February 4, 2017 § Leave a comment
I came across this blessed gift of an article this morning and wanted to share it with anyone (everyone) wrestling with sadness. It reminded me immediately of that list of Life Rules I scribbled down a while ago and made me curious if I have been faithful in following them.
Please do read the article (here’s the link again), as it’s far more eloquent, comprehensive, and smart than my list, because…well…it’s written by a saint. But here’s what resonated with me the most, especially in light of everything this blog — and my whole life — has ever been about:
Our bodies, brains and hands and eyes and stomachs and quads and intervertebral discs, are essential to the purpose of our lives. They are not in the way of our spirits, some temporary torture chamber from which we must be liberated or some hideous distraction that we are tasked to ignore.
When I was coaching, I would always ask, “If your body were not an obstacle, what would you do with it?” The answers that would come on the first day were typically harsh. There was this view that being fat, sick, depressed, exhausted or broken in any way disqualified the body from serving any purpose. The body needed to be punished, pushed out of the way, so that the “real person” could finally break out and grab hold of their true destiny. But every single time, without fail, as I saw people care for their bodies (often through the the sneaky trick of calling it a “challenge”, discipline words) — feed them good food, give them good rest, soak them in sunshine, expose them to beauty — their answers changed.
The question was never, “If your body (pain, weakness, depression) didn’t exist, what would you do with your ‘real life’?” It was always, “If your body were not an obstacle, but an integral part of the story, an asset, what would you do?”
I still set my body up as an enemy all the time. I shout at my body, curse my brain, slap myself with rules and challenges and strict discipline. Sometimes, a little discipline is what I need, but more often than not, I just need a shower or a poem or a very long time in the garden. Maybe a pot roast?
And all of it is prayer. All of it is setting my face like flint before the Lord.
May 25, 2015 § Leave a comment
The last week of #powerrehab, everything was a total disaster. The contents of my house were tossed in heaps, the red head was infested with lice, people were vomiting and urinating on all the freshly sanitized bedding, and we were trapped at home by threat of rain and the rules of good citizenship.
This rite of passage followed several weeks of undoing and disruption to our schedule with house guests, growth spurts, teething, changing sleep schedules, and unending allergies. All of this is added up to the inevitable, fiercely resisted Change of Season. (That should be printed in the blood dripping, horror movie type face.)
I had been panicking off and on over the last few weeks, grabbing at the remains of #powerrehab as they slipped through my fingers. The once vast expanse of my 5am writing time disappeared into the needy full body embrace of my almost 15 month old. My long trail walks dissolved into the pounding, relentless rain. The babysitting hours were spent in long, luxurious waits at the doctor’s office.
The rhythms and routines we so meticulously crafted to support my mental and physical healing were crushed, every system broken down beyond repair.
And yet, here I am.
All good training programs end with a week that exposes the strength they have been systematically building. If the program was worth anything and you have put in the work, when you step up to the bar in that last week, loaded with more weight than you have ever picked up before, you will pick it up. Just like that. Though thoroughly unplanned, it is fitting that #powerrehab end with such a test.
Last week, as I stood under the bright lights in my kitchen, on the third hour of combing through tiny sections of wild, curly hair, carefully examining each wiry strand, it occurred to me that I did not hurt. I scanned my body looking for pain and found only the outline of sensation around my sciatic nerve. My back was strong and straight, my spine and shoulders right where they should be. My body, which could not even put on a backpack 56 days ago, tackled ten loads of laundry, eight bedding changes, vacuumed a two story house, all the furniture, beds, and the car seats, and successfully stood up and deloused three little girls all in 24 hours.
While I marveled at this ridiculous improvement in strength, it struck me as very silly that my latest PR came not with a steel barbell, but a steel lice comb and I started to giggle. And there it was, more impressive than core strength holding a wounded spine in place, a mind holding itself together. My mind, which could not handle the noise and stress of a single family meal seven weeks ago, was cheerfully nitpicking shrieking baby heads for the second day in a row.
