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?”

Advertisements

The White Card & the Abortion Ban

I just finished reading the play “The White Card” by Claudia Rankine. In her introduction, she states that the play took shape after a white man asked her, a black woman, a question at her poetry reading. He asked, “What can I do for you? How can I help you?”

To which she answered, “I think the question you should be asking is what you can do for you.”

The play explores theme of white saviorism and the many ways liberal white people may read all the “right books” and know all the “right terms” and yet what prevails is this dominant need for white people to “be right” and to imagine black people as always having needs that white people can heal.

We often don’t ask, “What is my need as a white person?” Not as a way to center in a conversation, but as an internal excavation. We often don’t ask this question in racial terms.

As I’ve seen the abortion vote occur in Alabama & Georgia–the focus is mainly on the cis white men who voted for the bill, but not on the white woman who sponsored the bill and the white female governor who signed it into law.

White women in particular want gender to be visible, but not whiteness. White women would like to present the fact that the women’s movement is united across race, when it isn’t.

Take time to notice the differences between the Guardian article and The Root article. The first is calling out Republican white men, the second white people as a whole.

May we follow the lead of black women who have been organizing around reproductive justice-and donate to their work! (Alicia Garza suggests Arc-Southeast, SPARK, Women’s Feminist Health Care Center.)

What is my need as a white person? I keep sitting with this question. It’s to know that if an immediate “What can I do?” question surfaces out of urgency, I need to ground and remember that black, indigenous & people of color have been doing this work forever. My urgency & lack of education does not help. It’s to know that I often lack historical grounding, and I need to educate myself. I can donate to local, grassroots organizations. I can follow the lead of people of color leading this work and discern my gifting and my limits. I can ask myself, “Is this work mine to do?” I can speak openly, I can direct others to these BIPOC orgs doing the work, I can speak with those in my spheres. I can stay in my lane. I can admit that I don’t know.

This work is both political & spiritual. Justice cannot be extracted from the spiritual realm.

So what can I do for me?

I can speak to the necessity for a spirituality that is grounded in justice as a spiritual director. I can read books, watch films, listen to music created by BIPOC. I can re-learn history from BIPOC historians. I can give my white students books to read that do not center their racial imagination & we can talk about it together. I can talk to other white people. I can accept that my own growth and unfolding is mysterious; it’s in giving up control. It’s about always changing and evolving. I can know that healing happens when my needs are not centered.

I can linger in this question when I don’t have any “answers” at all. I can regulate in my nervous system, be in my body, rest & experience pleasure.

And for all those who have been triggered deeply this past week, so much love. May pleasure and healing be yours.

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)

“Staying Small to Stay Safe”

This phrase shows up a lot in healing stories and healing spaces. I just read a story that had this exact phrase. And this morning when I read it, my body recoiled.

So as I went about my morning, I let myself be curious. Not to “figure it out” but simply to be with my body’s wisdom. To connect with my passion and my anger, and just let them be with me.

Let me start by saying, in general, what is meant by this phrase seems okay. Because of various identities and realities, we all to some degree, hide in order to stay safe, maybe to very literally survive.

Then the healing narrative takes a turn where someone takes a risk and shows up more fully as themselves, vulnerably and in their power. Don’t get me wrong, I too believe this is a good thing.

And yet, there’s more resistance in me still, because I believe that more nuance can exist. In the spiritual plane I do believe that there is enough to go around when we all show up in our power. There is enough and we are enough.

And. On this physical plane-racism. classism. sexism. homophobia. transphobia. ableism. capitalism. etc. We all hold differing identities, and some of us are more marginalized than others. Some of us will be more protected when we show up BIG in this world (namely, white people).

But, who defines what showing up BIG even means (usually white men)? Sure, each person can define what showing up BIG means for themselves, and yet to pretend that we aren’t influenced by white capitalist patriarchy would be the BIGGEST lie.

So the questions I’m wondering about this morning is: (and this is for my white friends) could staying small actually mean power? could backing up actually be liberatory? could listening transform our outlook? could speaking just mean one voice among many, rather than THE objective voice? could quietness backed by action be revolutionary? could rest mean that we are left to notice the dominance we hold in our bodies, and to ask new questions so that healing can take place?

Simply put, I think “staying small to stay safe” is ableist. I think that “staying small to thrive” can be a deep, robust reality.

I am a white person who lives with a chronic illness & has tons of internalized ableism I work through every day–and will continue to. It’s difficult to conceive of the healing journey other than “getting better”-where someone else external to me has defined what “getting better” means. And usually that means healing for the sake of being more productive, and being less of a drain to people who can be more productive than me, who take on more work.

