Sources of Resilience

On an episode of Healing Justice Podcast, I was encouraged to think about what my sources of resilience have been and are.  In this time of my life that feels like deep grounding, yet deep transition all at the same time, I want to pause and honor those places, people & internal wells of wisdom that have brought me to this place.

–I want to honor Detroit, my summer childhood running home, and my friends across difference, especially Ramzee and Whitney.

–Running, you taught me about sinking my breath with movement and my first lessons in internal affirmations.  You taught me the nuance between perseverance and knowing when to stop.

–Hashimoto’s, there will be lifelong wisdom from you, my friend.  You taught me to listen to my body, to trust it, to continue to seek healing, even when it seemed like all options were exhausted.  You keep teaching me that my body is my friend, not my enemy.  You teach me daily that I am not what I do.  That there always exists within my body the invitation to rest.

–Therapy-so much therapy in my 20’s!  I’ve learned that with a skilled therapist, your trauma can transform into your teacher.  With an unskilled one, your trauma becomes your ever-increasing nightmare.

–Safe healers-Lesley, Kelsey, Beth, Dina, Mel, Erica, Melissa (x2), Charlie, and so many more.  You save more lives than you realize.

–My voice-learning to speak the cold truth without sugar-coating.  Knowing that the truth will offend some.  But it always has.  Those in power often play deaf to the truth.

–Memphis.  The place where I saw racism up close, not in covert ways in the north.  Where I passed KKK statues in the park.  Where so many questions were asked, and so much anger was sparked.

–My breath.  This powerful source has power to release grief, anger, frustration, powerlessness-all for free!  Breathing deeply helps me create internal and external spaciousness.

–Poetry.  Writing it.  Reading it.  Knowing when something was written just for you.

–Friendships.  My community pushing me forward & encouraging my rest.

& so many more that I could name.

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At the Intersections of Chronic Illness, Asexuality & Spirituality

As a kid, I cherished the outdoors and my friendships.  I loved playing in the “woods” behind my house and setting up kickball games in the backyard when my friends would come over.  I ran around every summer in my bare feet and would wear sandals in the winter as soon as the snow had melted and the weather was above freezing.

While I enjoyed playing outside with my sister, I could enjoy being alone.  I would shoot baskets alone.  In middle school and high school, I would go on long runs alone & love it.  Not every time, of course, but I did need those times of solitude.  They were essential for me and I craved them.

(As a side note, but as a teacher, I see now that kids have a real difficulty in being alone without technology.  They don’t know how to be bored and enjoy their own company…and this worries me.)

I’ve also cherished many close friends in my life.  Something I definitely do not take for granted.  Many people over the years have been jealous of my friendships–becoming less jealous when they were dating or finally “found someone.”

I internalized from a young age from our culture that I needed to “find someone”–that to have many strong, close friendships is not the norm.  So I dated a few guys-they were close friends first.  That was the only thing that made sense to me.  I went on blind dates here and there but nothing ever “clicked.”

Then I got very sick, and I wasn’t thinking about romantic relationships.  I could barely get out of bed.  I relied on the love and concern of friends: for coffee and conversation on good days, texts to remind me that I wasn’t forgotten, phone calls to check in.  I had a friend who watched the same episode of Gilmore Girls from a  different part of the country, a friend who let me sit in her office when she worked, just so I could have some semblance of a routine, an old boss who would let me wander into a Wednesday morning chapel service just so I could listen to a group of people singing together.

I dated one guy while I was sick.  It didn’t make sense.  I couldn’t give him that much attention and energy–and honestly I just wasn’t that interested.

And since the beginning of me and Chelsea’s friendship, we’ve been close.  If you go back to the beginning of this blog, you will read about our time together, in what was expected to be the last few months of her life.  I have loved her more deeply than any other friend at this point in my life.

This deep, sacrificial love, without a sexual of romantic component are key descriptors of what being asexual is like for me.  The Divine shows me her/their goodness primarily through friendship: deep committed friendship.

The more that I’ve come home to my sexuality these last several months, the more honest I’m being with myself about how I connect with the Divine.

