Thursday, June 30, 2016

Progress!: An Update on Limbic System Retraining

My friends!

Thank you for praying with me as I embark on this journey of healing my limbic system. Many of you have asked for specifics about the program I'm using, so I'll share a bit about it, as well as a bit about my progress since starting the program.

The Program:

This program is based on scientific research on neuroplasticity (the brain's ability to change itself) and was born out of the suffering of a therapist, Annie Hopper, who battled extreme chemical sensitivities, EMF sensitivities, and fibromyalgia for many years. Annie had to wear a respirator while in public, and eventually, she had to live in a tent and then a houseboat to avoid chemicals and EMFs. Several years into her illness she intuited that her symptoms were not merely the result of toxins flooding her body, but were instead caused by her brain's abnormal response to these toxins and other stimuli. She threw herself into studying the brain.

After pouring through study after study, Annie discovered that many people with chronic health challenges point to a "perfect storm" marking the onset of their challenges.* The perfect storm is usually a combination of physical trauma — like intense viral or bacterial infection, mold exposure etc. — emotional trauma, prolonged mental stress, and genetic factors. Annie's theory was that these perfect storms can overwhelm the limbic system and push it into a constant state of fight-flight-or-freeze. This resonated with her experience of sickness and has a number of implications:

First, a limbic system that's in constant fight-flight-or-freeze mode is sapping the body of the energy it should allocate to the immune, digestive, and endocrine systems as they fight infection, regulate stress hormones, repair adrenal glands, and digest food.

Second, a hyper-vigilant limbic system interprets innocuous stimuli as life-threatening. Food, light, smells, and sounds all signal DANGER to the brain, so the limbic system overreacts to the stimuli, causing some pretty wild symptoms.

Annie thought that if she could get her limbic system out of fight-flight-or-freeze mode, then her limbic system would no longer respond to the smell of detergent, for example, as if it was life-threatening; and her body would finally be able to channel energy to fighting infection, eliminating toxins, healing her gut etc. She discovered a study, described by Dr. Norman Doidge, author of The Brain that Changes Itself, in which stroke patients regained the use of their affected limbs through a program that rewired their brains, and she was inspired to create a similar program tailored to her health challenges.

She did, and she healed completely. It was nothing short of miraculous. She's taken the system she used to heal her brain and has packaged it in a weekend workshop (or video footage of the workshop for those who can't attend — I used the DVD series), in which she explains the role of the limbic system in our health, explores the science undergirding her system, and teaches participants the system.

After the first four days of the program — called Brain Boot Camp — participants who want to continue with the program must commit to doing it for at least an hour everyday for at least six months in order to experience long-term healing.

There are scores of testimonies from people whose lives have been drastically changed by this program, called The Dynamic Neural Retraining System (or DNRS). Here are a few if you're interested:

"From Wheelchair to Rollerblades"


"Mariah's Health Journey": Post #1) A description of her health challenges — similar to mine in a lot of ways; Post #2) A post describing her recent healing through DNRS.


Overcoming Food Sensitivities (and chronic pain, chronic fatigue, migraines, and MCS)

One of the almost fantastical discoveries of neuroscientists is that our conscious mind can rewire our brain — even a brain that's been injured by pathogens or stroke. DNRS is based on this discovery and aims to help the brain create new associations with innocuous stimuli through focused, repetitive attempts to change behavior, feeling, and emotion.

For example, if someone smells perfume and observes his symptoms ratchet up as his body goes into fight or flight, he must immediately interrupt the brain's cascade of messages to his body by simultaneously changing his behavior, thinking, and feeling, and thus signaling to his brain that the perfume is not life-threatening. If he does this each time he smells or even thinks about perfume, his brain begins to associate perfume with the new pattern of thinking, feeling, and behavior. DNRS provides a series of steps that facilitate this change in thinking, feeling, and behavior anytime the limbic system is triggered.

My Progress: 

I had expected my neurological symptoms would be the first symptoms to disappear, so I was surprised when, within days of starting the program, my energy levels improved quickly and dramatically instead. Now that I have a better understanding of the program, I realize this progress is ideal: my body will use this new energy to heal itself, which will ultimately eliminate all other symptoms. In the meantime, I'm thankful for every little change I see, and I'm enjoying adding new activities to my life.

