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Relaxation by Lara Compton

Posted By HMSA Social Media Coordinator, May 30, 2018

When I saw this month’s theme, it struck me instantly. Relaxation and me do not go together naturally, I don’t really know why completely, but I do know one thing that contributes to my inability to relax. Guilt.

Guilt is without doubt the biggest barrier to my entering a chill out zone. I’m pretty sure a lot of you can relate to that. I have hEDS (hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome), orthostatic intolerance, and struggle with the related mental health issues that come with chronic pain. I am also a parent (bang goes relaxation right there!!), but not only a parent, a parent to two girls who both have additional needs. My eldest is on the EDS pathway, and has had more injuries than I can count in the past 12 months. And my youngest is autistic, but very verbally able – which comes with its on whole host of issues.

Anyone who is familiar with the diagnostic process of both Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and/or female Autism will know that everything, every little thing, is a fight. Getting a referral accepted with a paediatrician – fight. Finding a physio that understands hypermobility enough to treat you/your children – fight. Attempting to get school on board and understanding enough to meet your children’s needs – fight. Applying or PIP/DLA – fight. Getting your children up and dressed – fight. Then getting yourself washed and dressed – fight.

By this point, you can see that there’s not enough energy left to fight everything, and yet, as a parent, and an individual that wants to have a meaningful life, I have to fight. I just have to.

But where does this leave our inner state of zen? I can only speak of my experiences, and they are that my mind never stops. I’ve learnt over the years that my body must stop, I must pace, or my body falls apart (well, even more than normal!)… But it’s taken so much longer to learn that my brain must stop too – not completely, in fact, if I try and push away the busyness, it gets worse – ironic.

It took until my 35th year in this world to learn how to just “be,” to find parts of the day where I completely live in the moment.  Believe it or not, right now, as I’m writing this, I am here, I am feeling every word that I write, I am enjoying the sound of the thunder in the background, I can feel our dog by my feet and the air is humid enough to irritate me – but I am here in the moment, my brain isn’t listing all the things I *should* have done days, weeks, (months!) ago. My body is relaxed and not tensing up. Other than the humidity, I don’t feel any sensory overwhelm. I feel alive.

The key for me, in case you hadn’t guessed, was to practise daily mindfulness. Different people access mindfulness in different ways. For me, writing helps a lot. But when things are really tough, there are times when I can’t get my words out – sometimes for months. Other than writing, personally, I find stimulating certain senses works well. In the evenings, I very much enjoy having a bath, with a highly scented candle, and a Lush bath bomb, accompanied by one of my favourite music playlists.

During the day, I often listen to music that matches my mood, and take out an adult colouring book. My girls do this with me too, so it’s a great way of teaching them to build in some relaxation time into their day. And, as a parent, I am so aware that I am their role model – they will learn from me. And of course, this can make the pressure and guilt feel even worse! Particularly on negative spoon days… But, colouring is such an ideal way to still be there and present with your family when you feel unable to. Best part is, you can colour anywhere, in a coffee shop, on the sofa, in a park, in bed! I soon learnt to buy a very small pocket sized colouring book to lessen the weight I carry around, and I also found that gel pens are much easier to colour with as they just glide over the paper – and you can get glittery ones! Perfect. On days when I can’t focus on colouring, I sometimes find it easier to do adult dot-to-dots, as focusing on the numbers can help distract a busy brain.

It’s quite easy to then hit a point where everything you usually do to relax goes out of the window – suddenly I am in too much pain to even attempt a bath, I have too many “lists” in my brain to even focus on colouring, every piece of music I put on feels “wrong,” and ultimately I feel useless. Utterly useless.

My biggest piece of advice on the utterly useless days, is to give yourself a break, be kind to yourself. And I know that it’s so much harder that it sounds, but by being kind to yourself, allowing yourself to fall apart and truly feel how hard things are for a bit – sometimes that is a release that is much more needed than a failed attempt to relax…!

Recently I realised that I’d reached a place of pure inner relaxation, when I was able to mentally enjoy my massage for the first time. I’ve had massages every 2-3 weeks for probably about 5 years, and they massively help me to keep on top of my pain. I never understood why people found them so relaxing, number one, they hurt(!), but also, I spent the whole 45 minutes going through all of the lists and anxieties in my head. And this one day, I suddenly realised that I hadn’t done that, I’d actually just focused on the music and the smell of the massage oil – and I felt triumphant.

I can’t speak highly enough for mindfulness. I know that there will be many people that relax in different ways, but for me, mindfulness ticks every box – you can use it anywhere, at any time. You don’t even need any tools – you can literally just sit and focus on the birds singing outside. Particularly if you are new to mindfulness, I’d highly recommend giving an app like Headspace a go, they normally have a free trial period.

Apps can be great – when I can’t sleep, I also use a free app called Relaxio, which allows you to create your own background noise to fall asleep to. I couldn’t recommend “Bedtime Meditations for Kids” CDs by Christianne Kerr enough, they have been actual lifesavers at times – both for my eldest who can’t sleep due to pain, or my youngest who can’t sleep because of her busy brain.

I’ve always labelled myself as someone who is unable to relax – and I really was that person! But through lots of hard work, and effort, I am now a person who knows how to relax, how to be, how to accept that some days I can’t do any of it – and all of that? Well, it’s just fine.

To all of my fellow guilty mums/dads/partners/friends who struggle to relax – don’t give up, you just have to find your “thing.” And it might take decades like me, but us bendies have so much more on our plates- it takes just that bit more to unwind. But you can, and you will, and I strongly believe that by opening up and sharing our experiences that as a community, we will all succeed together.


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