Happy birthday, dad!

Happy birthday, dad! Thank you blood donors!Today is my dad’s birthday. A birthday he likely wouldn’t be celebrating without the generosity of blood donors.

Last spring, my dad had a health incident which required extraordinary life-saving measures, including multiple blood transfusions. He received exceptional medical care, but probably wouldn’t have survived without replacing at least some of the blood that he lost.

My dad was a blood (and platelet) donor for decades before health complications made him ineligible and there was something poetic about the system he’d supported for so many years paying him back in kind. Even more poetically, there’s the slight possibility that my husband’s blood made it to my dad. My father and husband share a blood type and we donated blood just a few days prior to my dad’s hospitalization.

Be nice to me - I gave blood today!
My sticker from donating blood last week

If you are eligible to donate blood (and not terrified of needles!), I urge you to do it. It takes about an hour, it’s relatively painless (although not entirely, I can’t lie about that), they give you cookies and lots of ‘thank yous’, and it’s the easiest way I know to directly help save a life.

The basic requirements to donate blood in Canada are being over 17 and in good health. (There are more eligibility restrictions on the Canadian Blood Services website, which don’t apply to most people, but sadly mean that gay men can’t donate.) It’s easy to find a nearby clinic through the Canadian Blood Services website and use their 1-800 number to book an appointment.

I am so appreciative of all the donors who gave of themselves (literally!) to help save my dad’s life. Several months after his health scare, my dad is doing really well, but I shudder to think of what would have happened if my dad had been unable to receive those transfusions.

If you can donate blood, please do! 

Nosing forward

Collage of Laura post-nose bleedA few days ago I trepidatiously did my first downward-facing dog in over a month. The last day I did downward-facing dog or any sustained forward-folding posture, I had an extreme nose bleed. The forward-folding may have contributed to a scab from the septoplasty surgery I had three weeks prior coming off, which triggered major bleeding.

On July 29, I had blood streaming from my nose and mouth for hours – more blood than I thought possible. Thankfully, Dr Nabi (the otolaryngologist who performed my septoplasty) met me at the hospital and we were able to stop the bleeding before I required a transfusion.

I was hospitalized overnight, but got to go home the next afternoon. After a night in a hospital ward, sleeping in my own bed felt incredible – even if I did have to be propped up to elevate my nose!

After five days with uncomfortable packing in my right nostril, I met Dr Nabi to have him take it out. Understandably concerned that removing the packing might trigger another massive bleed, Dr Nabi took every precaution possible – none of which ended up being necessary. The packing came out smoothly and cleanly, with almost no blood at all.

After the packing came out, recovering from the massive nose bleed was quicker and easier than recovering from surgery. While my hemoglobin levels were low and I was fighting an infection, I was in much better shape than after surgery. Eating high iron foods, taking lots of naps, and regularly rinsing my nose with saline all helped.

Laura in downward-facing dogWhen I last saw my surgeon, he was very impressed with the recovery and cleared me to return to regular activity – including downward-facing dog. But even after Dr Nabi’s reassurance, I was nervous about holding my head lower than my heart for any extended period of time.

I’d seen my therapist and worked through the emotional trauma of the massive nose bleed, but couldn’t muster the courage to come into forward folds. I devised several yoga sequences without forward folds to ensure I could keep up my practice, but yoga without forward folding feels a little incomplete.

Last Friday it finally felt like it was time. It had been over a month since my nose bleed, the nasal soreness was almost entirely gone, and I’d received a clean bill of health.

Initially, downward-facing dog felt foreign and scary. I moved slowly through a sun salutation sequence, nervously approaching each repeat of downward-facing dog. By the fifth round, I felt comfortable again and was content to hang out in downward-facing dog for a couple minutes.

I’m back to a full yoga practice again, forward folds and all, and have rediscovered the joy of downward-facing dog!

While the septoplasty process was longer and more complicated than I anticipated, it was worth it and I’d unhesitatingly recommend Dr Nabi. He’s the first (and hopefully only!) otolaryngologist I’ve seen, but I can’t imagine a better ear, nose, and throat specialist.

