Category Archives: Coping Tools

Culinary Creations~Food 4 Daily Wellness

CoconutBread7x7

RECOMMENDED FOR YOUR WELLNESS ~  Be sure there is actual FOOD in your food.

My personal policy is: “If it didn’t exist as a food source 100 years ago, don’t eat it.”

  • Nourish your body with organic non-GMO Real Food with no added sugars, artificial colors, or preservatives. Avoid processed foods.
  • Always Read the Label. When choosing meal ingredients and prepared meals/Frozen dinners look for labels that actually say: “organic” “non GMO” “no preservatives” “no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives”
  • Avoid Sugars. Other words for sugar include: sugar or “table sugar”, cane sugar, cane syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, sucrose, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, liquid sugar, lactose, molasses, beet sugar, galactose, maltose,
  • Choose less inflammatory, healthier grains. Organic “Ancient Grains” are generally less inflammatory than modern genetically modified wheat products high in processed or genetically altered gluten. Items labelled, “Gluten Free” or “Low Fat” may have many added sugars. Always check the label.
  • Choose natural corn. Non GMO corn and Non GMO corn products are generally less inflammatory than the genetically modified corn and corn-based products common in many processed foods.
  • Take care of your gut flora. Inflammation in the gut is known to cause inflammation in the rest of the body. Keep a healthy balance of naturally occurring good bacteria by avoiding starches, gluten, sugars, and other foods that are high on the glycemic index. Be sure to consult your doctor about the need for pro-biotics, pre-biotics, etc. prior to taking anti-biotics. Foods made from animals treated with antibiotics are also known to have an impact on your good bacteria.

I am not a physician.

Always consult your trusted practitioner prior to making changes to your treatment plan.

 Foods I eat most often include: Organic cage-free eggs, Meat that has never been treated with hormones or antibiotics, quinoa, heirloom rice, amaranth grains, gluten free oat bran, plain sunflower kernels, pecans, plain pumpkin seeds, almonds, almond milk, non-GMO corn tortillas, non-GMO blue corn chips, greek yogurt with active cultures, organic vegetables like: brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, celery, cucumbers, cauliflower, sunchokes/Jerusalem artichokes, lambsquarters, lettuces, peas, rutabaga, spinach, yucca root,  zucchini, and organic fruit low on the glycemic index like: black berries, blue berries, and green apples.

Although I have been having wonderful results at controlling inflammation and the pain it causes by following this plan, because of the neurological damage caused by spinal arachnoiditis; I still have trouble digesting solid food. To be sure I am getting plenty of nutrients, I also use a Raw Vegetable Protein Meal replacement beverage with no sugar. I like the Chocolate Raw Organic Meal Replacement shake made by Garden of Life. It can be mixed with water but, I like it best mixed with unsweetened almond milk. (I am not getting any financial compensation for sharing that info. I am sure there are others out there that are just as good. This is just one that I know I like.)

You may also like this recipe for coconut bread that I make about once a week. I like to warm up the slices and spread it with organic sunflower kernel butter. This is a very moist cake-style bread. For best results store it in the refrigerator after it cools.

Coconut Bread

Ingredients

½ cup coconut flour

½ cup buckwheat flour

½ cup coconut milk (only the creamy part on top)

¼ cup ground chia seeds

¼ unsweetened organic apple sauce

5 organic cage free eggs

2 tbsp coconut oil

½ tsp sea salt

1 tsp aluminum free baking powder

Optional

*1-2tbsp more coconut milk or almond milk if added moisture is needed

*sunflower kernals and/or added cinnamon are also yummy in this recipe

 Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 F

Blend together the eggs, apple sauce, coconut oil, and salt

Add the dry ingredients and whisk until you don’t see any lumps

Pour into a loaf pan greased with coconut oil and bake at 350F for about 30 minutes.

The top of the loaf should be firm and a light golden color.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

May be served warm or cold plain or topped with sunflower kernel butter or other nut butters.

** If you are not a fan of coconut flour and coconut milk, you may substitute unsweetened plain almond milk and almond meal/almond flour for those ingredients.

Tastes great with brewed chicory mocha beverages.

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Creative Wellness Program for Survivors

programpromoCollage9.26.17
This detailed video gives in depth information about what is included in the program.

Arachnoiditis Survivors registered at the Art For Arachnoiditis Project receive this Independent Study Program at no cost. CONTACT the Studio with the message, “I am an arachnoiditis survivor in ( your state/province, country), please send me the Creative Wellness Independent Study Program” to sign up now and add my location to the Map of Arachnoiditis Survivors registered at the project.
[Module FIVE Includes the 2018 I Stand For Love Calendar on orders placed BEFORE July 1, 2018. 2019 Calendar Options TBA.]

IF YOU ARE NOT AN ARACHNOIDITIS SURVIVOR BUT YOU WOULD LIKE TO PURCHASE THIS PROGRAM ($35); YOU CAN FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THAT HERE. Individual Modules also sold separately.

Creative Wellness Independent Study Program Description

Since you will receive all of the content at once; you have the option to schedule it into your calendar as you choose. For best results; I recommend completing these activities in consecutive order and allowing yourself at least two to three weeks to fully explore the topics introduced in each module. For planning purposes, Scheduling suggestions are included.

