Getting to grips with OCD

A new article about OCD popped into my emails this morning and it was so compelling that I felt I had to share it with my readership here.

I willingly admit that OCD has woven in and out of my health journey since I was a very young child experiencing bullying at school and as something that reappeared, to varying extents, during my adulthood at times of particular stress. I have also encountered it in a family member and in the life of a close friend, not to mention comparing notes with other friends and acquaintances over the years (its one of those conversations that can prove strangely ice-breaking  in a way that forms a close bond built on vulnerability and deep-understanding when you identify others who have been through it).

Often it seems to indicate a person who is particularly sensitive or who has survived some  very profound emotional “stuff” (or both). Often very highly intelligent and prone to arranging what they know into categories, I have long noticed how this seems to be a way of keeping their emotions in check. After all, in my own case, diligent pattern forming and shape-sorting are the methods by which I draw the conclusions that feed into my writing and research (so they can be skills that serve me well) yet it can be such a bugbear when the trait extends to personal behaviours and the endless creation of little rituals that become the prison cell of your own existence.

This certainly crosses over with my favourite topic of how the left and right brain hemispheres co-exist and (ideally) agree to collaborate together and what the best relationship between them looks like once they do. When I imagine my own OCD traits, it feels like my left-brain chasing around my right hemisphere with a butterfly net, trying to box up what feels most unruly and out of control; yet a situation where we allow them to work together (some flux, some structure) feels like a place where OCD no longer runs rife. I had also long suspected that it went much deeper than a learned response to emotional trauma; into the very wiring of the brain and possibly some of the chemical influences that we get exposed to. This detailed article goes deeper into the “whys” of OCD than anything I have come across and in a way that makes perfect sense to me; of which this is just a snippet.

To highlight how OCD can begin to emerge in an individual, imagine the example of being bullied in school. The first time you are bullied, electrical charges in a certain part of the emotional area of the brain will heat up. This heat subsides once the bullying episode ceases, although you may suffer from mild post-traumatic stress disorder. A few days later you are bullied once again. Immediately, electrical charges heat up that same area of the brain. Fortunately, this area again cools down once the bullying ceases. Perhaps bullying occurs a third, fourth or fifth time, and the same part of the brain experiences intense heat during each episode. Continuous, intense heat to this area without ample time for the body to heal can lead to calloused brain tissue for adults and children alike. Medical science and medical research have not yet discovered this widespread phenomenon. Have you heard the term hotheaded? Well, it may actually be an accurate description in certain instances. Bullying is not the only situation that creates this intense heat. The physical burnout that occurs can arise from a number of emotionally heavy events and result in a small area of calloused brain tissue.

I’m glad to say there is life beyond OCD and I hardly notice it at all in my behaviour these days to the point I can say that it has pretty-much gone. It remains there fairly unobtrusively as the tendency to over-think or research (without respite) when I am hooked onto a project, checking the house (repeatedly) before I go out and having certain comfort-zones that I stubbornly refuse to step out of (even when I want to outgrow them); though I am getting better at identifying and tackling those when they come up. ocdThis is a long way from the OCD rituals that I used to play-out in my early days, adding to all the complication of an already over-complicated life. I suspect this success story has a lot to do with how far I have opened up my emotion-box, rewired my neurones through new positive behaviours and healed my body through diet and other means; which shows this is entirely possible and can have great results. In fact (I suddenly realise) its absence is one of the reasons I feel I have transformed my life to the degree that I have in spite of some remaining physical symptoms; as though a breath of fresh air was injected into my life once I released these compulsive patterns of behaviour and took back control for myself. This article offers hope to anyone still wrestling with OCD and who is looking for a foothold on how to go about it (the first step of which is understanding why it occurred in the first place).

It’s a complex area and as the article says “there is not just one type of OCD”; it is extremely diverse and can be so subtle that it is not even acknowledged. To read the whole cutting-edge article and access the audio, here is the link to Anthony Williams’ Medical Medium website and the feature on OCD.

Deepest relief

There’s a feeling that keeps sweeping over me this week and its like a ghost of a memory and a healing balm, all in one. Its been happening since the hot weather turned back to June’s usual cloud and rain yet the days are still comfortably mild; enough to keep fresh air moving freely through the house in a way that is distinctly “summer”, not least because of the tinge of honeysuckle on the air. With doors flung wide open, the dampness is like a welcome coolant on frayed nerves and I find I can only hold gaze with softened eyes, as though the whiteness of the sky is almost brighter than the constant sunshine they replace. Recently fledged birds chirrup in unison from trees where they take shelter between excitable reconnaissance dives upon the bird feeder yet there’s, otherwise, such a stillness in the air as though the thick cloud cover is made of cotton wool. I find I just want to surrender into cushions, to curl up wrapped around my own torso, to seek out books to read yet to fidget between options, to not fully pay attention, to close eyes, to drift-off, to just be. There is a sense of deep release, of profoundest relief like when a great weight has been suddenly lifted. Even though there are still various things trying to agitate me;  family things, life things, mini-dramas that irritate and make inevitable demands, my driving impulse is to keep finding this place and to lose myself to it whenever I can, for as long as I can….and the rest can wait.

It struck me as I returned to it this morning (family gone, doors flung open, house quiet…) that this place in time that I am “remembering” with all my senses is the summer when I was sixteen and had just finished my exams. These were probably the most demanding set of exams I ever undertook, from the sheer breadth of the dozen subjects I had been expected to know in such depth, my life taken up by piles of notes in every corner of my room for months. Crammed – don’t we use that expression; I was crammed full of “stuff” to the point of almost bursting and now…nothing, it was all over. The feeling, I recall, was quite sublime. No set books, no timetable, not even a school anymore, having left ready to move on to college and many of the people I had known for years said goodbye to once and for all (in some cases, another relief). No point in worrying, no need to plan. The soft wave coming in to carry me on its shoulders was one of, yes, sweet relief and I found myself suspended in the kind of void I don’t think I remember ever experiencing before that and have probably never got back to, not fully, since becoming an adult. Really, had it been 33 years since I was last there?

Honeysuckle.jpgSo, I recall in fleeting glimpses, like old sepia photos in my mind (though the feelings coming through are much stronger than the images) how I surrendered to just such a summer as I am being reminded of now. Warm and damp after the intense heat wave that (of course) had burned its way through all my exams; white skies were now the blank-canvas backdrop to a summer-verdant garden. The scent of moist honeysuckle growing up the wall beneath my bedroom window perfumed the air day and night, as though to remind me I had now entered the sacred garden of my own deepest tranquility. The overwhelming contrast of “nothing to be done”, no demands upon my time must have been stark against the weeks of relentless pressure, like nectar to the senses. The jar I had been held-captive in had smashed and I was free to enter the garden of life; that’s what it felt like, and all I wanted to do was to examine each moment like I was breathing in the scent of a flower. I gave myself over to a long summer of reading many novels (deep diving deep into DH Lawrence and Brontës – is that why my recent craving…?), of alternate sleeping – reading  – dozing again. I was waking at dawn, eating breakfast long before anyone else got up, going back to my bed, staying up past midnight, lying down on the grass, contemplating abstract thoughts, pursuing transitory ambitions that often “popped” before they developed, letting them go without a care. The scent of sweet rain and hot buttered toast and the ceaseless bird chirrup being enough, being everything, that stimulated the senses.

It’s not the event but the feeling of such a time that is wanting to rise up in me again; to remind me so that it can be experienced anew. For when do we ever let ourselves be like this once we become adults; do we ever? I mean, really surrendering into it, giving up the rhythms of time and allowing that now is all there is? Giving ourselves to it just as it is – void – without seeking to fill it up.

Tuning into your own most-treasured time of “void”, of a feeling you once stored-up for such a day as this, a distant memory of what it truly feels like to have nothing to do and nowhere to go can be such a gift to yourself. Especially if you can allow yourself to accept it as it is, on behalf of who you are right now, not making it about nostalgia as though you are trying to recapture some long-lost essence of your past when “life was better” or “you were more deserving of it”. The biggest challenge is to allow it, to really give yourself over to it and not seek to make it into another project by orchestrating it or making it conditional. How easy do we find it to be in void and not allow the mind to seek something to do, to worry about or a way to make the time more “useful” or “constructive” (as we tend to regard it when we constantly keep ourselves busy)? Yet empty space is anything but lacking in use; and it might be the very thing we are needing most, the refinding of which will be the missing jigsaw piece that makes all else suddenly fit together. Like the hidden portal  we couldn’t see for looking, it might be the doorway to exactly where we were trying so hard to get to with our minds…and there it was, all the time. For most of us, memories from childhood are like the eager guides waiting to take us there and I urge you to take whatever opportunity arises when you ask “when did I ever feel like that?” and just see where it takes you. Then, once you have it back, make an honoured place for this state of being in your life and watch it take on a new state of harmony; which is just an outward reflection of a far deeper state of harmony that has just found its space in you.

