14 Lessons from 14 Years

 

In November of 2004, I started seeing all kinds of doctors–family doctors, cardiologists, nerve conduction doctors and pain management doctors.

I was passing out or collapsing while running, and I wanted to know why.  This was the beginning of what has been a long and grueling 14 years in Western medicine.

I do think of my life as before I started seeing doctors all the time, and after.

This November has felt deeply grounding–and I’ve needed to move through the world more slowly than I usually do.  Figuring out “why” hasn’t been the point, and yet one day, I just thought, “I’ve been ‘sick’ for half my life.”

That moment felt significant.  Because these last 14 years have been intense.  And because I  want my next 14 years to feel different.

Labels are helpful and labels are limiting.  I believe both to be true.  I also believe healing is a journey and we never “arrive,” and yet also believe the journey is the destination itself.  Paradoxes abound, and language is limiting.  And that’s okay.

However, I do refer to myself as someone who navigates chronic illness–even if my illness has morphed, changed, and in many ways, I have healed.

This post is honoring this second half of my life so far–what I have learned, and what I desire to pass on to others.

Anxiety grows in secrecy.  

My sophomore year in high school, I became really depressed.  I didn’t know what was going on in my body–the symptoms kept worsening and it was getting harder to get through cross country practice.  I was put on a medication that made me really anxious, and I didn’t know how to talk about any of it, so I bottled it up.  And not talking about it, just made me even more anxious.

I remember the day I chose to quit the track team.  I was done performing, done pretending like I was okay when I wasn’t.  Quitting was the beginning of my healing.

The body is always speaking.

I spent years pushing through what my body was saying.  And I don’t mean just ignoring my body’s signals–but actually recognizing them and choosing to push past them anyway.  So all the collapsing, passing out, high heart rates, leg pain, menstrual pain, extreme fatigue, and anxiety–I pushed right through it.

What I missed in all those years of pushing through was hearing,

“Slow down, please.  Rest.  You don’t even know how much you deserve it.  I wish you did.”

It took me pushing, and going from one intense thing to the next, for my body to truly shut down.  I just couldn’t live like this anymore.

When I finally listened and responded with, “Okay, I’m listening now” the real work began.

My truth doesn’t have to be yours.

I’ve spent a good portion of my life people-pleasing, shrinking, hiding who I really am.  I was terrified of my own difference.  Terrified of disagreeing with those in authority, particularly white men.

Wanting so deeply to live into my purpose and yet unable to trust my own intuition and gut instincts.

Terrified of my internalized racism, sexism, homophobia. Unable to sit with my own discomfort and let it transform me.

As a contemplative spiritual practice grounded me enough to be able to see my own strength and my own complicity, I could more freely stand in my own truth. I could trust what my body was communicating.

I could see my own privilege and my own marginalization–and know that I’m both ally and allied simultaneously.

No one can truly tell me what’s mine to do–and yet to distance myself from community is both unwise and unhealthy.

Finding one’s truth just isn’t as linear as we would like to believe.

Ancestor connection is vital. 

I am more connected to my lineage, my purpose, my truth as I connect to my ancestors.  As I connect to what particularly needs healing in my family line, I stand in the world more grounded, needing less affirmation or understanding from the world.

Accept mystery & let go of needing to understand everything cognitively.

Easier said than done.  Also, just not much more to say here.

You are not making up your illness AND unexpressed emotions are the underbelly of disease.  

These are difficult to hold together.  I was told over and over again that I was making up my illness, that I was a hypochondriac who was just depressed and over-exaggerating everything.

I knew that I wouldn’t get help unless I found a doctor who believed me.  That was true, to an extent.  I’m glad for the treatment I received once being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s.

And when I started making the most progress was in my work through yoga, EMDR, qigong, breath work.  I needed to enter my body and allow emotions to come to the surface.  They needed expression so I could heal, so I could let go, and live more freely.

Less attached to “doing things right” or “finding the right doctor” or “living the best lifestyle to keep fatigue at bay.”

Things simply became about accepting and letting go–and of course resistance & expressing all the “difficult” emotions of sadness and anger, shame and guilt.

You can trust yourself and you must.  If you don’t, you will never belong.

Trusting myself didn’t come easily.  It was a lot of hard work honestly.  And it just came down to the question, “Am I going to a live a life respecting myself or am I not?”

And a lot of my fatigue surfaced when I went against my gut instinct.  When I “went along” because I didn’t want to inconvenience people or be “different.”

I also felt paralyzed in taking risks.

“What if I try that and I get more sick?”  “How do I know if I’m well enough to try something new?”

The questions are unending.  And I also was tired of living a life that wasn’t mine.  I had moved so far away from who I really was—and I felt the loneliness in living someone else’s life.

I knew that trusting myself would sometimes bring loneliness and yet if I belonged to myself I also wasn’t truly alone.

There’s a lot of things doctors don’t know.  And I deeply respect them. I just don’t respect them more than I respect myself.  

Doctors aren’t saviors.  They aren’t the ones with this seemingly unreachable external answer that will solve everything.

But I treated them this way for so long.  I was miserable, so exhausted and just wanted an answer.

Once I believed that trusting myself was how I must live–then more difficult questions surfaced.  “What is my body trying to say that I’m ignoring? Pushing through? What will it take to adjust my life and listen?”

I have “answers” too.  The key is sharpening my awareness and acting on what I know.

There’s value in both Western & Eastern-based medicine. 

I’m thankful for and have benefitted from both.  I still go to the pharmacy every month & pick up my prescription.  And I needed to be introduced to older frameworks of understanding health in order to see how my emotional and spiritual state affected my physical health.  Everything belongs.

It takes a lot of energy to run from your purpose because you are scared of being lonely. 

