Many of us have experiences that cause us to slow down, examine how we react to things, and start making changes. Over the last week, I had two.
While in physical therapy, I chatted with a new friend as we were both left to do some independent exercises by our therapists. She and I made plans to go to an “Aqua Strength” class at her gym. She also offered to teach me some stretching techniques afterwards. I was moonwalking on air when I came home from the session. As we get older, it can be harder to establish new connections and I had made one with a bubbly, helpful person who is healing from the same injury!
After the class, she and I worked one-on-one with for almost two hours in their warm water pool. Now, here is where the first revelation came: she constantly had to remind me to put my shoulders down. I fully realized my natural state (when engaged in activity) is to have them hunched up around my ears. Although I was present with her, that realization was never too far away. It instantly conjured up a memory of an initial visit to an acupuncturist where he observed I hold my breath often during conversation. Between the shoulder and stifling of my breath issues, it’s as if I am in a near constant state of bracing myself for something to happen. It is as if my body is preparing for trauma.
Here comes number two: Many of you know outside of my writing I have worked for several years in the human services field. Yesterday, I spoke with someone who was having a particularly hard time which is nothing new because of the nature of my position. However, due to the intensity of the call which almost led me to trying to meet them for a moment, I had another flashback. As I was hurriedly throwing on clothes to dash over there, the mode I was in felt eerily familiar. I had just done this when taking my husband to the hospital just over a week ago (he is home and healing). The rush, the sadness and adrenaline pumping at the same time, and this urge to say “Forget about yourself because you know what you have to do ” enveloped me. Some of this is completely natural but the urge to grind a message of tossing myself aside into my being is unhealthy. While tending to and being of service to others is ultimately about that person, perhaps the message to myself in the midst of these emergencies needs to be more “I am scared but glad I am here to help right now. Let’s go!” and less “forget about you..you don’t count right now.”
All the bracing and unhealthy internal messaging sounds like one tight ball of trauma. It doesn’t sound like the woman who has been dancing in the shower to Beyonce’s “Break My Soul” all week and actually giggled with glee driving from home a shopping trip a few days ago (I usually hate shopping).
But it is the same woman.
I am both.
I am all.
As I take the time to breathe in and out, I release my shoulders. They don’t have to carry it all. When I am in “go mode”, I can be a bit kinder to myself.
These last couple of months have challenged me to define what being on a rollercoaster means to me. Since I last wrote, I was invited to be a writing juror for the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards, went through the absolute worst psoriasis flare I have had in years which caused me not to be able to travel to see my family over Christmas, chopped off a great deal of hair, as a wellness experiment for a new doctor was advised to eat meat again, banish soy and remove grains temporarily after 4 1/2 years of a plant-based diet, delivered a keynote speech for the awards and asked to teach for a couple of organizations.
While some of those things I absolutely love (hello haircut, writing awards keynote and teaching), dealing with a flare after months of progress and medication was tough for my psyche and eating meat again felt like an abandonment of my lifestyle and and created a small disconnect with my husband as we no longer eat the exact same meals. While none of that seems earth shattering, I have to be careful not to minimize my feelings, constantly seeking to compare my woes to others whom I perceive to be in much worse situations.
If I fall for the trap of comparison, I fail to do the one thing that is a catalyst for healing: Acknowledge the pain. It’s beneficial and it is healthy for me to acknowledge how painful it is trying not to scratch my skin, bloody sheets and clothing, reinstituting the daily sweeping of my dead skin from all over my home and being robbed of the joy of seeing my family on Christmas day. It is beneficial and healthy for me to acknowledge how awkward and uncomfortable it is to cook separately from my husband and eat animal products again as have always been united in how we choose to nourish ourselves.
I also need to acknowledge it is beneficial and healthy to look for the highs and not to dismiss all the good news even in the midst of the pain. I read and viewed writing and art that inspired me to work on my next project, I attended the grand opening of the first Black-woman owned bookstore and wine bar in my city and I never have to worry about the people in my life trying to dismiss me or drown me in the turbulent waters of toxic positivity when I need to speak my truth.
I acknowledge the pain, the pleasure, the heartbreak, the hope, the disappointment, the glee, the inspiration, the frustration, the light and the darkness.
I believe if I accept that the rollercoaster is inevitable but not insurmountable, I’ve accepted a truth that will guide me the rest of my days.
I uttered those words to myself during a yoga class last night as instructed. I must spend a lot of time apologizing for the space I take up because I choked up every time I freed the sentence from my mouth. I must have been apologizing internally while shifting on the couch or the bed or scooting past someone on a trail or a sidewalk without even realizing it. Or every time I said or wrote or posted something that had the possibility of upsetting or making another feel discomfort. I like to think of myself as someone who wasn’t apologizing or shrinking but I am not that good of a liar.
And I shouldn’t be.
I don’t want to get good at lying or suppressing the truth to myself. It all begins with me. It all begins with how I choose to talk to myself.
How I choose to take up space.
In class last night, we spread our arms wide. I moved my outstretched arms and open palms left to right in my darkened guest room. I forgot about all the other people in virtual community with me on the screen and felt the wind from my back and forth motions.
I set my intention to be free for 45 minutes.
Even when my arms trembled from strain. Even when my breasts and belly blocked my view of the screen. Even when grace did not find me.
I was outside on a walk today. Since the start of the pandemic, the frequency of these walks have decreased. All those walks I took last year while participating in the 75 hard challenge seem like they happened at the turn of the century. Back then, I used walking as a form of exercise and meditation. I used it as my time away from the hectic schedule of work, gym, writing, get togethers, church and endless errands.
