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.

A Season of Joy


My family is Jewish and when I was young, we played with the dreidel , received small gifts each of the eight nights as well as Chanukah gelt (Yiddish term for money) in the form of gold foiled chocolates.  We also lit the candles on the menorah  each night. as a remembrance of the rededication of the Holy Temple when the Maccabean Jews reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem in a revolt against the  Syrian-Greeks in the second century b.c  The miracle of the Jewish holiday, Chanukah, was that only one oil lamp with enough oil for one day was found when cleaning the Temple. The lamp stayed lit for 8 days and we honor this miracle each year by lighting the menorah at 8 days at sunset with the number of candles reminding us of the 8 day miracle.

As a child, my family lived in a community where the majority of friends and neighbors were Christian, we also hung a sock on the mantel so Chanukah Charlie would visit us on Christmas eve.  No tree, though – that was too much.  As an adult, I never felt terribly connected to the holidays – though the vacation days were always a welcome gift.

Now, I need a balance of time during the interlude of holiday break.  Most years, we celebrate Thanksgiving with my family and Christmas with my husband’s family.  Circumstances and low energy kept us from spending the long turkey weekend with my family this year.  But it was wonderful having just my husband and I together with our own family dinner.

We'll be sitting on the porch this week watching the grass grow - if the sun comes out.
We’ll be sitting on the porch this week watching the grass grow – if the sun comes out.

This weekend I planned to join my husband and travel to his mom’s where the family of all ages will celebrate. For reasons that I won’t  mentioned, I am now staying home and enjoying my dogs and my house.  My mom and brother are flying in next week so I will finally spend some quality time with them.

Hooch waits for that cricket to jump
Hooch waits for that cricket to jump

I was single until 50 and always enjoyed my solitude.  This weekend, I am going to make the very best of ‘me’ time.  I’m going to stay up late, sleep in, cook, and piddle around the house. The anger that festered the last couple of days subsided and I’m mindful of how blessed I am to have loved ones supporting and respecting my needs.

Maybe I’ll have a miracle of my own and find my menorah that seems to have disappeared after one too many moves.

There will be lots of this at our house this weekend!
There will be lots of this at our house this weekend!

Regardless of faith, interest, and circumstances – whether surrounded by loved ones or relaxing alone – appreciate yourself, take time to reflect on all the wonders of life.

One Year Later


My life changed dramatically in the past year. I began working full-time, my husband and I bought a house on 5 acres, and I needed to find a new health team. I put my blog on the back burner because it was an obligation that I could not add to my busy plate. But I’ve missed the process of writing and sharing. It is a project that gives me purpose. While sometimes a painful and challenging process, clicking submit always satisfies.

I am not sure where my writings will lead this time around. Reading past postings, I realized that there was too much about my health challenges. How boring is that?! My original intention was writing as a motivator, educator and counselor but it sounded more like a whiner. I do not feel pity for myself so why would I write like I was seeking consolation from others?

This time around, perhaps Erato, the poetry muse, will bless me with inspiration more often. Perhaps my camera lens will document some of the remarkable landscape, creatures, and loved ones that surround my life. All I know for certain is that I want to nudge my creative self.

I continue to manage life with chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyletis (we have to find a new name for this disease!) and fibromyalgia. Postings will continue to be influenced by my chronic illness, as it is a component of my life. But now I plan on sharing experiences from my exploration of ways that enhance my life – increasing joy and giving purpose in life.

I hope you join me on my new adventures.

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!

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.

Laughter Really is the Best Medicine


Since my February surgery and new prescription regimen, I feel overall improvement in my health.  But I still have aches, pains and days of feeling kind of cruddy. This morning began as one of those days.   My morning walk was sluggish, my motivation waned, and I kept thinking how good a morning nap would feel.  Alas, it was another Monday with much to do and responsibilities to keep.

Usually, working from home is a pleasure for me.   Discipline and distractions are occasionally problematic but that also happened when I worked in an office.   What’s great about being home, is my distractions are much more entertaining than any office building. Today was a prime example of a welcome distraction turning into an hysterical episode at the Webb house.

Amigo, the horse, spent much of the morning calling his new bff , a newly arrived mare who lives next door.   Every time Amigo whinnied, Homer and Luna excitedly barked and ran through the house convinced Amigo was calling them.  After an hour of this nonsense, I finally wised up and decided it

A moment of affection.
A moment of affection.

was time to change this behavior.