I know my purpose now.  A lot of it entails resting, slowing down, rerouting ancestral patterns of survival and relational and emotional scarcity.  Bringing balance to myself, my lineage and the earth by healing myself.  To cultivate my inner world and my creativity.  To speak the truth.

But for so long I was scared to go inward.  I craved it and was terrified of it.  I didn’t know how to be alone and not be scared.

I settled for trying to be busy to feel important, and to fit in–and I became so tired trying to chase a glimpse of “fulfillment” while being terrible separated from my own desires.

You can show up & choose; and most of life is outside your control.  

Preparing to die before I die feels sacred.  Life is wonderful and beautiful and challenging and downright cruel sometimes.  Joy and pain cannot truly be separated.  And so I want to show up for the present moment.

(Also a hint from someone who really gets chronic fatigue: It’s a HUGE energy waste to try to always be in control!)

You can waste a lot of energy explaining and defending yourself & your existence.  Instead use that energy for yourself.  You are worth it! 

This one goes against a lot of activist circles and activist thought.  I’ve spent a good portion of the past 14 years trying to get others (including doctors!) to believe that I had an illness.

Then what? Well, I received treatment that I’m really grateful for.

Then what? Well, my cycle of relating to people including explaining and proving my existence.  This is unhealthy, unsustainable, and not enjoyable.

Undoing this “putting up a front” because you already assume people are not going to understand you–and they are going to leave you–goes so deep.

The fear of abandonment when dealing with chronic illness is very real.  And makes relationships challenging.

And yet, if you belong to yourself, you will know that people come and go.  Having relationships leave, change, morph or shift can still bring up intense emotions and the question truly is, “Will you be there for yourself? For whatever you need, want, and desire?”

If you have the genes to manifest a disease, you have the genes to heal it. 

Quantum physics!

Rest is yours. Always.

Rest is resistance. And is always available.  We must trust ourselves.  Know what we need.  Create the space to rest.  And not just to fall apart and get back up to live at an unsustainable pace again.  But to rest because nature asks us to mirror our lives with its seasons.  Because liberation means rest and play and celebration.  It means letting our bodies experience what it feels like to be open and receptive.

Here’s to the next 14 years of living, loving and learning.

 

 

Advertisements

What I Want the White Boys I Work With To Know

I want you to be able to take a deep breath, and sink into your body.  And then take another deep breath and another.

I want you to be able to be still enough to recognize sensations in the body–and then match an emotion to it. And be able to communicate how you are feeling with those you are in relationship with.

I want you to learn not just empathy, but compassion.  Both are essential & action is required.

I want you to know how to feel your emotions, process them to the point where they are transformed.  And to know that this cannot happen without vulnerable community.

I want you to know that if you believe that you shouldn’t be accountable for ALL YOUR ACTIONS (because you have lots of models who demonstrate this kind of behavior), you have diminished your capacity for mutual relationship.  Each and every time you demand that you be heard, seen, validated, soothed, to the detriment of everyone else.

Many of you are very sensitive–and actively try to hide, diminish, shut out this part of yourselves.  This very vital, wonderful part of yourselves.

You have been socialized to pursue power, prestige, & endless opportunities.  When in all honesty, many of you would be perfectly happy working in construction, pursuing the arts, becoming a photographer.  Many of you have a strong imagination, enjoy solitude, and even like being alone a lot.

You have a choice.  Always a choice.  Every day, which way you will choose.

You have the choice to be accountable for your anger–and realize how your emotions affect other people.  You have the choice to ask for forgiveness.

You have the choice to ask for help.  To know that limitations are a natural part of life-not something to hide.  Also know that you live in a time where many people are exhausted with white men’s behavior.  So asking another white male to help you would be fantastic!

You have the choice to listen, to learn to appreciate difference in all its forms.

You have the choice to admit when you’re wrong.

You have the choice to build your emotional and spiritual resiliency.

You have the choice to know yourself, to love yourself.  And in doing this, giving you greater capacity to love other people.

Know that Brett Kavanaugh has sacrificed all this.  He has a lot of cultural & economic power.  And he does not have any emotional and spiritual power.

When he yelled in anger in the courtroom last week, I can tell you this.

He doesn’t  know how to breathe.

He doesn’t have any healthy mutual relationships.

He will spend the rest of his life protecting himself, instead of relating to others.

Every day you have a choice.

Every day helps form you in who you are becoming.

May you make choices that enlarge your soul, rather than shrink it.

May your capacity for love, patience, and compassion increase, because you know how to love, and be kind and patient to yourself.

May you take a full deep breath, and come home to yourself.  Detach.  And give others space to fully come home to themselves.

 

To Examine Our White Shadow

I called a new lawyer a few weeks ago, about my sexual assault.  I asked around for some referrals, and got in touch with the firm that was part of representing survivors in the Larry Nassar case.

But the statute of limitations is 2 years in Indiana.  It’s been 3 years and I didn’t sue at all.  There’s nothing more that I can do legally.

____________________________________________________________

So as I followed the Kavanaugh hearings, I took care of myself.  I stayed informed, yet on my own time.  I didn’t really watch anything live.  When Kavanaugh was officially confirmed a few days ago, I stayed with Senator Collins’ speech for awhile.  I paid attention to my body while I was watching her talk.  The most prominent feeling was a deep ache in my chest.

I’ve known this feeling before.

Senator Collins’ chose to side with the status quo, and collectively speaking, this is white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchy.  She chose against Dr. Ford, and all women who have ever faced sexual harassment and assault, which is all women.

Much has already been written about why this is true.  Valuing privilege and whiteness at all costs, even when the alternative could be solidarity.

___________________________________________________________

I was sexually assaulted by a white woman. By a white female doctor.

