Wednesday, June 29, 2016

End of year four

Last year, I wrote these words:   "So this fourth year is dedicated to finding, listening to and speaking my voice.  More importantly it will be dedicated to exploring what that means." Shockingly enough, I went back and read the words I wrote a year ago.   This is shocking, because I am not fond of reading my own writing, despite everyone encouraging me to go back and see how I have progressed as a writer.  

When I wrote that goal, to discover my voice.  I had expectations and goals in mind.  I was hoping that I would learn to develop my voice through teaching yoga and continuing to talk about my studies and expanding how I was volunteering and work towards being proud and able to talk about what I do without making myself small.   Most people that know me well, know when it comes time to talk about myself or what I am doing, anything that might be vulnerable my posture tends to collapse and I literally make myself smaller.  

Little did I know what the year had in store for me, I had no idea how quickly priorities and goals could change, once my health became the most important thing.  In fact at times, it feels like the only thing in my life.  There are plenty of times were I feel like a prisoner in my body or to treatments or to a strict diet.  What role did this play in me finding my voice?  

I have discovered a different voice, than the one I expected.  I have learned to advocate for myself, I have learned to speak up when I am in pain and even sometimes ask for help.  (Still working on the asking for help part, since the last time I went to the ER I waited hours before finally asking for pain medication.)  I have learned to say "no" to things and in the process attempting to see that as saying "yes" to myself.  I have learned to talk to insurance companies, pharmacies, different health care providers and to find a way to have my concerns addressed.  I have learned to say a doctor is not the one for me, and understand that I do have control over the decisions I make in this process.  

I say attempting, because this a a huge work in progress.  There are tiny, tiny steps.  Steps that are so tiny I feel like I am not moving.  I still get up every morning, though, I still look for those reasons to smile and enjoy life.  

I have learned to tell Adam that I am frustrated and out of energy and that I just need to lay on the couch and watch some stupid TV show or I need time alone.  

I continue to pay attention to my posture and work on not making myself small, because I feel awkward, unworthy, embarrassed or like I am not getting better.  I still collapse a lot, but I am more aware of it, which is the first step in changing it.  It is the first step in being able to breathe and be able to communicate and talk with the true power of my voice.

In the end it doesn't matter if I am talking to a doctor, a room full of students, a friend, Adam or anyone else, my voice and my experience are worthy of being heard.  I am worthy of being heard, and as I continue to get better, I will also learn to be comfortable expressing myself and understanding the context in which it is safe and appropriate to speak.  

I have no idea for my fifth year yet, but something will come up.  I just know that at the end of the next year, it will not look the way I expected and that is totally okay.  It might be better then I dreamed.

Question of the day:  When do you feel the most comfortable expressing yourself?  What is your posture like at that time?    

Monday, June 20, 2016

Letter writing

I am hoping to attend a short yoga training at the end of October, and I was ordering the books that are prerequisites and this book caught my eye.  I am a huge fan a Brene Brown and I know that Kristin Neff and her just teamed up to offer a class on self-compassion.  I decided to order this book and started reading it last night.  There are various exercises through the book, I am not very far.  In fact I got to the second exercise and felt a huge resistance to do the exercise.  I simply wanted to keep reading the book.  So I put the book down and asked myself "do you want to read the book or do you want to do the work and get change your patterns?"   I tend to motivate myself by using self critism and the way that I talk to myself is appalling.  I have often told Adam if he spent one day in my head and heard what I said to myself he would be shocked.  I am not alone in this, this addiction to self-criticism, and it causes me to increase the feelings of insecurity and leaves me feeling uncertain about myself.  

