Tips to Take Charge of Your Health During the Era of Covid

As an advocate for whole body healing, I really hoped this virus situation would open up new discussions on how to take care of our personal health.

Have I missed something?

We are NOT a healthy country. This should be opening our eyes, but it’s not.

The U.S. spends the most on health care compared to other developed countries BUT has lower life expectancy, highest infant mortality, highest suicide rates, and highest rates of chronic disease.

We’re masking the real issue. Yes, pun intended.

The actions I take for my health actually don’t impact your health. YOU have to advocate for yourself. And you are not powerless. There is so much hope!

Here are some of my favorite tips for taking personal responsibility for your health. I hope these are as helpful for you as they have been for me. Continue reading “Tips to Take Charge of Your Health During the Era of Covid”

Thanks to PTSD, I’ll Never Be a Hero

Thanks to Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, I’ll never be a hero.

I want to. I’d like to think that I’m a person of action, and that if I witness a dangerous event I’ll jump right into rescue mode. I’m a nice woman, and I like helping.

But I can’t. Trauma keeps me from moving. Trauma keeps me frozen in place, dissociating myself from reality, stuck to the floor in cement boots.

I taught English for 11 years, so looking back, I’m glad the topic of “disaster response time” wasn’t a job interview question. I wouldn’t have passed to the next level of interviews, that’s for sure.

I remember once when I worked at a middle school, a substitute teacher passed out in a classroom down the hall from me. I heard students running down the hallway, calling for the nurse. I peeked my head out the door, knowing I needed to check and see what was going on, knowing I needed to respond. But everything started moving in slow motion. I heard cries, I heard the words “CPR,” I saw others in action. But I was frozen. I couldn’t move.

I was chained to the past.

black chain

I was 9 years old again, listening to the cries of my mother and grandmother as they try to revive my dying grandfather. I hear my grandma shout “No Freeman!” I watch him falling out of the car to the sidewalk and onto my front lawn. I watch them get out an epi pen, perform CPR, yelling for help.

I watch his eyes roll back.

Continue reading “Thanks to PTSD, I’ll Never Be a Hero”

Freedom from the Mental Illness Shame Cycle

When I was 21, I made a suicide pact with myself. I felt the weight of the world on a consistent basis, as I struggled with depression, mania, and the chaos of jumping from one failed medication to the next. My mind was not my friend, and I didn’t feel safe in my body. At the young age of 21, I was fatigued from fighting the swirling thoughts and the heavy waves. I was burdened by being the only one who suffers from such a debilitating disorder.

I didn’t want to be on this exhausting earth any longer than necessary.

I decided that by my 41st birthday, I would end it all.

Today I turn 39. I have been in a stable place mentally for over a decade. The giant roller coaster I used to ride with my moods is now just a soft swell, a gentle up and down of a kiddie coaster.

I have no intention of ending my life. Not now. Not ever.

img_7600My life is a gift. My illness is a gift. For so long I lived in shame about my diagnosis. I didn’t want to share about it, and I didn’t want to look “abnormal.” I knew I carried a stigma. Today I am learning that thanks to my moods, I get to see the world from a different lens. Colors are richer and brighter to me. The air is fresher. Sounds are more soothing and meaningful. Everything is vibrant and alive. And even when they are not, and I experience a drop in my mood, I see the dark side and feel more deeply than others… meaning I can empathize with others’ pain in a way I wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

I know now that my pain has a purpose. My pain showed me who I can be in spite of a broken brain.

Continue reading “Freedom from the Mental Illness Shame Cycle”

Mom Life During a Pandemic: How We Can Best Support Our Kids’ Mental Health

I don’t have to remind anyone that the last few weeks of this pandemic and period of social distance have been unlike anything experienced or seen in our lifetime. My work schedule has been interrupted, my husband’s work schedule has been interrupted, our social life has disappeared, and my kids are completely thrown off. Field trips were cancelled, basketball season has been delayed, and school went online until…when? Do we even know? Dates spin in and out of my head, fighting for the return of normalcy. Is it April 9th? 21st? Or do we wait for the 30th to resume prior activities? I can’t even keep track.

This kind of disruption and uncertainty is difficult for me. Change of all kind is hard for me, especially as one who fights to stay mentally stable. I get the opportunity to verbalize that, share about it with my friends (via phone or text only, of course), and have long discussions with my husband.

