"Yesterday's just a memory, tomorrow is never what it's supposed to be." -- Bob Dylan
The fear, depression, anxiety, and guilt you may feel are all products of your inner perception about the way you think life ought to have turned out for you. Keep in mind that as long as we hold on to these perceptions from the past, the present and possibly the future, will be colored by these feelings. To thrive and live successfully with your illness, you must release yourself from these old perceptions and turn your attention to what is, now. It is only in the present -- regardless of what that present holds for us--we can experience and gain a new mastery of life. Creating and living a future of your own design, is what living boldly and successfully with illness is all about.
As we get in touch with these feelings, we give ourselves time to cry, to grieve over the perception of our life that we are letting go. Some people prefer to grieve alone, shutting off the phone and putting a DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door. Others prefer to find another person, who is compassionate, understanding, and would feel privileged to be with you through this time. There are many ways to focus your attention on the perceptions from which these feelings come. There is nothing to prove to anyone or to yourself or hide behind a false mask of 'courage.' Breakdowns are seen as stepping stones to a breakthrough, something g that was not predictable.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Look at mementos, photos, or any other reminders of what you perceive you have lost: a loved one or cherished pet, someone skiing or playing golf, a beloved childhood home, a graceful ballet dancer, etc.
- Rent an old movie on Netflix or watch T V shows that are likely to make you cry over losses similar to your own. Stretch your boundaries of your imagination.
- Try free-form writing. Free-form writing has many names: creative writing, free writing, spontaneous writing, speed writing. Its name has many variations but it is essentially writing without thinking about it beforehand.' The idea is that you just put pen to paper and begin to write, not editing any of what you put down, just allowing to flow and ebb as your thoughts flow and ebb. It is a great way to get stuff out of your head and a great way to brainstorm ideas, by allowing yourself free expression. (When I do this exercise, I usually tear out the pages of writing from my three-ring notebook, then at another location, burn the papers. Do not look at what you wrote, as you are releasing stored away negativity buried deeply.)
- Play music that evokes your disappointment or sadness. It's okay to feel sadness and/or any other emotion that may surface.
- Recall active happy times with friends or loved ones, prior to your illness, injury, or advancing in age.
As you draw closer and closer to your feelings of loss, and get more in touch with the perceptions of life that trigger them, start verbalizing what is occurring for you. To do this, try completing the following sentences with only a few words.
I mourn because______________
I feel sad because_______________
I can't accept__________________
I cry about____________________
I can't believe that______________________
I grieve for___________________________
I appreciate myself for____________________
I dwell in what's possible for_____________________
I visualize and create my future as______________________
Let me give you an example here. Many years ago, during the broadcast of the Winter Olympics women's figure skating competition, the graceful skaters reminded me of my former athletic self. Feeling heavyhearted, I used the above exercise to identify what was going on with me so that I wouldn't get stuck in my sense of loss. I embraced my grief and melancholy, holding myself close. I felt envious. My eyes welled up with tears again. I grieved for my loss, yet, realized that on the path my life has taken, I too have come to appreciate unconditional commitment to excellence and the tremendous endurance it takes to follow a dream -- no matter what the form.
I, too, have learned to present and experience a graceful image of dignity and courage. In opening up deeper to my grief, I began to experience a new, healthier perception of life, based on my present reality. By observing all that is happening inside me without attachment to the end results -- without judgment, without expectations or pressure on myself, without comparison to the women figure skaters or to my own athletic past -- I feel freer to appreciate myself, not only for what I can do but for the divine essence of who I am. I thrive as a whole and complete woman.
A breakthrough is often seen as a one-time event--a quantum leap that moves us 'outside the box'. In the past when watching the Olympics, I felt crippled. Today, however, I feel like an expressive child, free-from the need to compare my life to the others. This process of healing is ongoing and I joyfully generate this vision into the future and a new territory that sustains the next level of living.
Healthy Living Guidelines:
Try your hand at free-form writing
1. Always have a little notepad with you to capture starting points for free-form writing.
2. Using these starting topics, spend two full minutes writing everything you can about the topic. Don't edit anything. If your hand stops writing, stop and try another topic.
3. Keep a notepad by your bed to capture the weird and wild creativity of your dreams, just three minutes as you wake up each day.
4. Spend 10 minutes a week writing anything down that comes into your head don't edit it! Just allow it to flow. It may well look like nonsense, but in it could be some gems of creative wisdom!
5. When you are experiencing a creative block, use free-form writing to write out all the angst and maybe tap into some unconscious creativity!
6. When you are emotionally low, or your head is just full of 'stuff' (maybe you have difficulty sleeping), use free-form writing to clear your head. Write it all down, then throw it away or burn it. Don't reread it or it will start you off thinking again!
There is an old saying, "That which doesn't destroy us makes us stronger." Life-threatening illness -- or any adversity -- can be a strengthener. Not necessarily to the body, but certainly to the character and to the spirit.
Here's to your well-being and your life well-lived,
Free-Form Writing Exercise adapted from Meta Positive: www.metapositive.com/tools-of-creation-6-freeform-writing/
I would love to hear from you so please do leave a comment below; or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit my Facebook fan page: www.facebook.com/WheelchairWisdom
For practical spiritual coaching: Whether you or a loved one are newly diagnosed or have had physical challenges for many years, you have come to the right place to get connected. Visit www.wheelchairwisdom.com for more information.
Linda Noble Topf is author of You Are Not Your Illness: Seven Principles for Meeting the Challenge, (Simon & Schuster, 1995). Wheelchair Wisdom: Awaken Your Spirit Through Adversity, will be published in 2014 by Berrett-Koehler & iUniverse. COMING SOON in paper and e-book formats -- IN PUBLICATION NOW!