Mindfulness in action

The Way

Finding The Way Through Mindfulness

It has been over a year since I last wrote a blog. The reason being that I needed to take some time out for myself. This is mindfulness in action by being self aware and going with the flow. I needed to put into action a decision that I had made after a period of illness last June.  You may wonder how mindfulness helped me? Please be patient, as a link to the value of mindfulness will be made.

The Story 

Seven years ago I was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition (Undifferentiated connective tissue disease  – UCTD). UCTD is condition that attacks body tissue and causes pain and fatigue; this disease can be very painful and disabling.

Side effects of the drugs to treat my condition could be quite unpleasant. The main drug being taken  was on was an immune suppressant. Taken with this drug was a large dose of folic acid to help the side effects. The decision being faced was a very difficult one. Which seemed to be either to be unwell or take the medication and suffer the side effects.

Not for one minute would I suggest anyone should go down the same path that I have chosen to take. It is important to take sound advice from a qualified medical doctor.  Choosing to decide to stop prescribed medications was an informed one and fully took into account the pros and cons of the decision. The doctors consulted appreciated my view and spelt out the risks of my chosen path. The doctors  also explained that returning to the medication might have to be an option if things deteriorated.

August last year I bumped into a friend who had previously been unwell and was looking amazing so healthy, she was glowing and radiant. I commented on how well she looked and she told me that she was consulting with a local naturopath.  Intrigued I asked for more information and as a result booked an appointment with the Naturopath.

The Treatment

I went to see the  Rosa Medica Clinic last September and have not looked back since. It was a totally different approach to managing  health and one that needed to be thought about carefully. My GP was consulted and we talked through the approach being proposed. A full discussion was had with both GP and the Rheumatology clinic. Both clinicians helped to lay out the pros and cons.

In the beginning it was quite a hard journey with several life changes being made. Things became easier as the months went on. What surprised me most was that my condition could be managed by diet, supplements, herbs and some other treatments.  Some days I did not feel as well as others. I did get such days when on the medication as well, however these off days are not as bad as the side effects of the medications from the NHS.

Going down the complimentary health route is not a cheap option but a financial sacrifice worth it for a better quality of life. Many people who take the same medication prescribed by the NHS as myself have have very little side effects. Sadly I just seem to be one of those people who suffer from side effects from medication. This is not the case with every drug I am prescribed however there seem to be quite a few that I am sensitive to.

One of the things that have helped me on my chosen path has been mindfulness. On bad days mindfulness has certainly helped me to ride through pain and discomfort. In the early weeks mindfulness certainly helped me cope with withdrawing from prescribed medication.

I have practiced mindfulness for a number of years and have learnt to listen to my body. Maybe this is one of the reasons that I felt that I had had enough of how the prescribed medications made me feel. Once I began to clear it out of my system I felt more alive. This may seems a strange thing to say. The medication may have damped down my immune system but it seems to damp me down too.

I have to be honest I was nervous about what I was doing to begin with. I had to be mindful to stay in the moment and go with the flow. It is easy to slip into negative mode and get locked into the “what if” loop. Things needed to be tested out and to see where the journey went.

Within a few months my blood tests were indicating things were good, much to the surprise of medics. In fact my blood tests were better off the meds than on them. Friends and family began to comment on how well I was looking and how much happier and content I was.

Mindfulness

The journey has been an interesting one and has proved to me yet again the power of being in the moment. Mindfulness has been such a powerful thing for me in my life. It has taught me to listen to my body, to respect what my body is telling me and to be aware of the signs my body gives me.

The signs of stress and how to recognise familiar to me. Stress  can certainly cause a flare of my condition. Being mindful is how I manage my pain by breathing through it and not focusing in on it. I know it will pass. It is easy to look for things that are not there or to expect negative things to occur. Practicing mindfulness helps me to stay in the moment and go with the flow.

At the time of writing eleven months have passed and I feel so much better both mentally and physically.  I feel that I have my bounce back and most of all do not have to endure three days of feeling bad due to drug side effects.

Being honest this was a scary journey in the beginning by deciding to let go of the treatment of over three years. The support of the GP and Rheumatology clinic that are working with me and respect the decision I made has been amazing. I will continue to go with the flow and discover where this journey takes me. Learning to live with my condition by being in the moment certainly does help me to manage and ride through the tough days as well as enjoy the good and ok days.

