Doing Nothing Isn’t Easy


Meditation never came easy for me. Sitting cross-legged, back straight, hands on my knees, eyes closed, saying ‘ahm’ repeatedly feels awkward. On the other hand, I began practicing yoga – on and off – when living in Alaska six years ago. Walking or snowshoeing when 50 below isn’t fun especially with CFS/ME and fibromyalgia. Yoga dvds work for my life style.

A wandering mind always proved frustrating when I tried meditating in the past.  Instead of calming, I grew impatient sitting there.  My mind runs six thousand thoughts a minute when trying to sleep, read, or any other idle moments.  I couldn’t push aside thoughts while meditating.

In addition to yoga, I use deep breathing in hopes of lowing blood pressure before the nurse wraps the sleeve around my arm, reduce some anxiety before participating in unpleasant situations, and occasionally even in hopes of falling asleep.  The last exercise rarely works.

What I did not know is that the beginning and end of many routines I practice in yoga include several minutes of lying or sitting still and focusing on the breath actually is meditation in its simplest form. Reading Kabat-Zinn’s book, Wherever You Go, There You Are, I learned  lying on my back with eyes closed and bringing attention to breathing is meditation.  Also, a wandering mind is totally normal and a-okay!  I either read or heard in a podcast on meditation that thinking of thoughts is a wave that flows in and out during the process of meditation.

If a critical piece of mindfulness is daily meditation, I need practice and patience or my journey ends before getting started.

I try remembering daily that I need a few minutes but have yet to make it routine. Usually, it seems that I forget until I’m lying in bed wishing I could sleep.  Sometimes, I close my door at work and try while sitting at my desk or after I feed the dogs and before making dinner.  I glance at the clock before closing my eyes and breathe.  Inevitably, thoughts take over.  I continue breathing and remember thoughts are simply ‘a wave’.  But they feel more like a rip tide pulling me away from my intent and the next thing I know, my eyes are open and two or on a good day, five minutes have passed.

Today, while hubby was napping, laundry was washing, and dinner was progressing I lay down on my bed.  The thoughts continued to roll ashore as I inhaled then I tried letting go with each exhale.  Inhale, and a new thought drifted in, exhale and I let it go.  When opening my eyes, 25 minutes had passed!

I felt calm and ready to get back to house duties.  I start a new job in a couple of weeks and start about an hour later.  Meditation could be a mindful way to start my day.

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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.

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!

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.

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!