Over the New Year period I contemplated writing a blog reflecting upon moving into a new year, and what this can mean to a person with a chronic illness. When reflecting upon what are rated became more and more obvious to me that moving into 2014 was something I was really struggling with. This year represents seven years since I first had to start living alongside and eventually try to be friend my dear body that in many ways just wouldn’t work anymore. Seven, it is only a number no different than 6 or 5, but to me it suddenly represented something different – the need to look forward with a different perspective.
Whilst entering a New Year it is common for people to reflect upon their lives, to make New Year’s resolutions and of course recover from the extra indulgence of the Christmas festivities. It is often seen as a time to renew one’s goals, revisits one’s dreams and make plans for the year ahead. When you suffer from a chronic illness, or are a loved one of someone who does, depending upon where you are in your journey, your dreams and wishes can feel like they are split in two. The ones that you would had prior to your illness, and the new ones you have had to try and find as your life unfolds, continually adapting them as your illness progresses along its road of unpredictability.
Uncertainty and impermanence is a natural part of life. However, I think it is in our nature and indeed our culture to try and pretend that this isn’t the case; a delusion of control and permanence per se. Of course change is not always a bad thing. The uncertainty and impermanence inherent in life can result in surprises we embrace, but of course others we try to resist. Living with a chronic illness is just one human experience we, at least for some time, attempt to deny and oppose. Although we all know that in any moment our lives could be about to enter a storm, it is something our brains find very hard to accept. Once it happens we become acutely aware of the lack of control we have over our lives.
So where am I going with this? How have uncertainty, and my journey towards trying to embrace and accept it, regardless whether I deem it good or bad, influenced my experience of entering a new year? Over the last few years my New Year’s resolutions have been very similar, and are usually related to my health, such as: eating healthier, doing whatever limited exercise my body allows, drinking more water and meditating. The ultimate aim being getting better or at least significantly improving my physical and psychological well-being. All in all, this seems like a pretty reasonable and understandable list, and it is without a doubt really important to implement such methods of self-care.
The evident downfall of continuing with this plan in 2014 is – a great deal of my happiness is once again contingent on me not only been able to maintain such changes but the idea that they will significantly lower my pain levels and bring me closer to becoming this imagined version of myself I have developed in my head. Focused upon miss I continue to miss all of the life experiences I am being given. The beautiful fields from my bedroom window, the many shades of green and my beautiful countryside, the taste of chocolate and spicy food and of course my friends and family. The experiences I am having in this moment right now; not tomorrow, not yesterday, not when I’m better, not when I’m sick but just being mindful in any given moment.
Does this mean that in some way I let go of my goals? Not at all! It is more about been fully there, awake in the moment, whether that be drinking my wheatgrass smoothie in the morning (taking in all of its earthy weirdness), walking in the swimming pool, feeling the warmth, support and resistance of the water, or even being truly with the pain and sensations in my body on the difficult days. It just means that central to all the experiences I have this year, the many pleasant and more difficult emotions I will inevitably be experience, will simply be a desire to connect with the moment I am in, my reality for that time. Central to this process referred to as mindfulness is that it is not about being perfect or some kind of Zen master but just giving it a go, seeing and being with what it brings.
Over the coming year I plan to reflect upon my experience of practising mindfulness, and describe in more detail what it entails. If in the meantime you would like to find out more there are three books that I have found extremely helpful. The latter two bring you through eight weeks off mindfulness practices. The last book was written by two people who have experienced and /or continue to experience chronic illness themselves, and is written particularly for people like ourselves who experience ill-health.
1. Kabat-Zinn, J. (2004) Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness meditation for everyday life: Piatkus
2. Williams, M. Penman, D. (2011) Mindfulness: A practical guide to peace in a frantic world: Piatkus
3. Burch, V. Penman, D. (2013) Mindfulness for Health: A practical guide to relieving pain, reducing stress and restoring wellbeing: Piatkus