What health coaching is like for people with serious health issues

What health coaching is like for people with serious health issues

A former client, Wendy H., has graciously shared her health coaching journey to give you a taster of what it is like and how it can support someone to live well with the impact of the health issue they have. Wendy starts her story before we started working together, sharing with you the serious health issue she lives with and everything she tried to help herself before trying health coaching. She then shares what health coaching was like for her. 

I made very little changes to what Wendy wrote. I added in a word here and there and the titles, and moved some sentences. I also drew the pictures. At the end of this article I provide a link to the questions referred to by Wendy. They will help you think about your own situation and what you want to be different. There is also the opportunity to try coaching for yourself for free.

 

Return to wellness: My health coaching experience

 

When my life changed forever

 

It was 7 years ago – in another life – since I was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis (TM), resulting in a weakened left leg with inevitable muscle wasting, dropped foot and a multitude of other symptoms associated with the condition such as bladder and bowel issues and fatigue.

I had always been sporty and active so over the past few years my rehabilitative journey took on a multitude of self-help strategies, importantly, finding out as much as I could about the condition.  I read books on neuroplasticity, brain training and mindfulness. I joined exercise programmes, the gym, saw a sports physiotherapist, neuro physiotherapist, trained how to do Nordic walking, which led to me taking up hippotherapy (horse therapy, or simply put, horse riding).

I have been measured for orthotic insoles and used a Functional Electrical Stimulation device (FES). I even went to acupuncture for weeks. I was on the verge of sinking into depression so was referred to a clinical psychologist, resulting in a short course of anti-depressants.

 

The irony….

 

Even after all this determination and sheer will power to get back to my previous life, it wasn’t really working.  I did a reasonable job at maintaining my physical strength. However, it seemed I was fighting a losing battle and began to feel ‘exercised out’.  I would put pressure on myself to exercise and scold myself if I didn’t.

I’d watch people running and walking in the street or on TV.  I found myself analysing their gait. How do they do this simple activity…. automatically?

I obsessed about how TM had affected me, was consumed with frustration, anger, loss, depression.

Finally, a few months ago I realized I had become STUCK.

After all this effort.

I was STUCK.

Everything became a mammoth task or a hassle. I’d stopped exercising. I became anxious and tearful.  I lost motivation, interest and confidence in almost everything. I couldn’t move on or come to terms with or adjust to how my world was now.

I still fretted about my past life. I was still angry and frustrated. This mountain was in front of me and I didn’t have the energy to climb it again.

Then it occurred to me – I had been focussing mostly on my physical state and been neglecting my mental health state. I really hadn’t learned how to adjust, accept or come to terms with this long-term medical condition Transverse Myelitis.

Picture of a person with a serious health issue stuck between their old life and the mountain (i.e. figuring out their new life)

Wishing for your old life but starting a new one feels like a large mountain to climb

 

You've done everything you can to live well w/ your #serioushealthissue #seriousinjury #chronicillness but you’re still stuck. Imagine this. A magic wand is waved as you sleep. In the morning, you still have the health issue, but… tell a friend

 

The turning point

 

At this time, an article in a newsletter from the Transverse Myelitis Society reminded members about a bursary to provide health coaching, guided by Barbara Babcock. I did have some apprehension and wondered whether this would be another fruitless journey.

However, having plucked up the courage to contact Barbara, she reassured me about the process and that we would have telephone contact at times to suit us both.  She also provided lots of preparatory articles and questions to think about prior to our first communication, so I felt somewhat relieved and prepared.

 

Health coaching journey – One of enlightenment, empowerment and self-awareness

 

Over the weeks that followed, my health coaching journey became one of enlightenment, empowerment and self-awareness.  I was amazed with how comfortable it was talking to Barbara on the phone and I soon realized that she didn’t put pressure on me to fulfil her agenda.

This was totally me guiding the script and pouring out my anxieties, stresses, frustration and anger. And importantly, we tackled the obstacles in my way, with a much more energetic and positive attitude.

I learned how to recognise my feelings within my body, not just the negatives, but the positives too.  It was frightening that I rarely felt these ‘positives’ because I had focussed on the negatives for so long.  It took practice, but I now consciously recognise when something feels ‘good’ and that this is the ‘anchor’ I needed.

I became more attuned to acknowledging anger and anxiety and importantly, how to manage, process and take control.  With Barbara’s guidance and simple strategies, I learned how to ‘feel’ where in my body the emotion was and what thoughts arose.

