Everyday Health’s State of Women’s Wellness 2017: Lori’s Story

The other day I asked my wife, “Are you satisfied with your overall sense of wellness?” I waited for her response to vote in a Twitter poll from Everyday Health. She paused for a moment to think about it. I realized soon enough that she could not easily gauge her sense of wellness in that quick moment.


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The editor I work with at Everyday Health for The Itch to Beat Psoriasis alerted me that their special report, “State of Women’s Wellness 2017,” would post on December 15th.  The report covers how “American women define and rate their wellness based on factors like stress, illness, relationships, sex, BMI, financial health, and money.”

Through the survey and discussions with experts, they sought answers to the questions, “What’s standing in the way of women’s wellness, health, and happiness? What would it take to enable them to feel empowered and inspired to live their best lives and achieve their highest level of wellness?”

How the women in my midst respond to these questions directly impact me as a son, husband, father, and minister. I live with a wife from Gen X, a Millennial daughter, and an iGen daughter. The report highlights generational differences that affect them all.

What would it take to enable them to feel empowered and inspired to live their best lives and achieve their highest level of wellness?

As a moderately dense, somewhat self-centered male, I needed to listen to these results. I typically make judgments or evaluate others equally without concern for gender differences. I not only wanted to listen to the women behind the survey, I desired to listen to the women in my life as well.

I quickly noticed the top three wellness challenges that women face: 1) 44% Stress about life, 2) 43% Lack of Sleep, and 3) 43% Finding Time for Fitness/Exercise.

I know my wife worries about others, especially me and my health. With three children still at home, two of them teens and one managing mental illness, she has plenty to keep her mind occupied. As the report states, “When respondents were asked if they were likely to put their own needs first, only 24 percent responded that they would.”

I did not want to presume, though, how my wife feels about her state of health and wellness. The report ends with a powerful statement: “we all have powerful stories to tell.”

What follows is my wife Lori’s health and wellness story told in her own words.


Greatest Health Fear: Breast Cancer

Before I share about a wellness challenge and how I overcame it, I want to address a health fear that I struggle with. In the Women’s Wellness 2017 Special Report, there were 5 top fears that women have. One of them is cancer. Starting in my childhood, I’ve lost quite a few family and friends to cancer–the most common for women being breast cancer.

In the Women’s Wellness 2017 Special Report, there were 5 top fears that women have. One of them is cancer.

The most directly impactful personal loss was my mother. She had a particularly aggressive case of breast cancer which metastisized quickly and took her four years after diagnosis. She also had chronic autoimmune disorders throughout her adult life so it was difficult to find a cancer treatment that wouldn’t seriously harm her. It was an agonizing situation that left me without my mother–and my young children without their grandmother–right after Thanksgiving.

It has now been sixteen Thanksgivings and times have changed.

Our awareness of breast cancer has increased. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. While I am deeply appreciative of the fundraising and 5Ks that women run for this very worthy cause, at times it can be overwhelming for me to face all the pink ribbons in October. It can serve as a painful reminder that I will have to get through the holidays without my mom. I miss her every year.

However, I want to be prepared in case I find myself facing a similar diagnosis. I recently booked a consultation with a genetic counselor to see if I could carry a genetic risk for breast cancer. After the consultation, I felt that I better understood having a genetic risk versus normal aging and changes in breast tissue.

It is alarming to know that three women in my family faced breast cancer (two of my great-aunts as well as my mom) and only one survived. However, I do not carry a genetic risk. I will keep up with regular breast exams and yearly mammograms trusting that should I face a diagnosis, it will be caught early.

Biggest Wellness Challenge: Rest and Sleep

One wellness challenge that I’ve focused on is getting enough rest and sleep. According to the report, 81% of the women in the survey said they struggle to get a good night’s sleep. When our kids were young–we had three children within six years–it seemed impossible to get a good night’s sleep. Night feedings, children waking up to use the bathroom, having nightmares, our son even was a sleepwalker for a period of time left me with four hours of broken sleep on a good night.

It was frustrating to be woken up from dreamland and when I finally got back to bed, I would toss and turn waiting for another child to wake up. By 5am, I was fed up with trying to get any more sleep. To compensate, I resorted to my old trick during my college days when I was pulling all nighters writing papers: drinking coffee.

It was frustrating to be woken up from dreamland and when I finally got back to bed, I would toss and turn waiting for another child to wake up

At first that seemed to work. But then I noticed that my brain was foggy. It felt difficult to make rather everyday, easy decisions (as in what to cook for dinner) and I would find myself zoning out in the produce aisle while my kids sitting in the grocery cart helped themselves to the apples on display. In my experience, sleep deprivation fed on itself. It became a mental struggle.

