Tag Archive | Loss

Healing Through Pain

We have all experienced post-traumatic stress (PTS) from intense life experiences. It can come from a variety of sources: a near-brush with death; the impact of battling intense and painful illness; losing a loved one; a difficult childhood; or breaking off a long term relationship; to name just a few.

The event itself doesn’t matter so much as how it influences us.

This PTS can manifest itself in a number of ways: fear of future life-altering events; free-floating anxiety; newly formed phobias, unrelenting grief; unbidden tears; loss of affect; isolation; and withdrawal from activities. Many times the symptoms are insidious and creep up on us. We don’t even recognize the impact this life event had on us; or we are in denial of it.

We don’t want to admit we are vulnerable.

And, let’s face it, there’s a stigma around the acronym “PTSD.” Oftentimes, we associate it with major catastrophes and/or assume it manifests itself in ways that prevent the sufferer from engaging in life at all.

But once we take away our generalized perceptions of PTSD, there is much that can be gained by recognizing it in our lives, and working through it instead of avoiding it.

Let me give an example…

A dear friend suddenly lost her pet dog last fall. Using the descriptor “pet” seems to diminish the importance of their relationship. She, too, battles with chronic illness and her beloved dog (“L”) had been by her side and been her main partner through some of the toughest years of her life… those days she didn’t think she would ever get out of bed again. But her dog provided love, licking away her tears, and motivation to move, even if just slightly, because eventually she had to be taken outside.

Pets can be important companions to many of us, but I think they hold a special place in the hearts of those with chronic illness. They are the one being in our lives that love us no matter what… unshowered, in pain, grumpy, disheveled, confused, and lonely. They’ve seen the all of us and love us unconditionally.

I witnessed my friend experience months of unrelenting grief. I felt lost and powerless at ways to help her. All I could do was hold the space with her as she traversed this process at her own pace, and in her own way.

Then, one day a couple weeks ago, she had a revelation.

She was walking at the local reservoir, a favorite spot that her and her dog would wander. And she suddenly no longer felt alone.

She reflected on all the times L greeted her with unabandoned adoration, even when she didn’t feel like she deserved it herself. She remembered feeling so down all she could do was lie prone on the couch, too fatigued and depressed to even lift a hand to pet L. But her pup didn’t care, she would climb right up on that sofa and comfort my friend instead. She chuckled as she recalled 10 hour days away from home, rushing in worried because she hadn’t even stopped in to let L out to pee. But, again, her pup didn’t care; she greeted her with enthusiastic excitement just because she was home. No judgement. No shame.

She realized that all these negative thoughts she was having about herself were in direct contrast to what her dog had felt for her. That the best way to honor L’s life was to treat herself with the same unconditional acceptance and love that her pet had.

And then she said the most remarkable thing: “If I could find meaning in her life, I can find meaning in her death, too.”

She went on to say she had fallen into the victim role, angry at her pet for not being here to help her through this grief. Knowing this is an irrational thought, but her heart aching because L had been the one to help her through every difficult emotion over the last decade+. And this was the most painful emotion she had ever faced.
But, another “a-ha moment” had come to her: before L died, she only had her there to help her when they were physically close. Now, she had her with her all the time, and could tap into that unconditional love and understanding whenever, and wherever she needed it.

“To live in the hearts of those we love is never to die.” (Thomas Campbell)

She concluded by realizing that by taking care of herself, she is better able to be there for others. She won’t reach out if she isn’t making life choices that are in her own highest good.

And I have witnessed this transformation… she is now providing support to others that are grieving, because she is authentically speaking from her own experiences.

And by sharing her experience, strength and hope with me, she affected me deeply. It demonstrated the importance of living through the PTS until you can see a purpose in a difficult situation.

