mindfulness-and-chronic-illness

Practicing Mindfulness with a Chronic Illness

I’ve mentioned mindfulness often in passing on the blog throughout the year, but I haven’t devoted a full post to it. For August, I want to celebrate all the small victories we have in our lives and one way to recognize them is through the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is an easy practice for someone with a chronic illness. Mainly because we are mindful without realizing it: daily we observe our bodies, how the body reacts (or does not react), where our moods are, and what we need to do to make the day manageable.

If you’ve engaged in mindfulness practice without realizing it, let’s take some time to focus it towards our emotional health. You’ll find it will help you manage your mental and physical health along the way, which complements any care your healthcare team recommends.

What is Mindfulness?

What do you think of when someone says “let’s practice mindfulness”?

You might envision a person in yoga class, or a Buddhist monk sitting cross-legged with their eyes close. Yes, these are classic examples of mindfulness, but it’s not limited to a form of Eastern philosophy. If you hold to a particular set of beliefs, you might be afraid that practicing mindfulness comes into conflict with them. I can assure you that mindfulness does not conflict, especially if you strip it down to the very basics.

If you’ve sat in a quiet moment, speaking to your Higher Power, that’s mindfulness. If you’ve ever visited a therapist and they wanted you to focus on the moment, that’s mindfulness. If you sit back and observe the world moving around you with no other thoughts than the present, that’s mindfulness.

Mindfulness, very simply, is inhabiting the current space you are in mentally, emotionally, and physically. It does not need to be attached to yoga or meditation. It is observing the moment.

What are you doing right now? Are you reading this post on a phone/tablet or your computer? Are you sitting down or standing? Are you fully engaged with this post or are you multi-tasking? Sit for a moment and think about what is going on right now while you read this.

Mindfulness observes the physical actions you take, the thoughts you think, and the emotions you feel. Often we get frustrated because we might try to sit for a session in mindfulness and our minds wander; something itches; or if you are in the middle of an exacerbation, you focus on that.

All of those “frustrations” are happening at the moment, and therefore they are a part of it. Ultimately, there is no right way to practice mindfulness. If you are not focusing on the past or the future, you are being mindful of your moment.

The goal in mindfulness practice is to keep ourselves grounded in our current moments as much as possible. It is meant to release us from any stress we feel about a future project or the shame of a previous social encounter. We often get caught up in things we cannot control (the future) and things we cannot change (our past), that we forget the current moment.

Nothing goes away when we engage in our mindful practice, but we do get a chance to give our mind a bit of a vacation and re-prioritize. It helps us appreciate what we do have, rather than what we don’t.

Mindfulness and the Chronic Illness

I spoke about the importance of gratitude in last Monday’s post. If you are struggling to get into a space of gratitude, mindfulness will help you get there. When we practice mindfulness, we are unconsciously appreciating the current moment. When we re-wire our brains to engage in gratitude more often, we can help manage our chronic illnesses in a healthy manner.

Mindfulness opens us to looking at the moments when we aren’t experiencing an exacerbation or feeling pain. Sometimes we forget the moments when our illness is leaving us alone, and mindfulness refocuses us to appreciate those moments.

Even when experiencing an exacerbation or pain, we can use mindfulness to refocus the pain or discomfort of the exacerbation. It’s not a cure-all, nor will it make the exacerbation/pain go away, but it can help manage both. Many of our exacerbations are brought on by stress, or made worse by it, and mindfulness is a great stress-reducer.

Even if the practice of mindfulness proves to be nothing but a placebo, the placebo effect is genuine , and mindfulness practice is one of those scenarios of “if it works, or doesn’t cause any harm, why not do it anyway?” It may be helping you better manage your pain, it may have you appreciating each day a little more, or it may help you get into space to begin your own wellness journey.

Silver Linings Abound

Through mindfulness can we take a few moments to recognize life’s silver linings.

