While we’re on the Topic of Women: What’s up with our Immune Systems?

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His teeth moved in his mouth like they weren’t cemented in place—were they dentures or just loose? Was it a twitch he had in his jaw that made his upper teeth push against his lower teeth rocking them forward like that? Was it just his age—will my teeth soften too one day? Jack was in his nineties, after all. That’s why I liked him so much—he had almost a century of life in him, nine decades of sorting through the garbage life can sometimes hand you—learning about humanity, empathy, and compassion.  His eyes had seen so much and his heart had held agony and released it more times than I could even imagine. I sat at a diner with him on Maui—the island I dubiously called home and the island he inhabited only in the winter, escaping Canada’s cold. Living there, I sometimes felt like I was either waiting for him to come or missing his presence—he was always on my mind. I met him a couple of years earlier when I was vacationing on Maui. I overheard him in a conversation talking calmly and precisely about the effects of growing up with alcoholism in the home. He didn’t grow up that way. It was not his path, but he seemed to understand what it was like and have a compassion that I had yet to meet. I stuck to him, maybe he became one of my collectible father figurines. I don’t really know. I only know that I wanted to learn from a man with a heart like his.  So I jumped on the opportunity to spend as much time with him as possible over those few winter months of 2011 in an effort to learn faster— I was dying to get ahead of myself, get ahead of my youthful age of 24, desperate to outsmart my humanity and escape the traps that maybe he fell into. Why, oh why, wasn’t I already at that plateau—that juicy plateau of nothingness and comfort. I was tired of navigating—no more obstacles, please.  I sat with my head resting on the top of the booth and said, “do you think I’ll be successful in life?”  Jack said, “I see you. I see how hard you’re trying. You have to be careful. You’re going to exhaust yourself. Women have a tendency to overdo it. I’ve seen it all of my life. Some women suffer in an effort to over achieve. If you’re not careful, you’re going to burn out way too early in life. I see it in you.” I knew he was right in that moment. I mean, we were just trying to have a cheeseburger on a Saturday night, but my head was diving into the future, diving into all the things I needed to accomplish between that night and the age of 34: I’ve gotta get home and do the dishes, dust the floor, have sex with my boyfriend, do we have enough sex, do I please him, do I want to live here, what am I going to do for a career if I’m not acting, when am I going to write my book and pick up my camera, and I haven’t read the news all week, and this all has to be done in the next 10 years so that I can have a child, and my god, I don’t think I want to do that on Maui so I should probably start preparing for my move to…somewhere..Colorado, Los Angeles, New York, Oahu. But I also  knew his caution wouldn’t work, I would have to experience the burn out myself before I was willing to change. I got sick with Lyme disease two years later: The ultimate burn-out. And from the moment I was diagnosed,  I couldn’t help but hear his sentiment on repeat in my brain. I was only 26 and ready to tap out. And when I started to meet woman after woman after woman who were all also sick with Lyme or autoimmune challenges, I started seriously pondering the source of our “sickliness.”

I know roughly 80 women (mostly under the age of 40) that are sick with Lyme, autoimmune disease, cancer, or mysterious and rare illnesses yet to be diagnosed or completely misunderstood. I know about ten men with similar struggles. These are all people I have directly spoken to—or befriended— over the last three years. 75% of those affected by autoimmune disease are women with thyroid diseases and lupus holding a 10:1 ratio. Autoimmune related illness is one of the top ten causes of death among females under the age of 64. People are dying—mostly women. It is estimated that 50 million Americans are suffering from autoimmune disease while around 13 million are suffering from cancer worldwide (just to give an idea of the magnitude).  The funding for cancer research is much higher than the funding for autoimmune diseases—never fucking mind Lyme funding or research.  As far as Lyme disease, there is no clear indicator if it affects women more than men. There hasn’t been enough research done because it is not recognized as a chronic or life-threatening condition. (It is. It is both of those things.) It seems to present differently —drastically so—between the sexes (perhaps due to hormones, our immune system response, and the fact that doctor’s don’t always hear us), but with Lyme I only have my personal experience: Everyone I have met with chronic, debilitating Lyme disease—upwards of 50 people— has been a woman with the exception of four men. FOUR. So WHY are women experiencing exaggerated illness specifically in our “child-bearing” years? Is it like my friend Jack said—because we are trying to be and do it all in the 21st century? Or is it because our immune systems are… whacky (I’m no doctor), or is it because we are being ignored by the medical community?

