Mudita – finding joy in the joy of others

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“Mudita is a word from Sanskrit and Pali that has no counterpart in English. It means sympathetic or unselfish joy, or joy in the good fortune of others.” (1)

I bring up Mudita now because those of us who are sick often find it very hard not being able to participate in celebrations this time of year.  We feel we are stuck on the outside just looking in, and as we look in we are envious.  We can’t feel joy.  Mudita is the opposite of envy.  When we feel mudita we feel joy in the joy of others.  We are genuinely happy that others are having a good time, even though we can’t join them.

This feeling doesn’t happen over night.  It’s hard to overcome those feelings of envy.  We don’t want to feel this way, but we have to admit, that’s the way we often feel when things come up and we can’t join in the fun.  We don’t feel joy in the fun the others are having, we feel sadness and anger that we can’t join them.

I first read about mudita when I read How To Be Sick by Toni Bernhard.  At the time my husband was playing games with a group of friends and I used to be envious that he had this group and I didn’t have anything like it.  He’d call me from there and I’d get this knot in my stomach and feel horrible because of this envy.  Then one day I realized how much he needed this time, how much he loved this activity and how much my envy hurt him.  (even though I thought I hid it well)  I remembered what I learned from reading Toni’s book.  I remembered mudita.  It didn’t happen overnight, but in time I started feeling joy when hubby would call from his game and sound excited about how things were going.  At first I faked it.  I knew I should feel joy for him so when I talked to him I put on a smile and told myself how happy I was for him and how much joy this made me feel.  Did I feel this at first.  No.  But after a while when he called I was truly happy.  I felt joy hearing how the night was going.  I was no longer faking it.

When trying to practice mudita start small.  Start with someone you don’t know.  When you see someone win a competition feel joy in their joy.  Then when you give a gift, feel the joy the receiver feels (that’s an easy one, I think).  Take it one step at a time and you will be surprised at how much joy you can feel when others feel joy.

It may not happen this holiday season, but perhaps when you can’t participate in the next celebration you might be able to find mudita, and feel joy in the joy of others.

I recommend all of Toni Bernhard’s books:  How to be Sick, How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness, How to Wake Up.  If you are chronically ill and haven’t read it yet, be sure to read How to be Sick.  I’ve read it over and over and keep going back to it.  It helps me live the day.  It makes me feel like I can get through this and thrive.

For further reading on Mudita, of course you can check out Toni’s books, but also check out.

Christmas My Way

christmas-treeWhen I was 30 Christmases as I had known them changed forever.  That was the year my mother died.  Everything changed that year.  When the matriarch of the family dies the traditions die with her.  We tried to keep things alive, we had Christmas at my sister’s house as she had the only grandchild, things weren’t the same, but they were still nice.

Then there was a falling out between me and my niece.  Well not a falling out really, she got mad at me and refuses to be in my presence.  There isn’t much I can do, not that I haven’t tried, I have.  I could speculate all day what has happened between the two of us, but at this point it doesn’t make much difference.  This has however, ruined many relationships for me in my family.  Family Christmases became a thing of the past.

After Stuart and I became a family we started having Christmas celebrations with friends, as Stuart’s family lives a long way away and they don’t do much for the holiday anyway, again they are without the matriarch.  We normally celebrated Christmas day alone, just us, but leading up to that time, we went to parties and had people over to our home to celebrate.  It was a joyous time.  Then I got sick, and things changed.  We no longer got invited to parties.  I no longer felt that I could throw a party.  Then we moved so there is no likelihood of rekindling that time.  Truthfully, we’ve all changed so much, I don’t think there could be any rekindling even if we do move back to our old city, or if I miraculously got better.  Let’s be honest, my old friends really are just that, old friends.  They aren’t a part of my current life.

The last few years I’ve tried to be okay with the holiday.  But truth be told, I’ve been very depressed.  Depression runs rampant during this time of year and I was not immune.  I tried hard not to feel bad that I wasn’t surrounded by people.  I’ve had the one person near me who means the most to me, why should I be depressed?  Because Christmas is a time for friends and family.  A time for gatherings.  It was the two of us, yet I felt lonely.  And I felt guilty that I didn’t feel that it was enough.  I was depressed and felt guilty for being depressed.

