Chronic Illness, Asexuality & Spirituality cont.

 

It took me awhile to come out as an asexual.  Couple a Christian, conservative upbringing where the options really are only gay or straight, and gay=bad and a chronic illness.

As my health started to improve, I started to do some deeper questioning, research and I found AVEN.  After several days of perusing the website here and there, claiming the label asexual just felt right to me.  It made sense and I felt a little more at ease.

I told a few individual people about my asexuality and that was helpful, but in general I was not open about it because in general I am straight-passing, and with that comes a lot of assumptions can just be maintained.  I had to recognize how deeply I identify with the privilege that straightness provides.  I also just wasn’t ready yet.

Yet, as I started the New Year as delved more deeply into breath work and writing, as well as new friendships and healing practices emerging in my life, I knew that I was hiding a deep, vital part of myself that ultimately wasn’t that healthy for me.

That for me, for speak more freely about being an asexual would lead to greater wholeness.  That to write about asexuality would allow me to reveal a huge aspect of my life, and speak to a part of my identity that could easily be overlooked or misunderstood.

Again my illness, asexuality, and spirituality intersect and inform one another in beautiful ways.

Without my chronic illness, I would not have slowed down.  Most likely, I would have kept pressing harder and harder, without much reflection, conforming to gain others’ acceptance.  I probably would have been successful, yet extremely hollow inside.  I would have traded in substance for superficial acceptance.

Slowing down actually was an avenue for exploring, for creating a new normal.  Of course sometimes this new life caused so much grief, and I was wondering about what I was missing out on.  Yet on some days, I actually adored the silence.  During those seasons of unemployment, time would slowly go by, but I would go on a walk, go grocery shopping, make meals, shower, and read.  I made it my goal to meaningfully interact with at least one person a day, either in person or on the phone.  Yet on some days, I wouldn’t really talk to anyone all day.  There was a unique loneliness to that season and yet, I was learning to sink deeply into myself.  I could keep myself company; and some days I preferred it.

A new spiritual ground was being laid for me, and I didn’t even know it.  I relished rest, gentle exercise, steady friendship, lighting a candle.  My prayer life was simple, short phrases like “Help me.”  “I’m tired again” or “I hope today is better than yesterday.”  I was especially aware that without gratitude,  I would shrivel up.  My journals from this time highlight a list of 10 things I was grateful for each day, that I would fill out before I went to bed.

I had a new awareness of life; it was like I was becoming a child again.  I paid attention to everything: the pace at which people walked, if they made eye contact, if they actually enjoyed the food they were eating.  I was grateful for the air, the flannel sheets, being able to stand up in the shower without getting tired.  Today, I look at those journals and weep in gladness–for my illness and my re-emerging gratitude for life–absolutely saved my life.

During this time, was also the first time I read Kathleen Norris.  I absolutely loved her.  I read Acedia & Me during Lent, and I relished her description of the monastic world.  I let myself wonder why I resonated so deeply with silence and contemplation. And also during this time I  told myself, “I could be single in this life, meet all of my own needs, and be happy.”  (I don’t think it’s ironic that I said this when I was deeply sick either…)  After Acedia & Me, I read Amazing Grace–and I said, “I don’t want to be a nun–but why do I think that I could be?

Side note: Celibacy & asexuality are not the same thing!  Asexuality simply means that the experience of sexual attraction does not exist, where celibacy is a choice.

Yet, my longings were surfacing for a deep liturgy, a spiritual experience marked by contemplation in community.  As I started reading some of the white female contemplatives of the medieval church, I noticed a correlation between their spiritual practice and most of them had chronic illnesses.  Their work deeply resonated with me.  I had found some companions on this inner journey of solitude, and reckoning with what my longings actually were.

 

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

 

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Embracing Aloneness

For Lent this year, I gave up conformity.  I didn’t really know how this would play out.  All that kept coming out of my therapy sessions was that I’ve spent my life conforming–and I was exhausted, and done.  I needed to be done to reclaim my health & my worth.

One particular moment has kept coming to my mind off and on for the last month.  I was 8 years old, and I was in my room, probably writing at my desk.  My dad comes to ask me if I wanted to run at the State Track Championship, and I said no, even though I had just won all my races at a pretty big meet.

