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.

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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.

14 Lessons from 14 Years

 

In November of 2004, I started seeing all kinds of doctors–family doctors, cardiologists, nerve conduction doctors and pain management doctors.

I was passing out or collapsing while running, and I wanted to know why.  This was the beginning of what has been a long and grueling 14 years in Western medicine.

I do think of my life as before I started seeing doctors all the time, and after.

This November has felt deeply grounding–and I’ve needed to move through the world more slowly than I usually do.  Figuring out “why” hasn’t been the point, and yet one day, I just thought, “I’ve been ‘sick’ for half my life.”

That moment felt significant.  Because these last 14 years have been intense.  And because I  want my next 14 years to feel different.

Labels are helpful and labels are limiting.  I believe both to be true.  I also believe healing is a journey and we never “arrive,” and yet also believe the journey is the destination itself.  Paradoxes abound, and language is limiting.  And that’s okay.

However, I do refer to myself as someone who navigates chronic illness–even if my illness has morphed, changed, and in many ways, I have healed.

This post is honoring this second half of my life so far–what I have learned, and what I desire to pass on to others.

Anxiety grows in secrecy.  

My sophomore year in high school, I became really depressed.  I didn’t know what was going on in my body–the symptoms kept worsening and it was getting harder to get through cross country practice.  I was put on a medication that made me really anxious, and I didn’t know how to talk about any of it, so I bottled it up.  And not talking about it, just made me even more anxious.

I remember the day I chose to quit the track team.  I was done performing, done pretending like I was okay when I wasn’t.  Quitting was the beginning of my healing.

The body is always speaking.

I spent years pushing through what my body was saying.  And I don’t mean just ignoring my body’s signals–but actually recognizing them and choosing to push past them anyway.  So all the collapsing, passing out, high heart rates, leg pain, menstrual pain, extreme fatigue, and anxiety–I pushed right through it.

What I missed in all those years of pushing through was hearing,

“Slow down, please.  Rest.  You don’t even know how much you deserve it.  I wish you did.”

It took me pushing, and going from one intense thing to the next, for my body to truly shut down.  I just couldn’t live like this anymore.

When I finally listened and responded with, “Okay, I’m listening now” the real work began.

My truth doesn’t have to be yours.

I’ve spent a good portion of my life people-pleasing, shrinking, hiding who I really am.  I was terrified of my own difference.  Terrified of disagreeing with those in authority, particularly white men.

Wanting so deeply to live into my purpose and yet unable to trust my own intuition and gut instincts.

Terrified of my internalized racism, sexism, homophobia. Unable to sit with my own discomfort and let it transform me.

As a contemplative spiritual practice grounded me enough to be able to see my own strength and my own complicity, I could more freely stand in my own truth. I could trust what my body was communicating.

I could see my own privilege and my own marginalization–and know that I’m both ally and allied simultaneously.

No one can truly tell me what’s mine to do–and yet to distance myself from community is both unwise and unhealthy.

Finding one’s truth just isn’t as linear as we would like to believe.

Ancestor connection is vital. 

I am more connected to my lineage, my purpose, my truth as I connect to my ancestors.  As I connect to what particularly needs healing in my family line, I stand in the world more grounded, needing less affirmation or understanding from the world.

Accept mystery & let go of needing to understand everything cognitively.

Easier said than done.  Also, just not much more to say here.

You are not making up your illness AND unexpressed emotions are the underbelly of disease.  

These are difficult to hold together.  I was told over and over again that I was making up my illness, that I was a hypochondriac who was just depressed and over-exaggerating everything.

I knew that I wouldn’t get help unless I found a doctor who believed me.  That was true, to an extent.  I’m glad for the treatment I received once being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s.

And when I started making the most progress was in my work through yoga, EMDR, qigong, breath work.  I needed to enter my body and allow emotions to come to the surface.  They needed expression so I could heal, so I could let go, and live more freely.

Less attached to “doing things right” or “finding the right doctor” or “living the best lifestyle to keep fatigue at bay.”

Things simply became about accepting and letting go–and of course resistance & expressing all the “difficult” emotions of sadness and anger, shame and guilt.

You can trust yourself and you must.  If you don’t, you will never belong.

Trusting myself didn’t come easily.  It was a lot of hard work honestly.  And it just came down to the question, “Am I going to a live a life respecting myself or am I not?”

And a lot of my fatigue surfaced when I went against my gut instinct.  When I “went along” because I didn’t want to inconvenience people or be “different.”

I also felt paralyzed in taking risks.

“What if I try that and I get more sick?”  “How do I know if I’m well enough to try something new?”

The questions are unending.  And I also was tired of living a life that wasn’t mine.  I had moved so far away from who I really was—and I felt the loneliness in living someone else’s life.

