My Journey Towards Mindfulness


Listening to my dogs and husband’s breathing while they slept the other night reminded me that taking slow deep breaths relaxes me and eases anxiety. Stress and letting go are constant battles in my brain.  The former can aggravate chronic and mental illness and pain.  I practice yoga and other exercises that are gentle on my body  (though, admittedly, not lately) and learned some time ago the value of deep breathing.  Not the most disciplined person, I find myself needing more – a tangible, realistic way of letting go of circumstances that are toxic to my brain.

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Watching Anderson Cooper on a 60 Minutes report on mindfulness, my curiosity piqued when Cooper said research of the practice showed positive results for sufferers of chronic illness.   Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Stress Reduction and Relaxing Program (later renamed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979.  While he studied Buddhism, Kabat-Zinn prefers taking a scientific approach to mindfulness and apparently, it works.  American Mindfulness Research was created in 2013 to support empirical and conceptual data as well as develop best practices.

According to the website: www.mindful.org: “Mindfulness is the innate ability we have to be present, composed, and to pause before we overreact to the challenges of our busy lives.”

I’m intrigued that practicing mindfulness can improve physical, as well as, mental health.  The practice may also improve eating habits and insomnia.  Through research and practice, I hope I can better manage stressful situations – especially those that I cannot change – and improve my health.  Never before disciplined with daily meditation, I recently started listening to a podcast offering free mindful meditations (Mindful Meditations) before sleep.  I think I’m ready to take the next step and practice mindfulness in my daily life.

In addition to the websites mentioned above, I’m reading two books by Jon Kabat-Zinn:

Mindfulness for Beginners 
Wherever You Go, There You Are  

I welcome comments from readers who practice mindfulness and anyone who wants to join me on my journey.

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Personal Development in the Web of Life


I first posted this a year and a half ago and it remains the most popular viewed posting.  I’ve thought a lot about why it is such a popular topic and I think, at least partly, we all seek ways for improving ourselves, not because others want to but for our own satisfaction.  I also believe personal development is a life long endeavor and crosses all cultures, races, religious preferences, and health.  Why? Because no matter our personal situation, we all seek ways to better our lives.  We all have burdens and obstacles throughout life but it is through personal development that we overcome those challenges and find joy. 

What does the term personal development mean to you? When coaching clients, I consider personal development to be

My first patchwork afghan for my niece

whatever helps them to grow as an individual. Personal growth can include continuing education, learning a hobby, or even starting a new job or business.  Perhaps you have always wanted to learn how to knit or take up photography.  People who suffer from chronic illness or pain, it is important to consider what is realistic when exploring ways to develop personally.

octopus in Nisyros, Greece

As I have mentioned in previous posts, the Web of Life is integrative with each of the segments relating to the other.    Personal development should provide you with fun and joy.  It may be a means to make friends or help better understand your health.  Personal development may also lead to a job that becomes a satisfying career which in turn improves a financial situation.  Of course, all of this depends on personal interests and priorities but this gives an idea of how the Web of Life works.

Some people have asked where religion is on the Web of Life and I believe it belongs in personal development.  Not everyone is religious but those who are spiritual or religious use their beliefs to offer inner strength and personal growth.  For many, God gives the strength to continue each day despite daily pain.  Religion is a personal experience and how one finds or uses spirituality is a developmental process.

For people with chronic illness or pain, it may seem difficult to consider personal development as  life already may seem overwhelming just trying to survive each day.  But it is critical to find something that brings enjoyment and personal growth.   The key is having a sense of purpose.  Personal development can help lead to finding the purpose and joy that even those of us with chronic illness and pain deserve.

For more information about how I may help your personal development or other parts of yourWeb of Life, contact me for a free exploration session at laurawebb@lbwebbcoach.com.

Find Joy in the Little Things


If you don’t know it by now, I’m a dog lover, most specifically, a lab lover.   While they play a big role in keeping me moving despite suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and fibromyalgia, their silly playful antics are reminders to have fun and not take life’s challenges too seriously.

It doesn't get much better than tug of stick in a muddy puddle!
It doesn’t get much better than tug of stick in a muddy puddle!

I don’t think there is a soul in Texas complaining about the recent rains we’ve enjoyed but the change in pressure and humidity can wreak havoc on those of us managing chronic pain and illness.  I walk my labs in our pasture daily and the milder weather

Where'd it go?
Where’d it go?

brings out the puppy in our puppies.  Seeing all three of them running through standing water, crouching into play mode then chasing, wrestling, and splashing each other is hysterical.  Running down the dirt path, brown droplets falling from their bellies remind me that those muddy paws and drenched coats will be inside our house momentarily.  But seeing them panting happily, running up to me when I call and gleefully shaking the water off them and on to me is priceless.

