Tag Archive | anxiety

May I Decide For You?

equal heart

Why do we profess to know what’s best for others? Especially loved ones? Is it because we think we know them intimately more than they even know themselves? This is something that often happens with those battling chronic illness and daily limitations.

Our loved ones, out of fear of pushing us too far (IE: making us “sicker”), make decisions based on our well-being without ever consulting us. Many times, these decisions are made behind closed minds, during the pre-conversation/contemplation phase and we never even know different possibilities existed. And because they are never presented to us, we are never given the opportunity to make our own choices (and, yes, even mistakes).

The decision has already been made for us, under the guise of “loving-kindness.” I know that I have been on the receiving end of this kind of decision making multiple times, especially from my husband. My most recent example occurred in an interaction with a dear friend:

Over the last couple years, I have been mentoring this friend. I was, from the beginning, clear and honest about my physical time limitations but committed to communicating in alternative ways; and asked that if our relationship agreement ever stopped working because of these restrictive parameters, she not hesitate to approach me about her changing needs. We went into the partnership with what I thought was an equal agreement. Then, just a few days back, she abruptly let me know that our arrangement was no longer working and she had already found another mentor.

As much as I respect her needs, I was taken aback by the one-sided decision making. When pressed, she explained that she honors the physical place that I am in and would never want to put un-due pressure on me. So she found someone more “well-bodied” and flexible with their schedule. She thought she was coming from a place of loving-kindness.

But, in fact, she took equality right out of our equation. Out of concern for pressuring me, she took away my opportunity to know and express what is right for me. To check in with my own body and decide whether I could do more to meet her needs or not.

What was removed from our relationship was trust in the other person to know themselves, and respect for whatever decision they make. Regardless of our own opinion.

Let me highlight some ways we all do this in relationships:
– Our partner gets anxious in social situations, so we avoid telling them about upcoming engagements until the last minute, so they don’t unduly fret.
– Our parent worries when we travel, so we hide trips from them until we get home, as not to overly stress them.
– We have friends who have chosen to no longer drink, so we don’t invite them to events where there will be a lot of “celebrating,” so they won’t be tempted.
– A co-worker tends to react strongly when asked to do a project, so instead of giving them the chance to process and respond, we just do everything ourselves to avoid a possible conflict.

We tell ourselves “loving-kindness” stories: “I don’t want this (person I care for) to feel bad/sad/disappointed/stressed/worried…” We’ve already analyzed the situation in our heads, come to the conclusion of how the choice will negatively affect the other person, how they will respond, and what we will do to avoid this.

But, remember, when you make a choice for a loved one, you are no longer looking at them as an equal.

Those of us with chronic illness often struggle with feelings of being “less-than” (as many well-bodied folks do, too!). We already have to limit so many facets of our daily lives. But, we can still make conscious, thoughtful decisions for ourselves.

Doesn’t every adult want to be perceived as trustworthy of their own truth?

And the thing is. . .

We very well may make poor decisions! We may over-commit which over-taxes our bodies or minds.

BUT… that’s how we learn. How much is too much. And how much is just right.

If the right to make our own choices is removed, we are never able to find the balance on our own.

One of the worst things, is discovering after the fact that you could have been a participant in the decision making process, and that was taken away from you. It’s way worse to learn later that a group of friends went out dancing but didn’t invite you only because they didn’t want you to feel bad because your body is ill-equipped to dance right now. A much better scenario is to be given that choice and decide whether you want to sit and watch at the club or if it’s better to stay home, but it sure felt nice to be including in the invite!

So, next time you find yourself making a pre-emptive decision for another out of loving-kindness, try for a different approach:
– Tell that person about the choice and kindly express your concerns for their well-being.
– Let them know you trust them to make the right decision for themselves in that moment.
– Remind them that you’ll support whatever choice they make; and will give them the respect of keeping lines of communication and gentle observation open.

In all interactions, remember that a partnership means that each party is on equal ground.