I connect in deep friendship, in solitude and silence, through breathing/energy work, in paying attention to my dreams, through exercise and movement, through liturgy and ritual, in greeting a stranger, through really incredible food. I connect through story and poetry.

For now, for me to show up as uniquely me in this world-I am apart of the institutional Christian church, the Episcopal church to be precise.  And I’m also in regular conversation with those who are searching, exploring, wandering-and who consider themselves spiritual, but not religious.

For me to show up in this world-as the true me-I make sure that there’s margin to visit the sick.  I make time for my friends with chronic illness who may go through a flare or end up in the ER.

And because I’m a sensitive person, work with students who struggle, and I show up for my friends–I must show up for myself.  I must connect with myself meaningfully, and not just through traditional self-care, but through being aware of how I’m speaking to myself, aware of how much time I’m taking just for me, without needing to defend or justify my choices to anyone.  How much time I let myself off the hook and just be bored.

I connect to Spirit so much more fully in my rest than in my work, though both are needed and necessary.  Stillness and silence have become especially essential the more I understand who I truly am.  Since I am in tune with my own energy, others’ energy, the energy of the earth-I must rest in order that this messaging or downloading can occur.

And above all, my illness, my greatest teacher, has taught me how to rest.  That I must lay down my responsibility down and rest for the good of myself and the world.

For I must show up as my true self in the world.

The deeply spiritual, sensitive, asexual woman that I am.

May we all follow life and love and discover who we really are.

Five Years of Friendship

Five years ago, I met this dear friend of mine.  It just so happened that she was in my interview group, when she was interviewing for the Memphis Teacher Residency.

She got in, and was assigned to spend her residency year at my school.  Then I quit my position right before school started, and she ended up teaching in my classroom (and she wasn’t very happy with me!)

We watched Big 10 basketball together while living in the South, while everyone else was concerned with Ole Miss & Alabama.

When I got very sick, and left Memphis for Indy, I didn’t really think that we would stay in touch.  But we did–and oh, our friendship has been both the best & the hardest thing.

We’ve traveled a lot of hard ground together–more than most friends do in a lifetime.  At times, I’ve been overwhelmed with the grief of it all.  At other times, I rest in my gratitude for a loyal and committed friend who knows me so well.  Of course it’s both/and.

Last night was simply a “Thanks for being my friend” kinda night. At. Ted’s Montana Grill.  Taking occasional glimpses at March Madness scores here and there.

Yet, 2018 is a big year for both us–for different reasons.  Yet, we both still get to be a witness to it all-the good and the bad, our back-and-forth illnesses, new jobs, graduations, baptisms, a book being written, new friendships being made, my confirmation into the Episcopal Church (more on this later!)

It’s been a privilege to be a witness to healing-both mine & Chelsea’s over the last several years.  We are both better, for having been committed friends.

 

Gratitude

I attended a Wednesday morning Eucharist service at my church last week.  I took deep breaths and opened the Book of Common Prayer, and listened to the Scriptures being read, and I turned to the elderly women sitting by me during the Passing of the Peace.

One woman shook my hand, looked me in the eyes, and said,

“You have the prettiest smile.  Thanks for making my day.”

I sat back down in my seat, breathed even more deeply, my thighs resting more heavily.  Immediately, I thought of writing my blog post about just wanting my smile to return.  I wasn’t faking it.  It was a real smile; and it was lighter.  Healing is happening and I am smiling.

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As I sat with my spiritual director last month, and we spoke briefly about Lent.  We spoke about how hard, how tiring the last 5 years have been.  How it’s been a long Lent.  How my hope is that in this Lent, that more and more healing will emerge.  And she just sat with me in my hope.

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I just attended a Silent Retreat in Omaha with the Gravity Center.  50 of us meditated together, did yoga together, ate meals silently together.  And when we could finally talk, one woman asked me my name, and then said, “I’m so glad I know your name now.  Alyssa-the one with the most effortless, beautiful smile.”

Happy tears welled up in my eyes, as others were giving voice to the profound amount of healing that has happened these last four months.

As others ask about the retreat, I’m saying, “I keep moving more and more deeply into the process of letting go.  And a by-product of letting go is joy.”

