Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month

This isn’t the typical post for me. But March is National Autoimmune Diseases Awareness Month, and it is definitely a topic that needs awareness.  I knew almost nothing before being diagnosed myself. With over 50 million people affected by this disease, and millions more likely undiagnosed, autoimmune disease is becoming a health crisis. Early diagnosis can make a significant difference in one’s ability to fight the disease with minimal damage to the body.

The problem with bringing awareness is that, although there are over 100 autoimmune diseases, they are most often looked at as individual diseases, including Hashimoto’s, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac, and Crohn’s. But these diseases all have a common factor: the immune system is attacking a part of the body. The name of the disease depends on what part of the body is being attacked. For example, Hashimoto’s and Grave’s disease attack the thyroid, rheumatoid arthritis attacks joints, lupus attacks organ systems, Crohn’s attacks the digestive tract.

Autoimmune diseases target women 75% more often than men, and combined, autoimmune diseases are one of the top ten killers of women under the age of 65. According to American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA), autoimmune diseases are on the rise. The reasons for that are not known, but as people become more aware of their own risk factors, they can seek a diagnosis and begin a treatment regimen as soon as symptoms occur. 

Some symptoms of autoimmune disease include joint pain, fatigue, rash, stomach issues, and a general feeling of unwellness. These conditions are present in other diseases as well, making it hard to diagnose autoimmunity, especially if it is one of the rarer forms. It is also likely a genetic factor exists, so if there is a family member who has had an autoimmune disease that is good to know and mention to a doctor.

Inflammation is at the root of all these diseases, so asking your doctor to run blood tests that check for signs of inflammation might be helpful. Since these diseases most often affect women, and it is easy to attribute fatigue to working and raising children, women are sent home with the “understanding” that their fatigue is normal. The kind of fatigue associated with autoimmune disease is anything but normal.

It is estimated that people with autoimmune disease will see up to four doctors before a diagnosis. It is important that people are aware so they can be their own advocate and understand risk factors and treatment options. These diseases can be game changers in a person’s life. There is often much pain and an inability to do business as usual. A diagnosis helps that person come to terms with what is going on in the body and get treatment.

Autoimmune disease has definitely affected my life, and I have more to say about that, but for right now awareness is key. Disability and organ damage are often a part of the disease, so early diagnosis and treatment can help people live longer and more normal lives. It is possible to be stronger than autoimmune disease…the first step is knowing what we are fighting!

When I’m Wiser and I’m Older…

I was out walking and “Wake Me Up,” by Avicii, started playing. The song is about waking up when everything is over, “when I’m wiser and I’m older…” And it got me thinking about that phrase “wiser and older.” Because simply growing older, and not wiser, would be a sad conclusion to life.

Right after that, a dear friend gave me a Glassy Baby. Those familiar with that amazing company know that each “baby” has a name, and the one she gave me was “WISE.” It seemed like wisdom was trying to get my attention.

So, I ‘ve been thinking a lot about that lately. Being wise includes having experience, knowledge, and sound judgment. But another, maybe equally important quality, is an awareness of life’s paradoxical nature and all its ambiguities. 

The reason that people “down the road” a bit have more opportunity to grow in wisdom is because we most likely have had our habitual and familiar lives uprooted.  We’ve had to make sense of life at other levels. “Business as usual” doesn’t work when life feels more “unusual” than anything else.

I used to live a very black and white life, which I think is indicative of younger generations. I mean, the TikTok generation has declared that side parts, skinny jeans, and the laughing emoji are out. And that’s ok. When I think back honestly, I probably would have cancelled anything that wasn’t bell bottoms and frosted white lipstick.  We just didn’t have any way to cancel things back then. We perfected the eye roll.

I had so many opinions about so many things. Right and wrong, black and white. I was forming the container that would hold my life, and it had to make sense. But the funny thing is that as we grow older, life seems to makes less sense. Our minds realize that nothing is as it seems, people are complicated, and simple answers don’t often meet all life’s complexities. It’s more gray than we realized. Judgment is hard in a gray world.

