you’re wondering what the last section has to do with CVS… My answer is: EVERYTHING. The things I just listed under “The Art of Not Giving a Fuck” are the parts of myself I don’t always reveal to others. Those things are the factors of my deepest fears and anxieties. They are the source of much stress in my life. Everyone has fears and anxieties, and I’m not claiming mine are worse than others. But for some reason my nervous system doesn’t handle and adapt to stress properly. That’s part of the disorder that research hasn’t figured out yet. We don’t know why, but this is a matter of the nervous system not working properly. When my nervous system gets stressed it lacks the ability to properly modulate itself back down again.
Remember… what works for me might not work for you. And vice versa… I found the things that help me because they held a certain allure for me and my life. Hiking helps me but it’s also a true passion. For me it’s both recreational as well as medicinal. I choose it over other activities that I don’t enjoy as much. If you can’t run, maybe you can swim. If you can’t hike, maybe you can take your dog for a long walk. If you live near your workplace, maybe you can walk or bike there. Maybe you can purchase a treadmill and watch television while you walk indoors all day long. There are hundreds of activities to get you up and moving, indoors or outdoors, all abilities and strength levels. Yoga is simple stretching… you don’t need to be able to bend into a pretzel. Find your passion and immerse yourself within it. Find what makes your heart soar and embrace it. The earth can heal us just from enjoying it – so get outside! Go! You are all physicians and you can heal yourselves!!!
So, will you all please raise your glasses with me and join me in toast to another wonderful year of growth, health, and healing. Here’s to another year episode free! Because, oh yeah…. You better believe that I’m gonna do it all over again, because I certainly do. 2019 – you’re gonna be my year #2!!! Prost!!!