Over the past few years I haven’t cared about decorations, we had no tree.  Why hassle with it?  No one would see it.  No one would care.  We’d have a little celebration.  We’d try, but it all seemed like we were just going through the motions.  Christmas is for groups of people, not just the two of us, and we didn’t have a family.

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a little decorations making the holiday our own

This year has changed.  No we still don’t have a family, and we aren’t celebrating with any friends.  (We still don’t have any locally)  I changed.  I realized that Christmas really isn’t about family and friends.  It’s all about how you feel inside.  It’s not about giving the biggest gift it’s about giving to those in need.  It’s not about being with a bunch of people it’s about caring for those you are with.  It’s about caring for mankind.

This year I decided to decorate.  I never go all out like some people, that just isn’t me, but we put up a tree, and did a little decorating in the house.  It has made all the difference in our home.  We are in the spirit.  I understood just how much when my loving husband was looking through Amazon and found the National CASA Association Wish List, they provide Toys for Foster Kids, and told me that if I hadn’t purchased his presents yet he wanted the money to go to buying these kids presents.  How special is that?  So we took most of the money we planned to spend on our Christmas presents and bought Toys for Foster Kids.  Realize I did say most, I decided we needed a little gift exchange between the two of us, just a little something.

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this is the actual puzzle we put together

We also have other traditions we are going to make sure we revitalize.  We always watch, It’s a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve.  This has been a long standing tradition.  This year we are bringing back putting together the Charlie Brown Christmas puzzle, and our LEGO Christmas Train.  The train will be put together this weekend.  The puzzle goes together on Christmas day.  I don’t have a lot of traditions.  We cook a few little things as the time goes on, and health permits.  We’ve made some cookies so far, we’ll make spiced nuts to give to our neighbors, we’ll make a special breakfast on Christmas day….  The point is we are making this Holiday season ours.   And if at any time I can’t do something because I don’t feel like it we can postpone until later, or just decide not to do it.  All is good during our holiday celebration.

How can you make the season less depressing and more your own?  Remember that it really isn’t about family and friends, it’s about love and giving.  Love everyone and give to those in need.  Honor traditions you want to, we watch It’s a Wonderful Life.  Make new traditions, like putting together a themed puzzle on Christmas day.  Put up decorations if you want.  If you aren’t able to put up everything you want to, then either ask for help, or try to pick out your favorite decorations and put those out.  We have a small tree, and not all my ornaments fit, so I sit my favorites around as decorations.  The point is to make the holiday your holiday now.  Don’t try to make it what it was when you were well, or what it was when you were growing up, or any dream holiday you have been trying to live up to.  Make this holiday something special, on your own terms.

Sometimes no matter how much we try to make the holiday a pleasant thing for us, it just doesn’t work, depression takes over.  For those who get depressed during this time of year, remember that you are not alone.  If you need to reach out, please do so, there are numbers at the end of this post if you are in need.  If you need a friend to talk to please feel free to contact me.

  • U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255  If you are having thoughts of suicide, call this number immediately.
  • Kristin Brooks Hope Center Hopeline: 1-800-784-2433  This hotline can help you cope with a range of depressive feelings.
  • Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 (press 1)  Responders understand the unique experiences of veterans.
  • United Way Helpline: 1-800-233-4357  They can aid you in locating a therapist, healthcare or basic necessities such as housing and food by directing you to local services.

Share Your Story – Nechama Sklar

I’m proud to present to first contributor to Share Your Story.  Nechama Sklar is a chronic illness warrior and writes at The Life You Gave Me.  After her story is a small bio about her.  I encourage you to jump over and check out this young woman’s blog.  I’m sure you will become a follower just like I am.

I am Nechama and I have a chronic disorder known as MCAS, mast cell activation syndrome. Basically, my cells are having way too much fun done, treating many things that should be harmless as dangerous invaders.

