Category Archives: Mindfulness

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Letter to my Past Self

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Dear Summer,

Feel your body, your muscles. I don’t mean touch them. Just feel them, being there. They are so strong. They feel so right– so comfortable and relaxed. One day, you will lose that feeling. Your body will be constantly tense and tremulous, and your muscles will constantly ache like you’ve just run a marathon. Your limbs won’t move the way you want them to. So feel them now. Your body is so at ease. Your strength and dexterity are such gifts.

Wiggle your fingers and toes. That feeling of control over your body will leave you soon. The fingers will move on their own, sometimes, and sometimes, they won’t even be able to grip a pencil. It sounds strange, I know. You don’t have to believe me. You’ll feel it soon enough.

Stand up and walk. You are not dizzy. You are stable and poised. Your legs make strong foundations. There will be days when you cannot walk at all. When you stand, you will grow dizzy, your eyes will become dark, and you will fall. You are strong now, and you will be strong then. Remember this.
Go for long walks, whenever you can. Always take the scenic route. People watch. Crunch the fallen leaves beneath your feet. It sounds clichéd, I know, but you will not always notice these things, or perceive them as you do now. Pain colors leaves gray, and makes walking a struggle.

Stop for a latte, with real milk. Buy a croissant with it. You love them both, and soon, they will make your stomach turn. Everything will make you nauseated. Things that everyone else eats regularly will make you violently ill. Everyone will tell you it’s because you have an eating disorder.

Stay out late. Refuse to have a strict schedule. Instead, have things to do and people to see. Study sometimes. Sit in class and love learning. Then go out. Love your friends– do fun and stupid things with them. One day, you will have little energy or focus for these things. Anxiety will prevent you from leaving the house, at all.

You love school. Notice how much passion you have for education. Don’t let it leave, even when your abilities become compromised. Life will try to rip that passion from your weak, battered hands. Don’t let it. Learning gives you purpose.

Listen to good music. Drink good beer. When you’re sick, your headaches will warrant silence, and beer will become nauseous to you.

Notice how clear-headed you are. You can read and write for hours. Soon, it will feel like a concrete wall sits in your head, separating you from your thoughts. When you reach them, they are cloudy and unformed.

Stop scolding yourself for how much you’re working, how intensely you’re studying. You are not lazy. You are not stupid. Your time and your experiences are precious. You are forgetting to enjoy the gifts around you because you are busy twisting them into responsibilities, and check-marks on a calendar. The calendar is unimportant. Time is fleeting. Your life is already full.

Stroke your hair. It is healthy and thick. Soon, it will begin to fall out. You will look in the mirror and cry, telling yourself you’ve lost the last part of your appearance you took pride in, the last part of you that didn’t look shriveled and sick.

One morning, you will black out completely, and fall into the wall in your bedroom. You go to the doctor, and she tells you it’s stress. It’s not stress. Don’t listen.
Your arms and legs are weaker now. You have to park closer to buildings. When you come home from work, you sit in your car for a while, because you can’t imagine having the strength to walk to the front door. Don’t lose hope yet. Hold fast to the strength and dexterity you still have. It will be even further diminished.

You’re dizzy all the time, now. That episode where you blacked out happens every day. Your stomach hurts all the time, too. You can’t focus in class. Your muscles cramp up so badly you have to lie in a fetal position for hours at a time. You feel like a zombie. Food makes you vomit and gives you migraines. You have little energy, but you can still sleep. Soon, you will have insomnia, too.
You are scared. You think you have MS or Lupus, or even cancer. Something is terribly wrong, and the doctors won’t listen to you. You go to a new clinic and they tell you to stop eating wheat and get more rest. You are a young girl with emotional problems. You are not sick. Remember, Summer, you are okay. The doctors are wrong. You are strong and smart.

You think everything is gone, your life is all wrong. It’s not. Love everything you loved before. Keep living. Reach out. Don’t hide. This is not your fault. Remember, Summer, you are okay. You are strong and smart.

Don’t pity yourself, and don’t ask for pity. Notice the “disabled” people around you, and commend them for how strong they are. Think about how sad it is that all the healthy people are so oblivious of their able-bodied privilege– hope that they savor some of the beauty. Your eyes have been opened. Things you thought belonged to you were never really yours, and now you hold fast to all the fleeting gifts coming into your little world. Be grateful. Those gifts may stay, or they may go.

