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Learning to Live Life in The Slow Lane

As you may have guessed from my previous post, I’ve been feeling pretty down about things lately. In some ways this is a huge leap forward for me, as I have spent a lot of my life trying to avoid this kind of feeling. I haven’t wanted to become a victim of my life’s circumstances, choosing instead to find a positive spin for most things. And I’ve brushed aside comments from others along the lines of, “I don’t know how you deal with all of this,” because I’ve chosen to ignore the fact that my life is far from normal in many ways. But as helpful as this has all been in helping me to keep going through thick and thin, it hasn’t been very healthy.

Because my life isn’t normal. I suffer from multiple chronic illnesses that deeply impact my life, and that of my family. The constant fatigue, migraines, nausea, joint instability, and muscle spasms mean that I struggle with some of the most basic activities, such as taking a shower or preparing a meal. I can go days without doing either of these things, relying on my husband (who is also chronically ill) to bring me food and drink, and help me survive whilst stuck in bed. And on my worst days even lying in bed feels too taxing, as my heart races and my head spins.

Sometimes I know the cause of my most recent flare of symptoms, like a sudden change in temperature or catching yet another virus (having a young child makes this inevitable!) But at other times I have no idea what has caused me to go from functioning reasonably well to totally incapacitated, and I struggle with this aspect of my ill health the most. After all, how can I possibly hope to ease my symptoms and reduce the likelihood of another flare if I don’t know what the cause is?

This lack of control is deeply disturbing, and as a result I have clung desperately to the hope that one day (hopefully soon) I’ll gain a better insight into my health issues and figure out a way to get my old life back. But more and more I am realising that wishing for my “old life” is neither productive nor wise. Sure, it would be wonderful to no longer feel sick on a daily basis and be able to do more with my family and friends. And financially we’d be much better off if I could return to work and get out of the cruel benefits system that treats those of us who are ill as worthless (on a side note, it has now been over a year since my PIP assessment and I’m still waiting for a date for my tribunal hearing). But the point is I’m beginning to realise that I’m wishing for the wrong things.

 

Amanda sitting in garden

Instead of hoping to somehow miraculously recover from the worst of my symptoms, I need to be working on accepting where I am right now. Instead of focusing on what I can’t do, I need to look at what I can do. For instance, I’m currently creating a website for our church and, due to a combination of school holidays and this most recent flare of symptoms, progress has been very slow. My anxiety over this has increased the more time that has elapsed, as I feel like I’m letting people down. Yet multiple times this week people have reminded me that I’m doing something nobody else in the church can do, and even if it takes me several months to complete it will still be a very valuable contribution.

On a rational level, I can see how flawed my thinking is. I’m valuing myself on what I can give and not on who I am, because who I am right now feels like a complete and utter failure. But instead of feeling angry at the cards I’ve been dealt, I feel angry at myself for not handling things better. Instead of acknowledging the grief related to the loss of my health and the dreams I had for my life, I’m punishing myself for not making better choices. And by refusing to accept this as my new normal, I’m denying myself the chance to truly grieve.

But I want to be able to face the reality of my situation and begin to feel all the emotions that come with that. I want to readjust my measure of self-worth so that I can celebrate the small victories (like making it out of the house) without comparing them to things other people do. I want to love myself enough to know that it’s okay to be angry about all I’ve lost, without having to justify that anger and pain. Which is why I have chosen to rebrand the blog to reflect this, giving me the space to come and share my thoughts, feelings, and experiences as I begin to explore living life in the slow lane.

Amanda meditating in the garden

Because that’s where I’m at right now, in the slow lane. Everything I do takes much more time and effort than it used to. I’m no longer planning what I’ll do next week, month, or year, and I’m certainly not able to plan out a future for myself. All the media messages about doing and being more seem irrelevant to me (and make me angry, if I’m completely honest with myself), because I’m having to learn how to do and be less. And my biggest dream right now is to feel well enough on a day-to-day basis to simply potter around the house and garden, do a bit of crafting, and enjoy a bit of company from family and friends.

Life is suddenly all about the simple pleasures, and letting go of the big dreams that are no longer possible. It’s a huge change for me, and one which requires a lot of mental effort in facing the inner demons that scream “this isn’t enough” and “you don’t deserve this”. I’ve got to learn how to grieve for the losses and redefine my self-worth as a sick person. And I’ve got to accept that there truly is no quick fix for this, it’s a journey that I cannot rush. This is life in the slow lane.

The Power of Affirmations

Do you remember that I recently discovered how little I love myself and that I thought it was time to change that? Well, as so often happens, once I made that decision to change I found that the Universe was more than happy to provide me with the resources with which to do so.

I can’t even remember in which order each new idea and resource came to me, I just know that within a few days I found that I had gone from feeling totally deflated by it all to fully enthused about the power within my own mind to make positive changes in my life. And all of this was thanks to affirmations.

