Friday, July 30, 2010

Writing asTherapy

I am not simply Distracted.

I am un-motivated. I am sleep-deprived, and at worst, in the grips of constant pain. For those of you new here, I hurt my lower back about a month ago, and subsequently now have sciatica. Yes, I'm only 22. I'm young! So why is my body falling a part on me?

Right now, I have six hours of sleep under my belt (the most I’ve had in a week), and blessedly, I’m not hurting. It is a moment to take advantage of.

You see, I’ve been wanting to write this post for the past several days. Joanne from Confident Writing has invited her readers to share why they think writing makes one healthy (or unhealthy). Since July is almost over, I need to just do this thing…because I feel strongly that writing impacts one’s health. We write for our health, because of our health, and I have this list of reasons percolating in my head. It’s an unorganized mess that comes out in a chaotic dribble. So for the sake of chaos (and my sanity), the list will remain a list.

I love lists, by the way.

Writing: How it Keeps Us Well

o Provides a jumping-off point for the mind to explore itself and uncover its motives, secrets, deep-down desires. When I write, I discover what I most truly WANT and not what I merely SHOULD DO. It is as if my pen asks me and the paper implores, Please oh please be honest with yourself. If you aren’t then who will?

o Gives us a way to unclutter our minds. When we pour out all the crap that is lounging about in our heads, we can find what it is we truly feel or think.

o Writing gives direction, answers questions, asks us the most important questions that are answers in themselves.

o Humans are not merely physical beings. We have minds and spirits as well. If we are not well mentally and spiritually, this can take a toll on our bodies. Writing can pinpoint what inflicts our minds and spirits. When we tune into our spiritual sides, when we delve deeper into the workings of our minds, we feel happier, clearer.

o Writing moves us to investigate. Why am I ill? Why am I suffering from so much physical pain? What can I do to alleviate my pain, to deal with it, confront it, banish it?

o Writing gives us a feeling of euphoria. Have you ever finished a project? Short story, novel, poem, essay, article, inspiring blog post? Finishing something gives us a sense of accomplishment, a sense of purpose that is very good for our mental state.

o Writing draws us into community. With readers, other writers. We discover people with shared experiences, and on the same note, they discover us.

o Writing asks us who we are. It shows us who we want to be. It unifies the two.

These are a few things off the top of my head that writing has done for me (and I suspect for other people). There are so many other reasons for why writing keeps us well. How about you? In what ways do you find that writing improves your well-being?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Herniated Discs, Pain, and the Mind

I have a herniated disc. A bulging disc. Whatever you want to call it. The disc is pressing on my sciatic nerve, which is causing pain and inflammation down the back of my leg. My new chiropractor explained in-depth the anatomy of a spinal disc, how there is water inside it, and if the disc becomes torn, the water can seep out causing a bulge. At least that is my understanding of what he told me.

First, my chiropractor tested my legs, the range of motion I could attain before pain made me stop. Then he put me on the table, and using a gentle pressure on the area of my sacral-lumbar area, he took pressure of the nerve by pressing on the tender area, the area of the out of place disc.

He can only move the disc back 2 mm at a time. So, he said, if the disc is bulging out 7 mm, it will take several adjustments to get it back in place. It was painful as I lay on my stomach, painful to straighten both of my legs, but as he applied pressure to my sacrum, the pressure eased from leg along with the pain. My leg is not pain free though. He said it will be sore for the next couple of days, and I must ice my sacral area as much as possible.

I limped out of his office with my back a little straighter and hope welling in me that I WILL get better. Someone knows what to do about my condition.

He said that I will have a tear in the disc, which means it will never be fully healed. I suppose the MRI on Wednesday will reveal the truth of this. I wonder what this will mean for me in the future. But for now, I won’t think about that. I have plenty to do right now, and a peaceful, focused mind will help me to heal faster.

There is a good side to all this pain I am experiencing. Yes, there are many negatives to my condition, but I am learning that it is completely essential for me to take control of my mind. I must transform my thoughts. I must abandon negativity and put a smile on my face and think only of good things. This is hard though when the pain takes over, makes me cranky, depressed, miserable. That is why I need to develop biofeedback, a type of imagery that allows me to control pain. By focusing and concentrating hard on something else, I will be able to transfer my focus off of the pain. Certain types of music does this for me by lifting my mind to a higher plane. I went through a phase where I watched a lot of movies and stand-up comedy. This took my mind off the pain as well so that I barely noticed it. Important since pain relievers didn’t affect me at all.