Always write. Always smell the coffee. Always pet the dogs.

Love,
Summer

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Recovery

I am in recovery. I’ve finally learned that recovery has very little to do with everything I’ve been taught with which to equate it. Recovery is not prescribed therapy, diagnosis, food, or drugs. It has to do with the absence of those things, but also the presence of them, all together– pieces of a contentedly imperfect whole. Recovery has to do with my ability to acknowledge those elements of my life, then place my focus elsewhere. My freedom comes from a lack of obsession toward any one of these so-called “cures”. My happiness comes from my aptitude for life alongside, but not compromised by illness.

I take minimal medication. Two drugs help make my symptoms bearable, and neither are addictive or have dangerous side effects. I don’t expect to find a miracle drug that will solve all of my problems, nor do I rely on the comforts of antidepressants or pain killers. I don’t find the need to numb myself to make life bearable. I no longer assume that I need a diagnosis to make progress in treating or accepting my situation. A label would make my illness understandable to the rest of the world– not to me. I no longer dwell on what I can and cannot consume. Usually I eat for health, sometimes I eat for enjoyment, and both are okay. I no longer waste my time with restrictive therapy diets. I now eat, and move on, with or without pain or other symptoms.

My illness is restrictive, but it doesn’t eliminate all opportunities for enjoyment and fulfillment My limitations determine the ways in which I act and experience life, but they don’t prevent me from finding ways to do so anyway. Once I realized this, my life took a huge turn. I no longer need to focus on fighting my illness before I return to life. I was spending so much time fighting my demons, I didn’t have the awareness to realize I was actually worshiping them. Now, my obstacles move with me, and I with them. I accept them, and continue to live and learn.

Lastly, I don’t think I will ever be recovered, nor do I need to be. My recovery will be a lifelong process, and my illness may or may not ever leave or subside. However, the world has too many beautiful things to offer for me to lose myself in negativity.

Illness is still difficult to cope with. I still have bad days– that’s okay. My symptoms are not optional. My suffering is. True suffering comes from my interpretation of my circumstances. I can easily chose not to harbor resentment, not to feel hopeless, and not to blame myself or anyone else. Instead, I choose to appreciate my challenges, and continue to love the life I’ve been gifted.

Friends are the best medicine.
Friends are the best medicine.
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Self-preservation and Asking for Help

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There’s a lot of expertise out there. There are a lot of specialists who spend years studying a lot of information, and there are a lot of cocky people claiming “my way is the right way.” When we admit “my expertise is not enough…I need help,” we have to navigate those waters, and it becomes confusing. The path to healing and resolution is indirect and unpaved. To make positive change happen, we need to admit our imperfection, ask for help, but avoid being taken advantage of. We have to let go of control, but maintain confidence.

I was admitted to the hospital last week, which felt good in some ways. It helped externalize some of the pressure, and allowed me to rest while I was assured that experts would help me figure out my problems. I was managing with a team, instead of alone. However, there were also lots of doctors ready to twist my situation into something it wasn’t, or tell me things about myself that were more harmful than helpful. Doctors do not have privileged access to all knowledge, and they make mistakes often. We have to remember that authorities are not deities.

When we’re talking about our own healing, no one expert is going to have all the answers we need because he/she studies concepts, not individuals. We have to enter into new ways of thinking with open minds, but don’t take anything as doctrine– keep the knowledge that applies to you, and discard the rest. And NEVER disregard your own discernment– you are the authority on your own well being, and you need to protect yourself.

You can admit that you’ve made mistakes, that you need help, and still reserve the right to say “no, this is wrong for me.” Admitting that you’ve made mistakes should make you even more confident in your ability to discern right from wrong and distinguish true from false because you’ve just done those things with huge bias. You called bullshit on yourself.

There will always be a hard-headed, over-opinionated type-A personality, trying to fix you, claiming his/her way is the only way. You are stronger. You have seen past his/her way of thinking. You have recognized human error, and you have to keep an open mind always, because every situation and every individual requires unique consideration and cumulative understanding. You are not a page in a textbook, you are not a single case study, or a google search results page. You do not deserve to be viewed as any of those things.

