Painful Holidays

We are just past the mid-point of January.  I am finally prepared to talk about the reality of chronic illness and how much worse the Christmas and New Year holidays make it.

I have to admit, the idea of family, friendship, giving and receiving, feasting, good will, and gratitude are very appealing.  And why shouldn’t they be?  Yet, it isn’t difficult to see that most people’s holidays have heavy doses of dysfunction in one or more of those areas.

I, for one do not have a family anymore.  It is hard to see others together and not to be a part of it.

Even those of you who have a family and supports may feel lonelier during the season.  

Some of the obstacles facing those of us with a chronic illness include basic mobility, travel, sitting at a dinner table for a length of time, medication side effects, gastrointestinal issues, alcohol, and so forth.

Many times, a family member or friend will try to include us.  This is well intentioned, usually.  The difficulty is that we often become the focus of unwanted attention.  Possibly it gets worse, with the peanut gallery chatting us up about the “cure” that worked for their “friend”.  

Also, who wants to spend a holiday event fielding questions, some of which are very personal.  We aren’t showing up to give a medical seminar, are we?

Travelling, even just around town can be nearly impossible if you have mobility issues.  Pain and inflammation can be a source of tears and fatigue.  I’m so thankful for online shopping.

Eating during the holidays usually means a deviation from our normal diets.  This can lead to flares in multiple conditions.  What should be a treat turns into a sleepless night and embarrassing discomfort.

New Years is characterized by alcohol consumption.  Many medications react badly when mixed with booze.  Pain medications can become deadly if mixed.  And yet, maybe we remember the years before we got sick and the fun we had.  There can be a lot of grieving.  We grieve for a life or an ability that we have lost.

As for my holiday, it was everything you’d hope for.  I was in the hospital and had two surgeries.  I cried as I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink pre-op on Christmas Eve.  The hospital sucks, but it’s worse on significant days.

So what is my mindful solution to the holiday predicament?  Simply, try not to drown.  Now is not the time to try to swim across the channel.  Rather, meet your minimums and stay afloat. 

You may have to decline certain invitations.  You may have to take more medications.  You may have to spend extra energy to prepare body and mind for other people or “that relative”.  You may have to feel lonely and cry into your hospital pillow.  It sure was unpleasant but the point is that I did what I could to not drown and see the other side of the holiday madness.

Mindfulness means we accept what comes and do what we can or not do what we cannot based on the present moment.

Can you relate?  Tell me your story!

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Monkey Mind Panic Attacks

Since I know you love hearing about them.  I am writing about my most recent panic attack which was yesterday at 2pm.  It lasted until just after 4pm.  This post will give the reader a picture into what a panic attack accompanied by chronic illness feels like.

In brief, if we named panic attacks, I would name this one like an interesting flavour of ice cream.  I’d name this panic flavour, Monkey Mind Panic.  Caution, contains nuts (pun intended).

icecream

Monkey mind, a phrase I picked up a while ago, is “from Chinese xinyuan and Sino-Japanese shin’en 心猿 [lit. “heart-/mind-monkey”], is a Buddhist term.”  (Wikipedia)

I imagine the monkey habitat at the zoo.  A deafening, dizzying, cacophony of “Ew Ew Ah Ah.”

monkey-mind

 

Racing thoughts obviously go along with every anxiety disorder.  They play a particularly powerful role in the anxiety before, but also during a panic attack.

During a panic attack, it’s like an argument erupts in my mind.  The mind does not heed the warning, Don’t Feed The Trolls.

I wanted to tie this into chronic illness.  It might explain why I had the attack.

Here are some of the contributing reasons:

  1.  I have issues getting around my apartment.  I was spending the day and this night on my own
  2. I regularly take some serious medications, one of which is for my anxiety disorder.  I had run out on the weekend and the pharmacy didn’t deliver until later
  3. I have on-going concerns about my recent surgery.  I feel frustrated that the surgeon’s office has not returned my calls
  4. I have a phobia of vomiting and choking.  My stomach was off from a Meatloaf I made that was too fatty (I went on one of those Everyone loves Bacon kicks)

bacon-double-cheeseburger-stuffed-meatloaf-2014fb-wide2

 

So I add bits of those ingredients together and add the secret Monkey Mind ingredient that I called Existential Freak Out No. 9 aka “Oh my god, I’m going to die.  I am dying.  I need an ambulance.  I should call one.  I don’t need an ambulance.  I should be seeing the doctor more because there must be something they don’t know about.  I’m too young to die.  Everybody dies!  Yes, but no one is especially good at it…”

Okay, okay, take a breath.  STOP!!