The paradoxical nature of life requires that we know how to hold everything without needing to judge it all. It’s loving those wearing a side part AND those who see the middle part as the only way. Wisdom is really about our lens, and how we interpret the world. I think wisdom looks a lot like love.

“Wisdom is clearly more than intelligence, knowledge of facts, or information. Wisdom is more synthesis than analysis, more paradoxical than linear, more a dance than a march.”

Richard Rohr

Thoughts on what wisdom looks like in everyday life? 

When Transitions Choose Us

As any woman who has birthed a child can attest, the transition part of labor is excruciating. Although it is generally the shortest stage, that offers little comfort in the midst. While we are screaming for it to end, those around us are assuring us that it is accomplishing great things. The baby will be birthed through this pain. 

One doesn’t need to give birth to experience transition, though. We all experience times of intense change, either by choice or by circumstance. Like waves, ebbing and flowing in and out of our lives, they sometimes feel like they’re taking us under.

Even the most celebratory changes—like getting married or becoming a parent—include big changes. We leave roommates, parents, cities, the single life, or the carefree married life. To embrace something new, we often have to leave old things behind. 

AS WE GET OLDER, TRANSITIONS BEGIN TO CHOOSE US 

As we get older, transitions choose us more often than the other way around, and we leave things behind that weren’t our choice. We don’t always like it. Transitions often involve pain, but they are also necessary to birth a new thing. Whether we wanted that new thing or not. 

If our lives were just about us, it maybe wouldn’t matter all that much how we responded. But people who make a difference in this world don’t spend much time complaining about life. So how do we get through the sometimes painful transition seasons in life? 

  1. WE KEEP OUR GOALS IN FOCUS.

I’m not talking lofty and complicated here. It could be simply believing that love is stronger than anything that comes against it. Or that kindness always counts. Or that seemingly crushed plans are not the final word. This past season required me to cling to the idea that good days were ahead. Some days I would get with a friend for a walk or coffee. Some days I would light a candle and declare that light is stronger than darkness. Some days I picked up an inspirational book. Some days I just prayed for grace and trusted tomorrow was a new day.

  1. WE DECIDE TO NEVER GIVE UP.

Because it really is a choice. That doesn’t mean we are always chirpy or that we never want to give up. It might mean that we enlist help, either professionally or with those close to us. I really did “get by with a little help from my friends” during this past season. Some days all we can do is declare, “I can’t see it right now. But if I stay in the game today, I win.” Better days lie ahead.

  1. WE BELIEVE IN THE POWER OF REDEMPTION. 

It helps to have a core belief that pain is a teacher and every challenge is an opportunity to grow in ways we wouldn’t have sought out voluntarily. I am definitely walking down paths that never would have appeared prior to all the changes. There is often fear attached with the kinds of changes we face as we grow older. Maybe we’re alone now, or we’re dealing with a health issue, or we find ourselves without a job. But if we can remember that something new is being birthed through this process, we can better tolerate the pain of getting there.  

The transition stage doesn’t define the birthing process—the new life does. I am 5’2” and weigh about 100 lbs, but five babies were delivered through this small frame. We are so much stronger than we think. If we are in a lot of pain, we remember that transitions are producing something, and they won’t last forever. There is new life on the other side. 

“Often what alarms us as an ending can in fact be the opening of a new journey–a new beginning that we could never have anticipated; one that engages forgotten parts of the heart.”

John O’ Donohue

How Do I “Throw Candy” Again?

I was away at a beach house reading a book called Present Over Perfect. The author, Shauna Niequist, was describing a time she was away at a lake house. There was a tradition there of throwing candy at kayakers as they paddled by. At one point, in the middle of a lot going on, the host stopped everything to run and throw candy at a couple of kayakers. She was dumbfounded how he could have just stopped in the middle of all that just to throw candy.