It was my last big intuitive moment I remember as a kid.  I knew that competitions made me anxious; I didn’t really like them.  I loved running and I loved practice, but I could do without the competition.

I said no, because I knew that I wanted time.  Time to be free.  Time to be a kid. Time to play outside in the woods, barefoot.  Time to take walks and look at the stars.  Time to shoot baskets.  Time to write.  Time to jump on the trampoline. Time to run around with my dog.

I was a kid who needed spacious time.  I was a kid who needed time alone.  Just because.  Because I was worthy of that space.  Because I needed spaciousness to be my best self.  Because I always really resonated with that kind of silence and solitude.

The next year, I said yes to my dad’s request.  I decided to become a very competitive runner.  I attended the National Championships at age 9 for the long jump, and missed a National Medal by a 1/4 inch.  At age 10, I won a National Medal in the long jump down in Orlando.  These things weren’t bad in and of themselves. I made good friends.  I got to see different parts of the State and the country.  However, I did suppress the creative, intuitive part of myself.  I became overly responsible, dedicated, hard-working—all to achieve this dream of returning to the National Track Championships year after year.  For all of this, I received a lot of affirmation.

I didn’t play outside as much in the summer heat, because I had to reserve my energy for practice later that day.  I ate in particular ways and at particular times because of my practice schedule.  I was only 9 years old.

I didn’t know what was happening as a kid, but I do now.  That part of me that was shy and dream-like thrived in solitude.  I needed that precious time to imagine, to have no agenda, to just get lost in whatever I wanted to.  I liked being with others (or bossing my sister around!), but I also liked being alone.

I’m reclaiming this aloneness now.  I crave it, and I need it.  Being alone in silence gives me great refreshment & joy, and up until recently, I’ve buried that part of me.

Why?

I didn’t believe that I was worth it.  There are sneaky lies that creep up, both within myself, and the cultural structures around–that state in a myriad of ways that time for yourself is a selfish act.  That to invest in my own healing and self-care is isolationist and arrogant.

Especially as a woman.

For as a compassionate, intutive-empath, others knew that I was loyal.  That I would show up.  That I was true to my word.  That compassion though was not extended as much to myself, as I extended it to others.  And it became overbearing and exhausting.  But I didn’t know who I would be if I said no.

Because the thing is–my compassion and intuition are strong strengths of mine–and they are beautiful.  And they need to be balanced out with my strength and my boundary-setting.

I have given my own energy, way past what most people were giving in situations.  I have also taken on others’ energy as my own, for most of my life.

These last months of solitude for me have been about claiming my story, my version.  Not the version that someone else is telling.

It’s been about seeing the acts of caring for myself, as incredibly generous both towards myself and everyone around me.  See-we really are connected!

Me healing from my trauma in EMDR, is healing for everyone else that I come into contact with.

You see, I am healing for me–which of course affects everything.

I see clearly now, that to call self-care a selfish act is to believe that I am separate from everyone else when I take time for myself.  This simply isn’t true.

I may just be able to see myself and everyone else more clearly, when I ground myself in the present moment and let go.

EMDR & bell hooks

 

Since October, I’ve been in therapy, targeting specific traumatic memories through the use of EMDR.  EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing.  For 45 minutes, once I’ve brought up a memory with a charged emotion attached, I let my eyes go back and across a light bar that moves at a comfortable pace from the left to the right.  After about 20-30 seconds, it stops, and I report what I thought, felt, or saw in my mind.

At first it seemed haphazard and chaotic–it’s because it was.  Any traumatic event doesn’t lodge in the body in a way that feels coherent.  It’s an entangling of memories, of thoughts and feelings left unsaid, of events that rewired my neural pathways in the brain.

It’s been an empowering process for me to work through unresolved grief, to understand my own patterns that were underneath my own consciousness, to find my voice again, and not feel like a victim.  It’s been an empowering process to see my gifts, to see my beliefs change, and even to see my shortcomings and accept them for the teachers that they are.

It’s been the driver behind my creativity beginning to emerge much more powerfully in my life.  It’s a big part of me being able to write more-and to trust my own voice and creative process.

Yet, EMDR is a tool that exposes everything.  Nothing can be hidden.

I have to face the frightened teenager in the doctor’s office who feels like she can’t win, who feels like she says too little & is dismissed or says too much and is a hypochondriac.

