I apologize for how long it has been since I have posted anything. I am one week from finishing all my coursework towards my Ph.D. and have been busy working, going to school, and finalizing my dissertation committee. To say I’m exhausted is an understatement. I try to be serious and mindful about how much rest I am getting. I was thinking last week when I turned the big 5-0, that I have now lived longer as a person with disABILITY and chronic illness than I lived without those challenges. It influences what I have chosen to study and what I am passionate about. When you are ABD (All But Dead — just kidding: all but dissertation), you tend to think about your dissertation each and every day. This means that everything I am reading and researching for the literature review of my own work is on my mind each and every day. I even dream about it! “Predictors of Posttraumatic Growth in Persons with Acquired Disability” takes up much of my brain power.
These past few days I have been “chasing a rabbit” (like my retired service dog, Chloe) and reading published articles on mindfulness as it incorporates one of the major domains of posttraumatic growth. I suppose “mindfulness” started out as a Buddhist tradition; however, in the last 8-9 years, the field of psychology has come to recognize it as a means to treat numerous physical and psychological disorders. In my short personal history of 25+ years, I have learned that folks with acquired physical challenges–whether the result of illness, accident, or genes–also experience comorbid anxiety or mood disorders (Carson, Ringbauer, MacKenzie, Warlow, and Sharpe, 2000; Siegert & Abernathy, 2005; Weintraub, Moberg, Duda, Katz, and Stern, 2004). You do not have to convert to Buddhism to practice mindfulness. Kozlowski (2013), explains that mindfulness has been Westernized by psychology and “it is purposefully devoid of spiritual or religious connotations and focuses simply on the act of awareness. And if you want to take it to a level that we can all relate to and understand, at its core is stress reduction” (para. 5).
You’d think as someone who has worked so hard to hear again, I would rarely purposely “go deaf”. Yet, I have discovered that if I want to do some deep thinking, praying, and just spend some time being aware of all the “stuff” in my life, I have to reach up and click my cochlear implant off. I need the quiet to take the time to be mindful of what is currently stressing me (and how to de-stress), what my priorities are, and how I can make a difference TODAY in the life of someone – ANYONE. My bionic hearing is wonderful, but I cannot focus when my processor is busy – processing. So I “go deaf” – on purpose. I need to reduce distractions. For me that means being alone with my thoughts and perhaps a pad of paper nearby so I can jot things down as I think of them.
Mindfullness & Preparation
Learning to be mindful, meant that I learned to change how I view disABILITY and illness. I learned not just to experience my “new normal”, but to own it. With that acceptance came the understanding that I am able to make a difference in such a way that I would not have been able to had my “normal” not changed. I likely wouldn’t know the people I know. I would not have been drawn to studies about posttraumatic growth. I wouldn’t have chosen to invest my time in student populations of individuals with visible and invisible conditions. My life – that I embrace and love – would not be what it is today.
Learning to be mindful also taught me to prepare. I knew before this ten-day deluge of rain that I was going to have a much tougher time with my balance. I deliberately scheduled an additional hour of sleep each night, made sure I had my cane and service dog equipment ready to go each morning, placed my umbrella and rain boots by the back door, planned where to park to eliminate having to by-pass major puddles of standing water, deliberately stayed where I could see outside to determine when the rain had let up enough to take the service dog out or to make a quick trip to the campus testing center or copy center, and made sure that I allowed extra time to get to where I needed to go each day because I knew my mobility issues would require I traverse slowly and methodically. Even though the sun sets much later now that it is the month of May, I made sure that I had someone to drive me for evening obligations as I knew my vertigo would be worse by day’s end. Being mindful about the forecast and likely changes in my symptoms, meant that I could “hope for the best and prepare for the worst“. A nice little “perk” of Meniere’s disease is that if you learn to recognize the changes, you discover that you are a living, breathing, and walking barometer. (I’m likely more exact that local forecasters).
So… when the skies opened up, and delivered mist & sprinkles, steady, significant amounts of rain, and at times-torrential downpours, I was as ready as I could be! I suppose some folks might think that being so mindful and preparing for worsening symptoms, is the equivalent of being self-centered. I have learned the hard way, however, that if I do not take care of myself, it is impossible for me to take care of anyone else. I MUST take deliberate steps to insure I am prepared for long periods of rain, for example. If I do not, I will be nearly useless to anyone else. I’m not trying to avoid or escape the worsening symptoms I know are to come with a long bout of rainy weather. It is a type of cognitive-restructuring (from the psychologist’s point of view). As a person of faith, I work at being “mindful” of His promises. It helps me to remember He is mindful of me (Psalm 8:4, Psalm 111:5, Psalm 115:12, Romans 8:5-7, Romans 12:2, 1 Corinthians 2: 9-12, 16, Colossians 3:1, and 2 Peter 3:2).
A Long-Term Benefit of Being Mindful
In closing out this post (and greeting a day where the sun has finally breached the dark clouds), I want to share something I’ve learned simply because I really HAVE been at “this” a long time now. When you are mindful, purposefully focus your thoughts, prepare, and live deliberately, you will find that some good habits develop. On about “Day 6” of our recent monsoon-like weather, I came into my 8 AM class and… honestly? I wanted to go sit down and cry. I was tired of the vertigo, tired of the nausea, tired of the wobbling, and tired of the balance corrections. My head hurt and I was cranky. Darn — if it wasn’t only 8 in the morning! After booting up the computer, turning on the projector, and fishing out my lesson plans, I looked up to greet the class a few minutes before “launch”. I always try to ask students by name how things are going for them. I try to really get to know them and let them know I care. I noticed on changing my visual perspective an empty chair of a student who just buried her father. I caught in my peripheral, the quiet entrance of a young man making his usual unobtrusive way to his seat in the back. This young man just found out his cancer has returned for the fourth time. I saw the sleepy, single mamas and the students who took two early morning classes (including mine) before going to work for eight hours. I saw and waved to the student who attends classes, works four hours, and then goes to sit with her husband in a hospice center before staggering to bed each night. All the very temporary “woe is me” disappeared,
Mindfulness doesn’t mean I do not have “bad days”. Being mindful, doesn’t mean I will always be in a super, good mood. However, being mindful gives me a better perspective and deeper appreciation for what really matters. I can more quickly rebound from self-pity and look for opportunities to make a difference – even in a sometimes “broken” body and weary mind. Being mindful allows me to wake up to a Milo-bear (service dog) alarm-clock with an attitude of “BRING IT ON“. For me… it makes a difference.
L. Denise Portis
© 2016 Personal Hearing Loss Journal
Carson, A. J., Ringbauer, B., MacKenzie, L., Warlow, C., Sharpe, M. (2000). Neurological disease, emotional disorder, and disability: They are related: A study of 300 consecutive new referrals to a neurology outpatient department. J. Neural Neurosurg Psychiatry, 68:201-206.
Kozlowski, E. (2013). Can Christians Practice Mindfulness? Huffpost Healthy Living. Retrieved May 6, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eden-kozlowski/mindfulness-and-religion_b_3224505.html
Siegert, R. J., Abernethy, D. A. (2005). Depression in multiple sclerosis: A review. J. Neural Neurosurg Psychiatry 76:469-475.
Weintraub, D., Moberg, P., Duda, J., Katz, I., & Stern, M. (2004). Effect of psychiatric and other nonmotor symptoms on disability in Parkinson’s disease. Journal Of The American Geriatrics Society, 52(5), 784-788 5p. doi:10.1111/j.1532-5415.2004.52219.x