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Think fermented foods are gross? Some tips

Watch my video below or read the text under that for tips about a few ways to eat (and enjoy) fermented foods.

* Note that putting yogurt in muffins will cook out the good bacteria, but there are many other ways to sneak it into your food (e.g. smoothie).

 

natto fermented foods healthy food grossI’ve tried a number of fermented foods that I’ve wanted to spit right back out (ayran and poi, for example). And some I’ve not been able to get past the smell of (natto and stinky tofu). But don’t be offended if those are your favourite foods. My grandmother grew up eating natto, so she loves it. I think it looks like chunky mucus and smells like rotten garbage. Nothing I’d want to eat. But, the first time people try beer or alcohol, they also tend to think it doesn’t taste good. Our tastes change with exposure.

A friend once proved that to me when I told him I would not eat Marmite (New Zealand’s version of Vegemite, a food paste made from leftover yeast extract). He quietly snuck it into sandwiches he made for me. He started with tiny, miniscule amounts so I wouldn’t notice. Then gradually increased the amount bit by bit. Eventually, he opened up my sandwich as I was partway through eating it to show me that I had been happily eating something that I had once thought of as vile.

My mother used to sneak yogurt into my dad’s food because he doesn’t like yogurt. Not knowing it was there, he didn’t mind it. Though he still says he doesn’t like yogurt. Sometimes it’s also mind over matter.

Nevertheless, there are a huge number of fermented foods, all with different flavours, so I’m sure there are some that you will enjoy from the start.

Did you know that even coffee and chocolate are made from a combination of fermentation processes?

(By the way, this is a sidebar in my TCM healthy nutrition book I’m writing.)

Summary of how to like fermented foods

  1. Include just a little, so you can barely taste it (or not taste it at all). Easier to do if you are the cook and the fermented foods-hater doesn’t know they are eating it.
  2. Mix it in other foods that will hide the flavour.
    1. Yogurt or kefir in a smoothie. Check out this delicious lassi recipe! 
    2. A bit of sauerkraut on a burger. Try it on a bean burger recipe.
    3. Chop up fermented veggies really small and add them to a salad.
    4. Find a chutney you’ll like–there are so many options, from fruity and sweet to savoury or spicy. 
  3. Just because you don’t like one kind of fermented food doesn’t mean you’ll hate them all. Explore your grocery shelves and online ideas and recipes.
  4. Remember that tastes change. And sometimes we actually learn to like something we didn’t like once upon a time. I’ve discovered this about Brussels sprouts, fish, tomatoes, and olives (provided those olives are in Greece when I eat them).
  5. Try this easy sauerkraut recipe.

What are your favourite fermented foods and fermented food recipes?

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Sauerkraut Recipe for Good Bacteria Probiotics

sauerkraut recipe healthy food good bacteria probiotics

So why would you make your own sauerkraut recipe when you can simply buy it in a store? Well, because like anything homemade it often tastes better (unless you screw up the recipe, which I have been known to do). And because this way you know you have a true fermented product, not a sterile, no good bacteria (probiotics) vinegary cabbage. The basic recipe is simple, but I’m sure you could modify it to play with the flavours. 

A few years ago I was in Germany for some biopuncture training. We noticed that we didn’t have a lot of vegetable options when we’d eat out, but sauerkraut was almost always included. I’m sure it helped us to digest the meat (don’t eat sausages anymore, so might be harder to travel through Germany now), bread, and beer. Though I was glad to get back to fresh veggies at home, it was delicious and I love this sauerkraut recipe below!

Have you ever made sauerkraut and do you have any tips?