Hopefully, this is the end of my nose saga and now I just get to enjoy the ease of breathing through both nostrils!

The nose knows

NoseSurgeryThis time last week my nose was bleeding profusely, the result of septoplasty surgery some hours before. The surgery went exceptionally well; the surgeon was delighted, I had no adverse reaction to the general anaesthetic, and a recovery room nurse even called me “bright as a berry.” Everything from waking up at 5:30am that morning and not eating to pre-op prep through to walking out of the hospital was almost effortless – much easier than I thought it would be.

The recovery, however, was not as smooth as I had anticipated.

While there wasn’t much pain, there was a lot of blood. I didn’t clot quickly and, even with the packing the surgeon left in my nose to sop up the bleeding, I spent the first couple days changing the gauze underneath my nose regularly and wishing for thicker blood.

Thankfully, the bleeding stopped after a couple days and I was left with discomfort, wooziness, and the continued joy of sleeping without fully lying down.

After a solid day without bleeding, it was time to get the packing out. The packing is great for controlling blood flow and keeping tissues separate so they don’t fuse together while healing (particularly important as the point of the procedure was to give my nasal passages more space), but it does introduce greater potential for infection and it’s damn uncomfortable.

I wasn’t sure if the crusty strings dangling from my nostrils would come out with the packing or if they were part of the stitches. Turns out “packing” is code for “tampons” and the surgeon used those strings to pull them out.

Getting the packing out was brutal. All blood and saline and mucous and Otrivin. Without the general anaesthetic of the surgery, I didn’t have the luxury of drifting off into oblivion while thinking about my favourite vacation spot and having the surgeon do all the messy work without me seeing or feeling it.

I left the hospital much less bright than after surgery and continued to ooze blood from my nose through the night. The next day I started experiencing head-splittingly painful sinus congestion, which didn’t get any better when I burst into tears. Turns out crying doesn’t make sinus congestion any less painful… but decongestants do 🙂

Equipped with Benylin (not my usual cold-fighter Advil Cold & Sinus as the ibuprofen wouldn’t play nicely with the antibiotics and also acts as a blood thinner… not helpful when I’m trying not to bleed!), plenty of fluids, saline nasal spray, and lots of naps, I’m feeling much better. I’m still tired, but my nose hasn’t bled for three whole days and the soreness is manageable.

I’m reminding myself to take it easy and not to expect that I’ll be entirely well yet – the surgery was just a week ago!

While it’s too early to say if the surgery has been a true success, I am already finding it easier to breath through my nose. Even with the congestion (along with the sutures and scabs that must still be there), there’s an ease of movement through my nasal passages. The surgeon said he took a lot of bone out of my right nostril, so it’s no surprise that things are clearer.

I’m hopeful that recovery will proceed smoothly and that within a few months I’ll be breathing easy… any that maybe I’ll even have stopped sleeping with my mouth open!

The bully inside

Laura in a pink shirt grinning over her shoulderFebruary 27 was Pink Shirt Day and there were a lot of people wearing pink in Vancouver. The day is meant to draw awareness to bullying and empower people to stand up against it.

While I’m not convinced that encouraging dress code conformity (and perhaps alienating those who aren’t wearing pink) is the way to make a positive impact, I do think that looking at the causes of bullying and how to stop it is a good thing.

Bullying takes all kinds of forms and often self-harm is left out of the mix.  As my friend Tim writes in his post No bruises can be seen…, “it can also happen when we look at how we treat our inner-selves and the relationship to our outer-selves.”

Sometimes the harshest bully is the one in our own heads. I know I’m certainly a self-bully and sometimes that nasty inner voice runs rampant.

Seth Godin has an excellent post on Destabilizing the bullying power structure that talks about bullying reinforcing conformity. Getting rid of bullying means encouraging others to be their own wonderful, weird selves. We need to turn that inwards as well and let ourselves be perfect exactly as we are.

Embrace your inner weirdo and stop forcing your own conformity.  Seth encourages us to “share that weirdness and run with it.” Tim urges “start seeing what it feels like to give yourself a little slack.”

I’ll chime in and agree.

