#HAWMC Day 24 – Focus

Today is Day 24 of #HAWMC (WEGO’s Health Activist Writers Monthly Challenge).  The prompt today is:

Choose 3 images that represent your health focus.
Share the images in a post and explain why you chose each of them.

I don’t really know what they mean by “health focus” so I’m going to  chose images that represent my illnesses or what I focus on in terms of my health.

vertigo-caught-in-motion

I took this photo during a vertigo attack.  I was starting to take a photo of something and suddenly a vertigo attack started and this was what I got.  To me this represents my vestibular illnesses.

headache-2

This manipulated photo of me represents the pain and aura of my migraines.  I use this with other manipulated photos to show my doctors my level of pain.

hope-for-dr-gray

I created this for one of my doctors because she gave me hope when I didn’t think I had any left.  Now I realize there is always hope, no matter what.  This graphic represents that hope.

I’m participating in WEGO’s #HAWMC, if you’d like to read more posts from today please search for #HAWMC and check out WEGO’s Facebook page.  Don’t forget to Like Picnic With Ant’s Facebook Page too.  🙂

If you would like to share your story on Picnic with Ants, contact me through the contact form on my About Me – Contact Me Page.

 

*all images on Picnic with Ants are created and owned by Wendy Holcombe unless otherwise noted.

Advertisements

Mindfulness Quotes 17 – Hope

hope-for-dr-gray

by w. holcombe – all rights reserved

Hope is important
because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear.
If we believe that tomorrow will be better,
we can bear a hardship today.
~Thich Nhat Hanh

You practice mindfulness,
on the one hand to be calm and peaceful.
On the other hand,
as you practice mindfulness and live a life of peace,
you inspire hope for a future of peace.
~Thich Nhat Hanh

The Future is Scary, with a side of Hope.

It seems appropriate that I’m writing this on the eve of a new year, what better time to look toward the future?

For me, contemplating the future is more than a little scary…. let’s just say my anxiety about it has been more than I ever thought was possible.

After my illnesses changed my life, I learned about Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), it struck me how it has helped many people in many aspects of life, but mostly I was struck by how much it often helped people who are ill.  I had already learned of mindfulness during my studies in Buddhism, and while practicing yoga, but I admit I didn’t practice it regularly.

Over the last few years I’ve learned more and more about mindfulness, as I continued to studied Buddhism and MBSR, I’ve worked hard to live my life in the moment.  I don’t dwell in the past, (all of that is gone)…. I don’t worry about the future, (that hasn’t been written yet)…I try hard to live in this very moment, because that is all we truly have.

Yes, at times I still have moments when I get upset that I can’t do what I used to, and get upset about what might happen…but I don’t dwell on it.

Then we started making plans… how we are going to try to make things better for me….decisions about this unknown future, decisions that I have to make. Suddenly, I HAVE to look at the future. I HAVE to think about it.  And it really scares me.  Suddenly, I’m scared about being like thbe mindful of the futureis forever.  I thought I had accepted that and was okay with it.  Not that I was giving up, just that I accepted things if they didn’t change.  At least that’s what I thought, but actually, I thought I was going to be like this forever, I had come to terms with it, and now, that may change.  Now, I suddenly have options….plans.  I am having a very hard time not being anxious about the future.  I’m even thinking about things from the past. I keep thinking about all that I can’t do now, and how much my life has changed, and I keep wondering, could I get some of that back?  The main thing I know is that, I don’t want to lose myself in this quest to get better.  I don’t want to be afraid.  If I don’t get better, I need to know that’s not the end of the world.  I don’t want to start having to accept all of this all over again.

Each day I have begun to get more and more upset about things I simply can’t do.  As usual, most days all I can do is go from the bed to the chair in the living room.  But I tried hard not to let this get to me before.  I tried hard to make the most out of every moment…no matter what.  I’m trying now….but I am not doing as well as I have been.  Then I hear the voice in my head….Be Gentle With Yourself.  and I Breathe.  I am doing the best I can.  Yes, I’m a bit overwhelmed right now.  Everything is changing, all of a sudden, it’s going to take me a minute to keep up with it….deep breath….and I must remember, it still has to happen one moment at a time.

Okay, let’s move on from this and let’s talk about what the plan for my future is right now.