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Breathing in the Now

Present moment

I was asked recently: “How do you stay so calm and in the present moment throughout all your health scares?”  This inquiry came from a dear friend who is filled with future worries over a loved one who may have cancer.  I include words like “future” and “may” on purpose.  Because upon reflection, I realize that this is the key to my acceptance, and subsequent serenity.

I must keep my mind in the present moment at all times.

This is a mindful practice. And as the word “practice” implies, it takes concentrated effort to maintain.  But with practice and time, it becomes more natural; like a form of breathing.

Breathing in the NOW.

Here are some steps I’ve taken to keep my mind, body and spirit in the here and now; neither fretting about the past nor worrying about the future…

SPIRITUALITY: The next question my friend asked was regarding to my spiritual health… “Is this what makes you so strong?” she wondered.  I’ve thought a lot on this. My immediate response was to explain that although I am deeply spiritual today, it was not always this way; especially during the throes of my most severe illness.  But, I was wrong.  Although it is true that my spirituality has only grown over the years and I can now comfortably say I believe in a Higher Power, an Energy that is greater than myself, there was always a spiritual trust deep in my soul…

TRUST: A trust that everything would (and will) work out the way it is supposed to be.  I can’t define what this is and nor should I (this is where I can get into trouble!).  But I do have an unexplained knowing.  And that “knowing” is the faith that I am going to die not on my time clock, but on the Universe’s.  And although that may sound scary, it can actually be very freeing.  Because once you let your mind release the worry of when you’re going to die, or get sick, or come upon hard times, you can focus on the HOW:

THE HOW: How am I going to live today to the fullest extent of my spirit?  What steps am I going to take to: nurture my mind, body and spirit; reach out to others instead of isolate; strengthen my relationship with my spiritual base (whether it is God, Buddha, the Universe, or the trees); show myself all the love I deserve; and reach out to others in need?..

SERVICE:  One of the best ways I have always found for getting outside of my own insular world of worry is to reach out to others.  This certainly isn’t the first time you’ve heard me sing this song!  Being of service to someone else (stranger or loved one) not only gets me out of my own head, it uplifts my soul, recharging my internal energy source, my Soul Beacon. And, let’s be completely honest here: there is always someone who has it tougher than you right now.  It’s important to keep that perspective!

IN THE NOW:  There are many techniques I use to keep my mind in the present… I will repeat the mantra “I have arrived” over and over while holding my hand on my heart.  I will use a God Jar (you can name it anything you want); this is a container where I write down my worries and place them inside.  Then when those worries resurface in my mind, I gently remind myself, “Oh, Tam!  You already sent that to the universe/God; you don’t need to worry about that anymore.  It’s taken care of.”

CONTINGENCY PLANS:  Stop making them!!!  I was master of this for so many years, and all it did was exhaust me!  I would figure out all the “possible future outcomes” and then come up with (several) contingency plans for each scenario.  But, you know what?  90% of the time my future would unfold completely different than anything I had “prepared” myself for.  So I would still have to fly by the seat of my pants, in the moment; but my mind would be so fatigued from all the ruminations, I wouldn’t have the energy to successfully face what was in the here and now.  Then, one day I just stopped!  And, you know what?  If I am doing all the above things to take care of myself on a daily basis, I can always find the tools to help me with whatever comes my way. And my life, my spirit, is much calmer because of it.

I realized all the anxiety I was feeling on a daily basis was self- created.  I decided to get off my own Merry-Go-Round of Hell (cue Twilight Zone music…).  You can, too!

STOP WAITING FOR THE OTHER SHOE TO DROP:  I thought that if I was always waiting for something bad to happen, I wouldn’t be caught off guard (disappointed, disheartened) when it did.  Yes, my life is constantly dropping shoes on my head!  But, all that waiting did was create a stress-filled environment where I was inviting trouble.  We attract what we expect!  So, I started expecting differently.  And because I stopped looking to the sky for these impending “bombs,” I am now able to recognize and celebrate all the calm days between the storms.

