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?”

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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?”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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?”

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!