I, too, am in the grieving process right now. I am not grieving a specific person or being, but then again, that’s not entirely true. I am grieving someone. I am grieving myself. The person I was pre-illness. And I realize I have been living with the silent stalker of PTS for years, because I haven’t allowed myself to fully open up to this process of grief yet. I thought I was “okay,” that I had moved past it, that I was accepting of my situation. And in many ways I am, but that doesn’t negate the need to grieve what was and what could have been.

I need to look at that “lost Tam” with unconditional love and then give my current self that same gift of love and acceptance.

What experiences in your life have left a residual stain on your soul? An echo of yesterday that you haven’t completely been able to let go of yet?

I realize PTS doesn’t just go away by wishing it so. The passage of time doesn’t necessarily allow it to fully fade into the sunset. And pushing it to the recesses of our minds, tucked away in the box marked “things I’d rather forget” doesn’t work either. The only way to move beyond the experience and the left-over PTS, is to move through it. To dust off that box, open it up, and feel every ugly, painful, sad, angry, resentful, shameful emotion until we are spent. Until there is nothing left except an empty box to start re-filling with healing thoughts of love.

And, remember, this process can be big and scary and overwhelming. But you don’t have to go it alone! In fact, it’s advisable to find people that have traveled this journey before you to light the way. My friend experienced all the stages of grief with the help of support groups, hotlines, and friends. And she is now paying this gift forward by helping others. And I’m reliving my past with the help of a mentor and my friends, no longer holding these feelings in secret.

May today mark the beginning of a new healing journey for us all!

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These Are My Graces…

beautiful-cloud-heart

Yesterday, was my father’s birthday. He passed 4 years ago and so with the day brings a deep sense of melancholy, and yet… all I feel is JOY at the myriad of ways his spirit shines through me every moment of every day.

Today, I am in more physical pain then I have been in years. Meds have been changed, symptoms flared, and yet… all I feel is GRATITUDE that I am able to be with my closest family today; the ones who do not expect me to be anything other than me.

A couple days ago a dearest friend called in deep distress over the sudden loss of her closest mate, her dog. And my mind reeled with the age old question, “Do we close ourselves off to love to protect against the pain of loss?” And yet… all I feel is BLESSED at the way every being in my life has shaped me; has made me a better person. I have lost a lot… and yet I have also lived a life full of love.

Today, I turn on the news and once again bear witness to the tragedies of war and famine, death and disease, throughout the world, and yet… all I see is STRENGTH in the faces of my brethren, and the little acts of KINDNESS that are woven through the stories of strife.

THESE ARE MY GRACES…

The way I live my life… the way I view the world.

Threaded through my heart, coloring all that I see.

Influencing the way I treat others, and in turn, the deep compassion in which I am treated.

It is seeing a world full of ABUNDANCE instead of loss.

Grace, no longer reserved for just the Christian community… it is there, right there. Every Where. For every one of us.

Ripe for the picking.

Grace is not a thing you can earn, or deserve, or create, or even lose.

You do not have to be “redeemed” by grace; we are all gifts of grace.

It is always there. It is in the sparkle of newly fallen snow, blanketing the world in a clean, new slate.

It is in a child’s smile as they crack open from ear to ear at the mere sight of you.

It is in the gentle pressure of two hands as they encircle you in love, in support, in comfort.

It is the feeling in your heart when you give of yourself, passing the grace, to another.

It surprises us. When we are at the end of our ropes, Grace appears with an extension piece to help us get our feet placed firmly on the ground again.

It astounds us. A reminder that “no matter how tragic or bleak things get, the bad simply can’t shut out all the good, the dark can’t squeeze out all the light.”

It is our safety net: woven from the hands of loved ones, the history of passed ones, the memories of times survived, the hope that there will always be a brighter day ahead, and the knowledge that this too shall pass, and that in this moment, grace shimmers below the surface of everything.

And although GRACE is an unexpected, yet utterly amazing, gift waiting to be opened anew each day, you can still be an active participant in grace….

