My Health Problems – Bugs and God

Many of my close friends know this, but I have been struggling with tingling in my hands, face, and legs for the past three years. The tingling feels like bugs are crawling inside my skin – it is constant and never completely goes away. I am not in pain and do not feel any weakness or numbness – just a continuous tingling sensation day in and day out. What caused this to happen? I have two theories. First, three years ago, I went to a Piston’s game with a friend, and I drank too many Budweiser Selects. I was drunk the entire match and upon going home, I looked down at my feet and saw they were beet red. Along with the redness, I felt a mild tingling sensation – I was also up the entire night because of nausea. An important note is that I was never a big drinker in my 20’s and alcohol always impacted me more than my industrious friends. The day after the episode, I felt somewhat normal and the tingling had ceased. Midweek came and all of a sudden I woke up with tingling in my feet and a new phenomenon of tingling in my hands.

The first theory is that my three-year-long tingling is from a bad reaction to alcohol that somehow damaged my nervous system. I have not had a drop of alcohol since that Piston’s game and I now notice that my tingling gets worse when I am anxious or stressed. Here is the second theory: The month before the Piston’s game, I began an aggressive treatment to fix sciatic pain in my back through stretching and chiropractic manipulation. My back pain originated from a fall five and half years ago when I walked down an icy step of stairs and fell right on my lower spine – I laid on the cold ground for 10 minutes in excruciating pain. My 24-year-old self was not smart enough to seek treatment and instead, I went to the gym that day and squatted 250 pounds. For a year after the injury, I had to sit lopsided because there was too much pain on my right side to put any pressure. At this point, you can call me all the foul names you want – I agree with them wholeheartedly.

So back to the month of the Piston’s game when I was trying to aggressively treat my back injury. The chiropractor decided to treat my back with traction – a table that essentially pulls your back to extend it and relieve pressure. I felt no tingling while on the table but there was slight discomfort. Once my tingling began after the Piston’s game, many of my friends and family claimed it was caused by the traction. Today, when I do planks or specific exercises, my tingling gets worse. In respects to my facial tingling, that came about a year later when my wife had a miscarriage – my Mom gets facial tingling and I suspect that my facial tingling is unrelated to the tingling in my hands and legs. In the first year of tingling, I went to three doctors, had two MRIs, had 6 months of physical therapy, and still received no relief or answers.  So what is wrong with me?

To better answer that question, I recently went to another family doctor and a Neurologist. The family doctor didn’t think the tingling was from my back and prescribed me Cymbalta for anxiety – the Cymbalta made the tingling worse and destroyed my sex life. The Neurologist sent me to get an MRI of the brain to check for MS. The results showed that I have three lesions on my cerebellum, but I do not have MS. The Neurologist said the lesions didn’t look serious, but they could be benign brain tumors – in the end, they wouldn’t explain the tingling, and I have to go back in six months for another MRI. I’m not worried about the lesions because I have no symptoms that match a malfunction of the cerebellum. So I am back to square one.

At this point, I believe my leg tingling is from my back problems, my hand tingling is from back problems/anxiety/blood sugar changes, and my facial tingling is from pure anxiety.  I am not an overly anxious person, but I believe my anxiety manifests itself through tingling – other people may have headaches or stomach problems. Overall, my tingling has gotten significantly better since three years ago but my back pain is stubbornly persistent. I am still on a journey of discovery but I wanted to tell you all these things for one reason. God has helped me through all these trials and I am here today because of my faith. When it feels like bugs are crawling under your skin 24 hours a day, your mindset can go to dark places. I had the resolve to fight on because I knew people were praying for me and that in the end, everything would work out. I am a Christian for the very fact that I have seen God transform me over the past three years – wisdom truly comes through adversity. If you are feeling down, you are not alone. Google, social media, and even modern medicine will never be able to give you the strength to completely move forward. We are designed for a deep connection with our Creator – don’t push aside life’s greatest resource. I’ll keep you updated on about my lesions and tingling but, please keep me in your prayers.

If you have a struggle and need a sincere prayer, please email me at jonathan.oldham1@gmail.com.

The Forgotten Elderly

The morals of a society can be best qualified by the treatment of its weakest members. Who are the weakest members of a society? The disabled? The minorities? The poor? The elderly? My grandmother just turned 92 today and is currently residing in an assisted-living home. She has seen so much in the last 9 decades and has lived a very full life: scraping during the Great Depression, reading newspapers of Hitler’s blitzkrieg,  hearing reports of JFK being assassinated, birthing 4 children, and so much in between. Unfortunately, her health is quite precarious and she needs 24 hour care. Thankfully, she has a great family that visits her regularly and brings her copious amounts of tasty treats. The sad reality is that my Grandma is the exception rather then the rule when it comes to visitations. Most of the residents sit in their chairs all day with no visitors week in and week out. They have no advocates. They have limited conversations. They have no hope. They have almost nothing left. Contrast this with the youthful vigor (relatively speaking) making up the rest of the population. Most people are spending time at work, socializing, doing recreation, and wasting time sitting on their butt. Most people have the priorities of pleasure and getting more money to maintain pleasures. I am one of these people and I want to change this about myself.

