Some Late May Thoughts…

Sunset in Cicero, IN, May 2019.

A lot is starting to settle. It’s the end of the school year, and internally I’m doing a lot of reflecting. Gratitude is rising to the surface. Acknowledging the movement and accomplishments thus far, seems important.

I remember last summer. The increased energy I had. The nervousness and excitement as I looked forward to fall–with the ability to do more than I had in 5 or 6 years. I didn’t know if I was choosing to do too much. Like any illness though, you just have to try and adjust as needed.

I’m here to say, that I made it! There were many tiring days, as there will be! And yet I started my second year of my spiritual direction program, I embarked on my second year with my business, my students and families, I led a book group, and became more integrated within my church and with the online chronic fatigue community. I’m getting help creating a new website which will be up mid-summer!

I took time to rest, and yet realized I still needed more. I spent a short weekend up in Michigan, which I promised myself I would do more of. I’ve read tons of books, adjusted spiritual practices, have allowed myself to grieve, and laugh, go blueberry picking and apple picking, and not go to church on snow days. I’ve gone on many walks, visiting so many parks.

I’ve been examining my belief that “once I become healthier, I need to start doing more again.” Unearthing all that goes into this belief, has been a huge part of my year. Because I also want to rest more, to lean into pleasure, to be less productive just because. I want to explore without an agenda.

My worth isn’t tied to my work, and I am proud of the work that I do.

I do need quite a bit of time in solitude, and I long to be connected to community, even as my understanding of community continues to change and shift.

I feel like what is being brought to the surface is that I don’t need to punish myself for acknowledging my privileges. I can still be deeply connected to pleasure and to ask for what I need and be a white person.

Showing up to pleasure does not mean that I’m going to forget that I’m white! Sure, things can be challenging and confusing. And good things can also be filled with ease and joy. Sometimes, many times, actually I just don’t need to try that hard.

There will be many that don’t agree with this, and yet I am following my body’s wisdom. (And Pleasure Activism by adrienne maree brown is a pretty great book too!) I do believe that I’m on this earth to experience rest, joy, and pleasure. And I want to practice these things more with myself and with others.

Oh–and I’ve been writing this blog for over 4 years, since I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s. Writing this has been a joy, my lifeline, my way to find myself again over and over. This blog will probably be changing soon, and I hope you will still come and read what I’m writing on my new website.

As for gratitude, here’s a few things that have made me smile recently.

  • Sunsets in Cicero, Indiana on Morse Reservoir
  • The children’s book Stonewall: A Building, an Uprising, A Revolution
  • Gluten-free lemon cake from Aldi!
  • Walks at Cool Creek Park with Cash
  • Disability Visibility Podcast with Alice Wong
  • Saturday morning farmer’s markets
  • My writing soon to be published on The Mighty!
  • Red Refresh Herbal Tea
  • The Nap Ministry

You may see less posts this summer to leave time for adventures and exploring. As summer comes, I’m going to relish time to just be.

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How to Be Loved: A Memoir of Lifesaving Friendship

I just finished this book earlier this week.

I saw it out of the corner of my eye when I was leaving the library after work on Friday afternoon. I read the title and immediately thought, “I need to read this.”

Thankful that I did.

Friendship has always been an essential and life-giving pulse to my life. And this book describes the dynamics of friendships within chronic illness and cancer and brain surgeries. And friendships are not the sub-plot, secondary characters–but friendship is the main thrust of the entire book.

I laughed and cried. I cherished this book, because in so many ways I felt like I was reading my story. Not because all the details were the same, yet similar thematic arcs.

2 people white people socialized as female. Dismissed by the medical system. Highly competitive, thinking you can just push through. Used to being individualistic, self-reliant. High disregard for the body. Begin to undergo this process of softening, begins seeing friends as people right in front of them, accepting what they have to offer. And from this transformation, seeing the world differently. Starting to see the systems behind individual illness cases.

“Parity was all I’d ever known about friendship. That a certain kind of score was kept. That reciprocity might not happen immediately, but that it needed to happen at some point: the invitation returned, the dinner bought, the phone call answered, the paper edited, the money sent. But I couldn’t reciprocate. Definitely not now, and possibly not ever. I think maybe just let them love you? Allison said, after another friend had come, given me food and a book, and left. I told her I’d try.”

