Barefoot Mindfulness: Mastering Stress and Change with MS
I often watched “The Brady Bunch” as a kid. In one episode, Peter’s voice changes right before the talent show and he isn’t able to sing his chosen song. His replacement song has been playing on repeat in my head for two months!
“When it’s time to change, you’ve got to rearrange …”
I’ve tried to work with the theme and find some alternates. “Changes” by David Bowie. “Winds of Change” by Scorpions, or an entirely different song of the same title by Fitz and the Tantrums. Tracy Chapman, Blind Melon, Credence Clearwater Revival … my list is long. Still, it’s Peter Brady that sings on in my head.
Music is like a time machine; a simple melody can transport a person in an instant. It’s as though a string runs directly from one’s ears through the heart and into the gut; it is the memory of a feeling. The Brady Bunch song speaks to the youngest Judy of these musical memories. We moved frequently as I grew up, and those 70s TV families were comforting in their suspended stability. This mildly nomadic upbringing brought adventures and fostered resiliency, but also created an underlying anxiety around change.
As a parent, I planted my family in one house. I wanted my sons to grow up in the same schools, identify with a place, and feel the support of a broader community. Of course, one cannot hide from change and we had our share, including my MS diagnosis, but we remained at the same address through it all.
In June, my youngest son graduated from high school and strong winds of change blew into town yet again. For a variety of reasons, the best choice was to sell my house, downsize, and move into a small rental. These changes were for the best and everything went smoothly, with many fortuitous moments. But it was stressful, nonetheless. There were logistical pieces, complicated financial decisions, and the hard physical work of packing. Not to mention the emotions and memories embedded in each belonging as I determined whether to toss, give, store, or move it. This created unavoidable stress, which I believe can be a trigger for my MS. My healthcare team and I deployed preventive and self-care strategies. This was no time for an exacerbation … ironically, that only stressed me out more!
I hit critical stress mass one evening around midnight, as I sat with ‘Bumpy’, a 3-foot-long stuffed alligator, on the couch next to me. He stared at me with his one remaining eye and seemed to say, “How dare you?! Throw me away? The nerve! I comforted your son when you could not. Soaked up his very tears with this polyester fill. Relieved his stress as he swung me by the tail, and cushioned the blows when the swings went in the direction of his older brother …”
I was overwhelmed. The ‘gator guilt’ was intense! I staggered toward the door to take the dog out. We stood very close together, the dog and I. He on the grass, me on the path. I had only a short leash after his stress caused him to chew through a longer one. It was quiet, as many neighborhoods are at midnight. I stared up at the stars and wished the wind would return … singing its ‘hushhhhh’ through the Douglas firs. I was aware of a surprising warmth lingering in the concrete, and squeezed my toes a bit to feel the roughness beneath my bare feet. The frogs in the wetland were silent; perhaps the day had been too hot for them. The occasional hum of a car on the nearby highway or the whoosh of a semi were the only sounds. There we stood. Woman and dog being — not deciding, remembering, forgetting, losing, packing, paying, working, or doing anything. Somehow, in those five minutes, I found my way to the elusive mindfulness I’ve tried to cultivate to help manage my MS. My mind, heart, and gut felt lighter as I went back inside.
I continue to do all that I can to manage my stress as I trip over packing boxes and my son’s shoes. I eat healthy, take my meds, and pace myself. Most importantly, I take the dog outside at night, sometimes in my bare feet. I stand on this different sidewalk and look at the sky. In “Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life,” the author Thich Nhat Hahn says, “Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.” I believe I know what he means, and my next job is to learn to do this not just standing still, but as I walk and move through life. As I change and rearrange.
My son leaves for college soon and I’m sure this little rental will feel quite empty. Peter Brady and the dog will keep me company. And if I feel sad, I know a one-eyed alligator who will give me some stuffing to cry on.
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