July 4 2021. I just wrapped up a hell of a weekend in LA with a great friend from PT school full of BBQ, beers, and beach. My wife and I are heading back up to our house in SLO and I’m sitting in the car, waiting for our coffee and breakfast. My mind is racing. Thoughts of regret and guilt are pacing my brain. I’m beating myself up over the amount of beer I just consumed, and I’m dreading the drive home. My heart feels like it’s about to jump out of my chest. I’m having a panic attack.
We get about half way home, and I look at my wife and say I can’t go any further. We pull over and I hop in the passenger seat and sleep the rest of the way. This is the beginning of my breaking point. The next few months are full of feelings of guilt, regret, anger, frustration, irritation…. you name it. Many of you know what comes next. My skin begins developing rashes, and they soon begin spreading all over my body. Slowly at first. Then, like a virus ravaging a body, the rashes soon take over the entirety of my skin.
I can’t look myself in the mirror. I get dressed in the dark. I’m wearing long sleeves and pants to cover my insecurities. I buy loose fitting clothes because any rubbing against my skin is excruciating. I’m sleeping maybe 3 hours per night, laying restless in bed, fighting the urges to scratch or add more lotion. I’m a shell of myself and thoughts soon creep in my head. How much longer can I go on like this?
This was my low point.
Now I don’t remember exactly what kick started my change, because truthfully, I tried to erase those memories from my brain. But I do remember the first changes I noticed with my skin. My back had a few rashes, not many, but enough to be noticeable. The funny thing is, I was so focused on the other more noticeable rashes that I quickly forgot about my back. And within a week or two, these rashes cleared up. A small win for me. At the time, I didn’t have the full awareness of exactly how or why this happened, but I had a clue.
My back cleared up because I wasn’t stressed about it. I wasn’t constantly worried or thinking about what others were thinking of my skin. OK, I can roll with this idea. Perhaps there’s more to this mind-body relationship than I’m familiar with. So what is it?
Now I think of myself as a pretty analytical thinker. Partly due to my curious nature, partly due to my background as a healthcare provider. So begins my analysis of this mind-body relationship. I ask myself the question, “if I can create this skin condition, can I remove it as well?” WOW. What a simple, yet amazing question. If I have the power to manifest this autoimmune response in my body, do I also have the power to get rid of it? Well the answer is, YES.
Due to the constant stress I had been applying to my body over the years, my body finally had reached its breaking point. Elevated cortisol levels and fight or flight stimulation had created an inflammatory response in my skin, and my body was sending me a warning signal. “Hey dude, if you don’t get your shit together, you may not be able to last much longer going like this”. So guess what I did? I started getting my shit together.
At various points in my life I had attempted stress management. I took up reading, writing, trying new hobbies, and even seeing a therapist. All of these were short lived endeavors, however. At this moment, with my skin and life seemingly in disarray, I told myself this time would be different.
I began seeing a therapist again. And this time I didn’t let insurance or money get in the way. I met with her weekly, and eventually as I began feeling better, monthly. With her advice, I got back into journaling. I began checking in with myself. Prompting difficult, yet powerful questions I had never asked myself. I began listening to myself, and with this newfound self-care, began feeling better.
My skin wasn’t changing, but my mind was. At this time, I was still struggling with feelings of resistance, guilt, and regret. But I was feeling more optimistic, more patient. I kept telling myself to keep going. I trusted the process and journey over the results. Not an easy thing to do I might add.
Eventually those therapy sessions stopped, as my wife and I moved back to Oregon. But the effects of those sessions did not. I took journaling with me, and soon began exploring other mindfulness activities. I kept on the path of exploring this mind-body relationship. And after some curiosity from watching my father-in-law, I began exploring Wim Hof’s breathing methods.
I remember the first time I saw my father-in-law practice. We were driving our moving truck from CA to OR and he looked at me and said, “Hey, do you mind if I practice my breathing for a bit?” I told him go for it, and I was mesmerized. I actually at one point found myself trying to follow along, without even realizing it.
Wim Hof lasted a few weeks, before eventually falling out of rhythm. I enjoyed the breathing sessions, but didn’t LOVE them. So naturally, I stopped. This is completely normal for those who are easy to get down on yourself for “quitting” something. Not everything has to work for you. The nice thing is to have the choice to find what works best for you, and roll with it. What eventually stuck with me was meditation. I had traveled full circle through mindfulness practices, and eventually landed on meditation.
Meditation for me was the perfect experience for me to check in with this mind-body relationship. A chance for me to tune out, check in, and do NOTHING. That’s the beauty of meditation. It can be whatever you want it to be, or nothing at all 🙂 Meditation allowed me to begin filling my cup back up, and in doing so, slowly but surely lowering my stress levels. Within a few weeks, my skin began clearing up. I began reintroducing foods I hadn’t eaten in months. My mind with clearer, more accepting of all my thoughts and emotions, and I was beginning to feel joy and happiness like I never had experience before. I was finding myself again.
Now it doesn’t matter what mindfulness activity you choose. Like I said earlier, what works for me may not work for you. What works for me is caring for myself and checking in with my thoughts through meditation. I practice daily, and while each session is different, the progress is in my consistency. Through meditation, I have found a space to allow thoughts to come and go, like leaves blowing in the wind. I can observe them as they are, as just thoughts, and gently let them go. What this has shown me is that the mind and body have a unique relationship with one another. Mindfulness has not only cleared up my skin through lowered stress levels, but it’s also saved my life.
I had the power to create my skin condition, and through mindfulness and self-care, I had the power to resolve it. I can’t tell you how powerful this feeling is. For those curious to learn more about this mind-body relationship, I have shared and will continue to share my personal accounts and story on this topic. But there are also a lot of good resources and people to follow who speak about this relationship as well, and the power of the mind on our gut health as well. I follow a lot of them on LinkedIn, and I suggest giving them a follow and a read as well.
Above all, remember that it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to ask for help, like I did. Fill your cup as much as you empty it. And remind yourself every day, you are enough.