Monday, May 14, 2012

Recovery Part 4-Take A Break

***This is the fourth post in a series about living with and recovering from serious illness. The three previous posts are Recovery-The New Normal, Recovery Part 2- Poem In Your Pocket and Recovery Part 3- What Does Recovery Look Like? ***


                              One of the many challenges of being a patient or a dedicated caregiver is that you can’t suddenly wake up one morning and decide you no longer want those roles. It is hard to ensure that the illness that has charged into your life does not define you.

No one to my knowledge wants to be referred to as “that person” with cancer/ diabetes/ MS/ depression or trigeminal neuralgia for example. As a patient or caregiver any diagnosis becomes a part of who you are, but you do not want it to be whom you have become. On a daily basis, that illness influences the decisions you make and how you plan your time, but it is only one facet of what makes you whole. I have found that it’s really important and restorative to try and keep up the interests and passions that you have had before the diagnosis,  as much for your confidantes  as for yourself, to have a topic other than the illness to talk about!

With full disclosure I will admit I am an Oprah Winfrey fan. Not that I have watched even one show on her TV channel, but I do read her magazine religiously. In the June 2012 edition, she shares an interview with Deepak Chopra a spiritual healer and  writer and asks him the question “What is the secret to a happy life?” He answers, “It is to recognize that no matter what the situation there’s a creative opportunity in it. Also, finding meaning and purpose in your life, to make a contribution......” 
My favorite kind of doodle
If I had heard that answer, when Jonny was first diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia, I would have thought it trite and lacking in understanding of what it means to be living through a life changing situation. But the truth is, that out of adversity have come some of the most creative ideas. Many of them helping others who are in some kind of physical or emotional pain. Books have been written, cures explored (stem cell research), huge amounts of money have been raised (Race for The Cure) and on a much much smaller scale, blogs have been born!

And so what I have learned is that one coping mechanism for dealing with illness is to find creative outlets. It helps to take a break from focusing on the illness and its ramifications and to nurture the interests and passions that were a part of you before illness clouded your focus. It is certainly the number one rule for caregivers to follow: if they are to nurture others, they must take care of themselves. (I know, I know I need to do this more...)

So I am going to take a break and talk about some of the beautiful things in the world that fascinate, amuse and lift my spirits. I hope you will find beauty in them too. Or at least they will set you thinking about how you can take a break from the stresses in your life and remind yourself of what makes your heart sing, makes you happy and possibly creative too.

Jacob’s fifth grade math class has been moving rapidly through math topics from tessellations to translations, from coordinates, to quadrants and from negative numbers to notations.  Every time he tells me what he is doing, my response has been, “Oh I love that topic!” You should see his face! The first couple of times he laughed and said, "Yes Mom you love every math topic I learn." And now he just shakes his head in resignation that his mother is a math geek.

Spiral Staircase
I am not really a math geek, but I take pleasure in the order and logic of numbers and patterns; how they fit together and are so very reliable, that you do not have to learn disparate facts (I have never had that kind of memory) and that you can follow a logical path carefully from beginning to end and the answer falls out so neatly. I love even numbers and circles and I adore spirals

Most people who meet me are surprised to find out that I majored in math (and education) at Cambridge. I guess I do not fit their stereotype. I did not find the advanced math easy. I cannot add up quicker than a calculator and I do not ever want to do a job that is numbers based unless it involves a lot of time with people too. But I like to teach math, I do appreciate the beauty of pattern and shape. And as a big picture thinker I know where I am heading when I start to solve a problem.
 I apply my love of math ideas to many things. I enjoy reading books which have a math or number theme in them. One I love is called Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet  and is written by a young adult describing his life with Autism, who sees numbers as colors and is a savant. And another, The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa tells the story of a Math Professor who, after a car accident, has only 80 minutes of memory at any one time, but can still apply his math skill to problem solving and helping the housekeeper's son with his math homework. I enjoy spatial logic games like Othello (Reversi) and Blokus and I am very aware of pattern, shape and space when I plant out my garden.
Spirals in sea shells
 One of the links I have enjoyed most recently was posted by a friend on Facebook... It is very creative and about pattern-doodles in general and spirals in particular. You do not need to be a math geek to enjoy it. It may even persuade you that there is more to math than meets the eye and there is beauty in mathematical certainty in the natural world around us.

Whatever makes you feel happy and gives you time out from the stresses of life is certainly worth reflecting on. The other stuff will flood back into your brain anyway, so take a break when you can and enjoy the clip below in the meantime.( Don't give up on it when the narrator starts talking in math language!- it's worth watching  to see that the magical patterns are right outside our front doors.)

Wishing you a peaceful, creative, upwardly spiralling week.


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  1. the truth is out there :)

  2. Jane Taubenfeld CohenMay 15, 2012 at 8:17 AM

    I have to tell you how much I enjoy reading your posts. They are refreshing and confirming. Thank you for being so open.

    1. Hi Jane - I am so happy to hear you like reading them. Thank you very much for letting me know. It's comments like yours that keep me writing! Gilly

  3. I was at my pain clinic last week and we were talking about how important having a distraction is. It is so true. Like you say, we need something else to talk about sometimes. We aren't just about our pain.
    I must say that I have never thought about maths too much since school days, but that video had me intrigued.

    1. Hi Liz -there are other youtube clips in this series that you might enjoy too. My sister told me she watched this one with the sound off and it was beautiful to see without trying to concentrate on the commentary!

      I have seen first hand how all enveloping pain can be, but I have also noticed that when Jonny is watching a soccer match or enjoying a good film it is a great tonic. What have you found that helps you?

    2. Gilly, I do have lots of things which can distract me for a while. Films, looking through old photos, getting silly with my nieces, drawing, writing, especially poems (silly poems are best when I'm low, as they lift me back up)
      I don't know if your husband has felt like this, but sometimes I need to force myself to do some kind of activity when I am in pain, otherwise I get too low. The lower I get, the harder it is to get back up. Does that make sense?

      By the way, I keep seeing spirals. What have you done to me? :o)

    3. Liz-I think that if you can find ways that take your mind off the pain, that's great and it lifts the spirit. Sometimes I've observed that if the pain is too bad, then it is tough to find anything that distracts.
      Hope that seeing spirals is a good thing!

  4. I love this post, Gilly!

    Yes, it is so important to have another topic to talk about, and to spend time with/doing those things that you love.

    I, too, love spirals and math and especially finding these things in nature - is brings me such a sense of joy and awe. And I love the video! : )


    1. Oops - I am so blog illiterate. Couldn't figure out how to "select profile" to publish. It's Melissa Feldman. : )
      I guess I should find another way to publish this comment - ha!

    2. Thanks Kara for introducing me to that you tube clip. Have you always liked spirals? I looked around my house and found I have them in so many places-photo frames ,table lamps, carved into my coffee least am consistent.
      I did not know until today that my sister loves spirals and draws them all the time,just as I do! Lucky I am writing this blog I am finding out so many things she and I have in common. She also hates making salad! -Gilly

  5. Beautiful post as usual. I know my diagnosis of depression and anxiety have changed my life. And in response I have been pouring tons of creative energy into my children's stories, something I never would have been able to post without starting treatment. I do believe there is opportunity in every change

  6. The toughest challenges can bring some great rewards.
    Thanks for commenting-Gilly

    1. I think comments are part of the beauty in blogs, they help build community