How to Find Inspiration in Poetry: The Peace of the Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
-William Berry

I think this is an absolutely beautiful poem for many reasons. Two main thoughts came to mind when I first heard it as I was attending a Compassion in Therapy summit in April (yes, I know I do a lot of these types of summits, they’re terrific). The first, is that it does remind me of self-compassion practices, and second, that nature has ultimate healing powers. While I’ve blogged about these topics before, I want to write about them in the context of this poem, as a way for me (and you) to remember why they are so important, especially if you have a chronic illness.

Costa Rica, 2019

Self-Compassion

Self-compassion is comprised of 3 elements: mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness. In the poem, Berry describes mindfulness of his thoughts in the first part, and then just being present with full experiencing in the second part. “I come into the presence of still water” and “I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.” These are very mindful phrases and experiences. Then there is the phrase, “I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.” I see this as relating to common humanity as it suggests that all human “tax their lives” with these thoughts and feelings – in contrast to wild things, which (as far as we know) don’t have the cognitive abilities to have these thoughts that can consume us. Thinking is part of being human. What I think represents self-kindness in this poem is that (a) Berry doesn’t judge himself for having these thoughts, and (b) he makes the decision to take care of himself in the moment and give himself what he needs – a reprieve into nature. Now, I’m personally left to wonder, what can I do today that is self-compassionate? Maybe lay a kind hand on my chest, maybe imagining breathing in compassion for myself and out compassion for others, or maybe it is literally going outside into nature. What do you need?

Nature

Ecotherapy and forest bathing are totally a thing. I actually talked to a client of mine about this recently because they mentioned that they feel good in the forest, literally touching the trees. Me too. So much research supports being in nature. I recently listened to a podcast that suggested even just eating outside is good for us (which I immediately told my parents about because we ate el fresco all summer long when I was growing up). Near my apartment, there is an inlet with beautiful hiking trails along it and tons of big, beautiful trees that are ever-so-present in British Columbia. The air is so refreshing, especially if it’s recently rained. Everything about this trail (and really a lot of trails in this province) makes me feel good. Both physically and mentally. I had the same experience in Costa Rica. My friend and I would touch the trees and vines, really connecting with the beauty and nature, and all of the healing properties of it. When’s the last time you spent time outside? Is there a park near you that you can go to? Can you eat outside on your patio or deck?

Sometimes we can find inspiration to improve the quality of our lives (with these easy and gentle practices) in the most interesting places, like The Peace of the Wild Things. I hope this inspires you to keep making the most of it!

Video: Daily Exercise – Mountain Hikes

This is not for the faint of heart. To be honest, this is great if you’ve been building up your exercise game and if you do some hiking already. I did a video post last year on more gentle hikes, which are a fantastic alternative to going for a walk. This is kind of levelling up those gentle hikes. Yes, I do this even with chronic pain. Why? Because I love hiking, and will take the time to recover (for example, the day after I did this I did a channel float where I sat on a tube for 3 hours and floated down a channel/river). Remember to please consult with your healthcare team before starting any new exercise. Alright, take care and keep making the most of it!

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What Should We Know From the Collective Trauma Summit?

I attended a few sessions from the virtual Collective Trauma Summit last month. I’m always looking to further my knowledge and professional development, especially as I start to practice as a psychotherapist. There is an overlap between trauma and chronic illness, which I think can also be important for us to understand. And by us, I don’t just mean healthcare professionals, but also persons with lived experience. Why do I think it’s important? Because I’ve seen a lot of people (mostly online in support groups) wonder about the whys. Does knowing why actually help? I think that can be a difficult question to answer. For some people yes, for others no, and some fall into the “kind of” realm. Regardless, there was some information that I gathered that can be helpful to us all. So, without further ado, here it is:

Application of Polyvagal Theory for Safety and Connection with Others – Stephen Porges and Deb Dana
For those of you not familiar with polyvagal theory or the vagus nerve, I don’t do a great job explaining it, but check out this YouTube link featuring Stephen Porges explaining it, and for more on the vagus nerve, check out this podcast episode with Melanie Weller. This session of the summit spoke a lot about embodiment. We can learn to coregulate each other – connection is essential for humans. Learning to both sit still to feel our bodies (without a narrative) and how to come back to our bodies is important for healing – but also a slow process and should only be done with a trained professional. Building an awareness of what’s happening in our bodies, as well as what we are thinking and feeling is important. Trauma can be passed down intergenerationally through our nervous systems. They also have a Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) that sounds super interesting and I’m going to probably learn more about. If you’re in therapy, it can be good to find out whether your therapist is “polyvagal-informed” because of the amount of research backing the theory.

