Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Art! "Hatching Fire"

Art is a well known treatment modality in a variety of chronic illnesses and conditions, including traumatic brain injury, PTSD, autonomic dysfunction, cancer, and more. Some people have had an artistic flare their entire lives, while others would say that they don’t have a creative bone in their bodies. I was the latter, until I suffered a life changing concussion in 2011. Overnight I became an insatiable artist. Within a year it was confirmed that I had what is called “Acquired Savant Syndrome.” That meant that I was suddenly able to paint, where no ability existed before.
From a left-brained business strategist/entrepreneur/CEO to right-brained artist/poet/emerging Theologian…yes it was a significant shift. But it was through this shift and the language of color, that I have been able to engage in deep healing. I have been able to express things that are beyond words and allow the canvas to hold the insights until my conscious mind can integrate their powerful message. I simply allow my hands to do what they feel – and the art unfolds.

My most recent art piece comes at a time when I am finally being given a name for the condition that has affected me for quite some time. After years of persistence and repeated episodes of terrible illness, I was diagnosed with a very rare disease – Lambert-Eaton Myesthenic Syndrome. According to various websites, there are anywhere between 400 and 1000 confirmed LEMS cases in the US. Add this to the already rare disease that I have – Pituitary Dysfunction and Adrenal Insufficiency – and I find myself somewhat shocked. Furthermore, a large percentage of people with LEMS have an underlying cancer that needs to be aggressively evaluated. In my case, all signs point to an autoimmune origin (the other 50%), but we still must search for a potential hidden malignancy. This means an even deeper walk into the unknown.

In the face of Mystery, I find that art helps me to capture the ineffable on canvas. So I am sharing this with all of you. Below is a poem that I wrote along with an art piece – both are called Hatching Fire.

“Hatching Fire”
48 x 60
Original Art and Poetry
by Heather Thompson Blue Phoenix Art

Pyrole red
burns unseen
in the dark crucible
of creation.

Cobalt blue
swirls beyond comprehension
in a maelstrom of
the vast unknown.

Where the absence of light
is actually an explosion of color
black holes become brilliant rainbows
sparkling with splatters of iron oxide.

The impenetrable shell of nothingness
cracks open exposing the fractured
prism of light in the depths.
Hatching FIRE

I also created a YouTube video documenting my healing journey through art over the last year.

I hope that you have the courage to pick up a brush, crayon, pastel…or even use your fingers like I do…and express yourself through color….then again…perhaps you already do! And if so, please share in the comments!!!!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017 Healing Journey through Art

Journey with the artist as she delves into the depths of the water - Zhi - Fear/Destiny in Chinese Medicine - through the language of color. Leaving it all on the canvas, the healing journey ends with profound transformation.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Dare to be Real

This is me...with and without makeup on the same day. I feel deeply grateful that finally I see myself reflected in BOTH images now. It wasn't always that way. I'm also grateful that my facial swelling is slowly going down...a side effect of life-saving medication but challenging when you don't recognize yourself. Why am I sharing this? Because so many of us live behind a variety of masks, and when we dare to be absolutely real, letting go of the opinions and perceptions of others with the courage of a warrior, authentic freedom can finally flourish.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

FLASHBACK - Moon Eyes - 2/13/12

Flashback - February 13, 2012...Less than a year after the "mild" traumatic brain injury that changed my life, and a few months before my husband and I separated. I was just beginning to ride the bus again...I still couldn't drive...And I was awakening to a new life. Enjoy!

Art: Transformation
By Heather Thompson, Blue Phoenix Art

Moon Eyes - 2/13/12
I hesitated to go to church today…I wasn’t feeling well after I REALLY stretched yesterday. My adventure to the Seattle Children’s Museum on the Metro Rt. 8 was much longer than I expected, and my 3 year old daughter was a busy body the entire time. Don’t get me wrong, she is an amazing little bus rider…but I can only ask my little one to sit still for so long!

Once we got there, I could feel the brain fog already setting in…and we hadn’t even reached the vestibular fiasco (aka Children’s Museum) that is wonderful for small kiddos but not that great for those of us recovering from brain injuries. I was foggy, tired, and hungry. I have learned that sometimes eating is helpful, and symptoms will pass if I simply put nourishment in my body. (As an aside – my new migraine medication reduces my appetite, so sometimes I literally forget to eat). After eating, I felt better and we were having fun…so I kept going…and going…and going…and before I knew it, a few hours had gone by and we needed to head home.