STOP ASKING “WHY ME?” AND START ASKING “WHAT NEXT?!:” Truly, there is no answer to the question “Why?”  I can’t tell you how many times loving friends have lamented, “Why you?  I just don’t understand why the nicest people get the hardest lives?”  I don’t know either.  But all this question does is create an environment of self-pity.  And when I am stuck in self-pity mode, I can’t see all the amazing gifts that have come out of my illness.  I’m not saying it’s all “unicorns and rainbows” here! But, I do know that in any situation, be it physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, financial, inter-relational… the only question that serves me is: “What next?”  What am I going to do with the hand that is dealt me?  How am I going to make this Situation serve me?  What skills do have to get through this?  And who do I know that can help me?

Once I move beyond victim mode, into action mode, I am living in the present moment.  AND, FOR ME, THAT’S THE ONLY PLACE I WANT TO BE!

Don’t Give Up 5 Minutes Before the Miracle Happens

everything-is-a-miracle

There is a catchy little saying, “Don’t give up 5 minutes before the miracle happens.”  There are times when this concept seems plausible. And yet others, when those five minutes feel like they won’t come for five years, if at all.  Last week was one of those “other times!”  But, I forgot while in the throes of anxiety, stress, worry, fear, and pain that miracles come in all shapes in sizes; that their messengers come wearing a variety of colors and cloaks.

Since August, life has been lobbing one curve ball after another our way.  Starting two and a half weeks ago, it was like the pitching machine got stuck; the balls were coming at such a high speed pace, from all different directions, there was no chance of catching one before the next one flew at my face.  And when all your time is spent juggling the balls of life, the mind is too exhausted to even comprehend the possibility of a miracle.

I knew this would make me blind to any miracle that happened, and I didn’t want to miss a one.  So I started my daily gratitude list, marking ways that “grace” had shown itself in my life.  Many days it was like pulling teeth trying to write down just three things I was grateful for that day!  This started to depress me even more.  I’m not saying the exercise didn’t help to “right size” me on many days; that is, put things into perspective.   But it’s also been awhile since I’ve struggled for so long, each and every day.

I really felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel.  My weeks were filled with a constant onslaught of medical stressors: five days(!!) of bowel prep for a virtual colonoscopy that discovered a suspicious polyp; a fitting for “absolutely necessary” orthotics that were costing me a mere $500 (no insurance coverage); my autoimmune disease (Polychondritis) that flared in every joint, tendon, and muscle in my body; asthma attacks for the first time in a long time, waking me at night “suffocating”; a subsequent visit to my rheumatologist where he was so concerned he almost increased my Prednisone (IE: steroids- oh, no!) but instead decided to put me on Remicade infusions (half day long treatments that are the strongest this class of medicines gets); the start-up of another “hemicrania continuum” (IE: daily, mind-splitting migraines, unresponsive to treatment); 20+ Botox injections in my head and neck for same (that felt like a barrage of wasp stings and triggered an increase in pain – ouch); a “suspicious” mole removal on my back after early years of over-sun exposure (and a subsequent wound that is not healing);  and lower back and hip steroid injections (never fun!)…

Phew! I am exhausted just writing that all down!

And, the stressors didn’t stop there.  Not only was my disease flared by the change in seasons, but so was my husband’s depression; resulting in daily anxiety attacks (many directed at me. Sigh.).  Several friends experienced emotional crisis during this period, and I was the friend they reached out to for support.  Our cat got sick and needed medical care.  Bills seemed to be landing in the mail daily at the rate of political flyers in November.  And the final straw? Our van, our only vehicle, died.  The frame rusted out and landed on the steering box, and, well… you can imagine the rest!

The fear started to set in.  What are we going to do?  How are we going to afford this?  What if we don’t qualify for a loan?

Then, I took a deep breathe, prayed to my higher power, and took the first step.  Information is power.  And, at that point, I had none.  All I had was mis-information that was swirling itself into a cyclone of worry and anxiety.  Not a good equation for an already over-stressed body and mind!

