Thankful Thoughts, Week 3

We just finished up the Thanksgiving season in the US. I had a memorable, wonderful Thanksgiving! I hope you did too. I firmly believe that gratitude is important to practice year-round, and I encourage you to take some time to make a gratitude list of your own. There is no “wrong” way to make a list of what you are thankful for in your life, simply out some paper and start writing.

I’ve made some great memories this week with family members, and I am thankful for the moments that make my life beautiful. Here is my gratitude list:

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  • My husband’s family made a 4 hour drive to celebrate Thanksgiving with us in Indiana. They came full of joy and energy, ready to help in an way they could. I directed some of the preparation, but other people made the meal. I was able to listen to my body and rest when needed (which is difficult for me, especially when I am hosting people in my home). We played a game of Farkle, ate lots of pie, and had a great time!
  • I saw my nurse practitioner on Friday because I was having terrible pain on my right side. She was able to fit me in quickly and she even stayed late to help me. I am grateful that she believes I know my body best and that she trusts me to be honest. My neck, back, arm and leg alternated between being painful and numb, which had never happened to me before. I was somewhat scared because it was so unrelated to my typical symptoms. My NP found that I have a pinched nerve, likely due to muscle strain in physical therapy. It should heal in the next few days, but right now I am focused on taking pain relief medication and resting. I am glad that I was able to get an answer before the weekend, because it would have been much more difficult to deal with the pain without guidance from my NP.

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  • My sister-in-law, her husband, and my nephew came to visit us during their Thanksgiving travels. I adore my nephew, but I haven’t been able to see him much because he lives in Illinois, and I can’t travel that far right now. S and I got him a small gift, and we had so much fun opening it with him! My pain and POTS symptoms were manageable during the visit, and I was tremendously grateful.

In this holiday season, I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on the joy in your life. I recognize that there are troublesome things happening everywhere, but I think the best way to face them is to look for goodness.

I have new ideas that I’ll be bringing to the blog later this week, so stay tuned! And please let me know about the goodness in your life 🙂

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Quiet Strength

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My favorite television shows include passionate, strong female characters. I enjoy watching the shows because they convey that women can accomplish pretty much anything. And I love that. Oftentimes, the characters barrel into a room during a crisis and boldly tell other people why their cause is important. These women solve problems with their strong convictions and unwavering determination. When I watch these shows, I imagine myself as one of the heroines. I want to solve injustices as quickly as these women, even though I know most problems worth solving take much more than just a passionate speech.

For years, I wished to become someone I would consider courageous. I wanted to be able to convey my convictions by using my words. I hoped that I could get respect by following the formula for strength that I’d seen in television shows. But over the past few weeks, I’ve had a revelation: There is more than one way to be strong, and words alone rarely solve problems. True character is built when we choose goodness over and over again. I do not stride into rooms full of people ready to share my life-changing agenda. But I do have a different kind of strength.

My strength is not particularly bold, and it may not be noticed by the casual observer. But it is still there. Try as I might, I am incapable of looking intimidating–I am just too friendly. However, I have the quiet strength that comes from choosing hope, even when things look beyond repair. I know how to sit next to a friend in tears, understanding that my presence means more any platitudes I could recite. I can bake cookies with trembling hands because I want to show a loved one that I am grateful for their presence in my life. I understand how to listen to a long-winded stranger share his opinions because I know what it is like to need someone to hear me. I have walked through dark places and I’ve made it into the light. These are the things that make me strong. These are the things that allow me to live with happiness, even while dealing with chronic illness.

I don’t think we celebrate quiet strength enough. It is tough to consistently choose love over fear, and it takes strength to live with compassion. I am guilty of not recognizing the courage it takes to live with grace and kindness, but I want to change that. Quiet strength often goes unnoticed because it becomes deeply ingrained into a person’s character– it is part of them. Still, we need to acknowledge those people in our lives who show quiet strength.  They deserve to be celebrated. It is just as noteworthy to make daily sacrifices out of love as it is to show one large act of bravery.

