Mindful Realisations

Recently, I finished a six-week Mindfulness Course.  I

I was referred to the course by a healthcare professional to help with the anxiety that I have lived with for many years and is a consequence of living with a long-term neurological condition.

Everyday Mindfulness, describes it as:

Mindfulness helps to change the way you think and feel about your experiences, especially stressful situations.  It involves paying attention to your thoughts and feelings in order to become more aware of them, less enmeshed in them, and better able to manage them.

Throughout the course, we learnt about the principles of mindfulness; specifically the triad of awareness, acceptance and non-judgement that the technique is based upon.  Mindfulness teaches us to be focused and aware of the present moment, to acknowledge and accept our feelings without judgement or battling against them, to be better able to embrace them and ultimately let them go.

As the course was facilitated by Mental Health Services, the sessions were focused on the technique being used for anxiety and depression; our negative thoughts were described as being like trains, and when suffering from anxiety we enter the train letting those negative thoughts circumvent our brain.  Mindfulness, however, teaches us to stay on the platform, but allow the trains to pass without getting on.  Such a brilliant and simple metaphor to explain what mindfulness is and its function.

Mindfulness teaches us to let our thoughts pass instead of becoming entangled in them
Mindfulness teaches us to let our thoughts pass instead of becoming entangled in them

As the course progressed, I began to realise that the technique could not only be used for anxiety management but also help with the stress that living with a long-term health condition can have, and as I read further to even help manage chronic pain, which something I have been struggling with for some time now.  This is supported by much research which has shown that patients with chronic conditions reported feeling calmer, better equipped to deal with illness during times of stress and reported higher levels of well-being after incorporating mindfulness into their daily routine.

After starting the mindfulness and relating it to my life with a neurological condition, I came to realise how little I have actually accepted my illness.  When we are mindful, we give our full attention to whatever is happening in the present, and without changing the narrative and judgement of our thoughts and feelings. Acceptance, in essence, means acknowledging that of what we have no control of; accepting life as it is at this exact moment.

mindfulness-definition11

While in the midst of excruciating and debilitating symptoms, however, it is difficult not to judge – ourselves, for our perceived weakness or our failing bodies which cause these symptoms, to begin with.  Nor do we as patients sit there without attempting to change our current experience – we try medications, heat/ice packs, warm baths,  anything to try and ease the symptoms that are consistently bothering us.

Often I feel at war with my body when my symptoms are severe; I curse, hating my weak legs and the other symptoms giving me grief, wishing that at that time I was someone else, had someone else’s body. I worry about the implications of living with a long-term health condition, such as worrying about the future and as a result, my head becomes permeated with worst case scenarios.  So perhaps I hadn’t reached acceptance as I thought.

Mindfulness in many ways somewhat resembles autumn (or fall).  It is said that autumn is a beautiful reminder what a relief it is to let things go that we no longer need, or does not serve us any purpose.  As trees shed their dead leaves during the season; mindfulness allows us to let go of any negative thoughts which don’t help us and only allows us to get stuck in the depths of despair and hopelessness.

Mindfulness instead teaches us to focus on the present; accept our illness and the way its symptoms make us feel allowing these thoughts and feelings to fall into the background enabling us to focus on the positives.  For example, instead of focusing on the pain in my legs, I allow myself to enjoy the feel of the sun on my face or savour the taste of hot chocolate (my favourite Autumn/Winter indulgence!).

Mindfulness is much like autumn reminding us of the benefits of letting go

I am beginning to incorporate mindfulness during my daily routine, alongside the usual practices such as taking medications and journaling.   It is not, unfortunately, a cure for the symptoms associated with my neurological condition, they still exist, but it is a coping strategy for times when everything feels out of my control (which is a lot!).  There are days when I find it difficult, but like anything, it can take practice to perfect the technique.

Mindfulness I have realised can be a mechanism to help find the light, during the darkest of days.