I have to face the girl who starts to edit her story so she doesn’t continue to be humiliated.

I have to face the girl who begins to doubt herself–and who wonders if she’s really crazy, since most professionals think she is.

I have to face the girl who starts to believe incorrect narratives about her life imposed on her by those in authority-because she’s so exhausted from trying to tell the truth.

I have to face the girl and young adult who is resentful, because she has stuffed her own truth into her body.  She has so much to say, and yet is so scared to say it.  And this is the source of so much of her chronic illness.

I learned the rules of our white-heteronormative-patriarchal-Western society.  I would not be heard unless a man in authority believed that I had the right to be heard.  Even when I saw female doctors (which were few and far between), they still acted from a patriarchal perspective, because they benefitted from the medical establishment, and didn’t see the need to examine their own beliefs.

After working with a female endocrinologist in college for 3 years, she started to increase her body-shaming language with me.  The blame just kept getting heaped onto me: “If only you would work out 6 times a week instead of 5…if only you would lose 2 more pounds, then your fatigue would go away.”

I wanted to say, “How many times per week do you work out?” but I kept quiet.

I wanted to say, “Could it be that you have no idea how to help me, and you see me as a challenge and a threat?” but I kept quiet.

I wanted to say, “Stop treating me  like a problem case, where you feel like you have to assert your dominance as a doctor to be deemed as credible” but I kept quiet.

While I didn’t have words for the institutional forces at play, at the time, I knew that something was very wrong.   I knew that I was being treated differently because I was a young female. I knew that I was an easy scapegoat for built-up frustration. I knew that making me question my own body, my own symptoms, my own memory & perception was the only way to make them still feel dominant over me.

Now I know this to be gaslighting, a very effective form of manipulation that quickly increases self-doubt and self-questioning.

Through the work of EMDR, I’ve been able to take my story back into my own hands, away from those who taught me to question myself because my disease couldn’t be “proven.” I now have the chance to see my bravery, my strength, my perseverance that seemed to elude me when I just felt like a burden or the problem.  I finally get to see myself as the hero of my own story-with great successes and many faults, like every other human being.

I’ve been able to see how my perseverance has been found in my commitment to my own self-care, to setting boundaries, to trying new things when everything seems to fall apart.  In my perseverance, I’ve seen an openness to new people, new ideas, new writers.  I’ve felt a strong sense of self emerge, originating in the greatest place of energy in the sacral chakra.

Being able to spend time alone, as a woman, and truly enjoy my own company has been the greatest gift of my own perseverance.  And it’s intimidating to many–but I’m learning not to apologize for this.  I’m not forsaking community to nurture myself.

Last week I read feminism is for everybody by bell hooks.  Such a lovely, thought-provoking read about intersectional feminism.  In the introduction she writes,

Imagine living in a world where there is no domination, where females and males are not alike or even always equal, but where a vision of mutuality is the ethos shaping our interaction.  Imagine living in a world where we can all be who we are, a world of peace and possibility.  Feminist revolution alone will not create such a world; we need to end racism, class elitism, imperialism.  But it will make it possible for us to be fully self-actualized females and males able to create beloved community, to live together, realizing our dreams of freedom and justice, living the truth that we are all ‘created equal.'”

Self-actualization must necessarily include the work of the individual in community.  In in the process of taking responsibility for my own life, so that I show up in community differently.  So that I’m more flexible, and willing to learn, and yet not doubting my own significance or story.

I’m thankful for the people in my life who remind me of my significance and worth, through words and actions–and remind me that I don’t have to prove it to anyone.  I’m thankful for those who help me to see my own assumptions, and who encourage me to imagine another way-a way forward with more inclusion and joy.

 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The Flu and Thoughts on Letting Go

I got the flu last week.  The 24 hour kind, where I woke up and thought I was fine, until I was sweating one moment and freezing and next, and then I had the sudden urge to get to the bathroom as fast as I could.

I texted all my clients and told them that I needed to cancel.  I didn’t go to my last Qigong group.  I read an entire book, and listened to several podcasts.  I would throw up occasionally, then take a nap.

The details aren’t that interesting (ha!), and yet a few things hit me last Wednesday.

