appreciating-the-small-things

Appreciating the Small Things

One afternoon, Jai and I walked to meet Ash at work. In the middle of the walkway was a considerable Skink that I almost stepped on because I wasn’t paying attention. This was the second time I almost got this little guy because I tend to be single-focused to keep Jai moving along. Each time I almost step on the little lizard, I feel bad. They are just sitting there, on the sidewalk, appreciating the midday sun. As the Skink scuttles off to avoid my feet, I give a moment of appreciation for them. Here, in a major metropolitan area, is a reminder of nature and a moment to appreciate the small things in life.

Now that I am aware that this is the Skink’s favorite sunning spot, Jai and I keep a lookout for him each time we visit Ash. It’s an opportunity for Jai to learn more about his local ecology, and me to appreciate its size and coloring. With a toddler, each Skink-sized stick is our sunning friend, and each little Skink discovered is the big one’s “baby.”

Watching Jai get so excited over discovery is one of the sweeter moments of parenthood. These are the moments he and I treasure, but often get lost in daily life. I have chores to do, posts to write, and training to manage, that I often forget the importance of slowing down and appreciating the little moments.

Appreciating the small things in life is so integral to de-stressing and finding inner satisfaction.

Don’t Get Bogged Down

Appreciating the small things is not an opportunity to practice avoidance. Sometimes, we use little details as an excuse to procrastinate. Try not to get so bogged down in the minutia that you lose focus of your goals. You may even miss the more significant moments worthy of our appreciation when we focus too strictly on the small stuff.

That said, it’s essential to strike a balance between the little and big things in life. Take time to appreciate the moments you might overlook, but don’t let that consume you. On Wednesday, I will focus on the more significant parts of life worthy of our appreciation.

Grateful for the Little Stuff

How do you determine that something is worthy of appreciation? Why is it important to appreciate?

If the moment or experience strikes a positive response from you, it is worthy of appreciation. Looking at a cute dog walking down the street is an opportunity to appreciate living alongside our canine companions. Hearing a child’s unbridled laughter across the store is a moment to enjoy living in the moment like a child. Seeing a stranger do something kind for you or another stranger is a moment to appreciate the kindness in the world.

These are three moments we might miss or not devote the level of appreciation they deserve. If we want to rewire our brain, take the time to be mindful, and show gratitude in the small things is another area to start. Engage in the feelings a dog, child, or stranger brings up in you. A dog might make you feel good because of how cute it is. A child’s laughter might make you feel good because it reminds you of positive childhood experiences. A random act of kindness might make you feel good because it reaffirms your faith in humanity.

These are all moments of mindfulness. The small things in life tend to only happen in the current moment, so when they arrive, embrace these moments and appreciate life as it currently is. Not how you wish it would be, or your past. These little moments keep us from focusing on the negative that bog us down.

If we are busy appreciating the little things, we do not leave room to focus on the negative.

Take the rest of the day to find moments to appreciate. Observe others behaving kindly. Enjoy a stranger’s happiness. Give your companion animal an extra scratch and take comfort in the feel of their fur (or scales, or feathers).

Find some time today to appreciate the little things in life and see how they add up to the richness and positivity of your day.


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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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Illness as a Positive, Part II

In November 2018, I surprised myself when I wrote about how I was grateful for my MS diagnosis. Before writing it, I thought about the benefits of my diagnosis, in light of all limitations. I was healthier, mentally and physically because of it. I made and achieved personal goals since my teenage years. Can an illness be a positive? I asked myself.

As I wrote, I found the answer was “yes.”

This isn’t a case of the dreaded “inspiration porn,” that plagues people with chronic illness. I am not saying that chronic illness is some test that brings enlightenment to its sufferers meant to inspire others.

I was talking to Ash a few weeks ago about how my MS isn’t “sexy” enough to be inspirational. I’ve temporarily lost leg function before, but never to the extremes that other people with MS experience. There’s nothing inspirational about my diagnosis and disease-management story.

What I am saying is that, for me, getting ill was the wake-up call I waited for all my life. The call rang in the background, but I kept ignoring it. Getting the “all clear” from my neurologist on my brain lesions shook me out of complacency. I reached my “rock bottom” and needed to work towards the person I dreamed of becoming for so long.

I absolutely have my moments where my MS is a negative thing. I hate my brain fog, when objects slip out of my hands, or I struggle to get out of bed due to fatigue. There are days where I wish I could trade places with someone who isn’t chronically ill just to feel “normal.” I will admit: this daydream occurs at least once a week.

