The Truth About Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Finding Answers, Getting Well

Carpal Tunnel cover

Writers, musicians, artists, hairdressers – in short, anyone who puts their hands, wrists and arms through the same repetitive motions to perform specific tasks are at risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.  While it’s currently the leading occupational illness in America and the most common cause of physical disability in the world, there’s a general misconception that if you simply wiggle your fingers, shake your hands, get a shoulder massage, or change your position, it will go away by itself. Not so. Author, speaker and accomplished screenwriter Jill Gambaro not only knows from personal experience that carpal tunnel symptoms should not be ignored but has also written a book that sheds light on how to keep them from impacting your quality of life.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

 *****

Q: Let’s start with your diverse background as a writer – a dream job that calls for long hours sitting at a desk with fingers poised over a keyboard and eyes riveted on a computer monitor. At what point in your professional career did chronic pain rear its ugly head and cause you to seek a remedy?

A: It was during a day job actually. I was working as a temp, mostly in law offices, which was really a production typing job at the time. Typing 125 words a minute, seven hours a day is what caused my injury.

Q: I’m assuming that this was at a time when a lot less was known about the origins of this type of ailment?

A: Oh yes, water cooler wisdom at the time was that surgery with a three week recovery would fix the problem. It was only once I began receiving medical treatment that I discovered that was rarely the case.

Q: What sort of treatment regimen was used and how effective was it?

A: Physical therapy and bracing was and still is the recommended treatment. What they don’t tell you is that not all physical therapists understand how to treat these very complex injuries. What they call work hardening—strengthening muscles through weight lifting—is a rehabilitation philosophy that only aggravates repetitive strain injuries. Bracing also is controversial because lack of movement is just as bad as incorrect movement.

Q: Was any of this covered by insurance or was that, too, as yet uncharted medical territory?

A: Even though I was a temporary employee, legally, it was determined I was covered by workers’ compensation insurance. But that also meant I was the subject of a lawsuit on top of everything else. For the many who aren’t covered by insurance for such an injury, it can be both a blessing and a curse. A blessing that you can get treatment; a curse that insurance often doesn’t pay for treatments that are effective.

Q: From both a physical and psychological standpoint, how did your injury and the aftermath affect your ability to write?

A: Psychologically, I have to write, there’s just no two ways about that. And, at a time when I was in the throes of so much emotional pressure, writing was really my best escape valve. Unfortunately, not being able to physically type or hold a pen, made that very challenging. I had a lot of success using voice recognition software and wound up finding a whole new freedom as a writer through its use.

Q: Were there any support groups available as a resource or did you sally forth and create your own?

A: Very soon after I became disabled I found the Los Angeles Repetitive Strain Injury Support Group. They were a godsend. Their monthly meetings with medical professionals provided hour-long lectures on clinical practice, theories and treatments. It was such a tremendous help I wound up on the board of directors. There are like groups all over the world, some meet physically, others offer a Q&A format on the web. The RSI community is very open about sharing. Through my blog, I try to pass on the information that comes out of these groups as much as I can.

Q: Unlike other injuries where there is some sort of visual evidence of pain, carpal tunnel hinges in large part on the afflicted person’s verbal description of what’s going on. In my own experience, I can recall no shortage of office incidents where an employee citing extreme discomfort was perceived to be whining just to get out of work. For someone who is genuinely hurting, how do these perceptions exacerbate the problem?

A: That’s a very good question. It is so hard to be in overwhelming pain, while those around you say you’re making it all up. It was only when a doctor gave me a diagram of the front and back body and a set of colored pencils, so that I could color my pain that I was able to effectively communicate what I was experiencing. That diagram is affectionately called pain man, and tools like that can really help.

Q: What inspired you to write this particular book?

A: The first half of the book is a layman’s explanation of the biological mechanisms that make repetitive strain injuries so difficult to treat. It’s meant as a guide to help people recover. But it’s really the second half of the book that I’m most passionate about. It describes RSIs from a larger, economic impact. The bottom line is, good information can help everyone—employers, workers, even insurance companies—save a lot of pain and money.

Q: Given the severity of your injuries, how did you approach the physical challenge of writing it?

A: While voice recognition software helped a lot, typing isn’t the only task in writing a book. I had to be very disciplined about pacing myself, so I drew up a schedule that wasn’t impossible to stick to. It included a lot of breaks and made room for all the differing tasks of writing a book: research, drafting, editing. I also made time to walk every day; walking helps keep the pain away from me.

Q: Along with sharing your own experience as well as your extensive research on the topic of carpal tunnel injuries, you’ve also become an outspoken advocate in the political arena to increase awareness. Tell us about it.

A: I like to say that I fought city hall and failed miserably. In the early 2000s, Arnold Schwarzenegger had just become the governor of California with reforming the workers’ compensation system as his first task. We at the Los Angeles Repetitive Strain Injury Support Group leapt at the opportunity to shape public policy, and while many listened to what we had to say with great interest, in the end, the big money won and the system became even worse. Once, I even flew up to Sacramento to speak at a press conference. My back hurt so badly, I had to kneel behind a table to speak. I had to stop several times to remember what I wanted to say. The whole thing was caught on tape by news outlets and, as a seasoned media professional, I was mortified. Then I received calls from other injured workers, thanking me for speaking out. It made me remember why I was doing it.

Q: What did your injuries teach you about yourself as both an individual and as a member/leader of a creative community of fellow wordsmiths?

A: The injury did teach me a lot. My healthcare practitioners kept telling me throughout, “you’ll get through this better than most”. I hung on their every word, believing it was my tenacity they saw. In retrospect, it was the powerful sense of mission that got me through. Writers, I believe, are society’s therapists. It’s up to us, whether journalists, humorists or screenwriters, to analyze, critique and give feedback to the world at large.

Q: How is writing nonfiction different from writing screenplays?

A: Well, it’s very different, and not different at all. Screenplays are first and foremost about structure, but then you layer character and mood on top. You’re also telling a story, through pictures, using words. Non-fiction is supposed to be more straightforward than that, but I found in writing the book, that’s not entirely true. I struggled with some of my conclusions in the last few chapters of the book just as much as I would struggle to tie up a plot in a script.

