Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Happiness is... knowing you're not alone, even when you're lonely

This won't be my typical "Happiness is... " blog post. Even though I do have so much to be grateful for, I've been going through a funk.

I've been through funks before, much bigger than this, and I know they don't last.  In fact, on a scale of 1 to 3, this one's only a Category 1 using the following key to funk rating:

Funk Categories
1: Feeling intermittently sad or lonely, but easily able to feel happy after talking to a trusted friend
2: Depressed and not wanting to talk to anyone
3: Crying a lot, not sleeping, feeling very lonely and afraid of my future

The Category 3 type funks have been a result of major problems- deaths, my divorce, a layoff, major illnesses of someone I love

While I was worried about my back, I was in Category 3 Funk Mode. When the doctor reassured me that my back was not that bad, I went into Category 3 Euphoria! (See key below)

Happiness Categories
1: Content with my life and all its ups and downs
2: Happy, Playful, Flirtatious, Social, Excited about possibilities, passions, interests
3: Euphoria! In LOVE (sometimes with a guy, but could also be with life, as was the case this time.)

So..  what happened? Why did I go from Euphoria! to Feeling intermittently sad and lonely?  I won't get into all the reasons of my emotional roller coaster, other than to say that I'd much rather be in a Category 1 Funk than my recent Category 3 Funk with an imagined future of debilitating pain.  Sometimes it just takes time for those fears of the unknown to settle down.  Luckily, I spend most of my life in Happiness Categories 1 and 2 and I'm confident that those are just around the corner.

I know from talking to those trusted friends (not to mention my own study of positive psychology) that

  • Most of us will "act happy" even when we're not. This isn't to be fake or dishonest.. it's just that it often helps to kick us out of our funk.
  • We all have times when we're lonely or sad, even when it feels like we "shouldn't" be because, after all, we have so much to be grateful for. (For me, this can make me feel even worse because I hate wasting any moment of this precious life with negative emotions.)

We see so many positive things on social media (and I'd much prefer to see positive things than all the negative things that get played up so much in the press.)  But just like romantic movies, seeing how happy others are can give us this unrealistic idea that everyone has better relationships, a better life, a better career, etc. than us!  In reality, we all have our funks..  Categories 1,2,3 and everything in between! Some, I'm' sure go way beyond Category 3!

This happiness post has a video of a college student who created a video about loneliness. In it, she does a good job of describing feelings of loneliness. I used to blame my bouts of loneliness on being single, but then I remembered some of the times I was most lonely was when I was married. I had these expectations that my husband would be like those romantic movie husbands... always be able to show his love in exactly the way I needed when I needed it.  That is impossible for anyone..

In the midst of this Category 1 Funk I've been in, my good friend, Rebecca Ritter, invited me to join her at a mixed-faith church service.  It reminded me that, though my faith isn't as strong as I'd like it to be, my belief in God has always gotten me through even the worst of my funks.  I know that any loneliness I feel must pale in comparison to so many others.  In times of loneliness, it helps to know, as much as we might feel otherwise, we are not alone.

In the words of St. Francis:

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Happiness is... Realizing a Medical Scare is not as Bad as You Feared

Me and my sexy, curvy spine cutting loose on the dance floor with son-in-law, Chris!

I have been SO scared these last two weeks.  I didn't write a blog post about it because it really didn't fit in with my blog theme..  Happiness is... being scared to death that you are destined to live a life of debilitating back pain, lose all your independence, your retirement nest egg, have to live in a nursing home, leaving your children having to watch you suffer and thinking you'd be better off dead..  Yeah, those were the terrifying thoughts that were going through my head constantly. Not at all happy.

I have two conditions that can lead to some serious back pain: scoliosis (curved spine diagnosed when I was 13) and osteoporosis (loss of bone density diagnosed 4 years ago when I was 54).  I've told people that I feel like my spine is a human Jenga game and I'm afraid one day it will all collapse. And tragically, for some people, that happens.

That being said, I wasn't too worried about either of these conditions until this year when I started to have some pretty bad back pain. I went to a couple of doctors who recommended giving up running and building up my core muscles. I did those things, and yay! for the most part, the back pain got better.

