There are periods in anyone’s life, but especially in a quadriplegics life, that can be filled with darkness, despair, and hopelessness. It is in these desperate times that one has to dig deep to find some sort of meaning or purpose to keep going. Throughout my spinal cord career over the last 7 ½ years I’ve gone through several periods where I just couldn’t find a reason to keep going.
I happen to be going through one of these periods right now and I thought it timely to talk about what I’m going through, how I am working towards finding direction again, and strategies I am employing in my personal life to find small joys in every day.
In the last 4 to 6 weeks I’ve somehow slipped into a place in my life where I’m having trouble finding little bouts of happiness amongst the darkness, which pains me to my core as I am naturally a happy person. In times like these, I struggle immensely because I really am one of the luckiest quads in the world to be surrounded by a man who loves me, a mother who would do anything for me, and family who does support me. I almost feel guilty for feeling down … I know it sounds insane because of my circumstances as I’m sure many people would think I have the right to feel the way I do, but I simply don’t feel like myself.
I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve had a runaround with caregivers the last few months, which has led me to feel abandoned, frustrated, and hopeless. When I rely on someone to physically take care of me so I don’t, literally die, I seem to create a state of panic & anxiety within myself that creates a type of emotional downward spiral that I just can’t seem to stop. The clarity in my thinking has suffered from my work, my positive thought process, and my enjoyment in the little things in life, which is normally so easy for me.
I feel lost, seem to cry at the drop of a hat, hold my emotions inside because I don’t want to take them out on the people that love me and have not abandoned me, and above all I barely want to open my eyes in the morning to get my day started because I feel like I am living in the movie “Groundhog Day.” I feel as though I am just re-living the same internal emotional torturous moment over and over again. I know others feel similar in different times of their lives, and usually I find great comfort in turning to those who have similar challenges that I face, but this time I just can’t seem to get myself out of this so-called funk.
I’m even seeing a therapist who tells me that because I’m living in constant fear of the future I am completely forgetting to live in the moment. She is not wrong. I tell myself over and over we only have one life to live, and we need to make every moment count, but somehow this is not comforting to me anymore. Sure, I go on wacky adventures on the weekend to distract me from thinking about the core of what is really going on, but it just does not seem to help.
I’m not sure what the future has in store for me, but I do seem to wake up every day, exercise, attempt to work, study, research, mentor, and write despite my inner child wanting to throw a complete tantrum, and just give up. My boyfriend proposed something to me really interesting a few weeks back when he said that I had been dealing with medical nightmares and have literally been surviving life for 6 ½ years after my injury. The last year I have been medically stable, but on edge to make sure that I stayed that way. I think I have reached a point now where I am not in “flight or fight” mode anymore, which has freed up a tremendous amount of time for me to think critically about life. It almost tortures me, but he has a point. Perhaps now that I’m starting to live my life I am finding that the accident is only starting to affect me many many years later.
Whatever the case may be for the state I am presently in, I am always looking for solutions to be happy. With that said, I needed to make a change in my life. I am a firm believer that your mindset can kill you physically, mentally, emotionally, etc. There is strong evidence through meditation, changing your belief system, perceptions of reality, acknowledging certain cognitive biases one falls into that you can dramatically shift your lifestyle by yourself.
I have wonderful trips planned and adventures to go on in the coming months, but I need to change how I feel inside. Of course, this is a lot easier said than done. I do practice self-hypnosis for pain, read a lot of research papers on how to change the way you feel and think, but I’m just not putting enough of it into practice in my daily life.
So, I’m on a mission to do just that. I’ve created a multi-pronged approach and some days I’m successful at progressing forward and some days I am not. When I am not successful at sticking to a regiment I tend to beat myself up in the worst way possible. I’m working on trying to be kinder to myself as life is going to unfold as it does regardless of how much I try to push it in one way or another.
About a month ago I started to think critically about some of the ancient philosophers of our time and what they wrote about. I remember in college learning about some of the greats like Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato, but I did not recall much about them for my school days. After poking around for a while I was familiar with the concept of stoicism, but not really how to put it into practice.
Basically stoicism is an ancient Greek philosophy developed around 300 BC that teaches the development of self-control as a means of overcoming destructive emotions. It’s not meant to extinguish your emotions completely, but rather transform them to create an inner calm and freedom from suffering. Stoicism is not just a set of beliefs, but rather a way of life, involving constant practice and training, and incorporating the practice of logic, self-dialogue, contemplation of death, and a kind of meditation aimed at training one’s attention to remain in the present moment.
When I re-introduced myself to stoicism and some of the great Stoics such as Zeno, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius I thought I was really onto something. These philosophers from thousands of years ago have created such an interesting system to teach you how to keep a calm and rational mind no matter what happens to you, and their goal is to help you understand and focus on what you can control, and not worry about and accept what you cannot control. Clearly, much easier said than done.
However, I proceeded to purchase several books called the “Daily Stoic,” “Marcus Aurelius: Meditations,” and Epictetus’s “Manual for Living.” These small books give you lessons each day to think about, contemplate, and apply to your daily life. I created a schedule for myself to read a few passages from each, each day, and not reprimand myself if I have a day where I simply don’t get to it. Somehow reading these ancient philosophers daily antidotes to reducing negative emotions in your life, and living in the present offers me some sort of comfort because it makes me feel that I am not alone – people have been feeling this way for thousands of years, and have clearly found a way to move forward.