The last night of the retreat, we all sat silently in the chapel and were led through a lovingkindness meditation.

We repeated the mantra:

May I be well.

May I have love.

May I find peace in this life.

And then we repeated this mantra for our loved ones & for our enemies.

May you be well.

May you have love.

May you find peace in this life.

As a group claiming various or no faith tradition, we were opening ourselves up to Love, so we could love.  And it was beautiful.

Small Moments of Bravery

 

I walk into Westfield library on Monday afternoon to tutor a few of my students.  All the study rooms were taken, so I sat down at a table in the adult common area, put my headphones in and started my Facetime session with my first student.

Even though my headphones were in, I could still hear most of the conversation next to me, another person doing a remote tutoring session.  Our roles were flipped though; she was the student and I was the tutor.

Her tutor would dictate a sentence and she would say each word as she wrote it, and then correct it.  This format repeated for about an hour, as the student would comment about words that were difficult, or praise herself for long words spelled correctly.

After both of our sessions were over, we had a short conversation.  She rushed into the heart of her story without skipping a beat; “I’m 60 years old, and just learning how to spell and write.  I didn’t learn how to read until I was in my 30’s.”

I smiled and just said, “You’re really brave.”

“Thank you.”

She asked me what it’s like to be a tutor and thanked me for the work that I do.  My next student came and prematurely cut off our conversation, and yet this everyday conversation marked me.

It was simple, and yet time seemed to hover a move a little more slowly than usual.  This woman told me that she was writing a book about her story with learning disabilities, and how she got through school without really knowing how to read or write.

In my line of work, I’m aware of how many children and adults can’t read; so her story didn’t surprise me. Yet what marked me was how she had embraced her limitation–and yet was desiring to give her creativity to the world, in a way that was most difficult to her.

I’m a better person for meeting her, even though I don’t even know her name.

The tenacity with which she knows that she has something to say to the world is contagious.  And she wants to find her voice now.  And she knows that it’s not too late.

May we all know that it’s never too late to find our voices.

Winter 2018 Health Update & What’s Saving My Life Right Now

I haven’t shared a “formal” update of how I’ve been doing health-wise, so I thought I would update everyone.

The winter has been incredible for me.  There have been quite a number breakthroughs in my health in ways that I can’t entirely explain.  Winter has been a season of trying new things, diving into friendships, feeling more established in my business.  There has been both hard work & joy, challenging, yet simple decisions that needed to be made.

The season of winter has accelerated my healing in the last few years, and so I’ve learned to take intentional steps to slow down, and make sure that my body is responding appropriately to nature’s signals.  That meant that the Christmas season had a much slower pace, and I just said no to lots of things.  Joining Wayfinding’s conversations and practices around a simpler holiday season were life-giving and grounding for me.

I took a 4 week Christmas break because I could!  At the end of those 4 weeks, I attended the Mystic Soul Conference, where I was encouraged to breathe in community.  I was challenged and encouraged.

I’ve been meeting with an EMDR therapist since October, and our work together has been very fruitful.  She’s helped to guide me back to my body’s knowledge–that I hadn’t lost my voice, it was just buried under heaps of trauma.

I decided not to join a yoga studio, but instead to learn Qigong at the Indy Healing Center.  Qigong is an energy practice, and the movements, have not only helped me continue to connect with my own body, but my own energy, in a very deep way.  I’m excavating my own limiting beliefs through this practice and becoming more and more aware of how my mind has been affected by illness.  I’m learning about the organ systems, and what it means to be out of balance.  This practice has been a huge part of the transformational work I’m doing right now!

I’ve been breathing!  Deeply and in healing ways.  I start my morning with a breath work practice, reminding myself of my own powerful life force, and I transition from breathing into writing for 20 minutes before I start my day. I participated in several group breath work classes this winter as well.

I’m choosing to believe that my narrative is so much more important than my health stats & numbers.  My latest food allergy test revealed that I have healed a lot of my food allergies, although my candida still remains stubborn.  I’m starting to wonder/believe/hope that I can heal my candida through energy work, rather than loads of supplements & medicines.

