Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Battle with Weight

Anyone who has known me for any length of time knows that I am on the skinny side when it comes to weight.  I always have been and if anything, it's always been a struggle to keep weight on.  When we started our cellular healing diet as a family to help us be more healthy and help Josh thrive better, I was a bit concerned about the potential weight loss due to the healing ability of the diet that promotes toxic weight loss (toxins are stored in body fat) that naturally occurs with a healing/detox diet.  I was already slightly underweight to begin with.  I was told by the nutritionist guiding us through the diet that while I would love toxic weight, my body would find a happy place and stop shedding the pounds.

Well, unfortunately, we started the diet at the end of March, and Tim had the whole ordeal with his appendix at the end of April right after we started the heavy detox part of the diet.  Needless to say, I wasn't monitoring my weight, I was simply trying to care for Tim and keep the household functioning.  As a result, by mid-May, when I finally got around to stepping on a scale after noticing that none of my clothes fit me anymore, I was shocked to find that I had lost 14% of my body weight in less than 2 months!

I panicked and reached out to a friend who is a dietitian who was able to put me in touch with a friend of hers locally that has a practice.  She has been my weight coach ever since.  She was very concerned about the weight loss and the danger zone my body was in.  Not only had I lost 14% of my body weight so quickly, but I was less than 2 percentage points away from my body using my essential fats to survive.  My cycle had shut down, and I was losing hair by the handfuls.  I was weak and lethargic.  I was a mess.  I had to see my primary doctor for a full blood work-up to see if damage had already been done to my organs.  Thankfully, everything checked out fine.  I've been on a 2250 Calories a day diet since and had to add grains back into my diet.  I am still sticking to a very healthy and organic diet, so I have to eat a ton of food to reach my calorie goals because fruit and vegetables and healthy meats just don't have the high calorie content as junk food does. Sadly, the weight gain progress has been painfully slow since embarking on this journey!

I haven't spoken about the situation much with people because I'm sick of getting the whole "You are so lucky!  I'd love to have your problem instead of my battle to lose weight" comments.  While I don't know what it's like to struggle to lose weight, I know the struggle of maintaining healthy weight.  Let me just say for the record, the struggle to maintain a healthy weight, whether it's losing or gaining is NOT fun by any means!  It's a daily battle!  I have come to despise eating because I constantly need to be monitoring what I'm eating and how many calories I'm consuming and whether or not I am getting in the recommended amounts of each food group daily.  It's such a drudgery!  I want to eat food again just for the enjoyment of eating!

Thankfully, my cycle has since reset, and while I am still losing hair, it's not by the handfuls anymore.  I have much more energy and feel a lot more like my usual self.  My weight gain goal set by the dietitian was 1.5-2 lbs a week, but unfortunately, since starting with her in May, I have only gained 4 pounds.  Having a stomach bug 2 weeks ago in which I lost 4 pounds in 1 day didn't help matters.  I gained 3 of the pounds back by the time I saw my dietitian last week, so now my total weight gain since starting with her has been 3 pounds.  I can't help but be discouraged, but I'm going to keep on keeping on until I can get my body into a healthier place.

I am still under the care of my family physician who has been concerned about my ability to regain the weight.  When I see her next on October 5, she will be ordering some tests at the request of my dietitian who is now concerned that I may have an absorption issue.  Also, on the rare occasions when I indulge in a food that contains gluten, I get really bloated and struggle with abdominal cramping.  There is concern that I am now gluten intolerant or sensitive, so I will be tested for that as well.  Even though I've always consumed a lot of gluten-containing foods in the past (I am Italian after all!), apparently the few months hiatus I gave my body was enough for it to detest any trace of gluten.  I also may get my metabolism tested.  There is concern that it's way too high adding to my issues and inability to gain weight.

Having to deal with this has been hard because I don't have time to worry about myself with all that's been going on in our family.  It's been a drudgery and constant source of discouragement.  It's also been a lonely, isolating battle.  I was encouraged the past few weeks when I've met two other people who understand my struggle, so it helps to know I'm not alone.