It got worse before it got better.  But, then, last Tuesday, the miracles began to happen.  And because I had “slogged” through those daily gratitude lists, I was able to see them, and appreciate them as they occurred.  After a few unsavory experiences with used car dealerships, we walked into a particular store and were warmly greeted.  For the first time, I felt like each person looked as us as just another human.  We were paired with a gentle soul from Nigeria whom had worked at this same location for 20 years and took deep pride in his work.  He was not paid on commission and spent hours working with us, never feeling harried or put-out.  He not only helped us find our dream vehicle, he figured out a way that we could afford it.  He gave us free credit-counseling advice, outlining a 3-5 year plan to establish credit (we are a one credit card family; a negative in today’s consumerism America!).   Then my mom stepped in to selflessly lend her name, backing our credit for the bank, so that we would get an interest rate under %5.

Friends graciously lent cars and emotional support.  We had some small gifts of “unexpected funds” come our way.  And yesterday I got news that my mole was benign. Thank, God!

And, I realized, after weeks of “getting by,” we were gifted a day of reprieve and then another.  And that this is the true miracle of life.  This new vehicle and all the angels who helped us to get here didn’t suddenly erase the physical and mental pain we are experiencing.  But it gave us Hope.  And hope is what gets us through the unbearable days. 

At some point, life lets up.  The miracle happens.  We just have to keep our minds, eyes, and hearts open to witnessing it.

Don’t give up.  You never know when your 5 minutes will arrive!

Shine On, Soul Beacon, Shine On!

lighthouse

I have mentioned in many of my posts the idea that each of us has our own Soul Beacon. This is a concept that came to me organically during a moment of extreme illness.  It was a vision and even more so, a “knowing,” that I felt soon after my first near death experience. I was in a “stripped down state,” mentally, physically and most certainly spiritually.  I felt raw and exposed.  But, in this vulnerable state of being, I opened myself up to being completely vulnerable.  I felt as connected and observant as a child when discovering something new in their environment.  I became aware of the flow of energy between people.

I started to notice that energy exchanges could be both positive and negative; they could either lift one up or drain them entirely.  This was not just a feeling; I actually visually experienced this phenomenon. That insight gave me an intuitive knowledge of human interactions that I hold to this day.  When people exchanged laughter or encouraging words, streams of soothing, white strands of light would connect the interacting parties.  I saw this as a “recharging of the soul.”  It was pure energy, being given and being received.

Conversely, when an exchange was less then pleasant or supportive, there wasn’t a free-flowing exchange of energy. The flow would become heavily one-sided, with one party literally “sucking the life” out of another. This would show itself in forms of jealousy, fear, anger, insecurity, and dominance.

I had a clear vision of a beacon of light.  I saw that each of us is born with a cache of energy.  But just like any form of energy, if it is not recharged (refueled), it will deplete.  And when our energy sources are low, we experience depression, illness, sadness, despair, fatigue, hopelessness, and diminishing spirituality.  Most people respond to this feeling by hoarding the small amount of energy they have left.   We don’t share this energy out of fear of running on empty.  But in that hospital room, I discovered the key to unlocking a never-ending supply of energy.  The key is…

You have to give your energy away in order to receive more for yourself.

Give it away?! Yep.   This is where the concept of a Soul Beacon comes in.  Imagine a lighthouse.  The night is foggy and therefore the beacon’s light source barely reaches beyond its own standing.   Now translate that to the situation I spoke of above.  You’re feeling “foggy” and out of sorts, so you only shine your light source on yourself.  You keep your depleting energy close at hand and do not include anyone else in your circle of light.  Eventually, that circle of light will get smaller and smaller until its hardly providing any energy source for you to face the world.  This is the moment when many want to curl up in a ball and tell the world to go away.

This is when you need to stretch your final energy source far and wide; to imagine that Soul Beacon, seated in the center of your body, stretching its fingers of light to illuminate others paths.  Because this is what happens when you do: that light shines on someone else in need; the receiver is then recharged from this positive exchange and shines their light back onto you.  You will feel your inner beacon growing in strength.  With each positive interaction, the foggy veil of sadness and fear will lift.  You will start to have energy to take that next step, and then another.  And the best part is, while you’re recharging your own energy source, you are also giving that gift to someone else!