Sauerkraut recipe basics
The minimum amount of time to make a sauerkraut is 3 days, but taste it to see if it's long enough. Longer time helps develop the flavour more as it ferments further. Put it in the fridge (or cold cellar) when it tastes right to you.
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Ingredients
  1. 1 medium head green cabbage
  2. 1 1/2 Tbsp kosher salt
  3. 1 Tbsp caraway seeds (optional)
  4. Two-quart wide-mouth canning jar or two-quart mason jar
  5. Smaller jar that fits inside the larger mason jar
  6. Clean stones, marbles, or other weights for weighing the smaller jar
  7. Cloth to cover the large jar
  8. Elastic band or string to secure the cloth
Instructions
  1. Clean and rinse everything well.
  2. Discard any wilted or limp outer leaves and trim out the core of the cabbage.
  3. Slice the cabbage into very thin ribbons,
  4. Place cabbage in a large mixing bowl.
  5. Sprinkle salt over the cabbage and massage it in, squeezing the cabbage with your hands until the cabbage becomes limp and watery (like coleslaw). It will take 5 to 10 minutes.
  6. Optional to mix in caraway seeds.
  7. Stuff the cabbage into the large canning or Mason jar, tamping it down with your fist.
  8. Include the liquid that was squeezed out of the cabbage while you were massaging it.
  9. Optional: Place one of the larger outer leaves of the cabbage over the surface of the sliced cabbage to help keep the cabbage submerged in its liquid.
  10. Put the smaller jar into the large jar and weight it down with the stones or marbles.
  11. Cover the mouth of the large jar with the cloth and secure it with your elastic band or string.
  12. For 1 day, press down the cabbage by pushing on the inside smaller jar every few hours (obviously go to bed, don't stay up or wake yourself to do this).
  13. * If the liquid hasn't risen above the cabbage after 24 hours, then dissolve 1 tsp of salt in 1 cup of water and add enough to your larger jar to submerge the cabbage.
  14. Ferment for 3 to 10 days, keeping it away from direct sunlight.
  15. Check it daily to make sure cabbage remains submerged in liquid.
  16. Taste it after 3 days. When it tastes good (may take more than 3 days), remove the weighted jar and put a lid on the large jar. Refrigerate it.
Notes
  1. Try to have the temperature at cool room temperature, as having it too cold will make it ferment really slowly and too hot will sometimes make it mushy.
  2. If you notice a foam or white scum on the top of your cabbage, this is part of the fermentation process and you can skim it off either during fermentation or before placing in the fridge.
  3. If you see mold, skim it off right away and make sure the cabbage is still fully submerged.
  4. As a fermented food, your sauerkraut will last for at least 2 months. Longer if refrigerated.
Acupuncture, TCM, natural health, Vancouver, BC http://www.activetcm.com/
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Fibre foods are fabulous — part of my nutrition book in process

Non-Starch Polysaccharides–AKA Fibre Foods

flax fibre foods nutrition natural health Vancouver BCNon-starch polysaccharides is not an easy term to remember, or to market as part of a nutritious diet. More commonly termed dietary fibre, it includes cellulose, hemicellulose, and pectins (though it gets complicated here with the terminology often expanding and changing).

If sugar is considered the “bad boy” in the carbohydrate family, then fibre is treated like the “golden child.” You probably know fibre as that thing that you know you should eat more of, but that doesn’t seem that appetizing. It’s generally not something that your taste buds will crave because it has no taste. Plus, though you have to make the effort to eat it, it leaves your body mostly undigested.

So, what’s the point?

Fibre foods help support digestive health, regulate blood sugar fluctuations, lower elevated cholesterol, help eliminate toxic waste products from the body, prevent colon cancer, and more.

Dietary fibres are most commonly divided into soluble and insoluble fibres. It’s not a perfect division (what in the world is?), but here are some of the benefits and types of food that provide each of these categories. Most whole plant foods contain a mix of both soluble and insoluble fibres.

Soluble Fibre Foods:

Soluble fibre attracts water, so it turns to a gel when it enters your body, thus slowing your digestive process. Note that if you are supplementing with psyllium husk or any other soluble fibre product, make sure to consume it with a lot of water. Because it creates a gel, insufficient water will make it act more like a plug, causing constipation—uh oh!