First, I know how to rest.  It’s like my body just let myself throw up.  It let me know when I was ready to try a cracker, to try a pretzel and see how my body did.  My body guided me to equilibrium and I trusted it the entire time.  Having the flu didn’t feel like an inconvenience, but just a time to slow down and have my body instruct me in how to get well.  Quite honestly, over the past several years, I had to learn how to rest.  I had traveled way too far over false ground.  The fact that resting came naturally, and I didn’t fight it, just means that I’m much closer to living in line with who I am.

On top of that, I was on my period!  Through vomiting and bleeding, I was getting a double message of letting myself let go of what I no longer needed.  Since last summer, I’ve transitioned in so many ways.  My health moved me into these decisions quickly–and yet now I can see that my health was nudging me in different directions that I’ve needed to go.

New job.  New home. New church.  New self-care routines.

I understood none of this while it was happening–we normally don’t!

More questions emerged that I’ve just let be questions:

  • Why do I live in Westfield?
  • What kind of church am I looking for?  Why?  Or am I looking for a church at all?
  • How can my self-care sustain these longer work hours?
  • How can I make Orton-Gilllingham more accessible to more people, while still caring for myself?
  • Who am I accountable to in this time?  And how to do I know?
  • Who am I and how do I know?

Deep questions usually surface in the new.  And they have.  And I’ve been pushed to lean into these questions.  I needed to let go of two jobs, that I liked at one point but were no longer working.  I needed to let go of a home that was close and convenient to everything, but was damaging my health.  I needed to let go of a church, where I had found community, and yet because of several factors I needed to say goodbye.

There are always new opportunities behind the grief.  Once my eyes were fully opened, no longer filled with exhaustion and tears–I saw my life for what it was.  Although I built a business feeling at about 15% myself–I am at capacity now, and I’m making plans for how I want to expand my services when there is a wait list.

Living in Westfield has been a place of rest, with a lot more country driving!  I had this strong sense when I was preparing to move that although busier in several years, that this was a season of rest.  It’s quieter.  I can see the stars.  I can easily walk down the street.  And my health has most definitely improved living here.

I’ve moved to more gentle self-care routines.  I engage in breathwork, in Qigong, in daily creativity through writing.  I can do these at home or with a group.  In fact, I see that I need both.  I’ve let everything that felt vigorous fall away.  This wasn’t the plan, but it just happened.  No more vinyasa yoga.  No more regular trips to the yoga studio.

As far as church goes, coming into the Episcopal church has felt like a homecoming to me.  I started going to an Anglican church in Memphis 4 years ago during the Epiphany season.  The liturgy truly was healing to my sick body. I didn’t realize how much I longed for that liturgy again, until I stepped through St. Christopher’s doors.  I didn’t realize how much I needed to come out as an asexual, until I looked on their website and read “You are welcome here. You are welcome if you are rich or poor, gay or straight, single or married, Democrat, Republican or something else.”

I wept when I was researching Episcopal churches in the area and I saw that they had a Lay Eucharistic Minister ministry where a volunteer would bring  the Eucharist to your home if you were homebound.  I thought of how many Sundays I didn’t go to church because of how sick I felt, or knowing that I would react to mold.  How over time that made me feel disconnected and isolated.  It was comforting to know that if I needed to stay home, I could just give the church a call and someone would come and visit me.

I let tears fall from my eyes when there were prayers for the sick imbedded into the liturgy.  I felt seen and represented.  I felt encouraged that there was an anti-racism work group, that the assistant rector was a woman and the bishop of the Diocese is a strong black woman.

Saying goodbye to those things last summer opened up space for my practices to align more with who I am, to give me excitement and hope for where I might be headed.

Last month, in my spiritual direction session, my director reflected back to me, that I speaking about themes that all began with c: community, courage, collaboration, construction, creativity, claiming, curiosity, contentment.  She encouraged me to see this time not necessarily as de-construction, but actually construction.  “You are constructing a beautiful life,” she said.

We also talked about how St. Christophers begins with a c.  My director said, “It would be interesting to look at what patron saint Christopher is.”  A few days later I did some research and found that St. Christopher is the patron saint of children and travel.

That seemed too fitting.  The last several years have been an adventure, with so much literal travel, but also a deep traveling inward.  I’ve been on a crazy adventure, oftentimes one that doesn’t make sense.  But then there are those moments, where time feels like it just stands still, and for a moment you know in your body that you are right where you are supposed to be.