Furthermore, you can’t let one admission of error open you up to all others, or make you think less of yourself. Don’t ever think, “because I have this problem, all the bad things everyone says about me are true.” Humility should make you think more of yourself. You are above hubris. You are expansive. You are strong. You have seen truth, will see more truth, and that will open you up to the help and healing you need.

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Turning over A New Leaf– Dealing with Trauma

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Your society preaches self-deprivation and excessive self-expectation- It tells you to be strong and build “good” character. So you learn to worship self-control and discipline. You learn that you have to be the right kind of person and live the right kind of life. You’re supposed to be a hard worker. Sit down and shut up. Follow the social norms. Ignore your impulses. Then, you’ve reached your “goals.” You made yourself fit the box. If you’re a girl, you’re supposed to be thin, keep your mouth shut, don’t try to drive a big truck. If you’re a boy, you’re supposed to be stoic, be strong, yell when someone puts the sportsball in the sportsplace.

Then you go home and you’re left with the wrong parts of yourself. You see deficits that start to gnaw at your confidence and make you think you’re not enough– “I’m weak. I’m fat. I’m selfish. I’m stupid.” We tell ourselves constantly we’re beneath our own standards. These character flaws are our downfalls. They cannot be tolerated. We have to beat them into submission, discipline ourselves to hide them.

The standards and the distractions change and fade. And eventually we’re left with all of these “inadequacies”– The parts of ourselves that don’t fit. The parts that are too lazy, needy, inadequate, untrained. We’re left with run-down, misshapen vehicles that doesn’t seem to drive well on the roads where we drove before. And we have to find ways to make the vehicles work, to fuel them, and use them for what they are.

This post is about to get sad, and serious, and honest. I’ve recently accepted new truths about myself, and I want to be open about them. I want to be brave. I am brave, and talking about problems out loud helps us fear them less and move past them further. Soon, I’m going to tell you I’m still sick. I’m sicker than I was before. I’m also going to tell you I have an eating disorder. You read that correctly. I also have a cat. Either of those things could mean everything and nothing about me, depending on how you want to judge me.

When I came into the trauma of chronic illness, my imperfection became me. It felt like I had lost everything I liked about myself. The real me had disappeared, and I was left with an unusable shell. I disappeared. I stopped writing. I had nothing of value to say. I had no right to speak to the world. I was a “sick girl,” debilitated, unimportant, expendable.

I couldn’t overwork myself anymore. I wasn’t going to school, or headed to a noble profession. Illness was taking a toll on my body, and I wasn’t attractive enough anymore. I was too weak to decide how productive to be, or maintain an energetic and spunky personality all the time. I couldn’t earn my place in the world anymore, and I didn’t fit in the pretty box I was supposed to fit in, so I was nothing.

I thought the way to overcome the illness was to hide the undesirable qualities until I had enough strength to be the right person again. I would train my sick body to be strong again. I would use self-control and knowledge to discipline my body into healing. I would eat the right things, use the right supplements, change my lifestyle, study the necessary information. Then, I would be better. I would beat the illness. I would tease and train the lazy, useless body into something acceptable. Anyone who’s been through abuse or other trauma knows this thinking well. We blame ourselves and think we can make the terrible things smaller by over-controlling unrelated aspects of our lives.

Stop. There is nothing to overcome. You are not your trauma, or your flaws. I was never my illness. I was Summer, with an illness on the side. I was always a whole person. Without school, without my activity level, without my after-school jobs and volunteer work. And the sick Summer was not deficient. She was not unable. She didn’t need training, or lack discipline or strength. But every time I came home and felt weak and tired, I told myself I had to do something to fix it. I was being the wrong kind of sick person. If I were doing enough therapy, living correctly, acting the way I was supposed to, I would be this sick. Even after I found out that I had very real immune and neurological problems causing the symptoms, I told myself it had to be partly my fault that I wasn’t better off– I wasn’t “recovering.”

