This is your assignment. Feel your feet on the earth. She tells me about this show, on the theater, a woman, small, as frail and weak as a small bird, walking across the stage. Falls. Gets up. Falls. Gets up. Falls. Gets up. This happens over and over again. Then the woman says, in a frail and weak voice, "Fall Down. Get Up. One Movement." I forget that we animals are made to get up, that my daughters learned to walk by falling down and pushing their hands into the grass to pop up again, that my brothers did, my parents did, my grandparents did, that I did, as a baby girl, somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, on an island with the smell of eucalyptus on the ocean air. This is my assignment. Start with my feet. Start somewhere. It is one movement.
Okay, so I have some rules for my writing self. They are simple. Baby steps: one foot in front of the other and focus on the small task in front of me. Allow the Mess: creativity is inherently as messy as the garbage dump so better to get comfortable with the unknowing and disordered thoughts and false starts and scribbles. Plan with the seasons: release myself from the necessity of an "everyday" practice because we are cyclical beings who could learn from trusting timing instead of a linear calendar. Use ritual AND spontaneity: momentum comes from rhythm but avoid the habit of preciousness (the need for the "right" desk or drink or space or time). Act as if: and here we employ some heavy-ass visualization and assuming it will all happen.
I can navigate in the pitch dark and do this no problem-- for a book.
My next task: apply it to a part of my life that doesn't budge.
Somewhere that summer day, on the lawn, by the blue pool, under the eaves of a roof, next to my youngest daughter, I noticed gray clouds spread out to block the sun. A few robins flew off. The light became palatable and a sudden wind blew the smell of grass over us. We waited. She demanded my arm. She demanded I place it over the pool. She poured cool water over it over and over and over. She, keep in mind, is the one too little to speak yet. I took it as a baptism. Did she know? Did she know how in need I was to recover, re-act, re-purpose, re-construct, rewire what my older daughter--the one who knows enough to poke the hard spots--had said? That thing about painted toenails and who deserves to have them. I am a leveled building. I am almost 39 years old. There is a principle at work here. There is an opportunity.
One of my writing students recently told me she had to do months of post partum physical therapy for her shoulders. The nursing and holding of her sons had taken a toll. It’s a common body ailment for new parents. I gave her the commiserating nod of motherhood. But the way she said it lingered with me. It was as if she had forgotten the sea monster she'd tucked into the ocean bed so long ago. The experience was clearly past tense for her. In both time and memory. She had solved it and moved on. People do it all the time.
I do too. I’ve done so for my career, my children and my marriage. I make a plan, follow through, surf the turbulence and usually end up somewhere great. Maybe it’s grace. Maybe it's because I work hard and believe most outcomes are possible. When it comes to my health, though, my belief system stutters.
I’m good at being in a healing process.
I do that really really well. I could be healing and talking about healing my whole life. Part of it is my natural interest in the human body. I want to inhabit the most alive version of my genetics possible. I crave 100% vitality. I crave the information that empowers me to take care of my body and therefore be in a turned-on mood/expression and therefore be a turned-on human. It does veer, though, towards a self-improvement obsession. Fifteen years ago, in my college dorm room, my husband-then-boyfriend listened as I told him I wanted to study alternative medicine and the body but had nothing wrong with me, no way to experiment, alas. Well, I put the call out and the mighty universe delivered. The last five years, in particular, have required many action plans. My first-born daughter’s birth initiated a cascade of breakdowns in my body, in me--all deeply necessary. She has been my purifier on many a level.
