Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Power of Thoughts

But do not ask the price I paid,
I must live with my quiet rage,
Tame the ghosts in my head,
That run wild and wish me dead.
-Mumford and Sons, Lover's Eyes

I struggle quite a bit with my thoughts. For a long time, especially after my accident, I let them run wild and didn't pay enough attention to their power, their stronghold over my life. I felt as if the thoughts just came and went and I didn't have control over them. And then, I slowly became aware of each and every thought and its affect on my life. Depression, for me, is the frequency at which these thoughts occur. I soon realized how often my mind pictured negative outcomes and succumbed to pessimistic thoughts.

Life in a wheelchair, as a paralyzed person, is hard. There are ways of life much more difficult, but it is hard nevertheless. When I wake up in the morning, I can't just hop out of bed as I once did, prior to my injury, and pour a cup of coffee and start my day. I have to slowly sit up and stretch my limbs so I don't faint as I get in my chair. My circulation is changed and is poor, so I have to work to keep it moving properly. Going to the bathroom without thinking is no longer an option either. It takes twice as long and takes more effort to manage. As soon as the day begins, I must pay attention to my fluid intake and what food I eat. Too much or too little or too much of the wrong food or drink can have lasting and frustration consequences throughout the day. I prefer to exercise first thing, so having a cup of coffee right away is not an option. If I do, I must stick close to home where I can use the restroom at my leisure. Coffee is a diuretic and greatly lives up to this classification. If I do not stay on top of a bathroom schedule or have the option to go as soon as I feel I need to, many messy problems ensue. In addition to stretching and moving slowly, as not to send blood rushing to my feet, I must take care of my wounds or any issues I may be having at the moment. Wounds must be cleaned and bandaged carefully, to prevent infection and promote healing. Finally, after all of the self care or body care, I can finally start my day. Any task I take on, whether it is laundry, the grocery, or cleaning a cabinet takes twice or three times as long as it used to. I also reach a level of exhaustion sooner than I would like. I quickly feel my body giving up and wanting to rest. I choose to push through and each task and each hour becomes more and more difficult. Cooking a meal or doing the dishes becomes an event in and of itself. Sometimes, after preparing the meal, I am too tired to eat and then clean up the mess. Moving around the kitchen requires balance and monumental effort. My kitchen isn't very accessible, so stirring with my arms up in the air or doing dishes with my arms raised and extended, is quite a workout. After a day of propelling myself with my arms, they have little energy left. There are many days when I just want to crawl back in bed and give up and forget my life.

Very quickly and very early on, I stared noticing just how strenuous my new life was. I tried to balance class or work with the daily full time job of caring for myself and something always suffered. As I became more ill and suffered constant fevers, I saw my frail body wither away and become more and more weakened until it didn't have much left to persevere. I felt a deep desire to achieve my goals and overcome my obstacles, but my new body and its illness were winning. I suddenly felt just how in charge my body was, I no longer had a choice. When the body is ill or injured it is in charge. It comes first and dictates every, single activity. I try to explain this to well or able bodied people to no avail. I can't explain what it is like to want, with every part of my being, to go to a regular job and eat and drink what I want when I want. I struggle to express what it is like to have to leave something because my body is failing and needs aid only home can provide. I hear people talk about vacations or days off or Friday night plans and know that I will never have a true vacation or day off from anything. My job, my quiet and unnoticed job, lasts all day, every day. I can't stop it or walk away from it. If I do, even for a second or a brief moment, my body retaliates in return. The idea of completely focusing at work or on a task is foreign to me. I know I can find any job or start any task I would like to, but eventually, my health and my body will be the focus once again. After a few years of fighting against this life sentence, my thoughts quickly turned dark and stormy. The balance I was striving to achieve was just not possible. The scale always tips in the direction of my body and its needs. Always. I don't have a choice. I would sob and beg for this to change, but I knew, deep down inside it never would and never will. It is my situation now. I let the voices in my head that tell me to give up and cry take over, I let the bad thoughts win. It is hard not to allow them to win. When everything I do or try ends up in disaster, the negative quickly takes over and doesn't let go. For a long time I released myself from feeling anything good or positive. I decided this life was what it was and I couldn't change it. And while I still can't change it, I soon learned, the one thing I did have control over, the one thing I could change, was how and what I thought about it.