Pull grace into your life. Tonight at dinner, invite everyone to share their best “Grace Story.” This a great way to express gratitude for the ways grace has graced your life; and to role-model this attitude for others, especially children.

Be a witness to Grace’s magic. We’ve all heard of Bird Watchers, now it’s time to become a “Grace Watcher!” Keep a grace journal, where you document the ways grace has worked or appeared in your life each day. Review it at the end of the week and be uplifted.

Be a Giver of Grace. Look around today. Who in your life needs to be reminded that grace is still working in their lives; who needs to be uplifted by a moment of grace? Is there a way you can pass the grace this Thanksgiving, without that person ever knowing where it came from? Challenge yourself to this. It will be surprisingly rewarding: doing a random act of grace just because.

Turn yourself over to grace. Choose a day during the upcoming holiday season where you put your calculated “To-Do List” down for a day. Let grace guide your day instead. Trust that what needs to get done, will.

And most importantly, be open to grace. Center yourself each day with a short mantra. Mine is, “May my mind, eyes and heart be open today to seeing and receiving the gifts of grace that cross my path.” The challenge comes in accepting the gift of grace in whatever form it comes. No “return to sender.” Remember if at first I doesn’t seem like the right fit, try again. Grace often appears in unexpected ways and at unexpected times, and yet it is always just what you need in the moment to get by.

“The winds of grace are always blowing,

but you have to raise the sail.”

{Ramakrishna}

Chasing The Elusive “WHY ME?”


Inevitably, at some point in time, after receiving the news that one is facing a long-term or chronic illness/disease, comes the elusive question of ,”WHY?!” For some, this may be a fleeting call to arms, for others, it becomes a constant refrain of, “Why?” or “Why me?” or even “Why, God, why?

During my last hospital stay, the progressive pastor of my family’s church came to visit me. After the necessary check-ins were taken care of, he turned toward me, and simply asked, “Do you ever find yourself questioning ‘why?’.” I have wondered since what direction he was taking the conversation in, if he had any expectation of what my answer would be. But this has been fleeting, because in all truth, I think he was just curious.

In that instant, though, there was no hesitation; I didn’t even pause before responding: “Yes. I am sure I have asked, ‘why?’ at some point in this long journey. But I have quickly discovered that this is a fruitless pursuit; a question without an answer; a path that only leads me to remaining stuck in the miserable moment.”

But that conversation has left me with equal curiosity. What is the point in asking, “Why me?” in the face of any number of events (I’ve heard this turn of phrase applied to everything from an unexpected car repair bill to a diagnosis of cancer), when one could just as equally be asking, “Why not me?”

The relentless lamenting over the “why” produces an on-going cycle of strife and depression. How could it not? There are no (satisfactory) answers to this perennial question. But there are concrete, solution-oriented, answers to the question of “What next?” We don’t know the why, yet we do know the how. It’s what we do with the how in the now that defines us.

I know I am sick. I know that there is currently no cure for my autoimmune condition(s). I know that my disease will continue to progress, causing a ripple effect that may require future surgeries and invasive procedures. I know that the mountain of daily meds I take to treat my diseases and conditions also create an equal amount of unpleasant side-effects; and that it is difficult to separate the two apart.

But I also know that I am a fighter. I am creative in the face of challenges. I discover new pathways when faced with a seemingly impassable road block. I am a giver of light, love and energy. My mantra is “Hope.” I know that I do not have to face this life alone, unless I choose to isolate. Which I do not.

This is where I can put in action the “What next?!”

Each surgery may chip away at the person I used to be. But that’s the key, used to be. Not the person I am now. Life is not stagnant and neither am I. In the course of my conversation with the pastor, I shared my views on the River of Grace that flows through me, receiving energy from beyond, recharging my own Soul Beacon, before continuing to flow out into other souls around me.

He smiled and said, that sounds like what Jesus speaks of in the bible, “Our Well-Spring,” that source of God that flows through each and every one of us, just waiting to be tapped into.