I was going to write a post right after my visit with the new ear doctor here in town, but I decided to wait until after the tests and the results.  I was supposed to get those yesterday, but I had to reschedule my appointment,  guess who was too sick to go?  Surprised?  I’m not….I have cancelled so many appointments because of vertigo, you just can’t imagine.

So, I’ll give you a break down of what is going on as of now…..

I saw the new ear doctor here.  So far he seems pretty good, I was impressed with his knowledge about Meniere’s, and he is very willing to work with the doctor from John Hopkins.  He suggested I start taking a low dose of Valium twice a day to try to keep my vestibular system calm.  He wants me to keep track of how much Sodium I’m eating.  (Okay, I laughed at that.  I know I don’t intake much sodium but since I haven’t been keeping a record he was not convinced.  I have been eating a low sodium diet for years, I know how much sodium is in almost everything, I don’t eat processed foods, and if I eat out I order everything without seasoning….yes I know that is boring, but it is safe with all of my food issues.  So I tracked my food since I saw him, I admit I was curious too, the results?  I normally consume just under 1000mg a day, I haven’t been over 15o0mg in any given day.  They say a low sodium diet is 2000mg a day.  I don’t think I have a problem there.)   I’m starting vestibular therapy on January 12th, we’re going to start training my eyes and body to balance without my ears.  I am to continue working with my headache specialist to get my migraines under control.  We will talk more about killing off the balance center after doing all of this and seeing if it helps.   Also after seeing the results of the vestibular testing I went through, we want to see if one of my ears is close to being dead already, if so we may go ahead and kill that one off, it may be causing much more trouble than the other.

(just let me say, I’ve been through these tests before and it wasn’t so very bad the first time, this time, it was absolute torture.  I cried.  I am not that kind of person.  If my husband hadn’t been back there with me, I don’t know how I would have gotten through it.  The person giving the tests told my husband she thought I was suppressing, because some things that should bother everyone I was not showing too much of a response on.  I thought that was strange.  I didn’t feel like I was suppressing, but after I’ve been going through this for so long, I’m sure I automatically try to not have vertigo when it is coming on.  I didn’t throw up, I almost did, I had cramps like dry heaves were coming, but no vomit.  Yay!  it really takes a lot to make me throw up now.  I rarely throw up during an attack now.  I get really nauseous, but I rarely throw up.  I always thought it was the meds.  Heck it’s already ruined my teeth and caused burns in my esophagus, I’m very happy it stopped.  Anyway….I’m very interested to find out the results of the tests, and upset I didn’t get to go yesterday.)

He does think my Meniere’s is definitely autoimmune.  Not that I want an autoimmune disease, but it does explain a lot.  Most of my doctors have felt I have symptoms that lead to one, but haven’t been able to put their finger on it.  I just have so much going on, and everything gets worse with stress, and gets better with steroids.  I often run a fever and no one can find a reason.  I have a marker for an auto-immune disease, but the one I have a marker for I do not test positive for….however, that is a red flag that I could have another.  They believe they simply do not have a test for the autoimmune disease I have, or I don’t test positive for it.  Like a friend of mine, has rheumatoid arthritis, but he always tests negative for it.  It is visible on all scans and he responds to treatment, but the test for it comes back negative.  So, in other words, we can’t prove it, but it is thought that it is an autoimmune disease, at least in my case.

So, there is the plan for now.  I don’t know what will happen.  How it will change.  Or anything right now.

I feel that there will be a lot of change around the corner.

The future is scary, but it holds promise, and hope…..something I haven’t had in a long time.

 

My Visit to John Hopkins

A couple of months ago I applied to be seen at the vestibular clinic at John Hopkins Hospital.  My records were sent, and an appointment was set up for December 27th, then it was moved up to December 11th. I must say, that was just fine with me.