I decided why not do the exercises?  Not think about them, actually do them. Especially the ones that I am resistant to, the ones that I think I won't do "right."   What better way to hold myself accountable but to share my journey?  (This works for me, not for everyone.).   As I continue to read this book I will share what I do with some of the exercises especially the ones I am resistant to.  I will share my thoughts and writings as much as makes sense, I might edit some things out.  This first example, I am just writing here so no editing things out, just leaving the writing to expose where I am and hopefully when I finish the book I can go back and notice a difference.   (be gentle with me, I am taking off the shell)

This exercise is about letter writing, writing two letters the first one is to write about something that I do not like about myself, to explore the emotions honestly.   The second letter is to pretend I am writing to an imaginary friend with that condition and what would I say to that person?   This is the part I resisted, I could not even think how to approach that, knowing that I am talking to myself, knowing that with each sentence I wrote that little voice in my head would argue with it.  Honestly not even being sure based on what issue I chose if I would be able to imagine compassion.   Here we go:

I feel weak, physically and emotionally.  That weakness makes me lazy, which is why I am not getting better faster.  I am not doing enough to strengthen myself and to take care of myself properly.   This makes me feel unable to contribute to other people's lives, it makes me feel worthless, and not worthy of being seen and heard.  I am not comfortable in my own skin right now, I feel so many limitations and think if I was better, smarter, stronger that I would be able to handle what is going on in my life and still have energy to do the things I want to do.  I feel ashamed of what I have become, I feel grief about losing friends, time and opportunities.  I feel frustrated that no one seems to have "the answer" and I am being told just give it time, just be patient.  I worry that I did something to create my health issue and that despite changing my lifestyle I am still missing something that is preventing me from getting better (self-compassion?).   

Okay I think that was enough to get out the feelings, I stopped because it felt like I started to just hit a reset button and was getting melodramatic.  Taking a moment to pause and breathe before jumping into this next part.  

Let's break this down a little bit.  Let us look at the physical aspect first, if you compare yourself to a year ago then yes in a lot of ways you are weaker, however in terms of body awareness and muscle balance you are much stronger and developed.  You physically struggle with some tasks that were "easy" a year ago, however there are things you can do now that you never thought you could do.  You can breathe in cobra, you are not forcing it like you could do a year ago when you were "stronger," you just do the pose.  It is true no one seems to have the magic antidote for what is going on and it is okay to be frustrated about that, it is okay to feel like there are not enough answers.  You have learned so much that can help, and you are not taking into account how much taking medication, changing a diet and lifestyle changes you.  You are forgetting to look at the fact that your body is working harder then it was before to process the medication and the herbs, even though they are helping it takes energy to absorb, process and remove the toxins assocatiated with this process.  It is understandable you are not comfortable in your skin, you have changed and are still not sure when it will end.  The things that you are learning about yourself are so personal and feel private it is understandable you don't know what to say to people.  However you keep focusing on the change, maybe that is not what people see when they see you, maybe when they ask how you are doing they aren't talking about your illness?  You are focusing on fixing yourself and getting better, you have forgotten to care and comfort for yourself too.   

The emotions are understandable and you are a human being, everyone has those feelings.  Those feelings don't mean that you are weak, they are just emotions.  It has been a tough year, and you have chosen to say "no" to a lot of opportunities but what did you say "yes" to at the same time.  You said "yes" to making yourself a priority even though that is uncomfortable, you said yes to taking the time and being patient with your doctors, therapists, acupuncturist, and loved ones.  Because they are being patient and caring with you.  You have had your life take sharp turns before, and each time you came out different and still happy.  You have managed to laugh in the ER and make people smile even when the pain was so bad all you wanted to do was scream, you are learning to be heard and seen, that is why you feel invisible.  You used to be okay with being invisible, now you are learning to advocate for yourself, to ask for help and to say when you are done and want to be left alone.  Every human being is entitled to that, every human being wants competence in being seen and heard.  

I believe you are doing amazing, you continue to take what you learn and apply it.  You continue to gather new ideas and discard things that don't work, and you continue to go forward, even if you don't see it.  The people around you see it; LISTEN to them more!

That is a good way to end this exercise.  Not sure what the rest of the book holds, something tells me more layers are going to be coming off.

Question of the day:  How would you define self-compassion?   What are your thoughts about that term?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Symbols

I was recently rereading one of my favorite books, and this scene jumped out at me.  One of the characters is reminding another that just because he has been taught a symbol, a sign means that everything will end in tragedy doesn't mean it will.  That the ending doesn't mean that fruit still doesn't taste sweet, that laughing with friends and holding a loved one cannot be enjoyed.   He slaps the character and says "are you finally awake?"  Just because the story might end in tragedy, doesn't distract from the journey from the sweetness that life has to offer.  

