A Love Letter From My Body

My dear,

It’s been a year!  You are tired–but a different kind of tired.  

You are tired because you’ve cared for yourself well.  You are tired because the shifts to care for yourself well have been great.  And completely necessary.

It’s been a year of claiming yourself. Defining yourself. Taking seriously your gifts and limits. A year of saying yes to your own healing in even deeper ways.

Thank you. For breathing. For doing EMDR, for committing to practices that serve you best.

Keep on letting go–while noticing your tendency to want to fill the void.  Let the void stay though-this is the place where magic happens.

Be aware that your own tendency to over-exert, over-work, over-schedule comes from your own personal trauma patterns.

And of course these are linked to capitalism, white supremacy, and ableism.  It’s the air you breathe. It’s in your DNA. It’s in your ancestry.

And even with your illness-you still find yourself reverting.  Feeling like you need to be perfect to be seen and loved. Or at least that showing up takes a certain visible form.

Many messages you’ve internalized from justice spaces have been harmful.  

It’s time to let those go. Not to let the work go. But approach it differently in a way that works for you. And not apologize for that.

You see, urgency for you must take the form of slow, committed, behind the scenes work.  This isn’t you hiding-this is you thriving. For there’s always a way you see the small wins lurking in the shadows…of your own life too.

Part of accepting your illness is to know what is happening in your body.  Hashimoto’s is characterized by a hyper-vigilant fight or flight state where the body starts attacking its own tissue.  It’s okay to know that justice spaces operate off this hypervigilance. That’s not something you can sustain-not in that way.  You would have a flare and be off the grid for awhile.

And part of healing is the reality that this hypervigilance lessons.  Your body can now move more easily into homeostasis. It’s not always on guard, protecting, defensive.

And what you learning is that as your hypervigilance lessens-your body seems confused. “What, this open, spacious, free space to live. I don’t know how to live here. It’s not comfortable.” So you return to what is toxic for your body because that’s what you know.

Let’s work together and stop doing that.

Let’s keep the dark voids, the open spaces.

Let’s continually believe we are worthy of love. Always.

Let’s trust our own inner wisdom, while still being teachable.

Let’s take deep breaths and rest.

You’ve already journeyed a good way in understanding rest. And you are learning it from a new place. You are not completely crashed and lying in bed all day.  You are running a business, being a friend, companioning people in deep ways. And you must learn again. You must teach me again, until I know on a cellular level what it means to take a full, deep breath and believe that this spaciousness has always been my birthright.

For you know that solidarity is having your privilege and co-dependency in check.  Solidarity is having a deep, strong sense of self, so you aren’t looking for approval or needing recognition.

This is deep, internal work. For white supremacy has formed white people, including yourself, to position yourselves as “white savior”-and to undo this creates a sense of “loss of self.” And there is grief and anger. And yet it’s an opportunity to find out who you really are.  You’ve just been lulled to sleep.

So take time to rest.  To discover your power. To discover yourself. And smile and laugh. Life is beautiful–and so are you.  

Keep listening. You are right where you are supposed to be. So be all there.

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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.

 

 

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.

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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.

In Being Surprised

I pulled out several journals from my closet yesterday.  They are all kept in this basic 64 gallon storage bin, and have moved with me from place to place over the last 10 years.  I’m not a person who keeps a lot of stuff–however, these journals are what I have not parted with since childhood.

Writing has been my way of making sense of the world, for awhile now.  I’ve journaled routinely since I was 12, and before then I loved learning cursive, and practicing different signatures over and over again.  I wrote letters, and had several pen pals.  Collecting gel pens and different colors of paper and stationery made me excited.

Now, I don’t think I care to pull out what I wrote when I was 12 years old.  I’m sure I will part with these before too long.  But as I reached into the bin and sorted through the journals, I pulled out the ones from the last 5 years.

The ones that kept me sane through the worst parts of my illness.

The writing that saw me through all my pain and fatigue, confusion and questioning.

Those pages that existed to help me sort through my shame, guilt, anger, sadness & despair.  The pages that helped me to feel intensely, who told me that I must move through these emotions, rather than to bypass them.