Who are you going to illuminate today?

How can you reach out in order to replenish your own light source?

What choices can you make today from a place of compassion and faith whether than from fear and insecurity?

How can you shine your Soul Beacon from heart to heart?

Read the story I wrote of a young girl and an old sage in: It All Began With A Beacon of Hope (click link)

Please share your stories and experiences!

Creative Medicine for Pain Relief

One of my Colorful Manadalas

One of my Colorful Manadalas

I have discovered that some of the best medicine for pain relief is creativity!  There are so many benefits to engaging in Creative Therapy.  For me, the number one benefit is: distraction.  My mind becomes immersed in the activity at hand and before I know it I am no longer focused solely on my pain. It’s like the physical pain has transferred from my body to the page.  This technique is also extremely helpful in combating emotional and mental pain.  It can help one express the deep, painful feelings that can overwhelm without an outlet for release.  It can help one move towards healing.  Creative Therapy can help reduce stress, anxiety and tension.  I also find this approach deeply meditative; it can lead me into almost a trance state where my calm spirit is separated from my hurting body.  The pain becomes a distant entity.  It allows me to literally take a break from my pain. 

And the best thing is that you can do Creativity Therapy on your own or with a group, for no or little money, and at any time in almost any place (don’t know if I’d try it in the elevator, but you never know!).  If you are more comfortable learning techniques from someone else, there are certified Art Therapists and many cities offer Creative Wellness Centers with classes and open sessions.   Another option is to find a group of like-minded people on Meetup.com or to look into classes available at local churches, community centers or adult-ed classes at local high schools.

But, I want to take a time to explore all the options for doing Creative Therapy in your home.  Don’t get stuck up by saying, “but, I’m not an artist!”  This isn’t about creating “sellable art,” this is about free expression through creative outlets.  There is something for everyone and no one ever has to see your creation if you don’t want them to!  Here are some ideas to get you started…

  • Coloring Books!!… I find these extremely soothing.  My favorite are Mandala coloring books from Dover (found for <$5 on Amazon, etc.).  Mandalas have been used for centuries as meditation tools.  After mine are colored, I keep them to stare into when I am feeling stressed or in pain (sample above).

    "Sacred Place"  Collage

    “Sacred Place”
    Collage

  • Collaging… rip up pictures in old magazines and glue them onto a larger sheet of craft paper.  I love to collage “vision boards” ofthings I hope to achieve in my future, of things that make me happy (sunsets, babies, waterfalls) or of placesI’d like to visit.  You can make “word boards,” random collages, or collages that form a larger picture (like my “Sacred Place” ex.)
  • Knitting or crocheting… there are even weaving circles (at craft stores) for beginners that create a finished scarf!
  • Cross-Stitch or Latch Hook… with so many ready-made designs to choose from.
  • My Tasty Gluten Free Fruit Tart

    My Tasty Gluten Free Fruit Tart

    Cooking or Baking… yes, this is a creative activity, too!  Make something just for the heck of it.  I find this option very Zen; I spend thoughtful, purposeful time creating a visually appealing dish only to have it devoured soon after. Talk about a lesson on impermanence!

  • Gardening… create a pretty combo pot for your deck, porch or sunny window.
  • “Scratch-Off Books”… you can find these at the craft store; there are images hidden beneath black that you scratch away with the provided tool to uncover scenes beneath.
  • Zen-Tangles!… an awesome, new take on doodling.  Look for books online or in the library to get you started. Once you pick up a few different patterns, all you need is a sharpie and a notepad to create interesting, engaging, repetitive pieces anywhere.
  • Card Making… make cards with any of the techniques above and then spend a little time writing a personal note to a friend, loved one, or even yourself!
  • Photography… a great way to get you out in nature and become mindful about your surroundings.
  • Simple Beading… string a pattern of beads on elastic or “memory wire” to create a meditation mala/bracelet (say a mantra for each bead as you “travel” around your wrist).
  • FiMo… PlayDough for adults!  Roll and shape into abstract or formed designs and then bake them.
  • Decoupage… buy a cheapy cardboard trinket box at the craft store and use ModPodge to paste on collage pictures. Coat with an extra layer of ModPodge to seal.
  • Origami… I love trying to reach my life long goal of a “1000 Cranes for Peace”

PHEW!!!! Now pick just one and indulge your creative self today!  Then let me know how it felt and if you have any other ideas to share!