Useful Reading about Mindfulness and specifically its use to help chronic pain and chronic illness: 

  • Living Well With Pain and Illness: Using mindfulness to free yourself from suffering by Vidyamala Burch
  • How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: A Mindful Guide by Toni Bernhard
  • Mindfulness for Health: A practical guide to relieving pain, reducing stress and restoring wellbeing by Vidyamala Burch

 

 

Advertisements

Self-Care & Happy Distractions

Living with a long-term health condition is hard.  Every day seems the same with juggling the ordinary daily tasks of life with the many symptoms and other effects that chronic illness imposes on our body.  There are so many demands on our bodies, which is why self-care is so critical to our overall well-being.

Self -care can take many forms.  Relaxing, participating in a favourite activity or hobby or just taking time out to enjoy a luxurious bubble bath are some ways which we can take time for ourselves to rest and unwind from the stresses of life with chronic illness.  And self-care is also important to help elevate your mood and provide a little light and happiness from the darkness that chronic illness can sometimes create.

sunblock-skincare-healthy-skin-heart-161608.jpg

I’m writing about a special brand collaboration, which I thought would be beneficial for those like me, living with a chronic illness and finding that it has an adverse impact on their mental health, suffering from stress, anxiety or depression alongside their physical health problems.

The brand in question is called The Distraction Box, started by the lovely Rachael and Samantha.  I did a little Q and A with Rachael, one of the founders behind The Distraction Box about the inspiration behind the company and about self-care.

VKLo-HSw

  1. Hi Rachael, Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about yourselves and your business The Distraction Box
    Distraction Box was founded by two female business women, Rachael and Sam.  Rachael was forced to leave her high-flying career in Marketing due to health challenges.  After major spinal surgery, serious complications and a subsequent diagnosis of a further two nasty chronic illnesses, Rachael’s life changed dramatically overnight.  Rachael has to work really hard on her health to participate in life – including her emotional health.  That’s where the business idea came from – passion and personal learnings.
    Sam is a Dr of Physiology who has a particular interest in the effects of stress on our physical health.  Sam has also had to live with depression since the age of 17 so also had to work hard on her emotional health. Both founders share a passion for emotional well-being so we thought we’d make a great team!We launched the business in October 2016 and position ourselves as a well-being subscription box for the mind.  We also have one-off boxes which are great for gifts for loved ones going through hard times.   Our subscription packages are available for those who want to invest in their emotional well-being on a regular basis.  We encourage people to invest in their emotional health and not just their physical health.  We have a monthly, 3 monthly and 6 monthly subscription packages and each can be cancelled at any time and very easily.
  2. Where did the inspiration for The Distraction Box come from?  It’s a great name!  How did you decide upon it?
    I used to be an athlete and had the belief that you could do anything in life, as long as you were prepared to work hard enough, and if your heart desired it.  Then, 6 years ago I had a major health challenge that changed my life.  In a nutshell, I suddenly had physical limitations that meant I had to change my life completely and found myself not being able to do ‘what I wanted when I wanted.’This affected my emotional well-being, and I was struggling to cope with grieving my old self, and the frustrations with my new life.  Thankfully I was offered counselling to help me with my emotions – and I found the courage to embrace it.  This was the start of my journey with coming to terms and accepting what life has thrown at me, and even changing my mindset to help.  During that journey, I joined a health group which focused around teaching people how to live with chronic illness.One of the tools I was taught was how to create distractions from physical pain and/or the emotions that come with living with an illness that affects your everyday.  I created my own Distraction Box filled with items that comforted me, helped ease physical symptoms, or simply cheered me up when I was struggling to remain positive.  I love creating my own Happy Distractions and felt that more of us should create them in our everyday lives.  We all face stress and pressure, but not enough of us take the time to ‘switch off’ or manage overwhelming emotions in a positive way.
  3. How do you decide on the products you select for the boxes?  What are your favourite products that have been inside your lovely boxes?
    Both of the founders spend a lot of time researching the right products that we feel would create happy distractions.  We can’t pick many favourites as we love them all (or they wouldn’t be in the box).  However, we love JustBe Botanicals, Re-Mind notepads and the slate heart of self-love which was featured in our February box.
  4. Self-care is a big deal within the chronic illness community.  What are your favourite ways to relax and unwind?
    I have too many ways! I can’t say a specific favourite, but I do love water.  I’d say visiting the pool – even if it’s for a float to take the edge off my pain, or to go for a swim and build strength, I love it.  I have regular hot baths too and have different bath bombs and oils depending on what mood I’m in.  I also meditate once a day if I can – I love finding out where my mind will take me that day!
  5. What do you hope to achieve with The Distraction Box? We hope to spread a little happiness across the UK and beyond, but with an important message; emotional well-being is just as important as physical health.  Working on the mind is a strength and not a weakness – we are so passionate about that.On a practical note, we are hoping the boxes will raise enough money to set up ‘talkitout’ which will change the way the UK view talking therapy.  Watch this space…

