Mindfulness Matters

What if you became a Day-Maker?

When people hear “mindfulness” I think they immediately take on a petrified expression, expecting a host of complicated philosophy that can be impractical for most of us. But in reality, much of what mindfulness embodies are things you are familiar with and which you can not only practice, but teach to young children.

Something I read or heard about recently that captured mindfulness and the nature of my friend Lisa, who recently lost her battle with breast cancer, is the idea of being a “Day-Maker.” She was the type of person who radiated such warmth, that you wanted to get closer if only to feel it glance your cheek and whose laughter was so contagious that you’d fall into a fit of giggles right beside her. To me, she illustrates perfectly, the concept of Day-Maker.

Working in retail and dealing with people from all walks of life, who come into the store having all kinds of days, Lisa was always adamant about treating people with kindness even if they weren’t being the same way in return. Why? Because Lisa had battled cancer six times at that point and understood that our brief interaction with customers could never convey whatever battle they might be facing. For example, she would say: “Maybe John just found out that he lost his job. Or, maybe Jane just lost her mother. Or maybe, Debbie just found out she has cancer.” There could be any number of reasons for why someone is acting the way they are that we will never know. So, Lisa felt that it was imperative to treat people with compassion and compassion and mindfulness go hand in hand. In fact, there is research to suggest that being mindful makes you more compassionate, but Lisa wasn’t aware of any of that. She simply did it because that is who she was.

So, how was she a day-maker and how can you be too? Lisa brought a smile to every situation. She spoke with kindness and encouragement always. I am not saying that she was Zen-like and didn’t have a temper, but that more times than not she considered how her words were going to affect a person. She tackled difficulties (both people and situations) with hope, optimism, love and compassion. Even in her own life, and her own situations, dealing with her cancer she never gave up hope. And when there was no more hope and she was faced with death, she still managed to see the brightness in that. Now, we’re not all built like Lisa. I know I tried to emulate her and failed because I am far melancholier than she was, but you can still be a day-maker.

Just think of it as bringing a little, unexpected sunshine into someone’s day. It can be a friend, a co-worker, a client, a patient, a neighbor and yes, even a stranger. We’re all pretty hardwired to think the worst in people and at the very minimum, simply not expect a “free” or “no-strings-attached” kindness, from someone that we don’t know that it usually surprises us. These instances of being a day-maker do not need to be much to truly affect someone. Here are some examples of how you can be a day-maker.

·       Smile and say hello to a stranger: We live in a world where people have fallen victim to their phone and texting. Human contact is becoming less and less. But, that smile and meeting someone’s eyes is something that cannot be conveyed in text and when relating to people you do not know, can break the ice in an instant.

·       Tell a co-worker or even a friend or nighbour how much you appreciate them: We often fall into a pattern of life and forget to tell people they are important. We also can fall into a pattern of only bringing up the negatives, thinking they already know the positive. Hearing the positive can really make a difference in how people respond to you.

·       Take a moment and call that friend you haven’t chatted with in ages: In a day of social media and texting we don’t connect with people’s voice and through their voice, them. Hitting like or posting a pic of where you went on vacation is static and not the same as picking up your cell and calling them. It may really be something that changes their day.

·       Pay for someone’s coffee, meal or groceries: Being a day-maker does not need to be expensive but if you can, this is one of those gestures that is wholly unexpected and can really brighten someone’s day. Also, if you travel the tolls frequently, paying for the person behind you is something inexpensive that you can also do.

·       Spend time at an assisted living facility: It is sad to think that many people in these facilities either have no family or don’t have contact with their family through distance or neglect. You can really be a day-maker by visiting one of these facilities and spending an hour with some of the residents. Just call your local facility and ask if they have volunteer options or if you are able to visit once a week for an hour and maybe read to a resident.

 

So, what’s stopping you? Be a Day-Maker! We can all be Day-Makers. We can all bring a little sunshine into someone’s life. And you don’t have to believe in karma, but I do believe we get what we put in to the universe.

