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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Self-Generosity

This post was originally published in December 2017.


At this time of year, life can get overwhelming. There are social, familial, and professional obligations that all demand our full attention. While these demands don’t go away, they do seem more urgent at the end of the calendar year.

It is easy to get caught up in these demands and struggle to prioritize them (and sometimes they don’t allow for reasonable prioritization). It leaves a person feeling frazzled, burnt out, and hating the holiday season.

That isn’t the case for everyone, but I am sure we’ve all had moments in life where we would like to skip straight to January 2nd and move on with our lives.

We’ve run into others who feel this way: try going into a mall around this time of year. I’ll just leave it at that.

Piling on top of the usual life demands are calls for generosity from various organizations at the end of the year. Commercials are filled with pathos-based appeals to get the viewer to donate to various causes. Religious leaders ask their people to open up their wallets and give money, toys, or time to those who are less fortunate. Stories of tragic events lead to calls for donations of food, items, and blood. Passive social pressures increase: social media pages are flooded with posts from others announcing their generosity.

It gets extremely overwhelming.

The issue is, that when we think about the term “generosity” we think about it as giving to others. But look at the definition of the word:

Generosity
nounplural generosities.

1. readiness or liberality in giving.
2. freedom from meanness or smallness of mind or character.

3. a generous act:
   We thanked him for his many generosities.

4. largeness or fullness; amplitude.

Dictionary.com

Nowhere in the definition does it specifically define generosity as an act we give to others. It is an act of giving and love, but with no defined recipient.

When we get caught up in the minutiae we completely forget about the importance of taking care of ourselves. We are told that we should be generous with our time and care for others, but it’s extremely hard to care about another person if we don’t take care of ourselves.

If we care for our own needs first we can be more effective for others. And when everything becomes too overwhelming, we might be able to see through it with less stress and frustration.

The Importance of Self-Care

I saw this quote posted on a friend’s Facebook wall and it was the foundation for this post. I kept the original formatting:

self care isn’t always lush bath bombs and $20 face masks. sometimes, it’s going to bed at 8pm or letting go of a bad friend. it’s forgiving yourself for not meeting your impossible standards & understanding u are worth it. self care isn’t always luxury, but a mean for survival

Cheerful Nihilism

Self-care quotes, personal revelations about self-care, articles expounding self-care all make the rounds on a fairly frequent basis. Some of them connect with us and others we either ignore or go, “yeah, if only it was that easy.”

All the wisdom in the world about self-care/self-generosity does not mean anything if it doesn’t connect with you. And let’s be blunt about the quotes/revelations/articles: they aren’t saying anything new. It’s all steeped in common sense.

We just need them to remind us every so often.

I am not an expert that can espouse pearls of wisdom of how to better take care of yourself, but I do recommend that you be more generous to yourself. Allow yourself to be more selfish.

But this isn’t the same when we think about being selfish. This is a loving selfishness.

Recognize that you need to take care of yourself before you can care for others. The Mayo Clinic recommends that caregivers take care of themselves first before they take care of others. They acknowledge that a person must be selfish if they are going to be an effective long-term caregiver.

Everyone is a caregiver. For some, it’s for another person; for everyone, it’s themselves. We all must care for ourselves.

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Day Trips: Bringing along Toddler

The idea of bringing a little one along on a day trip is daunting.

Where to go that will capture their interest, what to bring, what to do…

No longer can the carefree couple be truly carefree. A lot of planning goes into the whole process of taking a day trip when bringing a little one along.

That said, taking a day trip with a little one isn’t impossible, nor is it difficult to plan. It just takes a little extra prep the first couple of times and once everything is in place, it should be a breeze each time you want to take a trip.

Prepping a “Go Bag”

The quintessential item that should come along each trip, besides a diaper bag, is what I like to call a “go bag.” This bag is filled with books, toys, activities, and snacks that are age appropriate and “special” because they solely reside in this bag and aren’t for play at any other time.