Today I was reading Healing and the Mind by Bill Moyers. He was talking to Karen Olness. She is a pediatrician who works with children to develop biofeedback techniques as a way to relieve pain from migraines and other conditions. Imagery is a key proponent of this system, and Karen describes how she developed this skill herself. When she went under surgery for her hand, she did not use anesthesia. Instead, she concentrated her attention on a favorite memory from her childhood. She also calls this self-hypnosis—concentrating one’s attention in a different way.

Moyers asked her what images she was seeing as the doctor was cutting into her hand. By picturing herself on the farm where she grew up, laying in the grass and looking at the heavens, she was able to feel comfortable. “I was perfectly conscious of what was going on outside, but I wasn’t very interested in it,” she said.

I think that is amazing. In comparison, my mind is weak. I cannot control it well. I give in too easily to whatever mood decides to strike me, or whatever pain decides to take up residence in my body. This mind control…I feel as if it is the foundation for a healthy body. There is a definite link between the mind and physical well-being. I would like to tap into this.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Note To Self

I watched a video yesterday that demonstrated several things one could do to help relieve sciatic pain. The woman said to lay on your side with your knees bent and a pillow between your knees. Then, she said to put ice on the area/s that hurt and to do this in 15 minute intervals with an hour between each interval.

Tonight I decided to try this. My leg actually was actually in a lot less pain today. I attribute that to the yerba mate tea I drank, which is good for the nervous system and releaving stress. Anyway, since I had been walking around a lot on this leg and since it felt weak, I thought it would be a good idea to ice my leg.


The ice was pressed against my back thigh for several minutes when suddenly, the ache that had lessened throughout the day intensified. My back leg muscle began throbbing with unbearable pain, and I could not stop myself from moaning out loud as if my whimpering would somehow make the pain stop. Immediately I took the ice off and threw it to the side. I called to my sister in the other room to bring my heating pad. I could not move my leg to get up because it was in so much pain.

The urgency with which my leg craved heat was stronger with each throb in my leg. The throbbing extended from the thigh/buttock area to a point below my knee. HEAT. NOW. A minute later, which seemed like forever to me, the heat kicked on full blast, and I pressed it to my leg, savoring the heat that surrounded my leg and seeped into the aching muscle.

At least now I know. My sciatic only feels better with heat, not cold.

Angry Nerves, Rebellious Muscles

I’m doing it again.

Walking around too much, bending over to pick stuff up too much. My leg is whining at me. Complaining. Why can’t you sit down for longer than ten minutes, it says.

Now I know how my friend feels who had hernia surgery earlier this year. He is big into exercise and lifting weights, obsessive almost. He is the kind of person who likes to be constantly moving, doing things. Then he herniated a muscle in his pelvic area and eventually had to get surgery done for it. He was so restless and angry that he couldn’t work out or even do something as simple as carry a laundry basket or pick up his one year old daughter.

If I don’t give my leg the rest it needs, it will get worse. But it is sooo hard to just SIT. This afternoon I picked vegetables from the garden, I chopped the vegetables (while sitting on a stool), I cooked them. I walked upstairs, I walked downstairs. I kept forgetting things I needed so I would have to walk (read “limp”) into the other room to get it. Now, thanks to my restlessness, my leg is achy, more so than before, and I feel as if I couldn’t walk across the room if I had to.

I learned something today.

Apparently, magnesium is the mineral responsible for keeping the nervous system strong. If a person, such as me, is deficient in magnesium, muscle spasms, as well as a slew of other symptoms, can occur.

Ann Louise Gittleman, Ph.D., says it clearly in her book The Living Beauty Detox Program.
“When you are magnesium deficient, depression, that rundown feeling, fatigue, irritability, anxiety, nervous tension, and spasms result (193).”

As Gittleman explains, magnesium also plays a crucial role in calcium absorption, and it is important to maintain a proper balance between the two minerals. So while magnesium calms you down, puts you in a good mood, and relaxes your muscles it is also working with calcium to build stronger bones.

Hope ignited inside me as I read about magnesium. Finally, something that I can work on right now to heal my sciatic nerve. It seems so obvious to me now. I must be deficient in magnesium (as well as calcium) and now my muscles and nerves are rebelling. They don’t want me to get away with how I’ve been treating them so poorly, not giving them enough vegetables, instead consuming too many sugary, refined carbs.

Immediately, I began researching types of foods that are rich in magnesium. After all, the closest health food store is an hour away so I can’t go out and buy a supplement right now. Besides, swallowing magnesium capsules does nothing to correct the deficiency in my diet. I have a variety of magnesium rich foods in my house right now. Not wanting to waste any time, I went around the house searching for the food that my leg is crying out for.

