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Belief, Positivity, and Chronic Illness

“Embrace the power of positive thinking!” We hear that all the time when we endure a health crisis, a rut, or embark on a wellness journey. We are told if we want to change our mindset or become healthier, we need to shift our thinking to be positive. It’s something I frequently promote on the blog. But that isn’t possible with a chronic illness. Sometimes we need a little extra help.

Can positive thinking help you manage your illness? What if you are feeling particularly low on positivity?

This is where a higher power or greater cause can step in to help. Belief comes from the same place in our brains, whether it’s religious or not. Having strong beliefs, no matter the source, helps us create a sense of community and support when we find others who are similar. Prayer or meditative practices can help quell darker emotions that arise in illness.

Depending on your perspective and your practices, it’s effortless to slip in positive thinking. You just have to use what you already know to work with you, rather than against you.

Positivity, Meditation, and Prayer

Nature works against us when we want to sit down and focus on the positive. Geared towards survival, we get caught in the negativity to help keep us safe. Yet, negative thinking causes so much mental and physical harm. We no longer need it to survive, yet it still follows us around.

Belief can help us ward off negative thoughts. If you have a higher power, you can engage in your practices to find comfort in the routine and tradition. If you don’t have a higher power, you can participate in relaxation/self-care exercises to help set your mind at ease.

Regardless of your background, when you want to start engaging in positive thinking, there are tools available to you. If you are religious, look into your texts, and any devotionals explicitly created for comfort. If you aren’t religious, there are a lot of secular and science-based books available to get you started.

Seek out someone more knowledgeable too: a leader in your community, life coach, or counselor. They can give you text, tools, and mantras equivalent to meditation or prayer.

Prayer, or self-reflection, help bring comfort to the practitioners. It can take the edge off of emotions, help you collect your thoughts, and self-soothe. Most importantly, it can give us a break we need to refocus our thoughts to be objective. While coping with a chronic illness, we sometimes sink into darkness and crisis. Prayer/meditation grants our brains the break we need to help see beyond the darkness.

If you have a higher power, you might hear them speak to you with words of comfort. If you don’t, you might gain a similar moment of peace while meditating. These practices serve as a wonderful means to distract us from our despair.

Is it Helpful?

Finding a sense of direction within your personal philosophy should always be helpful. Your belief system (of any kind) needs to bring you comfort, not additional stress. If you find that you aren’t getting the support you need, figure out what’s going on. You may need to re-examine your beliefs to see why it’s not fulfilling your needs.

When you are in a time of personal crisis, such as a diagnosis or exacerbation, you want something to draw your strength upon.

I found as I grew older that the philosophy I used as a child no longer worked or brought me comfort. It only brought anger and resentment. I needed to look elsewhere to draw support as I dealt with my MS and settled on one that I dabbled in since I was a teenager. It took me a long time to feel okay with this switch, but it was more important to care for my mental health than anything else.

If your philosophy works for you and brings you comfort, continue to find ways to keep it working for you. If not, then speak with someone objective: they might be able to healthfully redirect you to materials to help you reaffirm your beliefs. Examination and reflection is essential no matter your faith, or non-belief.

Keep trudging forward as you deal with your illness and continue to draw sources of strength close to you as a means of help.


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Featured photo credit: Canva

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Illness as a Positive

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. 


Having a chronic illness is no fun.

I know that’s a bit of a shocker for anyone reading this, especially if you have a chronic illness/disability. That said, having a chronic illness did bring about a positive change in my life: I think it forced me to rethink my life and my health and make important changes.

I am not about to turn this post into inspiration porn (don’t worry, that link is safe for work), but I do want to express gratitude for the wake-up call my MS gave me. I call it my “rock bottom” because it forced me to make some decisions about the direction I wanted to take physically, mentally, and emotionally. I do, however, wish it hadn’t taken a chronic illness diagnosis to make these changes

I would be more than happy to give back my illness and keep all the healthy changes if given a chance. 

Prior to the Diagnosis

To understand why I am grateful for my current health, it’s best to compare it to where I was physically prior to my diagnosis.

