Look Forward with Hope

Hope is what keeps us alive – having it means we believe that tomorrow is better than the alternative.   Holding onto hope is what drives us forward; it serves as a self motivator to both want and believe that there is better for us.  When hoping for change in a life situation or for a change in those around you, it is a challenge to accept that you cannot change what is out of your control. Our focus and attention needs to shift to what is controllable, which is our emotions and our reaction.

You are not your life situation. You are not your illness. You are not your injury. It can change. It may only be a temporary situation that you have to accept is not going to change at this moment in time, but may change for the better in the future. For those with a permanent disability, acceptance is often the hardest part initially but emotions do change over time. A broken body is not a broken person. Whether a disability is temporary or permanent, it will get better in time.

My life situation has been the unknown. It is unknown as to why this has happened or whether it will get better. I chose to have hope. I know my future will be better physically. I have already surpassed what I was once told I would never physically be able to do anymore, and I’m not going to stop there.  I will admit that I did let those words affect me, but I came to realize that “never” and “can’t” was not something I was willing to accept. In my heart, I knew it was not true.  Sometimes words are just words, and a diagnosis is not always permanent.  It is not always so black-and-white to figure out what we merrily have to accept will always be true, and what we can change through perseverance and a willingness to never give up.

As for your relationships with people whether a close friend, partner, or relative – do not go running back to something that once broke you. It will not change this time around as badly as you hope or believe you deserve for it to be different. It is what it is, and what it is, is not for you anymore. Let it go. It is in your past. Leave it there. Maybe it was never for you. Maybe you are just realizing that now, but now that you know better, do better. Trying to convince them of their wrongdoing will not make things better, because in their own perspective they are right. Don’t think about them, don’t talk about them, don’t try to contact them, just move forward. They have already given up on you, now it’s your turn to let go. This was a very hard life lesson for me to learn while always believing in the best in others. Living in an unfriend and unfollow society, sometimes there are no explanations needed – if it doesn’t add anything to your life, simply remove it.  Life is too short to spend dwelling on others that do not appreciate you.

Look forward with hope that there will be those that deserve to stay in your life that value you for all that you are. I know I am incredibly fortunate to already have those friends and family members in my life that I value immensely.  Do not let any words go unsaid, let those people know just how much they mean to you.  I will always remain true to myself and seek out any relationship with an open heart. After all, we all share a common thread by having been emotionally broken in someway during our lifetime.  What if we all treated each other as the fragile human beings that we are, and not as a means to an end?

Not Everything Happens for a Reason

Having a chronic illness has made me very familiar with feeling inadequate and even broken at times. As much as I have countlessly researched and implemented various strategies of positive thinking into my life, there is no magic cure to deal with these feelings.  You can only simply feel them and carry on regardless of them.  You have to go through the process of dealing with it.

Life is not all sunshine and rainbows.  It is hard.  People will hurt you and so will life itself.  You will be tested at some point in your life perhaps with your body when it becomes broken by illness or injury, emotionally through the tragedy of loss, financially, and so on.  None of us are immune to hard times, and tragedy can and will strike at any time.  All we can do is seek to understand one another and be there for each other when these times arise.

It is okay to not always look on the bright side of things or ever find meaning as to why this has happened to you.  It is okay to be angry or upset, because it was not fair for this to happen.  If you want to cry, cry; if you want to shout, shout.  But then try to carry on.  Bad things happen to undeserving people everyday.  There are no simple words to erase the pain of a new devastating diagnosis or battling daily chronic pain, the loss of a loved one, or the betrayal of a partner.  When dealing with an illness or a tragedy you have every right to grieve that loss.  Yes, someone may have it worse off than you, but it doesn’t take away from your right to be upset about your pain.

Perseverance is perhaps the strongest skill we can ever learn.  Choosing to move on despite all of these bumps and bruises we experience along the way is real strength.  It is not okay that my kindness has been taken advantage of in the past, but despite this I will not let anyone change me from staying true to myself.  In some instances there is a lesson to be learned such as in choosing the right people to trust, but sometimes there is no lesson to be learned other than shit happens.

