Let me begin by apologizing. I promised an update on my vision way back in June.
And honestly, I sat down on three different occasions to write an update, but my words never felt quite right.
Maybe I needed more time to process everything–the vision loss, the research I undertook, the implications of it all, etc.
Anyway, I’m here now, with my update in hand. Since I promised some of you who requested a post about what all I’ve researched and learned, I will include that, but let’s start with the update. That way, if any of you want just the update and not the other, you can just read this part.
…I truly believe that the information I’ll share after the update could be helpful to many. What I’ve learned (and implemented) truly encompasses much more than just vision health.
The changes I’ve made are also critical for brain health, heart health, and the rest of your body. Based on my results, I know that what I’ve learned can also be beneficial to others.
Now on to the update part of the post.
Update on My Vision Health and How it Has Impacted My Life
In my last post, I told you that I had an appointment with a retinal specialist scheduled for July 1st. At that appointment, they took really expensive pictures of the back of my eyeball. I hope it’s not too much information, but I decided to share those pictures with you, to hopefully better explain the macular degeneration disease.
The following pictures show the damage done by the disease to my eyes. The first two pictures are of my right eye, which is still functional at this point. In the first picture of my right eye, the geographic atrophy (circled in red) has not yet reached the center of the macula or my vision. The second photo shows the hole in the macula in my right eye.
But the images of my left eye (the last two pictures) show considerably more damage, with the geographic atrophy reaching into the center of the macula. That’s why I can no longer read or see fine detail with that eye. Everything is very distorted.
Wow. Just seeing these pictures again brings back the flood of emotions I experienced when I first saw them–shock, sorrow, grief, fear. But just as quickly my heart sings out praises to my Lord Jesus for preserving the vision in my right eye and for the wake-up call. Our God is so good!
Other than taking the pictures, the rest of my appointment was uneventful. I saw the specialist for all of about five minutes. He prescribed some eye-drops for inflammation in my good eye and then scheduled another appointment.
Leaving there, eyeball pictures in hand, with no other answers was devastating.
But, thanks be to God again, that lack of answers and feeling of devastation only served to propel me into further research. More on that below.
Good News and Tough Choices
Most of you know that we moved back to Texas (Miller’s Creek country! 😉 ) in April 2018. I took a job teaching 3rd grade in my hometown. For the most part, I truly loved my job. I worked with great people, I loved my kiddos and enjoyed teaching them and being around them. But, true confession time here…I did not handle the stress of the job well at all.
I’ve always been uber-conscientious about my work, and I’m a perfectionist to boot (think Gracie Soldano of THE WAY OF GRACE–yeah, that’s me…). Stress of some sort comes along with just about every job I can think of, and that’s true of teaching.
But I did let the stress get to me. It affected my sleep, which in turn affected my health. I would wake up in the middle of the night thinking about all sorts of things. And I wouldn’t sleep the rest of the night. I started taking OTC sleeping medications. Yes, I knew they were bad for me, but I craved sleep. (You’ll be happy to know that I’m making great strides in that department. More on this below.)
All during this time, my sweet hubby was only able to find temporary or part-time work. I didn’t necessarily mind, mainly because I had a long list of honey-dos for our new-to-us home. But not having a full-time job really bothered him.
Then when I got my bad news, he really struggled with not having a job. Toward the end of July, he was hired by a nearby school district. Under the circumstances (and after much prayer), I decided to resign from my teaching position.
PRAYER REQUEST POINT #1: While the school that hired my sweet hubby is only 35 miles away, it’s a long commute because of having to drive through a large town between here and there. In addition, his job is highly extra-curricular, so I HATE the thought of him driving back and forth on late nights and weekends. It adds about an hour-and-a-half to his already long days. We have put our house on the market and started looking for houses there. Please pray that God’s will is done in each part of this process. Thank you! ❤
I’m also struggling with what I can do to help bring in income for our family. I know that ultimately my purpose is centered in knowing God and making Him known. But finding my way again has proven to be a little tricky. We are also at the stage in our lives where we need to be socking away as much as possible for our retirement years. This is especially critical given my vision issues. But at the same time, I feel the need to take better care of myself, so that I can delay the progression of the disease in my right eye.
I hope to substitute teach in the surrounding area at some point. I’m also considering temp work.