My journals are a mess-as my sister likes to say.  I’m a pretty structured and organized person and my journals are a place for me not to be organized.  So in those pages are letters that I’ve received, grocery lists, poems, prayers, impressions, hopes, longings, outlines for books, gratitude prompts.

Those pages contain business ideas, to-do lists, and in the worst of my illness, lists upon lists of things I needed to do, written down just so I wouldn’t forget.

My writing is a live record, not just of my growth, in a vague, broad sense.  I believe they contain subtle shifts, cues, directions, themes.  They point to shifts in awareness, discernment through small and big decisions, relational quality, how I’m processing my emotions.  They highlight my honesty, or lack of it, how my view of the Divine shifts from day to day.

These 5 years of journals are going to be my companions for the next month or so.  Some of these words will make it into my next draft of my manuscript, adding authenticity & clarity.

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When I met with my spiritual director on Monday, I spoke to her of these journals, of my upcoming vacation to Michigan, this strong rootedness I’m feeling towards the past right now.

She asked me how I felt when thinking about reading through these journals.  “Even though I’ve dug into my story deeply, and know it well–I think I’m going to be surprised.  I think I’m going to see clues everywhere of how Spirit was present and I didn’t even know it.  I’m going to see things that worked out that I had forgotten about, deep pain that has lessened in its intensity.”

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I’m taking these next few weeks pretty slow.  I’m finishing up with my students for the summer.  I’m leaving on vacation in less than two weeks.

I’m letting myself say yes to things and people who give me joy, stretch me, that place me in a position of learning and listening and receiving.  I’m saying yes to theatre, to music, to nature, to writing, to political engagement.  I’m saying yes to being with people, and I’m still saying yes and going places alone.

This summer has already been more than I’ve expected in so many ways–and I haven’t even gone on vacation yet!   What I’m most thankful for is the ability to be outside for so much longer.  Yes, I still get tired, but tired just like everyone else, rather than extra-extra-extra tired, where I’m recovering for several days afterwards.

I’m thankful that I haven’t had huge reactions to mold in buildings.  I’m thankful I didn’t have to move my tutoring locations for the summer, which I thought I might have to do.

I’m thankful for this deep centering I feel, which has come from my own inner journey and solitude, yet surrounded by many supportive friendships.  I’m calling summer this deep time of integration, where I’m learning how to step into my gifting, where I’m learning what my strong “yes” feels like, where I don’t feel guilty for saying no to most things, where I know that my hard-won inner wisdom must align with my purpose in the world, or illness will come knocking again.

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While talking to a friend last week, I said, “I feel like I’m entering into the fall more aligned with my values than I’ve ever been in my life.”

As I said that, I took a breath.  I was surprised at how true that was.  And yet learning to trust my intuition and my body naturally has put me in a position of alignment.  I just wasn’t quite sure how true this was before I said it out loud.

Alignment for me looks like: regular times of spiritual practice and rest, both communal and individual.  Right now this looks like centering prayer, breath work, qigong, walks in nature, quarterly weekend retreats, spiritual direction, massage, sauna sessions, an inter-spiritual practice & discussion group and Sabbath.

Alignment for me looks like: not working before 10am.  And on Wednesdays, having a longer, drawn out morning, and not starting work until 2pm.  Strengthening relationships with families, continuing to press in deeply in conversations regarding limits, scarcity & fear.  Continuing to be aware and interrogate dynamics around power and money.

Alignment for me looks like: starting my last year of spiritual direction training, participating in the anti-racism team at my church, and helping to facilitate/gather white folks to read My Grandmother’s Hands and engage in the healing process around white racialized trauma.

Alignment for me looks like: continuing to write.  And not setting deadlines & timelines.  But writing and pursuing publication and letting go of the rest.

Alignment for me means be willing to be surprised, being open to wonder wherever it may be found.

 

 

Musings on Spring

 

Last fall I felt guilty moving to Westfield, Indiana.

My health was deteriorating quickly, and a friend looked me in the eyes, about to give really good advice to someone like me who struggles with environmental illness.