Last week I enjoyed going on regular walks, running my own errands, and even going on a fun outing! The highlight was a trip to Portland's Rose Garden with my sister and Abi, the dog she was babysitting.



If you're ever in Portland in June, you must visit the Rose Garden. It boasts acres of fragrant roses situated atop a hill with stunning views of the city and Mt. Hood.


Before touring the gardens, we enjoyed a leisurely picnic on the grounds. My sister was curious about DNRS, so we laid in the sun for hours while I explained as much of the science as I could to her.


It's so nice having someone who wants to listen to hours of talk about neuroscience! And oh! the weather was absolutely glorious, and the breeze carried the fragrance of thousands of roses.



I didn't want the day to end!



This week, I've continued to see improvement: I got a cold! I haven't had a cold in 1.5 years, and getting a cold, as many of my friends with lyme, EBV, CMV, and CIRS know, is a wonderfully encouraging sign of healing, as it indicates the more normal function of an immune system that's been in autoimmune mode for a long time. Woo hoo, and HOORAY for colds!


If you or someone you love has fibromyalgia, ME, CIRS, POTS, chemical sensitivities, food sensitivities, PTSD, chronic pain, EMF sensitivities, light and sound sensitivities, chronic lyme and more (click here to see a list of the conditions from which DNRS has helped people recover), then I highly recommend trying this program, and I'm happy to answer any questions you may have about it.

Here's the DNRS website, should you want to check out the program for yourself:

Dynamic Neural Retraining System

And finally, would you continue to pray for me as I devote the next six months to doing this program? I will need stamina and resolve to remain committed, especially through the bumps in the road. Here is my vision for 2017, after finishing the program in December:
  • I will be healthy and strong
  • I will be able to eat and drink whatever I want
  • I will exercise regularly and look forward to investing more in my career
  • I will travel easily and regularly
Would you pray that God uses this program to help me realize these goals? And would you also pray for discernment as I continue to try new supplements this summer to, well, "supplement" my limbic system retraining?!

Thank you, my friends!

As always, I'm cheering for ya, Home Skillets,

Sarah


P.S. Minutes after posting this, I smelled a fragrant deodorant and thought "That smells good!" You guys. In the past I was overcome by a headache, nausea,  and perhaps vertigo when I smelled deodorant. It's so nice to smell something synthetic (and lovely) and enjoy it! Moooore progress!


*Not everyone experiences a "perfect storm" trigger

© by scj

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Tuesday Matters: San Antonio and DNRS Brain Boot Camp

My friends!

Thank you for praying for my trips to San Antonio and Portland. I arrived in Portland last night after a wonderful stay with my brother.

Portland, you are glorious

I'd been so sick in the weeks preceding my trip to San Antonio that the effort it took to pack my bags made me shake with fatigue, and the night before flying, my arms cramped from the effort it took to wash my hair. Things were not looking hopeful!

But I flew to San Antonio on Thursday without horrific neurological symptoms, and my body was strong enough to navigate the crowded airport. My flights were unusually smooth (all of 'em), and though I came close to missing a connecting flight, I didn't. Yay for traveling that goes as planned!

My dear friend, Chris, used his frequent flier miles to get me my tickets to and from San Antonio, and he made sure I was in first class for all three legs of my trip. And you, guys, it was a game changer. I was able to skip the long lines at the airport, and my brain had fewer stimuli to process once on the plane since first class is so much roomier and quieter. I even had a seat without a row on my way to San Antonio (#introvertsdream)! I hadn't realized the degree to which the crowded, noisy movement in coach sent my limbic system into fight-or-flight, thus making it even harder for my brain to process the experience of turbulence.

Chris: thank you one million, zillion for taking care of me this weekend!

Chris and me. The top photo is from our track days at APU (we were teammates); and the bottom is from last fall

In my happy little lone seat on the plane, with my furry nephew, Copper, waiting for me in San Antonio!

Leg room!

Once in San Antonio, my body did pretty well. I did have some neurological symptoms flare up, but I was able to push through them and stay engaged the entire weekend. Marc and Jaime were most gracious hosts and gladly accommodated my need to spend most of the time resting on the couch. 


There are very few people with whom I would feel comfortable spending the weekend, given how sensitive and needy my body is right now, and Marc and Jaime are at the top of the list!