I knew that trusting myself would sometimes bring loneliness and yet if I belonged to myself I also wasn’t truly alone.

There’s a lot of things doctors don’t know.  And I deeply respect them. I just don’t respect them more than I respect myself.  

Doctors aren’t saviors.  They aren’t the ones with this seemingly unreachable external answer that will solve everything.

But I treated them this way for so long.  I was miserable, so exhausted and just wanted an answer.

Once I believed that trusting myself was how I must live–then more difficult questions surfaced.  “What is my body trying to say that I’m ignoring? Pushing through? What will it take to adjust my life and listen?”

I have “answers” too.  The key is sharpening my awareness and acting on what I know.

There’s value in both Western & Eastern-based medicine. 

I’m thankful for and have benefitted from both.  I still go to the pharmacy every month & pick up my prescription.  And I needed to be introduced to older frameworks of understanding health in order to see how my emotional and spiritual state affected my physical health.  Everything belongs.

It takes a lot of energy to run from your purpose because you are scared of being lonely. 

I know my purpose now.  A lot of it entails resting, slowing down, rerouting ancestral patterns of survival and relational and emotional scarcity.  Bringing balance to myself, my lineage and the earth by healing myself.  To cultivate my inner world and my creativity.  To speak the truth.

But for so long I was scared to go inward.  I craved it and was terrified of it.  I didn’t know how to be alone and not be scared.

I settled for trying to be busy to feel important, and to fit in–and I became so tired trying to chase a glimpse of “fulfillment” while being terrible separated from my own desires.

You can show up & choose; and most of life is outside your control.  

Preparing to die before I die feels sacred.  Life is wonderful and beautiful and challenging and downright cruel sometimes.  Joy and pain cannot truly be separated.  And so I want to show up for the present moment.

(Also a hint from someone who really gets chronic fatigue: It’s a HUGE energy waste to try to always be in control!)

You can waste a lot of energy explaining and defending yourself & your existence.  Instead use that energy for yourself.  You are worth it! 

This one goes against a lot of activist circles and activist thought.  I’ve spent a good portion of the past 14 years trying to get others (including doctors!) to believe that I had an illness.

Then what? Well, I received treatment that I’m really grateful for.

Then what? Well, my cycle of relating to people including explaining and proving my existence.  This is unhealthy, unsustainable, and not enjoyable.

Undoing this “putting up a front” because you already assume people are not going to understand you–and they are going to leave you–goes so deep.

The fear of abandonment when dealing with chronic illness is very real.  And makes relationships challenging.

And yet, if you belong to yourself, you will know that people come and go.  Having relationships leave, change, morph or shift can still bring up intense emotions and the question truly is, “Will you be there for yourself? For whatever you need, want, and desire?”

If you have the genes to manifest a disease, you have the genes to heal it. 

Quantum physics!

Rest is yours. Always.

Rest is resistance. And is always available.  We must trust ourselves.  Know what we need.  Create the space to rest.  And not just to fall apart and get back up to live at an unsustainable pace again.  But to rest because nature asks us to mirror our lives with its seasons.  Because liberation means rest and play and celebration.  It means letting our bodies experience what it feels like to be open and receptive.

Here’s to the next 14 years of living, loving and learning.

 

 

Pausing to Remember

This upcoming weekend I will remember that 3 years ago I was assaulted by a female doctor in the greater Indy community.

I’ve been gentle with myself as I know that the anniversary is marked in my body in some way.  I’m not engaging in reliving the trauma, yet I will simply make space to acknowledge it.  I’m hanging out with a dear friend on Saturday, which helps a great deal.

I’m writing to acknowledge my own power, my own agency, and all the healing that has occurred.

When I wrote about my story last summer, (see Post #1Post #2Post #3Post #4), the Larry Nassar case was gaining traction, yet was not headline news.  He had not yet been charged with any crime.  The brave women’s impact statements were not readily available.  I wrote following my body’s intuition, that the time was right to share my story.  I felt stuck; and I wanted to tell the truth.

Yet, I was following the Nassar story, and these women were given me courage.  Our stories were all too similar.  And I knew that my own healing meant speaking up.  Speaking up knowing that nothing judicially may come of the situation.  But I knew that my silence was eating me up inside; the shame from being publicly quiet was harming me, and I didn’t deserve to be harmed anymore.  And so I spoke up.

Of course speaking up means that I’ve gotten a lot of questions.  Whether it’s, “Why don’t you publish her name?” or “What kind of doctor was she really?” or “Are you sure that’s what really happened?”

Of course speaking up means that there’s plenty who have decided not to believe me.  There’s also numerous people who do; and for that I’m deeply grateful.