Taking a mental tally of the benefits my illness brought me versus the negative, I’ve found that the positive outweighs the negative. This won’t be the case for everyone, my MS was never that bad, to begin with, but making the decision to be positive is one form of disease management.

How? It gives me a more realistic view of the severity of my illness. Before, I had a hopeless view of my future. I waited until I progressed to Secondary-Progressive. I now see that the MS does not limit me as much as I thought it did.

Deepening Appreciation

My perspective on my illness is evolving. Rather than re-publish the post in November with some edits, I wanted a separate post to reflect on everything I’ve learned about myself and my MS in the last eight months. Life is a classroom, and I’ve learned a lot more about myself since November.

In childhood, I was taught adversity was a good thing: it’s what shapes us into stronger adults. It’s one of the reasons why I chose the lotus for MS Awareness on the blog. Through the mud does the beautiful lotus flower bloom: a perfect metaphor for what it’s like to live with a chronic illness.

We sit in our dark moments, in the middle of an exacerbation, unable to see the internal growth taking place. When the exacerbation is over, we blossom into a more resilient person, wiser from the experience.

I just passed my second anniversary since my last major exacerbation, but I still live with a fear that I will wake up with blindness in one eye, or unable to lift my leg to walk.

I am more aware of a lot of things in life.

I’ve become more mindful of my time, choosing to live in the moment more, rather than focusing on the future fear of an exacerbation. I appreciate each day I get exacerbation-free. I am aware of my aging, and what my elder years might look like with MS. I recognize my mortality more, not because MS might kill me, but it might take my ability to function away from me, so I have to wait for years to die in a hospital bed.

This is unlikely to be my situation, but this disease is so unpredictable that I cannot rule it out entirely.

That is something the MS taught me: the unpredictability of it all. Everything. Each time I go out to exercise, I play with Jai, I interact with Ash, or love on my cats; each of these moments is so precious because I do not know what I will wake up to in the morning. If I am lucky, MS won’t get me, but MS did make me aware that anything can. MS taught me that every day is a gift and you never know when it is your time to go.

I know that’s morbid, but it’s why I developed a more positive outlook. If we are given a brief chance to look back at our lives at the end, will I leave feeling positive about my life overall, or negative?

The Importance of a Positive Outlook

I am speaking from a place of acceptance with my illness, so it’s easy to maintain a positive outlook. We are not all there yet, as we work through the stages of grief post-diagnosis.

Once you reach a space of acceptance, try to look at life more positively. Look not at the series of moments of what you cannot do, but at the moments of what you can. You may be surprised that you can do a lot more than expected. Now re-examine the things you think you can’t do and see how you can adapt to make things happen.

I never thought I could be a runner, before MS and especially after my diagnosis. I did not think I could be a mother. I never anticipated getting into a positive space with my more adversarial acquaintances.

I never thought I could improve as a person, especially after my diagnosis.

And yet, here I am. If I had the opportunity to go back ten years to interact with myself, past me would not recognize present me both physically and in personality. I am a completely different person.

It started when I stopped looking at what I couldn’t do and adapted myself, so I could “do.” Embracing a more positive outlook, I started to say “yes,” to more opportunities to grow. I don’t know if that would have happened without my MS.

The Grace of Chronic Illness

Having a chronic illness is awful. This is never in dispute.

There are difficult days where we can’t get anything done. Where we are so miserable, physically, and emotionally, that we just wish it could be over. But the grace of the chronic illness is this: it teaches us compassion towards ourselves and to others in similar situations. We can share our knowledge and experiences with others who are struggling to navigate their chronic illness.

Another reason why we should view ourselves as lotus flowers: the lotus flower represents compassion and courage. We are reborn in our illness and able to cope in ways we previously wouldn’t expect.

The illness teaches us how much we can endure, and we are capable of enduring a lot. You might discover one day that a friend experiences the same pain you do, but cannot manage it without external help. Meanwhile, it’s a pain you experience daily but manage through mindfulness and perseverance.

It’s not about comparing pain or experiences, but acknowledging that our perspectives and thresholds differ from person-to-person. It’s also about acknowledging what you are capable of doing.

Who you are and who you can be.

It would be nice to have a cure for our illnesses in our lifetime. But that may not be on the horizon any time soon. Waiting for a cure and rehabilitation to change our lives is something we may not have the luxury in doing. Shifting our perspective towards our illness, no longer looking at it as an entirely negative force in our life, can help get us on the path of self-discovery and self-appreciation.