As I watched from the deck of the lodge, I began to sob. I sobbed because I used to throw candy, no matter what. I used to be warm and whimsical. I used to believe in the power of silliness and memory-making and laughter. And then I became the kind of person who threw candy as long as it didn’t get in the way of being responsible. I threw candy at sanctioned candy-throwing time, after all the work was done. And then I got so wrapped up in being responsible that it was never the right time to throw candy. And then, the worst thing: I became the kind of person who made fun of candy-throwers.

Shauna Niequist


I struggled as I read this chapter. She acknowledged that she used to be warm and whimsical but all that was a memory now. I could totally relate.

WHO AM I AFTER IT IS ALL STRIPPED AWAY?

After a whole bunch of life events rearranged the life I had known for so long, I went to a counselor to try to make sense of it all. She asked me one of the hardest questions I’ve ever had to ponder: Who are you now that everything is stripped away? I had no idea. 

I mentioned this to a close friend, who had known me for the past almost 40 years. “Oh, I know who you are,” she said. Really? Oh, do tell. “I remember when I first got to know you. You were funny, fun, and lighthearted. I loved that about you.”

Over time, those qualities eroded. Chipped away by one busy season after another. Responsible was my new moniker. Teacher, trainer, serious one. Oh, I still had moments where fun and funny would peek out. But they were the exception to the daily rule. Lighthearted was just a memory. 

RSVP: YES

So I read Shauna’s description through tears. How do I get that back? How do I “throw candy” again? All I knew is that it was time to reclaim the deepest part of me. When everything around us changes, the invitation to change ourselves has to be accepted. RSVP: Yes. 

I can’t change any of the circumstances, and most of them I would never want to change. They have brought me to the place I am today. But I can change the image that paints a false impression of who I am. 

WHAT ARE THINGS I DO THAT DON’T REFLECT WHO I REALLY AM?

What are the things that I do that don’t reflect who I am at the deepest level? We all need to ponder that question, I think. When we aren’t being authentic to our true selves, we can’t really be at peace. I’m on a quest to answer this question, but until I figure this out a little more, maybe I’ll just throw a little candy. Maybe we could all use a little candy throwing in our lives!

You find peace not by rearranging the circumstances of your life, but by realizing who you are at the deepest level.

Thomas Merton

Positive Thoughts Only?

Life can be super sniper sneaky. 

Sometimes the pace of events runs faster than we can process it all. One thing hits us without warning; another follows closely behind. They don’t have to be big events. It’s usually just regular old routine life happening faster than we can keep up.

MAYBE JUPITER JUST ALIGNED WITH MARS
Maybe we got some unsettling news, or we saw a picture-perfect post on a less than picture-perfect day. Maybe our radically changed life has left us feeling empty. Someone may have let us down. Maybe Jupiter aligned with Mars: we have no clue why we’re struggling. But it’s still real.

OUR THOUGHT WILL AFFECT US
Here’s the “no choice” fact: our thoughts will affect us today. It helps if we can identify our thoughts and unhook them from past regrets, future fears, or present day tentativeness. But, just echoing the “Positive thoughts only” mantra is not always helpful. Sometimes it’s a little—well—mean.

I had been talking with a therapist about a number of things I was working through. She knew how much I valued positive thinking. One day I told her that I was just out of the blue sad. 

WHY “GOOD VIBES ONLY” ISN’T ALWAYS THE RIGHT RESPONSE
After I shared, she started talking about keeping my thoughts positive. I wanted to cry. Yes, I know. Yes, I tried. Like, every time we don’t have a positive thought, we did something wrong. I was pretty quiet after that. Every once in a while, our struggle with a thought seems bigger than normal, and we just can’t shake it. 

GIVING OUR THOUGHTS SOME SPACE TO LINGER
I have discovered that sometimes it might be best to acknowledge that our sadness (fear, anxiety, hopelessness, whatever) wants to hang out with us for a bit.  “Ok, you can stay. For a day. I will sit with you and hear you out. I won’t try to replace you with another thought. You want to be seen and heard. And I acknowledge that.”