I have heard many people refer to this well-spring in their own words. I have heard it be called: Universal Energy, Chi (Qi), Kundalini, Indomitable Spirit, God’s Grace, Life Force, Eternal Flame, and many other monikers.

For me, it is my River of Grace. Because a river is an ever-flowing body of water, that both draws from many sources (is not a singular entity) and pours itself into (nourishing) many other bodies of water. Rivers are not stagnant, they are an ever-changing and evolving path through life. And water is our life’s breath; we cannot survive without it and 2/3rds of our bodies are made of it.

My River is a well that never runs dry. Yet, it is my responsibility to drink from it, to pull from it to renew my spirit when it is lagging.

Which brings me to the Grace part. I think of grace as a gift. As the ability to look for the light in a sea of darkness. To see beauty and gratitude, no matter what the situation. To ask “what’s my next step” instead of getting stuck on the repetitive refrain of “why?!?”

And then I decide to look up the official definition: Grace: “unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration” (Meriam-Webster). To merit something, is to earn it. You don’t need to do anything to earn, or to deserve, grace. It’s there for all of us. A gift from beyond ourselves, to regenerate the mind, body and spirit.

We have all experienced unexplained loss, devastating, mind-numbing losses. We have all had to endure unnecessary pain, physical, emotional and/or metal. Or had to witness, powerless, as a loved one is faced these. We have all encountered enumerable challenges, obstacles and sudden change.

These experiences are what define us. It is what has defined me.

But I have also chosen not to have them be the all of me. They are one part of my story. They are U-turns on the path of my life. And instead of sitting down in the middle of the road and stopping, staring befuddled behind, below, and around me. I’ve decided to look straight ahead. To tap into my River of Grace and chart a new course.

This attitude has carried me and allowed me to see my life as full of opportunities. To say, “What next.” Instead allowing myself to feel victimized, always the punchline, left lamenting the “why?”

Think of one area in your life where you can flip your knee-jerk response of “why?” on its head. Start small. See how this one shift in attitude affects your whole day. Your whole week. Your attitude and out-look on the things that come next.

And if you already embrace an attitude of “what next,” please share your experiences so that they may inspire and encourage others!

On Behalf of All the Un-Mothers…

no-children

Today is the day we celebrate motherhood. And rightfully so, for none of us would be walking this planet without first being safely ensconced in a mother’s womb (and for many, loved and guided for many years post). But for us “un-mothers,” it is also a glaring day-long reminder of our own inadequacies to “do as nature intended,” of hopes dashed, and wishes left unfulfilled… of pure emptiness.

Social decorum keeps my hand hovering above the keypad, afraid to strike these thoughts into permanent notes, and then, the gall, to actually share them out loud. But I also know that I am not alone. And for far too long, I have kept this secret locked away in the closet of my broken-heart.

For many of us with chronic illness, the “simple” act of creating a child is not an option. And for me, it goes beyond even the possibility of infertility treatments to the extreme notion that I have been directed not to ever, ever, ever get pregnant… if I do, I will most likely die.

And yet, I still yearn. The pull to have a child is so strong that I have actually considered blatantly risking my own life to do so. And, yes, I know all the other options: adoption, surrogacy, fostering. I am not opposed to a single one, and actually openly embrace these alternative paths to motherhood. But although anyone can conceive a child (and I mean anyone), to raise a child of someone else’s conception requires large amounts of money and assurances of physical and mental stability for life.

I don’t know anyone who can truthfully assure that, when the future is always unknown. But when you start with the big stamp of “high risk” at the top of your application, you are already climbing up a steep, long and windy hill.

So here I am with a biological clock ticking so loudly it keeps me up at night. And an ache deep in my abdomen that will never be filled.

No one will ever wake me this day with breakfast in bed or flowers and a card.