Today, I choose to embrace my quiet strength, and I encourage you to do the same. I let go of the idea that power and strength are the same. I remind myself that I do not need to make powerful speeches in order to change the world around me. I choose to show love. I look for hope when things seem grim. And I am grateful for the women who have shown me the power of quiet strength, because they have impacted my life more than the heroines on television.

Beauty in the Ordinary, Thankful Thoughts– Week 2

This past week has been full of beautiful moments. My illness has cooperated with my plans more than usual, so I’ve been able to do more outside of the house. I’ve gotten to spend time with dear friends, and it’s been glorious. Practicing gratitude helps me remember that sacred moments happen as we go through the motions of “normal” living. There are not trumpets that start playing right before a precious memory is formed and there aren’t announcers to let us know that something special is coming. We have to look for those moments ourselves, and the more we look for them, the more beauty we see.

There is a quote I’ve been ruminating over this past week. It’s one of my favorite reminders to look for goodness all around me, even in the ordinary moments.

The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest. -Thomas Moore

Our routines and chores can be looked at a few different ways. They can be seen as necessary tasks that must be completed before “more meaningful” things can be done, or we can look for the goodness in time we spend doing them. We can spend that time being grateful for the house we need to clean and the clothing that needs to be washed. I’ve seen what life can be like for people who are in need of clothing and housing, and it is tough to go without. I am not suggesting guilt-tripping ourselves when we become bored doing a task for the hundredth time, but I am encouraging us all to look for opportunities to be grateful in the little moments. Because there is meaning in folding laundry for family members, in making the bed, and in doing the dishes. And there is beauty in all of the little moments that add together to make a life. We do not need to look for grand, perfect moments because there is so much goodness in the imperfect, small ones.

Here are a few of the things I am thankful for this week. I hope you take the time to reflect on the goodness that can be found in the ordinary parts of life.

  • I went to the annual Christmas parade for my city last night. It was cold, so I bundled up in my transport chair and drank hot chocolate with friends as we watched our neighbors kick off the holiday season. I enjoyed seeing children wave from their floats with smiles on their faces. I looked around and saw dozens of people around me supporting the good things that happen in our city, despite the cold weather, and it was wonderful.

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  • My husband went out and bought a new cabinet for the upstairs bathroom, and our sweet cat Lily Rose watched him put it together. She spent at least an hour watching his every move and “supervising” him while I laid on the floor because of a POTS flare. Lily Rose has a pretty short attention span, so it was surprising to see her so invested in building a cabinet. The cat was adorable, and even from the floor, I was proud of me kind husband who works hard to make our home even better.

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  • I have a wonderful friend who has visited me at home when I have not been well enough to go out. This week, we were able to go out to coffee at Starbucks! It was so much fun for both of us. I took a picture of myself (above) before leaving to document the occasion.

Please take some time today to consider the beauty and goodness that can be found in the ordinary parts of your life. There is always something to be grateful for in our lives, even in the tough moments.

Self-Care and Chronic Illness

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Today I want to share some tools for bringing joy into your life. We all need encouragement, and sometimes it can be best to seek it out for ourselves instead of waiting for it to somehow come along. I call the practice of encouraging ourselves “self-care.”

Chronic illness can be lonesome and I believe self-care can help make things more bearable. It’s something that we can do for ourselves, which increases feelings of independence. Self-care can benefit anyone, though. I’ve shared my thoughts on self-care with dozens of people. It’s something that helps me, and I naturally want others to benefit from it too. Some people are resistant to my suggestion, so I came up with an analogy to explain why it is such an important tool. Here’s what I tell them:

Self-care is like car maintenance. It isn’t always convenient, but things will break down if you don’t practice it.

Self-care looks different for everyone. It may take the form of quiet, alone time for one person. Someone else may need to call a few friends and share the events of the week. Another person may want to spend time being creative in order to recharge. There is no wrong way to practice self-care. The goal of self-care is to give your soul a chance to be encouraged and refreshed. It is an important part of being an emotionally healthy person and it encourages us to treat ourselves with the same love that we show to others.

I’d like to share some of my favorite ways to practice self-care. I recommend setting aside time for self-care on a regular basis or working it into your schedule until it becomes a habit.

