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April's 'My Mighty Month' Challenge Is Practicing Kindness

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At The Mighty, we frequently ask our communities to share their tips for coping on the tough days of their illness or disability. Recently, after posing that question to the chronic illness community, I realized there was one piece of advice at least one person suggested every time we asked for self-care tips: Being kind to others. Focusing on kindness “helps reset my brain to a more positive place,” one commenter explained. “Lifting others up always makes me feel better,” said another.

Thinking back, I could easily recall a time when doing something kind for someone else — as simple as letting a car change lanes in front of me during traffic or donating $10 to a friend’s Kickstarter — gave me a rush of joy on an otherwise difficult day. Feelings of pride in myself and gratitude that I could help someone else replaced, at least momentarily, my worries and anxiety.

Taking inspiration from the incredible members of our own Mighty community, April’s My Mighty Month challenge is focused on kindness. Every week, we’ll email a week’s worth of small acts of kindness you can do that will hopefully brighten your day or someone else’s. You can use our suggestions or come up with your own small acts of kindness. Our suggestions won’t require you to dip into your savings account, and in many cases, you won’t even have to leave your house. Rather, they’re quick, easy-to-accomplish tasks that can help show someone else (or yourself) some love. Of course, you’re more than welcome to come up with your own.

Science backs up the benefits of little acts of kindness, too. A study by the University of British Colombia monitored people with high social anxiety and found their fears were (at least partially) alleviated after they did small acts of kindness for other people. Their happiness levels increased as well. Research published in Clinical Psychological Science in 2015 found that participants who performed more “prosocial behaviors,” like holding the door open for someone, rated their mental health more positively, even on days they also reported high levels of stress.

The effects of being kind can go beyond your mood — and it doesn’t necessarily take long to see the results. A study published in the Journal of Social Psychology randomly assigned participants to perform acts of kindness, doing something new every day or no acts every day for 10 days. After the 10 days, the participants who had performed acts of kindness or novelty were found to have increased life satisfaction — suggesting that performing acts of kindness for just a few days could have the power to transform your outlook.

When you’re feeling frustrated and defeated by health challenges, your first instinct may not be to try and give someone else a boost. I say this as the queen of angrily sitting on the couch in front of a “Real Housewives” marathon at the end of a frustrating day, stubbornly stewing in my own thoughts. It can be tough to even think of a way to make someone else happy in those moments, and that’s completely understandable! But I know I never regret the moments I do. Practicing kindness is just that — a practice that can hopefully help us be kinder and happier with ourselves, too.

Want to make April a Mighty Month? Join us on Facebook at My Mighty Month, and don’t forget to tag any social media posts with #MyMightyMonth. You can also sign up for our weekly email, (select “Mighty Monthly Challenges” from the newsletter options), and we’ll send you weekly emails with suggestions for small acts of kindness. Don’t need any suggestions? That works too. Simply download our monthly habit tracker to keep track of your progress.

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Why Learning to 'Love and Be Loved' Is Difficult After a History of Abuse

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Love feels unsafe. To the little girl within me, love is unsafe because she grew up with abuse. To her, love means hurt. Love means pain, trauma, inconsistency, insanity and conditions.

Love was fucked up, twisted and tied so deep into their self-hatred, that it came out wrapped in violence, rather than gentleness and warmth. Bitterness, rather than compassion and understanding. Jealousy and resentment, rather than supportive holding and cheerleading.

The love wasn’t hers, it was theirs – it had the potential to change any moment. And generally, it did. No matter how hard my inner girl or inner teen tried, things stayed the same.

Why – and how – would they be any different now?

I remember the first time I was told about unconditional love, five and a half years ago.

“You don’t have to do anything for someone to love you? People can just love you for you?” I laughed, thinking it was a joke. When I realized it wasn’t, I felt a sudden sorrow, a deep grief, for myself.

How did I not know this?

My relationship with love had been “wrong” my whole life. An innately wise part of myself always understood unconditional love existed. As a kid, I remember watching other parents and children, knowing somewhere deep inside what I experienced at home wasn’t the only way. Somehow I also knew, beneath my wounding and fear, that things wouldn’t always be this way.