How Our Nervous System and Real Connection Are the New Frontiers to Healing Trauma – Daniel J. Siegel
This session also focused a lot on embodiment, which I’m a huge fan of anyway (especially for chronic illness/pain). Dr. Siegel talked about resonance between people (again, connection is important) and also the ideas of intraconnectedness (wholeness of everything) and interconnectedness (with others through our bodies). As a species we tend to be disconnected from nature (and thus why we have some many environmental issues). He talked about how integration is health – not just at an individual level but also at a collective level, and what trauma does is impair that integration. He suggested that the plane of possibility is achieved through connectedness (with each other and nature), open-awareness, and love (compassion). Self-compassion and developing awareness is something I talk about a lot both on the blog and the podcast (and I have a few meditations for both on my meditation channel), again because of the amount of research supporting them for both physical and mental health.

Returning to Ourselves After Trauma – Gabor Mate
Okay, we all know by now that I’m a huge fan of Dr. Mate’s work, so of course I attended this session. He gave some interesting statistics that I’m going to share with you. (1) Women with severe PTSD have double the risk of ovarian cancer; (2) Indigenous people have 3 times the risk of rheumatoid arthritis than non-indigenous people; and (3) with Covid-19 with see that indigenous people, POC, and the elderly are most at risk because they are the most oppressed and traumatized. In other words, we’re looking at the sociological issues of disease which are often ignored. He also talked about embodiment in his session. In this case he referenced how we often are split between an intellectual awareness of things and an embodied awareness, which can be a traumatic imprint (in other words, the body remembers). Again, we should be asking ourselves “what does this feel like inside my body” instead of just “what do I know intellectually.”

So, what can we do with all of this information now that we have it. For one, if you don’t see a mental health professional to help you with your struggles with the mental health components of illness, that might be something you want to look into. Alternatively there is a lot of self-help out there (including by all of these healthcare professionals who have written many books on these subjects) and do things like build awareness, self-compassion, and embodied experiences (again, I offer these on my meditation channel but you can also find them by others various places online). Healing is possible. Healing is slow. Take care and keep making the most of it everyone!

Self-compassion, awareness, embodiment, nature.

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Top 10’s: Ways to Improve Your Physical Health When You Have a Chronic Illness

I will start off by saying that a “top 10” is no way a comprehensive list, because there are lots of ways you can improve your health (or at least keep it at base line) when you have a chronic illness. A lot of this I’ve learned through my own trial-and-error, through my studies and work in psychology/psychotherapy, and from conversations with other Spoonies and healthcare professionals. So, this is basically my Top 10 list, and I’m hoping you can pull a few things out of it if you haven’t been doing these already. I’m also going to link some of my blog posts and podcast episodes if you want to have a deeper dive into these topics. Also, I couldn’t determine an order for these, so they are not necessarily in order of importance (assuming there is one)!

Are you ready for my Top 10?!

Eating healthy. This is so important and often overlooked. Eating food that is organic and free-range is ideal, though if you’re like me this might not be affordable. If that’s the case, throw in some of that where you can and otherwise focus on the food groups, especially lots of green veggies. Limit your red meats, and of course limit any food that makes your symptoms worse (for some people that’s gluten or dairy). Be open to trying out different diets (Paleo, Keto) or fasting – but always consult with your healthcare professionals first. Check out this blog post on eating healthy, and this podcast episode on living with allergies.

Drink lots of water. 6-8 cups a day is ideal. I’m currently doing a challenge through Shape and Foster and part of that challenge is drinking 1.5L of water per day. Honestly, some days I really struggle but I also notice that the days I drink that much water, I drink less other stuff (that’s not healthy) and I feel the best. Water is important for our overall health and can’t be overlooked! I’ve got a blog post about it, and it is an essential of health which I discussed on the podcast.

Eat healthy, drink water.

Take your meds! Medication management can be super annoying but you’re being prescribed them for a reason, and there is typically a lot of science around them. I sometimes forget to take my meds (not going to lie) but again, I do feel best when I take them as prescribed. This doesn’t just go for Western medication either, try out some Eastern ones (head over to a naturopath, chiropractor, or other practitioner) to get some holistic care going. I’ve got a blog post about health management, and a podcast about holistic options.

Sleep hygiene. It’s so important for our physical (and mental) health to get a good sleep. Our bodies need to feel energized and rested when we wake up. Spoonies definitely have extra challenges with sleep. I often toss and turn because I’m never comfortable. However, doing proper sleep hygiene can at least minimize some of these problems and get your a better sleep. When I have proper sleep hygiene, I notice a 50-80% improvement in my sleep! No jokes! Check out the blog post and podcast episode for more.

