Brain vs Body: Big Questions and Mid-year Reflections

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It’s June! Summer vacations, bathing suits, and BBQs are upon us. It’s also the middle of the year. This combined with the news of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain deaths have me in deep reflection about the first half of 2018 and my own struggles with mental health. The end of 2017 really kicked my ass. I ended the year in a lot of pain, grief, and need for healing. I desperately needed to get away and reflect. In his infinite wisdom, and despite my reservations about lack of a plan, my hubby pushed us to take a two-week road trip from Los Angeles to Seattle and back over the winter break. It was a beautiful drive and beautiful experience for our relationship and for my healing journey.

We ended up spending New Year’s Eve in the Bay Area visiting a friend we hadn’t seen in a long time who happened to be in town while we were passing through. She was hosting a vision board party which we joined. This was very new for me. I had never done this type of intentional vision-boarding before. I had certainly made collages in the past but they were just to make something fun never to set intentions. It was a fun and creative exercise. I enjoy making artsy things. In fact I always get the urge to make something when I am feeling stressed, sad, overwhelmed, or in need of clarity. I find it very therapeutic to do things that fully engage my hands in a creation process – cooking, crafting, writing, knitting, etc. A vision board was just never one of those things I ever got the urge to make. This was the first time that I had ever spent a New Year’s eve setting clear and mindful intentions for the following year. We ended up joining the gathering by chance after other plans fell through. I was in a room full of amazing women who all committed that their vision boards would inform actions and decisions in the next year.  I was so grateful because being in that space was exactly what I needed. Sidenote: Shout out to my amazing friend Kirstin for being the inspiration for this post! <3

I had no plan or idea in mind. At that moment, I relied solely on my hands, my intuition, and my connection to images or colors to make this vision board:

 

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Vision board for 2018 made on NYE December 2017

 

The result was a small collection of intentions, mantras, and one promise I wanted remember during the year. The Intentions: I make time for joy, balance, and heavenly peace. I will see the wonderful in life and practice gratitude. The Mantras: I live and love fully. I am brave, whole, and strong. The Promise: I will make my family miracle happen.

At the start of 2018, I felt grounded in holding these things in my mind and heart. While I was ok for a little while, a lot of things happened during the early part of 2018 that made me lose my focus. First I had my 35th birthday. While this was worthy of celebration it also was a reminder that the runway on my optimal childbearing years is getting shorter. The sadness crept back in as I began to worry about undergoing IVF and all the uncertainty around that began to feel insurmountable. Weeks after that, my last living grandparent passed away. Another hard hit for me and my family. I was still grieving my miscarriage and now grieving the loss of the strong and beautiful soul that my grandmother was. I launched Off The Clocker. I started blogging and coaching clients. All of which was mixed with excitement, fear, and insecurity about building this as a blog, brand, and business. Things at my day job were also busy and going a mile a minute. The stress of projects, events, and deadlines left me feeling like I had nothing left at the end of every day.  All of this grieving, sadness, excitement, and stress was happening all at once.

During this time, all of my self-care activities stopped. I didn’t want to take care of myself because I was still angry with my body after my miscarriage. I stopped going to therapy. I stopped hanging out with friends. I avoided family. I was fueling myself with thrifty mint & chip ice cream, chocolate chip cookies, and Popeyes chicken and calling that self-care. I was hiding my depression with fake laughs. I was numbing myself with Netflix binges. But the truth was that I was sad, in pain, and grieving deeply. I was feeling hopeless, worthless, and anxious all the time. I stopped thinking about myself, my mind, and my body. I started to feel like none of it mattered. Like I didn’t matter. During workdays, my brain was trying to pretend like nothing was wrong. When I was at home alone it was telling me that I was horrible and that no one else would get it. My body was like, “OK. You want to do this for a little while? Fine.”