I was scheduled to have a hearing test, and an Electonystagmography (ENG) test before seeing the doctor, but the doctor had to leave at 2pm (before my original appointment time) so he wouldn’t see the test before he left, so we asked if I could take the test at home.  You see, I had to stop any medication that might help with vertigo attacks before the Electonystagmography (ENG) test, if I didn’t have to stop these medications while out-of-town, I sure didn’t want to.  They said no problem, and I sure was glad.  I spent all of Thursday with vertigo, it was slow but it was there, I can’t imagine what it would have been like if I hadn’t been able to take my meds.  I also had an attack right before my appointment on Friday.  I had very little balance when I saw the doctor and my vision still wasn’t clear.  So he saw me when I was not doing well.  I think that’s a good thing.  How many times have you been to the doctor and all of your symptoms just magically disappear right when you get there?  That is so frustrating.

When we walked into the Outpatient Clinic it was like walking into an airport.  You checked into the front desk, we both got arm bands to prove we belonged there.  There were all kinds of signs and lines and directions, it was a bit to take in all at once.  Stuart said we were told where the elevators were (no I couldn’t hear much in there) and off we went.  When we got where we were supposed to be, I was very impressed that the check in and out areas were looped.  If you don’t have hearing aids of CI’s you won’t understand that.  If your hearing aid or CI has a telecoil setting, then the hearing loop provides a magnetic, wireless signal that is picked up by the hearing aid or CI when it is set to ‘T’ (Telecoil) setting, and the person using that setting can hear the voice right in their ear, no background noise or anything…it is really cool. So, we checked in and were told to go to the little waiting room in the back….that’s when it started to look like just a normal hospital setting.  The little waiting room, wasn’t all that little, but it wasn’t all that big either.  We were early, because I HATE to be late.  My first appointment was to get a hearing test…(snicker).  But soon a very soft spoken woman came out and said the doctor wanted to see me first, at least that is what Stuart told me she said, I had no idea.  She took my vitals, she asked for my weight and height…I got it mixed up as to which one she asked for first, because I couldn’t hear her and I was guessing.  Soon the doctor came in…..

We talked a bit about my history and he gave me some tests while in his office.  A bit of touching my finger to my nose and then to his hand, turning my hand over and over….ect. Some I could do okay, some I had trouble with.  Then he said he was sorry but needed to shake my head a bit.  I did not do well with that one.  I had to look at his nose while he shook my head.  One time when he shook my head Stuart said he saw my eyes jerk, he said it was “kinda freaky”.  The doctor asked me to stand up and I staggered a bit, he said never mind, sit down, be careful.  I guess that answered that test.

He then said he wanted me to have the hearing test and come back in to see him.  So I went out.  I still thought it was kind of funny getting a hearing test because I’m deaf.  I can hear a tiny bit in my right ear, but it is so little you may as well say, I can’t hear anything.  Soon the doctor comes to the waiting room and said, the Audiologist said that since I have cochlear implants she couldn’t give me a hearing test.  Yes, I kind of giggled inside.  Stuart told them over on the phone that I had CI’s and a hearing test was kind of unnecessary, but they said it was ordered.  Then the doctor said they could do the ENG test that I was originally scheduled for now, so he could see it.  Well, I had just taken meds to help me, since I was really sick after the test he performed.  I told him, that and how it said I wasn’t supposed to take any meds for like that for 48 hours before the test, and I’d already taken it twice that day.  He agreed the test might not be accurate under those circumstances. Oops, kinda wish I hadn’t taken my meds, but then again, I really don’t want to be so far from home when I have that test done.  I just know I’m going to be sick.

The ENG will show how much vestibular function I have left in each ear.  That’s pretty important right now…..because here’s what he thinks and the plan……

He said, it is obvious I have damaged vestibular function, it is just a question of how much, and how much in each ear.  He said he believes that, yes I have Meniere’s Disease, and Vestibular Migraines, and he said I have balance issues caused from getting my Cochlear Implants.  I noticed before, my vertigo got worse after getting my CI’s, but no one ever said that they could have caused some of it.

He said we have to treat these in different ways.  One is to get my migraines under control.  He likes that I’m seeing a Neurologist that specializes in headaches, so I’ll continue to see her and try to get the migraines more under control.  If we can’t do this, I may be taking another trip to John Hopkins to the Headache Clinic for evaluation.  The next thing he said was, I need to have vestibular rehabilitation to train my body and brain to balance without my ears.  He also said,  we need to kill my balance system in my ears.  We plan on doing this with gentamicin shots in both ears.  How much I need to have depends on the results of the test, one ear may already be dead, who knows…we just don’t know how damaged they are yet.