Here’s another blogger’s take on Creativity and Emotional Expression : http://myfibrotasticlife.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/the-importance-of-outlets-to-express-emotions/

“I Have Arrived. I Am Home.”

white lotus by Tamara P.These three simple words have changed my life dramatically.  I first came across this straightforward mantra: “I have arrived” in a novel by Paulo Coelho.  In this compelling text, he discusses using it daily as a reminder that each of us, in each moment of our day, is exactly where we belong.  “Let go of the idea that the path will lead you to the goal. The truth is that with each step we take, we arrive. Repeat that to yourself every morning: ‘I’ve arrived.’” (The Witch of Portobello).  I followed this suggestion and now use it as a tool at the end of my morning prayers-reflection-meditation.  I pause, take a deep breath, open up my arms to the world, palms up and say, “I’ve Arrived!”  I say it with gusto.  I say it with conviction.

I didn’t begin this practice feeling overly confident about these three words.  Could they really make that much of a difference?  But, at the same time, I realized that it couldn’t harm anything by trying.  Now, after some 40 odd days of this daily practice, I can see that it has clearly made a difference.  It is a not so subtle reminder that my only “job” is to be fully present in each moment.  We’ve all heard this before, in one form or another.  But it’s an abstract concept, one that’s difficult to grasp in the rush of everyday living.  They are words that can easily be said, but are not often truly felt.  I have now crossed this barrier and in doing so, have developed a deep desire to share this technique with others.  I encourage you to try it, even if you feel silly or cynical.  What do you have to lose by giving it a go?

The concept behind the mantra “I’ve arrived” is a deceptively simple one.  By stating these words, you bring yourself, mind, body and spirit back to the present.  It’s almost impossible not to.  In the beginning, it may only be for that one moment after the words leave your lips.  But after repetition, those moments become minutes and then hours, until this thought fills your days.  I now find myself walking through life with an inner smile; I feel like I have my own little secret.   And when I find my mind drifting into the future (which it naturally will do) I remind myself to repeat the mantra, “I have arrived.”  I think there is a key in repetition; in not changing the words or the format, always repeating the same mantra until it becomes your own calling card.

As I was sharing my “revelation” with a friend, she said she was familiar with this practice, but from a different source: Thich Nhat Hanh.  I researched this and discovered he takes this process a little deeper and incorporates it into the daily activity of walking.  He speaks of walking meditation as a way to connect body and soul with the here and now. Through intentional, mindful walking, “We generate peace within our body, our consciousness. We embrace and heal the pain, the sorrow, the fear in us, and that is the ground for helping peace to be a reality in the world.”  He takes two natural processes; walking and breathing and adds a third element, the mindful mantra.  His suggestion is to measure your breaths to your gait, pacing as such; breathe in, take three steps; breathe out, take three steps.   As you get the rhythm going, add these two mantras:  on the inhale: “I… Have… Arrived.”  And on exhale:  “I… Am… Home.”  But what does this all mean you may be wondering.  By saying “I’ve arrived,” you are reminding yourself that you have arrived in the here and now, the only time where life is fully available to you, which is you one true home.  I like to think of it as bring my soul home.  And whenever I think of the word “home”, I think of solace, peace, comfort, and love.  This is the gift you are giving yourself.