Being sick for half my life, has meant that I have done deep thinking and acceptance around the reality of limitation. To the point now where my limitations are a source of joy. And because I find joy with limitation, I don’t equate “staying small” with “bad” with “not enough” with “there’s so much more for you.”

Honestly, staying small has transformed my life. It brings me to the present moment of “enough-ness” no matter how I feel. Staying small disrupts the messages of capitalism, even for a moment–and just says, “rest, you deserve it. yes, even if you’ve been resting all day. rest some more.”

I believe my growth so far in this life has been lingering in the smallness, in the hidden spaces, not needing to showcase it, but at various moments sharing freely. And a lot of the time, spiritual transformation businesses and courses are just about capitalism, disguised with “spiritual” language.

Doing more. Showing up more. Extending more. Even being more.

Yes, sometimes these are what is needed. I completely agree. If we are stuck in paralysis and guilt and overwhelm, moving to action is healthy. And sometimes the quiet work is unacknowledged–or assumed that the quiet work needs to have a certain public element at some point. And all I am saying is maybe not. And maybe the quiet work is showing up in how I relate, even if there is no “production value.”

White Fragility & the Nervous System

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

My grandmother, my mom’s mother, died a few years ago. My mom and her spent a lot of time in those final years working on our family’s ancestry. But it wasn’t until my grandma died, and my mom was helping her siblings clean out the house, that she found a box with some papers that she had never seen.

My grandma, in the final year of her life, was asking the tough question: “Did our family own slaves?”

The papers she found showed that our family owned many more acres in central Georgia prior to the Civil War than she thought–pointing to the obvious fact that our family did indeed own slaves.

There was a reason my grandma hid those papers, and did not have this conversation when she was alive. The shame about our legacy is strong and unrelenting.

Robin diAngelo coined the term white fragility describing the defensive moves white people make when even a minimal amount of racial discomfort surfaces. Why? Well, I don’t have time to write about this here, but read Robin’s book!

The past few years of my healing & spiritual journey has been about exploring ancestry, my illness & how it affects my body, racism, white identity development, my creativity & writing.

And when my mom told me that story, I know that there were layers there for me to explore. You see, I’m also the fifth generation who has a thyroid related disease. Mine being the most severe in a low-thyroid autoimmune disease, Hashimoto’s, and leading to a complete lack of life force by the time I was 19, and almost an inability to get out of bed when I was 24.

There’s a lot of writing about thyroid diseases broken down by gender however there’s only one study I can find breaking it down by race.

It’s far more likely for a white woman to have Hashimoto’s, and far more likely for a black or Asian woman to have Grave’s disease. Both of these are thyroid disorders, however Hashimoto’s consists of an under-activated thryoid gland, while Grave’s consists of an over-activated thyroid gland.

The explanations given are due to genetic factors & environmental triggers, which is my opinion includes about everything! There is much study to be done in this realm, but there are questions that I am asking.

And I want to point out that I’m not a scientist, a historian, or a trauma-specialist. This is not a post, where I claim to be any of that! This is more of a post of my spiritual wonderings and questions, and is still very much in process!

I was in a class about a year ago, when a healer stated, “One usually contracts a thyroid disease when one is silent about their truth when it is time to speak.”

And that phrase gave me pause. Intuitively, it rang with deep truth & yet I was also asking, “What was the truth that I needed to speak when I was 18?”

As I asked that question, over the course of a few months, I realized that question was too isolated. “What is the truth that my family has been silent about over the generations, whose physical manifestation has resulted in sluggish energy & a blocked thyroid?”

Almost as soon as that question formed, the image of my grandma’s hidden box of papers came to my mind. “My family owned slaves. We are ashamed about it, because it was been hidden. It is not a story we have passed down, but have kept that energy in our bodies and our cells. Letting the secret grow, even though no black person would be shocked by this story. We have not chosen to heal, we have not chosen to speak. And it hurts ourselves and people of color every day.”

I’ve been reading the book My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem in community over the past year. In the book, he states, “For America to outgrow the bondage of white-body supremacy, white Americans need to imagine themselves in black bodies and experience what those bodies had to endure. They also need to do the same with the bodies of their own white ancestors. And they need to ask themselves this question: “If we don’t address our ancient historical trauma, what will we pass down to our children, and to their children and grandchildren?”