You may never feel like you are ever enough all of the time, but what is important is to realize is that those around you may feel like you are more than enough.  Give yourself permission to feel, but to not be consumed by it.  Find your raison d’être.  Get lost in something that is purposeful and meaningful to you.  Lift others up.  Be present for your loved ones in dark times.  Don’t stress over the right words to say to them – just simply be there.  Believe me, that is more than enough.  Life’s journey is a learning process in letting go of fear and having the ability to not torture yourself over your scars.  I may never fully get there, but I am sure as hell going to try each day at a time.

Seven Reasons to Fight to Stay Positive


 

It is much easier to remain negative when life continuously throws challenges your way.  Life is not fair – we don’t get to choose where we start out in life, but we can choose who we become.  Two of the most valuable things we have to cherish are time and our relationships.  Yes, it is tremendously difficult to deal with pain that is debilitating at times on a daily basis and to not have people understand that.  But why would I choose to remain negative and feel sorry for myself, which is not only an ineffective coping mechanism for my pain, but will also negatively affect those around me?  Time is limited, and we must make the best use of that time no matter how difficult our circumstances may be.  It is undoubtedly easier said than done as I have struggled to remain positive during setbacks in the past, but I know I am growing as a person by not letting them affect me from maintaining the view of the big picture – that I will persevere in the end and to keep pushing forward towards that goal.

You have to be happy with yourself during the process of your recovery that can be attained through thinking positive thoughts.  Remaining positive is the most useful coping skill you can use for any situation that comes your way.  Your attitude reflects your thought process, which in turn affects how your body responds to stress.  Here are seven reasons why you should continue to fight to stay positive if suffering from chronic pain or experiencing any setback in life.

1. It’s contagious.

Happiness and positive vibes are like a desirable virus that easily infects those that surround it.  As hard as it may be to put a smile on your face and focus on the positive despite your pain and circumstances, you could be inspirational to others with your positive attitude and perseverance.  How rewarding would it be to hear the words, “because of you I didn’t give up”?

I was immediately removed from any inclination to throw myself a pity party after hearing this encouraging story in the clip below featured on Ellen.  Jackson Smith and Brian McKenna are best friends that met while attending Tulane University.  Smith was going through the hardest time in his life to date while deployed in Afghanistan.  McKenna showed his support for his friend by taking photos with a cardboard cutout of Smith along on all of his adventures including meeting their mutual hero, Drew Brees, quarterback of the New Orleans Saints that got him through that rough time.  Tragically, McKenna was later paralyzed from the neck down in a mountain biking accident.  Smith was right there by his friend’s side and showed his support in return by bringing a cardboard version of McKenna to a Saints’ game and posed with Drew Brees.  It is truly inspiring to see both McKenna’s positive attitude after his life-altering accident in which he states, “being negative is a waste of time” and simply “just not any fun” along with the strength of their friendship.

You’re not alone in your hardships as everyone is fighting their own silent battle, so why not pay it forward with your positive attitude?

2.  You’ve been through worse.

You learn to put your circumstances in perspective and be grateful for what you have.  When I hit my lowest point in my recovery with all of my injuries flared up at the same time, I took that moment in to realize that this was what bottom felt like and I could only go up from there.  Every step I take while walking and every turn I take while driving are two simple daily activities that most people take for granted, but not me.  Whenever I experience a hiccup in my recovery, I look back at how far I’ve come and I know I can get through this too.

3.  Be strong for your loved ones.

If you’re having a hard time being strong for yourself, instead think of being strong for those around you.  I value all of my relationships with each of my family members and friends immensely.  I feel incredibly lucky to be blessed with such a strong support system.  When hitting my lowest point and being limited in my activity, my brother visited me weekly to engage in conversations full of laughing and playing cards just like we did growing up to keep my mind busy and spirits up.  My parents are my lifelong cheerleaders who continuously encourage me to hold on to hope.  My girlfriends would gladly come over with a bottle of wine if a night of dancing was not in the cards.  My sister and friends in other cities show their support by lending an ear anytime I need to talk.  The providers that I’ve sought out for alternative therapies encourage me on, telling me I’ll “get there little by little”, and thus far they have been right.  They are all fighting for me to beat this, and I don’t intend on giving up!