CREATIVE WELLNESS PROGRAM CURRICULUM OUTLINE

In the First Module (suggested schedule: one-two weeks)

We will work to establish your safe space. This space will Shelter you as you do this important work. Transformation is an on-going process. There is no “end-game”… You have the power to designate a safe place to allow your own transformation to occur. Topics, Re-usuable Worksheets and activities include:

Fortress for a Naked Thing Recap and Reference from the Art For Arachnoiditis Project
Tools to Build Your Own Shelter
If You Build it You Can Go There

In the Second Module (suggested schedule: one-two weeks)

We find out more about the Power of Joy, finding it, naming it, and knowing it. Re-usuable Worksheets and activities include:

Joy Is Powerful with printable worksheet
Grace Happens ~ Your Assignment Should You Choose To Accept It
Quick DIY art journal instructions

In the Third Module (suggested schedule: two-three weeks)

We explore individual Adaptability. Here you will find tools that will help you Assess and Improvise to Overcome your obstacles to Wellness. Topics, Re-usuable Worksheets and activities include:

The Adapt-Around Art Activity and Metamorphosis Mandala
Adaptability Assessment and Time Management Tool
Adapting for YOUR body Guidelines
Your Assignment Should You Choose to Accept It ~Cuts Like a Knife (48 Hour Challenge also pertains to Module Five)

In the Fourth Module (suggested schedule: three weeks)

We go deep into finding out what is stopping you from being sovereign over the shape of your life. You will have the opportunity to work through tasks and activities that will help you to establish your Autonomy. Topics, Re-usuable Worksheets and activities include:

Sovereignty Over the Shape of Your Life
Un-masking the Naked Truth~Mask-making Art Activity with printable templates
Your Vision of Autonomy
Let’s Talk About Control
Shape-Shifters Creative Focus Art Activity with link to demo video

In the Fifth Module (suggested schedule: three-four weeks)

We ask and answer the important question, “How do you nourish your Wellness?” Quality input, communication, and connections are equally important Sustenance for Independent Wellness. Topics, Re-usuable Worksheets and activities include:

Cuts Like a Knife ~ Revisiting the 48 Hour Challenge
Quality Input ~ Creating the Right Tools to Feed YOUR Wellness
FIVE Steps to Create the Tools:
ONE Shed the Crap~Fertilize Your Transformation w/printable activity sheet and Cut-out template
TWO Replacing the Crock of Crap~Lessons in Love-based choices and Vessels for Wellness for Body, Mind, and Spirit~printable worksheet and Extension Activity, Ingredients List for Anti-inflammatory menu
THREE Connecting the Dots ~ Cultivating an Appropriate Habitat
FOUR Your “Right” Cluster ~ How to establish your Cluster. cluster Cards for Creative Guidance Includes Message Guide and Cluster Cards printable templates to color and cut, instructions for Cluster Cards Mobile (extension art activity), Creating your Own Cluster
FIVE Clustered Communication ~Expectations and Connections

UPON CONFIRMATION OF YOUR REGISTRATION

You will receive ALL FIVE modules of the content with links to references and resources as well as, printable worksheets and activities that are yours to keep. This is NOT an automated delivery system. Please allow 2-5 business days for manual e-delivery of your pdf. 

The Art For Arachnoiditis Project is FREE to all registered Arachnoiditis Survivors.

If you know a survivor and would like to support this project, Use the donation button at the top right corner to support the continued maintenance of this valued online resource for Arachnoiditis Survivors or support via check made payable to The New York Foundation for the Arts, MEMO: The Art For Arachnoiditis Project; MAILED TO: SheilaLynnK Art Studio 345 South Main Street Wellsville, NY 14895. Contributions of $2500 or more must be accompanied by a Contribution Letter. Your contribution is tax-deductible to the extent allowable by law. 

If you would like to make a Tax-deductible contribution to support OTHER Charitable Art Projects and Events at SheilaLynnK Art Studio you can find out more about that HERE.

Go-to-Gurus

Last Blooms from 2015 ~photo
“Last Blooms of the Season” found under the large pine tree outside of the studio a few days after the first snow.

Sometimes, quietly sheltered  knowledge blooms in the strangest and most unexpected places at the best possible moment.

On the Arachnoidits Journey, as in the Journey of Life itself; there are many questions we have that cannot be answered or resolved by the practices of “modern” medicine.  I attempt to keep open eyes, ears, and mind for rumblings of sound guidance from many assorted sources.

(DISCLAIMER: I am in no way affiliated with the marketing or compensation received by these individuals. I am in no way “professionally” qualified (read “certified”) to assess the value or merit of the information or references provided by them. I am sharing this information as an experienced patient who has found some comfort in the knowledge shared by these people willing to share the insights they have collected along the way. What you do with this information is done at your own discretion under the influence of your own ability to weigh the benefit/risk value of the written word.)

My list of Go-To-Gurus

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Author, Gift From the Sea

Alan Alda, Author, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Comminicating

Dina Falconi, Author and Wendy Hollender, Artist of Foraging & Feasting; A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook 

Katrina Blair ~ at Turtle Lake Refuge, Author of The Wild Wisdom of Weeds; 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival, A forager’s guide to ultimate food security, including 100 nutrient-dense recipes for food, medicine, and self-care. 