When I am exposed to one of those triggers, my body desperately tries to get rid of it, any way it can. It usually doesn’t go for the typical reactions. Coughing fights, muscle spasms, flushing, and chest tightness are more its style. On some occasions those tiny little cells that are supposed to protect me even send me into anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction that can kill if not treated properly. And for some reason no one understands, my spasms can get so bad I cannot eat or drink.

Because my body is so busy trying to get rid of all the false threats, it doesn’t have time or cells left to deal with the serious things like infections. The way my doctor explained it to me, it’s like the police officer who is so focused on stopping the old lady from jaywalking that he misses the robber robbing the bank across the street.

My severe immunodeficiency means I pretty much never go more than a few days without an infection. And not just strep or sinus infections – though I get those too – all my infections seems to spread throughout my body, and I’ve gotten some crazy infections that required weeks of antibiotics, including an infection in my heart that landed me in the hospital for four weeks.

I also have some other disorders, like GERD (acid reflux), asthma and lots of other symptoms no one can make heads or tails of. So now you know you know a little bit about me.  

How do I keep going every day? I tell myself one crucial message I think anyone who a chronic illness or any kind of hardship needs to hear at least once a day: even if I were to fall a hundred times in one day, I would still get up. It’s a line from Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.

Because no matter how hard our lives are, no matter how many times life throws us to the floor, we stand everything to gain by getting up again. I have a strong support system that i made to fall back on at times like these. My support system is my family, my friends, my blog, my journal, groups on social media, mentors.

They have taught me that you can not choose your circumstances – only how you respond to them.You cannot choose your battles, you can choose how you fight them. And that keeps me going – knowing that I choose to take control over the one area where I have control – my reactions to circumstances.

You see, I used to believe I was a victim. But I’ve learned that I am a handpicked warrior.I have learned just how strong i can be when put to the test. I have learned that i can fight, fight to the death. I have learned that even though this illness has taken so much from me, it has given me strength  to endure – well – anything really.

Now, don’t get me wrong. How many times have I cried? How many times have I wanted to put my hands up in defeat and say, “I can’t any longer”? How many times have I told God that I am not strong enough, that I can’t take it anymore?

Many, many times. There have been days where I was sure that I would just break. Days where I really did break. Those were the worst times in my life, days where I felt I had no one to turn to and nowhere to run. So I cried. And I moped. And some days I just stayed in bed and watched movies.

There was one time when I was in-patient in the hospital. The hospital couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t eat, so they thought I had made it all up. They came into my room and told me I had an eating disorder and that they would send me to an eating disorder clinic for a few months, however long it took, until I would “let myself eat again.”

It was the most awful time in my life. Worse than the times I was going into anaphylaxis every three days. Worse than the time when they told me I had a heart infection and could go into septic shock at any time. Because there is no place lonelier on earth than when people don’t believe you.

After the hospital told me that, I went completely mute. I refused to speak to the doctors who could make such an awful, distorted accusation. My family and I were horrified at the claims. There was nothing in the world I wanted more than to eat! But my body just would not let me.

I just cried and cried into my prayer book. I cried until the pages were soaked. I turned to G~d and said, “How could you do this to me? I have no one left who believes in me. No one left who cares about the truth. No one but You. You carry me, and you hold me because I have nothing but rocks to walk on.”

And He did. The hospital sent in the head of the psych team to get me to talk, and when I saw he was listening, we had a good talk, and he believed me. He gave me an antispasmodic medicine and within half an hour, I was eating. (So much for the eating disorder claims.)

I quickly learned that there was a team of doctors from a different hospital that had believed me all along. Many of them were certain that I did not have an eating disorder.
Not long after came the Jewish holiday of Passover. It is the time were need celebrate our miraculous exodus from our bondage in Egypt.as a orthodox Jew, me and my family and the many other religious families in the hospital celebrated.

Never had I felt more free. I knew then, that miracles do happen. ~and no matter how tough it seems~ we can all have miracles~ if we believe.

