Ulcers and their Aftermath


   I've been reluctant to write about this subject: my bout with ulcers last month. In part I hesitate because as a mental health person, I :"should" know about ulcers, that some are caused by bacteria (not mine!) and can be treated with antibiotics. Others are caused by excess acid and yes, stress.  It's that latter one that distresses me.  I "should" be able to manage my stress, right?  I'm a trained professional! I know how important it is to find ways to relax, to be proactive in times of challenge and stress.  And yet, there I was, totally unprepared to hear the word "ulcers."  Eight of them. ( I decided not to upload the photograph of those ulcers that they gave me to impress upon me how significant they were,)
    Now I often had pain in my gut but I'm also gluten intolerant and allergic to corn so when I had that pain, I thought it likely a reaction from something I ate.  I didn't sleep well, often waking up at 3:00 am and not able to get back to sleep.  I'd get up and work.  That's how I managed that.  Frequently, when I woke, I'd have pain in my side or my back along with my stomach so I'd take two Aleve and because of my heart, I was also taking a baby aspirin at night.
     Enter September 8th.  That morning, I had my usual routine of aches and pains and took my usual Aleve.  We drove three hours for a presentation at Albertina Kerr, a non-profit I've helped raise funds for these past eleven years.  I felt more tired than usual but I always perk up when seeing old friends who have volunteered at this remarkable center that serves adults and children with various disabilities and does it well.
     Anyway, after finishing my presentation, I didn't feel well, nauseous in fact and my stomach was really hurting... so I took another Aleve. I didn't eat lunch and on the way home incredible pain throbbed in my stomach, my chest, my back and I still felt nauseous.  But then we got home and it let up a little.  The Green Bay Packers were playing.  Jerry wanted to take me to the ER but...the Green Bay Packers were playing. After the game (they won!) I didn't feel I should go to the ER when I'd just endured the pain for a football game. Could it really be anything serious?
     But by 12:30 I knew I wouldn't be able to manage the night and so Jerry took me in.
     A CT scan later followed by a camera photographing my stomach revealed those ulcers.  There were a few other things to watch too but nothing that equaled those ulcers.
      My doctors and the nurses were grand and they advised me to stop taking any pain medication that had aspirin in it..at all.   I was finally able to eat and keep food down and began the discovery of what I could consume that would allow the ulcers to heal.  Because that's what needed to happen:  they needed to heal and I needed to find ways to reduce the acid which everyone said came from stress and those pain killers.
     I changed the pain killer part and then began the difficult chore: Managing stress.
      It's been a challenging year with adjusting to a new home, the move, dealing with the ranch, Jerry's health issues, book deadlines, promotional activities etc. etc.  I didn't think I worried all that much but maybe I do.  I also didn't think my schedule was that unusual but three books out in one year, that might be a bit much (though I know other authors with four or more and they don't have ulcers!).
    Still, I do things to manage stress.  I exercise (though I'd gotten away from that lately).  I have a quiet time with scripture and journal (though I'd gotten away from that, lately). I walk the labyrinth (though something always seems to interrupt my time there...a phone call I really should take; a neighbor whom I haven't talked with in so long is outside and I wave.  You get the picture).  I work at breathing deeply when there's new information about Jerry's health or turmoil in our family constellation. I eat well, I really do.
     Years ago the research about stress that gave us "flight or fight" was completed with college sophomore men as subjects.  Recently, UCLA began doing research on stress with women as subjects.  Their two words weren't "flight or fight" but rather "tend and befriend."  I rather like that tend and befriend and that's what I've found I need to do.
      So on the way to a book signing, we stopped to take pictures of the fall foliage. We tended to the beauty around us. We visited the Aurora Quilt show to take in the astonishing color and design. It's like visiting an art gallery, really!  We spent a night with a good friend and this morning  took the dogs along to the Farmer's Market in Salem, OR where dogs are permitted.  It was a delight, both the time with our friend AND time with the dogs. I'm making time for lunch with friends. Tomorrow we will help celebrate the baptism of our god-daughter's baby, Grace, and perhaps pay a little more attention to the quieter things in life. I will schedule a massage. Maybe take up yoga and have gotten back into my treadmill routine, all ways of tending to myself.
     It distresses me that I had forgotten the messages of my professional life; but then I am reminded of words I gave my god-daughter this afternoon as she spoke of the challenges of mothering, being a wife, a daughter.  "You are doing the best you can," I said. "You're a good mom with a compassionate heart."
     I need to remember that for myself. I'm doing the best I can, I have a compassionate heart, one that needs to listen to those comforting words...along with listening to the quiet of fall foliage, breathing deeply.
     And a wonderful side effect?  Since I've treated the ulcers, I've been sleeping through the night.
     I wish such tending for you.  Warmly, Jane


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