John S. Workman ~Author of Fireflies In A Fruit Jar: On Religion, Politics, and Other Wonders by a Southern Preacher-Turned-Journalist

Norman Cousins ~Anatomy of An Illness on combating life-threatening illness through humor and patient participation in care.

Vanessa Couto ~ Liminal Astrology  weaving elements from archetypal astrology, depth psychology, storytelling, dreamwork and art in her coaching and mentoring approach, she helps broaden the understanding of  life’s stories, and view the path ahead with more clarity and confidence.

Sarah Love ~ I Stand For Love  IS A MOVEMENT THAT CULTIVATES AND CELEBRATES LOVE WARRIORS AROUND THE WORLD just like YOU.

Susan Jenkins~Shamanic Healing  ~bringing over 30 years of experience to her practice as a shamanic healer.

Anne Haymen~Sharing practical methods of Bringing Ancient Wisdom into our modern lives. 

Jennifer  One In Yoga ~especially this Gentle Guided Grounding Yoga activity

Lisa Sonora ~ An Artist sharing Inspiration + Practical ideas for living more creatively, courageously, consciously.

Leah Piken Kolidas ~ Creative Every Day  “to share my artwork, thoughts on living a creative life, and what is inspiring me (so much!).” ~lpk

Susun Weed~ Natural Health, Herbal Medicine and Spirit Healing the Wise Woman Way  Her Bio

The Mandala Lady ~Maureen Frank offering “mandala art to provide the inspiration, guidance, and peace you seek along your journey of Self discovery.”

Jennifer Lee ~ at Artizen Coaching  and her Right Brain Business Plan  help me find creative ways to work at home.

Werner M. Busch~ Bonsai From Native Trees & Shrubs 

Music On My Playlist  and just seeking out New and Old Music that works! From NPR Tiny Desk Concerts to KEXP Seattle to the Piano Shack to Pomplamoose to Fritz Kalkbrenner and Steve Martin with Edie Brickell everything in between…Music was greatly missed while my ears were recovering from the consequential nerve damage of low CSF caused by arachnoiditis and NOW, I use it every day to help keep me moving.

and some of  My Favorite Authors: Tom Robbins, Anne Rice, Diana Gabaldon, Gregory Maguire, Robin Wall Kimmerer, William Blake, Sharon Kaye Penman, Carol Kaesuk Yoon, Terry Tempest Williams, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Susanne F. Fincher, William Carey Grimm,  Edith Holden

OTHER RELATED LINKS

The Wellness Universe ~ A Directory of Resources For Your Well Being

The 7 Psychological Stages of Chronic Pain

Seven Ways To Simplify Your Life

Dealing with Depression;Self-Help and Coping Tips to Overcome Depression~From Help Guide.org

16 THINGS TO REMEMBER TO LIVE WITH CHRONIC PAIN AND ILLNESS

 

water color U.S. Flag

Art Every Day Month ~ Day 11

water color U.S. Flag
“Flag For the Survivors” (Digital text over water color on paper)

“For better or worse, The Choice To Serve comes with a seemingly infinite list of consequences. Among the many important life lessons there, that choice taught Me the true value and strength to be found in the ability to adapt.” ~slk

Related Links:

Eight Lessons Learned

Ten Tools for Coping

Rehabilitation and Recovery for Arachnoiditis Survivors

Helping Our Vets at The Power of Pain Foundation

Veterans Make the Connection

Transforming Pain Care for Veterans

When Veterans Cope With Chronic Pain

Veteran Artist Program (VAP)

Art at Wise Woman Mentorship with Susun Weed

Skye Parker Quad Friendly Kite Buggy on newmobility.com

The Rest of the Art Every Day Month Series of Posts are  Here 

NOTES FROM AEDM 2015 DAY 1

I have decided to participate in Leah Piken Kolidas’ Art Every Day Month Challenge atCreative Every Day during the Month of November. For the first time, as I do this 30 day challenge, I will be posting my progress HERE for arachnoiditis survivors and advocates.

I hope you will join me for this creative journey. If you are an Arachnoiditis Survivor creating any art during the series that you would like to share with The Art For Arachnoiditis Project feel free to do so in the Art For Arachnoiditis Project Facebook page, share links in the comments below, or submit the work for use in YEAR 2 of the Survivors’ Art Exhibit. (Accepting Entries until Feb 15, 2016.) Although the Art By Survivors’ exhibit is open only to the Survivors; other creative minded individuals are invited to share in all of the other places.

SUBSCRIBE to get the quarterly Art For Arachnoiditis Project Newsletter

WATCH VIDEO FROM OUR 2015 SURVIVORS’ ART EXHIBIT HERE

SHOP Awareness Art,Your purchase will benefit the Art For Arachnoiditis Projects at the studio. These fair market prices are not tax-deductible purchases.or Make a tax-deductible contribution via our Fiscal Sponsor,  NYFA [New York Foundation for the Arts] Or by check payable to the New York Foundation for the Arts, Memo: The Art For Arachnoiditis Project mailed to: SheilaLynnK Art Studio, 345 South Main Street, Wellsville, NY 14895.

To submit original art to this catalog to benefit the Art For Arachnoiditis Project Awareness Efforts. Send submissions with your signed Art In-Kind Form to sheilalynnk@yahoo.com subject line: Add My Art

This is the first time I will be doing daily art for The Art For Arachnoiditis Project. If you have never seen these posts before; you can get a better idea of what this is all about by checking out a A Few of my Similar Month-long Projects/Posts/Series from the Past.