A white female lawyer would not take my case.  She thought that my assault could be considered a legitimate medical procedure.

I was not immediately believed by some family and some white women in my faith community.

And through processing these experiences of the past several years, I’ve come to feel in my body, the tiniest sliver, of what POC have always known: the system doesn’t serve me either.  But I thought it did; I thought it would.  Because being socialized as a white woman, this is what I was told.

Of course, not in these words, but I was told,

“Your whiteness will save you.”

“Your association to white men in authority will save you.”

“Your quietness will save you. Because not making white men upset is part of your job.”

My whiteness insulated me until it was punctured enough, that I could see through the tiny holes into a world I was caught up in–the charade of whiteness.

___________________________________________________________

Why did these white women stand behind their position of power and do violence to me?

Yes, the answer has to do with whiteness.  And yes, I believe they doubled-down on their own illusion of power, through the form of a title, (which the white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal system gives more credence to), because they know their title is all they have.

Whiteness gives legal & economic power, and yet decimates emotional & pyschological power, spiritual power, collective power.

Whiteness hollows white people out.

____________________________________________________________

Healing from sexual violence for me has been about sharing as much as my body will allow, then retreating to rest.  Then sharing a little more when my body is ready.  And then resting.

While trauma is brutally painful–I’ve come to revere my body.

For all it does for me. For how it communicates to me, when I’m ready for the next step, ready to take a risk.

My body has held me, screamed with me, told me to quit things that weren’t serving me anymore, has loved me back to health.

And when I engage my own healing with chronic illness & as a sexual assault survivor, I begin to feel where my personal power lies in my body–in the gut–which ironically (or not so ironically!) is where autoimmune diseases originate.

I begin to be more in touch with my instincts again, my personal energy-rather than the energy of others.  I begin to take my gifts seriously, and see that my limits also reveal deep beauty, power, and restraint.

With deeper knowledge and respect for myself, I also knew that it was safe enough to look at my personal and collective shadow.

____________________________________________________________

Amongst white liberal women, there is deep hurt, rage, and sadness in the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, and all the white GOP senators who supported the nomination.  There should be.

And yet–it’s easier to rage at the external, while ignoring any internal work.  The white female psyche is severely split.  This cognitive dissonance experienced in our ancestry and passed down generation to generation is revealing its shadow.

Resmaa Menakem, writes in My Grandmother’s Hands,

“Throughout the United States’s history as a nation, white bodies have colonized, oppressed, brutalitzed, and murdered Black and Native ones.  But well before the United States began, powerful white bodies colonized, oppressed, brutalized and murdered other less powerful white ones.  The carnage perpetuated on Blacks and Native Americans in the New World, began, on the same soil, as an adaptation of longstanding white-on-white practices. This brutalization created trauma that has yet to be healed among whites today.”

I feel this in my body.

I felt this when I didn’t receive the support from white women and wondered why.

I felt this when Senator Collins sided with the more powerful white Brett Kavanaugh rather than the less powerful white Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford.

What this case continues to reveal to me, as I let my body respond and feel its way into thoughts–is about white on white trauma.

____________________________________________________________

James Baldwin stated, “It is entirely up to the American people whether or not they are going to try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a n—– in the first place…and the future of the country depends on that.”

This Kavanaugh moment is about sexual assault and patriarchy, yes.  But so much more.

When 46% of white women believe Dr. Ford, and 43% believe Kavanaugh, the split of the psyche is so incredibly clear.  Yes, these are “just statistics” and yet divide also speaks about so much oppression targeted at people of color–because we haven’t healed the trauma within ourselves.

83% of black voters believe Dr. Ford and 66% of Latinx voters believe her as well.

We must takes James Baldwin’s question seriously.  White pain is erupting–but will we learn to sit with it, work with it, move through it, even dare to do it collectively, and heal together?

I believe that we must.

Keeping Things Simple

 

This healing journey of mine remains deeply wonderful–and very fulfilling.  It also is strange and new everyday.  I can explain my illness in themes, predict what my fatigue levels may be at, and I’m usually pretty accurate.

I can choose to take in others’ opinions of how I’m going (or not going) about healing.  I can listen to healers who believe that I should just think of myself “as not having a chronic illness” and what I think will manifest in reality.  I will be “healed.”

Euro-centric models of healing focus only on the physical body & the elimination of symptoms.  Healing physically is a wonderful thing & there’s so much more.

My emotional & spiritual healing occur alongside my physical healing (of course!).  Lately, with my first two weeks of fall tutoring underway, I shifted into more anxiety and a mental focus of “what I should do.”  And these thoughts were largely separated from my intuition, my imagination & my dreams.

____________________________________________________________

One of the most simple, and yet profound gifts from Hashimoto’s has been learning to take care of myself & listen to my body.  And to realize that this reality is not divorced from asking for help from other people.

I still remember days when I laid in bed all day.

I remember when I would grocery shop, come home, and lay down for 3 hours, before I was able to do anything else active.

I remember when I would wake up and do gentle stretching, and then get back in bed.

I remember learning to make bone broth.

I remember when I was so weak that I could barely stand in the shower.  I remember when my hand would shake as I tried to lift my arm up high enough to reach for the shampoo.

These memories used to hold a lot of trauma, because they were so frequent, so routine, and they felt so isolating.  I was stuck in my past pain, unable to move forward.

I’ve moved forward now-and the memories still linger.  The body doesn’t discriminate.  I still hold my complete healing journey in my body.

________________________________________________________________

When I woke up yesterday on the full moon, I read Chani Nicholas’ horoscope for Capricorn.  At the end it stated:

“Stay with what is concise.

