Monday, August 24, 2015

Appreciating Death

Through my own near death experiences and years of losing loved ones, death has become a far too familiar part of my life. Others view me as having a death orientation and perhaps this is true. My own health scares have left me unafraid of the passage of this life into the next realm and I've become skilled at saying goodbye to those I love. One can't help but gain this skill when the majority of your friends and acquaintances are those with chronic illness - groups I've come to surround myself with personally and professionally. I can't count the number of family, friends, and patients I have lost over the years since I was almost 2 years old.

I traveled across country with my parents to say our final goodbyes to one of my great uncles. We resumed our yearly visits 6 years ago and as my great uncle's health began to decline and he transitioned from his own home to a nursing home, we began preparing with him. He was becoming closer and closer to his 100th birthday. He was tired and he was ready. Each year we wondered if he would live to see his next birthday and each year he continued to surprise us as well as himself with his longevity. The time was finally nearing. We surrounded him and attempted to comfort him during his bouts of pain. We voiced our love and understanding to him, letting him know that it was time to let go. As we parted with him on the second night, I told him that I hoped he would find peace that night. He turned his head and looked up at me with a knowing look in his eyes. I smiled, fighting back tears, and told him how I loved him and lightly kissed his forehead one last time. That night he passed into the other realm. At age 99, four months shy of his 100th birthday, he finally gained the peace he desired for so many years.

Death is a learning process for those preparing to enter the other realm as well as for those left behind. Someone facing impending death over a period time is given a gift of self understanding - learning the depths of one's fears, hopes, regrets, personal beliefs, and gaining wisdom and insight into the meaning of life and what is truly to be held sacred and important in life, rather than the fluff. This can be a time for intense self reflection that doesn't necessarily come easily to everyone until forced to consider one's inner depths.
No matter how many times we go through the process of losing a loved one -  saying our goodbyes or worse yet the inability to say goodbye due to no forewarning and contributing or participating in the funeral services - it never becomes an easy process, simply a familiar process. We know what to expect, we learn how we obtain closure and grieve, and we learn tricks to make the process and funeral arranging easier and smoother. We learn our own preferences for our own services and what is needed for arrangements. We learn about ourselves just as much as we do about others during such proceedings. Individual personality traits become transparent - whether good or bad traits.

Through death, we are able to appreciate life. I gain closure as I grieve through the sharing of life stories of my loved one. Through this process, I'm reminded of the wondrous times of my loved one's life and fond memories together. When I think of my loved one, I don't think about their death instead I think of the stories shared.
When one of my aunts who helped raise me unexpectedly passed away, I don't remember her death and service so much as I do the weeks and months following her death as I spent multiple evenings throughout the week with my parents, aunts, and uncles sharing family stories as we sorted through her belongings. As my grandfather's body gave way to stomach and esophageal cancer, I spent as many days as possible with him. When I recall his passing, I'm not reminded of his death but of being near him, falling asleep next to him watching television in his big over sized bed like I did so many times throughout my childhood.

Death and the events following one's death are not occasions for overwhelming sadness but rather a time to celebrate and honor our loved one. A time for family and friends to come together and honor the individual's life with stories so that the individual may live on in the hearts and memories of those remaining.


Monday, August 17, 2015

Travel Stress

I thoroughly enjoy traveling, learning about the local culture and exploring the sights. I long to travel the world, whether it be state, country, or continents and I have my own travel bucket list I'm completing. Yet the tolls of travel are becoming more evident over the years.  Driving 1200 miles over the course of two days was once tiresome but manageable. Now I plead for 3 days travel to reduce travel stress. Traveling 3 hours via vehicle to arrive at a destination for a single night has become an event I dread as I'm left requiring a day of recovery to feel rested again from such a relatively short distance.

My parents and I traveled to visit my great uncles and tend to the beginning of the last days of my eldest great uncle. We decided to fly due to the stress upon us from our 1200 mile drive. Even with less than a 5 hour flight, the day was proving stressful enough. Our plane arrived at nearly midnight, our one checked baggage hadn't made it on our plane but was following behind us on the next flight. A flare up was starting from my lack of sleep and rest and sharp pains began stabbing at the back of my knee each time I took a step. We decided to hold out during the hour wait to obtain our luggage and then was tasked waiting for a rental car and determining if we would be able to check into our hotel a night early while correcting the hotel's error for multiple reservations. After all was said and done we entered our hotel room around 2:30 am to sleep 4 hours before heading to visit my great uncles. Needless to say, we were all exhausted and requiring rest before too long.





What's the best ways to combat travel stress?

