I’m six weeks through an eight week-long class focused on mindfulness-based stress relief (MBSR). It’s an interesting program that combines meditation, gentle yoga and guidance on identifying and modifying your usual responses to stress, both situational and chronic. Lots of people in the class suffer from debilitating pain, acute and chronic illnesses–some life-threatening. Others have chronic anxiety. It has been helpful in understanding how I have developed ingrained responses to stress triggers. I’m now learning new ways to approach and respond (or not respond) to all sorts of stress triggers.
I’ve also been reading and working through a book on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. The focus of ACT is learning to identify the causes of your suffering and to accept them. It simultaneously helps you to develop techniques to avoid getting entirely wrapped up in the stressors to the point that they become an overwhelming focus of daily life. In combination these two approaches have been extremely helpful. I’m learning how to think, respond and live with suffering while finding ways to make room for happiness and pleasure along side the challenges.
Because I live with PSA, my goal has been to identify all the ways in which it negatively affects my life, the ways it causes me suffering. For some while I’ve felt as though my life has shrunk in scope. I think all PSA sufferers probably feel the same thing. Your disease can limit your mobility, your outlook, your ability to keep commitments and obligations. Each of these limitations compounds the way we perceive ourselves. We barely recognize the person we have become. And I certainly didn’t like the way my life looked.
These approaches aren’t a panacea. And they each take daily effort and dedication. Yet each approach has taught me something very helpful. MBSR has made slowing down and simply breathing a goal. This fits so well with what PSA has a tendency to do to us all! MBSR encourages the very thing that PSA has made me be–slower. ACT shows me it’s OK to recognize my suffering as part of the human condition. Happiness isn’t possible all day, everyday (unless your drugs are really good) and seeing my suffering for what it is, and acknowledging that it truly is part of who I am has helped me to stop fighting it.
I have embraced PSA as part of my life and I am committed to living a full and rich life with this disease. MBSR gives me tools to avoid the daily conflicts that living with a chronic disease can cause. ACT helps me to know that I’m no more or less whole because of having PSA.
My disease has taught me a lot, too. I’ve learned to appreciate the boldness and dignity that comes from the simple act of standing. That’s no bullshit. I’ve never felt more alive and lucky as when I see myself in the mirror at yoga standing tall and strong. I no longer care whether my hands touch the floor in a forward bend or if I have to bend my knees in down dog. And I may never be able to lift my chest more than three inches off the floor in cobra. But I can still stand.
I hope that if the time comes that standing is hard, I will find the same sense of purpose when sitting. And when that gets hard, there’s always shivasana. To those of you unfamiliar with yoga, that’s corpse pose!