What I was experiencing was only one half of my love story. As I’ve begun healing in my youth and early adulthood, my relationship with love — towards myself and others — has been rapidly changing. I’m learning what love actually is, but I’m in the raw and messy stage. My defenses, fears, wounding and insecurities feel more tender and in my face than ever before. I can’t step round, look past or dive through my wounding, anymore.

I know this is healing, but it’s really, really, hard. I feel like a shadow of my former self, although that former self was numb. My need to feel safe and not too raw and exposed, feels more important than any other need I have, so it governs almost everything I do. I barricade myself off from the world, yearning for connection, but feeling terrified of it. People offer me love and I often run in the other direction.

The times I do try to stop and let the love in, I’m still holding the person or their act of care as far away as is possible in that moment. I’m scared the love they give isn’t really meant and they’ll regret it. I think it’s because my mum used to offer love or do something supportive and then swing back around 20 minutes or a few hours later with abusive rage about the fact she did this.

I’m either desperately longing for love or desperately avoiding it. I rarely feel like I sit in the middle of these two and let the love in.

I’m scared.

I take risks. I show myself and my needs or vulnerabilities and then freak out by reading into people’s every move or every word. I disappear, convinced I was “too much,” even if the other person didn’t say anything or do anything to imply I was “too much.” I let people in at a certain distance, allow them to support me to a certain point and then stop. They can’t see the whole of me, right?

I used to find myself laughing at the theories my inner critic comes up with in these moments, because they so well thought out, convincing and hilarious. But at the moment they just feel frustrating and annoying. They constantly get in the way of connection. I have so many people who love me — and people often comment on how loved and known I am. Why can’t I just let these people in?

Ugh. It’s so frustrating.

I also struggle to trust that love and time given to me won’t disappear at some point soon. It feels terrifying and almost impossible to trust that someone might still be there after seeing everything, after seeing me. Even my best friend of eight years who has shown me over and over again she is not going anywhere, I still am half waiting to disappear at any moment. She’s someone that despite the gigantic amount of love she has shown me and continues to show me, I still don’t let in completely or trust that she’s really here.

My desire to fuck up any love or support given overwhelms me almost constantly, too. I fight against it daily. I really hate it and desperately wish it wasn’t something I feel or want to do, yet the stories pulls me in and the feelings of fear and self-hatred overwhelm me.

I have and have had, gorgeously supportive people in my life who have given me so much love and really care about me, but I hold them so far away it breaks my heart. I don’t trust them, but most of all I don’t trust my own “lovability.” I want to show them I’m not lovable, that they made a mistake loving me and offering support. I feel stuck in a cycle of hating myself and berating myself for this inability to just let people in, which makes the situation a whole lot more difficult to deal with. I often find myself crying and feeling utterly heartbroken and frustrated towards this belief and habit of mine. It makes life so much more isolating.

When friends have broken down in tears and expressed what they’re struggling with, I have always loved them even more. Moments when they have shared their deepest insecurities or feelings of darkness and shame, I just want to hug them and tell them I love them. I feel so much more connected and seen when they express all the things that just make them human. Why I can’t I trust people feel like that with me?

I have so much proof I am lovable and people love me. I have so much proof people can still be there after knowing and witnessing the parts of me I am ashamed of — the “complicated” bits of me — but this trust still feels really difficult.

I know to love and let love in is the most vulnerable thing we can do, because there is no guarantee or certainty. But doing this feels even more scary and vulnerable when you’ve grown up with abuse. Because alongside the proof that I am lovable and able to be supported, I also have a lot of “proof” from my childhood, a different kind of love — the love that comes with abuse. I am slowly untangling and learning a new language of love, but my history of abuse is still very much there, so integrating it will take time. I just want that time to be soon.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via yukitama.

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What It Means to Love the Girl With the Guarded Heart

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There is nothing simple about loving the girl with the guarded heart.

She is not convinced by flowers and fancy dinners, nor won over by compliments and praise. In the beginning she is a slow dance, one step toward you, another step back, as she learns to trust the ways of your heart and the strength of your arms. The dance may be slow but it cannot be rushed, for she will sense the impatience of your steps and the way they fall out of time with hers. Dance with her. Follow the measure of her steps, and in time, she will soon look to follow yours.

