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Free Book: Memoir About Living With Chronic Illness

Update, 9:37 p.m. The book is spoken for. Thanks for all the responses.

Blindsided: Lifting a Life Above Illness, by Richard M. Cohen

Here’s the publisher’s description:

“Richard Cohen, a veteran writer, producer and distinguished
journalist, has lived with multiple sclerosis for over 25 years.
Recently diagnosed again with colon cancer, Cohen describes his lifelong struggle with multiple sclerosis, his first bout with colon cancer, a loving marriage to Meredith Viera, the effect of illness on raising children, and the nature of denial and resilience, all told with grace, humour, and lyrical prose.

“Cohen chronicles and celebrates a life brimming over with
accomplishment, adversity and personal endeavour and his story has struck a chord with readers nation-wide. He has been interviewed by Barbara Walters for a nearly hour-long segment that ran on 20/20, he also appeared on wife Viera’s program, The View and is scheduled for Charlie Rose, Larry King Live, Good Morning America, and the Paula Zahn
Show, among others. Blindsided also received outstanding print attention and People magazine has run a first serial piece.

“Autobiographical at its roots, reportorial and expansive, Blindsided builds on Cohen’s story as a task aimed at emotional well-being, if not survival, pursued in sober tones that explore coping to its most redemptive and complex levels. Despite his extreme circumstances, Cohen’s is a common struggle, recognisable as an integral part of humanity, and one which he explores with varying amounts of diligence, respect, personal revelation and humour.”

Want it? I’ll send it to the first person who e-mails me with their address.

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Working With Chronic Illness

Written by two working women with chronic illness, Keep Working, Girlfriend is a blog to help other women (and men) continue working and enjoying the benefits of work. The driving force behind the blog is that “it’s critical to your health — mental, physical, emotional and financial — to keep working.”

At first I didn’t agree. My last job was horrendous, partly because of the work environment and partly because my chronic daily headache was so bad. Far from improving my emotional and physical health, I despaired my lack of productivity and was constantly exhausted. My headaches and migraines were far worse than they had ever been.

Now that I’ve been blogging for nearly two years, Keep Working, Girlfriend resonates with me. It’s hard to believe I didn’t lose my mind during the 18 months I didn’t work. (Or perhaps I did — that period corresponds with one of my worst depressions.)

I have days that I’m not up to any sort of work and I still can’t write as much as I’d like to. Nonetheless, when I can work and have a specific, productive task with a deadline, I’m so much happier and more productive in other areas of my life.

However, working with chronic illness is not always the most healthful approach. If the job is too emotionally or physically draining, it can cause more harm than good. Work itself is not the key: the work has to be enjoyable.

“Work” doesn’t have to be defined as earning a wage. If you’re not able to work a paying job, get creative about what work you can do. Maybe it’s gardening, knitting or writing in a journal. Even taking a shower can be a big accomplishment. Anything that’s satisfying to you and has a clear result.

And lack of stamina isn’t a good excuse! As I’ve learned, committing to just 10 minutes of a rewarding activity is better than not doing it at all. So you only weed two square feet of your garden; it’s more than you would have done otherwise.

I write this on a morning where I struggled to get out of bed, so I hope I don’t sound preachy. I just know it works for me. I’m also aware that if my only aspiration is to lie around and read all day, I need to actively decide whether I’m showing signs of depression or truly feel too horrendous to move.

Are you able to work? Is it rewarding for you? If you don’t work, how do you motivate yourself to work?

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Hypnotism “Legitimate” Health Care Treatment

Hypnotism is becoming a more mainstream medical treatment, particularly for pain management, according to the Mayo Clinic Health Letter. It also has a track record of being an effective headache treatment. From the Mayo Clinic:

“A trance often can be induced most quickly in people who are in severe pain. A therapist may suggest that the pain will fade or that an area of pain will become numb. In some cases, hypnosis works as well or better than pain-relieving medications.

“Hypnosis is generally considered safe, but it only works in patients who are compliant. In other words, hypnosis can’t make people act against their own wills. Psychiatrists, psychologists and other health care providers with training in hypnosis can offer medical hypnotism. It’s important to verify that the therapist has experience in treating the medical condition, too.”