“You need to move north.”

North meant the suburbs.  Moving north because the buildings are newer and have less mold meant that I have the privilege to do so.  And so I moved.

For several months, I asked the question, “Why Westfield?”

The answers did not come quickly.  In fact, the glimpses are still coming, more and more every day.

It took moving to the suburbs after 10 years of living in various cities (Chicago, Memphis & Indy), to realize how much of my identity was wrapped up in a negation.  I was a white person who didn’t live in the suburbs.

How our identities form is so extremely nuanced and complex.  It’s crazy how many beliefs take hold without even realizing it.

Well, now I live in the suburbs.  And after living here for 8 months, I’ve experienced culture shock, and also a love of the quiet, of parks that surround me.  It’s been a place of rest in the midst of starting my life over in terms of work, home, and faith community.

It’s been a place where re-imagining has taken place.

It’s been a place to take deep breaths.

It’s been a place to become a pedestrian again.

It’s been a place to dig into intentionality.

It’s been a place that has brought back beautiful place memories of my childhood.

It’s been a place to lean into the history of the land.  I live on the land taken from the Miami people, and “founded” by Quaker abolitionists.  I’m learning to feel that deep complexity in my body, and not run from the pain that surfaces.

I’ve been asking deep questions about my work.  About sustainability in a healing profession.  And I’m discovering that working with majority white students gives me a unique opportunity.  Together, we are developing a language and a conversation around limitations, which to me, seems more and more central to our liberation.

I’m learning how to provide a safe space for my students to come into contact with their own resistance with reading, with writing, with their learning difference.  Being a dyslexia and autism tutor is just a container for students to fail in a safe way, and together we build this stamina that failure does not define them, that it’s okay to take risks, that they don’t have to lean into their perfectionism.  That what makes my students so amazing is that they are learning to hold their weaknesses lightly.  They can mess up & laugh about it.

And as a recovering perfectionist, I learn from them every day!

In order for me to hold that space, I’ve needed to dig into my own healing, even deeper.  My work is lovely, and it can wear me out.

I’ve leaned into my qigong practice, my breathwork practice, my writing, finishing out EMDR with my therapist.  I’ve leaned into new friendships and old ones.  I fall away from my practices, and then need to come back to them.

As summer arrived suddenly in Indiana, I found myself reacting viscerally to all kinds of allergies.  I quickly felt very overcommitted and ungrounded.

Spring was a season of deep growth & transformation–and I entered into early summer enthusiastically, yet in doing a lot of outward work, and neglecting my spiritual practices.  I needed to return to my breath & to the earth, where Spirit is so present, if I would just pay attention and bring intention.

Spring brought about some deep “yeses.”  As I spent time at my computer working almost the whole day Saturday, I also was able to reflect on the year, as I sent next year’s calendar to my families.

My business survived the first year!  And I made money!

I joined the Episcopal church, 8 minutes from my apartment.  It’s environmentally friendly to my allergies.  The sanctuary is all tile!  There’s other reasons for joining, that I’ve already written about.  And I’ve joined the anti-racism team.  I will soon be trained to be a Lay Eucharistic Minister, serving communion to those who cannot leave their home.  As someone who has been confined to my bed, there’s no greater gift, than to find a reciprocal way to give back to those who have visited me.

I committed to finishing up my second year of spiritual direction training.  Who knows where this will lead, but I’m excited and the timing is right!

As I’ve said yes to my spiritual practice of qigong, my energy reserve just continues to build in my body, to the point where my food allergies are starting to disappear.  I’m no longer needing most of my medication.  I’m healing in deep ways every single day.  I had no idea this was possible, even though several people told me it was–I was just too skeptical to believe it at the time.

I helped to create a resource list for chronic fatigue advocacy in Indiana, and am learning to dive into conversations about the need for awareness and funding around chronic illness AND also ground inward and know that true healing is always inward, that no one doctor is the “savior.”  Validation is important, and healing from the trauma around not being believed even more important.

Spring has brought a deep yes, to be in contact with the Westfield police department about the over-policing I have witnessed working at the library, as students of color would walk over from the middle school and high school.