I don’t need the time in the same way anymore. I find myself getting too comfortable sitting inside, weighed down by blankets, napping, thinking, daydreaming about the ocean or deep tubs to soak in, reading, scrolling or watching TV.
I mistook all this newfound down time to provide the same thing. But it isn’t. I forgot the power of forward motion in sunlight can change perspective, take away some of the blues and the tendency to self-sabotage.
I can’t sabotage or hide. Movement awakens energy, gives the static a place to go. I become electric in the forward movement. Pounding pavement and weaving through children playing in the streets today reminded me where I am supposed to devote more time.
That is all it took. Throwing on sneakers, a jacket and stepping outside by myself to drown a little of me out and let the quiet in.
My word of the day is rest. My idea of raucous activity today is stretching, sipping everything hot I can find and sleeping. Typically, when I get rundown and the coughing ramps up, I know it’s time to be still. I had to learn the hard way (a few times) if I keep pushing, convincing myself “it’s nothing”, I end up in a worse place, physically and emotionally.
The bed calls on mornings like these and I listen. I have a big day coming next week. The last thing I need is to be ushering in a milestone birthday, sniffling and exhausted. But even while feeling like this, I find myself rolling over, reaching for a pen and notebook on my bedside table. I jotted down thoughts about a possible song to use for my upcoming class and I am writing this post. It was comforting to have my creativity running even while I rest and recover.
I am not going to pretend I feel normal. Tuesday has been going on for a few days. I purposely stayed away from current television and scrolling through social media to avoid hearing any election news. I watched Half and Half and Sex and the City so I could fool myself into believing it was 2004. Not that anything was perfect then but the country’s allegiance to the notion of white supremacy wasn’t so boldly proclaimed, at least not from the White House. I also didn’t have to wonder if I had a sticker supporting my candidate of choice on my bumper that there was a chance I could be boxed in by maniacs and screamed at by people claiming to be “Christians.”
Maybe there wore more people willing to wear the mask back then. Maybe I prefer the mask.
After avoiding incoming results, I went to bed but was only able to sleep for an hour. My restlessness continued until my wake up call for 5:00am Miracle Morning. I considered skipping but I am glad I didn’t.
We ended up listening to Amanda Maynard speak about mental wellness. She guided us through a powerful meditation but what really resonated with me was the group exercise. We were broken out randomly into groups. Each of us was tasked with stating our fear and then the rest of us were to suggest a solution to combat the fear.
One of the other women struggles with the same fear as I do: The fear of being seen. This may come as a surprise because I don’t have a problem with my work being seen. I separate Kristina from Kristina’s writing. I can press “Publish”, post a blog on a social media site or share my latest work or soon class with the people in my life. But constant networking? Going live? Though it’s not true, it feels inauthentic to me, as if I am pretending to be an outgoing bubbly person for the world.
As if I really believe all the world’s a stage. Since I truly want to be more engaged and have work coming I will be proud to share with the world, I need to be comfortable with being seen.
That whole breakout group revelation was before 6:00am. I logged out carrying hope with me and was finally able to sleep before starting work a couple hours later.
I am glad I got the little rest I did because it empowered me to be present for virtual self-care activities. My friend guided us through yoga class which eased the tension snaking up my back to my shoulders. I also facilitated a writing session with my co-workers I soon hope to repeat. We all showed up with our vulnerability and willingness to share of ourselves. I was honored and humbled to lead in this way.
I know “Tuesday” is far from over but I am leaning towards hope and acceptance. I am inspired to be ready to do my part, no matter the outcome, to be more of an empathetic leader and an agent for change in the world around me.
I was the coy but sexy temptress waiting at the bar.
He was a local boy looking for local trouble.
And we clumsily became actors.
Who does this?
We do this.
When my skin fell apart and I often left traces of my pretty brown on the bathroom floor, in the sheets and on the furniture, he undressed me, applied salve all over my body–back, arms, neck, breasts, legs, ears and told me he wished he could take it all away from me.
Last Saturday, Hubby and I went to a salt cave for the first time. Months ago, I looked at a couples massage in a salt cave for a weekend getaway but didn’t end up going. When I saw a deal on Groupon for a local salt cave, I jumped at the chance to try it for the following reasons:
“Halotherapy is known to help relieve skin conditions, stress, high blood pressure, respiratory infections, hangovers, and allergies. Salt is a natural anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and antimicrobial.”
And also because I didn’t want to shut down any modes of therapy that may prove beneficial just because I don’t know much about it.
I set a 45-minute appointment for two chairs at a spa that primarily does float therapy and has an infrared sauna. The cave was dimly lit with 4 cream-colored reclining chairs. We were surrounded by bricks of Himalayan salt from Pakistan and the floor was also covered in salt. We were each given a fresh pair of socks to wear as to not track salt back into our own shoes after the session.
I don’t know if it was the gradual release of salt-infused air into the cave but I drifted off easily when I chose to use the wireless headphones provided to us.
When our session was over, I just thought it was a great way to get quality rest. However the next day, that changed.
I don’t know if I can attribute it to the salt but the nagging pain in my left ankle from the light sprain and the strain on the left side of my right knee disappeared. It’s been a few days and it hasn’t come back. I am willing to explore it more because I have heard of the healing properties for people living with psoriasis.
Since the completion of 75hard, my desire to experience life more fully has only grown and I am glad it now includes halotherapy.