I sat on my bed reading the word over and over with equal amounts of terror and relief. It was in Christiane Northrup’s Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom that I first encountered the term endometriosis, a condition that was causing the pain I’d experienced pretty much since I began menstruating at age 13. After multiple doctors misdiagnosing me I was finally able to say with certainty that I suffered from this often-debilitating disease. My first surgery confirmed this self-diagnosis.
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
As a communications specialist in government and also as a reporter, I had little time to express myself creatively. Working long hours and on a diet of mostly fast food and coffee with a copious amount of beer and scotch in the off hours, my health was fastly deteriorating. Not to mention I was in an emotionally abusive relationship with no space to focus on my own needs, and only enough energy to deflect criticism and do damage control with a man who was highly volatile and unpredictable.
My body was telling me to stop what I was doing. It cried out for help until I had no choice but to listen.
When I became so sick that I couldn’t even walk, I searched for answers that went beyond the physical realm. I would come to associate my illness — a condition in which the tissue that forms the lining of the uterus grows in other areas of the pelvis — as not only a manifestation of me abusing my body in myriad ways but also as a sign of something deeper. Blocked pelvic energy as I came to learn is related to women denying their emotional and creative needs. Northrup refers to one Jungian analyst calling endometriosis “a blood sacrifice to the Goddess.” This could mean women not listening to their intuition, staying in a job they hate, denying their birthright to express themselves creatively, or acquiescing to a partner who is controlling or abusive. I’m not saying that everyone who has this illness fits this diagnosis, although I know that for me it was spot on.
photo by Flavio Gasperini.
The truth was that I had alienated my family and female friends and was living almost exclusively in my masculine energy, allowing it to conduct my life. I used to shudder when female friends talked about girl stuff, and also when I was around friends who were out there spiritually, or who were too touchy-feely. I had cut off a vital part of who I was, and, as a result, my body was eating away at itself from the inside.
Gradually, through craniosacral therapy and other forms of body and psychotherapy work, meditation, and support and love from friends and family, I began breaking apart those hardened layers and opening myself to a whole new way of living and being.
Today I know that there needn’t be a separation between my mind and my emotions. Our society compartmentalizes these two aspects of being human and it’s to our detriment. By doing this, and by not respecting my body and my calling as a writer and creator, I contracted the disease. By labelling my feminine as too weak and passive, and not embracing and letting myself be guided by her, I became very sick, so much so that I literally bled from the inside.
My relationships with women friends are so rich and rewarding now. Today, I understand the power of these friendships and of how my female strength is the opposite of weakness. In fact, it’s one of the most powerful gifts I possess. I also understand how vital it is to make time for self-nurturance in order to stay healthy and to live a full, happy life.
Sharon Salzberg, a writer, meditation teacher and founder of the Insight Meditation Society, talks about the importance of putting your own oxygen mask on before you help others with theirs. If you don’t do this then you simply can’t assist those who count on you for love and support.
ARE YOU EXHAUSTED?
On the bus, among my friends and my family, and on social media — I hear so many people talking about how exhausted they are all the time, and how, no matter what they do they don’t feel rested. High levels of cortisol from a too-busy life can wreak havoc on your brain and can cause the brain to actually decrease in size.
Chronic stress can also impact your genes as it filters down to DNA. Think about the lives that your mother, your grandmother, or great-grandmother (if you have the privilege of knowing about her) have led. Now think about your children if you have any. Yes, exactly!
When you’re at the end of your rope and your adrenals become fatigued, you can experience depression or anxiety, allergies, lack of energy, dry skin, and a decreased ability to handle even small amounts of stress, among other symptoms. You can lessen your stress and increase the size of the hippocampus through exercise, meditation, staying hydrated, taking B vitamins, and building pockets of rest time into your day. And sometimes, just knowing that what we do doesn’t have to be perfect, can decrease our stress levels. Amazing, but true!
Yet the antidote to exhaustion isn’t always to rest.
In David Whyte’s Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity,he describes a time in his life when he was exhausted and he met Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Catholic Benedictine monk, who said that the antidote to exhaustion isn’t rest but “wholeheartedness.” He told the young David that he was only half here due to him not doing the work he was meant to do. He suggested, like Rilke’s Swan (you can read the poem at the end of this post), that he not move faster or organize himself better, but rather “move[ing] toward the elemental water, where he belongs.”
“You only have to touch the elemental waters in your own life and it will transform everything,” he said. “But you have to let yourself down into those waters from the ground on which you stand, and that can be hard. Particularly if you think you might drown.”
In his book, David Whyte asks, what is your elemental water?
Derek Walcott was referring to something similar in his poem Love After Love(see below) when he wrote, Sit. Feast on your life!
This letting down takes enormous courage — a word that comes from the French for heart. But you can’t know what letting go will be like until you actually touch those waters and take the plunge.
“You must do something heartfelt, and you must do it soon. Let go of all this effort, and let yourself down, however awkwardly, into the waters of the work you want for yourself.” Whyte goes on to say that it’s all right to support yourself with something secondary, but that once your work has ripened to its fullness that it “has to be gathered in.”
“Our work is to make ourselves visible in the world,” he writes. “This is the soul’s individual journey, and the soul would much rather fail at its own life than succeed at someone else’s.”
So with that in mind, how are you nurturing yourself so far this year in a way that will allow you to let go and live your crazy ass life?
What steps are you taking to not only take care of yourself but to indulge in your creative passions? Because, although our society looks on creativity as a hobby, engaging in a creative project — whether it’s writing, painting, sculpting, dancing or journaling — is a form of radical self-care as it connects you to the deepest part of yourself and awakens within you whole worlds.
And, what’s not to love about that!
Maybe, in order to prime yourself for a leap into the unknown, you could visit an art gallery or take a class of something entirely new. Letting yourself down into the elemental waters may take several tries so don’t worry if you don’t swim right away.
You may wish to start journaling in order to get into the flow of your inner guidance. Meditation is another way to connect to that voice inside yourself who’s cheering you on to dip your toes into the water. Yes, it may be cold, but it’s exhilarating!
This clumsy living that moves lumbering as if in ropes through what is not done, reminds us of the awkward way the swan walks.
And to die, which is the letting go of the ground we stand on and cling to every day, is like the swan, when he nervously lets himself down into the water, which receives him gaily and which flows joyfully under and after him, wave after wave, while the swan, unmoving and marvellously calm, is pleased to be carried, each moment more fully grown, more like a king, further and further on
Rainer Maria Rilke (Translated by Robert Bly)
Love After Love
The time will come when, with elation you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat. You will love again the stranger who was your self. Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored for another, who knows you by heart. Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes, peel your own image from the mirror. Sit. Feast on your life.