I suppose you could say, that instead of fighting the flu, and being frustrated that I had to miss work, I simply took it as an opportunity to say, “I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.”

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

A Letter to My “Doctor”/Abuser

 

“Two times a week, I work right across from the doctor’s office, where I was sexually assaulted.”

I said this phrase a few months ago to a friend over dinner.  She nodded and asked, “How do you feel when you pass the office every week?”

“I’m able to stay in the present moment, but I still do feel sadness and anger.  Sometimes I want to walk into the office, and just yell at her.

Other times, I take several deep breaths & just pray, ‘I hope she doesn’t hurt anyone else today.'”

I still pray this prayer twice per week, as I drive across 116th Street in downtown Fishers.  I felt this prayer bubbling up again in my body as I watched the impact statements from the brave women sexually assaulted by Larry Nassar.

I let myself watch the impact statements for a few hours, letting myself cry, letting myself see the bravery, see the righteous anger, see justice coupled with compassion from Judge Aquilina.

As I watched these women and girls share their unique stories, we also all had the same common themes.  I saw myself; and I knew that if the circumstances allowed, I would be the one standing up, telling my story.

Yet, I also know this.  I may never get that chance.  However, I can choose to heal anyway.  And I have chosen to heal anyway.  Here is a letter written to my “doctor”/abuser.

Dear D_____________,

I wonder if you’re scared right about now.  I wonder if you were scared when the Indy Star wrote the article about Larry Nassar, who used the same abusive techniques that you use in your practice.  I wonder if you were scared of being found out.  You knew that USAG, housed in Indianapolis, was covering up the abuse, and intuitively, I know that this allowed you to flourish.

I wonder if you watched the impact statements and had flashbacks of all the people you’ve abused under the guise of medical treatment.  I wonder if one day you will ever feel any remorse.  I wonder what you would have said to me, if I would have allowed you in the room, when I met with the head doctor who just defended your sorry ass.  I wonder if you treated your daughter the same way you treated me.

I will never have answers to these questions.

There are some things I know about you though without you ever having to utter another word to me again.  I know that you’re a human being whose entire body is filled with intense shame, whether that is something you will ever acknowledge or not.  You would not abuse if you engaged the journey of self-healing.

I know that you have not accepted your sexuality.  For the things you said in that room were shaming of anyone who isn’t straight.  You would not openly shame diverse sexualities if you were secure in your own.

I know that you’re terrified to heal yourself.  To actually look at what you’ve done and who you’ve made of yourself and cry.  I know that you feel terribly hurt & so you hurt others.  And what’s worse, is that you claim to be a healer, but all you do is tremendous damage, because you can’t even look at yourself.

I know that your smile is hollow.  There’s nothing but utter chaos behind it.

I know that there is nothing more sad in the world than to see a 60-something year old woman who doesn’t know who she is.  You’ve never healed  & excavated your essence to see what healing purpose you were brought on this earth for.  You settled for the same old traumatic family dynamics,  and became a hollowed-out, vicious, and dominating version of your true self.

You should know that I’m strong and healing-more and more every day in fact. I am a brave and dynamic woman who is  realizing the extent of her own innate power. This is something you will never be able to take away from me.

You should know that I will never be like you.  I work with children, and I will never, ever abuse them.

The rest of my story you don’t deserve to hear or know.

Although what you did (and continue to do) is evil, you did teach me one thing.  Behind your gray eyes and cynical smile, I saw a decaying human being, the result of a woman who was not courageous enough to accept herself.  And so I learned that the acceptance and love of oneself, must be paramount.  It must truly be a narrow road that few find.

Well D-I’ve found it, and continue to find it.  While it’s narrow, it is freeing.  And because I have the audacity to take this narrow road, I also have the audacity to reach for forgiveness.  For I need to move on with my life and leave you behind.  But before I say goodbye forever, I do have a blessing for you.

D-before your deathbed, may you find your body and your soul.

May you know that to be curious like a child again-you will have much grief to wade through.  In order to feel that innocent again, you must be able to forgive yourself.

May you find the courage to speak the truth, even if it costs you everything.

May you actually be receptive to touch, not seeking to always manipulate and control.