My 30.30.30 [30 Days, 30 Pieces/posts, 30 minutes each] activities have previously been posted on my blog and on my facebook page. The most recent one I did in September 2015 is available HERE, April 2015 started HERE: 
 
April 2014 I alternated between painting and drawing HERE andHERE
January 2014 ~ 30 Day Art Journal Project HERE
September 2013 was a daily Mandala Project (which grew and ended up in my 2013 Show, “A Round Now In A Square Time” with artist & friend, Allison Midgley) That project startsHERE
The Show is HERE

Day 2~ November is Art Every Day Month

Hand made paper & skeleton leaf collage
Found these with my bonzai maples when I was getting ready to tuck them in for winter.

An avid nature lover, hiker, and  gardener when Arachnoiditis entered my life; I had to find a way to keep those healing practices around me. So, I created my own indigenous Bonzai Garden.

See [Downsizing to Bonzai.]

This year as I prepared the roots for the winter season, I came across these two perfectly tiny fully intact miniature leaves that struck me being so charming I must find some way to preserve them.  I decided they would be quite lovely mounted on some of my own home made paper. Here is a photo of them drying on my art table.

Digital Collage of Indigenous Bonzai Roots
Indigenous Bonzai Roots ~ A Photo from my garden

Saying goodbye to the shining days of summer; I often battle with melancholy as winter approaches. It is a great comfort to know that each season this is a manageable and enjoyable task that allows me to get my hands into the earth before the ground freezes. This process helps me remember the beauty of the closing season with gratitude and to feel prepared for whatever winter will bring.

NOTES FROM AEDM 2015 DAY 1

I have decided to participate in Leah Piken Kolidas’ Art Every Day Month Challenge during the Month of November. For the first time, as I do this 30 day challenge, I will be posting my progress HERE for arachnoiditis survivors and advocates.

I hope you will join me for this creative journey. If you are an Arachnoiditis Survivor creating any art during the series that you would like to share with The Art For Arachnoiditis Project feel free to do so in the Art For Arachnoiditis Project Facebook page, share links in the comments below, or submit the work for use in YEAR 2 of the Survivors’ Art Exhibit. (Accepting Entries until Feb 15, 2016.) Although the Art By Survivors’ exhibit is open only to the Survivors; other creative minded individuals are invited to share in all of the other places.

SUBSCRIBE to get the quarterly Art For Arachnoiditis Project Newsletter

WATCH VIDEO FROM OUR 2015 SURVIVORS’ ART EXHIBIT HERE

SHOP Awareness Art,Your purchase will benefit the Art For Arachnoiditis Projects at the studio. These fair market prices are not tax-deductible purchases.or Make a tax-deductible contribution via our Fiscal Sponsor,  NYFA [New York Foundation for the Arts] Or by check payable to the New York Foundation for the Arts, Memo: The Art For Arachnoiditis Project mailed to: SheilaLynnK Art Studio, 345 South Main Street, Wellsville, NY 14895.

To submit original art to this catalog to benefit the Art For Arachnoiditis Project Awareness Efforts. Send submissions with your signed Art In-Kind Form to sheilalynnk@yahoo.com subject line: Add My Art

This is the first time I will be doing daily art for The Art For Arachnoiditis Project. If you have never seen these posts before; you can get a better idea of what this is all about by checking out a A Few of my Similar Month-long Projects/Posts/Series from the Past.

My 30.30.30 [30 Days, 30 Pieces/posts, 30 minutes each] activities have previously been posted on my blog and on my facebook page. The most recent one I did in September 2015 is available HERE, April 2015 started HERE: 
 
April 2014 I alternated between painting and drawing HERE andHERE
January 2014 ~ 30 Day Art Journal Project HERE
September 2013 was a daily Mandala Project (which grew and ended up in my 2013 Show, “A Round Now In A Square Time” with artist & friend, Allison Midgley) That project startsHERE
The Show is HERE

Creative Pain Management Assessment and Activity Book

Creative Pain Management Activity Book
Cover Image for Creative Pain Management

This Independent Publication of the Art For Arachnoiditis Project combines Healing Art Activities, Art Journaling and Pain Journaling into one book of self discovery that also works as a communication tool for tracking pain triggers, making adjustments, and developing personalized adaptive accommodations.

Art + Adaptability = Survival

Why? What could be the benefit(s) of a tool like this?

Just for starters…..

“On a scale of ONE to TEN, (ONE being the least and TEN being the worst) how would you rate your pain today?”  Although these Universal Pain Assessment Tools are certainly a good place to open this conversation; it is really only the proverbial tip of the iceberg for Spinal Arachnoiditis Survivors. There is NOTHING “universal” about the arachnoiditis experience except for the existence of pain. Each time I am asked these questions I have to ask for clarification. Do you mean the pain in my ears? head?, neck?, legs?, abdomen?, pelvis? hands and feet?

Which part of my back are we measuring on that scale today?

