Posted in depression, health, Uncategorized

Metamorphosis

 

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photo credit: StuartMiles

 

Hello friends, it’s been a while! A long while, to the tune of about 9 months or so? No, I did not have a child in that timeframe- I’m fixed and almost 51 for crying out loud!  I wish I could blame it on covid but in reality, that was only a very tiny part of it.

This blog won’t be about that.  I feel it’s important to mention it, yes, but it’s not in any way the focal point of anything in my life. Other than wearing a mask, it’s not impacted my life drastically, as of yet.  I had already been living life cautiously since my cancer diagnosis 3 years ago, washing hands, disinfecting, keeping a safe distance from the general public. I’m also an introvert, so although I do go out for social situations, most of my outings were yoga or shopping related.  So for me, all that changed was that I no had yoga class to go to. To be honest, though, I’d already turned my back on yoga at that point, to a certain degree. 

What changed me and left me grappling for a sense of “self” was my near death in December 2019 when I went into keto-acidosis.  As a result of my immunotherapy, my pancreas stopped working and my blood sugars went sky high.  I know I’m lucky to be alive and I try to remind myself of that whenever I get bitter about now being an insulin dependant diabetic. Suffice it to say, between that and immunotherapy,  I’ve gotten over my fear of needles. 

I felt betrayed.  I did so much to stay healthy and I was in excellent physical and mental condition.  I also payed it forward by donating my time and teaching chair yoga to people aged 50+ in my community.  But bad things happen to good people every day, right? Yes, that’s oversimplified and it took me many months to just summarize it in that sense, but it’s true. Shit happens, deal with it, move on, otherwise…well, really, I’d be wasting the very life that I struggle to hang on to. 

But I did turn my back on yoga for a while.  I was supposed to attract good karma, not bad. It took a while, but eventually I turned my views around.  Had I not been doing yoga and in excellent physical and mental health, it’s my feeling that I would have died in December. Hence, it is because of yoga that I am still here.  Because I was strong, my body was able to endure what it went through and because of my mental health, I was able to claw through the darkness that would often creep over me,  and find the light to emerge. 

My mission? My “dharma”, duty, my calling? To spread that light, in some fashion. 

 A couple of years ago, when I came across the term “empath” and had that “AHA” moment, “This is what I am!”, I accepted and embraced my duty to be a healer. But how? How does someone with cancer, a thyroid issue and now a diabetic (not to mention asthmatic) do this safely during these covid times? It took a while to figure out but now I’m excited as I embark on my new journey, my metamorphosis, my duty, my re-invention of Self. 

Anyone who follows me on my twitter feed @judyvolhart had a teeny hint the other day regarding the project I’ve been working on, when energy permits.   As I work on putting all the pieces together and staying motivated and pushing aside the tiredness that comes from learning new things, new systems, I scribble furiously in my notebook to keep track of all the ideas racing through my head.  I am encouraged that something in life still motivates me to be a better person. 

I still struggle with bitterness and darkness, as I know so many people around the world currently do.  This is hard for me as I’m usually a very positive and cheerful person. Who is this new me? Was she always there?  

Returning briefly to the topic of this pandemic, I think we can all agree that it’s given us all a chance to have time for important things like family, to slow down, and to examine and feel comfortable with our own thoughts, question the legitimacy of some of the friendships/relationships that we have and, perhaps most importantly, re-examine our own selves and if we are happy with this Self. 

I’ve seen friends turn on friends, hypocrisy, selfishness, sadness, blatant idiocy, rudeness and out-right assholes. On the flip side, I’ve also seen kindness, generosity and positive impacts on our planet. 

As an author, being in the public eye- and being a yogi on top of that- there’s an expectation to comment on events that shape the world.  As an empath, this is something I actually usually avoid.  For my own well being, I seldom follow the news or get embroiled in political or inflammatory  debates.  It’s not my thing.  It doesn’t have to be my thing; it’s not my journey.  

And so I resume my dharmic path. I embrace it, and I look forward to sharing it with everyone.  I hope to have it all in place by my 51st birthday, which is September 15th.  In reality, even as I say that, I feel the self-imposed pressure and question, “Why am I doing this?”  

My answer? Because I must.  I had to find a way of helping others while still keeping myself safe.  I have to fulfil my duty as an empath, yogi and healer, even if it scares me to death and the mere thought of re-inventing myself, yet again, makes me tired and I just want to lie down and sleep.   I’m also a bit stubborn and I never expected to be the type of person to sit around and do nothing.  I’ve done nothing now for a number of months- and that’s okay. Sometimes, we need to do nothing to become whole again.  Once we are, it’s time to help others.

