The Mailbox, Health and the Revealing Swimsuit Issue

mailboxesOnce a year, I hate Sports Illustrated. To be clear it’s not that I hate it as it is, I only groan when the SI Swimsuit Issue makes an appearance, landing in my mailbox addressed to my husband. Year #1, when I saw it, I rolled my eyes and left it in my car for a month, trying to decide what to do with the thing. Do I burn it, tear into shreds, recycle it, WHAT? I threw it in a filthy dumpster but then after a month, I felt like a child who trashed a failing grade and told Brian (who tried his best to understand…before bursting into laughter).

The following year, I got the mail after a particularly trying week and there it was– gorgeous woman-girl in a barely-there bikini all spread out with pages and pages of more just like her inside. Oh, and glorious day, it was a double issue, but feeling I’d matured a little in this area, I tossed it in my car and only waited a week this time. And then, I actually told my husband the magazine arrived. “Why do they keep sending me this?” he laughed. Oh, and I wondered the same thing (feeling ridiculous, as if I shouldn’t care). Truth was, it was the only decent magazine he could purchase with his leftover airline miles before expiration and most of the issues actually went straight to recycling anyway. Alas, I brought it inside with the other junk mail, leaving it on the counter for Brian. It stayed there all weekend. Then, “I’m throwing all this in the recycling bin,” I said, stealthily directing my eyes at him and wondering if he would object. He didn’t, so there it went. At times, I wondered if he went out to rescue it, but I didn’t act on it, and the recycling materials were carried away into oblivion days later.

Ah, the issues that come with learning to be comfortable in your own skin. Emotional stuff seems to rear its ugly head a little over time until there is no choice but to deal with it. Body issues come up for all kinds of reasons, but I looked at that magazine as something that highlighted what I was not and could never be. I am not 5’11” and 110 pounds. I am not tan with my Scots-Irish, freckly skin. I do not have long, flowing hair. My eyes tend to be squinty when I am the happiest. I am not as confident as those women appear to be, Photoshopped or not. Sexual abuse is part of my story, and I have wrestled with my body image as a result. Growing up, I wanted the acceptance and compliments of others, but at the same time, I did not want that kind of attention from men. I felt sick (and maybe a little jealous?) that women could be so free and confident to show off their body. Then, I felt  nauseated that women knew this magazine was primarily used for men’s viewing pleasure and modeled for it anyway. I mean, where’s their self-respect? Or is that how they respect themselves? I’m not sure that will ever make sense to me.

Here’s the thing. When we have emotional hurts and push them aside over and over, well, they come up again and again in some way until we’ve done something about it. When we reach out, identify what it is and admit it, then we can start facing our fears of the worst and begin seeking help for it. AND as author Cec Murphey says,

“Our mind may be strong, but our body reacts later in response to stress, trauma and negativity.”

So, holding onto emotional hurts can actually wreak havoc on our body. Research actually shows a link between our life experiences and our emotional and physical health. The Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Study in the 1990’s shows a connection to later sickness if certain experiences had been a part of early childhood (abuse, neglect, family dysfunction). And who doesn’t have family dysfunction in some way or another as part of their story? Constant stress raises our cortisol levels and that can create gut issues. Since our gut is the core of our immune system, health problems can arise.

So what can we do? Give to ourselves what we believe has been lost or desired from others all along: mercy, grace, forgiveness, acceptance. If we can’t offer those to ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to? Read on your particular subject, say it out loud, reach out for the help of friends or a counselor. Pray. Know that it’s never as easy as deciding to change. When I sought a counselor for help, she told me something I have used all these years: healing is a slow, long, spiraling process. Sometimes our unhealthy responses spiral back around, seemingly out of the blue, but there has been change there, whether we see it or not.

For example–year #2, I was irritated the Swimsuit Issue addressed to my husband still bothered me, but I had less anxiety over it. And you know what? Brian just told me he even moved the magazine in the recycling bin to mess with me (he’s such a joker), but I didn’t even go back to check.

And THAT was progress.

“Even if our efforts of attention seem for years to be producing no result, one day a light that is in exact proportion to them will flood the room.”  ~Simone Weil

On Finding Hope and Healing

As many of you know, I was tested for numerous autoimmune issues including Lyme Disease last year. It was a mystery, but in the summer I was diagnosed with Sjogrens Syndrome and Hypogammglobulinanemia (immune deficiency). It took a lot of time, ruling out other diseases with blood work results from various doctors and integrative health practitioners through the years. During that time and even before then, friends and acquaintances had their own health struggles and also found answers that led to their own healing. Then, they went a step further and selflessly took the time to tell me their story. And there, I found hope.

