One Month of Mindfulness: You’re Hardier than you Think

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

At the beginning of the month, I began a mindfulness challenge. It was quite simple: do three things mindfully every day. I began imagining myself sitting Zen like on top of a rocky mountain, reaching enlightenment and spreading my healing wisdom to my fellow chronically ill bloggers. It was then that I realized; there aren’t really any mountains in the UK, and it rains much too often to sit outside. So my mindfulness challenge remained focused on mundane daily tasks. Sometimes I noticed the feel of my shirt slipping over my head as I got dressed and other times I fully appreciated the warmth of the shower. I used it at work to get through hard days, aiming my focus at the task at hand instead of thinking of all the things that needed to be done, and to help calm my breathing at night to get a better sleep.  As is often the way of mindful activities, the changes I noticed were small and personal rather than grand and global, but I still thought I would share with you the top 5 things I learned from my month of mindfulness:

1.       Being mindful  won’t stop you from having a panic attack for the first time

You may think this point is too specific to be a general observation and you may be right. While mindfulness and meditation and breathing exercises have certainly provided me with a vast amount of help and resources for Chronic Fatigue, it is not some miracle cure for all of your health problems. Mindfulness often gives you insight into what you need and what your fears and challenges are, and it can help you manage those things as well, but you still need to make the decision to utilize those discoveries and put them into practice in your daily life. If you don’t do that there’s nothing stopping the stress from getting to you, and you may find yourself Googling the symptoms of a heart attack…

2.       You will appreciate the big picture

Mindfulness teaches you to focus on one specific moment in time, so it seems like an oxymoron to say that mindfulness helps you to see the big picture better, but when you are focusing on just one moment, it puts that moment into perspective. You may be in physical or emotional pain in that one moment, but it is only a moment, and there is no way of predicting what that next moment will bring.

3.       Your mind is a jungle

One of my biggest literary heroines wrote these wise words of advice: “There’s a crazy lady living in your head. I hope you’ll be comforted to hear that you’re not alone. Most of us have an invisible inner terrible someone who says all sorts of nutty stuff that has no basis in truth”.  Over the past month I have often come out of a meditation feeling like I have just fought a battle with my inner terrible someone. That voice which is saying all sorts of crazy things, and trying to distract you from focusing on your breath, and instead making you focus on what a terrible person you are and what a terrible life you have. You will discover a lot of great things about yourself if you commit to mindfulness, but you will also get to know all of the not-so- great parts of yourself as well.  Before you conjure up images of serene and peaceful meditation sessions, know that you will have your battles to fight. This does not make you a ‘bad meditator’

4.       It’s OK to assert your needs

Mindfulness will help you get in touch with what you really need to feel better or to help make things more achievable for you. However, it is one thing to come to these realizations in your head, and another thing to assert those needs to your boss, co-workers, or loved ones. Just remember that everyone is different, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of if you need to ask for help in certain areas. Also, you won’t be of much use to anyone if you crash, so be confident in asserting your needs, and everyone around you will benefit!

5.       You’re hardier than you think

Hardiness is a term used by psychologists to define the type of person who can remain healthy and in control in stressful situations. While genetics and the way you were raised affect your personal level of hardiness, it is something that can be cultivated by anybody. Mindfulness helps to control stress levels, and keep your perspective on situations by focusing in on the moment rather than going over all of the terrible things that could happen in your head (see point number 3). By cultivating this awareness of yourself and your surroundings, you are setting yourself up to succeed.  I am the queen of over-thinking things. Something I did not realize was a harmful trait until fairly recently. Mindfulness helps you focus in on the specific situation at hand, and slows down time (ie. Breathing) to give you the strength to adequately deal with the situation. Once you start cultivating hardiness by practicing mindfulness (or whatever substitute works for you) you will be amazed by what you can accomplish!

Happy meditations!

The Chronically Ill’s Prayer for a Job

Based on ‘A Mothers Prayer for Her Daughter‘ by Tina Fey

First Lord; nothing too stressful, may neither the words ‘fast paced’ nor ‘competitive environment’ grace the sentences of the job description.

May I be respected, but not valued, for it is the value that brings the extra hours every Friday evening, not the respect.

When an extra project is proposed, may I remember the time I spent a month in bed after finishing a term paper, and have the grace to say ‘no’.

Guide me, protect me, when negotiating hours, with sick leave, when requesting holiday pay and overtime, when asking to work from home, when working from home, when working in the office, when sitting through meetings, when completing a project, when undergoing stress, when being asked if I’ve ‘got a moment’ or if I could ‘help out with a task’, or having a tight deadline for anything , ever.

Lead me away from hospitality but not so far as tech. Something where I can have flexible hours , and don’t have to interact with people too often, but still where I can make friends and get outside every now and then. Something that is challenging and stimulating but not too stressful. What is this Lord? Please tell me so I may apply. Please do not tell anyone else that asks.

O Lord, break the email server forever, so that I may be spared the rejection letters that come in, the stupid questions from clients, and the weird chain emails from co-workers.

And when one day, my boss gives me a performance review, and says I am doing well and asks if I can take on some duties of the position that was just terminated, give me the strength, Lord, to pass it on to a different colleague, because I will not have that shit, I will not have it.

And if one day lord, I feel , like my book is ready for publication and I am ready to quit my job, let them replace me with someone more energetic who Is willing to work more than 48 hours per week. And as she sits at my old desk until 7pm on a Friday evening excited about this ‘great opportunity’, may she wonder how her predecessor ever made it through the job in so few hours a week, and may she see the corners I cut and the projects I passed off to others, and let her make a note to call and ask me about it. May she forget to call Lord, may she forget.