The entire book explores the question, “What is the role of receptivity in friendship?” Can I just receive love because I believe I am worthy? And yet the book also dives into the difficult dynamics of boundaries within friendship, knowing one’s limits, what friendships can look like when multiple people have an illness. And of course, asking for help.

I’m so grateful this book has been written. I’m so grateful for my friendships–past and present. This memoir leaves everyone with the question, ‘To what extent am I valuing my friendships in the present moment?”

In Gratitude for Mel Gardner

I just learned that my EMDR therapist died in early May.

Without using this language directly in therapy (although if therapy moved in this direction, by white therapists, that would be fantastic!): I started to learn of the harmful affects of white supremacy and internalized sexism on my body. I started to learn that complex PTSD was not really about the cumulative effects of my individual mistakes–but the systems in operation in and around me.

In our first session I was asked, “How do you know when you are done with therapy?”

My answer: “When I accept myself more fully.”

We often talked about the deep aptitude I have for solitude, how I long for it. And how terrified I was of being alone in my body. How terrified I was for seeing myself clearly, because then I have the choice to enjoy and take responsibility for my life.

Through EMDR’s contemplative & stream of consciousness processing, I experienced how my trauma blocked my own truth-telling, my own self-definition, my own intuition. I was scared to be seen for fear of being abandoned. I saw my own unhealthy relationship with white men, having been raised to be independent, yes–but also to be suspect of my desires and to feel vulnerable without their protection. To maintain the status quo as a white person–namely white supremacy, capitalism, and heteropatriarchy.

I felt a deep disgust and ache in my gut for the ways not trusting my intuition left me complicit. Left me doubting and second-guessing myself constantly. Not truly able to show up for myself or anyone else in an authentic way.

Mel held space for me to say yes to myself. To my desires. To my rest. To my own pleasure and love. Mel had faith that the best parts of myself would emerge over time, when I didn’t know if I had the perseverance anymore.

I entered therapy with an urgency. I didn’t have much money; I really didn’t know how long I could afford therapy. What I didn’t know was that I finished my time with her 3 months before she got cancer. I met her just in time.

Mel Gardner was direct, affirming, and held space for my own rage and agency. She believed on a spiritual level that waiting could be anxiety and trauma in disguise. She believed in healthy anger to propel confidence and intuition. She believed in the ability of the brain and body to heal–but not in a complete, linear way devoid of the unknown. She knew that we need to co-create our reality; that we need to speak to our inner child gently, over and over again. To be in community that affirms our existence, our thriving, our gifts.

“Know that when you drift, there’s time to find your way back to yourself.”

Rest well, Mel. And thank you, thank you, thank you.

Springtime

Photo by Gariele Wright on Unsplash

A big part of my continued healing journey is syncing my lifestyle with the seasons.

I really do love winter, in ways I haven’t come to love until recently. My birthday is in January, so is Christmas. I love staying inside, watching shows and reading. I do a vast amount of my reading for the year in the winter. And the energy that I preserve in the winter, I draw upon for the rest of the year.

My body knows when springtime is coming, not just because of the warmer weather. My body feels the dampness, the humidity, the pollen in the air, the invisible mold particles in ways other bodies do not.

Spring is the season of newness and renewal, and also the toughest season on my body. There’s a lot of practices that I adopt, particularly in the spring–whether it’s showering at night, taking quercetin to help with my histamine reactions to food, eating lower histamine foods, using a netti pot, more epsom salt baths to help clear my brain, more walks in parks and by creeks.

Spring means rest too, although the rest looks differently than winter. I take time out of my schedule to recover from environmental reactions–whether it be perfume, humid weather, a damp building. I have less reactions than I used to, and for this I’m very thankful. And I’m also glad for the shifts in belief as I heal. I love my body much more than a year ago.

I really don’t need to be more productive. So I’m going at my own pace. I finish my training in spiritual direction in just 6 weeks and I’m preparing now to launch a new website sometime this summer. These feel like big moments for my body, because setting up times to have new pictures done and having people help me with my website is very welcome help–and yet, it’s more appointments to fit in, and depending on the day, my body may or may not have energy for those.