Is my journey over? Not by a long shot. My cells and me fight every day. The flares never seem to end and there always seems to be more problems than solutions.

But deep down, whenever I feel like giving up, I know that all hope is not lost.

Another thing that has really been transformative for me is an incredible idea that I hear in a shiur by rabbi yy jacobson  that i have carried in my heart. He says that challenges are Hashem’s way of giving some of himself to us, connecting to us in the deepest way. When he draws us close, it is too much for us fragile humans.  We shatter from being so close. That is the pain of yissurim .

So be strong. And hold on tight to Hashem. Our challenges are not an act of torture, they are an act of love. An act of being brought close to Hashem.

If you believe in yourself, in your loved ones, in G~d, you just better believe it~ there are miracles. And they come to those who stay strong and believe.

nechama

I’m a 17-year-old teen ultra-orthodox Jew who lives in Brooklyn, NY.  I have MCAS , or mast cell activation syndrome- an allergic disorder that makes me allergic to- well, just about everything.

I have a primary immunodeficiency – a very long word that basically means I am also sick with one kind of infection or another.

I also have asthma and some form of autonomic dysfunction we are working on a diagnosis for.

I started my blog at a really low point in my life. I was in the hospital, physically unable to eat or drink. I would have given anything to eat or drink just one drop then.But the doctors in the hospital told me it was anxiety and were going to send me to an eating disorder clinic. I felt totally alone. I needed to share my feelings. I needed someone to hear me. And so, i let out my feelings to the world wide web. Thankfully, i got out of there safely, eating and drinking and not another word about eating disorders. Since then, my vision for my blog has expanded to include spreading awareness for all kinds of chronic disorders and providing support, coping skills and health tips for others with chronic illness.

I also run 2 online groups on facebook for those with chronic illness:teen mast cell warriors– for support, advice and encouragement for others teens and tweens fighting with a mast cell disease and let’s stay positive with chronic illness – a group with positivity challenges and quotes for staying happy with chronic illness.

Making friends?

I keep being told by my therapist that I need friends.  People I can spend time with, not just friends I text, email, message, blog with…..   She wants me to have local friends.  We’ve lived in this area for over 2 years and I don’t really know anyone.

My question for all of you is, How do I make friends?

I’m chronically ill, I can’t drive, I don’t go anywhere without my husband, I have a very hard time hearing in public places….

Where do I meet people who are willing to get to know me through all of those obstacles?

I don’t go to church.  I did look for a Buddhist temple in the area and there are a couple of places, but they do not practice the type of Buddhism I do.  I don’t think I’d feel comfortable there.  It’d be like a Fundamentalist trying to go to a Catholic church, they are both Christians, but they are very different.   (well it might not be that different)

I don’t work, so I won’t meet people there.

I don’t have kids so I won’t be meeting people through my kids.

I looked for a support group where I’d fit in, I can’t find anything.  Before you suggest it, no I’m not going to start one, I would not be able to be reliable enough to do so.

I really think it would be best if I met people who have chronic illnesses, I think they would be more understanding of my “eccentricities” 🙂

My husband works in a small office where there isn’t anyone to really become friendly with.

I’ve met the neighbors on each side of me, one is an elderly couple who prefer to keep to themselves, the other is a family who are always busy.  We don’t really fit in with either.

So, any ideas?   I’m not adverse to meeting people, I just don’t know how.

My  biggest problems are: I can’t go out alone, can’t drive, and my hearing issues.

Really, I’m looking for suggestions.  Any body got any??

Stress should be a 4 letter word

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Stress is widely known to cause the chronically ill to get sicker, to have flares, to generally feel worse…  Stress is an ugly word that I hate to hear my doctors say. “This is being made worse because of stress.”, “You need to get your stress under control.”  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this.

The amount of stress I’ve been under the last few months would make the healthiest person feel bad, for someone who is chronically ill, with both physical and mental illnesses this has been a very trying time.  I’m sure you are wondering, “What has been going on in Wendy’s life?”  Well let me tell ya!