I will be seeing a new otolaryngolgist here in Charlotte on Wednesday, the 16th, and we will discuss all of this, and set up getting the test that the doctor at John Hopkins wants.  They will confer with each other on a treatment plan.  I guess, It will also be good getting a 3rd opinion.  The one from my doctor at Duke, the one from John Hopkins, and now let’s see what this doctor thinks.  This doctor knows I have been to John Hopkins and they will be conferring with each other.

There are a few questions I forgot to ask.  I know many of you are thinking….”You should have written them down.”  I did, really, I did.  But I wrote it on the paperwork they gave me, and I gave it to them…I didn’t have it after that….duh.  So I’m going to ask the new doctor.  It’s only a couple of things.  Nothing that would really change the plan I think.  I just want to know if they think my Meniere’s could be autoimmune, since it reacts so well when I am on steroids; and I’d like to know if they can answer why when I breathe in through my mouth, or drink anything cold or hot I feel it in my right ear.  That’s just weird.

I know I forgot to ask him these things because he was telling me things that had been thinking for a long time.  I actually asked for this treatment from my doctor.  But he wouldn’t do it.  He said it was too destructive and I could be so disabled I wouldn’t be able to do anything….ect.  The doctor at John Hopkins looked at me and said, “more disabled than you are now?”  He then asked if I had been given vestibular rehabilitation, and we told him no, that I asked for it, but my doctor had said that things fluctuated so much he didn’t think it would help.  He frowned, and said, he thought I could benefit a lot from vestibular rehab….so as I said before, we plan to do that first.   I went into the appointment with no expectations.  Actually, I expected them to tell me there was nothing they could do.  I had no real hope.  I told the doctor this, he said….No, don’t give up hope.  I explained, if I came in there thinking he was going to fix me and then he couldn’t do anything I would have fallen apart, if I came in there with no expectations, I would be thrilled if he could do anything.  He liked that.  We talked a bit more, and he insured me he would consult with my doctor here and answer any questions, and if I came back up there he would be happy to see me.  Then when I left he shook my hand and told me that it was a true honor to meet me.  That shocked me.  I told him it was so very good to meet him and thanked him profusely.  and went on my way.

A little about the trip itself…….The trip up to John Hopkins was pretty uneventful.  We stopped by Duke to pick up films that I’ve had done….you know, MRI’s, and such.   When we went through Washington, I saw the White House, the Jefferson Memorial and the National Monument in the distance.  I’ve been to Washington before and have seen those things up close, but it is still kind of magical to me.  I don’t know why.  Driving into Baltimore, it seemed so BIG.  The GPS told us to go straight when we should have gone to the right to get to our hotel and we ended up in a very sad part of town.  The buildings were mostly boarded up, yet there were a few businesses here and there.  I can’t imagine how they would ever do any business.  One place we passed there were a lot of nice cars parked on the road, and one burnt out car right in the middle of them.  Soon we made it back to our hotel.  It was just a very sad detour.

On Wednesday night…well I guess it was Thursday morning…Stuart shook me awake at 5am.  I thought, we don’t have to be anywhere, why is he waking me up.  I read his lips… FIRE!  I was awake then!!  He pointed to the alarm.  The Fire Alarm was going off.  I jumped up and put on enough to get out of the hotel…it was very hard for me to go down 3 flights of stairs!!  We were all out on the street and almost immediately there were 2 fire trucks on the scene.  No fire.  I never found out what happened.  I could not climb back up those stairs, and it took a while for them to turn the elevator back on so we had a bit of a wait.  That was fine with me.  I was very impressed that the fire department got there so fast.  The scariest part for me, if Stuart had not been in the room I never would have known there was a fire alarm going off.  I would have slept right through it.

Well, we had an adventure!  I told Stuart when we got back to the room, that with all this stress, I still hadn’t had a vertigo attack…that was amazing….so, we were moving to Baltimore.  But I spoke too soon.  Of course, I woke up with one the next day….and it lasted all day….but I spoke about that earlier in this post.