Onto the monorail (I had no idea how packed that thing is every day), then the train, then Rt 14 home. It was no small feat that I actually asked people to move so that I could sit facing forward. Yes, it felt VERY uncomfortable for me – a seemingly perfectly normal person – to walk up to a complete stranger who was sitting in a forward facing seat and ask them politely if I could switch. I kindly explained that I have a disability that prevents me from riding sideways or backwards. Regardless of the reactions I got (one positive, one questionable/irritated), I must say that I was very proud that I advocated for myself. As I said to my husband…for the other person, it might be an inconvenience of a few seconds to move. For me, it makes the difference of days, weeks, or more. And I’m learning how to do this! A major accomplishment indeed.

I digress…The journey was exhausting for both my daughter and I. Afterall, my little 3 year old BALL OF ENERGY fell asleep on the couch when she got home…and that never happens. I immediately knew that I pushed it too hard. But it was important for me to see how far I could go – kind of like Kramer (on Seinfeld) finding out how far the “test drive” car could go on a single tank of gas…oh that makes me giggle just thinking about it!!!

So I was exhausted this morning, and I could feel the beginnings of a migraine coming on. I wanted to sit at home and watch TV, and then I heard a quiet voice in my head (which feels like the inspiration from GOD to me) that said…”why would you feed TV to your brain in this state of exhaustion and vulnerability when you could sit in a quiet sanctuary at church and meditate…and maybe learn something new.” Well, let me tell you, that felt pretty clear. Off to church I went. It’s a quick walk…right across the street – pretty easy to get there. And they don’t mind if I show up in jeans with no makeup and messy hair. It’s my kind of church…come as you are.

There was a guest preacher today. In her sermon, she recited a poem…and it moved me on such a deeply profound level that I can’t begin to even describe how it will impact my life. But I will say this – I feel strongly that it is a new layer of transformation for me. I have included it below…this is a modern language version of the original 14th century poem (the same version she read today). It certainly makes it plain language, compelling, and easy to grasp…yet still poetic and powerful.

“Admit something.

Everyone you see, you say to them
“Love me.”

Of course you do not do this out loud:
Someone would call the cops.

Still, though, think about this,
This great pull in us to connect.

Why not become the one
Who lives with a full moon in each eye
That is always saying,

With that sweet moon

What every other eye in this world
Is dying to
― Hafiz

This resonates so deeply in me that I feel tears every time I read it…Now that I am heart centered as a result of this injury…”skinned, deconstructed, and grateful”…I must say that my desire to connect is so great. And, at the same time, there is that fear – that all of us have – of being hurt. It is the push and pull that is a part of the human experience…and I love being given the challenge to consider becoming the one with a full moon in each eye…Can I do it? I don’t know…but I have had an epiphany today as a result of this one, simple poem.

I am grateful that I went to church today. It is just what I needed. But this isn’t the kind of thing that my left brain can grasp…my right brain needs to work it through. So tomorrow I will paint and paint and paint…as much as I can. It isn’t an accident that I put another layer on my “transformation” painting Saturday morning…almost as if I invited a new level of change into my life. It also isn’t an accident that my brain fell into a full blown migraine as soon as I got home from church – I believe that there are rare occasions when a migraine is my brain’s way of transforming on a molecular level…and I choose to lean into it…to surrender to the fluidity of the liquid process of change…and just allow.

And we shall see what the next paintings reveal…because as you know now by reading my blog…the paintings are never planned…rather my hands and my art teach me.


After a while you learn the subtle difference
Between holding a hand and chaining a soul,

And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning
And company doesn’t mean security.

And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts
And presents aren’t promises,

And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes open
With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child,

And you learn to build all your roads on today
Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans
And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.

After a while you learn…
That even sunshine burns if you get too much.

So you plant your garden and decorate your own soul,
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.

And you learn that you really can endure…

That you really are strong

And you really do have worth…

And you learn and learn…

With every good-bye you learn.”

― Veronica Shoffstall

Art - "LOVE"
Heather Thompson, Blue Phoenix Art
Contact for Purchase Information

Friday, December 8, 2017

Some Basic Rules of Engagement #MeToo

Given the current dialogue around the #metoo movement, I feel compelled to offer a bit of clarification about a few things that may still be confusing. Although this seems like common sense to me, the recent deluge of allegations about abhorrent behavior, combined with admissions by men in power, has led me to believe that there is value in making a few things explicitely clear. Note that this is my perspective, and I don't speak for all women (that's impossible). I will also add that I am a cis-gender, heterosexual female so I am keeping this to what I know - male/female dynamics. I recognize, however, that this goes well beyond gender and sexuality...

With that said, here are a few general examples of things to avoid - Seriously, don't do it.

1. Don't romantically or sexually engage anyone that is underage EVER. That's pedophilia.

2. If you are in a position of power, don't sexually/romantically engage with women that are directly affected by your power. I realize this sucks for those men that have broad power - but it goes with the territory. So if you have power, recognize it, and use caution. You may not feel that you have that much power, but those around you might have a different experience.

3. Don't attempt to coerce, force or otherwise convince a woman to change her mind to a "YES." Consent = YES. If she is saying maybe, or she's not sure, or no, or she doesn't want to, or it hurts, or whatever else she could say that is anything other than YES...well, sex is off the table.

4. If a woman blocks you on social media, don't attempt to track her down through other channels. Just let it go - she doesn't want contact, and it doesn't matter why.

5. If you are in a business relationship with a woman, and you invite her to dinner to discuss business, don't blur the lines between business and romance. The same is true if SHE invites you to a business dinner.

6. If a woman specifically says that she does NOT want a romantic relationship with you, respect her decision. If she says she wants to be friends with you (and her interest is NOT romantic), don't keep writing her messages about your desire for her...that's just creepy.

7. If you are married, and you develop feelings for a female friend...and if she has been clear about NOT wanting a romantic relationship with you - she wants to be your friend - don't use her as an emotional affair. Once again, respect her NO.

8. If you are alone at a venue with a woman you barely know, be attuned to her feelings. She might feel uncomfortable, or she might not. Practice empathy.

9. Don't EVER assume that you have a right to a woman's body just because (insert reason here). NO reason is sufficient for a man to feel that he has a right to a woman's body, including being married to her, already engaged in sex, swiping for a hookup, etc. If you are confused, ask. If it's anything other than YES, then back off. Oh, and don't freak out at the woman if it doesn't happen. Both men and women need to handle their emotions here, otherwise coercion can come into play.

10. If a woman tells you to back off, then back off. Don't keep trying to get the girl as if she is playing hard to get.

11. Don't send unsolicited pictures of your genitals. No, I am serious. That is never a good idea.

12. Don't repeatedly ask a woman to be your surrogate or carry your baby (a congressman just resigned over this)

13. Don't show porn to women in your office (a Judge was just accused of this). Don't post pornographic images in your workspace. Don't post pictures of women in bikinis either. And don't post videos of women with close-up twerking asses on the pages of female business colleagues.

14. Don't walk around in your underwear in front of employees (another congressman).

15. Don't grab/massage/touch a woman's pussy, ass, breasts, or any other body part without a clear YES. Thinking she "wants it" or she is "asking for it" is not consent.

16 Don't engage in any BDSM activities unless you've BOTH established the frame along with safe words. Both people need to be on the same page!

These are just off the top of my head and they are pretty basic. But some men might wonder what they SHOULD do beyond this list of DON'Ts...
Well, it really is quite simple.
Be human. Be kind. Have empathy. Communicate.
Get to know yourself. Think about how your actions would be perceived through the eyes of others.
Ask questions if anything is unclear.
And if the woman you desire doesn't respond positively to your straightforward and honest approach, then she may not be the one for you. In that case, move on.

FLASHBACK! The day I decided to start selling art (Feb 2012)

Today's flashback comes from February 2012...I had been selected for my first ever art exhibits. I was going to showcase my paintings at two different venues, and I was terrified!  The idea of being a working artist seemed so unattainable...and yet I had the bold courage to walk toward the goal. Here I am now, a working artist and an emerging theologian...but I am once again in the position of having to climb back from the depths of health challenges...and so I found this inspirational today. I hope you enjoy! (I have included some of the art that I created during this time).


I have been thinking about this idea of selling my artwork…It has been on my mind for quite a while.  I have tried not to give it too much power over the last several months, because it had the potential to destroy my creative drive. When I think about the “commercial viability” of my work, I find that my critic begins to take over the entire painting process. Most importantly, the critic is a terrible painter! Thus, I have had to learn to silence the critic, and just allow the question of selling art to rest in my consciousness until I was good and ready.

This morning, I woke up with a calm sense of certainty. I have always been aware that there are several pieces that are not for sale because they are a part of a larger project to document my journey of healing. These paintings are intensely personal, and will be used for something big. I’m not sure exactly what yet, but I have my ideas (LOL)! That said, I’m producing a lot of paintings these days, and there are pieces that I would be willing to part with. Therefore, I feel like I am ready to consider selling some work. Furthermore, I am also exploring the idea of doing some limited commissionable pieces. If you are interested in either of these options, email me at

All of this requires bravery – Rainbow Courage if you will – but as I continue my journey, I am taking one step forward at a time… occasionally terrified, mostly joyous!

So check out my new page – Art For Sale. For now, it’s a limited list…but hopefully it will grow as I grow in courage.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

FLASHBACK - A Blog Entry from September 2011

I recently re-discovered the blog that I began in September of 2011, just 6 months after the injury that changed my life. For the next week, I am going to post FLASHBACKS from this older blog, as I have felt recently that I have been revisiting this time in my life in sort of a fractal healing process. With that in mind, here is my very first attempt at blogging post traumatic brain injury. Enjoy!

September 2011
Thank you for visiting my blog entitled Grasping at Fog. Although I have blogged for quite some time about issues related to business management, strategy, marketing and growth in the healthcare sector, I felt compelled to begin a new blog – one that is based upon my intensely personal journey to heal after suffering a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI)/closed head concussion with post-concussive syndrome.

The purpose of this blog is simple – to get me writing again. I am writer…that is at the core of what I do in business and who I am. Yet after the injury (the hatch of my SUV fell on my head in March of 2011), I was unable to write. The first time I tried, I wrote for just 20 minutes. My cognitive rehabilitative therapist suggested that I start very slow, as the brain has to rebuild stamina after an injury. I didn’t realize at the time how profound my brain had been affected…so I wrote until I felt “brain fog.” I was rather proud of myself for taking this first step into writing! Then I crashed for three or more days. It’s hard to remember, because I literally could not get out of bed. That’s what happens when the brain is injured – if you overdo it, it simply shuts down until it is ready to “wake up” again. This first attempt at writing was more than three months ago…today, I am trying it again, using my new blog as a vehicle for discussing insights, challenges, successes, and frankly anything else that arises on my path toward healing.

While this blog will benefit me by getting me writing again (and we shall see how I improve over time), it is also an opportunity to share my experiences with others. In the wake of a brain injury, it is easy to feel like an “alien.” In fact, I continue to find it hard to believe that I could be affected so dramatically by a closed head injury – no bruises, no cuts, no bleeding…just a wounded brain that requires a great deal of time to heal. It continues to be so important for me to reach out to others who have shared this same experience, and to hear that my symptoms are normal. Therefore, I am using this blog as a vehicle to convey my story to others in the hopes that TBI survivors will feel a little less “alien,” while helping caregivers and others to understand what this journey is like.

I have so much to say, but I am having “brain fog” again…so I will hold off on explaining the story behind my blog title: “Grasping at Fog…” You will just have to wait until the next installment! But, for those of you who have never experienced a TBI, allow me to explain what brain fog feels like: it starts behind my eyes, almost a disoriented sensation similar to when you relax your eyes and stare straight ahead while not actually looking at anything. If I continue and attempt to push through the early stages, it will progress to a more extreme disoriented feeling, along with a nasty headache. Soon after, it begins to feel like I have a 104+ degree fever in my forehead. My eyes hurt, and I can’t keep them open because any visual stimulation is overwhelming to my brain. Any movement on TV or in front of me becomes dizzying, and I feel nauseas. My ears become extremely sensitive, as noise overwhelms my cranial circuitry. The brain zaps start, which literally sound and feel like a zapping noise in my deep inner ear. And finally, from the moment this process starts, I can no longer think. Sometimes brain fog is gone in an hour, sometimes it takes a week. Needless to say, it is uncomfortable, humbling, and an extraordinary opportunity for me to learn my own limitations and live within the present moment.

With that in mind, I will sign off for now…I have already written too much and the brain fog has begun. But I am fairly certain that if I sit down, meditate, and quiet my mind, I will find that it dissipates – hopefully before my bouncing 3 year old daughter is home from preschool!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

New Art!

The art is drying....

What do YOU see in the following fluid painting? It won't look this way when it's dry.....stay tuned for the final product!

This painting is composed of MANY layers. Can you see the woman's face in the center of the painting? I have zoomed in on it at the top of the image below.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

BEHIND THE SCENES: Loving Debridement

It's been a LONG time since I skinned a painting. Today I sat down and debrided (peeled away) 20 layers of encaustic and acrylic and was shocked to find a secret message underneath.....
It was...
"You are Not Alone."

Take a journey with Blue Phoenix Art...
Set to "Million Reasons" by Lady Gaga

Monday, November 27, 2017

Don't Worry. Be Happy.

My wonderful neuro-endocrinologist said today.... " have the moon face from steroids...but if ANYONE can make it beautiful you can! You're so CUTE!" Gosh I love her.
She reminded me today how far I've come. She told me to take it REALLY SLOW as I make the changes we need to make over the next 4 weeks. I'll be doing PT 3x a week. I'll be slowly returning to activities of daily living.
And most importantly,she told me that the weight and swelling is all REVERSIBLE when we get my steriods down. She said we don't want to touch the steriods until the gastroenterologist, rheumatologist and neurologist all weigh in ...then we will slowly begin the walk down....
It's been a badass road. She emphasized that I'm not to even think about my weight for the next month. So I shall put away the scale and just stabilize.
My holiday goals are simple. Don't worry. Be happy.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

A Prayer for Healing

I have been contemplating the path to healing of late...and one of my favorite Jesuits Anthony De Mello said that most people don't want a cure! A cure is painful. What they want is to be given their life back.... So an authentic and empowered prayer for healing is one that must embrace the transformation and discomfort involved in the cure!

A year ago just about this time I said I wanted to be restored to health. I have maintained that prayer as I have undergone substantial physical emotional and spiritual changes....all painful....all healing. And now once again on this Sunday after Thanksgiving I put forth my heartfelt prayer...

Restore me to Wellness oh Lord... I want to heal!  Like it says in the Book of Samuel, I am your humble servant oh God.  Show me the path you want me to follow.  I'm listening.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thankful and Blessed

A message of Thanksgiving Gratitude.

I had lofty ideas of what I wanted to write about today. I suppose I still like to think of myself as Sam on the West Wing, with a sharp wit and a powerful tongue that can whip up the best verbiage in a moment’s notice! Afterall, I was a professional writer before the traumatic brain injury that changed my life in 2011. I still have the talent in there somewhere, but accessing it isn’t always easy…especially on a day that I am not feeling well.

I don’t know why I am not as sharp as I would like to be today- It could be the weather, over-exertion, a migraine, or even medication changes (there have been a lot of adjustments as a result of my most recent flare). The truth is that I have no idea why I have brain fog today. I am simply aware that this is the contraction that accompanies expansion. Yesterday was a great day. I felt normal for the first time in a while, as I prepared mashed potatoes with my daughter for the very first time in anticipation of our Thanksgiving Feast! By bedtime, however, I felt a crawling in my skin and tingling in my legs. Did I overdo it? I don’t know. The only certainty at this moment is that REST is required. And although I have so much that I want to express in writing, that’s not going to happen today. Perhaps I will paint my thoughts instead, as the language of color allows me to communicate when I am at a loss for words.

As I sit here, though, I am aware of a simple feeling that can so easily be expressed on this Thanksgiving….I am climbing back from an acute flare of an undiagnosed chronic illness combined with Adrenal Insufficiency and Hypopituitaryism, and I am deeply grateful. I have come so far since this episode began in August. Even as I feel uncomfortable and fatigued today, I am filled with gratitude that that the acute pain has remained at bay (we weren’t sure that it would hold as I peeled back the acute medications), that I was able to drive down to see my horse today (a HUGE accomplishment), that I felt normal for a little while yesterday (YES! NORMAL!), that I am making huge progress (no matter how slow) and I am home with my loving family (so much laughter in this house).

Chronic illness brings life into perspective. As I continue to walk this healing journey, the rough patches help me to simplify the list of that which will make me “happy.” The result? I feel an almost continuous happiness and contentment even in the midst of struggle. My root of gratitude runs deep. This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the journey.

Saturday, November 18, 2017


Two pieces that depict METAMORPHOSIS in the most primal and beautiful sense...celebrating the GLORY of the badass mess that leads to new growth!

Transformation: Inside the Liquid Crysalis

Beyond Duality: Cultivating Zhi 1

I am an acquired savant with synesthesia in the wake of a life changing and life affirming traumatic brain injury. I have never been taught to paint - I simply picked up a brush 6 years ago and let my hands do what they FEEL. Want to know my story?

Original Art by Heather Thompson, Blue Phoenix Art.


This truck driving country girl finally got in my badass RAM and drove around the neighborhood! My kid was SO HAPPY. This is tangible progress for her after a very challenging few months. I'm resuming driving SLOWLY to give my eyes and brain and adrenal glands a chance to build stamina. I can feel just that little drive! So I'm staying in the hood or down to the barn for at least the next week and practicing....but it's a START. And the barn is TOMORROW. I'm so grateful Harvey lives 3 min away 😍

This is how I healed from the TBI. It's how we rehabilitate Harvey. One block, 5 minutes at a time. Slow and steady. Baby steps!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Grace-Filled Debridement

Debride: To remove dead, contaminated, or adherent tissue and/or foreign material. To debride a wound is to remove all materials that may promote infection and impede healing. 

Today I was reminded of my first time going to Church after the TBI. This marks the beginning of a call that completely changed my life. Imagine the transformation required to become fluid...which I thought was the end...until I realized that there is an emergence of new growth on the other side. I have since learned that we often mistake this metamorphosis for "suffering" when in reality it is simply a grace-filled debridement. God is with me every step of the way, pouring out courage...and I simply need to maintain my humble position of surrender. Speak God, thy humble servant is listening.

November 14, 2011

I had an epiphany overnight (literally). The stars aligned yesterday (with GOD's help) and I was FINALLY able to get to church. It was Caitlyn's first time...she walked right to the front row, center! And in the sermon, I heard exactly what I needed to hear...on a lot of levels...Then last night, while I was sleeping, it hit me - it's what I have been working on for so long, and it seems so simple, yet it is so difficult to implement in practice: accept what is, go with the flow, be "fluid." When recovering from a TBI, this is a necessity. But it is SO HARD to grasp the reality of what this really means. It isn't an accident that I "accidentally" purchased "fluid" acrylics yesterday instead of the "heavy body" versions that I normally purchase. Symbolic of the transition that I realize I am supposed to make? I believe so...I am certain that this is an important key to my journey...stop resisting, accept what is, and lean into fluidity. Just for this morning, I get it. Now I am going to paint it to see if I can deepen my understanding of this concept...Time to pull out the Golden Tar Gel (a new medium that I haven't known how to use until now!!!)

Monday, November 6, 2017

Maintaining Gratitude in the Most Challenging Moments

"I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet."

- Helen Keller

This quote was literally pounding in between my ears this morning as I waddled about my home attempting to care for my child that is home sick from school. I was feeling sorry for myself...the constant barrage of negative self talk over the last couple of weeks had accumulated to such a degree that I was having a hard time releasing it with my usual laugh and attitude of gratitude.

I have had an unusually rough go over the last few months. It started with acute flank pain in August. Well no, that's not true. It started with Sudden Hearing Loss in the Summer of 2016. I spent the summer on prednisone, gained 40 pounds, and thought to myself - "This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me." Now, I knew that this wasn't true, but I am a woman that was orthorexic, anorexic and exercise bulimic. I spent my entire 20's at 115 pounds with minimal bodyfat. So when I stepped on the scale and it read 200 pounds, I was horrified. Yet somewhere in my mind, I thought to myself - "Heather, there are some people out there that would look at that number with joy. It's okay, it's just a number, and you have been on prednisone. Hang in there beautiful, you will find your new normal." But deep down, I couldn't wait to "get back" to a weight that I deemed acceptable.

But what was acceptable? Truthfully, I wasn't satisfied with any weight that I have ever been, no matter how fantastic my body looked in a string bikini.

Fast forward to the Winter of 2017. Sudden abdominal pain landed me in the Emergency Room. This wasn't the usual "run of the mill" abdominal pain - no, this was the kind of acute pain that left me writhing on the floor for several hours, nearly passing out every time I would attempt to stand up. After a colonoscopy, upper endoscopy and multiple endocrine tests, I had a diagnosis - adrenal insufficiency. Moreover, it appeared as if my pituitary was finally showing the effects of the traumatic brain injury from 6 years ago. Pituitary dysfunction had set in.

One by one I walked the precarious road to healing. Together with a brilliant Neuroendocrinologist, we brought multiple hormones online and gently nudged my body back to normal metabolic functioning. So when i stepped on the scale again, and it said 220 pounds, I tried my hardest not to freak out. But once again, I maintained my focus on the bigger picture and reassured myself that everything would come into balance if I bravely continued on this healing path.

Now I am going to get really honest. With an eating disorder history, I have to watch myself when it comes to weight and measurements. By the time June rolled around, I was weighing myself daily and measuring my body at least weekly. I was too big for the measuring tape, so I made my own and used a yard stick to track the circumference of my belly. I was looking for the thrill of progress! I had pulled myself out of the winter crisis, and I was doing hard manual labor in my yard. I was back to riding my big warhorse. Yet the numbers on the scale weren't budging, and I felt the sting of my own disapproval every time I passed by a mirror.

Then it hit me out of nowhere...acute flank pain - like a machete - in my left side. The pain was severe - level 10+. At first they thought I had a kidney stone. Then real concern set in, as my lactate was elevated. Maybe it was mesenteric ischemia? Some were worried I was dying. Others weren't worried at all and told me it was all in my head. All I knew is that I was in excruciating pain and there was no known cause and therefore no remedy in sight.

Since August, I have undergone more diagnostic testing than I ever thought possible. I even went to the Mayo Clinic for two weeks to attempt to get a diagnosis. While i was there, it was decided that I likely have an undiagnosed inflammatory condition that is causing me to crash over and over again. I was given a treatment that they use in MS cases - 1000 mg of Prednisone IV daily for three days. That isn't a typo - it was 200x the human replacement dose (5 mg) of Prednisone. This was on top of the already high dose of steroids I was taking to prevent adrenal crisis in the face of terrible pain.

The good news was that the pain in my body has since improved dramatically. I am finally able to discontinue the acute medications and begin the slow healing process. As much as I wanted to celebrate my progress, however, my body was swollen and unrecognizable. So...when I got home from the Mayo Clinic and stepped on the scale...I tried to find all of the compassion in my heart and lovingly tell myself that it's okay...that there are more important things than the size of my body and the curves of my distended stomach. I had reached 260 pounds.

As I stood there reflecting on a more than 100 pound weight gain, it hit me - Who am I trying to please? What am I so afraid of? I had reached a turning point. I became an observer of my own thinking. I noticed that I am afraid of being judged, afraid of being unacceptable, and most importantly, afraid of being abandoned. Every time I walk past the mirror, it was that cluster of fears looking back at me.

So this morning, when I looked in the mirror and saw how much my neck had swelled up and felt the distension of my belly, I observed the familiar negative thinking rise up from deep inside. It was then that I heard Helen Keller's voice reminding me that it could be so much worse. Immediately, I could see myself shifting toward a new focus, one rooted in gratitude for my beautiful life. There is much more to celebrate in this life of mine, even amidst the hardship.

Living with multiple chronic illnesses means that there will be an ebb and flow to my health for the rest of my life. In the wake of the "mild" traumatic brain injury that changed everything for me 6 years ago, I was told to fall in love with my "new brain" and release the notion that I would somehow "get back" to what I had been before the accident. I think I am in a similar transition point now, where I am being called to fall in love with a new normal, one rooted in a deep awareness that every moment is a gift. No matter what imperfections manifest in my body, whether its weight gain or fatigue or exacerbation of chronic illness, I can respond with a simple "thank you" for the abundant gifts that I still have even in the midst of the challenges.

Practicing the Pause

In the face of tragedy it's easy to try to find solutions as a means of easing the horror and pain.  Like the scapegoats of Hebrew Scriptures, the temptation of making someone or something "bad" is especially present when faced with fear and grief.  Whether it's a person, religion, object ... the moment we establish something as "other" we lose the awareness of all that is connected.  Athiests, Christians and Muslims. Guns, knives and semi trucks. Man, Woman, School-aged kids. All have done evil. All have done good. Practicing the pause and allowing contemplation to reveal the complexity of reality is the hard way...but it's the path to authentic awareness in my opinion.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

How I'm Learning to Love My Body After My Disability Caused Weight Gain

This post was published in The Mighty!

Body image is a funny thing. I really believe that so much of my journey has been a process of emptying. Since the traumatic brain injury (TBI) that changed my life a little over six years ago, I have been diagnosed with multiple chronic illnesses. Ever so slowly, I have walked the path of healing while enduring significant progress along with crushing setbacks. For the most part, my illnesses have been invisible, until now. I can’t hide the disability. Why? Because I have gained weight since this photo was taken.

When I first saw this photo, I couldn’t stand to look at the picture. I filtered it on Facebook to make my stomach look smaller. Silly me! I looked great in this picture! More importantly, I was sitting atop my beautiful warhorse Harvey – a dream come true in every way.
This was a moment in time, captured on film. It was after the TBI, but before being diagnosed with dysautonomia, Pituitary dysfunction and adrenal insufficiency. It took nearly six years for the failure of my pituitary to show up in testing, and I am so grateful for an amazing neuroendocrinologist that carefully monitored me the entire time.

At the time of this photo, I was in therapy adjusting to my new life, which included a divorce along with learning to fall in love with my new post TBI brain. We talked about the eating disorders that had held me hostage since I was 19 (anorexia, orthorexia and exercise bulimia), and my therapist said that I had recovered. Still, I struggled. I skipped meals due to the medication that I took for chronic migraines and I never consumed enough water to remain hydrated. Moreover, I slowly came to realize that my eyes didn’t see the reality of me in the two dimensional reflections of photographs and mirrors. In the absence of my own self-image, I attempted to see myself through the eyes of others, and therefore became dependent upon external approval for my own self-esteem.

It is through radical body transformation over the last few years that I have finally stripped myself of the need to seek validation from others – especially men. Imagine trying to emerge as a feminist theologian when I was desperately in need of male attention. Letting go of this deep need has been painful to say the least, but it has also been incredibly freeing. More importantly, I feel as if my life continues to come into alignment with my purpose as I let go of old patterns.

This picture is now filled with gratitude and insight. In this moment, there was so much to be grateful for…yet I was blinded by my preoccupation with things that didn’t really matter. My body is now completely different. I still don’t recognize myself in the mirror, yet I am making peace with the flesh that is me. I have deepened over the last few years, and I wouldn’t change any aspect of the journey that has led me to this moment. It has been one filled with suffering, yet I have been held in grace the entire time.

I am climbing out of a particularly brutal crash. As I look in the mirror now, I try to remind myself that my body will find balance again. In the mean time, I am finally learning to love every cell, every organ, every inch of my entire being along the way.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Healing 5 Minutes at a Time

I'm beginning the long slow walk back from a crash that began in August. My rehabilitation this time is going to be so incredibly slow that the only other time I've done this was when I was in the immediate aftermath of the traumatic brain injury six and a half years ago.

The good news is I know how to walk this out, the bad news is that I have to find the new normal and discover my new threshold for crashing.

I will be honest and say that I am having a rough day today because I did 8 minutes of walking on the treadmill yesterday. So clearly 8 minutes is too much! I shall go down to 5 minutes. And it's interesting because five minutes is the starting pace that we use when we're bringing back horses in rehabilitation.  I've done it many times with my Harvey (my warhorse) and now he's stronger than ever! So I will take a lesson from him and do it right this time.  All exercise five minutes at a time  until that no longer crashes me, and then I can begin to increase it only slightly.

To have that kind of discipline... its a Warrior's Journey for sure! To have that kind of patience is something that I continue to cultivate.

The struggle is made worse by the fact that I don't recognize myself when I look in the mirror. I am a hundred pounds heavier than I was before prednisone and hydrocortisone entered my life a little over a year ago. I'm also a person that spent 15 years of my life struggling with anorexia, orthorexia and exercise bulimia. My current situation is extremely humbling... and yet I know that I can't simply restrict calories and engage in exercise bulimic behaviors in order to drop weight because it will completely mess with my metabolic system. 

I will do this the right way.... Slow and steady, in harmony with my body, with a focus on genuine and authentic healing.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Everything Transforms

Over the last several years since the head injury that changed my life, I have practiced stepping into the awareness of myself, while at the same time living an embodied existence in a physical form that struggles with health and disability.

What I've come to realize is that we are like waves in the ocean. Life moves us up and down, with some waves taller than others, some seas calmer than others, some waves steeper....some waves longer....but in the end there are always the peaks and the valleys and the climb up and the slide down.

We have a false sense as humans that we should stay at the peak of the wave. Or perhaps we want to stay in calm seas forever, but that is simply not the way of the natural world. Thus, we struggle on the climb up only to curse the slide back down and struggle in the valley below.

I've learned to change my perspective of this process. Like Yin and Yang, I view the ocean and it's wholeness. The natural world is a fractal representation of scripture, with patterns repeated throughout all of God's creation. From the cycle of trees to the way in which dead organic matter becomes the compost for new emergent growth, this is the way of life.

As a human, I aim to harmonize with the natural undulation of the incarnate Earth. Thus, I've discovered that if I can stick with any difficulty long enough, beauty always emerges.  And as I write this, I am walking in the valley... and I am at peace.  

Thursday, October 26, 2017