This may not be in order, I’m just going to get it all out.  We moved, we had a friend move in with us, I was having vertigo a lot for a while, I’m constantly afraid I will have a vertigo attack, I’ve been having migraines daily for months, my father passed away, I went through all the stress building up to my father’s death, the stress of the funeral….I feel like it has been non-stop.

I’m wondering if my migraines are worse because of the stress?  My chronic daily headache now has a base line of a 4-5 where it used to be 2-3, on a 0 – 10 scale. The pain in my neck and upper back due to degenerative discs has greatly increased, I’m in physical therapy for that now.  (going to PT is another stress, as Stuart has to take time away from work to take me to my appointments, this time has to be made up, that’s hard on both of us; and some PT sessions seem to make things worse, that’s a stressor too.)  I can’t take pain relievers which causes a certain amount of stress too because I never have any relief. My tinnitus has been very loud.  Some days my balance is worse than usual.  My emotional state is not well.  I’ve been depressed. (yes I know I have reasons to be sad, but this is more than that).  My anxiety is very high.  I am extremely irritable (I’m shocked at how much Stuart and I have been arguing, and bickering, normally we rarely argue)  I’m restless, yet tired, excessively worried, feeling like I’m trembling inside, very sad, my appetite is out of control, I am extremely self-conscious, I have very little self-esteem and I keep beating myself up for things I have no control over.  I can’t relax; I can’t give myself a break; I’m not being kind to myself.  I’m just a mess.

I’ve been having a very rough time.  This is upsetting because I’m at the best place I’ve been with my vertigo than I’ve been in a couple of years.  I haven’t had a bad attack in almost 2 months.  This is surprising because it normally gets worse when I’m under a lot of stress.  However, It is often much better during the summer.  I know I would be feeling even worse if I was having vertigo as often as I normally do.  But I can’t stop having profound fear that it will get worse any moment.  I’m having a hard time enjoying this break because I’m so terrified I’ll have an attack at any moment.

I was trying to take better care of myself, but I have to admit in the last few weeks most of that has gone out of the window.

When we are under stress it is imperative that we practice self-care.

Things I plan to do to increase my self-care:

  • Be sure to see my therapist and be open and honest during appointments.
  • Give myself a break.  This is more easily said than done, but I need to really make a conscious effort to do so.  When I have negative thoughts or feelings I want to start being more gentle with myself.
  • Meditate more.
  • Take more baths.
  • Watch funnier TV shows and/or movies.
  • Read funny or inspirational books.
  • Cuddle with my hubby.
  • Cuddle with Max (the cat) and Kiki (the little dog).
  • Eat healthier.
  • Do as much as my health will allow that makes me happy.
  • Be creative.
  • Stay in touch with those who love and nurture me.
  • Try to get outside more.
  • Keep up a gratitude list every day.
  • Laugh
  • Sing Silly Songs
  • Dance
  • Give my body 10 minutes of mindful attention.
  • Take a nap.
  • Take Deep Breaths
  • Get Positive Feedback (ask 3 friends what they love about me)
  • Write out my thoughts (for 15 minutes free write what ever I’m feeling, I can tear it up after, just get it out.)
  • Drink water (I’ve been drinking soda recently, something I haven’t done in years)

 

How do you take care of yourself?  Any self-care suggestions?  I’d love to hear them!

 

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Stop apologizing

I don’t often reblog a post from so when I do you know the person said something I think is important.  What Denise, from Hearing Elmo talks about is important.  We have to stop apologizing for our “normal”.  Please check out her site for many more important topics, Denise is an amazing advocate.

The other day my iPhone died before I was getting ready for bed. I was a little shocked, because I rarely have it just “die” on me. The new ones have batteries that last much longer – even if you are a frequent user of the device like I am. I stood there with dead […]

via My iPhone Lasts Longer Than I do — Hearing Elmo

Have you tried? Do you think ___ caused it?

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Butterfly, by w. holcombe

Hello.  My name is Wendy.  I just turned 53 years old and I have chronic illnesses, including Meniere’s Disease.  Unless something amazing happens, they are not going to go away.  Sometimes I feel I need to make this statement before anyone speaks to me.