My kids, however, don’t know how to express their fear or anxiety as well. For them, it comes out in misbehavior, aggression, moodiness, hyperactivity, tearfulness, or even closed off apathy. That is developmentally understandable. As their prefrontal cortexes are still developing, it is difficult for them to access emotions or positive decision-making when they are in fight or flight mode. A stressful trigger, like being told they can no longer see their friends or go to school, is going to take a toll on their bodies. Stress hormones get ramped up, contributing to more fear and anxiety that is difficult to process. Chronic stress can also affect the immune system and its function.

This is true for adults as well. Even though we have the luxury of developed brains, it is still difficult to access our frontal lobe and respond appropriately to hardship when we are faced with extreme stressors.

So what is the solution?

It starts with us.

Continue reading “Mom Life During a Pandemic: How We Can Best Support Our Kids’ Mental Health”

The Age of Outrage

I try to be very intentional about what I choose to speak out on. I am a woman with a LOT of opinions on a lot of things, but I prize relationships over my opinions so I don’t speak up if I fear it will hinder authentic relationship-building.

That being said, I have spent the last 5 days silently observing the frenzy taking over my newsfeeds. It has deeply disturbed me, though maybe not for reasons you would think. I’m ready to speak up now.

We are currently caught up in a viral response system. We are tangled up in an age of outrage, and nobody is immune.

As a result of this age of outrage, everyone is REACTING to everything, and nobody is RESPONDING to anything. And there’s a physiological reason this is occurring.

But before I explain that, here is what I mean by the age of outrage:

After a skillful performance that was a dazzling and empowering celebration of Latin American culture at the Super Bowl halftime show, my newsfeed blew up in criticism. I’m not surprised by much anymore, but that caught me off guard. I didn’t expect anything different from performers like Shakira and Jennifer Lopez, so I didn’t understand the outrage and shock. (Side note – I also spent most of the show dancing along and trying to do whatever they were doing, so I didn’t scrutinize every movement either.) Did it bother me that a 50 year old has to strive to look like a 25 year old to stay relevant and desirable? Maybe. But again, I didn’t expect anything different from the entertainment industry.

What affected me the most and what caused me to silently observe, hesitant to say anything at all, is that everyone seemed to be REACTING based on their own perception of the show, based on their own life stage and season, based on their own personal triggers. And so many of these reactions and post fed MORE posts, and shares, and back and forth commentaries.

For this reason, I am NOT going to share any more of my personal views, as they are multi-layered and will cause division and have nothing to do with the reason I am writing this. Now, I could talk about clothing choices and unfortunate camera angles (seriously – was J Lo’s gynecologist filming???) but that’s not what I want to get at here. Continue reading “The Age of Outrage”

The Myth of More

“Our discontent is fueled by the myth of more.”

My brilliant dad, Gary Brandenburg, recently said that in a sermon. It hit me so hard I had to do some major self-reflection.

I am a person who always wants more. This started at a young age:

Why have one Whopper when you can have two?

Why have one doughnut when you can have eight?

Why join one sport when you can play them all?

Why audition for just the school play when you can audition for the community theatre play, too?

Why volunteer in just one church ministry when you can volunteer in multiple?

But it doesn’t stop there. I don’t want to simply DO everything, I want to EXCEL at everything. So I can not only have more activity and excitement, but I can have more accolades and achievement.

I know I’m not the only one. I think our current culture drives this mindset through all the pleasant distractions that trick us into fulfillment.

The result? This “myth of more” causes major boundary issues, and it is completely unrealistic.

When I am consumed by the myth of more, I say yes to too much. I overdo it. I crash. I let myself down. I let others down – typically, the ones who matter most to me.

I can’t do everything and do every thing well.

When I’m rushing to find satisfaction from achievement or excess or MORE, I can’t be present. I can’t be satisfied.

This Thanksgiving week, I have purposefully taken a week off from my usual schedule to meditate daily, enjoy good meals, have fun with my family, read fiction instead of non-fiction health books, spend quality time with my husband, and just BE. When I catch my mind spinning on things I “have to” or “need to” do – usually those things driven by a need to find fulfillment in distraction – I stop my thoughts, take a deep breath through my nose, and tell myself, “This week I am resting. That can wait.”

It is a beautiful thing. I always find contentment when I choose to be present and grateful.

So wherever you are reading this, take a deep breath, hold it, let it out slowly, and tell yourself that you already have everything you need, right in front of you!