My qigong teacher stated as a side comment in class, “Thyroid issues start to show up when a person is no longer able to express their purpose.” That statement was meant for me.  For I’m discovering that the more I speak my truth in public (not just in my journal!), the healthier I feel.  After years of processing and grief (and generally being stuck and too much in my head), I finally connected to the Energy needed to forgive.  And I will need this to keep on forgiving, myself included.

I’m working a full-time job, and I’m doing well.  I’m learning how to conserve my energy, how to guide my students daily, and yet how to regain that energy that I gave while teaching for several hours per day.   It’s amazing.  I had no idea if full-time was even possible or what it would look like–but it’s here and it’s good.  My smile is coming back.

I found my way to a new church, St. Christopher’s Episcopal.  There is this energetic draw to the Christian church that I’m trying to find words for.  And I’m a millennial, quite aware of the issues at hand, and that more and more people are leaving the church in droves.  I think I’m asking “Why am I here?” while I keep on attending.  More questions than answers, and that’s quite alright.

What is saving my life right now?

  • My own breath
  • Forgiveness
  • Writing on the question “Who am I & how do I know?”
  • Telling the truth
  • Becoming reacquainted with my strength
  • Gluten-free BBQ chicken pizza from Jan’s Village Pizza (Westfield shout-out!)
  • Laughter about trying to make Paleo frosting that tasted great but looked awful!
  • Playing a well-loved hand-made game of go-fish dyslexia-style, with several of my students.
  • Friday night pizza ritual coming back–can you tell I’ve been missing pizza?!
  • Falling asleep watching the Olympics
  • Brunch, and coffee, and dinner with friends.
  • A London fog at Noble Coffee & Tea, to make lesson planning more bearable.
  • Qigong, particularly the “Dragon Stands Between Heaven & Earth”
  • Impact statements from the Larry Nassar case-such bravery & honesty in the quest of healing.
  • An introduction into ancestral healing at the Mystic Soul Conference

Diagnosis Day!

On Saturday, I celebrated my diagnosis day.  3 years of having lived with the diagnosis of Hashimoto’s.  It’s been a crazy journey these three years, often very difficult and isolating.  In the midst of the pain and seeming unfairness of it all, there have been some beautiful moments: being attuned and witnessing my own healing journey, the friendships that have formed, starting my own business, and learning to sit with difficult emotions more fully.

I’ve discovered a love of cooking and I’ve honed my writing skills. I’ve found yoga and meditation, contemplative Christianity, and my own inner drive to persevere.  I’m learning to lean into my intuition, my emotions, and my spirituality.  I’m writing a book about the gifts that have been gained from my illness.  I’m gaining life and wisdom from stories, both in digging more deeply into my own and in listening to others.

I posted a few weeks ago about Sick Woman Theory.  After I read it, I wrote a poem, dedicated to Johanna Hevda, the originator of Sick Woman Theory.  This is for all those who are sick, and who feel like they have to fight to be seen and who have been dismissed way too many times.

To All Those Who Shouldn’t Have Made It, But Did, And Do

for Johanna Hevda

You’re here.  You’ve gotten out of bed in some miraculous way.  

 

You showed up.  Maybe that took all your spoons.

 

I’m honored that you chose to spend your limited energy here, with me.

 

But I realize that you didn’t have to; and that would not be wrong.  

 

Funny how we define right and wrong, isn’t it?

 

Funny how we place blame on the sick bodies, those lazy people lying in bed

 

And yet, we are too afraid of their power when in public?

 

 

In our society, sick bodies are queer; and in fact, many queer people are sick.

 

We feel the deviance in being a mystic; so many of the contemplative texts come from sick bodies.  

 

So white contemplatives:  next time we quote from Hildegard of Bingen or Catherine of Sienna or Joan of Arc or Theresa of Avila or Julian of Norwich: remember their female sick bodies.  

 

Do not steal from them their insights, while ignoring their bodies.  

 

Back then they were mystics; now we shut people up in psych wards, give them medicine to numb them, and cut them off from community.  Maybe we should be listening.

 

We are cut off from community, even as we long to find each other.  And find each other we will.  We must.  