In Hypnosis: An Altered State of Consciousness, another Mayo Clinic article, hypnosis and its application to health care is well-described, including what it is, who it’s for, how it works. It also debunks common myths.

The emphasis placed on finding a good provider got my attention. One article says that you should be as careful in finding a hypnotherapist as you are in choosing a doctor.

Hypnosis as a practice is not regulated in most states, so it pays to be very careful when selecting a therapist. Certified lay
hypnotherapists are individuals who have completed 200 or more hours of training in hypnosis but don’t have additional professional health care training. Licensed health care professionals who practice hypnotherapy, such as psychologists, doctors and social workers, are trained in
hypnosis in addition to their university training.

Apply the same care in choosing a hypnotherapist as you would a doctor. Ask someone you trust for recommendations. When you find a potential hypnotherapist, ask questions such as:

  • Do you have training in a field such as psychology, medicine, social work or dentistry?
  • Are you licensed in your specialty in this state?
  • Where did you go to school, and where did you do your internship, residency or both?
  • If you’re a lay hypnotist, how much training have you had and from what school?
  • What professional organizations do you belong to?
  • How long have you been in practice?
  • What are your fees?

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Gentle Yoga for Migraine (and Headache) Relief

Gentle yoga postures and breathing techniques may ease the intensity and frequency of migraines, according to a study in this month’s issue of the journal Headache. I didn’t need a study to tell me this, but supporting evidence is always good. While the study didn’t look at tension type headaches, I have no doubt that yoga is still beneficial.

Gentle is the operative word. Classes focused on working out, which I refer to as yogacise, will likely worsen a headache. For this reason, I avoid Ashtanga, Bikram, Vinyasa and power yoga, as well as anything offered at a gym. Finding a good yoga teacher is paramount.

Restorative yoga is a godsend during a severe headache. It’s easy and relaxing yet invigorating. “Active relaxation” is how Judith Lasater, a leader in the field, describes it. Her book Relax and Renew is a fantastic introduction to restorative yoga. Many yoga studios offer classes — ask around or Google restorative yoga in your area.

Breathing techniques were an important part of the study. Unfortunately, the abstract doesn’t say which techniques were used, but I imagine relaxation was the focus. You can learn a lot about breathwork online, but it’s more complicated than it may seem. Again, a lot of studios offer breathwork classes, which is often refereed to as pranayama.

If the cost of continuing classes is overwhelming, consider taking a
few private classes. An hour-long session runs about $60 (in Seattle),
but it won’t take many to learn how to practice at home. Nearly every teacher offers one-on-one sessions.

There are some crucial things to know if you decide to try yoga:

If you have a migraine or headache at the time of your practice, never do an inversion, which is any posture that raises your heart above your head. Blood (and energy, if you’re into that) rushing to your head during a headache or migraine will make it worse. For some people, doing inversions at all can trigger a headache. For others, inversions can help prevent future headaches.

Always tell your teacher if you have a headache. Your practice must be modified to avoid inversions or any other posture that may exacerbate your headache. Teachers are used to such requests and will be able to give you alternate poses. If not, I suggest finding another teacher.

It’s strange that the study’s lead author is in a Zoology department, but I agree with the results, so I don’t much care. How’s that for blatant disregard of my advice to evaluate medical studies carefully?

Kelly Pretlow, my dear friend and yoga teacher, kindly demonstrates a twist in this photo. Maple Leaf Community Yoga is her north Seattle studio.

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Headache Preventive Depakote Taken During Pregnancy Linked to Lower IQ in Children

Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should avoid taking valproate (used in Depakote, Depakene and Depacon), according to researchers who found that the drug can reduce children’s IQs. Depakote is a widely used headache preventive.

“[Researchers] found that the intelligence quotient of 2-year-old children was an average of 12 points lower when expectant moms took valproate compared with three other drugs — Lamictal, carbamazepine or phenytoin.

“In addition, 24% of toddlers born to mothers who took valproate had IQ scores that would put them in the mental retardation range — that is, below 70 points on the standard IQ test, says Kimford Meador, MD, professor of neurology at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

“That compares unfavorably with 9% to 12% for the other drugs, he says.”

Please don’t stop taking the drug without consulting your doctor. The side effects from stopping it abruptly can be ugly.

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