This practice, in just over one month, has helped me with my fears and anxiety with my physical pain and mental burdens.  If I have already arrived, then I have nothing to worry about!  The future doesn’t matter, as long as with each step, or each breath I take on this earth, I arrive.  I am naturally going in the direction I am meant to be.  I am keeping my focus and attention ”where my feet are.”  And my feet are always right there, in my present space and time.   The Buddha said, “the past is already gone and the future is not yet here.”  Thich Nhat Hanh likes to remind us that we have an appointment to keep with our life and that appointment takes place in the present.  When we separate ourselves from the present, by either dwelling in the past or projecting into the future, we create a space (a chasm, really) between ourselves and the here and now.  This “space” fills up with fear, pain, anger, grieving, and despair.  But when we bring ourselves back, to live fully in the now, we fill up that space with peace.

“I have arrived.  I am home.”

As these words become practice, you may want to add more lines to the mantra, just one line at a time.   There is no hurry.  We’ve all spent many years far away from “home,” now that you’ve arrived and come back to your Soul Home, there is no rush.  Time is endless.

I have arrived. I am home.
In the here. In the now.
I am solid. I am free.
In the ultimate I dwell.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh

Today, I Choose Peace Over Chaos

"God, grant me the serenity"

    “God, grant me the serenity”

A friend and I were having coffee yesterday and she asked me how I’ve been… the old, “So what have you been up to?”  And I didn’t know how to answer.  It’s not that I don’t have plenty (and I mean plenty!) of things that have happened in the last several weeks.  I could have told her tales of adventure and peace, fear and pain, unexpected sadness and unplanned joys.  But as soon as I started to dip into the memory well of my mind, my ladle came up empty.  Why?  All I could think of was that I haven’t had any time to process one event before the next one has come at break neck speed my way.

Chaos used to be my default mode.  I prided myself on “thriving on chaos.”  And I did.  But, more so, I think it was a way of reassuring myself; of saying I choose to live this way not that life is dragging me along for the ride.  I learned a lot of coping mechanisms by being able to react quickly to the ever changing landscape of my life.  I think a lot of us with chronic illness in our lives (personally or with close loved ones), learn these coping skills.   But when you live at such a heightened state of awareness all the time, it’s hard to ever come back to center.  You get stuck in a constant “fight or flight mode.” And that’s what happened to me.  I was so used to getting by, juggling multiple balls at once, that I was always on alert for the next shoe to drop.  I could never relax.  And, as a result, I stopped surviving and only focused on thriving.

Then, almost 3 ½ years ago, I came to a crossroads in my life.  I decided to reevaluate all aspects of my life, both those within my control and those I had no control over.  I couldn’t change my diagnosis or the course of my illness, but I could (and can) change the amount of stress and negative influences in my life.  A major negative was the use of substances to somehow make everything feel better.  I thought it made me feel more ”normal;” I thought it was a salve to the stress and pain.   And perhaps it helped some, but for the most part it only added to the stress, on my mind, body and spirit.  So I decided to live a sober life, but I also realized I needed a support system in doing so.  I joined some amazing 12 step women’s groups, which are still a foundation of my daily living.  And over the years, I’ve learned healthier coping mechanisms in those rooms and also a lot about myself, my needs, my limits, and my abilities.

That change in my life 3+ years ago, was a turning point for me:  One where I took the “road less chaotic!”  I now consciously make choices that will lower my exposure to chaos and increase my reserves of peace and stability.  But what to do when I have no control over the chaos coming my way?  How do I control a situation I am completely powerless over?  The simple answer is, I don’tThe only thing I have any “power” over is my reaction to the non-stop stimuli.  Do I allow it to infiltrate my every waking moment, to consume my thoughts and actions?  Do I respond to this influx of unplanned events by fortifying myself for whatever may being come next?… putting up walls of defense, preparing for the other shoe to drop?  No.  I’ve tried that, actually beaten those ideas to death, and the result is always the same.  No matter how many contingency plans I come up with, my future has never turned out the way I’ve divined it!  I used to think that if I could only be better prepared, I would be able to handle the chaos.  But, the best gift I ever gave myself was to sit back and just take each thing as it comes… one day… one hour… one moment at a time.