Beyond recognizing bullying and the urge to conform within society, look at your inner world and try to silence the bully inside.

The quest continues

Laura smiling at a brilliantly coloured shave ice in Maui

Around this time last year I wrote about mental health and how the previous February had been a low point. This February, my mental health continues on an up-swing. I’ve been off of anti-depressants for about eight months, I’m feeling more secure in my own skin, and I’ve found all kinds of joy (including vacations with friends and shave ice!).

I still struggle with feelings of inadequacy and periods where negative self-talk makes me feel worthless. I still wish that there was some kind of guarantee that I won’t ever be clinically depressed again. I still get anxious and sad and worried. I still sometimes feel directionless and unsure of how to be happy.

I am getting more comfortable approaching recovering from depression as a non-linear process without an end point. The quest for mental wellness is an ongoing part of my life, as I think it is for most people.

FB-LetsTalkTalking about mental health overall and making it okay to prioritize mental wellness is an important step in managing mental illness. Today is Bell Let’s Talk Day, which aims to reduce the stigma around mental illness (like depression) and supports mental health initiatives in Canada. For every tweet using #BellLetsTalk and every Facebook share of the Bell Let’s Talk image, Bell will donate 5¢ to mental health related programs through the Bell Mental Health Initiative.

I think the most profound impact Let’s Talk can have is not in terms of money, but encouraging people not to be ashamed or afraid of mental health issues. Mental wellness is a complex concept with a lot of contributing factors and creating comfortable space to talk about the quest to be mentally healthy is a big deal.

Big love for biophilia

Laura standing on one snowshoe

A blissful few days of being almost entirely unplugged, along with time spent playing in the snow and the holiday routine of food, friends, and family has left me feeling rejuvenated and relaxed. While the tryptophan from turkey might have something to do with the relaxation, being outdoors also contributes to my feelings of well-being.

The Biophilia Hypothesis posits “that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems.” Basically that connecting with the biological world around us feeds some deep-seated psychological need and improves our mental state.

I first heard the term “biophilia” on The Peak’s Suzuki Report segments and the idea immediately made sense. It’s rare that I don’t feel better, calmer, and invigorated after a wander through the woods or a walk along the water. And the magic of a winter wonderland like nearby Seymour Mountain brings me an additional sense of awe and gratitude!

Happy winter and happy holidays! Hope there’s some more snow-filled-nature-time in the near future 🙂

Healing from the heart

I have a couple friends whose mothers are going in for surgery today… and I’m thinking of them.

Loved ones with health problems are one of the many circumstances where we feel powerless to have any kind of impact. We can worry all we want but deep down we “know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum,” to quote Baz Luhrmann in Everybody’s Free.

I’ve started using meditation to channel my energies towards whoever is having health issues and away from my own fretting. I like doing the Kundalini healing meditation, which uses the Ramadasa mantra and an easy mudra (hand or body position).

The mantra is Ra ma da sa; Sa say so hung and all you do is repeat it. There are lots of recordings to chant along with, my favourite is by Snatam Kaur, and I usually chant for 11 or 31 minutes.

To come into the mudra, sit cross-legged (or in easy pose) and bend your elbows into your body; let your forearms fall open over your thighs, with your inner arms facing up. Your palms are flat and facing upwards with your fingers together and thumbs stretched outwards. The mudra is a gesture of receiving.

KundaliniYoga.org has full instructions if you want more details, including an illustration of the position.

I did Ramadasa as a 31 minute meditation with my dad when he was in atrial fibrillation (a-fib), which is persistently elevated heart rate. He had been in a-fib for a few days and medication was not helping his heart convert to its normal rhythm.

I was thrilled that he was open to meditating together, although immeditately after we were done his heart rate was even higher. While I was on my way home from my parents’ place a couple hours later, though, dad called to let me know that his heart had converted back to a normal rhythm and the a-fib had passed.

I’m hesitant to say that the meditation is the reason my dad’s heart reverted to its normal rhythm, but I don’t think it hurt! And at least it made me feel like I was doing something and let dad know that I love him.

So today I’ll send the love and energy from my Ramasada meditation to my friends and their moms… letting them know that I love them ♥