I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t get to do anything while we were there.  The one day I felt good, we wasted because 2 of my shirts didn’t get packed so I didn’t have enough clothes.  Curses.  The next day if I had felt well, we were going to do something.  We planned to go to the Aquarium, it wasn’t far from where we were staying.  However, of all the sites in Baltimore that there are to see…..after all it is home to one of my favorite poets, Edgar Allen Poe…I really wanted to see Charm City Cakes.  Yes, I wanted to go see a Bakery!  I didn’t even care if I went inside, I just wanted to see the building.  It is the bakery from the show Ace of Cakes….that isn’t on any more.

Duff Goldman

Duff Goldman – photo courtesy of Food Network

Duff Goldman started it..still owns it, has a second one in LA now.  He is often on the Food Network.  They do spectacular work, and I was just a huge fan of that show, and I just love Duff.  I could just eat him up.  I love the story behind his life, and I love his personality.   I regret that we didn’t at least drive by Charm City Cakes.  Yes, I am a goof.  I was sick, had a migraine, couldn’t focus worth a toot, had about 8 hours on the road ahead of me…and I regret that I didn’t stop by and see a bakery.  But hey, what is life without the little things?

 

 

Chronic Pain/Illness Photography Project

Starting on April 26th, I’ve been participating in a Chronic Pain/Illness Photography Project on Facebook.  It is a closed group, but I wanted to share my photos here.  By the way, if anyone wants to join the group, you can enter at any time.  You can complete the previous projects if you would like, or you can start of where we are now.  So far, it’s been a lot of fun, and a lot of support and camaraderie between between people who “get it”.

Many of these photos my long time readers may have seen.  Some are photos of my artwork.  (I can’t really get out and create many new photos right now since I’m recovering from hip replacement surgery.)

Day 1 – Hope

I made this for one of my doctors. She gives a lot of people hope. Unfortunately her treatment didn’t help me for long, but I always have hope, not necessarily for a cure…..Hope springs eternal.

Hope... for Dr. Gray by w. holcombe copywrite 2014

Hope… for Dr. Gray
by w. holcombe copywrite 2014

Day 2 – Loss

This photo represents losing my hearing, and much of my balance due to one of my illnesses, Meniere’s Disease.

 Fractured Ear manipulated photo -  by w. holcombe

Fractured Ear
manipulated photo –
by w. holcombe

Day 3…Today.

Today I got my bandage off from my hip replacement, all looks good there! You can’t tell in the picture, but I have 6 stitches you can see, but mostly I’ve been glued together, it looks pretty cool.
I haven’t felt good today. The nerve in my back is acting up and my leg is in a lot of pain. I didn’t sleep much last night.
My monkey is guarding my hip that was just operated on so my dog or cat can sit on my lap. In this photo, Kiki is keeping me company. We rescued Kiki right when my hip/back started hurting. The doctors thought I’d just strained it when we moved. I had no idea I’d be hip replacement surgery just 7 months later because my femur head was collapsing because it was dying. Avascular Necrosis sucks. and mine was caused because of over use of prednisone. Doctors caused this disease by treating other diseases I have with too many steroids. If I’m lucky it won’t attack my other large joints. I’m 51, in the last 3 years, I’ve gotten 2 artificial ears (Cochlear Implants) and an artificial hip….no metal detectors for me!! haha.

I’m not complaining, honestly….it’s just the way it is.

and when my hip heals I’ll be able to walk!!
Woo Hoo!!

Wendy Hip Replacement Recovery - April 2015 photos by w holcombe

Wendy Hip Replacement Recovery – April 2015
photos by w holcombe

Day 4 – Self Portrait.
This looks a little depressing, but I’m not..not today. I just like this self portrait of me. I took the photo in the bathroom mirror, and manipulated it on Photoshop. It shows part of my cochlear implant.
Some days are better than others….this day was a rough day. Taking the photo helped me get part of those feeling out, and helped me explain them to others.
I still have a hard time with my cochlear implants at the time. My hearing isn’t supposed to fluctuate with them, but it does…a lot! I’m lost, often. People don’t understand why I can’t hear when I have these devices. For those who don’t know, when someone has a hearing aid or other hearing device, it does NOT allow you to hear like a normal person. We often miss a lot. Often HOH/Deaf people won’t tell you they are having a hard time hearing.
I speak up, but it’s amazing how many hearing people don’t hear me. 🙂
Wendy charcoalwithCI

Wendy with CI – manipulated photo  –                     by w holcombe

Day 5…Tool Kit.

