Saturday, August 24, 2013

Learning to Love your 'New Life' as much as your 'Old Life': In an analogy about dogs

An Analogy of Your New Life--Dog lovers will enjoy this post!

Ice Hiking on a Glacier
Quick Background: Before I was diagnosed with Lyme, I was going to a pain clinic here in Birmingham. One of the requirements of being in the program was having to see one of their therapists once every six months (most likely to rule out drug-seeking behavior). I went to my first mandatory session and was amazed at how much he helped me in an hour. It was not like on TV where you lay on a couch and talk about your childhood feelings, it was more of a two way conversation. He taught me the way the body perceives pain, the science behind pain and how our brains and bodies react to it. I loved the idea of talk-therapy and learning more about why I reacted certain ways to pain, so I booked a session with him once a week for two months and then later every other week for a few more months. 

Kayaking in Costa Rica
One day I was explaining how I felt cheated by my disease and that I had lost my former self; my identity. He asked me what I considered to be my hobbies: sports, hiking, climbing, tennis, working out, doing anything adventurous and outdoors... He then asked what non-active hobbies I had. All I could come up with was, "Um, I like fashion. But I do not think shopping counts as a hobby." He quickly responded that no, shopping is not a hobby, and is not a healthy form of therapy, either.

Repelling down a Waterfall
 I had been so active my entire life. Instead of talking about something that frustrated me, my therapy was to work out so hard that I would almost pass out. I felt euphoric afterwards. I felt most at peace in nature and found things like climbing a mountain to be meditative. All of these joys in my life had been taken away from me from being sick and in constant pain. I was an adrenaline-junkie: ice climbing, skydiving, you name it, I loved doing it. My illness and pain had taken away all the things I was once so passionate about. I have posted pictures of some of my favorite adventures over the years so you will understand how utterly confused I was when he asked me what I enjoyed doing that was not active or adventurous.

He advised that I needed to incorporate new, non-activity based hobbies into my life and I met him with a fair amount of resistance on this particular topic. He asked what non-active hobbies I could try...I told him all I could think of was reading and knitting as possible non-active hobbies (yes, I love to read but have no idea how to knit nor do I feel any draw to learn to...I was too busy feeling sorry for myself to think of anything else. I could not envision a non-active activity that would fulfill my competitive personality in any way). His answer to me accepting my new life came in the form of an analogy about dogs and pets.

Here was his analogy that he said applied to me and my new life, being that I am a dog lover. I will attempt to sum it up, but unfortunately the picture will not be painted as beautifully as he said it:

"So your family has had a dog for a long time. You love everything about the dog--its quirks, habits, the way it reacts when you walk through the door..." 

I immediately thought back to the beautiful fox-fire red lab we had when I was growing up, Savannah. She was so obsessed with playing fetch that she would scrape her nose on the concrete after hours of nudging sticks or tennis balls into the pool and jumping after them. 

Savannah on the jet ski with me
She would even jump off the diving board and swim to the very bottom of the pool when the sticks sank. She loved riding on the jet ski with me and was always happy. We all loved her so much--she was almost like a sibling to me-- and she unfortunately passed away after living a long and fulfilled life when I was in college. 

"Now think about how you mourned the loss of your dog. How you allowed yourself to cry and mourn this loss in your family." 

This was true. We all grieved the loss of Savannah. It was horribly painful and left me feeling hollow. She was the most amazing dog I had ever met, and I took this loss pretty hard along with the rest of my family.

Next, he said, "After some time, I imagine your family got another dog."

Puff loves to climb up trees
and walls in search of his nemesis: Squirrels
This was true. My sisters had each gotten toy poodles--Cocoa and Puff. 

He then asked me which dog I loved more. I told him I loved them the same amount, but in different ways. "So they were different, but you loved them equally anyway?" he asked.

Of course I did. The poodles are the most expressive dogs I have ever met. They are silly and hilarious and so sweet. One of them even sings. Puff's favorite songs involve trumpets and horns, or anything by The Who, and also the Law & Order theme song. He also sings a very mournful song to Taps. He is a very emotionally-in touch dog and lays on my stomach when it is hurting (he is like a little heater). On a side note, I will record him singing and attach it to this post in a few days.

Cocoa, the Princess
Cocoa is his best friend and in ways his polar-opposite. She can be very prissy and manipulative, but she does not mind getting muddy and running through the woods at the lake. She is sweet and girlie--and knows exactly what faces to make to get exactly what she wants. Her manipulation rarely fails.

I love Savannah the same amount that I love both Cocoa and Puff. They are all three so diverse, and I love them all for different reasons in different ways. It is true, Cocoa and Puff could never precisely replace Savannah, but I find their differences to be endearing and have formed another type of love for the poodles. If you measured this love with all three dogs, it would add up to exactly the same amount.