Love letter to myself

Summer Solstice, 2017

My body, my physical expression, all that I am as a complex, emotional, thinking and feeling human being, I love you so much. I know I haven’t said it nearly enough. I relied on it being “obvious”, as we tend to do; did I really have to spell it out? All those little gestures when I directed you at the cross-roads, helped you to intuit what  best served you, dropped clues of synchronicity, showed you all those sunsets, flooded your heart with inexplicable joy, inspired you over and over and over again; these all spoke of love without the need for words. But if you still need me to say it, to point out all the ways that I love you, then I’m saying it now.

When did we drift apart; why was it that you stopped listening? Or, more like, became suspicious of me like we had different agendas. We used to sing to the same tune and then you started to believe all those ideas being flung at you; thought that you hated the shape you are, the way you looked, that you were odd and didn’t fit in. Oh my body, those were just a reflection of how you were being taught to think about yourself; none of it was real except that you made it so by believing in it. If you’d only listened to me…but, that wasn’t what we had planned was it? You needed to learn these things all for yourself. And so you turned to your intellect, you put so much effort into that; you could say, you made your mind up, you were always so determined, stubborn even. But how exhausting, to have to feel you were the one driving everything with your decisions. Life became so complicated when it could have been far easier with me by your side in equal partnership; you became a control freak, you felt responsible for absolutely everything and with responsibility came blame, so much blame if things didn’t go your way. It drove you nearly mad with over-thinking and you weren’t even an adult yet; so you loaded your plate so high with those rocks you insisted on carrying. I watched you do it and I tried to drop you clues (sometimes, if you thought they were your own idea, you would cautiously pick them up…) but I had to allow you your freedom and, after all, it was all still an experience for me, either way. But it could have been so much easier for you. I had to admire you for the challenge you took on, to grow yourself and others by taking the harder route, the long winding road. That took such courage; do you know how courageous you are?

Really, you always knew I was there; but you didn’t always want to know about it. There are times when I vibe so high it frightens you, even now. It used to excite you, when you were little; it would make you pirouette around and be into everything, to touch things in nature and feel so much joy from everything life had to offer; simple things without strings. But then it alarmed you because it made you feel different to be like this, so exuberant and uncool, so you hid me away deep inside. Once you learned about the world, some of its scary stuff, the excitement of feeling me switched-on in you sometimes felt too much like fear…all that energy, pouring through you; like it would burn you, destroy you, take you closer to the edge than you wanted. Or you felt like the calm I gave you made you into a horrible person, in denial about all the fear people kept telling you that you should be feeling; like you were cold and lacked feeling. So you tried to suppress me away with alcohol, all that rubbish that you ate, those people you used to hang out with who told you were nothing because that was what they believed about themselves. You tried to bring the feelings I gave you crashing back down to earth with all those layers of toxic experience but I wouldn’t let you. So we played tug of war for a very long time but I kept coming back. In your darkest moments, I would always do that and you would lean your head on me, knowing where you stood with me when all else failed. You would never have relinquished me back then, not really; I was your safeguard, your hidden truth.

We maintained such a bizarre partnership, like terribly different twins joined at the heart; the outgoing one and the one who was increasingly afraid of her own shadow. We cared so very deeply for each other and yet it was like we didn’t know how to talk to each other at all any more; we lost our easy parlance when you moved away from home, from the safety of the nest. You could say, we got out of touch like once close friends who had drifted…which was only possible because you made life feel conditional and I no longer fit with that. You made it all feel like that; life all one giant trade-off, tit for tat. You had to turn down all your own dials to believe in all that nonsense, to be like other people, which you thought you had to do to survive. When your father died on the Summer Solstice, just as you turned twenty (still a child pretending to be adult), half way through studying for the degree that he had thought was too much for you…being a girl, you didn’t know how to react to your first close brush with death so you pushed it inside, denying so many uncomfortable feelings. You really thought at some level that it was your fault somehow; another trade off you had accidentally set in motion because of all the hurt thoughts you harboured about him and your guilt that you and he had drifted apart. It was like you still understood your immense power but you had forgotten about love and that you can do no harm to anyone from this place. It unnerved you about the nature of misplaced thoughts and intentions, about unruly sadness turned to venom, and it made you pull inside even more as though you were too dangerous to let out. You felt horribly unsure of yourself and you looked for your father in unlikely people, seeking answers from “men”; ones who only let you down.

Then four years later, along came that time when you almost let me in again; this time you were flying so high on the midsummer vibe, feeling me switched on and remembering how good it felt when we are partners. You became so excited to feel me lifting you from beneath your wings that you just wanted to come with me again, to forget about everything else and we spiralled higher and higher that night…but then you had come to equate that feeling with alcohol and you also drank too much, thinking it was all the same feeling of exuberance but it wasn’t and you fell crashing back down to earth, into a deep sleep. When you woke up, everything had changed because something had happened, a liberty had been taken when you were off-guard and it was something you wouldn’t forgive yourself for; though really you wouldn’t forgive me. You felt that you had trusted me and that I was the one who had led you out of your body on a spiral of joy and left it lying there, vulnerable and exposed so you pummelled your fists on me though really you blamed yourself. Really, you didn’t know who to blame (perhaps both of us), though I didn’t think blame came into it. This was what made things worse in your mind; you knew that, at some level, I didn’t really care what had happened, I knew it was unimportant since nothing could sully what you are, not really (I tried to show you that but you weren’t ready to hear it). I already saw the much bigger picture, where this was a wake-up call of sorts, and I just wanted you to know it was out there (this other way of looking at things) but you slammed it in my face, felt such guilt for even acknowledging for a brief second that you were not damaged by what had happened. So you play-acted the deep deep crashing hurt to perfection, strapping the rock of it to your back since it was what was expected in such circumstances.

Then I provoked the same conflict of perspective when your mother died almost exactly four years later (how the summer solstice took such a beating). You didn’t know how to handle the grief of another lost parent, on the back of all this, yet when you came to me, I didn’t take you into the abject fear or deep mourning that you thought was appropriate. I showed you, didn’t I, that it was all perfect at some level; that it was by design and that you would survive, stronger and wiser for it and that your mother had even agreed to this but you weren’t ready for that; to hear and feel that death could be strangely unemotive, exciting even, for all parties seen from this higher perspective. You hated yourself for feeling these higher vibes even fleetingly, as you could for a mother with whom you had such a profound connection that you were able to sense that, where she was, she was more than alright, was already in a state of profound bliss and that she only wanted the same feeling for you too. She even came to you to tell you that; you felt her there in the unfamiliar dark room where you lay the night she died and you heard it straight from her but you didn’t want to know it yet; it made you feel too weird. So you kicked and pounded against this thrilling secret, you picked up your heavy rock of mourning and placed it deep in your heart and you slammed the door in my face, even more firmly than before, for even briefly allowing you to see this alternate perspective…so I gracefully withdrew. Your flame, that inner torch, really flickered around then….it felt like such a dark time for you but I could only come to you if I was welcome.

So you began to distrust heightened feelings more than ever before; they felt like the gateway to all your problems, your deepest guilt and self-abhorence, instead of the gateway to greater understanding and bliss. And, of course, you began to think I was cold-hearted, aloof and superior, a heartless know-it-all but, don’t you see, that’s what everything looks like where I reside. I don’t get drawn into all the emotions and learned behaviours, that’s the point – you do that for me, which is fascinating to watch, but I don’t have to. I have already reached my nirvana where there is no good or bad, no cycle of loss; in fact, I never left and I have brought you here with me, so many times but you began to pretend you had never seen it, this place where it is all perfectly fine and nothing is out-of-joint or a “mistake”. You’ve had access to this place all your life because I’ve always wanted you to know that, to cut to the chase, to ride high on its wave and feel its relief and its solace; it got you through so many experiences when you were bullied so relentlessly at school (when you were small and still prepared to listen to alternate realities without picking things apart) and, ever since, I’ve dropped you so many clues to get you back here…But then I see how it was in conflict with what you saw down there on the ground. It simply didn’t fit with how fear, possession, conflict and loss count for so much that is considered relatable in your world so you suppressed what you knew and hid it away like a guilty secret that you denied with all of your human effort.