  • Though fibre is commonly thought of as something that “makes you go,” because it slows the speed of digestion, it also helps manage diarrhea and loose stools.
  • It helps regulate blood sugar levels.
  • It lowers total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.
  • It reduces the risk of getting intestinal ulcers.
  • It may increase the amount of healthy bacteria in the colon.
  • It provides a feeling of satiation (feel full) without added caloric count.

To get more soluble fibre in your diet, include:

  • Oats/oat bran
  • Psyllium husk
  • Other grains like barley, bran, brown rice, and rye
  • Black beans, navy beans, kidney beans, soy beans, and other beans
  • Tofu, edamame
  • Vegetables like asparagus, beets, collard greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, eggplant, green beans, peas, sweet potato, turnip
  • Fruits like apples, apricots, avocado, figs, pears, plums, prunes
  • Almonds, chia seeds, flax seeds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds

Insoluble Fibre Foods:

It makes sense, based off its name, that insoluble fibre does not bind itself to water and turn to gel, like the soluble fibre, but it does absorb water while moving through the digestive system, making for an easier passage. Insoluble fibre is found in many whole foods, but the highest amounts are often found in the parts of the foods that are tougher to chew, like cabbage, onions, bell peppers, and the skin of apples, cucumbers, and grapes.

  • It promotes regular bowel movements.
  • Because it absorbs water, it adds bulk to the stool to relieve constipation.
  • Speeding intestinal transit time helps it move toxic waste through the colon more quickly.
  • It assists in blood sugar regulation.
  • By optimizing intestinal pH, it helps prevent colon cancer.
  • It may increase the amount of healthy bacteria in the colon.
  • It provides a feeling of satiation (feel full) without added caloric count.

To get more insoluble fibre in your diet, include:

  • Wheat bran
  • Most whole grains, including barley, millet, rye
  • Most legumes, including kidney beans, lentils, navy beans, and pinto beans
  • Most vegetables, including broccoli, carrots, kale, okra, peas, potatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes, squash, and turnip
  • Dried fruits, including dates and prunes
  • Berries, peels of apples, apricots, pears, and plums
  • Almonds, flax seeds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, and walnuts

Next month I’ll include my TCM nutrition book section on how to store your oils.

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Raspberry, Mango, & Avocado Arugula Salad Recipe

raspberry healthy salad recipeMy parents grow raspberries in their yard, so this time of year is very exciting, as it’s harvest time! Whenever I go over to their place, I brave the thorns to collect on the bounty. Raspberries have a lot of amazing health benefits, including that they are rich in a host of antioxidants, fibre, vitamins A, C, E, K, and folate, and an assortment of minerals. They have been found to have anti-inflammatory, blood sugar regulating, and anti-cancer health benefits. And raspberry ketones may help improve fat cell metabolism, thus their connection to weight loss.

I didn’t need to know all the health benefits to be thrilled about getting to take home a large container of raspberries. I LOVE the taste! I put them on my oatmeal in the morning, but I thought I’d like to know what other things I could do with them, so here’s a delicious salad recipe I found.

Raspberry, Mango, & Avocado Arugula Salad Recipe
Special raspberries make everything better! A simple salad made special. This makes 4-5 servings, so change quantities appropriately.
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Ingredients
  1. 1 1/2 cups raspberries (divided 1/2 cup and 1 cup)
  2. 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  3. 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  4. 1 small clove garlic, coarsely chopped
  5. 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  6. 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  7. 8 cups arugula or other greens
  8. 1 ripe mango, diced
  9. 1 small ripe avocado, diced
  10. 1/4 cup nuts of choice
Instructions
  1. Puree 1/2 cup raspberries, oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper in a blender.
  2. Combine greens, mango, and avocado in a large bowl.
  3. Add dressing to greens and toss to mix.
  4. Top with remaining 1 cup of raspberries and nuts.
  5. Enjoy!
Acupuncture, TCM, natural health, Vancouver, BC http://www.activetcm.com/
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Traditional Chinese Medicine treats Inflammatory Bowel Disease IBD

inflammatory bowel disease TCM herbs acupuncture VancouverIBD is short for Inflammatory Bowel Disease, and it includes chronic inflammation at any or all parts of the bowels. The most common types of inflammatory bowel disease are Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, but inflammation of the rectum is also possible, and it’s called proctitis.