TRUSTING OURSELES
If we’ve been practicing keeping our thoughts positive, we can trust ourselves with this process. Maybe we need to write about how we feel; maybe we need to share our thoughts with someone who will listen. I have found that when I give a thought permission to hang for a bit, I learn something from it. And within a very short period of time, it agrees to leave.

FOCUS ON THE GOOD BUT BE KIND TO YOURSELF 
For the most part, fixing our thoughts on the positive is our protection against this sniper sneaky life. It’s critical we don’t let negative thoughts just keep rolling in. 

But if we get hit out of the blue with a thought that just won’t leave, maybe it needs some space to work things out. Tomorrow is a new day and we can trust that our thoughts will be new as well. Reminding myself and all who need it: Good vibes and positive thoughts. But also, life happens and sometimes we need a day to get there. 

It’s ok. 

Stay Active, Stay Curious: How Walking and Podcasting Can Help Us Do Both

I have always been an avid reader. Books opened up a whole new world for me, and I devoured them growing up. Today, I still love reading. And while a good “beach read” is a fun escape, I don’t so much want to be entertained as I want to be provoked. I want to be challenged in the way I think, or understand something more fully.

As we get older it is so important that we stay curious, that we allow our worlds to expand. It is also important that we stay active. I have discovered a way to do both.

When I was diagnosed with RA a number of years ago, it was challenging to stay active. I loved to run, hike, and weight train. But for a while, I couldn’t even walk. Just getting to the mailbox was a stretch. But as my body began to heal, I was able to go farther. Sometimes I wanted a distraction from some discomfort I still had.

Enter the podcast. I love the long format style of discussion, and after this year’s election cycle, I can’t handle other news sources. Sound bites never tell the whole story and often suggest something that is far from truth. Context is king, and sound bites offer none of it.

At first, I just listened to episodes that were inspirational. I needed encouragement, motivation, and hope poured into my soul. I almost always came back better than when I left. Because I believe that truth is truth, it didn’t matter if someone’s belief system was different than mine.  I learned to look past some of the things I might not agree with and grab the good.

Honestly, anything that sounds interesting usually proves to have some element of inspiration in it. Interesting people inspire me. Below are some of my favorite podcasts, along with a few specific episodes that I really liked. 

Super Soul Conversations Oprah Winfrey

  • Lady Gaga: “Heal through Kindness”
  • Bryan Stevenson: “The Power of Mercy and Forgiveness”
  • Michael Singer: “Free Yourself from Negative Thoughts”
  • Paul Coelho: “What if the Universe Conspired in Your Favor”

Tim Ferris

  • Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks: “Powerful Books, Mystics, and the Dangers of Safe Spaces”
  • Lori Gottlieb: “The Power of Getting to Unknot Yourself”
  • Jocko Willink: “On Quitting, Relationships, Financial Discipline and more”
  • Jim Collins: “The Value of Small Gestures, Unseen sources of Power and more”
  • Jerry Seinfeld: “A Comedy Legend’s Systems, Routines, and Methods for Success”
  • Harley Finkelstein: “Tactics and Strategies form Shopify, the Future of Retail and more”

Joe Rogan (on Spotify)

  • Edward Snowden
  • James Nestor
  • Brett Weinstein 
  • Neil de Grasse Tyson
  • Elon Musk
  • Tulsi Gabbard

These are just some that I have enjoyed. The podcast world has exploded over the past few years and there are so many out there. Get good walking shoes, grab earbuds, and head out the door.  You just might come back better than when you left!

Mindful Making

“A creative life is an amplified life, a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. “ Elizabeth Gilbert

We live smack dab in the center of the creative process, which is continually taking place both inside and outside our bodies. The cells in our bodies are constantly dying off and recreating, 100,000,000 new red blood cells are being formed every minute, and skin cells are replaced every 39 days. 

Creativity is essential for life, but not just in the physical sense either. Research suggests that neglecting the creative process may be perilous to wellbeing. Creativity has been linked with feeling that we are more fully alive and also as a way of helping with anxiety.