God is in control, and while His timetable may not be my timetable, I am learning to trust and be patient in even these uncomfortable circumstances.  Each day is a gift, and I need to use it to its fullest by God's grace!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

When God's Strength is Enough

This summer did not go as planned to say the least.  In fact, it's been an intense, harrowing past 5 months!  Even as I sit here reflecting back on all that transpired these past several months, I can't help but shudder at the difficulties we faced and dread ever experiencing anything like it again -- Lord-willing, we won't!

The saga began in April when Tim injured himself pulling our dead lawn tractor, which had 2 flat tires, out of the shed all by himself.  If you read my post from May about the miracles God worked in Tim's life over those next few weeks, you understand how this frightful journey began.  His injury led to a ruptured appendix that we didn't realize was a ruptured appendix until 4 days after it ruptured which led to a 5 day stay in the hospital with doctors being amazed that Tim was alive not to mention not as sick as he should have been.  The doctors told us removing the appendix could kill Tim, so they instead inserted a drain into the abscess Tim's body had build around the appendix in order to drain the infection so that surgery could take place.  That began a routine 2-4 hour visit to the hospital first weekly then every other week to get the drain and appendix checked.  Our hopes of healing went up and down, and after another visit with the surgeon, we found out he would not need surgery but could live with the healed appendix.  We were thrilled to get that wonderful news since Tim was just starting to feel better and the thought of having surgery again was disheartening.  Then the wait began to hear the news that the appendix was closed and the drain could be removed.  We waited and waited and waited some more.  The hospital visits were starting to get old.  The hospital staff all knew us by name.  The routine that ate up a large part of a day every two weeks was starting to wear on us.

Then came the day we met once again with the surgeon and received the bad news that the appendix was not healing as expected, and surgery was a necessity.  The hope was that they could remove everything they needed to through laparoscopic surgery, but given the amount of inflammation, there was a chance Tim would need to be fully opened up. The surgery date was scheduled unexpectedly quickly once the decision was made, and Tim had an appendectomy on July 26, three days before we were supposed to leave for our Russell family vacation.  We were thrilled that the surgery was successful as a laparoscopic procedure, and Tim was discharged from the hospital the next afternoon!  We had decided to leave on Saturday instead of Friday for vacation to allow Tim one more day to recuperate at home before needing to sit in a car for 6 hours and endure the bumps.  However, by Thursday afternoon, Tim's fever he had been battling off and on since the night before, soared higher than we would have liked forcing me to call the surgeon who told us to come immediately to the ER.  We spent all evening in the ER talking with the surgeon and his staff and having another CT scan done as well as blood work, and IV antibiotics were started.  Things were not looking good.  Tim was readmitted, and the doctors were talking about opening him up again to try to find the source of the infection.  Thankfully, Tim's surgeon came back on duty the next morning and  decided to try taking Tim off the antibiotics and see if the fever would return since it had broken the night before.  He was hoping that if the fever didn't return, we could call it a fluke and avoid unnecessary surgery.  If it returned, surgery would have to be done.  Thankfully, God intervened, and the fever never returned, so after another day in the hospital for monitoring, Tim was able to be discharged mid-day on Saturday.  His parents had graciously taken the boys with them for our vacation on Friday.  By God's grace, Tim was able to endure the car ride down to Virginia on Sunday.  Even though he spent his vacation lying around and taking it easy, he was thankful that he was able to spend time with his family.

For 6 weeks after his surgery, Tim was not allowed to lift anything that weighed more than 10 pounds.  This became really frustrating for him once he finally felt back to his normal self, but I was persistent in being firm because I didn't want any other set-backs.  This drama had gone on long enough.  Last week, on September 2, Tim's weight restrictions were completed, and he was able to go back to functioning normally, and I felt as if I had been given my life back only to discover that I now had to pick up the pieces of my life to put them back together again.

Tim has always been the rock in our family.  He keeps us sane and keeps us functioning.  He's always there.  He has always been the healthiest of us all.  In raising two precious special needs boys together, Tim has been my supporter, helper, and teammate.  In everything he had to endure the last 5 months, I felt as if I lost all that I had come to rely on from him.  It scared me tremendously when it all began to know that he should have died - that I could have been a widow.  I'm grateful that God had other plans for Tim and so thankful to have Tim still at my side filling those roles once again.

