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

Black and White Challenge

Coloring is ART

Adult coloring books are FABULOUS!  Here are some images of my own adult coloring adventures....exploring synesthesia in the context of form.

Surrender to GOD

Today was an important learning lesson. I began the morning with the following post to my community of friends on Facebook

"Moral support needed.....I rarely see my ex these days. I'm swollen and almost unrecognizable this morning and I have a parent teacher conference with him. He body shamed me at 125 was a constant part of my started my eating disorder....and today I bravely allow his opinion to drop away AGAIN. Bravery."

My friends were there for me with encouraging words to help lift me up. I was ready...and remarkably, it was an uneventful and actually quite wonderful meeting with the teachers. My ex was fine. He even asked how I am doing. We have come a long ways in the 6 years since we separated...

And this interaction once again reminded me of something so simple (yet so hard to actually practice)! The issues I struggled with this morning are mine - granted, they originated 20 years ago during a fight over Thanksgiving in San Francisco...and that doesn't absolve him from responsibility...but the issues that remain are mine to resolve inside of myself - I don't need to keep wounding myself with the body-shaming words of controlling and insecure men (and there have been many). Make no mistake, I allowed the men in my life to say what they said about my body...I took it to be true...I felt the need to live up to their fantasy through disordered eating.

No more.

Life is different now. My body belongs only to GOD. Each day, I deepen my understanding that I must surrender to the FLOW. I am learning to DANCE in that flow as well. I struggle daily with the physical transformation that has accompanied my spiritual formation. Yet, upon reflection, it is so clear why this is a part of my path. Yes my body has issues - but it's those very issues that bring me to my knees. One minute at a time, I must practice the art of surrender and love - learning to love myself has been the hardest part.

So I wrote about what I learned today, and was reminded of this verse from Matthew 11:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Rethinking Pain Scales in the context of #MeToo

Published in The Mighty

What would you rate your pain? I have had to answer this question more times than I can count in the last couple of months as I have coped with acute onset flank pain with an unknown cause. I have been to the ER multiple times, hospitalized twice, had countless tests (including going to the Mayo Clinic for two weeks) in an effort to find the “smoking gun.” To date, we have yet to discover a cause.

As I have walked this diagnostic road, I have been asked over and over again to rate my pain. This is always a difficult task. First of all, I look totally normal and calm, even when I am in excruciating pain, so the “smiley face” pain scale doesn’t help much. If I go with a 10 being “worst pain imaginable” then I at least have something solid. For me, then, a level 10 is childbirth.

Lately I have been at a level 8-10+ when the pain is not managed, and unfortunately, I am not a person that is dramatic about pain. In fact, I am very quiet. I have often felt that I would make more sense to physicians if I cried, screamed and rolled around – but that’s just not how I respond to pain. Furthermore, how do I explain my level 10 to a male physician? He has never experienced childbirth – therefore he cannot fathom the amount of pain that I am using for comparison. It is a unique pain. The entire time that I was in labor, i was quiet – I meditated through 4 minute contractions when my epidural failed. That’s when I learned that I am a person who is capable of handling a great deal of pain…and that I don’t necessarily respond in the familiar way.

Just last week I went to the ER with pain that was well beyond that of childbirth – it’s the pain of Adrenal Crisis. By the time that I got to the Emergency Room. I had already injected the requisite amount of steroid per the Adrenal Crisis protocol, and I simply needed to be checked out to ensure that my electrolytes were in balance and there wasn’t anything else going on, as I had just completed a 3 day infusion of 1000mg of Prednisone at the Mayo Clinic. Internal bleeding was a possibility, so off to the ER I went. The ER Physician asked, “How would you rate your pain?” I quietly answered – “10.” Truthfully, I don’t think he believed me.

So this brings me to the contemporary context of #metoo. There seems to be a gaping hole in medicine that deserves attention – I believe that women interpret pain scales differently than men. I also believe that women tolerate a great deal more pain before seeking help. Let’s face it, our bodies begin to experience the pain of menstruation from the time we are teens…..We birth children….and, many of us have survived the pain of sexual abuse and sexual assault – that means that we know how to disassociate from pain.

On this latter point – it took me years in therapy to realize that my ability to disassociate is actually a useful skill in managing pain. I can walk around appearing normal while enduring significant pain. In fact, there was a time that I gave an entire C-Level lecture at a national conference while having a gall bladder attack. How would I rate my pain then? It didn’t matter – I had a lecture to give.

