Serenity in the Challenge and the Chaos

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” ― Helen Keller

Whew – life can get chaotic sometimes, can’t it? I think of my own life right now – talk about chaos! Sometimes I am exhausted just thinking about it: a new marriage; long-term things coming to a head at work; moving an entire household; taking on a new cause and awareness raising initiative; raising teenagers; and staying on top of my health management. Keeping balance through our chaotic times can be a challenge in itself.

Life can be full of challenges in periods of chaos. And – sometimes challenges can bring us adventure – and sometimes that very adventure brings us serenity and inner peace.

Even with all the “busy-ness”, I have been feeling more “me” than ever before in my life. Part of it is that I married my life partner, BFF, and soul mate. Part of it is that I am “able”, despite my health constraints. But a big part of it has been facing a huge challenge and taking a little slice of “me” back from the constraints of my chronic illness – in this case, by getting back into the water.

Synchronized swimming is back in my life – and, boy oh boy, did I ever miss it and hadn’t even realized it! I am a water baby at the core – always have been. I am never more relaxed mentally, spiritually, and emotionally than when I am in or near water. My personal challenge is to be fully active and even competing in the Masters Synchro world by my 50th birthday. That is not that far off. The biggest challenge was getting back in the water itself – knowing that a seizure in the water is a dangerous thing.

You see, I want to raise awareness for the Stigma against Seizure Disorders as I travel this journey I call my life. (Look for a facebook page down the road. Yup – more to keep me busy and challenged!) Raising awareness means being transparent to a large degree. That is, in and of itself, a challenge. It means disclosing (repeatedly) that I have a seizure disorder – but that I don’t let it stop me from living my life to its fullest potential. It means telling each lifeguard what I need them to watch for and do. It means making sure that my coach knows what my “deal” is – and making sure she is comfortable with it. It means facing the fear every day. It means working every day to keep motivated, no matter what.

But these very challenges are the fuel that fire my inner peace. Knowing I may help just one person by sharing my experiences fuels that fire, and brings me a sense of serenity. Knowing that I have the courage to face a fear and break the social assumptions by getting back into the water, despite all the warnings about the dangers – that brings me a sense of serenity and inner peace. (Being underwater in the cool blue – that alone brings me serenity.) That’s what works for me. That, currently, is my daring adventure!

Finding serenity and inner peace – that is a personal journey, and each individual defines that for themselves. Serenity and peace in the challenge and chaos – I firmly believe it can be found…if you allow yourself to see it and recognise it. What does it look like for you?

“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled.  For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.” ~ unknown

Namaste

Carolyne

Never Say Never…

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”― Ernest Hemingway

Have you ever found yourself saying “I am never going to …something, something …again!” And you really meant it?

I found myself saying that about marriage and pursuing relationships, and that “never” sentiment was reinforced over the last years as my health issues evolved and became more “dramatic”. You know the saying “Once bitten, twice shy”…well, that was definitely me – especially when it came to being able to trust someone to understand or be able to handle life in the chronic illness lane with me. Yet I got married just this month…after almost a decade of saying (and meaning) “Never again!” And I did so with full trust and deep happiness. My husband is the kindest, gentlest, most patient and loving man I have ever known. Trust is instinctual for us together – he’s got my back, and I have his – no matter what comes down the road we are traveling together. I trust him with every fiber of my being.

“Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.”― Maya Angelou

Trust. It’s a funny thing – trust. It’s just a small 5 letter word…yet it is such a huge deal. And trusting yourself – that’s huge, too. One thing I have noticed over the years of dealing with chronic illness is that as my illness evolved, my trust in my own abilities became shakier. My ability to trust my own body to “have my back”, so to speak, goes through ups and downs – especially since my seizures have no known trigger and have been so violent. Some days I can’t trust my brain to function the way I need due to fatigue and brain fog. Other days, I am firing on all cylinders and can trust my abilities to take me to the moon, if needed.