Pain Scale Faces
From http://www.ahutton.com

I often need an individual rating for each of these regions. It is rare for the practitioner or assistant to take it beyond that initial question. Not to mention, each person interprets “10” differently.  For me, it gets a “Ten” when I lose control of bodily functions (i.e. pain so bad it makes me vomit) another person might rank “Ten” as pain that makes it hard to breathe… It’s very subjective in a world which relies on inadequate objective terms.

Art & Healing

Apparently, I am NOT the only one who believes the arts are a wonderful way to communicate…even with your physician. There is a “very real initiative to teach doctors about illness through art”…UCLA Medical School’s ‘Guest Artist’ Is Helping To Teach Doctors About Disease  “It helps the doctors look at people as more than something to cure.” “It became very apparent to me that all these people who do work about their illnesses, really have a lot to say,” Meyer said. “Maybe they could teach something to medical professionals. There has been art therapy designed to help patients, but I thought maybe there is something to teach the doctors here. Perhaps they can look at patients’ artworks and see something beyond the clinical. It’s not just ‘oh, they have multiple sclerosis’ or ‘it’s a broken neck.’ In a way, it’s like art therapy for doctors.”~Ted Meyer

Inspired in part by  a request from Terri Lewis  ~” I’ve got an idea for the next arachnoiditis project…A coloring book of body parts combined with a pain diary and functional deficits or adaptations list ..Chronic pain patients can use it to communicate to their treatment providers and family members. Like the notebook that goes back and forth to school in the kids backpack  McGill Pain Scale +”  ……the activity book combines Terri’s idea with my own ideas about the benefits of healing art activities and keeping a journal. I have found the best results when I combine writing and drawing as a way to keep track of what is working for me and what isn’t…and simply to vent about those processes.

McGill Pain Questionnaire
McGill Pain Questionnaire

Journaling is a safe place to explore the healing process. It is a very private experience. For that reason, pages intended to be shared with others (i.e. your practitioner) will be perforated for easy removal/copying.   From the Workshop/Independent Adaptive Art Activity for the Survivors’ Exhibit  and Presentation, I have an assessment sheet to help people identify what IS working for them. It is also included in the perforated pages of the book.

“Private pages” contain journal prompts for entries, activity suggestions, activities to do IN the book (including five Mandala-making pages provided by Gail Alexander ) , and other creative opportunities to explore personal healing and methods to adapt for survival.

Other Pain Assessment Tools

FUND THIS Your tax-deductible contribution provides funding for this project,
the Website for the Survivors,
Survivors’ Art Exhibits,
Independent Publications of written works by Arachnoiditis Survivors
The Survivors’ Song Search
and other forms of Creative Expression by Survivors. With your help we promote Healing through the Arts and Arachnoiditis Awareness & Prevention. Thank you for your support.

How to Help an Arachnoiditis Survivor

A New Way to Live With Spinal Arachnoiditis
From the Arachnoiditis In Real Life Digital Photo Series

How to Help an Arachnoiditis Survivor: Physical Rehabilitation & Recovery After Spinal Adhesive Arachnoiditis excerpt from Art For Arachnoiditis:Still Standing; Sometimes ~ ©Sheila L. Kalkbrenner      Please note that I am not a doctor or qualified medical practitioner. I am an experienced patient sharing what has worked for me in the hopes that other survivors may find something useful here.

First this IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT PREVENTION

  1.       Arachnoiditis is a spinal cord injury caused by the neurotoxins in spinal injections and invasive spinal procedures. All patients should be monitored for symptoms of the inflammatory phase of arachnoiditis following these procedures. Certain early interventions and protocols can potentially minimize the permanent nerve injury and debilitating consequences which may occur after this phase.
  2.       Prior to giving consent for these procedures, obtain the name & dose of any medications that will be used during the procedure. Confirm that the drug is FDA approved for this purpose. If it is not, get a statement in writing which explains clearly the risks of this off-label use and why the physician plans to use it for this purpose. Check the FDA listing of adverse outcomes for the proposed medication prior to giving your consent.

Because this was NOT done in my case, I lived with undiagnosed chemical meningitis, the inflammatory phase of arachnoiditis, and subsequent spinal adhesive arachnoiditis in the lumbar and thoracic spine for three years before I received informed, accurate, and adequate care. My personal integrity, sanity, and mental stability came into question as the symptoms progressed with no diagnosis. I had no advocate willing to assist me in the adjustment to this permanent disability during that time. Many of those who have come before me suffered alone even longer before receiving assistance. Unlike the “usual” spinal cord injury, because I did not have an official diagnosis during this terrible time, there were very limited services and/or resources for recovery or adjustment available to me.

Family Circle Sketch
Day 12 Art Journal Entry

SUPPORT: FAMILY & FRIENDS CAN… Arachnoiditis Survivors often suffer lengthy periods of unexplained pain and neurological complications. Family members and friends are often at a loss about how to help. This sense of hopelessness and confusion can often cause them to distance themselves from the relationship. Because the medical community rarely (until very recently) even acknowledges the existence of arachnoiditis, this distance effectively leaves the survivor abandoned to cope with the consequences of this medical injury alone.