Q: Tell us about your path to getting this title published.

A: It took 12 years to get the book published. Initially, I found a lot of interest among agents in the title, but they couldn’t place it with any publisher. Then, serendipitously after sitting on the shelf for several years, I met a fellow writer who thought her own publisher might be interested. They weren’t but they encouraged me to find a smaller house. I credit my experience as a producer, looking at the project as a business venture, for my success. I only queried two other publishers, both of whom asked for the manuscript off a cold query. The second one offered me a publishing deal within 30 days.

Q: Was self-publishing ever an option for you?

A: I seriously considered self-publishing but knew there were other patients who had written about their experiences, and never reached the audience. In the end, I thought Rowman & Littlefield’s academic reputation would lend a credence that self-publishing would not. Financial considerations got sacrificed in the process, but I’m hoping to make that up down the road through foreign sales.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I’m a wimpy patient. I like the kind of doctors who are warm and have a caring touch. I was the squeaky wheel who got the grease, but often through tears.

Q: What inspires you?

A: I’m so inspired when others achieve that special spark in their work. It doesn’t matter if they’re writers or doctors or auto mechanics. When someone is passionate about what they do and pushes himself or herself to reach their best potential it makes me want to push myself.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m bringing my visual storytelling skills to bear on the prevention of carpal tunnel syndrome. Musicians get it at an alarming rate but largely have to hide their pain. A little awareness would go a long way so I’m looking for brand partners to launch an advertising campaign.

Q: Where can our readers learn more about you?

A: Set a Google alert! You can follow me on truthaboutcarpaltunnelsyndrome.blogspot.com and LinkedIn, where I blog regularly. On Facebook.com/truthaboutcarpaltunnelsyndrome and @JillGambaro.

Advertisements

My De-Stress Diary – 52 Effective Tips for Less Stress & More Peace of Mind

De Stress Diary

If only Life came with a “pause” button for the times we need to take a breather from the rat race. Or does it already and we just haven’t figured out how to access it? In her new book, My De-Stress Diary – 52 Effective Tips for Less Stress & More Peace of Mind, Dr. Annika Sörensen offers advice on how to manage a multiplicity of pesky stressors that much too often keep us from enjoying – and celebrating – the beauty of the here and now.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: So how is it that a general practitioner in Sweden’s public health system for 25 years decided to start writing books about stress?

A: I was working, and at the same time raising my family of three wonderful daughters, I had the best job in the world meeting all kinds of people, dealing with all kinds of issues and – on the outside – it all looked like the perfect life. But on the inside I felt more and more overwhelmed, I started sleeping badly, nothing was fun and I didn’t feel I could do a good job because it was so much to do and sooo little time. I woke up each morning asking myself if I would survive the day. I was heading straight into depression and I needed help!

I realized I had to do something to get out of this so I started to read and take courses in health promotion and stress management. I learned a lot (and it was good for me!) but I also found out so much more I could do for my patients. Accordingly, my work actually got even harder. Looking at my whole situation I found only one way out – to quit my job and start my own business and the topic was easy to define: stress management.

In my search for good help, I found lots of books – many were good but they all focused on just one specific issue: how to organize your workflow, how to make lists, how to eat or how to exercise, etc. During my years in health care I have again and again seen that it all connects – you have to look at the big picture to find your optimal next move. That book – with the overview strategy – I didn’t find that out there. So I decided to put together all my 25 years of patient stories, combine it with my medical knowledge and build it into a model on how to tackle stress from a basic point. How to NOT complicate what to do, just keep it simple. How to start to get you as quickly as possible to de-stress. But it is not about a quick fix – they don’t exist.

Long story short, I wrote that book that I missed – Take Stress from Chaos to Calm – and made it a workbook to help the reader find the way. And a year later I wrote “My De-Stress Diary” as a complement to the work book.

Today I have a happy work life that I love, in my own company AskDrAnnika AND I still have my wonderful family that has been supporting me on this journey all the way.

Q: There’s no question there are lots of stressors in our daily lives – the job, the commute, the family, the finances, anxieties about health, frustrations about politics, fears about global unrest. In your view, what’s the biggest cause of all this worry, strain and persistent melancholia?

A: The greatest cause of stress related problems and disease is a lack of time for reflection and time for rejuvenation.

Q: Why is this area of study and professional practice particularly important to you?

A: I have seen so many people with stress related problems and seeing that it can lead to massive illness. And I have found out that it is possible to change the route with simple – but not easy – approaches so I have made it my mission to help business professionals NOT become patients.

Q: When I first entered the workforce in the early 70’s, there were plenty of employees around me that certainly fit the definition of ”stressed out.” Supervisors of the day, however, tended to dismiss or trivialize these claims by saying, ”Oh, it’s all in your head” or ”You’re just trying to get out of work.” At what point did society begin to realize there was a correlation between emotional tension and physical illness?

A: I would say there was a shift in the early 90’s. That was a time with many big changes in the world economy and in Sweden it was also a big structural change in the public wealth fare systems. People started to get “burnt out” and it became obvious that mental and physical health were connected.

Q: Even if someone recognizes that s/he is under a lot of stress, there’s sometimes a stigma attached to seeking professional help to identify what’s causing it and how to make it stop. Accordingly, they attempt to self-diagnose and self-treat. What are some of the biggest mistakes they make when they take this do-it-yourself therapy route?

A: The biggest mistake is to start doing random things and whatever pops up or what was good for their friends. That is probably not what they need and they will continue to be just as stressed, if not even more!

Q: What should they be doing instead to remedy the situation? (besides, of course, scheduling an in-office or Skype appointment with you!)

A: They need to halt and reflect on their total situation, look at all angles, maybe do a mind map. If they don’t have the energy for that, I would suggest starting with some physical activity to get the energy.

Q: One of the delightful phrases you use on your website regarding new patients is about taking a ”mental helicopter ride.” How does this approach work and what are the goals?

