Taking the full measure of life

28 and Growing

July 27th, 2008 · 28 Comments

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Last week I visited a practitioner of Chinese medicine–acupuncture, herbs, and diet.  I’ve done too much research into diet to discount the wisdom of cultures around the world and the traditional ways of healing within those cultures. Several blog readers had suggested that I go, and when the latest suggestion came in, I guess it was just the right timing, the right nudge.  I was waiting for a conventional medical appointment with a conventional medical treatment with my M.D. when I made the appointment with the practitioner of Chinese medicine, whose name is Leslie.  And then I had a conversation with a friend where he asked for advice about the direction of his life, and in avoiding directly advising him (I felt it was only his decision), I realized how badly I wanted him to not act blindly, but to have some faith in where he wanted his life to go, in where his life could go.  And in relaying a bit of the situation to my husband, I had a . . . what’s smaller than an epiphany, but bigger than a realization? That’s what I had.  I realized that it was okay to listen to my profound jitters about my traditional medical appointment, that it was okay to make the decision not to follow an accepted course of action and instead to find my own way.  I realized it was okay—and maybe even exactly right—to be scared of putting more hormones into my body when my body has reacted so horribly to the addition of hormones at least seven times now.

I was left with only the appointment with Leslie . . . and myself, of course.  I was left with myself, which is important, because no one is inhabiting my mind and body and spirit except for me.

I visited Leslie, and nearly as soon as I sat down to talk to her, the tears began to flow. “I don’t know why I’m so upset today,” I said through my sobs.

“It’s not that you’re suddenly upset,” she replied. “It’s that you’re finally letting yourself be upset.”

And she was right.

“I bet you’ve been making yourself put one foot in front of the other, day after day, when really you just want to break down.”

She was right.  She wasn’t right about everything she thought at our meeting, and I’m not sure how I feel about some of what she wants me to do, but she was right about those things.  And as we talked about my health holistically, and I cried some more, and as she performed acupuncture on me and left me alone (just to cry some more), I began to see what she was explaining to me about myself.

About a year ago, I got a massage while my husband also got one in the next room.  I chattered away to the guy who was massaging me. “Your mind never stops, does it?” he said, not unkindly. I stopped and realized that of course, while I was getting the life history of my massage therapist and discussing various educational theories with him, my husband would be lying silently in the next room having a quiet massage.  He would walk out feeling peaceful.  I would walk out feeling pumped about 5 new topics, but not feeling terribly calm.  I determined I should stay more silent during future massages, and that’s what I do now.  But my mind still goes and goes.

And that was the theme of my discussion with the Chinese medicine practitioner, as well.  That I am someone who never stops.  I can’t sleep because my mind is racing through nonsensical puzzles.  I wake up with my fists clenched.  I push myself to be there for everyone who might need me.  It’s because I love them, but it never stops for long, because I (like so many others) struggle to say ‘no,’ especially when I want to say ‘yes’ because I love someone.  I’ve recognized for a long while that it’s bizarrely egotistical to think the world will stop if I stop for a while, but then I think, whatever ‘this’ happens to be: “Who will take care of this if I don’t?” And I’m off again.

When my post-surgery leave was up, I drug myself back to work–still hurting physically a bit, but far more importantly, still entirely overwhelmed emotionally (for whatever reason, for every reason) about everything that was happening within me.  I talked about taking more time off of work, but I was scared to ask for it, so instead I spent my days wishing for sleep, fighting off the urge to snap at people who did the slightest irritating thing, and crying regularly with only small provocation.  I did tell people, in a variety of ways, “Don’t ask me for anything extra right now, because I don’t have it to give.” And I tried to do the little things I could to offer myself self-care, the things that are usually enough to keep me in balance, but which have not been enough this time. But I didn’t think I could let myself just stop—just stop and have a bit of breathing room.