Take your meds, get some sleep (or end up looking like this!)

Exercise. Yes, exercise definitely helps with pain reduction, and can increase things like mobility. There is a ton of science behind it. That being said, you have to be careful not to go over your limits (i.e., just push yourself to your edge but not beyond it) because you don’t want to hurt yourself. Low impact is recommended for chronic illness (walking, swimming, etc). If you’re not exercising, then just experiment with small amounts and gradually work your way up. This is another area that it is important to consult with a professional on. I do an exercise vlog post every 3 weeks, and I did a full podcast episode on exercise too.

Spend some time outdoors. Interestingly I just did a post on this last week that got very few views despite the fact that there is again science supporting how much this can benefit both our physical and mental health. Step away from the city if you can, even if just a few hours. Take the opportunity to breathe in fresh air. Tie it into exercise by going for a walk. Tie it in to stress reduction and just let yourself be. Though I don’t have an episode specifically about this, there is a podcast on holistic approaches that ties in nicely.

Exercise and spend time outdoors (my solo trip to LA, 2018).

Reduce your stress. Being calm, and having as little stress as possible (which I get it, sometimes just having a chronic illness is stressful!) is so important. Stress is a common cause of flares in many autoimmune diseases and in generally, always manifests into nasty physical ailments of one kind or another. This is a good reason to learn some mindfulness skills (which I do a vlog post on once a month). I did a whole podcast episode on how stress and anxiety manifest in the body as well – find it here.

Get involved in your care. This often means we have to be our own advocates for our health. That can include being a little “pushy” with our doctors (I mean it’s ridiculous that we have to sometimes but medical gaslighting is a huge problem). It also means that you may have to create a healthcare team for yourself. I’ve found this to be extremely beneficial for me. For more on getting involved check out this blog post and this podcast episode.

Reduce your stress and get involved in your care (and no this is not actually how I meditate lol)

Self-care. There are 5-6 dimensions of self-care (depending on who you ask) and physical self-care is one of them. A lot of the things from this list apply to physical self-care, but you can also add a lot more, depending on what you like – I like Epsom salt baths! I also mentioned that challenge with Shape & Foster earlier which this month is putting an emphasis on physical self-care. Hear more about them on the podcast. I do monthly premium blog posts for self-care which you can sign up for here.

Goal setting. No one can be expected to make any changes to any part of their life – including the physical aspects – overnight. That’s why setting goals can be really helpful. If you’re not currently exercising, then committing to 3 1/2 hour walks per week might a good place to start. Or increasing your veggie intake four times a week. Or spending time outdoors once a week. Whatever it is, make a plan and make it one that is challenging and yet you can stick to. I recently did a blog post on goal setting. This is the podcast episode it ties most nicely in with.

Spend time on self-care and set some goals (my goal to be a llama – jk!)

Okay, this was a longer post than normal but I hope you have a few takeaways! Keep making the most of it everyone!

Forest Bathing for Mental Health & Chronic Illness

I was doing a guided meditation through my meditation app (Calm) a few weeks ago and the concept of shinrin-yoku was introduced. This translates to forest bathing. I did a blog on nature therapy back in the summer I believe, and this kind of ties in with that, but I thought I’d like to explore this concept further because I find it really interesting. As someone who is not religious, and I usually say my spirituality revolves around the Force (for you fellow Star Wars fans), but in reality I find that immersing myself in nature can be a very spiritual experience. It can also be a very healing experience, more emotionally than physically (though depending on exactly how you are immersed it can be both).

Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica, May 2019

The idea of shinrin-yoku or forest bathing, is to just be in nature. To come into contact with it in a mindful way, using your five senses. Anywhere there is a forest, you can do this practice. In a lot of ways it is similar to being mindful in other experiences. For example, if you take a mindful walk, even if you live in the city. The advantage of forest bathing is that you are removed from the hustle and bustle of city life, and can truly experience nature and its natural healing powers. I know this might sound a little woo-woo to some of you, but there is a lot of evidence for benefits to both our mental and physical health. Click this link for a study on how it can improve cardiovascular health. Not only can you do this practice in almost every country, you can do it in any weather (assuming you’re not opposed to certain weather).

Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica, 2019. Isn’t it adorable?!