And of course, I’m also looking into other options with my books. (I have actually worked on Miller’s Creek #8 some this summer, though not as much as I hoped.) Many of you have been so generous to donate since I made my books free a few years ago, and words can’t adequately express my gratitude and appreciation. Unfortunately, thousands of my books have been downloaded from the many sites where I have the books available. Only about five or six donations come in per month compared to those thousands of downloads.
Please don’t get me wrong! I love the fact that so many are getting to read my books for free. That definitely reflects my desire for my writing to minister to others. And If I was independently wealthy, I’d continue the route I’m currently on. I say all that to say this: I’ve been looking into some online companies that would allow me to sell the books from my website (or theirs).
PRAYER REQUEST POINT #2: Please pray for God’s will to be done in this area as well. Writing books has never been about the money for me, but I’m at a point in my life where getting more income from my books would be very helpful. I also welcome y’all’s input on this. I really need and appreciate any advice you can give. Feel free to CONTACT ME HERE with your thoughts.
Okay, for those of you who were only interested in the update part, I hope I’ve answered all your questions. But if not, please feel free (as always) to ask your questions in the comments section.
Now I’ll delve into the second part of this post–what changes I’ve made, the impact of those changes, and why I think many people can benefit from what I’ve learned.
Major Lifestyle Changes
As mentioned above, I’m especially grateful to the Lord for the wake-up call this vision loss has given me. Through my research, I’ve chosen to make several major lifestyle changes with the hopes of delaying the progression of the macular degeneration, but also much more. Some of the benefits I’ve reaped since starting to make these lifestyle changes include:
- weight loss (20 pounds since the end of May, with about 10 more to go!)
- lower blood pressure
- lower stress levels
- more energy
- stronger muscles
- more stamina and energy
- right eye vision holding strong
- better sleep
- better nutrition
- clearer skin (including some psoriasis and benign skin growths that have gone away!)
- clearer thinking/improved cognition (hurray for less brain fog!)
- less pain
And once I have some testing done, I hope to find out that inflammation in my body and cholesterol levels have decreased, too!
It’s my heartfelt prayer that by sharing what I’ve learned and the changes I’ve made, that I can encourage and inspire others to do the same.
A Little Blackground
My father also had macular degeneration. Shortly after he lost his vision, he succumbed Alzheimer’s Disease. I’ve always wondered if there was some connection between the two, or if losing vision just contributed to cognitive decline.
Since both these diseases run in my family, I think that’s why I was so devastated by finding out how much my vision had disintegrated. Because of my family history, knowing that my vision was failing felt like a death sentence. But as I researched, I actually gained some hope. More and more medical studies are revealing that Alzheimer’s can be prevented in most people, and even reversed! (If this is a concern for you, I highly recommend that you read Dr. Dale Bredesen’s THE END OF ALZHEIMERS.)
In 2007, I was diagnosed with macular degeneration. Three years earlier, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I’d dealt with the symptoms of fibro for ten years, seeing multiple doctors, without any of them doing anything other than prescribing medication for the symptoms of my then-unnamed disease.
What I didn’t know at the time was that both fibro and MD are inflammatory diseases. Alzheimer’s is too.
After discovering that my left eye vision had disintegrated so quickly, I researched macular degeneration, with the hope of finding information that might be a silver bullet to bring back my eyesight.
While I didn’t discover that silver bullet, I did start to see a pattern between eye health and brain health. They are very closely connected. That lead to further research and reading about brain health. And that lead me to a major lifestyle change that encompasses diet/nutrition, exercise, sleep improvement, stress reduction, and optimizing my health in whatever way I could.
As I did further research into each of these areas, I quickly realized that this lifestyle change is 1) common sense, and 2) all-encompassing (not just for eye and brain health, but for every part of our bodies).
That’s what I’d like to share with you now. But first, a disclaimer. I am NOT a medical professional. While much of the information I will share is good for everyone in general, you should also talk to your health care professionals first. I’ve never been a fan of one-size-fits-all-medical-care, so I think personalizing a health plan for yourself is very wise. But please…discuss your health care needs with your doctor first before making changes.
We truly are what we eat. Putting good food in our bodies is crucial; putting bad food in our bodies can be detrimental. As I searched for information about nutritional needs for both macular degeneration and possibly Alzheimer’s down the road, I realized that my eating habits had grown rather lax over the past few years.