As I struggled these past several months to care for Tim and his physical needs, keep the family going, keep up with our 1.8 acres of land, keep up with the meals and laundry and housework, continue to work part time as a nurse, and run my essential oils business, there were many times where I felt as if I would crumble under the enormity of the tasks resting on my shoulders.

With the 10 days total of hospitalization Tim had plus the 7 outpatient visits for drain checks, surgeon appointments, and repeat CT Scans, I had a lot of childcare arrangements to make.  It was so difficult to juggle caring for my boys and being at the hospital especially when Tim was so sick and in so much pain during his first hospitalization.  The emotional toll of Tim's near-death experience and continued issues and then surgery for the boys was really costly.  They both struggled to come to terms with why God was letting their daddy suffer so much.  They felt the void of not having Daddy be an active member of our family greatly.  It was exhausting for me to stay emotionally strong to help them become stronger emotionally.  The whole ordeal created a lot of childcare needs.  Finding childcare has always been an enormous challenge given Josh's special needs.  I am so grateful for Tim's mom and several of our friends who were so willing to step in and care for our children when I couldn't.  I'm also thankful for Josh's home health aide services which helped to fill in the gaps for his care.

With our special healing diet that we had started in March, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen making everything from scratch including our own crackers and yogurt.  I get all of our dairy, produce, and meat from local Amish farms on a weekly basis.  When Tim was in the hospital, we couldn't accept the offered meal help from church friends because the diet is just too complicated.  People would offer to make a meal and ask what we can't have.  I always said it would be easier to tell them what we could have.  So, I had to run back and forth from the hospital to home to ensure the boys would have the food they needed for their meals while Tim was in the hospital.  Several people encouraged me to just let the diet go.  I refused because we have seen such amazing results with the diet for Josh that there's no turning back!  Every minute I labor in the kitchen is so worth it to have a son who is thriving when he was predicted to be struggling.

Our property is beautiful.  We love every bit of it!  However, it's a lot to manage and has always taken all hand's on deck to help keep things under control during the Spring and Summer months.  Tim does the majority of the work.  With his being out of commission for most of this Spring and Summer, this put a huge hardship on us and our property.  We also had planted an extra large garden this year to help us financially manage our organic diet.  I will be forever grateful for our neighbor who so lovingly and faithfully mowed our lawn for us with the lawn tractor.  That was a huge task to take over and a huge burden taken off of our shoulders.  However, the parts of the lawn that needed to be push-mowed, the weed whacking and pulling, and maintaining and watering of the garden still needed to be done.  I gave it my best shot, but there came a time where we just had to let the weeds prevail.  I could only do so much in the limited 24 hours in each day.  The boys stepped up and helped also, but we couldn't do it all.  Thankfully, we were able to keep our garden going, and while it had more weeds than I would have preferred, it produced well for us providing ample food that we were able to eat fresh as well as plenty that I could can or dehydrate to keep us going until next year's growing season.

We love our house.  We love the ample space it has giving us the ability to minister to people.  However, the size provides plenty of rooms and space that needs to be cleaned on a regular basis.  Cleaning the house takes time!  Time that I did not have enough of.  Again, the boys stepped up to help share in the load, but just like the weeds overtook our yard, the dust overtook our home.  I can't tell you the number of times I wished I could have more than 24 hours in my day these past several months!  I made it a priority to keep up with doing the laundry because we do need to stay clothed, but sometimes, it would take a week before the clean laundry got folded and brought up to the rooms.  My family was gracious and never complained the countless times they would run downstairs to pull out needed underwear or socks or other needed clothing from the baskets waiting with laundry that needed to be folded.  Having the boys take over the responsibility of washing and folding their laundry over the summer also was helpful.  I am also grateful for two people in our church who graciously gave of their time to help me with housework when Tim was hospitalized and another who paid for me to get my house cleaned.  Just having someone help share the burden was a huge relief and a real encouragement.