While dealing with a chronic illness, we must collect all the bright spots we have in our lives. If we focus too much on the illness itself, it can crush our resolve, our ability not to allow it to control us. We experience pain, physical and emotional, so much more when we let our illness overwhelm us.

However, when we are mindful of the present moment, we can see that not everything is grim. Our thoughts may drift to the negative, but if we refocus on the current moment: the current lack of exacerbation, the current lack of pain, the current lack of drama or stress; do we see that we might be in the middle of a bright spot.

We may be more receptive to trying something new in our lives if we become more present. That may be trying a new medication, taking on a healthy endeavor, or allowing ourselves to begin the process of grieving that might be previously repressed.

It’s a chance for us to no longer view ourselves as victims of our illness, but our illness as just one more thing to overcome in our lives. To be clear, our illness can victimize us by taking things away, but we do not have to act like victims. There is a healthy way to cope with our darker emotions and thoughts relating to the illness, but being unwilling to make healthy changes is not the way to go.

Mindfulness can show us the way that we can make changes. We can be healthy. We can control how we respond to our chronic illness.


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Featured photo credit: Canva

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MS Mommy Blog

For the month of November, I am taking each day to highlight some element in my life that I want to express my gratitude about. This could be something deeply personal or just a passing appreciation for something more superficial. 


In my final post focusing on things I am grateful for, I wanted to spend some time talking about the blog itself.

I started the blog back in September 2017 without any real plan or fully formed goal in mind. I just wanted to have a space to discuss my healthy living plans and how it worked out for me, but with no real long-term intentions. While I still consider this blog in its early stages, it’s refocused into something more: space where I can talk about my MS, my healthy living goals, and an honest discussion of my self-improvement journey.

As I enter my second year of blogging, I’ve come up with more concrete goals and plans to re-focus the blog into something more meaningful and deeper purpose.

This blog has helped me to maintain my sense of self and reconnect with a childhood dream and for that, I am grateful for the blog’s existence.

Childhood Dreams

When I was a little girl I watched the Wonderworks Anne of Green Gables over and over again. I wanted to be exactly like Anne Shirley, a writer when I was older. In my mind, I would be a fiction writer of some sort, the dream evolving into the direction of a fantasy author similar to Martin or Eddings. With that goal in mind, I focused my education so I could become a writer, I took a bunch of creative writing classes in High School, got my undergraduate in creative writing, and when I went to graduate school, chose literature so I could teach for a living and write in my spare time.

Life, as I have said many times in my posts, got in the way and caused me to get sidetracked. I felt worn down and defeated when it came to my writing because I felt I was never going to be good enough to get published. I had ideas, I felt like I had some talent, but I couldn’t compete with what was out there. The market evolved and changed from my childhood and the need for novelists diminished. Those in the field had to be good. I didn’t believe I would ever be good enough.

Graduate school didn’t help because it re-trained my creative writing and focused on the academic-bend. This made my writing and writing process clinical and focused on the technical aspects of writing. No longer could my writing be organic, but it had to be planned out. It did, however, help train me to write under the pressure of a deadline. I am grateful for that.

Best Laid Plans…

I just assumed that my dreams of becoming a published author were just that: dreams. I would end up teaching until I retired and then I would reconsider writing as a second career.

I defined “being a writer” on the fiction side of writing. To me, while I am a fan of non-fiction authors like David Sedaris, a writer was someone who published fiction novels. I wanted to be like Anne Shirley and get a novel published. Fiction writer. Next “great American novel.” That sort of thing.

My ego wasn’t lacking.

So any other writing I did outside of fiction didn’t count in my mind. I viewed my blog writing similar to my academic writing: very clinical with some points here and there to make it more interesting, but not really writing. It wasn’t until a conversation Ash had with me a few months ago that it clicked in my head:

Ash: You’re a writer.
Me: What? No. No, I am not.
Ash: Yes you are! What are you doing?
Me: Writing.
Ash: And…
Me:…
Me:…
Me: I suppose it does count.
Ash: Of course it counts.
Me: Huh. I guess I am a writer.

