October 20, 2022
Three Things To Hang On To
By Julie Gregory, Chief Health Liaison for Apollo Health
As many of you may know from my blog entitled “My Daddy’s Books,” we’ve recently left our beautiful forever home because we learned it had mold. The whole experience has been fraught with grief layered on top of a wisp of hope for a new beginning for a healthier home that would nurture my husband and me as we age. After five weeks at a hotel, we are finally in our new home, and it’s been far from the healing experience that we had planned. Without going into too many details, I’ll share that the house wasn’t quite finished and that many things still have to be fixed, including the furnace, multiple broken windows, a warped deck with a frail, leaning railing, a twisted wall, polyurethane footprints all over the hardwood staircases and floors, a botched paint job, damaged cabinets that have to be replaced, etc. You get the idea. Apparently, with supply chain issues and a lack of seasoned workers, it’s a tough time to build a house. My heart breaks for the builder who is trying to make everything right. So now I’m living in a work zone, with a constant stream of contractors trekking in and out, dust and mess everywhere. Sigh.
With all of the stress of the move, I have to confess that I’ve had to give up many aspects of the protocol because I simply didn’t have time or I just couldn’t. For instance, I haven’t exercised in two weeks, but I’ve been telling myself that the manual labor of hauling and unpacking boxes while climbing up and down five flights of stairs is exercise. My calves agree. Most days I haven’t been able to take my supplements because I knew they would stick in my throat. I’ve also run out of many and haven’t had the time to re-order.
I have, however, out of necessity been practicing several of our recommended stress management strategies, and they’ve been incredibly helpful, even transformative. I sometimes run into participants who are so stressed that they simply can’t practice the protocol. After these past few weeks, I strongly empathize. I want to share what’s been getting me through this rough period with the hope that it may be helpful to those of you also experiencing stressful situations.
Mindfulness By now, most of us are somewhat familiar with mindfulness — the act of being fully present in a non-judgmental manner. It’s so much more than stress management and really more of a way of being. Once you begin practicing, it becomes habitual. I’ve been living for the “Ah ha” moments that have taught me so much about myself. Whenever I catch myself feeling a strong emotion: disappointment, anger, sadness, whatever, I transition into a non-judgmental observer of my life. And, I have to admit, during the process, I feel like a ten-year-old at a birthday party, jumping up and down with delight, eager for any insights that I can glean about myself. That latter aspect isn’t necessarily a part of mindfulness but rather how it works for me and, I suspect, many others. In fact, the act of simply catching myself and stepping outside and looking in is in itself a way of resetting and interrupting a negative thought pattern, but the part that has been really transformative for me are the things that I’ve learned about myself as a part of this process. For example, when the window blind installer came to hang all of the blinds, and every single one was the wrong size, I was devastated initially. I felt like I couldn’t take one more thing going wrong. Then I stopped and examined why I was feeling so disappointed. I came to the realization that I had taken my previous home for granted, and I somehow felt “less than” without a beautifully put-together home. Once I understood where the strong emotion was coming from, I was more easily able to navigate the situation. Ten-year-old me told myself, “You are so much more than the home that you live in. Get over it, girlfriend. You can fix this.” And I did. I kindly and assertively explained to the owner of my local décor store why these blinds weren’t acceptable. She was so grateful for my calm demeanor and mentioned that most customers would have been angry after such a large error. She ended up thanking me for my kindness and willingness to give her a second chance.
Breathing We recommend periodic breathing breaks. This is an exercise in which you sit (back supported) in a relaxed manner. Take a deep breath in through your nose and then exhale even more slowly. This is a simple but powerful strategy to physiologically reset your nervous system — to downregulate the sympathetic (associated with stress) and upregulate the parasympathetic (associated with relaxation). When we are stressed, our sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive, leading us to breathe in a shallow, incomplete manner that can itself lead to additional stress because you’re not getting the oxygen you need. After several minutes of this slow, deep breathing, I felt like I had taken a “min-vacation.” It felt that good. This has helped me not only in acute situations but also throughout the day. By taking periodic breathing breaks, I’ve become aware of my breathing pattern and am breathing more fully (through my nose) and deeply all day long.
Gratitude While each of these strategies have been lifesavers for me these past few weeks, and gratitude was a surprise. I was stunned at the power of this strategy. In the midst of everything that had gone wrong, I looked at my husband one day and said, “Name three things that you’re grateful for.” He did, then I did the same. It was shocking to see the little things that made our day. For instance, one of my husband’s picks was the fact that we had found organic vegetables that day. We’re in a new city, and we have to search to find a new grocery store, a new gas station, a new hardware store, etc. The beautiful organic vegetables that we had found earlier in the day made my husband (and I) so happy. It was our small way of re-exerting power and caring for ourselves in what felt like a powerless situation. It was even more surprising to see how simply focusing on the good things had a way of transforming our perspective on everything. During our move, Hurricane Ian hit Florida and Ukraine continued to be bombed. I saw the devastating conditions that so many people were forced to live in and felt ashamed to be stressed over what was happening in our lives. When you search for things to be grateful for, your mind simply cannot hold onto the negative. We’ve kept up this ritual multiple times throughout the day just to remind ourselves that good things are all around us if we’ll only take the time to notice.
I continue to share my mold journey because I know that so many in our community are on a similar path. It’s very difficult when you’re older, nearing or having already reached retirement, to learn that you need to relocate or perform major renovations on your home for your health — especially in our current economy. I want to acknowledge the very real loss and stress that can accompany this process. I also want to share my gratitude to Dr. Bredesen for making me aware of the risk that mold can pose to not only my overall health but also to my cognition. When I look to the future, I’m full of hope for a someday nurturing home where I can heal. In my case, it’s going to take some time before I can get there, but I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to continue to heal and for the life lessons learned along the way.