From Medical Meltdowns to the Magic of Meditation
Hi guys! I can't believe it's been almost 2 months since I last wrote -- a lot hit me at once and I needed a little writing hiatus. I'm super grateful to Allison for stepping in and sharing her Until Further Notice....Celebrate Everything piece which came at a time I needed it most! Taking a break from writing isn't typical for me, writing is usually one of my first go to's for processing tough stuff. So let me briefly fill you in on what's been going on and how it brings me to my topic for this month...meditation!
In mid July I had my semi-annual cardiology appointment. The weeks leading up to it were downright awful, my anxiety was the worst it has ever been. My brain was in constant overdrive and I was freaking out about absolutely everything. I was barely sleeping. I would wake up in the middle of the night with intense chest pain plus a burning sensation that radiated throughout my chest and significant heart palpitations. I was exhausted, constantly lightheaded and dizzy, and didn't even feel like I was in my own body half of the time. Little did I know my intuition was actually sounding the alarm about what was going on health wise - I simply thought that I was losing my mind. Over the years i've always gotten good cardiology checkups. Sure I've dealt with a number of issues and complications but they've always happened "on their own time" (i.e. nothing significant ever popped up around the time I had my appointments) So I was looking forward to this checkup. I figured I'd get the "everything looks as good as possible" all clear and prove to myself that there was no reason to be so anxious. Instead I got asked "are you feeling the atrial fibrillation you're in right now?" I was honestly shocked. I've had A. Fib before but always just fleeting episodes. As the exam continued I remained in A.Fib for part of it and for the other part was "in all sorts of irregular rhythms". Not exactly what one wants to hear. I began discussing in detail the physical symptoms I'd been experiencing and it became clear that they weren't just due to anxiety, but also to A. Fib. Anxiety in and of itself is a symptom of A.Fib. Yet anxiety can also cause A. Fib. It's a viscous cycle. My cardiologist was adamant that she didn't believe I would start to feel better mentally until we got my heart rhythm under control.
A. Fib itself is certainly not some massive crisis. I've been on blood thinners for years and one of the greatest risks of A. Fib is stroke, so I'm covered there. Long term A. Fib can lead to heart failure, but it's not something that is going to happen overnight. But boy this news hit me hard. Ever since I can remember I've been told that as I continue to age my heart is going to start to experience the ramifications of working on overdrive for almost 30 years. I knew it was inevitable that there would come a point where I'd see these complications...one of the major ones being increasing arrhythmias. I always knew that down the line my restructured heart wouldn't work normally without hiccups. But I sure as hell wasn't prepared for it to be starting now. Again, this is not a major crisis. As of right now I am only taking a more aggressive medicine to treat it. We aren't even beginning to explore the ablation or pacemaker route yet. But I know down the line these changes will continue to come....and to be brutally honest with you all, I'm just not ready. It has taken me until very recently to come out of the shock and denial of it all. Numerous people asked me how my appointments went and all I could really muster was a "pretty well!" I couldn't really bring myself to talk too much about it - I was going through a rollercoaster of emotions, I felt like I was having a cardiac identity crisis.
But this brings me to one of the greatest lessons, and blessings, that has come from these rocky few months: my growing meditation practice. For those of you who know me well you know that I'm always going going going and pushing pushing pushing. My mind works a million miles a minute. I ask a trillion questions. Although I've gotten much better at resting and slowing down my physical body, I had yet to get there with my mind. I was all for meditation, but was worried I would fail. Worried I couldn't sit still long enough or focus. Worried that I wasn't going to be "doing it right". For so long these thoughts prevented me from engaging in meditation at all. I was holding myself back which was truly such a shame. There is no right or wrong way to meditate - it is a unique practice for each and every individual. If you're like me and tend to let the fear of not doing things right hold you back I'd encourage you to give it another try. I wanted to offer a few tips on how to get started with your own meditation practice.
Start very slowly. A few minutes a day is more than enough. You'd be surprised at how beneficial 5 minutes of silence and reflection over your morning coffee/tea/breakfast etc. can be.
Focus on your breath. Notice the gentle rise and fall of your belly. Feel the beating of your heart and the physical sensations of your body.
Tune in to the sensations around you. Notice the various sounds and smells. Touch your skin, notice its temperature. Take note of the surface you are on and how it feels against your body.
Don't worry when your mind wanders, acknowledge the fact that you have numerous thoughts. Let these thoughts come and go, drifting in and out on their own.
Remember that there is no right or wrong way to do this!
Remove all distractions. Turn your phone off or put it in airplane mode. If you wish to do a timed meditation, chose a gentle alarm to go off when your session is over.
Try to establish a routine and meditate around the same time every day. First thing in the morning, over lunch, after work or before bed are all great times. Aim for consistency, not length.
Think of something that you associate with a meditative state. For me, it's the ocean.
If possible, dedicate a certain place or setting for your meditation space. Create an atmosphere that feels best for you. It could be on your yoga mat, in your garden, or in your favorite room in your house surrounded by your favorite pillows, candles, essential oils...you name it. For me, it is in my bedroom with the lights off, my fan blowing on me, and my noise machine playing the sounds of ocean surf. While at the beach this summer I was able to mediate in the morning with my coffee sitting in front of the ocean, which was incredible.
Find the most comfortable position for meditating. Is it sitting cross legged? Lying flat? I'd also encourage you to close your eyes, although you certainly don't have to.
Find an accountability partner. If you want to take it a step further, look into meditation classes or groups.
Be versatile. As I mentioned above, I have my ideal setting where I mediate either after getting home from work, before bed, or both. However I'd encourage you to also look at yourself as simply mediative. Where else can you employ this practice "on the go" or outside of your typical meditation place? For me I try to slip into a meditative state while walking on my lunch break or during a few quiet minutes at work.
If you are looking for some guidance, try utilizing some guided meditations. One of my go to's on youtube is Michael Sealy. Another great option is to download the CALM app on your smartphone. If you wear a Fitbit, it has relax setting where it takes you through breathing in and out for a few minutes.
I could go on, but I'd rather you all explore and find what works best for you! Meditation has so many benefits ranging from lowering heart rate and blood pressure, minimizing depression and anxiety, improving mood, boosting immunity, decreasing pain...the list goes on and on. Try it out and let me know what you find! What have your experiences with meditation been? What does and doesn't work for you? What benefits have you found? I personally have been sleeping better and find myself to be much calmer and more even keeled. Although I still wrestle with anxiety, it's much more manageable. And I'm absolutely happier! :)
Sending you all best wishes for a loving and healthy start to September!