What his analogy proved was that your life will be different after an illness. You have to mourn the loss of your old life appropriately (go through every step of the grief process), but then move on and 'get a new dog'. Of course you will always love and never forget your old dog/your former life, but you WILL learn to love your new dog/your new life. And you will love them equally but for different reasons, although they may be very unalike from each other. 

His analogy was perfect. You do have to spend time to mourn the loss of your old self-- your previous identity prior to  you becoming sick. After you mourn for the appropriate time, you need to find a new identity; a new sense of self. In time, you will learn to love this new life just as much as your old way of life, even though they are very different from each other. Each has its own set of pros and cons, but you love both the same. 

So, following his advice, I did eventually get a "new dog." I was not fully convinced I would be as happy in this new life at first because it did not involve so many of the things that fulfilled me before I was too sick to do them. But in a short amount of time, I realized that he was right. I certainly do not love being sick, but I do enjoy my new, although different, life. And like he said, I love them just the same and am extremely happy with this new life I live. All though they are so comparatively opposite in many ways, my new life fulfills me just as much as my old life does. And the lessons that fighting an illness have taught me allow me to appreciate my new life even more.

To answer your question, I was able to think of non-extreme or super active things to do other than knitting (which I never took up). So...What are the hobbies in my new life?

Restorative Yoga--I cannot do the overtly physical kinds right now but restorative yoga is a wonderful mind/body healing practice. The high I get while doing so and carry throughout my day is wonderful. Yoga has also taught my naturally competitive self not to "judge my body" and to accept myself just the way I am. My first few weeks of classes I was looking over at everyone else, making sure I could go deeper into a pose than the person next to me and comparing myself to them. Then I realized that yoga is a deeply spiritual exercise. I now tune out everyone else in my class and just enjoy what I am able to do. Although my level of ability in yoga has decreased due to my illness, my love of it has increased. In my previous life I only enjoyed an activity if I was good at it, and I really loved it if I was one of the best. With restorative yoga, I lay in supported positions for long lengths of time focusing on my breathing. It certainly does not count as anything athletic-based, but I love it nonetheless. 

Mediation--Something I formerly scoffed at. I finally got into it when I saw the bio-feedback nurse at the pain clinic. They hooked me up to a monitor and there were different 'games' on the computer you would play. You had to control your breathing and heart beat through meditative practice to juggle these virtual balls on the computer screen. It would tell you to juggle them slowly and at a low level--so I would slow down my heart and breathing and the balls on the screen would react. Then it prompted me to juggle them higher and more quickly. So using my meditation methods I sped up my heart rate and was able to successfully complete the task. I then realized how I felt afterwards--my levels of pain had gone down. My meditation has increased with tremendous strides from that day years ago, but it took me playing a game to realize how helpful it can be.

Gardening--I would say the balcony at my condo screams "a crazy cat lady lives here!" There is hardly any room to sit or stand, even though the balcony is quite large. I have it filled with planters and pots of all sizes. I have flowers and herbs. I even managed to grow lemons and blueberries last year (although the lemons never got bigger than the blueberries). I love having access to the herbs when I am cooking. So many of them are detoxing and healing, and picking them and using them fresh adds a little something extra to my meal.

Blogging--Its my form of journaling. I was previously a VERY private person and never shared my feelings with anyone. Now I am an open book. It is so cathartic for me just to get my feelings 'out there'....and even more cathartic when I get wonderful responses from people who can relate to what I am going through. Knowing that by expressing my feelings I am also helping other people makes me feel like I have purpose again. My previous life was spent with walls around my heart, but in this life I am letting the walls down and enjoying life with an open heart. By the way, if you ever want to share your story just send me a message. I love guest bloggers!

Lyme Advocacy--This has become something that I really enjoy. Spreading awareness about Lyme Disease, which so many now nothing about. I like to think I may even save people from going through this torturous disease with my posts on prevention and the necessary steps to take after a bite. I am also on a fundraising committee that is about to get geared up. We will be raising money for the Alabama Lyme Disease Association

I also love all the friends that I have made via my advocacy efforts. I found an amazing support group and feel that I am not alone. I am so close to all my fellow lymies--we all share a warriors mentality but have open hearts and treat each other with the utmost respect. I have had the deepest conversations of my life with some of my new found Lyme friends. You all know who you are. God bless you and thank you for showing me so much love and giving me so much joy. You have been an incredibly integral part of my healing process. 

Lifestyle Change--Eating clean and living as healthy a lifestyle as possible takes a lot of work. I have come to love the life I live now. I use my food as medicine. My body is my temple and I fuel it with fresh, organic food that makes me feel good after eating. I harness my overly Type A personality and live a more laid-back life. I do not let myself get stressed or worked up by imperfections that formerly drove me crazy with worry. I enjoy the little things more--colors are more vibrant, sunsets are more beautiful. My old life was too busy for me to slow down and enjoy Gods creation. I live my life side by side with God and rejoice in his Creation and the blessings he has bestowed upon me after I was willing to give a new life a try.