  1.       The best advice I can give for those who truly care is, don’t give up. If you need to have your own space to cope, take it. But, remember to come back. No matter the illness, “The core element of healing is connection. With connection, to self, to the World, to others and to the spirit, this creates a starting point for positive change & growth.” ~Amanda Scott   Yours can be the voice that keeps this injured/ill person connected to life.
  2.       Find out what your survivor can do comfortably and support them in doing it. Because Survivors often have delayed flares triggered by certain physical movement and activities, know that s/he may be unable to perform that exact same task tomorrow. Keep your expectations flexible to minimize disappointment, anger, and frustration for yourself and your survivor. {Examples: Your unemployable survivor may be able to participate in your company dinner party to be supportive of your career obligations. S/he may NOT be able to attend the company brunch the next morning due to flares triggered by the previous evening. Your survivor may be able to stop to get groceries today. Tomorrow s/he may be struggling just to drive home.}
  3.       Alternate tasks. Break daily chores down into more manageable components. Work with your Survivor to troubleshoot new methods of doing certain tasks to make them easier to accomplish. {Example: Sometimes I could get groceries but, had to go straight to bed when I got to the house. Eventually, my children understood the need to take turns bringing in the groceries and cooking dinner… It became evident that the air conditioning and cold temps in the refrigerated portion of the store were a trigger for multiple debilitating symptoms for me. I began to avoid this section. When possible, somebody would join me to get groceries and handle items in that section of the store. Or, eventually, I was able to have somebody pick up a few of these items for me while they were getting groceries for their own home. This, a seemingly small favor, made a big difference in what I was able to accomplish the rest of the day.}
  4.       Be respectfully observant. If you spend a lot of time with your Survivor, watch for subtle signs and symptoms of decline that develop before an ultimate body slam. {Example: prior to the crash & burn that would happen in the grocery store, I would start doing laps through the store, repeating aisles, looking at shelves but never really comprehending what was on them, picking up nothing, getting anxious and apprehensive, clenching my arms tightly across my chest or clinging to the shopping cart, feeling off-balance…I looked like an animal chasing its tail. My oldest daughter first noticed this pattern in my house when I would go from room to room like I was on a mission, but, ultimately I wasn’t doing anything. Shortly after this a crippling spinal headache would ensue and I would lose coordination between the left and right sides of my body. Now, we know that if this phenomenon happens, the neurons are not firing properly and I need to get horizontal asap.}
  5.       You can set up a schedule to assist with transportation issues. Arachnoiditis symptoms often impair the ability to drive. Have a list and a plan for each destination. This support is especially needed for medical appointments, but not exclusive to them. So, work together to set up a “car-pool” -type schedule so that the burden of this support does not fall on one person. Remember that your Survivor may actually be able to do it alone sometimes. Be flexible if the schedule changes or alters and you are not needed at the scheduled time. To minimize resentments be sure to set boundaries for your availability so that your Survivor knows when/how to reschedule in a manner that works for you.
  6.       Like you, your Survivor is struggling to come to terms with these changes and adjustments. Establish a safe and respectful method of communication which allows you to voice concerns that arise about his/her well-being and sharing of research and information that you might discover along the way. Try not to take it personally if your Survivor does not immediately follow your advice or guidance. Ultimately, s/he must do what works best today.
Art Journals Help with Adaptability
Art Journal Page
Adapting to Arachnoiditis

EMPOWERMENT THROUGH BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION Arachnoiditis often renders the survivor dependent on others for daily support and assistance. Still there are some things that Survivors can do to maintain some independence and personal power over the events of the day. Due to a lack of guidance and companionship during this difficult journey, I kept a journal of my days to document my fears, anger, pain, and hope. Inadvertently, it became a record of pain levels, triggers, and symptom progression. Over time I began to identify things that I needed to do differently.

(Please note,each case presents specific to the individual patient and the nerves affected. These details are specific to my own experience. What worked for me, may not work for the next patient.)