Why not? Why do I bust my butt to do a good job at work if I can’t have a break from it when I need it? Why do I spend so much energy taking care of other people if I can’t accept the same care from them when I need it? Why do I say ‘yes’ so often if I can’t say ‘no’ when it’s necessary? Why (as I have asked one of my very prudent friends on occasion about herself) am I careful with our finances if I can’t occasionally take advantage of the benefits of saving?

Then again, what kind of luxury is it to take time off to heal just because you need it?

Perhaps it’s the kind of luxury we should all demand.

When I met with Leslie, she told me it’s important—it’s vital—to have time to be entirely still, without expectations of ourselves.  I reviewed the course of my life, wondering if I could think of a single episode in my life where I had been mentally still.  Ahhh, yes, the family vacations to the beach each year.  At least once each beach trip, I would sit on the deck of the house, all alone, with my feet propped up on the railing, my head tipped back, and my eyes closed, and I would just listen.  Not figure out or stress or design, but just listen to the flow of the water.  That was the one time I could remember that my mind was still.

My husband was leaving for a business trip to the beach two days after my appointment.

But still, I hesitated.  I went back to work trying to gather my guts to ask for additional leave.  I couldn’t decide what to do.  Then a co-worker came in and talked to me rather gruffly; he was irritated about something that was beyond our control, yet he was directing his emotion at me.  When he left my office, I put my head in my hands and cried. It was the final nudge I needed.  I went to my director’s office, closed the door, and sat down.  I told my director that I needed additional leave to gather my strength for the work that I do.  I told him that I had little energy or emotional capacity to do my work feeling the way I was feeling and that I wanted to be out for another week.  He granted my leave without hesitation, and he told me if I ended up needing additional (unpaid) leave, my office could hire a temp worker to help my assistant with some of our tasks.  I was relieved it was so easy.

I scrambled to find an oceanfront condo that was available at the last minute so that my husband and I could make meals there instead of eating out and so I could hear the water rolling in the whole trip. (I got 1/2 off the price for the last-minute booking!) I googled where to eat out. I packed my clothes, toiletries, spices, gluten-free flours, and good kitchen knives.  And then we got in the car to go, and I simply crashed. I slept, hard, the first three hours of the drive.

We made the drive on my 28th birthday.  In my exhaustion in the car, I slept through numerous birthday text messages and a couple of phone calls.  This is the first year I can remember that I haven’t planned some type of birthday she-bang for myself; birthdays (my own and other people’s) are very important to me, because a birthday is the one day of a year to celebrate the joy of who each person is—but I was just too worn out to deal with a plan for my own birthday this year.  I’d even brainstormed with my husband what I would want. “Chocolate and rainbows,” I’d told him with a grin. Two of my favorite things.  But that was as far as it got.

On our drive, after I awoke, we shared bits of a lavender/blueberry dark chocolate bar.  And when it started to rain, we saw not one, but two rainbows, and I had to laugh. Happy birthday to me, indeed.

Now I’m here in a condo by the ocean, sitting on the couch in the late afternoon light, listening to the water roll in.  I’ve made some cookies today. I’ve made a couple of simple meals. I’m about to go swim in the ocean.  I’m thinking through what Leslie suggested, and I’m pondering how to give myself more times when my mind is calm. It’s a long journey, getting to this me I’m becoming, and it comes with struggle, but I’m getting better at learning myself, and listening to myself, as I go.

Tags: fruits of my labor · sturm and drang · summer

28 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lindsay // Jul 27, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    Happiest Birthday wishes to you. Be still. You deserve it!

  • 2 gaile // Jul 27, 2008 at 3:54 pm

    happy birthday! I know firsthand the help that acupuncture can give to us while our bodies are trying to heal, and i am glad that it’s given you the insight to listen to yourself and the universe a bit closer. I feel like the healing I’ve gotten from my acupuncturist gave me my life back, and more than that, helped me open up to the possibilities of changing it to be truly happy. Enjoy your quiet at the beach. I hope it revitalizes you body and soul.