Some days I come home from work, eat dinner and get in bed. That’s all I can do.

I’ve been haunted in a good way from the question, “What does it mean to get well, to be healed?” When that question is posed by doctors, it’s like my answer should fit into this ableist world –something to the effect of, “I can work a 60 hour/week job, run around after work with friends or family, thrive on 5 hours of sleep, and drink lots of coffee without having it affect my work or health.” That’s not my reality–and it’s not a reality I want.

Even though I have more energy than 5 years ago–I’m still tired. A lot. I still have work days that I barely get through. A lot of my free time is still spent resting, recovering, saving up energy to go to bigger events. I have free time that is spent at the doctor, at the chiropractor, in spiritual direction myself.

My tired body has asked me to make really clear what I have energy for and what I don’t. What I prioritize making time for, and what I don’t. My body lets me know when my actions are out of step with my values because extra fatigue will surface.

I still spent a lot of time in my bed. This can surprise people, because I can show up to more things than I used to. But so much writing, so much reading, listening to podcasts & music, watching movies and shows happens in bed. And these are all things I really enjoy. My bed feels like home. And the solitude that I exist in & have helped create feels beautiful.

Last weekend, I spent a lot of time by myself. I needed to rest. I needed to be in a really low-stimulation environment in order to gain some equilibrium back. And I read Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice-the entire book in less than 24 hours. Time slowed down, I breathed deeper. I’ve been longing to learn about the history and origin story of disability justice for awhile, and it was a joy to learn, to be. I will be writing more in later posts!

For now I’m returning to the quiet, when I need it, because as astrologer Shaunga Tagore said in my birth chart reading, “There’s so much life in the quiet.”

I need the quiet as I embrace what is unfolding this springtime, even as I rest. Even as I undo the belief that “Warmer weather means that I need to be busier.” Even as I anticipate the change that is coming.

Who I’ve Been Reading/Listening To in Bed Regarding Disability Justice!

Agender

My healing journey has taken me back to my younger self, to ask for wisdom.  To see what I was like, to see how I’ve distanced from aspects of myself that I want to reunite again.  To remember and to ask new questions. 

I loved being alone.

I loved to be in nature.

I loved to create and be in imaginary worlds.

I loved the stars.

I loved walks.

I loved to be reflective, to listen to my mind’s inner workings. 

I was shy. 

I’m returning to this wisdom.  Through returning, I keep learning to access this intuitive wisdom, my empathic nature. 

This fundamental draw towards friendship with humans, with the earth, with animals speaks to my nature—and one that I pushed aside for so long for the sake of productivity. 

I’m returning because what I do stems from who I am.

And I’m returning to speak about gender.

I know that gender has always felt ambiguous to me. 

Not ambiguous like it doesn’t matter. 

More like, whenever a situation presented itself as “masculine” or “feminine” I felt like I needed to shift a part of myself to “fit in.”

I didn’t really have language for this though.  I’ve never been into hair, make-up and dressing up.  EVER. 

It wasn’t even like I wanted to care that much about it though.  I just didn’t. 

I felt really uncomfortable because the only option it seemed like when I didn’t care about the things many women care about is that I was repressed. 

And because I grew up in a very conservative Christian environment, it seemed like the only healing path sounded like this:

“You know, it’s really okay to bring attention to yourself.  You should make yourself stand out.  You deserve it.”

I liked sports.  Played sports.  Followed sports.  I had several guy friends and yet I was overcompensating in this “masculine energy” (at least that’s how a lot of people refer to it.)  because that’s how I learned to be recognized and rewarded. 

Be rational. 

Be competitive.

Win.

Protect yourself.

Fight for power.

I never felt like I was in the wrong body.  I never wanted to be a boy.  Over time I realized I needed to let go of needing to overemphasize my masculine energy just to be seen. 

Interacting in this unbalanced way didn’t serve me well.  It didn’t allow me to know myself, know others, let go, receive.

In the holistic health world–this journey could be called balancing the masculine and feminine energy. 

I needed this journey.  I needed to know how much “feminine energy” I hold in my body.  My empathy, my intuition, the way I nurture and cultivate myself and communities. 

These energies are strong within me.  But simply the divide doesn’t make sense to me.

