Thursday, May 14, 2015

Hello, Gorgeous!

What an Entrance - Bruce Holwarda

I was given a tremendous gift this year.

It didn’t come in the way I would have wanted. It didn’t come pretty and neat and easy to open. It came disguised as misery. It came wrapped in grief, in illness, in pain. It was difficult to unwrap. It was hard to unravel. It was messy and tiresome and grueling. It didn’t feel like a gift at all, in fact. It felt like punishment. It felt like torture. I was confused, frustrated and tired. I didn’t want it. But one cannot give away this kind of gift. One can either accept it, and do the work, or sit and cry and be burdened, miserable and sad. I first chose the latter.

But that’s okay. Grief sucks. I thought I knew how I would feel when Eddy died. I thought I was prepared. He’d been sick for so long and was deteriorating. Our relationship was challenging, and, despite him nearing the end of life, we fought. Now, looking back, I see how he must have been angry, being stripped of everything, his job, his wife, his children, his life. I understand that he didn’t know how to do it, to be sick and die. No one does. And so when he died, all my feelings began to unravel. And my body began to flush everything out, it was all too much for my system.

Diarrhea. For five months. Cramping, night-waking, stabbing, urgent, painful diarrhea. Sleeplessness, anxiety, unrest. And slowly I deteriorated. I got sicker and more tired and had days I couldn’t get out of bed. My mind became increasingly foggy. My body became increasingly fatigued. By the time I’d done all the stool samples, blood work, scopes and scans, I was tapping the mat. Done. Worn out. Shot. More than anything, I was discouraged. And angry.

The psychiatrist diagnosed me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which sounds like BS, I know. I’m generally anxious? What does that even mean? But all the symptoms were physical symptoms. My body was taking all the stressors from my life - work, kids, house, death, grief, family, my own mind - and it was doing what it could, doing what it was supposed to do, protect me from harm and send signals that something was wrong. Suddenly, years of aches and pains and digestive problems all seemed to make sense. My body had been trying to tell me there was a problem for years.

But since my body had always been the enemy, I didn’t listen.

I’ve been angry at my body since I was thirteen - for being bigger, for small boobs, for thick thighs, for callused feet, for veins and stretch marks, for knee pain and vaginal pain, allergies and a torn hip flexor. I’ve always complained and been angry. “I need a new body,” I’ve often said. I felt ripped off, cheated and angry that I got this crappy fixer-upper.

All the while my body has been plugging right along taking care of me, protecting me from harm and warning me that things are not right.

I started on the anxiety meds. And I started acupuncture. I found this woman who takes insurance and does health coaching along with the needles. She said that her goal is to work herself out of a job. She wants me to learn a new practice so that I don’t need to come back. She is marvelous. And through her I unwrapped those final grimy layers and discovered the gift within, my body.

I finally saw it for all the good it’s been doing. And I finally saw all the harm I’ve been doing to it. I’ve been poisoning myself with food and with thoughts. I’ve been sabotaging my own health with destructive thinking. And the most destructive of all is the beating myself up for not doing better and having better thoughts.

“That first step is difficult to notice, that you’re hooked because of ignorance, but also hard to get beyond that and choose a fresh alternative because at that point, when you see what you’ve done, to be hard on yourself is one the most habitual chain reactions that gets set off…When we work with ourselves we have to acknowledge that there’s this tremendous tendency to get stuck in self condemnation, thinking that we’re bad, that we’re wrong, that there’s something imperfect about us.”
– Pema Chodron

Mary, the acupuncturist, has helped me see that when I start down a path of anxious, unhealthy thinking, I can say, “You’ve been practiced in that way of thinking for a long time. Let’s try something new.” No judgment. No self-flagellation. No anxiety over the “shoulds.” Just, a gentle hand-holding guidance onto another path.

My body is very good at giving me accurate information, if only I will listen. And the more I listen, the more I care about this good friend, the more I want to care for it, to feed it well, to honor it and treat it gently.

There is no “mental” illness. Our bodies are reacting to our world. And some bodies are sick. My body gets easily keyed up by stressful situations. My body reacts and gets sluggish and painful. My body knows when it’s had enough, and it forces me to stop and rest. This isn’t “in my head,” and my body isn’t doing anything wrong. There is no need for judgment. There is no need for embarrassment. There is no need for criticism. My body is not the enemy. My mind is not the enemy.

And so, my gift, this wonderful body I’ve been wrestling and hating, came wrapped in physical illness, grief, fatigue and stabbing pain. And I am extremely grateful. I’m not just saying that. I am sincerely so grateful.