Chronic illness can lead to various forms of distrust and mistrust – distrust of our own bodies to carry us through our daily lives; mistrust of our professional circles due to worries of illness stigma or biases; uncertainty about the future of relationships and the ability for family and friends to cope with the fallout of chronic illness over time. This makes it challenging to go about daily life – and some days can be much more challenging than others. But the thing is, we have to find a way to come to terms with changes in our lifestyles and bodies – so we have to trust our bodies and trust ourselves to handle whatever develops. We have to trust our friends and families to be there with us, to be patient with us, to try to understand us and what we are going through. We have to take the risk to trust.

“Mistrust makes life difficult. Trust makes it risky.” ~Mason Cooley

From where I am sitting right now – I gotta say: Never is a really long time – and trust is always worth the risk.

Namaste

Carolyne

Forging New Ground and Setting Goals

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’
You must do the thing you think you cannot do. ” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Well, I am back! Didja miss me?

I took some time off from my busy-ness to rest for the past few weeks over the summer, as the heat was taking a toll on my health by flaring up MS symptoms (even my old one of MS Hugs – not fun). The rest was well worth it – mentally, physically and emotionally – though I can’t really say I was not busy!

The busy-ness seemed to morph somewhat, rather than disappear. Isn’t it amazing how you can take something of you to-do list, and other things magically appear to take the place of the things you removed! Case in point: My upcoming next month or so I will hopefully be moving into a new home that we offered on, getting married, working full-time and balancing life while working on some large projects at the office, and also trying to forge some new ground.

What do I mean “forge some new ground”? Well…Having the time to “rest’ (HAHAHAHAH!) allowed me to look inside and prioritize what I needed to manage most – including wrapping up old issues that I had pushed to the back-burner to “deal with” later. One of those issues was my fear of getting back in the water…fear created by my history of seizures.

You see, sometimes living with chronic illness can feel emotionally like someone is slowly chipping away at you – who you are, what you can do, what freedoms you can still enjoy, and so on. For me, the seizures came with a fear of being in the water…because that is a very risky place to be during a seizure. I had stopped taking baths (don’t worry – I do shower :); I had stopped my competitive swimming (mainly because of the virtigo); I had given in my driver’s liscense which effectively reduced my freedom. And I felt like a vital piece of me had been suffocated by my seizure disorder with all these little pieces going down. Combine that with the stigma against seizures that I experiences in the spring…well, if any of you follow me regularly, you know that that is a trigger for me to “Face the Fear” and make a change.

So – what did I do? I set myself a  big goal and a cause: I will be swimming competitively again by my 50th birthday and raising awareness of stigma against Seizure Disorders.

I have joined the local Masters Synchronized Swimming team. I have roughly  2 years until I turn 50 (fifty) years old – and I plan to be in the water, doing a synchronized swimming routine competitively, and showing people that no matter what, seizures or no – it CAN be done. (And – also to show that being 50 years old or over does not means everthing stops…one can still be at the top of their game. Though maybe the games rules are a bit different?)

Facing my first fear was to get back in the water. And I did! I got back in, and my ol’ body remembered how to do the synchro figures – though I gotta say, my “ballast” feels alot different than when I was 17 years old and competing! I completed my first 90 minute training with no problems (other than recognizing that I haven’t used certain muscles in a LONG time…and I have a lot of work to do! Thank God for yoga – it will be my rock for this in many ways – including core and flexibility!)

How do I feel after my first session in the water? Physically – exhausted! But emotionally and mentally? Fantastic. Determined. Courageous. Powerful. I faced a fear – the fear of getting back in the water – and did it anyway!

Does it cure my MS or my seizures? Heck no! But it does increase my confidence in my own ability to create and live my life in the way I see fit, no matter what my illness throws at me!

“Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it.”~ Bill Cosby
So – what’s your goal? Is it big? Small? It really doesn’t matter – it just needs to fit YOU! (Size is just a matter of perspective, anyway, ain’t it?)
Namaste
Carolyne

The Beauty of the BUT

No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” ~ Buddha

Have you ever noticed how the word “but” can can change the meaning and context of communication and self-talk in subtle but distinct ways?

