To recover from illness: prioritise self-care, choose the right thoughts and nourish well.

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Life takes a turn when illness hits. While often times, illness comes and goes without much disruptions; there are times everything has to stop and life has to change drastically for recovery to happen. The illness I had recently belongs to the latter. I have a persisting lung haemorrhage that will recur upon physical exertion, and I have triggered a big episode this time round. Weakness runs through my body, stamina depletes, life has to slow down for weeks. I’m walking on eggshells, not knowing when the next relapse is. I’m lucky to have made the choice to slow down.

At this moment, I am still in the journey of recovery. I have trudged this journey long enough to derive some meaning as to what this illness has shown me. I believe every life experience has a meaning for us, and for such specific life-changing events, the meaning is huge. As I reflect on this meaning, I grow a little wiser.

Illness signals self-care. Put ourselves first, priorities needs to be readjusted.

I believe that illness hits when we neglect our needs for too long. Our needs to be rested, be nourished, be listened to, be cared for emotionally, be seen and be balanced. Such neglect happens, priorities get readjusted even without us knowing it. Illness is a sign for us to reconnect with ourselves and listen to what really matters to us. True recovery happens the moment we stop, reflect and re-prioritise ourselves to the forefront.

Illness gives a myriad of thoughts, choose the thoughts that empowers and gives hope.

When this big episode happens, just like the previous episodes, I had an onslaught of negative thoughts that weren’t so helpful to my recovery. When illness sets, our thoughts can have a life on its own. I have thoughts like, “why me again?”, “this won’t ever go away, no point trying”, “my body is just too weak for anything”. These thoughts were not helping – they took hope away, put me in a victim mindset. And I know that psychophysiologically, these thoughts impede my healing.

I began to choose and create positivity, by starting with myself. Someone really close to me reminded me to work through gratitude, and said “think of the things that are happening well for you right now”. I did that and began to realise that things are actually getting better, albeit minor episodes of relapse. I began to garner hope that things are turning out well. At the same time, I grew more sensitive to others’ pain in their own versions, compassion began to grow within me. They were afraid, tired, confused and unsure, just like me. It hit me when I realised that at the most fundamental level of living, we are all the same. That gave me strength to trudge on because they didn’t give up either.

Illness often needs wholesome food for recovery. Food and rest comes together.

Rest is the time for the body to reconstruct and repair itself, food is the building blocks for this process. When I was really ill one day, a meal that was well-prepared made a tremendous difference compared to a shoddy meal. Nutrition matters, and it can be felt from the inside out. Ensure our food has high levels of growth and repair nutrients. Couple good food and rest, re-prioritise our personal needs and shifting to a positive mental state, the recovery process will be amped up to a higher frequency.                                               

Original writings by The Realist, inspired by encounters in professional work in life coaching, physical therapy and PhD research.

What to do with a Friend in Need? Hold the Space, then Allow what Comes.

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When we see people in need of help, we will want to help them. That’s natural, we have compassion built into us as social beings. But when we see people in need, especially when they start talking to us, what we think as helpful may not be helpful to them. The way we should deal with their upset is very different from the way we deal with our upset internally. For instance, when we experience trouble, we will try to find a way out, find solutions to match the problems. When it comes to other people’s issues, they first want to be understood, heard and seen, before any other process happen; rather than be problem-solved. I will detail a 2-step process to begin the helping relationship with a troubled friend.

Step One: Hold the Space

Be present, curious, understanding and compassionate. This is a skill we get drilled on repetitively in our training as therapists, counsellors or life coaches. We learn to hold the space for the other person to unfold. Think of the last time you were really interested in getting to know someone because that person intrigues you. You already know how to do this. These are some of the many strategies that we professionals use:

  1. Reflect the meaning – reflect the essence of what is being communicated as we experience the other person fully.
  2. Communicate empathy – let the other person know that we can relate to what he feels, because somehow we have encountered such feelings before. Contexts can be different, but feelings are universal.
  3. Be curious, don’t judge – ask questions to gather more about this issue and let the person tell the story.
  4. Show up and be real – be yourself skillfully, and disclose what you truly feel about the situation, but not to give any advice or judgments.

Through these strategies, the other person would know that we are genuinely concerned, and we understood them. And sometimes, this is all they need from us, just for one other person in this world to know that they are struggling – an immense therapeutic outlet.

Step Two: Let them Decide where to go from here

After holding the space for the other person, for more complex issues, the other person may need and will be receptive to a more involved conversation. Generally, these are the 3 ways the conversation could turn out:

  1. “I can handle it eventually” problems: For these problems, the other person just needs someone to talk to. If we hold the space well, that will clarify the person’s thoughts and give comfort to the person. We have done our helping role here. No advice needed, therapy done.
  2. “I’m lost, confused and torn” problems: In this context, the other person is probably torn between options or even have no idea how to move forward. But the problem is potentially manageable. In this context, advice may expected from us, before which we should always ask for permission to advice. Then, give your opinions and thoughts, some of which may be taken, others may not. Then disengage, while holding the space all the time.
  3. “This is totally hopeless” problems: Sometimes, people encounter problems that are too large to handle, and they give up hope. This is when people start showing self-defeating thoughts. Sometimes, we cannot see a way out for them too. In these situations, we help by shining positive light of hope, and trust that they have the internal resources to cope through. Highlight the good things they have been doing well in moving this problem and ask them what could they possibly explore from here (extracted from solution-focused therapy). Do positive reframe and highlight what positive outcomes they can perceive at this point, flip the problem to an asset (extracted from neurolinguistic programming).

Of course, there are a range of other problem types, which needs different strategies and some can be very complex to explain. Most importantly, bear in mind that in many conversations, if we are highly skillful in holding the space for the other, we can already see a shift in other person. That could be all they ask for.

Original writings by The Realist, inspired by encounters in professional work in life coaching, physical therapy and PhD research.

It all Begins with Acceptance

12534161_522912274554363_1749498935_nAcceptance is the release of a broken reality,

of the hurt, anger, disappointment, the “what ifs” and the “not good enoughs”.

Reborn with acceptance,

we can move on,

to see a new commitment where hope lies,

a commitment to chart a new path.

Original writings by The Realist, inspired by encounters in professional work in life coaching, physical therapy and PhD research.