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!
Boundaries are super important for all of us. With work, relationships, even ourselves. While boundaries are important for everyone’s mental health, I think that for Chronic Illness Warriors, the key is to be able to set boundaries that still allow you to ask for help when needed. I would say that I am pretty good at setting boundaries, but that was definitely a skill that I developed over time. I was reminded of boundary setting as I was preparing for group counselling that I’m co-facilitating as part of my practicum. So I’ll admit I’m borrowing some of this information from Marsha Linehan’s Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). The group has a few pscychoeducation components as well as counselling, including mindfulness (you know that’s my favourite), emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal relationships. Though I’m not a “DBT-er” (I’m clearly happy to be co-facilitating the group though and learning all of this) I think that many bits of information from DBT and this course have great applications for many of us! (For those of you wondering I am drawn to existential therapy as well as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy).
Okay, so why should we set boundaries? Boundaries allow us and others to know what we are okay with and what we are not. For example, some people are huggers while others don’t like to touch (granted Covid, so many of us are in the non-hugging category right now). The person who doesn’t like to be touch needs to tell the other person (politely, if possible) that they are not okay with that. The tough part with boundaries is that if they are crossed, it can be awkward or feel rude to point that out. However, your mental health is important and if you’re really not okay with something it’s good to be vocal about it. Another example is a work one. Is it okay for your work to contact you when you’re not there? I was in a position about 6 years ago where I told my work it was totally okay for them to contact me when I wasn’t there. About two years ago (same company, different store) I told them I wasn’t okay with it. I set the boundaries and stuck with them based on the level of stress I was able to handle at the time.
When it comes to chronic illness, setting boundaries can revolve around many different areas, but I’ve found two are the most important: others, and ourselves. With others, you can decide how much or how little information those in your lives get about your illness/health, mental health, etc. I totally believe in sharing but everyone has different comfort levels with sharing, and I totally respect that, as I expect others to respect mine. Boundaries can also include what other people get to help you with. I loosened my boundaries after my hip surgery because I acknowledged I needed more help. Now granted I found myself feeling more grumpy at the time, but it wasn’t because I changed my boundaries, it was because I couldn’t as much myself! And that ties into our boundaries with ourselves. What are we okay doing? Saying? When we push our boundaries are we doing it to help ourselves or because we “think we should”? Sometimes it’s okay to push personal boundaries. With phobias for example, it’s possible to get over them by stepping out of your comfort zone and confronting the feared animal/situation/whatever it is (best to do it with a professional but I’ve known people to do this on their own). Getting over a phobia can be helpful for overall mental health. Saying yes to a night out with friends when you’re not feeling up to it is an instance of crossing your personal boundaries when it is not okay.
I’ve been sharing example from a “personal bill of rights” (Linehan, 2015) throughout and if you’re struggling with boundaries, I would say create your own (or use which ones of these resonate with you). Even stick it somewhere that you’ll see it often. Remember, that boundaries while important should be flexible because they lead to healthier relationships (including the one with yourself). I would love to see what you come up with so feel free to share on Instagram and tag me (@janeversuspain)!
Have a great week and keep making the most of it!
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.