Things only got worse. Days felt like competing for roller coasters that I was desperately trying to control but I couldn’t. At some point, the anxiety and depression that I had been suppressing my whole life got way too big for me to ignore. I was getting up everyday trying to pretend like nothing was wrong. Trying to run away from the shame I was feeling about my own mental health issues. The brain is great at helping you pretend, but you can’t lie to your body. Faking it was taxing and exhausting and I felt that all over my body. It was in my skin, my cramping hands, my headaches, my racing heart, my back pain, my neck, my arms constantly shivering, my stomach feeling like it was on a rollercoaster that I couldn’t get off of, and my tears that would come seemingly out of nowhere. I did my best to hide it all in when I was around people. Then one day my body had enough and just said, “No! You aren’t doing any of this anymore. You need to stop.” The way it happened was a blur. One day I just couldn’t get up, I couldn’t stop crying, I couldn’t put on pants or get out of bed. I couldn’t make my body fake it even though my brain wanted to so badly. My body chose to stop in protest against my brain’s wishes. My brain wanted to go to work, to ignore the sadness, to project manage my way out of grief, to pretend nothing was wrong, to laugh off at the stress. But my body was not having it. My body wanted me to stop, to slow down, to heal, to think, to grieve, and to remember who the hell I was again. So, I surrendered and let my body win that battle with my brain. For this first time ever in my life, I stopped everything to fully focus on my healing. I had to face my anxiety and depression. I had to deal with and let go of the guilt I felt about letting people down. I deal with and let go of the shame I felt about being surrounded by blessings (a home, a job, an education, a husband) and yet not being able to shake the sadness and hopelessness. I had to deal with all the shit that got too big for me to ignore. In the midst of my stopping, I turned to creativity to capture what I was dealing with and feeling. I wanted to capture the overwhelm and fear in that moment as a visual reference point. The result was the digital collage below.

 

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Digital collage made as an homage to my healing April 2018

 

This journey of healing has been long and slow but it has taught me a lot about what happens when the body gets tired of being ignored. It becomes an advocate protecting you again the darkness in your brain. A darkness that is easy to believe and rationalize because of our brain’s great ability to make hopelessness make sense and disguise the judgments you have about yourself as universal truths. This combined with working in fields that are dominated by the brain’s talents like project management, ignoring stuff, and pretending makes it easy to lose ourselves. But when the body gets tired of being ignored it will do things to wake you up and make itself heard and understood. It will make you feel so sick you can’t get out of bed. It will send pain to places in your body you’ve never had pain before. It will not let you sleep. It will give you heart racing panic attacks in the middle of rush hour traffic. It will make you burst into tears in the middle of a workday. It will give you splitting headaches. All of this is what happened to me. There were so many messages my body was sending me to let me know that I was not ok. Messages I ignored until I just couldn’t ignore them anymore. It happens to a lot of us.

So now here I am thinking about the next 6 months. I am thinking about all the ups and downs that have happened. Thinking about how the dark side of mental health impacts so many – from your neighbors to brilliant famous people. I am in awe of the wisdom and fury that my body has within it. Wisdom to tell me what it needed in a million different ways and the fury to assert itself when my brain wanted to continue pushing me towards the darkness. I have tried to see through the pain of this to find the wonderful things I can be grateful for. I am grateful to the friends, family, and others who have offered their support in big and small ways during this time. From texts to calls to showing up on my doorstep with froyo or pan dulce – it all helps, it all matters. I am grateful to my hubby Glen for his patience and support during this time. I have not been an easy person to be around but he has found ways to lead with love, to be here for what I need, and to have my back in situations when my courage is tested. I am grateful to myself for focusing on my healing by coming back to yoga, writing and sharing my stories, extreme crafting, and getting back into my kitchen to cook. I am grateful to my doctor and my therapist who continue to remind me that my mental health is important. That my healing is a process and that I am worth it.

I have kept my mantras at the top of my mind. This in itself is a challenge I have to work at daily. I live and love fully when I laugh with my hubby, see my family’s gifts, play like a child, or sip my morning cafecito while listening to birds chirping outside my window. I am whole, brave, and strong because I am doing the inner work to remember this daily. I am working slowly towards making my family miracle happen by getting my health right. I am nearly done with the Whole30 and am working on my next health project. I know that a healthy body and a healthy brain means healthy eggs and the best chance for success when we start IVF later this year. In the midst of all the darkness and challenges so many beautiful things have emerged. I have made the time to find joy and start to create the balance I need. I am still working on getting to heavenly peace, but I see glimpses of it on the horizon.

All of this reflection is also bringing up some big questions that will be informing the rest of this year:

  • How do I need to be to keep my brain and my body on the same team?
  • How can l be a better partner and listener to my body?
  • How do I make sure my Higher Self stays in control?   

I may make another vision board or craft of some sort to help me answer these questions. Perhaps new intentions or mantras will arise. We shall see. To all of you out there struggling with your mental health: I see you. You are not alone. Healing is not easy but you are worth it.  

This month, I invite you all to join me in reflecting on the first half of 2018. What have you learned? What kind of relationship do you have with your brain and your body? What does your healing journey look like? What are you grateful for?  What big questions are you pondering that might inform the rest of this year? Send me a note if you feel inclined to share.

Thanks for reading.

-D

 

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