Before it was accepted that mental health affects our physical body as well, it was always shunned upon that some illness are caused by poor, ill natured thoughts.
In the current millennia, it is now widely accepted that we are indeed physically connected to our consciousness in the form of our thoughts. We are comprised of a subtle body energy and the physical body itself.
Some years back, I used to work for a company as an IT manager. It was quite stressful. My habits were very poor in general and was always full of stress. I am not quite the person who loves to travel too, so I tend to not go on leaves and would never be absent unless I really have to.
Needless to say, I reached a point where I would see my doctor at least once a week. I was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, hypertension, and high cholesterol (amongst others). I discovered about my allergic asthma and, although I just got well from my stomach ulcer, it was pretty much a scratch off my very long health bucket list.
My eye opener was when I once came to my doctor, and after his series of questions and tests, he told me: “Ate, walang gamot sa sakit na hindi nag eexist ([miss], there’s no cure for illness that don’t exist”. I didn’t know if I would be embarrassed, if I would laugh, or I’ll be shocked. He didn't charge me for consultation that day, so I just went home feeling confused.
It was time for me to figure out what was hurting me. I was hurting physically without any of the known illnesses, and that’s coming from my own doctor (of so many years). I started looking for answers and ways to fix my problem. Until, I learned that the nature of your thoughts can also affect you. The ill thoughts, negative self talk manifests as stress in your body and into something that can be felt– and may even become an illness too.
What I did
I turned to more relaxing habits. I tried what my doctor told me: try yoga. I was already familiar with yoga back then, after some years of having tried it way back in 2009. However, because I prioritized my work so much, I have forgotten how to unwind and take care of myself— both physically and mentally.
So, I went back to yoga. It was in 2014, I moved to a condo setup a year prior, and found a local yoga teacher who came by within the condo premises to teach for a minimal fee. I was a whopping 137lb girl of only 4’11”. I had so many issues and was taking a lot of medications. Every other yoga pose would hurt and would feel like torture. However, it always left me feeling better than when I started, so I continued to attend his classes because it was near and convenient.
I realised, all the negative self talk has diminished and I was feeling happier in my head. I had new goals and I was always in a sunny mood. Slowly, some of my illnesses disappeared, and I was left with (only) hypertension during late 2015.
Looking for more ways to “zone out”, I also found journaling/planning in 2015. I started to keep a journal, write about my plans, do a brain dump, etc. Slowly, I was able to declutter my mind. I was feeling better physically and was feeling lighter and more stable mentally.
Fast forward to today
Well, today’s story is quite a different thing. It’s a challenge to be able to survive the virus and, well, keep sane.
In 2017, I decided to follow a Buddhist path. I became vegetarian in 2015 and from there on, I was moving towards a better direction. Meditation has become a staple in my life and it has immensely helped me become a better person.
Late 2019, to early 2020, I was literally spaced out. I am blanketed with grief over losing my 19yr old companion and my best friend. I’m still not without grief as of this time, but when the world was panicking about this epidemic (was just and epidemic at that point), I was out of my norm. And then Taal volcano erupted; that also shook me. What’s happening is a chain of rude awakening for mankind.
I kept meditating every morning and went live on IG every 6AM to help others discover meditation and be able to listen to my guided session and maybe find some peace of mind throughout the ongoing chaos of the world. However, there were only a few who would stay and meditate. Until, the epidemic became a pandemic, it became more difficult to sit quietly.
Honestly, I started listening to the news like it was food for my soul. Until I realised, I didn’t have to know everything. It disrupted my peace of mind. It gave me something to be angry about, to be sad about, to worry about. I started getting angry a lot. I lost my patience very easily and I was always stressed. In the last 2 months of quarantine, I had to file 3 leaves that I never did in the years before.
There was more work to be done, more news to read/listen to. More cleaning to do, more washing to do, etc. On top of it, as a newly graduated yoga teacher, I also felt compelled to share more of what I can offer, but I was getting attached to the outcome, not the value that it adds for myself and my students. And my grief? It was sitting in the darkest corner of my mind, poking me invisibly from behind, asking for some attention. I will go crazy with all of this.