She will not show you her heart all at once; instead offer you a little at a time, unhurried and watchful of the way you hold each fragile piece. She longs for you to understand how much it takes her to show you these pieces, for you to trace your fingers over the scars left behind from others, to feel the whisper of your breath against her neck as you promise to hold her heart with more care than those who came before. There are parts of her heart that remain unreachable, parts she has buried under layers she will never reveal. Love these parts of her, the parts unseen, the shadows of her soul. For even the sky knows without darkness, the stars cannot adorn us with their light.

She will watch you closer than you realize, listen to every word you speak and weigh it against every action, searching for inconsistencies, seeking the truth of your word and the intention of your heart. Not because she can’t trust you but because she is cautious, alert, wary, the stories of her past still etched upon her mind. She isn’t ready to trust her heart with you. Not yet. Not until she knows you are a person of your word, a person of steadfast hands and unchanging ways.

There is a part of her that will always remain a little detached, ready to run if she thinks her heart will get damaged again. She no longer believes in second chances, having used all of them on those undeserving of such grace. To hurt her means to lose her, for she would sooner be alone than risk losing the life she has fought so damn hard to rebuild with her own wearied hands. She isn’t there because she needs you. She doesn’t need anyone. She’s there because she has chosen you, because she wants you, because she believes you are worth the risk. And all she asks is for you not to prove her wrong in the chance she has taken, for it has cost her more than you know.

She will need more reassurance than most, she will need you to stay present, available, mindful of her scars. She will think too much, talk too little, cry too often, ask too many questions, struggle to rest in your love. She is complex. Complicated. Perplexing. Sometimes difficult.

But beyond her guarded heart lies a soul that contains the wonders of the universe. One that longs to live and love with abandon, that desires connection and intimacy and to be in relationship with someone who sees both her beauty and her scars, and knows how to fall in love with both.

She holds within her a fierce spirit: brave, strong, courageous, unrelenting, yet is also the quiet and the calm, a place to take shelter against the fury of the wind on storm-filled days. She is nurture, she is passion. She is a touch of madness against ordinary skies, a vulnerable heart with a fearless soul, a barefoot warrior who follows no trails but sets her own path.

She is grounded in her truth, accepting of her flaws, far from perfect but closer to real than most. She is wildflowers and ocean currents and meadows that dance upon the breath of summer winds, unconfined in earthly beauty and free in spiritual grace. Broken, she knows what it means to suffer. But out of the depths of her suffering, she has come to understand love. And her guarded heart waits for the one who understands it too.

No, there may be nothing simple about loving the girl with the guarded heart.

But every day you choose to love her, she’ll prove to you why she’s worth it.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by heavypred

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To the Nurses Who Are the Warmth and Light We Need

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Dear Nurses,

Sometimes I wonder if you know how amazing you are. You work incredibly long hours. Not only do you put up with patients who are rude to you, you still put in the effort to take care of them. You are the heart of the hospital. You are our advocates when necessary. You go above and beyond to keep us at ease. You might barely have time to eat your own lunch, yet make sure we got ours. Your feet might be hurting and you might be tired, but you make sure we’re as comfortable as we can be despite our circumstances. You are not only our caretakers, you are our friends. In a cold, scary hospital room, you are the warmth and the light.

You’re kind to the patients who won’t stay in their bed, even though you keep telling them not to get up. You are kind to the kids who won’t stop crying. You’re kind to the patient who requires help with personal needs. Some patients might yell at you or expect you to know the answers to everything, but I’ve still seen you keep a brave face. You are some of the most fearless people I’ve met.

You work long shifts — sometimes even a double — and I look at you and wonder how you’re still on your feet. You might be working all night and by 6 a.m. you still wake us up with a smile. You likely see heartbreak on a daily basis, yet you stay strong. Some of you have been the reason we have the courage to keep fighting whatever we’re fighting. Without you, some of us might be lost.

Thank you for being there for us during some of our hardest times. They are a little bit easier to get through because of you.