Spring has brought a school shooting 13 minutes from my home.  It’s meant texting my families who live in Noblesville, and checking in to make sure they are okay.  It’s been watching middle school students in a very conservative county protest the gun shop that opened that day after a school shooting in their hometown, and say, “Yes, this!”

Spring means walking to the tiny farmer’s market, and smiling.  It means talking to local business owners and sensing a spirit of camaraderie, not competition.  It means talking to the local bee farmer about honey & allergies, and how bees raise the vibration of the planet.  It means to committing to visit the bee farm, to draw closer to the Earth in my own vicinity.

As we draw near to the Summer Solstice, may there be abundance.  May their be joy and rootedness and hope.  May nature teach us about patience.  For everything there is a time.

 

Health & Ancestry

 

This past Easter weekend, when at my parents’ home, I took some time to look through a book, detailing the Storrs’ ancestry.  As I flipped through its contents reading name after name–some themes began to emerge.

Doctors.  Lawyers.  Clergy.  Yale.

I saw the status that comes with these roles, the “rulers” of society.  There was no mention of the land they took, or the indigenous peoples they colonized or killed with their diseases.  No longer mentioning their names.  With their power, they got to tell the story, and leave out their shadow, what put them in a monstrous light.

I wonder if my ancestors wondered about how their domination would affect their ancestors.  Did they even question how their lifestyle, their beliefs and practices was affecting them?

As I flipped through a multi-hundred page book, I didn’t see many healers mentioned.  There were a select few who held anti-slavery views and aligned their life with their beliefs.

Richard Salter Storrs, Charles Backus Storrs, George Storrs.

One woman in particular caught my attention: Lucinda Howe Storrs.

She was described as having a rare strength and tenderness, keeping a detailed diary, and attending to the concerns of the soul.  Maybe what we would call a mystic today.

I’m glad I know a few names of people in my lineage who had the courage to say, “This isn’t right.  We must be in this world in a new way, even though we carry with us this history of oppression.  And we must carry our spirituality with us into this work.”

And yet, I have the drivenness and perfectionism and domination in my body of my ancestors.  And I have this strong intuitive part of myself that has felt this dissonance, as I have sought to wander my way into the truth.

I wonder if ancestral trauma plays a considerable role in my chronic illness.  Because my healing journey isn’t just about me–it’s about the effects on other people because I’m healing.  It’s about strongly saying, “The dysfunction stops here.  The silence.  The lies.  The lop-sided incorrect view of history.  The ending where white people always win.”

During my breath work practice over the past several months, this strong, yet simple message has come through: “You are here to heal.  Healing yourself is also about healing your family line.”

To be honest, I don’t really know what this means.  And yet I’m learning that I don’t need to.  Showing up to myself, to my practice, to people–this is all I need to know.

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As a sensitive person, my body reacts strongly to the changing of the seasons.  This has always been true–I’m just now tuning into this.  As the warmer weather made known that it was here to stay in Indiana, this message came too: “It’s time to slow down and write.”

It’s time to stop worrying and wondering how all the pieces are going to come together and just live.  To be in touch with my longings and desires and live out of these-no matter how that looks each day.

It’s time for me to lean more deeply into natural law and the symbolism of nature.  Summer is abundance!

For so many years summer has felt like deprivation.  But summer gives greatly.  Part of healing is healing my relationship with nature.

So this summer, I am going to receive in abundance.

The sun.  The beach. Parks.  The flowers.  Rest.  Naps.  Books.  Sunsets.  Concerts in the park. Sitting by the apartment pool.  Getting in the pool and swimming.  Friends. Walks.  Wine tasting.  BBQ.

There is such a strong perfectionism in my DNA, that I must rest.

As I dig into my ancestral roots, I’m discovering deeper purposes for my illness.  I needed to wake up to this deeper work.  As a highly driven perfectionist, I needed something as severe as my illness to wake me up.  To stop and rest.  A chance to breathe deeply and learn to come home to myself.