Coming out of mental chaos
I’m writing now because, my mind is clear. I woke up today and I “prayed”. My Theravada prayers always brings me clarity, joy in my heart and I feel composed. In the last few days, I couldn’t even define my personality amidst all the things that I needed to do/wanted to do. I lost the “whys” and only the “hows” remained.
Let me share some of my realization and some of the things that helped me:
1) when it’s difficult to sit and meditate, find a task that takes your mind off of its thoughts. something that “zones you out”. Everyday, I’ll allot 1-2 hours for this activity. For me, this is tinkering with planner stuff / painting / reading. I do what I feel like doing for that day. Some minutes off of the noise of too much thinking/worrying is worth it in the long run.
2) make a vision board / motivation corner. It’s easy to lose sight of why something matters, or why do you enjoy waking up everyday if it’s not tangible or if you’re not always reminded of it. What I did was I rounded up quotes that strongly resonate with me. I printed it out and put multiple copies of it in my planner. So that when I see it, it can boost my morale and get myself back towards my goals.
3) understand yourself better by writing it down. I actually bought a printable file that helps me achieve this. It is a 4 page printable that is a 2-page morning & evening check-in to assess how you feel and identify reasons you feel that way, and (probably) figure out how to ease out/into something that is helpful for you to make that day count. This also included a section of gratitude journaling. It may be difficult at the start, but once you start writing, you’ll find that you have more to say, and you’ll be forming a tangible plan you can actually follow. Here’s the page if you’re curious to see: https://www.etsy.com/listing/729705618/printable-morning-and-evening-check-in
4) figure out the one thing that is MOST important for you—something (or even someone) that, as long as you have (it), you are ok. This could be anything from a house, water (because it’s really very hot right now), food, your pet, good health, or even faith in whoever you believe in. Hang onto this. Make it your rock. Imagine that the petals of a flower may fall, but the bud remains—and with that, you’re just ok.
5) forgive yourself often. Sometimes, hope is an essential part of humanity, but it can also bring us down when we get disappointed. However, there’s no part of life where it can always be in our favor. Disappointments are just what they are, they shouldn’t define your personality nor your success (in whatever aspect this applies to).
6) talk to someone. Sometimes, what’s in your head is different than what would come out of your mouth. Trying to explain what you’re thinking to someone could surprise you. You may let out a burden, or just be a wonderful surprise towards understanding yourself.
7) hear the negative thoughts, but instead of wallowing in them, say "I hear you, but I won't listen to you". If you have your vision board or your motivational reasons (see #2), your resolve won't be weak. If there's negative self talk happening like "I"m not good enough for this", etc. Just hear it but don't heed it.
8) and lastly, something you probably would never expect: surrender. Me trying to control the situation by identifying what needs to be done for work, home, food management, health, self care, etc. is not being kind and compassionate to myself. Despite trying to stay on top of everything (while they seem effective), I still get drained. Sometimes, it’s better to just surrender. It is what it is. And sometimes, it may be painful, and it’s ok. Accept that this too shall pass; even the good things don’t last.
Trying to reinvent myself everyday
When at night, before I finally close my eyes, I whisper to my cat: “Today, your mama was again unstable. I got angry, I was impatient and I cried again. Don’t worry, I will try to be better tomorrow”.
When my cat was still with me physically, she hates loud noises. I don’t yell, I don’t cry and I’m seldom angry or impatient. I don’t like it when she gets scared because of me. Since she passed away, I felt like I’m becoming quite the opposite and I am ashamed of this. So, I just keep trying. I know that much of my grief is also just lingering around and sometimes manifests as anger.
Most news affect me very easily now, so I am listening less and less of the news and just choosing to read from CNN Philippines or from gov’t websites for my updates to what’s happening. I need to show myself some respect and do less of what hurts me. Social media also upsets me sometimes. That’s my my little motivational corner in my planner is my mantra.
Everyday, I tell myself, that it’s ok to start again and keep trying to make tomorrow better. It is difficult and challenging for all; and it’s understandable. But give permission to change and embrace change.
Be compassionate to yourself. Do more of the things that make you happy. It’s going to save you in the long run.
Let’s survive this pandemic together. Stay in shape physically and mentally!