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Dogs and Mindfulness

Tess and chair
Dogs and mindfulness

Tess

The last year  saw the introduction to our family of a beautiful Tibetan Terrier puppy, Tess. Little did I know how much she would teach me about Dogs and Mindfulness. What a joy this little girl has been, she has done so much for this family of humans and animals. My two old boys, two Lhasa Apsos, took to this cheeky little interloper very well. Old Syd, who will be 15 years old soon, has got a spring in his step and Billy has become so much more active since Tess arrived. I have certainly become more physically active running around and keeping up with Tess.

Training Tess, has been a very interesting and challenging exercise. I had only just started on the mindfulness route when Syd and Billy were young dogs. I have certainly learnt to appreciate how much dogs and cats are in the mindful zone and what we can learn from our canine and feline family members.

I had never thought about dogs and mindfulness and how we interact with dogs before I got Tess. Starting from scratch with a puppy made me aware of how much time as a human we spend in our head space when training a puppy and when with our dogs. Learning to focus on the moment and not getting lost in the past, future and head stories was certainly a great help with Tess.

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally.” Looking at this definition you can begin to understand why Dogs and Mindfulness can be helpful with a dog relationship.

Puppies are such fun and bring many smiles to your face. It is so easy to become over

Dogs and mindfulness

Syd chilling

protected and locked in the fear of what might happen or what they might get up to;  easily losing that joy of a young dog. One thing that did amaze me was my old Lhasa, Syd. He was nearly 14 years old when Tess arrived and as he was prone to be a bit grumpy. In my head the story was he would be a bit snappy and impatient with her. Oh how wrong I was, he seemed to fall for her like a doting dad, this was a demonstration of dogs and mindfulness . He was almost too patient with her and revelled in the attention of a full on pup. She would harass him and he would sit there patiently and never snapped at her once. Funnily enough it was, Billy, the younger Lhasa who got the hump in the early days.

I had not realised till we started training how easily it is to fall into negative and fearful headspace when interacting and training a pup. Once I had noticed these thoughts and using mindful techniques (following the breath) I focused on the moment. It soon made sense to me that my dogs live in the moment and to make the most of training and interaction I needed to be in the moment too.

Tess looks to me for guidance and she knows when I am distracted and not paying attention. One thing of the joys of a Tibetan Terrier you ignore them at your peril. In this busy instant life that we lead it is very easy to become lost in our thoughts and lose touch with the here and now. The internal chatter starts in our heads (monkey mind) and the judgements start and cause, fear, anxiety, stress and worry. When we can become more compassionate and less judgmental of ourselves, others and our lives, life is more calm and peaceful. The benefit is that your dog is calmer. Ok, some dogs are very excitable and full on, however if we are calm and in” the now” they will be less so.

Tibetan Terriers are intelligent and spirited dogs, great fun and good companions, however they do have a will of their own and can be a challenge. All breeds have their traits and when training can take time and patience. This is where mindfulness kicks in, it is easy to lose faith in yourself when things don’t work or the dog goes its own way. If you realise your dog is in the moment, for example if you recall your dog and they fail to come back straight away, the fact they came back all be it 10 minutes after you called the dog, is great.

Dogs and mindfulness

Dogs at play

The dog being in the moment is saying “I came back? what’s up?”. When we are mindless, not in the moment in the headspace, our, judgement, frustration and fears gets conveyed to the dog. The dog is confused, as we are stuck in the past or projected to the future worrying that you are a failure or the dog will not come back ever. When you can learn to go with the flow, ride through the discomfort of the fear you feel the dog will respond in better ways to you.

I learnt early on when going to puppy training classes, going with the flow, with no expectations Tess would respond and do the training task in her Tibetan Terrier way. Maybe not always with the blind obedience of the other dogs in the class but she did it. I learnt to just go with the flow take a chill pill and Tess obtained her puppy certificate. Her bronze exam was quite funny, she arrived smelling of badger poo which I could not wash the smell off.  She was not very good at doggy etiquette at doors during class time. I took the attitude on test night to just  go with the flow and see what happens. The best bit of her test was the doggy etiquette she was brilliant. I had no attachment to the outcome just go with the flow and see what happens, and she did it.

This approach can help when you have anxious or reactive dogs as your tension and anxiety can pass down the lead to the dog. Being in the moment, following the breath, and being aware of body tension can certainly help with this. One good thing you can do for your dog is to keep yourself calm and in the moment.

Mindfulness teaches us to be in the moment and to go with the flow moment to moment. Watching dogs, you notice that they are moment to moment animals.  Dogs are very accepting with little judgement, they do not get stuck in the groove of negativity. They are curious and fun loving. Even an anxious dog will revert back to calmness once the fear has passed. Humans tend to fret and worry for a long time after the event. For example, your reactive dog sees another dog and there is barking and pulling on the lead. Once passed it is over, the owner is likely to go into monkey mind mode, creating stories in the head full of anxiety and fear. This passes down the lead to the dog and the dog picks up on it. Of course our brains are more complex than dogs and this is why we need ways of being, such as mindfulness that teach our brains to focus on the moment.