(sorry I’m a day late, yesterday I had a 12 hour vertigo attack…yuck….happy I wasn’t alone, and the violent spinning didn’t last long, I spent most of the time in slow spins…it’s still miserable, but it could have been much worse!) I have a few tool kits, emergency kits…..I believe in being prepared. smile emoticon This is my medication kit.
Top left – all closed up and ready to go. Top right – top part is open, this is where we store my shots and things that are needed for that, and other little things. Plus my med list, with all meds I take listed, pharmacy, prescribing doctor…ect. I also have this list with me in my wallet too. (this includes supplements and everything) Bottom left – bottom part of container is open and top of pill bottles showing…..the “A”s stand for A.M. or Morning, “P” is P.M. or Evening, AP are pills to be taken in the Morning and Evening. If there is a number on the top then I take more than one. I line all of these up and fill up my pill boxes…you can see those on top of my medicine box Bottom Left. I have two morning boxes because I have to take 2 pills before breakfast and the rest after breakfast.

There’s more to keeping up with my meds, but that’s my medicine box. If I’m going out of town for more than a couple of days, I just grab my box. It really has helped me to stay on track, and know when I need to refill my meds, to buy more supplements….ect. It also helps me keep everything in one place. I love my medication kit.
So this is ONE of my tool kits.

medicine box

Medication Toolkit photos – by w. holcombe

Day 6….Acceptance.

One day after hearing me talk about how hard I had been fighting, a fellow Meniere’s patient told me that perhaps I should learn to walk with old Mr. Meniere’s instead of fighting him so much all the time. I had never even thought of that. I knew this disease had no cure, but it never occurred to me to not fight it tooth and nail. Suddenly it hit me, I had to accept it as part of me. I can’t get rid of it, some days may be better, but it will always be there. I accepted it. Once I did, things got much easier. I have a number of other illnesses, I’ve accepted them all. Meniere’s Disease was the hardest to accept….it comes packed with a lot of stuff….and mine is a very complicated case. (my doctors at Duke now say I have “more than Meniere’s”, they have no idea exactly what I have. I have a several complicated vestibular disorders.)

I drew this little doodle one day to show I think I’m perfect just the way I am.

I am (imperfectly) perfect - by w. holcombe

I am (imperfectly) perfect – by w. holcombe

Day 7 – Grieving:

This was a hard subject for me to figure out a photo for. I kept thinking of things more suited for loss. I wanted to show something that worked more for my grief over all the things I’ve lost…. I came across this entry in my journal, and a photo of a flower I took that I think work fairly well.

Here are the words on the journal page, I’m sure you can’t read them….
The tears have been shed.
The lines have been drawn.
Do we dare to cross.
Do we dare to dream again.
The tears have flowed line rivers down our face.
The mourning continues.
How do we hope again.
How do we believe?

journal entry w. holcombe

journal entry
w. holcombe

by w holcombe

by w holcombe

I hope you enjoyed my photo journey so far….you may have learned a little about me along the way.

There are more to come!

Remember, if you would like to join me in this photography journey, come join the Facebook group, there’s a great group of people putting out some great work.

Feeling Better….Part 3 – Mindfulness

When I mentioned writing Part 3 in this series I said it would be on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.  I will touch on this subject, but I do not feel qualified to base my whole post on it.  I will tell you how I got involved in mindfulness and how it led to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.  (Note: I may refer to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction as MBSR throughout this post.)

mindfulness quote

There have been a few times when I have read some of the Buddha’s teachings.  My husband has called himself a “non practicing Buddhist”.  After really studying more about Buddhism, I find this funny, but that isn’t a discussion for here.  I mention his interest in Buddhism because it is what caused me to start reading about it.  As I started reading and studying the Buddha’s teachings I found I was happy.  It made me happy.  Buddhism can be thought of as a religion or a philosophy.  Many do not consider Buddhism a religion because it is non-theistic.  You can follow the Buddhas teachings and continue to follow any other religion.  However, that is not part of this discussion, I just thought it was interesting.

