I received a letter in the post the other day. As soon as I saw the handwriting on the envelope I knew who it was from and decided to find a quiet space to have some alone time to absorb the words inside that envelope. So I went to the downstairs loo, the only safe haven in my house where the boys don’t think to look for me ;0) – some women have a boudoir I have a loo.
I sat in my boudoir and slowly read the familiar handwriting of the words on the pages. I reflected on the heartfelt, important and sage advice being conveyed and how important it was for me take it all on board. You see this letter was from me. No, I don’t have multiple personalities (well apart from Kebab Lotty of course) and I haven’t lost the plot – honest (well not recently). I had written the letter as the final exercise of a course that I attended on ‘Mindfulness’, a course that has quite literally changed my life for the better.
I’m not exaggerating when I say this course was life changing for me. I came across the course flyer on a notice board, it read, ‘Do you want to LIVE WELL with pain, stress or illness? – 8-week course in Mindfulness’. These words immediately grabbed my attention because I had suffered a cycle of chronic pain since the birth of my 2nd son, Indi, and along with that package came the added extras of stress and anxiety.
There is and never was any doubt that Indi was a true precious gift, very much wanted, very much loved and an utter joy in my life, but a whole mess of heartache for me cascaded a few months after he was born. I found out my pelvis was damaged, inflamed, degenerated, basically not in a good way – I’ve mentioned this before so won’t go into heaps of deets but lets just say it wasn’t the sort of injury you want to have when you’re a long distance runner with high hopes of making a post partum come back.
No one could really tell me why it had happened apart from a combination of pregnancy hormones and years of high mileage and the docs were equally confused on if or how long it would take to repair. I was a conundrum – definitely not what an exercise loving, control freak, with post partum hormones abounding, whilst nursing a hungry vampire baby, wanted to hear. So I lost the plot a little – quietly, bubbling away under the surface, barely showing to anyone who knew me except my dear rock of a husband Brett.
I like to be in control – have a goal, know how to get there, be proactive and all that jazz. I love to have plan, give me a plan and I’ll follow the plan – I get comfort in a plan, but all of a sudden I had reached a monster of a brick wall with no obvious way to get over or around it. Something I loved so very much (running) and that I also found great comfort and stress relief from, that I felt was very much a part of my identity, was taken away from me, with no clear path as to how or if I might get it back.
So I suffered, without really showing it, inside feeling quite sad and very frustrated by my situation, but on the outside seeming like my normal self (or at least I think so). My mindset and outlook on life of remain positive, find the good in every situation no matter how dark, was put to the ultimate test. Pretty much every day I would wake up with some sort of pain or ache in or around my pelvis, back, upper legs. The pain would remind me of my predicament, so every time I tried to pick myself up and be positive, a click, or a crunch or a shooting pain would rear it’s head to remind me of all I had lost.
The pain led to anxiety. Anxiety about my injury and whether it would get better or worse, anxiety about my children and all the awful things that could happen to them, anxiety about my health, anxiety about the world in general and all the things that could or were going wrong in the world. I would read the papers or watch the news and often be in tears at all the sorrow in the world. Anxiety is like a minefield of potential worries that you attempt to step through every day, once you set one off – kaboom, another worry rears it’s head from there – Kapowww and another Boooom, and before you know it you are anxious and worrying about everything and anything.
I put this out there on my blog because I think it’s important to be open about this sort of stuff. It might seem very private and indeed for some it is and will remain so but for me sharing my experience is hopefully a step towards removing the stigma attached with anxiety, stress and matters of the mind. I also hope that by sharing it can give comfort and support to others that can relate or are going through something similar.
I suffered in silence apart from confiding in a small circle of my closest friends. They all urged me not to keep putting on a brave face and take the ‘She’ll be right’ attitude so I did a few counseling sessions to assist with the anxiety. The counseling certainly helped and I worked hard, really flippin hard to focus on all the things I could do, the things in my life I was grateful for (of which there were and are so very many).
I found new hobbies and set new goals. I trained for a fitness photo shoot, I went to yoga, I did walks in the hills and of course I began a wider passion for health and wellbeing, a journey that led me to starting this blog. There is no doubt that I gained a lot from the whole experience and it has left me a stronger and indeed a healthier person. However, the thing that didn’t go away and kept causing me to relapse back to bouts of anxiety and stress were the aches and chronic pain that I still felt pretty much daily to some degree. Chronic pain and anxiety are like an intricately woven web – I would work hard to distract my mind so I wasn’t anxious and then Mr Pain would tap me on the shoulder and say ‘Remember me? I’m still here buddy’.