Like I mentioned there have been shown to be benefits for mental health, and there are many nature therapists out there. Here’s a link to find them. Interestingly, that link also has another link to training in it for therapists so now I’m thinking that might be interesting for me to take. Of course, you can also just go and be in nature alone or with a friend. Looking back at my trip to Costa Rica, I realize that my friend Nikki (check out her podcast episode here) and I did a lot of this forest bathing there. Though there were times where we’d pull out of cameras and take pictures, or we’d chat as we hiked, there were many times where we’d just walk and experience nature (yes, using all five senses) in these amazing rainforests. That whole trip was extremely healing and amazing for me, but I didn’t realize until recently that (a) I was forest bathing for parts of it, and (b) that just being away from the city was so powerful for me (and this is coming from someone who LOVES big city life).

To be honest, I’m not even sure where we were in Costa Rica, but it was somewhere near Manuel Antonio.

Here’s how to forest bathe:

  • go without technology, or at least, keep your phone/camera/etc out of reach (I have a small hiking backpack that is very useful for this)
  • you don’t have to have a purpose, the point is to just be. So walk, explore, enjoy.
  • take the time to really examine nature closely with your eyes
  • notice what the ground feels like beneath you as you walk, or even touch a tree and notice what that is like for you.
  • take some time to sit and listen to nature
  • also breathe it in, what does it smell like?
  • taste the air around you – likely it’s quite different than when you’re in the city
  • and try not to talk to anyone while you’re doing it
I definitely used all 5 senses in the Cloud Forest.

If you’ve done some forest bathing, I would love to hear your experience with it! Remember mindfulness leads to contacting the present moment, which has huge benefits on your overall health. Keep making the most of it everyone!

Adventure Therapy/Nature Therapy

So, if you’ve read by blog in the past you’re probably quite aware that I do love the outdoors, particularly in the summer. Did you know that as well as the physical benefits of being outside (Vitamin D, exercise, and so on) there are some mental health benefits as well? Also, did you know that both adventure therapy and nature therapy are real things?

IMG_4716Bestie and I having a beach day.

I’ve followed an Adventure Therapist on Instagram for awhile but I didn’t know anything about it (other than that it sounded cool). This week in my course readings (my course is on multicultural counselling) I was reading about adventure and nature therapy. Sounds kind of weird for a multicultural counselling course, right? Not really, because a lot of the course is looking at different perspectives and cultural world views. Indigenous peoples often use nature as a part of healing. As my textbook points out, the modern world and technology is actually stress-inducing, so going into nature to “escape” can have psychological benefits (as well as spiritual ones). Many cultures believe that we are to be connected with nature, and to be quite honest, I completely agree with this view. Yes, I love the modern world and using my computer to write this and living in a big city. But I’m also excited to go visit my brother who lives in a much, much smaller city in the middle of the mountains. I like hiking and being outside by myself or with just one or two other people. It is an escape and it is relaxing.

IMG_7448Kayaking in nature (without leaving the city!)

What is adventure therapy? Adventure therapy utilizes the outdoors and experiences like hiking and trekking, to help being become more cooperative, less selfish, and more in tune with themselves. Nature therapy, is essentially the same, but includes spiritual elements and things like art therapy, drama, and eco-psychology. Some cool things can come out of it (assuming you have a good nature/adventure therapist). Your values may become clearer, your personal awareness should increase, your self-esteem can improve, and you should have a lot less stress. You’re also likely to become more present (mindfulness, yay!) and have clearer goals for the future. Even without a therapist, just allowing yourself to be in nature, be mindfulness and present while there, and believe in the healing powers of the earth, you’re likely to feel more grounded when you head back into society.

IMG_7673I always seem to be able to fit a hike in!

Let me know what you think about nature, adventure, the therapies of the earth, and being open to other perspectives, in the comments!

References:

France, M.H., Rodriguez, M. del C., & Hett, G.G. (Eds.). (2013). Diversity, culture and counseling: A Canadian perspective (2nd ed.). Calgary, AB: Brush Education.

Summertime Self-Care

Every time I say the word summertime I start singing: “Summertime and the livin’ is easy.” I think it’s from playing it in high school jazz band many moons ago, and actually when I pulled my sax out in the spring it was an easy song to get back into and play. Yes, here in Canada we are already half way through summer because let’s face it, summer is June, July, August, and if we’re lucky, September. That doesn’t mean we should talk about some summer-related self-care we are all hopefully engaging in, and if not, then it’s not too late to start!

IMG_7450Hot town, summer in the city.