It wasn’t a loud “aha” moment, more of a slow realization. Ash was right, I was a writer. I have been writing several thousand words a week, writing even more than I did in graduate school. More than when I wrote on my own in my youth. I was writing for myself and what I wanted to write about and that made a huge difference.

I had realized my childhood dream of writing for a living even if it took a different route and form I originally anticipated. That doesn’t mean I can’t spend time working on my more creative pieces, I can foster that on the side. But I can officially say that I am a writer because of my blog.

A Creative Accountability Buddy

What MS//Mommy has done the most for me is keeping me accountable to my plans and goals. I post about what I want to do health-wise and I find that knowing it’s out there helps keep me honest and focused. When I slip up, I try to post about it, but I feel like I am less likely to slip up because I have put my intentions out there.

I like to think that my continued health journey success is in part due to my activeness on the blog.

I also find that the blog helps make my intentions more real, like writing down items for a shopping or to-do list. If I put it to “paper,” then I have said that this is important for me to be more mindful. After finishing up my two-part post about toxic relationships, I’ve made more of an effort to be okay with no longer allowing toxic people in my life.

My posts about coming to terms with my MS helped me move forward in a more constructive way. While I was in a much better place than when I first got my diagnoses,  speaking about it put any final fears or doubts I had to rest.

Beyond all of that, just the creative act of writing has been extremely cathartic for me. It has allowed me to have a sense of self and self-worth that I was worried I might lose once I became a mother. It is easy for a woman to be defined solely by her children, and I was worried I would get too wrapped up in Jai’s life.

I love my son, but I don’t want to be defined by him. I have nothing against other parents who allow that to happen, that is what works best for them.

I am able to say that while I am a mother I am a writer as well.

The Future

I am hoping that my blog will continue to grow and that it will take on a greater meaning for others and not just myself. I am also hoping it will help open up professional avenues I never imagined possible when I started out last year.

I feel like I’ve been less stressed in my life since starting my blog and for that, I am grateful to have in my life. Any stress I feel related to the blog is the good kind of stress that pushes me forward and keeps me motivated. I can’t wait to see where this takes me in the next five years or so.

Thank you for coming along this journey with me.


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Final Thoughts: Home Life and Early Childhood Education

August was a fun and interesting month.

I did a lot of heavy lifting this month with my writing: talking about toxic friendships and how I dealt with them, and the importance of teaching toddler’s life lessons. I am ready for a three day weekend after all this writing!

I enjoyed the research I did for literacy and reading Peter Gray’s book Free to LearnI hope if you haven’t had a chance to yet, that you can check out the printables I made for cleaning and scheduling. I still need to make some tweaks to my daily schedule, but I am almost to a great place in my personal productivity.

I hope everyone has a safe and wonderful weekend and here’s to the first month of the fall, September! Can you smell the pumpkin spice already?


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Featured illustration credit: Michelle Melton Photography


Checking In: Adapting Eating Habits

One of the primary goals of this blog was to track my eating and exercise habits and see how it would help me manage my MS. I have found that some of the adjustments were easier to make, but there were other adjustments that were harder to maintain because of temptation or certain physical needs not being met.

I am still struggling with certain aspects of my diet, but after doing some research, I realized that it is more important to listen to my needs in a modified way than deny my body something it needs to refuel or heal from training.

Original Eating Intentions & What Worked

My overall intention was to drop all meats, dairy, gluten, sugar, and alcohol while maintaining a clean eating diet. The hope was it would manage my MS symptoms until I restarted my medication within the next year.

I started off strong, finding I had no problem dropping each food group week-by-week. I found that my weight would also drop because I was making healthier choices, and I was feeling somewhat better overall. MS symptoms abated and my neurologist was happy with the changes.