A: On a mental helicopter ride we look at the Wheel of life. My Wheel has eight pieces and work is one of them. The aim is to find happiness at work which will help you achieve more and, in the end, results in higher revenue in your business.

Q: What inspired you to write My De-Stress Diary and who is the book’s target audience?

A: My target audience is business professionals – mostly leaders –  at all levels. I had already published a structural workbook, Take Stress from Chaos to Calm and all the quotes from that book kept spinning around in my head until I one day just saw the picture of having 52 quotes to make it a weekly diary. One thing leads to the other and I thought of having weekly tips – and voila the idea was born.

Q: What are some ways that readers can use your book effectively?

A: I suggest reading one quote/tip a week, reflect on that, document your thoughts, implement and get things going. Since the tips are so different, you can have more than one subject working for you at the same time. You definitely don’t need to work with the tips in the given order;  personalize for your best needs.

Q: What’s your primary takeaway message for the book and also for your professional work?

A: Always first look at the whole picture because it is about all angles in your life. Pick your way, take one step at the time, make it simple – don’t overcomplicate things. And it doesn’t matter where you start as long as you do something.

Q: Do you have any favorite stories to share about individuals that have come to you for assistance to quell the destructive stressors in their lives?

A: It is about my client Lars. He felt lost. Business was going down. He was even thinking about getting a pay-job again because he felt at a dead-end with his own business. So we did an inventory in his life using my mentoring program. Most things seemed okay but he was generally annoyed and he blamed all and everything. As he worked his way through the program, he did some minor tweaks BUT it was not until he looked into his personal life he suddenly saw clearly that he had a hang-up with his mother in law…… no details – but when he dug more deeply it showed to be a silly misunderstanding that had started it all two years previous. He looked at his alternatives for a solution and decided to give her a big bouquet of flowers and talk about it – and voila – they could laugh about the mistake and he was at peace and got new fuel to continue his own business that now is flourishing. Silly isn’t it that just a small thing can destroy so much and we don’t take the time to reflect and sort things out.

Q: What do you to de-stress yourself and maintain a state of calm and balance?

A: I always try to get enough sleep – that is the ultimate source of life. I also mostly eat healthy food. I take daily walks and I have an alarm set to make short breaks every hour, sometimes just a one minute stretch of my body. I also am very careful about taking some time off if I feel things start getting out of hand – the sooner I rejuvenate, the shorter time I need.

Q: If your philosophy of living well were printed on a t-shirt, what would it say?

A: Get back to basics and don’t complicate life!

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I am very good at textile handicraft, sewing, stitching and especially hand weaving. I have a large handloom in my basement! My choice back then was between Textile and Medicine.

Q: If you could give just one piece of advice for quick relief in a stressful situation, what would that be?

A: A simple tool. It is the breathing anchor. It is a tool to use every time you feel the stress creeping up in your body. Sit/stand straight, with feet steady on the ground. Close your eyes if you want. Take a deep breath in, through your nose, letting your stomach out, hold the breath for a couple of seconds and breathe out slowly through your mouth and let your shoulder down. Do it again – in – hold – and out. This tool has two main effects – first, while you think of your breathing, your brain can’t think of your problems at the same time; that gives your brain some micro time to distance from your immediate response to a stressor and the stressor get a little bit less dangerous. Secondly,  your brain gets more oxygen and that makes it think more clearly which also makes your stressor seem a bit less dangerous. And keep on practicing! After a while it will be automatic and you have given yourself something really good.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I am in the process of making an online course of my mentor program “Go from Stressed to calm – 8 easy steps to regain control of your life!” The program is based on my first book, Take Stress from Chaos to Calm. In the program I virtually hold hands on the helicopter ride and then help my clients to sort things out and find their unique way out of it.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: You are the only person that can change your life – what do you want to change?

Q: Where can readers find your book and learn more about you?

A: My website (http://www.askdrannika.com) shows my books and my services – see you there!   annika@askdrannika.com

Connected To Goodness: Manifest Everything You Desire In Business and Life

CONNECTED TO GOODNESS

David Meltzer was at the top of his game in the business world as CEO to sports super agent Leigh Steinberg (played by Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire). He worked alongside Hall of Fame Quarterback Warren Moon and lectured around the globe. But something was missing, and the multimillionaire went on a rapid downward spiral that ended in bankruptcy. It was only then that David realized in order to revive and thrive he needed to blend spirituality with business. The result of his transformation is his remarkably successful venture, Sports 1 Marketing, and the debut of his new book (coauthored with Harrison Lebowitz) Connected To Goodness: Manifest Everything You Desire In Business and Life.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: There are lots of books on today’s market that talk about personal empowerment, positive thinking, and defining with clarity what it is you really want out of life, work and relationships. What do you feel best distinguishes your own approach to this topic?

A: I take a pragmatic approach. I’ve tried to take very complex spiritual, religious, and business beliefs and organize and collate them into a pragmatic, step-by-step process to follow in order to manifest what you desire rapidly and accurately.

Q: What in your background gives you the credibility so that others will listen to your message?

A: I have degrees, awards and accolades, been in executive positions and still, I believe my main credibility comes from the “dummy tax” that I paid … the lessons that I’ve learned through experiencing life and overcoming the mistakes that I’ve made along the way.

Q: At what point in your life did spirituality become a core element?

A: Spirituality has always been a core element, but I did not become aware of it until I was a Diver or at a stage of my life that I was empowered trying to empower others at the age of 38. My wife, on the other hand, has always been spiritual and tried to make me aware of it earlier, but I guess I just wasn’t ready and/or let my ego stand in the way. More specifically, however, while on this downward spiral, I was on a flight to Calcutta, India for business and was sitting next to Dr. Sangeeta Sahi, who was a complete stranger at that time. She turned and looked at me and asked, “Are you okay?”

I replied, “I’ve gone through some tough times, but I’m back on track.”

I added cheerfully, “Actually, I’m better than ever.”

Dr. Sahi studied me closely, then said, “You are full of light, but your energy is off. You’re blocking your energy and are in your own way.”