This was especially true when it came to processed foods, refined flour, sugar consumption, ingesting unhealthy oils (usually in eating out or in fast foods), and not avoiding meat and dairy tainted with hormones and antibiotics. In addition, I was eating veggies and fruits that were potentially loaded with herbicides and pesticides.
I quickly understood that my new eating plan would not only be about what I needed to include, but just as importantly, what I needed to avoid.
Let me give a quick word of warning before you start your own research in this area. There is a LOT of conflicting information on the internet, mainly because there are sooooo many different diet plans out there. Be patient with the process. Wade through the information and take notes, find what works best for your particular health needs, and then make the necessary changes with the advice of your doctor.
For my health needs, I ended up going with mostly a plant-based diet, cutting back on the amount of meat I consume. I also greatly reduced my grain and dairy intake, mainly because I needed to lose weight. I found an all-natural multi-whole-grain bread that I eat once a week or so. I have an occasional glass of milk, and I still use cream in my coffee.
Here are the main foods that I eat:
- Fatty fish (mainly sardines and Alaskan wild-caught sockeye salmon) – I think of meat as a condiment now, instead of the main course. Yes, salmon is expensive, but since I eat much smaller portions, it goes a long way. Fatty fish is good for both my eyes and my brain. because of those all-important Omega-3s.
- Organic grass-fed beef and pasture-raised chicken – Again, this meat is more expensive, but it’s so much healthier. Plus, I am eating less meat, so that helps cut down on the cost.
- LOTS and LOTS of green leafy vegetables – I fill a large dinner plate with organic spinach, kale, and chard. The lutein is great for my eyes, and the other nutrients green leafy vegetables provide are important to brain, heart, and overall health.
- Other organic veggies (emphasizing low-carb, high-fiber veggies and cruciferous vegetables) – mushrooms, onion, garlic, avocado, carrots, celery, tomatoes, zucchini, beans, squash, okra, asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, peppers
- High-fiber, low-glycemic fruits – blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries (These babies are great for both my eyes and my brain. Once I lose the rest of my extra weight, I’ll introduce other fruits on a limited and occasional basis.)
- Seeds and nuts – pistachios, sunflower seeds, almonds, and especially walnuts.
- Olives and olive oil – I make my own oil and vinegar dressing and douse my salad with it. If you opt to do this, be especially careful about choosing the highest quality olive oil you can find and make sure it’s a source you trust. I also cook with olive oil.
- Eggs – Usually two boiled eggs for breakfast, but sometimes an omelette with spinach, mushrooms, and onion.
- Sauerkraut – It turns out that fermented foods are great for your body. Unfortunately, the kraut you buy in the can has probably lost most of its nutritional value during the canning process. I’ve learned to make my own sauerkraut and eat it everyday with my salad. Yummy!
- Bone broth – I make my own bone broth every week with veggies and spices included. One day out of every week, I go as long as I can make it, taking in only broth, water, coffee, or tea. This has given my weight loss a HUGE boost. I truly believe the collagen in the bone broth has helped my digestion and my skin, clearing up those scaly patches on my elbows and legs.
- Coffee and tea in moderation
- LOTS and LOTS of the best filtered/purified water I can come up with
- I also take supplementation. Some, like turmeric/curcumin, I take daily (this one helps reduce inflammation). Other supplements I take as needed. I try to find the highest quality, verified, and most natural supplements I can afford.
Here’s what I avoid (like the plague):
- refined flour
- “whole wheat” bread and other processed foods (especially baked goods)
- vegetable and other man-engineered oils
- pre-packaged foods
- soft drinks
- artificial sweeteners
- processed meats
In addition to this, I restrict my eating times to 8-9 hours a day. Except for my morning cup of coffee, I don’t eat until mid-morning, and stop eating at least 3 hours before my bedtime. This intermittent fasting approach has also helped a great deal in my weight loss efforts.
The key here is exercising to the point that I get my heart pumping. My general rule of thumb is: “If I can talk without breathing hard, I’m not pushing myself hard enough.”
