September 12, 2019

Jo's Essentials

Diagnosed with Lupus and hypo-thyroidism in 2012 after 18 months of getting the run-around from the medical system, I've gone from hopeless and frustrated to empowered and in-charge of my own well being. 

Living with Lupus

The Stress Factor & Lupus

So first, a little background:

If we are friends, or if you’ve talked to me in person, at markets or my classes you’ll know I’ve got Lupus. Specifically, I've got Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). I also used to have hypothyroidism and was told I’d be on Synthroid (a thyroid-regulating prescription) for life. Lupus is an auto immune disease, or an "auto-immune malfunction" where the immune system is over-active and attacking itself, triggered often times by high stress events or long term chronic stress, and most likely in conjunction with an unhealthy, toxin-filled lifestyle. At least, that was me when I got very sick starting in late 2010 and all through 2011. It took 18 months of doctor and specialist appointments, numerous tests including biopsies and ultrasounds, to finally get officially diagnosed by an expert Vancouver Island rheumatologist in 2012. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) inflames the connective tissue in any part of the body, including the joints, muscles, skin, blood vessels, membranes surrounding the lungs and heart, and occasionally the kidneys and brain. Not only this, but I had previously been diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, also known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy after I broke my leg in 4 places (falling off a horse), and had surgery to re-attach the end of my tibia at the ankle joint. This caused nerve damage that turned into CRPS/RSD - severe burning pain in my foot and leg.


I was put on Gabapentin, and then later, Lyrica for the nerve pain. After my Lupus diagnosis, I was taking a handful of pills daily: nerve blockers, a thyroid regulator, an anti-depressant, and an immune system depressant called Plaquenuil. These medications have disturbing side effects, many of which I was faced with over the years. 

Not only that, even WITH a health benefits plan, I was spending $200 a month on my prescriptions, plus over-the-counter products and still having all sorts of symptoms on a regular basis. An MRI on my back in the spring of 2016 showed osteoarthritis along my spine and a bulged disc in my lower back, making it painful to sit for 8 hours a day at my job. I was eventually forced to resign from my 15-year career in public service, a job I had worked very hard for and that I felt was attached to my identity. 

Within weeks of resigning, I was in a major accident where I was stopped by road flaggers in a construction zone, and a delivery van rear-ended me at 60 kms an hour, tossing my truck into the air and forward into the car in front. My guess is the driver was texting because he didn't even apply the brakes before impact. My truck was a write-off, and I felt like I was too. Both shoulders had varying degrees of separation, my back felt like it was on fire, I couldn't turn my head to the right because of seized muscles, and even with massage and physio, I was in a great deal of pain for weeks. 


My high-school friend Megan came over with essential oils to try for pain. I was doubtful that tiny bottles of liquid could be as fabulous as she thought they were. (I laugh now, but I was super skeptical for a long time!) I tried a couple of oils a couple of times, and then they went onto a shelf as cute little decorations. I had expected them to work like a tylenol - take one dose to take the pain away right now, but it's not that simple. 

Oil constituents 'hone in' on balancing the body at the cellular level and are not a one-time fix. The more often and more regularly you use them, the better they will work until you realize using them daily is actually really fantastic! 

It took me much longer than it should have to figure this out but then again, it's why I'm "all in" now. I tried so many other things that didn't work, or gave me terrible side-effects, so when I tried oils again a little more frequently and they did work, with zero side effects, I decided I needed to put my skepticism away and just accept that nature has it pretty much figured out already. ;) 


My Lupus ‘flares’ (which is when symptoms reappear) are minimal these days. I now use a lot of therapeutic grade essential oils, plus drink NingXia Red, every day. 

Joint pain is still an on-going issue for me (Lupus flare or not) because I have had 3 car accidents, and have 2 titanium pins in my ankle from my horseback riding injury. My symptoms from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome are very mild now and manageable simply by massaging healthy oils onto my skin rather than popping pills that wreak havoc on my organs. Up until discovering essential oils, I was very concerned about the long term effects of prescriptions and had tried to wean off of Lyrica/Gabapentin several times over the years but was unable to because the symptoms were severe and painful.

The relief I have personally found from discovering Young Living is immeasurable, which is why I'm so passionate about this company, their products, and what they do. I've tried other pharmacy type oil brands and in my experience, none of them compare.