In too many instances, we aren’t taken seriously from the exam table. Doctor’s are quick to diagnose women as “hysterical.” Oh, I’m sorry, they don’t use that term today—because it’s not the 1600’s— the term “hysterical” has been changed to a more palatable yet still completely insulting “depressed” or “conversion disorder.” Jennifer Brea speaks eloquently and vulnerably on this topic and how it has affected her life on her most recent ted talk. Please watch it. On women, Brea says with grace: “Our immune systems are just as much a battleground for equality as the rest of our bodies.” I am lucky that I haven’t had to deal with the life-threatening consequences of this particular brand of dismissal. Sure, many doctor’s I’ve seen have denied Lyme disease’s existence and many have questioned if I was just really depressed and needed to get more exercise, but because I was lucky enough to have a physical manifestation on my body that produced the diagnosis of Lyme disease almost immediately, I could shrug the uninformed doctor’s off more quickly. Having a confirmed diagnosis from almost the start worked deeply in my favor. However, in order to get well, I had to become my own doctor because I couldn’t find a single MD who was willing to listen to me and truly care for me for a manageable price. I used doctors as extensions of my care, as my associates but I was the boss—again, as a woman, I had to take on more work and more stress to get the job done. I watch my boyfriend do little to no research on his physical issues. The doctor simply takes care of him—sure it’s not as complex as Lyme (that’s debatable), but not a single doctor has ever suggested that his pain was due to being under-exercised or over-sensitive. He talked; they listened. I have talked;  they have laughed.

But that can’t be the only reason we are getting hit harder. Is it because of our hormones? Is it because of the battleground we are biologically built with in order to reproduce? Hormones are complicated as fuck (again, I’m no doctor). High estrogen/ low estrogen and high progesterone/low progesterone can have disastrous effects on the system. Well what the fuck? How are we supposed to stay in balance at all times. Many of us take extra amounts of estrogen or progesterone (putting our bodies through the wringer so that we don’t get pregnant) in our birth control. It has been noted that excessive amounts of estrogen end up suppressing the thyroid and activity of NK cells (natural killer cells).It has been studied and it is hypothesized that the reason women get hit harder with autoimmune disease is due to the relationship between estrogen and the immune system.  We  KNOW that hormones play a role because it’s been researched that our illnesses are directly affected by our cycles: ovulation, menstruation, and menopause. We tend to experience a serious symptom upgrade during any of these cycles. Speaking for myself, it’s fucking brutal. But then there’s pregnancy. Pregnancy. The whole creating life thing we do.  Dr. Steven Gundry, an expert on autoimmune issues, says in response to why women are more affected than men:  “A woman’s immune system must be able to do two things that are diametrically opposed; always be on the lookout for pathogens like bacteria and virus and parasites, but simultaneously switch to totally ignoring the largest parasite ever when you become pregnant. I believe, along with many others, that this dual role contributes to confusion for the immune system.” And, on top of that, some say that some fetal cells get leftover in our bodies after birth waging war confusing the shit out of our immune system. WHAT? OK so our bodies are much more complex than our male couterpart. Does that explain it? It hasn’t been proven.

