Tag Archives: mindfulness

Bye, 2017! The Best Books of the Year To Soothe Your Soul

Five books to soothe sore souls

It has been a rough year for all of us. From the explosion of xenophobia and the election of a sexual predator to the White House, to the near constant headlines of police brutality and senseless gun violence, 2017 required us to take an exhausting look at the sickness of our society. Those of us navigating a sick society with sick bodies have had an even rougher year, with constant threats to Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act adding more stress to our already maxed-out bodies.

While the shitstorm of 2017 grew inside and out, I turned to mankind’s greatest comfort: books.

books to soothe

Books are the ultimate window into humanity. They draw out love, grief, fear, despair, hope – those universal truths of humanness that all of us feel so intensely and yet too often make us feel alone. Books are the ultimate tools for empathy. A good book shines a light on truths inside of yourself and helps you see the truths in those around you.

As Maya Angelou wrote:

“Information helps you to see that you’re not alone. That there’s somebody in Mississippi and somebody in Tokyo who all have wept, who’ve all longed and lost, who’ve all been happy. So the library helps you to see, not only that you are not alone, but that you’re not really any different from everyone else.”

For me, books have almost always housed the medicine I need and this past year was no different. Here is a round-up of a select few books to soothe that have helped keep me sane and thriving despite sickness in 2017.

The Art of Mindful Living: How to Bring Love, Compassion, and Inner Peace Into Your Daily Life by Thich Nhat Hahn

books to soothe

This audiobook is only two hours long, but it contains more wisdom and guidance than an epic tome. Read and written by Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hahn, this book has changed my life. I have listened to it many times and use the principles within it every single day in my mindfulness practice. I will gladly spend the rest of my life practicing the teachings of this book.

This book is perfect for: humans; those seeking peace or healing; anyone interested in mindfulness, spirituality, or meditation

When Women Were Birds: 54 Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams

My boss, friend, and mentor Margaret Eissler at the National Park Service gave this book to me shortly after Chronic Migraine turned my entire life upside down. That was four years ago, and I just got around to reading Terry Tempest Williams’ poetic memoir this year. made my heart sing and my eyes fill with tears. Her voice is so honest, so strong, so clued into the natural world and what it means to be female.

“We come into this world through women, a woman who is spent, broken open, in awe. No wonder women have been feared and worshipped ever since man first saw the crowning of a human head here, legs spread, a brushtroke of light.

We are Fire. We are Water. We are Earth. We are Air.

We are all things elemental.”

This book is perfect for: writers, poets, hikers, environmentalists, strong women

The Grim Sleeper: The Lost Women of South Central books to sootheby Christine Pelisek

 

True crime is my ultimate weakness. Nothing distracts me from my own pain and trouble like a gory, true, and horrifying tale of crime. While I get my fix mostly from podcasts (SSDGM!), The Grim Sleeper was absolutely worth the commitment. With respect and journalistic integrity, Christine Pelisek tells the true story of a serial killer in Los Angeles who murdered women of color over the course of decades. The book takes a hard look at our justice system, race relations, and violence against women. It’s a horrifying story that absolutely needs to be told.

This book is perfect for: true crime aficionados, making the hours fly by, sleeping with the lights on

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Honestly, I hate it when books make you cry but sometimes it’s necessary. Angie Thomas’ young adult novel about a young black girl who witnesses the murder of her friend by a police officer had me in tears at least three times. The story is heavy, relevant, important, and wonderfully told through the eyes of a 15-year-old narrator. I usually don’t go for YA books, but this one is so much more adult than I expected. And it manages to cover serious themes without being preachy. A+

“Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.”

This book is perfect for: white people; fostering empathy

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

books to soothe

As far as I’m concerned, Jennifer Egan is a goddess. Her genre-bending Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Visit From the Goon Squad blew me away in its scope and creativity, so when I saw she came out with a new novel in 2017, I immediately got my hands on a(n audio) copy. Manhattan Beach is on the longer side, and I almost lost interest part way through, but I am so, so glad I stuck with it. This historical fiction novel takes place during WWII in New York City and follows the life of Anna as she navigates what it means to be a working woman during wartime in a society that prefers women to be invisible. It is an adventurous and unpredictable novel filled with memorable characters, a vivid setting, and an exciting plot. In short, everything I look for in a good book.

