“You Have Hashimoto’s”

On Friday of this week, is my Diagnosis Day.  Two years ago, I was told, “You have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.”

I was both relieved, and at the same time intuitively knew, this was only the beginning.  I had a long journey ahead of me.  And yet the diagnosis was step 1.  And after 10 years of searching, I finally knew what was wrong.  There was nothing particularly special about that day.  After a 2 hour diagnosis appointment, I went home and laid in bed the rest of the day.  I’m sure it was a combination of research, of Netflix, of napping.

It was both an ordinary day, and in a very real way, my life had changed.  I knew how to help myself.  In the middle of winter, I received amazing clarity.  I wasn’t lying for 10 years; I was right.  I was in pain, I was fatigued, and I was unfortunately moved around the healthcare system, without answers.  But the clarity that came to me that day was a glimmer of hope that I could trust my intuition, and that a few people must know how to listen.

At first this listening came in the form of doctors, and yet as I learned how to talk about my condition, compassion from others followed.  And then there’s “knowing” from an author I will never meet.  This blessing, written by John O’Donohue, felt like it was written for me.  I came across this last summer, and the thought of “harvesting this slow light” put words to the journey I wanted to embark on.  And now, I’m trying to listen to the wisdom in these simple, yet powerful words.

 

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For a Friend on the Arrival of Illness

Now is the time of dark invitation

Beyond a frontier you did not expect;

Abruptly, your old life seems distant.

 

You barely noticed how each day opened

A path through fields never questioned,

Yet expected, deep down, to hold treasure.

Now your time on earth becomes full of threat;

Before your eyes your future shrinks.

 

You lived absorbed in the day-to-day,

So continuous with everything around you,

That you could forget you were separate;

 

Now this dark companion has come between you.

Distances have opened in your eyes.

You feel that against your will

A stranger has married your heart.

 

Nothing before has made you

Feel so isolated and lost.

 

When the reverberations of shock subside in you,

May grace come to restore you to balance.

May it shape a new space in your heart

To embrace this illness as a teacher

Who has come to open your life to new worlds.

 

May you find in yourself

A courageous hospitality

Toward what is difficult,

Painful, and unknown.

 

May you learn to use this illness

As a lantern to illuminate

The new qualities that will emerge in you.

 

May the fragile harvesting of this slow light

Help to release whatever has become false in you.

May you trust this light to clear a path

Through all the fog of old unease and anxiety

Until you feel arising within you a tranquility

Profound enough to call the storm to stillness.

 

May you find the wisdom to listen to your illness:

Ask it why it came.  Why it chose your friendship.

Where it wants to take you.  What it wants you to know.

What quality of space it wants to create in you.

What you need to learn to become more fully

yourself

That your presence may shine in the world.

 

May you keep faith with your body,

Learning to see it as a holy sanctuary

Which can bring this night-wound gradually

Toward the healing and freedom of dawn.

 

May you be granted the courage and vision

To work through passivity and self-pity,

To see the beauty you can harvest

From the riches of this dark invitation.

 

May you learn to receive it graciously,

And promise to learn swiftly

That it may leave you newborn,

Willing to dedicate your time to birth.

 

On Friday, I will write about what it has meant to receive an illness,  to train my eye to see the slow light that is emerging daily.

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Health Update-Winter 2017

Last week, I met with my doctor.  These check-ups are met with a variety of emotions: anything from a bit of nervousness, to feeling calm and relieved.  While we generally only discuss the past several months since the last appointment, I still bring my whole medical journey with me.  It doesn’t get left at the door.

I’ve now been seeing doctors regularly for about half my life.  And for most of that time doctors did not know what was going on with me.  I was told that I was fine or that my symptoms were in my head.  I’m glad it’s different now.  I’m completely believed and my medications and supplements are prescribed mainly for how I feel, before how I feel is proven by a lab test.

And I’m glad to report that I’m doing really well.  Minor changes were made to my treatment plan, but the overall message was “Keep doing what you’re doing.”  My doctor told me that I’m doing better now than he expected.  While there still are minor setbacks, there still is a sizable forward momentum.  I’m starting to feel what it’s like to be healthy again.  And it’s a good feeling.