The grace of our illness teaches us to appreciate our lives as they are now and the value of life itself.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


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Engaging in Positive Self-Talk

Back in May, I wrote about the negative internal talk I experience. For a long time, it was the loudest voice in my head. We all engage in self-talk daily. All day; every day. The self-talk can be positive, or in my case, it can be detrimental. When it takes a negative turn, it brings our mood and motivation down. When we engage with positive self-talk, we embrace a loving relationship with ourselves.

It’s hard to shift our negative self-talk into a more positive one: when we are used to the talk being a particular way, especially when it’s become background noise, it’s hard to know how to change the internal narrative. What this requires is a mindful practice, self-compassion, and gratitude for the moments we’re able to shift to a positive dialogue.

It’s going to take time and practice. But we can do it because we have the desire to have a healthier inner life.

Shifting Negative Self-Talk to Positive

As John Gary Bishop wrote in Unf*ck Yourself, engaging in positive self-talk isn’t going to be last stop on your self-improvement train. Rather, it’s positive actions that get you to improve, not thoughts. But, I would argue that shifting away from self-defeating talk helps motivate us into those positive actions.

If you walk around believing you can’t do something, chances are you won’t take the risk to try it, or set yourself for failure from the beginning. You fall into the trap of confirmation bias: I believe I can’t do this, I don’t succeed as I thought; therefore, I am right. I can’t do this.

So how do we shift away from the negative self-talk? One way is to be aware that it is happening. My negative self-talk was such background noise that I don’t think I was fully aware of it happening at the moment. I had gotten so used to it buzzing in the back of my mind that when something confirmed the negative noise, I would say, “of course, this happens. Of course, I messed up.”

When we take a more mindful approach to our internal dialogue, the thoughts that operated in the background come to the front of our mind, loud and clear. I sat for thirty seconds, engaging in mindful practice when no fewer than five separate negative thoughts popped into my consciousness that I wasn’t even aware of. I was able to address each of them with loving kindness so they would quiet down before the next set popped up.

Now that I knew these negative thoughts existed, I could hear them more clearly when they popped up again during non-mindful moments. I could address them directly again until they eventually quieted down altogether.

By having a heightened awareness of the thoughts and what they are trying to say, we can find the best ways to counter them. The quieter the negative thoughts become, the louder the loving thoughts get. Those, we want to encourage as much as possible.

The Advantage to Openness

When you grow more open to yourself, you become more open to your deepest thoughts and feelings about yourself. You create a more realistic image of yourself, and hopefully can see yourself as others see you.

Which can be a terrifying thought in of itself, but if we want to change, we want to have the self-awareness to know what needs to change. By being open to your inner life, you can see how it affects your external life on an unconscious level.

You may surprise yourself with what you learn. That leads me to an important question.

What do you Want to Learn about Yourself?

It’s an easy enough question, but we don’t often ask it because we might not be willing or ready for the answer. But the answer is important if you want to change your internal narrative from negative to positive.

I asked this question of myself back in January, and I did not like the answer: I am an echoist. This means I struggle to express my own opinions, I don’t want to be a burden to others, and I have an intense fear of coming across as selfish. I had a weak sense of identity, which leads me to engage in toxic relationships because that’s what I thought I deserved.

It was a blow to my ego, but it was so enlightening. It placed my internal dialogue, life decisions, and behavior in relationships into proper perspective. I was finally able to see myself as others saw me.

Because I answered this question and worked with all the associated implications of that answer, I finally addressed the negative dialogue in my head. I could start nurturing my own identity, which is confident and independent and does not accept the negative internal talk.

I unraveled one of the final pieces of my personal puzzle. Healing could begin.

So, what is it that you want to learn about yourself?

You may not arrive at an answer right away, it will take time as you peel back the layers, but you might be able to find a temporary solution until another one pops up. The answer will be different for each of us, and what you do with that answer will be different too.

Engaging in Positive Self-Talk

For the rest of this week, take time to address your negative dialogue and flip it into positive self-talk. See what it feels like when you engage in the positivity. Do you feel better? Do you feel calmer?

Hopefully, you’ll arrive at a positive place which can help you make healthier decisions for yourself and push you forward in your wellness journey.


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Featured photo credit: Noah Buscher on Unsplash


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Mindfulness as a Coping Tool

You are probably asking yourself, how do I handle my self-doubt in a healthy and meaningful way? There must be an easy way to address self-doubt once and for all. Unfortunately, no. Remember, self-doubt can be healthy, provided it’s not preventing you from something you are capable of doing. While there is no way to removed self-doubt entirely, there are ways to cope with it, so it is less bothersome. Mindfulness works as a coping tool when it comes to our self-doubt. It can quiet our fears enough that we can take a step into the unknown.