All of my grumbling, the uninspiring work outs and painful, rose-filled walks, the life rules, the tongue biting, pill swallowing, and hashtag regret of the eight weeks of #powerrehab fell away as I stood there, calmly smiling down at hands full of knotted hair, a baby rubbing snot and string cheese from my knees to my ankles, in a kitchen washed in glitter, serenaded by the washer, dryer, and dishwasher all chirping simultaneously, and Frozen blaring through the iPad. Truly a weight I could not pick up two months ago. But there I was, being so insanely hardcore, picking it up.
Today #powerrehab is complete. Every box is checked from Holy Week through Pentecost. Ordinary time begins today, and there is no new notebook set up, no charts or graphs ready to receive gold stars, no fresh system in place to hold up my precious goals as a sane writer/mother person with a functioning spine and reasonably clean home. I do not know what happens next, other than more laundry, more rain, and a very long nap.
I’m wandering into this new season without a plan, or at least not one that I’ve been allowed to see. I trust that there is one, since there are still plenty of good adventures to navigate in the days immediately ahead — moods and medications to wrestle, school years to end and begin, a career change that is still significantly changing us, and the care and maintenance of all of these bodies. Yes, I trust that there is one, and that if I can just stay thankful that I have been given the gift of wandering, on my own two feet, without whimpering in pain, with the freedom to pick real bugs out of my kids hair instead of hallucinating them crawling across my desk, then it is a very, very good plan.
May 6, 2015 § Leave a comment
I run in circles. Big circles that take years to finish, small circles that close before lunch. Round and round, passing the same landmarks again and again, almost never noticing anything further than my own feet. Every now and again I am fortunate to have my loops interrupted by people who love me, people who will lift my head, shake me by the shoulders, give me a firm smack across the face.
After lamenting cupcakes and wine yesterday, I received an email from a dear friend who I had the privilege of coaching several years ago. The message began, “This is not to be mean but because sometimes the coach needs a coach and it is ironic that we know things and forget them and need to remember.” I confess that I instantly closed my computer and started deep breathing to stave off a panic attack because who doesn’t love a message that begins with “This is not to be mean”!? But I remembered the sender and her heart, and knew she could only be “not mean” in love, so I went back in.
The voice that met me was indeed love, but it was not my friend’s, it was my own. She had forwarded me a string of messages we exchanged when she was wrestling with ketosis while battling depression and I was the one interrupting her circles. And because coaching questions never, ever expire, email never really disappears, and truth is extremely loud, the voice still works:
“Life without sugar and bread feels more like surviving than thriving.”
How do you define “surviving”?
How do you define “thriving”?
When you first wrote to me, you described bingeing, “auto-pilot” eating, and “never-ending cycles” of losing and regaining control over the food and drink that went into your body. How does that behavior fit into surviving vs. thriving?
In that first message, you expressed a longing for God to “heal [your] desires and obedience”. I invite you to reframe this season of your life — is it one of deprivation or discipline? Is it punishment or training?
These 30 days are restrictive by your own design. You are trusting God to use the tools of nutrition to reshape your body, your mind, and your behavior. There is a sense in which you are surviving withdrawal, surviving temperance, self-control, and dying to the flesh. But at the same time, you are thriving in obedience, humility, and hope.
This is a very difficult season for you for many reasons. Your God knows that, and he has drawn your boundary lines in pleasant places.
What are some ways that you can feel God loving you?
Are there any ways that you are resisting or fighting his affection toward you?
Where are you bristling at his discipline in your life?
How is he inviting you to surrender to his love and strength?
April 30, 2015 § 6 Comments
The good news is that my psychiatrist supported my decision to taper off one of my medications immediately. The bad news is that in order for her to get behind discontinuing the other, maybe a month from now, she wants me to increase my (don’t throw up now) self-care *gag*. Damned holes in my pants totally sabotaged my plans.