On the back of all those big hurts, one after another (and there were more around relationships that you formed believing you were so worthless), we stopped talking to each other around then, which is when you were nearly 30 and life seemed so stuck in this groove. You were so despairing and lost and, even if you remembered anything I had shown you, you didn’t know how to integrate this with what the world seemed to count as important for survival (and you were all about that in those years). It was a parting of the ways, of sorts…for a time. Until you got my attention back again with all those health problems cascading around your ears (it was a summons of sorts); since, without me, you really didn’t thrive, as though your inner light had almost gone out. Perhaps you were testing me…or did you think you were giving me what I really wanted; an opportunity to leave you behind, to drop the millstone of a human body and go back to where things are always lighter, less complicated than you seemed to make them. Well, I didn’t leave you, did I? I was straight by your side, tentatively at first (then one day, six years ago, I dared to stop tip-toeing and came back to take residence, like a golden ball of love light beneath your heart space) and we stuck it out together. Already (and you acknowledged it at last), I had stood by you through thick and thin, through the birth of a daughter, through the loss of almost everything material that you had amassed, through the loss of your health. Don’t you see yet, my love was always unconditional; not about how “good” an experience you were giving me but about having any experience at all. Perhaps its time to talk about all the things you have given me; to redress this one-sidedness you have always kidded yourself exists here. This has not all been all about me trying to give something to you (and you, out of stubbornness and hurt, refusing to accept it)…You have always given me so much in return, never stopping for a moment.

You see, without you, I wouldn’t get to feel a thing….not one thing. You allow me to feel the breeze on my skin, to hear bird song as more than what I register it as (a frequency but not a beautiful sound through the ears). To feel warmth and cold, laughter and longing. To hold a paintbrush, to create with my hands, to touch someone’s skin. To know food fresh from the plant, sand in toes, exhilaration and, yes, great stirrings of emotion, embraces, tears, deep sorrow. I wanted all of this and more; and there was no other way than through you. I chose you because you feel all the minutiae, you colour every feeling, you seem to know how to express all the nuances and make even more of them than they were before through the medium of yourself. All your senses cross over in great fluid waves creating a rich tapestry of almost indescribable experience and I get to ride that magic carpet with you, every single day. The super-sensitive that you are, that you think is all about pain, gives me the ride of many lifetimes; so I wouldn’t want to do this with anybody else but you, my partner and my beloved. I long for you to keep going, to prolong this particular ride, to keep putting coins in the slot to keep it turning. I want to have it go on for many moments, years, decades. Everything in me is focussed upon you thriving to make that wish possible and all I ask if that you focus that intention upon every cell and then switch it on like the elixir of love that wants only for you to heal from anything that risks compromising the time we have left together. Don’t you feel that? Its true; and its all yours, anytime you want it.

It’s not so very hard for us to come together now; to get to know what it feels like to walk as one. You already know me as your inspiration; that is how I was allowed back in the door…and then I was there for you in all your quiet moments of profound healing. We began to meet up again in designated places; when painting, in meditation, on the yoga mat, walking in nature…but really, you began to see, I am everywhere and we have become fast friends again, you and I. Like in childhood, only better. Yet there is still some part of you that denies me from coming all the way in and its time to let go of any reasons why that hesitation is necessary. You have come such a long way; there is no more fear left around those things that seemed to take you down and then allowed you to come fountaining back up into a new way of experiencing life. You have forgiven and sent compassion to everyone, accepted everything as the gifts that they really were, including yourself. How do you think you were able to do this, to heal on such a profound scale, if I was so absent? See, I never abandoned you; we were always right on track, guided by the message of love that I never allowed you to forget the feeling of, calling you home like a warm embrace. This is what wholeness feels like; outstretched arms and your essence filling them – you hold me and I hold you.

I AM love and you have held me inside of you and in a high-vibrating field all around you for as long as you have walked this earth. If you are honest now, you already know that, don’t you? So, step into me, allow this union, drop this idea that we are out of sync or want different things and we can do this thing. You see now, don’t you, that I was always on your side; not for a single moment did I ever leave you or work against you. It could only feel “off” for us to come together if we were vibrating at completely different frequencies; speaking, as it were, a completely different language but we don’t…at all. You know as much about love as I do; you have learned unconditionality through the very experiences of your life, the hard way (and I bow to you, for you have added so much more to what I understand about this, realised – as you have – where it is so much harder to achieve, from within the human field). You have shown me unconditionality and awe and wonder and joy and immense love and so many other things from within that complicated and messy field of experience, which is where these things truly hold sway. You think you have reverence for me, as though I am some sort of perfect version of you, a so-called “Higher” self who never gets anything wrong. Well, let me tell you, I have such reverence for you!

You have anchored love to this planet and everything about you mirrors love to everyone you meet. And I want you to know and acknowledge something else about yourself, one thing you have always denied – you are kind! You are kindness personified and yet, for one reason or another, you have judged yourself as unkind, emotionless (no, that was just me showing you that all was always well…), even selfish when really you were focussing on the area of your expertise, your own recovery. You have modelled this for all those who seek permission to do this for themselves. I see kindness in everything you do, the way you selflessly share your experiences from the heart, give of your time, reach out to others, take such care with how they are doing though they may be virtual strangers you have never met. Nearer home, you think you have been a terrible mother; I see the very opposite (what you confuse for this is your uniqueness as you model alternate ways of being a parent, allowing the child to feel and explore their own sovereignty, just as you got to play with yours all those years ago; in the end, it served you well). All this time, you see yourself as broken, as a let down, as not doing so well, but really you are being love in every moment; like a child riding a bicycle all on their own thinking they are still being held on to but they’re really not. You are doing it all without my help; all it takes is owning it to let the flood gates down and allow the tide of sameness to come rushing in across the breach of this commonality we share, the place where we both match through speaking the language of love. It won’t burn or destroy you; we are not so out of sync that anything I am would harm you in any way and, in any case, love could never destroy you (don’t you know that yet). Who knows, as one we might get to experience something neither of us has ever got to experience before. It could mark the completion of us both…


 

suresh-kumar-155029.jpgTwenty-five years ago this solstice dawn, I woke up on my own floor to face a circumstance that had come about while I was asleep and which rocked my world. It was not the definitive event of anything that I ever lived through (externally, I picked up and carried on the same and, as mentioned, there were several other “key events” that played a part) but it was certainly the one that sent the camel’s back buckling and dropping all its cargo in the slow-motion emotional and physical collapse of the following decade. It marked a parting of the ways of sorts, an estrangement between two equally important aspects of self; so that I was forced to either come back together in a whole new way or not be here at all. Like watching a dummy lurch forwards against a windscreen in one of those car crash videos, the rest is, as they say, (my) story and I own that story, consciously, as the very making of myself. In effect, I get to wake up all over again…this time on my own terms.

The last decade has been a self-righting, a sort of rescue operation and a slow-steady reunion of two aspects of myself that had become exaggeratedly fragmented (I know now) expressly so I could learn how to put myself back together again!

This powerful time of planetary poise, summer solstice (a time that was such a favourite in my childhood, when more light meant even more playtime and joy) became attached, through association, with a hurt which, in turn, became the very pivot-point of all my efforts to “return home” to myself this last quarter century. Perhaps this period of maximum light has made it all the more painful for me to see more of myself yet not like what I saw across all these years of the wound that I was harbouring being, as it were, spotlit by this anniversary. A stark contrast was set up and the rub of it became my very growing point; a navigation aid as I brought myself into better alignment with what truly felt like me, year-on-year. At the higher level, its as though I have been working with the summer solstice…and my task, now, to work powerfully with it in my favour as such a life-affirming time of the year, unconditional upon any associations I have ever formed around it. I see now how I have been working to redress an alleged moment of self-abandonment (although I never really did fragment or separate…not for one moment, though it may have seemed to be so); to both offer and receive the love that was never, in the first place, either refused or denied.

Last year, I surrendered the story of it by writing what had remained so hidden and putting it “out there” in my other blog Spinning the Light; this year, I claim the pure white glistening pearl that it always was as I lay it all to rest as my own profoundest healing potential. The story of it is no longer required since it has served its highest purpose, along with all those other stories about myself to date; neither discarded nor crystallised through further repeating but, actually, left there tenderly, suspended in a whole new place between substance and nothingness. This is what the meeting place of self and Highest Self feels like to me; like a quantum void out of which all potential births…we get to choose. I never felt more unconditional love fountaining and overflowing from within every cell and with love comes wholeness. So much love…so many tears…so much love…a sea of pain washing out of me, almost overwhelming me like a surprise wave that almost knocks me over, but I am sturdier than that and I won’t need to engage with it again…so much love…so much release…I AM the wave. Such moments are how we heal ourselves to heal the world.

Writing this letter to myself has been such a powerful instrument of healing. I hope to inspire others to do likewise; to let such a letter pretty-much write itself and see what comes out for you. You may well get to hear the words that you always longed to hear…

 

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You can write your way out of an emotional funk. (Here’s how).