 

Blessed are you when you get out of bed, but people feel you should stay in bed to prove you are sick.  

 

Blessed are you when you stay in bed, because you know what rest means more than anyone around you.

 

Blessed are you when you speak up in order to be visible, but people prefer your invisibility.

 

Blessed are you when you are silent, connecting with the Divine, but people prefer to call you crazy.

 

Blessed are you when you go to the doctor, but the doctor calls you hysterical.  

 

Blessed are you when you are your own best doctor, because this white hetero-normative patriarchal medical institution really isn’t for you.

 

Blessed are you when you smile at the cashier, the first person you’ve made eye contact with all day.  

 

Blessed are you when someone looks away from you, because you just parked in a handicapped spot, but don’t look handicapped.

 

Blessed are you when you take time to breathe, for sometimes the earth is your best friend.

 

Blessed are you when you take time to scream, for your rage is justified.

 

Blessed are you, lying in bed all day, still hoping, still yearning for community.  

Blessed are you, seen though invisible, beautiful, though sick, hopeful in your agony.

To Breathe More Deeply

There’s so much I could say about Mystic Soul, and yet I’m not ready to.

Above all, it was an experience.  A very different experience of spirituality and justice and healing, than I’d ever experienced before–and it was so good.

Maybe all I can do for now is talk about the shifts, speak to how my friends of color across the country are trying to decolonize Christianity.  There was a tangible feeling of healing in the body, for everyone involved.  We all breathed much more deeply together.

We faced each other in a circle, rather than sitting in rows.

We never sat for a full-hour lecture.  We talked to each other, engaged in spiritual practice together, got out of our seats and talked to people we didn’t know.

We told personal stories, rather than just quote highly-acclaimed authors.

We participated in healing silence and ritual in community.

We valued rhythm over time, not prioritizing order & efficiency over healing.

We engaged the reality that sometimes contemplation is quiet & sometimes it is loud.

We returned to the effects of trauma and how we all need to be in touch with our personal narratives in order to heal.

At times, the room of 400 people was silent and we all just breathed deeply together.

I don’t think any of these realities fit into the questions, “How was it?” or “How were you impacted?” or “What are you going to do now?”

I experienced wholeness in community.

I knew I was in a room filled with the leaders of contemplative spirituality for today & tomorrow.  And I want to listen and keep listening.

 

 

The Waiting of Advent

 

My melancholy side naturally resonates with Advent on the Christian church calendar.  Waiting.  Longing. Questioning.  How long? Sitting in pain without knowing when it will stop.

If I make it more personal and actually ask myself the question,

“What are you waiting for?” there are so many answers I could come up with.

All would be valid.  None would be wrong.

I want healing for my body, for our nation, for division to stop, for pain to end, for all those who feel forgotten would be welcome, for the lonely to find meaningful community and friendships.  The list could go on and on.

What is at the top of my list though is:

Silliness.  Laughter.  Adventures. My smile.

I miss these parts of myself that have been suffocated by grief.  I miss the parts of my personality that have changed drastically in the process of illness.

You see, when I was 14, I was the happy-go-lucky kid.  It’s hard to believe that now.  I was silly.  I smiled and laughed all the time.  Yes, I was young and not so rooted in the world’s pain, and yet I miss her.  I miss the part of me that wasn’t so acquainted with grief, with pain, with fatigue.  I miss the girl who was always trying to make someone’s day just a bit brighter.

I know she’s still there, trying to emerge.

Some people today compliment me for my smile-and say, “I never would have known that you live with a chronic illness.  You make it look easy.”

I take this compliment for what it is, and yet in the back of my head I’m also thinking, “I miss my old smile.”

My smile now isn’t forced, but it’s weightier.  I can actually feel my jaw using more effort.  There’s more resistance now.  It doesn’t come quite so naturally.

One day (hopefully in the near future), I will write a book with a title something like this:  When Your Personality Changes Overnight: Chronic Illness in Your Teens and Twenties.  I will talk about that weighty smile and the laughter that seems to come with a small hesitation.

I’m back in therapy right now reprocessing trauma, helping my neural networks to find another route in my brain besides fear.  That seems to be the route most traveled.  Because of the length of my illness, and several traumas piled on top of each other, I’m spending this Advent season coming to accept the fact that I have a minor form of PTSD.