Autoimmune disease and Lyme disease and their acute effects on women are being examined and heard, but then what about all of the other women I know that are suffering in similar fashions without a diagnosis. Or with a different diagnosis. I just keep coming back to my old friend Jack. Are we way too hard on ourselves? Are we burning out trying to climb to the top of our career, have children, be a homemaker, and a good friend  and do it all within our chilbearing years? It’s a lot to ask for, isn’t it? It’s stressful—are our minds constantly busy and stressed trying to be everything to everyone? Is it our reaction to stress? Is it the pressure of our biological instict to  be a shoulder to cry on while men find a way to quite literally “turn it off” and compartmentalize pain?  None of this is to negate the stress that men experience. I wouldn’t trade places with them—I really wouldn’t. I just want to offer an honest look at our complex bodies and minds and in the hopes that we ease up on ourselves—maybe even expect less of ourselves (EEEK). That we slow down. That we rest more. That we keep speaking up for ourselves and being heard.  That we come together and love one another. That we take just some of the pressure off in an effort to live presently and more fully.

Fun and love,

Jackie

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Clean Eating: My “Controversial” Diet

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I gave up booze and drugs at the startling age of 17—the age many (or most?) people are just getting started. Jaws still drop when I mention in passing that I, in fact, do not drink and haven’t in over a decade, but the news doesn’t land with the same deafening impact it did in my early twenties when my peers found such a choice to be blasphemous. I am no stranger to the often judgmental— but sometimes inquisitive— reaction I get from strangers or new friends (or even “friends”) about my lifestyle choices. Choice. If you want to call it that. But I quit drinking because it was destroying me and I really want to live…fully and vibrantly. And in order to LIVE fully, vibrantly, and, ironically, limitlessly—I now follow an extremely strict diet as well, a diet that generates the same jaw-dropping, mind-boggling reaction— “Why do you do that to yourself?  What DO you eat? Do you have any fun, ever? How do you do it?” I’d like to address these questions I am faced with almost daily.

I do this FOR myself  because it is one of the things that saved my life. I do it because I prefer to be in a pain-free body. I do it because I like to have energy and sleep well and because I really really like that I have essentially starved Lyme disease out of my body. I do it because I  love to be alive and I love to feel alive. I do it because I was very sick and willing to do whatever I needed to get better and, as it turned out, I like this way of life a whole lot better. I do not feel deprived—I feel rich and fulfilled.

What do I eat?  I eat fruits,vegetables, all meat (with the exception of pork), rice, legumes, nuts, seeds, and dark chocolate. That means I am free of alcohol, coffee, gluten, dairy (with the exception of goat dairy and ghee), refined sugar, soy, pork, eggs, corn, MSG, canola oil,  and any weird preservatives like citric acid.  And, yes, I have fun. I actually have much more fun because I’m healthy, which affords me the opportunity to actually go outside, exercise, socialize, work, and play. I have a big full life AND I have a big full menu of delicious foods to choose from. And for the people who earnestly ask me how to do it, for those of you who are also sick and looking to jumpstart your immune system or relieve a little pain or just clean up your act in hopes of a brighter future, below is a practical look at how I do it. But, first, a quick disclaimer: This is the diet that works for me. I deeply believe that we each have an ideal diet—I cannot say what’s best for you, listen to your body.

On an empty stomach every morning, I drink 16 oz of celery juice followed by filtered water and probiotics. Following that, I make a strong green tea blended with coconut oil and cacao powder.

Breakfast: A smoothie of 2 bananas, a cup of wild blueberries and pure hemp protein

Mid morning snack: Apples with almond butter or just apples OR Food for Life exotic black rice bread with sliced tomatos, avocado, and olive oil

Lunch: A big salad with kale, spinach, or arugula base and toppers of radishes, cucumbers, tomatoes, hemp seeds, avocado mash, and a Sunshine, Engine 2, or Hillary’s veggie patty on top. Dressing is lemon, olive oil and salt.

Snacks: Carrot sticks, gluten free crackers, nuts, dark chocolate, Lara bars,

Dinner: Brown rice, steamed or sauteed veggies, black beans OR a turkey or beef patty OR a homemade soup and black rice bread OR brown rice pasta with pesto and some raw veggies.

