Every month we feature a story from one of our users about their mindfulness practice. In this blog, Kate Libby describes how mindfulness has helped her deal with the upheaval of being diagnosed with a debilitating illness, and to accept it as part of who she is.
Four months ago, I was diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a debilitating illness which has turned my life upside down. My autonomic nervous system, which should regulate everything not controlled by my conscious mind, is failing to properly adjust my blood pressure or heart rate when my body is upright, meaning the oxygen supply to my brain is severely restricted.
The condition has taken a huge physical toll, leaving me exhausted, affecting my sight and hearing, as well making me confused and disorientated. It has also been difficult to manage emotionally, to overcome the fear of the unknown and accept what is happening to me. There is no known cause of POTS, and, worse, there is no cure. Some patients will make a recovery over time, but this can take many months or even years.
Although I have also begun more conventional treatment for POTS (read: I take a small mountain of pills every day), a consultant neurologist suggested mindfulness meditation could be key to my recovery. Meditation has provided me with a desperately needed coping mechanism, as well as giving my body space to rest and re-engage the heart in its usual rhythm, instead of the erratic racing heart rate I have been experiencing.
Prior to falling ill I was, admittedly, rather prone to overthinking and worrying about things I now realise I could have simply let go. Mindfulness has demonstrated to me the importance of taking a step back from my waterfall of thoughts, instead of allowing them to overwhelm me. I have found the ability to realise my fear, yet neither run from it or be engulfed by it, has been unequivocally important in dealing with POTS.
Mindfulness has also taught me to be present; awake and aware in the here and now. Upon getting my diagnosis I scoured the internet for information on my illness, against doctors orders and my better judgement, and was horrified by the tales of doom and gloom that I found. I began to project my fear across my future, believing I would never travel or forge a successful career, be well enough to have a family or lead a normal life. This is not what I've been told by my neurologist. My fear simply ran away with me and I forgot that thoughts are not facts, and that I cannot predict the future.
Meditation coaxed me back into the present, and instead now I focus on my endlessly supportive family and friends, and the fact that my health has indeed begun to improve. The truth in this moment is that I am getting better, and well or not, I have plenty of reasons to be happy. Meditation has given a perimeter to illness. Don't get me wrong, I still have bad days; but I am learning to accept my altered body and state of mind, and POTS is now a part of who I am, instead of my new identity.
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