Truth needs no embellishment. Your purpose is profound, but need not be overly complex. Keeping things as simple as possible will allow you to experience the deepest aspects of your calling and the most important yearnings to attune yourself to.”

And it stopped me in my tracks.  I knew that my own anxiety and being in my head was getting in the way.  And I also know that I must bring all the learning, all the lessons, all the deep, simple realities from illness forward again.

Everything in chronic illness becomes simple.  It has to be this way.  Listening to the body becomes a means of survival.  Just listening to the rational mind, not only is not enough–it’s incredibly damaging.  The body is just simply more wise, more tender, more understanding, more loving.

________________________________________________________________

Tears are surfacing as I write this.  This reality that is so simple and so controversial.  But I believe it with my entire being.

“No one is disposable.”

We make conscious and unconscious decisions every day about who is “worth it” and who isn’t.  And here I’m not talking about the healthy need for boundaries and hard conversations, and maybe the need to have someone not be part of our lives anymore.  I’m not talking about growing out of certain relationships and moving on.

I’m saying that at a core level, we are all worthy of love.  We all desire to give and receive love and  the disposable nature of relationships has extremely damaging effects.

In documenting my own healing journey in the first draft of my book that I finished this summer, I found many memories coming up of everyone who showed up.  Sometimes just once, sometimes many times.  These people had different capacities, different things they were saying “no” to, so that they could care for me in their own unique way.  They had their own struggles, their own traumas, their own beautiful life.

They showed me that I wasn’t disposable.  I was fighting to believe this on my own–and I never would have gotten there on my own.

I needed to hear over and over again—

You are important.

You are valuable.

You are worthy.

You are loved.

You are brave.

You are a fighter.

You are tender.

I ran out of stamina on my own.  I could generate that for about an hour a day, and then I needed other people to step in.  Of course I did: I was fighting for my sanity, my health, my life.  That was and is never meant to do alone.

And one of my deepest desires is to show up in deep reciprocity and gratitude for all the people who taught me to believe with every part of me–that I was worth fighting for.  That I was still seen.  That I was not disposable.

There’s a lot of mystery around how this shows up for me in everyday life.  It shows up all the time–and I’m to stay in the flow and direction of Spirit.  Less in my head.  Less forcing.  More back to the basics of the deep truths that I believe.  And this starts with me.

I am not disposable.

Whiteness & Autoimmunity Part 2

I learned the drill when I walked into a doctor’s office.  I would name my symptoms, discuss my family history, answer questions about my diet and exercise routine, and they would send me off to get blood work.

I always thought it was kinda funny that was the only information they thought they needed.

I would come back with everything in range–and they would look at me and say, “You’re an athlete, you don’t need to lose weight, your blood pressure and pulse are excellent.”

Then they would give me the look like, “Why are you here?”

As my blood tests kept coming back “normal” and I kept reporting increasing pain and fatigue–the doctors threw out the “catch-all” prescriptions: anti-anxiety medication and birth control.

Before I continue: let me say that I don’t have a problem with these in and of themselves.  Even as a teenager though, I knew what I had a problem with: being given something when the doctor had no idea what was going on with me.

I said no time and time again–and to this day I’m really glad for how stubborn I was.

“No, I’m not taking something when you have no idea what is going on with me.  Would you like to read off the list of side-effects?”

__________________________________________________________________

Whiteness includes a deep mistrust of the body & the Western medical establishment capitalizes off this mistrust.

I’d be very glad to have a Western  model of medicine in an emergency, however not for preventative medicine.  Not for illnesses that affect every major system in your body.

I listened to my body to know that something was wrong.  That I wanted help.  And yet the extent to which I paid attention to myself and my own intuition never went beyond just stating that something was wrong.  The answer would come from a doctor, or so I had been told.

Well, when I went to doctors and they told me that nothing was wrong, I started to doubt myself at an even deeper level.  They told me I was making things up.  Things couldn’t really be that bad.

The cognitive dissonance started to get really intense.  My body was saying, “something is wrong.  pay attention!” and the expert doctor was telling me I was making things up.  Who do I trust?

The body doesn’t lie.  I knew that I felt what I felt, but what started to seep in was this enormous sense of self questioning and self-doubt.

“What if whatever-I-have isn’t as bad as I think it is?”

“What if no one believes me?  Then what?”

“If the blood test doesn’t show anything, then am I going crazy?”

_____________________________________________________________

These questions were only the beginning.  Because I was told I was “fine,” I still pushed myself to the limit.  I tried to keep up with friends, even though I didn’t have the energy.

By my sophomore year in college, I created this life that was pretty routine or I couldn’t make it through the day.  I tried to keep my schedule as full as possible so I couldn’t truly feel how exhausted I was, until I crashed at 10pm, had a good night sleep, and started over again.

To be awake and engaged with the world was so difficult & I was so sad.

I was sad because I faked it all day.  I didn’t have energy, but I pretended like I did, day after day after day.  I was sad because I was becoming a shell of my former self.

One day in college I admitted, “No one believes me, not even myself.”

________________________________________________________________

Whiteness shows up in the health realm as the binary completely healthy/completely sick.  We don’t talk about a continuum, even though, “Of course, there is a continuum.”

At any given moment, I am feeling a little bit different in my body, if given the tools of how to pay attention, how to listen to cues, how to genuinely love my body and not just be looking for disease.

I wonder what stories I would have connected earlier if I had been asked about my anxiety, rather than just my family history of disease.  Maybe I would have told stories of being so nervous before track meets that I would throw up before I ran.  How I heaped tremendous pressure on myself to keep improving, and my anxiety just increased with it.  Maybe I would have talked about how running 40-45 miles per week at 14 was too much on my body.  That I was actually burning muscle as I ran, causing tremendous pain.