Delicious and mostly clean comfort food: Coconut oil purple heirloom potato chips by Jackson’s Honest, Amy’s gluten free and dairy free mac and cheese, gluten free and vegan desserts (there are so many, be careful with this one—they’re still often full of sugar. Read ingredient labels), goat cheese and Jilz gluten free crackers. If you live in a big city then you would be surprised just how many options are out there of delicious tasting and clean foods. I have eaten many gluten free, dairy free pizzas in Los Angeles and I have MADE the creamist mashed potatoes using only cashews to make them creamy. It IS possible to enjoy this diet.

Favorite resources for cooking this way: Kriscarr.com, Anthony William medicalmedium.com, Soupelina (get the cookbook on amazon!) and my friends that have passed down incredible recipes and gems for superfoods to me.

Also: I cheat! I mean, I really cheat! Every once in awhile, I have the cake or the bread or the—I don’t know—ENTIRE brick of cheese. I love french fries and I love them with mayo and I try my damnest to balance out the fries with leafy greens, but I’m sure I’ve failed. Now, I usually retreat from these choices quickly since they don’t taste as good as they once did AND they don’t make me feel good but I’m telling you that “cheating” IS  a part of clean eating…for me, anyway.

Get your nutrients, enjoy your food, live your best life,  do not beat yourself up, and use this as a resource if you ever need it.

Fun and love,

Jackie

 

I Don’t Want to Lock up my Feelings

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When I was home for the holidays, a basket full of papers and old chachkies was handed to me. I was meant to sort through it and throw stuff out. It was like a grab-bag of old family memories—things that brought a smile to my face, others that made me grimace. I pulled out a purple book, decorated with Esmerelda from the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I immediately recognized it as the first journal I ever kept—I was 11. An age that I was unafraid of my passions, an age that offered a soft FULL heart and a spirt that, as an adult, I can’t quite find. As I read some of the brilliantly sweet things I wrote, I felt sad that I ended up taking such a violent detour, I felt inspired by my young self, and I laughed…hard.

I was a certifiable love addict, dreamer, and  codependent. But I also had the kind of innocent wisdom that we can use today, in this angering time. I can only hope it brings a smile to your face as well, reminding you of the simpler things and inspiring you to love.

“A journal is thoughts and feelings. It’s important. It’s called…MY BOOK OF TRUE FEELINGS.” 

“I’m excited. Did you ever know what you want and then never let go of that feeling of wanting and nervousness if you’re gonna take the right road or not? Well, I want to be an actress. I have that feeling. It’s actually kind of a scary feeling. I’m feeling tired. Goodnight.” 

“Why do I want some dreamy way of getting a boyfriend? Ugh hormones….not really.” 

“I want a baby. Not like every other girl wants a baby.More than that. I feel like I could be the real #1 mom. I dream about that day where I get all sweaty and push so hard and cry and say ‘it’s a girl/boy’ I’m going to love that day and that baby more than anything.” 

“I can’t wait for that moment where I know that I’m falling in love. I want to say I love you to a man and mean it. I don’t know why some people say it when they don’t mean it. I know what love is. And I’m lucky that I know what it feels like and I love the feeling. It feels like nothing could happen. You’re nourished. It’s like sweetness of sugar which always gets you hyper and excited. You close your eyes and dream up this wonderful and clueless feeling and have that feeling every minute of the day. I hear the whistle of the wind and the beat of my heart. And at the same time I hear ‘I love you.’ “

“I’ve been thinking and I’ve decided to look at the way things are better than worse. I want to tell you about this book. I got it from Oma and Opa and used it as a diary. But I wrote stupid things so I ripped those pages out and made it the book of true feelings. I took the lock off because I don’t want to lock up my feelings. I don’t even hide the book!” 

“Mom had to get a tissue sample this morning. I was so nervous. It felt like the world stopped and I had to hold it in my hands until I knew Mom was OK. It was hard for me. It took strength. She’s OK. I was relieved when I came home from school and found out it was just menopause. The world began again and as I opened my sweaty hands and released my breath everything felt like a rose at that moment.” 