“I’m sorry – but it’s not really my fault!” – redirecting accountability

“I know this isn’t good for me – but it’s just this once.” – rationalizing

But’ can be a powerful word for such a small one. Often, using ‘but’ contradicts  or rationalizes the intent and context the speaker. However it also can affect the expectations of the listener.

I was on my yoga mat the other day thinking about this, after my lovely teacher Kim (ALL Yoga) spent some one-on-one time with me to bring me back to the simple joy of yoga – all forms of yoga. In trying to settle my mind during my practice and especially savasana, the word “but” kept floating in. “I  should spend more time on my mat, … but I am so busy at work; but I have so much to do around here; but my friends or family need me to do this or that.” “I’d try that, but I am not sure I can do it successfully.” But, but, BUT.

But can stop you from moving forward…as you rationalize you way into and out of scenarios. When challenged with chronic illness, the word but can become the crutch that stops us from trying new things, keeping up with the old, or moving out of the current comfortable (or not so comfortable) “status quo”. Sometimes this is good…however sometimes, we need to stop using “but” in order to change.

Did you know that the word “but” as is, in French, is pronounced more like “boo” (with more nasal intones) and means “goal”?

So you know what I decided to do? I decided to use the word “but” in the context of “goal”.  As in: “I know I have challenges to face. But I know I can overcome them.”

Mon but dans la vie est de prendre bien soin de ma santé , de ma famille, et de mes amis.

How’s your “but” doing?

“Limitations live only in our minds. But if we use our imaginations, our possibilities become limitless.” ~ Jamie Paolinetti 

Namaste

Carolyne

Illness Stigma: A Funny Thing Happened to me on the Way Home…

Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of ‘crackpot’ than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost. ~ Chauncey Depew

You know, it still shocks me when I run into bias or stigma against illness. It shouldn’t – but it does.

Having MS, there is a stigma – a stigma regarding chronic illness and personal capacity. People assume you will quit work immediately, or that you will never  be able to participate in activities, or that life is generally over for you and your family. (Seriously – I have run into that.) But much of that can be mitigated to some extent by personal health management. Admittedly, many people who are hard hit my MS have visible limitations, but a large part of people with MS lead quiet lives managing their symptoms, and doing everything in their power to lead as normal a life as possible. And typically, the first reaction a person shows to hearing you have a chronic illness like MS is compassion and sympathy.

Not so with a seizure disorder.

I was dumbstruck the other day when I was traveling home from a business trip. I was travelling home alone from Calgary, and I did as I had been advised by my neurologist for such cases: I informed the flight boarding staff that I had a seizure disorder, and gave them pertinent information. (Note – I have travelled many times alone on business and done this very thing before.)

Much to my surprise, instead of being met with compassion and gratitude for my disclosure (as this helps them do their jobs proactively), I was met with fear and put on notice that I may be refused boarding. WTF????

I was shocked – then livid. Thoughts ran through my head simultaneously, such as: “ExCUSE me?” “Why did I say anything?!?!” “I have survived childhood & domestic abuse, MS and multiple seizures – and you think your fear is gonna stop me from getting home on this plane??? HAH! ” “How DARE you try to keep me from my family through your ignorance!” “What’s next? Are you going to refuse diabetics boarding privileges – they could have an urgent situation. What about people with high blood pressure? Past heart attack patients?””This person has no clue about seizures – I should take the opportunity to educate her now…seriously!” Of course, all this ran through my head in split seconds – and I did not say any of this out loud.

I didn’t go all “corporate dragon lady” on them (as my sister likes to say), but I definitely stood taller, and my voice got much firmer as I dealt with them. I became seriously resolved, and solid as hell.  In the end, the issue was resolved, and I boarded the plane.

But it got me thinking about the stigma – and one’s ability to deal with it. Seizures, as I have discovered, seem to evoke a fear and stigma quite different than that of MS. MS seems to be “socially acceptable”, for lack of better words. But seizures…well, seizures are scary. Seizures can be messy. Seizures means knowing what to do in an emergency. Seizures mean…well, for someone not educated in what seizures are…seizures mean that the person is often perceived as a walking time-bomb, and you don’t want to be around a bomb!!