That maybe there was more to health than just being a runner and 105 pounds.

___________________________________________________________________

As a kid, I didn’t have big wordy language–but I knew things were interconnected.  I would spend hours looking up at the sky.  I would take walks at night with my dad and look up at the moon.  I would always see the faces the moon was making at me.  I was fascinated by the way the moon changed and how it seemed to be in a different shape.  I was sad at the new moon, when I couldn’t see it and I thought it had disappeared.

I loved when I learned the names of different constellations and I would try to find them in the sky.  The first time I found the Big Dipper all by myself: pure joy.  I didn’t know how or why, but I felt connected to nature, to the moon and the stars.

__________________________________________________________________

Sometimes we say that we have to fight for our health.  I believe this is true on many levels–and the more multiple oppressions affect one’s life–the more that statement rings true.

And if health is about connection–to oneself, one’s body, mind & soul, to nature, to community, to the Divine-then health is also natural.  Not always a fight.  Sometimes seamless.

There were signs that my body was not well years and years before I ever stepped foot in a doctor’s office.  I don’t blame myself, and at the same time, I do wish that I knew how to trust myself, to ask “What’s going on here?”  “How do I get help?”  “What resources do I have?”  “What resources do others have?”

I suffered a lot of pain and illness in my life–because I was told to push through.  I thought I had no other choice.

You see, whiteness is terrified of rest.  For in rest transformation is possible.

More later, people!

What is Mine to Do?

I feel really grounded after my vacation.  I’ve also been taking these past few days really slow, even though I had a lot of tasks to get done to prep for starting the tutoring semester next week.

It’s been slowly adjusting back home: to meditation & qigong when I wake up, making my own food, to taking walks, to rearranging the altar in my room.  It’s been calling the doctor, replacing a headlight, making copies.  In a few days it will be back to lesson planning.  I also know that with the new moon and partial solar eclipse coming up on Saturday, my body is just tired.  I’m letting myself move more slowly.

My intention for this New Moon & in starting the school year in general is to live with these two questions: What is mine to do?  What is NOT mine to do? 

It is in my nature to see things that need to be “fixed.”  Used with discernment and wisdom, this is a very healthy trait that allows anger to surface and to channel that anger constructively towards change.  Used without wisdom, this way of thinking is lethal.  It makes being and presence impossible, and completely sabotages the present moment with judging thoughts of what could be “better.”

I’m entering a year where my health is allowing me to do so much more, and I’m deeply grateful.  And it’s a year where I will have less free time, and in my downtime I will need to rest.

While I’m doing really well health-wise, this and this was still a year ago.  My body is still rebounding, day by day.  Knowing my body really well, also means scheduling enough rest.  Letting my body recharge for the healing work I do every day, and thanking my body for the ability to do it.

Even with all this self-awareness, sometimes I still think I can and should do more.  Sometimes that’s true.  Most of the time it’s not!

With the way my brain works, sometimes it’s just more helpful to ask, “What’s not mine to do?”, list a few things, and move on.  That usually settles down my over-thinking mind.

What I do long for as this school year starts up is more presence.  A heightened awareness of the unique conversations that can happen when two people gather and the courage to have those conversations.

A deep centering in my purpose for this moment, taking a deep breath and letting it all go.

_______________________________________________________________

At the worst of my illness, about 3.5 years ago, I spent a lot of time lying in bed.  Not only was I experiencing physical pain and deep fatigue, but I was learning to interrogate the thoughts and I emotions I had when I was no longer productive.

I came to also know that this culture of non-stop performance and the need to always be busy was also making me sick.

I didn’t know how to be alone and worthy of love.  I wasn’t “doing” anything except learning how to love and care for myself.  What I didn’t know was that this felt like the hardest job of all.

Those days of learning to prepare healing food, of walks, gentle yoga, and short times of meditation set the foundation of where I’m at today.  These simple ways of care come much more naturally to me now.

I am worth all the love, care, and nurture, no matter how I’m feeling.

So what is mine to do?  It is to show up to the present moment, and accept the unknown and the adventure that presents itself.  Yes, of course, there are a ton of responsibilities that I carry, but the most important is to show up when my intuition says “yes” whether out of excitement or even nervousness, and to rest when my body says “no.”

Ever so simple, and ever so elusive at times, when I cease to pay attention.  And what I must come back to, again and again.

A Solo Vacation & Self Love

So much can be said about self-love.  Believe me-I’ve heard most of the things.

“No one can really love themselves apart from community.”

“You have to learn to love yourself, before you will ever be able to love someone else.”

“You need to love other people as you love yourself.”

“It’s selfish and arrogant to assume that you can love yourself in a vacuum.”

So before I move into the bulk of this post–let’s talk about not just what self-love is, but how it can manifest itself.

I will be the first to say that love doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  We all need love from people.  We can seek love from animals, nature.  AND most of us haven’t been taught to love ourselves.  Most of what we do is project our pain & trauma.  We assume that other people exist solely to love us without ever asking if there are ways we are sabotaging the love all around us-and in us.

I suppose we could say that the path of healing and love is narrow and few find it.

I’m also going to make a distinction between care and love, although they share some similarities.

Care may be practical actions I take to simply care for myself.  Insert the ever-so-popular terminology of self-care right now.

Love is much more intuitive than that.  Love is checking in with myself.  It’s asking myself, “What do I need?  What do I desire?  What do I crave?”

Love isn’t being afraid of my passions.  Love is acknowledging my desires and naming them as mine.  Love, for me, means being cognizant of my energy, and not taking on others.  Love is noticing when things shift: whether emotions, needs, wants.  Love is first and foremost acknowledging that I’m human and that my passions, my energies, my needs and wants are not only completely valid, but completely good.

