My Journey Towards Mindfulness


Listening to my dogs and husband’s breathing while they slept the other night reminded me that taking slow deep breaths relaxes me and eases anxiety. Stress and letting go are constant battles in my brain.  The former can aggravate chronic and mental illness and pain.  I practice yoga and other exercises that are gentle on my body  (though, admittedly, not lately) and learned some time ago the value of deep breathing.  Not the most disciplined person, I find myself needing more – a tangible, realistic way of letting go of circumstances that are toxic to my brain.

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Watching Anderson Cooper on a 60 Minutes report on mindfulness, my curiosity piqued when Cooper said research of the practice showed positive results for sufferers of chronic illness.   Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Stress Reduction and Relaxing Program (later renamed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979.  While he studied Buddhism, Kabat-Zinn prefers taking a scientific approach to mindfulness and apparently, it works.  American Mindfulness Research was created in 2013 to support empirical and conceptual data as well as develop best practices.

According to the website: www.mindful.org: “Mindfulness is the innate ability we have to be present, composed, and to pause before we overreact to the challenges of our busy lives.”

I’m intrigued that practicing mindfulness can improve physical, as well as, mental health.  The practice may also improve eating habits and insomnia.  Through research and practice, I hope I can better manage stressful situations – especially those that I cannot change – and improve my health.  Never before disciplined with daily meditation, I recently started listening to a podcast offering free mindful meditations (Mindful Meditations) before sleep.  I think I’m ready to take the next step and practice mindfulness in my daily life.

In addition to the websites mentioned above, I’m reading two books by Jon Kabat-Zinn:

Mindfulness for Beginners 
Wherever You Go, There You Are  

I welcome comments from readers who practice mindfulness and anyone who wants to join me on my journey.

What a Difference a Trusted Doctor Makes


Last fall, I began treatments for venous retinal occlusion – a broken vein bleeding into the retina. Not knowing any ophthalmologists in my area, I accepted the urgent referral from a local optometrist. What followed over the next eight months were a series of very painful injections into the eye and one equally painful laser treatment.

While I noticed some progress to my vision, I was less than impressed with the ophthalmologist’s bedside manner and the office’s lack of efficiency.  Each visit lasted at least 2 hours and one ghastly appointment continued for over 3 hours where I was the last patient in the office and when my husband asked the receptionist where I was, she went back to look for me and never returned!  The owner of the practice – not the doctor treating me – brought me into an exam room one time thinking I was someone else.  It wasn’t until he called me by another name that I realized his incompetent mistake.

Finally, I contacted another ophthalmologist for a second opinion.  Walking into the office, I felt the difference.   The other doctor’s office felt like a factory with the waiting rooms (yes there are more than one) full with patients shuffled from one conveyor belt to another.   While the waiting room was large, there are never more than a few people waiting at a time.  While I’ve only been to the new doctor twice, I’ve been treated warmly and never waited more than 10 minutes, even when arriving 15 minutes early.

The major difference is the doctor-patient communication.  Whereas the first ophthalmologist ignored my concerns, my new ophthalmologist and  retinal specialist (referred by my new ophthalmologist) heard my concerns, talked more clearly about the treatment process, and quickly eased my mind.    The final clincher for my trust in my new optical team occurred when they explained why I felt so much pain  after the injection.  Apparently, the antiseptic betadine aggravates the dry tenderness.   Rewetting drops help remove the antiseptic and cools the irritation.  While not completely pain-free, rinsing my eye after the treatment and using drops throughout the day helped tremendously.  The nurse said she always advises patients to use drops after injections for the very reason that betadine can irritate.   I wasn’t a wimp after all!  That little piece of information made the world of difference to my psyche.  This health team actually cared about how I felt post-treatment.   What a concept!

Before switching doctors, I had accepted my fate of being partially blind in one eye.  The first ophthalmologist did nothing wrong professionally though my appointments took twice as long as the appointments at the new doctor’s office.  I researched the process for the treatment and  substantiated it with a second opinion.  The difference is trust.  I forgot to take my own advise to keep looking if I don’t trust a referred health professional.  I know there are no guarantees any physician can save my vision.  I also know that the treatment process will continue to hurt though, thankfully, not as acutely.

Now my voice is heard.   I’m confident my vision team will satisfactorily answer any of my questions or concerns.  And that is what we must strive for when managing medical treatments for chronic illness.

Laughter Really is the Best Medicine


Since my February surgery and new prescription regimen, I feel overall improvement in my health.  But I still have aches, pains and days of feeling kind of cruddy. This morning began as one of those days.   My morning walk was sluggish, my motivation waned, and I kept thinking how good a morning nap would feel.  Alas, it was another Monday with much to do and responsibilities to keep.