Making Hard Decisions

I had a hard time deciding what to write about this week. I have a stash of tips and ideas that I would like to share with others struggling with Chronic Illness, but I couldn’t write any of those articles. I wrote and scrapped several different drafts, before I realized what I really needed to write about: tough decision making.

I’ve never been a good decision maker. From deciding what I’d like to eat at a restaurant to the Uni I went to, decisions have always come hard to me. As I’ve aged my decision making skills have weaned and waned, sometimes I feel in control and sure of what I want, other times I feel lost in a battle where all sides seem equally good and equally bad.

Living with Chronic Fatigue adds a new element to decision making. Like anyone, you need to consider what you want and what you need, but the disparity between these two is greater for those living with a chronic illness.

I’m at a time in my life where a lot of things are changing. The amount of possibility is both stressful and exciting, but the challenges that lay ahead both; internal and external are daunting. Deciding who we want to be and what we want to come is challenging for every young (and old) person, but CFS demands more attention and snakes its way into every major decision I need to make.

I recently read an article from one of my favourite authors, about reducing small decision making to put your entire focus on the big decisions that need to be made. In theory, this sounds great to me but how do you effectively put that into practice? What if I’m too tired before bed to decide what I want for breakfast tomorrow? What if I enjoy waking up in the morning and putting an outfit together, even though I’m aware that this can sometimes add extra stress? And what about those times when you need to make some big decisions, and thus all decisions including what you’ll order for lunch and what time you’ll go to bed become impossible to make. What do you do when your decision making processes begin to shut down?

tough decisions

Fear lies at the base of all decisions. Fear that you will make the wrong choice, or fear how this will affect your life or somebody else’s. Sometimes,  it’s an utter panic of having no idea what to do. Not knowing is one of our greatest fears.

So the question is:  how can we cultivate self awareness to overcome this fear of indecision, to make a choice that is right for us in the moment while still seeing the future?

I will be spending a month working and writing from the beautiful Scottish Highlands. Getting out of the city and into nature has made my mindfulness challenge easier, despite the physically demanding work I will be doing.

In a month’s time I will need to be deciding where I will be going, what I will be doing, and whom, if anyone, I will be with. CFS has forced me to collect the tools I need to be resilient, adaptable, and self aware. Now I only need to use them to find my own clarity.

What about you? How do you make those tough decisions? And How does your illness effect them?

Photo Credit: One Way Stock via Compfight cc

How to Trick Your Dinner Guests into Eating Gluten Free

I hate dinner parties. This may come as a shock to some of you, because I do love eating, and I do like socializing (when I am not hermitting), but I have so many weird dietary restrictions that I usually end up getting a lot of weird looks and coming home hungry, or giving in and eating all the foods only to return home feeling sick and bloated for the next 24-48 hours. As part of my 30 days of mindfulness, I have promised to eat mindfully, and that includes respecting my dietary restrictions (and, well, not starving myself). But what better way to enjoy food than with friends? So, being my daring self, I decided to host my own dinner party, with the goal to prepare everything gluten free, dairy free, and nut free! Turns out it wasn’t actually so hard…

With the last days of summer hanging tantalizingly over our heads, I considered barbecue as the best way to go. It had its pros: Barbecue foods are easy to find gluten and dairy free, and anyone can appreciate a motto of ‘more meat and less bread’ when it comes to barbecuing. But there were also cons: What about the buns? Cheeseburgers? It would be tough, and some compromises would have to be made, but I could almost taste the delicious glory of a gluten free dinner party.

I quickly made the decision that cheese could not be completely left out.  I admit, I have a weakness, but one slice of cheese never killed a digestive system! The buns were a different story. Dare I buy dry and questionable gluten free bread for the whole party, or do we go bun free? Deciding the $12 frozen loaf of gluten free bread was not a realistic option, it was clear we were all to go bun free. I know, I know, I could have just bought some bread for my guests and not ate it myself, but then I would have to deal with their pitying stares and questions, and this was MY dinner party so we could all eat our burgers with a knife and fork.

I made a homemade spicy mustard dressing for a fresh Greek salad, and put the homemade burgers and gluten free sausages on the grill. As the guests happily chatted away over some Mojitos, I faced my next challenge: desert.  There would be no cream puffs or cakes here, I needed something simple to complement the barbecue, but also gluten and dairy free. Luckily, the blogosphere came to my rescue with these amazing chocolate peanut butter ball deserts. I used dark chocolate with no milk in it, and otherwise followed the directions on here! (Warning: make sure to put the peanut butter balls in the freezer, not just the fridge, or else they will not hold enough chocolate).

Finally, the eating began. I nervously began cutting my burger with a fork and knife, but after the guests realized there was no bread, they just laughed it off and enjoyed! (Everyone agreed the cheese was essential, though).  The peanut butter balls were a hit; no one would’ve guessed it was gluten and dairy free, especially because everyone was already a little tipsy off wine and cocktails by then!  It was a very enjoyable evening with food and friends, and perhaps, most importantly, everything was super easy to prepare and easy to delegate to my boyfriend to clean up!

In conclusion, my guests didn’t seem to mind eating gluten and dairy free, because although those words usually scream ‘no fun’ to foodies, thanks to the wealth of options and delicious recipes on the internet, we have to suffer no longer! I’ve even shared the peanut butter ball recipe with my friends so next time I attend a dinner party; I don’t have to worry about not getting desert.