  1.    I learned to get horizontal every three hours even if I didn’t feel incapacitated at that specific moment. Arachnoiditis scarring has impaired the CSF rotation in my spine. This means that the fluid gets trapped in my lumbar spine and I do not have enough fluid around my brain. The resulting symptoms are similar to a spinal fluid leak. I keep a waterproof picnic blanket with me any time I am away from home. I put it on a bench, on the ground, push two chairs together, or even on an office floor in order to assure that I do not miss this important horizontal time. (It took some time to get used to doing this. It still feels conspicuous and I sometimes hesitate but, ultimately I know it is what I need to do.)
  2.    My neurosurgeon, who was unable to treat this condition, informed me that Gatorade helps to restore the fluids necessary to restore CSF levels. Although, at first I was somewhat offended in my defensive frame of mind, it eventually became obvious (through trial and error) that there was indeed some truth in what he had said. I don’t really like Gatorade, but, I do now keep it in stock for use on exceptionally “active” days. Because of the artificial nature of Gatorade, I am also looking into natural options. Some forms of coconut water that are now on the market indicate that they contain electrolytes with restorative properties. I am doing some trial replacements with those.
  3.    I learned not to waste my vertical time on waiting, hovering, or other unnecessary task just because it was the “social norm” to do so.
  4.    I plan ahead as often as possible. I try to be prepared for pain flares and unexpected needs. I confirm a place to lie down. I lay down for at least 15 minutes before I leave the house. For overnight trips, I bring my back brace and neck brace. (The back brace provides support during vertical activity.The neck brace is used at home 3 times a day to help with symptoms that have developed due to loss of the natural curvature of the cervical spine due to severe muscle spasms. When I am away from home, remembering to do this can often reduce the flares that might occur from doing extra/out-of-the-ordinary activities.) Extreme sensitivity to drops in temperature has taught me to bring a sweater with me in the summer months to compensate for air conditioning. In the winter, I bring at least one layer more of clothing than the people around me are wearing and a blanket. For me, cold temps cause tremors, muscle spasms, and pain in head, neck and all four extremities…often before I even know that the temperature has changed. People who know me understand that they should not be offended if I leave the building. It usually means that the sweater was NOT enough or I have reached my vertical limit.
  5.       Ask for help. I still struggle with this one. I have managed my own house, done my own maintenance, repairs, and lawn care as a single parent for over 20 years. I still try to use chores to stay active and remain mindful (a few more tips on this topic: Mindfulness and Chores) but, I am still learning to modify those chores. Big progress for me, I have accepted that I need help for any task involving a ladder. Because I cannot afford a car due to financial hardship of Arachnoiditis, I have to ask for transportation to most destinations. Scheduling this in advance works better than last minute trips/requests. I give gas money to the driver. For routine assistance remember to be prepared. Although it is necessary to feel comfortable telling your friends & family that you are in too much pain or too sick to follow through, stick to the schedule/plan as much as possible so that you are not inconveniencing your support network. Random and inconsistent changes to the schedule will make it difficult for them to provide the support you need.
  6.       Take a step back. I am still conditioning myself to stop trying to manage or control situations that do not pertain directly to my own personal health.
  7.       Minimize physically demanding tasks that show a pattern of triggering “flares” later.
  8.       Keep moving. Change position often. I try not to sit, stand, or lay down in one position for more than 30 minutes at a time. Because of arachnoiditis in the thoracic spine, when I wake up in the morning it is especially difficult to move my arms. I have learned to stretch slowly and carefully to get things moving again.
  9.       Know what makes you feel good. Self-care is essential to survival. Discover and record the things (big & small) that help you through difficult days or situations. What gives you strength? What shows you beauty? What makes you laugh? Where do you find grace in your day? Allow yourself to grieve. There are so many losses associated with permanent disability. The losses can be exponentially greater when the origin of your pain & disability is denied causing validation and supportive resources to be withheld. Laugh... often and loudly even if nobody is there to hear you.

VOCATIONAL REHABILITATION Many Arachnoiditis Survivors are deemed unemployable. I had to stop working because I was in too much full-body pain, had extreme sensitivity to sound, nausea, vomiting, parasthesia, dizziness, and loss of coordination & balance to continue teaching & caring for children. Later when these symptoms were better controlled, I could not re-enter the workforce because employers could not reasonably accommodate the continued need to lay down every three hours to compensate for Obstruction of CSF Rotation. With the assistance of Vocational Rehabilitation Services, I changed my career path.

  1.    Focus on the positive. I identified independent skills & abilities that could be done the “traditional” way. Then, I identified skills & abilities that could still be done with modifications. I opened my mind to the concept of developing NEW skills & abilities which fit into the boundaries of Arachnoiditis.
  2.    Some activities can improve outcomes. Art has always been my coping mechanism. Discouraged by the challenges and obstacles when I first tried to paint with these neurological complications, I developed a new project using an entirely different media & method to restore and redefine some of my fine motor skills. The Still Standing, paper sculpture & photography project is now available for display in pain management and rehabilitation clinics..
  3.    Willingness to learn new things was crucial to adaptability. When it became clear that I was unemployable, I attended the Entrepreneurial Assistance Program offered by the business division of the local community action agency. Although I did have to attend a percentage of these evening classes, they provided me with the option to do portions of the lessons from home. In the program, I created a business plan for a self-sustaining live/work art studio designed with reasonable accommodations for spinal adhesive arachnoiditis. Later, this business plan earned a small business start-up grant from Vocational Rehabilitation Services at ACCESS-VR.
  4.    Willingness to relocate was crucial to adjustment. Unemployable & no longer able to maintain or finance my three-story house, and losing benefits of pain management treatment during the ride home from the medical facility; I made the difficult decision to buy a much smaller, single-story home located closer to the Rehabilitation Services Facility. In choosing the property and location I made sure that it met the requirements appropriate to my studio business plan.
  5.    Ask for help. Although I was eligible for a VA home loan because of my prior military service, the lender did not view social security disability as a viable source of income. I had to obtain a regular bank loan to cover the cost of the house. I had to ask for a personal loan from a friend to cover the cost of the down payment. In spite of having a credit score well over 700 at that time, I also had to have a co-signer to purchase the property. Many years of working hard to maintain my finances responsibly made this insulting and extremely difficult to accept but, it was necessary to my forward movement.              

    Using the Ostrich Cot
    Working
  6.    Modify your surroundings. I learned that certain objects made life easier. The Ostrich Cot, a tanning/beach chaise, from the Ostrich Products Company allowed me to draw, research, write, and create other art work while lying on my stomach. I use an inversion table almost every day to maintain an appropriate CSF level. I keep a timer to remind me when I need to lay down. I maintain my studio websites from my laptop while I am in my bed. I applied for and received a weatherization grant to make my new house/studio warm enough to allow me to tolerate the winter in Upstate New York. In my studio there are four work stations which permit me to work from multiple positions to minimize neurological symptoms throughout the day. Visitors are welcome by appointment so that my vertical time can be used efficiently. Heating pads and telephones are strategically placed around the house/workspace. After several unexpected falls while working alone, I conceded to enroll in a medic alert program with a direct line to local emergency services.