Monday I start an elimination diet to see if there are certain foods that are contributing to all of my symptoms. And, for the first time in my life, I am excited about going on a diet. Because this diet is not about fixing something that is BAD but taking care of something that is GOOD. This is about respect and not about trying to change.

It’s going to take me a while to learn a new practice of loving and caring for my body, but I am so grateful for this tremendous opportunity. I am hopeful that this will be a watershed moment and that I will continue to find real freedom from the oppression of SHOULD I have lived with for so long.

“To the degree that we can acknowledge what’s happening and develop an enthusiasm for cutting that chain reaction, to the degree that we can see what’s happening and become enthusiastic about no longer sowing the seeds of suffering, to that degree we begin to tune in more and more to the profundity and openness and basic wisdom and goodness of our own heart and mind, the basic openness and wisdom and goodness of our own being. This isn’t just about solving a problem of habits, this is that every time we follow that habit, which we all do, it’s like we’re cutting ourselves off from our true nature, cutting ourselves off from our basic wisdom and basic openness of our being. It’s like it’s here and can manifest in any moment, but the way we follow that habitual pattern is taking us away or blinding us or making us ignorant to who we really are or what our potential really is.” - Pema Chodron

The quotes from Pema come from the video from  a course specifically focusing on this lesson I’ve been learning - the freedom to choose something different.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Downstream

Well, I haven't exactly been posting a poem every day as I intended. I've been writing them, but they've been scratchings leading up to something else that is yet to be written. And so I just let go of the plan and have done what I can. Ah. That should be my motto. 

Let go of the plan, and do what you can. 

Our dear friends have been visiting this week. And while normally having house guests while you're in the middle of a health crisis would be overwhelming, with them it is not. It's easy because they're easy. And getting love from them and their twin seven year old snugglers is about the best medicine a person could ask for. So, I've just been soaking it up, and resting in all the support.

I've had some eye-opening conversations lately. And while I would never say, "Things happen for a reason," I can see why people feel that way sometimes. What I would say is that sometimes, when we are severed, we open ourselves up to things in a way we might never have before. And all of it has pushed me into a place where I had to decide to make change or stay miserable. It brings to mind the "eye of the needle" and that the only way to make that passage is to strip down all unnecessary things. That is heaven. That is the place of peace. And so, together with modern medicine and oh so many supportive friends and family, I am stripping down and passing through and changing. This is it. Do or die. 

Because of all of this, I've made some big changes. I've decided to take a little leave from work over the summer and focus on being with the kids, getting healthy and realigning myself. I've also decided to start massage therapy school in September. After all my hemming and hawing over what to "do with my life" I finally really heard the words of two friends. Naomi, my forever friend, wrote a great article at the beginning of the year about changing your question from "What do I want to achieve?" to "How do I want to feel?" This has been simmering in my mind ever since. And then my friend Peter, another lifelong friend, told me that he had made some decisions about how he wanted his life to be and adjusted his work to match that. And suddenly, the decision seemed simple. I want to feel healthy. I want to feel like a healer. I want to feel flexible. I want to feel free. I want to feel connected. 

I started this poem after I got off the phone with Peter. Talking to him brought up images from our childhood in Papua New Guinea - of rivers and streams and the flow of our lives then. I'm flipping over, looking up and floating. It's a relief. Thank you, all of you, who have given me encouragement, wisdom, cards, gifts, hugs, laughter and love. I think I'm headed toward freedom now.

Downstream

You don’t know you’re swimming upstream
Like the ants don’t know about the highway
All you know is the struggle
All you feel is the cold
All you want is to be finished
You don’t know that you’re already finished
You don’t know that you’re making life harder
All you know is swimming this way
And so you do
You’re paddling
And paddling
And fighting
And wearing yourself out
This isn’t life, you cry
This isn’t worth doing
And then a tree falls across your path
You’re hurt and angry
And you’re crying because now you’re even farther behind
And you’re fighting for air
And angry
So angry
Until you can do nothing but give in
You turn over
You’re blinded by tears
Until you realize you can breathe
And you see the clear blue sky
And you see the geese fly over
And suddenly everything makes sense
And you’re present in the water
And you realize that where you want to be
Is exactly where you are
And that eventually that will be the ocean
And you forget where you were going
And you forget where you’ve been
And the geese fly over

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

If I Die Tonight

So...anxiety.