Modelling a new relationship with pain

I’ve had a couple of weeks of pretty devastating levels of pain followed by crashing, jelly legged exhaustion and I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t demoralised me just a little. When you’ve done everything to make steady and, most of the time, pretty consistent headway with your health and suddenly…for no apparent reason…you’re deep in the mire again, its nearly impossible to it shrug off with a cheery smile. Watching other people go through health challenges then recovery to come out the other side while yours is still going strong months, even years, later can feel like a long-running trial by endurance. Your mind tries to lure you into learned responses, including self-criticism at the fact “its” still here, like you must be doing something wrong; perhaps you made it come back by thinking about it too much, or in the wrong way (that law of attraction stuff is a minefield of judgemental beliefs). You know you look perfectly fine; other people really have no idea what you’re going through, which can be one of the most hurtful things to contend with. So, whether they do or they don’t, you think you hear them thinking “you must be making this happen by being too self-absorbed; why don’t you get on with your life, think about something more positive, don’t think about health matters at all”. Yet when you are “in” these episodes, the intensity is extreme and, for me, there is such an overwhelming feeling that something wants to express itself through me; to be heard, so I tend to want to purge through my writing, mostly done for my own benefit. These days, I’m far better at letting that mud settle before sharing what surfaces with an audience and then what comes up tends to feel more insightful, less emotive. Out of the latest deep dive, this is it:

What I know, if I’m honest, is that chronic illness is a “thing” of our times that is something like a purge of cellular memories from the collective memory bank of the planet. Therefore, there’s a level where it’s not uniquely ours as the individual experiencing it but is actually everyone’s stuff and it really wants to be “outed”; we are those vehicles and, at some level, we volunteered for this. Like acupuncture needles placed in key meridians of the Earth, we are bringing stored-up energy out from the vaults of the global mind and it can feel remarkably intense. In fact, one of our challenges is to not identify with it so much as to think it is uniquely ours, which has a tendency to make it hang around for longer. If there is a match in our energy field then this can be harder to do and we may have some work to do healing this area of cellular memory but we can allow so much of what comes up through our bodies to be handled beneath the headings of umbrella themes (operating at personal and global levels) that we start to become so adept at recognising through synchronicity and so the process does get quicker, less messy. This links in with a post I shared about memory on my other blog just a few days ago (The Point of it All: Memory Shared) and it feels “true” to me at the level where I have been getting to know this phenomenon for over ten years now.

As a result of the time its taken, which brings a true intimacy with pain, it’s as though a strange camaraderie has formed with the very thing that has, in a sense, taken me hostage for so long. I know something of what it is about and won’t let it step outside with its hands on its head without speaking up for it first…hence the relentless urge to give voice to what is coming up through me…and yet I don’t want to stay its hostage either. Yet the time never feels quite right to let it go…not while the world is still in so much judgement about what is right and what is so-called wrong, including (perhaps especially) when it comes to pain. Is this the unfinished business aspect that puts the word “chronic” in front of the word illness for so many of us these days? Are we here to set the record straight on a gross misunderstanding about what pain is; one which has outlawed it for so very long?

In our culture, I’ve discovered that there is a hierarchy of pain; a sort of currency attached to whether or not we are experiencing it.  Due to the belief system that says experiencing no pain is the pinnacle, it is still heralded as the greatest success to have no pain at all thus, conversely, being in pain is considered a flaw, a weakness, a major fault in the system. Just look at how quickly our culture races to turn pain off through any means at its disposal, from drugs to alcohol and you will see what I mean. Most people are not prepared to pause for even a moment to consider what pain might be trying to tell them about something that needs attention before obliterating it (the same could be said of how we deal with  many things “going wrong” on our planet…) People simply don’t want to feel it; they scatter in terror running away from it and thus this avoidance holds them prisoner in their own lives. I experience regular bouts of pretty extreme pain and yet I am the only person I know who is not taking any kind of prescribed medication or drinking alcohol, which is astonishing. So that is where those with chronic pain stand in that hierarchy of success; considered weak and faulty by our society and sometimes particularly by those who measure spiritual success by the ability to manifest what you want in life, law of attraction style. Of course, no one wants pain…so, if we are drowning in it, we must be doing something “terribly wrong” by those standards. Yet I fervently believe that this perspective is missing something huge about what pain is here to do whilst remaining locked in a dualistic perspective that prevents the next evolutionary leap from happening. When we miss out the pain stage, it tends to come back in another form…and another form…on and on…pushed down deep it only pops back up again…since it is a voice that is increasingly having to shout to be heard; I give you our present-day world as an example.

There’s also that other factor to do with our rapidly increasing evolutionary process to take into consideration which is, as evolution happens, we become ever more sensitive since that is a big part of the process. As we wake up, our senses tune-up and the scales fall off; the combined effect of which is that we feel oh-so much more than we ever did before and probably a whole lot more than the person standing right next to us who hasn’t got there yet. With this comes…guess what…more pain, at least initially. As we learn how to work with that pain differently (including not labelling it “bad” and making it the next thing to become fearful about), we not only evolve ourselves but we help to evolve the whole planet – now isn’t that a turned around perspective?

Let’s get something else straight here. I’m not depressed, not in fear, not out of my joy, not in need of a hobby and certainly not weeping over the past. I LOVE my life and then some, and spend my days noticing and appreciating all kinds of seriously gorgeous examples of everyday loveliness in my world that other people seem to walk straight past (and which I try to help point out through my art, my photography and my writing). Life for me is golden…plus I happen to have a lot of pain and bouts of debilitating exhaustion, which switch on at will, often at the most inconvenient moments, which (you could see this as a major plus-point) prevents me from over-structuring my life. It doesn’t detract from who I am or the perspectives I have of how beautiful life is and how perfectly everything has always unfolded for me, nor does it take away any of the armfuls of gifts I continue to gather from every situation imaginable, or my desire to continue living and loving and experiencing life to the best of my ability for a very long time into the future. That being said, I wish I could do all those things – going forwards – without so much pain and exhaustion since, of course, that would feel more expansive and liberated. I just want to know I can put it down now, to step into an easier phase, whilst never having to insult my experiences by pretending to anyone that I hated my illness, that I conquered or defeated it or, indeed, any of that typical “fighting” vernacular which suggests it was wrong or undesirable. How could I ever say that when it has fuelled some of the most momentous soul-growth I have ever achieved? Yet hanging around to defend it and sift out its positives, so others can hear about them, feels like it could potentially keep me focussed on pain, bringing it back each time I feel I have to correct their perspectives of what I’ve been through…time and time again. I guess you could say that is where I feel I am stuck right now; wanting to speak out for what I have been through (and on behalf of others going through it) yet let it go, simultaneously.

To help do that, I want to talk a bit about what it has given me in terms of, you could say, spiritual growth; which is priceless and without which I would not be the person I am today. I also want to demonstrate how pain is quite different from fear (which people tend to assume is what perpetuates chronic illness…I don’t believe that) and how the one has enabled me to work most effectively with the other.

When your health starts to “go wrong” you are suddenly forced to work with fear, almost like an unlikely partner, at least for a time; getting to know each other intimately, awkwardly (you could say, looking fear straight in the eyes) in a way that you might have been able to avoid before, but not any more. By bringing hidden fear up to the surface, you start to know what you are dealing with and this is important as a starting point. However, sooner or later, you start to notice what fear does for us, which is to summon even more fear since it attracts more of the same when you focus on it. In other words, you make no headway in your recovery while you are still in it. So, you get to a point when you realise that as long as you have taken the necessary actions (precautions, remedies, whatever works to improve or progress your situation) there is nothing else to do but get on with other things; fear is not helpful and is best kept away. You do this by slowing yourself right down and distracting yourself with beautiful things which, all of a sudden, you are noticing and feeling grateful for…and the more you do this, the more resilient the habit becomes. For me, this stage utterly transformed my life. I left a miserable job, started to paint, began to notice beauty everywhere, spent much more time with my family and out in nature, became a writer, got to know myself beyond all the habits and demands of materialism, to drop the learned behaviours and ditch the long-running addiction to over-stumulus of every kind (all of which fell by the wayside)…the list goes on and on.