Few people want to talk about their challenges with an IBD. It simply isn’t accepted as a topic easily discussed in public. But, recently someone asked me to write about inflammatory bowel disease, in particular proctitis, as it’s something that she suffers from.

* If you want to read more about Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, check out my blog Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s or my article in 24 Hours, Time to Get Gutsy.

Proctitis can be either acute (short-lived) or chronic (long lasting), and it can cause rectal pain, frequent or continuous sensation of needing to have a bowel movement, rectal bleeding, diarrhea, mucus in stool, and pain in the left side of the abdomen. Diagnosis can involve blood tests, stool tests, and a scope.

Causes of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Proctitis

About a third of the people with Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis will have proctitis.

Sexually transmitted infections—including gonorrhea, chlamydia, genital herpes, and HIV—particularly from anal intercourse, is one of the risk factors for proctitis, so it’s important to use protection.

Other types of infection that can result in proctitis include foodborne infections like salmonella, campylobacter, and shigella. Antibiotic use may also make us more susceptible to infection as it destroys the good bacteria in our gut, allowing harmful bacteria to flourish. Probiotic supplementation and the consumption of naturally fermented foods rich in good bacteria can help diminish the risk by rebalancing our gut flora.

Radiation therapy for cancer treatment in areas close to the rectum (such as prostate or ovarian cancer) can also cause proctitis. This can happen during radiation therapy and last for months after, or even occur years after treatment.

Treatment of Proctitis

Obviously, if the cause of the proctitis is an infection, that will need to be treated. Antibiotics may be the appropriate course of treatment, but remember to take your probiotics as well. Time them away from when you take the antibiotics. Yogurt is not enough. Yogurt and other fermented foods are helpful for general promotion of good bacteria in the gut, but antibiotics are powerful drugs, so you’ll need to take a probiotic supplement to counter the destruction of all the good bacteria.

Probiotics are a good treatment option in general for digestive disorders, so talk with a health practitioner about your best choices.

If the infection is viral, like herpes, you may need to take an antiviral medication. One natural option for herpes treatment is the amino acid l-lysine. Again, it’s best to talk with the right health practitioner for assessment.

As the “itis” component of the word proctitis indicates, this is an inflammatory disease, so taking care of the inflammation is key. Natural anti-inflammatories include turmeric (curcumin), bromelain, and fish oils. It’s also important to avoid foods that are likely to trigger inflammation, including refined sugars, processed fats, chemically-laden foods, caffeine, alcohol, carbonated drinks, and too many animal meats. Spicy foods, seeds, popcorn, raw foods, and foods with sorbitol in it may also be triggers for proctitis and other IBDs.

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Proctitis

TCM always assesses each person individually. The best TCM is not a “cookie cutter” treatment with the same acupuncture points, herbal formula, or nutritional advice being doled out to every person with the same medical diagnosis. In fact, treatment plans can vary quite widely for the same disease because the people suffering are all quite different.

Nevertheless, there are some patterns that we do commonly see. For example, inflammatory issues, especially when acute or in a flare, often show signs of Heat, so we recommend avoiding hot spices, stimulants, alcohol, and excessive exercise (light and moderate are still recommended, depending on the severity). Those who’ve been struggling with a digestive disorder (or most any chronic health issue, really) for a long time, probably have a number of deficiencies–areas of weakness. For those, we may recommend herbs that help strengthen the body, including ginseng and reishi or cordyceps mushrooms. Juicing may be appropriate for those with more Heat signs, while soups and stews and slow cooked meals may be recommended for those with more Cold. Both are more easily digested than simple raw foods.