Because Lupus can flare in times of intense stress, I do my best to avoid stressful situations when possible and manage my stress with intention when it’s inevitable. 

But sometimes, it's going to happen. So here we go.... 


In early July we realized something was amiss with our house/dog sitter at our vacation property on Big Corn Island, in Nicaragua, which is in Central America, between Honduras and Costa Rica. The power company called me to get permission to hook up a neighbouring property with their lines, but using our power pole. During the conversation they mentioned that the power to our house had been disconnected months earlier. Panic set in and we began trying to get to the bottom of what was really going on.

On July 15 we found out some awful news that this American house sitter had starved our dogs almost to death, our house was in terrible condition, infested with termites, and the entire 2 acre property was completely overgrown with jungle - despite us sending money to the house sitter every month for the dogs' care and property maintenance. We communicated online with the local police there, the house sitter was arrested and deported (turns out he was wanted in the US!), but we still needed to travel to Big Corn Island and go deal with the house and dogs ourselves. If you are not yet following our Drifter’s Claim Corn Island Facebook page, that’s where more of the story is explained. 

We had to fly on short notice, had connecting flight issues, had to spend several extra nights in transit, one of which was spent sleeping on the airport floor. I had packed "Envision" (for helping to reach your goals), "Valor II" (for courage and stress relief) and "Peppermint" (for Mike's ears during and after flights, and our sore backs) in my fanny pack, and the most-used of these three was definitely Valor II. 

When we finally arrived to our property 3 days after our 'planned' arrival, seeing it all in person was overwhelming. The land and building were in rough shape, as were our two fur babies. Thankfully we had good people who had been helping with the dogs up until this point but they were glad to have us on site finally!


We had a month to do a massive amount of clean-up, and expensive repair and construction, on a tight budget, as well as help our pups recover too. We also had veterinary costs for vet visits and life-saving medication.

One of the dogs, our 5 year old Boxer "Joker" who had come with us in late 2016 from Canada, had a severe lung infection on top of having nearly died from starvation. So in addition to his medication (and 4 meals a day now), I also did twice daily chest rubs on him with Tea Tree oil for 2 weeks, along with RC (with 3 kinds of Eucalyptus in it) every other day. He never once reacted to it other than breathing deeply and relaxing into the massage, thoroughly enjoying our time together while I helped him heal and told him how much he was loved. 


Every day was filled with hard physical activity, in sometimes 39 degree heat. It's the caribbean, and it's hot and humid. The first couple of days there, Mike was in terrible pain throughout his entire body. He said it was like a bad flu. He hadn't had his daily NingXia Red, or turmeric, in almost a week, and we were exhausted from the travel mayhem. Using Peppermint and Lavender oils on him every few hours, he felt better by the end of the second day. When two of our work crew learned about the cooling effects of Peppermint oil and we offered for them to try some, they loved it and both said they want us to bring them back a bottle next time!

I developed a chest cough that first week as well. Was it the stress, and my Lupus flaring up? The dusty, dirty house? The bleach and laundry soap concoctions we needed to use to scrub the months of termite trails off the walls? (We hadn't packed Thieves household cleaner and the vinegar we tried first just wasn't cutting it for what we were dealing with.) Using RC and Tea Tree oil several times a day on my own chest helped my cough and chest pressure within a matter of days. 

We were on the go from dawn til dusk, literally, 7 days a week for the entire month and had no time to be "down and out." We got so much accomplished! (and went through an entire bottle of Tea Tree oil.) 


On the morning of our last day, Joker had a terrible fall from the upstairs balcony onto the new cement patio below, and sustained what we now believe was an internal injury. There is no veterinary clinic on this island; the only veterinarian does house calls for basic needs, but was not available that day and does not even do regular surgeries like spays or neuters; he would not have had the set-up to do any kind of major internal surgery. Joker was up and walking around after the fall, but slowly, and was in obvious discomfort. 


We left knowing we had new house sitters that we could trust who we have known for 3 years, but it was still emotional leaving Joker like this and knowing we won't be back for another few months or more. It was gut wrenching. We messaged the vet to please come when he could, and we prayed Joker was just sore and would recover in time. 

Valor II was my go-to by this point for all-things-emotional and on this day I was applying it to my body every hour. 

Flight from Big Corn Island.

Due to flight issues (again!) on the return, our trip back to Canada took 4 days when it should have been just 1. Rather than an hour flight from Big Corn Island to the capital city Managua, we had to take a 15 minute flight to the mainland coast, then a taxi for the 300+ kms to Managua to catch our flight out of Nicaragua that night. 


Then while stuck in Florida (again) after missing a connecting flight because the customs line-up took too many hours to get through, and sitting for half an hour outside the airport waiting for a city bus so we could get to a hotel for the night, we received word from our house sitters that Joker our beloved boy had passed away that morning. 

He was so much more than just a dog to us; he was a real light in our lives and to know he is gone, and the circumstances around what happened, has been completely devastating. 

Our summer was an emotional roller coaster. The lows were really low, but a few days along the way we felt like we were 'winning the battle' and that everything was going to work out. 

Envision and Valor II essential oils, on our property on Big Corn Island.

I think I only made it through my moments of crisis - in airports being told our plane has already left and the next one is 2 days from now, and sitting outside at the hectic Fort Lauderdale airport bus stop learning of Joker's fate - because of Valor II, which I now refer to as "the oil to use so we don't freak out." It's a very helpful oil for emotional balancing, especially in extremely stressful situations. 

If you are wondering what's in this oil blend, Valor II includes Young Living’s exclusive Northern Lights Black Spruce and Idaho Blue Spruce essential oils, along with Ylang Ylang, Frankincense, Vetiver, Cistus, Bergamot, Cassia, German Chamomile, and other oils.  

Lupus rash

So here we are in mid September. After a few weeks back in Canada, it's no surprise that I’ve been hit with a Lupus flare, and the signature blotchy red rash I had the other night was the worst I’ve probably ever had. Yes, ever. 

Rashes are common with Lupus and after years of learning all I can about this disease and natural healing, I now think of it as my body’s way of protesting - it's a sure sign I need to pay attention and get intentional with being well again. My joint pain had intensified earlier in the week, along with low energy (the pre-flare final warnings) and yet I still was determined to do things like scrub the bathtub, and sand pallet boards in the shop for some tables Mike and I are working on. Activities to take my mind off things.


Lupus can also eventually cause organ damage and a host of other complications so I don't take these rashes lightly. It's my body's way of saying "hey - I've just gone through a lot and I could a little more help here, please."

In the Essential Oils Integrative Medical Guide written by Gary Young, the founder of Young Living Essential Oils, Lemongrass and Cypress are the 2 single oils recommended for Lupus. They have specific constituents that are beneficial to coping with this disease and because Young Living produces only therapeutic grade oils (the highest quality, using the entire plant 'fingerprint'), they really do help the body's systems in significant ways.  

The two key constituents in Lemongrass are geranial and neral, both of which are aldehydes. Aldehydes are antimicrobial and calming. Lemongrass supports digestion, tones and helps regenerate connective tissues and ligaments, dilates blood vessels, strengthens vascular walls, promotes lymph flow, and is anti-inflammatory and sedative.

The key constituent in Cypress essential oil is alpha-pinene, which is in the terpene class. Terpenes are a stimulant, and Cypress is one of the oils most used for the circulatory system. Cypress improves circulation and supports the nerves and intestines. It is anti-infectious, antibacterial, antimicrobial, and strengthens blood capillaries. The aroma of Cypress is also known for helping ease the pain of loss. It creates a feeling of security, grounding, and it helps heal emotional trauma. Perhaps a good time to start using a little more of this one. 

So on this particular night of my worst rash, I used 8 drops of Lemongrass and 8 drops of Cypress, and rubbed them directly on my skin where the blotchy redness was the worst (2 drops each on my forearms, 2 on my torso, 2 on my chest & neck, so 16 drops of oil in total). By morning the rash was gone. I will continue using Lemongrass and Cypress, and several of my 'essentials' like Valor II, Stress Away, Citrus Fresh, and Frankincense, several times a day for the coming weeks to help in both the physical and emotional processing of it all.


I am not a doctor and this is not intended to convince you to ditch western medicine, especially if it's working for you. There's a time and place for western medicine especially in emergencies and acute health situations. But even if it isn't working for you, using essential oils isn't a magic cure and oils won't do much for you if used just one time. What I am personally convinced of is that therapeutic grade (the highest quality) essential oils are wonderful partners to use regularly, in conjunction with guidance from supportive natural health professionals, daily intentional healthy eating habits, exercise you enjoy, meditation or time to quiet your mind, and snuggles from the ones who make your life whole.