I can’t help but wonder if the majority of people with Hashimoto’s, including myself, are white–how does the sluggish energy, the unrelenting fatigue, the body start to attack its own tissue, reflect the white ancestral condition? We hurt people of color by not choosing to heal, and we also hurt ourselves. Our nervous systems remain fragile, feeling like any ounce of conflict derails our healing.

I can’t help but wonder if a majority of people with Graves are black because the thyroid must be over-active, hyper-vigilant in order to navigate a racist society. The weathering effect was coined by Arline Geronimus and can be read about here.

As I come to the end of the post, there are no next steps. I think that the question, “What do we do now?” is a disembodied question stemming from guilt and fear, and trying to “get it right.” My practices may be different than yours. My questions may be different than yours. Maybe you hated this whole post. I will say though that developing a relationship with my gut has been key. Healing my gut is a huge piece of healing autoimmune disease, and discovering all the emotions, and questions, and insights that reside there. Check out Tada Hozumi’s work to learn more.

Lastly, to all the people who are white & sick, I see you. We can do this. We can heal. Our idea of healing may need to shift. We need to bring ancestral resources forward that we didn’t know that we had. And we don’t need to take up more room as we do this. And we can be supported. I don’t believe that blaming ourselves for being sick has any place in our community. And I think that while continuing to hope and search and advocate for a cure–is needed and crucial, on multiple levels, I also believe in all the emotional and spiritual resources inside us. It’s time.

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.

Whiteness & Autoimmunity Part 2

I learned the drill when I walked into a doctor’s office.  I would name my symptoms, discuss my family history, answer questions about my diet and exercise routine, and they would send me off to get blood work.

I always thought it was kinda funny that was the only information they thought they needed.

I would come back with everything in range–and they would look at me and say, “You’re an athlete, you don’t need to lose weight, your blood pressure and pulse are excellent.”

Then they would give me the look like, “Why are you here?”

As my blood tests kept coming back “normal” and I kept reporting increasing pain and fatigue–the doctors threw out the “catch-all” prescriptions: anti-anxiety medication and birth control.

Before I continue: let me say that I don’t have a problem with these in and of themselves.  Even as a teenager though, I knew what I had a problem with: being given something when the doctor had no idea what was going on with me.

I said no time and time again–and to this day I’m really glad for how stubborn I was.

“No, I’m not taking something when you have no idea what is going on with me.  Would you like to read off the list of side-effects?”

__________________________________________________________________

Whiteness includes a deep mistrust of the body & the Western medical establishment capitalizes off this mistrust.

I’d be very glad to have a Western  model of medicine in an emergency, however not for preventative medicine.  Not for illnesses that affect every major system in your body.

I listened to my body to know that something was wrong.  That I wanted help.  And yet the extent to which I paid attention to myself and my own intuition never went beyond just stating that something was wrong.  The answer would come from a doctor, or so I had been told.

Well, when I went to doctors and they told me that nothing was wrong, I started to doubt myself at an even deeper level.  They told me I was making things up.  Things couldn’t really be that bad.

The cognitive dissonance started to get really intense.  My body was saying, “something is wrong.  pay attention!” and the expert doctor was telling me I was making things up.  Who do I trust?

The body doesn’t lie.  I knew that I felt what I felt, but what started to seep in was this enormous sense of self questioning and self-doubt.

“What if whatever-I-have isn’t as bad as I think it is?”

“What if no one believes me?  Then what?”

“If the blood test doesn’t show anything, then am I going crazy?”

_____________________________________________________________

These questions were only the beginning.  Because I was told I was “fine,” I still pushed myself to the limit.  I tried to keep up with friends, even though I didn’t have the energy.

By my sophomore year in college, I created this life that was pretty routine or I couldn’t make it through the day.  I tried to keep my schedule as full as possible so I couldn’t truly feel how exhausted I was, until I crashed at 10pm, had a good night sleep, and started over again.

To be awake and engaged with the world was so difficult & I was so sad.

I was sad because I faked it all day.  I didn’t have energy, but I pretended like I did, day after day after day.  I was sad because I was becoming a shell of my former self.

One day in college I admitted, “No one believes me, not even myself.”

________________________________________________________________

Whiteness shows up in the health realm as the binary completely healthy/completely sick.  We don’t talk about a continuum, even though, “Of course, there is a continuum.”

At any given moment, I am feeling a little bit different in my body, if given the tools of how to pay attention, how to listen to cues, how to genuinely love my body and not just be looking for disease.

I wonder what stories I would have connected earlier if I had been asked about my anxiety, rather than just my family history of disease.  Maybe I would have told stories of being so nervous before track meets that I would throw up before I ran.  How I heaped tremendous pressure on myself to keep improving, and my anxiety just increased with it.  Maybe I would have talked about how running 40-45 miles per week at 14 was too much on my body.  That I was actually burning muscle as I ran, causing tremendous pain.

