June 7, 2009

Healing a Poison Oak Rash

I didn’t know what poison oak looked like before I lived on the central coast, nor was I aware of the misery it could inflict. My realtor pointed out the three distinct leaves and said simply, “Don’t touch it.” A year later after a series of small rashes on my wrists and ankles (presumably from the cats) I recognized that the widespread “bushes” on my hillside, which were turning a beautiful red color, were actually poison oak.

For the next several years I tried to have the ominous leaves and roots removed by any willing person, including my young industrious neighbor who quickly became covered in the invasive rash from head to toe. Finally, I hired an official “poison oak removal” company who told me the reason they are so costly is because sometimes their workers have to go to the emergency room.

The brave young men who came to do the clearing left me with an open hillside, free from poison oak. Or was it? I ambitiously set out, rake in hand, to level the dirt and clear away small sticks, branches, and debris left behind. It was a hot day. Sweating, I wiped my face several times as I happily pondered the possibilities for new planting.

Within a few hours I felt the invasion. An itchy rash spread rapidly over my left arm, turning to unsightly and even itchier red blisters that looked like a bad burn. Before long my right arm, both legs, lower back, belly, and my face joined in. Over the next two weeks, new spots seemed to randomly emerge though I went nowhere near the scene of the crime. I was trapped in a shell of hot misery with flu-like symptoms. The muscles in my neck, shoulders, and right hip began to spasm.

In the midst of this grand-scale invasion, I heard many stories of what others have done with their own nasty rashes. (I think everyone has a story.) I heard numerous remedies – everything from going to the hospital and getting injections (which one person said made them sicker) to “just scratch it ‘til it doesn’t itch anymore” which made me think of scarring. Now I have my own story and my own remedies, which I get to pass along to you. After several weeks of new rashes showing up, I had lots of time to experiment with different anti-itch techniques. Here is what I came up with, and I think it’s pretty good. My plan requires no doctor visits, no toxic chemicals to apply or ingest, and it eases the misery of it all with natural products.

1. Once you know you’ve been exposed, or even if you have an inkling you might have been exposed, immediately put all of your clothes (and shoes) in the washer, not in your hamper or on the floor. Walk directly to the shower.
2. Take a shower using Dr. Bronner’s liquid peppermint soap - which lately you can buy at Trader Joe’s. Continue using this soap while the rash is present. Peppermint is anti-inflammatory and relieves itchy skin.
3. Wear loose clothing that doesn’t rub against the rash area. Anything touching the rash will cause it to itch.
4. When tempted to touch the rash, instead apply essential oils immediately. The most effective essential oils for me were lemongrass, peppermint, and lavender with either Purification or RC (both are blends made by Young Living). Purification contains an effective blend of citronella, lemongrass, lavender, rosemary, eucalyptus, and myrtle essential oils. RC contains a blend of eucalyptus, myrtle, marjoram, pine, lavender, cypress, spruce, and peppermint essential oils. These stopped the itching and inflammation. Someone had said that for poison oak the Young Living lavender is superior to others, and I tend to agree.
5. If possible, take a nightly hot bath to which you add 1-2 cups Epsom salts, 1 cup apple cider vinegar, and 1 cup baking soda. This will stop the itch, make it at least seem like you are healing, and help you sleep soundly.
6. Avoid sugar and alcohol. For a couple of days I was feeling really good, the itching was under control, and I thought I was out of the woods. Then I had a piece of cake at a birthday party and immediately every portion of the rash from head to toe flared up. It took two days to get it to calm down again. I also had this experience after a glass of wine, although it wasn’t as intense as with the cake. My best days were when I was treating myself as if I had a cold or flu - eating really well, no sugar, only supportive healing foods.
7. Drink a lot of water with optional juice from a fresh lemon. This helps cleanse the body.
8. Finally, if you find yourself with an all-over rash coinciding with muscle spasms like I did, go ahead and use the mantra I used to keep my sanity, “This too shall pass.”

Indeed, it did finally pass. Muscles relaxed again, skin returned to normal. I am left with an entirely new respect for those little leaves of three, and for nature herself, who apparently won’t be trifled with.

Getting Grounded

Have you heard someone say they feel “ungrounded?” Or, that they believe someone else is not very grounded? You probably have, but what does this really mean? In this context it isn’t like an airplane unable to take off, or a teenager being punished. Being grounded in this day and age has to do with being stable, balanced, calm, and focused. Let’s talk a little bit about this concept, because it is relevant to our wellbeing, especially in times of uncertainty or change.

I’ll start by giving you the contrast: an ungrounded person. This person will be fuzzy-headed, forgetful, anxious, wired, excitable, and distracted. Their energy drifts like a balloon disconnected from a child's hand, a bit lost and forlorn. I see it as being energetically disconnected.

Our lifestyles contribute to this state of disconnectedness. Driving in cars, flying in airplanes and traveling in general, being on a computer, watching television, working and living in artificial environments with concrete, fluorescent lights, and electricity, being in crowds of people, and even feeling pressured, worried, or stressed. All of these take us away from our natural balance –they interfere with our natural connection to the earth - literally, the ground.

In a state of ungroundedness you can be more easily influenced by others, the life you live might not feel wholly your own, you might experience injuries and accidents, feel anxiety, panic, irritability, foggy thinking, and be a compulsive overeater. These are all instances where we are not centered or stable and they indicate why it is important to be aware of our groundedness – of being centered, focused, and calm. Just the act of coming back into a state of groundedness can shift our entire perception of life from one of negativity to one of hope and optimism.

So what can you do to become more grounded? The first step is to pay closer attention to your surroundings while noticing your own physical body. How does the chair feel that you are sitting in? What do your feet feel like? What physical signs or symptoms are you trying to ignore? For example, are you thirsty? Do you have any pain or tightness in your body? Are you thinking about the future while you are also reading this?

Simple awareness of your breathing will help bring you into a more grounded state. Spending a few moments a day in nature will help. Connect with the earth in some way - sit or stand on the ground. Notice the weather. What is happening in your natural environment? Feel the breeze, smell the earth’s scents, take note of how the sun feels. I also use visualization. One easy technique is to see or feel yourself as a huge, beautiful tree with deep roots going into the earth.

Understanding the value of being grounded is essential to being stable, balanced, focused, and calm. The awareness at any given moment of how grounded you are can be a tool for personal mastery, fulfillment, and self-empowerment. Although there is more to it, here are a few quick ideas to help you with your own state of groundedness.

Quick Tips on Getting Grounded

  1. Breathe with awareness
  2. Sit in nature
  3. Watch the sun rise or set
  4. Place your feet or hands on the earth
  5. Eat food from the earth
  6. Be aware of your surroundings
  7. Notice physical symptoms or signs
  8. Stop, Look, and Listen
  9. Visualize yourself rooted into the earth