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While you as the reader can’t see the few tears while I write this, writing this post is emotional.  I didn’t think I would experience the day when I felt as good as I do now.  I didn’t think it was impossible.  After 10 years of no answers and my health continuing to get worse, hoping for relief felt exhausting at best and stupid at worst.  And despite my doubt and resignation at times, I have quite a team walking this with me.

I have supportive doctors and nurses.  I have health food stores, farmer’s markets, and an online community that helped me figure out how to make things that actually taste good.  I have friends who are sick and friends who are healthy.  I have nature, walking trails, a yoga studio close by.  I have books that I’ll just plow through on my more tired-and-stay-inside kind of days.  I have people to help me process my spiritual journey, and how my illness has transformed and continues to transform my relationship with God.  In fact, my illness has been the reason why I ever met a gentle, weeping God in the first place. I have a job that I enjoy.  I have a lifestyle that continues to help sustain my healing.

As I keep healing, there’s a question that keeps circulating in my mind, “What now?”  There’s no clear answer or plan to this question.  Yet for a few years, all my energy went into healing, and I had to turn inward, just to survive.  Now all the lessons and gifts I’ve received by learning to take care of myself every day, can move outward.  I look forward to exploring this question more this year.  But for now, here’s a poem by David Whyte that resonates with me and my journey.

Journey 

Above the mountains

the geese turn into

the light again

painting their

black silhouettes 

on an open sky. 

Sometimes everything

has to be

enscribed across

the heavens

so you can find 

the one line

already written 

inside you.

Sometimes it takes

a great sky

to find that 

small, bright

and indescribable

wedge of freedom

in your own heart.

Sometimes with 

the bones of the black

sticks left when the fire

has gone out

someone has written

something new

in the ashes 

of your life.

You are not leaving

you are arriving.

Practices Towards Non-violence

Today I am going to a spiritual direction appointment.  This is a time for me to reflect on the past month, a time for centering.  I’ve come to love this precious time and am glad that spiritual direction has become a rhythm in my life the last 1 1/2 years.  This practice helps me to be aware of my own life, to notice spiritual themes, and pay attention to invitations I may be receiving.  Through spiritual direction, I know myself better.

I have kept going to yoga four times per week.  My body is getting stronger.  I’m getting more flexible, day by day.  I’m learning to be more mindful.  And listening to my breath. My mind is more clear.  I am more aware of where I can push myself, and where I must limit myself.

Over the past year, I’ve tried to take seriously what it means to rest.  My body is learning to adjust to how much I need to rest on the weekend, after adding in more work hours during the week.  Weekends are a time for sleeping in, for cooking, for yoga, for writing, for time with friends.  Weekends are a time for play and rejuvenation and not for work.

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For me, these must be the foundation for non-violence.  If I live a greater percentage of my life from a centered place, I am observant, yet not reactive.  I may have the courage to name an injustice I see, yet I may see more clearly how I should respond, from a place of knowing myself.  From this calm, self-aware place, I am more willing to embrace another, than build up artificial barriers.

If I choose busyness and running myself ragged, I am choosing to be violent towards myself, and that, no doubt, will be violent towards others as well, whether it surfaces in the form of ignoring, of poor listening, of constant talking, of fighting or simply not expressing that another has value.  If I choose busyness and constant distraction, I am not choosing time for hospitality, for paying attention to nature, for tending to my own health.  I am not choosing what is best. I am not choosing to listen to my life of the lives of others.

Yet, these personal practices, should not just be limited to myself.  These practices actually lead to an outward focus, with increasing desires for justice and peace in this world.  These practices allow me to see suffering (rather than ignore it), and lament.  These allow me to listen, without my own agenda getting in the way.

Martin Luther King Jr’s first two principles of non-violence were:

  1. Non-violence is a way of life for courageous people.
  2. Non-violence seeks to win friendship and understanding.

These words were timely then, and most needed now.

May you walk through your day with ease, even while being observant to injustice that lurks in power-hungry institutions and lonely corners.

