Monthly Archives: November 2012

Stress or something else?

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I had a question about stress and ulcers come my way.  I wanted to answer it here in the hopes that it would be helpful.

What is an ulcer?

An ulcer is a tear or “hole” in tissue.  When we speak about ulcers though, we most commonly think of the tears in the stomach, duodenum, or, more rarely, esophagus.

What causes an ulcer?

For a long time, we blamed stress for ulcers.  It was thought that stress made more stomach acid which would then burn a hole into the stomach.  Although there might be a slight correlation between ulcers and stress, there is actually another reason for ulcers.  They are most commonly (an overwhelming 80-90% of the time) caused by a bacterial infection.  The bacteria is called Heliobacter pylori or H. pylori as it’s known by it’s homies.

What is up with stress, then?

Stress does a lot of things to the ol’ body.  One of the first things that happens when we are under chronic stress (and stress is any stimulus that requires a bodily response), is that our digestion shuts down.  You’ve heard of the fight, flight or freeze response, I’m sure.  To fight, flee or freeze, digestion is the least of our worries, so the body stops that.  The next thing that happens when we are under chronic stress is that our immune system is compromised.  It just isn’t at its best.  So, the body is primed to get sick.  Of course, a stomach ache, no matter how acute does not mean an ulcer, but if it is chronic and painful, a visit to the doctor is not a bad idea.  If your doctor does discover an ulcer and H. pylori infection, discuss treatment options.  If not:

What are some good ways to manage chronic stomach aches?

If you are dealing with “just” stomach aches and there isn’t anything that the doctor found, it’s time to reassess some lifestyle issues.  You may by under an unmanageable amount of stress.  Although there are wonderful ways to manage stress, including exercise, meditation, play, time with supportive people, I find that eliminating as much of the stressors that you can to be even more effective.  Also, you may be suffering from food allergies or food intolerances.  An elimination diet of the most common causes of food allergies could be very helpful.  Another way to manage stomach aches is to be sure to get enough sleep.  (Hmmm…that’s interesting.  All the ways to prevent and manage stomach aches sound surprisingly like my seven health basics.)

Stomach aches are horrible and can be really disabling.  They certainly can ruin a perfectly fine day.  But, they also show up as a message.  They are one of your body’s many ways to let you know that something is happening that is making it unhappy. I mean, we didn’t come up with the expression, “I feel it in my gut.” by accident, you know.  As always, grant your body the authority that it deserves.  It is never wrong.

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the depression dance, part 1

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There are so many different reasons that people finally take responsibility for their health.  The motivations are as varied as the simplicity of being raised that way by conscientious parents to the harsh wake up call that a scary diagnosis brings.  In my own journey, there were a few things that have always made me want to be healthier, but only one thing that actually shifted the responsibility from external sources to myself.

I have dealt with depression for as far back as I can remember.  I know my particular brain is a loaded gun because of its genetic wiring and so many things in my childhood pulled the trigger.  It took years (YEARS!) of struggle in all the conventional ways before I stopped handing over the responsibility for my depression to therapists and medication.  There were days when I really didn’t think I’d make it to the following sunrise.  The worst days found me saturated with a fatigue for life so dense that I had no desire to make it to the next sunrise.  (Sunrise?  There’s a sun?  And it rises?  How ridiculous!)  I’ve scared myself and my friends and my family several times with the depths to which I’m capable of diving.

Depression is one of the most pernicious forms of mental illness. It’s the murky swampland to me between sanity and insanity.  Most of the reasons that I feel depressed are completely sensical.  They aren’t irrational.  Some are completely irrational.  (I’m really not a horrible, unloveable creature.)  The greatest obstacle for me (as I believe it is to others that have the tendency for melancholy), is that we really are seeing things that are depressing or have experienced things whose possible consequences to which depression is but a piece of birthday cake in comparison or are THINKERS, brooder, ruminators.  Often, we are the people that see the logical consequences of cutting down all the trees to put in a fancy new mall.  Not the new-place-to-go-shopping consequences, but, there-goes-fresh-air-and-water-and-birdsong-and-life consequences.  The well meaning around us just want us to feel better.  “Think about the beauty of rainbows.”, they’ll say.  (Yeah, with no trees there’ll be no rain and then no rainbows, is all I can think about to that.)  Or…”Cheer up.”  (Thanks, I hadn’t thought of that.!)

The most conventional treatment for depression has been talk therapy and medication.  I’ve done both, with varying results.  Every time I’d begin a new bout of therapy or a new type of medication, I’d hope (okay, hope is a strong word for what I’d actually feel…more like…curiosity?) that this was the one.  Now, I’d be cured.  This therapist seems to have all the answers.  This drug will fix my brain!

Spoiler alert.  Not so much.  

Therapy and drugs would often get me through the very darkest moments.  But, eventually, I’d be back in the same place.  

Until, one day (wow, that sounds like a magical epiphany.  It wasn’t…it took T  I   M   E.), I stopped pretending that the depression was fixable.  I stopped blaming it for my life.  I stopped hating it.  I started listening to it.  I starting to make it my ally.  I accepted myself as a special needs child.  I had special needs (that really aren’t all that unique).  I finally accepted that I was more sensitive than most to life, that I was more like the canary in the mine than anything else.  

I assumed the responsibility TO my depression.  (To be clear, I am not, nor is anyone else, responsible FOR their depression.)  It was just part of who I was.  It is part of who I am.  

In Part 2, I will talk about the ways in which I dance with depression while maintaining the lead.  

*This is my story and not a prescription of any kind.