Oh, how glorious it would be if healing looked like clouds parting and light shining to show you the path. I wish I could tell you this was my reality. I’ve since learned healing looks like a 1,000 piece puzzle that has just spilled out of the box. Where to begin? One must start somewhere.
The autoimmune disease had a best friend, her name was Anxiety.
Fear invited her to take up residency, embedding herself into my psyche and body. I didn’t like her, but she refused to leave. Ruled by fight or flight, I was reacting to life from a place of fear.
Anxiety set my heart racing accompanied by a sinking feeling in my gut. My mind was under attack, trying to recover from the trauma of the sickness and how to move forward with an autoimmune disease. Fierce mood swings from misery to panic with fearful thoughts plagued me.
The anxiety and fear infiltrated my marriage in the form of numerous bad habits. The fighter in me was wicked with my tongue, verbal violence was commonplace. When in flight mode I was in a state of dread, battling the urge to flee. There was no peace in our home.
And my heart, my aching heart. I had made a couple of dear friends in Melbourne but I missed the comfort of people who knew me. I desperately longed for my support system, my loving family and best friend, Robin. The homesickness compounded with the anxiety disabled me into despondency.
Although I was struggling I still carried on with life. There were many good times and happy experiences as well. But eventually, the regularity of the bad spells surpassed the good.
I knew I had to find another way.
I began to inquire within, choosing to take a hard look at myself and the disease. The ulcerative colitis was inflammation. So I asked myself, “What am I doing to cause inflammation in my life?” The answer was two-fold, my lifestyle and my mind. My thoughts, self-talk and entire way of being were an inferno of despair blazing out of control.
One puzzle piece at a time I addressed everything causing me inflammation. I started with the external stimuli: foods, people, activities, my schedule. In an effort to reduce my inflamed ways I adopted a mantra, “Try new things.”
I experimented with eliminating refined sugar and gluten while adding healthy fats. Shocked by the results, my vitality rebounded. I started to surround myself with uplifting and supportive people, putting boundaries on the drama queens. Less heated dynamic yoga, more slow and restorative practices. No more HIIT classes, walking and strength training instead. Goodbye to teaching 6am yoga, hello evening classes. I felt I was doing everything in my power to aid in my recovery, to heal.
This process took over a year to implement with beneficial results. I felt more rested and although the anxiety was still present it had subdued. The more challenging task was to look at my thoughts and behavior.
So I settled into a familiar place where I could go within, my meditation cushion.
I had been practicing mostly Kundalini and a little bit of Vedic meditation for eight years. My mantra, “Try new things”, inspired me to explore other practices: Transcendental Meditation, Buddhist and guided visualisation. I then read about Jon Kabat-Zinn’s 8-week course, MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction), and thought, why not give it a try?
A weekly 2.5-hour meeting of practice and lecture, studying a thick manual along with daily meditation and mindfulness activities were the format. Week one was an eye-opener filled with rich insight and lots of practice. A 45 minute guided body scan was the longest regular daily meditation I had ever done.
The body scan is practiced lying down and the purpose is to focus on the sensations coming up in different regions of the body. When the mind wanders off to thinking, direct the attention back to the present moment. It relaxed me but it wasn’t until week two when I experienced a profound shift.
I always meditated in the morning and while in class a student said they were doing it before bed and experiencing sound sleep. Again, I tried a new thing, popping my earphones in before bed I began to melt into the meditation. The next morning I was astounded. It’s gone, I thought.
That feeling of anxiety I always had in my gut evaporated, replaced with a sense of calm. I felt nourished and anew.
However, I knew feeling grounded and calm after a practice can happen, but the longevity is gained through sustained practice over time. Over the weeks the body scan became a tonic for my anxiety. I felt my nervous system being soothed into rest and digest mode.
Mindfulness is about cultivating awareness by paying attention. So I started to do just that, observe my habits. As I became more familiar with myself, I was noticing my negative self-talk, thought patterns and actions based on fear and how I was often in auto-pilot mode not being present.
Through this awareness, I had the power to create new healing habits.
I also learned how to open to challenging emotions and how to attend to my suffering. As a dedicated student, I was committed to creating new patterns to support a healthier relationship with myself and Greg while learning how to respond to life with ease instead of reacting in fear.
When the course came to a close I had regained my calm, I wasn’t in my head so much and I had the tools to manage the anxiety. The practices were the missing pieces to my puzzle of healing. It was only the beginning of my mindfulness journey.
Mindfulness was the light in my time of darkness to help guide me on the path of healing. Long-term changes are not made overnight; the integration period of establishing new patterns has been slow, it has taken years. But I keep practicing.
Living mindfully is an ongoing lifelong practice. And just like healing, it never stops. We can always keep healing, cultivating healthier ways of being.
To Practice the Body Scan follow me on the Insight Timer App – it’s FREE