Having an auto-immune disease for 18 years, I’m used to the ups & downs of having a chronic illness. But the last 2 years have been really tough, with low energy levels, sleep problems, weight loss, no energy to exercise and generally not feeling well. My muscles were tight and I was in pain. Symptoms that to me said, “I was having a relapse”, however my neurologist did not agree.
And so, the specialists and tests began. Symptoms were mysteriously not matching test results; vertigo, atypical facial pain which resulted in a tooth extraction. An agonising withdrawal from pain medication. Trials with various drugs, more tests, blood works, nerve conduction studies and magnetic resonance imaging. With the possibility of another neurological condition diagnosis on the horizon, I was stressed out to the max! I was not coping and unable to work with migraines and tension headaches in over- drive.
This culminated in an emergency hospital visit. My heart would perform this strong irregular beat. In the emergency room my heart rate was 105 beats per minute, blood pressure 149/95!! After an ECG we discovered I had first degree heart block and ventricular ectopic heart beats! Am I having a heart attack??
I was referred to a cardiologist. There was a book in the waiting room – “Quiet the Mind” by Matthew Johnstone. I started to read it, I felt this book was no accident! The specialist recommended lifestyle changes before medication, “Eliminate caffeine, alcohol and chocolate, and I’ll see you in a month”. The specialist was super excited I had enrolled in Rachel’s 4-week mindfulness course for beginners.
While my mind had been tied up with all things medical, my body had been stressed 24/7 for months. Then I had a taste of this new drug called mindfulness – and I knew I wanted more! I followed up the 4-week course by enrolling in the 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course. I wondered if MBSR could help me with my overwhelming health issues?
In the MBSR course I learnt and practised recognising the present moment, and when I did this, I found that my body started feeling like a whole unit again.
Being mindful made me truly aware of my body and mind. I realised that for the last few years there had not been any self-care in my life. Slowly but surely, I started re-engaging in self-care through meditation, movement practices (yoga) and body scans. By doing this I felt I was re-engaging with life!
Since doing the 8-week MBSR course, I notice that I’m not reacting the way I previously had, to situations and people I can’t control. For example, a new manager at work decided to implement a WhatsApp group for team communication, and began sending work requests at any time of the day or night. While colleagues around me became stressed and reactive to the late-night messages, I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself not reacting to the messages, and realising that I had a choice. “Let it be, it is what it is” I thought.
It was just one of the many moments where I realised something within me has changed since practising mindfulness.
Taking life breath by breath, moment by moment, I have seen my blood pressure improve; a check during the MBSR course measured 125/82. The headaches have reduced their intensity and frequency. I find that both my body and mind are moving more easily. I think I’m onto something amazing!!
Most of all, I discovered that everything I need; courage, strength, compassion and love; is already within me. I just have to look!
MBSR participant Feb 2018