I hate the word self-care. I feel about it the way lots of people feel about the word moist.
It’s not because I do not believe in it. I do. I’ve learned its necessity over the years of managing my illness and, you know, being a human being — but because it has the word self in it. And that word makes me think selfish, something I am terrified of being called, mostly because I am. I hate the word self-care because I am afraid I will be found out, accused, and all the things that make my life feel tolerable will be snatched away. I prefer the word the “maintenance”, but it’s not catching on.
Self-care with children feels especially shameful. Here you have these tiny, helpless people, forever hungry, damp, and half clothed, and you are supposed to take the time to put on a new outfit? I frequently cannot get all my own children’s faces free from carrot stains and boogers at the same time, how am I ever to rid myself of guilt long enough to exfoliate my own?
I am excellent at telling other people what they need to do in order to feel better, to do their work, to be present to themselves and the people in their lives. But for whatever reason I seem to require multiple professionals and post-it notes to drill it into my own head. My husband has pushed me hard on self-care over the last year, since we had our third daughter. I try not to let myself believe it is because I have become a disgusting slob. He looks me in the face and says, “You are as important as our children.” My therapist, and now my psychiatrist, have to shove me hard in this direction, too, and so I try very hard to listen.
Here are some of the things I know that I need:
As an attachment parenting, co-sleeping, homeschooling mother of three little girls, this is the most stretching thing for our family. When my mental health fell apart earlier this year, it became abundantly clear that we needed to devote more resources to SPACE for my mind and physical body. We rearranged our mornings to allow for me to have a solid hour alone (which is how this blog exists) and our finances to give us our favorite babysitter for two hours three times a week so that I can sit in my burgeoning studio and go to therapy.
Pen and paper.
A permanent fixture in my life. I need to have a notebook on hand day in and day out. I write to think, to communicate, to relieve stress, to plan, to process, to entertain myself. I would call writing my primary form of self care.
A clean face.
Sometimes I feel like my face is shrinking and will swallow my entire body. This sensation is incredibly unpleasant, so avoiding it is nice. Also, sunspots that look like a map of the world on my forehead. This is actually one of the hardest things for me to do every day. It feels like pampering, but I know my future self will be so pissed if I don’t do this. Unless my future self is a sailor lost at sea with with only a mirror.
We have covered this in depth, and I’m sure I will never shut up about it, so maybe I’ll spare you today.
Like many other mothers of little kids, and busy people in general, I frequently go all day without sitting down to eat. I require my kids to sit at the table. I make healthy, multi course meals for their sweet little bodies and often light the candles on the table and put on fancy music while I stand in the kitchen scooping almond butter out of the jar with my fingers, eating olives out of the can. Then I wonder why I cry and shove bars of dark chocolate in my face while chugging almond milk out of carton at 4pm, like a fine lady.
Every human is sensitive to the type and amount of food in their bodies. As a person trying hard to maintain a very strict nutritional protocol in lieu of medication, advance planning and thoughtful execution is an extremely important part of my self care. I’ve done this for many years and like to consider myself an expert, so it feels like I should be able to just wing it, but you know what? THAT IS SO DUMB.
A clean kitchen.
Nothing makes a person want to just eat out of jars and give up on domestic life more than a sink full of day old dirty dishes.
And so, these, along with my ever present Life Rules (which yes, I am linking to again because I need permanent reminders of those, too), are the things I am continuing to work on while my brain and body (forever and always) heal.
What do you do for “maintenance”?
Also, where am I going to get a new permanent outfit?
April 28, 2015 § 2 Comments
Last night I fell asleep smiling, as one does, while reading the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. Earlier in the day, while hunting in the garage for a lightbulb, I paused to wistfully pet my squat rack and run my fingers along my Ionely barbell, swat longingly at the wooden rings that hung from the high bar. As he tends to do in the gym, the the Holy Ghost whacked me in the head and I began to wonder why I couldn’t, with my newest level of strength and pain, do upper body work on the rings? And if I could do that, why I couldn’t do other challenging things that have felt beyond my reach for so long?