Pain doesn't diminish pleasure, and illness doesn't diminish the times I feel healthy unless I give it that power, that meaning.  

I really needed to hear this message today, the book says it so eloquently and I needed the slap in the face too.  This weekend I had a bit of a setback and because of it my outlook on life became very bleak, and honestly I didn't want to pick myself back up.  I was ready to just stay in my hole, abdandoning hope and letting the doctors, other people's stories control my meanings about what I was capable of.  

When I was first diagnosed, I was very optimistic.  I felt like I had control, I needed to change my entire lifestyle but I would feel better.   It has not been easy to change my life and I just kept going, kept doing things and trusting that I would learn.  I reached out to different methods and took extensive notes, and remained focused on taking care of myself.  Learning what it meant to take care of myself and letting so much fall away.   

This weekend, I found myself giving up.  I ate bread for the first time in months, mostly because I couldn't stomach the idea of any other food.  I found myself wanting to take a painkiller not so much because of the pain (which was substantial) but because I wanted rest.  I couldn't see the sweetness of life, I coulldn't see that my "illness" was giving me the opportunity to truly taste bread, to enjoy fruit, to allow myself to be held by Adam.  I felt weak, and unable to take on this challenge any longer.   

No matter what anyone's story is, it all end the same.  We are human, we end up dying.  The question that came up after hearing that passage in the book is am I willing to find the sweetness of life no matter how I feel the deck is stacked?  Am I willing to continue standing up and to keep going?  Can I no longer look at this illness as a symbol of pain, of tragedy?   Will I continue to look for my own meaning and journey in it?  


There are so many more things that I treasure now, being able to take a breath, being able to laugh with people that love me, listening to Sterling's heartbeat, being held by loved ones, I could go on.  Tomorrow Adam and I need to make a decision about a trip, a trip that I really want to go on, a trip that I don't feel strong enough to go on and that I gave a meaning that if I don't go I am a failure.  That was  my meaning and I can give it any meaning I want, and so whatever decision we make after chatting with doctors will be the best one for me. 

 So I am going to spend some time in my private journaling coming up with all kinds of meanings for my illness, all kinds of symbols, so that in the future when my imagination is slow, when I wonder if it is worth getting back up I will have my own resource, my own hero's journey to tell myself.   To silence that cruel tormentor that wants me to focus on the tragedy, to give me language that truly reflects my happy heart and all the pixie dust that I long to share.  

Question of the day: What are positive symbols in your life?  What simply brings a smile to your face?  I have always loved the Zia on the New Mexico flag, it shows up when I need something to remind me of "home."

Friday, June 10, 2016

Exquisite Pain

There are moments when I feel so much pain associated with my medical condition, that I scream, I cry and I feel like those moments will last forever.  Sometimes I beg Adam to take me to the ER, even though I know there is nothing "wrong."  With the pain tends to come fear, and my very patient husband holds my hand and asks questions to see if it is different or if the pain is just associated with my condition.  He has learned that sometimes I am not able to trust that the pain will pass, that sometimes the treatments create such irritation that it feels worse for a little while.  That I forget I am still learning how to administer medication and it will take time to learn to do it gently and carefully.  There are also rare moments when he reminds me that it is okay to go and get things checked out and to ask for pain medication.  That asking for pain medication doesn't make me weak.  

It was in one of these moments of pain, of me sitting alone because Adam was at work, that the term "exquisite pain" came into my mind.  I thought it was an odd term, and so I googled the definition of exquisite, and found the definition pretty fitting.   The paradox that it is, the sharp agony does bring beauty, it serves as a reminder to be kinder to myself, to continue to pursue what I want even if it feels like I will never get there.   Because to be honest the goals that I have set for myself seem impossible to me right now.  It feels like I will never have enough energy to continue to pursue my studies, to continue to make time to write, that eventually I will drown in medication and exercises and rules about what I can and can't eat.  

