Posted in Life Lessons, Mindfulness Matters, Personal Perspective, Uncategorized

Crisis Management

My cat, Tubs, wasn’t acting like himself last week. He was laying under the bed, trying to get in the bathroom door that’s always closed, not eating as much, not moving around as much. I got him to the vet as soon as I realized it wasn’t just a weird phase (because sometimes he does start laying somewhere new or boycott food he suddenly decided he doesn’t like).

His liver was enlarged, so was his pancreas, and they couldn’t be sure what it was. I felt so guilty. I should have gotten him in sooner. I started crying because it was clear his situation at the moment was rather grim. The vet, Dr. Scherman at Roscoe Village Animal Hospital, asked me what I was feeling. I told her about the guilt and she was so reassuring about how cats hide it when they aren’t feeling well and how long it can take to notice minor changes. He needed an ultrasound to figure it out and he couldn’t wait long. She was clear that this wouldn’t be an easy fix and laid out some possibilities. We left with uncertainty and a referral for an ultrasound.

I took him home (thanks for the ride Sam and Alex) for the night to save those overnight fees and brought him to the emergency vet first thing in the morning (thanks for the ride Thom). He was there most of the day. The doctor called. It could be an infection, fatty liver disease, or lymphoma and there’s no real well to tell until we start eliminating things through treatment. She spoke with my regular vet. Instead of staying for observation with a feeding tube I brought him home for the night (cost effective). The next morning I took him back. Dr. Scherman put in a feeding tube and they observed him for a few hours after the procedure. One of the vet techs told me that he sat in on their staff meeting, recovering in a towel in a cat bed and charming everyone. I know everyone thinks their pet is the favorite at the vet’s office, but mine really was 😂.

I watched a few videos on feeding tube training. It’s really nice to have something to refer to. The vet tech and Dr. Scherman both made sure I knew what I was doing, how much to give and how challenging it would be. It has been. Every 3-4 hours I put a large syringe cocktail of wet food, water, medicine into a bowl of warm water to get it the right temperature. I pull Tubs from his hiding spot as gently as I can. I flush with water, follow our feeding chart, and flush again. I observe his reactions to see if I can give him a bit more or if I should ease off. Sometimes the tube clogs. I have to use some water to sort of ‘plunger effect’ the tube. Not fun, but luckily I’m getting the consistency down so it should be smoother as we go. I have to log everything. I decided if I bedazzled the log with sparkles and stickers it would be less sterile, scary, and more enthusiastic, recovery emphasized.

It’s 8AM Sunday morning as I’m writing this. We just had our first feeding of the morning and it went really well. He was a bit more alert today which is encouraging. The hardest part about this gig is going to be cleaning the insertion point. It’s stitched up well and I know what to do, but I can’t get the vet’s wrap back on the same way.

It’s going to be a long road to recovery, but there’s plenty of hope. Thankfully, there’s Care Credit to help me cover the costs. I cannot even begin to convey how wonderful the vets and staff are at Roscoe Village Animal Hospital. They were patient, caring, honest and optimistic. We made small talk (and sang along) to Mamma Mia and talked about their office cats, one of which was comically splayed against the window. Regardless of how tired and worried I was, I couldn’t help but smile and laugh when I saw her face smushed against the glass as I walked in.

As much as I’ve been overwhelmed this week, I have been equally overwhelmed with gratitude. I’ve received so much love and support from those closest to me. Family, friends, even coworkers checking in on him and me. Offering to help where they can. Talking to me over the phone to distract me while I waited for more results. Driving me to and from the vet whenever they were free, taking me with on errands, pulling through a drive through on our way home so I wouldn’t have to worry about dinner. Even a quick text asking how he’s doing or wishing him well made a difference.

Tubs has been my best friend for more than a decade. I can’t say goodbye without giving him a fair shot at recovery.

It’s been interesting to see my personal progress throughout this. I used to struggle with asking for help. I used to struggle with being in doctor’s offices. I used to get angry. I used to break down. I used to dwell in ‘I can’t do it.’ This time, that was never an option. I put one foot in front of the other and relied on my support system. I used a variety of skills I’ve been learning in therapy. Anytime I was tempted to fortune tell or catastrophize I turned my mind. Instead of saying ‘what if’ I said ‘let’s see.’ In the waiting room, I practiced ‘half-smiling and willing hands’ (to do this you open your palms up and half-smile, it feels a bit ridiculous, but it works). I balanced emotion with reason whenever I could. I avoided any all or nothing thinking. I saught distractions like a book, a video game, a TV show.

Yesterday, I finally left the house after a feeding to go to sushi with friends. It was exactly what I needed (not just the food, the laughter, the company). It was fun, but occasionally my thoughts drifted to the ‘what ifs’ that could be happening while I was gone. My friends understood and luckily, he seemed stable when I got back.

Tubs is hiding under the bed right now resting. It’s his chosen place of comfort during this time and I’m trying to respect it, though, sometimes if he’s alert I’ll gently place him on the bed so I can pet him and talk to him for a while. He starts kneading the towel and leaning against me and my heart melts.