4. It will help your body to heal.

A positive attitude is a healthy coping mechanism that decreases stress levels, lowers blood pressure,  and combats depression.  Being positive will boost your mood and energy to increase your activity to continue on in your recovery.

5. Increases confidence, and your motivation to keep moving forward.  

In the wise words of Yoda from Star Wars, “fear is the path to the dark side”.  You can’t be afraid to get back up after being knocked down, especially when all you can see is the bottom.  You can break the pain cycle and take control of your pain by understanding why these setbacks happen. Focus on what you can control, which is your emotions and the actions you take to move forward.  Eventually you will see progress, and take the time to celebrate these steps whether big or small as this will reinforce your ability to believe in yourself to keep going, creating a positive feedback loop.  Just as I advise my patients with chronic conditions to modify their lifestyle with a healthy diet and exercise plan to decrease their need for taking medication,  I need to take my own advice and control my reaction to my pain.

 

6. Improved relationships.

A positive attitude attracts positive people.  With a positive attitude it is so much easier to see the positive qualities in others that will only enhance your ability to find more meaningful friendships and relationships. Besides, no one likes a Debbie downer!

The story in the clip above about the friendship between Smith and McKenna is an example where two people could have easily emotionally shutdown on account of their own negative life circumstances.  However, they chose to remain positive and be present in support of one another, enhancing their own recovery and strengthening their bond.

7. To lead a fulfilling life.  

When we are forced to change our perspective and view the big picture, we become more grateful and find a new sense of purpose.  It is easier to see what is really important and what our true passion is. We only get one shot at this life and have to make the best of it with what hand we are dealt.  How do you want to lead your life, and leave your mark?  What’s important to you, and what’s stopping you from getting there?

Laughter is the Best Medicine

I have come to view life as a dark comedy that reflects my realistic optimism in which I choose to maintain a positive outlook, but within the constraints of what is known about the world.  If you look closely there is tragedy all around us – inequality is everywhere in our society whether it’s due to socioeconomic status, education, race, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability etc.  You can easily get stuck in the negative, thinking of all the injustices in the world where it affects all of us in someway either directly or those around us.  We all experience the tragic side of life, but going through those experiences are what shapes who we are.

On the contrary, viewing a negative experience more positively can help us to cope with those difficult situations.  It can even help us to connect with other people by remaining open.  When something negative happens to us we can react in one of two ways: positive or negative.  For example, we trip on a sidewalk in front of a bunch of people (for some reason happens to me all the time).  Instead of turning varying shades of red and decking into the crowd in embarrassment, why not get up and laugh at yourself then keep on going?  There is no need to take that event or yourself so seriously; it happens to the best of us.

Whether it’s just a demanding day at work or a setback in my recovery, watching standup comedy has been a stress outlet for me and a way to not dwell on the negative.  An even better way to get outside yourself than endlessly browsing the comedy section on Netflix is to go see a live show with friends – one of my favorite social things to do.  However, comedy is more than a mere distraction that makes us laugh as it is used as a healthy coping mechanism for many.  Viewing life as a comedy has many benefits such as providing a more positive perspective on a particular life event or life circumstances.

There is truth to the saying that laughter is the best medicine.  Short-term benefits include increased blood flow and release of endorphins similar to a mild workout, a decreased stress response, lowered blood sugar, and relaxed muscle tension that can lead to a better quality of sleep.  Over the long-term, studies have shown that using humor may increase the level of infection-fighting antibodies and boost the levels of immune cells in the body.  Additionally, for those with a chronic illness, humor has been shown to improve mood by increasing happiness, and relieving pain by producing natural painkillers in the body and inhibiting pain-spasm cycles common in muscle conditions.

I recently stumbled upon the comedy special, “Fun Size” featuring standup comic, Brad Williams.  In an interview for his comedy special in the clip below, Williams says he got so much attention by just being different that he figured he might as well say something entertaining if people were going to be staring at him regardless.  His message about embracing dwarfism and laughing at himself is his own coping mechanism that can be applied to anyone and their own situation.  He also breaks down barriers proving he can be a comedian too, and that he is more than his condition.