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

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My Bizarre Obsession

Since I was a little girl I struggled with OCD. It began as counting my fingers, starting from my pinky and just going back and forth, from pinky to index and back again. It progressed to an obsessive-compulsive need for cleanliness and when you are a teen-ager and breaking out and thinking it is because you are dirty it can turn into something nightmare-ish. I was somewhat lucky in that not only was I still able to function for the most part, they were compulsions I could hide or be discreet about. I was fifteen when I developed an eating disorder that I personally link to my OCD because counting calories became my undoing. Though I saw a therapist and got back on track with my weight and health, I feel that it had less to do with emotional pain and more to do with OCD. At the very least, it was half and half and while I got better there, it seems that my OCD just relocated to something else. That something else was skin-picking, also known as dermatillomania, also known as excoriation disorder. This has been the most difficult to overcome and I still deal with it presently, though to a lesser degree.

If you don’t know, Dermatillomania is a condition where a person feels compelled to repeatedly pick at their skin, scars and other areas of skin, sometimes causing visible wounds. This is sometimes accompanied with self-harm, though it doesn’t have to, but almost always goes hand-in-hand with OCD. In my case, it was all about the OCD and while I guess you could say that I do self-harm by picking at my skin and causing small wounds, I don’t do anything more than that. It is, in my opinion, the most distressing of my mental health issues of which there is bipolar and anxiety and mild PTSD. It is distressing because sometimes I don’t even know when I am doing it and by the time I am conscious of it I’ve already damaged my skin. It is distressing because the concentration seems to be my face and that is the most visible part of you. It used to be my fingers- that space between the knuckle and first joint- I would pick at and pick at until they were truly destroyed. I got myself so worked up and distressed about infection that I stopped, but just like previously, it simply relocated. The damage to my face is not as severe as what I used to do with my fingers, looking more like I picked at zits than large wounds; I can cover them up with minimal make-up, but because it’s on my face, I feel like the whole world can see it. It’s one reason I am in-love with Snap Chat and filters. If you follow my Twitter or Instagram you know, filters are my friend, and not just because chronic fatigue does not lend to being photogenic. This is an embarrassing and weighty secret coupled with not just a little bit of shame that I have carried with me a long time. In fact, so long not even my psychiatrist knew I was dealing with it until about a year ago.

This condition is not something I had a name for. I had no idea it fell into that OCD group and I can’t even begin to articulate my shame. It wasn’t just about picking scabs or picking at my skin. It was every little imperfection seen as the enemy and to a certain extent, still is. I am currently dealing with a heat related eczema and recurring rash along my arms and face, but the eczema is all over my back  and thighs and so when I run my fingers across my skin at any given time and feel these little bumps or dry patches it sets off this alarm in my brain which causes this inexplicable desire to pick at it as though picking it away will make it disappear and my skin will be smooth again. And like I mentioned earlier, sometimes I don’t even realize I am doing it until my fingers come away with blood. Still, when it’s over, I feel relieved. Like that itch was finally scratched and I can breathe. It’s a lot less now that I am medicated. I take Tegretol and while that is not the go-to drug for OCD, because I also have seizures, it’s like killing two birds with one stone and it’s helped. It was amazing to me when I realized it was helping. Just one day I realized, oh my goodness, some of those wounds are healing or scabbed and gone and I felt saved. Yes, it still happens but between medication and talking about it and using mindfulness as a part of my inner healing, I am over-coming it.

Sharing it has helped me feel less alone and less ugly. Reading about other people who are going through it, or who have gone through it and come out the other side, has also been helpful. I have to work at being positive every day. I have to work on self-love. When I wander off my path I feel that urge more deeply and I do wander off the path. I am not perfect. But instead of chastising myself for it or hating myself for it, I forgive myself and work on veering back to where I need to be. It’s a lot of work. Sometimes it’s exhausting because I don’t just have this one issue, I have a lot of issues.  Don’t get discouraged if you are trying to work through this and fail sometimes. It’s not easy. But know, you are not alone.

