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.

 

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Health Update-Summer 2018

 

Twice a year or so, I write an update about my health.  This post is largely for me, to look back at later, and see the progress, remember that each decision I made for my health and putting myself first was worth it.  And it’s also for many of you, who have been following my story for awhile now.

So far, this summer is going very well.  I had some pretty severe symptoms when the weather changed, due to hay fever, however, using some Chinese medicine principles, I’m able to address the sneezing, itching eyes, eye pain, and fatigue.

At this point last year, I was having severe reactions to mold both at my workplace, apartment, & church.  And each reaction just made the next reaction worse.  I was unable to detox and the brain fog that I felt was horrible.

So this year, I am glad that I’m not moving, that I’m not switching jobs and starting a business–that in general, my body is able to detox so much better and the environments that I am in are pretty clean.

And the few days where I’ve had a reaction, and I know that I’ve had a mold exposure or my allergies are bad–I have the option to hop in the sauna or take an epsom salt bath–even sometimes both.

When I met with my doctor on Friday, there wasn’t much to say except, “I’m doing really well.”  We tweaked a few things on my treatment plan, and yet the main question that remained is, “What percentage are you at–from absolute worst to feeling as good as you can?”

85%.  We talked about how I desire even greater stamina, even greater focus and mental cognition.  But I’m almost there.

It’s been quite the journey.  And I’m very glad that I’m doing fairly well during my hardest season of the year.

Thanks to everyone for encouraging my journey in doing what I’ve needed to do to heal: from switching doctors, to IV’s, to supplements, to yoga, to acupuncture, to massage, to therapy, to meditation, to qigong, to diet and reintroducing foods back in, and the list could go on.

It’s been quite the journey.  And having a strong support system has been key in my healing.  Thank you.

Lists & Affirmations

It’s funny when I have lots of ideas of what to post, and what feels most pressing is just to talk about the ordinary.  For the ordinary describes the whole.  The ordinary describes the mystery & all the inconsistencies of my life.

Walks & talks with friends old & new.

Waking up late & rushing to work.

Babysitting Cash, my roommate’s dog.  Visiting a few different parks.

Not setting an alarm & letting the sun wake me up.

Inconsistently practicing qi gong this week to Motown.  Great combo, by the way!

Drinking pomegranate tea in the morning.

Finishing up the semester with my students & giving assessments throughout most of the day.

Doing breath work with a friend over a lunch break.

Binging on NY style pizza & cookie dough while watching 13 Reasons Why.

Going on adventures & driving to new places on mornings off.

Indulging in my desire to rest & read.

Planning a summer vacation for myself.

Listening to my fatigue & choosing not to do much this weekend.

Having good days & having days where my allergies flare & my brain feels like mush.

I’ve written a lot this winter & spring.  So much is healing and shifting.  Fatigue and energy come and go.  I’m adding in new foods & taking red meat out of my diet.  I’m finishing out the first two semesters of teaching with my own business.  And I’m leaning into summer, with all its abundance and ordinary-ness.

I’m leaning into my own abundance, my own flexibility and spontaneity.  I’m catching myself when I shame myself for things I can’t do.  I’m practicing coming back to the present moment, being thankful for this body, this breath, even the fatigue, when it lingers longer than I want it to.

I’m reminding myself of how much better I’m doing than last summer.  I’m lingering in the gratefulness that this summer, I will not be moving or starting a new job.  I can trust my body; I can trust what it’s telling me, even if I don’t want to hear it.  I know that intense allergies are a sign of imbalance–yet I don’t have to let that discourage me, or lead me down a path of feeling powerless.

I can trust my body’s subtle signals that remind me that I must rest more than a lot of people do.  I can rest in the fact that my lack of “production” does not make me less valuable.  I can trust my own self-care and reach out for help or say no.  I can just be…things are important and urgent, and I can still just be.

I’m looking to nature to understand what summer is.  It’s indulgent.  It’s restful.  It simply enjoys its fullness and its transformation.

I’m watching for when I overdue it, for when summer’s nice weather is an excuse to push harder and to do more.  I want to come back to my fullness and simply enjoy what is.  This moment where I can just be.

When Spirit Slows Time Down

 

Last Friday night, my mom and I spent some time together, and then I dropped her off at home–and met some neighbors that were talking to my dad in the front yard.

Within a minute, I knew there was this deep connection, and as I listened to stories, I quickly knew why.

Health journeys.  Unbelief from doctors, friends, family.  Youthful optimism, yet shouldering a huge weight.  Wanting someone just to “get it.”

As I looked at this high school girl–who appeared healthy and athletic–I could still see fear of the unknown behind her eyes.  Doctors’ appointments.  Lacrosse tournaments.  End of the year exams.  Exhaustion.  The “What-if?” questions. The wisdom beyond her years that hard times bring.

My parents had already shared with this family some of my story, my symptoms, how it started in high school, how no one really knew what was wrong.

She told me about going to see a cardiologist next week and doing a tilt table test.  I said, “I’ve done that.  It’s kinda weird.”  She wanted to know all the details and what to expect.

She told me about finally passing out in front of the doctor, and being so relieved that the doctor saw this happen, so that now he would believe her.

I made a quick comment about gender bias in medicine.

I went on to tell her my fainting symptoms and heart palpitations in high school–and that I was a female athlete, who could still compete fairly well under pressure, even with my health issues.

And then I stopped, and took a pause.  ‘I’m here, and I also know that helpful advice or stories, or research can often be unhelpful.  Just know that we have similar symptoms & I know a ton, yet I also know that each body is unique and complex.  I can listen or I can share, or I can do both.  Whatever is most helpful to you at any given time.”

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As we were talking, time slowed down.  I thought back to the hundreds of times I heard, “Well, there must be some reason you are going through this–your illness will be immensely helpful to others some day.”

Of course, on one level, these people were right.

And yet, as a kid, with this statement cloaked in a conservative Christian framework, I couldn’t help but feel like the “only purpose” of my illness was to help other people.  That people already had chosen my purpose for me–even though the illness wasn’t theirs.  I felt like my story, my wandering, my questioning, anger and pain, was quickly given a purpose without the journey.  This statement also felt inauthentic–and it was.

Largely because my illness is/was for me.  For my own healing.  To come home to myself.  Without my inner work, how I engage in showing up for others is more destructive than helpful.  And growing up, I didn’t really have models of someone being vulnerable in their grief, moving through their grief and engaging the world in a new way.

And as I fell down and got back up-I learned that to a large extent, grief is personal.  No one could know the inner landscape of my soul, as I sought to heal.  However, a community could come alongside and hold space.

Ironically though, this was a moment, where I could come back to a phrase that felt so trite at the time, “Your illness will be extremely valuable to others one day’ and knew deep in my body, that this was what they meant.

I’ve journeyed along with others and their illnesses for several years now.  Several of my friends have a long and complex health story.  And yet this girl, reminded me so much of myself.  Same age when my symptoms were surfacing.  Same age when I finally decided to quit the track team.  Crazy tests at secluded wings of the hospital.

Spirit had meaning infused into every detail of that evening.  The fact that the history walking tour that my mom and I were doing went longer than I thought. The fact that my mom had surgery and so I was driving her home.  That we pulled into the driveway as this family was in my parents’ front yard.

I don’t want to overlook those small details.

I’m sure dozens of stories will be shared in the future.  I will listen, share my wisdom, most importantly hold space.  I will show up, having done my inner work, and will keep doing my inner work.  It’s not about helping; it’s about being together, and gleaning from our collective wisdom.

Here’s to more stories shared.  For space to laugh, cry & connect.  For others to not feel so alone.

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.

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