My little brother, Marc, has always had a special ability to make me laugh deep belly laughs, and since my body has been under so much stress the last several months, I haven't had a deep belly laugh in awhile. I relished all the laughs he provoked throughout the weekend!

I wasn't well enough to go to church on Sunday morning, so we listened to one of my dad's sermons instead

My sister-in-law, Jaime, is the hostess with the mostess. She is exceedingly thoughtful, others-oriented, and is a fantastic cook. She's also kind, playful, and a guh-reat one to laugh with. All I can say is: WELL DONE, LITTLE BROTHER; we always knew you were brilliant. Together, Marc and Jaime are a dynamic duo and the fragrance of Christ to all who meet them.

A friend saw this photo and wondered if I used Copper to wash the car. I didn't. ;)


Marc and Jaime's puppy, Copper, is the cutest dog in all the land. I do not exaggerate. You may remember that Abi is my first doggie love, but Copper has become THE doggie love of my life. His personality is as cute as his little face, if you can believe it, and I spent the weekend smothering him with snuggles.

Everyone who sees Copper wants to pet him. He loves it; everybody is his friend!

I am not the only one who forced Copper into a snuggle or two:



What a glorious trip. Thank you, Marc and Jaime, for such a wonderful visit!

Now that I'm at my folks' house, I'm jumping into the next phase of my treatment, and I covet your prayers.

Many of you have been praying for wisdom for me as I try to figure out which doctors to visit and treatments to try. I have so many issues — mold poisoning; a chronic viral co-infection and consequent immune, endocrine, digestive, and nervous system disorders; chemical sensitivities; food sensitivities; chronic pain; a chronic GI tract infection etc. — that it's hard to figure out where to turn and what to try. There are SO many forms of treatment I could try.  When I'm as sick as I was this semester, I feel desperate to try anything and everything RIGHT NOW OR ELSE I MAY DIE. And yet, patience and discernment are so important when treating a body as sensitive as mine.

About a month ago I realized I was doing everything I could to get healthy, without pausing to give God a chance to work on my behalf. I was striving, striving, striving, and I eventually felt a deep conviction to be still and wait for God to direct me, so I cancelled appointments for treatment and tests at two different clinics. As soon as I did, I felt a deep peace flood my body and spirit.

Since then, it seems as though God is directing me to re-train my limbic system. Often, in patients like me, the limbic system can get stuck in fight-flight-or-freeze mode, making it very difficult for the body to heal. For the next six months I will be working diligently to heal my limbic system using a system that's proven to be hugely effective in patients like me. In fact, many patients begin to see improvements in their health within days of starting the program.

Today I begin four days of Brain Boot Camp, in which I will spend hours and hours kick-starting this process of healing my limbic system. Would you pray for me as I begin brain boot camp? Perhaps you could pray, "Yay, God, for limbic systems! Would you use this program to heal Sarah's?"

Thank you, my friends!

Happy Tuesday,

Sarah


© by scj

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Happy Father's Day, Daddy-o

A letter to my dad, to honor him this Father's Day:

Dear Dad,

I vividly remember my first 400-meter hurdle race at the collegiate level. I remember the bright stadium lights, the spongy red track, and the surge of adrenaline and nausea I'd come to expect before every race. But most of all, I remember that you weren't there, because, for the first time in my life, I was racing 1,000 miles away from home.

I'd never raced without you in the crowd.

Somehow, in the midst of pastoring a growing church, teaching at the seminary, and pursuing a doctorate, you were at every single one of my pre-college track meets, starting with the all-city meet when I was in 5th grade.

Dad calling someone with the results from one of my high school meets

You made sure I had gatorade and snacks before the meet and then watched me warm-up from the sidelines. When it came time for my race you positioned yourself on the home stretch where you knew I would hurt the most. I'd round that final curve with vomit rising, breathing labored, muscles screaming in pain, and ears utterly deaf to the shouting stadium-crowd.  All I heard was you, cheering:

"COME ON, SARAH JACKSON!!!!"

There was never a college race when I didn't remember those words urging me through pain and drowning out hundreds of other voices.

Now that my track days are over and I'm learning what it is to battle loss and discouragement in this life-race toward an eternal prize, I find myself remembering your voice shouting my name.

You've helped me understand the fierce and tender love of God the Father as I run toward my heaven-home, Dad.

