It's a whole new world, with new challenges to embrace and accept
It has been a very long time since I've sat down at my computer and blogged. I've written a lot in the past couple of years, I've done a lot, I've taught yoga a lot, but I've just not sat down to just write. I'm not going to make my blog posts long (who has the time and who would actually want to read them? My emails are so dreadfully long that I send sometimes, I pity those that have to read them!). So, I will try to make each blog post succinct and to the point while identifying a key discovery that I've made throughout the course of the week or month or however long it takes me to come back to this space and chat. I must confess that this post might be a little bit longer than my future ones since there is a lot of background information that I want to just fill you in on!
I will give you all a brief (as brief as I can) catch up on where I am. In the past couple of years, as many of you know, I've had my miracle child, Henry (who was a colicky baby for a good 6 months and is a sociopathic (aren’t they all at 2?), but yet sweet and adorable toddler now :). I've closed my Smalltown Yoga studio and started to work with the Center for Learning in Action at Williams College. My passion for teaching, learning, and breathing yoga as well as bringing yoga into underprivileged and under-resourced communities as well as to those who do not have access to yoga (especially children) has not changed. Wearing many hats over the course of the last 1.5 years at CLiA, I currently have the honor to be working with an amazing group of college students as we navigate the overwhelming challenges of elementary programs and partnerships with North Adams and other local school districts during the time of COVID.
I've recorded and posted about 40 free yoga classes during the pandemic. Through these classes, I share (well you’ll see!) insight into the working mom, remote schooling kids, and running around miracle and cute (yet sociopathic J toddler. These classes have given me the structure and the concentration on my own practice and breathing that I need in order for me to do my yoga practice. Yes, so in many ways these classes are my selfish way of practicing yoga! Speaking to imaginary people through the screen has allowed me to work through and practice through challenges, distractions, and a lack of motivation to get on my mat. I've created meaningful playlists for many of the classes as we transitioned (thankfully) to a new government and power, as well as we fight to give every individual equal rights and opportunities independent of their race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, or disability. I have used my love for curating playlists and listening to fun music (yes, lots of 80s and 90s with a new discovery of the 60s!) to help me through some very difficult and challenging experiences. Through my “musical” yoga practice (speaking to “you”), I have persevered through some difficult experiences.
July, 2020 in the middle of the pandemic, I finally met my service dog, Mindi. It feels like we were lost at birth. She is my shadow, my confidant, and the little wet nose that pokes me when I'm zoned out, fidgeting, biting my nails, picking my cuticles, picking at my face (harder to do these days with a mask!), breathing harder as well as the sloppy kisses all over my anxious face. She follows me up mountains, is by my side on runs, and attends every doctors appointment with me. She comes with me to meetings with college students, to grocery stores, everywhere. When I first got her, I received a lot of questioning looks and not so nice remarks (this is putting it nicely!). I was told that my dog could not go into the graveyard with me by an uninformed official (I believe I did write about this in an FB post). The graveyard where I visit the twins that passed away just 2.5 hours after I delivered them and I memorialize the other 3 fetuses that were part of the quintuplets for 15 weeks during my life. Mindi needs to be by my side there. I've been asked over and over again if I'm training Mindi to be a service dog for someone.
As part of my "training" intensive to get Mindi, I was told that I can always just say Mindi is my service dog for medical needs and that I did not have to justify or explain myself according to the Americans with Disabilities Act. I know that this may be a lot easier at times, but I always tell whoever asks me that no, Mindi is my service dog. Inevitably, I'm asked the question (even though it technically is rude, but I don't take it that way, I take it as a sense of curiosity and an opportunity to educate people), "why do you have a service dog? What do you need her for?" I always answer, "I have PTSD from many traumas in my life. She pokes me when I'm zoned out in flashbacks, nudges me when I'm showing signs of anxiety and stress, and is with me during difficult triggers." She helps me with a disability that I have that would otherwise not allow me to function as well and to be able to give back and help as many people as I can. No, she is not a therapy dog (these are wonderful too!). She is a trained service dog and yes I do not appear physically impaired or have a glaring disability, but not everyone does. Individuals with epilepsy do not "appear" all the time to be impaired, but dogs are miraculously trained to poke them when they sense that the individual will have a seizure so that the individual can actually prepare (go home, not be driving, call for help) and be safe.
