Monday, June 19, 2017

Attitude determines altitude

People often tell me how positive I am, and that is true most of the time. Having lived over 15 years with a painful, life changing neurological disorder called dystonia, there is no way on earth I could do it if I didn't have a positive outlook on not only this aspect of my life, but on every other aspect of my life. Before I give the wrong impression, I still struggle with difficult symptoms, so it is not as though I am cured or have all the answers. I continue to be a work in progress, but for those who know me or have read my book, you know that I have come a long way from some very dark places, and you can too.

For those of you who are deeply suffering, talk of a positive attitude may anger you. I understand. There was a time when it would infuriate me also. What I have learned over time though, is that this is the only way to live well, but we can only embrace this mindset when we are ready. Take your time. Allow the grief process to play out. This is hugely important.

I don't say "be positive" for the sake of saying it and I wouldn't look for life's silver linings unless I truly believed it helped. I know what suffering is like and would never blow smoke up your backside or put a fluffy spin on things. Some people feign happiness and a positive outlook, while others live it. Both work, but if you actually believe it and live it, it will have a greater impact. A genuinely positive attitude helps us cope more easily with the daily affairs of life. It brings optimism into our lives, making it easier to avoid worries and negative thinking. It also produces more of the "feel good" hormones in the brain. Check out The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale.

There is a popular saying, "Attitude determines altitude", and this is the absolute truth in my opinion. I lived in a very pain filled, depressed and anxiety ridden world for a long time, but I chose to not let myself be that person anymore. I realized that there was no way for me to live and battle successfully if I wallowed in misery. Even though I try to find the silver lining in most things, I still struggle and it can sometimes get to where my head wants to explode. This is when I know I have to dig even deeper to keep myself from losing my marbles and going into that dark hole I once lived for way too long.

When I keep my eyes focused on the positive, or put a positive spin on things, I am better off. However, it's okay to sometimes talk about what is wrong and vent about it. I do. Sometimes focusing on what is wrong with us is the best thing to do because we need to express our emotions. Acknowledgement of our pain is also the first step to healing. However, we can't let ourselves only live in that depressed, anger filled world with no talk, or action steps, about how to get out of it. It just won't work.

Years ago when Zig Ziglar declared, “It is your attitude, more than your aptitude, that will determine your altitude," a lot of people saw it as a catchy phrase from a motivational speaker. But he was right. Please take these words to heart and even in the depths of despair, never give up hope. If I can turn my life around from pure misery and despair, and to this day still battle with intense symptoms at times, you can too. We all can.

If you need help, reach out and I or someone else will lend a hand. We can often feel very alone, but I promise if you extend your hand, there will be someone there to grab it and help you get through the day, and that is all that matters. Forget about yesterday. Forget about tomorrow. Just get through this moment right now and tomorrow will take care of itself.

Tom Seaman is a chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, and author of the book, Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey, a comprehensive resource for anyone living with any life challenge. He is also a support group leader for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) and Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness. To learn more about Tom and get a copy of his book, visit Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1

Sunday, June 4, 2017

My experience using CBD oil for chronic pain and anxiety

Disclaimer: I have been given this product as part of a product review through the Chronic Illness Bloggers network. Although the product was a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company.

Having lived with chronic pain for over 15 years due to a neurological movement disorder called dystonia, I am always looking for ways to better manage my symptoms. My symptoms not only include pain, but involuntary muscle spasms/contractions, overall muscle tightness, restricted head/neck movement, and a racing mind.

While I have taken medications for some of these symptoms, I prefer a more natural approach, so diet, exercise, supplements, and stress free living are very important to me. Something I have not tried until recently is CBD oil. The more I hear about the success people are having for things such as neurological disorders, multiple sclerosis, cancer, inflammation, pain, muscle spasticity, arthritis, depression, anxiety, seizures, and many other conditions, the more it intrigues me. My main reasons for trying it are pain, muscle relaxation, and mental calmness.

CBD stands for cannabidiol, the non-addictive compound found in the cannabis (marijuana) plant, often known as hemp. CBD has a wide range of medical benefits, a few of which were mentioned above. Of special interest to many of my readers with neurological conditions, CBD studies are showing that it may have a neuroprotective effect. The other well-known compound in cannabis is THC or Tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the principal psychoactive, potentially addictive element. Unlike THC, CBD does not cause a “high.” While this makes CBD a poor choice for recreational users, it makes it an appealing option for patients like me looking for relief without the high or addiction.