And this is the quiet moment when the Monkey smiles at you and starts peeling a banana.  It’s gotten its way.

 

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This is that moment of lucidity, the calm inside the eye of the tornado.  It’s here that I remember that I talk a lot about mindfulness.  I give myself a nervous laugh at the irony.  The irony makes me feel more human and asserts that I’m not the only one who might be feeling this right now.

At this point I did what I needed to do.  In that moment, I need to calm my stomach, so I took a stomach medication.  I also needed to deal with the Monkey.  I did this by getting up, changing my perspective, hobbling around on my crutch and tidying up in the kitchen for just five minutes.  Then I took some breaths, called the pharmacy to ensure my medications were coming.  I then sat and waited.   Things were winding down, I was exhausted but I had to stay awake.  I decided to grab one of my journals and a Sharpie and make a list of words I knew in French.

My medication came and that solved the other physical issue.  I made myself a tuna sandwich.  Then I fell asleep.

So take what you will from that!  Can you relate?

 

tintin-plastic-folders_0003-black-island

Is Your Heart Open?

I imagine that somewhere in, what I presume to be an infinite multiverse, someone is looking through the windows of what, to us, is a closed down Blockbuster Video, and asking, “Is Your Heart Open?”

There are many magical ways to talk about the heart.  There are many great analogies and metaphors that bring us closer in our understanding of the heart and that open us to compassion.  Yet, I’ll look to the left and then to my right, and the world is still not a safe place.  To be nurtured it feels like we have to rig the game (of life).  It is as though, if we play our cards right we just might “enslave” a few people to care for us.

And there are some of us who want to care for others.  We think of caring as intrinsic to our worldview.  And there are others of us who don’t really care too much about it — maybe our lives are fairly independent and we’ve had a good deal of success (and we don’t want anyone else taking it away) or maybe we’ve been hurt so badly that to think of caring is to relive traumatic nightmares.

There are philosophies of the individual and philosophies of the collective.  We might be shaped by culture — political ideologies, religion, the sciences.  We might live in a part of the world that doesn’t do “hugs” or a part that does so many hugs that they are meaningless.

If you are alive, you are on some sort of journey.  I dare play the existential prophetic game.  I am sure we each have a unique path but there is some significance to the crossing of our paths.  How will we greet each other?  To what degree would you help, care about, and identify with your fellow traveller?  How open is your heart?

One of the beautiful things about the heart, is that it’s not prone to stay in middle states — it beats or it doesn’t, in other words.  Similarly, if we open our heart to live in a compassionate way, to say compassionate things, and have compassionate intentions, that open-heartedness beams full and bright.

Someone might say that they wish they could open their heart, but they just can’t.  So long as your living (and maybe even after your dead), you make the choice for this moment.  Can you define the three phases of a breath?  Inhale.  Pause.  Exhale.  That is a moment.  And if you can bring your attention to those three aspects of a single moment, you are further than many in your ability to open your heart.

The open heart is supple.  It is delighted easily.  It can take a lot of disappointment.  It is a giving entity.  It is a forgiving entity.  It doesn’t worry about who gets the last cookie, but cares only that everyone has had something sweet.

The open heart is soft.  It breathes quietly; sometimes deeply, sometimes not.  It’s eyes are seeing but not judging.

The open heart connects to our roots and to the sky.  If there is healing, it comes as a lightning bolt to the tip of our fingers.  If there is equanimity it wells up and supports us like a hundred year old oak.

Sometimes we pass over our own hearts.  We think that we are too damaged.  Too busy.  Too broken.  Too old.  Too young.  Too “normal”.  Too neurotic.  We aren’t one of the beautiful, rich people.  We might not be a nobel laureate.  We haven’t campaigned against land mines or given very much to Green Peace these days.  We might be sick; disabled; addicted; depressed.

Are you hurting somewhere in there, my friend?  Come on out.  Let a tear fall.  You too have a worthy heart.  You have much to give and in the course of this journey there are blessings to be had.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pain Tolerance: Musings on …

As I lay here writing this sentence I am in pain.

Correction.  I can feel pain.  Correction.

