This week we’re going to do a loving kindness mediation. I’ve done one of these on the podcast as well, in our self-compassion episode, which you can access here. It can greatly improve our mental health to show ourselves some self-love and self-kindness. This meditation is a way to do that. Many therapy modalities use loving kindness in their mindfulness practices. Though mindfulness isn’t for everyone, I discuss the benefits of it in another podcast episode, which you can find here.
Use this meditation as often as you need so that you can keep making the most of it!
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Viktor Frankl
For those of you who are not familiar with Viktor Frankl, he is a psychiatrist, author, existential philosopher and Holocaust survivor. His belief system, which was seemingly helpful to him while he was in a concentration camp, is that life can have meaning even in the worst possible circumstances (like he himself faced) and we are motivated to continue to live when we find that meaning. Like many other existentialists, Frankl believed we had the choice to do what we wanted with the circumstances we are given, even if we don’t always get to choose the circumstances ourselves. When it comes to chronic illness – physical or mental – it can be hard to always see the choices available to us, and sometimes those choices may be more limited, but they are still there. If I am in pain today, I can choose to lie on the couch or I can choose to do some stretches. I can choose to do nothing, or I can choose to sit at the computer and write a blog post that will hopefully help someone else. Depending on your situation, your choice options will look different than mine and that’s okay. The last part of Frankl’s above quote says that “In our response lies our growth and freedom.” Personal growth, and healing journeys (check out my podcast about healing here and personal growth here) are difficult but necessary if we want to live full and rich lives, if we don’t want to give up and into our circumstances. There is so much overlap between chronic physical illness and mental illness and feelings like hopelessness and helplessness play into both. Breaking ourselves out of the cycle is the key. That often takes the form of reaching out for help, and/or using our own self-help and self-care skills to propel us forward (for example, reading self-help books about these topics can be helpful if you don’t want to or can’t afford therapy).
Recently I have been learning a lot about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy as that is what I would like my practicum to focus on (I have to pick something that is CBT – cognitive behavioural – focused and ACT is “third-wave” and combines a lot of mindfulness). Here is a quote from the ACT training I’ve been completing.
“In this moment I’m holding my pain so that I can choose to do the things I care about.” – Timothy Gordon
ACT is very values focused and as you can see values are closely related to life meanings which stem from growth and freedom, which stem from choice. This is a therapy with a lot of efficacy for chronic pain and chronic illness because it asks us to acceptance our pain, and helps us to move toward our values. I personally accepted my pain and my illness a long time ago. That acceptance has allowed me to do more with my life, like go back to school and start a new career, travel, exercise, write a book, and help others. These are all values of mine and they all bring my life meaning. But I didn’t have to choose to move toward any of these. I could have stayed where I was, but truth-be-told, I wasn’t happy. That realization of unhappiness sent me down this growth path which in many ways started with the acceptance piece. If you’re not happy, or you don’t know what your life meaning is or what you want it to be, I would suggest just starting with your values. What’s important to you? And then what your life would look like if you were living for those values. Now, this work is of course best done in the context of therapy, but if you’d rather some reading on the subject I would say check out the book The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris.
Your pain and illness don’t have to control your lives if you don’t want them to. Keep making the most of it everyone.
What do you do when you have an expected new symptom? Or weird side effect from a drug or surgery? Or a better question, how do you feel, not just physically but also emotionally? It’s tough having a chronic illness. It’s tough starting a new medication or having a surgery. And so many chronic illnesses are invisible, so it’s difficult for others to understand exactly what is going on with us.
The inspiration for this post came from my experience on Saturday morning. I had a hip arthroscopy two weeks ago, and on Saturday when I woke up and started to hop around on my crutches, my foot turned purple, as if all the circulation was cut off. I had a friend staying with me, and honestly, her reaction heightened my anxiety about it. I managed to keep a somewhat level head, emailed some of my practitioners and texted my brother’s partner who happens to be a doctor. Apparently this is a normal reaction after lower body surgeries. Basically I have to keep my foot elevated (at least at heart level) as much as possible. I did also go to the walk-in clinic that my family doctor works at. The doctor I saw looked at my foot and double checked that there were no blood clots, then suggested elevation and compression socks and sent me home.