Tag your it!!
Tag your it!!

They are a reminder that having fun is what life is all about and worrying about a little wet dirty water and mud in the house is not a tragedy.

 

Yeah, life is good.

 

Come on, dad, throw it throw it throw it!
Come on, dad, throw it throw it throw it!

The River


I see life as a river, born of the earth, merely a small trickling brook. As it leaves its point of origin, the stream quickly grows and expands

A babbling brook meets gravity
A babbling brook meets gravity
Drops of water can quickly grow into a river
Drops of water can quickly grow into a river

into a river. Throughout its life, forces, such as geography and climate, aid the river’s development.  It flows and grows, full of endless possibilities.  The water’s boundaries expand and branch off, exploring other options.  Occasionally, obstacles appear, hindering  movement. But a river must keep moving towards its destination so it flows over and around rocks, dislodging logs, pushing difficulties aside.  At times, drought may zap its strength and hurricanes may overwhelm.  But a river persists.

Winding through life, tributaries meet the river and it builds strength and quickens, sometimes losing control.  It churns and swells, frustrated, angry with the overwhelming obstacles.   But it has only one direction to move, forward, and obliterates any impediments.  It weaves around boulders, pushes aside hindrances. Thankfully, the tantrum never last long.  Eventually the river returns to normalcy, again ebbing and flowing through life. There is nothing a river cannot overcome.

Picture 011

Throughout our life, we grow, push boundaries, face and overcome challenges.  We make goals, develop plans of action, and, like a river, move forward. Even when we feel overwhelmed and seemingly insurmountable obstacles block our path, we somehow push through.  Our goals are achieved, perhaps not as anticipated, but better, more satisfying.  And that gives us the confidence to keep moving forward with new goals, new dreams.         
The river in San Antonio appears calm and at peace.
The river in San Antonio appears calm and at peace.

The Well


Life’s challenges keep trying to knock me down these days.  I think that I’ve finally hit rock bottom and can start climbing up and out of the well of despair. Crawling and scratching, I try maintaining a positive attitude.  I try to remember “This too shall pass, good things will come around again” and “I know some day I will appreciate and learn from these challenges.”  But I lose grip and slip deeper into the cold dark chasm.water well

.  After a morning in bed, I can no longer stand it.  Years of practice forcing myself out of bed despite the pains, nausea, and other chronic symptoms keep me from wallowing and asking, “Why me?”  My dear mother offers suggestions and wants to make it all better.  But I know I need to find my own way.

The Guard Dogs of Despair
The Guard Dogs of Despair

Devoted black labs stand guard nearby and play a role in my recovery.  They carefully  lick the salty tears that overflow from my eyes and, Luna especially, keep a wary brown eye until they are confident that I’m okay.  Even my dear husband gets me moving again.  I can’t bear his attempts to jump-start my motivation with suggestions of taking the dogs for a swim or going for a drive.   My morose refusals start to gnaw at my conscience, “He’s worried and wants his wife back.”

Thank heavens for the support system, the unconditional love and concern.

So, once again, I look up from the bottom of the well and a shaft of light beckons.  Step by step, one hand over the other, I begin climbing the wall of the cold, damp well.  My nails may break, my fingers may bloody and I may get knocked down again.  But one day, I’ll climb out, seal the well, and life can again be full joy and purpose.

An Unlikely Role Model


Several years ago,  I was sickened and disgusted as most dog lovers and decent human beings when I read about NFL football player, Michael Vick running a dog fighting ring. I don’t even tolerate my own dogs growling at each other so I cheered when Vick went to jail, jeered when he returned to the NFL, and rejected his claims of rehabilitation and having greater appreciation of dogs and other animal welfare.

Yesterday, I read that Vick repaid his $20 million in debt and for the first time thought, “Good for him.”  He didn’t file for  bankruptcy, negotiating, or running away, Vick manned up. Vick earns a hefty $3.5 million this year for playing football, not to mention a likely fortune with Nike.

