When Michelle was faced with a life-shaking diagnosis, she was thrust into a transformative period. Here’s what she learned about creating meaningful change.
Our lives are in constant flux. We’re bombarded with more information than we know how to handle. We race from one place to another faster than ever. In this technological age, we have a multitude of options to choose from as opposed to 20 years ago. So how do we create meaningful change? Do we know the best way forward to self improvement, creating a new lifestyle, or developing a healthy mindset? How prepared are we to deal with transformation—especially when it arrives unexpectedly?
For me, a sudden illness literally shook my world. I was diagnosed with Leukemia, the most traumatic and unexpected change I’d been through yet. A long, slow journey that continues to teach me how to deal with change mindfully and—most importantly—slowly.
Create time for yourself.
If you’re like me, you jump into something new head first. I changed countries on a whim. I changed jobs without having another one waiting. Undoubtedly, I found myself in difficulty at these moments, with unnecessary stress and anxiety. It took me years to figure out that my full-immersion transitions weren’t quite effective.
Accept the change.
Rewind to 2014 when my life came to a screeching halt. The leukemia was obviously something I didn’t plan on. I was confused, scared, and stuck in a hospital room with limited visitors.
I will always be immensely grateful for the wise words of one of the few friends I allowed in to see me. She said, “Don’t fight it, accept it.” And instinctively, I understood.
Acceptance is not passivity, but the opposite. Acceptance is embracing every moment, whether good or bad. It means recognizing and understanding the avalanche of emotions pouring through you. It means listening to your body and giving it the space, time, and love it needs to heal.
Any resistance to change can fragment you, particularly in traumatic situations—acceptance makes you whole again.
Accept your reaction to change.
When facing change, remember that just as each of us has our own unique set of life circumstances, each of us will also have our own reaction to life events and the inevitable change that takes place.
Back in the day, we were taught to ‘grin and bear’ change that felt uncomfortable or painful. Nowadays, self-help gurus often tout the importance of developing a more healthy mindset, being positive, and keeping an optimistic view on life.
As I accepted the pressures of succumbing to the rigorous treatments, dealing with heartbroken parents who flew over 5000 miles to be by my side, and feeling like the entire ordeal was just a bad dream, I realized I was feeling overwhelmed. To cope with this, I asked my closest friends to act as buffers to the outside world. I knew many people who wanted to write and talk to me and wish me well—but I needed time for me.
I used the time to rest mind, body, and soul.
I created inspirational designs with messages on Instagram as creative therapy because I had very few followers there who actually knew me. I avoided reading novels because I didn’t want to fill my mind with other peoples thoughts or voices. I was truly discovering my own voice as the frenzied mind chatter (or what buddhists call, the monkey mind) softened.
As the treatments became more intensive, I had to accept the transformation of my body.
I realized our skin and bones act as a mere shell housing the more wondrous elements of the spirit and soul—both of which I was strikingly more aware of day by day. I accepted that some days were good and some days were difficult. I did my best with what I had.
As Don Miguel Luiz writes in The Four Agreements, “Always do your best. Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgement, self-abuse, and regret.”
Use your time wisely.
As you progress through your personal revolution, keep your eye on the ball, which isn’t necessarily your end goal.
I learned so much about myself during that two-year episode. I learned from my reactions, because I finally had time to actually listen and analyze myself in the situation I was living through.I learned about how little I had allowed myself to receive attention or love. Every day, my friends, family, and coworkers gave me so much of both that it left me breathless.
Create moments in the day for reflection. Morning or night, it’s up to you. I do it randomly now, because I make a point of having quiet time to rest every day. Sometimes it’s 10 minutes, sometimes more. And I’m not talking about reflecting on what went well in your day and what could be improved. Profound reflection on how you are feeling and dealing with your emotions is a necessary part of a transformative process.
Once you recognize the emotions—whether they be anger or anxiety or the more positive ones of joy, love, or excitement—ask yourself why. You might be surprised by the answers. This process leads to an increased state of self-awareness, which will only fortify you for your journey.