That maybe there was more to health than just being a runner and 105 pounds.

___________________________________________________________________

As a kid, I didn’t have big wordy language–but I knew things were interconnected.  I would spend hours looking up at the sky.  I would take walks at night with my dad and look up at the moon.  I would always see the faces the moon was making at me.  I was fascinated by the way the moon changed and how it seemed to be in a different shape.  I was sad at the new moon, when I couldn’t see it and I thought it had disappeared.

I loved when I learned the names of different constellations and I would try to find them in the sky.  The first time I found the Big Dipper all by myself: pure joy.  I didn’t know how or why, but I felt connected to nature, to the moon and the stars.

__________________________________________________________________

Sometimes we say that we have to fight for our health.  I believe this is true on many levels–and the more multiple oppressions affect one’s life–the more that statement rings true.

And if health is about connection–to oneself, one’s body, mind & soul, to nature, to community, to the Divine-then health is also natural.  Not always a fight.  Sometimes seamless.

There were signs that my body was not well years and years before I ever stepped foot in a doctor’s office.  I don’t blame myself, and at the same time, I do wish that I knew how to trust myself, to ask “What’s going on here?”  “How do I get help?”  “What resources do I have?”  “What resources do others have?”

I suffered a lot of pain and illness in my life–because I was told to push through.  I thought I had no other choice.

You see, whiteness is terrified of rest.  For in rest transformation is possible.

More later, people!

What is Mine to Do?

I feel really grounded after my vacation.  I’ve also been taking these past few days really slow, even though I had a lot of tasks to get done to prep for starting the tutoring semester next week.

It’s been slowly adjusting back home: to meditation & qigong when I wake up, making my own food, to taking walks, to rearranging the altar in my room.  It’s been calling the doctor, replacing a headlight, making copies.  In a few days it will be back to lesson planning.  I also know that with the new moon and partial solar eclipse coming up on Saturday, my body is just tired.  I’m letting myself move more slowly.

My intention for this New Moon & in starting the school year in general is to live with these two questions: What is mine to do?  What is NOT mine to do? 

It is in my nature to see things that need to be “fixed.”  Used with discernment and wisdom, this is a very healthy trait that allows anger to surface and to channel that anger constructively towards change.  Used without wisdom, this way of thinking is lethal.  It makes being and presence impossible, and completely sabotages the present moment with judging thoughts of what could be “better.”

I’m entering a year where my health is allowing me to do so much more, and I’m deeply grateful.  And it’s a year where I will have less free time, and in my downtime I will need to rest.

While I’m doing really well health-wise, this and this was still a year ago.  My body is still rebounding, day by day.  Knowing my body really well, also means scheduling enough rest.  Letting my body recharge for the healing work I do every day, and thanking my body for the ability to do it.

Even with all this self-awareness, sometimes I still think I can and should do more.  Sometimes that’s true.  Most of the time it’s not!

With the way my brain works, sometimes it’s just more helpful to ask, “What’s not mine to do?”, list a few things, and move on.  That usually settles down my over-thinking mind.

What I do long for as this school year starts up is more presence.  A heightened awareness of the unique conversations that can happen when two people gather and the courage to have those conversations.

A deep centering in my purpose for this moment, taking a deep breath and letting it all go.

_______________________________________________________________

At the worst of my illness, about 3.5 years ago, I spent a lot of time lying in bed.  Not only was I experiencing physical pain and deep fatigue, but I was learning to interrogate the thoughts and I emotions I had when I was no longer productive.

I came to also know that this culture of non-stop performance and the need to always be busy was also making me sick.

I didn’t know how to be alone and worthy of love.  I wasn’t “doing” anything except learning how to love and care for myself.  What I didn’t know was that this felt like the hardest job of all.

Those days of learning to prepare healing food, of walks, gentle yoga, and short times of meditation set the foundation of where I’m at today.  These simple ways of care come much more naturally to me now.

I am worth all the love, care, and nurture, no matter how I’m feeling.

So what is mine to do?  It is to show up to the present moment, and accept the unknown and the adventure that presents itself.  Yes, of course, there are a ton of responsibilities that I carry, but the most important is to show up when my intuition says “yes” whether out of excitement or even nervousness, and to rest when my body says “no.”

Ever so simple, and ever so elusive at times, when I cease to pay attention.  And what I must come back to, again and again.