In particular, the “Daily Stoic,” is a collection of 365 small quotes from these famous Stoics that you can read every day. Each entry gives you their quote and then a translation of what it means in layman’s terms 🙂 For example, on March 15 I was having a moment of complete panic from a caregiving situation when I opened up this little book and read the title for that day’s entry: “The Present is all We Possess.” The quote is from Marcus Aurelius, who was the Emperor of Rome, and his quote was this:
“Were you to live three thousand years, or even a countless multiple of that, keep in mind that no one ever loses a life other than the one they are living, and no one ever lives a life other than the one they are losing. The longest and the shortest life, then, amount to the same, for the present moment lasts the same for all and is all anyone possesses. No one can lose either the past or the future, for how can someone be deprived of what’s not theirs?”
“Today, notice how often you look for more. That is, wanting the past to be more than what it was (different, better, still here, etc.) or wanting the future to unfold exactly as you expect (with hardly a thought as to how that might affect other people). When you do this, you’re neglecting the present moment. Talk about ungrateful! There’s a saying—attributed to Bil Keane, the cartoonist—worth remembering: “Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.” This present is in our possession—but it has an expiration date, a quickly approaching one. If you enjoy all of it, it will be enough. It can last a whole lifetime.
It is so simple, yet very thought-provoking. Sometimes I have to remind myself that living in the present means sitting with thoughts that are wildly uncomfortable, make me cry, and sometimes put a dark cloud over my head. When I read that particular entry on March 15, I went out to the balcony and just sat there for a few moments to feel my body, my mind, and all my senses, which were in pain. It was emotional and, frankly, it sucked. I don’t like to feel uncomfortable, I like everything to be precisely timed out, scheduled, and go according to plan. This simply is just not life, especially as a quadriplegic!
Changing Your Brain
The next step I needed to focus on was meditation or mindful meditation of sorts. While I do practice self-hypnosis for pain, I realized recently that I am not practising some sort of meditation or hypnosis on a consistent basis, only when I need it for physical pain. I feel like my mind is starving and I need to nourish it with thoughts of healing, love, and positivity. I know this sounds corny, but I really believe that I am the only one can get myself out of this fog no matter how many wonderful people try and help me. Frankly, not a lot of people know that I’m even going through this right now, and it is extremely personal for me to even write about it. However, I figure if I can help a least one person feel not so alone with this article than it will be worth it to expose myself to this extent.
There are many interesting authors, scientists, and researchers out there who are working on this very field of using your own brain through meditation, focus, and a variety of other techniques to basically change the way you view the world, which very often results in astounding transformations of self, physical illness, mental ailments, etc. When you read this you might think is a load of hogwash, but I assure you I have practised many of the techniques over the years and they work, but only if you practice them in earnest. Admittedly, I don’t think I’ve practised as hard as I could have and I fully intend on making that change in 2018.
One very cool promoter of this type of work I admire greatly is Joe Dispenza. He is a researcher, NY Times best-selling author, and educator who breaks down how to rewire your brain and recondition your body in a very digestible way. There are a handful of other doctors and researchers I hold in high regard as well, but he is just one example. He has written two incredible books, which I cannot speak highly enough about called:
- Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One
- You Are the Placebo: Making Your Mind Matter
What’s so cool about these books is the author combines the fields of quantum physics, neuroscience, brain chemistry, biology, and genetics to show you exactly what your brain is capable of through experiments he is conducted. He provides step-by-step tools to apply what you learn in order to make measurable changes in any area of your life. I love that he demystifies ancient understandings and bridges the gap between science and spirituality.
In his second book “You are the Placebo” he explores our ability to heal without drugs or surgery, but rather by thought alone. He is quite an incredible story about fracturing multiple vertebrae when he was younger and how he healed himself without surgery. I won’t go into all of the science behind it, but the experiments he sets up are logical, sound, and frankly astounding with respect to some of the ways the human body can heal itself by thought alone.
I’ve read both of these books and then re-read them again. He has a very interesting introductory four-week meditation course, for free, you can partake in if you choose. I had this all laid out several years ago, but I totally forgot about it. I’ve double down my efforts to engage in this four-week course to get me started.
It can be utterly daunting trying to figure out what kind of meditation to practice as there are so many different types out there. I think they all have tremendous value, but you really just have to experiment works for you. Some people need a guided visualization, music, silence, a mantra, etc. The list is endless of how one can meditate, but the end results are the same… Literally changing your brain chemistry.
When you meditate, this is a well-known fact, your brain waves change as you focus. The most active brain wave is the beta brainwave, which is one that allows us to think critically, be aware, and one we are often times in when we are awake. The most active brain wave is beta, then goes alpha, then goes theta, then goes beta. Beta brain waves are what we are in when we are in REM 3 sleep and fully unconscious.
The goal of meditation is trying to get to a theta type brain wave… Master experts in meditation can get to beta brain waves without actually falling asleep. This still baffles me. Anyway, by changing your brain waves you actually change the brain’s electrical activity, bio-energetic fields, heartbeat, and so many other variables. The brain is so mystical in so many ways because we don’t know much about it, but we do know that we can actively harm ourselves physically and emotionally with a negative frame of mind.
While I may be in a challenging spot in my life the moment… I still hold the belief that I will one day be able to eliminate my physical and emotional pain altogether if I stay focused, and true to mission. I’m not perfect though … I frequently fall off the bandwagon, get dirty, scraped up, and then somehow pick myself back up again.
I always think I need to be “super” quad for so many people out there that I sometimes lose sight of taking care of myself. In any event, what I discussed above is exactly my plan to take steps towards finding some resemblance of an inner calm again.
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