I am sure depression is different for everyone. It manifests itself in anger, sadness, and all kinds of other ways. As a twenty year old, I wanted to be out with my friends and enjoying the pleasure life had to offer. I wanted to have a regular job with regular hours and then meet friends out for dinner or at a bar. I wanted to exercise early before work or hit the gym on the way home. I wanted to be normal, or my idea of normal. I didn't want to be at the doctor's office or in bed with a fever or managing a vomit schedule. And after trying to compete with my body and seeing every type of doctor under the sun and reading and thinking and crying and begging, I finally took charge. I was willing to try anything and everything to feel well again, both physically and mentally.

It is a common belief that our attitudes and energy shape us, I just wasn't aware how much. After trying a plethora of fixes, I found myself in the self-help section of the bookstore. This isn't a section I ever frequented or wanted to frequent. After perusing the aisles, I finally decided on a book by Elizabeth Lesser. Oprah had her on her show a few times and I thought I should try to at least read one of her books. I hesitantly carried the thick, paperback book to the counter, wondering if I was throwing away twenty dollars or if this book might actually help me. For a second, I thought about Charlotte from Sex and the City trying to purchase her first self-help book and suddenly realizing her embarrassment, putting it back on the shelf, and running home to order it on Amazon. I turned around to head back to the shelves and copy her performance, but then decided the first step to overcoming my issues was to probably not be embarrassed by them and be willing to admit them. So I plopped it on the counter, paid for it, and drove home. The book sat on my nightstand for a few nights, unread and unopened. Then I opened it one afternoon and started reading. And once I started reading, I couldn't stop. I read how she felt so broken, so unable to move forward, how the noises in her head took over her body and her mind and she fell deeper and darker into a self-fulfilling depression. I, until this moment, never considered my part or my responsibility in contributing to my thoughts and downfall. I read how she started with one thought and decided to change it. And after I read her book, I became a self-help regular. And I didn't discriminate. I read everything from Martha Beck, the Bible, St. Theresa of Avila, Eckhart Tolle, Rumi, to Wayne Dyer. I became more familiar with this genre than any other genre and I am a Literature major. I started to see the commonalities of the words of these authors and how I was reading the same advice over and over, in many different forms. All of the authors urged personal participation in thoughts. All of them stated awareness of the mind as a must. I started with small thoughts, changed those, and then continued to the big thoughts, like those concerning my health. And as I changed my thoughts, I noticed my life started changing. I stopped loathing my choices and decisions I once felt were forced upon me and learned they were choices and decisions every has to make for a better life. Eating well and watching what I put in my body isn't a bad thing. Taking time for myself, meditating, praying, writing, and thinking all make me a better human being and help me to live longer and more peacefully. I became an advocate for positive thoughts and good energy. And yes, the voices calling me, pulling me to the dark side are still there trying to break through the positive fortress I have built, but they no longer win. Some days they pull ahead, but they never cross the finish line. It sounds so silly and almost too easy to trust and know that thoughts change a person, but I am here to tell you they do. I pulled myself out of so much darkness and pain, with just a change of thought. My thoughts started affecting my life in a positive way. I became stronger and more healthy in all areas of my life. I slowly let dreams and my imagination return. I realized I had two choices, I credit this discovery to Dr. Wayne Dyer, I could think or imagine the bad outcome or the good outcome. Both have a fifty percent chance of happening, so why not pick the positive or life fulfilling option? I am not going to tell you miracles happen now, I still struggle to change my life and my thoughts on a daily, hourly basis, but my life and my mind have so much more peace and I allow things to just happen, knowing they will all turn out for the best in due time. Things I assumed would never happen or never believed would actually happen in my life are happening. I feel better, stronger, and more assured every day. I am my thoughts and I took control of them. It isn't magic or something goofy or mystical, it is actually a piece of ourselves, a piece of my body that I have control over and instead of allowing it to run wild, I decided to tame it. Just try it, I think you will see how powerful you truly are and when we feel powerful and confident, we accomplish many goals and live many dreams. I am living proof.