I consider myself lucky – lucky to be the person I am, as educated as I am, and as strong as I am. Yes – I have random tonic-clonic seizures. Yes, they are scary, and yes, I lose consciousness which means I need help. But I also have a brain that works. I am very well educated and I have the ability to manage my health to mitigate health issues. And I have the self-esteem and self-confidence that comes from age and experience to stand up to yahoos who express un-informed fears and stigma. I am not afraid to stand up for my rights, and when faced with such bias, I have the ability to make myself be heard.

But what about those people out there that DON’T have that life experience, or that self-confidence, or whose self-esteem is already hard-hit due the their seizure disorder? Those people who have been rejected, turn away, left by friends or family, as a result of life and/or illness? Running into that kind of bias and stigma that I experienced from an airline attendant can be absolutely devastating. Self-esteem can be seriously damaged. This in turn affects how that person copes.

Bias and stigma like that make people hide themselves. And no one should have to hide themselves – seizure disorder, chronic illness, or other.

I believe I now need to look deeper into this cause and see where I can help make a difference…no matter how small.

“One must have the adventurous daring to accept oneself as a bundle of possibilities and undertake the most interesting game in the world, making
the most of one’s best.”
- Harry Emerson Fosdick

Namaste

Carolyne

On My Mat: Life’s Journey is Not about a River in Egypt

Tell a man there are 300 billion stars in the universe and he’ll believe you.  Tell him a bench has wet paint on it and he’ll have to touch it to be sure.  ~Murphy’s Law

I have traveled the river of denial (get it..de-Nile…ok, bad joke) a few times on my journey through life. One of the reasons that I love this artwork above (not only because it is a beautiful work of art from my son’s lovely girlfriend of which you can see more at http://www.facebook.com/caitsart ) but because of the emotions and awareness that it evokes in me. I love, love, love this piece of simple evocative art.

When I look at this picture, I see myself. I see my friends. I see my family. I see the strangers around me. What do I see? I see the highly personal and individual struggle we all travel on our own life journeys. Sometimes that struggle can cause us to deny what we see in front of us, hide our faces…and peek out between our fingers only when we think it is safe again.

As I was lying in the bliss of savasana one day on my mat, happy to have realigned my body, and I began noting thoughts about denial and what it means. I, for one, can be really good at denial – though as I have aged (and theoretically gained vast amounts of wisdom) I have learned that facing the scary parts full on is really the best way I have found to handle anything. Denial usually comes as a result of fear – and our own unwillingness to face that fear. Hence – we develop our own states of denial. (It’s kinda like putting your hands over your eyes when you don’t want to see something, or your hands over your ears if you don’t want to hear something.)

Here is an excerpt from Dr. Sanity about denial and what it is (Dr.Sanity Blogspot):

Denial may be conceptualized as an attempt to reject unacceptable feelings, needs, thoughts, wishes–or even a painful external reality that alters the perception of ourselves. This psychological defense mechanism protects us temporarily from:
-Knowledge (things we don’t want to know)
-Insight or awareness that threatens our self-esteem; or our mental or physical health; or our security (things we don’t want to think about)
-Unacceptable feelings (things we don’t want to feel)

I have learned over time that the moment I recognise that I feel fear (of anything) is the very moment that I have to take the hands off my eyes, turn around, and face that fear head on. If I don’t, then all I am doing is denying the existence of my fear, and of the source of that fear.

When it comes to dealing with a chronic illness, this applies too. For some of us, our chronic illnesses can be a constant source of fear and denial. How many of us deny symptoms; hope symptoms will go away on their own; just take the doc’s word at face value – with no questioning? I know I did, and sometimes still do! (I often call it pure stubborn-ness – but really, it can often boil down to simple denial…ok, I am facing that. :)

“Facts sometimes have a strange and bizarre power that makes their inherent truth seem unbelievable.” ~ Werner Herzog

Namaste

Carolyne

Life and Trust and the Ability to Fly

“I’m flying, Jack! ” ~ Rose De Witt Bukater

This weekend marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Living in Halifax for this anniversary has been very interesting…larger than life in someways, and weirdly revealing in other ways. Revealing in that while something as epic as the Titanic exists, what it all really boils down to is trusting the decisions you make every day: Trusting yourself to fly in the face of what seems insurmountable.