Sometimes it's hard for me to believe that the God who sculpted the mountains and breathed the stars in the sky even knows my name, much less calls it. Sometimes it's hard to believe he's the God-who-sticks close—that he will provide for my needs and wants to be intimately involved with my life.

But when I remember the way you bought me the expensive sets of track shoes I needed each year; or the way you'd make me a big lunch before track meets and give me a timely pep talk; or the way you'd take time off work, drive hours and hours, and book hotels for my out-of-town meets, my little heart gulps big from the glimpses you've given me of Father God's heart.  If he is infinitely more good than you, how much more must he love me?

Dad hugging me after a race

My senior year of high school I had lofty ambitions for the state track meet. Month after month you watched me pour myself into training for my senior season. You watched me work and worry, and work some more.

And then one day a reporter called the house to interview you about my season and you told him something I'll never forget:

"We delight in Sarah, whether she runs fast or not."

If there is one thing about God that my heart often struggles to believe it's that he delights in me, just the way I am.

But for 31 years you have delighted in me, Dad, slowly teaching me that when God calls himself Father he means he takes joy and pleasure in me, and in being my Papa.

You taught me this when you'd scoop my little girl self into your arms and spin and bounce me back to my bedroom at bedtime; when you laughed deep and pleased at my girlish attempts to crack jokes; and when, after a long day at work, you'd wrestle with us kids on the living room floor and tickle us till we were breathless from laughter.

Dad and I in SoCal, checking out colleges my senior year of high school

As I grew older I saw the way your delight in me impelled you to protect and care for me.

You showed me my value when you warned my first boyfriend that if he ever did anything disrespectful to me he'd have you to face.  My heart still surges with gratitude when I remember that.

You showed me I can rest in your care when you outfitted my kitchen with new appliances four years ago because I was too sick to do it myself, and then bought me flowers for my beloved patio when you visited last year.  I smile with satisfaction every time I water them.

At the beach

I could tap-tap away at these keys for hours and hours, remembering the ways you've taught me the love of the Father, Dad.

 One of my favorite pictures: after college graduation

I know, though, that the greatest gratitude I can express for you is not strings of symbols on a blank page: what you yearn for most is that I would live a life devoted to God, the greatest and truest Father.

When I left home for college nine years ago you gave me a necklace with a delicate gold heart pendant.  You also wrote an accompanying letter expressing your love for me and your hope that I would always say yes to Jesus.  You closed the letter with a postscript:

"I hope you always entrust the human version of the enclosed gift to our Father in heaven.  'Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life' (Proverbs 4:23)."



I wear that heart necklace often, and when I do I try to center my heart on the Father in heaven whose love, amazingly, eclipses yours.

And when this life-race wearies and daunts me, I imagine Him cheering me on through doubt and despair toward victory over pain: his voice the only one I can hear amidst the din of other voices.

Thank you for teaching me to listen for His voice and trust His heart, Dad.

I love you.

Happy Father's Day,

Your Sarah Christine



© by scj

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Traveling

My friends,

I'm preparing to fly to my folks' house for the summer, where I will rest, explore some new treatments, and try to get on a trajectory of healing.

I've been looking forward to this trip, but unfortunately, after making a little bit of healing progress last month, my health regressed considerably, and I find myself, once again, preparing for a flight I'm not sure my body will be able to handle.

Would you pray for my flights? When I was feeling a bit better a few weeks ago, I got wild and crazy and decided to fly to Texas to visit my brother, sister-in-law, and furry nephew, Copper, before going to the PNW. I leave for Texas this Thursday (and oh my goodness, I am so excited!) and will fly to Portland the following Monday. I'm asking God for a few things as I prepare to leave:

1) Enough health that I can navigate the airports and fly without misery. I'd love to even ENJOY the traveling experience!

2) Health enough that I'm not cooped up in bed when I'm with my brother and sister-in-law. In the past, God has given me pockets of enough relief to participate in life at pivotal moments, so I'm praying he'll do the same with this trip.

