I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about how far I’ve come in the past few years, and realize I feel ready to share a bit more about where I was in late 2016/early 2017. I’ve been avoiding it because it is painful to think about, and it’s a valuable marker for my progress.
I was a pleaser…
For my entire life, my needs came last. I was constantly stressed out. For most of my childhood I lived an off-grid, subsistence lifestyle in Alaska. I survived many traumas that remained unprocessed for a long time. I had been a wife for 15 years, a small business owner, office manager and executive assistant for an abusive boss, and a Girl Scout Troop leader. I was a devoted mom (still am. Love you Ainsley!). I ignored my body’s needs repeatedly because I never “had time” to take care of myself. I had been getting progressively sicker over the years. I was in constant pain, exhausted, and on many medications that did their own damage over the long term. The primary diagnoses I received were Rheumatoid Arthritis, hypothyroid, adrenal burnout, gut dysbiosis, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, candida, major depressive disorder, PTSD, and anxiety disorder. I’m sure I’m forgetting a few. I believed my doctors when they assured me that I was going to be 30+ pounds overweight, sick, in constant pain, anxious, depressed, and medicated for the rest of my life.
I have come to believe that if I had stayed on the conventional medical path, I would be fully disabled or dead. Instead, I forged my own path. I did my own research. I read books written by a plethora of doctors. I listened to hundreds of hours of audiobooks and podcasts. I listened carefully to the stories of other wellness warriors. I also learned how to stand up for myself. Over and over and over again, as nearly every family member and friend questioned me because they could not understand what I was doing, I had to firmly and lovingly tell them I was doing what was best for me. It was profoundly lonely. At the same time, I was wrapping my head around the fact that I was divorced and the life I thought I was going to be living was over.
August 4, 2016
I had just left my doctor’s office. I was sitting on the curb by my car trying to breathe, and reminding myself to feel the warm sun on my skin and the breeze as it gently caressed me. Just breathe and dial the phone. “Hi Erin, it’s Heather. I’m sorry but my doctor says I have to go on full medical leave right away. He says 6 weeks for now, but we’ll revisit it in a month and see what the timeline looks like then. The good news is if I go now I am more likely to be back in full swing of things before football watch party season.” After working out a few more details with my boss, I ended the call, hung my head between my knees and cried. I loved my job. I had worked hard to earn it and it was fun. Most of my time was spent planning events that allowed the alumni of a popular state school to reconnect with each other and the university that they loved. I had just come home from a week-long training in Boston and had so many ideas to implement. All I could muster the energy to do in that moment was to remind myself that once I got home I could go straight to bed for a few hours.
Now I no longer had to try to figure out how to get the essential aspects of my job done. I had fully surrendered it to my team. It’s only for now, right? I asked myself. I’d be back in 6 weeks for sure with a bounce in my step, a clear head and energy to last all day. Maybe 2 months, tops. Being on medical leave I’d have all the time necessary to eat super well, sleep all I needed, and get caught up on the pieces of my life that had fallen to shit over the past year. I could relax because I’d continue to get a full paycheck until early October. “This is rock bottom, so it was up from here, right?” I assured myself. As I write this and remember myself in those moments I feel so much compassion and also smug big sister-ness. “Oh honey, it’s good you don’t know what’s coming. You think this is rock bottom? Shit. We’re going to hit rock bottom over and over for the next couple of years. If you knew half of the darkness coming your way you would be tempted to give up now. But don’t worry. I got you.”
I never returned to that job. However, the way things worked out, I was able to keep my excellent health benefits for a year. I worked closely with a stellar acupuncturist and an amazing naturopath. I spent the bulk of my time following my intuition toward whatever healing modality I most needed in the moment. The menu was long because what helped me claw my way through the day changed frequently. When my benefits ended, my health was stable enough that while I still had lots of healing to do, I was able to continue on my own without regular medical care.
The winter of 2016/2017 I started a YouTube channel called “Heather’s Full Catastrophe” as a creative outlet. I’m so thankful I did because it is fascinating (to me, at least) to witness myself from that time. I chose the channel name based on Jon Kabat-Zinn (the author of Full Catastrophe Living and the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction). He defines full catastrophe living as: “Facing the full catastrophe means finding and coming to terms with what is most human in ourselves. Catastrophe here does not mean disaster. Rather it means the poignant enormity of our life experience. It’s the nature of the human condition to encounter uncertainty, stress, pain, loss, grief, sadness and also a tremendous potential for joy, connection, love, affiliation. It’s everything. And the question is, can we love it, can we live inside of it in ways that actually enliven us and allow us to be fully human?”
The first channel intro I made is a good demonstration of where I was in December 2016.
Dark Night of the Soul
From mid 2016 through 2017, it was dark. It was hard. I cried a great deal. I felt hopeless often. I could not safely drive for months. I was unable to comprehend anything I tried to read above an elementary reading level so I switched to listening to audiobooks, podcasts, documentaries, and YouTube videos. I persisted. I evolved. I healed. I made changes and shifts in every aspect of my life that seemed small at the time, but they added up to significant change. Somehow I made enough money through it all to support myself, my daughter, and my parasitic boyfriend.
It’s insane the amount of trial and tribulation I packed into that time. I had so many damn layers to burn away that I went big and I went hard. In our last visit, my naturopath cautioned me to keep my stress to a minimum. No major life changes for a while so my adrenals could continue to heal. “Don’t worry, I will be careful!” I assured her. I figured it could not possibly get more stressful than the past few years had been. Now I know I had merely been in training for what was to come, because things got even more difficult before they started to consistently improve.
That is where I will leave this for now. Have you ever hit rock bottom? What was it like for you? How did you get out of it?
I love you fiercely,
P.S. Join the Journey 100s of women and I have been on. We begin the next Journey on August 19th!