To understand where my impulses come from.  To tap back into my deeply spiritual nature that doesn’t need an organization structure to fuel it.  To realize that at my essence, I am worthy-and I express this worthiness best in the world by being a healer and a writer.

Instead of just viewing my illness as a curse, and needing to fix it, I’m seeing glimpses of its greater purpose.

And I know deeply in my body that my healing is for myself and for everyone else.

I didn’t use to believe this.  I had internalized that my self-care was selfish, that my healing journey was navel-gazing, that it was just another stint of my perfectionism.

I had never before considered that at my core, I am a healer-and in order to be one, I needed to focus on my own.  And by engaging this process, I am actually stepping into who I really am.

That this process was quite literally saving my life.  Because I was and am coming home to myself.

Surely, many of my ancestors did not want to be doctors, lawyers & clergy.  Surely something ached in many of them for something more (although nothing is inherently bad about these professions!).  Surely clinging to all that power and ignoring their shadow, wiping out entire peoples & stories, cultures, and rituals, while they “started” a country with “law and order.”

That psychological heaviness is deep.  And I’m sure it weighed on generation after generation.  And it weighs on me.

Maybe I needed to go through an intense powerlessness of chronic illness to know that in giving up power is where I find life.  That in mutual friendships, I find delight.  That there’s something mysterious at play.  That joy and sadness can co-exist and must for the creativity to surface.

Healing starts with me–in all of my privilege, in all of my pain.  I will keep on healing.

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

Post-EMDR

 

I finished this intense period of therapy last week.  After 2 introduction sessions, I started into EMDR.  The whole session was just talking about memories, about sensations, emotions, negative thoughts.  After awhile, I could track, even while I was speaking, how someone with my nature, is particularly prone to trauma and how trauma is experienced.

EMDR taught me so much about my sensitive, empathic nature.  How I could feel someone’s sadness or pain, almost deeper than he/she/they could?  How could I feel the energy in an environment and have it affect my energy levels?  How come grief seems to lodge in my body in the way it does?

As I went into these sessions, and my eyes went back and forth across the light bar thousands of times, I came to more fully appreciate my sensitive nature, this deep and unique part of myself.  The more my trauma cleared, the more I could see myself, this very strong, compassionate, empathic woman, for who I really am.

I came to understand how I’ve functioned in relationships that hasn’t served my best interest.  How I must understand serving others in a more nuanced way, because companioning someone in challenges comes naturally to me.  It is not a difficult task for me to try and see the world from another perspective.

So, as I kept going back to therapy, we worked on feeling more grounded, in my gut or sacral chakra.  I wanted to feel grounded in my intuition, not always second-guessing myself.  I wanted to couple my compassion with strength.

I wanted to know if I could sustain myself in a helping profession.  As the trauma cleared, I had more energy in my body to go towards my self-care instead of protecting my pain.  So, I found powerful healing practices that seemed to work with my energy–including meditation, breath work and qigong.

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A deep question that I didn’t realize I was asking until mid-way through therapy was, “Why has the Western Christian church emphasized service (and usually the service of women) at the expense of knowing oneself?”  And how have I been hurt by this reversal?”

I learned early on not to question authority.  They were always right.  Being a “sinner” was emphasized to such a degree that my lifetime of service of God really was a payback–and I was supposed to do this with joy.

Never did we talk about how serving could be a way of avoiding one’s pain.  Never did we talk about sensitive individuals and the propensity for burn-out and the martyrdom mentality.  Never did we talk about why women were encouraged to serve more than men.

There was a lot packed into my formative years and who I was “supposed to” be.  Wanting to please, I did everything I could, until I burned out, quit my job, and found out that I had an autoimmune disease that was running my life.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that I did this in the name of God.

But I couldn’t do it anymore.  And so, the last 4 years, have been a deep unraveling.  Of knowing the Divine and myself and those around me.  Of accepting myself and my unique nature and letting that inform how I show up in the world, grounded and compassionate.

Yet, more than an unraveling is happening.  I’m reconstructing my life.  I’m now on solid, yet unknown ground, and that feels as it should be.

