Monday, October 27, 2014

A trip to Tippy Dam

Good morning!  Is it REALLY Monday morning already? There used to be a time a few years ago when the weekends seemed to drag on and on and I longed for Monday to arrive so that I could go to work. My how things have changed! In those “Old Theresa” days, when I was carrying around a couple hundred extra pounds, my Rheumatoid Arthritis was exacerbated by the extra weight and the doctor was trying to find something (other than the obvious to many….losing weight….but certainly not obvious to me) to ease the symptoms. During that time I injected myself with a potent medication every Friday evening to try to slow down the immune system. Many find these drugs to be “miracle cures,” get relief from them, and don’t experience too many unpleasant side effects, but for me, they didn’t work; in fact, they landed me in bed for most of the weekend because my body didn’t react to them very well. Nausea and vomiting, fatigue, headaches were a way of life each weekend. Although I tried various injections, the results were similar.
If ONLY I believed there was another way to spend the weekend. If ONLY I believed that I had ANY part in my health. If ONLY I had realized that changing my eating habits could help improve the symptoms of a disease without a cure or improve my overall health.  Whether I KNEW and didn’t want to do the work; whether I KNEW and didn’t want to improve my life because I subconsciously was so lost in grief and sadness of loss and just wanted to be miserable; whether I KNEW and but didn’t think I was strong enough to change is something I’ve yet to come to grips with. I don’t KNOW why I chose to just exist; all I know is that I’m so grateful that God, in His infinite mercy and goodness, helped me realize one day that ENOUGH is ENOUGH and led me out of that darkness into a life where weekends fly by and there never seems to be enough time to do all the wonderful things that I CAN and WANT to do!

One thing I need to make clear, though, regarding Rheumatoid Arthritis: the disease has no cure right now. My RA did not go away just because I lost weight. It is something that I deal with on a daily basis and I still take several medications each day to keep me functioning. Some days are better than others, and I still have flares that come on as they will and remind me that I will deal with the disease until a cure is found. However, my condition has improved dramatically as a result of changing my life. I no longer inject myself with those potent drugs; I no longer need to take high doses of steroids or very strong pain medications just to get through the day; I no longer have to sit on the sidelines and watch those around me participate in life. Losing weight by itself didn’t cure me; it just made it easier to deal with the RA. It took a tremendous amount of stress off my already damaged joints; it made it possible for my body to grow strong enough to support my body weight and to walk again; it made it possible for me to say, “Sure….let’s go....I can do that…..Bring it on…..and just watch me,” rather than, “No, I can’t….I’d really like to, but I’m hurting too bad…..Gosh, that looks like fun…. I wish I could….” and so forth. It was a combination of losing the weight, eliminating the processed food and sugar from my diet, getting better nutrition and vitamins, and being able to be more physically active and move the joints that helped me get a handle on the RA and improve my symptoms so that I have many more ‘good days” than bad ones.  Making positive changes to improve one’s well-being and mental and physical health simply makes it easier to deal with the crosses in life.

I have a new magazine article that debuted a couple of days ago in the Arthritis Health Monitor magazine. This magazine is available by subscription and is distributed free of charge in many doctor’s offices throughout the country. I’ll post links and upload the article in a day or so for those interested in reading it. Anytime a magazine or interview focuses on the arthritis angle, I want to be clear that weight loss doesn’t cure it; but it does turn a lot of ‘I cant’s into Maybe I can’s’.  God is good!!!

This weekend was a perfect example. A friend took me on a surprise ‘day-trip’ up to Tippy Dam near Wellston, Michigan. The dam is a popular spot for fishermen hoping to catch salmon or steelhead this time of year. Those who have followed my journey for a while know that I went on my first fly-fishing trips with a charter captain for both salmon and steelhead in the past year, and I LOVED IT! My friend wanted me to see another way to fish for those monster fish…..and enjoy a gorgeous fall day with a drive at the same time. So….off we went.  This is one of those experiences that I never would have even thought possible just 3 years ago when I would have spent all day Saturday either in bed or lying around wishing that I was able to do something special on a beautiful day.

It’s no secret that I love being outside and get a “high” from the beauty of God’s creation. I didn’t know what to expect at Tippy Dam, but was pleasantly surprised when we arrived and I saw a beautiful view of the river, surrounded by a bit of remaining autumn color. We took a short walk down to a platform that overlooked the river; it was beautiful, but the best was yet to come.  What we didn’t know, however, was that we would need to take a very long walk down a very high hill to get down to the dam. It was incredibly beautiful but a very long way down a path with more steps than I could count. I stood there on the hill and looked down at the river and could hear the roaring water of the dam. I looked at the path and without even giving it a second thought, my friend and I headed down the path. NEVER, EVER, EVER would I had been able to do that a few years ago; even 10 -15 years ago it would have been impossible. Saturday, however, I had no doubt that I could handle the hike. Going down was a piece of cake, but climbing back up was going to be a bit more challenging. Still, I KNEW that I could do it….so down we went. Wow….what a beautiful walk!  The path was covered with freshly fallen leaves; the remaining foliage was gorgeous; there were several little waterfall streams making their way to the river; the sound of the rushing water was inviting; and the realization that YES, I can do things like this propelled me down the lane.

The dam was amazing and I was surprised to find that the river was full of fishermen standing both along the shore and in the middle of the river in waders. I’ve been told that by other hikers that were weren’t very many there that day, but a month or so ago, the anglers were lined up and down the bank. I can’t wait to go back again next year; only this time I’ll likely bring a pole!

You know, my friends, some of you might be thinking, “Yeah, so what…what’s the big deal about seeing a dam?”  While it is true that I have had limited experiences and have not really had the opportunity to see many of the more popular tourist places or natural wonders of the world, and I get really excited about simple things like this,  it’s really more about…. “THAT I CAN…..than what I see.” Having an overwhelming feeling of gratitude can make even a mud puddle appear like an oasis in the dessert or a weed appear like a magnificent orchid.  Changing your life; being given a second chance; experiencing things that you never thought possible; and realizing that each day is a gift and you have been abundantly blessed makes every day a miracle; every view breath-taking; and every experience a moment of joy and grace. 

Each of you reading this has his/her own experiences. Some of you are physically able to do these kind of things on a daily basis….but may take the ability for granted. I wonder if you realize how blessed you are; how wonderful the gift of life is. It’s a real chore this time of year to deal with all the fallen leaves littering the yard, but you know what….YOU CAN rake. Many people cannot. Some of you can no longer do much of anything and have lost hope that life will be any different. Some of you spend weekends wishing; hoping; praying that you would feel better; that the pain and sadness in life would disappear; that the depression would ease and that you could have a miracle too. I’m hoping that reading this will give you hope that YES….you, too, can change your life. YES…, too, can see things you never thought possible. YES…you, too, can have a miracle….and feel better….and be happier….and healthier than you ever imagined.   

Your journey….whether down a path to a dam….or up a hill to a dune…..down the driveway to your mailbox…..or back from a deep depression…..begins with a single step. It begins with a decision…right now….that you want to change your situation MORE than you want to eat a piece of cake; smoke that cigarette; drink that drink; or think those thoughts that cripple you emotionally or mentally.  You may have no desire or interest in taking a hike, seeing a dam, or going fishing, but I’m guessing, there is SOMETHING that you’d like to do that you currently can’t do. Find that “something” and use it to motivate you today.  You can do it… step at a time.  You can….change your life!!!