So here’s my question- has the medical community researched the unique ways that women interpret pain? I don’t know. What I do know is that there has been a lot of focus on the fact that sexual abuse and assault sensitizes a person to pain (I hear this often from doctors – that I must be extra sensitive because of my abuse history). It got me thinking, though, what about the opposite? What about women having the ability to endure extraordinarily more pain as a result of the resilience formed through traumatic experience? In my case – as a rape survivor – my ability to disassociate can be a positive when learning to manage pain in my body. It was helpful to see the ways in which negative patterns can be transformed into positive attributes.

So today, when i say I am in pain – I mean it!

Perhaps the medical community can learn to take the unique experiences of women into consideration when addressing the issue of pain. Rather than minimizing our concerns by suggesting that we have been overly sensitized, I would suggest that physicians should consider the possibility that women are capable of handling excruciating pain in the course of every day life – so much so that it often goes unreported and unmanaged. I would further argue that physicians should consider the fact that by the time we make it to the doctor’s office or the Emergency Room for help, it’s because the pain has exceeded our ability to manage it on our own. Rather than minimize women’s experiences by labeling us as “sensitive” or “dramatic,” perhaps the medical community can notice how many of us have birthed children and survived the pain of assault – and instead respond with an attitude of: “Wow….if you are saying that you are hurting…I BELIEVE YOU.”

Monday, October 16, 2017

More on ME TOO

On the topic of "me too"....

While I was at the Mayo Clinic, the gastroenterologist began talking to me about something called pelvic floor dysfunction.  it's a common problem that can cause all sorts of issues. But this is what got me....

He asked about my history and whether or not I was an assault survivor. Sitting there with my dad, I said yes.  And then he began to explain to me that damage is done to the pelvic floor during sexual assault and childbirth.... it can cause all kinds of issues related to constipation....And it's called pelvic floor dysfunction.

In all of my years of being quite open about my sexual assault history, I've never had the medical community discuss the after effects of sexual trauma... other than raising psychological issues.

That's when it hit me....The number of women who have experienced significant physical trauma to their genitalia as a result of either sexual assault or childbirth is huge! and yet It is not something that we talked about as a culture.

I don't know why it has taken all of this time for doctors to awaken to the reality and therefore come up with a name for the damage that is done to female bodies when we are sexually assaulted and when we give birth.  Instead, the entire medical profession assumes that a woman's body behaves exactly the same as a man's body and it completely negates that which is uniquely female... Never mind the fact that our doctors tell us that we can go back to having sex 6 weeks after pushing something the size of a watermelon out of something the size of a lemon drop. Ummmmm......

This is just one of many examples of the way in which we edit out the feminine experience. Of course, as soon as a man gives it a name, then it becomes worthy of study, discussion and treatment.

This begs the question....what other aspects of the female anatomy are fraught with medical difficulty as a result of physiological traumas?

Me too....and NO MORE.

How is it acceptable that nearly every woman that I know has either been sexually abused, assaulted or harassed at some point in her life? How is it acceptable that we expect women to just move on?  I asked a male friend of mine about this one time.... it was in the context of rape being used as a method of torturing men in Syrian prisons.  My question was, If you - a man - were raped in a Syrian prison, do you think you would be able to just get over it and resume a normal sex life?  His reaction was one of extraordinary rage (I'd kill the MF that did that to me!) followed by a feeling that he would never be able to get past it.....

And yet for thousands of years, this is the cultural expectation of women.  We are raped, abused, assaulted and then expected to move on. It's especially true when male partners express frustration about sexual dysfunction in life after assault .... and as women we become afraid that we're going to be abandoned.  We pull ourselves up by our bootstraps in an effort to move on. But perhaps now we are shining a light on a cultural sickness that deserves attention.... it is a sickness that has allowed sexual assault and harassment to fester in the shadows.... It is a sickness that says that the woman shares in the blame.... it's a sickness that automatically assumes that the woman accusing Nelly of rape in Auburn last week was making it up for attention.... It is a sickness that ostracizes women that come forward because it's just too hard for others to hear about it.... It is my sincere desire, as I am raising a daughter, that we are reaching a point as a society where we say NO MORE.