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Every time I got sick after a meal, I told myself I had eaten the wrong things and caused my symptoms. I tried elimination diet after elimination diet and got the same results. I became scared to eat, and I felt undeserving of food because I only deserved food if I could find out what sort of diet would heal me. A combination of my disordered thinking and digestive pain caused me to drop to 85 lbs. I was literally disappearing. I didn’t cause my digestive problems, but I made them much worse. And now, I had fewer abilities, so I deserved even less. I didn’t have enough self-control to heal myself. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t exercise, I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t calm down.

What I needed was nourishment. What I needed was acceptance. I needed to make space for myself in a world that always tells us we’re “less than.” I needed to fight the situation, not myself. Denial is not determination. I wasn’t being “stronger” than the illness. I saw doctors and took the drugs they told me to. I exhausted myself doing medical test after medical test. I had twenty vials of blood drawn twice weekly. I obsessively read chronic illness blogs and books and took the supplements they advocated. I did yoga and other “restorative” exercise that was supposed to make me better. But I hated myself and my illness. I must have been doing it all wrong because I was still sick. I still hurt. My muscles still didn’t work the same. I still had dizziness and brain fog.

I am still learning how to love myself. How to accept my life with illness. How to nourish instead of deprive myself. How to say
“I deserve to be here. Screw you pain. Screw you eating disorder. Screw you, self-blame! I’m going to have a life anyway!”
I’m still learning that I have things to contribute, even when I can’t be the picture-perfect girl I wanted to be. And most of all, I’m learning that being less “perfect” than I wanted to be may be even more of a gift.

But I’m back. I’m making space for myself. Just as we all should. I’m done lying to myself. I’m done hiding. I’m done accepting anything less than a full life, with bumpy edges and rocky roads. I’m done coming home and crying every night because my body didn’t work the way I wanted it to that day. Instead, I’ll make it a goal to throw a well-deserved (but succinct) fit, do some yoga, pour a glass of wine, and move on. I’ll stop being scared of everything I put in my body, and I’ll enjoy my morning coffee. I’ll eat more cupcakes. Because all the kale in the Northern Hemisphere hasn’t healed me yet. I’ll go for a walk when I want to, instead of when I feel like I “should.” And if I don’t do my “therapy” everyday, I won’t beat myself up about it. I’ll spend more time with my family. I’ll be more honest with my friends. Because I’ve wasted too much time being the “right kind” of sick person. I’ve wasted too much time hating myself for being a strong, able fighter. I’m done spending every minute fighting things I can’t control, and missing the things I should be celebrating.

Strength and Understanding Through the Storm

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Recently, I’ve gone through a really rough period in my life. I know– you would think that most of my dealing with chronic illness could be considered a “rough period.” I thought I’d gone through enough “rough periods” for a lifetime– that I’d hit rock bottom when I had to leave work and school, when I had to get my feeding tube, when I learned that there would be days I would wake up without the ability to walk. I thought I had passed life’s tests of strength, made it through my crucible. Until the past month, I had no idea what hardship was coming, or how many small comforts I still had.

Then the storm came. I moved from Dugway back to Salt Lake City– a welcome transition. However, a reasonable amount of stress on a healthy body is a stress overload for mine. The whole situation wreaked havoc on my muscles, compromised my motor skills, gave me constant headaches and weakness in my limbs. It also increased my digestive problems, so I ended up at my lowest weight yet, 89 lbs at 5’10”. My body was in constant fight-or-flight and extreme starvation. I didn’t know what to do, or whether I was going to make it. My doctors didn’t have any immediate answers, so I had to resort to my own knowledge and small amounts of self-soothing to make it through the move. Then, I went through a breakup with my boyfriend of three years. I’ve chosen not to make him a central part of this blog, but he was a huge part of my life for a long time, and losing him was confusing and hard.

It felt like my illness had taken everything from me. At this point, I was literally just surviving, not living, not feeling. There was so little left to hang on to.

But I’m still here. I’m still moving, living, growing. I’ve found that I have strength and persistence that I could never have comprehended before life demanded it of me. I’ve learned that I have to find gratitude for the small comforts in my life, because everything we take for granted is never really ours, and it disappears without warning. I now know that I can survive– that I can find strength when everything falls apart. For now, I’m living by my own strength and understanding, and I know that my illness cannot take those from me.

