5 Tips on How to Bring the Retreat Indoors

We all come to a point where we want nothing more than to wave the white flag, run for the hills, and nap (folded white flag = awesome pillow). Okay, the last part is Elena-specific, but you get the idea. Whether you’re running from work stress or the ups and downs of chronic illness, from time to time, we all need an escape. Fleeing the concrete jungle and freeing yourself out of doors makes sense, but what do you do when you’re stuck in an office or sun sensitivity has turned you into a 10 – 4, vitamin D deprived hermit? Here are 5 tips on how to bring the outdoor retreat indoors:

  1. In my 2010 post, “Me, My Brain, and I,” I discovered that “natural, tranquil scenes caused different brain areas to become `connected´ with one another – indicating that these brain regions were working in sync. However, the non-tranquil motorway scenes disrupted connections within the brain.” Remarkably, a painting or a photograph of a natural scene has the same benefits. My ninth floor office overlooks the heart of downtown, so I’ve set my desktop image to a lush forest pathway. When I take eye strain breaks, I clear my screen of documents and reveal my electronic get-away. Co-workers often linger for a closer look at the warm, rising sun pushing through the shadowy, dense mass of trees. Most walk away mumbling about changing their desktop image. Maybe you should, too!
  2. My desk is in a large room with other co-workers, so I usually have my headphones on to dull the noise and distractions around me. Lately, I’ve been listening to the nature soundscapes on Songza, especially the tropical waves playlist. It drowns out the noise and provides a background of soothing, natural sounds that allows me to focus on the large amounts of editing I do in my job. If you can’t go to the beach, listen to it!
  3. I’ve enjoyed the results of my father’s green thumb both indoors and outdoors my entire life. Because of him, plants are an integral part of my ideal living environment. The fact that I’m a sun sensitive apartment dweller has kept me away from the joys of an outdoor garden, so I’ve cultivated my own indoor version of hanging vines and terrariums, water plants, and other leafy varieties. According to an article by the Daily Mail, hospital patients with potted plants close by said they experienced less pain, anxiety and tiredness, while houses with plant-filled rooms contain between 50 and 60 per cent fewer bacteria than other rooms without plants. Have a murderous history with our green friends? Check out this link on 22 hard to kill houseplants. While you’re at it, add a few potted pals on your desk at work. Plants not only decrease stress and detoxify the air, they also increase productivity and creativity!

    Prednisone moon-faced and recovering from Lupus Cerebritis in 2009 with the aid of my dad's fabulous indoor garden in the background.

    Prednisone moon-faced and recovering from Lupus Cerebritis in 2009 with the aid of my dad’s fabulous indoor garden in the background.

  4. Take your laptop or book and grab a spot in a coffee shop with a view, or somewhere with lots of indoor greenery like a conservatory. You’ll get “out” for a good dose of natural world goodness while getting a break from that sun-sensitive hermit suit.
  5. Think inside the box when getting together with friends during peak sun hours. Recently, on a particularly hot and sunny day, I had a picnic lunch with a friend in her closed in front porch. Don’t have one? Pick a room in your home with the best natural view, roll out a blanket, and enjoy! Take a scenic drive to a tea house out of the city or for the parents out there, set a playdate and head to an indoor pool, water park, or aquarium.

A nature retreat from the stress and challenges of our lives can be hard to do, especially for those of us living fast, urban lives. Trying to avoid an ever present burning ball in the sky at the same time is even more difficult. If you can’t have it all, be creative and have a small piece!

In other news, I’ve added a new “About Elena” page to the blog! I’ve wanted to create one for a while now, so I’m happy to be able to give my readers a condensed timeline of my lupus experiences along with a few fun, fast facts about who I am beyond my lupus journey. Check it out on the top menu bar of my home page or click here. Feel free to visit this page anytime to post any questions or just to say hi. I’d love to hear from you!

 

Into the Woods

Into the Woods

I’ve been absent lately, neglectful of writing and missing the fourth birthday of this strange, little online memoir. How it still manages to stay with me, tagging along in the quiet, post-crisis lull of food recipes and white blood cell count lamentations, I have no clue. I am glad though, to say that we are both still here, struggling as we are to understand what story we now have to tell.

I did, however, celebrate the four full years since my last major flare up (the longest flare-free period of my lupus life) by spontaneously hopping a train to the middle of the Rocky Mountains. I went by myself; hiking, trail cycling and kayaking (for the first time), immersing myself in the aqua blue of glacier lakes and the deep stillness of backcountry woods. The trip reminded me of how integral being outdoors was during the first six months of my recovery four years ago. Everyday, I went for walks with my parents, then eventually, when I was well enough, I would go on my own. I’d been so busy training for my run, I had forgotten the merits of slowing down, the healing power of a leisurely stroll in the woods. Since I’ve been back, I’ve been doing just that with friends and on my own. It has helped me prepare for this next stage of my wellness journey: Taking a real stab at my impossible dream – being medication-free.

A month ago, my white blood cells were up from 1.4 to 2.1. Since I was at 1.4, I’ve reduced my dosage of plaquenil one day out of seven, which leads me to believe that plaquenil isn’t a major factor in keeping my white blood cell count at a safe level (not that 2.1 is a safe level, but you know what I mean). It’s too early to tell, though. I can’t ignore that I’ve been on “Constant P” for twelve years. It will take a while for the medication to take leave of my body, especially with such a small reduction. My inflammation rate in my body rose from 5 to 24, which isn’t the greatest, but my naturopath says there’s no need to be alarmed. I may have been fighting some kind of infection that day. Presently (and thankfully), the rise in inflammation hasn’t manifested as pain of any kind.

The next steps are a very slow reduction, herbal supports and blood tests every three months to monitor my progress, very much like the process we went through getting off prednisone. There are risks, of course, and I have my eyes wide open. I am ready to solve the mystery of what plaquenil is doing to help (or not help) my body, so I can better understand what it takes to make my body a chemical-free zone. All the medication experiments/purgings and life-style changes of the last four years have come to this final test. It involves a lot of commitment, supplements and lifestyle modifications that I need to stick to, all of which can be quite overwhelming at times, but I am determined to purge twelve years of pharmaceutical toxicity. As my followers know all to well, I love an epic battle.  Bring it on!

And if I ever need a reprieve from the exhausting 24-hour job in the office of my own health, I will remember to take my tea break into the woods, where this is nothing to do, no risks to take, no sacrifices to make. Just trees and sun and moving forward, all at your own pace.