One of my favorite things to do now is to make vision boards. My greatest dream and largest vision is to be alive, living, and breathing, I have this and I am grateful. In addition, I want to live better, love harder, and reach higher. I never want to stop moving forward and guiding myself towards the good. Again, this is something I once thought kind of out there, kind of too much like The Secret, but I tried it one day, a few years ago, and was surprised at how much better I felt. Every year, instead of ridiculous resolutions I never live up to, I make one in January and I just finished mine. I list all of the hopes and dreams I have, then look through magazines, books, whatever I can find, and cut out pictures or words or phrases that remind me of these dreams and hopes. I don't focus on the material or physical aspect of the photos and words, I focus on the feeling they conjure inside of me, the love, kindness, and peace they encourage me to give and to receive.  I then make a collage and look at it as often as I can. I notice my prayers, my meditations, my thoughts all turn towards my hopes and dreams, what is on this board. It also makes me realize how common all of our hopes and dreams are because when I look back and notice the major themes of the board, it is what we all want. We all want love, kindness, peace, and all of it in abundance. And if I have an especially rough day, I look at the board, and through my tears and anxieties and worries, I start to see the light. I begin to focus on the good thoughts. I urge you to sit down, take some time and make one, only to see your dreams in pictures. It's a good thing to see every once and a while.

These boards aren't really supposed to be shared with anyone because everyone has an opinion on everyone else's dreams and hopes and to tarnish these gives way to bad thoughts, but I want to share to encourage all of you. Your board is your board, no one can judge your thoughts.

Now, in addition to my vision boards and positive thoughts, I have another source of good...your comments, your emails, and your thoughts. On days when I feel like I have no idea what I am doing or if I am on the right path in my life, I read your comments. I see how each one of us is struggling, each one of us has issues, each one of us has dreams. We all take part in lifting each other up, let's do it for ourselves as well. Thank you ever so much for contributing to the good thoughts that run wild and free in my mind.


  1. oh I love your board and this idea! Thank you so much for sharing!

  2. YOU are awesome! You so beautifully and perfectly described the battle with the physical realities of spinal cord injury, and, most importantly, a light in the distance (for anyone) away from our often destructive thought patterns. I love it! Thank you!

  3. I love your board! Such a great idea. And seriously, your blog is like a self-help book for me. I think we are the same age, but you are wise beyond your years. Thanks for trying to keep us all positive.

  4. Thank you, Sarah, for your inspiring courage and vision! You give so much to all of us by sharing your journey and your ideas.

  5. Your honesty and determination are inspiring, indeed! I always look forward to reading your blog entries.

  6. Just read your latest blog... another one that forced me to stop and 'THINK' (boy did that word take on a new context after i read your entry)---you totally nailed it on the head about how we are in control of our tiniest thoughts, our every thought. Thank you so much for relaying your excruciating journey, and how you literally took control of your destiny by making internal changes, which in turn, changed your entire life. although it is late and i am very ready for sleep, i am invigorated by your blog, and the 'thought' of all of the positive reading that i want to do, thanks to some author suggestions that you included. Take Care Sarah, and thanks for your inspiration!

  7. Sarah,

    When I began reading this post my heart sank. I felt so sad to read about the depression. But, then it all turned around at the end and that made me happy for you. You are "rising above it" and "finding your magic". Thank you for being vulnerable with us and describing your darkest place. I enjoy reading your blog.

    - Erin

  8. Sarah. I love this post. One of my favorites. I am skeptical of self-help books (although I have purchased them on amazon). But your description of the process, the mental transformation that becomes a physical and life changing transformation, is convincing. Thank you for your honesty and inspiration. You are loved, admired, and treasured by all of us!

  9. This is a beautiful post filled with wisdom. Thank you for that.

  10. Thank you for that! You are right, we are all struggling in various ways. Thank you for the inspiration. You're amazing.

  11. My mantra for this year is from a Florence + The Machine Song: "... and it's hard to dance with the devil on your back, so shake him off!" I am trying very, very hard this year to shake off the devils that plague me - insecurity, self-doubt, etc. - and allow myself to find and develop a more fulfilling life for myself and my family.

    It's the same idea as your blog entry today, that our thoughts can determine outcomes; negative thoughts result in negative outcomes. I know that positive thoughts don't ALWAYS equal positive outcomes, and that's hard to accept sometimes, but that's an issue for another day. :o)


Thank you for commenting. I appreciate all of your words.