Peace, cheers, and to good health for now my friends and readers. Stay tuned for more as everything slowly falls into place.  Most importantly, simply stay safe, happy and positive.

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Photo credit: StuartMiles

 

Posted in health

Meltdown

Photo credit: StuartMiles

Every few months, it happens. Despite having the skills to guide myself through it and to navigate around it, I find myself sucked into the black abyss of torture that our minds tend to inflict on us.

Because I know how to avoid it, it makes it all the more frustrating. I know it’s nonsense, yet I helplessly allow myself to fall into its grasp.

Since I normally have a very positive attitude, when I have a meltdown, it tends to take my family by surprise. As I’ve written before, I usually have my shit together. I help others get their shit together!

Yes, I have cancer. Yes, it’s stage 4. Yes, the past couple of scans have shown a decrease in the size in my lungs and, recently, my bones. But yes, whenever it’s scan time again, my nerves get the better of me.

I almost conquered it this time. I tried various breath techniques, then a yin yoga practice for anxiety, for which I switched out some yin poses with restorative poses, then more breath work and a positive affirmation guided meditation.

And yet, I allowed the doubts to sneak in.

I had travelled an hour for my immunotherapy treatment that day, only to be told it was cancelled. No one had called me and I couldn’t pin anyone down with a definitive answer as to why. I had my oncologist appointment the next day, during which I knew I’d be getting my recent scan results.

Logically, I knew that the immunotherapy was likely cancelled due to my recent colitis attack and that the doctor wanted to make sure I had healed from that. But, my mind insisted on thinking that there was something bad in the scans that triggered the cancellation. I fought it, but in the end, it won, and I was convinced that the cancer had spread.

I know that one day, this will be my reality. That’s what really sucks. The day will come when I’m given that news. It could be at my next scan in 5 or 6 months, or in 5 or 6 years, or 15. But the day will come. Every time I am waiting for my scan results, I come face to face with my own mortality.

This is where yoga and meditation have come to my aid. I can usually push these type of thoughts to the far recesses of my mind. Neither the past nor the future exist, only the here and now. For 362 or 363 days a year, this helps me. The remaining days, I’m thankful for Lorazepam.

For anyone suffering from anxiety, here’s one of my favourite breath techniques, alternate nostril breathing (Anuloma Viloma in Sanskrit). This only takes a few minutes to do and helps to cleanse the mind and balance the right and left sides of our brain.

I was taught to inhale for a count of 4, hold for 8 and exhale for 8 and this is how I still do it. This article mentions holding for a count of 16, which might be a bit difficult for beginners.

https://www.doyouyoga.com/how-to-do-anuloma-viloma-or-alternate-nostril-breathing/

In the end, my scans were fine and, as I ultimately knew, the reason for the cancelation was simply my doctor erring on the side of caution, wanting to ensure that the colitis had cleared up.

My deep despair was for nothing, and life goes on.

Photo credit: Ed Gregory

If you have a story that you’d like to share, please contact me.

Posted in health

Your Voice: EDS & Hyper-mobility. Grace’s story

Photo credit: Jack Moreh

A lot of people haven’t heard of the term Hyper-mobility, or the conditions related to it. Ehlers Danlos Syndrome & Joint Hyper-mobility Syndrome are among these conditions.

EDS is a connective tissue disorder, where the body has faulty collagen. This means that the joints don’t have the necessary connective tissue around them, allowing for easy dislocations and subluxations along with a giant list of symptoms that you’ll find below. 

Now, before I bombard you with information about Hyper-mobility, I’ll provide a brief back story on how I got diagnosed with Hyper-mobility Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and what led me to the diagnosis just a few months ago.

I was 18 at the time, completing my yoga teacher training certification. The training was done in spurts of twenty hours every second weekend, for four consecutive months.

I would need the entire following week to rest and recover since I was in the worst pain I had ever felt in my life. I was the youngest person in my teachers class; why did I feel as if my body was being ripped in half, while others twice or even three times my age only had mild discomfort?

“Why did I feel as if my body was being ripped in half…”

I took muscle relaxants, assuming that I was just pushing myself too hard. Co-incidentally, I finally had an appointment to see a neurologist for the chronic migraines I’d had since the age of twelve.

When he asked me what I did, I was so happy to tell him that I was a freshly graduated yoga teacher that I think I almost screamed it!

At that moment, I noticed that something in his face changed; it’s like a lightbulb turned on in his head. He asked me if I was double jointed and again I excitedly replied yes. He performed a series of tests, pulled my skin to see how stretchy it was (yes, seems weird but I’ll explain after) and there we had it, my hEDS diagnosis. 

So what is Hyper-mobility?

Being flexible is awesome, right? I thought so too, until I realized this was literally breaking me. I am not saying that flexibility is bad for everyone, just if you are hyper-mobile.

