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.... "yes....you 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? Www.bluephoenixart.com

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.