#metoo #nomore

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Listening to My Body - Lessons at the End of a Mayo Clinic Adventure

My body is struggling today. So be it. I am having to learn to allow the struggle to be what it is...when it happens...ugh. The doctors here have informed me that some of my coping mechanisms - especially trying to make myself OK when I am not - are actually causing me physiological problems. They even have names for this kind of bootstrapping and what it does to the body. Ahhh...the challenge of living in harmony with mind/body/spirit in a culture that rewards disembodiment. Everything we see, read, hear is about how to force bodies into compliance so that we can do what WE want to do. Nope - doesn't work in my case. So today I am gonna rest, other than the big atomic bomb infusion I get this afternoon. Tomorrow will be a big day of testing again, then I fly home. I can't wait to see my daughter, and all the animals, and climb into my own bed.

Lots of lessons learned this trip - good and bad. For example, I discovered that I prefer pain over the hellish sensations of fainting/nausea/dysautonomia. I have discovered a lot about who cares about the things going on in my life, and who doesn't. That's always a big learning lesson. I discovered that I can fly (with accomodations) - which opens up some doors for Caitlyn and I to visit people that we have wanted to see for some time. I never know what my body is gonna do when, and I need to learn to relinquish control over this big unknown. My daughter and I can survive apart for 10 days - we've never done that before. My dad and I make really good room-mates - I'd like to take a fun vacation with him one of these days soon. What I used to see as weakness (disability, health struggles, etc.- probably because that's how others in my life saw it), I am learning that the people in my life today see me as strong and tough through my vulnerability and honesty. And perhaps most meaningful - I have found a voice through this experience. I shall keep expressing myself.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Why Does GOD Allow Suffering?

New Blog Post
I am sitting here at the Mayo Clinic thinking about suffering...the massacre is all over the news...I am surrounded by people with varying levels of health...and I personally am coping with my own pain and difficulty as I have literally been a human experiment while attempting to find a diagnosis for excruciating pain that has been with me since the beginning of August. In this context, some thoughts occurred to me that I felt compelled to share....

In times of terrible suffering, as in the wake of this massacre in Las Vegas, it is human to question what kind of a GOD would allow such horror to exist in the world! This question - Theodicy - is among the most difficult in my humble opinion.

As a survivor of multiple rapes, along with the current personal suffering that I endure due to chronic health issues, I contemplate this question often. In fact, I said to my father last night that my theology says that GOD LOVES my rapist as much as GOD LOVES me. Imagine that for a moment? And yet, after years of contemplation on this, I am at peace with this reality. GOD LOVES the shooter as much as GOD loves those he murdered. And we know this because GOD LOVES those that tortured and killed Jesus just as much as GOD LOVED Jesus himself - Yet it is human to be completely appalled by this theology! I suppose this is why Kierkegaard said that we should be offended by the gospel! Revenge thinking is so much easier.

I am still a neophyte at theology, but I feel that there should be no easy answers to questions of theodicy precisely because GOD meets us in the questions. If you are like me, then, and you feel the pain of uncertainty...perhaps we can all have the courage to lean into the unknown. Perhaps we can keep asking questions, because then we give GOD a chance to answer.

There is only one certainty that I possess in the midst of the massive unknown that I will call faith - it is that GOD transforms all suffering into beauty. I know this because I have experienced it so many times. GOD stands with those that are enduring pain, pouring out abundant GRACE and COURAGE. In the same way that feces becomes the organic matter that feeds new growth, my painful experiences morph into new blessings if I can rest in LOVE.

With that, i will pray the prayer of St. Francis

Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O divine master grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it's in dying that we are born to eternal life

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Dancing in the Unknown

I always mark the occasion. Today would have been the 12th Anniversary of starting my business - the day I bravely set out into the unknown of business strategy in home care and hospice. I thought THAT was badass. Holy cow, that was NOTHING.

Then I got knocked in the head in 2011, and a new path came seems to me that everything before was just practice for the life I lead now. And this life is filled with unknown - I never know where this path is headed! But as I said to a woman in the Breast Center here at Mayo (getting our mammograms), if I really believe in the power of the Holy Spirit (or Universe, or God, or Mother Earth, or Spirit or whatever you want to call it), then it isn't weird to think about surrendering completely to this unseen FLOW and allowing it to MOVE me....And, perhaps even learning to DANCE with it too <3 I never would have understood this life before the accident - but it is the life I lead now - And I am strangely grateful.

So that's my CHURCH this morning. I might go to St. Mary's Cathedral today - I hear it's beautiful. But for now, as I contemplate the unknown, I feel at peace today.

Heather 2011

Heather 2017