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.)
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-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…..