As a member of Chronic Illness Bloggers, a network of bloggers focused on chronic illness, I was selected to try a CBD product called Liberty Lixir by a company called Liberty Lotion. It is a spray that you put under your tongue. The product I tested has a strength of 1000 mg, and each spray pump has 6.7 mg of CBD. I used anywhere between 3 and 6 pumps per day (~ 20-40 mg/CBD a day), over the course of a month. I had no issues with how to take it, determining how much I was taking, deciding how much to take to get my desired results, or any feelings of dependency.

In that short amount of time, my pain decreased roughly 25-50%, I am more active, my recovery time from activities has been faster, and my mind is calmer. I don’t feel as rushed or hurried all the time. I usually sleep pretty well, but the CBD seems to have increased the speed I fall asleep. Interestingly, I never took it before bed. I only took it once a day and always midday. I also experienced a slight decrease in appetite, which might be of special interest to those who are interested in losing/maintaining weight.

The best way to describe how I feel is a general overall sense of wellness with greater peace of mind. I feel more grounded. My moods never really fluctuated much at all, but I feel more mentally stable and in better control. All the changes are subtle, but noticeable in a very natural way, which is how anything natural, versus synthetic, should feel.

I certainly can’t promise that you will experience any of the positive things I have, but if you are curious about CBD and are interested in a quality product at a good price, consider Liberty Lixir. Their website contains a lot of valuable information about CBD and studies on its use for many conditions. Customer service has also been very knowledgeable. I plan to continue taking it for as long as I get positive results.

Click here or any of the links in the blog and it will take you to the Liberty Lotion website. If you decide to get this product, follow the links in this blog and use the coupon code “Liberty17” for a 10% discount. Good luck and please share your experience with me after you begin using it. Thanks!

Tom Seaman is a chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, and author of the book, Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey, a comprehensive resource for anyone living with any life challenge. He is also a support group leader for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) and Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness. To learn more about Tom and get a copy of his book, visit Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Strategies for anxiety and panic attacks

Have you ever had a panic attack? If so, you know how terrifying they can be! I have had plenty and know exactly what they are like...torture! There is good news though. There are many ways to reduce and eliminate them. First off though, what exactly are panic attacks?

Panic attacks are the sudden onset of intense anxiety characterized by feelings of great fear and apprehension. They are often accompanied by things like rapid heart beat, shortness of breath, dizziness, feeling faint, sweating, trembling, and impending doom.

Because of their intensity, people who experience them tend to avoid public places and being around other people, typically groups of people. They also have anticipatory anxiety even in the most comfortable settings (such as their home), and worry about the consequences of a panic attack. Panic attacks won’t kill is, but they can feel like we are having a heart attack or stroke so people do all they can to avoid anything that might trigger one, which can leave one feeling completely imprisoned and very much misunderstood.

I have worked very hard to overcome my anxiety and subsequent panic attacks, and I have been doing well, but they were once very intense! Mine would come out of nowhere. I would get dizzy and weak, have a pounding heart like it was going to explode, claustrophobia, shallow breathing, full body trembling, and I would lose all sense of where I was. My mind would go blank and I couldn’t think clearly. I feared passing out. I was also self-conscious about how I looked, thinking everyone could see what I was feeling inside. For those who experience anxiety and panic, you know just what I mean. So, what do we do about it?

For me it has been a variety of things, the first of which was understanding that anxiety is actually a normal human emotion that everyone experiences at times. Like pain and the fight/flight stress response, for example, anxiety protects us from danger. Understanding and embracing that some level of anxiety is normal has been very helpful in accepting the uncomfortable feelings.

I then began to confront my fears. I drove as much as I could. I went shopping, frequented crowded places, and talked to as many people I could. Whatever triggered any form of fear, apprehension, and worry, I walked towards it. At first it made me worse, but instead of running, I sat with the feelings and talked myself down.

The more times I repeated the things that caused high anxiety and realized that I was safe, the less anxious I became and the panic attacks disappeared! I also took better care of my health by eating and sleeping well, listened to guided mediation/relaxation programs, and exercised. I didn't improve overnight. It took many months to years of dedication. One of the programs that helped me a lot is called Pass Through Panic by Dr. Claire Weekes (CD program). She also has a great book called Hope and Help for your Nerves.

At times I still feel some apprehension, fear, and worry. When it happens, I use the AWARE technique described below. It comes from the book, Anxiety Disorders and Phobias: A Cognitive Perspective, by Aaron Beck and Gary Emery.

A: Accept the anxiety. Welcome it. Don’t fight it. Replace your rejection, anger, and hatred of it with acceptance. By resisting, you are prolonging the unpleasantness of it. Instead, flow with it. Don’t make it responsible for how you think, feel, and act.