Have you ever heard of affirmations? I sure had. I think I first came across them in my early 20s, so maybe 10 years ago now, but at the time I just didn’t seem to understand them. I misunderstood the idea, thinking that if you did them right then affirmations would make everything okay by removing the obstacles in your life. Which means that because I continued to have ill health and other difficulties in life then I must either be doing them incorrectly or they must not work. How wrong I was!

True power of affirmations

You see, I’ve come to understand that the true power in affirmations lies not in their ability to make everything in your life rosy and comfortable, but rather in their ability to change the way you perceive what is happening in your life. It’s not what you are experiencing that matters so much as how you are experiencing it. Let me explain…

For a very, very long time I have suffered from a variety of health issues. In fact, when I was asked recently to write a review of my life I found I got stuck almost immediately in defining myself and my life experience through these health issues. Now my previous way of understanding how affirmations work would have led me to believe that I simply wasn’t very good at them because if I were I wouldn’t have had to struggle with so many illnesses. But my current understanding is this – affirmations don’t magically remove the physical manifestation of an experience we have (e.g. an illness) but they do help us to perceive them in a whole other way (e.g. this illness does not define who I am).

And it is this change in perception that really makes the difference. Since starting daily affirmations (in front of a mirror, for extra self-reflection) I have found that my thought process is changing in such an incredible way. Things that I have struggled with for years (such as self-doubt and self-criticism) are suddenly being replaced by far more positive thought patterns (e.g. self-love and self-worth) without me evening consciously thinking about it. And the beauty of this is that it is all really very simple too.

Whereas I would previously have worried about saying the right things, doing things in the right order, or trying to logically work out the reason for my suffering, I have recently being choosing to follow my intuition. I choose an affirmation that feels right for me in that moment, and then I repeat it (out loud whenever possible) and focus purely on the repetition, like a mantra. I say it as many times as feels right and I change up the wording to suit. By choosing not to overthink or over-analyse what I am doing, I find a true freedom that allows the healing to really begin.

By repeating affirmations such as “I love myself just as I am,” and “I am safe, I trust life” I find that my whole worldview changes. I look in the mirror now and think, “I’m beautiful” rather than “gosh, aren’t I so plain!” and I feel myself letting go of the need to “fix” everything, realising that sometimes things just happen for a reason that I may not yet fully understand. For instance, I understand now that “trusting life to bring only good things to me” doesn’t mean my life will be without pain, but rather any pain that occurs will bring something of value to me in some way.

I understand now that -trusting life to bring only good things to me- doesn't mean my life will be without pain, but rather any pain that occurs will bring something of value to me in some way.

This may seem glib, I know – I’ve often felt that way about affirmations too! But I promise you that if you give affirmations a go, really try them for a few days (at least), you may well find that they bring major changes into your outlook and therefore your experience of life. Let me tell you some of the things that have changed for me in the past couple of weeks, all thanks to starting a daily practise of affirmations:

  • I recognised a pattern within myself and TJ whereby guilt from the suffering we both went through during my pregnancy led to me playing the martyr and him the victim. Realising this helped me to open up to TJ about it, which in turn helped us to talk more openly than we have in a very long time.
  • I have been able to let go of anger and a sense of “injustice” over events that have occurred during the past few years, allowing me to see that within all the pain there were real opportunities to grow – namely the fact that it was only by becoming so low and out of touch with myself that I have finally chosen to change the pattern of a lifetime! What a blessing that is turning out to be…
  • I am becoming more and more aware of just how much of my suffering in life has come from a very deeply rooted lack of self-love and trust in my own body. But instead of obsessing over which came first – the suffering or the lack of self-love – I find I am able to simply focus on loving myself more, regardless of everything else.
  • As a result of more self-awareness and self-love, I have been stepping out of my “must do, must achieve” survival mode and into a more gentle and nurturing style of living. I find myself slowing down the pace, investing in my own well-being, and discovering who I am rather than focusing purely on what I do (or don’t do, as the case may be).
  • I have gone from finding it almost impossible to wake up in the morning, experiencing a sensation like trying to swim through treacle back to consciousness and struggling through the day with next to no energy, to rising from my bed with ease and excitement for my moments in front of the mirror and the day ahead. This can only be attributed to the change in my perception, from dread of what may happen to joy for what could happen. I wake with ease because I want to wake up to another day… you can’t get more symbolic than that!

Waking with ease and joy

To think that these (and so many other changes) have happened in such a short amount of time is, quite honestly, mind-blowing to me. Because, you see, making 5 minutes every morning for affirmations in front of the mirror is so easy. I can’t quite believe that something as simple as this could have such an amazing effect, but it has. And that’s the power of affirmations!

Tell me, do you use affirmations? How do you find them? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Or maybe you’re a little uncertain about affirmations, just like I was? In that case, why not check out my free printables that could help get you started?

And don’t forget you can follow my daily updates on my healing journey over on instagram – I’d love to connect with you there!


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