What worked best was dropping sugar, dairy (milk), and gluten; I found that I have issues whenever one of those items sneaks into my diet, intentionally or not. If I have cane sugar, my neck seizes up and I get a massive headache for the duration of the day; if I have milk/cheese, I find that I feel bloated and get a stiff neck; and if I have gluten, I find that my joints pop more and another stiff neck.

Clearly, my body does not like these food groups and so continuing to keep them out of my diet is to my benefit. I don’t know if it is an allergy per se, but there is a definite sensitivity correlation.

I am also happy to keep fried foods out of my diet as well, but this is mostly because of health reasons. I am still concerned about keeping high-cholesterol foods out of my diet and fried foods are unnecessary. I want to walk into my yearly physical with a low blood cholesterol level this year.

What Didn’t Work & Adaptations

I am in desperate need of protein.

I liked the idea of being plant-based for ethical and health reasons, but it was easier to maintain a vegan diet before Jai. When I was younger, I could spend a lot of time preparing high-protein foods that checked off all my nutritional needs, but between chasing Jai around the house and coping with fatigue, I really don’t have the time or energy to spend hours in the kitchen.

I found that I was sneaking meat-based proteins into my diet and when I “cheated” I didn’t cheat with “good” foods. It would be a high-fat beef dish or chicken that was smothered in salt/ high-calorie sauces.

So to stop this trend of making unhealthy choices, I’ve decided to reincorporate certain types of fish, chicken, and egg dishes back into my diet. Salmon is high in Omega-3 Fatty Acids which is good for brain health and chicken/eggs for running proteins.

I have decided not to re-incorporate any red meats, beef or otherwise. I will have the occasional “cheat” day, but by removing red meat from my diet I am eliminating a major inflammatory source that could affect my MS exacerbations.

Future Eating Habits

My diet will still be mostly plant-based, but once a week I will incorporate some sort of meat-based protein that will help satisfy any nutritional cravings I am feeling and prevent me from lapsing into unhealthy choices.

I have also hit a bit of a weight plateau and I suspect not being kind to myself with my eating habits is a source of sabotage. While I am a normal weight by BMI standards, I want to lose a little more to be solidly within the normal BMI range. By being more honest and adapting my diet to my individual needs I should start seeing my weight starting to drop again to a satisfactory number.

So while I had grand intentions to be gluten-free, sugar-free vegan, I am at this point a clean eating pescapollotarian that is gluten, dairy, and sugar-free.

I definitely recommend trying the diet shift, especially going slow through it so it isn’t a complete shock, but I am finding that it didn’t work as well for me at this point in time. I think once Jai is a little older I may have more time to focus solely on a plant-based diet again.

I don’t consider this giving up or losing – I consider this a win because I am accepting myself in this moment of time and doing what works best for my current needs.


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Checking In: Losing the Pounds

When I started to make these lifestyle changes several months ago, my main reason was to keep my MS under control, fight my fatigue, and model good eating/exercising habits for Jai.

It was never about weight loss.

In fact, I anticipated that I would lose 5 pounds TOPS and just continue on my way of maintaining a specific weight range as I made these changes. I lost around 20 pounds in the first few weeks after giving birth, but the weight slowly came back from bad habits formed during the first few months of breastfeeding.

I had fallen into the trap of “I am craving this and because I am burning extra calories from breastfeeding, I can afford to eat extra sugar/fried/foods without extra exercise.” It stung to see myself steadily rise back to my pre-pregnancy weight. That’s when I started thinking about making changes, but not really committing to anything productive.

I started this blog and after the first week of dropping sugar, I lost 3 pounds. Within a few more weeks, it was 9 more pounds. It’s been almost a month and a half since my last weight update and I’ve lost an additional 13 pounds. I have officially lost 25 pounds since I’ve started this blog. I have lost even more from my highest weight, though I am not ready to reveal that number yet.

I’m waiting until I hit a specific weight-loss number from my highest weight before I do a “before/after progress post.” I anticipate that will be within the first few months of the New Year. It’s a good goal to reach for when I recommit myself.

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