This week I dropped my husband off at the airport for a medical mission trip to Costa Rica. The trip is through his nursing program at his university. I am excited that he will have the opportunity to give medical care to those who have little access to it. He is so gifted in the field of medicine. He has been selected for many leadership roles in his program and has been encouraged to pursue higher education as a nurse practitioner. I am so proud of him!
That being said, I did have a minor freak-out right after I dropped my husband off at the international terminal. I pulled away from the curb and thought “Well, I’m on my own for the next week. This has never happened to me before.” I have been on a few “girl’s” trips without my husband, but it is always he who is left at home. I suspect I will have a greater appreciation for him during those weeks from now on! Let me note that I am just coming on the other side of a lapse with OCD and anxiety so I was a little concerned about being all by myself for a solid week. As I began to drive down the interstate, all kinds of thoughts began to run across my brain. “What if I am really anxious while he is away? I won’t be able to talk to him to ask for help to work through my thoughts. What if I have trouble eating because I’m so anxious? What if I have trouble sleeping? Etc., etc., etc.” Suddenly I stopped my racing mind and told myself, “Remember what you have learned about being mindful of the present. I am going to take it one moment at a time. Right now I am driving back to my house. Let’s focus on that.” So I began to just focus on the drive. I wasn’t thinking about every single meal I was going to eat this week alone. I wasn’t thinking about how hard it was going to be if I couldn’t sleep. This is called mindfulness. I had heard lots about this before. I had heard about its benefits, especially for those of us who have anxiety. I never really understood it or truly practiced it before this past lapse.
My therapist had talked to me a lot about mindfulness and meditation a lot during the last year. I had never really grasped it until recently though. In fact, every time I tried to be mindful or try guided relaxation meditation, I just ended up frustrated. And a lot more anxious because I was trying to make myself relax on command. So I just gave up. However, lately I have been reading a book titled “Self-Compassion” by Kristin Neff. This book is EXCELLENT! I recommend it for anyone. In this book, the author talks a lot about being mindful of the present moment. Mindfulness is a big word that often evokes a “huh?” from me. Basically, mindfulness is just awareness. Being aware that your brain is getting carried away with thoughts and gently bringing it back to the present. Not judging ourselves for allowing our brains to try to carry us away to a negative place is on the flip side of the coin of mindfulness. It is all about recognizing we are in a not-so-healthy state of mind and bringing ourselves back to the moment. It’s not about trying to change your thoughts or think positively. It is simply about practicing being here, now. So for me on Wednesday morning, that meant focusing on my drive home from the airport and not the 1,000 things that may or may not happen to me in the upcoming week. I focused on navigating on the road, my hands on the steering wheel, the music playing, and my feet on the gas pedal. This helped my anxiety a lot. It did not make it go away completely, but hey, we aren’t supposed to make anxiety go away. Something I have also discovered this week is that mindfulness does not have to be practiced only in moments of anxiety. I also try to practice it when I’m doing something fun. A lot of times while I’m with my husband or with my horses I will be thinking about all the things that are coming up that I need to do. And it takes all the fun out of the activity because I am not really there! The past few weeks I have been trying to focus on what is actually happening to me right then. For example, if I am outside on a picnic with my husband, I try to focus on how warm the sun feels, our conversation, the birds chirping, and how the grass feels. It really helps me not feel like I am in such a “fog” inside my head. I am definitely not an expert at this though. These moments of focus sometimes only last a few seconds. But I am practicing and I think that with time, my focus on the present moment will sharpen. I think this will ultimately help me enjoy the moments I have. Instead of just being there physically and not mentally.
Kristin also writes that everyone goes through hard times, but we often feel alone. It’s easy to isolate ourselves and think we are the only ones who are suffering. That is why I kept quiet about OCD for so long. I didn’t want anyone to judge me or be ashamed of me. I have learned that all humans go through some sort of suffering often. We just don’t know what someone may be carrying. They may be going through the same things that you are! Being aware of the fact that lots of people go through the same things that you are struggling with helps. We are meant to help each other carry our burdens.
You can learn a lot during a lapse. I would say some of my most valuable lessons for battling OCD have come during lapses. Lapses make me dig deep within myself and find out what is helping and what is not helping me recover. If you have any experiences with mindfulness or lapses I would love to hear about them!