It blew me away that not only could she read my energy, but she used language identical to what I had heard from others who had begun to peak my interest into spirituality. Dr. Sahi turned out to not only be a medical doctor, but also a holistic accelerator of healing, and a practitioner of Quantum medicine. She offered to work with me. I immediately participated in one of her workshops where I could learn about Theta meditation and healing …which completely changed my life for the better.

Q: What was your belief system prior to that moment?

A: Prior to then, I believed that I was in control of my destiny and could overcome any obstacle that I faced. Now, instead of going out and getting what I want, I attract it to myself with no resistance.

Q: How and when did you decide to incorporate spirituality into your business practice?

A: When I became comfortable with Theta meditation and healing, I started incorporating these aspects of manifestation into my business practices. This happened in my late 30’s.

Q: I’m assuming this transition didn’t happen overnight?

A: You’re right. Gaining gratitude and empathy and strengthening a connection to goodness that had weakened takes time and has an accumulative effect.

Q: Let’s talk about intuition. In your view, is it an inherited trait or a learned behavior? For instance, why is it that some individuals when faced with a challenging decision always seem to have a hunch, listen to an inner voice or just “know” which choice is the right one?

A: We all have an inner voice and an intuitive sense to make the right decision based off of our awareness. Unfortunately, sometimes our subconscious – our ego – gets in our way and weakens our connection to goodness. We must then “Cancel” the negative chatter in our head, “Clear” our minds and “Connect” to goodness.

Q: Do you believe that faith – and whether it takes the form of religion or spirituality – is increasing its influence in the 21st century or losing it?

A: Because of the faster vibration and the complexity of what we’re exposed to, I think we’re losing our faith as we lose our awareness. Collectively, we have weakened our connection to goodness.

Q: You’ve indicated there are seven interconnected principles that have a combination of general and specific relevance to our personal and professional lives. Which of these do you believe had/have the strongest bearing on your own success?

A: The Foundation Principle. Knowing and understanding my personal, experience, giving and receiving values affects everything I do. Like everything else in the world, without a strong foundation, things are unstable. This also is the Foundation for all of the other Principles in my book.

Q: Has it been difficult or easy to “keep to the code” of those principles?

A: All good habits are hard at first and hurt, then they eventually get easier and easier. Based on the core of my belief system and principles as well as my philosophy on how the imagination works with the higher mind to create inspiration, the more we do something, the easier it gets as well … be it swinging a golf club, working on a relationship, manifesting financial success and so on.

Q: Tell us about the different life or business stages you’ve identified in your chapters.

A: The life and business stages are the same. The life stages are simply the macrocosmic view of the more specific microscopic components that embody the life stages, such as business. As discussed under the Destination Principle, these stages are: Skivers, who lack empathy and gratitude; Strivers, who are themselves empowered; Drivers, who are empowered and can empower others; and Thrivers, who are empowered and can empower others to further empower others. We need to be aware of when we weaken our connection to goodness. This loss of gratitude and empathy leads us to the stages of: Arrivers, who are self-entitled; Divers, who have an even weaker connection because of self-sabotage; and Survivors, who are just going through the basic motions of living and deciding whether to exist or not.

Q: What is the greatest leap of faith you have ever taken?

A: Wow, this is a great question! I would say that the greatest leap of faith would be when I went to work for Westlaw right out of law school instead of being a “real” lawyer, as my Jewish mother said. Believing that the Internet was going to be a big thing, I went against the grain.

Q: Complete this metaphorical sentence: Life is like ______________________.

A: From my mentor Albert Einstein — “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

Q: Describe what the collaborative process was like in working on this book.

A: It was a phenomenal process between Harrison and me. I would do the due diligence and research … and then organize and lecture on each chapter. Harrison would record it and then put it into his prose and voice. I would then edit it and re-adjust it into the clarity, balance and focus of my voice. And then it would go back to him in this circular fashion until we were both satisfied. Like everything else, with this second book we are seeing that it is getting easier and easier, and Harrison and I should be able to get out three or four books a year.

Q: How did your book and training lead to your partnership with Internships.com and what is that all about?

A: Utilizing my years of training others, travelling the world for speaking engagements, and my business model of empowering others to empower others lead to the creation of my internship program. For years, I had been trying to figure out how to monetize this internship program. Through one of our interns being more interested than interesting, we were able to attract internships.com and create a mutually beneficial relationship based off of the reasons, impacts, and capabilities of both companies. We co-developed the sports microsite that posts sports-related internship positions and provides training, certification and other opportunities, including a video training series based on the book and a link to our own Web Channel, The Inspirational Sports Network (www.tisnchannel.com).

Q: If you were making a commencement speech to the next generation of thought and business leaders, what would your theme be?

A: How empowerment leads to happiness.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: www.connectedtogoodness.com; Twitter: @dmeltzer; Facebook: /connectedtogoodness; and

Instagram: @davemeltzer

They can learn more about my business, Sports 1 Marketing, at: www.sports1marketing.com; Twitter: @sports1mktg; Facebook: /sports1marketing; and Instagram: @sports1marketing

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: The official book launch for Connected To Goodness will take place on September 27th at 3:00 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble, Tustin, The Market Place, 13712 Jamboree Road in Irvine, CA. I’ll be there to sign books along with my business partner and great friend, Pro Football Hall of Fame Quarterback Warren Moon, who wrote the foreword. We’ll also have an informative discussion on how to bring out greatness in others and in yourself. We’d love to see you there if you can make it. Besides Barnes and Nobles, both the brick and mortar stores and online, you can also get the book from Amazon or through www.connectedtogoodness.com.

Also, I’ve already begun a book tour. While subject to change and further additions, here’s the most up-to-date list of dates in case I happen to be in your area:

September 8 – Speaker, Arizona State University

*September 10 or 11, Speaker, St. Johns University

*September 10 or 11, Speaker, Columbia University

September 15 – Speaker, Concordia University

September 19 – Speaker and Workshop, University of Michigan

September 22 – Speaker, Case Western University

September 29 – Speaker, University of Texas

September 30 – Speaker, Texas Tech University

October 6 – Speaker, Umass-Amherst

October 7 – Speaker, Williams College

October 22 – Speaker, Seattle University

October 23 –Speaker, University of Oregon

October 24 – Speaker, University of Oregon

October 28 – Speaker, Tulane University

November 3 – Speaker, University of Miami

November 4 – Speaker, Florida State University

November 17 – Speaker, George Washington University

*November 18 – Speaker, George Mason University

*November 18 – Speaker, Georgetown University

November 19 – Speaker, Southern Virginia University

 

*Denotes awaiting confirmation of date. Please check www.connectedtogoodness.com for any changes.