  • I check out daily online readings from people who inspire me. I look at the posts by Brave Girls Club when I need a pick-me-up. Lottie Ryan’s website reminds me that I am not defined by my illness.  And I love Lottie’s weekly e-mails! I read Ann Voskamp’s A Holy Experience when I need spiritual encouragement, as well as the lovely Savannah’s entries at One Mountain at a Time.
  • Janie Hubble and Misty Rees are two of the most brave, beautiful women I know. Their hearts are made of gold, and they truly care about the people around them. They founded Rooted Souls Retreat Center earlier this year.  It’s a place that encourages creativity and restoration. I encourage you to check out their website to see the retreats and workshops they offer.  You will love your time there!
  • Some books are good for the soul. Right now, I am finishing the audiobook The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. I feel like I get sage advice each time I listen. Anne Lamott’s writing is also encouraging and joyful. It’s written from an honest place and I appreciate the vulnerability she puts into her books.
  • Pinterest is a great place to find encouraging quotes and free printable art. I find words of truth to be one of the most powerful tools I can use to encourage myself. (If you’d like to follow my boards on Pinterest, here’s the link.)
  • My gratitude journal helps me keep perspective. I list at least five things that brought me joy and I reflect on the good things in my life.  I write in the journal every few days. Try it for a few weeks and see the difference that it make!

I hope that you will consider practicing self-care. It’s a tool that can be taken with you anywhere and it’s such an important part of living an abundant life.

Please let me know how self-care helps you in the comments section!

Thankful Thoughts– Week 1

I’ve been taking a class entitled “The Science of Happiness” through EdX.org. It has been a great experience for me, since I can learn from home at no cost. EdX’s goal is to make high-quality education accessible to everyone. There are a variety of courses that can be audited for free, and schools like Harvard University, Berkeley, and Dartmouth provide them. “The Science of Happiness” course focuses on how psychology, biology, and social factors affect the ability to be happy. I enjoy the video lectures the most because I can listen to them, even on days when reading is impossible due to brain fog. Each week there is a suggested practice for increasing happiness, and this week’s practice is gratitude.

I believe gratitude is an important habit, and it has truly made a difference in my life. It has been great for me to learn some of the scientific reasons that gratitude improves quality of life. I am starting a recurring feature on the blog that focuses on the goodness I’ve experienced during the past week. Practicing gratitude is a simple, effective way to improve happiness, and the best way I can show that to readers is to model that on this blog.

So here’s to Week 1 of my Thankful Thoughts feature:

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  •  Physical touch can be a powerful healing tool. On days when I am feeling low, our cat Cali always comes to snuggle with me. She did that a few times this week, and it was wonderful! The isolation that comes with chronic illness is a real issue, but she makes such a difference with her warm presence.
  • Some family friends went on a trip to Germany for a few weeks, and they returned this weekend. S and I went over for dinner last night and got to hear all about their travels. I’ve never been to Germany, so it was quite interesting to me. Plus, sharing a meal with kind people is always good for the soul.

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  • I practiced self-care this week and it made a real difference for me. I drank coffee almost every day, just because I felt well enough to have it! I’ve been keeping my nails painted, which makes me feel more put-together. Right now I’m wearing Plum’s the Word from Sally Hansen. It’s perfect for Fall.
  • I reached out to a friend after feeling beaten-down by a tough week. She made time to come over and just listen to me. Sometimes we all need to be reminded that we are not alone and that love always comes, even in hard times. I also read a great blog post called One Brave Way to Heal Our Relationships, Our Hearts & the Internet. It was just what my heart needed.

I hope that you are able to practice gratitude today, wherever you are. Spending time writing down and acknowledging the goodness in our lives really does make an impact in how we see the world.

For more information about the benefits of practicing gratitude, click here.

Love Always Comes

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This week has been one of the hardest for me in quite some time. My mind has been swirling with negative thoughts and I’ve fought hard against them. I’ve practiced gratitude. I’ve kept my head buried in words of truth written by strong women. I’ve practiced prayer, meditation, and silence. All of those little things have helped me remain brave, despite my mind telling me otherwise.