I say no a lot more.  I don’t sign up for things just because.  I want my outer life to reflect my inner life.  I’m no longer frantic, searching desperately for meaning.  Now, I can stand in one place, knowing that I can find meaning anywhere.

And I let myself feel that deep joy.  Because when deep internalized trauma no longer clouds my vision, I can finally see what is.  And what is, is a very beautiful gift.

 

Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

Musings on Peace

I walked through a nature preserve last week in the middle of the day.  The sun had just decided to peek out, and I took advantage of a client canceling by taking a walk outside.  I watched the robins dance in the branches, noticed the water still high by the bridge.  I celebrated the small flowers shooting up, and I found a hidden very small cemetery in the middle of the woods and just stood by it for several minutes, still and silent.

I needed that 35 minute walk.

To take a deep breath.  To check in with myself.  To simply be out in the sun.

As I’m on this journey of coming home to myself, I realize more and more how much time I need alone and in quiet.

My body needs time to acclimate to all the robust changes that have taken place over the past 6 months, all the change that continues even in this moment.

I need a moment simply to say, “I love and accept myself.”

A moment simply to smile and say, “All is well, and all will be well.”

A moment to acknowledge that I’m made to chase joy and adventure.  Sometimes I am to be still and let joy and adventure chase me.

A moment to enjoy.  Just because.

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It’s taken awhile for me to know within my body what being at peace feels like.  What it feels like for my body to feel clear, to not be holding tension in my jaw, in my shoulders.  What it feels like to really take a deep breath.

Not too long ago, by the way I lived my life, I would have defined peace as being accepted by others, and not making them too upset.  Interestingly enough, peace didn’t start with me.

I feel more peace now, linked with a curiosity and adventure, than I ever have in my life.  It’s an inner peace of acceptance.  Accepting and continuing to accept who I am, and how I am to be of service in the world.  Accepting what is mine to do, and what isn’t.

Peace has been linked with boundary setting, yes, but also by simply giving myself permission.  Knowing deeply (not just intellectually) that I am empowered to choose.  I am in control of my own body, of my own mind.  And by simply being myself, I will make some people upset.  And that it’s not my job to take on that energy.  It’s just a reflection of another person’s lack of acceptance.

So some days, I check in and ask myself, “What do I need?”

Last week it was a walk in the sun.  It was listening to my body’s deep desire of movement and quiet and nature.  And I said yes.

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As I heal and accept myself more and more, my desire for silence and solitude grows.  Some days the amount in which I feel like I need this type of space, feels unnerving.  Yet, I rest in the fact that my body knows what it needs, and I must listen.

There’s this paradox occurring.  I deeply know of my own empowerment, and yet the healing adventure is unknown.  It must be both/and.  This longing of solitude feels like a childhood longing–where time moves on without my knowledge, where my bare feet touch the grass, where I commune with nature and myself, without having to explain or defend.

There’s a gift here for me.  I have spent half of my life defending my need for medical treatment.  Defending that I am worth figuring out what was going on, and to receive adequate treatment.  I’ve also spent a good chunk of my life, hiding, staying small, and not listening to my body.   I get to rest and accept now.

And as I rest, part of healing is also realizing that my chronic illness is a story of going against my true nature–leaving my sensitivity behind–and just trying to make it in the world by being “successful.”  That was never my path, although I tried to fake it for awhile.

So, as I rest, I reclaim my sensitivity, and say “yes” to my whole self.  Just because.

 

Photo by Michael Heuser on Unsplash

Arrogance or Bravery?

While sitting in meditation last week, I thought of this David Whyte poem.  It was meditation, and so I let the thought go, but then it came back to me later that day.

Sweet Darkness

When your eyes are tired

the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone

no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark

where the night has eyes

to recognize its own.

There you can be sure

you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb

tonight.

The night will give you a horizon 

further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.

The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds

except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet

confinement of your aloneness

to learn

anything or anyone 

that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

What struck me is that on a surface level, this poem can seem quite arrogant.  It’s a poem of struggle, retreating into solitude, and realizing that you should only spend time around people that make you come alive.  (Does that make someone smart or extremely avoidant?!)