After everyone went to bed, I stayed up searching the journals for articles to help me find some perspective on what I should and should not expect from myself now. I gathered all the evidence that proved that my body could do things, assuming I continued to build and protect my weakest places, right there in my garage, wrapped in the arms of my squat rack, on my rubber floor, surrounded by all my old iron friends.
And, of course, if you give a girl a squat rack, she’s going to want to coach…
That same charge I felt yesterday morning, woke up stronger this morning — an urge in all my parts to take off running. My body is excited to move. My brain wants to plan and build systems, re-work the homeschool plans for the fall, build a fresh budget, organize those crazy lightbulbs in the garage. My heart suddenly wants to pray and sing into microphones. I want to call up all of my old clients, or even find strangers on the street and just coach someone. I will coach anyone on anything right now, I will say all the encouraging words. I will set up my studio and write a book, any book, about all of the things.
It is like old nerves regenerating.
Tender. Could be temporary. Could be wiped out in seconds with one wrong move.
But the sensation is so welcome and so ALIVE it makes me cry. It flushes my cheeks red, makes my face hot, gives me Mosesface.
Why? Why right now?
Am I manic? You’re all thinking it. I’m thinking it. Because we’re good and careful and loving. And because, maybe.
But I think that the grace of God, the final discontinuation of Neurontin (which I have slowly tapered over the last month), the literal nerve regeneration in my back and leg, and the release of this vice grip of pain have made room for a little more oxygen to feed my flame. This isn’t a raging fire. This isn’t a spark out of place. It is simply a welcome flicker where I was worried about a smoldering wick.
April 27, 2015 § 2 Comments
I think I am done writing about my pain for now. It has gone quiet and if I keep pushing it, despite its convenient blog content, will blossom into a creepy vanity and untruth.
The real truth is that my body feels better. The pain eased up about a week ago, leaving in big wooshes of inflammation as my body finally believed me about my nutrition. All my rings started flying off, and I peed for three days straight. The nerve pain, though just as intense when it hits, is less frequent. It’s a jolt, not a vice, which is far less exhausting. I can live with pain tantrums and fits of weakness, I could not live with incessant screaming and complete refusal to function.
I am being careful not to plow through what feels like a wide open door. Last night I had a dream that I just took off running down the street. I could feel every one of my bones smashing together and all of my muscles were like wet sandbags, but the movement was just so happy. Clumsy and childlike to the point of stupid, but I woke up feeling like I had actually done it and it made me want to wear my hair down and put on mascara.
I smiled at my body in the mirror as I draped it in it’s permanent outfit this morning, laughing at our inside joke, thinking about the way all my parts and pieces fit together and how not one part of me is separate. I thought about that lopsided, gleeful gallop down the street, all my flesh and sinew pushing away from a the pull of pain. I thought about how my brain is in there, too, even if dulled by whatever it is that the tiny tablets are doing to keep it safe, wobbling its way around a corner.
I will take this toddling victory lap. I will go right ahead and call it a #powerrehab win. The walking and the writing, the eating and the core work, the prayer and the Life Rules. Doing the plans and ridiculous Grace have brought me into yet another spring with a body and a brain that live and move and have their being when they really should not. How could I not press on in this race?
April 23, 2015 § Leave a comment
I am wrong about healing.
I am wrong about wholeness meaning a return.
We do not
oh I hope not
return to former glory.
So what is this homesickness? What is this demanding flip through scrapbooks, driving through old neighborhoods, pointing out our old windows? They changed it. It used to be bigger. Where is the corner store? The yellow house?
Everything was so much bigger.
I am wrong about healing meaning being put back.
I am waiting, an arrogant fool,
This is not right, this is not the way it was, I cannot live here.