I was sent a box for myself to unveil and review for the blog.

The Distraction Box for March was based on the theme ‘Hibernation to Happiness’ which was essentially all about stepping out of the hibernation period of winter and into the lighter, brighter days of spring. 

The box arrived after a long night of insomnia as a result of chronic pain, so just receiving the box was enough to cheer me up.  Upon opening the box, I was greeted with a little green parcel which contained all of the month’s goodies.  It was beautifully packaged and wrapped with care which made me appreciate receiving it even more.  It felt special like having received a special gift for Christmas or a birthday.  With the goodies was also a little booklet which outlined the theme for the month and a description of all the goodies contained in the month’s subscription box.

One of the first things that I noticed after opening the box was a gorgeous citrus scent from the Beefayre ‘Bee Happy’ Tea Lights that are scented with orange and jasmine essential oils.  It immediately lifted my mood and helped me to relax despite feeling uptight after a night dealing with pain.  One of my favourite ways to relax and unwind in the nights is to read or watch something on my iPad while I light a scented candle and so I really loved receiving these.  And they are natural which is a bonus!

20170330_121659

I have previously mentioned that the recent popular craze of adult colouring is also becoming a favourite form of self-care for me when I am feeling anxious or just need to distract my mind from the all-consuming symptoms.  So, I was ecstatic to receive a mini Mindful Colouring Pad with colouring pencils! They are sweet, and the best thing is that both the colouring pad and pencils are pocket sized – perfect for slipping into a coat pocket or handbag to take out on trips, such as hospital appointments so you can take a little time out from your thoughts or anxiety.

20170330_121717.jpg

Also, in the box was Birchall’s Green Tea and Peach Infusion Tea Bags and the BakedIn Gluten-Free Mug Brownie Mix, both ideal for those who are health conscious and want to look after their physical well-being as well as their emotional health.  I’m not gluten intolerant myself, but again the thought of Rachael and Sam for those who may have such intolerances really shows their understanding of such concerns within the chronic illness community.

I love writing handwritten letters to friends or other special people in my life.  And I also love to receive handwritten letters, in my opinion there is nothing better than to receive a thoughtful handwritten letter in the mail and which feel a lot more personal than an email or text message.  Which is one of the reasons why I participate in a project called Spoonie Post whereby every month you send a letter or card to a fellow chronic illness warrior to say hello or to cheer them up during difficult times.  In this month’s box was two cards with envelopes which I will be able to use for this project and brighten someone’s day!

20170330_121740.jpg

And finally, and probably my favourite item from this gorgeous and positive box was the Happy Mug (perfect to enjoy the green tea and peach in).  With simple colours, and finished with a rose gold detail it has a beautifully inspiring and positive quote that we should all aspire to every day.  I’m not a big hot drink fan, but I am sure that I will enjoy using this mug during times of self-care in the future.