On this vacation of mine, the question that has been surfacing is: “How do I love myself well when I’m alone?”

___________________________________________________________

There’s nothing like a vacation alone for people to start asking questions.

“Will someone else be joining you?”

“What are you here for?”

“Well, you must be meeting up with someone else, right?”

The message was clear even if the people asking me these questions were unaware of it:

It’s not okay to be alone.  You must be uncomfortable. You are not enough, just you.  You are not worthy.

And these messages aren’t just from these few people.  It’s cultural.  And they are messages I internalized at a young age.

________________________________________________________

This week has been one where these messages have been exposed.  Where I’ve needed to see how these messages have affected me & what I’ve done with them.

You see, I’ve desired a solo vacation for several years–and I’m just now taking one.  There’s many reasons for this, including health & money, and yet what also held me back was the belief that I didn’t deserve what I wanted.

That somehow my vacations had to look busy, with lots of people,…..and I wanted none of that.

I wanted quiet, to connect with nature and myself.  I knew parts would be joyous, and parts uncomfortable (like it always is when you practice spending time with yourself!), and yet I wanted all of it!

Intuitively I knew that my soul needed space.  I needed space where I didn’t need to be at certain places at certain times.  I needed space where I wasn’t coordinating plans with other people.  I specifically needed time close to where I lived, to remember, to ground into my history, to be grateful, and to leave the things that no longer serve me.

___________________________________________________

So this week has been many things.

It’s been walking on the beach, walking to a lighthouse along a pier, swimming in Lake Michigan, and lingering long enough to watch the sunset.

It’s been so much hiking, including walking a trail that I ran over and over again in high school.  My body still knew the route by heart.  I still knew when the slopes were coming, where the bridges were.  I remembered doing line runs (group of 5-6 people run in a line, and the leader switches every 2 minutes, setting the pace for everyone else) training together as a cross country team, and what a practice in mutuality that was.

It’s been walking along the rivers I grew up around.  It’s been lamenting the history of erasure of the Chippewa indigenous people, both literally and in the telling of history.  I walked into the Nature Center’s visitor center, and the white-washed history was the same one I received as a kid, the same one that is being shared across white families and in schools.

It’s been driving in Bay City & Saginaw, noticing the obvious segregation, and seeing the affects of redlining, still apparent today.

It’s been discovering a new beach, I didn’t know was that close to me growing up.  The Saginaw Bay is pretty great!

It’s been reading, writing, farmer’s markets (Michigan blueberries & cherries!), buying flowers, coffee, fancy dinners and so much ice cream.

And my time isn’t even up yet!

___________________________________________________

I can already tell that deep grounding has happened, is happening, and will continue to happen.

Noticing, paying attention, & naming the environment and forces that shaped me has been vital.

Experiencing my childhood home, without family, partner, or children–is still important.  Seeing the helpful and the harmful, and letting them both go.

Even in central Michigan, where I was taught that I needed to exist for someone else, that it was incredibly spiritual to deny myself–I came back, as I grow more and more into my personal power, and aware to the ravaging affects of systemic racism all around my childhood home.  There is power to give up as well.

Paradoxes of course–stepping into and giving up power.  Michigan-I’ll be back!

 

In Being Surprised

I pulled out several journals from my closet yesterday.  They are all kept in this basic 64 gallon storage bin, and have moved with me from place to place over the last 10 years.  I’m not a person who keeps a lot of stuff–however, these journals are what I have not parted with since childhood.

Writing has been my way of making sense of the world, for awhile now.  I’ve journaled routinely since I was 12, and before then I loved learning cursive, and practicing different signatures over and over again.  I wrote letters, and had several pen pals.  Collecting gel pens and different colors of paper and stationery made me excited.

Now, I don’t think I care to pull out what I wrote when I was 12 years old.  I’m sure I will part with these before too long.  But as I reached into the bin and sorted through the journals, I pulled out the ones from the last 5 years.

The ones that kept me sane through the worst parts of my illness.

The writing that saw me through all my pain and fatigue, confusion and questioning.

Those pages that existed to help me sort through my shame, guilt, anger, sadness & despair.  The pages that helped me to feel intensely, who told me that I must move through these emotions, rather than to bypass them.

My journals are a mess-as my sister likes to say.  I’m a pretty structured and organized person and my journals are a place for me not to be organized.  So in those pages are letters that I’ve received, grocery lists, poems, prayers, impressions, hopes, longings, outlines for books, gratitude prompts.

Those pages contain business ideas, to-do lists, and in the worst of my illness, lists upon lists of things I needed to do, written down just so I wouldn’t forget.

My writing is a live record, not just of my growth, in a vague, broad sense.  I believe they contain subtle shifts, cues, directions, themes.  They point to shifts in awareness, discernment through small and big decisions, relational quality, how I’m processing my emotions.  They highlight my honesty, or lack of it, how my view of the Divine shifts from day to day.

These 5 years of journals are going to be my companions for the next month or so.  Some of these words will make it into my next draft of my manuscript, adding authenticity & clarity.

__________________________________________________________

When I met with my spiritual director on Monday, I spoke to her of these journals, of my upcoming vacation to Michigan, this strong rootedness I’m feeling towards the past right now.

She asked me how I felt when thinking about reading through these journals.  “Even though I’ve dug into my story deeply, and know it well–I think I’m going to be surprised.  I think I’m going to see clues everywhere of how Spirit was present and I didn’t even know it.  I’m going to see things that worked out that I had forgotten about, deep pain that has lessened in its intensity.”

___________________________________________________________

I’m taking these next few weeks pretty slow.  I’m finishing up with my students for the summer.  I’m leaving on vacation in less than two weeks.