What happens, eventually, is that the light you switch on inside through doing all this stays on, regardless of what is happening externally (and that includes pain, which – being of the body – is external to this feeling of lightness in your soul). In other words, it becomes unconditional, reliable. You trust it and sense how it will always take you beyond any pain you happen to be in. It resides in the “now” and so you are no longer fixated on the past or the future since now is where your existence bursts into life. Since your life is no longer this super-predictable thing, each moment comes as a surprise gift and you keep looking for that lighter feeling – the light that never goes out – within each moment (not just every once in a while, at weekends, when you can fit it in…but all the time). This, again, becomes the most resilient habit, over and above paying attention to the pain. Repeatedly, you head for the better feeling…the better feeling…the better feeling…and this guides your thoughts which, in turn, impacts how your whole energy field feels to you (in other words, you increase your vibration…up up up). Even in the depths of incredible pain, you still know to head for the better feeling (it could be a thought, a choicepoint or simply something you decide to focus your eyes upon) and you just keep doing it, navigating by it, and it gets you there. You learn to mitigate pain and to even avoid it developing by using these skills; no drugs required. With pain always looking over your shoulder, you are in fast-track training and you are honing this navigation skill that serves you in ALL aspects of your life. Just imagine what all those years of training have done for you when more than half the rest of the world seems to be drowning in a sea of pain and yet so anesthetized by their lifestyle choices that they don’t even register the half of it or what it is doing to them.

stacey-leech-163584.jpgIn this place, you know there is nothing to distrust so safety becomes a way of life. Even in the midst of weird and wonderful symptoms that would have a less experienced person cascading into terror and running to the hospital, you remain calm and centred. Should a real emergency occur, you know you would detect this since panic isn’t your default and you have all your highly-developed senses on board; in fact, holding this calm state of being keeps many body reactions from tripping that emergency wire since the body pays attention and takes its cues from these core responses. Having learned to keep our thoughts out of catastrophe, we are probably one of the calmest people we know and this serves us so well in all kinds of situations; people notice we have a calming energy and an innate wisdom about us, they seek us out when they feel flustered and need grounding. We hold a state of deep serenity that sometimes looks like chronic fatigue; mostly, it’s a recovery mechanism that allows the nervous system to go into a state of hiatus in which to heal and we learn to allow those phases to happen, however long they need to last. We know from experience that the sooner we listen to requests to pull back from life’s overwhelm, the quicker we repair and recover. Our body trusts us since our track record of letting it down or forcing into anything that doesn’t feel good is receding into the distant past compared to this whole new way of living life, which may look a lot slower than everyone else’s but this too is evolution.

And we have developed courage in spadefuls; a quiet, gentle courage that sees us through some incredibly challenging phases with new symptoms that might otherwise send us back into fear. “This too will pass” becomes a way of living; we develop faith in ourselves, faith in life, faith in the support systems of life. We develop the life skill of transforming fear into “all is well” even when we don’t have any proof that it is. Faith becomes incredibly strong and proof becomes this thing we no longer rely upon, which takes us through a portal into a whole new way of living our lives; somewhere we are all heading as left and right hemispheres come together in our world. I have watched this transformation occur many times and, once learned, how it extends into every area of your life, helping to create this new reality.

Repeatedly, with every new so-called “crash” back into pain or limitation compared to what you normally spend time doing, you are faced with fresh opportunities to surrender that which is holding you back – fear, doubt, belief systems, old stories, imaginary boundaries, outmoded preferences…knowing how they lead to outcomes that you don’t choose. You let go of what doesn’t serve, over and over, until what you are left with looks very different to the life you had before; and, in too many ways to count, preferable. You witness once rock-solid beliefs simply dissolve away as now utterly defunct, ready to be swept by the tide of the new. You learn not to add energy to pain; not to drama-it up, to form too many theories or hang old stories around it, all of which encourage it to become more solid than is necessary to fulfil why it is here. These are such important life skills; they lighten and speed things up considerably, keeping you out of loops and cul-de-sacs and allowing the spiral of evolution.

In the midst of health crisis, you develop confidence in who you are; more confidence than you have ever had in your life before. You move into greater flow, clarity and understanding. Everything seems to come together. Synchronicities orchestrate your life with such perfection. Experience expands even as (you know) others look at your life and see it as smaller than it once was. In time…just give it time as the body is the slowest vibrating part of you…all of this feeds straight back into the body’s cells and starts to inform a whole new reality at the physical level. If your physical crashes feel as intense as they always were (perhaps more so), maybe it is because of the contrast with how rapidly you are now vibrating in the nonphysical dimensions; perhaps you can allow that there is a perfection, not a problem, going on and you are having to integrate a massive change into your physical vehicle, which might take just a little practice before it becomes smooth and seamless.

Meanwhile there’s this misunderstanding about pain and it still bothers you, even lowers your vibration when you remember how it is so misunderstood by the vast majority. It can fuel this need to talk about it, to almost whine or bang a drum about it, because you want to set this thing straight. I know I do; I know it bugs the hell out of me to be regarded as faulty in any way. I want to be regarded as whole, not broken – which is my truth – and yet this benchmark still exists “out there” and it makes me want to avoid the outside world where I have to explain myself endlessly and where others see me as compromised when I sometimes feel far less compromised than they are. I want them not to feel awkward around me; to care how I feel, to check in and show an interest in how I’m doing but not regard me as broken. I don’t want to feel chastised by their silences or the way they step around me or “the subject” of my health, which can sit like an elephant in the room. I want it to be acknowledged like we would acknowledge anything else going on in our lives; not with voices loaded with pity but so there is no implied criticism along the lines of “its best not to talk about it” because it would only encourage me in something I’m “doing wrong”. I keep coming back around to it and I know this feeling  of being a misfit amongst other people with their opinions is anchoring me to pain and exhaustion far longer than I need to be, which is what happens when you are in a tug of war between how you are perceived and who you really are. Its not all of why I am still in pain but it is part of it along with this feeling that I want to put them straight (and, I know, its not my job).

Yet I also know none of my power comes from when I look at myself backwards; in other words, if I am already ahead of this defunct benchmark then that is where I now need to be focussing; not trying to shepherd other people along with my endless explanations. I consider this post to be it a turning point in my need to explain anything about my health using outmoded belief systems and terminology around being broken or behind. Those of us in this position are on a particular evolutionary trajectory, just like the rest of the planet (who may be working on different themes), and what we are contributing as we take this particular route is not insignificant to the evolution of the whole since we are sampling and modelling the skills of a new way of being…a FUTURE way of being…in the now. If taking pride in what we are doing is what it takes to flip this coin from feeling like failures to owning how we are major players in the evolutionary game then this is the stance I am choosing from now on.

It feels like the infrastructure for a completely new world full of brand new responses, new choices, new levels of living in love, joy and peace are already there in our world…however, many of us just don’t seem to know how to take it and make it our own quite yet. We mistrust these newnesses for being so different; almost, a little too easy-feeling compared to how hard we have been making things until now. We are standing on the very threshold of a portal looking straight at these new possibilities and yet we hesitate, questioning whether we even see them or if it is a mirage; being far better at seeing what we expect to see than what is so new that it is almost invisible to eyes unaccustomed to such lightness. So we put one foot in and one out again and we often turn back to responses that feel much more familiar, more solid (if heavier; it comes with the territory). Once backward looking, we read the news, get drawn into negative conversation, get tugged back into fear, we assume the worst and alow our morale to be stolen from us by all those many arbitrary things that seem to grab our attention far more effectively than our own tender shoot of optimism, which gets so quickly trodden underfoot. For some reason, we *think* we feel better doing things as we have always done them and that genuinely new options are so terribly hard to come by. We hardly believe that such new ways of being could already be standing right there in front of us in every moment; its like we can’t see for looking. Sometimes it takes a crisis, an illness for instance (anything that shakes you out of the learned way of seeing and gets you using the full spectrum of your observational skills), to notice what is already there.

Recognising that there are new possibilities just a hair’s breadth away is the start point to our own transformation. It’s enough to get you going on that new trajectory and the recognition is as subtle as a ribbon of fresh air through a newly opened window…which happens as soon as you consider, does this choice feel light or leaden, am I invested in it in some heavy-old contractual way or does it flutter freely like a butterfly on the summer breeze? Does it release a fizz in the stomach or drop concrete in my heart? After making the choice, did I feel relief cascading in my body? Did my shoulders relax, all my tension drain away like free-flowing water poured from head to toes? Do I feel invigorated, excited or, suddenly, chronically exhausted by this action set in motion? Some of us that have been through years of pain have become acutely sensitive to such very subtle variances in our nervous system and really so adept at interpreting them that this kind of navigation is second-nature to us. So now is our time to make use of these highly developed sensibilities as a means to navigating our lives forwards towards a new kind of human experience.