In a few hours, I’ll give him his next feeding and then again a few hours after that and a few hours after that and so on. I’m drafting an email for work to see how we can proceed because I can’t exactly be in the office right now. The feeding process only takes 5-10 minutes and since I’m a writer I’m hopeful they’ll let me work from home while he recovers. My coworkers and bosses have been so understanding thus far, so I’m sure there won’t be an issue.

I’m writing this because it helps me process. I’m also writing it so everyone knows what’s going on, but as more of a story and less of a ‘my cat is sick please send positive vibes’ (although those are more than welcome). Thank you for reading .

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Posted in Mindfulness Matters, Personal Perspective, Topical Time

Suicide in the 21st Century

The first week of June was filled with devastation and despair. First, Kate Spade, a celebrated handbag designer, committed suicide at the age of 55. Then, Anthony Bourdain, acclaimed chef and storyteller on his show Parts Unknown, committed suicide at the age of 61. Lastly, a comprehensive study from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) found a 30 percent increase in suicides in more than half of the states over the last two decades.

If reading that last paragraph made you feel hopeless, you aren’t alone. Mid-June I was going to work, going to class, meeting with friends, but I was numb.

I was reading Malcolm Harris’ Kids These Days at the time. His chapter on “Behavior Modification” illuminated more troubling information about mental illness in America. Despite tremendous growth in pharmaceutical treatment for mental illness, Harris notes there hasn’t been a decline in suicides. In fact, along with the rise of suicide, there’s been a 500 percent increase in depression since the 1980s.

I know medication can save lives. It’s critical in some situations. I would never suggest someone refuse medication or suddenly stop taking medication. However, I’ve tried over a dozen antidepressants in the past 15 years. In my opinion, medication on its own isn’t enough. Talk therapy (psychotherapy) can help people gain a greater understanding of mental illness and learn different skills that can lower distress. The American Psychiatric Association acknowledges that medication and talk therapy have similar effects on the brain. Therapy’s saved my life, more than once, and conversations I’ve had with others make me well aware that I’m not the only one.

On a national level, there’s been recognition of the power of communication when it comes to extreme distress and suicidal urges. Signs like these have been going up all around the city urging those who need help to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

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Talking is the last resort. If it’s the last resort, it should also be the first. Unfortunately, as is the issue with most treatments for mental illness, there are so many barriers to talk therapy like access, affordability, and stigma that people who recognize they need help often can’t get it.

So, where does all this leave us?

The events of early June made it abundantly clear that suicide can touch anyone regardless of how much or how little they have. I think it’s important that we remember that and make an effort to check in on one another more often, especially if on the outside it looks like everything is fine. It’s not going to be easy with all the distractions of our digitized lives, but when we start the conversation we stop the stigma. That’s power.

We also need to push our elected officials to put more funding into mental health. Despite the 30 percent rise in suicides, our current president seeks to cut funding to the National Institute of Mental Health by 30 percent in 2019 (among other things). On the state level, New York and Virginia passed laws mandating mental health education. I think this has the potential to be a step in the right direction, especially with reductions in federal funding. Kids can learn how to take care of their mental health and that there’s nothing wrong with them if they experience mental illness. I’ll keep an eye out to see how this new law is implemented because I’m skeptically optimistic.

In a seemingly hopeless situation, there is still hope for us to hold onto. It’s kind of like the routine flight attendants go over before the flight takes off in case the cabin loses oxygen. Put your oxygen mask on first, but then turn to those around you and help them breathe. Take care of your mental health, but then do what you can to help your community engage with theirs.

Posted in Life Lessons, Mindfulness Matters

How Do You Practice Gratitude?

When I think of practicing gratitude, my first thought is, “Well, I guess I’m grateful for what I have,” but that’s not what it means. Practicing isn’t generally being grateful, it’s about actively finding and building gratitude for things (people, places, animals, moments, etc.) in your life.

A good place to start learning about gratitude practice is this article from the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC aka a cool research center devoted to the scientific understanding of happiness and altruism). When you’re done with that, check out this article that goes over four different ways to practice gratitude. It isn’t a one size fits all kind of thing so if something isn’t working it’s worth it to try something else.

I’m currently practicing ‘counting my blessings.’ GGSC suggests spending 5-10 minutes writing out three things in detail on a daily basis. I might grow to that eventually, but instead these first few weeks I’ve been boiling it down to 2-3 minutes writing down a few words (ex: getting out of class early, pizza lunch at work, taking the long way home).

It’s funny, lately I find myself appreciating things more in the present. On my walk a few days ago, the same walk I do several times a week, I saw a yellow bird and spent a few moments watching it. I thought to myself how grateful I was for my stillness and for the return of nature and wildlife after an endless winter. I felt happy, calm, and hopeful.

If you’re not sold on the benefits of gratitude practices, check out more of the research:

  • Read this piece on TIME that goes over 7 incredible health benefits of gratitude.
  • Harvard is also hip to the gratitude jive.

Both of these were posted close to Thanksgiving. It’s interesting how we seem to reserve gratitude for holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Father/Mother’s day, birthdays etc. I don’t see anything wrong with addressing specific gratitude on these days, but it’s so worthwhile to incorporate gratitude into your daily life.