Firstly, starting your trip rested and energized makes a difference. Completing necessary planning and preparations for your trip beforehand allows for a more organized, less stressful start to your day. We need this energy and let's face it, most of us are already struggling with energy levels so we don't need to start off further drained than usual.

Know how travel and food will affect you. I know I do better with reduced fluids and food intake during periods that provide limited restroom access. Struggling to avoid restroom necessity when I'm unable to access a restroom is physically and mentally hard on me as my body becomes sore and my anxiety and frustration levels increase. Correctly timing my fluid and food intake provides increased freedom when I need it most.

Schedule your travel to allow for departure and arrival times that are optimal for your well-being. Do you function better early or late in the day? When do you usually start to run out of steam? Allow time for rest breaks to regroup, stretch, and walk to prevent blood clots, achy joints, or lodging for sleep to prevent exhaustion and decreased immunity. Make arrangements ahead of time if you fare better with handicap accessibility or assistive devices. 

Eat healthy during your travel and stay at your destination. It's easier to fall into the fast food traps while traveling but your body and mind will thank you for avoiding such traps. Fast food and other unhealthy foods leave us feeling sluggish. 

Take your medications to help keep you on track. It's easy to skip or forgo medications when our typical routines are altered. Consider adding immunity boosting supplements to your medication regiment after discussing it with your doctor. Zinc and Vitamin C are great immunity boosters. 

Plan activities that fit your activity level. Jam packing your days with various activities can give you great memories but leave you exhausted, wanting a vacation from your travel and time away. Give yourself some relaxation opportunities. 

Travel is a wonderful privilege and we are able to enjoy our travel experiences to the fullest when we take care of ourselves. So get out there and see the world, it'll change you!

Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life and travel leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks - on your body or on your heart - are beautiful. - Anthony Bourdain

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Self Care

When we are presented with moments and events of extreme emotional distress and overwhelming stress, we place ourselves and others around us in danger. Perhaps it is not a life threatening or immediate danger but the stress carries over from ourselves to others as it able to affect those we encounter. Stress quickly and easily will take its toll on our bodies, our minds, and our relationships.  It becomes a poison seeping through ourselves into the air, tainting every aspect of our lives. Daily functioning is sacrificed, relationships are strained, and physical symptoms begin to appear.

Last week was a particularly difficult time for me as my mind was unable to control my emotional distress, no longer could I hold back tears and anger, the depression pushing for a release. I had difficulty focusing on my tasks and responsibilities at hand. I feared my emotions and the sense of losing control. My mind and body were becoming exhausted from the burden. My mind began to create minor issues for me to fixate on rather than the source of distress. My mind was frantically trying to protect itself from danger and no longer would I be able to forgo intense self care.

Self care is not always an easy task to submit ourselves to as we tend to make excuses and feel guilt or shame for requiring self care. Self care is necessary for every individual. It doesn't matter how we choose to provide ourselves the gift and necessity of self care as long as we provide ourselves with it. If we fail to do so, we risk greater damage to ourselves and those around us. Our minds cannot continue without self care, it will lead to a worsened state of mental and physical health.

My self care rituals vary depending on resources, the source of emotional distress, and options available. At times socialization is most valuable and others solitude is preferable. I reached out to friends for support and activity, which helped distract and process feelings but as the pressure continued to mount I knew I required solitude and peace to allow for self reflection and serenity.

I feel most serene when I am within nature, isolated from the busyness and distraction of others. I located a secluded rental within the countryside and planned out my weekend of solitude. As I entered the property my stress and outside concerns began to fade. I let the stillness of the land enter my spirit and draw out the heartache and depression through tears and reflection. I tended to my psyche as I socialized with the farm animals on the property, engaged my creative side with skull painting, and pampered myself with my own in home spa. I was saddened as I said goodbye to the horse I connected with so much during my stay and watched the land disappear in my rear view mirror as I left the gate and turned the corner down the country road. I didn't want to leave my oasis away from the world, away from reality. But my time away provided enhanced clarity and recovery of my soul, allowing me to re-enter the world with the ability to resume daily functioning without fear.

Self care needs vary among individuals and situations but finding what makes you happy, what distracts you and helps you gain closure or take steps closer to a resolution, is key. We can all spend time watching television and vegging out but this isn't truly self care. Self care is more than escaping the world. Self care is loving yourself and loving yourself enough to do what you need for your well being. Self care is a preventative measure against harm from the effects of stress and emotional upheaval. It is holistic in its approach encompassing the cognitive, emotional, physical, and social realms. You can find a list of ideas for replenishing your body, mind, and soul here. You deserve time to love and care for yourself. Never forget this.