What I've learned from my experience with my service dog and from my experiences of trauma, challenges, and impairments is that we cannot assume anything about another person and we cannot make them feel ashamed if they are not as "unflawed" as they appear to be or "damaged" or "impaired." In addition, and most importantly, we all need to remember that there is no such thing as flawed, damaged, or impaired. There is only the strength and skills as well as the acknowledgment of asking for help that individuals in need seek and find to navigate flaws, damages, and impairments and to make these into assets, interests, and educational opportunities.
Finally, and certainly not the last important thing that has happened in the past couple of years, but as I said, I would try to be brief and clearly I've already broken that promise! Since having Henry, having a traumatic delivery and physically challenging immediate postpartum period, I have experienced physical pain over the past 1.5 years. Yes, believe it! The woman with the yellow lab that you may see running all of the time does experience pain (emotionally and physically) like all of us! The pain was identified through physical exams, as well as imaging to be related to the tremendous amount of scar tissue and adhesions all related to my long obstetrical history (I won't go through all of that - that's a book!).
I made the decision to go through with a hysterectomy, cystectomy, removal of scar tissues, lysis of adhesions, removal of the remains of Fallopian tubes (total salpingectomy), and the repair of a ventral hernia. It was an emotional decision in many ways; removing a uterus that had provided me with three wonderful children, but also had been the cause of so much heartbreak, pain, and difficulty. A uterus that had adhered to my abdominal wall and to my bladder that was impairing my ability to feel well. I was nauseous, felt like I had to pee all of the time but really didn't, had pelvic pain. All of this was related to this uterus, whose damage and scars had permeated to other organs like a contagion, but yet had been a cushy home and cooked up some beautiful children! I also did not want to face a 7th surgery in my life. I hate recoveries. I've endured so many. (Remember that just three years ago – pre-pregnancy with Henry, I had broken my kneecap in two places!). Bedrest recoveries after months, c-sections, and other obstetrical procedures. How much could my body endure? How could I face another recovery? The bright lights and sensation of going under with the last words "am I going to feel any of this," and then the out of body experience of being yelled at to wake up.
The trauma of surgeries, obstetrical procedures and having to go through all of this during COVID, which meant alone (except with my Mindi), has been a lot to face. Normally during such appointments and certainly in the pre-op waiting area and in the recovery room, I would have Ben by my side. I would have an advocate, a safe person. COVID has taken this safe person and comfort away from so many people facing medical challenges and procedures. Navigating alone is difficult and even more traumatic. Not only is navigating alone difficult and isolating during a traumatic experience, but it also (at least for me) reinforces my instinct to not ask for help and to simply continue to go about as if the world has continued and I’m unaltered. It has been a struggle, for sure. There is no reminder that I had surgery aside from pain or when I feel the scar tissue or the dissolving stitches, but there is no difference in my routine, my life, and how I function. THIS is a problem and I’m sure all of us face this during COVID; the not allowing to not function as well or to take time to have self-compassion and to heal. We have all been on a treadmill or peloton bike J, running and running or cycling and cycling going nowhere. I have a lot of work to do in order to heal from A LOT! This healing cannot take place without developing self-compassion, skills that enable me to accept who I am in the moment, and to again shift into a mode of just being in the present.
I was just about 4 weeks post-surgery when I recorded a yoga class outside. Starting to regain my core back without feeling all weird! Definitely "stuff" in there still shifting around since it's been freed up from adhesions and scar tissue. Trying to embrace different elements of the day. Taking self-compassion to accept forgetting sequences and fitting in poses that were fit in differently in a sequence on the other side. Accepting my flying yoga mat, fighting the WIND, and just trying to be one with nature, the elements, and sinking into postures. During this Earth week and this weird spring week of warm, cold, calm wind, gusty wind, sun, clouds, rain, snow (hopefully not!), thunderstorms, I challenge myself to accept that which I cannot control and to adjust and embrace these challenges mindfully with grace (not necessarily physical grace - we all fall and hobble and wobble!), breath, and a meditative acceptance of faultiness, imperfections, errors, and disappointment. Work through my challenges, be open, and ask for help. The skills that we have to work through our challenges are the skills that make us great. Remember, it's not what we can do when the stars are aligned and all is perfect, it is how we adapt, be flexible, change behaviors, and gracefully embrace chaos, discomforts, and challenges. Now, if I could just absorb this message and practice what I preach and allow myself to be “human” I just might be on my way to healing (with Mindi by my side, of course) and my family (not an afterthought! Without my family, I might not have this complicated and messy and chaotic life and challenges, but there would be no reason to try to work through and overcome these obstacles, my world and life would never be full.
Okay – “short post” – lol, until next time (I promise will be shorter! We will have less catching up to do!)