W: Watch and Wait. Look at your anxiety without judgment. It’s neither good nor bad. Become detached from it. Remind yourself that you are not your anxiety. The more you can separate yourself from the experience, the more you can view it as a third party observer.

Even though there is a powerful urge to run away to try and escape anxious situations, postpone that decision for a little bit. Stay in the situation. Don’t tell yourself you can’t leave. Keep that option open so you don’t feel trapped, but remember that you don’t need to run away to get relief. Let relief come to you.

A: Act with the anxiety. Act as if you aren’t anxious. Function with it. Slow down if you have to, but keep going. Breathe normally. If you run from the situation your anxiety will go down, but your fear will go up. If you stay, both your anxiety and your fear will eventually go down.

R: Repeat the steps. Continue to accept your anxiety, watch it, and act with it until it goes down to a comfortable level.

E: Expect the best. What we fear rarely happens. Recognize that a certain amount of anxiety is a normal part of life. Understanding this puts you in a good position to accept it if it comes again. You are familiar with it and know what to do with it.

After years of suffering, with more confidence I began doing things I avoided like the plague. It opened my world and made life interesting and exciting again. Instead of worrying about all the bad things that might happen before I did an activity, I started to look forward to them. A huge burden was lifted and I was living again. There are many different words people use for the FEAR acronym such as, Face Everything And Rise, False Expectations Appearing Real, Forget Everything And Run, among others. My new favorite one is, Forget Everything And Relax.

Edited excerpt from the book, Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey

Tom Seaman is a chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, and author of the book, Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey, a comprehensive resource for anyone living with any life challenge. He is also a support group leader for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) and Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness. To learn more about Tom and get a copy of his book, visit Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1

Friday, May 12, 2017

Health benefits of gravity/inversion table

There was a recent discussion about a gravity/inversion table in one of my support groups, so I thought I would share some information about how this device works and my experience using it.

The theory behind using a gravity/inversion table is that by inverting your body, you are able to unload the bones, joints, and discs in the back and neck. This is thought to create a traction force through the spine. Another name for inversion therapy is gravitational traction. 

Proponents of inversion therapy claim that it helps relieve back, shoulder, neck, and joint pain, improves circulation, promotes lymphatic drainage, relieves the discomfort of varicose veins, eases stress on the heart, improves posture, revitalizes and tones facial tissue, and enriches the brain and eyes with oxygen rich blood.

Over the course of the day, gravity compresses the spine and weight-bearing joints, which can cause pain, poor posture, and a host of other problems. Inversion allows your joints and spine to elongate, creating space between your ligaments and discs. This helps relieve some of the pressure accrued over the course of your daily activity (or inactivity). The image below illustrates the extent to which different postures can strain the body and how inversion therapy for just a few minutes a day might make a big difference in how we feel. 

The inversion table that I use is called Teeter Hang-ups. I have an older model (purchased around 2008) and it is very solid. Newer versions are just as solid, if not more so, and have some updated modifications/improvements. There are many places to purchase one, but I suggest starting at Amazon by clicking here. There are several options, so do some shopping around to find the best brand and price for you.

The reason I began doing inversion therapy was because I had severe neck spasms in 2008 whenever I would lay down. This is what my neck always did since 2001 when I developed dystonia, no matter my body position, but over the years I did a lot of things to help better manage my symptoms to where the involuntary movements decreased and my posture improved when sitting and standing. Laying down is when the severe spasms still reared their ugly head. Below is an image of how my neck was laying down.

After about 3 weeks of using the inversion table roughly 3-5 minutes twice a day, I was able to lie down on my back without any twisting, pulling, or spasms. I was amazed at how little it took to relieve this problem! My posture also improved and I had less pain. I can't promise similar results for you, but this was my experience. While some people invert a full 90 degrees, 45-60 degrees is sufficient for me. Below is a silly selfie of me hanging upside down. I clearly find inversion therapy to be a lot of fun!

Risks using inversion/gravity table
If you are pregnant, have heart disease, acid reflux, glaucoma, high blood pressure, or cardiovascular disease, check with your doctor before attempting inversion therapy. This is recommended regardless of your health condition. In addition, the first time anyone tries inversion therapy, they should have someone standing by in case assistance is required to get out of the apparatus, or if health problems are experienced. It is a sensation that can take some getting used to.