One of my all time favorite movies has been and is James Cameron’s Titanic movie. The picture I have above is, to me, one of the most inspiring pictures – because it depicts the first step in someone’s ability to trust themselves and eventually fly free. Why? Because the character of Rose opened her heart just a bit to the possibilities and positive energies of the world just by placing trust in her own abilities, fledgling though they may be, to really fly in the world – recognizing the support around her for the first time. Her eyes were opened to a whole new world and her trust in herself was sparked, to be fueled into a roaring fire.

Confidence and self-trust basically come from the emotional state. Confidence is your ability to cope and depend upon yourself to create a reality that is dependable. When you are dealing with tough situations in life, like a crisis or a chronic illness that must be managed, having self-trust is a critical key to that coping. It allows you to assess the situation, and make decisions – and trust your own decisions. Is it scary? It can be. It can also be the easiest thing in the world.

For me – my self-self trust is something I value greatly. (And somehow, as I have aged, I have noticed it becomes much stronger! All that life experience and wisdom gets packed in the brain nice and tight…or maybe too tight, eh? :) I trust that every day, using all the knowledge I have learned over the years, I can make decisions to keep moving me forward on my own path, unique as it is – no matter what my health throws at me or otherwise.  (And yoga’s teaching & benefits have definitely helped me along that path.)

What I have learned is that there is no such thing as a mistake in life – every experience is something that can be learned from. This I trust – because I trust myself to see the experience for what it is (whether a seizure or an MS exacerbation or something else in life), to find a way to turn negatives into positives, and to generally find the right path forward, even if I may have stumbled off it. My very training as a meteorologist taught me a good part of that – by making self-trust a huge part of the job. You have to trust your information in a smart way, assess and analyse it, discard what has little value, make a decision and trust in your decision. Don’t second guess yourself – as that undermines your own self-trust. Even if that decision turns out to be the wrong one, don’t distrust yourself – you made the best decision with the information you had. You do better when you know better. So, amend. That’s part of the life journey.

“Life is like forecasting. You make a decision based on your best analysis, and if you’re wrong, you change it.” ~ Jim Abraham, Environment Canada Meteorologist

No matter what you are going through in life, there will come a time for  you to fly. Trust in your own ability to do just that!

Namaste

Carolyne

Seeing Through the Loneliness

Remember we’re all in this alone. ~ Lily Tomlin

Recently, someone asked me to write more about the loneliness that can come with living with a chronic illness. Whew – that’s a tough subject, eh?

Loneliness is more of an emotional state consisting of a hollow emptiness and profound unhappiness. It is not a voluntary condition like solitude might be. Loneliness can affect us all at different times, in different ways – whether it’s a fleeting feeling or a constant state of disconnection or isolation. For people with chronic illness, this can sometimes play a significant role in managing their lives.

Unfortunately, the reality of managing a chronic illness is that sometimes you have to make decisions about what you can handle physically at times – decisions that sometimes conflict with family functions (such as Easter Celebrations), or social functions, or physical challenges. Sometimes this can be a really bitter pill to swallow – especially if you have prepared ahead of time the best way you could, and your health takes a different turn, forcing you to cancel plans. At times like that, loneliness can hit like a sledge hammer, especially if you are possibly bed-ridden or otherwise hampered from your usual activities,

It is difficult to experience loneliness, and all the emotions it comes with. At times like that, it is very important to be kind to yourself; be gentle with yourself. Do things that get you to feel more “connected”, such as social media like Facebook or Twitter – it make all the difference in the world when it comes to dealing with loneliness.

Sometimes, no matter how much a person tries to cope, there is the need to speak with a professional. A counselor can help you manage negative emotions that seem to be a part and parcel of loneliness.