Obviously this year is a bit different due to the pandemic which is spiking and second waving in certain parts of the world, while other parts (ahem USA) haven’t finished their first wave yet. But there are still some activities I’ve found to do this summer that have been great for my body, mind, and spirit – three important aspects of self-care. Personally, I think spending as much time as possible outside is really important for my mental health. If you live anywhere that gets a long, cold winter (Canada, northern US, Russia, Scandinavia, etc) then you understand how much needed the summer sun is. Whether it’s sitting in your back (or front) yard, on your porch, your balcony (apartment dwellers), a bench in a park, or wherever, getting outside for at least an hour a day can make you feel a lot better. And many other favourite self-care activities can be done outside – meditation, yoga, reading, etc.

IMG_7827Backyard chillaxin’ with Spike!

If you’re looking for something a little more physical, I’ve talked about hiking and kayaking, but really any outdoor sport you’re capable of doing is great, even just going for a walk. If it’s safe to do so, having dinner or a drink with a friend on a patio (social distanced of course) can be a good way to get some social self-care in, which many of us weren’t able to do (other than Zoom) during self-isolation. So if you’re in a place that is a little more open and not currently spiking, and you’re safe to do so, getting out with a friend or two might be a good idea.

IMG_7671I always aim to get a little movement in!

Whatever you decide to do for summertime self-care, just make sure you’re staying safe, wearing a mask, and continuing to social distance until the medical professionals tell us it’s safe to do otherwise. Yes, this year is different, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still be taking care of ourselves.

Setting Work Boundaries

When it comes to work, a lot of people have difficulties setting boundaries. For those of us with a chronic illness, it becomes a difficult but necessary part of literally being able to work. Why am I bringing this up today? I have been off of work for the past week because of my hip tear, which seemingly go worse when I (a) accidentally leaned against it at work, and (b) my hip popped out of and back into place when I was doing an elevated pushup. Now I’m set to go back tomorrow but I will probably need some accommodations, because, despite the fact that I felt worse on Monday and now better today, I do a lot to mitigate the pain. The other part of this equation is that work has been so stressful since we fully reopened (limited customers) at the end of May, and I haven’t been able to set boundaries around that, I’ve become more anxious and had a general increase in body pain anyway. Now’s the time to make a change.

61747309117__526F5848-9878-43E7-8344-671D5793945CEven on the beach I had to change positions a million times.

So how do you set work boundaries? I mean, no boss or company wants to have to accommodate for an employee, right? Yet as much as I hate asking, I have seen some managers do it for others, and have had some managers do it for me. Plus, legally in Canada and some other countries, employers can’t discriminate because of (dis)ability. In the past I’ve always approached it with a very direct attitude. This is what I need, this is why I need it, and without it I can’t do my job properly. Direct works best. And when in doubt I have a doctor’s note as well (I currently have a few doctor’s notes in my file with no “expiry” date to them). Plus, I always tell my bosses that I will be flexible when needed (and I have been) because I understand the importance of the business (I work in electronics retail so it’s importance really depends on your own value to it).

32946222992_20a36e2abe_bImage from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/moodlegal/32946222992/

What’s the difference now? Covid-19. As I’ve mentioned, we aren’t through it yet. At my work, we still have 18 staff members not back yet, we let limited customers in the store which is still too many at a time at times, and things are definitely not running as “normal.” What I currently need because of my hip: to be able to change physical positions as needed – sitting, sitting with my legs up, standing, walking, lying down. What I need because of stress: to not be the only person scheduled at customer service where I get long lines and yelled at by customers all day. Here’s the thing, I am scheduled alone at customer service for the next 3 days. The only other person scheduled for my entire department is collecting web orders, so literally nothing to do with directly dealing with customers. Therefore, I can’t just leave my post to change what position I’m in. I will stand for 9 hours with just my 30 minute break. Bad for hip and bad for stress. Do I need to say something? Yes. How will it go? I guess we’ll find out.

IMG_7761Being in nature is helpful for stress. Take a time out every know and then in order to heal.

I’m curious if any of my fellow Spoonies have been back to a work environment yet and what they are doing for boundary setting. This is a time where I wish I could work from home, but wishing isn’t going to make that happen at the moment. Please comment or DM me on Instagram and share your work boundary stories. Stay Safe.

5-minute Unguided Meditation with Intro & Outro

We’ve been doing some short guided meditations and mindfulness exercises together. Today I lead you off and take you out of an unguided meditation. Remember, having thoughts is okay. Just acknowledge them and let them go throughout this 5-minute exercise. It’s called mindfulness practice, because that’s what we do – practice. Starting with short exercises like these can help you make mindfulness a more regular part of your life.

 

By the way, all the video used in these practices is shot by me. This is the Niagara River as seen from the Niagara Glen Trail in Ontario, Canada.