Follow this journey on The Pin Cushion Princess.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock image by aleksey-martynyuk

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House Republicans Pull Health Care Reform Bill Moments Before Scheduled Vote

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On Friday, Republican lawmakers pulled the heath care reform bill proposed to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. The decision came just moments before the House was set to vote on the bill, after it appeared to not have enough support to pass.

At 3:34 p.m., Washington Post reporter Robert Costa tweeted, “President Trump just called me. Still on phone. ‘We just pulled it,’ he tells me.” Costa said Trump told him, “I don’t blame Paul (Ryan).”

The American Health Care Act had undergone a number of changes since it was first introduced to the public, including the addition of a provision that would require Medicaid recipients to show they are looking for employment, an option for States to take block grants for Medicaid and the removal of a federal requirement that mandated insurance plans cover essential benefits such as maternity care, mental health care, emergency services and preventative services like mammograms and colonoscopies.

The bill was fully opposed by every Democrat Representative and a number of Republicans, as well as the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), American Medical Association and the National Disability Rights Network, among others.

“Here we are with the choice act: The choice is get sick or go broke,” Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) said on the House floor before the vote. “That’s a bad joke, that’s a bad choice.”

The vote was supposed to be held on Thursday but was postponed after Republicans determined they had not secured enough support for the bill to be passed. Donald Trump met with Republican Representatives to try and bolster support for the vote, removing the essential benefits requirement in an attempt to appease conservative Republicans.

After Thursday’s meetings, Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said the Trump administration will leave Obamacare in place and move on from healthcare reform if the bill does not pass, The Hill reports.

Trump spoke about the bill’s withdrawal at a Medal of Honor event in the Oval Office on Friday afternoon, saying Republicans will probably shift focus to a tax reform bill, according to Reuters.

The Mighty will continue to update this post as information comes in. You can watch a live stream here.

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Adapting to Life After My Illness Became a Thing of the Past

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Getting better can be scary. I know, it might make no sense at all. But let’s face it — being chronically ill and not knowing if or when you’re getting better is pretty terrifying.

Chances are, your life has revolved around medical treatments, various supplements, different medications, and a host of doctors caring for you. Your alarm might go off several times a day reminding you to swallow a few more pills. Your phone might ring and you’ll answer to a receptionist confirming your upcoming appointment, or you might spend hours researching a new treatment. But what happens when all of that changes?

You no longer have to set alarms for medications, your phone now only rings when your friends want to talk to you, and researching treatments is a thing of the past. You’re better and it’s an incredible feeling. The weight of your every day “sick obligations” has been lifted off of your shoulders. Now you’re free to live your life, making sickness a thing of the past and just a chapter in your story. The freedom is liberating, but at the same time a bit terrifying.

If you’re like me, you’ve built a wall to try and protect not only yourself, but those you love, from the reality of chronic illness. When the wall is no longer needed, the bricks will carefully have to be taken down one by one. Some of those bricks will come down quickly and you’ll be glad to see them go, while others might take more time.

I’ll wave goodbye to my medical support team as I walk out the door of the office saying, “Thank you for everything, but I hope I never have to return.” and let go of those who I have heavily relied on to help me get better. I might welcome friends back into my life, who at times seemed to be so distant. Or, maybe I no longer share the same things with them what I did before I got sick and find myself looking for new relationships. The foundation of my support system, medical or not, is changing, and it’s a little bit intimidating. Like a baby taking their first steps, I’m wobbly and unpracticed, but I know I’ll find my balance in every aspect of this second chance at life.

When I got sick, things were turned upside down, and now that they’ve been turned right-side up, I’m seeing the world in a new and different light. While many of my friends are in college, I’m at home taking care of myself and getting stronger every day. I’m slowly, but surely, taking on the responsibilities of a typical 19-year-old, and finding my way out of the fog that my life had become. On the other side of this fog, the sky is no longer cloudy but instead a bright, beautiful blue. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and I’m finding myself dancing to the beat of a different drum. It’s a new world of firsts in a life after chronic illness, but I’m ready to take it on.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock Image By: LeszekCzerwonka

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