I was very proud of my diligence in keeping up with my daily core exercises and walking (I am killing it on the FitBit!) and happy I could still do a lot of the activities I love..  especially hiking and dancing! I improved my eating habits and overall have felt extremely healthy, so was ready for a glowing report when I went in for my annual physical last month.

Most of the results came up positive except I'd lost another 1/2" of height leaving me at just 5'.05".  OK, not the end of the world.. but short is not usually associated with sexy. Just wear high heels, you say? Another thing I gave up because of the back problems. But, hey, short or not, I still can rock it on the dance floor, and losing another 1/2" was not really a huge cause for concern.

But just to be sure the height loss wasn't because of a fractured vertebra (which would indicate a very weak spine), I made an appointment to see someone at an Osteoporosis Clinic.  The doctor I saw there and what she said is what started me on this downward spiral of doom and gloom.  She ordered X-rays and when they came back it was obvious that my scoliosis curve had increased! In fact, it looked so freaky that I was amazed that I could walk, dance, or look normal at all!

The doctor at the Osteoporosis Clinic did a lot of things that scared me. In fact, every single thing she said was pessimistic on the first visit before even seeing the results of the X-ray.

  • She told me her grandmother was in terrible back pain for years due to osteoporosis
  • She told me most people die within a year of breaking a hip 
  • When I asked her what exercises I could do to build bone density, she said that only walking for 30 minutes, 3x a week was clinically proven to improve bone density, giving me no other suggestions for exercise that would be a good idea for my health.
  • She told me the improvement in my bone density scan was most likely a 'false positive' because of my scoliosis
  • She told me she didn't recommend the current medicine I was on for bone density, but wouldn't give me recommendations for a different medicine without a follow-on visit. (I'm self-pay, and there's no way I'm going to pay another $300 for one more appointment with this doctor.)
When the X-Ray and results came back, they did not show the fracture that she was checking for (thank goodness!) but she did say, 'the severe scoliosis was what was likely causing my back pain.'

I put my freaky looking X-Ray on Facebook (something I now regret) because as comforting as all the thoughts, prayers, suggestions, and well-wishes were,  they also confirmed that everyone agreed that this looked bad... really bad.   Typically, I only put pictures on Facebook that make me look good, and this was worse than an ugly, naked picture. (By the way, I'm not going to post one to prove it, my curvy spine is not at all apparent in all the hot, sexy, naked pictures of me.)

In the mean time, after scouring the internet and getting books on both Scoliosis and Osteoporosis, I vacillated between hope and fear. There are 'alternative' chiropractic treatments for scoliosis, but they're controversial, especially for older people who's body has naturally adjusted to the curve.

There were lots of horror stories about pain with scoliosis, osteoporosis, and any associated surgeries. The torturous pain some people are enduring is unreal. One thing all the literature seemed to agree on... avoid spinal surgery if you can! It should only be done as a last resort.

Well, my appointment with the Orthopedic doctor was today and he was NOT CONCERNED AT ALL!! In fact, he said I should ski, run, do whatever I wanted! He said my spine looked great for my age (My poor freaky spine doesn't have to feel so bad after all..  Apparently, some people like curvy spines and he was a pretty hot doctor!)

Oh my God, you can't imagine the relief! I had been crying so much out of fear and now I was crying from relief! I didn't think such a prognosis was possible given that X-Ray.

Now, even though I mentally went from being scared shitless to rejoicing, I still have to consider the literature that says scoliosis that's progressing will keep progressing, so do something to stop it. According to this doctor and a lot of literature, braces and chiropractic treatments will not make things better, and can make things worse.  According to the chiropractic doctors, if you don't do something, it will get worse..  So, either way, I still am afraid the scoliosis will get worse, and I know the osteoporosis will get worse.

But, you know what? I'll worry about that another day..  For now, I'm more determined than ever to seize those pain-free days and thank God for every one of them!

Thank you, too, for all my friends and family who supported me through this scare. It's nice to know you all 'have my back'!