Finally, we anticipate the next book in this series coming out in January!

 

 

 

Smile At Your Challenges

IMG

There’s no shortage of people – and perhaps you’re one of them – who believe that if they only had a flawless face, the perfect body, the right car, the dream job, a full bank account, and a blissfully stress-free lifestyle that Happiness would be theirs for the taking and they could bask forever in the love, acceptance and admiration of others. Accordingly, they try every diet on the market, subject themselves to plastic surgery, engage in daily reinvention exercises, and race around to speed-dating venues in order to find the perfect soul mate who will validate their existence. Sadly, these obsessions reflect our national obsession with “Instant Now” – be it the quest for short cuts, quick fixes, or thinner thighs in 20 minutes. As a colleague of mine is wont to observe, if there was a magic pill that would give people everything they thought they needed to have to be perfect, the inventor of said pill would be an overnight gazillionaire. Since no such pill currently exists, the best investment you can make in your future “newness” is a copy of Danielle Pashko’s debut book, Smile At Your Challenges. Pashko – a former New York model and expert on yoga, massage, holistic nutrition and healing modalities – embraces a reader-friendly approach to improving oneself by accepting that happiness is truly an inside job.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: It’s often said that appearances can be deceiving. Have people ever looked at you and remarked, “What kind of challenges could you possibly have? If you’re pretty, life will always be blissfully easy.”

A: I get that all the time. People think I’ve lived a charmed life based on my appearance and judge me in 15 seconds.

Q: As an adolescent and a teen, what was the defining incident that most strongly honed the survival instincts you would need as an adult?

A: Losing my mother and not having a father to protect me made me realize I was alone in this world. I knew if I made poor decisions I’d probably be on the street.

Q: What attracted you to the field of health and wellness and how did you first break in?

A: My mother’s early illness was my first introduction to health and wellness. Her best friend Beverly turned her on to meditation, visualization, holistic remedies and esoteric concepts. I was meditating by age 12 and followed a holistic lifestyle from a very young age before it became trendy.

Q: In a perfect world, a person who eats their vegetables, exercises regularly, practices yoga, drinks green juice and goes gluten-free would never have a day of sickness in their lives, much less a catastrophic illness. As someone so conscientious about maintaining good health, what was your reaction when you were diagnosed with thyroid cancer?

A: Strangely, I was not surprised. I was always scared of cancer due to the fear that was instilled after my mother’s early death. I was convinced that I’d experience some form of cancer by the time I turned 31, the age she was diagnosed. And guess what?…I got sick at 31. Did I will it? It’s a lesson to consider that our thoughts have energy.

Q: What role does spirituality play in your ability to deal with life’s pot holes, speed bumps, detours, and occasional careening off of unexpected cliffs?

A: Spirituality is the only way to stay sane. Although, it’s not a pretend philosophy for me. I believe our souls all have a lesson and chose the incarnation and body that we exist in. If we can view things as divinely orchestrated and not as a punishment, we can always figure out why we had to experience the pain. It just may not happen while we are experiencing it. Believing that YOU are in control instead of a higher power unfortunately leads to suffering. Nothing is random…

Q: Is there an age-related correlation between attitude and expectations and is it different for women vs. men?

A: For women, 40 seems to be like a very scary number. I think men hit it closer to 50. Although there seems to be more pressure on women than men to be married, beautiful, and have children than the pressures that men face.

Q: When expectations aren’t being met, there’s a general tendency to be grumpy about it and walk around with a glower and a frown. Encouraging people to smile at their challenges – as your new book title recommends – sounds like it’s much easier said than actually done.

A: I like to use my mother as that example. She was dying of cancer, but always wore a beautiful wig, full face of makeup, and dressed to the nines on a very limited budget. She never wanted anyone to feel bad for her. I took the lead from her.

Q: How much does our mental state affect our physical health?

A: Attitude is everything. Anxiety, nerves, depression, etc. will slowly kill us. I think those emotions are even more dangerous than sugar and processed foods – which I completely advise against.

Q: As many parents these days can attest, the “heroes” that their offspring zealously worship and want to emulate insofar as fashion and behavior are more likely to be celebrities whose popularity is a manufactured image. What’s your message about the danger of losing your uniqueness – at any age – when you try to imitate rather than create?

A: When you are not natural, authentic or yourself, it reads as fake. People can see right through that. We attract our soul mates, friendships, and even business relationships by being ourselves. Being like everyone else is so boring – why would you even want that? I love being different, it’s one of my best qualities.

Q: Does this carry over to dating relationships as well?

A: Yes, you can pretend to be someone else to get the guy or girl of your dreams. Then when the real you comes out – guess what? Now you are married to someone you are totally incompatible with. There’s nothing worse!

Q: If your next walk on a beach turned up a brass lamp from the Arabian Nights, what would be the most important wish you’d want its resident genie to grant you?

A: It sounds funny, but that I would always be healthy and not have to work so hard on it. I am grateful every day when I feel good. I can just imagine where I’d be if I didn’t take care of myself.

Q: So tell us what inspired you to put your life lessons into a self-help book and pursue publishing?

A: Honestly, I’ve never met anyone with a life anything like mine. (I’m not sure if that’s good or bad) Friends would always joke and say I need to write a book or movie script. As a professional counseling people on health and wellness, the unique chapters of our life can’t be ignored. Most people don’t just wake up being sick and I question how I came to my own health struggles. We need to realize where our physical problems stem from. The mind, body, and spirit are interconnected. To be truly healthy, we need to work on all of it.

Q: Who’s your target reader for this book?