 

It hurts and I want:

a shot of morphine

 morphine

a big bowl of pasta with meat balls and cheese and a dry white wine

FN_Ina Garten Real Meatballs and Spaghetti.tif

my mother

mother

 

to sleep

to wake up

to do

to not have to do

to fling myself off a moving train

to be bathed in healing light

to scream bullsh*t! at a doctor

(  X  )   all of the above

 

What is pain?  Is pain some psychotic demon throwing lit matches at our nerves?

No.  Pain is a signal.

We say it hurts, what do we really mean?

Is it an ache today?  Does it start small, pulsating, and then radiate outwards like a cat’s tail whip in slow motion?  Cold wind and bee stings upon exposed flesh

 

cats-tail-whip.

Pain?  Are you real?

Yes.  I’m a matter of fact.

Pain?  Why do you hate me?

I don’t.  I am merely saying something is wrong.  If you want to dress this up, here’s the number of a shady guy who does that sort of work:

555-5555

Mr. Suffering, Esq.

 

cat-are-you-done-yet

 

 

 

 

Gray clouds, rain, and no.

Do What Needs Doing, Then Let it Go

Hello friends!

It has been a little while since I’ve posted.  I was away for surgery.  It was an opportunity to use mindfulness practice.  Hospitals, medications, and pain are not places and things that naturally co-exist with peace.  Yet, they are full of wealth in terms of learning peace.

According to Eckhart Tolle, sharp and acute pain can be a moment of pure presence.  The shrieks I involuntary made as the doctor stabbed the needle into my knee cap without warning proved this to be true.  Yet, it is often accompanied by the grinding misery of suffering.  Suffering is the story about our pain.  Sometimes we want to have our story validated.  We want to get a hug, a get well card, or a pill.  There is nothing wrong with that.  But, there are points when we need to quiet the suffering and find the true nature around us.

What might you replace it with?  My most recent experience showed me the power of watching and counting my breath.  It is one of the fundamentals of all other forms of meditation.  What else worked for me?  Metta meditation, which I will write a post about in the future.  In brief, Metta is fixing your attention on total strangers and wishing them, “May you be well; May you be happy; May you be filled with loving kindness.”  It is powerful in opening your heart and directing your intention.  The focus is off the “little me” and on to the rest of the world and our connectedness with it.

As I recover at home it is easy to feel overwhelmed.  I am reminding myself to “Do what needs doing, then let go.”  There can be a lot of things to juggle in recovery.  There are follow-up appointments, calls to receptionists, blood tests, filling prescriptions, a whole lot of social media, my kitchen counters, and so forth.

It is easy to lose mindfulness in facing this laundry list of tasks.  My reminder is that it is only necessary to do what is necessary in this present moment (say making one call about an appointment) and afterward I do that, it is graceful to let it go.  To return to rest and inner quiet after doing “the thing” is a central part of mindful practice.  Recovery asks and how we answer can mean an easier and happier experience!

 

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I hope you are well!

Pardon My Panic Attack

This past weekend I had an IBD flare.  I don’t deal with being sick well.  You’d think I’d take it in stride considering my illness is CHRONIC.  But, no.  I freak out.  I have a panic attack which snowballs into making things worse.

Anxiety and depression are components of chronic illness and are chronic illnesses themselves.  I tend to ruminate.  I notice every little pain and think the worst is happening inside me.  This past weekend, I thought I was dying.

When you feel so bad that you start to think you are dying, it sucks.  But in a way, it’s also the point where you may or may not be able to laugh.  Life — no one gets out alive!  It’s true!

There is a mindful way and an unmindful way to approach death.  The unmindful way was me freaking out and ushering in the suite of panic:  shallow breathing, dizziness, worsening nausea, restlessness, thoughts of going crazy/imminent death.  I started having some traumatic thoughts of choking on my “final breaths”.  That wasn’t mindful, but I’m not saying this in a judgmental way.

At such a point, what do you do?  My best solution was to reach out to another.  To just let the panic attack happen and blurt out all my feelings and worries to whoever will sit with me and listen.  Sometimes, we all lose it and need others to be mindful for us.

Different people may be or less helpful, appreciate them all.  If you pray, here’s a good time!  If you have a pet, then you are really lucky.  I have a cat.  She curled up with me and comforted me.  There is always someone that can pick up the ball when we can’t be mindful ourselves.  To seek comforting is human.  We don’t always get it the way we want, but we can appreciate the forms the universe takes in meeting our need.

Can you relate?  Who are the helpers when you are in need?  There are always helpers!