As with any treatment, inversion therapy is not for everyone. If you choose to do it, please slowly build up how often and for how long you use it. I once made the mistake of doing too much too soon and developed severe pain in my neck and upper back. It subsided, but I was unable to turn my head in either direction for a few days. Also, check with your doctor to determine if it is right for you, as it may not be appropriate for your situation. Best of luck. I hope it helps you like it has me!

Tom Seaman is a chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, and author of the book, Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey, a comprehensive resource for anyone living with any life challenge. He is also a support group leader for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) and Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness. To learn more about Tom and get a copy of his book, visit Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1

Monday, May 1, 2017

My 4 favorite self-help tools for pain

These products are for education purposes only and contain affiliate links. The reader accepts full responsibility for the use of these products. Thank you to Abbe Brown at the ST Recovery Clinic for first introducing me to these products

Ever since I developed dystonia in 2001, I have tried what seems like every self-help tool for pain and muscle spasms known to man. Some make my symptoms worse, some don't help at all, some only help for a short time, and then there are those that have always helped in a significant way. In this blog, I am going to share my favorite things that have been consistently helpful. This is not to say you will have the same benefit, so please find what helps you best. It might take some trial and error. You might recall another article I wrote that shared a long list of self-help tools. Click here to check it out. This particular blog focuses on the 4 things that help me most that I use every day.

My favorite tool by far is the shepherd's crook. Similar products are called Thera Cane and Back BuddyThe shepherd’s crook is a long, curved, metal, rubber, or heavy plastic hook with rubber on both ends designed for working on hard to reach trigger points. The metal shepherd’s crook can be purchased from Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy. It is very sturdy, which I love. The Thera Cane and Back Buddy can be found at eBay and Amazon and have a little more bend/give, which is also desireable to me. The Thera Cane I like comes in two pieces (there are some that are in one piece like in the photo below) which I find super convenient for travelling. The shepherd's crook/Thera Cane is my favorite tool because it helps to reduce my tight back and shoulder muscles, and effectively work on painful trigger points. It also helps with my balance. To see more about how it works, please see my video.

The first thing I ever purchased after developing dystonia is called a NeckEase. It is a hot/cold aromatherapy pack made by BodySense that sits on your shoulders and around your neck (see below). Since it doesn’t get cold enough for my taste, I prefer using ice packs for cold and the NeckEase strictly for heat. Just throw it in the microwave for a few minutes and you are set for at least an hour. I then began using their Trap Pack so I could heat up my entire back (see below). I like their products because they provide moist, penetrating heat with the added benefit of aromatherapy. Check out their entire product line. They make something for practically every part of the body.

I use them before I do my stretching, get a massage, when I am extra tight and/or sore, and when I have spasms due to cold weather. I am often tight when I first get up in the morning, so I use them to loosen up. Some people make their own packs filled with rice and/or different herbs/spices. That is another option if you have sewing skills. Find whatever works best for you. For more heat options, please see my other blog on self-help tools.

Another product I have been using for years is a massage machine called Kneading Fingers. It has two rotating balls designed to duplicate the firm kneading action of a massage therapist. I use it on my neck and back, either sitting in a firm chair or standing with it between me and the wall. Check out the link above, but typically you can find the best prices for this item on Amazon and eBay. I usually use it for about 10-15 minutes in the morning and evening, but I will use it longer and more often if I am especially tight and in pain. 

My final favorite tool I want to share is called an Obusforme, which I think everyone should have. If you want to sit in good posture, the Obusforme is the way to go in my opinion. It transforms ordinary chairs into ergonomically correct seating and puts your spine into a more anatomically correct position to enhance overall posture by supporting proper spinal alignment. There are a variety of styles from which to choose and it is portable, making it easy to use it at home, office, car, sporting events, etc. Poor posture is one of the leading causes of neck and back pain, and for those of us who already have neck and back pain, posture is CRITICAL. Whether it be the Obusforme or something else you like, please be very mindful of your posture. It can make a significant difference in your symptoms.

There are many other tools I use to help me manage my symptoms, but these are my top 4 favorites I use every day. I hope you also find them to be of help. For more tools to help neck pain, back pain, and muscle spasms, please click here to see my other article.

Tom Seaman is a chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, and author of the book, Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey, a comprehensive resource for anyone living with any life challenge. He is also a support group leader for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) and Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness. To learn more about Tom and get a copy of his book, Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1

Friday, April 21, 2017

Fight, Flight, or FREEZE Response: Health Implications

When I was researching the topic of stress for my book, Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey, I came across something very intriguing. Stress experts have now added the word “freeze” to the fight or flight stress response with respect to the fact that instead of fighting or fleeing, we might sometimes freeze (like a deer in headlights) in painful or traumatic situations. This is very intriguing to me as it relates to dystonia and other chronic conditions, especially those that involve pain.