I slipped off my flip-flops, pulled up my cowboy boots and took the dogs out to the pasture.   I cued Amigo to run and it took little encouragement with two dogs yapping at his hooves.  With a buck and a kick or two, Amigo trotted out and circled around.  This would never do.  Urging him on, soon Amigo took off in a full gallop with two black dogs quickly losing ground behind him.  After a few minutes, Amigo returned to his yearning post while the dogs happily panted with their tongues hanging.

As I filled Amigo’s trough and the dogs’ outside water bowls, I noticed Luna heading towards the dirt road.  I called her but she has occasional selective deafness.  In other words, Luna ignored me.  Dumbfounded, I watched my beautiful shiny black-haired Luna lay down, stretch and roll over in the brown pool.  How does she know that mud baths are good for her coat and skin???

Even as a puppy Luna learned that a hose shower always followed a mud bath.
Even as a puppy Luna learned that a hose shower always followed a mud bath.

Feeling great after her bath, Luna took off running around the yard.  Of course, she wasn’t going into my house covered in mud.  Hose still in hand, I managed to stop her before  she could reach the dirt driveway.

Apparently, the well water was cooler and more satisfying than the puddle, for Luna stood poised while I sprayed her down from head to tail until every hair was once again its lovely ebony.   Finally setting her free, I called all dogs to the back yard.  Luna did her happy 360 dance, prance and run.  Next thing I know, she’s  scratching her back on the dirt driveway.  Ugh! What can I do but laugh at my girl’s silly antics.  She’s having so much fun, loving life, being a dog, and happy, happy, happy!

Once again, I grab the stinker who now has burrs, twigs, and who knows what else in her coat.  Watered down once more, I wisely keep her close as I lead her into the fenced in yard.   Hours later, I smile as I look at Luna twitching and running as she sleeps.  Yeah, laughter is good for what ails you.

Sweet, silly, sneaky Luna.  Her antics, along with her siblings keep me laughing and smiling daily!
Sweet, silly, sneaky Luna. Her antics, along with her siblings keep me laughing and smiling daily!

Live, Life, Love Living Life


I’m having a rough flare this week and today I feel especially weak.  I slept 11 hours last night and then went back to bed this morning and slept another two hours.   And I’m feeling happy about livin’ life today.   Typically, when suffering through flares, lack of sleep typically accompanies pain and exhaustion.  But I slept.  I really slept.  This calls for celebration – or maybe just another nap.

While most of us with chronic illness may not think much about the little things missing from our daily lives – like fewer symptoms during a flare – but I think being appreciative is important.  Gratitude can turn a lousy attitude into a more optimistic one and a depressed mood into a happier one.

Recently, I started keeping a gratitude journal.  Never very good at maintaining a personal journal or diary, I wasn’t certain of my success in keeping this journal either though I like the idea.  Journalists write in their gratitude journal nightly listing three things that they are grateful for the past day.   While I don’t write in the journal every night, I write most nights before bed.  I like the brevity and the discipline of finding gems of positive moments in every day.  Surprisingly, it’s not very hard even on the most trying days.   And I find it very satisfying.  I went online and explored how I could make my journal better.  Below are some tips on keeping successful gratitude journals from The Greater Good website:

  • Don’t just go through the motions. Research by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and others suggests that journaling is more effective if you first make the conscious decision to become happier and more grateful. “Motivation to become happier plays a role in the efficacy of journaling,” says Emmons.
  • Go for depth over breadth. Elaborating in detail about a particular thing for which you’re grateful carries more benefits than a superficial list of many things.
  • Get personal. Focusing on people to whom you are grateful has more of an impact than focusing on things for which you are grateful.
  • Try subtraction, not just addition. One effective way of stimulating gratitude is to reflect on what your life would be like without certain blessings, rather than just tallying up all those good things.
  • Savor surprises. Try to record events that were unexpected or surprising, as these tend to elicit stronger levels of gratitude.
  • Don’t overdo it. Writing occasionally (once or twice per week) is more beneficial than daily journaling. In fact, one study by Lyubomirsky and her colleagues found that people who wrote in their gratitude journals once a week for six weeks reported boosts in happiness afterward; people who wrote three times per week didn’t. “We adapt to positive events quickly, especially if we constantly focus on them,” says Emmons. “It seems counterintuitive, but it is how the mind works.”

For more information on keeping a gratitude journal go to the following link:  http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/tips_for_keeping_a_gratitude_journal

I think I earned another nap.

Live more joyfully despite chronic illness.  

Contact me at laurawebb@lbwebbcoach.com and let’s schedule time to chat!