How You Get Through Is Enough

In my most recent blog post, which you can find here: https://lovekarmafood.com/2018/08/03/chronically-comparing/ I talk about the pitfalls of comparing ourselves to those not struggling with chronic issues. But I think it is also important not to compare ourselves to our fellow warriors, which is also easy to do. Many of us don’t have the benefit of surrounding ourselves with chronic illness/pain warriors in our daily lives so we surround ourselves with them in various forms of social media, read blogs, and try our best to stay connected. After all, these are the only people who truly understand our plight. The problem I find, which can cause us to struggle even more, is trying to compare how we are dealing with things to how our role models in the community are dealing with them. I’ve found myself on more than one occasion thinking, “Damn. They really have it all together.” Or, sometimes it’s not about having it all together, but how they deal with things emotionally.

The most poignant example that I feel illustrates my point is as follows: I have shared a little about my dear friend who recently passed away from a very long battle with cancer. I met her at work and she was my assistant manager at the time. Initially, I did not know she had breast cancer. She was in remission and was doing well. There is no other way I can think of to describe her, other than “a force.” Older than me by a few years, she had the energy of a five-year-old who’d just consumed 3lbs of sugar. We called her the Energizer Bunny. But more than just her energy was her spirit. She was vibrant and happy and always had a huge smile on her face. When she relapsed with her cancer and was going through chemo, she never missed a day of work and never, ever lost her smile and spirit. She is the reason I have a blog and the reason I started writing about chronic illness and pain. I watched her handle everything with such grace and beauty and be such an inspiration to so many people, I wanted to be like her. And here is where the but- comes in. But, I am not her.

It was during my time still working there that my health took a dive and I went through surgery and was searching for answers and trying to deal with my health and work and I was frustrated with myself because I was not dealing with it like she did. Here I was, not struggling, as I perceived then, on the same level as her and cancer, and I was flailing badly. Instead of power-housing through it like she seemed to, I was crying and beating my fists against the wall wondering why me. And then, I learned my most important lesson from my friend that I would only truly come to understand later. Talking to her at work, all before I would receive my two most impacting diagnosis, she would tell me very matter-of-factly, like I should have been aware of this all along, “You aren’t me. And I’m not you.” I’m pretty sure I laughed and maybe scoffed a little. Of course, we weren’t the same, right? I knew that. She continued to tell me that everyone deals with things a different way and that it was okay to scream and cry and ask, why me? She’d done enough of that too, but that she’d always been an inherently happy person and so it was natural for her to continue in that same vein and be optimistic. She added that it does help to look on the bright-side especially when the deck of cards is stacked against you but that I shouldn’t feel like I wasn’t measuring up because my way of dealing with things was different.

If it isn’t clear by now, her words had a profound impact on me. Even more-so now, writing for my blog and writing for sources whose primary readership are those battling chronic illness and chronic pain because I have read the comments left for me. Things like: “You are an inspiration to me.” “Your words are exactly my thoughts and feelings.” “I don’t know how you do it, I’m struggling just to get out of bed every morning.” I hear those words and many times I will write back and say I am just like you. There is nothing magical going on here and I struggle every day, just like you. I think sometimes people read these blog posts and wonder how I have the time, or how I manage my family on top of writing. My secret, that I will share with all of you reading in your little corner of the universe, is two-fold: 1.) I don’t manage every thing that needs to get done all the time. Sometimes chores sit undone. Sometimes I can’t write and need a long break. 2.) Sometimes I write to the detriment of other things that need to get done because it is therapeutic for me. When I get it out of my system, I feel a little better and feel like I can take a breath and tackle life again. I don’t want people who read my blog or other writings thinking I am Wonder Woman, because I’m not. I’m just a girl trying to keep herself afloat the turbulent waters of chronic illness.

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