A Solo Vacation & Self Love

So much can be said about self-love.  Believe me-I’ve heard most of the things.

“No one can really love themselves apart from community.”

“You have to learn to love yourself, before you will ever be able to love someone else.”

“You need to love other people as you love yourself.”

“It’s selfish and arrogant to assume that you can love yourself in a vacuum.”

So before I move into the bulk of this post–let’s talk about not just what self-love is, but how it can manifest itself.

I will be the first to say that love doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  We all need love from people.  We can seek love from animals, nature.  AND most of us haven’t been taught to love ourselves.  Most of what we do is project our pain & trauma.  We assume that other people exist solely to love us without ever asking if there are ways we are sabotaging the love all around us-and in us.

I suppose we could say that the path of healing and love is narrow and few find it.

I’m also going to make a distinction between care and love, although they share some similarities.

Care may be practical actions I take to simply care for myself.  Insert the ever-so-popular terminology of self-care right now.

Love is much more intuitive than that.  Love is checking in with myself.  It’s asking myself, “What do I need?  What do I desire?  What do I crave?”

Love isn’t being afraid of my passions.  Love is acknowledging my desires and naming them as mine.  Love, for me, means being cognizant of my energy, and not taking on others.  Love is noticing when things shift: whether emotions, needs, wants.  Love is first and foremost acknowledging that I’m human and that my passions, my energies, my needs and wants are not only completely valid, but completely good.

On this vacation of mine, the question that has been surfacing is: “How do I love myself well when I’m alone?”

___________________________________________________________

There’s nothing like a vacation alone for people to start asking questions.

“Will someone else be joining you?”

“What are you here for?”

“Well, you must be meeting up with someone else, right?”

The message was clear even if the people asking me these questions were unaware of it:

It’s not okay to be alone.  You must be uncomfortable. You are not enough, just you.  You are not worthy.

And these messages aren’t just from these few people.  It’s cultural.  And they are messages I internalized at a young age.

________________________________________________________

This week has been one where these messages have been exposed.  Where I’ve needed to see how these messages have affected me & what I’ve done with them.

You see, I’ve desired a solo vacation for several years–and I’m just now taking one.  There’s many reasons for this, including health & money, and yet what also held me back was the belief that I didn’t deserve what I wanted.

That somehow my vacations had to look busy, with lots of people,…..and I wanted none of that.

I wanted quiet, to connect with nature and myself.  I knew parts would be joyous, and parts uncomfortable (like it always is when you practice spending time with yourself!), and yet I wanted all of it!

Intuitively I knew that my soul needed space.  I needed space where I didn’t need to be at certain places at certain times.  I needed space where I wasn’t coordinating plans with other people.  I specifically needed time close to where I lived, to remember, to ground into my history, to be grateful, and to leave the things that no longer serve me.

___________________________________________________

So this week has been many things.

It’s been walking on the beach, walking to a lighthouse along a pier, swimming in Lake Michigan, and lingering long enough to watch the sunset.

It’s been so much hiking, including walking a trail that I ran over and over again in high school.  My body still knew the route by heart.  I still knew when the slopes were coming, where the bridges were.  I remembered doing line runs (group of 5-6 people run in a line, and the leader switches every 2 minutes, setting the pace for everyone else) training together as a cross country team, and what a practice in mutuality that was.

It’s been walking along the rivers I grew up around.  It’s been lamenting the history of erasure of the Chippewa indigenous people, both literally and in the telling of history.  I walked into the Nature Center’s visitor center, and the white-washed history was the same one I received as a kid, the same one that is being shared across white families and in schools.

It’s been driving in Bay City & Saginaw, noticing the obvious segregation, and seeing the affects of redlining, still apparent today.

It’s been discovering a new beach, I didn’t know was that close to me growing up.  The Saginaw Bay is pretty great!

It’s been reading, writing, farmer’s markets (Michigan blueberries & cherries!), buying flowers, coffee, fancy dinners and so much ice cream.

And my time isn’t even up yet!

___________________________________________________

I can already tell that deep grounding has happened, is happening, and will continue to happen.

Noticing, paying attention, & naming the environment and forces that shaped me has been vital.

Experiencing my childhood home, without family, partner, or children–is still important.  Seeing the helpful and the harmful, and letting them both go.

Even in central Michigan, where I was taught that I needed to exist for someone else, that it was incredibly spiritual to deny myself–I came back, as I grow more and more into my personal power, and aware to the ravaging affects of systemic racism all around my childhood home.  There is power to give up as well.

Paradoxes of course–stepping into and giving up power.  Michigan-I’ll be back!