The Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveller coming down the road, and the Sun said: “I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveller to take off his cloak shall be regarded as the stronger. You begin.”
So the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveller. But the harder he blew the more closely did the traveller wrap his cloak round him, till at last the Wind had to give up in despair.
Then the Sun came out and shone in all his glory upon the traveller, who soon found it too hot to walk with his cloak on. Kindness effects more than severity.
Discipline within gentleness. This is the bedrock of my Self Care.
I had not seen my acupuncturist in 6 months until today. She checked my pulse and my tongue and noted that my Qi is much stronger and my tongue is a much better color than it has been in the 2 + years we have been working together! I excitedly reported that I had weaned myself off of Ambien, after taking it every night for 4+ years, and that my energy level is still climbing, even though I still have ebbs and flows of fatigue. She said that getting off medications is a major factor for my body operating more optimally from a Chinese Medicine perspective.
Flash back to about two and a half years ago. I was on the tail end of serious physical therapy regimens at two different clinics for lymphedema and tendonitis respectively. The PT for the tendonitis would make the lymphedema flare worse, and the pain would feed the fear of cancer coming back and the fear would feed the anxiety and depression that would come in waves. Every day I would take ibuprofen and muscle relaxers and an occasional narcotic pain pill and the occasional anxiety medication. I took Ambien for sleep every night, because in the aftermath of my cancer treatment I had gone three nights without a wink, and had walked into the oncology clinic desperately begging for something stronger than Melatonin to offer some relief from the nightmare that was my constant struggle with insomnia. Ambien became my favorite nightcap. I would pop my little friend, I called it my magic pill, and drift off to dreamland every night. But during the day, anxious about the combinations, I was intensely cautious about what I could safely take together and would vigilantly track my dosage and the times I took everything. I cried every day that I had to go to work in excruciating pain. I had panic attacks at work on a regular basis. My mind played tricks on me. I would see steam or smoke from the hair dryers in the salon and think I was having a stroke. One day I was driving and I suddenly saw spots in my peripheral vision. I was stuck on IH-35 in traffic with no exits close by. I started to panic. I thought that I was going to pass out behind the wheel and cause an accident or even die. I groped in my bag for my phone and put it beside me, perhaps wrestling with the idea to call someone, Kayla, 911, for help, but feeling foolish and embarrassed and arguing with myself not to. But I secured the phone quickly, afraid of taking even one hand off the wheel. I gripped it tightly. I drove on autopilot, terrified, racing against whatever was going to happen to me. Once home safely, I took two Xanax and collapsed on the couch in tears. I knew I was having too many panic attacks, and that it was time to check myself back into regular therapy. I knew I had hit a wall. Ironically at this point in my life, everyone thought I was doing so well. Out of treatment for two years I was supposed to have been recovered from all of that. I was working a regular schedule. I was running. I appeared to have accepted my baldness because I presented myself to the world with a smile and a prettily made up face, beautiful head wraps, or a boldly bared buzz cut. I hated that I was on so many medications, I struggled with it, but I checked in with myself often, occasionally with medical professionals that I trusted, and consistently arrived at the raw truth that I needed these helpers, for now, and possibly forever, and that I was doing everything to my knowledge to help myself “naturally”. Marijuana would help ease the pain and curb the anxiety when I was home with no responsibilities to fill, and I was happiest when I could self treat with the friendly plant and hide in the safety of my cocoon, but out in the world, I would either be in pain or on the heaviest dose of ibuprofen that is allowed. I went through the motions of a new normal. Secretly I thought that my new normal sucked ass but I knew I was supposed to be grateful to be alive, and I was not technically ill anymore so I had no real reason to complain.
There is no one defined rock bottom moment in all of this. The healing process in not linear. When I hit that wall with the panic attacks, I had already healed SO much. I was working really diligently to find a way to accept my hair loss. I was practicing mindful sleep rituals in the hope that someday I would be able to lull myself to sleep non medically. I followed my physical therapist’s instructions to the tee and I was on a strict running schedule. I meditated. I made gratitude lists. I kind of criss crossed between seeing the light and seeing the light eclipsed. I had the sense that if I kept walking the walk I would arrive somewhere, although I admit there were many times when I felt as if it was all just kind of a cruel joke, and that I was actually going nowhere.
Eventually, I came to a crossroads with my Ambien addiction. I arrived at a place in my healing continuum where I had opened myself up to healing deeper levels of pain and suffering, far deeper than that of my cancer experience. I had gotten there by setting firm boundaries around my psychic and physical body, listening deeply to my body, working with it, gently allowing the medicines that I needed to do their job, but doing my own work from the inside out at the same time. Within this practice came the idea of partnering with the medications, for sadly there is no guidebook on how to navigate life after cancer, or how to mindfully integrate all of the drugs that we are so easily prescribed for all of our lingering side effects. Deciding for myself to shift the way I thought about everything that I did from a place of intention helped. It allowed me to grow stronger in my self trust, in my own truth. If I was going to go to battle with anything that I was putting into or doing to my body, it would inevitably have the opposite effect of healing on me. I think it was a combination of time, regular massage, acupuncture and spiritual work that got me strong enough physically to manage the tendonitis and lymphedema that had kept me in pain for so long. For sleep, I got on a less addictive sleep medicine, per my request, and I got into CBD, I experimented with using cannabis in combination with CBD and melatonin for sleep, and have recently taken myself off of the new medication too. I double downed on my meditation. This was all happening at the same time that I was double downing on my ritual work in my spiritual practice too. It wasn’t all at once that I stopped taking daily ibuprofen, pain pills, muscle relaxers, etc. It was a gradual process on a very intentional and mindful exploration of my self, what it means to have a physical body, and what that physical body needs to be well.
I am in a pretty good place now. The only pharmaceutical medication I take is Tamoxifen, the hormone blocking drug to help prevent the cancer from recurring in my body. My life is steeped in ritual. I live for self study. I believe in the simple power of knowing oneself, and my concept of healing has shifted and remains non-linear. A trust has been cultivated that stems from going to bat side by side, Spirit and Matter, in the process of healing. I have a relationship with my body that is very satisfying. I love it! It’s my temple. It allows me a physical frame in which to do this work. I have developed a practice that seems to come from some innate knowing of who I am, and of coming home to myself. Sometimes I think that my cancer experience was the most gracious and safest catalyst I could have had, repeatedly pushing me to the brink of what I could handle and showing me how capable I actually was of rising to the occasion. It gave me an opportunity to dive into the experience of all kinds of emotionally and physically painful ways of being and find myself within each of them. I can even rock back into those selves I have been on the healing continuum and say, “Hey, babe, its okay…. I’m totally with you and I’m seeing you through this thing. Your job is to be careful. Be gentle. Be patient. Be kind.” Staying the course of keeping up with an intuitive knowing or following a Divinely guided path, quite honestly in my opinion the same damn thing, I look in the rearview mirror and I see that I was both being held and holding myself all along, and still am, and always will be.