This book is perfect for: history lovers; fans of the Sopranos; modern-day Rosie the Riveters

Peace out, 2017! I can’t wait to see what 2018 will bring: the adventures, the tragedies, and the books to soothe both.

Comments? What was your favorite book of 2017?

Learning How to Live with Chronic Migraines

As of July 3, 2017, I have been reluctantly learning how to live with chronic migraines for four years. This anniversary passed with a pit in my stomach, extra weight on my shoulders and limbs, and nothing more.

how to live with chronic migraines
After the drought.

Time is not as heavy when you’re sick. How could I possibly count the lives I’ve lived in the past four years? How can I explain the agonies, the nightmares, the feverish desire of the past four years? How can I possibly explain the calm with which I now greet each day – even as a storm rages in my brain and central nervous system?

How to Live with Chronic Migraines: Lessons in Life and Suffering

Robert Frost wrote, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: It goes on.” This was one of my favorite quotes as an angsty teenager and still is today as a 28-year-old woman with a chronic illness.

I am not as elegant as Robert Frost, and I’m prone to (light) plagiarism. But I, too, can sum up everything I’ve learned about life, particularly about life with chronic migraines:

Life is suffering.

On the surface, this lesson that I stole from Buddha feels inherently negative and necessarily harsh. But unravel its threads and you can see the truth, the beauty, and the freedom that this idea holds.

how to live with chronic migraines
After the drought.

For women, this idea is familiar or even obvious. We who bleed monthly with a whole body shudder know suffering. We who hold the seed of life every day, feel the weight of its responsibility, know this.

We who are sick know this. But as independent, modern women and men, we fight suffering. From the first breath we seek comfort, relief, fulfillment, and the more we suffer the harder we seek.

To be still , to accept the suffering of life , is to be free. To end the seeking , to acknowledge your suffering, is to be free. To feel the suffering of others flow through you, made of the same cloth as your own, is to be human.

The idea that life is suffering – and that it still goes on – hit me suddenly four years ago with the shock of jumping into a near-frozen lake. It took me four years of fighting, four years of weakness, four years of seeking and desiring, to learn how much power I hold in my suffering.

how to live with chronic migraines
After the drought

Life is suffering. Suffering is life. In the final waves of your mother’s womb before you took your first breath. In the scream of a blackbird as a raven devours her young. In the bumper to bumper traffic you sat in this morning. In the words you say to those you love that you can’t forget.

From pain, comes beauty. From pain, comes life.

I’ve Learned Enough for a Degree

It took me four engaging and exhausting years at UC Santa Barbara to earn a double major: Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies and Political Science. The past four years learning how to live with chronic migraines have been equally draining and enlightening.

For the occasion of surviving – no, thriving – through four years of chronic pain, I have invented and am presenting myself with a degree:

Bachelor’s of Life in Suffering and Chronic Pain (with a minor in empathy)

how to live with chronic migraines
After the drought

Although I’ve learned many lessons in how to live with chronic migraines, I have not necessarily accepted that chronic migraines will always be a part of my life.  But if life drags me through Suffering and Chronic Pain grad school, at least I know I’ll be able to handle it.

Tools to Help you Live Better With Chronic Migraine

Each of these resources has helped me personally. If you’re struggling to make sense of a life with unpredictable pain, I highly encourage you to poke around and try out some of these tools:

Heal Chronic Painone of many free meditations from DoYogaWithMe.com

Dr. Dawn C Buse – learn diaphragmatic breathing and relaxation from a Migraine psychologist

Migraine Strong positive support group on facebook for Migraine diets and Migraine living

Migraine World Summit knowledge is power. Arm yourself with tools and science from the top minds in Migraine medicine

Find a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist –  I think every person with chronic pain can benefit from CBT. (I personally relied on CBT during the darkest of times, and I’m very grateful for it). If you have issues with sleep, anxiety, or depression on top of chronic migraines, I encourage you even more strongly to see how much a good therapist can help.


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