I’m letting myself say yes to things and people who give me joy, stretch me, that place me in a position of learning and listening and receiving.  I’m saying yes to theatre, to music, to nature, to writing, to political engagement.  I’m saying yes to being with people, and I’m still saying yes and going places alone.

This summer has already been more than I’ve expected in so many ways–and I haven’t even gone on vacation yet!   What I’m most thankful for is the ability to be outside for so much longer.  Yes, I still get tired, but tired just like everyone else, rather than extra-extra-extra tired, where I’m recovering for several days afterwards.

I’m thankful that I haven’t had huge reactions to mold in buildings.  I’m thankful I didn’t have to move my tutoring locations for the summer, which I thought I might have to do.

I’m thankful for this deep centering I feel, which has come from my own inner journey and solitude, yet surrounded by many supportive friendships.  I’m calling summer this deep time of integration, where I’m learning how to step into my gifting, where I’m learning what my strong “yes” feels like, where I don’t feel guilty for saying no to most things, where I know that my hard-won inner wisdom must align with my purpose in the world, or illness will come knocking again.

_________________________________________________________

While talking to a friend last week, I said, “I feel like I’m entering into the fall more aligned with my values than I’ve ever been in my life.”

As I said that, I took a breath.  I was surprised at how true that was.  And yet learning to trust my intuition and my body naturally has put me in a position of alignment.  I just wasn’t quite sure how true this was before I said it out loud.

Alignment for me looks like: regular times of spiritual practice and rest, both communal and individual.  Right now this looks like centering prayer, breath work, qigong, walks in nature, quarterly weekend retreats, spiritual direction, massage, sauna sessions, an inter-spiritual practice & discussion group and Sabbath.

Alignment for me looks like: not working before 10am.  And on Wednesdays, having a longer, drawn out morning, and not starting work until 2pm.  Strengthening relationships with families, continuing to press in deeply in conversations regarding limits, scarcity & fear.  Continuing to be aware and interrogate dynamics around power and money.

Alignment for me looks like: starting my last year of spiritual direction training, participating in the anti-racism team at my church, and helping to facilitate/gather white folks to read My Grandmother’s Hands and engage in the healing process around white racialized trauma.

Alignment for me looks like: continuing to write.  And not setting deadlines & timelines.  But writing and pursuing publication and letting go of the rest.

Alignment for me means be willing to be surprised, being open to wonder wherever it may be found.

 

 

Whiteness & Autoimmunity

Sometimes creativity & clarity just come.  You weren’t prepared, caught off guard even.  And there is this deep peace, this deep knowing in your body.

Yesterday I had this experience while making breakfast, and then while drinking coffee outside.  Simple everyday moments.  Making coffee.  Cooking a pork patty & cutting an avocado.  (yep, that really was my breakfast!)

I had gotten almost 9 hours of sleep the night before, and had spent the morning finishing up a book on whiteness.

I had just finished the first draft of my book manuscript 5 days before.  And while writing this draft I knew that there was this invitation for me: to compassionately notice how personal and collective healing must be intertwined.  How my healing journey has also included a spiritual and racial awakenings. To dig even deeper into my longings and desires and stories.

_____________________________________________________________

I started having significant issues with my health at age 14.  Blood draws.  Heart monitors.  Stress tests.  Surgeries.  MRI’s.  All these became a pretty regular part of my life.

What’s also important to say is that both my parents are white.  They both worked for a chemical company as engineers.  They both had excellent health insurance.  They had already paid off our house.  They had access to excellent doctors (and therefore so did I) and had flexible enough schedules with enough paid vacation so they could take me to these numerous appointments without having to worry if they would lose their jobs.  They had friends with power & privilege to ask for referrals and get me into certain doctor’s offices.

I grew up in a town that was 97% white.  I had white parents, white teachers, white friends, white doctors, white dentists, white pastors, white coaches…..and was told from a young age that I could trust authority.  Not only that, but that I should respect and listen to authority at all costs.

And then starting at 14, I was in and out of doctor’s offices repeating my symptoms—and being told that I was fine.  Over and over again.  Already 2 years later, I started editing my story, hoping that I would have a better chance of being heard, of being believed, of being diagnosed, of being treated.

I was interrogating whiteness and I didn’t know it.  I didn’t have the words, the constructs, the setting, the relationships to realize what was happening.

I knew that to be heard I had to be rational.  I had to be objective.  I couldn’t cry or show any emotion related to frustration or anger.

That’s the language that the white male doctor spoke.  And I had to learn to speak it if I was going to survive the medical system.

______________________________________________________________

Even as I moved, and I had doctors of differing races–the language still dripped of whiteness.  The medical schools, the Western thought & training–couldn’t be ignored.

The numbers & data was believed over personal experience, by everyone.  We all, to some degree or another, had internalized this belief that the doctor is the one with external healing power.  They must be right, and I must be wrong. They can heal and I am the one in need of healing.  This binary of doctor/patient had to be adhered to–or the whole construct would come tumbling down.

I had a white female endocrinologist at Northwestern Hospital in Chicago throughout college.  She was willing to put me on medication even though I couldn’t prove with the blood tests to date that I had a thyroid disorder.  We had a good working relationship until it just wasn’t anymore.  She started nit-picking at my weight, looking at the scale and shaming me that losing weight was so difficult.  She criticized me when I only worked out 5 times per week instead of 6.

I walked out of that appointment at 21 years old–and I knew what was happening.  I was being blamed in any way possible, because she didn’t know how to help me.  Her inability to “fix” me made her angry–especially as she worked at Northwestern and had numerous credentials.

I saw another painful aspect of whiteness at work: emotionally shutting down and/or becoming angry from a place of not being in control anymore.