3) Safety, no missed connecting flights, and no turbulence on my flights. Because of my neurological disorder, normal sights and sounds send my body into fight or flight mode — the buzzing of my phone, the rattling of the washing machine, the sight of the neighbor lady outside my window. A few days ago I was outside and saw a bush from which a few odd-looking, unfamiliar berries were hanging, and my body went into fight or flight mode because walking past weird-looking berries is THE NUMBER ONE CAUSE OF DEATH HERE IN LOS ANGELES. That's what my body thought, anyway. There ain't nothin' that won't make me go into fight or flight, pals. Except hugs from friends. And sunshine. And gentle breezes. And the smell of jasmine.

Naturally, turbulence sends my nervous system into such a tizzy, I feel like my circuitry is going to blow. The last time I was on a turbulent flight, I felt electrical shocks bouncing all over my body for hours after the flight.

The problem with all this crazy nervous system stuff, is it worsens my vertigo, neurological nausea, and nerve pain. It also affects all my other ailing systems and puts a damper on this whole healing thing. I wish I could somehow will the fight or flight away, or think enough positive thoughts (or practice enough mindfulness) to wrangle my nervous system into control; but this is a physiological issue over which I have little control, so I'm relying on God to care for my nervous system in ways I cannot.

4) Protection from more sickness. Planes are so germy, and my immune system's a-needin' some help these days.


Thank you for your continued prayers, friends.

I so hope I heal enough this summer that I can see some of you PNW friends when I'm there.

Much love,

Sarah




© by scj

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Thank you

My dear, wonderful praying friends,

Spring 2015 was the most horrific health season I'd experienced in my six years of illness. I didn't blog much about what was going on in my body that semester, but I often felt like I was dying. When I finally found doctors who helped me get on a trajectory of healing in the late summer and fall, I told God I could never, ever endure that kind of physical suffering again and begged him to protect me from it.

But then, this last January, after some consecutive treatments-gone-awry, my health spiraled back into that nightmarish place, and now I find myself wrapping up a semester of physical and psychological suffering comparable to last spring.

I could never, ever have made it through this semester without you.

Your presence, prayers, and encouragement were a word-defying gift to me.

There were so many things I was afraid would happen this semester that didn't because God is good and you were praying.

Every morning, when I walked down the stairs to grab a water bottle before heading to work for the morning, I felt my legs buckling beneath my weight, and I wondered if I would fall down the stairs and injure myself. I only fell once, but I didn't injure myself.

There were lots of mornings when, in the middle of teaching, the world grew dark and I knew I was seconds away from passing out, but I never did.

As the list of foods my body could tolerate dwindled, I wondered if my already-slender frame would become emaciated from a lack of calories and nutrition, but it didn't.

I spent at least 21 hours of every day in bed almost everyday this semester, and I could have been plagued by panic attacks from the horror of it all and the havoc the viruses wreaked in my nervous system, but I wasn't.

A number of times my eyesight dimmed and I momentarily lost my hearing, and although the viruses infecting me can cause blindness and deafness, I can still see and hear.

Many times, while I was resting in bed, I felt like I was on the brink of a seizure. It was a strange sensation, sort of like when a sneeze builds up, but I never seized.

In December, one of my doctors told me that if I ever have to get chemo, one of the viruses infecting me could very easily blind me. Last month, one of my doctors had me screened for breast cancer because of a few new, alarming symptoms, but we didn't find breast cancer, and I didn't have to get chemo.

There were a handful of times when I knew how vulnerable I was to more infections — how very near to death I could be in a body too weak for antibiotics, but you guys, I didn't die. I am tempted to couch this in humor somehow, because it feels uncomfortable and easily misunderstood, but those of you who are sick like I am know: we are fighting for our lives here.

So many other things could have gone wrong, but didn't; and I am alive, and now, more than ever, life is so fiercely beautiful.

Because my health problems have been so serious, I seriously considered quitting school and taking a break from work, but every time I decided I should quit, God made it clear that I shouldn't. I'm not sure why, exactly, but he was clear, so I decided to stay the course, and all of you prayed.

All of you prayed and prayed and prayed, and you read prayer update after prayer update, and you ran my errands, and you made me food, and you sent me gifts and notes of encouragement, and you took me to doctors appointments, and I made it through another unspeakably difficult season.

A few days ago I turned in my grades, and now, it is officially summer, and I can rest and explore new treatments that will, hopefully, pull me out of this pit.

And so my dear, wonderful, praying friends, cheers to you for praying me to the finish line:

I finished my last batch of grading on Monday


I am unspeakably grateful for you, and I love you.


-Sarah