By simply giving the emotion a name and spending time with it, enabled me to process these thoughts and feelings.  This may sound daunting, but the nature of talking about your underlying feelings, in this safe environment, or writing them down was incredibly powerful.

Picture of a person writing about their feelings which is a powerful thing to do

The power of writing about your feelings.

 

The nature of talking about your underlying feelings in this safe environment of #health #coaching, or writing them down, was incredibly powerful. #serioushealthissue #chronicillness #spinalcordinjury #TransverseMyelitis tell a friend

 

 

Health coaching empowered me to focus on what I can do

 

My health coaching journey has now ended, but my journey to wellness and normality continues.  This is my new philosophy.

If you feel you have a mountain to climb or feel ‘stuck’ and have determination and the willpower to want to take your first steps, I would strongly recommend health coaching.

Be prepared to be open and honest and be aware that emotions may become overwhelming and distressful. And be prepared to work at it.

Barbara will pose unexpected questions and prompt when you are off your guard. If you expect Barbara to tell you what to do and how to do it, you will realise that this is not how it works and you will not reap the benefits.

I am learning to focus on what I can do now, and although I still have a mountain to climb, I can tackle it in smaller chunks.  I am more positive and less fatalistic. I am able to recognise anger. I am now able to move on. I am managing fatigue. I have resumed physical activities and registered for a one-mile open water swim.  I no longer feel ‘stuck’.

Wendy H, York

 

Picture of a person having found her path to wellness and a new normality because of health coaching

Finding your own path towards wellness and your new normality

 

What’s it like for you?

 

In what ways did Wendy’s story mirror your own or someone you know? How do you think health coaching could help you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

If you are living with a serious health issue, which may be a serious illness or injury or chronic illness, or are caring for someone who is, and would like support to return to a sense of wellness, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

You can also download the questions I sent to Wendy for her to think about ahead of our first session via this blog post.

 

Help with research on acceptance

 

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more. And in exchange, I offer you a free 1 hour coaching session.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although this blog is written in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, click on the icons to share.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2018

 

Convalescence after illness is a lost art

Convalescence after illness is a lost art

I think convalescence after illness has become a lost art. This thought occurred to me last week whilst being horizontal due to the winter flu, which hit me hard this year, and still getting emails from people offering alternative dates for meetings I cancelled due to the illness.

Last week I was feeling battered and bruised by flu. Not only did I have the flu symptoms to contend with but also their impact on existing symptoms I live with due to having had Transverse Myelitis. An illness can exacerbate TM symptoms and it can also take longer to recuperate from an illness. I wasn’t in a good place.

As I laid on the sofa looking out the window at a brick wall, I thought back to last year when I had the flu and after the worst was over, was still affected for a further month. I resolved that this year I would do what I did last year and not return to work, activities, etc. at full throttle. But this year, given I was hit harder than last year, I would also convalesce.

Picture of window with a view of brick wall

View whilst ill with flu last week.

 

But I am not finding convalescing easy. Work and activities are tugging at me demanding my attention. Life wants me back on the dance floor. I want to dance. But I also want to rest as fatigue has taken up residence, is still visiting, and I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep for over a week now. Thankfully the fatigue is now just a thin bed sheet rather than the thick and heavy blanket it was last week. But still, it is a sign that continued rest is necessary.

If you live with a serious health issue, particularly chronic illnesses that just don’t stop, you probably inadvertently convalesce because you have to. Yet there is that desire to return to activities you can. This blog is for you. If you do not live with a serious health issue of any sort, this blog is especially for you.

I want to resurrect the lost of art of convalescence and by doing that hopefully start a change in society’s thinking regarding recovery from common illnesses such as the flu.

 

What is convalescence after illness?

 

Convalesce means to

  • Recover one’s health and strength over a period of time after an illness or medical treatment (Oxford Dictionary, 2018)
  • To rest in order to get better after an illness (Cambridge Dictionary, 2018)

You look up synonyms for the word convalescence and you see words such as

  • recuperation, recovery, return to health, process of getting better, rehabilitation, improvement, mending, restoration

So there’s a period of illness, THEN there’s a period of convalescing. One comes after the other.

 

Pic of a person resting when ill then sitting in a chair convalescing

When you are ill, you sleep and rest. THEN you convalesce. It’s about a gradual return to your work, activities and life.

 

But in our drive to do, work, achieve, we have stripped out convalescence, that period of mending and restoration. So much so, I am not sure as a society we know how to convalesce anymore. It is becoming a lost art. And this is where I think people living with chronic illness may have something to teach us.