I don’t feel masculine or feminine.  I don’t feel like I belong to either gender.  I don’t feel like these energies are separate and in need of “balancing.”

That’s known as agender–an identity in the non-binary spectrum. 

As I reflect on how this has functioned throughout my life, the common thread has been my natural inclination for minimalism. 

My aesthetic is simple & low maintenance (hair, clothing, make-up, jewelry).  Things for me must be functional–and for me this is not a statement of repression. 

But as a way to tread lightly on the earth, while not ignoring responsibility or personal power. 

This way of being does amplify my spiritual/connection energy and it’s not saying the earth and the body are bad or meaningless. 

It’s simply just a way I move through the world with greater connection, in love with myself and others, the Divine and the Earth. 

The greatest movement towards understanding my gender occurred at the height of my illness when I was simplifying my lifestyle. 

When my energy was so limited that I knew that to heal I would do less, eat less kinds of food, work less, see people less. 

I knew in my body that less could be revolutionary. 

And this movement wasn’t a commitment to minimalism.

It was necessary for my survival first. 

Then my thriving. 

Then my acceptance of myself. 

So I keep on returning to my younger self for wisdom. 

This kid who had a strong connection with nature, with kids, with older people, with the stars. 

This kid who had strong, aggressive energy who loved to run, to be outside.  This kid who both absolutely loved to win, and sometimes didn’t want to compete at all.

This kid who went through phases of dress up and dolls and wearing dresses non-stop because I loved them.  This kid who also became really content with spandex, sweatshirts and sweatpants, and not as a way to hide. 

This kid who spent summers building forts, who wrote letters to everyone, who fell asleep with books all around me in bed. 

This kid who accepted this role of just trying to please.  Who absorbed a lot of the energy of scarcity, even while living amongst privilege. 

There was a scarcity of connection, of deep relational exchange in my family of origin.

And yet I had deep relationships with friends, with nature and I internalized that my depth was something to fear.

I realized that there were gender rules and that i didn’t really fit.  So tomboy just worked for awhile.  It helped me to make sense of myself. 

But in order to make this “work” I suppressed a lot of my “feminine” energy. 

Through oppressive church teachings about what it meant to be a “woman” I lost a huge part of myself. 

I tried to be a tomboy, to be smart & to be good. 

And I stayed in this place for a long time. 

Just trying to please and do what was expected of me.  I didn’t leave a lot of room for wonder or exploration anymore. 

I was overwhelmed with this feeling of being different and being sick. 

But being sick made me look at myself.  And I learned to honor myself, to accept what I could not control and saw that many of the things I repressed in myself were keeping me sick.  

It was from my own physical healing, where emotional and spiritual healing also occured (of course!)

Curiosity, life & wonder returned. 

With that came questions about gender & sexuality–and then wonderings, and then affirmations. 

Alyssa (she/her and they/them)

Thoughts about Writing

Photo by Simson Petrol on Unsplash

writing has always been how i process, how i make sense of the world, how i just write in my journal like i’m talking to a friend.

writing is how i’ve learned to be a friend to myself.

writing is how i learned to tell the truth. and gave me courage to actually speak it out loud. and i continue to learn truth-telling and courage daily.

writing will always be there.

writing can happen anywhere. i just wrote while eating breakfast at a favorite local spot and i got stared at like “why are you alone and why are you writing?” to which my inward reply was, “why wouldn’t i be writing?”

writing allows me to be disorganized. this enneagram 1 needs a few spaces that are messy and completely disorganized. my journal is one of those places.

writing need not be published to have value.

i teach writing to students who hate writing and i think that’s funny. and i don’t tell them that they need to like writing.

i have enjoyed not blogging as much this year. but i’ve probably written more. i’ve almost finished my second journal of the year already.

writing helps me to cultivate my interior depth. and i’m learning to love this about myself more and more.

writing allows me to be petty or silly. or both.

writing reminds me not to take myself so seriously, and also to take myself seriously. writing can hold all that ambiguity.

writing is a companion through all the emotions.

Diagnosis Day

On February 3, 2015 I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s. That day changed my life in many ways, and it was also ordinary.

After the 2 hour long appointment, I took a nap, and read all this literature about changing my diet. Yet, that was the starting point.