Acupuncture can help reduce inflammation, relieve pain, and calm the nervous system to support healing. And, don’t worry, the needles are not done locally.

If you or someone you know has proctitis or any other IBD or digestive disorder, contact me if you have questions on how to treat it. No need to suffer in silence.

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Powerful Natural Medicine Secret

Powerful natural medicine hope Traditional Chinese Medicine Vancouver acupunctureHere I’m going to start with the bad, so I can illustrate the power of something you could call a natural medicine. A study in the 1950s by Dr. Carl Richter involved taking rats and putting them through a forced swim test. Rats can swim, and the rats they used were, as far as they could tell, equally healthy. The rats gave up swimming and sunk (we’ll pretend they ended up ok), fairly quickly–some in mere minutes, some up to 15 minutes. But, if they were removed from the water for a short amount of time before that, and allowed a brief rest while they were held, they could then be put back in the water and swim for up to 60 hours! From 15 minutes max to 60 HOURS!

What?! How could they somehow bring about a Herculean effort to keep swimming for 240 times longer when they would otherwise have given up? 

A Natural Medicine

Hope.

They had hope that they might again be rescued. Hope is a powerful natural medicine. It helps us try more, push harder, and persist longer. And, often, eventually succeed.

So, when I hear from patients that they’ve been told there’s nothing further that can be done–to manage their pain, help them sleep, improve or cure their illness, or simply function and feel better–I’m disturbed by that. Why 

That’s why I love Traditional Chinese Medicine and most natural medicine practices. The goal is to discover what combination of imbalances have lead to the health issue at hand, and to help strengthen the body, and thus allow healing. There isn’t always cure. There isn’t always a fast fix. But improvement is possible. I don’t know how many times I’ve been told that I’m someone’s last resort. At the very least, I aim to offer hope and support while the body begins the process of healing. 

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Is Sugar Ruining You? Sugar’s Health Effects

I recently wrote an article, Sweet in the Modern World (pages 7-9), for Medicinal Roots Magazine. As a result, Michael Max, an acupuncturist in the US, contacted me to ask me to join him to talk about sugar’s health effects on his podcast channel, Everyday Acupuncture.

In this podcast, Michael and I discuss a number of issues that come up with sugar.

Show highlights on sugar’s health effects

2:27    How I discovered sugar was affecting my health
5:24    Sugar’s health effects: health issues that may be caused by or aggravated by too much sugar
8:06   Planning ahead helps you manage your sugar cravings
10:42  Your taste buds can change to become more sensitive to smaller amounts of sweet
14:46  Be mindful about your food choices
19:50  Is it stomach hunger or are your bored, lonely, or other?
20:27  Traditional Chinese Medicine can help you get off sugar
26:20  Some simple tips to reduce sugar intake
29:48  Your menstrual cycle and sugar cravings
31:22  What else can you eat that’s healthier and still tasty?
37:43  Have you considered a food diary?
41:35  Quick tips to get your own attention around food and eating

Here’s the podcast:

Check out more of Everyday Acupuncture podcasts by clicking on the image below.

Sugar's health effects customized nutrition Vancouver BC

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Recipe for dry cough

Steamed Pears for Dry Cough

Though it’s no longer cold and flu season, some people I’ve seen are suffering from a lingering dry cough. The cough could also be from allergies. So, in addition to treating the immune system, what can you do? How about a Traditional Chinese Medicine food cure?

TCM food cures are remedies that have been passed from practitioner to practitioner, family to family for centuries. Just like we’ve now discovered that chicken soup really can help address the symptoms of the common cold, so too can some of the TCM food cures help modern health issues.