I lost faith that I could get a good night’s sleep so I would go to bed with a lot of anxiety about it and with a rather valid concern as to how I would function the next day. Then it just became a pattern. Night after night, time dragged on. I became deeply depressed and in retrospect, I believe sleep deprivation was a key contributing factor.

I Just Need to Breathe

In therapy, we focus a lot on breathing. At first I felt this was not a very bright idea. I mean we just breathe naturally–what’s the big deal? But when I focused in on how I was breathing I noticed that it was rather rapid and shallow. I was even holding my breath.

As I practiced taking slower, deeper breaths I noticed that my whole body would calm down–including my mind. It became more difficult to focus on my anxiety about sleep as I focused on the rhythmic inhale and exhale of my breath.  I would even feel drowsy as I spent 8-10 minutes in a group relaxation session.

As I practiced taking slower, deeper breaths I noticed that my whole body would calm down–including my mind.

If it worked in a group setting, maybe I had a shot at making this work at home. I extended my relaxation session to 20 minutes lying down in bed. I began to have regular success with falling asleep and as the kids grew older, I wasn’t awakened at night quite as much as in the past.

The amount of time I spend sleeping improves my mood, prepares me for the next day, and even helps control my weight. At this time of year, I require more sleep. It can feel limiting not to spend more time with family or engaging in daily activities I enjoy, but I know it’s a good discipline for me that gives me energy and motivation for other areas of my life. The hours that I spend awake are more meaningful and that feels so much better than sleepwalking through life.

 

 

Great Easter Week—My Skin Not So Much

As I look back on Easter week, starting with Palm Sunday, I’m amazed at how much happened. In the span of two Sundays I spoke five times: twice on Palm Sunday, once on Tuesday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. I led a few meetings, including a leadership gathering with about twenty attending.

The Good Friday service had around 250 in attendance as I worked together with a Mandarin translator for the thirty-minute talk. To top off the week I baptized a college student whom Lori and I worked with over the last couple months.

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Speaking on Good Friday at Davis Chinese Christian Church with Shirley, my Mandarin translator. Around 250 attended our service this year.

Easter week overall turned out great. True, Lori and I struggled through some roller coaster discussions about issues we face. But by the end of the week we felt much better about most of the concerns.

Unfortunately, though, my skin did not do so well. I’ve enjoyed relatively stable skin. I don’t mind it getting a little worse, then a little better, if I don’t feel the lesions getting too inflexible, large, inflamed, or itchy. But by the end of the week they did all the above—along with a few new friends who popped onto my skin to join them.

Stress (EH blog) is no doubt the key culprit. Here are some ongoing stressful aspects of my life I feel are contributing to my skin flaring:

Upcoming Conference: Besides Easter week responsibilities, I prepared to head out to the HealtheVoices conference in Chicago. The first day I’ll meet with members of “I Know Pso” group sponsored by Janssen Pharmaceutical. The organizers invited me to share about my experience at the American Academy of Dermatology after breakfast. And I thought I had a break from speaking!

Flying: Travel itself stresses me. I’m trying to analyze why I feel anxious on airplanes. I fly quite a bit, but each time I feel my shoulders tighten up, my breath become shallow, and my heart beats just a bit faster than usual. I don’t sleep well the night before either. My wife thinks it’s the anticipation of the trip, which I agree with. But it’s possibly the fear of dying on the plane too—however irrational that might be.

Leaving Family: I don’t like leaving my family either. Lydia continues to recover from her bipolar episode in January. Lori needs to do double duty on driving kids to school, cooking, and housework. I wonder if all the little things I do around the house, like checking doors and lights, will get done. I miss my bed and pets when I travel.

Social Anxiety: Even though I work with the public and people all week, I do a get a bit of social anxiety going to these conferences. It’s another world to me—the world of patient advocacy and healthcare. I need to shift gears quickly to engage a different group on a different level.

Lack of Rest: At this point I’d rather take a day or two to rest rather than dive into a five-day trip. To take these trips for patient/psoriasis advocacy, I usually need to take vacation days from work. To minimize disruption to my work, I work on my day off and on the trip. Sometimes I don’t get a day off for a couple weeks. With a heavy workload and travel, I easily start feeling frazzled.

None of the above is great for my skin and health, but I hope it’s a temporary effect. I hope to keep up my exercise routines at the conference, and keep up with good eating and sleeping habits. I won’t miss a Sharks playoff game either! The time difference allows me to watch in the evening after dinners are finished.