6.14.18 | Photo Credit: Pexels
Getting back into the game of life can be a very real challenge after living through a scary battle with health. I know, because I’ve been there myself.
So often you travel through your days with little to no thought or attention given to your health until the day you wake up and find that your health is under attack. Fear isn’t even a strong enough word to encompass the emotions pumping through every ounce of your being when something like this happens.
As a young mom when my health crisis arose, I struggled with all sorts of thoughts around being able to care for my girls, whether I’d be able to watch them grow up and wondering how involved and active I could be in their lives while battling this illness. I had so many debilitating thoughts.
Serious illness is a scary reality that many of us have either faced or will go on to face. The beginnings of these kinds of crises are full of so many unknowns: numerous tests being run, countless blood samples being taken, multitudes of doctors visits, scans, MRI’s and even more serious procedures like in my case, a spinal tap. But it’s amazing how much a diagnosis can calm the mind, even if it’s a scary diagnosis. At least then you know what you’re dealing with and create a plan to move forward.
Unbeknownst to me, the real struggle actually set in after the health scare and went on for years after my complete recovery. It’s so important to me to share with others some of the things I learned along the way that helped me gain more knowledge, respect, love and grace around my body, my mind and my soul, during and after my health crisis. Ultimately learning to get to know this new version of myself and finding acceptance for the fact that I was never going to be the Shannon I was before Guillain-Barré Syndrome was something I had to learn to celebrate. I no longer wanted to mourn or live in the fear that this idea of letting go of my old self brought on.
If you do find yourself in the paralyzing place of learning a new life after a health crisis, my prayer is that these lessons I learned in my own journey might provide you with hope, grace and strength.
1. Viewing my body and my health in a completely new way, because of Guillain-Barré Syndrome | Guillain-Barré Syndrome is a rare disorder that causes your immune system to attack your peripheral nervous system. It’s extremely rare, affecting around 1 out of every 100,000 people, making it hard to diagnose. It presents itself in similar ways as Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus and a few other, more common and life-changing autoimmune disorders. Autoimmunes are becoming more prevalent among people today, and as a young, healthy and active mom none of these potential diagnoses I was looking at sat well with my soul. I was scared and discouraged that my body was turning on itself, leaving the most common question of “why?” I will forever be changed at the power of my health and my body’s ability to literally stop me in my tracks when I became sick. I now view my body as the powerful vessel it is and have made a lifelong commitment to treat it with the respect, kindness, compassion and loving care it deserves.
2. Turning fear into love | It’s so hard to imagine life before illness when you’re in the thick of the battle. I can remember thinking, “How will I ever get back to the physical and mental place I was in before GBS?” The answer is simple…I wouldn’t. The key take away from this health crisis is that I didn’t want to be in the same physical and mental space I was in before GBS. I recognized that the way I was treating my physical and mental health before contributed to me finding myself knocked on my back in the first place. Health and wellness are thrown around so much these days, but just take a minute to sit with yourself, and recognize where you fall in these areas. I was powering through life raising kids, signing up for all the 5K’s and half marathons to keep the baby weight off that I had gained, staying up late to drink that last glass of wine because I thought it was calming my mommy nerves, gossiping with my gal pals about things that ultimately didn’t make me a better person or even authentic at the end of the day, fighting with my husband over things that really DO NOT matter but I needed to be heard and to be right… So honestly, why was I in such a hurry to get back to that place? I finally had a new perspective: come through this and redirect my energy to ultimately learn to love myself back to a healthier place.