Source: Popsugar

Everything Happens for a Reason…But Not Really

This is going to be sort of a heavy post. But first, I want to share one of my favorite birthday gifts– my super cool new yoga sweatshirt. Thanks, Ina!

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Okay, now onto the guts of today’s post.

I’ve spoken to multiple people recently who’ve been in situations of trauma or suffering, and have explained to me that they comfort themselves by remembering that “everything happens for a reason.” That statement has never been comforting to me, and, in some ways, it’s even frustrating. It’s empty and convoluted, and it communicates a hopeless and complacent way of looking at negativity in our lives.

When trauma or suffering happens in our lives, we look to make sense of the things which are ailing us. “Everything happens for a reason” is a way to comfort ourselves– a way to get a partial grasp on something confusing and seemingly intangible. In my experience, placing this sort of “purpose” can distort our views and take us even farther on the truth. Here’s why:

“Everything happens for a reason” can be interpreted two ways: the “reason” is either external, suggesting that some all-powerful force is behind our suffering, or the “reason” is internal, meaning we believe we are the sources of our own suffering. If you believe some divine/otherworldly being is behind your suffering, you create the illusion that you are powerless in your own situation, and that the force in control in your life wishes you harm. Is there really a cruel god, or even a cruel universe, puppeteering us– causing young mothers to die of cancer, causing situations like mine, where we have to withdraw from happy lives for reasons of pain or trauma? I see this as extremely unlikely. When you hear hooves, you should think horses, not zebras or unicorns. The simplest answer is usually the right one. If you have cancer, it’s likely because a cancerous growth attacked your immune system and causes abnormal cell reproduction. It’s less likely that happened because the cruel god of cancer wanted to punish you for not spending more time with your family.

If we don’t externalize, we internalize– you tell yourself “I asked for the pain. It’s punishment for something I did wrong.” It’s natural to self-blame, especially in situations of illness or abuse. You think “I caused my symptoms because my lifestyle isn’t adequate. I stress too much, I don’t eat right or exercise enough, etc.” We look for the causes that are closest to our control– our own actions. It’s the clichéd abusive relationship scheme, where the victim of abuse blames him/herself for warranting the abuse. Obsviously, this way of thinking is flawed, and not at all conducive to healing.

I don’t believe “everything happens for a reason” because of the fallacious perceptions this type of self-comfort causes. However, people are not created to be sick, or to suffer. Therefore, I do believe there is some reason at the center of the illness. The reason is the world, the abuse, the abuser, the strange elements of life that were twisted to send you into an unnatural and unpleasant situation. There is nothing comforting about the cause or reason for suffering. The true comfort comes from the outcome of the illness or ailment– the way you decide to continue, and the positivity and wisdon you’re able to gain from the situation. None of this is predestined or external. It’s all individual, and comes from your personal choices in handling your battle. You empower yourself through movement and self-confidence, not self-blame or hopelessness. So, yes, everything happens for a reason…but not really.

Source: Popsugar
Image Source: Popsugar

Self-care and Actualization

Do not curse the darkness. Light a candle.
-Ancient Proverb

Things are not going my way, as of late. I have to move home, temporarily- that’s the part I have to remember, temporarily. I withdrew from classes less than a year ago. Six months ago, I was living on my own, planning to go back to school in the spring, planning to go back to my summer job. Now, I’m too sick to get up a lot of mornings. My illness is too unpredictable to have a schedule, to have a “life” like most people have lives.

Temporarily, I am resting, withdrawing from the life I was living before. I am bigger than my circumstances, and stronger than my illness. I am in an undesirable situation, but I am strong enough to get out of it. I will not wait, I will not sulk. I will make small goals, and do everything I need to do to rise above this situation. I spoke before about “climbing small mountains.” Now, it’s more important than ever. People with chronic fatigue find ways to function in the world that make them feel happy and fill, and I know I can do the same. In order to find peace with an illness (or any other personal handicap) you have to reach high levels of understanding and achievement in two areas: self-care, and actualization.