What are some non-violent practices in your own life?  

How do these help you know yourself more deeply?   

What I’m Learning in Yoga

The past few Decembers, I’ve taken a silent retreat at Sustainable Faith Indy, as part of my celebration of Advent. I also write down my longings for the year. The first one I wrote down for 2017 was:

Establish a regular yoga practice at Breathing Space

 

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Over Christmas break, I was going to this yoga studio daily, and it’s still my goal to make it at least four times per week, now that work has started back.

This longing is no longing to meet an exercise quota, but because I feel so much better.  I have enough energy to work towards a new goal and try something new.

I get to embrace a form of exercise I never would have if I hadn’t gotten sick.  I choose to move towards yoga with a smile, even though flexibility has never been my strong suit.

My life is slowly being altered as I make these small decisions.

To enter into a sacred space, where I’m encouraged to honor my body and its limitations.  I’m deciding to enter into a yoga studio, rather than buy a gym membership.

To listen to my breath, to notice how relaxed or stressed I am.  I’m deciding to observe my body’s reactions, rather than judge them.

To hold a pose when I feel the right amount of tension, neither under-extending or overextending. I’m deciding to listen to my body’s signals, not to ignore pain or think I can master it.

To stay in the present moment.  I’m noticing when my mind drifts and remind it to come back into focus.

To honor my body’s innate knowledge.  To listen to my body’s wisdom, rather than believing that wisdom just comes from my head.

To rest in Shavasana.  To remember that the culmination of work is rest, not more work.

Here’s to more flexibility and healing in 2017!

What new habits are you taking up in 2017? 

 

 

Birthday Blessing

My birthday (January 3rd) has always been caught between the just-after-Christmas and New Year’s resolutions craze.  Many years, people go back to work or school on my birthday.  People are still sluggish, yet being pushed back into routine.  Talk of dieting and actually working out repeat year after year.  I try to make room, for yet another celebration, after all the celebrations seem to be over.

I read this blessing in John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings last year.  It’s simple and beautiful.  It’s a reminder to me that the greatest gifts are to be found on the journey-the good with the bad.  They are all invitations: to savor, to grieve, to delight, to play, to be silent.  Many many people have made my journey beautiful.  This year I’m especially grateful for those old and new friendships who have journeyed the past 3 years with me, the hardest years so far.

I’ve experienced living in a culture that does not have a category for chronic illness.  A culture that does not have rituals for grieving, like they do for celebration.  A culture in which friendships are more disposable than treasured. A culture in which I am seen more as broken, than having inherent gifts, even when I couldn’t be productive.

Even living in this reality, I have found many safe spaces and safe people.  I am thankful for the cultivation of friendship, for letting go of a 40 hour work week, for finding contemplative spirituality in a round about way, for giving myself permission to be quiet, not loud. For allowing myself to heal and take my time.

And to all those people who have witnessed and are witnessing my recovery, thanks for choosing to see and thanks for believing in me. May you be blessed.

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For Your Birthday 

by John O’Donohue

Blessed be the mind that dreamed the day

The blueprint of your life

Would begin to glow on earth,

Illuminating all the faces and voices

That would arrive to invite

Your soul to growth.

Praised be your father and mother,

Who loved you before you were,

And trusted to call you here

With no idea who you would be.

Blessed be those who have loved you

Into becoming who you were meant to be,

Blessed be those who have crossed your life

With dark gifts of hurt and loss

That have helped to school your mind

In the art of disappointment.

When desolation surrounded you,

Blessed be those who looked for you

And found you, their kind hands

Urgent to open a blue window

In the gray wall formed around you.

Blessed be the gifts you never notice,

Your health, eyes to behold the world,

Thoughts to countenance the unknown,

Memory to harvest vanished days,

Your heart to feel the world’s waves,

Your breath to breathe the nourishment

Of distance made intimate by earth.

On the echoing-day of your birth,

May you open the gift of solitude

In order to receive your soul;

Enter the generosity of silence

To hear your hidden heart;

Know the serenity of stillness

To be enfolded anew

By the miracle of your being.