Usually, working from home is a pleasure for me.   Discipline and distractions are occasionally problematic but that also happened when I worked in an office.   What’s great about being home, is my distractions are much more entertaining than any office building. Today was a prime example of a welcome distraction turning into an hysterical episode at the Webb house.

Amigo, the horse, spent much of the morning calling his new bff , a newly arrived mare who lives next door.   Every time Amigo whinnied, Homer and Luna excitedly barked and ran through the house convinced Amigo was calling them.  After an hour of this nonsense, I finally wised up and decided it

A moment of affection.
A moment of affection.

was time to change this behavior.

I slipped off my flip-flops, pulled up my cowboy boots and took the dogs out to the pasture.   I cued Amigo to run and it took little encouragement with two dogs yapping at his hooves.  With a buck and a kick or two, Amigo trotted out and circled around.  This would never do.  Urging him on, soon Amigo took off in a full gallop with two black dogs quickly losing ground behind him.  After a few minutes, Amigo returned to his yearning post while the dogs happily panted with their tongues hanging.

As I filled Amigo’s trough and the dogs’ outside water bowls, I noticed Luna heading towards the dirt road.  I called her but she has occasional selective deafness.  In other words, Luna ignored me.  Dumbfounded, I watched my beautiful shiny black-haired Luna lay down, stretch and roll over in the brown pool.  How does she know that mud baths are good for her coat and skin???

Even as a puppy Luna learned that a hose shower always followed a mud bath.
Even as a puppy Luna learned that a hose shower always followed a mud bath.

Feeling great after her bath, Luna took off running around the yard.  Of course, she wasn’t going into my house covered in mud.  Hose still in hand, I managed to stop her before  she could reach the dirt driveway.

Apparently, the well water was cooler and more satisfying than the puddle, for Luna stood poised while I sprayed her down from head to tail until every hair was once again its lovely ebony.   Finally setting her free, I called all dogs to the back yard.  Luna did her happy 360 dance, prance and run.  Next thing I know, she’s  scratching her back on the dirt driveway.  Ugh! What can I do but laugh at my girl’s silly antics.  She’s having so much fun, loving life, being a dog, and happy, happy, happy!

Once again, I grab the stinker who now has burrs, twigs, and who knows what else in her coat.  Watered down once more, I wisely keep her close as I lead her into the fenced in yard.   Hours later, I smile as I look at Luna twitching and running as she sleeps.  Yeah, laughter is good for what ails you.

Sweet, silly, sneaky Luna.  Her antics, along with her siblings keep me laughing and smiling daily!
Sweet, silly, sneaky Luna. Her antics, along with her siblings keep me laughing and smiling daily!

CNN Article: 5 Ways to Handle Chronic Pain


This is a great article!!

(Laura’s note:  It’s encouraging to read that many of my blog topics are supported by a physician)

Editor’s note: Dr. David Kloth is a practicing interventional pain management physician in southwestern Connecticut, director at large for the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians and co-author of the book “Pain Wise: A Patient’s Guide to Pain Management.” He has been practicing pain medicine and researching pain management for more than 20 years.
(CNN) — Chronic pain conditions now affect more than 116 million Americans, according to the Institute of Medicine, a figure that dwarfs the number of people who suffer from diabetes, coronary heart disease/stroke and cancer combined.
Unfortunately, too many patients rely on prescription drugs as an isolated therapy to treat their pain. While pain medications play an important role in the treatment of chronic pain, many pain sufferers rely on powerful prescription painkillers to mask it.
If you are suffering from chronic pain, you should also seek treatments that are designed to reduce the pain by attacking the specific cause. Many patients and even some doctors aren’t aware of some of the other available therapeutic options, which are typically less invasive and/or less risky than alternatives such as surgery or medication.
Interventional pain medicine is a medical sub-specialty that is devoted to the diagnosis and treatment of pain-related disorders, with an emphasis on diagnosis first.

Specially trained pain physicians utilize various types of injections and minimally invasive surgeries to manage and treat persistent and intractable pain. These specialists treat a wide range of chronic-pain conditions, including but not limited to back pain, neck pain, extremity pain, headaches, joint pain, musculoskeletal injuries and cancer pain.

If you suffer from chronic pain and want to explore options, here are some tips:

Find a pain specialist:  It is important to find the right doctor if you want precise answers on the cause of your pain and to identify an appropriate treatment course. When advice from a non-specialist is sought, it often results in no diagnosis or, worse, a misdiagnosis, neither of which is helpful in treating the pain problem.  When this occurs and the pain continues, patients are often told that there is nothing that can be done, or they are directed toward more aggressive surgical approaches that may not be necessary and are typically more risky.