There is a balance between being aware of the tragedies going on around us as well as being challenged by picking ourselves back up from the hard times, and not taking life and every setback so seriously as life will continue to go on with its ups and downs.  Why not view your life as a movie you would actually want to be in that makes both you and those around you happy?  It may not be entirely a feel-good comedy as it shows the bumps and bruises that we all experience along the way, but why can’t we react with laughter and walk out of the theater with a smile on our faces?  After all, our leading characters are still here – how lucky are we?

 

How Finding the Right Doctor is Like Dating

Over the past few years, I have seen more medical specialists and had more evaluations by physical therapists than I’ve been on first dates.  When my injuries failed to heal at a normal rate and new ones began popping up, I was told that there had to be a reason why and so the chase for my medical mystery began like a series of blind dates.  I did my research on each provider before the first appointment like consulting with a girlfriend for advice before a first date.  After scheduling my first appointment, I would then organize my medical records and prepare my questions just as I would pick out a killer outfit and paint my nails the night before a date.

Then the day you have been waiting for has finally arrived.  You sit there alone in your thoughts in the cold exam room anticipating the conversation to be had, a little bit anxious and a little bit excited about the possibility of where it could lead.  I’ve had to repeatedly tell my story so many times that I now have the critical points down pat and clearly concise.  However, your story and symptoms are off the script from their expertise, you are outside the box, the unknown.  I have been told that I’ve done everything right and investigated every avenue to rule out a potential diagnosis.  You try one last time to ask for their advice for some guidance on a treatment plan, but again you are told that you’re doing everything right and just give it time.  Just like at the end of a relationship, there are no more words to be said, they have been exhausted.  You may get a referral and you can take it or leave it just like the last piece of advice you may get from an ex.  You glance back one last time, and thank them for their time as you have had manners instilled in you from an early age.

Sometimes, you have to be patient and play the game by getting the unnecessary x-ray again before you can get an order for a MRI that detects soft tissue problems, which is what your symptoms actually indicate.  You then learn how to stand up for yourself when your time or autonomy is not  being respected; such as in having to come in for a separate appointment to have my new symptoms reevaluated before getting the test or order I need after just having a recent appointment, then I would still need to schedule the test and a follow-up appointment to go over the results.  I know the doctor is simply following protocol in what we dubbed in pharmacy school as “cookbook medicine.” I knew his next move before he even made it by simply following the treatment guidelines.  I called the doctor’s office back pleading that it was difficult to come back in, and my doctor is free to call my  physical therapist to verify my symptoms.  My request for the order was granted and the call to my physical therapist was never placed.  I was learning the ropes of the system.  At this point, with a pharmacy background, I could likely moonlight as a physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor or a physical therapist by knowing almost every muscle group and tendon, diagnostic test, inflammatory marker, and therapeutic technique for soft tissue pain.

Though I have I failed to get any answers from the medical community, I have found what works for my body and that has been a more holistic approach with a combination of various alternative therapies that focus on the whole body as well as my own exercise plan.  We are all looking for  our stories to be heard and to be understood.  I have met so many compassionate people through my journey in finding different alternative therapies and they all have their own unique stories to tell.  I recall their stories of strength to get me through times of weakness.  I have felt support by finally being heard and strength in finding my own voice to speak up for myself and for those that cannot in  advocating for chronic pain.  You learn to be your own advocate and to not wait around for an answer; instead, relying on your own motivation to get you through this journey.  I move forward every day with an open mind and an open heart, never giving up hope.  If you have your spirit crushed by someone or some therapy you’re not responding to, just move on; there are plenty of more paths to take that may lead to what you’re looking for.  I am not waiting for a miracle to be saved.  Instead, I’m taking control and rescuing myself.

Focus on What You Can Do

For as far as I can remember my life has revolved around one continuous schedule.  While pursuing higher education my days consisted of studying, being shuffled from meeting to meeting for afterschool activities, volunteering in the community, attending networking conferences, making time for the gym, and friends.  The cycle then continued while beginning my career with a demanding work schedule.  I still scheduled ahead time for friends, the gym, hobbies like being a health blogger and volunteering, and more networking events.  I thought sleep was a waste of time and had to constantly be in action and onto my next task.