Posted in Topical Time

What is Cognitive Flexibility?

Are you familiar with the term cognitive flexibility? It refers to the ability to change our thinking based on new information. A link has been established between sleep deprivation and impaired cognitive flexibility. There’s ongoing research on how conitive flexibility affects our decision making.

I don’t know about you, but when I get poor sleep it’s hard to focus. It’s harder to be optimistic. It’s easy to be forgetful. It’s easy to get frustrated.

Some of us use caffeine to reduce symptoms of sleep deprivation, but it’s possible to become caffeine dependent. If you miss that morning cup and you’re sleep deprived your symptoms could be even worse.

Instead of relying on caffeine to supplement your poor sleep, evaluate your sleeping hygiene. Do you do anything to wind down before bed? Is there a set time you stop looking at your phone? Do you try to regularly go to sleep around the same time?

These questions refer to aspects of a healthy sleep routine. I’ll use myself as an example, but keep in mind I’m still struggling to establish this so it doesn’t happen every night:

  1. Wind Down – I’ll try to drink some relaxing tea, do yoga, read, or listen to soft music about an hour before bed.
  2. No Phone – This one has been the hardest to stick with. I try to stop looking at my phone at 10, 10:30 PM at the latest. Often times it doesn’t happen. I’ll grab my phone to check that my alarm is set and since it’s already in my hand I’ll open an app like Facebook and start scrolling away.
  3. Bed Time – If I’m following the ‘no phone’ rule this gets easier. I aim to be falling asleep by or before 11 PM. If I don’t put down the phone, or if I’m watching some engaging television, all bets are off and who knows when I’ll actually fall asleep.

Better sleep will give us better cognitive flexibility, but that’s not all. Improved sleep is linked with a number of health benefits. It helps curb inflammation, supports a healthy weight, and can lower depression.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you have to follow your sleep routine every single night for the rest of your life. I’m not asking you at 9 PM on a Saturday to tell your friends that you need to go home to lay down in bed and turn on your white noise machine (BUT if you need an excuse to leave this is a hilarious one).

It’s not about perfection. It’s about trying to be mindful. After those long nights out try to wake up around the same time, avoid taking naps, and get back into the nightly routine as soon as you can.

Your body will thank you for it!

Posted in Free Time Fun, Life Lessons

Hour of You

I challenge you to spend one hour each day in November focusing on your dreams. Why? In conversations lately I’ve been running into people who get themselves stuck in the same situation that I find myself in now. There are so many things that we WANT to do, but when we get home from work/school/social obligations we readily let go of those things we hunger for and settle for the quick escape that presents itself instantly in the form of television, movies, and social media. It makes me wonder what we could accomplish if we spent the first hour we got home tuning into ourselves.

You might be wondering what that looks like and I don’t have an exact answer for you. For me it’s going to be writing as my dream is to one day be a published author. Here are some questions that will help you determine how a daily action can bring you closer to achieving your dreams: What are your dreams? What is a goal that you have wanted to accomplish, but never had enough time for? What are your values and morals? What do you want your life to look like in 5 years? In 10 years? What’s something you’ve wanted to do that you never allowed yourself to believe was possible?

If there isn’t anything you want to work on that’s fine, but you should still take an hour to be present with yourself. Spend some time meditating, go for a walk, journal, the options are endless. Who knows, maybe when you’re taking this time a desire or passion that you weren’t aware of might present itself! For more on the power of connecting with yourself check out this interesting read on Wired written by Robert Wright: How Mindfulness Meditation Can Save America.

Posted in Life Lessons

Feeling S.A.D.?

As soon as the temperature dropped into the sixties and the scent of fall permeated the air around us I felt myself sinking. The changing season means that the sun will be dipping into the horizon earlier and by the time we leave work the landscape surrounding us will be shrouded in darkness. It reminds us that winter is right around the corner and we’ll soon be shivering as we shuffle from place to place. It’s understandable these changes can lead to seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D.).

There are a few ways to combat S.A.D. One option is to talk to your doctor and see if medication or therapy might offset some of your symptoms, but it’s not the only route. In research for this post I came across a recent article from Columbia Chronicle and it suggests looking into getting a, “specialized SAD box or light box.” It’s a small box that emits an artificial light that replicates the sun. Stennett notes that, “The benefits of light therapy, also known as phototherapy or helioptherapy, have been proven to replace medicine for those with SAD.” This is something I’ve never looked into so I took some time looking at options. I’ve put a random photo as an example of one type of light therapy box:

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I’m not done shopping around, but so far it looks like the minimum cost for a light therapy box is around $70. It seems steep, but if it alleviates some of the S.A.D. struggle it might be worth it. When I do select a model to try I’ll post an update on the blog after a month of use. In the meantime I’ll keep learning and practicing self care.

If you’d like some holistic suggestions I found a nice article at Jackson Free Press that has some good tips for preparing for winter, particularly the segment on taking a few moments to breathe the air in as the temperature continues to shift.