Last night I had to explain to someone close to me how my body works. How, after having had Lyme Disease off and on for almost twenty years, it's harder to do simple things that I can no longer afford to ignore. I'm not debilitated. Not by any means. But sometimes walking up stairs makes me scream inside. Sometimes holding onto a conversation takes an obscene amount of concentration. Sometimes I realize that no one around me is aware that I'm loaded with small but consistent amounts of pain medication to make it through a job and that I may have blacked out when no one was around only hours before. When I plan any work or social events on back-to-back days, I have to set aside precious hours between them or know that it's going to take a few days to catch up afterwards. I count my blessings - this isn't about a sob story or a cry for a solution. It's about the little things that keep it all in check.
Today my dearest friend, whom I will forevermore call Muffin online, told me I'd made a brave decision in leaving the well-paid cooking job that I loved but that completely depleted my limited stores of energy. Since that time my days have been a weird crucible of covering events, interviewing chefs, working on a book pitch for me and my partner, working on a chef's book pitch, and keeping my family business in check. I make up for the lost income by cooking at photo shoots or stepping in at my prior job - both which require those small but consistent doses of prescribed pain killers and muscle relaxers. Some days, like today, the consistent amount of work it takes to prevent a flare up feels like too much. I don't look sick, and for that I am thankful. And the work I do in my private time is enough to ensure that most people don't see me at a weakened state. Again, I count myself lucky for that.
But it takes work, and being completely aware of a restorative moment.
Sometimes it takes a quiet moment with my sister on the Hudson River - who drove hundreds of miles to be with me for because I took on something I couldn't handle alone - before we go bake 200 mini scones for a charity event.
Sometimes it takes stopping for a few minutes before I walk in my front door, to recognize the beauty that is something awakening from a long winter's sleep.
Sometimes it takes a Sunday morning with Mitra, a cup of coffee and music in my headphones.
Sometimes it takes hauling baking equipment down to a commercial space at 9:30 am and baking my face off to be a part of something that, in a small way, gives back.
But, most importantly, it's the sucking in of air that saves me.
I've personally found that walking meditations are the best way to get me back to where I need to be. They're easiest done in my childhood home in Connecticut, where I can explore the budding trees, take note of the first blooming flowers, and walk barefoot on the moss that blankets my favorite corner of the property. In these times I leave my phone, my to-do list, the frustration of a published piece poorly received, a draft that isn't sitting right or a pitch that's gone unanswered. I let go of my financial fears, my disappointment that my body can't keep up with the necessities of modern city living, and the frustration that if my shit isn't together my brain doesn't formulate words and sentences in ways that I need them to - now - for my work. I do my breathing exercises and repeat my mantra. I remind myself of the "just enough" theory that means I don't have to push so hard or achieve what I once felt was important to achieve. That life is about the living, and the living in the most healthful way possible, not about checking off lists of accomplishments but feeling sick and depleted inside afterwards.
Last week I went to a Yoga and Meditation for Chronic Pain workshop. And it was fine. I did learn one new sequence of meditations that was new and relevant to me. But - fortunately - the premise of meditating to manage stress was old hat to me. I've been meditating for a long while now. I know the affects of stress on my body and the consequences if I choose to ignore them. I try to be present as much as possible. But it's a growing practice. Things that work well today might not tomorrow, or next week, or next year, when I'm hit with a new set of challenges.
So, I ask you, what works for you? What - besides medications and physical concentrations - helps you mentally, spiritually and emotionally stay balanced? What do you repeat to yourself to help remind you of what you know to be true about your world, your body, your life? What keeps you living healthfully and wholly, with a chronic illness. I hope you share, because chances are at some point I'll feel low and desperate and need something new to try.
Cheers to love and health,
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