I ate almonds and pumpkin seeds. From the garden, I cooked carrots, beets, and purslane. A little later, I ate a salad with boiled egg.

Aside from nuts and vegetables, fish, broccoli, pumpkin, beans, wheat germ, leafy greens, soy beans, whole grains, brown rice, corn, and the herbs burdock, nettles, and horsetail are rich in magnesium. For a longer list of magnesium rich foods along with the milligrams, go to

I never realized how important magnesium is to my body. I will now make sure I incorporate magnesium rich foods as well as limit caffeine intake because caffeine can inhibit magnesium absorption.

Just a Beginning

What do you do when you have sciatica so bad that 600 mg of ibuprofen three times a day does not even touch the pain?

What can you possibly do when you want so badly to sleep, but laying down or sitting in even a remotely relaxing position proves impossible?

What is the next step to take when chiropractors are puzzled at your condition and the doctor simply prescribes Flexeril, a muscle relaxant? After taking the drug, you are now sure that this is not merely a tight muscle or a muscle spasm. The muscle does not relax. The drug only makes you so tired that you want to collapse into bed. Except there is one unfortunate condition. Laying down HURTS. After getting up, sitting down, piling five pillows next to you so you can rest your your head while sitting comfortably, you finally fall asleep. For three hours. Or five if you’re lucky.

Yes, the muscle running down the back of your entire leg is tight. It definitely feels like an impossible muscle spasm, a gigantic charlie horse that will not let go. But it feels like a nerve problem as well. Which explains why aspirin and ibuprofen, meant to target muscle pain, still does not lessen the pain in the back of the thigh.

Alas, this is my predicament. My problem began with a trip to Montana, a 24 hour ride split up between two days in an incredibly bumpy van threatening to overheat if the driver dared to go faster than 60 mph. This resulted in a stiff tailbone that made it hard for me to walk properly.

Fast forward to Pinehaven Children’s Ranch where my church was traveling to help with ranch chores. Lifting firewood. That comprised most of my duties. Imagine what all of that heavy lifting did to my lower back. It won’t last long, I told myself.

If I had known that the previous statement would prove to be horribly false, I would NOT have gone on that horse ride the next day, even as beautiful as it was riding high through the picturesque hills with the snow-capped Rockies always in our view. The next day, my ENTIRE body was sore, but the part of my body that suffered most was my lower back/ tailbone area. I could hardly walk, and I must have looked ridiculous taking baby steps, walking gingerly like an old arthritic woman.

To top it all off, I endured a 24 hour journey back to Illinois. In a bumpy van minus the overheated radiator. Did I mention the van was BUMPY?

The pain in my lower back stayed with me for several weeks. Then one day, upon bending to pick up some dirty socks laying on the floor, the pain in my lower back immediately transferred to my leg. The pain was so much that I could not stand on my right leg. I fell to the floor (oh so dramatically), and I just lay there for a while after several failed attempts to stand. It is now a week and a half later, and I can only walk bent over at the waist. If I try to straighten up while I walk, the muscle (or nerve) running down the back of my leg pulls painfully, preventing me from walking any further.

And now I have come to the reason that I am creating this blog. Primarily, for my sake. I will be logging my journey to better health. Of course, there is one question that has bugged me ever since I returned from the mission trip. There were 12 other people besides myself, ages ranging from 16 to 65. Neither the older people, nor even the middle aged people came back with the problem that I have. Why I am the only one who suffered from lower back pain and eventually sciatica? This question gnaws at my mind, and I have several theories that I will cover in this blog.

I also hope that this blog will not benefit only myself. I know there are other people throughout the world who are suffering from pain, whether sciatica, lower back or somewhere else in their bodies. I now know how frustrating it is to be in so much pain that you can barely walk and must give up your daily activities. Perhaps you cannot even go to work.

I know that health involves many facets, and I will be investigating them throughout this blog. To be completely healthy, one must not only be physically sound, but mentally and spiritually sound as well. Often, the physical symptoms we experience are results of an imbalanced mind or spirit. It is not enough to go to a chiropractor. They may be able to fix your problem, but what is preventing such a problem from returning?

I hope that as I discover those practices that restore health to my body, you will be encouraged to make your own discoveries. Perhaps things that I do will be useful to you, but perhaps you will discover different methods of healing that are suitable to your body and your personality. While in many ways the same, everyone’s body is remarkably different.