In a workshop, I once asked when I would finally be over an issue that plagued me most of my life. "When you're dead," came the swift and pointed reply. Upon reflection, I gleaned the wisdom in those words.
Life is an evolving process, with ups and downs, twists and turns. It's an ever-changing kaleidoscope of emotions, thoughts and feelings, all of which are impacted by hormones, food, exercise, sleep, medical conditions such as RA, work, social scene, climate, perceptions and more. In other words, life.
Mental health is very much dependent upon cultivating resources, particularly those that enable you to weather the storms, which can vary in duration and severity. It is about taking action and being directly involved in your own well-being.
Action that can be as simple as learning the importance of breathing, something you do anyway, so why not make it count. Action that involves reaching out for help to learn strategies to help you navigate your life. Action that helps you cultivate your innate healing powers and wisdom in order to recognize that while it may not be fair, your life path is strewn with bumps, hurdles, detours and stops. It also includes beautiful scenery, unexpected journeys and friends, new and old.
The diagnosis of a chronic illness, such as RA (rheumatoid arthritis), can send you into a nose-dive. Frustration, impatience, pain, regret, guilt, fear, sadness - the list can be a large storm surge of negative, stress-producing emotions, thoughts and feelings.
The Dark Days
I've experienced periods, some longer than others, when it seems that I am in the winter of my discontent. I won't bore you with the details, but some adjectives that applied during those times are useless, incompetent, pointless and hopeless. Neither work nor friends or family seemed to get me out of that darkness. However, gradually, the light got in, the heaviness lifted and I found my equilibrium. All of that was pre-Auntie Stress days. It turns out that there is wisdom in growing older. Imagine that!
Now, my toolbox is full of self-care and self-help strategies. As the primary driver of the vehicle that is me, it is empowering to take responsibility (even if sometimes I'd rather not!), for my life. If not me, who then? After all, I have the most vested in me. I am here from the beginning to the end, through thick and thin, sadness and joy, disappointments and successes.
However, that does not mean I am the island that John Donne elegantly wrote in 1624:
"No man is an Island, entire of it self; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main."
When I'm feeling wretched, I know that I can do something about it. I am also aware that I won't feel that way forever, just like I know that a flare won't last forever, if you take steps to address it. In this instant world we live in, we've been conditioned to having things happen right when we want them to. Life does not necessarily work that way. It can take as long as it takes - not much comfort when you are fighting a flare or flailing around in the whirlpool of despair.
Breathe. Use the power of my heart. Don't eat my feelings - a decades long habit that I've mainly overcome. Yes, I have set-backs, but not like I used to!
Breathe. Use the power of my heart. Sleep, or lack thereof, is a huge mood downer for me. I am faithful to my sleep regimes, because when I'm not, I don't want to know me! Yes - more breathing and more heart power.
I have dark days, like anyone else. Challenges. Family concerns. A chronic illness. Dashed dreams. Unfilled wishes. I work on not letting the broken sewer pump of negative emotions flood my life. If I need to rise above the dark stinky mess, I first turn on the light and rummage around for one of the many techniques in my toolbox. If I can't find the right tool, I know where to go for help. However, there is usually always something there to help me move forward.
Cultivate Your Resources
It can be an easy trip down the road to despair, especially if you have a chronic illness. RA has a voracious appetite for energy. It can be relentless in a flare, resulting in a tsunami of damage, that leaves a path of destruction that can touch many aspects of your life - work, relationships and finances, to name a few.
You have more power than you realize over your emotions, thoughts and emotions. Be patient. Breathe. Access the power of your heart. Add to your toolbox. Trust yourself. Give yourself time to learn, change and grow. Build a support system, whatever that looks like to you. Access and cultivate your resources. Just like life, the road to well-being is an on-going process.
Finally, ask the birds to leave your hair alone and go build a nest elsewhere!