It’s can be easy to conclude that we’re just not the creative type, however. We associate creativity with traditional art—painting, writing, sculpting. But art is about self-expression, and we all express ourselves in endless ways. I like to think of art as mindful making. Being creative is part of being human, adding beauty to everyday life. The canvas is one medium; the dining room table is another.

If being creative improves our wellbeing, then it might be helpful to find ways to foster creativity. 

  1. For those talented in traditional arts, it may mean grabbing the courage to start again. Or taking a class to improve. Or just carving out time to practice. This past year has inspired many to do this.
  1. For those of us who don’t have those talents, there are countless ways of “making” art. We just need to remember that creating is our nature. 
  • Instead of mindlessly cooking, we can be aware that we are “making” dinner. Art is about generating something that did not previously exist. Seemingly unrelated items at the grocery store get transformed into something that gives nourishment for people we love, even if it is just ourselves.
  • When we write a note or send a thoughtful text, words come together to create encouragement, hope, or compassion. We can express love to someone that has never been expressed in that way before.
  • I have recently taken up knitting again. To see something come together right before my eyes has been so rewarding. An added benefit: it is also totally relaxing.
  • Tending to a garden is a beautiful expression of art. Michael Pollan suggests that a gardener is able to “turn prose into something nearer poetry.”
  • We can get outside with our phones and take a picture of something beautiful. Or strange. Or surprising. Take it from different angles. Edit in different tones. Try black and white. 

Whether we sow a seed or sew a stitch, we can create something new in big and small ways. Let’s not get so familiar with our days that we miss the opportunity to take the tedious and makes it vibrant. We only need to be awake and mindful of all the things we already do that are creative acts. 

It’s really who we are.

The Words That Find You

One of the reasons I love picking a Word of the Year is that it sets us up to get more of it. It’s the principle behind the Law of Attraction–the ability to attract into our lives whatever we are focusing on.

In a recent post, I wrote how “magic” became my word this year. Everywhere I turn, that word shows up. It still surprises me, and I hope that continues because it seems our words like to be honored like that.

The above quote, by author Neil Gaiman, jumped at me the other day and I’m sharing it, not just because it has the word “magic” in it, but because it is a great thought. It is my wish for everyone this year. I am going to write about good madness, fine books, being with people who think you’re wonderful, and creativity because each of those helps us feel alive.

But for now, Im just going to leave this here, and trust there is encouragement for this day. I hope that–TODAY–you surprise yourself!

Narrative of Strength

Yesterday, I was out walking, struggling with so many things. Why is it that when we struggle, we often rehearse our weaknesses?

A small voice inside whispered: Instead of another narrative of weakness, can we craft one of strength? Ha. I feel nothing like that right now. “Rehearse the strength you’ve seen in your life,” it whispered.

***It can take a minute to shift a story. ***

I remembered back to when I moved here. Just me and my Pontiac Sunbird with everything I owned. I had gotten accepted into the doctoral program at the University of Washington as a Graduate Teaching Assistant. So off I went.

I knew no one and nothing about this city that my mom claimed was the farthest point I could possibly go excepting Alaska and Hawaii. I moved into an apartment that I later learned was owned by a slumlord. When the people upstairs took a shower, it dripped into my living room. I had bug bites over my entire body. I found someone looking for a roommate and moved out, losing rent and deposit. Not a great start. 

I had this perfect NJ accent, having lived only 20 miles outside New York City my whole life. When I walked into the Public Speaking class that I would be teaching, I was met by half the football team, each one deciding my accent was fair game. I was intimidated. I worked hard to get rid of that accent so I could be taken seriously. Eventually, they had to get up and give speeches, and the power was mine. Never underestimate a 100 pound gal from New Jersey.

I eventually began to feel more at home here. I bought a house, opened a mortgage company and became a real estate agent at a great company in the Greenlake area. 