Learning to take our next steps like this, using subtle data gathered by our super-sensitive nervous system as our lead, can break us out of some of the very “old” stuck patterns that we’ve been caught up in like a kitten in a ball of wool, releasing us from being the hostage of our own life while making none of our experiences of pain “the villain of the piece”. Keeping “fault” (or “fault-y”) out of the vernacular of this stage in our evolution is hugely important. Speaking our truth is cathartic, yes; but we need to consider, at what price do we add the weight of further words and do these words feel liberating or burdensome; do they come with more strings rather than wings? Are we truly expressing from the perspective of the present moment, not from an idea we had some time ago; does what we say fit the infrastructure of a brand-new potential that is starting to take form on the winds or is it a rehash of old ideas that are already feeling outmoded and throughly well dug-over?

When we tune up our subtle observation skills, we start to observe that many ideas that once felt worthy and of substance are becoming unsure of themselves, dissolving into nothing and seeming to want to be let go of now. What we thought about something yesterday might not hold any water today and we need to keep on our toes with this; staying flexible and alert, always prepared to dissolve our own best-laid plans rather than progress what no longer feels higher-vibrational. Then of course, used mindfully, expression is one of the great gifts of the feminine aspect, the “yin”; which, having been out of balance for so long, can use the leveling effect of the kind of communication that reaches into all the corners to expose what has been hidden, to bring transparency and rebalance what has been tilted. Yet there is a fine balance between this and saying so much that we add more substance to what is ready to be completely washed away in the flow. In other words, if we keep banging the same drums, disappearing up the same gullies (tempting as it can be), we will remain stuck in the same old version of reality. It’s a responsibility we have that we need to be able to discern those widely varying potentials derived from remarkably similar actions, leading to very different outcomes, then choose wisely for our brand-new future (and I think I am getting somewhat better at it). Again, those of us that have travelled the long-persistent route to health-stasis have become adept at noticing the broadly different outcomes that are possible from subtly different choicepoints; and we know how recognising feelings in our body gets us to where we really want to be.

It really all comes down to focusing on our own personal journey of evolution (healing, by the way, is a very fast-track version of evolution in action, in case you were still wondering); we can’t shepherd anyone else, we can only demonstrate through our living example. Our own super-intense journey towards increased wellbeing (we all have one) is all that really matters; this is how we impact the whole. You could say, this is where we really make a difference; by refining the relationship we have with our feelings (which is where pain sometimes comes into it). What we learn, the whole  of humanity learns (whether we talk about it or not); we can be sure of that. When we keep hesitating in our own forward momentum to check how the rest of humanity is coming along, we stall our own progress by looking backwards for longer than was necessary and, sometimes, throw ourselves back in the mire. Its been a foible of mine to keep doing this in the name of “helping others” and I know I need to become more selfish, in a sense; even if that means not sharing every single leap of progress I make. When we make those leaps, we need to do what it takes to let them settle in, holding that new space until they have grounded into the three-dimensional for long enough to develop resilience; not dashing around telling lots of people how we did it or spinning around to see if anyone else has noticed (I’m all too aware how ego can come into this). Our own longterm wellbeing needs to be our primary purpose and the focus of all our attention; that’s it, nothing else is so powerful or sustained as that singularity of focus (and perhaps those of us who have been through long illness know this better than most). As other motivations drop away, this makes room for healing to take place since the cells of the body receive a clear signal that we are ready to move past all the old stuck points and diversions; to pull away the blocks from the aircraft wheels ready to take off and fly.

This whole process really is – and has to be – unconditional. It matters not that I go back into episodes of pain and limitation when those circumstances are approached from this perspective. Instead of feeling like episodes of failure, of backtracking or relapse, they prick my interest as periods of massive personal growth and I always come away bearing armfuls of gifts (this last week has been especially challenging and, yes, especially rich in what it has given me). They feel much more like upgrades than crashes and, in my home vernacular, this is the word I tend to use; so perhaps its time I used the word more broadly, and unapologetically, across the board (our words hold such a powerful energetic charge). When upgrades are underway, I calmly step back from my life to wonder what will come of this latest burst of deeper understanding; knowing also that the phase will be relatively short in the big picture of things and there will come a day when I’m back to my busy life again (it certainly never gets dull). Many things get stirred up during those phases yet I’ve learned to let that mud settle, to not share every word that I write (immediately or even later), or to try and write down every thrilling epiphany that floats through the new expansion of my mind and to allow what wants to come up to the surface to do so in its own good time. Always…and I mean always…I find that slowing down in this way allows a vast newness to flow into the void that is created once the first attempt at interpretation (which tends to charge in somewhere near the beginning…) has subsided because I refrained from giving it energy. This can make me seem quiet – very quiet – during these times but, really, all is very well. When I slow life down like this, I find (amongst the many true gifts of my journey) that I have learned how to be patient, trusting and aware enough to receive far more than I ever thought was possible.


In the same week that I was starting to compose this post, a two-part article on the subject of living with chronic illness came out on Facebook, written by Julie Ditmar of True Divine Nature, who has been on a similar journey to my own. These installments felt so timely and really resonated with me, being relevant to the perspective I have shared above. I was left sensing that pain and long-running illness have reached their time for seeking the new light that they deserve; it is their moment to come out of the closet and be received somewhat differently than how we have tended to handle them.

In them, Julie acknowledges illness as the master teacher that guides you towards achieving greater courage and a deeper relationship with self than you might otherwise have realised, a chance to intimately connect with the “inner shaman” whilst showing you how to live a life of profoundly unconditional joy. She lists so many ways in which pain can be reconciled and approached in a way that does not detract from life. Indeed, from my own experience, I would say that its biggest gift is to show you how to reach a place where nothing can compromise your thrill and enthusiasm for life, from which point you can release the condition that says “one day, when it has gone, I will feel much better” in order to receive the profound joy of living here, today.

 

Also useful – this video from Abraham Hicks

Itching to get there

Watching the birds at the feeder in my garden, the busy sparrows with their young family waiting in the nest, I got to pondering whether this was a good thing that we humans provide such easy food for them. Their lives have got so much easier since the need to forage for food has become less of a necessity to survive and thrive into the next generation. How far are we influencing them, their numbers and longevity? Or is it only right, as we thrive, that we share the vibe around; perhaps this is their time.

Whatever the aggravations and even irritants of modern life may be, I never cease being grateful for the advantages of living in a time when food is readily available and in which I have choices, endless choices, about what to eat and how to live my life. I see a long winding road ahead of me when, I know, many of my ancestors would have already left by this time of my life. As a soul, I feel this opportunity most profoundly too.

I awe myself with just thinking of the countless lifetimes that I amassed great wisdom, increasingly ripe for my senior years, only to succumb to disease, poverty or worse. So many lives cut short in our prime…we women are feeling that rising up in our DNA in these times. There is an itch that happens at menopause and it is all about wanting to take hold of the opportunity we have been waiting for across many lifetimes cut short or when circumstances were less ideal to be all we wanted to be. We are ripe once again to claim all that a mature woman is about; shedding responsibility and unnecessary ties in order to focus on her great gifts, all the accumulated wisdom of ages, which opens like a treasure trove as she lays down family responsibility to become her most empowered self.

Only the itch is real….very real; and it can drive you crazy. Not only do I become systemically dry as though all the moisture has been sucked out of me by a giant drinking straw but I HURT during the second halves of my cycle these days. Yes, I still have a cycle but it feels like it is running on empty. Of  course, this happens just as the increased sensitivity of those forthcoming “wisdom years” switch on and I feel more than ever, especially in those second two weeks of my month building to the full moon. The combination of subtle sensitivities that  seem to feel literally everything (and then some) with a nervous system that feels ragged and frayed is profound for me and, I suspect, many other women too. It can present as heat and flame, as irritation (internal…external, it’s all the same), as burning skin, as dryness, as itchy scalp, as straw-like hair, as inflammation, as all over pain, as joint aches and weakness, as electric nerves, as intercostal tightness, as back and neck pain, as spongy or spasming ligaments, as stomach soreness, as migraines, as optic nerves that make vision blurred and achy, as chronic dehydration and fizzing tongue, as over-reaction to environmental smells and noises, as constipation, as neuropathy, as dizziness and flashes of multi-dimensional insight that confuse, as bizarre food cravings or no appetite at all…these are just some of some of what I know from personal experience.

These are all versions of this metaphorical (you could even say, metaphysical) “itch” which – in physicality – presents as the chronic dryness that is generated when hormones are in transition. Really, its transformation underway…a metamophosis…and in making it mundane, by denying it or even making it seem like a problem, a curse, we fight back against what is really like a spreading of wings from the chrysalis; bewilderingly, disorientingly beautiful. Our culture has done terrible things to downplay the stage of her life that is all about female empowerment and there is a minefield of superstitious beliefs and misinformation around it; no wonder we hurt and struggle our way through it.