Here’s what I've had on my "Healing List" :
1) thyroid (do so by: heal my gut, cut out inflammatory foods, add in thousands of vegetables, detox my body and house and environment, plan to wean off of T3 and T4 in 2 years)
2) adrenals and hormones (do so with supplements and by: create routine, exercise enough but not too much, sleep as best I can with a 4 month old, get rest as best I can being a mom of two, running a business and writing a book)
3) pelvic floor and prolapse and incontinence (do so by: physical therapy, not lift anything heavy, be mindful of posture, not sit all that often, do yoga but carefully, heal my core and diastasis recti and fix my big toe which affects my pelvic floor, read a few more books about it all)
It feels like a full time job. I take it on like a gladiator. I make lists. I set intentions. I renegotiate my allotted time, with myself, with my husband. Sometimes I laugh at it; other days it loses importance rapidly in scheme of news events; this week, it overwhelmed me once again. Last weekend, the discovery of a small patch of mold under our couches set me into a tailspin about how mold creates toxicity and how am I supposed to heal myself if we live in a house full of mold, shit. My husband reminded me that our house is not full of mold. Then he bleached the hell out of the mold. Then the combo of bleach smell inside and spring snow storm outside created this caged bird feeling and I handed the baby over to my husband and said, "I need a break" to which my 3 year old said, "Do you need space, do you need alone time, mama?" to which I said, in a measured and kind tone somehow, "Yes, sweet love, just like you need space sometimes," to which she asked where I was going, to which I said, "I don't know, where do you think I should go?" to which she suggested, "Well maybe the Coop, or maybe you can just drive around and around," to which I said, "That sounds like a plan" and then kissed her, my baby and my husband and left. It was my most civil meltdown to date. Later that day, my husband asked why "the healing" has to be so big, such a constant lifelong process. Why can’t it be something that happens and then is over, or at least iterations of it are over? For example, you break your leg, it heals, you move on. His question didn’t offend or hurt me. Not anymore. It became a small dove in my palm.
The truth is I've started to feel bored by healing. And a lot has been healed. I moved through shiploads of grief about present and past, and by moved, I mean moved it through my body and out, away.
Instead of using the word healing, I am now curious about a space of enjoying. In the brain’s language, does being in a healing process presuppose that you’ve been broken somehow? I now know my body is not broken and never has been. It simply gives me feedback. It wants permission from me to heal. It wants to en-joy.
What does it look like to assume a posture of health?
I could try to run (not walk) along my daughter.
I could eat my asparagus or Kettle potato chips slowly.
I could take time to brush my hair everyday (this normally doesn’t happen).
I could care for my body as if it is radiant.
I could make it a priority to buy clothes that fit my current body and are beautiful to me.
I know this works.
I have forgotten it works.
David Deida wrote: Everything you do right now ripples outward and affects everyone. Your posture can shine your heart or transmit anxiety. Your breath can radiate love or muddy the room in depression. Your glance can awaken joy. Your words can inspire freedom. You every act can open hearts and minds.
Apply it to others and apply it from me to my body too.
Here’s the story I want to lead with now. My second pregnancy was even more challenging than my first—nausea, vomiting to the bitter end, and peeing all the time, so many scenes of me pulling the car over to throw up into a field as my daughter cried "You okay, mama?" and then contorting my body in our small Euro car to change into new emergency pants because throwing up made me pee all over myself. Every day I told my body, Hold tight, you got this, the birth is going to heal you. I didn’t know how but believed it down to my sinew. I had done tons of writing/releasing and emotional investigation in the interim. M.D. Kelly Brogan says, along with many others (and I'm paraphrasing) that those who expect to heal seem to have a higher turnout of actually healing. That's provocative but I believe it. So much is in what we believe is possible. Then the birth happened. The labor was 1.5 hours. We barely made it through the starry night to the Birth Center. At Ace Hardware, I peeked my eyes open, saw the lit-up red sign, and told my husband to get to our midwife, now. Fast. Furious. Uncomplicated. Me an animal crawling on the floor, and then into the bathtub. Two pushes. Babe born into water. Placenta delivered. Done. We didn’t know it could be so textbook. And... guess what happened afterward? I was no longer incontinent. Even though all signs generally point to a subsequent births creating more challenge for that problem, five years of incontinence went poof, poof, poof. The pressure of my second baby on my pelvic floor somehow retrained my muscles to fire.
It was too good to believe. I didn’t tell anyone for weeks. Not my mom. Not my husband. Not even my midwife or doctor. I was scared to jinx it. Then I stepped out of my self-protective shroud. What the hell? Celebrate this shit. This is a miracle. Now I tell everyone. I coach myself out of saying, “Who knows? Maybe it’s a fluke. Maybe it’ll change back.” Maybe it will.