A: The book appeals to women age 20-50, although I’ve received some very interesting feedback from men and have applied some of these tools to their lives.

Q: Did you work from a preliminary outline or just let the ideas flow as you went along?

A: I tried to work from an outline but have to say so much was just intuitive.

Q: What was the hardest chapter for you to write?

A: The hardest chapter to write was probably “Age, Attitude and Expectations.” Most of the chapters were based on personal experience. I kind of embrace my age so it’s not something that I have struggled with.

Q: And the easiest?

A: The easiest chapter to write was “You Don’t Have To Wear Your Pain”. It’s a little strange because it reads as the most emotional, but it’s where my journey started.

Q: What would you say are the three major takeaway lessons from Smile At Your Challenges?

A: We are stronger than we think. Shit happens but you can’t let it cripple you. You’re not a victim.

Q: Like many new authors, you opted to go the self-publishing route. What was the journey like for you?

A: You have to be really on top of promoting yourself and social media. Although, for me I like that I’m spreading the word organically without a marketing team. It’s exciting to hear nice reviews that I didn’t pay for!

Q: You also have your first book-signing coming up. Brava! Tell us the details.

A: Yes, I’m doing an event the end of May to talk about the book and why I wrote it. I don’t think even many of my friends know these details of my life or philosophy. It’s really exciting to share.

Q: So what’s next on your plate?

A: I’m going to roll with this book for a few more months and see what opportunities come from it.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A:They can visit my website pashkowellness.com

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Don’t be a stranger. I’d love to hear feedback from readers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Alternative Medicine Cabinet

kathy_gruver_headshot

Whether it’s your job, money worries, relationships or problems with health and nutrition, a recent study by the American Psychological Association cites that stress is not only on the rise but also currently costs U.S. employers $300 billion annually in stress-related claims and missed work. Nor is it just professional lives that are suffering; the common symptoms of fatigue, anger, depression, tension and nervousness wreak havoc on the homefront as well, potentially leading to substance abuse, chronic illness, reckless behaviors, and withdrawal from family and loved ones. So what can we do to reverse the damage all this angst is causing us and learn to approach life with a healthier body and a more positive mindset? Author Kathy Gruver, PhD shares insights as she talks about The Alternative Medicine Cabinet.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: For starters, how did someone who started out as an actress in Pittsburgh end up as a health writer and practitioner in California?

A: Even though my childhood dream was to pursue a life as a performer, the healing aspect was always a parallel path. I started doing massage when I was about five. I would massage my dad’s neck on long car trips. Students in high school would always sit in front of me and ask me to rub their shoulders, as I was so good at it. I apprenticed with a healer in college, very accidentally I might add, who taught me that I was not only good at massage and healing but encouraged me to pursue it as a career. When I arrived in Hollywood I studied further, thinking massage would be a great way to make money while I was pursuing my acting career. And it stuck and eventually overrode my desire as a performer.

When I finally left Los Angeles in 2000 I had a choice to make as to what I would pursue for the rest of my life. In Santa Barbara, I had taken a very high-paying production job. When it fell through after about seven weeks, I realized that healing was the path I wanted to take and proceeded full time. I studied more massage in Santa Barbara and started my own practice. I then pursued further degrees with my Masters and PhD following suit. I started writing books, speaking locally and then nationally, more and more radio and TV interviews, my first book was turned into a TV series and I find myself here and now with a career I never dreamt of. And who knows what the future holds.

Q: What did the acting profession teach you about stress, anxiety, jittery nerves and how to manage them every time you performed in front of an audience?

A: I never really got stage fright; I was always very comfortable in front of people on stage. It was off stage that made me nervous, walking in to classrooms late, that sort of thing. What made me most nervous was singing. I had a very, very horrible experience with an audition when I was in ninth grade and it took me years to get over it. It was a long time before I would open my mouth and sing in front of people. When I had my first big solo in a show, (I was Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors) I was a nervous wreck. But somehow I just managed to get through it. I had tons of support from the cast and knew I wouldn’t have gotten the role if I couldn’t do it. I wish I would’ve known some of the techniques I know now it would’ve made life a lot easier.

Q: To take an even earlier step back, much of your childhood and teen years were spent as an only child whose mother battled cancer for nine years. How did that affect your formative years, and ultimately inspire your future work in healthcare?

A: It was hard; there are a lot of things I was doing that my mother could not be a part of. Because she had trouble sitting, many of my shows and dance recitals were missed by her. So there was a lot of longing to have her attention and acknowledgment that I just never was going to get. Being that I had no thought at that point of doing anything with my life concerning medicine I never really considered it. I did wish for and investigate other options for her healing. She was trapped in the cycle of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. To no avail. In fact, I found out many years later that it was those treatments that led to her death. The cancer never would’ve spread and killed her. It certainly made me grow up a lot faster and be responsible for things in my life that a normal kids that age wouldn’t have. It also taught me compassion and patience for someone who was sick. I didn’t always show that with my mother unfortunately, but now I have certainly adopted that for my clients. My father was also an incredible caregiver and very patient with my mother. That taught me a lot as well.

Q: There’s no question that technology has increased our capacity to get things done, invited us to “chat” with individuals across the breadth of the planet, and enabled us to look up virtually anything we’d ever want to know without even leaving home. On the flip side, it has also escalated our impatience, made us more insular and heightened our levels of stress. Why is that? And what should we be doing to counteract the short- and long-term damage?

A: The technology thing is pretty ironic. We now have the ability to talk to people around the world but can’t say good morning to our neighbors. I find it incredibly frustrating that we have these abilities to communicate but can’t go back to the common niceties of saying “please” and “thank you”. And I think because we have constant access to computers, cameras and phones that we no longer have an opportunity for silence. Whereas before, waiting in line for something would’ve caused us to stand silently by ourselves or talk to our neighbor. We are now immediately looking down into the world of technology. We think we’re saving time but are we just driving ourselves crazy? And being that we have constant access to work or business, I think that is heightening our stress level. Because people can respond in a blink of an eye, we expect them to. So for those people that don’t, others get impatient and irritated with them. We wonder why on a Saturday night at 11 p.m. they haven’t responded to the email yet; I mean clearly it’s in their hands they should’ve responded. And I don’t know if there’s any way to counteract this. I think this is just our society now and until we see a shift in our mindfulness practices and our ability to say no and set boundaries, we are going to be stuck dealing with these issues.

