Be Inspired – Nelson Mandela

Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” — Nelson Mandela

I watched with detached interest as Mandela walked from prisoner to prime minister of S. Africa in 1990.  One might think that growing up with parents active in the 1960’s civil right movement, that I would be captivated by the events but S. Africa was far away and I was busy with my graduate studies in social work.

An amazing story of Mandela's life.  One of the better written autobiographies.
An amazing story of Mandela’s life. One of the better written autobiographies.

It was several years later when I read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, that I became enamored by the man whose broad beautiful and joyful smile belied a challenging life and brilliant mind.  I counsel and write about overcoming obstacles and how challenges are vehicles that strength us and teach us.    Nelson Mandela was one of those rare people who lived with grace, forgiveness, inner strength, and an incredible understanding of the human nature.  He also struck me as a leader and hero who accepted his role ending apartheid but never let his ego get the better of him.  Maybe this was partly due to the tragedies he endured throughout his long life.  He just seemed so darn approachable and the interactions with people seen on television seemed more than just for the sake of a 10 second news byte.

I believe we can all learn from Mandela.  He was a lawyer, civil rights activist, prisoner, world leader, peacemaker, and AIDS activist.  He was a husband, father, and grandfather.

He did not wallow in self-pity nor did he try to capitalize on his suffering. Rather than looking back, he looked forward in his work in overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles with quiet charm and an engaging smile.

Nelson Mandela was an imperfect human with faults.  His wife said he had a temper and when he was angry – look out.  His daughter honestly shares her frustration and sorrow growing up without a father and while she visited him while in prison, she was sad that he was not home with her and frustrated that she could never be touched by her father on these visits and when released from prison, she still rarely saw her father as he led South Africa through the new anti-apartheid rule.  I think this is what I admire most about the man.

Mandela understood that bringing people together through sports would lead to post-apartheid peace
Mandela understood that bringing people together through sports would lead to post-apartheid peace

“Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.” — Nelson Mandela

I challenge myself and all readers to consider how we can live a bit more like Mandela in the coming year.  Instead of allowing obstacles overcome us, let’s overcome obstacles with patience and creativity.  Instead of blaming others, let’s find the good in others and forgive.  And perhaps most importantly, let’s smile through it all.

Be Inspired by Mandela


Be Inspired: Your Brain

Imagine changing your way of life by improving the function of your brain.   Mind & body expert and bestselling author, Deepak Chopra, claims we can do just that in an article I read recently on the CNN website.  Apparently, we can make our brains work better simply by thinking we can improve them and the best way for us to relate to our brain is to ‘inspire it’.

According to Chopra, "thinking your brain into better functioning is the most efficient way to improve it.
According to Chopra, “thinking your brain into better functioning is the most efficient way to improve it.

The ways Chopra suggests improving brain function are also important aspects of living better despite chronic illness & pain that I coach my clients.  The brain is a powerful muscle requiring exercise and a bit of TLC for best results. By changing how we think of ourselves, new adventures and opportunities await.

Below is an abbreviated list on how you can inspire your brain to work better:

  • Manage stress
  • Avoid dull routines
  • Do something creative everyday
  • Read something inspirational everyday
  • Take time daily to relax, meditate, self-reflect
  • Deal with negative emotions such as anxiety and anger
  • Love and Be loved – it’s a worthwhile risk
  • Take some time to notice and appreciate nature daily
  • Follow a personal vision – how do you want to live your life?
  • Participate in at least one activity that fulfills
  • Get involved in a cause that is bigger than you.

The article continues with thoughts in your brain that you should ignore.  Not surprisingly, the thoughts to ignore are: passivity such as letting life take care of itself; inflexibility in daily routines and opinions; and allowing feelings of stress, anger or anxiety get the best of you.

For many of us, inspiring our brain may seem like an overwhelming task.  But with encouragement and patience, I believe everyone can do it.  I also think it especially important for sufferers of chronic illness to work on inspiring their brain, for it is through these activities that living better becomes possible.

Chopra’s CNN article can be found at:


Live more joyfully despite chronic illness.  

Contact me at and let’s schedule time to chat!