______________________________________________________________

I was a deeply imaginative, empathetic, intuitive child—and I shut down a good portion of this creative part of myself–in exchange for becoming a competitive track athlete.  But, of course, it didn’t go away altogether.

I spent my summers running in meets in Detroit, Lansing, Battle Creek.  In those early years at 9 and 10 years old, I had experiences of what it felt like to be the only white sprinter, and I am deeply grateful for this part of my childhood.

And I remember what I noticed as I went down to Detroit, and then drove back up to Midland, MI over and over again over several years.

Even as a young kid, I knew that I had access to resources that my black track friends in Detroit didn’t have.  I never wondered if I could find starting blocks to practice my starts, or if there would be a rake for the sand in the long jump pit.  I knew that my city would have money to have the track re-surfaced.  I knew that the high school track I practiced on was of higher quality than some of the cinder tracks I ran on in Detroit.  I knew that in the off-season I had facilities to run on, whether indoor or outdoor.  I knew that my parents would just pay for my uniform and that as a track club, we wouldn’t have to put on a fundraiser to buy what we needed during the season.

But at 9 years old-I already knew the power of silence.  The only comments I heard adults saying were complaining about why Detroit hosted meets if they didn’t have enough volunteers, or a reliable clock, or enough resources, according to their standards.

I knew that the adults felt that the meets they put together in Midland were exceptional because we had a press box and made announcements quickly, because the meet ran on time, and all the volunteers knew what their role was during the day.  “Our” meet was better because it was efficient.

I kept all these observations inside.  I already had internalized that I shouldn’t question the status quo, that white authority figures are to be trusted at all times.

Because of my sensitive nature, this created a deep guilt for having everything that I had.  A deep guilt around being white.  And also a deep aloneness in feeling like I couldn’t talk to anyone else.

______________________________________________________________

Growing up white without a sense of racial identity, and feeling the heightened sense of guilt because of my racial disparity observations–I felt like I only had two options.  Be overly kind to people of color and/or try to help them.

Another aspect of whiteness at work: Dealing with difficult emotions is troublesome and uncomfortable.  Let’s find a way to still be in control and yet serve.  This makes me more comfortable and looks “Christian.”

Growing up in evangelical Christianity as an intuitive, sensitive white girl was heavy.  I was to deny myself, serve, & suffer.  That’s how I knew I was a Christian.  God loved me, but he was also angry at me for all my sin.  Jesus forgave me, and all, and yet I was still invited into a life of suffering.

So what was encouraged from the all white male leadership from the pulpit? To go where there is deep suffering–and share the gospel.  (aka: this would help with my white guilt, still putting me in a position of power & yet service).

That rhetoric influenced my life deeply–both in body & soul.  Jesus, as the White Savior, was who I was to emulate.  The white evangelical church encouraged my white guilt complex and my white savior complex all at the same time.

_____________________________________________________________

There are many, many more stories.  And I will share over time.  And yet while making breakfast & drinking coffee yesterday, I sank into the reality of how “whiteness as the air I breathe” connects with autoimmune disorders, connects with my life with Hashimoto’s.

Yes, people of all races have chronic illnesses.  And, I believe that while the symptoms might manifest similarly, the path of healing necessarily looks a lot different.

People of color since the beginning of United States’ history have experienced genocide, colonization, slavery, Jim Crow, deportation, and racist policy after racist policy to this day.  The amount of stress this places POC in every day life is enormous and can lead to chronic illness.

And, I’m also asking the question, “Why do so many white people have autoimmune issues today?  And why does the number keep growing?”  (The occurrences of autoimmune disorders are larger than cancer now.)

I cannot answer this question alone.  This question will lead to conversation after conversation after conversation.

______________________________________________________________

Recently, my mom told me that thyroid issues go back to my great-great grandmother.  I wasn’t aware that thyroid issues had affected my great-grandmother’s mother.

That piece of information made me relax a little, and it connected me more deeply in a very small way to an ancestor I never knew.

I also took a breath and could name that my healing journey is much greater than me.  I’m connecting to the trauma of my ancestors that also lives in my body, that is connected to whiteness and a genuine mistrust of the body.

So, I’m learning to trust my body more and more every day.  I’m trusting nature’s rhythms, and letting myself rest.  I’m letting myself be creative, and letting my words just flow.  I’m confronting various ways I have internalized that “keeping with the status quo” encompassed my life’s purpose.  I’m taking deep breaths and asking my body what it needs. And I’m reaching out for other people to be on this journey with me.

I’m letting my healing journey reveal all that needs to be revealed.  And I’m learning to say YES to all of it.

Stay tuned for more, friends!

 

Some Time Off

 

For those who have been reading my blog and tracking my story–thank you.

It is a joy to write for myself and for you–hoping that some of my wandering and learning have a trickle-down effect.

Really, ever since I wrote about my sexual assault, last summer–I’ve been writing a lot.  My healing journey, became even more intentional and deep as I started to publicly speak my truth.  I’m thankful for this past year, and everything it has taught me.

I’ve also been pretty public about my healing process.  This has been immensely helpful to me in many ways, and I’m also realizing that right now, I need to pull back somewhat.  Not from writing altogether–but from writing publicly as often.

Some of you know that I’m working on a manuscript right now–about my wandering healing journey of Hashimoto’s, and the physical, emotional, and spiritual practices that have been apart of my healing and recovery.

I’m over half way done with this manuscript–and I’m going to take the rest of 2018 to make this my main focus, and to step away from the blog for awhile.  My attention has just been pulled in many directions, and I’m wanting to focus on one.

Happy summer, friends.  Thank you for all the support, encouragement, and love.  May you notice the abundance in and all around, and may we all dig into our creativity and rest to bring more and more justice into this world.