Something bizarre this way comes. And goes.
Last week was the most bizarre week in the atmosphere outside my windows — and also the one in my body and heart.
It went from a chilly Sunday to a rainy Monday (after the school system made a super snafu and called for a snow day) to near 65 on Tuesday. Wednesday brought warm rain followed by winds I thought would whip off the roof like a girl snatching another’s headband. Thursday chilled to the bone, and Friday’s morning snow was blown clear away by afternoon, disappeared like a dream.
As for me, I started the week accepting that my kids were sick. They weren’t too bad off, so I was happy enough for another day at home with the family to finally get out some holiday cards. The accompanying letter began:
“Twenty years ago this winter, LJ and I first saw Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray’s character goes from anger about being ’stuck’ in a rut by living the same day over and over to joy in meeting each Sonny & Cher morning with the question: ‘Who do I get to be today?’
“Two decades later, I am stealing that question. Its essence is captured, I think, in the expectant expression on my daughter’s face on this belated holiday card. It is the question I hope will guide my days in 2013, in the face of potential scary news (and weather), health issues, parenting challenges, ennui or midlife angst. Now that you know, perhaps I will be less likely to forget it.”
And the letter concluded: “May you have the chance to greet each day with joy whether you see your shadow or not.”
By the end of the week, I wanted to stuff those sentiments into something much less lovely than envelopes. I’d gotten a fever, and it lasted four days. Coughing and dripping from my nose, I felt horrid, then a little okay, then like my head was in a vice and everything worthwhile had been squeezed out leaving only an aching and broken skull. Then I slept so much I surprised myself. And then I could not sleep.
By Friday, my fever had broken, but so had my spirit.
Just three weeks earlier, I had entered the year on some kind of golden breath of possibility. Bringing with me none of the usual trappings of emotional holiday hangover, I really did feel the new day was clear and bright. In the space of two weeks, I got to interview Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor Claudia Welch, education and parenting thinker and author Alfie Kohn, and author and memoirist Katrina Kenison. It was a dream to write about them and to hear them speak in person. Their messages were so clear: I felt like the trees in my mind were bending to the side so that I could see the exact trail I needed to take, for parenting my children and myself. My mind was swimming with ideas about how to weave together follow-up pieces — both for my own synthesis and to share with others.
But, as my childcare hours filled with tutoring and a volunteer event and planning for a 40th birthday yoga event that would keep up my spirits on a day they usually drag, I could never find the time to sit down and write the pieces. It had to be uninterrupted time without distraction, and that was in short supply. The five hours I did have on January 20 I used to work on my novel, which felt non-negotiable, and necessary. And good. But not the entire day and overnight I’d expected before I found out my husband had to work that weekend.
So I guess you could say that my thoughts and passions were a little bottled up. And so, dear reader, were my bowels. After a few months of sluggishness, I just stopped feeling like going to the bathroom.
This is scary territory for me, because the most obvious turn of my health was in 2002 when constipation hit me for the first time. The worthless response I got after a colonoscopy is what led me away from mainstream doctors, but the “irritate-until-you-go” approach from the first naturopath I consulted I now think only made things worse. All of the groundwork had been laid for ill health — my lifelong diet and grain-heavy, soy-heavy diet in my twenties; my lifelong insomnia or poor sleep and generally overactive stress response; a history of eating alone in front of the television from a young age; and all the unhealthy stuff many of us do in our teens and twenties that I started young and did with a vengeance.
That first constipation was a signal that I didn’t heed well. It took another year of floundering and the development of a full-blown thyroid disorder (which then delayed starting a family for another year and a half) to really knock sense into me. So now my biggest fear is taking the wrong approach to get back on track and, as a result, finding myself further down the rabbit hole.
There were other times I didn’t listen closely enough. Before my son was born I was probably suffering colitis, but I figured it just had to do with my eating so much fruit and being pregnant. I did so much more damage before I integrated some aspects of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet and got some healing work to get back on track. But then again, while pregnant with my daughter, I accepted IBS as just part of the territory. I wouldn’t go much, so I’d eat apricots, and then I’d go a lot. By this time I knew more about the GAPS diet, but I still didn’t have the religion to undertake it. I was still okay, I thought. And I just didn’t have the time.
Now I think, if only I’d nurtured myself while I had the time. When I had only one child vying for my attention and before the demands of childbirth and nursing around the clock sent my body into a tailspin. If only I could have just sat with myself and worked on reversing patterns of stress response before my poor daughter had to get born into my messed up world, perhaps then it wouldn’t be so hard now to heal.
When baby A was six months old, I was sitting in debilitating pain in the bathroom several times a day. My carb-eating days, I knew, were over. It was time to start the GAPS diet.