I’ve hinted at my state in previous posts throughout the blog, but I never fully discussed my mental and physical state. Partially because it was never necessary to the post, but mostly because I was ashamed of where I was at in life.

I was delusional about my physical health. It’s easy to see that on the other side, but living in the middle of it I thought I was healthy. I would eat vegan, run, do yoga, try to meditate when the time would allow, but essentially go through the motions of what I thought was healthy living.

And then I would wonder why I wasn’t losing weight. I justified it by saying this to myself repeatedly:

Ah, that’s just muscle being put on. Muscle weighs more than fat.

I am just stressed out right now, so once I get beyond this period, I will be fine. I need to eat like this because it’s how I am coping with my stress.

Apparently, my 5’3″ body is meant to be 160 pounds. Since I can’t lose the weight, that must be my natural set point.

I also didn’t feel better, I was just grumpier for waking up earlier and sweating a bunch with little to no payoff.

Let me be clear and say that weight is not the absolute indicator of health: athletes can be considered overweight and be at peak physical fitness. A person can be a normal weight and be coping with an illness of sorts. Weight can be a symptom of a bigger problem and it can also cause other issues, but looking at weight for whether a person is healthy or not shouldn’t be the only factor. It is just one of the factors.

Through most of my adult life, I was carrying around an additional 20-30 pounds. This extra weight played a negative role in my overall activity level, my mood, my energy levels, and my depression. I firmly believe that these factors exacerbated my MS symptoms. There were days where I would come home after teaching and fall asleep for hours until Ash got home, wherein he’d have to make or order us dinner.

It was always a slog to get any important work done for school and professionally speaking.

Prior to my diagnosis, I had very little motivation to make any positive changes in my life. I would do it in spurts, but those would fade out when I didn’t see immediate results. I had nothing truly motivating me beyond “this is what our culture tells me to do.” It wasn’t enough and therefore I couldn’t stay motivated to continue.

I figured I could never get into peak physical and emotional condition because I just couldn’t. No other reason other than that: I just was not able to be healthy.

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Nature’s Classroom: Teaching Perspective

Monday I discussed the importance of spending time outdoors with little ones. Today I wanted to focus on the lessons we can teach by spending time outside, not just for ourselves, but for our little ones as well.

I struggle with perspective. The more time I spend outside, the clearer my perspective is on a lot of things. Not just my life, but where my life fits in the world and those directly surrounding me. While there are plenty of other ways to gain perspective, I have found that spending time in the middle of the woods or on top of a mountain to be the quickest way to re-orient and re-prioritize my mindset.

Children also struggle with perspective. Plenty of adults do too, but with a child’s limited experience it is hard for them to understand any perspective but their own. Teaching children to understand different points of views helps with empathy and compassion. It is important for children to have these tools prior to encountering a negative experience with another human being, such as a bully or bad behavior.

To be clear: teaching empathy isn’t telling a child to condone bad behavior, but to understand why a person behaves a certain way. If a child can try to understand the behavior it helps them not take it personally. Many situations where a child is treated badly or bullied have little to do with the child themselves and more to do with what they represent: i.e. happy home life, parental attention, or just because they are there.

Yet the bullied child is told to brush it off and ignore the bad behavior which can lead them to believe that there’s something wrong with them and not with the person behaving badly. If the child is taught to see things from the bully’s perspective, they may have a chance to see that it has nothing to do with them but has everything to do with the unhealthy ways the bully manages their feelings.

It isn’t about making friends with the bully but giving the child the emotional tools to manage the bully internally when it happens. Obviously, if a child’s physical and emotional well-being is in danger more drastic measures need to be taken, but I am referring to the simple push-and-take behavior that occurs in a toddler’s life.

There are many other reasons why teaching a child about perspective will help them daily, bullying is just an easy example many of us have already experienced and want to figure out how to handle when a little one goes through it as well. But learning about perspective cannot be forced, it must be gradually introduced into the child’s daily life/mindset.