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” -‭‭ Philippians‬ ‭4:19‬

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Kanye, Bipolar Disorder, Religiosity, and My Thoughts

While my entire Facebook feed is filled with articles and comments about Kanye West’s new album and recent conversion, I have stayed silent. Why?

Because number one, I don’t really know anything about Kanye to begin with (other than the time he hijacked Taylor Swift’s speech on the VMAs and the famous rant about George Bush not caring about black people). He has kids with weird names and a wife with an awesome body. That’s about all I know. Superficial? Maybe. I can’t tell you the name of any of his songs. They’re not on my running playlist.

Number two, what he does or says doesn’t have any affect on me personally. If he wants to sing songs about being rich and famous or songs about Jesus – cool. I typically don’t speak up about issues in pop culture unless I feel they have some kind of heart-twisting impact on me and my life… or if they have some kind of mental health connection.

So when I heard he suffers from bipolar disorder, that’s when the light bulb turned on. How did I miss this? Talk about a plot twist! It led me to take an interest in all the Kanye news of the last year or so. While many out there are debating whether his conversion is real or a publicity stunt, my first thought upon learning this is – is this all a manic episode?

Continue reading “Kanye, Bipolar Disorder, Religiosity, and My Thoughts”

Diet Before Diagnosis – Is There a Connection?

“I’m not blonde, and I’m not skinny. Therefore, I’m not attractive.”

That’s a line straight from my journal in 1999.

I have healed from many things in my past, but I don’t think I ever grieved for the young girl who thought that people would only like her if she was skinny.

According to my January 1999 journal entry, I was on a mission to weight 130 pounds. Thanks to Zoloft, I had gained a good 30 pounds or so from end of sophomore to beginning of senior year, and by the first semester of my senior year I spent a lot of time isolating, reading historical romances, and pining away for a college soccer player I cared about who played me like a fresh fiddle.

This diet gave me new life. A new identity. A new way to really love the skin I was in  – because it would come in a much smaller body. According to my journal, I was drinking two special protein drinks a day and going off of carbs, sugar, and caffeine. I was supposedly “retraining my body” to digest and store food, and there was an 85% chance I would NEVER gain my weight back. Continue reading “Diet Before Diagnosis – Is There a Connection?”

Rhett’s Story – How Treating the Root of Illness Changed Everything

Almost 3 years ago, my third child was born. It was my best pregnancy and easiest labor and delivery. The recovery was a walk in the park. I thought for sure that adding on a third kid would be no problem.

I was wrong. At 8 weeks old, Rhett was admitted to Children’s Hospital due to RSV. His little body fought to breathe. He was congested and had to be suctioned out frequently in order to get oxygen and when that didn’t work, he needed an oxygen mask. It was terrifying.

 

He developed an ear infection, so he received antibiotics.

He developed thrush and a yeast infection from the antibiotics.

He got better, then developed another ear infection.

More antibiotics.

Then breathing treatments. Albuterol.

More yeast.

More antibiotics.

Reflux and spit-up and projectile vomiting.

Ears.

Antibiotics.

Breathing treatments.

Ibuprofen. Tylenol.

ANTIBIOTICS.

Do you get the picture? Do you see the cycle? We were on a cycle of insanity. After the 8th round of antibiotics, he got ear tubes and that seemed to lessen the frequency of the ear infections… but it didn’t heal him. Continue reading “Rhett’s Story – How Treating the Root of Illness Changed Everything”

The Biggest Issues in Children’s Health Today – an Interview with Dr. Alina Olteanu

img_8840I recently sat down to interview Dr. Alina Olteanu, integrative pediatrician and owner of Whole Child Pediatrics of North Texas. Dr. Olteanu played a major role in helping my youngest heal from chronic ear infections and restrictive airway disease (which I share about here).

I was thrilled to pick her brain about children’s health in the 21st century, and let me tell you – she is a wealth of knowledge! You can find the full audio recording from the show page here, or on iTunes here.

Below is a transcription of the interview. All that is missing from the recording are a few comments I made here and there, but I encourage you to listen to the audio or YouTube link to hear the emotion and passion in both of our voices as we discuss these fascinating topics. She definitely speaks my language on all things gut health and brain health. I hope you enjoy what she has to say and please share with a friend!

What brought you to integrative medicine? Continue reading “The Biggest Issues in Children’s Health Today – an Interview with Dr. Alina Olteanu”