I’ve learned so much these last 4 years–and I keep learning. There’s been deep inner work, there’s been healing, and yet an ongoing realization that I don’t just exist on this earth to produce things. I exist just to be. To be myself. To be in loving relationship. To love myself.

So healing for me hasn’t been about “getting my life back.” The life I had before my diagnosis was pretty empty. I thought belonging was about fitting in and being able to do what I saw my friends doing.

It’s not. Healing is about knowing myself, knowing others, knowing the Divine.

My illness has led me to this place; and at this point I count it as a gift. I would never wish this illness on anyone, and to those who have it, I would say, “maybe the invitation is to find who you really are.”

No more over-extending. No more not speaking my truth.

Sure, I will make mistakes and lose my way. But I trust myself to find my lane again. And that makes all the difference.

Oh-and please check out The Nap Ministry.

And please check out Rest for Resistance.

Below is the ending of a poem I wrote to commemorate this year’s Diagnosis Day. My illness is speaking to me.

I am a lonely companion, taking you to peer at this shifty shadow. But I am near, and you will grow. Yes, slow. Yes, risk. Yes, joy. Yes, help. Yes, you are stronger than you ever dare know.

Taking Deep Breaths

Photo by Victor Garcia on Unsplash

I saw the doctor yesterday. It was a good appointment. I went on a few new supplements (after going off almost all of them last spring because I was doing so much better!) to help with the ongoing GI infection that affects the absorption of nutrients.

I was reminded that I am sick.

This feels like an unusual statement even to write. Of course, I know, and yet as healing happens, it can be difficult to actually grasp how much I am doing right now–and how much rest I still need and want to engage in, because of all that I’m doing.

I was reminded in a simple way that as life goes on and I meet new people, that each person knows a piece. That’s how life is.

My doctor told me that I needed to slow down, needed to simplify, needed to go back to eating less inflammatory foods, while I continue to heal my GI tract. Yes, I needed that reminder.

Healing is fluid. Sometimes healing means doing more. Sometimes doing less. It requires a receptive posture and a deep trust in one’s intuition to know the difference.

Sometimes it means accepting & heeding warnings from others, and sometimes it means simply knowing that they don’t truly understand and their advice is coming from their own discomfort. Trusting myself, while still being deeply connected in relationship.

I also just started seeing an amazing chiropractor. I’m thankful. I’ve been having increasing low back & neck pain. He just told me yesterday that my body has a difficult time truly resting; sinking into my parasympathetic nervous system. And I said, “Yep, that sounds about right!” The every day task of healing from an autoimmune disease, and living with it. And connecting with this phenomenon on a spiritual plane and knowing this is also connected to ancestry and whiteness. I carry a lot in my body and healing is my task in this lifetime.

I was reminded how light it feels to ask for help. To accept help from humans, but also from nature, from the Divine. To accept help from friends, from scientists, from plants, from myself, from doctors, from family, from my ancestors.

I sat down with a friend for lunch today, who also lives with chronic illness, and just explained how difficult it is to be working full time and finishing out my spiritual direction certification right now. We talked about pacing-about the dance of adding things in, needing to cut them out, and knowing the right time for each. Trusting the wisdom of the body. Taking ourselves seriously and be willing to accept what we need. Taking ourselves lightly, and knowing that whatever we are saying “no” to isn’t us “missing out” but it’s a gateway for permission to say yes for what we really need in the moment. Everything will be okay without us, even if being absent stings a little bit.

I said “no” to being present for a presentation that I helped plan for a few months. And I moved on, accepting that the no was the right thing for me.

In the midst of all these personal decisions, Nathan Phillips sang in the midst of racist acts by the Covington Catholic white boys, and Martin Luther King was honored in some places, and white-washed in others.

I’m talking with my students, teaching, guiding, laughing–pushing back against “love & light” MLK quotes, talking about the Covington Catholic white boys’ racism–pushing back against white silence.

Then there’s resting. And detaching myself from outcomes. And accepting that I’m not in control. And breathing deeply. 2019 is bringing deeper acceptance of this quiet work. It’s already helping me create a new container around what is mine to do.