20170330_121803.jpg

I loved this subscription box, and all the little goodies were perfect for taking the time to invest in my emotional well-being and for anyone else also living with the effects of a long-term health condition.  I know in the US and Canada various companies have subscription boxes specifically for those with chronic illnesses, but nothing similar here in the UK  (although The Distraction Box does ship worldwide).  However, I think The Distraction Box has this niche market in the bag and would definitely invest in a box in the future during a bad flare or maybe even buying it as a gift for someone going through a difficult time.

If you would like to try out a one-off Distraction Box or are willing to invest in your emotional well-being and sign up for a monthly subscription for a Distraction Box, then go and visit their website and use my code ‘brainlesionandme’ for a 10% off your first box/subscription and enjoy the benefits of their take on self-care for yourself.

And let us take a look at your enjoyment of your own Distraction Box by using the tag #HappyDistractions!

Living With The Darkness

All of us will have situations or places that we find difficult; situations that push us emotionally, revealing the depths of our strength and ability to cope with high-stress situations. Add living with a chronic illness into the mix, and the number of situations or places that we find demanding increase exponentially.  The reasons for […]

Back to the ‘spoonie’ lifestyle…

Not long after returning from the cruise; in fact it was four days after returning I had to attend an appointment at my local hospital for an MRI scan.  Although, as many of you will know from reading my last post, the holiday was difficult for me, however a positive of the trip was a break from the monotonous lifestyle of a spoonie, such as the endless days stuck inside the house and the endless numbers of hospital appointments and doctor’s appointments.

But now that I am back home, I am also back to living the life of a spoonie.

images
The neurological patient’s most dreaded test…

 

And the first step on the ladder back to the life of a ‘sick chick’ was the MRI exam.  A test that has been nine months in the waiting! Yes, a nine month wait for such a procedure is what you can expect from the NHS in Wales!  And even more surprisingly was the fact that the scan was scheduled for 7.45 at night!

The MRI experience is strange and alien no matter how many times you’ve experienced one… (Click to Tweet)

An MRI scan that many of those of you living with neurological conditions are subjected to regularly.  And it’s an experience that is strange and alien no matter the number of times you have had one done.

The machine itself is big, extremely loud, and rather claustrophobic.  So, it’s no surprise that it can invoke a lot of anxiety in many people.

I have to admit when I experienced my first MRI, I was petrified and anxious, however with like many experiences in life the anticipation turned out to be much worse than the experience itself.  In fact, I rather enjoyed it; feeling cocooned whilst in this strange cylindrical scanner and practicing visualisation techniques as a distraction technique from the noise and my anxiety.  For me, I would much prefer the MRI scan and being enclosed than the CT scan which is more open – I may be in the minority there, but it’s true at least for me.

As, the appointment last Tuesday was not my first MRI scan I was therefore slightly more relaxed beforehand but there were still some butterflies in my stomach as although the procedure is not invasive it can still be very unpleasant due to the noise and confinement in the machine for a considerable length of time (this scan of my brain and entire spinal cord took approximately 1 hour).

As there was no receptionist on the desk on arrival we had to phone through to the MRI suite to inform them of our arrival, and then after a nearly 30 minute wait, I was ready for the scan…

The technician helped to lie down on the table and placed my head in a brace to limit movement whilst the scan took place, and gave me an alarm to hold onto that I could squeeze in case of an emergency.  And of course was given some earplugs to place in my ears to limit my exposure to the loud noises that the machine can produce when scanning the parts of the body under investigation.  When under stress or during periods of boredom (yes, having an MRI can be very boring indeed!) I love to listen to music and I know many people  have reported that they had the option to listen to music during their scan, but unfortunately I have never been offered this option.