I will not receive homemade gifts from child care and school… lopsided clay pen holders, tiny plaster handprints frozen in time to hang and admire, Fimo critters that only a child could confidently declare their species, scrambled eggs made with love and drops of crunchy shell, colored t-shirts declaring my child’s never-ending love for me, “MOM is” poems… all the treasure stored more carefully than the priciest of valuables.

I won’t receive spontaneous “Mom you’re the best” and “never leave me, okay?” knee-wrapped hugs.

I will get teary at the month long pull at your heart strings Hallmark commercials not because I am anticipating an equally endearing card from my own child, but because I will never have a chance to experience that intimate moment.

There will be no teenage eye-rolls at my nerdy antics that eventually becoming endearing inside jokes as my child becomes an adult and my best friend.

There will be no one there to take care of me when I am old and frail. To tell me deepest secrets to. Instead of being an elder blessing I will be a burden to some second in line relative.


 

Friends and family comfort me with the fact that I have a nephew that loves me, that children gravitate towards me, that I spent years working with and providing stable beginnings for hundreds of young children. All true.

I used to joke when asked in my twenties as a director of an Early Childhood Center, “do you have any children? You’re so good with kids!”… “Why, yes, I have 135 of them!” It was comical then, because I was so sure that I would have my own soon and until then, the 135 smiling faces each day fulfilled my motherly instincts.

I always knew I would be a mother. My friends would question this calling and often put finding the perfect man, having a McMansion or a high paying job above having a child. Not me. And then, lucky me (truly), I found my soul mate at 19 and he shared in my passionate dream of having children.

We’ve had the names picked out since we were 25. There was never a question in my mind that this was a part of our American Dream. We could not imagine any different outcome. We even knew that if we couldn’t have a child biologically, we’d adopt. It was just that simple.

But that’s the funny thing about life. It doesn’t always work out the way you’ve planned. And in the last 10 years, this has been more often the case than the “everything works out in the end” scenario.
Not having children is one area I haven’t been able to positively flip on its head, discovering the true purpose behind the tragedy. If anything, I can find gratitude in the fact that I did not have a child just before I became seriously ill. For that child would have grown up with a sick, unavailable mother for the first 10 years. But, I also know, I would have always had an endless supply of love.

A friend told me that if I had a child, I wouldn’t be able to be there as the loving support for all the other people in my life, as I am now. That perhaps my future is in helping and nurturing my peers (all the grown “lost-children”) instead of having a child of my own. Perhaps.

All I know is this ache isn’t going away. Sometimes I think it’s even growing stronger. I still dream of the magical stork from above bringing a child in need into my life, into my loving arms.

My arms will always be open for that far-out possibility.

Until then, I honor and celebrate all the un-mothers out there. You are not alone! Perhaps it’s time for us to petition for a Hallmark holiday of our own?! Until then, wrap yourself in loving comfort today… and don’t feel a bit of guilt for carving out some time just for yourself.

 

 

It’s Been One of Those Weeks!

Thistooshallpass

It’s been one of those weeks months years!!

I’m in a melancholy frame of mind.  Each day I awake expecting a different return on my daily investment.  And each day it has played out the same story: beginning with hopefulness, ending in defeat.  Yet, I keep getting up and trying again… One Day at a Time.

I can trace this defeatist attitude back to the beginning of last week; the unofficial end of summer, Labor Day.  It’s that time of year when fall ushers in a season of transition, rest and reflection.  My husband and I were struck by the lack of memories created this past summer.  We were overwhelmed by a year that had contained one “loss” after another.  No, it wasn’t a traumatic year (health wise); we’ve certainly have had our share of those.  But in its mundaneness, it almost felt worse.  We felt we truly had nothing to show for the past nine months of “just getting by.”