Instead of coming up with my multiple “chaos exit strategies,” I now just make sure I have a full tool box that is well-stocked for whenever I need it.  Once it’s stocked, I don’t have to worry about.  It’s there, just like a first aid kit; I don’t have to constantly take it out and re-check the contents.  I can trust that the right tool will be at my fingertips in the right moment.

So, what’s in my tool box?  The easiest one to maintain is “prayer.”  It’s always there; I just have to remember to use it.  It doesn’t have to be complex or a “top of the line tool,” sometimes simpler is better: “Please give me the strength to get through this next moment,” “Please help me to remember I am not alone,” “Please grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”  The last mantra (from The Serenity Prayer), I will say over and over and over again when I am experiencing unremitting pain (for me this is physical, for others it could be the pain of anxiety, loss, fear…) ~ it becomes a lullaby that soothes me.  I get lost in this chant and the next thing I know I’ve made it through the rough patch.  And the best thing about the prayer tool?  You can use it anytime and no one has to know when you are implementing it.  You can silently use this technique in a crowded, over stimulating, room.  How great is that?!

Other tools?  I have a solid circle of friends and supporters; those people I can call anytime and I don’t have to start from scratch with my entire story, they can tell just by the sound of my voice that I need someone to listen.  Going back to my life of chaos; I used to think that there was strength in “going at it alone.”  I used to (foolishly) pride myself on doing things independently, and I didn’t want to drag anyone down the rabbit hole with me.  Thankfully, I’ve now learned that strength lies in vulnerability, in the ability to ask for help.  And that others gain energy by helping me, that it is a gift that goes both ways.  The friendship tool is the Leatherman of tools… many tools in one.  Not only do my friends take on many roles and provide a multitude of “services,” they also come in a variety of forms; from an acquaintance that is ready to help in a moment of distress to various support groups (12 step, spiritual, illness related) and now all of you, too, my blogging community.  To feel connected is to know that each one of us is not alone… that each one of us does not have to go at this alone, if we so choose!

Another well applied tool is a mirror.  I use it to take a close look at myself, an inventory of my patterns of behavior.  Those born both from how I was raised and from behaviors developed in the midst of illness and pain.  Many of these coping mechanisms were a necessity at the time.  But then when life carried on, I forgot that I no longer needed them, that I could now choose to react differently to a situation.  But with awareness, comes growth.  So I have worked at defining my own individual character traits (some call them defaults) so that I can recognize them when I put them in to play.  And I can ask myself, “is this the right tool right now?  Is there a better/ healthier way I can deal with this situation?”

And that leads to my most often used tool: Acceptance.  I accept the all of me, both my strengths and my weakness.  I accept when I need help from others.  And most of all I accept when I am powerless over a person, place or thing.  I accept that no matter how hard I try to change the outcome, I can’t.  All I can do is be accepting of what the situation looks like today.  “It is not always going to be this way; I am not always going to feel this way.”  All I need to do is put on foot in front of the other and focus on what’s directly in front me at any given time.  I don’t have to worry about the future.  I can let that go!

Today I picked up the tools of meditation, prayer, journaling, and friendship.  And by using these resources, I now have peace with where I am right now.  My last couple weeks have been intensely unpredictable.  And I have not been able to process one event (good or bad) before the next situation is coming at me head on.  So that when my friend asks me what I have been up to, my mind is too overwhelmed to come up with a clear answer.  And that’s okay.  It makes sense that I am overwhelmed!  Instead of trying to change the facts, I need to look at what I can do in this moment to nurture myself; to recharge my body and spirit.  Because I am feeling depleted.

The biggest change between my current trajectory and that past one that would have me cannon-balling directly into the path of chaos? Today, I realize that I need to pause, relax and refuel before I am sputtering on empty.  Today, I don’t have to run on fumes.  Today, I choose peace over chaos. Today, I choose to reach into my tool box, pray and meditate, and ask for help from my friends.  Today, I don’t have to face life as an “Army of One.”