  • 3 Kayla // Jul 27, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    Happy Birthday to you! I have been lurking on your blog for awhile now and had to tell you this post is amazing! I am sitting here on vacation with my laptop and your post was exactly what I needed to read – thank you!

  • 4 AndrewE // Jul 27, 2008 at 6:05 pm

    Happy birthday!

    There is an important lesson to us all in this post. If you don’t ask you don’t get.

    I think the fear of rejection often means that we don’t try to get things that can really help us. Well done of finally taking the action you needed so that you can take some time out.

  • 5 Thomas (GFCF Experience) // Jul 27, 2008 at 9:07 pm

    July 27th is a great day to have a birthday, isn’t it?

    Happy Birthday Sally. I am honored to share this special day with you. Had I know today was your birthday, I would have put you at the top of my shared birthday list. In fact, I thinkI will!


  • 6 Kate // Jul 27, 2008 at 9:59 pm

    Breathe in and out.
    Celebrate you through your breath.

    I’m a quiet stalker of your lovely words for a long time now.

    Just wanted to finally pop in and wish you the best beginning to a wonderful new year! Happy Birthday, Sally.

  • 7 Hannah Celeste // Jul 27, 2008 at 10:55 pm


    I loved your post. And it seemed timely in some ways to how I feel too. Thanks for sharing.
    Happy Birthday!!

  • 8 Kay // Jul 28, 2008 at 6:28 am

    Happy birthday, Sally!

    Water heals me and feeds me. I used to think it was a grand luxury to throw myself into salt water. I’ve recently realized it is a necessity. I live in the Midwest, so I suffer from “ocean withdrawl” frequently. Have a swim for me!

    On the subject of money, a girlfriend and I discussed why we’ve never treated ourselves to our first choice of ANYTHING. We decided it’s because our mothers lived through the depression, and never had their first choice of ANYTHING. Ha! Making do and scraping by were drilled into us since birth. Frequently, that’s okay. I’ll settle for my fourth (or fifth, or tenth) choice of winter coats because I found one marked down to $20 in April.

    Every now and then, I treat myself to exactly what I want. But it’s hard to fight the nurturing lessons of my upbringing.

  • 9 K Renee // Jul 28, 2008 at 9:07 am

    Happy 28th Birthday! I didn’t realize that we are the same age.

    I hope you really enjoy your time at the beach. You are doing a great job listening to your body, and I can only hope that I can one day be half as good as you are at being mindful of what’s important to me.

  • 10 Roxie // Jul 28, 2008 at 9:50 am

    Oh, my dear. Happy Birthday!

    Peace and stillness – what great gifts. I’m glad you are taking this time to restore you!

  • 11 Amanda // Jul 28, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    I’m so glad that you are relaxing. You need it, girl.

    Sleep, relax, and have fun.

    Love ya.

  • 12 Cheryl // Jul 28, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    How awesome! I’m glad to hear that the appointment went so well, and that you’ve followed your heart and taken some time for self care.

  • 13 Meg Wolff // Jul 28, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    I could feel myself relaxing as you relaxed. Your last paragraph really summed it up well! Good going.

  • 14 Theresa // Jul 28, 2008 at 6:33 pm

    You and your words are simply amazing. I have been going non-stop…my husband started reading your posts once I exclaimed to him how amazingly wonderful they are. He came into my study room tonight yelling, “you HAVE to read Sally’s post…go read it NOW” and I’m so glad I did.

    Happy Birthday, you certainly deserve it.

  • 15 miranda // Jul 29, 2008 at 3:09 am

    Hello, I like your blog, but I have a question.

    You say you “discovered” you had allergies to those things last year. Why did you only find this out so late in life? How did the allergies present themselves?

  • 16 sally // Jul 29, 2008 at 5:54 am

    Miranda, I tried to send you an email in reply, and your email address bounced back that it didn’t exist. I’ll be happy to send it to your proper address if you want to write me at sally dot parrott at gmail dot com.