Here are the forms of exercise that I include each week:
- Brisk walking (first thing every morning for 2.5 miles)
- Swimming (We bought a cheap DIY pool kit from a local discount store. I swim laps in it every morning. Once cooler weather hits, I will probably substitute my Dancing With the Stars exercise DVD–yeah, I know, not a picture you want in your head…)
- Weight training (upper and lower body; 3 reps of 10 each; every other day)
- HIIT (High Intensity Intermittent Training; on the days when I don’t use weights) – This video will explain it better than I ever could: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tZgqVkXC57o I’m not gonna lie, this killed me at first. But it really works! If you have bad knees, you will need to find something else you can do with your legs besides the squats (marching or stair-stepping, maybe?).
I’m also working on being less sedentary. I stand at my desk more than I sit, and I try to stay active throughout the day. This has been another big boost to my weight loss.
As I researched this aspect of improving my health, I confess to a lot of feelings of regret. I’m one of those people who thought I could handle those occasional all-nighters. If I could go back and have a do-over, this is definitely where I would.
Sleep is the time when the body restores itself. And when we’re not sleeping, or not sleeping soundly, our body and our health suffers.
One source in my research–a neurologist–likened sleep to the time when the trash is taken out by your body. When we don’t sleep, that trash builds up in our bodies and causes all sorts of negative health issues.
Here are the changes I’ve made:
- Set a regular bedtime and wake-up time, and stick to it, even on the weekends.
- Create a bedtime routine of things that help me wind down each night. (For me, this includes things like a warm bath, stretching exercises, herbal teas, no computerized devices starting an hour before bedtime, a leisurely stroll after dinner, etc.)
- Make my bedroom as cool and dark as possible just prior to bedtime.
- No food within three hours of bedtime. (The reason for this is that eating causes blood sugar spikes that can disrupt your sleep.)
- No heavy exercising late in the day.
- No caffeine after lunch.
- I’m also experimenting with a few all-natural sleep supplements to make sure that I get 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
- If I wake up in the middle of the night (which I’m now prone to do), I don’t stay in bed past 20 or 30 minutes. Instead, I get up and read my Bible until I feel sleepy. This keeps me from ruminating over unimportant things, clears my head, and gets me in a place where I can usually get back to sleep.
This area has been very important to restoring my health. The things I’ve done to bring about stress reduction are:
- diaphragmatic breathing
- meditation on Scripture
- snapping myself with a rubber band that I wear around my wrist when I catch myself in negative and harmful thinking patterns
- replacing bad thinking habits with positive thinking
- music therapy
In all honesty, I still struggle from time to time with those feelings of despair, depression, and devastation. Most days I’m able to keep a positive mindset and be proactive. But occasionally, what could happen becomes very real and very scary. Please pray that I’ll be able to maintain a positive outlook.
This is very much a catchall category, but still important enough to include in this post.
Since my primary health concerns are macular degeneration and the possibility of Alzheimer’s Disease, these are the priorities for me to optimize my health:
- reduce inflammation
- lower blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure
- improve cognition and memory
- improve alertness and focus (AKA reduce brain fog)
A lot of these have improved greatly just by improving my diet, losing weight, exercising, reducing stress, and improving sleep.
A big help in the brain department has been cognitive training at BrainHQ. Hubby and I have done Lumosity in the past. But I’ve got to say, BrainHQ is MUCH more demanding. It truly is exercise for your brain. Another way I’m giving my brain a workout is by learning to speak, read, and write in Spanish, using the website DuoLingo. Yo habla Espanol! 🙂
I’m also trying to avoid toxins (chemicals, molds, man-made/synthetic additives and preservatives), even in toiletry items such as shampoo, body wash, lotions, makeup, and oral hygiene products.
There are several medical tests that I am pouring over, trying to decide if they are truly necessary. And because there are so many, I want to prioritize them so that the most important things get taken care of first.
I’ve even considered genetic testing, but I’m trying to work through the implications of all that. There are certain genes that make you more disposed to getting Alzheimer’s. There is also a gene mutation that pretty much guarantees you will get it. (On a positive note, the genes don’t necessarily mean you will get it, and even the gene mutation can be delayed for several years by taking steps to initiate and maintain a healthy lifestyle.)
I hope this post and my summer journey help you take steps to improve your own health. I didn’t go into all the specifics of what I learned for time’s sake, but I hope I gave you enough information to help you generate your own search for a personalized health improvement plan.
If I can answer any questions, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me. While getting bad news is never fun or something we would ask for, it can spur us on to make changes to live as healthy as possible.
Wishing you all the best of health!