Over and over, we all hear of people devastated by disease and cancer, but over and over, I am hearing of those who are thriving by intentionally making major life changes…and not using medication. Nothing makes it more real than when your own body proves it has the potential to heal itself with the right nutrients from whole food and supplements to boost the immune system, as well as detoxify the body. Every body is different, so the challenge lies in finding direction through prayer, reducing stress and resting.

When we share our stories, challenges and victories, it’s powerful, like unlocking a hidden door for ourselves AND others. Since so many spoke to me through conferences, books, blogs, over the phone and during long dinners, it made an impact in such a way that I had hope. Hope that healing would indeed come. And it has in many amazing ways.

So, how can I not do the same?!

2015 is a year of intention for me, and here is my plan for this space starting next month: Finding Hope and Healing…Little by Little

Healing is usually slow, after all, whether from sickness, disease, past hurts and other emotional issues. The common thread? Healing also must be intentional!

Week 1 — an inspirational, hope-filled post (much like my usual writing, including stories of the pups, the joys and pains of marriage, infertility, sexual abuse, my health journey, and finding God in the struggle, etc.)

Week 2 — a post about useful healing books, quotes, music, art, and/ or recipes

Week 3 — physical and emotional healing tips I’m learning along the way

Week 4 — re-posting of interesting topics from other writers

Thanks for reading! 🙂

Oh, and I’m (obviously) working on a new look and even considering a new title for my blog. Any ideas?

 

On (Emotional) Strength Training

Be thankful for each new challenge because it will build strength and character.                                                                          ~Author unknown

“Shush!” I told my barking dogs, holding their leashes until my knuckles turned white. The three of us stood in the dark of the early morning, directly across the street from the staring coyote. Practically dragging my heavy dogs towards home, I hoped my past workouts made a difference so I wouldn’t let go. The coyote kept its distance but followed us, and my heart pumped out of my chest until we were safe inside the house.

Days later, I came home and let the dogs in the backyard. As I glanced out the window, Journey and Glory were suspiciously staring at the grass. I ran-walked out there, not sure I was ready for what I would find. “Did Glory teach you to eat poop?!” I asked Journey, who had something brown in his mouth (gross, I know, but HE doesn’t like that kind of snack). When he dropped it, I picked it up with my bagged hand, you know, the way only dog owners pick up these things. It squished, I screamed, threw it down and shuffled those animals inside the house, completely disgusted. When I went back, I saw a very slobbery and very dead mouse.

I called Brian and gushed about the sheer grossness. “Get the shovel and get rid of it.” He said, calmly. It took a while, but I launched it over the fence into the woods.

mouseA week later, when I opened the door to let the dogs out one last time before bed, I saw something scurry by me. I whipped around, and a little brown lizard was hanging out on the wall right inside the door. So, I called Brian (who usually dealt with these things) at work and told him what was creeping around our home. “You can wait for me to get home if you want.” Hmmm...what if it went into our bedroom?!

I even took a picture so he could see why I was terrified.

I must have been shaking, and I’m sure it was bigger in real life.

If others saw me spring into action, they might have thought something was seriously wrong (with me). I don’t know how long it took, but I was sweating by the time I trapped the lizard in my Fit & Fresh lunch container with lid. Journey hung out right next to me the whole time, despite my wild screaming, praying and positive self-talk.

By now, you’re probably thinking…she’s a dramatic, weak, silly girl. Well, after these situations, I was thinking that, too, and wondering when did that start? When did I start being afraid of little things? I lived alone before marrying Brian and took care of myself. I have handled a lot in my life, as a strong, brave woman. What was my deal?

I don’t know. Maybe I’d gotten comfortable. Maybe God thought I needed some courage and strength training.

Apparently, I needed to start with three pound weights and work up to the heavy stuff like: ongoing health issues and tests that showed more problems (nothing like cancer but still frustrating), trying to get pregnant (or even ovulate, for that matter), and times when I am just so tired of STILL healing from sexual abuse (I believe this hard work is never done). Oh, yes, and trying to sell our house.