An essential element of Buddhist practice is mindfulness.   Mindfulness, as defined by Psychology Today, “is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”

I’m sure you have noticed in many of my posts that I have mentioned that I am staying in the moment.  I no longer dwell on the past, I do not worry about the future, I live in the now.  This is just a part of being mindful.  It is also important to note the part about…”without judging them”.  Always be gentle with yourself.  I used to be very bad about that.  Even my doctor used to tell me, “Wendy, give yourself a break.”  This was when I was very sick, I felt guilty about it.  Now when I feel those thoughts come up, I will observe it, and sometimes I get wrapped up in it for a little while, then I notice it and take a deep breath and tell myself.  “Wendy, be gentle.”  and let it go.  I bring myself back to the moment.   I’m still in the infancy of mindfulness, I’m just learning, there’s much more to it than I know.

I have had many people get in touch with me who have Meniere’s disease, and I think every one at one point has said, “I just want my old life back.”  This is, of course, a natural feeling when we get hit with such a devastating illness.  However, this feeling often stays with us for a very long time.  I realized through mindfulness I could let this go, and it was the best thing I could do.  Looking back at my old life and wanting it back was not helping my life now.  Nor was it helping to longing look at the future and hope for things to get better, or to look at the future and just know things could only get worse.   I started using mindfulness to just look at today, and stop looking at my old life, (honestly, I didn’t look at the past for long, I’m one of those people who when they get hit with something says….”what now?”)  However, I was constantly looking forward.  Either with all my hopes on the next thing we tried, or when it failed believing that nothing was going to work and I was going to be bed bound and useless forever.  (no I didn’t feel sorry for myself, I thought I needed to be prepared. well sometimes I felt sorry for myself.)   With mindfulness I stopped doing that.  I started just looking at today.  Living in this day.  That doesn’t mean I don’t make plans, that means I just go with the flow if plans change.  I don’t freak out, I just go with it.   NOT worrying about my future has made my future open to be written as it comes.

One symptom that has changed in such a drastic way because of this practice has been my vertigo.  When I first started my mindfulness practice I was able to stay calmer during an attack.  Then I was able to get through an attack without freaking out at all, I could stay completely calm.  This turned to starting to focus on an object about 18 inches or so from me, I put my hand down on a solid object and breathe, telling myself aloud…”you feel the object is not moving, this is not real.  This is not real, this is solid beneath your hand, it is not moving….” continually focusing on the object.  Soon, I never saw the room spin unless I looked up from the object.   Now, if I feel an attack coming on I can normally take a deep breath and center myself, focus my eyes on something still, and pull myself out of it.  I usually stop the attacks now.   Sometimes it takes a bit.  I have to get cooled down and I need to be still for a few minutes just focusing, but I never start spinning. It will start to rotate a little but I will pull my eyes back to center, take a deep breath and just feel where I’m at.  Tell myself it’s OK.  I’m OK.  If it happens I’m OK.  It’s not real.  Stay centered.  Stay right here.  I’m really just doing what I did during the attacks, staying focused, telling myself it’s not real, but now I’m simply being gentle with myself and letting myself know I’ll be OK no matter what, and it calms down and goes away.  I started to panic the recently and I came very close to having a full-blown attack, we were in the small moving van getting things that were missed by the movers, riding to Charlotte on the freeway.  I was scared because of where we were.  When Stuart was able to stop, I calmed down and got everything under control and it went away.  I was shocked.  I was starting to spin.  It was going, then suddenly it wasn’t.

Mindfulness and my mental health.  My last visit to my psychiatrist was so happy.  She was so impressed.  We talked and I said something about what I told someone in answer to something and she said, “you really have been practicing mindfulness haven’t you?”  We continued to talk and she reduced my anxiety medication.   I’m not sure if I will be able to have more of my medications reduced, but I’m thrilled about this.  It has been almost 2 months and I’m a happy person.  I’ve had some periods of depression, but they were warranted, and were not prolonged.  I have not been seen my therapist in over 2 months….I have been released to see her only as I need.   So far, I haven’t felt the need.   Great news!

Practicing mindfulness is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.

That was how it started.  Just little things.  It moved to more things.  Somewhere along this journey I started reading about Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy. Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy I’m interested in but know very little about, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction I’m very interested in, I’ve read a lot about, and want to share some with you so here’s a little introduction to it and how I found out about it….