After settled in the machine, the technician left the MRI suite and situated herself on the other side of the glass window where she was controlling and monitoring the MRI.  And then it started…

I knew beforehand that this scan would take longer than the last which I found daunting as during my previous MRI I found it extremely difficult to stay still for the entirety of the scan.  I found it true of this scan too, and in fact I was so aware of my body and trying not to move that I was in some considerable pain afterwards. After the scan I also had a headache due to the noise that was produced during the scan – the noise a combination of extremely loud knocking and banging as well as the occasional ringing sounds.

Now, it is just the waiting game until I once again have to visit the neurologist and find out the results of the scan and the other tests that I have been subjected to during the past few months…

Would love to hear all of your MRI experiences?  Good or bad?  What techniques do use to get yourself through the experience?  What techniques can we use to make the experience more ‘fun’ whilst the scan is in progress?

Please get in touch by commenting in the comment box below…

Talking Mental Health…

nhbpm_daycount-21

Welcome to the twentieth-first day of the National Health Blog Post Month Challenge hosted by WEGO Health.   Every day during the month of November I will be writing a new blog post related to health and living with a chronic illness based on given prompts provided by WEGO Health.

Today’s post reads:

Mental Health Meld: Mental health issues can affect many other conditions.  Write about mental health, emotions, and challenges as they relate to your condition. How does your mental health affect your overall well-being?

Let's talk Mental Health...
Let’s talk Mental Health…

Regarding yesterday’s post about the start of the dizziness in my life, entitled “I still remember..“; it also triggered an anxiety disorder.  Due to the intense dizzy spells that I experienced as a young child and becoming worse as a teenager, it resulted in me worrying about everything; worried about the when the next time the dizziness will occur.  And then when it occurred in places such as a supermarket, or in a particular shop, I would worry that it would happen again and so would avoid that places, in the hopes that I would avoid an attack of the dizziness.  However, this obviously did not stop the dizziness from the occurring; but only resulted in my world from becoming smaller and smaller as I avoided more and more places.  In addition, as a result the dizziness that I kept mentioning to the doctor was put down to the anxiety disorder that I was diagnosed with.  This is the problem with being diagnosed with a mental illness; it is widely acknowledged that mental health patients face difficulty in getting diagnosed and treated for physical illnesses as doctors will often blame their psychiatric diagnosis or the medications that they are taking on the symptoms that patients are experiencing.

A diagnosis of a mental illness can be a roadblock to getting diagnosed with a physical health condition...
A diagnosis of a mental illness can be a roadblock to getting diagnosed with a physical health condition…

In the end, I got help and treatment from the anxiety disorder, and thanks to therapy and graded exercises my world once again started to become larger as I started to visit the places, I once avoided.  The relaxation techniques that I were taught, helped with the anxiety I was experiencing; although the dizziness was still very much there and still as intense.  Now, I still find that anxiety is still an issue; an issue that can affect my mental and physical health,for example when  the dizziness becomes so intense when out, my first instinct is still to panic and become anxious, although the anxiety I find is something that I am able to control, unlike the symptoms relating to my neurological condition, such as the dizziness, and the weakness and trembling in my legs, etc.

It is not only the anxiety, however that can be a problem for my mental and physical health however; depression is also another mental health issue that I have experience of, and can which still be a problem, years even after it first started.  The depression, can still rear its ugly head, when I am experiencing bad flares in my condition.  I often experience the depression, when my symptoms have been really severe for a long period of time; for example recently the dizziness has been so bad for several weeks now, and that has been making me feel down a lot of the time because of it; and because of the depression, the fatigue that I already experience becomes even worse, and that has a knock-on effect on the rest of my symptoms.

Depression can appear during flares in my condition...
Depression can appear during flares in my condition…

That is the thing with mental health conditions when already living with a physical health condition – it is a vicious circle and one of the health conditions become worse, it automatically affects the other.  So, to survive living with a physical health condition, we also need to look after our mental health…

Do you find that the best way to live well with your chronic illness is to also look after your mental health?  I would love to hear your thoughts and comments regarding this issue.  Please comment below…

Secrets Shared…

nhbpm_daycount-09

 

Welcome to the ninth day of the National Health Blog Post Month hosted by WEGO Health.    Every day during the month of November I will be writing a new blog post related to health and living with a chronic illness based on given prompts provided by WEGO Health.