Those things aren’t easy. Then, sometimes when there’s so much uncertainty, I get irritable, bossy and controlling, and that doesn’t help my marriage.

Then, I read something powerful by Anne Lamott.

When God is going to do something wonderful, he or she starts with a hardship. When God is going to do something amazing, he or she starts with an impossibility.

In the middle of these sometimes impossible situations, I’m grateful for the little things that have (re)built my courage. Seriously, though. I’ve had enough. I don’t want to bulk up from all this strength training. I’m ready for something amazing.

Worth Celebrating

This is my birthday week (because one day is just not enough).

Celebrating 6th grade style (eyes closed, of course)

While I was sifting through birthday wishes on the main day, I ran across something I’d posted barely over 5 years ago on Facebook. I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten about some of these things!

I guess, sometimes, whatever is happening right now seems to take over the past. But then, going back a few years is a profound reminder of where you’ve been, and that is worth celebrating.

My updates, now that I’m older and wiser in some ways, are in bold.

25 Random Things About Me

January 24, 2009 at 6:39pm

1. I am a book junkie. I have a pile of books in my closet that are calling my name. Now, a new pile is on my bedside table. 

2. When I was 18, I won over a $100 from a radio station.

3. Among other interesting happenings during traveling, I have eaten cow tongue in Moscow, hiked…um, walked in the Swiss Alps, and have ridden a highly sought-after camel in Niger (well, it took a couple steps). I long for more travel experience, as I have been deeply touched by all I have seen and learned in the world. Ireland… check. Greece… check. Now where?

4. I hate slugs and slime of all kinds so much that I put sandwich bags on my hands when trimming fat from chicken. Brian once chased me around the house while waving chicken fat my way. Apparently, I have matured in this department. I made White Chicken Chili and cut the chicken fat with my bare hands. just. this. week.

5. An um…interesting neighbor once asked me if I wanted to see his prosthetic leg. I stumbled over my words, completely horrified that he might pull down his pants to show me, but the leg was in his trunk (equally bizarre).

6. I plan to write my story one day and have it published in some form or another. I’m on my way.

7. I like to peel skin after a sunburn–gross, I know, but I love it! I also like to remove loose chunks of hair off my dogs (I call them hair plugs :).

8. I struggle with forgiving the unthinkable on an almost daily basis. It’s a process that takes time and healing and courage. Wow. Read here. Now, I usually struggle with forgiving the everyday things.

9. I owned a Toyota Camry for one week–complete with license plate.

10. Repeated finger-tapping, lip-smacking, and gum-popping makes me cringe. Working with elementary school students year after year has not solved this problem.

11. One Easter, I asked for two bars of cream cheese for my Easter basket. Strange, I know.

12. I lived on Jennifer Drive for a couple years.

13. I love deep-down, belly-hurting laughs and hearing children giggle. Ah, exercise for the soul.

14. I have read and watched Anne of Green Gables as a child and teenager. I’m watching it again as an adult.

15. I have learned “All You Need is Love” is a farce. You also need persistence, trust, honesty, courage, patience, space, forgiveness and humor to make a marriage work. Oh, and admitting I am wrong is challenging, but I am learning.

16. I love to play board games and prefer to win. For some reason, my brother-in-law warned his fiancee’ about my competitive tendency (not sure what’s that about).

17. I have learned more about myself over the past 6 years than the previous twenty-something. I am stronger and braver and wiser than I ever thought possible. I am proof of the possibility of change and the power of resilience. Love, love, love that I wrote this five years ago and feel even stronger about it today. Life does that if you let it. 

18. I have a long list of funny names for my two dogs and my husband and can come up with more at any moment.

19. Music touches me to the core. Just listen to 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman.

20. I hated my name as a child because there were Jennifers everywhere. So, in 6th grade I changed my name to Jenny. I changed it back to Jennifer in the 7th grade, and only my best friends have called me Jenni (i not y) since later that same year. I have always had a strong aversion to strangers shortening my name in any way. I’ve made it easy these days. Just call me Jen.

21. I have learned that family is what I make it–the people I choose to surround myself with who love and support me. Thank God for my family, real and chosen.

22. I have volunteered with Kids on the Block (KOTB not NKOTB 🙂 as an educational puppeteer. My favorite puppet was Brenda, who taught kids about bullying and being persistent when asking for an adult’s help.

23. I feel warm and tingly when I think about my future as a school counselor. I have always loved helping kids find their own way. And still do.