Of course speaking up has meant entering into a more complex situation.  The pressure to keep quiet is strong.  The pressure not to critique the medical profession, even stronger.

Several months ago, a friend asked me, “Why speak up when you are pretty sure that you won’t be taken seriously?”  It’s a good question.  One I’ve thought a lot about.  It’s ultimately about my healing & me believing myself.  Believing my story and what I know to be true.  It’s about trusting my intuition and believing that my body knows how to heal.  Voicing my truth is a huge part of healing.

When I formally reported her to the medical board this past December, there was this sense of closure.  I had done my part.  I couldn’t control the rest.  She is still a practicing doctor in the Indy area, and I still drive past her office 4 times per week.

Most mornings I simply pray, “I hope nothing bad happens in that office today.” Sometimes I just scream in my car, letting that excess energy find expression.

I write this in gratitude of the numerous people who have helped me heal, through conversations over coffee, texts I received after reading my blog, healers who listened, took me seriously, and who have taught me how to feel safe both in my own body, and in healing spaces in general again.

Because I no longer participate in yoga classes and have flashbacks or be on constant alert in healing spaces or question the motives of women in authority.  This healing wasn’t instantaneous.  I have experienced healing because dozens of people created safe space for me–and left room for me to come home to my body, to myself.  Created room for anger and tears and fear to be witnessed.  Created enough space so I could sit with a female therapist again and process all the varying and interconnected ways, I have experienced powerlessness, to feel the anxiety in my body, to tell a story that was once jumbled, and now can be told in a linear fashion.

To let go and still be in control—the paradox in therapy that I learned again and again as I plumbed the depths of my story, in the room of a female healer that I had learned to trust.  That I respect deeply.

I am here today in a really good place.  A place full of gratitude-not for what happened to me-but for living into the reality of how much healing truly is possible.

Magic of Right Now

 

When my EMDR therapist and I had the conversation that I was close to being done with therapy, we revisited the question, she asked me in our very first session.

“How do you know when you are done?”

“I more fully accept myself,” is what I had said.

But then I asked her, “How is it supposed to feel in your body?”

“Like you are flying.”

That’s all she had to say, and I smiled.  I wanted to feel like that.  I know I wouldn’t feel that way all the time, but I did want a glimpse of it.

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May has usually been the month I start to get a little nervous.  I love the warmer weather and being outside, however historically it’s the time my allergies set in and the mold from the humid weather starts to make itself known in Indiana.

It’s the month where I want to be inside and rest because I’m so exhausted, yet my body wants to be outside.  I want to revel in the abundance of nature with everyone else without having to worry how my body feels so much of the time.

Spiritually, my body has experienced so much dissonance during summer, especially over the last few years.  It has been so difficult to embrace being and abundance when my body has been highly reactive, exhausted, and fatigued.

I do realize that it’s perfectly fine to be experiencing something different than the symbolism of a specific season, and yet because of my environmental illness, I felt like I was teaching my body to avoid the goodness that is nature–and I didn’t like this habit that was forming.

It didn’t seem like I had any other choice though, so I felt powerless.  I felt highly reactive, frustrated, and sad.  Going through the same cycle again and again.  Health deteriorating.  Needing to move.  Needing to switch jobs.

Last summer, I had reached my limit.  I didn’t want to keep doing this.  I learned what I could from my exhausted state, living at my parents’ and at a friends’ for weeks at a time, packing my apartment, and trying to figure out how to detox, even though I was reacting to mold.  I had so much help in starting my tutoring business and moving to the northern suburbs of Indy.

Yet, I felt like I was holding years and years of exhaustion in my body.  My grief and powerlessness felt overwhelming & my flashbacks came back with abandon.

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In my last session with my therapist, we went over my intake form and how I had told her about my sleep patterns: that I often woke up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep through the night due to mold exposure during the day.

This doesn’t happen anymore.  “What connection do you see?” she asked me. I told her how EMDR has helped resolve my grief; it has been part of my work around moving stuck energy in the body.  This has helped to calm down my immune system and I’m reacting less to mold in an environment.  I’m sleeping through the night.  I continue to detox in a variety of ways, including running an air purifier at night.

This summer, I’m excited.  I don’t expect my health to be perfect; I think that’s unrealistic.  But I do expect myself to delight in being outside, simply thankful that my body can handle so much more than it has in a long time.

I’m thankful that my brain doesn’t have to equate summer, mold, extreme brain fog, and being unable to be a part of a 10 minute conversation.  I’m glad that I’ve been able to untangle my negative emotions and beliefs–so that I can simply be, and accept what is.  Today I choose to be hopeful about what summer will bring.

 

Photo by Irina Kostenich on Unsplash