Getting Back on the Right Path

As mentioned in recent postings, the past months brought me several health challenges.  While chronic illness sufferers are more susceptible for catching every virus floating around, stress and anxiety further compromise the immune system making infections and complications more likely.  My efforts to please others, personal beliefs that I must complete every task I start, and an expectation that quitting is a societal taboo kept me from making a life decision that in my heart I knew for many months was the right decision.

I achieved my Master’s in Social Work over 20 years ago and after working mostly in nonprofit management, I pursued my dream of becoming a school counselor in Alaska.  I took classes for my Master’s in School Counseling in Alaska thinking that it would be more useful if I wanted to become a counselor outside the State.

When my husband and I moved to Texas, I continued my school counseling studies through long distance learning though my interest began waning.  It was about this time last year when I began exploring  coaching people with chronic illness.  The more I learned, the more this vocation resonated within me.  I learned the hard way how to live happily despite chronic illness and helping others is part of my DNA.  I completed my final school project (like a thesis)  last spring and when I defended before my committee, they told me that my plan was not satisfactory and I basically needed to reconsider my entire project.   I will not get into details though I do agree that I had a project in mind before starting my schooling and instead base a project on where the research led me.  My intent was to develop a training for educators on how to work with the most challenging students.  I believe with the right tools, any educator can work with difficult students.  My committee disagreed.

Some goals seem unreachable.

I took a break from my project over the summer but my heart was no longer in formal education.  I always received A’s in graduate school papers and essay tests.  I feared my chronic illness hindered my ability to write technically.

I paid tuition this fall and decided that I needed to place all of my energy on my project.   I pushed my coaching efforts to the back burner.  My physical pain worsened.  Focusing on reading became difficult.  One health problem after another arose.   I became depressed and unable to do much of anything.  I rarely get depressed.  The more deadlines I set for myself passed with little progress on the project.  What was going on with me?? How did I get so lost??

I knew the answers to these questions but feared doing anything about it.  I am not a quitter and everyone was encouraging me to finish and receive my M.Ed.   Finally, I had enough.  Suffering through Thanksgiving weekend with yet another painful infection, I decided it was time to take back control of my head, heart, and health.  I contacted my school adviser and told him that I was not going to complete the project.  I feared telling my mother and husband who encouraged me but they were surprisingly understanding.

Sometimes the hardest paths are the most satisfying.

I preach to my clients how stress can cause flare-ups and further compromise the immune system.  I failed to heed my own advise.  Life events can change the road we are on.  By keeping our hearts and minds open to possibilities that we believe are best for us – even if they are difficult – allows us to live more fully.  Growing my business is not easy but I know I am now on the right path.

I grow stronger every day and am currently setting personal and professional goals for the next few weeks, months, and next year.  As my favorite poet, Robert Frost, said in one of my favorite poems, The Road Not Taken,

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Do you have a chronic illness and need help setting goals to manage your life better?
 Do you wish to live more fully and joyfully?  
Contact me and schedule a free, no commitment, exploration session and let’s reach our goals together!

Email me at: 

People Who Inspire (3rd in Series) – Kelly

Kelly and I are kind of related through marriage.  Her brother is married to my husband’s niece and we have actually only met once though we’ve become fast friends through facebook.   Kelly’s story actually gave me the idea of writing about people who inspire me.   Needing background information, I asked Kelly to send me some history.  Imagine my surprise, when this lovely young lady wrote her story for me.  I made a few editorial changes but decided that Kelly’s tale must be told by Kelly herself.

I am Kelly and at 19, while working at a local hospital and going to college for a nursing degree, I fell.  I needed surgery and something like potato roots was found growing in my knees. The surgeon sent a sample to pathology and the results came back “inflammation”. It didn’t sound serious to me at the time, so I just brushed that piece of information off and continued to rehab, thinking I’d ache a little, then get better.

I remember going to work and telling the nurses, “I don’t know what arthritis feels like, but I feel like I have it.” Of course, the nurses all said I was too young and not to worry about it. I continued therapy and I got worse and worse.  I started blaming the surgeon thinking maybe he messed up and was too chicken to admit it.

The pain was enough for me to admit I couldn’t give my patients adequate care.  I had to resign, break the lease at my apartment and move back in with my parents.  Soon, I couldn’t move at all. My parents were picking me up and putting me to bed, my mom was giving me showers.  We just couldn’t figure out what was going on. The pain was so severe I truly believed I was dying. I remember sitting my parents down and telling them that I was ready to die. The next day, my mom took me to the doctors’ office begging them to find out what on earth was killing me. After blood tests and other lab tests, it was confirmed I had RA (Rheumatoid Arthritis).  We were dumbfounded….don’t only old people get RA? And what is it anyway? You mean to tell me ‘arthritis’ is killing me? After much research, I learned what RA was and that it was meaner than anything I could have ever imagined.

A basic regimen of medications was soon ruled out because my RA was too aggressive.  We tried another combo of medications, again, a failed combination. Next, we started IV treatments. Rituxan is also used for patients with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. By taking this drug, I accepted the fact that I

would not have the ability to have children of my own. I remember being so angry that before my chance of having my own family arrived, it was gone. My life decisions were made for me.

My body resisted Rituxan, a chemo derivative, but after FORCING it into my body, it worked. Something finally worked. I was scared to death to go in for treatments because I knew I would have one serious reaction after another. Once, my whole body was a giant hive. Another time I had to stop treatment for a while because I couldn’t breathe. On and on the reactions would show up and for the sake of living I had to bite the bullet and just take it. On top of that, the treatment was expensive and while insurance paid most of it, I was still responsible for a hefty chunk.

While on Rituxan, a job opportunity came my way for a 911 public safety dispatcher at my local police department.  I passed the tests and accepted the position. I was so scared of everyone knowing I was ‘sick’ that I only told my director and immediate supervisor. I started my job with the idea that I had to fight this battle by myself.  It was mine, and mine alone and no one else’s burden…I had to go through a

couple of infusion scares before I realized that the people I worked with, other dispatchers, firemen, and police officers, all wanted to be my support. They wanted to be my strength.

After four years, Rituxan stopped working and I then stopped taking the drug. I realized this when I fell at work in December of 2010 and broke a bone in my shoulder that required surgery. All the suppressed fears of ‘going back to hell’ came swarming back to me. But being a stubborn cuss, I again bit the bullet and went under the knife. There was no getting better after surgery.  I had another flare up. The difference this time was I knew exactly what was wrong with me. And I knew the ins and outs of the disease, which made me more terrified than before my diagnosis. I was forced to take a few weeks off work that turned into months.

In the middle of all this, I was abandoned by my rheumatologist. While on Rituxan, I was also signed into a clinical trial for RA patients for this drug through my doctor. I later learned that my doctor was paid for me being on this trial.

Learning that I removed myself from this study when I stopped taking Rituxan, he told me, “There is nothing more I can do for you. You will get worse. You ought to prepare yourself to be medically retired by the time you’re age 30.”

I was crushed. Crushed is not a strong enough word for it. I was destroyed. My spirit had died, I had no hope. I was again preparing to die.  I forced myself to go back to work, even though I was in copious amounts of pain.

I kept acting like I was okay.  Then, I was asked to train another new hire. We were taking a restroom break and I couldn’t hold onto my pants enough to pull them up on my own. I had to ask my trainee to come into the bathroom stall with me and pull my pants up. She did it willingly.  With love and compassion, she made sure her trainer, was taken care of. The reality of what was going on broke me.

I had to admit to myself and everyone around me.   I JUST CAN’T DO THIS. I took sick leave.   I was laid up at home with no hope when one day, a coworker called and told me of a doctor her father goes to in Lubbock. She gave this doctor glowing reviews. I had absolutely nothing to lose, so I looked up his information and made an appointment.

The three hour drive was torture. We got there and I met COMPASSION!  I was looking in the face of a true doctor. I told him my story of the past six years, and by the end of my story, his compassion had turned into rage. Not at me, but at my previous doctor.  How could a physician allow a human being go through such unnecessary pain when there were so many more avenues possible. His rage turned into care when I asked him, “Will you keep me?” He said yes with love.

I left that office with hope. Hope bigger than anything I’ve ever felt before. We had to wait for the last round of Rituxan to wear off. And when I got home (I had since moved to my own place again)….I felt the fury of Hell racing through my body. I lost my ability to do ANYTHING. My mother came over to dress me, bathe me, pick me up from the bed and put me in the recliner before she had to go to work. I could not walk. I was a breathing slab of concrete. Every joint in my body had seized up and everywhere else was so swollen my skin began to rip open.

Three months later, I started a new treatment called Actemra with Dr. Compassion. It was a brand new drug. All of the trials had outlandishly awesome reviews. After the first dose, I swore I felt a difference. Yes, thank you, God, relief.    But another setback was to come.

The next month I went in for a follow up appointment. I was optimistic, but I was equally concerned. I

began to get welts in odd places.  One on my inner right thigh, another on my gut, and one in my mouth. The welt in my mouth was large and painful. It looked like someone took a baseball bat to my face by the time Dr. Compassion saw it. He said it wasn’t related to RA, because RA effects joints, not skin tissue.

I took his word and left the appointment feeling good. I met my brother and his wife for dinner with my parents at a restaurant in Lubbock. My food tasted really bad, but I was hungry so I didn’t say anything and the welt in my mouth was really bothering me. After we had finished and walked outside to say our goodbyes, the welt inside my mouth burst. The smell and taste of putrid gunk was everywhere. We raced to my brother’s house to clean me up.

The next day, I went to my family practice doctor and he said it was an infection of my saliva gland. The new drug had wiped my immune system out so completely that simple bacteria a healthy person would never even know was in them crippled me. Ok, so here come some antibiotics.  I called Dr. Compassion and he said we couldn’t continue with treatment until the infection cleared up.

The welt in my thigh grew bigger and was a lot more painful. After a while I couldn’t walk (again). The welt began ‘weeping’. Seepage from the welt was stinky and creepy. It smelled like my mouth tasted. Mom took me to the ER, where I was seen quickly and given several antibiotics. The welt was a staph infection just like the one in my mouth.  The infection had burrowed into my thigh, and was starting to eat into the muscle tissue.

I was sent to a wound care specialist. At this time, no antibiotic stops the spread of these staph infections but the specialist finally decided to try the oldest and least broad-covering antibiotic that never works for anything. Except for me it worked. The infection finally stopped spreading.

In November 2011, I was finally given the green light to get more treatments. The treatments took and no more infections. By December (exactly one full year after my fall & broken shoulder) I was back to work full-time.

God bless my director, Chief of Police, Chief of Fire, and City Human Resources who felt that I was worth waiting for after a year to still be a part of their team.  I went back to work. January 2012 came and I was rejoicing that the worst year of my life was done. After all the nights of lying in bed begging God to remove me from this life and even seriously thinking of making that happen on my own power, I was on my way back to restoration.

I had often wondered why I was being allowed to go through such an awful thing.  I got an answer in the form of a 911 call last month. A man was at his wit’s end. He was a war vet and had watched all of his buddies get blown away. When he came back to the States, he was diagnosed with PTSD and later in life, with RA. He was calling me, calling the police, to come clean up what was left of him after he shot himself.

I was going through the professional motions when he started to hang up the line.  “Sir, wait, can I tell you something before you go?”

“Sure why not, go ahead.”

“What if I told you I know exactly, EXACTLY, what you’re going through?”

“I’d say that’s a load of horse sh**!”

“Sir, I do, I also have RA.”

I went through my experiences with him while he was holding the receiver of a pay phone at a convenience store. The caller was intently listening to my story of absolute darkness and hopelessness. I got to the part where God allowed me to survive in spite of last year. The man began to cry.

He was telling me thank you when my officers showed up. He was transported to a local hospital and given a mental health evaluation.  I was a voice of hope to this man. Since that call, I’ve been a

light of hope to other people. It took the last year for me to realize that I don’t have to be angry with this disease.

Does it suck? Yes.

Do I hurt still? Absolutely.

Is my RA in remission? No way.

Will it be? I don’t have a clue.

All I know is my dispatchers, firemen, police officers, family, friends, and even strangers look at me and they see strength.

They see weakness.

They see a fighter.

They see a crier.

But most of all, they see ME!

I am loved whether I have a disease or not. Now I know I have a support system of people who love me. I can be open with my RA. I don’t pretend that I’m healthy anymore. I am broken and it’s okay.

Even more, I am a beacon of HOPE!

I am Kelly, 26 years old, broken and loved. My story is not over yet. I have the rest of my life to make a difference and change lives.