I am delighted when people tell me what a calm and gentle dog I have. (at home she

Dogs and mindfulness

Dogs and mindfulness

can be a complete hooligan) I am sure this is in part due to the mindful approach I have used with her. Yes, I can become frustrated and the judgements do kick in, however I notice and bring myself back to the moment. On my journey with Tess so far there has been challenges, things have happened, however being mindful has given me a better understanding of Tess and my other two dogs. I feel I have a deeper and more peaceful relationship with my dogs. The surprise benefit of all this has been Billy, my little rescue Lhasa. He has always been a challenge to train and now he is such an obedient little soul. What was different? he responded to the training I was giving Tess.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Building up self belief

The kitchen begins like journey for self development

The kitchen begins like journey for self development

Building up personal skills and self belief can take time and often the pathway is a few steps forward and a few back. This kind of journey benefits from some guidance and feedback but most of all support. I always liken it to having a travel guide showing you the way, the best areas, places to avoid, showing how far you have travelled, as well as some sights, and milestones to acknowledge on the way.

What got me thinking about this?  We are having some building work done on the house. We are building the kitchen in a different place so we can have a utility room (I have three dogs and need an area for them). This has taken a great deal of planning and preparation. It was hard to imagine in the first place how the end product would look as it was a dream in my head to have my ideal kitchen. The key for us was find the right builder and this took time.

2015-08-05 19.58.42

The early stages the mucky part

In the early stages it was mess, mud and dust and I certainly wondered whether it was worth it in the long run. We have great builders who have supported and advised along the way. In the middle stages it seemed as if we were getting no where and last week the scaffolding came down and the windows and doors went in. Wow! I could finally see the frame and structure and that the effort, discomfort and disruption was worth it as finally I could see the end in sight. It is no different for us as we often wonder if the journey is worth when dealing with personal development.

2015-09-09 07.14.28

We all need support sometimes

It struck me that building our extension is similar to aiming to improve and develop oneself. You need a plan, structure and support. Like with an extension sometimes there has to be compromise you can aim high however in reality you may be expecting or asking too much. We often look back and say “if only” it is better to say “what did I learn?” and “what would I do next time?” You cannot change the past however you can do things differently in the future and learn from mistakes and feedback.

It surprised me that when the scaffolding was taken down and the rubbish removed how great our extension looked. When dealing with human beings it is easy to hang onto support and not acknowledge what a great individual there is and what the journey of self development has achieved. Those finishing touches and fine tuning are the icing on the cake if the basic structure is sound.

the scaffolding down

the scaffolding down

During the planning for the new kitchen we made many mistakes and have tinkered with it until we are happy. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating (excuse the pun!). It is the same with us as individuals we need a plan however it needs to be flexible. We are unique individuals and like with any building new or old it will have its quirks and differences. So it is with us we are all unique and we need to embrace who we are and negotiate life taking these into account.

Self reflection can be a good tool to use if it is used wisely, the trouble is we can be over critical and not acknowledge what we had done right and what has worked. Like with any building project it might have to be done in stages. We have certainly had to take this project in stages due to time and finance. So time and resources are important too with individuals. The biggest thing for us was finding the right builder. It is the same with support when you are trying to build skills confidence and self-belief finding the right support is key. You need to ask yourself what works for me? Do you need individual support, face to face, one to one, group, peer, online or self help?

The first step is recognising how you learn and reflect. What helps to motivate you and spur you on? It will be different for each of us. It is easy to sit in a chair and wish that things were different, without a plan nothing will happen. Deciding on the first step however small is the start.

we are all different somethings suit us while others do not

we are all different somethings suit us while others do not

Everyone is different and what works for one does not always work for another. We learn in different ways and some of us are good at self reflection while others need a group, a buddy or professional to help them. Like starting to plan an extension without a plan the idea is just that an idea.

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Chronic Tiredness and Fatigue

Tired

Tired

Tiredness is something we all suffer from at times. It is due to doing to much, stress or feeling under the weather. However chronic tiredness and fatigue is rarely talked about in wider terms you only seem to hear about  Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

There is another side to Chronic tiredness and fatigue that is not often talked about and that is the tiredness associated with diseases, medical conditions and medication. I was recently at a conference for Arthritis UK and the one thing they said that made my ears prick up was the lack of research into the fatigue associated with Arthritis and that they want to research this aspect of the disease.