Today’s prompt reads…

Just admit it: It’s taboo, write about something that people do but don’t like to talk about or won’t admit to doing.  Don’t worry we won’t tell anyone 😉

Okay, so I am going to divulge a big secret of mine.  I suffer from a condition called trichotillomania.  Trichotillomania is the compulsion urge to pull out one’s own hair.  I have suffered from this condition since my early teens, and is not something I admit to doing or have even discussed with anyone.  You see, ever since my early teens; when the dizziness started getting much more frequent and intense, and as a result it triggered an anxiety disorder.  At the same time, I was going through a hard time at school, where I was bullied and ostracised by my peers.  As someone who rarely talks about what is on their mind, or problems and instead bottles them up, I found comfort and relief from plucking hairs from my legs, arms or eyebrows.  At this time, I didn’t know what was happening; I was finding it so difficult to cope with both the dizziness, anxiety and depression that I was suffering, and I had no other coping mechanisms that I developed this compulsion to pull my own hair out.

imgres

My hair is very fine, so I couldn’t pull hair from my head as people would soon notice, so I began pulling hairs from my arms, legs and eyebrows.  It’s my shameful secret – I still do it sometimes now when I am struggling with my condition and during difficult times where I am finding it difficult to cope.

This condition is very common, usually amongst teenagers and young adults, and also more common in girls than boys.  However, it is often a taboo subject and not often talked about.  Perhaps as it often also causes guilt and shame amongst sufferers of trichotillomania.  I know that guilt is something that I feel after I have pulled hairs out for a period of time.

I hope that perhaps by sharing my secret and opening up about my compulsion to pull my hair out will help people who may be doing the same thing.  For support, you can try these websites that provide further information:

US – Trichotillomania Learning Centre: http://www.trich.org/

UK – Trichotillomania Support Online – http://www.trichotillomania.co.uk/index.html

Trichotillomania Support on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/TrichotillomaniaSupport

Hospital appointments met with relief or trepidation?

Well, have finally received my appointment to see a neurological consultant – all set for August 20th!!  After a long 28 weeks the appointment has come through, and all set for another hospital appointment.

 

Screen Shot 2013-07-26 at 15.47.15
Hospital appointment finally!

 

It’s funny though isn’t it when symptoms associated with your chronic illness, such as pain, dizziness, headaches, and so on are getting worse; becoming so troublesome that there is nothing to do but to visit the doctor, and get the referral to see a consultant.  Meanwhile, the symptoms are still becoming worse, and you are hoping for that hospital appointment to come through because of the suffering; which by now is probably not only starting to affect your physical health but also your mental health, such as increased anxiety (for example, worrying about your symptoms) and depression

 

Then, that envelope finally drops on the door mat – for a second, there is a feeling of relief; a relief that the wait is almost over, and that you may finally get answers regarding the deterioration of symptoms.  However, that sense of relief is overtaken by one of dread, and anxiety.  Dread because of the unknown – you are unsure of what the appointment will entail, not knowing what the examination will entail.  Then there is the anxiety about what information will be gathered from the appointment and examination, and the final results.  What will the tests find?  Is it bad?  Will my condition get worse in time?  Those are some of the questions that you will inevitably ponder before a hospital appointment.

 

The sinking feeling in the stomach as that letter arrives with the hospital's logo!!
The sinking feeling in the stomach as that letter arrives with the hospital’s logo!!

 

 

Then there is all the preparation prior to the appointment, such as compiling a list of questions that you want to ask the consultant.  Completing a form with some pre-appointment questions that the consultant sent to fill out.  Filling out a journal regarding the symptoms such as frequency, length and so on.

But for now I just have to wait for that important date with some relief and a little trepidation…