Last summer, in the midst of a difficult year (both parents with Alzheimer’s and a stressful time of marital separation sparking a CFS/ME relapse) an old and dear friend. . . . . well, she lost it. Frantic about my distress she said at one point, “This is never going to get better! You will always have this illness. Combined with aging, it will simply get worse and worse for the rest of your life! And your parents are physically healthy so this hell with their mental deterioration is going to go on for a long time. It could go on for twenty years!”
Now here’s what’s interesting about this: her frantic pronouncements shifted me in a good way. Hearing the words that no doubt some part of my semi-conscious mind was muttering regularly, I felt like I woke up. I thought, “Oh that’s just not true. My health changes all the time, sometime for the better. I don't believe I will only become more and more ill. And I can’t know what is going to happen with my parents.”
My poor friend, feeling panicked and unable to help, had helped me shift away from my own fear and into deeper self-care. It’s not that I recommend predicting gloom and doom to help your friends find their inner strength in challenging times. But, sometimes when we see some one we love in a distressing situation we panic. What surprised and pleased me was seeing the unpredictable ways psyche can use what is at hand to find its way back into hope and life.
Living a human life deeply with an open heart requires courage. There are inevitable losses and challenges. Some days it’s easy to hop out of bed, eager to face the day. And sometimes- occasionally for no immediately apparent reason- it takes a lot of courage to put your feet on the floor and move toward your familiar tasks.
When we face a challenge that needs to be dealt with over months or years, sometimes remembering that all things will pass just doesn’t help much. When I face these kinds of challenges I do three things to encourage my lagging spirit:
1) I reign in the terrified mind that is slipping into imagining “The Worst” by telling myself, “Stay here. . . Breathe. Inhale. . . . Exhale. . . . Stay here,”- for ten to twenty slow breaths (repeating as often as I need to during the day;)
2) I ask myself what needs to be done in the next five minutes and I do that one thing without thinking about what comes next (ie.- continuing to focus on my breath.) The more severe the pain (physical or emotional,) the more specific I become, changing for example, “make a cup of tea" to “fill the kettle with water.”
3) I set up small daily moments of appreciative self-care and skilful distraction. Appreciative self-care may include having something wonderful to eat, (preferably a tasty green smoothy instead of a bag of cookies) taking a slow walk in a local park, or having a conversation with a friend. Skilful distractions are things that occupy me fully- giving me a break- without leaving any kind of “hangover” (like watching a movie that makes me laugh- or even one that makes me cry if I need the release- instead of channel surfing for hours and becoming tired but wired.)
How we each encourage ourselves is, of course, very individual. On some level it's about recognizing that we are in need of encouragement- of finding that which feds our courage- whether we're dealing with difficult external circumstances or challenging internal states that are not entirely or immediately in the control of our will. Some days life unfolds with effortless ease, and other days. . . . well, other days we need a little encouragement. As my friend voiced her fears, no doubt mirroring some of my own, I was pleased to find that the instinctual desire to find ways and reasons to continue, to lean into life, was confirmed as an aspect of what we are. And I find that very encouraging.
Oriah (c) 2012