Sunday, May 7, 2017

Does The Body Rule The Mind

May is Stroke Awareness Month. Here is the link to find a stroke group near you:
Like the last posting of JerseyCate she is relating to her critical heart issue. But, this one can apply to a stroke survivor as well. When you see the word heart just think stroke. Her posting shows how she deals with her limitations and I think it should work for stroke survivors, too. This is kinda long. Maybe the longest I've published on this blog but please read it to the end. I think you'll get something out of it.
Does The Body Rule The Mind Or Does The Mind Rule The Body?

JerzeyCate” is a volunteer moderator here on the Support Network: 
http://supportnetwork.heart.orgwho shares her experiences and perspective to help others. 

An important factor in our quest for health is what we are thinking. Yes, what you are thinking influences how you recover.

Time and again research has shown that the way you think about your health strongly influences the way you feel. Each day we can make the choice to think in more productive, satisfying ways. Regardless of the fact we are suffering from serious chronic illness, our thinking influences our happiness and our well-being.

Recognize, Reframe, Reclaim…

These tools can have a positive effect on overall wellness, regardless of your health issues or condition. Using them helped me look at my cardiac illness from a different angle, a different perspective. They enabled me to find and implement strategies to overcome the complications. They assisted me in living in a manner that, despite having a serious heart disorder, allows me the opportunity each day for some happiness and quality of life.

In Alice in Wonderland, Alice comes to a fork in the road. Uncertain where to go, she asks advice of her traveling companion, the Cheshire cat.

Alice: “Which road do I take?”
Cheshire cat: “Where do you want to go?”
Alice: “I don’t know.”
Cheshire cat: “Then, it doesn’t matter.”

It’s important when dealing with complications that can arise when you have a chronic illness (or two or three or four) to have a plan.

Developing a plan begins with understanding your specific disorder and recognizing that your thinking can influence both how you ”feel” about your illness as well as how your illness makes you “feel” physically. Negative thinking creates negative results. Continuously verbalizing negative thoughts can show up as negativity in our actions and make us a hostage to our illness.

Regardless of how stable my heart may have been, I looked at my life with an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness. I was stuck, felt defeated and angry with my situation. I believed there was little hope of achieving any sense of normalcy in my life as I waited for the doctors to “cure me.” My mantra back then involved phrases like:

- “I’ve tried everything. Nothing helps.”
- “I’ll never get any better. My life is over”
- “Changing my eating and schedule does no good.”
- “I can’t take the stress of being sick anymore.
- “Please fix it.” 

The cycle of negativity I was trapped in was hard to break, but I found out that breaking the cycle is possible and something we can each work on. While I knew that verbalizing positive thoughts has an uplifting effect on a person’s spirit, which helps their sense of overall wellbeing, I thought that was for other people; those with illnesses “less serious” than mine.

I began to spend time with people who seemed to understand these things naturally. They were in pain and having other problems, but despite how they felt they continued to move ahead.

They maintained some level of productivity and, on one level or another, everyday life. They seemed to enjoy everyday life. They were eager to know what foods to avoid to reduce inflammation or stomach upsets or to lose weight—or to deal with whatever their disease/disorder was presenting them with at the moment.

They seemed to naturally understand that controlling negative thoughts and stress is key to managing their chronic illness. They refused to be held captive by their illness or their sense of not being what or where they would be in life were they not so ill.

Regardless of their various illnesses, I found them to have several things in common. The most significant, at least to me, was they had taken the radical step of ditching the concept of “normal” and had redefined what they expect and experience in health and in life.

They RECOGNIZE the role attitude plays in their illness and sense of well-being. They work tirelessly to stay positive and limit the length of time they spend in the “periodic but inevitable” pity party.

Since acting as if I was a prisoner to my health was certainly not helping my situation, I made a conscious decision to try it their way. I’d at least give it a chance so I could say I had tried. So, I began to work at replacing my negative thoughts with positive ones like these:

- “Today is a good day.”
- “This is a step in the right direction.”
- “I haven’t discovered it yet, but I will find a solution.”
- “I can make better choices that will help me feel better.” 

I guess I thought that this would be or should be an easy transition. It wasn’t.
Negativity had a tight hold on me. I had a very large chip on my shoulder and
I invited anyone I was in contact with to join me in feeling sorry for myself.