Many pain sufferers don’t think about finding a doctor who specializes in pain when looking for answers to their problem. Instead, they often seek help from an internist or other physician.

Not all pain specialists are equal. You should look for one who is board certified in pain management.

Don’t chase your pain with pills:   Prescription pain medications are potentially addictive but can also be an important component of pain management.  Pain medications have a greater indication and acceptance when used for acute pain rather than long-term chronic pain, where the evidence to support their benefits is lacking.  High-dose chronic pain medications are questioned by many pain physicians, and so long-term use of pain medications should be done judiciously and with expert supervision due to the risks associated with this form of treatment.

Why you can’t sleep when you’re in pain.  In addition, pain itself is often a protective mechanism that warns you of injury. By dulling the pain response, pain medications can lead to further injury. When you don’t feel the pain, you may do something to injure the area further, a serious concern in patients who perform manual or heavy labor.

This is not to say that chronic pain medications should never be used, but they should be used and monitored carefully and not relied upon in most cases as the primary and/or sole therapy. Alternative therapies that actually reduce or eliminate the pain should be tried and at least incorporated into the treatment regimen. It is better to remove the painful stimulus than to mask it with pain medications, which can also mask or dull the senses.

Do your homework:  Many patients are told that there are no other treatments to manage their ongoing pain issues, when this is simply not the case. There are a number of interventional pain therapies available that can not only alleviate pain but in some cases eliminate the underlying cause of pain.

Interventional pain management has been around for more than two decades. The procedures implemented by pain management physicians reflect the standard of care for pain management today, and their efficacy has been demonstrated through extensive study and research.

Epidurals and other nerve blocks:  Various injection therapies, including the use of epidurals, are among the most common interventional pain therapies used today.  Epidural steroid injections are in widespread use for a variety of chronic pain conditions but are most typically used to treat a nerve that is pinched at the spinal level. Epidurals used in interventional pain medicine are minimally invasive injections comprising a small amount of local anesthetic and steroid to reduce inflammation. When properly applied, they can help reduce the patients reliance on pain medication.

In addition to epidurals, other treatments include trigger point injections, to alleviate the pain associated with tight and restricted muscles; facet injections, often used to treat arthritis of the spine; and sacroiliac injections. The sacroiliac joint commonly causes back pain but is often overlooked by non-pain physicians.

Manage your expectations:  The goal of interventional pain management procedures should be to reduce and manage pain, with emphasis on the word “manage.”  Your pain physician may or may not be able to cure the entire problem (and for the record, surgery may not either), but they can help you control the pain and maximize your functional level.

Although the ideal goal is to completely resolve the pain, this is often not realistically possible.  Bear in mind that this is also true for the majority of other chronic health problems; heart disease, diabetes, COPD, arthritis, etc. All require long-term management. Chronic pain may similarly require intermittent or continual treatment.

 

The article can be found at:  http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/22/health/expert-chronic-pain/index.html?hpt=hp_bn13

Tips from my Website


You can conquer any mountain
You can conquer any mountain

Below are tips for sufferers of chronic illness from my website LB Webb Coach.  Check out more useful information at www.lbwebbcoach.com
Please Note: It is important to talk with your physician, physical therapist or other licensed professionals before trying new physical activities or tools.

Find a Trusted Medical Professional – Communicating with your physician is critical. This is the most important advice I can offer.   Go to appointments with lists of questions.  I can offer suggestions on how you can self-advocate.  If you are not comfortable with your physician and (s)he minimizes your concerns, find another!! Talk candidly about medications and if one doesn’t work, explain how it makes you feel and try something else. If unable to find a physician who doesn’t listen or make you feel valued, acupuncturists, physical therapists, and other health professionals may help.

A Trusting Ear – Good mental health is an important part of your health program. It is important to have someone to share frustrations as well as successes. Ideally, everyone needs multiple people they trust depending on the circumstances. Family members, friends, professional therapists, life coaches can all be considered. The key is finding someone who you know who does not judge you, accepts you, and appreciates you.

Exercise – Start slow and easy but do something! Whether walking for 5 minutes; sweeping the floor; practicing tai chi or yoga, it is very important to get into a routine of using muscles and joints. Swimming is probably the best exercise for chronic pain and illness as it easier on joints and muscles. Many pools offer classes specially designed for people like us.

I knitted this baby blanket for a loved one.
I knitted this baby blanket for a loved one.

Find a Hobby –  Knitting, crotchet,  creating scrapbooks, photography, bird watching, gardening or anything that is pleasurable for you and takes your mind off your pain is important.

Massage – Many people in pain (particularly fibromyalgia patients) cringe at the idea of anyone touching let alone massaging muscles. Communicating with the massage therapist can make the experience both pleasurable and helpful.