The pain continued on for over a year. I sort of learnt to manage it most of the time but then I would relapse and start to get anxious about my health and all sorts of irrational thoughts would come along with that. It exhausted me and I knew I had to find a way to cope with my situation because as the saying goes ‘life is too short to sweat the small stuff’ and although my pain didn’t feel small to me it was affecting my life and thus the life of my family.
So that is why that little flyer with the magic words ‘LIVE well with pain stress and illness’ pricked my attention. I researched a bit about Mindfulness and found how it was a great way to deal with pain.
The course was once a week for 3 hours. The tutor was an absolute darling of a lady, such empathy, such compassion, such understanding. It felt a relief and a comfort just to be in an environment that provided understanding, reason and relief to the things I had been feeling rather than feel like a bit of a fruit loop eccentric queen of melodrama (which is how I had started to see myself).
So what is Mindfulness?
If I was going to give an elevator speech or few key points on what Mindfulness is all about I would probably say
Mindfulness is about……….
- The ability to live in the present without judgment (the without judgment piece being particularly important). Being fully present in the here and now, in your skin, not thinking about yesterday, tomorrow, next week, just now.
- Focusing the mind on where we are at and what we are feeling in the present moment.
- Being aware of what we are doing and really experiencing it whether it be eating a bowl of yummy food, or doing a workout, or playing with our children or merely sitting on a bench watching the world go by and soaking in the view.
- Learning why and how we react to what’s happening in life around us and how to change that response if it is causing us stress, pain and anxiety.
- Thinking of ourselves with kindness – or as it’s referred to in Mindfulness – Kindly Awareness. We think of our friends, family, children with kindness and compassion but so often do not direct that kindness to ourselves.
Sounds simple huh, but just because things are simple doesn’t mean they are easy. Life nowadays is busy, busy, busy, so much to do, so many things to potentially think or stress about. We can easily get into a habit of always thinking ahead, worrying about the bills, our family, work, what people think, how we are going to fit everything in to our busy lives. Or if we are not thinking ahead we are ruing what we did yesterday, regretting eating that muffin when we weren’t really hungry, or not making it to the gym when we promised we would or feeling frustrated we wasted precious time procrastinating on something trivial when we had so many things on our to-do lists.
What does mindfulness involve?
Mindfulness provides an approach and toolkit of techniques to adopt in everyday life to improve your reactions to experiences and situations that may cause stress, anxiety, fear and pain. The techniques and approach bring us back to ourselves in the present so we can get on with important detail of enjoying the moment (and our lives in general). This toolkit of techniques includes:
- Breathing – Yep you heard me right breathing – the thing that gives us life that we do almost every second of every day – but do we use it to the best advantage of our body and our minds. When we are stressed and anxious our breath is affected but also the body produces cortisol, which can cause illness, fatigue and weight gain if it is released in the body to excess. One of the techniques of mindfulness is to bring your awareness back to the breath and explore how we can use the breath to help manage and relieve pain, anxiety, illness and stress. Slowwww, deeepp breaths, right into the belly and the chest, also known as diaphragmatic breathing. Just the action of focusing on the breath can make a difference to your brain and body chemistry to decrease cortisol levels and relieve tension.
- Mindful Movement – This technique focuses on how we move the body and coaches us to develop the habit of being aware how we move and use the body. It sounds like something that we all do subconsciously but what we often is drag the body around rather than moving it around in a functional way that assists our posture and our muscles and joints. For example do you (like I used to) get out of bed by sitting bolt up right, or move in assertive quick movements that often are lead with the head – this actually puts a lot of stress on the neck and the body in general. This practice brings your awareness back to how you move and promotes slower more deliberate movements.
- Body Scan – This is a meditation practice that gets you to focus on relaxing and then scanning through the body, bit by bit, one body part at a time and using the breath to relax into that body part. This very action can reduce and manage pain by reducing the tension and anxious anticipation that accompanies the pain. This was a BIG one for me.