  • 17 Sue // Jul 29, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    A happy (belated) birthday to you Sally. You are so right to decide to spend time being still. I think that’s the only time we can grow. Your ocean condo looks utterly amazing – sounds like a blessed break.

  • 18 michelle // Jul 29, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    Happy Birthday to YOU, my dear. Happy birthday indeed. Good for you!

  • 19 John's Weight Loss Blog // Jul 29, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    Happy Birthday! I’m planning to have a similar quiet vacation this October, sounds great!

  • 20 Lauren // Jul 30, 2008 at 5:43 am

    Happy bday
    I wanted to know how did you learn you where alergic to gluten? I am sasking becasue of my nephew he is 3 and I think he might me allergic too.

  • 21 Simply...Gluten-free // Jul 30, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    Happy Birthday to you. I hope this is a wonderful year for you! Looks like it is off to a good start.

  • 22 Nikki // Jul 30, 2008 at 5:30 pm

    Good for you, Sally! Surgery is more tough on you emotionally than anyone can ever prepare you for. And i’m sure it’s so easy to tell yourself that you can get moving when you’re not ready. But good for you recognizing your own needs and acting on them!

    Happy birthday!

  • 23 Kim // Jul 30, 2008 at 8:02 pm

    You my friend are an ongoing inspiration. 🙂 Happy belated birthday – here’s to many more!!!

  • 24 Twix // Jul 31, 2008 at 11:54 am

    Awesome! I am so happy you were able to do this for yourself! ((((hugs)))))

    It’s so funny how I can relate to this and the timing of your post. I never stop either. It is hard to just wind down. I have made a date in October where that’s exactly what I am going to do.

    Have a great vacation with plenty of time just for you to just be. 🙂 shhh tippy toes out

  • 25 ann-marie // Aug 2, 2008 at 5:39 am

    happy belated birthday. this post speaks to exactly how i am feeling right now. my mind never stops, either. thanks for sharing your experiences.

  • 26 Leeanthro // Aug 4, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    Happy Birthday.

    When you said this:
    “It’s not that you’re suddenly upset,” she replied. “It’s that you’re finally letting yourself be upset.”

    And she was right.

    “I bet you’ve been making yourself put one foot in front of the other, day after day, when really you just want to break down.”

    I could really relate. I am going through something that literally has no end and I keep stopping myself from crying because I’m afraid if I start, I won’t stop. Maybe I need to just cry it out. But in a situation that I can’t change, I just don’t feel that crying will solve anything.

  • 27 sally // Aug 4, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    Leeanthro–In my experience, sometimes it feels like tears don’t have an end. Someone once told me, “Swim down to the bottom of your sadness and touch it; then when you come up for air, you’ll know there is a bottom.” And sometimes that is true, but sometimes it feels like you could cry and cry until you drown. And in those cases, you still need to cry, because the crying releases some of the emotion that gets trapped in your body otherwise, and when that emotion is pent up, you find yourself trying to cope with it in other ways, such as overeating or not eating, snapping at other people, drinking too much, etc. So you cry—researchers say they’ve discovered crying literally allows us to shed emotional debris through the release of the tears—and then when you stop crying temporarily, even if you don’t feel better, you get up and do something to move yourself forward. If you wait until you feel like moving forward, you’ll be stuck. So instead, you just get up and do what you need to do to keep moving through—you do something to put your life on the track you want it on, instead of focusing on only the loss or grief that is bound to you. And eventually you find that you have moved forward. The loss may not end, the loss may be permanent, but you still move forward through what your life is becoming, which can be good even if it contains the loss forever.

  • 28 Melissa from Pittsburgh // Aug 5, 2008 at 10:39 am

    Listening to your mind and your body is tough to learn … you would think it would be easy enough. I’m 41 and I’m still learning how to pay attention when my brain is telling me something. Like when it’s time for alone time…I know these times now because I become very crabby and cranky. Need alone time! I have an old blog and I’ll post it on my new one – its about what I learn about myself during alone time that enables me to understand my world better.

    GOOD LUCK with listening…

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