It’s been a year of “take-aways.”  It has felt like we have been punished, our privileges revoked, for actions we didn’t commit.   We’ve had to accept one “reality of life” after another, with no reprieve.  After five years (!) of a pending lawsuit against the medical providers that ignored my acute symptoms resulting in a ruptured colon, sepsis lasting two weeks, and culminating in the infamous words, “You have a 10% chance of making it through the surgery. You need to say goodbye to your husband,” we were told we had to drop the case.  That there was no doubt the evidence showed clear negligence on the doctor’s part (they even admitted to such in deposition!), but my multiple underlying conditions muddied the waters so much that a jury would be hard pressed to agree on a guilty verdict (and we would be out upwards of $200,000 for even trying).  Hence, Loss #1: no chance of financial security for you two!  Then, just mere months later, we were informed by my GYN that we should never, ever, ever attempt to get pregnant, because doing so would result in a 95% chance of death (for both myself and the fetus).  Major Loss #2: life-long hope, wish, most-certain dream, dashed.   And this cycle of loss has continued; punishments administered just by the sheer fact that I am sick.  They haven’t all been so big and life-altering, but the small punches knock you down over time just the same.

It’s also been a year of “give-aways.”  Unfortunately, not like the Prize Patrol kind, but the bill man’s at the door requesting you give-away all your money kind!  Every time we’ve accumulated a small nest egg to take a trip or do something “normal” (like go out to dinner), we’ve been hit by another unexpected financial necessity: the cat’s been sick, the van’s been sick, my feet are sick and need new soles, on and on!  Thankfully we’ve been able to cover these excessive, unexpected expenses, but it’s also left the cookie jar empty… not even a crumb for a desperate late night snack.   I’m feeling this so markedly in this time and space, because it is now, today, that we were supposed to be on our vacation to Cape Cod; our “healing respite” we called it.  Yet, one more thing we looked forward to for months that we had to forsake, just to get by in the living present.

And, that’s it… the only thing certain in my life is The Present: this very moment in front of me.  My husband bemoans that we should never plan anything, we just have to cancel it anyways.  And, to some extent, I agree.  It’s extremely discouraging to get your hopes up only to have them dashed down over and over again.  It’s one hell-ride of a roller coaster.  But, I can’t go through life without having dreams.  At the same time, it’s a stark reminder to live and enjoy each present moment, regardless of what you are looking forward to on the horizon.  Sometimes, we have our heads stuck so far up in the clouds, we forget to enjoy the amazing scenery beneath our feet.

I admit; I’ve been in a funk.  I know that we all have to make sacrifices, with the hope that the future will be brighter. But, and I guess this is where my P.T.S.D. comes in to play; I’ll get scared that there won’t be a “next time.”  I’ve lost so much time, so many years, to being on my death bed sick that I get fearful when time passes me by that could have been filled with larger than life living.   People will often say, “well, none of us know when our time will come; I could get hit by a car tomorrow!”  Yes, that’s true.  But, let’s face; most people don’t have a clock ticking down at rapid speed, like those of us with severe chronic illness.  We live with our mortality every day.

This “Debbie Downer attitude” has kept me from blogging recently.  Yet, it feels cathartically healing to write this all out on page and share it with you.  And it has helped to refocus my intentions.  I may not be communing with the seals of Cape Cod right now, but I am communing with all of you.  And I am grateful to be fully alive, and fully present in this very moment.

“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

The Gift of Illness: A Re-Invention of Self

"See simplicity in the complicated Achieve greatness in little things." {Lao-Tzu}

“See simplicity in the complicated
Achieve greatness in little things.”
{Lao-Tzu}

There are two ways I can look at my illness: 1. “It was the end of my world” or 2. “It was the start of a Brave New World.”  Today, I choose option #2.  The option of Hope, hope for a new world, a new beginning.  I am in no way trying to profess that this was an easy choice!  I lived with both perspectives and took time before making a final decision.  I don’t think I would be in the place of peace I am today if I hadn’t lived with both the Paths of Despair and of Hope.My hope lies in the recognition of an opportunity to reinvent my life. 