I continued to work 18 hours 2 days a week unless Tim's hospitalizations required that I take off from work.  I also continued to run my essential oils business although I was getting sick of always having to apologize for the length of time it took me to respond to an email or phone call because I just couldn't do it all.  I'm grateful for the way God blessed my business during these tough months helping me to reach higher income than I've ever had at a time when I didn't have time to keep things going.  That helped keep us financially afloat as we dealt with missed work for Tim and me not to mention the unexpected medical expenses as we maxed out Tim's high maximum out of pocket expense medical deductible (No, Obamacare is NOT more affordable!), and the amount of gas we were spending in the countless trips to the hospital that was a 25 minute, mostly-highway drive from our house.

The physical and emotional exhaustion I experienced on a daily basis these past several months was overwhelmingly enormous!  The long hours I spent keeping our family going with the very little and sometimes broken up sleep I was getting at night was enough to kill me.  When I did finally get to bed, I would fall asleep in utter exhaustion the moment my head hit the pillow.  I have never found myself always on the verge of tears and feeling as if my legs were going to crumble underneath me on a daily basis, but that's just what I experienced these past months.  There were days that I felt as if I would never survive the day.  I truly have never been as overwhelmed as I have been these past few months, and I never want to feel that way again.

Through it all, God was so gracious to me.  I never would have survived had it not been for His help, grace, mercy, and largely, His STRENGTH!  I spent my days in a constant state of prayer asking for the same thing over and over again, "Please, God, help me to have the strength I need to do all that I need to do today."  I'm glad God never gets weary of hearing our petitions because mine were so redundant and desperate!  I had no strength to carry the burdens heaped on my shoulders daily, but God gave me His strength, and Jesus carried my burdens.  God's strength was my lifeline.  It helped me pull my weary body out of bed early each morning, work non-stop making sure the needs of all of my family were met, and brought me to bed even if it was for a few short hours.  God's strength kept me going even when I knew how impossible it was for one person to do all of the tasks set before me in a given day.  God's strength kept my heart from wallowing in misery, discouragement, and self-pity.  God's strength helped me be all He called me to be on a daily basis.  His strength never wore out.  It was fresh and new every morning.  Great is His faithfulness!

These past several months have helped me to come to love and respect God's strength.  It has drawn me yet again closer to Him helping me to realize I am nothing and must rely on Him for all things.  Feasting on His Word on a daily basis became so much more meaningful to me as it nourished my soul allowing me to keep pressing on each and every day.  This hard time has strengthened my belief in His promise that "I can do all things through Christ who strengths me" (Philippians 4:13).  I experienced daily what it was like to soar with wings as eagles and run and not be weary and walk (or even stumble) yet not grow faint (Isaiah 40:31).  God brought me through the waters, kept me from drowning in the rivers, and prevented me from being burned in the fire (Isaiah 43:2).  I never want to go through something like this again, but I am thankful for the refining work God did in my life as a result.  As I sit here letting my mind reflect back on all that I had to go through the last several months, my stomach is churning into tight knots.  I feel traumatized all over again!  However, God's goodness prevails, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God worked all of those hard times together for my good and His glory (Romans 8:28).  I want to forget the painful memories, and putting them into words will help me do that, but I want to always remember the wondrous comfort God gave me daily and the incredible strength of His that carried me through.

Through all of these hard months, one song continued to run in my head over and over again and still does.  I am trying to convince Josh to sing it with me sometime in church.  The words spoke to my heart over and over again reminding me of God's strength and the work He was doing in my life on a daily basis emptying me of myself and filling me with Him.  These words so eloquently and beautifully describe what I truly believe deep down in my heart and was so evident these past several months.  His strength is perfect!

His Strength is Perfect
I can do all things
Through Christ who gives me strength
But sometimes I wonder what He can do through me
No great success to show
No glory of my own
Yet in my weakness He is there to let me know
His strength is perfect when our strength is gone
He'll carry us when we can't carry on
Raised in His power, the weak become strong
His strength is perfect, His strength is perfect
We can only know
The power that He holds
When we truly see how deep our weakness goes
His strength in us begins
Where ours comes to an end
He hears our humble cry and proves again
His strength is perfect when our strength is gone
He'll carry us when we can't carry on
Raised in His power, the weak become strong
His strength is perfect, His strength is perfect
Written by Cedric Caldwell, Victor Caldwell, Cece Winans • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group

The Day We Never Thought We'd See

God continues to do amazing things in our family.  He continues to bring healing in areas we never thought possible!  We are forever grateful for His amazing handiwork in our lives and for the incredible answers to prayer we continue to see that are above and beyond all we could ask or think.