The fight or flight stress response becomes activated when we believe there is a chance we can outfight or outrun real or perceived danger and stressful situations. The freeze response differs in that it gets activated due to an inability to take action (like a mouse trapped in a corner by a cat). One feels helpless to fight or flee the threatening, painful, or stressful experience so it freezes (e.g., the mouse plays dead until the cat loses interest and walks away).

During the freeze response, the body becomes both tense and paralyzed at the same time. The thoughts, sensations, and emotions of the stressful experience become suppressed or internalized, not only in the mind but in the tissues of the body. This is called somatic memory (body memory) and can have damaging effects if the event or trauma experienced is not processed in a healthy way.

As illustrated in the photo (which is more unsightly than I would have preferred so please forgive me), uncertainty, paralysis, powerlessness, and avoidance are characteristics used to describe the freeze response, the same words many of us use to describe how we often feel.

Think about the common symptoms of dystonia which include contractions, stiffness, and rigidity. Out of fear of worsening our symptoms, many of us live in “protection mode” where we consciously restrict our movements (to the best of our ability) to try and decrease pain and/or involuntary movements. This might be doing more harm than good.

Purposely restricting our movements, avoiding activities that may increase our symptoms, and holding ourselves in postures to prevent further pain and involuntary movements is similar to the freeze response. This adds more stress than already exists. If we don't allow our bodies “be” in pain or move as it wishes, we keep ourselves stuck in crisis. While this sounds counter-intuitive, sometimes it helps to "go into" the pain.

What would happen if every once in a while we just allowed our symptoms to be what they were without mentally or physically trying to fight them? Easier said than done of course, but think about the possibility of just letting go and embracing the pain and involuntary movements, and letting the body rest and allow it to perhaps do some healing on its own? I don't know for you, but when I just let myself go, I often feel better. When I fight my symptoms, physically or mentally, they get worse.

Since relaxation and healing are prevented when the freeze response remains active, if we get our intellectual brains out of way, we might be able to reduce our symptoms. It certainly merits consideration because when we are not in constant angst, the body is in better balance, making it more susceptible to healing.

This is why positive thinking, relaxation and breathing exercises, TRE (Trauma Releasing Exercises), EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique)Tai Chi, Qi Gong, yoga, massage, acupuncture, counseling/therapy,  aerobic exercise, biofeedbackand many other therapies and practices, are so important because it is only when the body finds relaxation can it reverse the damaging effects of stress.

Tom Seaman is a chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, and author of the book, Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey, a comprehensive resource for anyone living with any life challenge. He is also a support group leader for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) and Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness. To learn more about Tom and get a copy of his book, visit Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1

Monday, April 3, 2017

Turn on the tunes for better health

If you enjoy listening to music, you already know that turning on the tunes can help calm your nerves, reduce stress, pump you up during a workout, bring back fond memories, as well as prompt countless other emotions. Our favorite songs are like best friends. When I have music playing, I find myself singing with a big smile on my face, and feel a sense of calmness come over me. My dystonia symptoms also decrease, especially the pain.

According to Oliver Sacks, author of Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, “Music occupies more areas of our brain than language…humans are a musical species.” Music triggers activity in parts of the brain that release the "feel good" chemicals serotonin and dopamine, it activates areas that process emotions, and it plays a role in abstract thinking. Listening to music may also lower cortisol levels (stress hormones).

Research has found that music can be so physically and mentally beneficial that there is now an established health profession called Music Therapy. Music therapists address a vast number of issues including anxiety, stress management, movement disorders, chronic pain, respiration, physical rehabilitation, oncology treatment, diabetes, headaches, cardiac conditions, as well as communication and emotional expression.

I know many people with Dystonia, Parkinson's, Essential tremor, chronic pain, and other conditions who listen and/or dance to music to help manage their symptoms and improve their mood. I am happy to say that I am one of those who has a decrease in symptoms and an emotional lift when I sing and dance. 

With all the electronic devices that we have available to us today, we can take music anywhere…so turn on the tunes and start singing and dancing, no matter how goofy you look or sound. It does the body good!

Our muscles respond to music even when the brain is in neutral.
Anger, loneliness, longing, sorrow, frustration, and even confusion respond positively to music and action.
Music is your best ally.
- Bonnie Prudden -

Tom Seaman is a chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, and author of the book, Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey, a comprehensive resource for anyone living with any health or life challenge. He is also a support group leader for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) and Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness. To learn more about Tom and get a copy of his book, visit Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1