Image Source: 21st Century Tech
Image Source: 21st Century Tech

Self-care involves gaining awareness yourself, your body, and acting based on your needs. We live busy, tense, rushed lives, and forget to honor our bodies and the work they do for us. If you don’t have adequate knowledge of your body and its needs, you aren’t harnessing all of it’s skills, nor are you giving it the resources it needs to fulfill tasks. You’re running a car on oil that needs changing, tires with no tread, and old brake pads. The car will still run, but not as well as it should. You aren’t respecting the machine, and eventually, it will have a bigger problem that needs immediate attention. Our bodies do a lot of work for us, and they need to be acknowledged and tended to. On top of that, our society tells us to hate the amazing vessels that give us the abilities to function. We are always too skinny, too fat, not tan enough, too much arm flab, not enough abs. Screw that noise. You can walk, run, travel to Africa, laugh, breathe- your body gives you all those abilities and you insist that it isn’t good enough because it doesn’t look like Adriana Lima’s? Check yourself.

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Actualization involves knowledge of your personal character, as well as the steps that must be taken in order to keep progressing and achieving. You have to know what you need as an individual, and how you want to act within a society. People need to feel accomplished, worthy, and productive. That doesn’t necessarily mean that every idea of “accomplishment” is logical or correct. We’re confronted with a lot of ideas of success that aren’t for everyone. For example, volunteering for charity may be more rewarding to one person than being the CEO of a company. Again, it’s all related to self-awareness. Know what you need and where you fit in. If you don’t know yet, climb small mountains along the way.

These elements may seem contradictory, when they’re really not. You don’t have to deny yourself care or comfort in order to be productive and successful. In fact, you have to do one to do the other. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t have the resources to reach actualization goals. If you don’t keep achieving actualization goals, you won’t feel like you deserve self-care (the goal is to know you always deserve self-care, but most people need reminders).

I am here, in this world, just as I deserve to be. I deserve to take care of myself. I deserve happiness, and I will keep moving and progressing until I make a difference in this world.

Looking Out for Yourself– How to Respond Actively to Rejection

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Rejection is hard. I feel like I’ve been rejected by the world- the world that gave me a debilitating disease and refuses to let me heal. I feel like I’ve been rejected by the doctors who are supposed to help me, but still give me no answers. I feel like I’ve been rejected by friends and loved ones, who try to understand, but eventually push me aside and pass judgement. Everywhere I turn, I find a dead end. There is no resolution. There is no healing.

Still, I have to keep looking out for myself. No one is going to line my path with a red carpet or feed me healing with a silver spoon. Sometimes, answers are buried deep in the fathomless soil of Earth’s challenges. But the answers are there. Somewhere, there is peace and resolution.

It’s easy to tell ourselves that rejection happens to us- to give ourselves excuses to sulk and wait for things to get better. We have just as much power to make things happen in response to the rejection. Fight for yourself. Love yourself. The world obviously isn’t looking out for you, so you have to look out for you. You were placed in this life with endless opportunities for success, and all the resources to find them. How dare you waste those opportunities. How dare you settle for a small life, full of pain. There are answers to your questions, and an end to your pain. Keep your heart close to them, and create your own peace along the way. That is the only way to live.

Control

There are so many things that feel far from my control now. Every day, I wake up in an alien body, and every day, the alien body finds new ways to prevent me from making choices about my actions and emotions. When I come close to peace with the intruder, it morphs into something new and unpredictable– different symptoms and different restrictions. It feels like my illness will always have the upper hand.

In reality, though, there’s very little that’s every under our control. Healthy people were merely gifted healthy bodies through a biological gamble. They learned to use their human vessels, just as I’m learning to use mine. And still, I continue to mourn the abilities my body doesn’t have, as if my obsession will bring them back. People will always wish for more beauty, more strength, longer limbs, and better skin. We grieve for things we don’t even miss, and pity ourselves because we can’t engineer our own bodies and skills.

Why do we turn this into a battle? Why do we fight with the world over our deficits instead of using our gifts? I have been given the gift of life. I am expansive, not limited. My troubled mind, obsessed with control will trick me out of acknowledging such traits. I will master the abilities I have, and I will use them to work with the world, instead of quarrel with it. And when I feel small and insignificant, I will not wish for the control I do not have; instead, I will watch the world move around me, and observe the higher forces of control rather than grieve my lack thereof. I am not too small or powerless, nor do I have control over more than I can handle. I am perfectly placed in a complex system, and I will master the part I’ve been given.