I want to spend more time with the elderly. I believe that we all have a duty to share our time with those who are most vulnerable. I feel strongly about this because I never want to be a lonely old man waiting to die in a nursing home. Loneliness to that degree is one of the scariest things to think about because I have to share thoughts, laughs, and emotions with people on a daily basis. A paradox exists today; we are more social and connected then ever but more isolated then ever. Kids grow up using social media and it is not uncommon to see whole families at dinner glued to their respective phones. This isolation extends to the elderly and I think we need to look hard at how we prioritize our time. Could we replace one hour of time spent on the internet with spending time with an elderly individual? Could we take our kid to a nursing home for 1 hour instead of the umpteenth soccer practice? Could we watch one less rerun of Friends and go talk with a lonely person? I think we all can and should. America was built by these elderly individuals and they deserve the respect of our time and love. I personally want to play my guitar for the nursing home residents and talk to them about their personal histories. Let’s better our society by bettering those most vulnerable. Taking care of the elderly will send positive ripple effects throughout all generations-increasing our understanding of love, respect, and life’s blessings.

 

Revisit: You’re Going to Die in 1 Year

Unfortunately, this title was a reality for Morrie Swartz in the book Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. Morrie was a sociology professor who received the life changing diagnosis of ALS which slowly takes away the ability of the muscles to function and has no cure. Morrie, being the introspective person he was, did not become morose over his predicament but rather analyzed death and was extremely optimistic throughout his dwindling state. He tried to answer the hard questions of life and was a metaphorical bridge between the living and the dead….

Read the full post here.
You’re Going to Die in One Year

 

The Blessing of Disease

SAPERE AUDE-Dare to be Wise

Is having a disease a blessing? That is a very counter-intuitive question but I have been thinking about this very idea while reading More Than Money: True Stories of People Who Learned Life’s Ultimate Lesson by Neil Cavuto. This book profiles several different successful individuals who overcame cancer, MS, and paralysis to lead fulfilling lives. These individuals focused their efforts on helping others and their families instead of solely seeking financial gain in their careers. They did this by starting charities, being public spokespeople for disease awareness, and trying to change government policies for the benefit of societies’ disadvantaged. Without their personal struggles with serious medical ailments they would have never led a life that was focused on fostering relationships and helping other people. It is this fact that makes me think that having a disease can be looked at as a blessing. Of course, having a life threatening disease can be extremely painful, isolating, debilitating, and a host of negative adjectives that are far from any semblance of the word “blessing.” However, through the suffering and pain, I see more times than not stories of people appreciating their lives and families more than when they were previously healthy. The onset of illness many times makes people stop and think about what is truly important in life: they may not skip out on talking with their kids instead of emailing, they may go on that trip that they have always been putting off, they may tell the ones they love that they “appreciate them with all their heart.”

A life well lived cannot be measured quantitatively. A life well lived is the sum of qualitative experiences that are completely independent of a person’s age. If you have a disease, cancer, or a debilitation do not look at it as a negative. You have the first-hand knowledge of life’s unpredictability and hence the power to take advantage of all the opportunities still accorded to you. If you are healthy then try your best to look at life with the lens of someone with a disease. Think about what is most important and truly take advantage of your health while you still have it. Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Suffering can change our perspective on life and really make us examine what is worth doing while on this Earth. If you don’t examine your life and live it in the best way possible then you are throwing away your blessings and in my opinion you are worse off than having any possible disease. I am not wishing disease upon myself or anyone for that matter but I am encouraging you to think about how suffering is not always a negative and how we can take advantage of any situation. The cliché saying is to live like there is no tomorrow. There is merit to this but it is not realistic because most of the time there is a tomorrow. I would say for those who are healthy live like you will die in the next 5 years. This way you can still keep some financial balance while not pushing off all your hopes and dreams. For those who will not make it to the next five years I want to reemphasize that you can “live” more in those five years than most people will “live” in an entire lifetime. 

To end this post I recommend this inspirational video that profiles how a disease can truly be a blessing in disguise.

A

You’re Going to Die in 1 Year

Unfortunately, this title was a reality for Morrie Swartz in the book Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. Morrie was a sociology professor who received the life changing diagnosis of ALS which slowly takes away the ability of the muscles to function and has no cure. Morrie, being the introspective person he was, did not become morose over his predicament but rather analyzed death and was extremely optimistic throughout his dwindling state. He tried to answer the hard questions of life and was a metaphorical bridge between the living and the dead.