Upon deeper investigation though, this poem is about letting go.  Being alone in the quiet and seeing what’s left.  It’s about figuring out who you are, when you are willing to rip away all the masks.  It’s about knowing you are deeply loved.  It’s about learning to befriend yourself; and to stay true to yourself.  It’s about knowing what is yours to do and what isn’t.  It’s about knowing who your people are; and what people aren’t.

Somehow aloneness becomes a sweet confinement.  The silence rips away all pretense–and you can no longer be a good version of yourself.  You must be your true self.  You must put away all the good things (especially the good things other people want you to do!)–and only long for the best.

This is a beautiful poem for Lent.  “The world was made to be free in.”

These words have been a great support over the last week, as I’m coming to understand what it means for me to give up conformity for Lent.  For me it means hearing the whispering voice say, “What do you want?”  It’s responding honestly to that question.

It means paying attention to when I feel like I have to make someone else in the room comfortable–and realizing where this impulse is coming from.

It means entering into deep rest, remembering that I don’t exist just to serve other people.  It means knowing that I’m worthy.  Worthy of every good thing.

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I excelled at a young age, both academically and athletically.  I was smart, yet practical.  I didn’t quite fit the dumb blonde stereotype.  I beat all the boys when we would race at recess.  I remember having a realization while I was still in elementary school that I intimidated people.  I had strong strengths, but I didn’t like the effect this had in a group.  I would either shrink to make people feel comfortable, or avoid certain people if I wanted to act like myself.

I took on other people’s insecurity.  And over time, I didn’t know what was my energy or what was someone else’s.

I didn’t know this dynamic existed while I was still running and was successful.  I started to realize it when my health started deteriorating, when I could no longer hide behind my external achievements.  I knew then that actually my interior life was empty as well; I thought that I was what I could accomplish, but I was very wrong.

Even when I got sick, people would tell me, “You have such a good attitude” or “I don’t know how you persevere the way you do.”  I would smile to be polite and to make them comfortable–because when you are sick, you are very aware of how your existence makes people very uncomfortable.  I would muster some energy that I didn’t really have to say something trite like, “Well, I do the best that I can.”

Deep down in my bones though, I was tired of my over-responsibility, still trying to make other people in the room comfortable even when I was really sick.

Why?  I wanted to feel like I belonged.  I confused conformity with belonging.  I chose to not remember the basic truth that at an elemental level, that we all belong to each other.

So in order to belong, I would do a lot of emotional labor for other people so they would understand my illness.  I short-changed their learning, so that I could feel understood.

I sought support primarily externally (although I did need this), to the neglect of my own internal support & those in my life who had taught me resilience. The harder work is the inner work.

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During this Lent, what I felt my body saying was, “No more.”

“Take responsibility for your own emotional wake-but that’s it.”

“Really see who you are in the silence.”

The woman that is emerging from this silence is strong and compassionate.  She knows that her strength and compassion are nestled in her own body.  She is in touch with her intuition, and realizes when anxiety creeps in, that she is out of line with herself.  She gives to others, but also gives abundantly to herself.  She recognizes that the price of discovering oneself is misunderstanding and increased conflict–yet knows that the risk is worth it.  Rather than being afraid of her fatigue, she listens to it, for she knows that in it contains much wisdom.  She takes deep breaths, expressing gratitude for the life source that sustains her.  She knows that her power lies in letting go–only which is hers.

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Here I am.  In the present, as a strong woman.  Yet this time, one who knows her inherent worth and dignity.  I’m no longer the 8 year old on the playground-although that girl is still in me.

So is it arrogant or brave to step into the silence, with all of my gifts, with all of my hard-won wisdom?  Is it arrogant or brave to rest, both alone and in community, in order to give my best self to the world?

Is it arrogant or brave to leave places or people that do not make me come alive?

Is it arrogant or brave to speak truth to power?

Is it arrogant or brave to wander until you know where you are to put down roots?

I say brave, although of course the flip side is that the ones who feel rejected, say arrogant.  Yet, that’s not mine to worry about, is it?

 

Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash