Sunday, March 12, 2017

Why Blog?

This woman, Emily Esfahani Smith, touches on one of the reasons I keep this blog. 

I saw this on PBS Newshour today: 

This particular part struck me:

“In recent years, psychologists have started looking more closely at how the single-minded pursuit of happiness affects us, and they have come to what seems like a counter intuitive conclusion: Chasing happiness and obsessing over it, the way our culture encourages us to do, can actually make people unhappy and lonely.

But it’s different when we set another goal for ourselves, when we search for and pursue meaning in life.

Human beings are creatures that yearn for meaning. 

When we look up at the stars, for example, we don’t see random balls of fire. We see swans and bears, we tell stories and myths, and we wonder 
about where we came from, our place in the universe, and 
how we can make our lives count.

Making a narrative out of the events in your life provides clarity. 
It offers a framework that goes beyond the day-to-day. 

It’s the act itself, and not necessarily sharing their story with others, that helps people make sense of themselves and their lives. 

And we all have the power to tell or to re-tell our life story in more positive ways."

I write here, crafting my own personal narrative.  Through writing, I find purpose and meaning in my life; during moments in the daylight of my life, when things are bright and flow with ease, and, moments in the dark, sometimes full of fear and pain.  I share my narrative for me, but, also in the hopes that others reading might think about how crafting and sharing their own narrative through life might bring meaning and purpose.  

People find meaning and purpose in many things.  And, what we assign as meaningful or purposeful matters - those things lay the foundation for why we think, talk and behave in the ways we do.   

Listening and learning from each others journeys will only help us grow more individually and together.  We are all here for different reasons, evolving through experiences of joy and challenge and everything in between.  Learning from each other's experience strengthens us all. 😊

Saturday, March 11, 2017

finding purpose through pain

I watched this PBS NOVA episode called Iceman: Reborn.”recently; it explores the life of a 5,300 year old man found buried in ice in the Italian Alps in 1991. Researchers found 61 tattoos on his body – 61! The tattoos are mostly straight lines in different configurations and patterns.  They are grouped in specific areas on his body; in areas he was experiencing a lot of pain.

Researchers think Ötzi suffered from a whole host of painful, chronic conditions.  Like arthritis in his wrists, knees, feet, and spine.  They think the tattoos were a kind of ancient acupuncture as they were in areas acupuncture targets for inflammation in the joints and seem to be more strategic than decorative. Looking at the tattoos all over his body, its pretty apparent that this guy must have been in a lot of pain! But, he was always on the move.  Hunting, maybe trading. Climbing mountains.

I think about this man, who lived over five millennia ago, who felt the same kind of pain I do, in the same places.  I think about him climbing mountains.  I bet he felt pain every day.  Every day I feel pain, too.  I think about him walking the mountains as I slowly descend and ascend the stairs to my 2nd floor apartment, wondering how he managed through it.  Years ago I might have judged myself saying something like, he climbed mountains, you struggle with stairs.  But I’ve learned since then that pain is pain.  And the best way to heal is through compassion.  Something that made me smile was that they found him with a kind of mushroom we now know helps with inflammation but wasn’t something we thought humans that long ago understood.  We tend to put what we think people before us knew and understood in a limited place of understanding.  That seems to be a box we are continually breaking down and in the process of reshaping our understandings, re-creating.  I hope as we are continually reshaping what we see before us, whether it’s before us in the present or rethinking the past, we always leave space to expand our perspective.

Looking back at this week, it was a particularly painful.  I realized this week I’ll probably have to quit taking the metro to work in the mornings because it’s becoming too painful to walk or climb stairs in the beginning of the day.  Tuesday, as I limped into the office, I was nearly in tears not only because of the pain but because of how limited I’ve become some mornings. 

But, because of my limitations, I’ve also been given some unique opportunities to slow down. To schedule less. To be present right now. To plan each day in the moment, based on how I feel and what I can do now.  Walking and moving slowly also gives me pause to think. As I move. About many things. About Icemen and mountains and the resiliency of the human spirit – through pain.  Walking up the stairs yesterday I thought, Ötzi had to keep moving. 

Arthritis is interesting; it forces you to live in between the ashes and the flame of motion.  You have to move; enough to keep the pain from rooting in your bones and joints like cement but not so much that the you catch fire and become inflamed. 

Ötzi moved out of necessity.  And so do I.  I am strategic and judicious in how I move.  I am limited not only in how I move but how often I move.  For a few months I was pretty scared I would trip and fall on my hands.  My wrists are quite inflamed much of the time and so it’s hard to bend them and very painful when I try to bear any significant weight with them. 

I’m not scared anymore; more mindful.  It would hurt like hell if that happened but sometimes, life hurts like hell.  I bet Ötzi hurt like hell sometimes. Sometimes we fall. And even if it hurts and I fall on my hands, I’m still catching myself as I fall.

This isn’t the first experience I have with chronic pain that hurt like hell.  Before the arthritis/lupus/mixed connective tissue pain I felt pain. Deeper pain. Deeper than my bones.  Subcutaneous pain.  Internal.  Heart pain. Head pain. Soul-wrenching, falls of the spirit pain.
I feel like my whole life, I have been falling.  But not falling down, falling through and I think eventually, up.  

It started when I was very young. Each time someone used my body for their own means, I felt pain in  my body but most importantly, I felt it in my heart.  Sexual abuse is a spiritual assault as much as, if not more, than a physical assault.  It’s a stab to your heart, a penetration in the place you grow love. From wounds to the place from which we birth human life.  The place from which my son emerged into this life.   

That pain and how I learned to live with it, work through it, is the origin of this pain I’m feeling now. Today, it is just closer to the surface. Which is a good thing.  A good sign.  Despite the pain. The pain is service of something greater.  Wellness. Pain working its way out.

It started as heart pain, spirit pain. Healing the heart and the spirit requires compassionate listening, and sometimes gentle therapy. Always love. It took me a while to get to the bottom of the pain in my heart and invite love in.  You can try to do heal the heart by pushing through or with what many call mental strength but when you aren’t actually healing the heart. You are finding band aids. 

Many people tell themselves to heal. Many people treat healing as a strategic and annoying exercise. How can I maximize healing while minimizing effort and discomfort? You can’t do this with the heart and that approach will only heal the surface.  It won’t get you to the depths of pain from abuse, trauma or loss.  And those kinds of pain, after they are inflicted, live in the heart.  To heal the heart you have to listen first and thoroughly, however painful. And even though painful, it is a truly beautiful experience to heal the heart.  Healing the heart, although painful, can bring so much joy. 

Healing my heart and spirit became an urgent endeavor at a young age.  I began fantasizing about suicide by the time I was five; by the time I was ten, it was dangerous.  I’ve spoken to many people who don’t believe children can be suicidal at all. I think they imagine all children to be in a blissful state of ignorance.  And many are but I wasn’t.  Ever really.  One of the things I had to heal my heart from was loss.  The loss of my childhood.  When you are forced into very adult situations as a child with no control over what is done to you or your body, you lose any idea that life is blissful and you work fast to become as least ignorant as you can. 

There are many painful things about being forced to heal from pain at a young age but there are many good things, too.  And, if I didn’t do that work then, I’m not sure I could handle the intensity and frequency of the pain I’m feeling now without falling into a deep depression.  I struggle some days emotionally because I am in so much pain and so tired, but those feelings pass. Because I’ve been working on matters of the heart for over 25 years.  And I’m grateful for that. Not for the abuse, but for who I’ve become in response to the abuse and how that training in listening and working with my heart has prepared me to deal with how my body is in pain today.   

I was talking to a co-worker last week about having rheumatoid arthritis.
After saying, “The good thing about arthritis is that it’s often worse in the morning and gets better as the day goes on.” He looked at me and said, “I didn’t know there was a good thing about arthritis!” 
I laughed at that thinking, but there are. 

There are good things about everything.  And I think that’s one of the great challenges in life.  To see the suffering, to feel the pain -in ourselves or others - but, in the same hand, hold the light.  Feel love. 

I know there are many, many other people, now adults and children who feel pain. In their hearts. In their heads. In their bodies. In their spirits.  We are all healing in some way shape or form.  There are people walking around who have reached a place of existence where they can see and accept the pain but don’t see it or feel it as good or bad. It just is.  It doesn’t hinder their ability to experience the joys that exist in each and every present moment.  I think seeing and accepting pain in ourselves is a part of the journey to that place.  I think it takes lifetimes for most people. 

 I don’t know what lifetime I’m on but I know I’m on a journey. One step at a time. However slow. And I’m walking the same Earth with the same kinds of pain people have been walking this Earth with for millennia upon millennia.  

We are not walking alone.  We are not feeling alone.  We are also not abusing each other alone.  In each opportunity we have to heal ourselves we are also given the opportunity to heal human society. Step by step, with each life.  And I think a big part of that is connecting.  Through love, through joy and through pain.  

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Organizing the Kitchen

I'm in pain. right now. and every day. I didn't used to be. About two years ago, chronic pain became a part of my life and it's never left. In December, I learned more about what was going on.  I have more than of a few conditions that are encouraging my body to attack itself.  Like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.  

I've hesitated in sharing this online for a while. I wasn't ready to be that vulnerable.  I've accepted the pain but it's been much harder to accept how vulnerable I can feel when dealing with the chronic pain. I'm significantly limited in how I can use my hands, how I walk most days,and what I use my back and knees for. I don't like feeling limited in how I can use my body, especially in public. But, because I walk to the metro about to and from work everyday, I've had a lot of practicing accepting vulnerability in public.  Most days it hurts to walk at least in the morning if not all day. I don't mind walking slowly because its less painful; it has been hard to accept that people you don't know can tell you are in pain, can tell you are limited, can tell tell you are vulnerable. Just by looking at you. That also happens when I'm at work and trying to hold things, or open a drawer.  At this point, I'm ok with how I move alone in my home.  I've learned new ways to brush my hair or use knives because of my hand and finger pain.

But in public, it's different. I can't change how I have to walk some days, but, I've learned to look at how I walk in public differently. Instead of it being a handicap, I'm learning to see it as opportunity, to slow down. And it is. It makes it easier to pick the empowering choice when you realize you don't have to see things in certain ways. Many other people in society might see how I have to use my body as a handicap. Bu to me, it's an opportunity. To listen and slow down. And, that way of looking at it is just as accurate.

But it wasn't until now I felt uncomfortable sharing this new experience with physical vulnerability online.  I've shared other experiences of vulnerability on this blog.  And in many ways, this blog was created as a way to share how experiences of pain and vulnerability can be transformed into opportunities for strength and growth.  A place to share and encourage healing. And I'm ready to do that now with this new evolution of chronic pain in my healing journey.

Today, I was in the kitchen, trying to organize  cabinets for the first time in months. Looking at my cabinets, I knew doing this work would be painful. There would be moving and shuffling and lots of use required from my fingers, my wrists, my shoulders and my knees.  Those things were already aching, but I wanted to do it; it sounded both meditative and energizing.  And the sun was out, shining in that crisp, cold almost-spring way.  I'd rested most of yesterday because of pain and fatigue and wanted to do something productive. I wanted to organize my kitchen so when I looked around I felt a sense of peace seeing the space and organization.

There is something both meditative and energizing about things like organizing for me. Doing meditative and energizing things helps me listen and find balance between my heart, my head and my body.

I worked on part of the kitchen.  Under the sink. And was happy with it when I as done. As I tried to get up, my knees felt tight. But, they also felt a bit bruised, like the bottoms of my feet do most mornings. Standing there, I felt the pain throughout my body in that moment and I saw a picture of my body, with all the areas in pain inflamed. Red was everywhere...hands, fingers, wrists, knees, feet, neck, shoulders.. I thought about the RA and the Lupus. And the mixed connective tissue disorder. About the thyroid stuff.  About how after a day and a half of resting I still tire quickly.  And, I became scared. I thought about how the pain has spread over the last few years. I worried about what would happen if it didn't stop. If these illnesses took over. Trying to reason with myself, I took a breath and said this just means you have to be careful.  You have to take care of yourself. My body ached all over. I felt sad.

I took another breath, trying to keep positive and looked at where my plates and cups and things were. Then I looked at where I put my dry foods and had an idea that lit me up for a second. If I switched the contents of both cabinets, the pantry with the plates, it would make my kitchen easier to use while I was cooking.  My knees surged with a tight pain in the next moment and looking down at my fingers they were swollen. I was exhausted. I'd barely worked thirty minutes and needed to rest. Even though I wanted to take on this project, I faced the pain and realized I couldn't do it.

I think at a different time in my life, I would have gotten upset by that.  I would have felt more defeated.  And at times, I do feel defeated with this pain.  At times I cry, I feel like I've lost something.  I get upset thinking about what I used to be able to do.

But I always stop. Because they are stories. It's ok to feel sad or upset over the loss of something. I let myself cry. Looking to the past at what I used to be able to do doesn't help me see what I can do now. Which is why I stop saying defeat.  It's a challenge.  To face something new and however challenging, however painful, empower and support myself as I work through it.

At a different time in my life, I wasn't telling myself these things.  I was sinking into a different kind of pain. Of wound.  It wasn't in my hands, or my feet. It was in my heart.

Leaving the kitchen, I sat down at my table. And realized, it's time to share.  It's time to connect. We are all healing. We are all facing challenge. And so I wrote this post.

To myself and to those of you also experiencing pain and trying to heal: we are not our pain. We don't deserve this. There is nothing wrong with us inherently to invite this.  Pain is not bad, it is an opportunity. To listen to our bodies, our hearts and our minds. And grow from it.

We are all working through something.  We are all on journeys. Amazing journeys. And as we live, as we grow, we are challenged.  We are traveling. The more we continue to connect with ourselves and others on this journey, the more we accept everything, including hardships, as opportunities to grow, the more we work to heal our wounds and have faith we are going somewhere amazing, the better. For us all.  We aren't all practicing this. But we all can. We are all brilliant spirits traveling through space and time.   We are all given opportunities to grow.