Chronic pain has held me back from doing the sports I once loved and even some work settings.  My body now has limits compared to what I could once do and only time will tell if those limits will remain.  However, I realized I was wrong in how I was viewing this new challenge.  I was narrowly thinking of life in one concrete way.  I have found out more about myself and what I’m capable of through going through this experience and for that I am grateful for.  I have learned to be kinder to my body, to find out what is essential in how I spend my time, and what matters most to me.  There’s more than one way to workout (even if this means I’ll never be able to post a picture on Instagram with the  ubiquitous #beastmode), to lead a productive life at a slower pace, to value time spent with the people that mean the most to me, to volunteer not with physical labor but with my mind and expertise,  to go out and meet new people doing different activities, and to focus on meaningful work like fighting for a cause that I am truly passionate about.

Amy Purdy, defies what it means to live beyond limits.  At 19 years old, she lost both of her legs below the knee due to bacterial meningitis.  Purdy battled depression as this was not how she planned to live her life, but she overcame it by accepting her new life but not her limitations.  Her new prosthetics were not working to allow her to continue snowboarding, but she didn’t let that stop her and she built her own.  Now she is a world champion female adaptive snowboarder.  She cofounded a non-profit organization, Adaptive Action Sports to introduce those with physical challenges to action sports.

 

Amy Purdy, Paralympic snowboarder, the first double amputee contestant on “Dancing with the Stars.”

Hugh Herr lost both of his legs due to a climbing accident.  The accident did not hold him back from climbing again as he designed his own prosthetics to accomplish his goal.  Herr returned to school to study engineering, and is now an engineer of prosthetics at MIT.  His career is dedicated to helping others to get back to doing what they love and for some never imagined that they could do.

“You’ve given me my body back,”Adrianne Haslet-Davis, a dancer who lost her leg in the 2013 Boston marathon bombing thanks Hugh Herr.

Focus on the positives.  I read now more than ever, I am finally taking the time to learn a new language, and I work out daily.  Focus on what you can do, or on filling in the gaps of how you can go about accomplishing what you currently can’t do.  Most importantly, I’m still here.  I’m still present and have a new outlook and appreciation for life.  I am choosing to make a positive out of a negative life event.  I refuse to be stuck in thinking about all the things that I cannot do.

You can still be a doer in life, you just have to be more creative in your process.  There is more than one way to go about accomplishing something perhaps the technology or thought process is currently lagging, but it is not impossible.  I have my voice, my mind, and my fighting spirit and as far as I’m concerned the sky is the limit in being able to make a difference.  It starts with one person.   I have reached out and partnered with healthcare providers and non-profit organizations in my city in attempts to organize support groups for those in chronic pain, to raise awareness, and to influence policy.  Chronic pain is not going to hold me back, I’ve only just begun.

The Power of Words

Just as negative words can easily tear your spirit down, positive words have the power to lift you back up and push you forward through the toughest of times.  If the words are visible and serve as a constant reminder, you will start to believe in yourself that you can overcome any obstacle or can start to view something in a more positive light.

Gabrielle Union’s character in the television show, Being Mary Jane, puts her life affirmations on post-it notes on her mirror to remind herself daily of her strength.  When going through a difficult time, such as in the process of dealing with my health, it is easy to forget all of the positive aspects of life and the many more that still lay ahead.  Writing your own affirmation and viewing it daily is like a repeated advertisement that is selling you a product that you are then motivated to purchase – you buy into it.