 

Why has convalescence after illness become a lost art?

 

Illness in our society has become something to get over as quickly as possible. In some ways I get that because being ill is not pleasant. We may be in pain and feel distinctly unwell and that prevents us from doing things we enjoy and want to be doing.

On the other hand, illness happens. It is part and parcel of life. Just as sometimes we are happy and other times we are sad and upset.

I think of the commercials which show someone with cold or flu-like symptoms who looks and feels awful, they take the medication being advertised, and lo and behold they are as good as new! They continue with working and being productive! Amazing!

That medication must be magic because I took that kind of stuff all last week and it may have taken the edge off the symptoms, but those symptoms were still very much present.

I appreciate the commercials are trying to sell us the dream of instant good health, yet seeing these kind of commercials over and over again can set an expectation (if you let it) –  If you take medication, you will be fine, and can continue with your work and activities.

I also think of workplaces that want a sick note from your doctor after a week of being absent due to illness. Having worked in HR, I know the reasons for this and they are sound. But still, does it send the message that you can’t be ill for long?

Illnesses generally don’t work to others’ timing expectations. They come, take up residence and in some cases, don’t budge for a very long time.

These reasons also point to why is it so hard to convalesce after illness. Expectations have developed in our society that A) medication will sort you out, B) so you won’t be ill for long and can get back to work, activities, etc. and C) therefore you should not be ill for long. If people are holding these expectations, and coupled with the always on culture of mobile phones and social media, it’s not surprising that convalescence after illness has become a lost art.

 

It’s hard to #convalesce after #illness because expectations have developed in our society that A) medication will sort you out B) so you won’t be ill for long and can get back to work, activities, etc. and C) therefore you should… tell a friend

 

What are the benefits of convalescence after illness?

 

Convalescence after illness allows your body to return to health and wellness. Even if you have a chronic illness (but your definition of health will most likely have changed and be different than pre-illness).

Here’s an example. Think of your body as a town. When you get ill, it’s like a gang coming in to your town and defacing a part of it. The town council sends out its workers to make repairs. The workers make the structural repairs but there is still painting to do.

However, with the structural repairs having been made you feel better. So you go back to your work and activities. Meanwhile, the workers are busy painting so the buildings have a layer of protection against the weather.

Given the workers are busy, another gang sees that the town is an easy target and strikes another part of it. Some of the workers are diverted to fix that damage. They have been working night and day and they are tired. They haven’t had a rest in ages it seems.

There’s also been some bad weather and the first site has experienced damage again. The roads also need clearing of tree debris and potholes need fixing. The town is in a right state and doesn’t have enough workers to fix all the damage. The workers who are working haven’t had a rest in a long time, are tired and getting sick themselves.

The point here is that even though we may feel better, our bodies are still in fix and repair mode. And we need to give our bodies time to go through that healing process so it’s fortified against future gang attacks and unexpected bad weather.

 

Ill with the #commoncold or #flu this winter season? Even though you may be feeling better, your body could still be in fix and repair mode. Give yourself time to #convalesce tell a friend

 

How do you convalesce?

 

Create space to focus on you

  • Clear your diary. When doing this, budget twice the amount of time you think it will take to get better.
  • Turn on your out of office on your email accounts. Do the equivalent on social media.
  • Manage other people’s expectations – Tell people you’ll respond when you feel better and you are not wholly sure when that will be. If they keep contacting you, don’t respond. You’ve told them once.
  • Manage your own expectations – You may miss deadlines. Others may not be wholly happy about that. But the world will not end.

Look after your body

  • Have someone help you stock up on your favourite warming drinks – herbal tea, chicken broth and lemsips are mine. If you have someone who can make them for you, give them that job. And drink lots of water.
  • If you can eat, continue with a balanced diet. It’s tempting to eat pasta, but a week of that isn’t good for your digestive track. Trust me on this one. If you have someone who can help, get them to do the cooking.

Rest and gentle activities

  • If you feel well enough to read, great. If not, it’s an opportunity to watch daytime telly. Or catch up on anything you have recorded. Other gentle activities ca be knitting, drawing, or just day dreaming.
  • If there is no energy for gentle activities, find a nice view to look at. One that is better than a brick wall. Good views feed the soul. Views can also be found online.
  • Enforced time out can be a blessing in disguise. You have time to reflect, dream, think about anything you want to do differently.