In its depths, it has sometimes made me wonder whether this dried-out, over-sensitivity and pain is what lies in stall every day for my body post-menopause but I don’t think that it is. I suspect that the body finds a new equilibrium once it stops trying to run an old cycle, all about reproduction, that is now a learned pattern but for which it no longer has the resources or the use. While reproductive organs continue to act as though there is an egg, it’s as though they dredge the bottom of the barrel each month to prepare “a nest” that is no longer needed in the womb. Once they catch up and realise that those days are over, I suspect they won’t have to work so hard at this monthly whip-around to gather resources that my body can’t provide any more, leaving cells and organs depleted of what they most need to run optimally. I won’t need to supplement so hard or to brace myself for two weeks of dipping into pain. In other words it will get easier once the decision has been made that menopause is here now…since, like any decision, it is the making of it that comes as relief, the hesitating that creates anxiety and friction.

Really, its nothing; just a phase we go through; all consuming though it can feel, like a mini-death to some. Just think what a caterpillar goes through as it digests itself inside the chrysalis, before emerging…with wings. To do this, it has to “imagine” itself on the other side, forming so-called imaginal cells in the soup of its own disintegration, which (as far as we can describe it) seem to hold the intention of the new butterfly-shape it is taking before it is even created and use the “food” of its old life to grow; and we do this every time we imagine all the good stuff that lies ahead of us in our lives, building upon all the experiences we have gathered.

ben-white-147268.jpgSo, as ever, I’m left knowing somehow that the more we embrace menopause, inviting and celebrating it, the easier it gets. When we cheer it in and are grateful for the forthcoming years that we always wanted, so that we can put concerns of the body on the shelf along with all those nurturing skills required of us during the child-rearing years, we can concentrate on ourselves and our own soul’s growth, for self-empowerment. Really, we make such a big deal about self-empowerment like we have to brace ourselves to conquer the world or go on a course to learn about it when, really, it’s all just about becoming our true selves, drawing to us all of the wisdom we have gathered from life and using it to spread our wings fully, in our own beautiful way (whatever that happens to be), guided by joy. We can get down to the business of stepping into ourselves like never before with no apologies, no compromises, no other demands on our free time than this. Quite literally, this is our time, the one we have been waiting for (both the culmination of this lifetime and many others…the combined wisdom of which we tune into more and more during these years) so the sooner we take hold of it with both hands, the easier the transition gets. When we really welcome in those years that lie ahead of us, without fear or the concerns of the past, the temporary discomfort of the transition feels incidental, almost worth it as a rite of passage through to another side, remembering that there is another side of our life to now claim.

Enthusing about wellness

I’m changing trajectory with this blog…not sharply, since I realise I’ve been heading this way for some time now; but more concertedly than before and without compromise. I used to think I was writing about recovery, about “dealing with” health issues, about coping or making a bad situation better, seeking pinpricks of light in the dark. Well, my focus from this point onwards is to write about all the things that the body is doing right, to share the highlights of my journey towards increased wellness (not recovery); which is surely something that engages all of us, isn’t it? I intend to write from the heart about all the great adventures in learning to work with the body in more life-enhancing ways, something I have already gathered quite a wealth of understanding about.

Recovery suggests there is something to recover and it really hasn’t felt like that for a very long time now. I realise I am more than whole, more than perfect…and what is playing out here is really a long-running (lifetime’s) adventure in reading the physical messages, sent by my body, to encourage me the way I am going or tell me when I am out of alignment with that perfection. These “symptoms” have only ever been the clues leading me straight to myself; the gentle tugs on a kindly cord coercing me back onto the path that best serves me. Much more so than recovery, I find the experience I have been through has been mostly about shedding what doesn’t serve, what keeps me off track (and that includes the mindset that tells me I am “faulty” because I am different to some other people).  It’s a wonderful, powerful and transformative journey I have been on and it continues to be worthy of sharing as it really never ends while you are alive in a body. I would love for more people to open to this mindset of “nothing wrong” and to embrace the positive messages their bodies are sending them, not to mention all the things they are doing well.

Really, I am so done with our culture’s mindset that what I have going on is some sort of illness that I need to endlessly explain or apologise for; and I have noticed that even the language I was continuing to use here was bowing to that belief-system at some level. In order to make myself accessible, I was telling myself that I still had to apply so-called universal labels and use typical language around these topics so that other people could relate or even find me on the internet. In doing this I was, in a sense, blocking myself from the full recovery that is already mine. It was also keeping the perspective I have to offer small and limited since I was complicit in this continual mindset of boxing it up inside a cultural concept of “sickness”, which is no longer one that I share. And, really, who is sick here – those who have reinvented their lives with healthy lifestyles and refinements they would have missed had they not been taken on this journey of the body, or those still leading the most abysmally unhealthy lifestyles because (so far) their health hasn’t forced them to do otherwise.

Drawing a line and stepping into a reinvented landscape that is all about optimistically meeting your life exactly where it is whilst knowing it will only get better is what this long pursued thing called recovery really is to me and so I’m already there. This state relies on not having to face a setback of the mind every time I introduce myself to others, which comes down to how I choose to explain those things about me which are likely to be alien to their world and which they may not immediately understand. When I meet new people and their brows furrow at things I state I do differently to them, I want to be able to explain how I don’t do “x” or “y” because they interfere with my wellness, not that I am unwell to start with. That way, I am always starting from a point of wellness…and I now know what keeps me there (better than most); something I should be prepared to own and feel really good about. The difference is subtle but is oh-so important; and if you play with it for yourself you will find the extent to which this is true. Why should those of us who have become this in-tune with our own state of wellness be the ones deemed weird or faulty for noticing some of the detrimental circumstances that others continue to sleep-walk through though they threaten or actively undermine their wellness everyday? My health is not so vastly improved because I am reliant upon orchestrating a miserably complicated life of different-to-mainstream behaviours, denying myself what I wish I could have or take part in; it is so because I have consciously ditched those behaviours as non-conducive to the deep wellness that I now know for the deliciousness that it is and am not prepared to compromise, for anyone. And when I can’t avoid those behaviours completely (since, sometimes, they are all around me) I know many ways in which my well-balanced life will keep me afloat; which is only more reason to share what I have discovered in this blog.

jeremy-cai-66284Making peace with it all is the prerequisite of taking this next step and I have that peace in spadefuls. Clearly I wanted this so-called illness to happen since it has been the most direct route towards the kind of lifestyle that is a vast improvement upon what I had before. In that time before, what I called “health” was a make-do state of precarious vulnerability, one that was much more about being sufficiently unconscious of what was keeping my wellbeing compromised for me to ignore that mountain of things than about transparency, equilibrium or vitality. That transparency refers to the open relationship I now enjoy with my body; we have no secrets between us and can talk about literally anything. I am the convert to this way of life; the great enthusiast with even more to get excited about, every day, as life unfolds, which I intend to do here in this space. Here’s another of those big clues telling me my trajectory has altered; health is something I get excited about, these days; not something I keep pessimistically and rather fearfully under lock and key. This way of life is, for me, a lifestyle of choice; not an insurance policy, a chore or a ransom for my life. How do I know the lifestyle I have adopted has nothing to do with being a so-called recovery plan, this thing I make myself do out of hardship or fear? Because if I found myself without a single uncomfortable symptom in my body tomorrow, I honestly wouldn’t change a thing about the lifestyle I have adopted for myself this last decade. I wouldn’t shrug and say “to hell with all that healthy organic food” or “scrap the supplements”. There’s not one thing I would wind the clocks back about because I know my body has led me direct to my own best life; and there’s even more to come. I am a contagiously enthusiastic person and enthusing about wellness is what I want to do in this space. No more talking about illness or things going wrong; those words are just not my perspective anymore and its time to decommission them.

Quit the self-blame

I was so gutted by the sinking realisation that it came up in my dreams, gave me a disturbed night and had me waking with hot tears running down my face, sobbing outloud with a gulp as I surfaced. It was the middle of the week and was looking increasingly likely that I would have to drop out of something “important” that I had planned at the weekend; and it was just hanging there, like a lead weight over an already challenging week.

Quite a few weeks ago, we booked for us both (my husband and I) to go to a yin yoga workshop this weekend. This might not seem like such a big deal but to me it really is. To me, who does yoga nigh on every day from home…but at my own pace, able to stop and start when I want to…the thought of two hours shut into a room with other people who (in my mind’s eye) know what they are doing and can keep going without bizarre waves of chronic exhaustion or pain occurring, even at a gentle pace, is quite terrifying but I was up for it all the same. Having had such a good few months; having been able to increase my home practice and start weekly one-on-ones that added new movements into my routine, I had felt encouraged that I could really do this…even though my yoga is never longer than about 30 minutes on a good day; and part of me was just longing to get out and be amongst other people, also a good sign. My husband’s sheer enthusiasm for me to go with him to this monthly session was contagious and I was thrilled that he wanted me there on his turf; thrilled that I really thought I could do it. Based on how good I have been feeling lately, the worst thing that could happen was that I may have to take it slow or sit out a few minutes of poses during the two hours duration but I could cope with that, couldn’t I?