Taking a cue from the inspirational movie, Pay It Forward, I am instantly removed from any negative thoughts by doing something positive for someone else.  I  sometimes write notes of positive messages or quotes from poems in hopes of brightening someone’s day.  I place them in books at used bookstores or write them on napkins in coffee shops.  They may be deemed as trash and picked up in haste by an angry barista, but I’m choosing to believe in the former.  Complimenting a coworker or a complete stranger can instantly enhance their mood and even spark a conversation.  Leaving an extra large tip for a server, or calling or texting a friend just to let them know you’re thinking of them are all ways of paying it forward.  On two separate occasions at the drive-thru line at Starbucks, the car ahead of me paid for my coffee and I continued the sequence by paying the bill for the car behind me.  Help others to believe in themselves or simply spread positivity by starting your own form of paying it forward.  Focusing energy on others is one of the easiest ways to feel joy and one of the most rewarding.

Surrounding yourself with positive words of encouragement is also like being your own personal cheerleader, cheering you on every step of the way.  Words can be very powerful if you give them meaning.  Once you take that step of believing in those words and yourself, it is such a strong feeling that it becomes difficult to not go anywhere but forward.  I believe in having hope and in myself to persevere through chronic pain – there is no stopping me now.

 

Channel Your Inner Fighter

In every classic underdog story, an athlete goes against all odds with only victory on their mind to train and compete with those that are believed to be their superior and actually succeeds, leaving those around them in utter disbelief.  Their motivation to continuously push forward after being knocked down time after time is infectious, and it leaves you with the feeling that you can also overcome what it is that you’re fighting against and come out swinging on the other side.

Mark Wahlberg’s portrayal of Mickey Ward in ‘The Fighter” is the equivalent underdog story for this generation as Sylvester Stallone’s take as Rocky Balboa was for the baby boomers and beyond.  “The Fighter” showcases Ward, a boxer from Lowell, Massachusetts that hasn’t had the most successful career.  He is being trained by his older brother, who has had some success as a boxer but now has a tainted reputation with drugs, and is managed by his family that isn’t always leading him in the right direction.  After one too many embarrassing losses and an injured hand from defending his brother, he retreats in despair.  Until one day he finally gets up and grabs his gym bag to start training little by little, taking on small fights to regain his confidence before finally being ready to go for the title with his family by his side on his own terms.  To everyone’s surprise, Micky Ward wins the title.

I have always been driven to fight hard for anything I attempted whether it was in sports, academics, or my career, and I understood the discipline it took to reach my goals.  So why would I give up now fighting the most meaningful battle of my life – to get my body healthy again? I felt defeated by numerous setbacks, frustrated with unanswered questions and many later ruled out diagnoses from healthcare providers, and misunderstood by those around me with the look of hope slipping from their eyes.

I happened to come across “The Fighter” on television one day after reaching my lowest point.  Just as Wahlberg’s character picked up the gym bag to start training, I felt inspired to do the same.  I decided all I could do was to help myself by pushing forward each day doing more and more.  I mentally prepared for the setbacks I would experience along the way and didn’t put a number on the duration of my recovery, only listening to my body for guidance.

I started working my lower body with low impact cardio using a stationary bike, increasing only a minute a day, then to walking on a flat surface.  I was struggling to walk my first lap around the very same track I once trotted off with in discouragement if I didn’t come away with my expected blue ribbon running track during my adolescence, but I persisted in my recovery not focusing on how far I had to go.  I walked a little further each day until I was able to walk well over a mile.  I further challenged myself by walking on uneven ground on beaches and trails.  My upper body hindered me from swimming, so I practiced water running in place.  After a few months, I was going on hour long hikes, climbing rocks, and at peace with my progress.

I followed the same plan for my upper body.  I have always used a mat Pilates workout for strengthening my core and increasing flexibility.  When I became unable to do those exercises with a neck and shoulder injury, I used a pillow to support my neck and did as much as I could each day with the goal of completing it in its entirety with less modifications.

There have been setbacks, but I make sure to move everyday and use ice as needed if I overdo it.  The biggest challenge of all has been getting into the right mindset to believe in myself to overcome this.  I can’t jump ahead to know what my future holds, all I can do is control what action I take now to inch my way further to where I want to be.  My recovery has been a marathon of peaks and valleys, but I’m learning to enjoy the process with the vision to claim my own “title” on my mind.

Be the champion of your own underdog story.  Never stop fighting and hold onto hope for a positive outcome as your motivation.  No one knows the ending to your story, not even you. What do you have to lose by trying?