Always competitive, I ran a 10K with some of my fellow realtors. Who would get the fastest time? Again, never underestimate. I ran that thing in 38 minutes. I registered for a marathon and ran it in 3:38. I wanted to become an aerobics instructor, and I did that too. Classes of up to 60 students, a couple times a day. The guy who hired me became my husband. 

After marriage, I birthed five children and suffered three pretty rough miscarriages. All in eight years. Our second child had special needs, and one very dark night, when he was 6 months old, the doctor told us he would “never be any good.” Exact words. We hunted down anyone who had a more positive perspective, and although there were still some extremely difficult days, he made much progress. He definitely has special needs, but he walks and talks and jokes and brings us much joy. 

Over the next years, I became involved in the school my kids would attend. I taught classes, acted as vice principal, and poured my life into building relationships with fellow teachers and students. Oh, and possibly one of my greatest feats: getting myself and five children out the door by 7:15, ready for the day at school. Lunches (most often) in hand.
 
I am a social introvert, loving people but absolutely needing  time alone. Yeah, that pretty much never happened. Some days, when I got to take a shower, it was hard convincing myself to turn the water off. Just one more hour…

Then there is the repetitiveness that comes with raising children. Answering their why’s, reminding them to brush their teeth, pick up their toys, be nice to their siblings. All while trying to shape them into kind and compassionate humans.

I am still married. Anyone who has been married past the honeymoon knows what a feat that is. Choosing day after day to let love win–a combination of resilience, humor, and commitment that can only come by flexing those muscles one day at a time, over and over again. Some days I was pretty sore.

Ok, those are a couple things I came up with. It’s long, but maybe someone needs to read it. When others share their stories, I can more easily find my own. Many will have narratives showing far greater strength.

It’s obvious by watching the news that there is more than one way to spin a story. We have to take control of the way our story is being told. If we can’t do it on our own, maybe we get together with someone who loves us and knows us well. 

I recently sat with a friend and showed her a tattoo that my daughter had given me. It is a small lightening bolt on my ankle. She commented that it was a reminder that I am a superhero.  Well, that’s not exactly what I thought when I was getting it. But, thank you friend, for seeing something I didn’t. It helps my story.

We’ve lived a lot of days; let’s find the good, the true, and the wonderful parts of them. And since we are the ones telling the story, let’s create a narrative of strength. Let’s write a story where we are a superhero, no matter how many twists and turns that story has to take. 

***Would we want to read a story told any other way?***

Word of the Year

Last week I posted some thoughts for the New Year entitled “A Little Bit Magic.” Since then, I have run into the word “magic” so many times. 

Going into a new year, I have often picked a word that I wanted as a focal point. Summarizing an idea in one word allows us to have an overarching theme that can help us frame life in a new way. So, this year I think the word “magic” chose me. Magic is about finding moments of awe and wonder. It is about seeing the enchantment inside ordinary things, in the little bits of life. 

It is said that beauty is not hard to find, it is only easy to miss.

I think it’s the same for magic. The older we get, the more we can see patterns. We can anticipate what comes next, leaving no room for surprise. “Oh, pretty soon the buds will appear,” we say with a familiarity that will surely miss the magic inside. Knowledge never negates magic. Awe and wonder hold hands with knowledge, bringing delight to all that’s revealed. 

Maybe others would benefit from choosing a word for this year. My words for other years have included: listen, embrace, release, and resilience. I didn’t always keep the focus to the end, but I was able to begin each year with a new perspective. I did keep the word “listen” in mind throughout that year.  It was an important word for me.

So this year, it’s magic.  I believe that God is always leading us away from the mundane. Not the tasks themselves, but the way we view them. Every time we can grasp meaning and see beauty in what’s around us, our lives have a chance to expand and be more rewarding. Words can open up worlds. Anyone else have a word waiting to frame this new year? If not, maybe it’s time for a little magic.

Gotta be honest here. Day one didn’t start out that well. Constant rain and grey skies made it hard to see magic. But one day doesn’t define me. Today is new and there is magic to be found. I start over again.

“Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden – in all the places.” ― Frances Hodgson Burnett,The Secret Garden