I am reminded of how fragile this little body is and at the same time amazed that it continues to work it continues to carry me through life with the pain and the pleasure.  My mind continues to share with me the frustration about my lack of progress with my strength, my flexibility associated with my physical therapy.  My body silently whispers to me, notice the tiny changes, notice how the breath can move today, notice that I am aware of what needs to be strengthened, that I am able to isolate and feel muscles that months ago I wasn't able to find.  That sometimes the greatest sign of strength is that I keep going, I keep smiling and I keep looking for the lessons.  

I am not fond of words like fight or survive anymore.  Because the fight is really just in my mind, my body is doing what it needs to do to communicate with me, to stay healthy.   The pain is just a signal, it is a language that is difficult to ignore, it turns "shoulds" into "musts."   My mind, that chatter is what wants me to believe that my bladder is the enemy, that it needs to be conquered, my mind wants me to believe this makes me unlovable and broken.  

The pain is a gift, it is a language that my mind won't argue with and allows me to connect to what is going on.  

Question of the day:  What was the last gift you received that you didn't like but eventually learned to appreciate it?   I know I have received presents for Christmas or my birthday that I didn't really like and eventually became priceless to me, because I learned to look at them with a different focus, learning to appreciate something the mind says is useless opens the heart to more possibilities.  



Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sterling Sunday

Listening to my sog's breath as I do my physical therapy this morning. Life always has a soundtrack. 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Food

I was watching a TV show the other day, one of the main characters had recently had a heart attack and his partner was hovering around him and driving him a little crazy.   So he asked someone to take his partner to lunch so that he could have one day to himself before he went back to work.   He spent the day cooking a meal for his partner, to celebrate that the worrying was over.  

I was in tears watching the scene as he described that the heart attack and surgery were over and it was time to put the worry away and live life again.  After the episode finished, I cried a lot.  I started to ask myself why?   

Food is a big trigger for me, feeling uncomfortable eating out, being wary of trying "new" foods again, and no longer feeling a passion for food or even eating.  I grew up in a family where food was associated with celebrations, with gathering, with connection, significance and because of that I learned to cook.  It is an extremely valuable skill when you get to change everything about how you eat and approach food.   It is also a double edged sword, because the experimentation, part of the creation process has been stifled.   I have limited ingredients and sometimes the very idea of trying or changing makes me feel sick.  

So what happened?  What happened to the girl that sat in that doctor's office and said "I can do this." That listened to cautions, that did my own research, that talked to eastern doctors and was excited about having the ability to take control over my health again.    The one that was perfectly willing to accept that I had to take a break from teaching, of volunteering, that I was tired and exhausted most of the time.   The one that was determined to "beat" this illness, to be in that category of "cured."

I am not sure, she grew frustrated, impatient and finally started to realize that there was no going "back."   She made plans and most of the time canceled them, she stopped seeing the choices I was making as a benefit and it started to feel like a prison.  It became harder and harder to relate to people, I was focused on the hours of exercises, grocery shopping, farmer's markets, and food preparation.  My calendar was filled with medical related appointments and I longed to have a respite from being "sick."  I felt horrible talking to people, everyone had their own suggestions on what would "work."  I felt ashamed of being sick, like it was a mark of failure on my part, and I did not know how to communicate. 

I am still determined, I am still determined to figure out how to take care of myself.  Not to fight this disease, to figure out how to connect again.  I want to put the worry away, I know things that help, I know things that make it worse and it is going to be a long journey to expand and grow with this illness.   

I continuously think of myself as lucky and blessed that I have the resources and support that I have on this journey, that I know so many people that are currently or have gone through worse.  I may not be willing to drink orange juice but I can still smell oranges.  Honestly there are days that I want to stop, there are days I wish I didn't spend five hours doing stretches and exercises just to be able to get the pain to a level where I can breathe.  I still get up on those days, I still continue to move and learn and some days I take long naps in the afternoon.   

It is time to put the worry down, and move forward.  It is time to climb the mountain instead of carrying it.  It is time to figure out how to make food enjoyable and part of the celebration that is my life.  Because no matter how bland the diet, or repetitive there is no reason for me to put myself in a prison.   

Question of the day:  What is your favorite food?