I can actually have gratitude for my chronic illness today (imagine that!).  Because when I look objectively at my life “in the now,” I have been afforded opportunities to discover and develop parts of myself I didn’t even know existed before.  In saying “before,” I mean the time before my autoimmune disease (Polychondritis, Fibromyalgia, Migraine, Chron’s) stopped me from working, and let’s be honest, engaging in most of my previous activities.  In this “T.B.,” I was a Type-A, “go, go, go girl!” I was (egotistically) proud of my ability to multitask and juggle all parts of my life, during all parts of my day.  No breaks! Believing all that “idle hands make idle minds” crap. I mean, really, what was I constantly rushing around for?  Sure I received accolades and “atta girls” from all facets of my life.  But, in the end they were just words; words with no real meaning because they didn’t originate from within me.

Lately I’ve begun to look at this change in my life differently…

I’ve started to celebrate the fact that I was given the gift of reinventing myself!  I look around and see most people on the same path for 40+ years of their adulthood.  And many are content with their journey. But few, too, are afforded the luxury of stepping off the established path and taking side-trails until they re-discover a new route that fits for the next phase of their life.  Luxury?  How can I call chronic-illness a luxury?!  Well, for as much as it has taken away from me (which is plenty!) it has returned, just in different forms than I was used to.  It would be (and has been) easy for me to overlook these new “gifts” ahead of me because I am spending my time looking back at all the things that have been stolen from my life, on a constant hunt to retrieve that which has been lost.  It’s not atypical to be stuck on what once was and is now gone; because trusting in an unknown future is a far scarier prospect.  But this approach only caused me constant emotional pain, regret, sadness, and emptiness.

Then, one day, I decided to look forward. I picked up one of these “new gifts” lying in my (new) path and opened it.  Inside I discovered an opportunity to awaken my inner artist.  It came in the form of a night nurse who suggested I begin beading to pass the time during my lengthy hospital stays.  I was quickly hooked, finding this quiet, meditative activity deeply soothing to my mind and pain fluctuations.  In a short time, I was selling my creations out of my “hospital room storefront” (no joke!) to all the staff.  This first step on this Road to Artist boosted my confidence and helped me to feel productive again.  The best gift was the positive energy I gained and shared with the influx of visitors coming in and out of my room, nurturing my own Soul Beacon of Hope.

After veering off what I thought was going to be “My Path for Life,” which I blamed my illness for taking from me, I realized the first step was the hardest.  I’ve taken many breaks along this new way, some chosen by me and some chosen for me by my ailing body.  But when I reflect on the anguish I first felt at “losing” all the things I thought made me “me” and then I fast forward 7 years to today, I discover that I am now an artist, a writer, a truly present friend and wife, a seeker of peace, a role-model of hope and acceptance, and a Survivor!  I started to look at all things I’ve gained.  No, none of those things would be placed on a resume.  But for me they are far greater accomplishments than all of my professional and schooling achievements.  They are my re-invention of self!

Just the other day, in the midst of painting, my husband commented, “You know, in a strange way, you getting sick was a blessing.  You would never have become the artist you are today if you had continued to be so consumed with work.”  And he’s right!  It used to be hard for me to recognize that a blessing of this magnitude could arise from such severe, sudden illness.  Oh, I’ve always had a hopeful heart and been able to recognize small, daily gifts of gratitude, from a helpful friend to a stunning sunset.  But, again, this was gratitude for all the things outside of me.  To have gratitude for what’s within me?. . . now that’s a truly miraculous discovery!

I was able to pursue a solid career in early childhood education for 15 years.  Now, I am on Re-Invention Phase Two: becoming both a Creative Person and a Beacon of Hope for others. Herein lays the miracle: I can reinvent myself again at any time! It may be self-directed or Universe-directed, but either way, I am staying open to the change. And am embracing the NOW… where I can truly find gratitude in being sick!