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When Contrast Leads to Better Things

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Disclaimer: I am not a brain or brain rewiring expert. I am simply sharing my personal journey and my personal understanding as it makes sense to me.

That Darn Bird Poop

a window with a bird and a splat of bird poop on the window

As I shared in my last post, the “poop” in life often gets more than its share of our attention. Contrast. A recent several weeks-long discomfort in my back meant that my back was getting more attention than all the parts of me that were fine. It’s natural. But was it fair? I mean, everything that was working well was getting neglected.

Teaching and Personal Gratitude: A Little Comparison

As a (retired) prek teacher I remember consciously giving the bigger part of my attention to appropriate behavior. Instead of giving attention to the kiddo who wasn’t participating during the clean-up song, I’d acknowledge those who were participating. “Thank you, Susie, for putting the blocks away.”  “It sure feels good to help out, doesn’t it, Mark?” Everyone likes attention. This practice often resulted in greater participation from everyone. Not always, but it sure makes for a more positive atmosphere when you highlight the things that are going well. 

*(That previous paragraph may sound like manipulation of behaviors to please the teacher. We don’t want kids’ compliance, however, to be based on pleasing the adults in their lives or to be based on external rewards. We want kiddos’ motivation to be based on its intrinsic value– to encourage learning and behavior to be based on internal satisfaction. After all, if we want our kids to be adults who trust their sense of direction in life, we need to encourage a personal sense of direction based on self motivation from the early years.)

I know that highlighting the positive is more difficult when it comes to pain or discomfort. But it’s a practice. And just because I’m sharing this doesn’t mean I have this down. Far from it. It’s a practice I’m working on. Simple awareness of what I do personally has me working at being more intentional with my focus towards appreciation for what is going well.   

“Thank you ears, for hearing the laughter.”

“Thank you stomach, for digesting my food.”

“Thank you legs, for allowing me to walk.”

“Thank you lungs, for breathing in and out.”

My Journey: From Gluten Free to Fragrance Free,
to Becoming Free of Limbic System Impairment

When it comes to feeling unwell, we sometimes learn to tolerate it. I can see this throughout my personal journey. Sometimes, however, health can get to a point where we’d do just about anything to feel better. 

I didn’t realize how unwell I learned to feel most of my life until I was diagnosed with celiac and removed gluten from my diet (as I shared in my post, A Lifetime of Undiagnosed Celiac: A Life Put on Hold). Through the months prior to this drastic change, I became ready to do whatever it took to feel better. I was (and still am) grateful for answers. Being gluten free closed that contrast between feeling unwell and feeling oh-so-much better. 

When it came to my fragrance sensitivity, I fought against that contrast a whole lot more. I had just discovered how well I could finally feel. Developing a fragrance chemical sensitivity, as I shared in my post, My Fragrance Sensitivity Part 1: Where it Began, was a major kick in the gut. It was like having a broken leg fixed and being able to walk again just to have the other leg broken.

Experience Told My Brain How Well My Body Could Feel

The difference between the pre-gluten-free me and the post gluten-free me was so extreme that there was no way I was ever tempted to cheat on my diet. Knowing the difference between how I felt fragrance free and when in a room with air fresheners or with someone who used fragranced products (not just perfume but lotions, laundry products, hair products, etc) was distressing. Greatly distressing. It made me feel all kinds of emotions. I knew what it was like to feel well, but (like so many others who live with chemical fragrance sensitivity) I often couldn’t. I could control my diet. I couldn’t control my air. 

This chemical illness became so health hindering, isolating, and depriving of job, family, and life, that I finally chose to seek out help in an area that I didn’t really believe would help (at first). Brain rewiring. (As I shared in my post, Brain Rewiring Part 1: I Wasn’t Ready). 

When Contrast Leads to Feeling Better

As Abraham Hicks says, “When you know what you don’t want, you know what you do want.” Living what we don’t want often creates a greater focus on that “don’t want.” We focus on what hurts. We focus on what causes that contrast. For me, it took getting to the greatly unwanted before truly directing my focus on the light that could get me through that dark tunnel (no matter how dim that light seemed at first.)

That need to focus on the light is what helped me through my dietary requirements. That need to find the light through the impact fragrance chemicals were having on my life is what brought me to brain rewiring. And watching and feeling that light grow is what has me staying on this brain retraining journey. 

I Want to Feel Better

Recent contrast led me to doing something that I wouldn’t have done had it not been for the back issues I was experiencing. Gym membership.

I’m not unfamiliar with back pain and discomfort. Far from it. Keeping up with my monthly chiropractic adjustments and acupuncture usually keeps me in tune. Recently, however, a certain issue just wasn’t going away. I know what it’s like to NOT have back discomfort. I wanted THAT. I found myself, however, giving my current situation a lot more time and attention than I spent on gratitude for all that I did have and that was going well. 

What I also realized, however, was that I’d been much less physically active. And I knew this contributed to my less than state with my back. A little birdie started whispering in my ear, “Join the gym.” 

Joining the Gym and Feeling Better

I’d been a gym member at different times through my life. My experience was always a positive one (when I went, anyway). My back felt better. My motivation was increased. I had more energy. I’d eventually make other things priority, however, until I realized I wasn’t using my membership– and I’d ultimately quit.

An ad popped up on the TV recently—one I was meant to hear. $0 joining fee until October 15th. $10 a month. That was it. I got my butt to the gym and joined. 

My goal for now: Twice a week. After just three visits, guess what? My back popped like it hadn’t popped in a long time (in a good way). It now feels better than it has in weeks. 

Bonus: I simply feel good about going. I am thanking my muscles and my body for getting stronger. 

Brain Rewiring and Resistance

Part of brain rewiring often includes resistance. It’s like the limbic system says, “I see what you’re doing here,” and it gets a little chatty. It doesn’t like change. Contrast can be presented in bolder print. But I’ve learned that this is all part of the ebb and flow process. 

Example: My first few times back in the gym, I recognized that there was music, but I didn’t give it much focus. I recognized that it wasn’t my type of music, but my focus was on the treadmill, my book, the weight machines, and my joy of being back in the gym.

Nothing changed this week in regards to that music. My limbic system (that emotional part of our brain that protects us) decided to speak up, however. While I was on the treadmill, focus on my book was being constantly interrupted by focus on that music. I was reminded of how distracting that music was. I was reminded of how it made me feel, (in a less than good way). Little messages like, “maybe joining the gym wasn’t such a good idea after all” surfaced. 

Contrast: An Opportunity for Continued Practice in Gratitude

This resistance gave me the opportunity of simple practice in making conscious choice. I’d gently bring my focus back to what I was reading. I’d practice my inward, “shhhhhh” to those chatty little messages of resistance. Occasionally I’d realize, “Oh, I didn’t even hear the music through that entire last page.” Of course, recognizing this fact brought that music back to the surface and I’d gently hush it away again. I was gentle with myself, reminding myself that it was OK. I’m in a good place. My body is strong. I’m doing good things. I’m fine. 

When doing the circuit through the weight machines, I redirected myself towards gratitude. While doing reps, I simply counted, putting my focus on visualizing those numbers. And while resting between sets, I practiced gratitude: Thank you muscles for working for me. Thank you weight machine, for strengthening my body. Thank you gym, for providing me a place to work out.

Gratitude and Brain Rewiring

I am recognizing more and more the impact gratitude is having on my brain-rewiring journey. Just like my workouts in the gym, I am taking it slow and gradual. I’m not pushing myself. I do what I can–and then move on. 

Increase Gratitude in Your Life

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