3. Overcoming debilitating panic attacks and anxiety post-illness | This was a doozie and one I even still struggle with from time to time. Because my diagnosis was so rare, I didn’t really have a support group to rally with as I traveled the long road to recovery. For months I felt like I was misdiagnosed and that the tingling and numbness that I felt in my body meant that I really had something else going on. My mind started to play tricks on me, and looking back now I realize I had to get out of my head to get out of my own way in my complete recovery. My husband refused to allow me to self-sabotage and for this I am forever grateful. When he would find me in the fetal position in the corner of our room, completely frozen from anxiety and panic, he would literally scrape me up, practically dress me in my biking gear, load me and my bike in the truck and tell me to follow him. We would ride the beautiful Arkansas trails and 20 miles later, I would find myself calm. revived and feeling strong and accomplished. Physically this was hard because my body was still in recovery. Mentally I wanted to tell myself I couldn’t do it but after the ride I knew that I had to trust the process and to stop creating my own story in my mind of being misdiagnosed. Ultimately, by creating stories and letting my mind take over with fear-based thoughts, I was stealing my own joy. Your mind fuels your soul and the only way to interrupt the fear-based thoughts in your mind is to create change. Ask your higher power for a different perspective. Challenge your mind and notice your thought patterns, and make changes to your thoughts when you see it’s time to. You really do have that power of your mind and your thoughts, when you decide to. And remember that mother nature can be the best anxiety drug you’ll ever take.
4. Finding meditation and connecting with my highest self | Wow, this one has really been a game changer. Be still and know that I am God. “Nah, I’m good. I really don’t like down time and being alone makes me squirm.” Remember the Shannon that I was trying to get back to before Guillain-Barré? This is what she would’ve said. Bless her. I was so weak at a certain point of my syndrome that I had no choice but to be still. We ended up bringing in someone to help us while I battled the worst of the recovery. We called her YaYa and she was amazing but she got to raise my girls while I laid in my bedroom listening (only for a short period, thankfully). But it turns out that that brought out some serious insecurities and bitterness. She would read to them, play with them, laugh with them and I could hear them cry out for me but they had no idea I was even home. Here I am God…I am still now and my eyes are wide open! There was no better time to get to know myself. I dove into scripture, and it was like for the first time it made sense. Some of the words seems to lift off the page like they were written just for me. The relationship I began to have with the Holy Spirit was undeniable and it softened me. Call it quiet time, call it meditation, it really doesn’t matter what you call it. What I did was lie there, completely still, and I listened. Intertwining prayer with stillness and an open heart while I was recovering led to an unbreakable meditation practice that provides me with so much inspiration and guidance that some of the things I have heard during this sacred time still shocks even me. It’s never audible but it mostly comes through the words that flow while I’m journaling during my daily time alone with God. I had a huge shift in my mindset around that time alone in my bedroom. God had been trying to tell me to slow down and I had refused to hear or see the signs. So, God left me with no choice. My body literally gave me no other option and for that I’m forever grateful. Thank you God. I’m forever changed, I’m the new Shannon I speak of and I love to be still and sit alone in the presence of God. Look inside yourself and be generously forgiving in a time of challenge and tragedy. Know that you’re being guided, held and loved to a better version of yourself. Lessons lie in every blessing and challenge, if we slow down and open up to learning from them.
5. Loving myself healthy | Being told what to do or not to do is hard for most of us. We like to be in control of our choices and ultimately our lives, but being forced to do or not do something is a completely different thing. Our bodies are unique, amazing, miraculous, strong yet vulnerable and they are here to allow us the means to impact the world with our passion and purpose. We are all here to create more love, grace and community for one another and without our physical and mental health we are withholding this gift from the world. Don’t keep the amazing gifts you are meant to share with the world by neglecting your health in any way. Connect with your gifts, dive deeper into your life’s purpose and spread the joy of living out your passion, whatever it is, with the world. When you make the connection with your soul you will begin to act from a place of gentleness with yourself. Speak kindness into your mind every day and share kind words with all those you encounter. Fuel your body with foods and drinks that make you feel so good you can’t imagine consuming the foods and drinks that compromise your energy levels. Move your body because you know it makes you stronger and gives you more stamina to get out and connect with others. Take time to breathe in calmness and release unwanted stress. Get quality sleep because you know your nervous system, hormones and digestion need this time to restore themselves from another day. Create loving relationships with friends and family. Spend 10 minutes in self care each day and know in your heart that it’s not selfish but it’s necessary and you are a better person because of it. Don’t wait until you are forced to look into the eyes of dis-ease! Choose today to live from a preventative mindset, creating a lifestyle that supports your health today and for the rest of your days. Choose today to begin loving yourself healthy.
Written by Shannon Craig, Creative Editor of The Southern Well Being