COPING WITH THIS ADVERSE OUTCOME The journey of the Arachnoiditis Survivor undoubtedly includes an emotional rollercoaster ride for the survivor as well as friends and family members.  Services that were helpful for me included:

  1.       Grief counseling for the losses. Job, friends, co-workers, significant other, lifetime achievements & accomplishments that were now null and void, financial & personal independence were tremendous simultaneous losses. But, for me, the most devastating loss was the loss of my credibility. The people around me stopped believing what I was saying. I could see the pity and loss of respect for me in their faces. Without the acknowledgement and validation of a medical diagnosis over such a long period of time, they began to believe the allegations of supposed mental illness. In spite of three neuropsychological evaluations which ruled out ALL psychological origins for my symptoms, they were more inclined to believe that than the possibility that my doctors had knowingly injected a neurotoxin into my spine. Admitting that this could happen to me, undermines their own personal need to believe in the integrity of their doctors. Counseling helped me to come to terms with their perspective while reminding me that I was NOT the “deranged imbecile” that they suddenly seemed to perceive me to be.
  2.       Anger Management for the way I sometimes felt about these losses but more about the way I felt about the medical community at the time. In spite of my personal & professional achievements, for many months I was treated as an uneducated, needy, inconvenient, psychotic, hypochondriac, unworthy of the time it took to write my name on the page. This was partially due to the fear of litigation on the part of the responsible parties and lack of interest and/or information on the part of those who could have made a difference. My frustration at the resistance and obstacles the medical community kept putting in front of me as I tried to figure out what happened to me became a daily entity that I faced constantly. This anger did not subside when I found out the cause of my neurological symptoms and that it was a preventable entity that I should have been warned about. I worked through a lot of this anger with the counselor to help minimize how much of it my children had to hear. Eventually, I was able to turn this journey into a positive thing and began earnest efforts to increase awareness and prevention of Arachnoiditis.
  3.       Communication Skills about illness, loss, boundaries, adjustments, and defining my new role in the world around me.
  4.       Online Connection to the existing community of Survivors. The informative support and validation I received from members of Life With Arachnoiditis/Arachnoiditis USA kept the crippling isolation of undiagnosed arachnoiditis at bay.

MISSING PIECES In hindsight there are some additional services that would have helped reduce the grief and hardship of this adverse outcome.

  1.    Parenting as a single parent coping with sudden permanent disability, I could have used some additional support to permit continued involvement in the lives of my teen children. I was unable to attend many of the school events that are an irreplaceable part of this stage of development. My ability to provide advisement on academic & career oriented decisions was limited. Due to financial hardship all of my children had to work in the summer. They were unable to attend the available drivers’ education programs because of this scheduling conflict. Although my son already had his driver’s license and he was getting ready to leave for college the year that I became ill, I was unable to teach my daughters how to drive. My oldest daughter, now 22, is finally able to attend an adult education program similar to driver’s ed in order to work toward this goal.
  2.    Pet Care/Placement assistance would have eased many burdens. This is an area that I think is often ignored or forgotten even with transitional assistance for acknowledged permanent disabilities. The family pets that we had were strays acquired while I was a full-time teacher with more than enough financial and physical means to care for them in a loving and appropriate way. Our Golden Retriever, Lily, smart, well-behaved, and a lovely, gentle dog; was epileptic and required continued medical care to maintain this condition. The seizures were unpredictable and difficult to control. Although she was never mean, she would run into things and had to be prevented from harming herself. They often resulted in loss of bladder and/or bowel control. She had to be bathed and her living space had to be cleaned after each seizure. When it became evident that I was NOT going to get better any time soon, I tried for six months to place her (and our cats) in a loving home with quality care. Having no luck in this endeavor, and no longer physically able to manage my own body, I finally had to have her put to sleep. Our cat, Sophie, a tri-colored, long-haired, Maine Coon Cat, was killed in an attack by the neighbor’s Rottweiler as my daughters were leaving for school one morning. I was experiencing pain, parasthesia and loss of coordination. In spite of my best efforts, I was unable to save her. (Prior incidents with this same neighbor and same dog had been reported to dog control and town authorities. This dog was a rescued dog who was not being housed in an appropriately fenced care facility. I had frequently had to call the owner at work to let her know the dog was out again and tormenting elementary school children on their way to school. As my illness had no conclusive documentation I was not eligible for any support staff or in home aids. The lack of validation from the professional medical community caused friends and family to believe that I was mentally impaired and that I was over reacting when I had previously asked for help with the neighbor’s dog.) Continued problems with this dog (to the point that it would not permit my daughter to enter our yard on the way home from school one night and chased her until she had to jump a barbed-wire fence to get away to call me from a neighbors house) finally resulted in my informing the owner that I would personally shoot this dog if it came on my property again. Although there were no raised voices, and she was very understanding and apologetic over my concerns, the adrenaline released during this confrontation left my neck, arms, and back in spasms. I was sweating and trying not to fall down the entire time I was talking to her.
  3.    TIMELY DIAGNOSIS would have made many beneficial services available to me when I really needed them.