I always thought my issue was depression. I thought my other problems were "physical" problems and that the depression was this "mental" thing. I knew that I had physical symptoms. But today, after meeting with this great psychiatrist, I understand more fully how an anxiety disorder is a PHYSICAL illness. Sure, there are racing thoughts and memory lapses that seem like "thinking" problems, but the body is thinking too. And this doesn't necessarily feel like what you think anxiety will feel like. People with Generalized Anxiety Disorder feel like their body is filled with sand and they're swimming through jelly. They might have digestive problems, sleep problems, muscle tension, back aches, sweating, twitching. They startle more easily and can be hyper sensitive to sound. They also often have IBS. Check. Check. And check. So, it might be that all this crap all these years (the digestive problems, pain issues, muscle pains requiring therapy, night sweats, jumpiness, etc.) all might be the result of an underlying illness. If we gave this another name and only listed the physical symptoms, it would garner sympathy, but it's labeled as a brain problem and so it seems "fake" or that all the symptoms are "psychosematic"," but they're not. I'm not making up diarrhea. That is an actual symptom of the illness. Anyway, I am relieved to not be dying. Although, the other night, when I was in agony with stabbing pain and rushing the the bathroom all night, I had that worry that I might actually have some kind of life threatening illness. I was on the fence about going to the ER, it was that bad. Right before we finally tried to sleep, around 2 am, I had a sudden panic that "what if this is it," and I laid there thinking about my life and what I would want to happen. I wasn't convinced I was going to die, but I was realizing that, were it to happen, I wanted a say over what I leave behind. And this little poem was born.

I'm not dying, yet, thank goodness. But, because I will some day, this is here.

Poem 15

If I die tonight

If I die
From pain
From bleeding
From complications
If I die before I wake
Please take care of my babies
Please save all my crummy journals for them
Please tell them I loved them so
Please keep doing art with them
And brush their hair
And don't spoil them
And make them work
And kiss skinned knees but also praise them
A life without falling is not a life worth living
If you're not getting hurt, you're not doing childhood right
And if they say that things aren't fair
Ask them how they thought it would be
And don't try to make it fair
Nothing is fair
And even gods never said so
And read to them
And play my music
And keep measuring them
I don't care about a legacy other than them
And Marco, I love you.
Could the same be said of marriage as of childhood?
Are we doing it right?
Are we living?
Goodbye, my folks
Goodbye, my family
Goodbye dear friends
It can be said that I did not die of a broken heart
Something is broken but not that
I have been loved beyond measure by so many
I'm sorry I ever complained
Life is hard and then you get diarrhea
Life is unfair, absurd, painful and filled with darkness
But it beats the alternative
Hopefully that will just be nothing
Not existing seems scary
Or just sad
I have existed for billions of years
I go on existing
I just might be a flower
Or a tomato
Or an earthworm
And then, someday
Star stuff again
I am connected to everyone
I am everything
We are Groot
The pain will pass
Surely I will sleep
But just in case
Know I love you
And that love is star stuff too



Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Pain

Pain
You inglorious bastard
You ruiner of moments
Of weeks
Of life

Acute and fully alive
Dull and annoying
I ache both for you and from you
You fucking
suck, Pain
Stabbing, throbbing,
wicked Pain
Pulsing, burning, cruel

You take prisoners
You make prisoners
And punish them
For the crime of being
Alive Pain

Are you telling me something?
Mumbling, shouting, stupid
I hate you
And then, when it is only you
I am relieved
Nothing else matters

Pain
Here you are again
In line at the store
Here you are again
Reading with my daughter
Here you are again
Rooting in my body

Pain
Fuck you
Stop tormenting me
Pain
Pain
Pain
Pain
Pain

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Stronger on the Inside

Inspired by Amanda Palmer's new song Bigger on the Inside and by these photos that say "Strong is the new Pretty" I am attempting to take my body back!

April 12 - Poem 12

Stronger on the Inside

As a fat person
I have to defend my eating
I have to brag about my exercise
I have to talk about it
I have to dress it
As a fat person
My weaknesses seem obvious
But you don't know
About me
As a fat person
You might notice the swing of my arms
Or the width of my thighs
But you don't know
I can bench press you
I can kick your teeth in
I can do fifty pushups
You don't know
I'm a fighter
I'm a wild lover
I'm passionate and courageous
You don't know how hard I've tried
To NOT be what you see
But I am big
I am bold
I am strong
And what's more
I am even bigger on the inside
So I'm gonna stop
Defending my body
My body is stronger than yours
And what's more
I'm even stronger on the inside

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