There are a couple of reactions we can have in situations like these, which, let’s be honest, happen often when you have a chronic illness. One, is fear, which, like I mentioned, is easy to be drawn to. It’s the fight-flight-freeze response, with flight or freeze usually taking over. It can be scary, overwhelming, anxiety-producing, even upsetting. It can also cause depression and sadness, because of course, something else stupid and terrible has happened to you. These are normal reactions, and short term responses like this are totally fine. The problem develops when these feelings take over, especially when you have a chronic illness because these situations, these stressors, are going to keep happening. If you are feeling like this more often than not, it’s time for some professional help. Seek out a therapist, because you don’t have to feel this way forever.
The second reaction kind of goes more with the “fight” part of the fear/anxiety response. This reaction is one I often go with which is “how am I going to solve this problem?” I do research (I will literally read scholarly journals online as well as just reddit threads – I need all points of view). I will ask the professionals I know, and the other Warriors I know. I will buy anything I need, whether I have the money or not. I will ask for help (I mean like I needed a ride to the doctor after all). This is a proactive response. The problem with this response is that it can ignore emotion. So, if you’re like me, it’s good to take some time alone to reflect, maybe use some mindfulness, get inside your body and your emotions and let them be what they are. Holding it in can make things worse in the long-term. Mindfulness will be your friend.
A third reaction is acceptance. It doesn’t mean you don’t experience the short-term emotions of fear and anxiety mentioned above. It doesn’t mean you don’t do some proactive things so you can take care of your body and your symptoms in the long-term. It just means that in the present moment you can understand that this is a thing that happened. It is not a reflection of you. It is (usually) not unsolvable. We all have to deal with acceptance when we have a chronic illness. I did a whole podcast episode on illness acceptance (which I will link below). This is something I strive for always. Can I be accepting when something I don’t anticipate or like happens? I would say for myself, the answer is yes. I do tend to be proactive first, then I try to use mindfulness to experience my emotions, then I try to accept reality. Is this always a perfect process? No. I do have people in my life to help me – mainly a psychotherapist and a naturopath – who are specialists in this kind of work.
I hope everyone has a great week. Reminder, I have a premium blog post coming out on Saturday, so if you’re not signed up and you want some more work on self-care strategies, it’s only $5/month and it’s well worth it. Remember everyone, keep making the most of it.
Some of you may have heard of this concept before, and many of you may have not. It was only recently introduced to me through my meditation app, where the guided meditation happened to talk about wabi-sabi. The explanation of it made me realize how much I identified with the concept and how important I think the concept is, regardless of what we’re dealing with in our lives.
What is wabi-sabi? It’s a Japanese worldview that has been around since the 15th century. There isn’t a great translation for it (as often happens when we try to translate culturally-specific concepts) but roughly, wabi means finding simplicity in nature, and sabi means appreciating beauty. What it’s taken to mean is the beauty of imperfection, and accepting the imperfections in your life, while making the most out of what you have. Because no one is perfect, and yet we all strive to be, especially in the Western World. But why? I am not perfect, you are not perfect, literally no one is. Another way of viewing wabi-sabi is your ability to appreciate complexity while valuing simplicity. The world has become a more and more complex place, as we’ve seen through this pandemic, but also just through the consistent advancement of technology, and through the political landscape in the Western wold. But while the world may be complex, it is the simple things that are more likely to bring us joy. Like spending time with family or friends, being able to work from home if you have that option, and the adorableness of a child’s laugh.
This concept is tied into Zen Buddhism. There are three aspects of Buddhism that it is related to: impermanence (we’re all going to die fyi), suffering (is inevitable, no one has a life without any), and non-self (which may not have actually been said by the Buddha, there is much debate). These concepts kind of tie into existentialism too, don’ they? Finding meaning in life, non-being, existential anxiety… Wabi-sabi definitely ties into some Zen principles like simplicity, asymmetry, beauty, naturalness, grace, freeness, and tranquility. And finally, I see the connection to mindfulness (which comes from Zen Buddhism as well) such as being present, seeing things as they are, and acceptance.
When it comes to health, there is definitely ways of applying wabi-sabi. We must accept our illnesses. We must accept any body imperfections that come with them. We are beautiful the way we are. We should look for the beauty in the simple things in our lives to make ourselves happy. That doesn’t mean we can’t dream or strive for more. Rather, we can enjoy and accept as a way of improving our mental health, while always trying to make the most out of life.