“The greater your storm, the brighter your rainbow“
We all have these moments in our life when everything is going smooth and suddenly out of nowhere, you feel punched in the gut!!! You are hit with a medical crisis that pretty much changes your life.
These aren’t just the normal hiccups which go away with a dose of a hug or a friendly chat. These have the potential of sucking you into a blackhole like abyss. At the same time, they also have the power to help you evolve into a better version of yourself.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and with that has begun my journey of healing & self love. Everybody has a different journey with their crisis and no path is the shortest or easiest.
It’s as Glinda the Good Witch of the North advised Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz “You’ve always had the power, my dear. You just had to learn it for yourself.“
Here are a few techniques that have been extremely helpful in these initial days and I hope some of them resonate with you too.
What’s your Mantra
I had always read about the power of meditation and visualisation exercises, but my condition made me practice it. While meditation helps me with better focus, reduced stress and better sleep; visualisation (guided imagery) gives me strength in those darkest hours.
In a visualisation exercise you utilise mental imagery to enact a situation e.g. for a disease, you can see your body attacking the disease or the disease becoming smaller etc. You can also recreate the scene where the doctor is informing you that you are cured. See the exact situation with the people/surrounding/sounds/weather etc. Experience the situation and feel the emotions coursing through you.
How does Visualization work: During the exercise, the amygdala — the structure in the center of the brain (responsible for the fight or flight response) — has trouble distinguishing between reality and illusion. With constant practice, the mind sees it as a reality thereby changing our mindset and habits. Basically, your body and mind are a whole, and training the mind will have strong effects on what your body can achieve.
In a 2016 interview with Forbes, Michael Phelp’s coach spoke about the power of this exercise. “Michael Phelps mentally rehearses for two hours a day in the pool. He sees himself winning. He smells the air, tastes the water, hears the sounds, sees the clock”.
Trust me, I cry every time I do this exercise. It is that powerful. I would strongly advocate the benefits of meditation and visualization exercises in enhancing your wellbeing.
Use an affirmation during this exercise: state the end goal in the current tense as if it has already occurred e.g.
- I am cancer free and healthy
- I am walking now
- I can see
Be gentle on your body
When the signs of the inner fight start showing on your body, it can cause you to look at your body with fear, resentment, anger and many such emotions. My husband once told me “you are more than your body part, it doesn’t define you”.
This is the time that your body is at war with the disease and in every war, there are some casualties. So be kind to your body, and help it in this fight.
Nourish it with healthy food choices and some exercise (however less in intensity they may be) to strengthen it.. be it yoga, walking or anything physically possible for you.
It’s not always possible to eat super healthy food and maintain a strict diet. Don’t kill yourself dieting but make healthy choices as much as possible.
Find something you like doing
When we found out about my condition, we had recently moved countries and I was a new parent. Suddenly I felt everything slow down and daily tasks seemed like an uphill climb. I just wanted to weep and curse my fate. While there was a flurry of activity around meeting doctors, getting second opinions, tests etc I forgot I had a life beyond this.
My best friend, pushed me to start writing. She said “while your body is busy fighting your disease, your mind is still active.. so give it some food!”.
She knew I liked to write and encouraged me to start this blog. I truly enjoyed it. It meant time away from overthinking my situation, it meant more productive hours.
It’s important to continue your old hobbies or passions or even develop new ones.
Psychologists Richard Tedeschi, PhD, and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD, in the mid-1990s, developed a theory termed Post-traumatic growth (PTG) which states that ‘people who endure psychological struggle following adversity can often see positive growth afterward. It ensures a greater appreciation for life’.
It’s always difficult to look at the good when there is so much bad going around, but trust me it really helps to see the silver lining. My crisis helped me see what all I had, a loving family, a kickass husband, a beautiful child, the best medical care we could afford, a safe environment and more.
Seeing the glass half full helps me be calm when shit hits the roof; it could have been worse. I practice gratitude everyday by maintaining a daily journal documenting 10 things I am grateful for.
Its ok to ask for help!
I have always been self reliant and independent and suddenly to find myself weak came as a rude shock. And it wasn’t only physically that I found myself needing help but also emotionally. But I finally realised that simply acknowledging that I needed help was a sign of strength.
And when I did ask for help, it was as if the Universe was waiting to give me what I needed most. I started getting support from places I never expected. I found a great counsellor with whom my emotional healing and journey into self began. I found a yoga teacher who taught me basics of yoga which I could practice daily. My in laws came out in full support and pretty much stopped their lives to be with me.
I also joined a local support group; just knowing you are not alone in this journey, and there are others like you, makes for great strength.
My journey towards recovery has begun and there is light at the end of the tunnel. Life is not what happens to us … life is what we make it. So let’s make it a good one. 😊