- Kindly awareness – This focuses around how we subconsciously view ourselves in times of stress, pain, anxiety and indeed in general everyday life. If we had a close friend or family member suffering in some way whether it be emotionally or physically we would no doubt feel compassion and empathy towards them but how often do we direct that compassion and empathy on ourselves? I’d say for many, the answer would be rarely. This key element of mindfulness encourages a meditative practice that gets you to direct kindly awareness and empathy towards yourself and basically give yourself a break. We just don’t give ourselves a break these days huh – it’s push, push, push, busy, busy, busy, go, go, go.
- Meditation – This is the hub of all the techniques above whether it be a 20 minute body scan meditation or a meditation that focuses on the breath or a slow walking mindful movement meditations. Just taking a few minutes out each day whether it be 5 or 50 – to bring you back to the present moment through the body, the breath, slow mindful movement or some of the other meditations that can be learnt. The key thing is that the meditation brings you to the here and now and encourages you to let go of everything else that isn’t in the present that can drag your body and your mind down to serve you no purpose.
- Mindfulness in your day-to-day life– The philosophy of mindfulness promotes the practice of being aware and really experiencing what we are doing whether it be eating a meal and tasting each bite, noticing the textures and flavors. Or if you go for a walk or a run to take in the view, the smells, the breeze, feel the sun on your face rather than planning what you are going to have for dinner or whether you remembered to put the bins out.
Who can benefit from Mindfulness?
I believe that pretty much anyone can benefit and see real improvements in their emotional and physical well being by adopting and practicing the philosophy and techniques that make up mindfulness. Do you experience or have a history of-
- Chronic Pain or illness
- Stress, Anxiety or Panic Attacks
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
- Inability to relax, calm down or are constantly on the go / hyperactive
- Chronic Fatigue
- Simply being unable to chillax.
If you said yes to one or more of the above then ‘Mindfulness’ can definitely help and therefore enhance your life and your wellbeing for the better.
For me as I mentioned earlier the discovery of ‘Mindfulness’ has been life changing. I would say my chronic pain has reduced by approximately 80 to 90%. Honestly – truly, I went from feeling pain each day every day to feeling twinges once or twice a month if that. I have also noticed that if I DO NOT take time to chillax, meditate, basically practice these simple but life enhancing mindful techniques my pain and also my anxiety and stress can begin to increase again.
I do not think for a minute my pain wasn’t real – in the beginning it was very real. I had a bad injury and my body was telling me I needed to slow down, rest, change my lifestyle, get some rehab etc but over time my body began to heal, however my mind was so used to feeling pain it expected nothing else – the mind is so powerful, it can prove you wrong or prove you right based on what you believe.
Why you should be mindful and kind to yourself?
The pace of life and change has meant we rarely take time to pause, breathe and relax. That is no good, no good at all for both our mental and physical health. I say ‘we’ and that is generalizing as of course there are still the naturally zen peeps out there that don’t think like that. My hubby Brett for example is like a cross between Bob Marley and Buddha with his relaxed, laid back attitude, but if you do relate to the ‘we’ then mindfulness is for you. Hey even if you are pretty chilled already mindfulness is still a life enhancing thing to do – how can all those Buddhist monks be wrong – they do this stuff inherently – me thinks maybe there are on to something :0)
The final word
The last week of the course, just before we said our goodbyes, when we were all pumped from new possibilities that had been created from what we had learnt, this course gave me one final gift. The tutor asked us all to write a letter to ourselves that she would then post to us a few weeks later. The letter was to consolidate all we had learnt during our 8 weeks, we were to write some words to remind us why it is important to be mindful, why it was important to take time because if you take some time you make some time..
This is what I wrote………..
Life is too short and too precious to sweat the small stuff. Feel and be present in each moment so as not to waste it. If it’s a situation you don’t want to be in or makes you anxious/ stressed / unhappy then either look at what you can do to change it or change your reaction to it, if you can’t change either then there is simply no point worrying about something out of your control.
You are a good person in your heart, who has great compassion and empathy for others and is capable of showing great tenderness. It is time to turn some of that compassion and tenderness to yourself.
Liberate yourself from guilt – it serves you no purpose at all.
Take time to meditate every day whether it is 5 minutes or 40 minutes, it is important to your health and wellbeing and deserves a high priority in your life.
Think before you react in a difficult situation and pause, breath and make a better choice.
You deserve happiness, love, joy, health and everything you ever dreamt of. You are surrounded by wealth and joy if you really look and appreciate it.
With loving kindness
For more info on Mindfulness and to find out about the course I attended visit this link.