Steamed Pears
This is a traditional remedy from TCM.
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Ingredients
  1. Chinese pears
  2. or other pears
Instructions
  1. Cut the top off one pear (don't toss it out)
  2. Core the pear
  3. Fill the centre of the pear with honey
  4. Put the top back on the pear
  5. Steam the pear for 45 to 60 minutes
  6. Pear should be very soft
  7. Let pear cool for 10 to 15 minutes
  8. Eat the whole pear and juices
  9. Do this for 3 nights in a row
Acupuncture, TCM, natural health, Vancouver, BC http://www.activetcm.com/
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Could it be Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome–TOS, for short

thoracic outlet syndrome acupunctureWhen it first began with shoulder and upper back, I thought it was just muscular tension from leaning over the computer or patients as I’m doing acupuncture. But as the initial pain resolved and the throbbing pain moved to my forearm, I knew what it was. Thoracic outlet syndrome

Unfortunately, I was on my way to a week long yoga/surf retreat, so there was little I could do to address it immediately. The forearm pain progressed to tingling and numbness in my fingers, so sitting still in meditation or savasana (corpse pose–lying down on back and remaining still) was really a struggle. I one-handed some of the yoga poses and skipped out on others. Surfing and paddle boarding were a bit of a challenge, but workable. Perhaps it aggravated my TOS since the numbness persists, but at least now the pain is gone.

Isn’t it interesting though that once you experience something yourself, you seem to draw in others experiencing the same? Such is the case for me in my practice, so I thought I would blog about thoracic outlet syndrome, so you can know if maybe you or someone you know has the same.

What is thoracic outlet syndrome?

TOS is a condition caused by compression of the nerves, blood vessels, or both as they pass through a narrow area between the base of the neck and the armpit, called the thoracic outlet (makes sense). It’s kind of like the more commonly recognized carpal tunnel syndrome, except where the arm meets the torso instead of at the wrist. 

How it thoracic outlet syndrome diagnosed?

First, symptoms are considered. Do you have:

  • neck, shoulder, or arm pain
  • numbness or tingling in the fingers
  • weakness in the hand
  • impaired circulation to your hands and fingers
  • redness or swelling in your arm
  • hands or arms that are easily fatigued

If you have those, you can try out this the Roos test. Raise your arms by your sides and bend at your elbows 90 degrees, hands facing front. Quickly open and close your hands for up to two minutes. If the affected side feels worse than the non-affected side, reproducing your symptoms, then you may have TOS.

You can also get electrical and radiological tests.

What causes thoracic outlet syndrome?

The thoracic outlet really doesn’t leave much space for the blood vessels and nerves to pass through, so anything that causes compression on them can result in TOS. I mentioned that mine is predominantly tight pecs minor muscle. But it could also be tightness or inflammation in the scalene muscles (along the side of the neck) or an extra rib called a cervical rib.

My thoracic outlet syndrome was from carrying one dog in a front body carrier while walking my other dog who sometimes pulls me forward (my first and only time doing that). I wish I could say it was from doing something amazing like a one-handed handstand or saving someone’s life, but sadly, it wasn’t. 

You might also get it from an imbalance of strong chest muscles to upper back muscles, improper weight lifting, impact injury, repetitive movements, poor posture, obesity, or just that you happen to be born with a cervical rib.

What can you do about thoracic outlet syndrome?

Stretching is helpful. Check out this video for a few stretching options. Stretching the neck and the chest helps open up more space for the structures to pass through the thoracic outlet. Balancing that with strengthening exercises to help pull the shoulders back and position the head better over the torso are also helpful. 

I use a rolled up yoga mat to lie on (place it between your shoulder blades and stretch your arms out to your sides or over your head), but you can also use a rolled up towel, blanket, or sheets. Or, another option might be to do a Zipline and stretch out this way! Not exactly practical, but definitely more fun! 😉

thoracic outlet syndrome stretch

What I find most helpful is acupuncture. While I was at the retreat, I was unable to get someone to acupuncture me and I was unable to acupuncture my own shoulder, pecs, and back, so I did a very simple forearm treatment (shown partially completed above) that helped. Oh, and kinesiotaping to support the muscles. That really helped in between the acupuncture sessions.