“Some people can have so much fun spinning in circles but sometimes you have to watch your step. You could end up falling.” 

“I’ve been unreal lately. I’m not sure exactly what I’m talking about but it’s a feeling that I have. What’s next? The feeling of lateness, cruelness, sadness? If only we could know ahead of time.You have to take a guess and when your guess is wrong it could do damage.”If heaven has ponies and big fluffy clouds then why does earth have to be fighting  and littering. Why must we have wars and death? I wish everyday could be a happy day. I wish that for one day nobody would fire a gun or do anything to hurt themselves or another person. I want to keep writing forever and ever.” 

“I feel sad lately. One day makes no difference all it is, is the day before today and days pass so quickly sometimes. I feel like I’m not even living. I dream of getting married. I used to dream about going into Junior High School. Soon I’ll go to High School. I still remember Kindergarten. I feel like I’m 100 years old.” 

“Why do some people like to be mean and make fun of the handicapped? The answer is they want to fit in. It makes me sad.” 

“I love someone. I feel it. I wish I knew who! I’m beginning to feel cries on the inside like my stomach is bubbling. I think I like Dennis. I THINK. I know I like Nick. I KNOW. As a matter of fact, I think I love him.”

“I started crying but I don’t know why. Something hurts me but I don’t know what.” 

“I’m full of tears lately. Over the silliest things. If everything could be exactly as you waned then it wouldn’t be life. I wish that everyday we could have something to look forward to. Some people have that. What’s going on? I’m changing…almost like Jekyl and Hyde. I wish I could wake up happy every morning, but I can’t. And that’s life.” 

 

3 years later, I wrote one entry:

“I’ve taken a new outlook on life: Fuck the world. It’s working good.” 

Here’s to getting back to our purer hearts.

Fun and love,

Jackie

How I Step Into the New Year

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It was hours before midnight, and I was already wasted. Running around in shredded jeans that put my hip bones on display, a tight red, spaghetti- strap shirt that revealed the push- up- bra- boobs of a teenager, and a pair of red sunglasses just to complete the “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” look, I was not making mom and dad proud. The New Years Eve party I attended was at my own house—my parents’ friends, my friends, and my brother’s friends shared the space in one excitable gathering. We had been throwing these parties for years, but that would be our last one—the last time we could pretend to be somewhat functional. Although, I’m not sure we had anyone fooled.  My father was only half present that year, leaving the room every so often to take a hit— an omen for what was to come. The clock was running out on 2003, and I had no resolutions for 2004. I was 15 and lost. All of the vitality I had lived with most of my life was just gone, eaten up by poison. I wanted out, I sought escape every chance I got. Around ten PM, with a red Dixie cup in hand, I sloppily took a stand atop our coffee table. Inspired by the music of The Spice Girls (I had picked out the song), I made a loud, screechy toast, “You know,” I shouted, “people never keep their resolutions… so THIS YEAR, I’m going to make a resolution to drink and be fucked up as much as possible because THAT’S a resolution I know I’ll keep.” Laughing so hard, feeling so clever, I stumbled off the table, found my way to the bathroom and spent the remainder of the night puking my guts up. I missed midnight. Technically, I was off to a good start considering my resolution, right?

While my behavior was graceless and funny/tragic, the statement I think I was trying to make was that I thought resolutions were ineffective. I thought they were silly, I thought we were a bunch of procrastinators, waiting for the symbol of the new year to make changes that we could really make today. Why wait? Once I sobered up—by 18— I woke up everyday with renewed intentions to live my best life, to be my best self, to be brave— to think, speak, and act from my highest self. I fell short often—or always—and started anew the next day. Isn’t life just a series of resolutions in that sense? New year’s resolutions can feel extremely overwhelming and can leave little room for imperfection—they don’t work for me. I do, however,  enjoy the idea of a brand new year, new goals and “starting fresh.” So how could I “start fresh” in a way that worked for me?