Q: In your opinion, who’s better at dealing with stressful situations – men or women?

A: Oh, it goes both ways. I think women take stress more personally, but they’re also more open to the techniques that may help them deal with stress. Men can often get their stress out with things like sporting and competition, but are less apt to want to sit down and learn meditation and visualization. At this point I think it’s really an individual thing and it’s up to the individual to find techniques that are going to help them deal with their stress in whatever way works for them.

Q: Stress throughout the day often makes it a challenge to fall asleep – and stay asleep. What are your best tips for putting tension on a time-out so your batteries can recharge by morning?

A: Poor sleep is one of the large indications of stress. Doing things like a brain dump where you write all of your stressful things down ahead of time and promise to do it in the morning is one way we can assure ourselves a good sleep. Making sure the sleep environment is optimal including a dark, quiet room and little distraction is also important. Sometimes we wake up and our brain goes crazy with repetitive thoughts of problems from the past and worries about the future. I like using affirmations for this and thinking something like “I fall asleep quickly and easily, I wake up feeling refreshed.” It normally programs our bodies for good sleep but it shuts out other thoughts that are interfering as well.

Q: Let’s talk about some of the correlations between diet and stress. For instance, our grandparents and great grandparents – especially those that worked on farms – tended to eat a lot of foods that would make today’s nutritionists shudder and condemn as “unhealthy.” Yet, oddly, many of these individuals lived well into their 90’s without being debilitated by high levels of stress. Thoughts?

A: I think the key is going back to real food. If it comes in a colorful cartoon character filled box it is not good food. In most cases it’s not even food. It’s a food-like product. Organic is definitely best and avoiding package processed foods, GMO’s, high fructose corn syrup and artificial components are going to be the most important things in keeping nutritional stress out of our systems. One of the few things we can control is what we’re putting in our mouths.

And since you refer specifically to farmers, I’m assuming you were talking about things like milk, meat, cream, butter etc. Frankly I would rather see someone eating those things in the natural form rather than the packaged stuff we have today (except the milk; don’t think we should be drinking milk). Also those people were incredibly active and not stuck behind a desk.

Q: Tell us about your path to publication and the debut of The Alternative Medicine Cabinet.

A: I was speaking to someone about how I wanted to do some public speaking. And they said, “So I assume you have a book?” I realized that if I want to be taken seriously in my industry, be recognized as a national expert, I had to have a publication. I assembled a lot of the articles I had written and projects for school and there was created The Alternative Medicine Cabinet. I had heard horror stories about traditional publishers taking 16 to 20 months for publication and changing everything to the point where the book didn’t even seem like your own. I just decided to self-publish with a company that my husband and I had found, Infinity Publishing. I’m very proud of the book and it was turned into a TV series and has won two literary awards. It’s a perfect primer for people who are interested in learning about natural health and a great reminder for those already have a background in it.

Q: Congratulations on the television series! How did that come about?

A: That was kind of my plan all along. I had done a guest spot on Lifetime Television’s The Balancing Act, and one of my friends said, “Hey you were so great on TV, you should have your own TV series. You should call it The Alternative Medicine Cabinet.” I wrote back and said that’s the plan, that’s what I’m headed towards. I decided to find some of my old production contacts and met with them in Los Angeles. I pitched my show idea to them and about 30 seconds in the woman in the group stopped me and asked me multiple questions and explained to me why the TV show would not work. I was definitely discouraged and I think it was the slowest drive I’ve ever taken back from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara. I just didn’t think I had it in me to do all the legwork she suggested to even get a meeting with a producer or a sponsor, etc. However, a few weeks later an old murder mystery friend said he wanted to pitch my show to a network. We did, they loved it, and the rest is history. It has still been a very long process and the show is not yet on the air. Hopefully any month now. One of the reasons the show got picked up was because of my background as an actress I could convey the information in a fun, down-to-earth, informational way and that doesn’t sound stilted or too formal.

Q: You’ve written two other books as well. What are their titles, and was the publication process the same as the one you had for The Alternative Medicine Cabinet?

A: The other two books are both on stress; Body-Mind Therapies for the Bodyworker was the first one, which I wrote specifically for other people in the health industry. I wanted to teach them what I learned through my massage practice about the connection between the body and mind. A lot of it was based on my dissertation for my PhD. Then I decided to do a version for the general public. Conquer Your Stress with Mind-Body Techniques was released last year and just won a finalist place for the USA best book awards and was voted one of the top 50 reads for 2013. Very proud of the book. And have found that I have educated thousands of people about stress, how to control the stress response and the power of their own minds. And yes, I also used Infinity Publishing to self-publish these books as well.

Q: What have you learned about being an author that you didn’t know before you started?

A: It was actually easier than I thought. The thought of sitting down to write a book is really intimidating and somewhat terrifying. What I found to be the biggest challenge is the marketing component of it. I remember the questionnaire in ninth-grade where we were asked if we wanted to read a book, write a book, or sell a book. And I remember pondering that and thinking I want to do all three. I’ve learned I don’t actually want to do all three. I don’t want to have to sell the book. However, to me, the point of writing the book is to get in people’s hands and I will spend the rest of my life marketing and promoting my books and myself as an expert.

Q: How did you become an expert in so many different areas?

A: A few different reasons. One of which is I’m an incredibly curious person. And I love medical knowledge. This has led me to take an enormous amount of continuing education that isn’t even required for my field. Currently I’m in a hypnosis for pain management course. I’ve done dozens of courses through Harvard, some in person, some online. I just eat up the information and I retain it and am able to parrot back to my clients in a way that they understand. I also feel I am providing them with the service by helping them decipher what Western medicine is telling them. It also is in the interest of helping my clients. The more I know, the more I can help them. I just want to keep learning and learning.