One of the most profound points Morrie made was that you must first embrace death before you can really start living. This seems like a contradictory statement but it is a paradox with profound implications. Most people, including me, think death is a far off event that should receive little thought. We are all born and we will all die. We celebrate the birth part and avoid the death part. This creates a problem because death frames our life journey; accepting that at any point you may die frames how you live each and every day. If I die tonight will I be happy with my life up until this point? I asked this question to myself and I didn’t have a very satisfying answer. I currently am in a state of constant work which takes away my ability to maintain relationships, read, meditate, love, learn, and create. I still want to see the world, kiss my future children, and learn new skills. Why do I put off these life activities in the current-even though death may come at any time? Well the reason is that I have not accepted death yet and therefore I cannot truly start living. At current, I have accepted the desire of accumulating money to provide myself security which will keep me far away from death. Unfortunately, no matter how much financial security I have there is no escaping the unknown time of death. I am using money as a pseudo-god that graces me with a mentality that “tomorrow is a guarantee.”

Of course we need a certain amount of money to pay the bills but I bet if people accepted that death would come at any time they would change their spending habits. That big house may be a small house, that boat may not be so important, that new car may be unnecessary, that 5-star hotel just wouldn’t make much sense. What would become important would be a meal with your Dad, a camping trip to see the majestic Smokey Mountains, and maybe a homemade dinner with your beautiful spouse. My goal is to rid myself of the false security of money and find the bare-minimum amount that I need to truly live my life. I challenge you to think about this balance so that your full-time job becomes a part-time job or maybe you can even quit your job. Ask yourself, did you wake up this Monday excited to live your last day or did you wake up just to grudgingly trudge off to work as if you are going to live forever?

 

A Sweat Band for the Brain

Can you workout your brain to make yourself smarter? Can you flex your brain and make your memory grow like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hulking biceps? These questions were indirectly answered in the book, Smarter by Dan Hurley. Intelligence is made up of two distinct components, fluid and crystallized intelligence. Fluid intelligence is your ability to reason, make decisions, and think abstractly. Crystallized intelligence is your factual knowledge and practiced abilities which are learned throughout life-1+1=2, George Washington is the first president, and your reading speed. Think street smarts for fluid and book smarts for crystallized. Another definition, working memory, is your ability to manipulate things you are trying to remember. If I asked you to add 25+27 you would most likely add 25+25=50 first and then add the remaining 2 to get 52-that requires working memory. Alright, the painful part is over and we can mull over the main concepts of Smarter. Cognitive psychologists, are currently having orgasms over the new idea that we can increase our intelligence through simple brain training games. These games incorporate some sort of working memory task and are recommended to be done 30-60 minutes a day on a regular basis-think Lumosity. Overall, studies showing a positive effect for these types of games on cognitive function number 75, while there are only 4 studies that show no effect at all. This may seem like a lopsided and resounding, “Duh this stuff works, let me get my credit card and start playing falling numbers on my Lumosity profile-SmartestManAlive2014,”…but lets take a step back. These studies show improvements on the specific games played, but the real question is whether that translates into an improved fluid intelligence and consequently an improved brain that makes life easier? In my opinion, the verdict is still technically out in the scientific community but the common-sense benefits are real and translatable to everyday life. I like to use the analogy of squatting in the gym. Squats use primarily your legs but that single movement improves your concentration, discipline, balance, and overall strength. Lumosity may make you better at specific games but that brain training can translate to improved memory in everyday tasks, concentration, and quickness in decision making.

Alright, Lumosity helps, but are there any other ways to make my brain glisten with sweat? Sure there are you frick, studies show that exercise (both aerobic and weight lifting), learning an instrument, mindfulness meditation, caffeine/coffee consumption, nicotine, and low electrical brain stimulation all have positive effects on improving markers of brain function. Nicotine, I learned, is not harmful or addictive on its own, and the brain actually has nicotinic receptors. Nicotine is only addictive in combination with chemicals found in cigarettes and is currently being researched as a drug to help those with Parkinson’s Disease (the nicotinic receptor positively effects malfunctioned dopamine receptors in Parkinson’s). The effects of brain training are most profoundly seen in those with cognitive disorders, such as, ADD, ADHD, age related cognitive decline, autism, and Down Syndrome. In healthy adults, the degree of benefit is less pronounced but still apparent and helpful in creating cognitive reserve which is shown to delay age-related cognitive decline. Most of us design our life around things we are good at so we can be comfortable and happy at all times. If we try to be comfortable in everything we do, we are going to have a weenie brain and a weenie body. Do something that challenges your brain and your body and don’t squander the gifts that God gave you. IQ is only a number, what you do with that number is what matters most. If my IQ is 150 and all I do is go home, watch TV, and check Facebook each night then my intelligence is essentially worthless. Go out use your blessings, get smarter, learn an instrument, critically think, pick up a heavy weight, run really quick, and read a book. Don’t waist that beautiful brain of yours-make it glisten like one of Arnold’s biceps.

Words that I did not know:

Incredulity: a feeling that you do not or cannot believe or accept that something is true or real
Erudite:having or showing knowledge that is gained by studying
Egregious: conspicuous
Abhorrent: not agreeable

Summed up learning sentence:

Training your brain can only improve memory/fluid intelligence if your willing to challenge yourself and the best way to train is with an activity that your most likely to stick with over the long term.