Recently I was asked a few things about my health.  This was not by people who see me often, or have much knowledge about my illnesses.  This is how I handled a few of the questions, some of it was good, some not so good.

Have you tried yoga?  It can really help your balance.  I used to do yoga regularly until the Meniere’s Disease got so bad and I ended up on my face during a class.  It can only help your balance if you have some to start with!  After having a disease ruin your balance system, yoga isn’t possible.  (ok, this may have been a bit harsh, and some people with Meniere’s may get some help from yoga, I don’t know.  However, anyone as advanced as I am, who has been through Vestibular Therapy and still has balance issues all the time, cannot do yoga.  And if you have had a disease the compromises your balance for as long as I have, do you not think I would have heard about YOGA by now?)  

I heard about these positions you can get in that will make vertigo go away.  Why can’t you just do that?  There are maneuvers you can do to help certain types of vertigo.  However, there are numerous causes for vertigo and what causes mine can not be helped by those maneuvers. (do people think my doctors would just let me suffer  this much if it was so simple to “cure” my vertigo?)

Do you think this could have been caused by all the drugs back when you were younger?  Okay, this one caught me off guard.  I thought, what the heck is she talking about?  I may have experimented a little when I was younger, but she wouldn’t have known that.  I must have looked shocked and said, “nooooo?”  She then explained, “All those psychiatric drugs they put you on.”  I was shocked.  How could someone think that the treatment I received for my mental illness caused me to get chronically ill?  I’m sure I looked shocked when I answered, “No.”  “Well I was thinking….”  I stopped and said, “I know many people with Meniere’s disease and really we have nothing in common except some of us have relatives with the same disease.  They have no idea what causes this.”  “That’s good to hear, I’ve been so worried about it.”  “Well there is no need to worry about that.  The medication I’ve taken for my Bipolar did not cause me to get ill.”   AHHH!

This last question has continued to plague me.  Is this one of the reasons people do not seek help for their mental illness, they are afraid of what side effects the medications may cause?

I have Bipolar I disorder.  I take medication for it.  I also try to keep a good sleep schedule, eat well, keep my stress controlled, and see a therapist…there is a lot more to taking care of yourself  when you have a mental illness than just taking your medication.

I have never been afraid of taking my medication.  Each time my medication is changed my doctor and I talk about it.  We discuss exactly what it is supposed to do, any side effects, if it will react with any other medications I’m on at the time, and if the side effects are worth it.  I don’t just take a medication not knowing what it will do to me.  No one should do that.  If your doctor does not automatically discuss these things with you make sure you ask BEFORE you fill your prescription and start taking a medication you are not familiar with.  I also advise you to read the information the pharmacist gives you about your new medication just in case your doctor forgot something.  It happens, doctors are human too.

I have decided to take a medication even though I knew there was a chance it could cause damage to my thyroid.  It did.  I now have to be on medication for hypothyroidism.  Am I upset that the medication caused this side effect.  No.  I went into this with my eyes wide open.  At the time there were very few medications to treat Bipolar I and I decided the pay off from the drug was worth the side effect that it may cause.  I’m still happy I decided to take that medication and have those years as a stable person.  Truthfully, I would take it again today if that was the only medication that would keep me stable.

I would hate to think that people would not seek out treatment for any illness because they are afraid of the side effects of the medication they might be put on.  Become informed.  Know what the medications will do.  Know how it will help you and the side effects it may cause, you decide if it is the right medication for you.

Many of you may be thinking that there are times that a certain side effect is unknown.  You are right.  There are many stories of someone who took a medication and had a severe reaction.  There are stories of people taking a medication and years later they find out that it hurt them in ways they never knew it could.   These stories are not typical.  We simply can’t live in fear and not be treated because of the “what ifs”.

I can tell you, if I hadn’t been treated for my Bipolar for all these years, my life would be totally different, and not in a good way.  I can almost tell you for certainty that I would not be alive to write this post.  I will never regret taking the medications that helped save my life.