But now, in a week when I’ve felt utterly crashed-out exhausted and in a lot of pain for days (and have hardly managed to do my own yoga…which is rare) I was beginning to have my serious doubts. The emotional vulnerability that sweeps in when I’m like this; that makes me more introverted than ever and so much less hardy in the face of assumed criticism, makes me recoil more than ever at the thought of so publicly floundering if I have to just lie there on a mat until the session is over. When I’m like this, I withdraw even in the bosom of my own family; immersing myself in quiet pastimes until the wheel inevitably turns again…but not this time; I’m on a timetable and I have to be better by Saturday.

“Give it until Friday to decide” I told myself, or even “leave it until the very last minute and just be philosophical about the price of the ticket if you don’t manage to go…” But having just heard there’s now a waiting list for the session, the pressure is on and I no longer feel I should risk taking anybody’s place if there’s a chance I won’t go. If forced to decided now, based on how I feel today, the answer has to be “no, I can’t…” and that throws me into such a downward cascade of feelings. As anyone who knows what it is like to have to frequently give up plans because the body doesn’t play ball with them will be familair with…

The first, as I’ve said, is crashing disappointment…for myself, for my husband because of me. A longing “just to be normal”, to be spontaneous, to say “yes” to doing ordinary things is so overwhelming now and these setbacks in my body have never felt more abrasive, invasive, cruel. And yes there’s that niggling little voice that makes me imagine there is an impatience or frustration with me that my husband certainly doesn’t feel (he is more concerned that he pushed me too hard to do something I wasn’t ready for…) but my mind likes to make it up anyway. Surely (it tries to tell me) he must wish sometimes that I wasn’t so feeble, so unreliable when it comes to doing things. Its always so much harder to allow myself to believe he is really the stalwart supporter that I know, in my heart, that he is and that he has none of these thoughts; these are just me, digging.

Next on the block is a feeling of self-accusation that sounds like my mother’s voice when I was a pre-schooler: “Did you do this?” said with finger wagging. Had I, at some level, manufactured this to “get out of” a situation that pushed me out of my comfort zone; had I made it happen? Which then quickly joins forces with the chorus of voices I sometimes imagine being all around me, made up of all the go-getter people I know: “Well, if you are so good at manifesting, how come you manifested this? Why aren’t you better yet? All those so-called spiritual concepts, all that grand philosophising about life and yet you still have this going on. If you are still so unwell, you must be having “wrong” thoughts, must be courting this illness with negative thinking or focusing on material symptoms when you need to be more spiritual than you know how; don’t you know focusing on the body is so last year? Other people get over cancer and you have this pathetic mystery illness that doesn’t even have a diagnosis. Can’t even manage a yoga class…you’re such a failure!”

The next is a big one, the sinking admission (in the cold scrutiny of the moment) that this is the reason why I don’t book or plan many things, don’t make arrangements with friends, don’t even tend to have those kind of friends with whom I can “do” things. All because I have had to shrink my life down to a size of a pea, so I can’t disappoint or mess anyone else, or myself, around very much; for the very reasons so amply demonstrated by this situation. Which means I have a life in which I do very little except spend time on my own or with a close-knit family core, though they get to see other people in their daily lives and I don’t; because that is by far the “safest” option compared to setting up a constant stream of let-downs, explanations and physical benchmarks that I can’t always achieve. Which leads into my next downward spiral as I realise how sad and lonely I sometimes feel, how there’s occasionally a sense of missing out on life, of watching other people live theirs and me just a bystander; of having cryogenically preserved only the very tiniest, most predictable, frozen core of a life without any of the spontaneous fleshiness that makes it rich and colourful in an active way. Suddenly my rich-sensory inner-focused life of writing, thinking and art (which I normally love with a vengeance) feels compromised and small compared to what I could have if I was able to “do” more. That dissatisfaction, let out of its box, feels like it is suddenly come back to eat me and is another one of the reasons I avoid stepping over my own boundaries to where I’m suddenly dissatisfied by what I find I cannot do, predict or take for granted about my body like other people. When I keep my focus on my inner world, I keep those dissatisfactions at bay; but when I open that box…

And if I don’t set myself goals I don’t set myself up for a crash…like this one, where not only my hopes are dashed but my awful-feeling week is suddenly noticeable whereas, normally, I’m pretty circumspect about these flare-ups, letting them pass without resistance as “just one of those weeks” where I have to take things gently until they pass. As I’ve learned, what you resist persists and when you want something to be gone with every ounce of your being, to a particular schedule, they only come back even stronger…as I’m rediscovering. Now, with a deadline to feel better by, the malignant feeling at its core (one I have otherwise learned to avoiding adding fuel to but, this week, it is particularly hungry) is that I have “failed” in some way…I am “sick”…and there are now excuses and apologies to be made, which take the kind of words that I normally avoid using in my vocabulary, all of which have their focus on “wrongness” and “malfunction” (“I’m sorry, I have to cancel my booking at short notice because…”), which makes me feel a whole lot worse. Because, as I learned a long time ago, those words give solid form to what can otherwise be allowed to remain much more fleeting and transient, especially when you have carefully orchestrated your life to spend time with those who require no explanations…

Down and down it goes, reinforcing why I don’t try to do things like this very often, why I settle for my own small, non-communal activities behind closed doors on my own adaptable terms where there are no expectations or benchmarks to achieve. The irony is (as I already know deep down), if I wasn’t feeling so lousy in my body, I wouldn’t be feeling so darned tragic about not being able to do this one simple thing; I could probably even laugh about it, just a little…………….

_______

It was then that I realised that this thing I thought I had, long-ago, achieved like I was the grand master of this very thing – a state of total SELF-LOVE and ACCEPTANCE – was a smokescreen for a more pervasive layer of self-judgement that was still lurking in there. I thought I had this thing off to a fine art yet I could now see how I was still holding it in; within the very depths of my being like the Loch Ness Monster beneath the pristine waterline. One rocky day in my “boat” and it was still waiting there to gobble me up.

catherine-mcmahon-10118.jpgThe reason it remained so hidden was that I wasn’t testing myself enough, in my well-balanced life, for it to surface from the depths. Here, at last, was a wobble in my track record for it was now (just when I most needed it) that the pure unconditional self-love and acceptance was so apparently absent. Where was its tender embrace, its pearl-wisdom that told me none of this mattered nor would anyone who mattered mind any of this; that there would be other yoga, other times for doing things; that what really mattered now was that I didn’t make myself all brittle with self-condemnation so that I could get back on my feet…? But then just when I thought it wasn’t there, it actually was. It told me how important it was that I remained soft and outwardly folding like a flowering bloom, not an early opening bud bitten by frost, so that my body could trust that it had my absolute support in its recovery. It brought the wisdom that knew that I should banish any tones that sounded remotely like that of a disappointed parent and hear only the one that said “well done for everything you are managing to do in each moment”, regardless.

The lesson was timely. It was important. It was, perhaps, what this whole thing was about in the baby steps journey of recovery. Perhaps next time I will get to that yoga without hitch but, before I could do that, I needed this preamble to soften my responses ready for the outside world into which I am venturing, one toe at a time. It’s a world where not everyone will always understand the excuses I give; so, perhaps I learn first how to excuse myself without apology and with the unwavering knowledge in my heart that I had the best of intentions and their response (if they even have one) is their response, nothing to do with me. Once the body knows I won’t bail on it; won’t put myself down or feel small, pathetic or ashamed and – just as importantly – won’t force it to do anything that doesn’t feel right if it comes to that, then perhaps it will relax more when these opportunities come along. When shame and self-judgement stop being the default response in any circumstance (not just the easy ones) I will be ready to put myself up for more, to take risks and (to the best of my ability) make more commitments.

The feeling of it is like an embrace…of everything you have going on; like a pair of arms making a complete circle around the Self making you complete at a whole other level. Once mastered, this is the kind of wholeness that preempts the kind of total recovery I always imagine achieving; one that is not about a complete absence of symptoms but which is all about a holistic response to the inevitable vagarities of life. Just getting here feels like a graduation of sorts; a small triumph that is invisible as measured by the physical “reality” that tells me there are still many things that I am not able to do and days when I feel just awful; but which is made tangible by the measure of how I unconditionally feel about myself, and the surprise gifts I am prepared to extract from those circumstances, regardless.