 

How do you #convalesce after #illness? Create space to focus on you. Look after your body. Rest and gentle activities. tell a friend

 

As for me. I needed that reminder! I’m focusing on doing two work tasks a day. I have a few meetings in the latter half of this week but I am doing those from home. And I’m off to drink this restorative veggie and fruit smoothie.

 

Picture of a glass of smoothie spinach pineapple apple cucumber lime

Smoothie = spinach + pineapple + apple + cucumber + lime

 

What’s it like for you?

 

If you are living with a serious health issue or chronic illness, what convalescence advice would you give to our friends who don’t have one but currently have the common cold or flu? What do you do to help you stay as well as you can? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

If you are living with a chronic illness or the after effects of a serious illness, or are caring for someone who is and would like support to look after yourself and your needs, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

 

Help with research on acceptance

 

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more. And in exchange, I offer you a free 1 hour coaching session.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although this blog is written in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, click on the icons to share.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2018

References

Definitions for convalescence downloaded from the online Oxford and Cambridge Dictionaries 30th January 2018

  • https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/convalesce
  • https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/convalesce
How to transform the struggle of a serious health issue into acceptance – Part 3

How to transform the struggle of a serious health issue into acceptance – Part 3

Accepting a serious health issue can be hard so for the past few weeks, I’ve been describing strategies you can implement to transform that struggle into acceptance. The strategies have focused on mindfulness, how to be the fly-on-the-wall of your life, dealing with unhelpful thoughts and what acceptance really means. These strategies come from Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT). This week I explain the final two strategies: how taking Committed Action aligned to your Values are integral to getting to a place of acceptance with your health issue.

This is incredibly important. When we know what is truly important to us, we can more easily make decisions and take action in line with that. And that leads to living a meaningful life, which is what we all want for ourselves.

I’ll recap the ideas of Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) here and its benefits so you can see how all the strategies hang together. If you wish to read the series in full, you can find the first post here and the second post here. In fact, I encourage you to because it has useful ideas and strategies you can start implementing immediately. It will also give you the full picture of ACT thereby demonstrating the benefits of this talking form of help.

Taking action which aligns with what is important to us enables us to live a meaningful life #AcceptanceCommitmentTherapy tell a friend

 

Accepting a serious health issue – Using ACT

 

The official definition of Acceptance Commitment Therapy, referred to as ACT (say it as the word ‘act’), is:

‘The goal of ACT is to increase psychological flexibility: the ability to contact the present moment and the psychological reaction it produces, as a fully conscious human being, and based on the situation, to persist with or change behaviour for valued ends.’ (Harris, 2007; Mindfulness Training Ltd., 2017)

Or to put it simply – To create a rich, full and meaningful life whilst accepting the pain and suffering which goes along with it.

You may read ‘accept the pain and suffering’ and think, ‘I’ve already got accepting this serious health issue to deal with!! What the hell is she on about?!’

Let me explain. Of course, we want to be happy more than we are sad or upset, yet sometimes life throws unpleasant or downright awful things our way. Sh*t happens as they say and it’s not fun. So when I say ‘accept’ this, I am not advocating saying ‘yes, this is such a great thing to have happened!’ It’s about acknowledging that yes, this sh*t thing has happened, this is how it has impacted me, this is how I feel about it.

As a society, we tend to push away and suppress bad things which happen to us or ‘bad’ feelings. So much so, anything ‘bad’ has become stigmatised. It is as if we ‘should never’ feel bad and ‘should always’ be happy. Yet when we suppress the ‘bad’ feelings, we don’t acknowledge them. And the ‘bad’ and unpleasant feelings so want to be acknowledged, they will leak out. The strategies used in Acceptance Commitment Therapy help you to visit with those feelings and acknowledge them so they become recognised as a normal aspect of your life. This all helps the process of accepting a serious health issue.

Accepting a serious health issue means coping with unpleasant feelings

You don’t have to unpack and live with overwhelming feelings.

 

The key aspects of ACT are referred to in the above definitions:

  1. The ability to contact the present moment is being able to bring our attention openly, non-judgementally and with curiosity to what is happening in the here and now to ourselves, to others around us, to the situation. This is also known as mindfulness.
  2. Another side to contacting the present moment is being able to step outside of and observe ourselves. This is the first step in learning how ‘to stand in another person’s shoes’ and experiencing empathy with and for another. This can be learned.
  3. Become aware of our psychological reactions to the present moment and identify whether these are helpful to ourselves or not.
  4. Pain and suffering is a normal part of life, including unpleasant reactions we have to our here and now experiences, and it is important that we accept that. And accept the good things too.
  5. If our reactions are not helpful, then we may wish to change our behaviour.
  6. We change our behaviour to obtain what it is we value and want, i.e. our valued ends. But we need to know what it is we value to ensure our behaviour and actions we take align with that.