May you know that Love is still looking for you-but you have to be looking for him/her/them.

Goodbye D.

 

 

Spiritual Dimensions of Showing Up to Illness

December and January have been deeply healing months.  I knew that I needed to slow down; that I needed to show up to myself more fully.

I wanted my smile to come back.  I turned to nature, knowing that I also needed some time to hibernate, that I needed to let certain things die, without knowing where this journey would end up.  Historically, my healing accelerates in the winter, and so I intentionally have made time to invest in myself at the start of this year.

I intentionally took a 4 week Christmas break.  It was so restful & needed.  I had a session with my therapist.  I set up an individual healing session with a resident teacher at my old yoga studio.  I have been participating in a weekly breathing circle.  I’m learning Qigong.  I traveled to Chicago to attend Mystic Soul and visit with friends.  I celebrated my birthday & came out as an asexual. I took several epsom salt baths.  I loved myself well.

What has been the result of all this healing work is a lot of grief dissolving, allowing creativity to come forward.  I’ve needed time to continue to explore certain spiritual practices in order to figure out how I am going to grow my energy reserve as I continue to grow my business and work more hours.

What this looks like right now is that I’m writing a book!  I have no idea where this will lead, but right now, I’m just focused on my shitty first draft.  It’s a memoir; my journey with chronic illness and the gifts that come along the way.  I wake up every morning, do some breathwork and then dive into writing for about 25 minutes, at the beginning of my day.  It’s becoming a beautiful rhythm, and a wonderful way to start my day, and my resistance to show up to my story is lessening day by day.

Although I still live in my body day to day and am affected my by illness, I’m gaining the skill to look at my life more objectively.

I’m learning to say, “The fact that I have a chronic illness is not my fault, and yet I do have the responsibility to show up in my body and be attentive to the lessons it gives.”

What I keep coming back to is that autoimmune disease is the pattern of the body attacking itself.  There’s a scientific way to describe this, but that’s not what I’m interested in now.  What I’m interested in is that in order for my body to attack itself—I must have moved very far away from my true self.  I must have tried to conform to someone that I was never meant to be.

So I’m learning to stop throughout the day and breathe.  I’m learning to check in with myself, to feel my own energy, to understand my own essence.

At Mystic Soul, we were encouraged to sit with this question:

“Who are you and how do you know?”

In one sense, I will be answering this question for the rest of my life.  In another, I am a healer, a witness, a truth-teller, an advocate, a friend.  I am a work-in-progress–yet there are spiritual dimensions to stepping into my own narrative, telling my own story.  Ultimately showing up to myself, so that I can show up with others.

Honesty Is a Good Way to Start the Year!

 

 

 

 

I’ve been considering this post for about a year and a half.

In the spirit of starting 2018 being more honest with myself and the world, it’s time to write this post.

I’m asexual.

Yep, it’s the A in LGBTQIA.

Being asexual simply means that I do not experience sexual attraction towards anyone.  That being said, I do experience romantic attraction towards men.

This post is not going to be a Q and A or what asexuality is or isn’t (but you can check out AVEN if you are interested!)

This post is about acceptance and visibility.  I’m going to reveal the questions I asked myself as I considered if I wanted to come out publicly.

I considered for awhile, “Why add another label?”

It took my awhile to realize that this wasn’t really my deepest question; it reflected what I thought other people might ask me.  Especially because this was true when I started speaking up and writing about chronic illness.

When I first started owning the fact that I indeed had a chronic illness, and started speaking that way, I inevitably faced the question, “Why do you so closely identify with your illness?”

For those who were Christians asking this question, it was in the context of “Why do you put your identity in your illness rather than in Christ?”

Simply stated, I needed to identify with an unknown illness, then to be Hashimoto’s, so I could integrate it into my being.  Acceptance could not come without integration.  But not to identify with it in some way, meant to ignore this part of myself.  It also meant leaving people to assume that I was a healthy, vibrant mid-20-something when I wasn’t.  I needed a label to say “I am sick, and this is lifelong.  I may manage it well, but it’s something I do manage every day.”

Also, notice how odd it would sound if I started asking people, “Why do you so closely identify with your health?”

A label simply says, “I experience life differently than you and both of our experiences are valid.” 