I’m in my Saturn return year! And I’m excited to see what changes, where I expand and grow and heal. And also, everything is intense (And this Capricorn season kinda felt terrible!) And I’m claiming what belongs, and learning to see what I need to let go of, where I need to become softer.

A Day to Practice

The practice of reflection and setting goals in the New Year is a funny one to me. The mind can dream big and it can play small. We can express lofty hopes or hide behind our fears.

This practice isn’t “bad”; I engage in it myself. And yet the good-bad binary doesn’t get us very far. What struck me today, as it does most days, is that my body has far more to say than my mind. I’ve been socialized to see what my mind has to say as more valid, more important, more urgent, more in need of attention, love & care. This is what colonization does; elevate the mind to the detriment of everything else—mind, soul & spirit.

I slept well last night, even though I went to bed past midnight. But I woke up exhausted, sad even. I engaged in my morning rituals and practices, and felt a little more energized. But by the time I got out of the shower, I was exhausted again. I felt tender, and just let the tears come.

My mind had all sorts of things to say.

“Push through; there’s stuff you wanted to do today.”

“It’s the New Year, you’re not supposed to feel sad.”

“Maybe tweaking what you eat for lunch will make you less tired.”

I’ve had lots of practice not pushing through. Of resting. Of cancelling. Of saying no. These phrases were old tapes, yes. But also just not as nourishing as accepting the tears as they came. The tears doing all the expression of disappointment without my mind needing to rush all over the place.

Yes, it’s New Years. And it’s just another day to practice. It’s a day to validate my emotions, validate how my body feels, and let my feelings and sensations lead the way. Validating how I actually feel, rather than how I want to feel. Taking the time to be in the moment with myself. The invitation is always there.

The invitation to receive, to be vulnerable, to rest, to feel how I feel. This invitation can be painful, and yet as I cried today, I knew it to be a gift. A gift to let my day be reorganized based on what my body can do, what it needs. And to smile towards myself for listening.

It’s Been Awhile…

It’s good to sit down to write a blog post. It’s been awhile.

I’m gonna keep it short, and kinda reflective, since it’s New Year’s Eve after all.

Right now it’s raining, and I’m writing to the rhythm of the rain falling on my windows. It’s wonderful.

I don’t write resolutions. I’m a type #1 on the Enneagram, and I never need extra encouragement to work harder and reach for a goal! Ha. I do this enough every day as it is.

Instead, I sink into longings, into dreams, into rest. This year over Thanksgiving break, I wrote out my longings for 2019; these become my prayers and an ordinary piece of paper I return to as a reminder if I am choosing what I truly desire, or if I am hiding out of fear.

2019 looks like a lot of creativity! Of sinking even deeper roots, and to operate out of a foundation of gratitude.

Photo by Leonard von Bibra on Unsplash

2018 was a lot of letting go, and making room for new. It was a year about expression and asking questions about home. I came out as asexual, I got confirmed (what!?) in the Episcopal church, I learned qigong, I went back to Michigan, I did EMDR, I built my business to full-capacity, started my second year of spiritual direction training, & wrote my first draft of my . healing journey.

I made new friends, and I laughed a lot. My natural smile came back. I took myself more seriously. And more lightly. I came home to myself.

And I also spent more time alone & outside. And I loved it! And I learned that it’s not just about being an introvert, but about being serious about what I want and need. And that I can give myself permission to that time, while not neglecting community.

In 2018, I asked myself these questions, and they are ones I will keep asking.

What do I need?

What do I want?

What do I crave?

I often find myself needing and wanting rest so badly, and there are ways that I sabotage the rest that is right in front of me. This awareness is painful and yet I’ve done deep work to discover my right-sized capacity and also coming back to the question, “What is mine to do?”

2018 has been joy and grief. Loss and newness. Risk-taking and slowing down. Making mistakes and getting back up. Finding my power in the quiet places. Being a witness to my own life. Being a witness to the lives of others.

And as fatigue seemed to be all encompassing and overwhelming this December, I’m ending the year slowing down, coming back to simple eating, energy practices, spending lots of time in my sauna, sleeping. Spending less time asking the question, “What went wrong?” and instead trusting that my body knows how to heal itself.

May 2019 be a year of risk-taking, truth-telling, and joy. You deserve it.