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.