Personally – I find I crave solitude at times, but sometimes even the solitude can trigger bouts of loneliness. I find though that those bouts of loneliness are usually triggered by periods of forced solitude (such as an empty nest scenario) combined with deep fatigue or pain caused by my illness. As long as I keep my non-attachment perspective and can see the loneliness for what it really is, I am able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

In our deepest moments of struggle, frustration, fear, and confusion, we are being called upon to reach in and touch our hearts. Then, we will know what to do, what to say, how to be. What is right is always in our deepest heart of hearts. It is from the deepest part of our hearts that we are capable of reaching out and touching another human being. It is, after all, one heart touching another heart. ~ Roberta Sage Hamilton

Remember – you are never truly alone. Just reach out. Reach out to family, friends, bloggers. Find the courage within yourself – it could be the biggest, most courageous step you will ever make. Reach out and touch another heart. They may be just as lonely as you – and suddenly, two feels less lonely, three feels even less lonely…

Namaste.

Carolyne

The Summer of Challenges – Facing Fears and Pushing Boundaries

The scariest moment is always just before you start. ~ Stephen King

This spring and summer I will be facing some fears, adjusting to changes, and pushing my own limits. I decided it was time – because I was noticing that I was falling into a fear-based place that I was increasingly uncomfortable with.

The persistent one was about getting on a bicycle again for the first time in years. Not scary for most of us, right? For me – it came about due to my inability to drive anymore due to my seizures, and the docs’ recommendations to stay on quiet streets if I decide to get on a bike again. Not being able to drive any more has often left me feeling somewhat trapped – and that was exacerbated in recent weeks when our local transit service went on strike for a number of weeks. So, recently, when I reached a breaking point of “trapped-ness” I bought a bike  that I found on sale at a local store. I decided it only made sense to ride it back home, especially since I was contemplating joining an MS Bike team at work.

What a fiasco! I more or less walked my new pretty bike home with spurts of riding it…with periods of breathing that sounded like I was coughing up a cow!! Bikes have really changed since I was last on one, and just getting used to the gearing was a challenge. But I made it home…and promptly collapsed on the couch – marvelling that I had not killed myself! My butt was aching and sore – so apparently all those years of biking in high school and university didn’t “keep”! Go figure, eh? And muscles that I forgot I even had were screaming at me. But I loved the rush of success. I did it – maybe not stellarly – but I did it. And the success of it has stuck – so I committed to riding with the MS Bike tour team at work. (Oy – this should be too funny over the next weeks as I “train”…I’ll bring my camera!)

The experience reminded me of a lesson I learned long ago: Feel the fear, and do it anyway!

So I am committing myself to a number of fundraising challenges this spring and summer, including the MS walk and MS Bike tour, as well as a couple of others (like the Blue Nose Walk/Run with the team at All Yoga .)

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”T.S. Eliot

Namaste

Carolyne

Toxic People are also Toxic for your Health!

Live or die – but don’t poison everything. ~ SAUL BELLOW

Have you ever been stopped in your tracks by the negativity of someone around you? Blinded by their own negativity, they are prevented from seeing the good around them.  I definitely have been affected by toxic people at times in my life – and it drains you of valuable energy – energy we need to keep healthy and promote our well-being.

Recently I had to spend about an hour or so with someone that I typically avoid because of the negative energy he continuously exudes. I had braced myself for the necessary time – but sure enough, within the space of about 75 minutes he had managed to insult me, a number of my colleagues, and even my mother!! Because I refuse to engage with such people at their level, I simply kept a peaceful smile (my yogic smile) on my face and made no comments to his roiling negativity, as to engage with him, even if only to point out the positives, would be about as useful as banging my head repeated against a brick wall. But the moment I was able to get away from him, I did so.

Even so, I was completely drained of energy and had developed a pounding headache. It just re-enforced to me what I already know: toxic people are toxic for one’s health! It took me a good part of my evening to slough the negativity residue off me…by doing some yoga and watching comedy. And it highlighted once again to me that part of managing one’s health is also managing (where possible) how much, if any, exposure you allow yourself to people of a toxic and negative nature.

The best way of removing negativity is to laugh and be joyous. ~ David Icke

So – laugh. Enjoy the sun. See the positive around you – really see it. And walk away from chronically toxic people whenever possible. It’s called self-preservation!!

Namaste

Carolyne