The following diagram shows these themes:

Key components of acceptance commitment therapy picture

The Key Components of Acceptance Commitment Therapy

 

Let’s move on to talking about the last two principles of ACT, Values and Committed Action.

 

Values

 

Values are:

  • What you believe and value in life like learning, having integrity, fairness, security, etc. You may make decisions based on our values. For example, some people preferred to be employed because they value the security of the pay check every month. Others may prefer to work for themselves because they value freedom of choice. When you make decisions which aren’t aligned with your values, there can be that sense of disquiet that something is not quite right.
  • What you want for yourself in various areas of your life, the direction you want your life to take. These are the implicit or explicit goals you have for yourself regarding your:
    • Physical health
    • Psychological/ Emotional health
    • Occupational – Your work, career, education whether paid or unpaid
    • Relationships with family, friends, your social life
    • Hobbies, personal interests, fun
    • Finances
    • Where you live – home, town, city, state, county, country
    • Spirituality, religion, faith
    • Culture
    • Personal growth

This values exercise in this picture will help you learn more about what you value in life.

Accepting a serious health issues is easier when you know your values picture

Clarifying your values so you can take action which aligns with them can help in accepting a serious health issue.

 

And to identify the direction you want to take in various areas of your life, get the Wellness Assessment which will help you do just that.

 

Committed Action

 

Committed Action means to take action to help you move in a valued direction in your life. Action can be something you say or do, a behavioural action for example. Or something you think or feel inside.

The Wellness Assessment I just mentioned will help you to start identifying some early action you can take in important areas of your life.

This is about committing to something for yourself. And that’s a lovely thing to be doing!

It is not about being perfect. Or expecting everything to happen perfectly.

It’s not about achieving everything by tomorrow. Small, even tiny goals that build on one another over time are great.

You will make mistakes, go off track, etc. That is part of life. It’s about learning from that and getting back on the track of your valued direction in life.

Small even tiny goals that build on one another and are aligned to our values can become the tidal wave of change we have been seeking. #AcceptanceCommitmentTherapy tell a friend

So taking action which aligns with what you value will result in you living the meaningful life you want even with the health issue you have. And that helps so much in accepting a serious health issue. I often find when clients do this, the good things in their life take priority.

 

What’s it like for you?

 

What is most important to you in your life? If you were living your life as you wanted whilst still having the serious health issue, what would you be doing?

If you are living with a chronic illness or the after effects of a serious illness or injury, or are caring for someone who is and would like support identify what is important to you so the action you take in 2018 aligns with that, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

Special offer for Christmas and the New Year – 20% off all coaching packages between now and 31st January 2018. Quote code #XMAS17NY18

If you were living your life in 2018 as you wanted whilst still having #healthissue you have, what would you be doing? tell a friend

 

Have a happy, relaxing and joyful holiday season and all the very best for your 2018!

 

Pass it forward

 

Although this blog is written in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, share using the icons below.

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017

 

References

Harris, R. (2007). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) Introductory Workshop Handout. Available here, (2017, November 20).

Whitfield H. (2011), Acceptance & Commitment Therapy Handbook, ACT Four Day Skills Intensive Part 1 & 2. London: Mindfulness Training Ltd.

How to keep resolutions to flourish your health in 2016

How to keep resolutions to flourish your health in 2016

New Year’s resolutions are upon us. There is a lot of helpful advice out there on how to set resolutions. But keeping them can be the hard part. Change isn’t always easy and straightforward. Some stuff I learned about neuroscience seems to explain that. So I will share one of my key New Year’s resolutions with you and show you how I am putting it into action according to the 4 neuroscience pillars that help with making change.

By doing this, I am putting myself ‘out there’, stepping off the cliff with the intention of flying and swimming in my sea of dreams. (I purchased The Leap of Faith picture from Charlotte Reed of May the Thoughts Be with You. She does fantastic work!)

alt text = "leap of faith"

Taking a leap of faith into the unknown. Photo taken by B Babcock 2015.

Maybe you will find that these principles can help you make the change you want for yourself.

(more…)

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