Photo credit: Stuart Miles

Let me clarify that yoga didn’t actually “break” me. This condition is genetic and was in no way caused by yoga. Yoga was just what led me to realize something in my body wasn’t right.

Those of us with hyper-mobile joints will have joints that extend beyond the normal range of motion for that joint. For those of us specifically with hEDS, this is because we have faulty collagen, which is one of our connective tissues.

Someone without hyper-mobility has joints that act like rubber bands, which can stretch to a certain limit and then retract back to their normal state. If you are hyper-mobile, have JHS or EDS, then your joints are more like string and just kind of do whatever they want. This is also why my skin is so stretchy.

I am one of the lucky ones who don’t experience multiple joint dislocations in a day. I do, however, frequently sublux (partially dislocate) my neck and shoulders at least 50 times in a day.

“I am one of the lucky ones who don’t experience multiple joint dislocations in a day.”

A lot of people with EDS and JHS go their entire lives without being diagnosed. My condition has such a long list of symptoms and complications that all my doctor could instruct me to do was research this condition to the best of my ability.

For so many years, I went to my family doctor with random complaints and health concerns that either went away in time or were dismissed as IBS and hormonal changes.

This is the case for so many who struggle with EDS and JHS; they simply have so many symptoms that seem like they couldn’t possibly relate to each other.

In my opinion, this isn’t a rare disorder because not many people have it- it is a rare disorder because it just isn’t known about or diagnosed. I was extremely lucky to have a specialist so knowledgeable in EDS. He assured me that there were many like me in my hometown of Ottawa, Ontario, who also struggle with this condition. 

I will list the possible symptoms and side effects of JHS and EDS. I’d like to note, however, that if you decide to research more, there are 13 types of EDS, one of them being the hyper-mobility type, which I have. Hyper-mobility does come with almost all 13 forms of EDS though, as they all relate to the faulty connective tissue, collagen. 

By sharing my story, I hope to bring awareness to this condition, and hopefully help someone who thinks they may be in a similar situation.

JHS and EDS symptoms: 

  • Joint Hyper-mobility
  • Joint pain and stiffness 
  • Dizziness, or increased heart rate when standing (Diagnosed as Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) 
  • Loose or unstable joints that dislocate easily
  • Mitral Valve Prolapse
  • Recurrent strains and sprains, these also feel more intense for those of us suffering from hyper-mobility (I only ever had 1 dislocation in my life, but strains and sprains were and are a daily thing) 
  • Redundant skin folds on the eyes
  • Bladder control issues
  • Fainting or feeling the need to faint, this can sometimes look like a seizure 
  • Chronic pain 
  • Dental issues are more common
  • Random spells of flu – like symptoms 
  • Headaches/Migraines 
  • Constant muscle spasms 
  • Brain fog 
  • Hormonal imbalances, heavy and painful menstrual periods (for women) 
  • Locking or clicking joints 
  • Extreme Fatigue 
  • Slow healing wounds
  • Hernias and organ prolapse 
  • Poor coordination 
  • Scratches that can easily tear skin or leave friction burns 
  • Lack of muscle tone, because we are using our flexibility rather than strength 
  • “Flat feet” 
  • Risk of pregnancy complications
  • Jaw pain
  • Stretchy, loose, velvety skin. (I describe mine as baby skin) 
  • Skin that bruises easily (I cannot count how many times I had bruises & hickey looking marks that were not caused by any type of injury.) 
  • Digestive issues such as heartburn or constipation. 

Somehow, I feel that I still haven’t fully explained EDS or JHS to you, but I don’t think I ever could. I am still learning about this condition myself. It is so complex, and I think that is why it’s so under- diagnosed.

If you think you, a friend, or family member is hyper-mobile, then do some research on it and talk to your doctor. Below are some links to the diagnostic criteria for Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome as well as the Beighton Test, which is used by doctors to determine hyper-mobility.

Although this condition is rare and will never go away, I don’t stop moving and neither should you. I am continuing to learn safe and healthy ways to move, pain free.

I still practice yoga, just in a much safer way for my body than I had previously been doing. My mantra is “Less is more. I will get stronger everyday.” I encourage anyone suffering from EDS or chronic pain to remember this, and use this mantra in your daily life. 

Namaste & Sat Nam my friends, 

Grace

Photo credit: Matthew Henry

https://www.ehlers-danlos.com/assessing-joint-hypermobility/

https://www.ehlers-danlos.com/heds-diagnostic-checklist/

A big thank you to Grace for writing, and sharing, her story with us today. If you have a story you’d like to share, please contact Judy via the contact page or feel free to share in the comments section.