However, those with illness navigating living in a world of health, which can often feel foreign to us.  We want our experience validated as we live on the margins in a society that glorifies health and young able bodies.

Ok, back to sexuality.  Asexuals comprise 1% of the population and most people don’t accurately know what asexuality is.

So why a label?

Because I experience sexuality differently than most people.  And that’s okay. And it’s valid.

Labels have to do more with “the majority” (and that can mean many things depending on the context) accepting diversity which means changes in language to depict that diversity.

Another question I thought for awhile about was, “Why come out when you can pass as a straight person?”

Deciding that I needed to come out publicly is a personal decision related to my own emotional health.  I felt like I was hiding a vital piece of who I am, which was just breeding shame and self-contempt.

Also, for celebrating my uniqueness.  For visibility. To challenge assumptions. For a more complete acceptance of myself.

I experience my life as a white cisgender asexual woman, living with chronic illness.  I could add other identity markers like Christian, middle class, American. These are all true.

Labels can be seen as over-kill or they can be seen as an incomplete, yet important way to talk about how we experience the world differently based upon race, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, religious affiliation, health.

For we all have labels if we bring them out.

A white cisgender heterosexual Christian male born into an upper-middle class family are all labels too.  We are just taught that this is the norm.

Here’s to 2018: more honesty, more listening to the perspectives of others, more love, empathy, compassion, and forgiveness.

To Be a Walking Contradiction

Fall is truly here; and I’m glad.  I love the weather changing, the leaves turning.  I can even embrace all the rain and the short nights.  I enjoy the countdowns to Thanksgiving and Christmas.  On my more reflective days, I think about a year ending and another year starting.

I think about how 2017 has been a year of tremendous growth, and yet a year where I’ve seen my own grief erupt and almost overtake me.  It’s been a year of confusion, of decisions I had to make too soon, and continuing to learn that my health fluctuating is my new normal.

I’m back in therapy working with a medical trauma specialist and last session she asked what I was taking away from this session.  My response was, “I can see all the hard work I’ve already put in, and I see that I still have the drive to put in more work and heal.  I want to heal so badly.”

You see, I’m learning to realize the effects of my illness in new ways.  With all of the mold reactions I had this summer, both from my home and my workplace, I suffered some brain damage.  Since it was prolonged enough, new neural networks formed in my brain while I was living in fight-or-flight mode for several months this summer.

I lived in different homes, bought air filters, quit my job, moved, started a business.  My body is still tired–but not just fatigue-tired.  My brain is tired, and I still have days where I don’t remember words or routines or how to get somewhere.  I notice that after I spend 5 hours lesson planning on the weekend, my brain is completely wiped out.  And I just hope on Monday that I’m ready to go, and have enough energy to get me through the day.

The new neural networks that formed were challenging all my beliefs-ones that I have challenged often in this health journey:

  • Do I have what it takes?  How do I find the strength it takes maybe to wake up and not remember much about the day before?
  • Will people still be around?
  • Do I believe that I’m worth it?  Can I find even more grit to trust that every healing step is worth it because I’m worth it?
  • Is joy attainable?
  • If I have to quit my job, where do I go next?
  • Can my pain be transformed into a life that I think is beautiful and fulfilling?

Some days I feel pretty good.  I like my work, I feel confident, and joyful.  Other days it’s hard to get out of bed, and I get through work, crash and hope I have energy to get out of bed the next day.  Both are me.  Both are true.

The hardest negative belief to observe, notice where I feel the tension in my body, and to breath my way through it is, “You are alone in this.”

Here’s the thing.  Intellectually I know that I’m not.  I have friends who struggle with chronic illness.  I have taken meals to hospitals, and made allergy friendly Christmas cookies.  We have talked about doctors not believing us, and the struggle to be seen and heard.

And yet, in those moments where it feels like my brain is firing in all directions, my body feels alone.  My brain and body are fighting with each other.

Part of chronic illness is realizing along the journey, ways I have over-compensated because of being sick.  So when I was physically fatigued, there were many years, where my mind was the strong suit.  I overcompensated intellectually, because while I had to lie in bed for many daylight hours each day, I could still think.

The hard part currently is some days I can’t think.  My brain isn’t always my strong suit anymore.  I have to do everything I can to stop the inflammation from forming in my brain, but I also have to accept what’s happening.

It’s both/and.