But why do I care? Once again, I found myself fighting battles.  A chronic fatigue syndrome/fibro flare caused by a virus, stress, or over activity reared its ugly head and knocked me down. Finances went from bad to worse. Not working steadily for the past four years depleted my savings.  My husband is an Agriculture teacher and let’s just say that educators are not highly valued in Texas. Recently, we have received some assistance from a generous donor which has helped us tremendously. Until moving to the Lone Star State, I have worked and supported myself since college. I was independent and a hard worker. But  some called me  enabled for accepting assistance or just plain lazy.  As chronic sufferers would surely agree, try living in our body for just one week!

But  My admiration for Vick returning the money he owed and fighting to win a spot back as top quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles served as a reminder for me. I too have struggled and overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges at times in my life. Things have not always turned out as I planned and goals were unsuccessful. But I accepted defeat, learned, and moved on.  I am resilient!

I took a break from writing this summer to try and give my mind some rest.  I’ve been scattered, confused, and shooting in the dark.  In other words, I was not planning, I was just doing.  I knew what I wanted to do but stress, fear, anxiety, and defeatism kept me from effectively thinking, organizing and doing.

This is the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and as a Jew this is the time of year for change to occur. More so than January 1st so future blogs will very likely describe my journey towards the next phase of my life.

“Losing a battle or losing everything we thought we possessed will bring us moments of sadness. But when those moments pass, we will discover the hidden strength that exists in each of us, a strength that will surprise us and increase our self-respect.

We will look around and say to ourselves: ‘I survived.’ And we will be cheered by our words.”

The above quote is from Manuscript Found in Accra by Paul Coelho, which I am currently reading. Coelho is author of the remarkable book The Alchemist. In the Manuscript, Coelho talks a lot about defeat, experience, and love.  Many of Coelho’s writings resonate with me. Anticipate more quotes in future postings.

I survived many obstacles in my life single, alone, and independently. I am now married to a loving, caring, and supportive husband. I have some incredibly loving, supportive, and loyal family members. The moment of sadness has passed for me. I survived and I know my life will continue to be full of hope and joy.

Even Zoe sees a new day is dawning
Even Zoe sees a new day is dawning

What a Difference a Trusted Doctor Makes


Last fall, I began treatments for venous retinal occlusion – a broken vein bleeding into the retina. Not knowing any ophthalmologists in my area, I accepted the urgent referral from a local optometrist. What followed over the next eight months were a series of very painful injections into the eye and one equally painful laser treatment.

While I noticed some progress to my vision, I was less than impressed with the ophthalmologist’s bedside manner and the office’s lack of efficiency.  Each visit lasted at least 2 hours and one ghastly appointment continued for over 3 hours where I was the last patient in the office and when my husband asked the receptionist where I was, she went back to look for me and never returned!  The owner of the practice – not the doctor treating me – brought me into an exam room one time thinking I was someone else.  It wasn’t until he called me by another name that I realized his incompetent mistake.

Finally, I contacted another ophthalmologist for a second opinion.  Walking into the office, I felt the difference.   The other doctor’s office felt like a factory with the waiting rooms (yes there are more than one) full with patients shuffled from one conveyor belt to another.   While the waiting room was large, there are never more than a few people waiting at a time.  While I’ve only been to the new doctor twice, I’ve been treated warmly and never waited more than 10 minutes, even when arriving 15 minutes early.

The major difference is the doctor-patient communication.  Whereas the first ophthalmologist ignored my concerns, my new ophthalmologist and  retinal specialist (referred by my new ophthalmologist) heard my concerns, talked more clearly about the treatment process, and quickly eased my mind.    The final clincher for my trust in my new optical team occurred when they explained why I felt so much pain  after the injection.  Apparently, the antiseptic betadine aggravates the dry tenderness.   Rewetting drops help remove the antiseptic and cools the irritation.  While not completely pain-free, rinsing my eye after the treatment and using drops throughout the day helped tremendously.  The nurse said she always advises patients to use drops after injections for the very reason that betadine can irritate.   I wasn’t a wimp after all!  That little piece of information made the world of difference to my psyche.  This health team actually cared about how I felt post-treatment.   What a concept!

Before switching doctors, I had accepted my fate of being partially blind in one eye.  The first ophthalmologist did nothing wrong professionally though my appointments took twice as long as the appointments at the new doctor’s office.  I researched the process for the treatment and  substantiated it with a second opinion.  The difference is trust.  I forgot to take my own advise to keep looking if I don’t trust a referred health professional.  I know there are no guarantees any physician can save my vision.  I also know that the treatment process will continue to hurt though, thankfully, not as acutely.

Now my voice is heard.   I’m confident my vision team will satisfactorily answer any of my questions or concerns.  And that is what we must strive for when managing medical treatments for chronic illness.