For now, I am enjoying a body that can move without peeing. Everyday, I sit on the toilet and stare at my raw cotton underwear. Gone are the Always pads with wings. I didn’t know how much I had missed the simplicity of being a woman who pulls on underwear and feels nothing but soft fabric between her legs.
My first daughter's entrance taught me to lose control and let go.
My second daughter's entrance taught me to expect to heal.
I'm one blessed woman.
I live in a sensitive body—the canary in a coalmine, the girl whose 7th grade “science” experiment involved a thousand variables to test how fast her body could run on different surfaces, the adolescent who closed her eyes through the entirety of Terminator II and any other movie with a shred of violence (still), the young woman who had a prolonged physical reaction to living in New Mexico, the professional who got shooting pains down her legs within three weeks of her first 9-5 desk job, the mama whose second child turned from head down to breech in late stage pregnancy after the 2016 presidential election results and then flipped down again after her mama stopped crying (circumstance or not, it happened), and in turn, the woman who noticed her postpartum vagina lift at the Women’s March. These are only a few examples.
Some people comment: “Wow, you’re so sensitive.” It’s rarely meant as a compliment.
Others says: “Me too… god.”
Every day, I squat down to my toddler’s level and ask her to try to be kind to others and to herself. I have to ask the same of myself, to not be mad at my body or feel betrayed by it. Why can’t you just go on a run and be normal? At three months postpartum, I notice things: my face turns hot and itchy when eating a corn tortilla, my right big toe seizes up when my right-sided pelvic muscles feel strained, my bellybutton is now off center and maybe that has something to do with the low back ache at 4am every night.
I need to love my body to be with my body so I’ve reframed sensitive to mean in tune, mean aware, mean awake. New language. Awake body. Turns out, there are huge benefits of living in an awake body. For the last decade, body-workers have told me that my body is quick to respond and shift, very very willing to change, one of them said. And my mother reminds me, “You have always been strong.” I’ve never lacked stamina, endurance or get-up. I just feel everything.
So be it.
But here’s my pressing everyday question: how do I take my awake body (or you yours) and interface with the ever-presence of technology? I mean it. I’m really asking. Those close to me know I’ve forever been either righteous or apologetic about my fractured relationship to social media. I’ve fallen in and out of being online. I’ve missed a lot—of laughs, opportunities, and connectedness. I’ve also been insanely present in my tactile life. My frustrations with social media goes beyond the normal qualms of what screentime does to our social skills and brain. It’s not even an intellectual discussion for me. My body is NOT INTERESTED. I have to coerce it. You can do it, honey, just five more minutes on Instagram and then you get to water the plants.
I can stay up all dark night to navigate a heated, hard and emotionally taxing conversation with my husband. Gear up for it like a bullfighter. Focused. Sharp. Determined to break into the light. I stay and weather the discomfort. Could go another 24 hours no problem. But more than fifteen minutes on Facebook zaps all the energy I’ve got.
Maybe it’s about chosen investment.
I want a hands-free life.
I want to have both my hands available to reach, hug, cook, and dig.
I want to be in my life more than I post images about my life.
I want to be cuddling with my second-born daughter for longer than I want to be snapping these pictures of that moment.
I don’t want to have my phone in my pocket every time I leave the house just in case there is a keeper photo somewhere in the future, plus the amount of photos to store somewhere on a cloud I can't see overwhelms me. But damn, so many great moments go undocumented. I know the value of social media, especially for someone who wants to be part of and contribute to the collective current conversation (plus keeping up with the day-to-day of my close friends who live faraway is the best). To that end, here I am starting a blog to explore how narrative and the body inform one another. It’s my jam.
Again: You can do it, honey, just finish your blog and then you can rub your face in the dirt.
This question is not answered. It’s a wild boar. It paces around me in circles. In the early days of cell phones, I used to complain they hurt my head. People teased me. But now we know they hurt your head. My body knows something. Our bodies are wise. They send us so many messages and hope we listen. Maybe it can be my pacer, run along beside me during my social media and tech moments and let me know when to slow and speed up and take a break.
My body, my pacer.
It's a start.