While I may have been verbalizing “positive affirmations,” what was going on in my head was anything but positive. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.

While I didn’t experience the “miraculous recovery” I was hoping for (well actually I think I expected it) I did begin to notice a small, but significant change. Though I hadn’t gotten “better,” at least I wasn’t getting any worse.

Maybe there was something to this “attitude adjustment thing” after all. I began to spend time each day focusing on having “good thoughts.” I spent time examining the possibility I might improve, that I might stabilize. I stopped short of imagining I might actually get better and be able to resume some semblance of my former life. I began to RECOGNIZE that my attitude was playing a role in the course of my illness - that having a positive outlook was the only way I could possibly regain some level of health.

The next step was to change, aka REFRAME how I felt about my cardiac illness, my body and health in general. This was another of the lessons taught to me by those who had been fighting chronic illness for many years. Some had cardiac disorders/disease. Some were fighting cancer.

How could I change my thoughts and actions to bring better results?

Real change began when I came to accept that, for many of us, the doctors, can’t “just fix it.” I had to take responsibility for incorporating things into my life that would bring real relief. That though I was still spending a significant amount of time in the hospital with my doctors; there are 8,760 hours in a year and for most of that time I had to take responsibility for managing my healthcare.

Instead of looking at my cardiac problems and my general health as separate issues, I began to look at and address my body and my health as a whole.

Initially, I was overwhelmed by just how much work it took to tackle the many components involved in stabilizing my health. So many things had to be addressed if I had any hope of achieving a more balanced state of health – a less painful, less stressful existence.

I had to change my way of thinking, explore alternative healthcare and other forms of healing my body, mind and spirit.

I had to begin to look at food as medicine, and take action to relieve some of the stress in my life.

I learned that, even for those not battling a serious chronic illness, when put together, these are the basic foundations of a strong and healthy body.

In the beginning, I needed lists and charts just to keep track of what I needed to do on a daily basis; eventually it has become second nature.

Living with a chronic illness is not for the faint of heart yet I was learning to REFRAME my experiences and expectations, and I was beginning to reap the benefits of what was proving to be very hard work.

The third step, to RECLAIM my health, has been the most difficult transition for me. Coming to understand and believe that the fact that I have a serious heart disorder does not mean I do not deserve some level of good health.

- That it is there for me to claim.
- That it is a goal to which I can realistically aspire.
- That life is in the here and now; ready to be lived to its fullest. 

While each of these will be a lifelong process, RECLAIMING my health requires challenging the norm. It involves a true examination of who I am, what I want, and where I am going right now. What was normal for me four-years-ago—or even yesterday—may change tomorrow.
The state of being, “normal” or not, is with us day and night, everywhere we go, in every situation. To move past a sense of comparison with others and embrace a more fulfilling life is my most challenging task.
- I urge you to not ever give up on life.
- To find out what things you can do, in the here and now.
- To stabilize your chronic illness and find some level of health and well-being. 

To remain hopeful that, despite having cardiac issues, you can still have some quality in your life. It may not be the life you had before you developed cardiac problems, but it can be a productive life.

For me this journey began four years ago with sudden onset severe cardiac disorders and dysfunction. In the last two years, my heart stabilized somewhat and I began to find my way back. Not everything has been perfect, far from it. But, in recognizing that my negative thoughts were keeping me down, I began to find a way up.

The process I have been following may not work for you. I take my cues from others suffering from chronic illness who found a way out of the abyss, a way back to the land of the living.

One thing I've learned is that success for one of us, even if it’s two steps forward, one step back; hope felt by one of us, even if it’s fleeting, brings hope to others searching for a way back from the devastation that can come from cardiac illness.

While they may be small at first, each upgrade in how you feel will tempt you, as it did me.
To work harder. To run faster. To jump higher.

Each bit of progress we make brings with it a bit more hope, more positive thoughts about life and even a bit more energy.

Each bit of progress, no matter how small, how insignificant it may seem, brings us a bit further in our journey in the direction of well-being.

Take your time when making changes.

Take time to listen to your body.

It will teach you how to become your own best healer.

Copyright @September 2016
The Stroke Network, Inc.
P.O. Box 492 Abingdon, Maryland 21009

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