I love mindfulness because I find it to be one of the more successful therapy techniques I’ve used on myself, especially with my MS. It helps me drop all the baggage I have in the past and about the future to focus on the moment I am “in.”

How Mindfulness Impacts our Lives

Mindfulness is about finding ways to be present at the very moment we inhabit. Rather than focusing on a nebulous future or an unchangeable past, we focus only on the now.

For a person such as myself, mindfulness is difficult to practice. My mind pulls in multiple directions at any given time. I am the sort of person who cannot just sit and watch a TV show or movie (at home) and not be on my phone working on something else. I live for multi-tasking. If I am sitting “idle,” I could be doing something productive with that time even if it’s catching up on the news or latest social media trend.

When I sit down to practice mindfulness, I confront all the thoughts I’ve pushed aside throughout the day. Something I said three days ago, why haven’t I started that task that’s due tomorrow? Focusing solely on the moment feels impossible sometimes. But it does not need to be a long, drawn-out meditative task that we are led to believe (unless you want it to be).

That’s where I would always get hung up on the practice. I had to sit for five to ten minutes, focusing on the moment. An exercise such as that is useful, but untenable if you need a quick mindfulness check while sitting in traffic.

Think of mindfulness as putting temporary blinders on. When your doubts get so overwhelming, take a few seconds to breathe, and push out all thoughts of your past concerns and future worries out of your mind. Remove the distractions preventing you from taking the steps you know you want to make and realize only the current moment matters.

If you are starting something new, or feeling overwhelmed by your chronic illness, being mindful will help you gain the clarity that comes from being singularly focused. It allows you the chance to take life one step at a time so you can catch your breath and say, “I can do this.”

Mindfulness as a Coping Tool

Mindfulness is an ideal tool to combat self-doubt because you have to live in the moment. Most of our doubt stems from previous experiences informing current concerns, or future worries preventing us from taking a significant leap.

Sitting within the moment, rejects past baggage or future concerns. As soon as we bring up a previous failure, we are no longer in the current moment. Or when we focus on a potential roadblock in the future, we are out of the moment.

Mindfulness creates a blank slate for us to work and build on. We have no room for insecurities or restrictions at the moment. Logistics come after the mindfulness exercise is over. If you want to walk a 5k and MS makes walking challenging, mindfulness allows us the chance to say, “I can do it, despite my difficulties.” Then we work backward from that goal to figure out how we can achieve it.

The more I live within the moment, the less I can focus on what I can’t do. I am not a grasshopper in these moments; I still keep my eye on future concerns and work hard on my time-management. But when I am focused on the task of achieving something important to me and only concentrate on it, I don’t have time to think about my doubts.

When self-doubt comes creeping in, I tell the doubt that I don’t have the mental energy to entertain it. Often, that’s enough to stop it altogether.

Self-Doubt, Chronic Illness, and Mindfulness

The exercise of mindfulness is all well and good; you may be thinking to yourself. But what about my illness? Most of my doubt stems from my illness. My illness prevents me from that skydiving adventure I wanted to take since childhood. Or, I would love to start my own business, but I don’t have the energy to begin the planning process, let alone run a business.

There may be limitations your illness places on you, but have you taken the opportunity to find alternatives or workarounds? Or has your self-doubt gone only as far as stopping you from considering anything?

For myself, I allowed my MS and self-doubt stop me from even considering an alternative life path. I assumed I would wait for the inevitable, my MS getting so bad that I would be a burden on my family. I would never teach; I would never start a family; I wouldn’t make it past forty before my body broke down.

The moment I pushed my self-doubt aside when Ash and I decided to start a family, was the moment I started allowing myself to make alternative plans from the ones I had since childhood. My teaching evolved into this blog, and I am interested to hear what my GP has to say about my overall health. I know my neurologist is hugely impressed with my progress.

Your journey will not look like mine, but it may take you in a similar direction to the one you envisioned for yourself. You may decide to work towards that skydiving dream regardless of your illness. In the process of preparing for it, you may find a useful alternative that gives you the same freedom you were looking for in the first dream.

Or you may not officially start a brick-and-mortar business, but able to sustain freelance work in the field of your choice.

You need to take a moment, focus on where you are right now in life and illness, and decide what you are capable of doing right now , rather than what you may not be capable of doing down the road. The answer and result may surprise you. Hopefully, it will be like my answer: better than I expected.


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