Living with PTSD is a humbling experience.  Learning to heal from PTSD is a stretching experience.  It’s taking all of my drive to go even deeper, to heal just a little bit more.  To be patient and kind to myself, as I mess up, as I cry (yet again!), as I long so deeply to be well, that I think I just can’t take any more pain.

Simple things make me profoundly happy.  A card.  A compliment.  An unexpected text. A drive down Meridian to see my sister.  On Saturday, we went to Winterlights at the IMA and it was wonderful.

Lightshows.  Bantering about why we hate taking pictures.  Going the wrong way into the Lilly House and being told we had to go around.  Watching kids run and teenagers dance to the Nutcracker.  Trying to find a place to park.  Deciding that we didn’t want $4 Swiss Miss and going to The Best Chocolate in Town 10 minutes before it closed to get Ghiradelli in our hot chocolate instead.  Laughing about how we should have brought in bags of our own marshmallows to sell so we could have made money for all those people wanting the perfect Christmas outing roasting smores at the IMA.

My night was a whole lot lighter because of laughter.  That’s what I’m waiting for this Advent.

Thankfulness and Apple Pie

I had a very restful, beautiful Thanksgiving.

The healthiest I’ve felt in a long time, even though fatigue came and went.

I was able to share cooking with my mom and I cooked for half the day on Wednesday and enjoyed eating and playing games on Thursday.

This Thanksgiving was more quiet.  I read a book on Native American wisdom this year and was outside more appreciating the land where I live, and grieving the exploitation of many.

And this year, Larry Nassar pled guilty for molesting young female athletes. I felt glad that in this long case, there have been glimpses of hope and justice.  And yet I grieve the fact that as a woman, assault is so rampant, and that so many women had to come forward for it to seem “believable.”

It’s a both/and world of thankfulness and grief.  I suppose you can’t truly be grateful unless you’ve grieved, or at least be grateful in a way that goes down deep.

As I’ve reflected on the past year, and all I’m grateful for–the list is long.  There are many people, and places, and lessons learned, and decisions made.  There have been new practices, new travels, new friendships.  Yet at the top of the list–I’m thankful that I’m discovering my voice.

I like what I hear and I’m discovering the rough edges that I need to integrate into my being and not suppress any longer.

You see, when you’re a victim of sexual assault, you start to distrust your body.  And if you can’t trust your body, you can’t trust your voice.  But that’s not the only piece of the story.

I’m also unraveling layers of being a woman in this culture and all the messages I’ve taken in about being too sensitive, too smart, too athletic, too intimidating, etc.  I don’t want to fit into the box of the “I can do it all-woman but still appear quiet and servant-hearted when the situation calls for it.”  I’m breaking those rules.  I’m learning to forge my own path and not just be in solidarity with a group, although that feels more comfortable.

I recognize how difficult it was to navigate the medical system as a teenager, when I had symptoms but nothing to show on lab tests.  I wanted a doctor who would believe that my body wasn’t lying–who would listen to me over science.  That’s hard to come by.  I internalized that I must edit my story to be believed, that I must fight to be seen.  These beliefs have wreaked havoc in my life–and yet I’m aware of them, and I’m learning just to be.

I’m thankful for yoga, for helping me believe in my body’s messages again.

I’m thankful for other body workers who believe that energy work changes lives.  It has changed mine.

I’m thankful for how my theology has expanded and grown–where the body must be in the picture now-or the belief is too narrow, too abstract, too ungrounded for me.

I’m thankful for a retreat in Omaha where I learned how to hold difference in silence and stillness.

I’m thankful that I started a business, even though it’s changed a lot of how my life looks.  I’m learning as I go 🙂

I’m thankful to connect with female small business owners who thrive on collaborating, on mutual sharing, and on wanting everyone to succeed.

I’m thankful for this journey of fighting for my health, of meeting others along the journey and letting our limitations enrich our friendship.

I’m thankful that I live in an apartment where I’m not reacting to mold.

I’m thankful for being able to eat apple pie.