And both/and is messy.  There are tears out of nowhere and things that take 3 hours longer and cancelled plans and small moments where I smile at the sunrise and feel like I’m an 85 year old who’s just happy to be alive.

My relationships slowly shift.  I have to say no to things I used to say yes to.  I stop yoga for a time and start therapy.  I learn to listen to my body before my mind (because the mind can only put language to what the body knows anyway).

This both/and world is unpredictable.  It’s both wonderful and scary.  It’s freeing and frightening.  I see both the ugly and beautiful in myself.  It’s a place of kindness towards myself and my limitations and celebrating my strong, persevering stance in the world.

Even writing this post has been emotional, because yesterday I couldn’t do this.  But today I can.  And for that I am glad.  Yet the gladness does not wipe away the sadness of yesterday.  They co-exist and always will.

The more I heal, the more I deeply know that trauma and transformation must live side by side.  There’s really no other way.

My illness has taught me more about humanity than anything else has.  It’s taught me about paradox, about this both/and world.  That’s it’s okay to be in progress.  I’ve learned about structures and powers that do not listen to the weak and about my own anger at injustice the the doubling power of trauma when you stay in the state of victimhood too long.  I’m learning to see myself as a walking contradiction, along with everyone else.

Reserving and Expanding

It’s a season of reserving: my energy, my resources, my health.  My own body thinks it feels counter-intuitive to rest more in the summer.  People are swimming, going to sporting events and concerts. The sun is out and typically people feel more free.

Again, I’m learning to sink my patterns to my own body, rather than mainstream culture.  And I’m wondering about new ways that I might be able to be more active in the winter, when others decide to stay inside.

One of the early lessons to learn in chronic illness is to reserve your energy, to use it on the things or people most important to you before you run out of energy for the day.  It’s a hard reality to keep coming back to-especially in my 20’s.

But after years of learning to reserve my energy-it’s all bottled up.  And yes, I have given to others in these past several years, and yet there’s more.  There’s more I want to say, do, experience.  I feel that my youth does not match the severity of my illness.

And that lends itself to these awkward growing pains.   The tension of letting myself dream and asking myself questions like, “What do you want?” and also being willing to let go. And let go again. And let go again. And still having the courage to wake up in the morning wanting to have fun, not just manage an illness.

Yet, it’s also a season of expanding. Of a new job. Soon to be a new home. Of investing time in new friendships. Learning more about mold toxicity and what I need to be aware of. Letting others help me.  Empowering others so that they can begin to understand what I’m going through.

What I continue to be amazed about, even in these days of fatigue and nausea from detox reactions is that my body tells me all I need to know.  Of course I need help from doctors and friends-but my body tells me all I need to know.

The key is to listen–and have the courage to listen to those quiet whispers day after day after day. Your body tells you that you’re reaching your limit or that it’s time to take a risk.  It tells you if you need to reserve or expand.

The truth is: My body doesn’t lie. And on the hard days of chronic illness it would feel better to be ignorant of this fact.  But the more I learn to lean into the tension, I more I learn to appreciate all my body has to say.

Those years of severe inflammation was the communication of an autoimmune disorder.  My body was trying to alert me to the fact that my body was beginning to attack itself. My brain fog alerts me of chemicals and mold. My fatigue was a result of severely depleted thyroid and adrenal glands.  All this was hard information to swallow-yet my body doesn’t lie.

Yet, so much gratitude exists in a clear mind, a strong body, sleeping eight hours per night and waking up rested.  My body is communicating, “You are on your way toward health. Be thankful for each moment. Pay attention. Beautiful things are happening right now.”

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In order to listen we must be still.  In order to be still, we must accept ourselves.  As we accept ourselves, we have the capacity to build this self-awareness.  And out of this self-awareness and love comes compassion.

Be compassionate towards your body-in all it’s resilience and limitation. As we accept all that our body has to say, we will be able to listen to others.  We will be able to accept them as they are- in all their resilience and limitation.

We will learn to reserve and expand together, honoring each others needs and celebrating the milestones.  This kind of relating is hard work and yet I think it’s possible.

But first we must be still.  We cannot relate authentically if we do not first do the hard work of listening to and accepting ourselves. I’m learning to do this better and better every day.  Some days get pretty ugly, yet the outcome is worth it.