Cherish the slowness.
Whatever your circumstance, whether or not you chose this revolutionary period, embrace the time you have.
You need to be in the moment of those breaks, pauses, or periods of rest.
This has nothing to do with procrastination or laziness. You’re creating further awareness of how you are living through transition—which, is an essential element of your growth and healing process.
Choose a mindful approach.
Indulge in the small things—begin noticing the nuances of a rose petal, the gleam in someone’s eye, the light shining through clouds. Reflect on how these things make you feel. In this way, your attention is both outwards and inward at the same time.
Some great activities to heighten your attention are tai chi, yoga, meditation. If you’re already doing these, try different types of yoga or different meditation techniques. You will always learn something new about yourself if you step beyond the comfort zone of what you already know. Experiment with mantras, mudras, and prayer. Or connect to the Universe with a nature walk or a hike in the mountains.
Do what feels good for you. But never force it.
When I first went back to work after a two-year sick leave, I set a timer on my phone for every hour. All it said was: breathe. I wanted to make sure I stood on the boundaries of that rapid-paced environment. I knew it would be easy to get sucked back in, and I wanted no part of it.
Always respect your limitations—both physical and mental—to ensure this meaningful change is healthy.
With any goal, making a plan with actionable steps is a given, but so often we grab pen and paper and frantically jot down everything we can ‘do.’
But there’s value in less.
In the hospital, for instance, I started following inspirational feeds and profiles on Instagram. The Daily Saint shares true stories of simple folk helping one another with simple acts of kindness. My Heart Project photographs hearts in the world around us where they are least expected to show up. Both are unassuming profiles that have created a great impact and grown a great number of followers.
So remember that big action steps can cause more stress than we can actually handle when we’re going through a major transition. Try to create smaller and smaller actions. Minify them.
Take note of your progress… sometimes.
While in the hospital, I reflected on how I had stopped doing the things I loved. I had stopped any kinds of sport in the two years leading up to the Leukemia. I started reading books on business and innovation and self development, but stopped devouring novels. More importantly, through the time that the illness had gifted me, I realized that my true calling is to write. I had always denied myself this privilege because I didn’t feel I was good enough.
With that realization, I made a promise to myself: I would find a way to make writing my livelihood.
I set out on this renewed sense of purpose, totally committed to the process, all the while respecting what I needed in each and every moment. I started with creating a goal with some action steps and put it aside. I really didn’t have a clue how I would go about it, but I knew my heart and body would guide me.
I already had three ideas for screenplays, two of which came to me during my hospital and convalescent periods. Going back to work was tiring, so my first eight months I focused on work and rest—and I indulged myself to all the rest I needed.
Since that life-pivoting realization, I’ve written more than I have in the last 15 years. I’ve written, researched, revised, halted, and reconnected with several screenplays. I’ve listened to what projects were important in the moment and paused when things didn’t click. I also began using Medium as a new outlet for my work.
Because I’ve been willing to let the work guide me, I’m happy and at peace with where I am. I feel healthy and have a finished screenplay as the fruit of my efforts, both inward and outward. This is what makes change so astounding.
You don’t realize you’ve been making micro-steps of progress because you are in the moment, in tune with yourself, listening to your physical and emotional needs. You’re aligned and you feel good about yourself, whatever your situation. Looking over your shoulder constantly to see how far you’ve come no longer satisfies you because you’re attentive to feeling your way forward on this path of life, wherever it may lead.
About the Author
Michelle Grace M. An aspiring screenwriter. A spiritualist with a knack for spotting the good side of any situation, including the potential in others. A collector of odd jobs, funny stories, and too many shoes. A Leukemia survivor and a start-over expert. And finally back to her roots, when she was seven years old selling a handwritten four-page magazine called “The World” to her Mom’s friends, a writer. Want to read more of her work? Then click here.