So I immediately purged all grains and starchy vegetables from my diet and set about on a longer journey to figure out what else I needed to eliminate or do to regain my health. I made bone broth even more regularly, started soaking my nuts again, and cut out fruit. I got feeling good enough that I decided to try doing a 10-day yoga challenge in preparation for a trip to Vermont where I hoped to (and got to) report on the yoga event phenomenon Wanderlust. I came home enlivened in my spirit but exhausted and with a non-yogified and equally exhausted spouse. About two weeks later, I sat talking with a friend who was training for a marathon and thought maybe it was finally time for me to get back out on the running trail, something I sorely missed but thought was maybe just around the corner.
Instead, I had an appointment with an osteopath and left feeling hit by a mack truck. For months.
The good part was that it forced me to slow down, but it was also horrifying. I went from feeling light and airy and about to pounce onto the jogging trail to feeling like lead had been poured into my bones and over my shoulders.
I imagine you could call what I felt chronic fatigue. I’m sure my adrenals were burned out, and my thyroid was a little off, but that wasn’t all of it. I couldn’t even really explain how I felt. Just essentially not well enough to do very much. Plus my skin was itching with psoriasis. It was all I could do to make it through the day, much less try to rebound.
But again, I got a little better. I worked on a project with a friend and stayed up way too late several nights in a row right before an insanely busy time of our purchasing a home to renovate and going on a trip to Dallas. That few weeks set be back months, I imagine, but I didn’t let myself feel it right away because I’d concocted another project for myself at my son’s school. These were all things I adored working on, but the time to do them in a healthy way simply did not exist in my life. And the knowledge for how to do something without a fight-or-flight approach is something I realize I don’t possess.
So what I love to do hurts me. Living in conflict.
Then I saw a new practitioner and weaned my daughter, both leading to a lot of progress. I turned corners. I got rear-ended and was hit days later with the a profound and unexpected creative concept, one of the only things I’ve ever been clear simply needed to happen. But this was in the middle of a move, the period of the greatest stress by choice I’d ever experienced. I was eating either nothing or everything. It took two months after moving in until I could walk in the front door instead of the basement and until I could put my toddler to nap in her room rather than drive her away from pounding hammers.
By November, I was finally ready to start using the gym membership I had nearly surrendered with a doctor’s note months earlier. It felt wonderful for movement to feel wonderful. After hearing Barbara Kingsolver read at the National Cathedral, I brought Flight Behavior to the elliptical. It was a win-win.
And on top of that, I’d started getting up early to do yoga and and breathwork. I felt light and unburdened, like I was shedding what didn’t serve me anymore.
But, at some point, my sluggish digestion switched itself to “off,” and I realized that my lightness was maybe not so desirable. Even though I’ve had plenty of evidence that I can’t veer far from the GAPS diet, I also started to think another approach might be in order.
I dragged out the copy of Eat-Taste-Heal: An Ayurvedic Cookbook for Modern Living
that my friend Pamela lent me probably almost two years ago. My Ayurvedic dosha is Vata-Pitta, Vata being of space and air elements (and Pitta of water and fire).
My lightness started to seem more like a symptom of my life-force floating away rather than like enlightenment.
I read from a list of ways for Vata to become unbalanced:
- “Eating while anxious or depressed” — I try so hard not to do this, I sometimes end up not eating. I never eat breakfast with the kids because it’s too busy and they’re too demanding. Sometimes I make fresh juice and drink it on the way home from the gym. (See also to be avoided “Eating on the run” and “Resisting the urge to eat when hungry”)
- “Eating Vata-aggravating foods” — Who knew cauliflower and peas and lettuce and leafy greens were so bad for my constitution? And eating either too light or too heavy is a bad pattern for Vata folks, hence the next point
- “Following an irregular daily routine” – Try as I might to set in place some immovable structures, inevitably someone’s head on my pillow or other need switches things up. I don’t think I could tolerate a job at another place around other people’s schedules, but the work I do is sometimes at night and sometimes in the day. Appointments and meetings for my health, for my child’s school, for things I’d like to pursue for some kind of work, they’re all scattered. And so is my energy.
- “Failing to change in accordance with the seasons (especially Fall)” – Too bad I finally felt well enough to get more active at just the time I ought to have been turning inward and burrowing deep for winter.
- “Traveling frequently” - Well, not often, but I did have an early-morning and late-return trip to New York in mid-December followed by a week in Michigan. What to do about the writing trip I have planned for late February, the possible trip to Baltimore for a Tai Chi workshop in mid-February, and the yoga retreat in early March?
But here’s the kicker:
“Suppressing inner creativity and emotional sensitivity” — Not writing makes me sick. Taking the time to write sometimes feels impossible when there is so much cooking to do and a house to maintain and children’s remedies to administer. But it hurts my soul to put it off.
The more I read, the more sense this all makes, but the further I feel from having a roadmap of how to fulfill most of the things that will help while avoiding the ones that will hurt. I need to pursue my passions to feel fulfilled and in balance, but how do I do that and also “meditate daily,” “go to bed early,” “do gentle physical exercise,” “eat in a peaceful environment,” “take time to rest during the day” (on top of also going to bed early)?
I suppose figuring that out is my next chapter.