Some days are just tough. I can’t sugar-coat them or fix them to be better, they’re just hard. And I think it’s important to acknowledge that truth. I am very much in favor of being positive and optimistic, but I believe that we need to be honest about the fact that some things are just terrible. There isn’t always a bright side. But there is always Love. 

Love whispers, “You will make it through today. You don’t have to have it all together, you just need to show up and keep trying. You matter.” Sometimes I can hear Love’s voice on my own, and that’s all I need to keep choosing hope. On hard days, I seek out someone I trust to remind me of the truth. It’s humbling to admit that my mind is muddled with unwelcome thoughts, but I have to ask for help because I can’t always find Love on my own. There are also times when Love comes to me, in the form of an unexpected letter or the presence of a dear friend. Love always comes. We just have to be open to seeing it.

The important thing is to never stop looking for Love to show up. I admit that sometimes it comes later than I would prefer, but it always comes. And that is beautiful. There are days that will not be remembered as easy or even joyful, and that’s OK. But we must keep going, because there is always, always hope. And Love will find us.


Health update:

POTS symptoms are flaring up again, which has not been fun. I cancelled a physical therapy appointment this week because I realized that my body needs to rest in order to recoup from a fever and recurrent tachycardia (high heart rate). I am doing by best to be kind to myself and allow myself to “just be.”

I went to the rheumatologist today, and he has ordered a battery or blood work to be done. He’s not overly concerned, but he wants to continue to investigate my symptoms.

What I Need and What I Don’t

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Chronic illness is quite the teacher. I’ve been surprised by the things I’ve missed on my bad days. The little things in life have become increasingly important to me. I’ve missed things that I wouldn’t have expected, like the sunshine on my face, being in the woods, and walking without caution. I appreciate independence in an entirely new way because I know what it’s like to depend on others for almost everything.

There were a few different local marathons this weekend, and I saw pictures online of smiling friends crossing the finish line. And I smiled too, because I saw happiness in their eyes. This afternoon, when I walked through the living room with a lid-free cup of coffee in my hands (and didn’t spill it), I felt proud of myself. I suspect that how I felt in that moment was similar to how the runners felt when the race was done and they got their medals. Living with chronic illness requires determination and perseverance, just like finishing a long race. Progress comes slowly and it requires hard work. But unlike running a marathon, being ill is not a choice. I can’t throw up my hands and give up. I can’t take a break or schedule a day off.  I am not going after a medal or fulfilling a goal; I am fighting for my health.

There are plenty of things I need to manage my illness. I need kindness from strangers. I need thoughtful words from loved ones. I need rides to appointments. I need grace and understanding. This whole ordeal is difficult, and I don’t do well when I try to handle it alone. There are also things that I do not need. I do not need judgement. I do not need to hear the newest tip or trick on increasing my energy.  I do not need feigned concern or promises that you cannot keep.

Please do not hear my words in an angry tone. I am not writing from an angry place; I am sharing the truth with you, and I am accepting that certain things are hurtful. It’s hurtful when someone implies that I am not ill. I have POTS and my symptoms are real. It is heart-wrenching to be told otherwise. It feel hurt when I am told I could feel better if I would follow a particular “quick fix.” I have tried a number of methods for treating my symptoms, and I need my loved ones to trust that I am managing treatment the best I can.  I also have a team of doctors overseeing my progress. Unfortunately, POTS doesn’t have a cure. If you want to show me that you care about my health, please take the time to learn about my condition or ask me about my illness. Finally, be clear about your willingness to help me. If you are not interested or able to help, please find the courage to be honest with me. Please  do not tell me you’ll be there for me if that’s untrue, because that is hurtful and mean. I appreciate people who are polite, but I put more value on honesty.

I have learned many things in the process of being ill, and I am grateful for the people who have supported me as I learned the hard things. I am grateful for the days when I can sit in the sunshine or enjoy a sense of normalcy. I am grateful for a husband who holds my hand as I figure out what it looks like for me to live an abundant life with an illness. It is empowering to take the time to think about what I do and do not need as I try to build a good life for myself. I encourage you to do the same.