I try to swap out a different and legitimately new toy each time to keep the bag somewhat fresh, but only if I have the time to pick something up. If not, the novelty of the bag tends to be enough.

In Jai’s Go Bag:

  • Small pots of non-toxic “dough”
  • Water marker and activity set
  • Several small figurines
  • Wooden noisemaker (that isn’t too obnoxious for us)
  • Wooden car
  • Special stuffed animal
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Stickers
  • Board books
  • Flashcards
  • Stretchy string ball
  • Non-perishable snacks that can sit between trips without going bad (and easy to use in the car)

I try to keep everything tactile in nature at this point because Jai is very touch-oriented. As he gets older, I will probably switch in some books and more activity sets that are easy to handle in the car.

As a last resort, we bring a tablet pre-loaded with some of Jai’s favorite movies so we can hand it to him if he is unable to occupy his time with everything in the bag. This is especially ideal for air travel where we’re in confined spaces and loud noises.

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Parenting with Compassion: Remembering the Caretaker

This is the second week in a 3-week series on parenting observations. Week one is based on gentle parenting, week two is about parenting with compassion, and week three is about parenting with a disability.

These posts are based on my personal experiences as a parent and are not meant in any way to judge other parenting styles or decisions. I am offering my personal research and conclusions as possible suggestions for others out there, therefore these posts will be as objective as possible. When it comes to parenting: provided the method isn’t abusive, there really isn’t a wrong way to parent your child. Be secure and do what works best for you and your family and ignore outside judgment.


This week isn’t based on any parenting style, it’s about remembering the importance of incorporating compassion in day-to-day parenting. It’s easy to forget being kind to ourselves when having a particularly rough day, but by keeping it in the back of our minds each day we can combat any unwarranted judgments we make.

Incorporating compassion into the daily routine won’t alleviate all the stress from parenting, but it will help make the more stressful moments easier to handle and remind ourselves of our humanity. We are imperfect beings and tend to be the hardest on ourselves when we feel that we aren’t living up to our expectations. Yet, it is important to remember that the person most deserving of compassion is yourself.

Nota bene: This post will be using the universal “you/second person” pronouns throughout, so while it may not speak to your experience directly, it may apply to someone else you know.

Embracing our Flaws

Humans aren’t perfect.

I feel like that is worthy of a “well, duh” response. But perfectionists need constant reminders that they aren’t perfect. Perfectionists try so hard to get everything right, everything in place, everything “just so” that they forget they are attempting to achieve the impossible: humans cannot be perfect and anyone who attempts to do so will be doomed to fall short of expectations.

Again, all of this is pretty obvious.

That desire for perfection can transfer over to parenting. For myself, I want to make sure I do everything just right for Jai so he is well-rounded, well-adjusted, and a happy human being. But the thing is, in my desire to be perfect, I am setting him up to fail.

The best thing I could for Jai is show him my failings as a person and as a parent. It humanizes me to him, but more importantly, it provides a healthy example of an adult making mistakes, owning up to them, and handling them in a mature way.

How I handle my imperfections is important. When I mess up, I need to show him that it’s okay and to apologize either to him or in front of him. Sit down and explain that I have flaws and how we handle those flaws are important. I want him to see how I grow from my mistakes so he knows that mistakes aren’t a bad thing, but a chance to become a better person.

That’s all easy to say in theory, but in practice, it’s one of the hardest things a parent can do. There’s always that fear of undermining ourselves in front of our children. I am not sure if that will entirely be the case. I suspect it will allow them to have a deeper respect, and therefore more likely to listen to us, than cause them to misbehave and not listen.

When we do something that we don’t like, when we have that moment of imperfection, it is important to be mindful of what it is about that moment that upsets and frustrates us. Understand that we are doing the best we can in the given circumstances and figure out what would be better tools to use in the future.

By embracing flaws and acknowledging them as part of our humanity, we can free ourselves from our personal judgment. There will be moments when the judgment comes through and we may be frustrated with ourselves, but by being mindful in those moments can help refocus us on what we are capable of doing for our children.

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