24. If I ever need a Plan B, I could write peppy jingles or become a professional organizer. 

25. I am always learning more I wish I knew a long time ago

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I’m curious! What random things would show up your list?

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Healing From the Inside Out

Sometimes you just know something isn’t right.

The second year of my full-time graduate program in 2010, I juggled a counseling internship at one school and a part-time teaching job at another. Night sweats, constant bloating and fatigue, brain fog, as well as headaches and dizziness were some of the worst symptoms I struggled with during that time. The several doctors I went to asked me if I was stressed. Um, yes, of course I am! I wanted to scream. Get some rest, work out, eat right–those words were my prescriptions, but they made no difference.

I went to three medical doctors and left frustrated every single time because no one seemed to really know what was going on, and I didn’t feel like anyone heard me. Anxiety? Stress? And the best of all…(no joke) PMS? Do you know what PMS is?  I really wanted to slap that nurse in the face. Um, thanks, but I’ve been having periods for decades.

Finally, an amazingly kind doctor listened (she listened!) and tested my hormones, finding that my progesterone was low. Immediately I went into research mode and bought Dr. Lee’s What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Premenopause. I felt like the book was all about me (reading about “premenopause” freaked me out a little bit, since I was in my mid-thirties and did not have children). I read that practically any crisis situation during our lives can cause some of these issues later, which made sense, but the tears flowed when  sexual abuse was listed as a potential culprit.

That was the beginning.

Things seemed to clear up a little after using bioidentical progesterone cream for a few months, as Dr. Lee suggested in his book. The off-and-on dizziness remained, as well as a full-body aching that didn’t easily subside. Thinking that I needed to work out more to relieve stress, I continued to go to yoga classes, strength training and cardio. What I found though, was that I actually felt worse after working out–not it in the usual sore kind of way. I had shooting pain down my legs, my hips ached, and I had headaches that only went away with sleep. You wouldn’t think I had been getting chiropractic adjustments practically every week. I was bewildered when I had to walk out of a yoga class because my leg pain was too intense to continue. Really? Yoga is even too much?!?

In May of 2011, I began juicing and started a detox regimen. For years,  I had reactions from dairy, so I cut most of that out of my diet. During that time, I kept a food diary of everything I ate each day, and I noticed I still had some adverse reactions. At Brian’s request, I agreed to have allergy testing done. Through that, I found I am sensitive to chicken, beef and dairy among other things like vinegar and mushrooms. So, essentially, my entire way of eating changed that summer, and now I am vegetarian (ovo pescaterian to be exact, since I eat eggs and fish). The hardest thing to let go of was dairy–cheese…no more chicken nachos smothered with queso or our weekly pizza. What I miss the least? Chicken and beef, without a doubt. I also removed gluten from my diet and I found that with a meals of mainly fruits and vegetables, my symptoms–all of them–subsided.

My first 25 pounds of carrots for juicing
My first 25 pounds of carrots for juicing

As you can probably guess, changing my eating habits has changed my life. Not only am I a healthier person, I feel better, think better and have more energy. Looking back, I honestly don’t know if the hormone issue came first and caused the problems with food, or vice versa. Without a doubt, the crises in my life and resulting unforgiveness in my heart created years of constant and underlying stress (all the normal stress from other areas of my life just made it all worse). I was on the fast road to disease. No medical professional has confirmed that, and you know what? I don’t need confirmation.

I believe it with all that is in me, and that is why my healing journey continues.

(I wish I had impressive before and after pictures, but they would look practically the same. My changes have been made from the inside out. And clearly, I am not a medical professional but simply sharing my experience.)

Beautiful Scars– And Then the Morning Comes

It’s easy for me to say I was molested for the first time as a nine-year old. It’s not, however, easy to sift through and relive all those years (27 to be exact), since I was visited in the darkness. That was when the safety of my pale pink bedroom shattered into millions of tiny pieces that would later cut deep like glass.

When I first began writing this, I fooled myself into thinking I could whip up an account that has, by the way, blossomed into one of hope and love and forgiveness. The truth is, though, there is no way for me to share the light without first revisiting the dark—the secret, the fear, the loneliness and wild anger. It’s been a long time since I’ve been there, thank God.

Thank you, God. It’s been a long time since I’ve been there.

To continue reading this post written for Leanne Penny’s series, Beautiful Scars, click here.