Mindfulness For Beginners by Jon Kabat-Zinn cover photo

Mindfulness For Beginners by Jon Kabat-Zinn cover photo

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) (as defined in Wikipedia) is a mindfulness-based program designed initially to assist people with pain and a range of conditions and life issues that were difficult to treat in a hospital setting developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, which uses a combination of mindfulness meditation, body awareness, and yoga to help people become more mindful. In recent years, meditation has been the subject of controlled clinical research that suggests it may have beneficial effects, including stress reduction, relaxation, and improvements to quality of life, but that it does not help prevent or cure disease. (There have been some studies that contradict these findings, but I found many more studies on the positive side than the negative.)  While MBSR has its roots in Buddhism , the program itself is secular.  (funny thing, I always thought secular meant religious, but it means not religious, so when I was saying non-secular, I was really meaning religious.  I learn something new every day!)

The MBSR program is an 8 week workshop taught by certified trainers.  I have not been to one of these workshops.  They are often expensive.  The one at Duke is very expensive.  When I first read about the classes it was from a brochure at Duke and I was instantly drawn to it and turned off at the same time.   It looked very interesting but the cost was outrageous.  I remember thinking it must be some new age thing geared toward the rich, since the workshop was so expensive and insurance didn’t cover it.

A year or so later, I started learning about mindfulness on my own.  I came across books by Jon Kabat-Zinn.  He talked about how this is something anyone could do and it didn’t have to cost anything.  I knew then MBSR wasn’t meant to be simply for the rich.  I’ve read his book Mindfulness for Beginners, it is very good.  I’ve also read parts of some of his other books.  (they are always on hold at the library and I haven’t been able to finish them before I had to take them back…..so I’ll get back to them…but there are more…Full Catastrophe Living, Wherever You Go There You Are, Coming to Our Senses.….)  I’ve read books by other authors, I’ve read a lot about Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction on the internet and there are a lot of YouTube videos on the subject, many with Jon Kabat-Zinn speaking.  You can even hear some of his books read through YouTube, I found that interesting.   I am reading the book called Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World, by Mark Williams and Danny Penman with the Foreward by Jon Kabat-Zinn.  This book is much like a journey through one of the workshops.  I’m only on week two, but it is very interesting.  It has deepened my mindfulness practice and awareness.   I had much more of just an informal practice before, I now have a formal and informal practice.  I take a certain amount of time to formally practice mindfulness, and I informally practice it throughout the day.  Before, I would kind of formally practice it occasionally, but now, I have a set time that I practice.  I also had a very hard time meditating before.  Now I’m much more gentle with myself.  I don’t feel I have to do it right.  Ya know, I don’t think anyone really, does it “right”.  It’s right for you. (or for them)  It is will change as you change.  So for now, I must have guided meditation.  Perhaps I always will.  Both of the books I mention above have guided meditations included with them.  There are also guided meditations on YouTube.  (luckily I can now understand recordings through my blue-tooth to my Cochlear Implants, meditation would be much harder for me if I couldn’t do guided meditation).

I realize this may sound like I’m crazy about Jon Kabat-Zinn, not really.  I wanted to learn more from the person who started the program first, but I have found wonderful information from books that were not by him.    Also you do not have to practice MBSR to practice Mindfulness.  It’s all mainly just mindfulness, I think the MBSR books are simply written more therapeutic and less spiritual.   Many of the spiritual books that I found that talk about mindfulness kind of got on my nerves a little. Yes, it’s comes out of Buddhism, but it’s not about religion.  It’s simply a good thing, and I’m sure if you looked in other places you’d find something like it, maybe not as detailed, or called the same thing.  Plus, Buddhism been around a very long time, so they got a jump on it I guess.  haha

This is my story so far with mindfulness.  There is a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program offered here through Carolinas Health Care (where hubby works now) that is much more affordable. (no he does not get a discount)  They will even work with people who cannot afford the class, they don’t want anyone to feel they cannot attend because of funds.  We are thinking about attending the workshop in the Spring.   If we do I will certainly blog about the experience.

This concludes my Feeling Better Series.  Hopefully, it will not end my feeling better.

I will now return to my regularly scheduled program…..