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Courage to Come Back Award Winner Answers My Questions

Courage to come back inspiration pain management chronic illnessPain, fatigue, depression, anxiety, disabilities, injuries, and chronic illness. Every day I work with people who are suffering. And the question that sometimes comes up is, “Will I get better?”

I believe that our bodies are designed to heal, so yes, I do reply that things will get better. Does that mean 100%? Sometimes, against all odds, yes. Sometimes not 100%, but better.

Courage to Come Back

I was recently honoured to get to watch someone I know well received a prestigious award, the Courage to Come Back Award. Tom is a man who doesn’t do things for awards or accolades. In fact, in this video, you can see that he says he doesn’t know if he was a good social worker (I’m sure he was!), but that he felt he could do his best to do little things to help others. 
 

He has many major health challenges—legally blind, kidney transplant (twice), chronic pain, and more—but despite them, is one of the more active people I know. He curls, does yoga, and walks everywhere. He travels, he volunteers, he writes articles, he advocates for people in need, and his home is a regular gathering place for parties. 

So, what does Tom have to say about overcoming and dealing with challenges? I interviewed him for his perspective a week after receiving the Courage to Come Back Award.

Support of others

Tom was born with severe vision problems. Nearly blind, he could see the blackboard at school, but couldn’t see the words on it. He asked his teachers to read aloud what they wrote on the board. In university, his friends read his textbooks to him.

So, it’s no surprise that when I asked Tom to name some of the things that have helped him through his life, despite his health challenges, he said that support is the most important. Find people you trust, respect, and can rely upon. And know that it’s a two-way street, so be trustworthy, respectful, and reliable to them.

But then I asked him how to ask for help. Because sometimes it’s hard to ask. He said that his experience is that most people want to help. And that when people care for you, they don’t want to worry about you. It’s more of an impediment to worry than to be able to help. And sometimes people don’t simply offer to help without you asking because they don’t want to intrude.

Coping management

Sometimes pain continues. Sometimes things don’t get better or more challenges arise. So, how do you manage? What do you do?

Tom’s suggestions? “Pain is something you may not always be able to get rid of, but you can work on reducing it. Your body and mind can adjust to pain. If you can just get better bit by bit, even chronic pain can feel less painful. And remember, it usually took a long time to get to where you are now, so it takes effort, commitment, conviction, and hope to make changes for the better.”

Though this phrase may not work for all, Tom remembers with a chuckle, a time that he was really struggling and a friend said to him, “It’s better to be above ground than below.” For him, that was motivation to push forward.

Positivity

If you get to meet Tom, you’ll find out he has a great sense of humour. He says he’s always perceived things in a “zany way,” and that has helped.

One of the main messages he’d like to share is that it takes courage. It’s no surprise that the award is called Courage to Come Back. “Everyone suffers some type of adversity, struggles in their life. And the most important thing is to take steps forward, one at a time, and keep trying. Don’t give up. Stay positive, even when it’s hard.”

What you can do to help someone in need

What if you’re on the other side of the equation? You may know someone with chronic health issues, and perhaps you want to help, but you don’t want to mistakenly offend. Tom told me that a simple question to ask is, “Can I help?” That way a person can say yes or no to assistance.

Also, try to avoid saying, “you should…” as that can come across as overbearing. But, Tom says that it’s important for all of us to remember not to take things too personally. Most of us are well-meaning and are just trying to help.

Additionally, sometimes it’s better to just listen instead of offering soothing words, suggestions, or a pep talk. “Silence is very important. It shows you are listening and thinking,” Tom says.

And, when you do talk, Tom told me of advice he received from one of his mentors, “It’s not always what you say, but how you say it.”

One more quote

One more bit from Tom, “Healing is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.” And he would know. Tom has been beating the odds for more than 70 years.

For more about the winners of the Courage to Come Back Award, check out their site here.

 

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