Pampering – Part of the massage experience feels good because it’s important to be good to yourself.  If massages are not comfortable, try a manicure and pedicure (not just for women anymore).  Going to a matinee, museum or having lunch with friends can  feel like a treat.

Warmth – Baths, hot compresses and heating pads, preferably moist, provide temporary relief.

Massage Foam Rollers – Using gentle pressure on targeted areas by moving the roller back and forth on the floor can be very painful in some areas at first. But even doing a few times at first, muscles are more relaxed and fascia (connective tissue that surrounds muscles and nerves) are lengthened and softer.

TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) Unit – TENS is a pocket-size device that sends electrical impulses to block pain signals. Electrical currents are mild but can ease specific areas of pain. TENS is not helpful for migrating pain.   NOTE: Ask physician or physical therapist about TENS and how to use it properly.

Like my facebook page at:  http://www.facebook.com/pages/LB-Webb-Coach-for-people-with-Chronic-Illness-Pain/328980187115314

I can help you live a joyful life.  Contact me for a free consultation at laurawebb@lbwebbcoach.com

The Self-Assessment


I am back!! Forgive me, committed and new readers, for not writing in a while.  Recovery from surgery was slower than I anticipated though Dr. P reminded me that it may take time for my new medication to tackle the illness that took over my body.   Six weeks later, I can tell you that I am gaining energy and mental clarity more each day.

The Web of Life
The Web of Life

It’s truly remarkable.  I wake up at 6:30 each morning now after sleeping seven hours.  I enjoy coffee and ponder how I should spend my day.  I don’t plan my day around my level of pain and the density of my brain fog.  I look forward to the daily stroll in the pasture, watching the dogs run, sniff, and pester Amigo.  I stroke Amigo’s nose when he takes a break from this grass and greets me.

Last week, I started substitute teaching again.  Last year, I tried to help out in the school where my husband teaches but was too exhausted after one day.  While I don’t regret leaving my career as a school counselor for coaching, I do miss interacting with kids.  I know many of the students and substituting is a great way to fill my need of teen time.  This weekend is prom and one of my spousal duties includes being my husband’s date for the evening.  I  look forward to going this year and dancing with my date.

I review my  Web of Life and consider areas that need addressing and strengthening. I

Amigo takes a break from grazing to check out the scenery.
Amigo takes a break from grazing to check out the scenery.

look at my web differently now.  Health takes on a different meaning, for I no longer assess which part of my body requires greatest attention.   I also look at personal development with fresh eyes and open mind.  I spend more time exploring my spirituality.  Joy & fun plans are now made without fear of cancellation due to illness.

I go to bed without fear of tossing and turning.  I started writing a gratitude journal and document three things that I am grateful for each day.  I indulge in new dreams and strive to shed old burdens.

I know the phantom inside me exists and while it sleeps soundly now, I realize it may awaken again.  But I relish each pain-free day and look at life with a new sense of purpose.

Live more joyfully despite chronic illness.  

Contact me at laurawebb@lbwebbcoach.com and let’s schedule time to chat!

Hopeful Progress


I returned home from Alabama a week ago.  I never thought much of  ‘Bama’ before though thrilled to mark it off as the 47th state Alabamathat I visited.  Before landing in Birmingham, my knowledge of Alabama was limited to its ignoble role in civil rights history and the crimson tide at University of Alabama.  Now I know that U. of Alabama is in Tuscaloosa (and its a beautiful campus).  I know tall

Evergreen forests blanket Alabama's landscape
Evergreen forests blanket Alabama’s landscape

evergreen trees blanket the hilly landscape. And I discovered hope for a healthier life in Alabama.

While not yet fully recovered from my surgery, I notice major changes in my body.  My headaches are gone.  I have not experienced phantom stabbing pain since I left the hospital in Alabama nor have I felt constant aching in joints.  I can’t say that I’m clear-headed as I’m still taking pain medicine but I don’t feel like I’m in a fog either.  As for sleep, I think that I am still recovering from the surgery and travel, but I’m hopeful (yes, truly full of hope!) that my sleep patterns are improving.

The biggest challenge now is my diet.  For 3 months, I am forbidden to eat bread and meat, not even chicken or fish, until my esophagus heals completely.  For now, I’m keeping gluten-free.  I wish I could say that I’m starting with a clean plate and healthy eating but I don’t write fiction.  The gallons of ice cream in my freezer likely will keep me from losing the 30 pounds I’m expected to lose.

Yes, I am hopeful.  I am becoming a believer in Dr. Pridgen and his medical wisdom.  And my confidence is growing that the FDA will approve the treatment later this year (yes, in 2013) and  real help will finally become available to the tens of thousands of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue sufferers.