When I taught I found that my more successful teaching moments happened when I took the time to understand things from the student’s perspective and worked on their level rather than talking down to them. I could lecture students all day how to formulate a thesis statement or a paragraph, but it was only when I showed them how to do it in a more subtle way on a level they could understand that I found more success.

For kids, nature is a non-threatening and interesting way to understand the world around them and how they fit within it. Using nature as a classroom is an organic way to teach children that there is more to what they see in front of them and makes it easy to transfer those lessons into different scenarios.

Before getting to that point, it’s important to understand things from a toddler’s perspective. Life is rather difficult for toddlers, despite the fact that everything is still done for them: you learn about independence, yet you can’t be fully independent; you learn about objects and how you might want them, yet you can’t get everything you want when you want it; and finally, you are curious about everything, but you aren’t allowed to see or do everything you want when you want.

It’s hard.

It’s also very hard to see the larger world as a toddler. Everything is momentary, everything is what is in front of you. Anything hidden doesn’t exist even when object permanence is finally a thing.

That’s where spending time outdoors can help start the learning process that there’s more to life than what is in front of a toddler’s nose.

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Wellness Month Wrap Up

This was a mixed month of results for me.

Dealing with the stomach infection took a lot away from my ability to fully engage with my month of wellness. I had hoped to kick my training into high gear for a major 10k in July and while I still have time, I feel woefully behind because of the necessary 2-week break due to medication side effects. But taking breaks are sometimes necessary to allow a body to recover.

No shame in that.

Now that I am back to feeling better, I’ve restarted my running and feeling better because of it. On Saturday I ran a 4-mile race with my mom and we both exceeded our timing expectations. No PR’s, but neither of us are behind in our training. This was a validating discovery.

I found the most successful aspect of the month was my phone detox. It reduced my overall stress and increased my productivity. I have even found that it’s helped me restart my love of hardcopy reading. I’ve been screen reading for so long that I’ve forgotten how much I love the feel of old-fashioned paper. Jai is also discovering books, so renewing my love is beneficial to both of us.

Revitalizing Resolutions

I think checking in and reaffirming resolutions every four months is a good idea. I don’t believe I need to spend an entire month to doing so, but perhaps in August, I can remember to check in and see how I feel about my progress.

Checking in gives me time to work on my habits and make effective adjustments, but also prevents me from self-nagging to the point of personal frustration or discouragement. One thing I’ve learned this month is that progressing slow and steady is more effective than trying to rush or push myself to fast.

The fable was onto something: slow and steady may not always win you the race, but it will get you over the finish line. Achieving my goals are more important than the speed in which I get them accomplished.

 

Wellness Within and Without

It’s important to remember that wellness begins internally, not just an externalization through exercise. By taking the month to check on my internal well-being with phone detox and promoting self-confidence, I am helping ensure the longevity of my external manifestations of health.

Building a strong internal foundation will help me work through moments of doubt or defeat. Being self-compassionate will also help me take it easy on myself when I am tempted to give up on my goals. We all have down periods, just learning to work through them and move beyond is key once we’re ready.

Wellness All Year

Focusing on wellness shouldn’t be a one month out of the year thing or at the beginning of the year for resolutions. It’s an all year journey, one that has its ups and downs, but being okay with the ebb and flow is important to maintaining motivation.

What are some of your favorite wellness tips or tricks? What have you learned about yourself while working on your New Year’s resolutions? Comment with your thoughts below.

Don’t forget to check out my Facebook Page for other articles and tips based on my weekly posts. It’s a great way to connect with others and me!


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The Importance of Rest

You’ve started an exercise routine to be healthier and you’re really getting into, but you wake up one morning and your body is like: Nope. Not doing anything today.

Frustrating!

It seems counter-intuitive but taking a break from vigorous exercise for a day or two is actually healthy for your body. If you are doing light exercise or starting an exercise routine it may be less necessary, but the more you fatigue your body, the more it needs a break to recover.

Listening to your body and taking a break from exercise is a good thing. It helps your body repair any muscle damage, fatigue, or stress it’s undergone from your most recent workout since the purpose of exercise is to build up your muscles.

 

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