Three weeks ago on August 29, 2016, we saw the day that we never thought we would see.  I still feel as if I am living in a dream and that soon, I am going to wake up and discover it was just a dream!

As you know, Joshua, our oldest son who just turned 12 this past Sunday, has Autism along with Bipolar, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and ADHD.  The gloomy future predicted by the many doctors and specialists Josh has seen throughout the years was daunting and frightening.  They had warned us about the scary years of puberty where Josh would be in and out of the psychiatric hospital and needing constant medication adjustments due to the raging hormones.  We were told we would see a reprieve once Josh reached his 20's, and his hormones stabilized.  Being under the care of a psychiatrist would be a lifelong necessity as medications would always need to be monitored and tweaked as time went on.

As I wrote in my annual Autism Awareness blog post in April, things have drastically changed for Josh due to our journey in natural solutions over the past now 2.5 years.  In addition, the healing diet we as a family have been doing since the Spring with the intent to help Josh has also been instrumental.  Beneath the surface of these solutions, God was orchestrating all of the events - giving me the drive to fight for my son, leading me to the right people and the right information, giving us the means to put the natural solutions to the test and finding success with them, etc.  This was God's capable hands at work in an incredible way in Josh's life as well as in our family's lives.

Before making the wellness journey into the wonderful world of natural solutions, Josh was taking 10 pills a day (7 different drugs) to manage all of his medical and psychiatric needs.  With the help of natural solutions, Josh experienced increased remarkable medical and psychiatric stability which led to a 2+ year journey of weaning off of medications.  It has been an exciting journey watching him transform before our eyes as drugs left his system revealing wonderful personality traits we didn't know existed.  On June 8, 2016, Josh took his last dose of Risperdal, a drug crucial for managing his moods of bipolar and the last drug of which he weaned.  We were told by several doctors that he would never be able to go without a mood stabilizer.  In the midst of puberty and raging hormones, at the time predicted to be the worst time of Josh's life and craziest emotional roller coaster ride, he stopped taking his most crucial drug and since has been THRIVING and has been more stable than he ever has been since developing Bipolar!  How is that for a miracle?  We are still praising God for that incredible answer to prayer!

Josh saw his psychiatrist for a follow-up to being off of Risperdal on August 29, 2016.  She was amazed at how well he was doing and thrilled for his success.  She looked at him and said, "Well, Josh, you don't have to come back and see me again."  I almost fell out of my seat, and Josh was just as shocked as he said, "What did you just say?" She repeated herself, and Josh clarified, "You mean for a long time?"  She answered, "No, never unless you need me again sometime later down the road.  You are doing so well that you don't need my services anymore.  There is nothing that I can do for you that you aren't already doing for yourself."  I thought I was going to need to be pulled down from the ceiling because I was flying so high.  I never dreamed I would see the day when Josh would not need to see a psychiatrist regularly.  She and the psychologist have also been mentioning dropping some of Josh's diagnoses because of the lack of symptoms.  More time still needs to transpire before the diagnoses can officially be dropped, but we are getting close.  It's been over a year since Josh experienced a cycle with his bipolar.  His anxiety completely disappeared after he weaned off of his anxiety drug in December 2015.  His Autism has become so highly functional that if he were to be diagnosed today, according to his psychiatrist, he would not qualify for an Autism diagnosis but would instead receive a social delay disorder diagnosis.

My heart continues to soar as I see my son happy, thriving, and better than I had ever dreamed.  We have lived to see the day we never thought we'd see, and it only keeps getting better.  Josh moved into the Middle School in August as a big 7th grader.  Knowing the changes of middle school from elementary school and given the fact that he would have a whole new team of teachers and support staff, I was really anxious about his transition.  This kid continues to amaze me and transitioned so well, you wouldn't have thought it was a new experience or a new team.

God is the Great Physician, and we have certainly experienced His healing hands in Josh's life.  We are forever grateful for His great mercy and grace to Josh and our family, and we eagerly look forward to the future plans God has in store for our precious son.