At last I thought some interest and recognition of how debilitating and frustrating chronic tiredness and fatigue is for those people who suffer with it. When I talk to friends, family and my students so many people experience this problem. For those of us who suffer with chronic fatigue and being tired all the time there is a lack of understanding of the problem.

I find it very hard to explain to people what it means to suffer with this problem. Most understand being tired, but the black fog of chronic tiredness is a nightmare to try and explain. That feeling of leaden feet, the sheer effort of putting one foot in front of the other while you struggle to find words and concentrate, the effort to get out of bed after a night’s sleep because you still feel tired are to name but a few of the symptoms. The best analogy that I use to try and explain chronic fatigue is like having the tiredness of flu with you constantly.

Many medications can cause drowsiness so if you already have Chronic fatigue this just adds to the problem. The drowsiness and tiredness from medication is often overlooked and not addressed. This is something that health professional appear to avoid when they ask you to try a new medication. There seems to be little recognition of the impact this can cause. I have seen people on pain killers and anti depressants who are so dopy that they can hardly function.

So many medical conditions have the symptom of being over tired and once the condition is treated the tiredness does not always go. This can be a huge frustration after diagnosis that the tiredness remains. For those of us who suffer with fatigue it can be hard to live with on a day to day basis.

When I have been given advice on managing chronic fatigue I have always been told not to bust and boom and to do so much each day and take into account the fatigue that I suffer from. On days you feel tired do what you can and no more. Be measured in your activities and avoid stress and eat a healthy diet.

HELLO !!!!! In the real world things happen that you have to deal with. Life happens and things need to be done, sorted out and addressed.  It is all very well when health professionals sit in their ivory towers handing out advice. In the real world as a patient who has fatigue you have to live your life. Stressful things happen and life and situations get in the way. It is impossible to avoid happenings and not engage with life.

Over the years I have learnt to handle this tiredness in my own way. Instead of making an enemy of I have tried to tame it and live my life the best I can. Stress is the thing that causes flares of my condition and obviously increase tiredness. Stress can come from good and bad things it is a part of life. There are also times when I have to be more active and so the kick back is I get more tired after. I have learnt that if I have to rise to the occasion and use all my energy I will have a kickback but hey that is my choice and I deal with it.

Over the years I have learn to listen to my body both physical and psychological sides. Tiredness can can show in many forms: –

  • Joint pain and muscle aches
  • Head aches
  • Palpitations
  • Skin hives
  • Out break of skin problems
  • Sore throats
  • Tired voice
  • Dry eyes/mouth
  • Drop items easily
  • Lack of concentration
  • Unable to find words
  • Brain fog
  • Low mood
  • Anxiety
  • Anger/frustration
  • Easily irritated
  • Loss of sense of humour
  • Lack of motivation
  • Mistakes and errors

I am sure there are many more but these are the things that I notice. One of my early signs is that I become easily irritated and my usual sense of humour vanishes into the ether. I drop things easily and become agitated over silly irrelevant things. I find it hard to think and to remember things. This has freaked me out on occasions and I have worried that I am heading for dementia.

I have learnt not to worry about the house when I am tired.  If someone comes to visit tough if they want to think I can’t keep my house tidy, you know what when I am over tired I can’t it is as simple as that. I try not wind my self about what I cannot do and try to focus what I can. The voice in your head can cause you so much more stress and trauma so be realistic. Support is vital ask for help. Have some good breathable boundaries with family friends and work and most important learn to say no when you need to.

It would be easy not to take the dogs out for a walk but I do find gentle moderate exercise does help. Seems strange I know but that gentle walk with my furry friends makes a huge difference. I take them in the morning as physically it is the best time for me. I try to do the physical things in the morning as by the afternoon and evening I am tired. One thing I did three years ago was to change to an automatic car. I would never have thought it would make such a difference but it did. It does help to look at how you can help yourself and some of that is to have a good look at yourself and see what you can change.

 

If someone asked me what helps me the most to deal with chronic fatigue these are the things that have helped.

  • Mindfulness and meditation practice (I have written a great deal in my blogs about mindfulness)
  • My dogs as they help me to keep active
  • An automatic Car
  • Being realistic
  • Asking for help when needed.
  • Taking time out when needed
  • Reiki

I hope this has helped anyone out there facing this problem or helped those not afflicted to understandFatigue.  Finally try not to get irritated when some says they get tired too when you try to explain about chronic fatigue I am just glad they do not experience it.

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