In 2011, I was living in Hawaii. I was angry—angry at Hawaii, angry at other people for making shitty decisions in their own lives, angry at myself for falling short. I sat in front of a camp fire on Uluwalu, a beach with cabins and tents set with maybe 50 of us celebrating together, waiting to kick off 2012. The fire burned bright, candles lit up pathways on the sand, the ocean crashed on the shore, and my hair moved with the breeze as I sat deep in thought.  I looked up at a man I had spent most of the year pissed off at. He had insulted me six months earlier and I had yet to let it go. What a waste, I thought “I’ve wasted so much energy being angry at that one man, what if I just make a decision to let go of my resentments from 2011, right here, right now? Do I really want to keep carrying this shit?” I excused myself from the fire and walked over to the ocean and just like that, let it go. I didn’t spend another moment angry at him— no more wasted energy. I stood there, alone, considering my life up to that point, what was lacking, what was fulfilled. And, for some reason, it occurred to me that I was too constricted.  I thought I had missed out on a lot of opportunities because I was trying so hard to control things. I noticed that I said, “no,” a lot in an effort to —I don’t know—save money, get more sleep, or just because I was inflexible. I was 24—too young to be saying no. I thought, “what if.. for one year, I just say yes.” It felt right.  YES. At every opportunity, this year, I will say yes to life. Like a resolution, it was an intention for the year—just one word that resonated, that presented a sort of game I could play with myself. How many times can I say yes? And what will happen if I do?

A couple of days later, January 3rd, I got a phone call from a friend around 9 pm, “Hey I need one more person, we are taking a six man canoe out under the full moon to look for whales.”  I had my pajamas on—it was Hawaii, bed time was approaching. I wanted to say no because what if I didn’t get home until super late and lacked sleep, what if I didn’t like the other people on the canoe, what if I got hungry, and I had dishes to do and blah blah blah..it was so spontaneous, so out of control.  But, it was a perfect time to practice yes. I had to say yes, I had JUST made the intention two days earlier. I said yes: We paddled out to the middle of the pacific ocean around 10 pm, and watched the full moon rise over Haleakala. We listened to the whales, we looked at the bioluminescence. It was quiet, salty, and magical. I got home around 1 or 2 AM, got enough sleep and was high for 24 hours off of the experience and the new people I met.  Yes was my new favorite word.

That was the year that I moved to LA, the year I left behind a relationship that wasn’t working,  the year I went skydiving,  I started horseback riding again, hiked everyday, got new friends, saw new places. In fact, I had become *too* spontaneous, and as 2012 was coming to an end, I got a sense of what I wanted next—the word that came to mind was “discipline.” I wanted discipline desperately. So, as we brought in 2013, that was my intention. And each year forward has gone like that. As the year ends, I take notice of where my life needs work, and I find a word that feels just right, and it becomes my intention. These words have, in a sense, been little building blocks for my life for 5 years. The words leave plenty of space for whatever is MEANT to happen in the new year.

Each year, I also work out some specific goals that compliment my chosen word, but I’ve noticed that something better usually takes the place of what I had planned. For example, this year I decided I wanted to be a part of a specific theater company. It didn’t work out, I hit too many walls, but as the year ended I got handed a *much* better opportunity in the theater—an opportunity I couldn’t have dreamed up. So, I make goals with the intention of staying incredibly flexible to what may come. My word, however, carries me through the year, threading together all of my daily actions.

A couple of years ago, I started using two words because it felt right (there are no rules here!). And this year, I went for a phrase—a string of words, each word holding a dear meaning and vision to me. Are you dying to know? I’m not telling! Not yet. But  I will say that  I’ve come a long way from that 15 year old girl who wanted to get fucked up all year. Fourteen years later, I sit here drinking my green tea and morning smoothie, and I want the exact opposite.

Fun and love and happy new year,

Jackie