Q: There’s clearly no shortage of health and wellness books on today’s market. What would you say differentiates your own titles in this field?

A: I think it’s the down-to-earth way I write the books. I try not to use crazy-big words; I incorporate humor, a light and a very casual way including asides and smart aleck comments. I put a lot of personal experiences or client stories in, which everyone really loves. People say that reading my books sounds as if I’m reading to them. I love that because I actually do dictate a lot of my work. I want it to be accessible to the general public and not a stilted book that is over their heads. I want to be able to reach the masses and give them the power that they can make changes in our lives. My books do that.

Q: It’s often said that teachers learn as much from their students as the latter learn from them. What have you learned from the clients that you have consulted individually or through workshops?

A: Wow, that question could fill an entire book on its own! One of the most important things I learned from a client was about the mind-body connection. I tell the story in my books, but the gist of it is she was experiencing hand pain and the massage and traditional treatments were only helping so much. When we discovered there was a holding onto of emotion, the pain went away and she was able to become 100 percent healed. I truly believe had she not discovered that emotional connection, she never would’ve had full and complete healing. Because of my clients I’ve investigated different illnesses, diseases or prescriptions, which have helped me and my own family or other clients’ lives. I’ve learned patience. I learned tolerance. There are clients that can be very difficult and I’ve had to work around my own stuff to deal with them. And all have come out very positive. Frankly, one of the most fascinating things I’ve learned about are several different religious beliefs. I have clients of all walks of life and it’s fascinating for me to hear about different belief systems and their life stories and experiences.

Q. What role does meditation play in creating a more harmonious life and mindset for oneself?

A: It’s so easy to go through our lives mindlessly. We see that on the freeway when we suddenly “come to” and realize we don’t know if we’ve passed our exit or haven’t gotten to our exit or showed up to work on a Sunday. Staying in the present moment is one of the keys to better health. Meditation can help with that. I am not a good meditator. I talk fast, I walk fast, I want to be moving at all times and it’s hard for me to shut off my brain. To tell me to sit on a pillow and relax my body and quiet my mind is very difficult for me. I do mini meditations, which I’ve taught to thousands of people over the world. That consists of simply concentrating on your breath and on the inhale thinking “I am” and on the exhale thinking “at peace”. This is been one of the most useful things to me, and when I find I’m getting sucked into a stress response I do this. Sometimes I need a reminder but I’ve been doing it enough that I can pretty much direct myself to do it when I need it. It is one of the best tools I’ve ever learned to help with stress and creating a harmonious life and mindset.

Q: If your philosophy of life were printed on a t-shirt, what would it say?

A: Go for it. It was my motto in high school and it stands true today. I see so many people envying another person’s life or saying, “I want to do that”. People say that to me with the trapeze or the way I live my life. And to me you have to just go for it. You can’t live vicariously through another, you have to take the opportunities that you can and live life to its fullest. So it’s pretty simple. Go for it.

Q: What do you hope to give others through the combined elements of your therapeutic massage practice, your books, and your upcoming TV show?

A:  I want people to reclaim control of their lives. I want them to know they have other choices and I want them to know that they have the ability to make changes in their lives. That can be really difficult and scary but we all have that ability and we have to take advantage of the right that we have to choose different things and to really regain control of our lives. I’m really big on options. And many people don’t think they have options. We don’t always have the greatest options, but they’re always there. We have to make the best choices we can. This is why I put so many different modalities into my stress books. It’s a buffet of options and if one doesn’t work for you, you simply choose another or another five.

Q: With a full-time practice – coupled with speaking engagements and writing – what do you do for fun if/when you have time?

A: Oh I definitely make time for fun. My husband is a wine, food and travel writer so he and I do many events involving fabulous food and great wine. Myself, I’m still obsessed with dance from when I was about five years old. So I do hip-hop dance classes three or four times a week. And my new passion and my new obsession is flying trapeze! I drive down to Santa Monica pier and I take a two-hour flying trapeze class and then I spend the evening at the Magic Castle, which is another passion of mine. I’m a total magic nerd and the Magic Castle is one of my favorite places anywhere. So, I still have fun. I wish I had more time for reading. But it just doesn’t fit into my life right now. And we have two adorable little boy cats, which I love playing with and laughing at.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: Everyone assumes certain things about me because I’m in natural health and alternative medicine. I am not vegan or vegetarian. In fact I’m not a huge fan of that as a 100 percent lifestyle choice. I do not do yoga nor do I traditionally meditate. That tends to surprise people. I don’t particularly like the slow New Age music that I play in my office; I prefer music like hiphop, NIN, Godsmack and Korn. That catches people off guard. The trapeze is definitely a surprise to people as is the hip-hop dancing because they assume I’ll be doing yoga. I love NFL football. I am a huge crazy loud screaming Pittsburgh Steelers fan. People don’t expect that from a healer. And I have a mouth like a trucker…especially when I’m watching football.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Right now I am finishing off a lot of projects that are blooming from the planting I did last year. I’m doing a lot of expert information for radio, TV and articles. I just had a piece on CNN’s website. People are now seeking me out which is fabulous. I am still promoting the three books I’ve already written. I just started an iTunes channel to have some guided visualizations and meditations to help people. And I am going to be writing another book. I’ve started an outline but am really letting that lay there until I have the strong urge to do it. I feel like I’m just working through and enjoying things that I put into place last year. But another book is coming, don’t worry!

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I just want to encourage people to make changes and to go for what they want. I’m not a fan of a bucket list. It makes it out that the things we really want to do have to wait until we’re 80 with a terminal illness. I think we should have a daily bucket list and if there are things in your life that you want to do that you can feasibly do, do it now. There is no time to wait. And no time to waste. We have so little of it and it’s so precious, so take it now. And do your best to get the stress out of your life. It does no good at all. Unless you truly are being chased by a bear.

Q: Where can readers buy your books?

A: The best place is my website which is http://www.thealternativemedicinecabinet.com. You can also find them on Amazon and all the online outlets. But honestly each individual author’s website is the best place from a financial perspective for them. And it’s easier to track for us.