Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Change: 34 - The End

The End
(This is a long story.  If you want to start at the beginning, click here.)

I live next to a stream, the bank of which has eroded a bit, making all my neighbor’s trees very vulnerable in a storm. Many have fallen across the stream, destroying parts of our fence and, once, a section of our roof. After a few of these tree-falling fiascos, my insurance company said they would drop us unless my neighbor took down all the worrisome trees. So they did.

The change was really jarring at first. If you were approaching my house from the south, suddenly you could see the whole side of my house – most of which used to be obscured by those many trees. I didn’t like it. I felt really exposed. And sad, too, because I figured it would take 20 years for new trees to grow tall enough to give us back our privacy.

But today, as I was walking toward my house, I noticed for the first time that it was again cloaked in a leafy screen. It’s only been a few years since those trees came down, but the healthy ones grew bigger and fuller in the light – they filled in the open spaces.

Things change in their time. And sometimes so slowly you don’t even notice it’s happening.


I have to say, this is not how I thought this story would end. I thought one day I would wake up and just be “healed,” like a miracle. (I really did.) But the actual experience has been more like the trees on the side of my house.

A few weeks ago I put on a pair of sneakers – footwear that had been making my feet feel the worst – and suddenly they made my feet feel the best. I took three long walks this week!

But still there are  other shoes I can barely even stand in. 

I was looking in my notebook today – the one I started when I began this story – to make sure I’d gotten all the little errant pieces of information in, the things I didn’t want to forget. Like the time AE and I were talking about how we make our favorite smoothies and, after she gave me a sip of hers, told me it was made with raw egg and raw milk. I went to sleep that night afraid I was going to die of botulism.

Or how, at the end of our sessions, before I get off the table, she slides one hand under my tailbone and cups the back of my head with the other, cradling me like a baby, and how it’s one of the most amazing sensations I’ve ever had.

I wanted to remember my husband’s analogy, early on, that seeing AE was a little like calling a handyman because you have a leaky faucet and him telling you he’s going to build you a whole new house. Even though to the uninitiated that analogy makes it sound like seeing AE is a bad thing.

There’s still so much to say about perception. How some days I come to my session in glass-is-half-full mode and other days I show up negative and cynical, and how my attitude on the table really contributes to what the session is like. A friend recently said to me, “I work really hard every single day to be positive and I need to protect myself from people who bring me down.” I feel the same way, but often the main person I need protection from is me.

And there’s plenty more to say about body image. How we romanticize the body we had 20 years ago. And 20 years from now, I’ll romanticize this body. The one I just complained about for 33 blog posts. I’ll pine for this body – if I’m even around to pine at all.

If nothing else, this process has taught me to try and shift how I see things. That just because something feels unfamiliar doesn’t mean it’s bad.

I remember walking in the park with my friend Susanne early in this AE process and, after about 45 minutes, I started to complain about my foot hurting. “Do you want to stop?” Susanne asked.

“No, if I just slow down for a while it will start to feel better,” I said.

“Well, let’s just walk slow from now on,” she said.

“I hate walking slow,” I said. “It actually makes me agitated and unhappy.”

“Hmm,” she said. “That’s something to look at.”

Or another time when I was complaining to AE about my weight gain, but explaining how I needed chocolate after our sessions, and a lot of it.

“The chocolate soothes me,” I said.

“What about being held?” she suggested.

“I don't want to be held.  I want cookies,” I said.

“What about placing a cookie on your heart and seeing whether just having it there is soothing enough?” she said.

That still seems like the most ludicrous idea in the world. But now, I’d probably try it. Just to see.

There was a point, recently, where I realized that nothing is quite as painful as that first step out of bed in the morning. It only gets better after that. Which is a really great lesson, both about my foot and as an instruction for life.

This has been an incredible and scary experience writing this way as well. Putting up pieces of a story whose ending I was never sure of. Usually when I write, the real meaning of a piece reveals itself after a revision or two and I can shape the narrative to support some bigger idea. But that work is typically done in private – not in front of an audience.

Here I am at the end, and I have no idea yet what this story is really about.

If you’ve stuck with me through this – thank you. I can’t say why, but I now know that my foot is just going to get better and better. I think I’ve said all I need to about this journey, and, although I’m calling this The End, for the first time in a long time, it feels like it’s the exact opposite.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Change: 33

The Penultimate Post?
(This is an ongoing story. If you want to start at the beginning, click here.)

Years ago, I was sent to a therapist (I’ll call him “Dr. Bob”) by Dr. John Sarno (the back pain guy) to help me deal with repressed emotions that were presumably causing my recurrent back pain. (This idea still sometimes amuses me, as I don’t think I could repress an emotion if I tried.)

Dr. Bob’s area of expertise was somatization, which is when all your psychological doo-doo manifests as physical symptoms. I’m not pooh-poohing this phenomenon – far from it. I have witnessed tennis elbow, back pain, even hemorrhoids “dissolve away” after a good therapy session.

Bob had a book he would often pull off the shelf called You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay, an author of many books about loving the broken parts of ourselves and healing ourselves by changing the way we talk to ourselves (a concept that seems to work wonders for many people but has never done anything for me).

I would be sitting cross-legged in the oversized leather chair and Bob would sit across from me on his swivel chair, his tired feet crossed at the ankle, clad in the type of super-cushy shoes that you’d think wouldn’t be needed by someone who just sits and listens to people kvetching all day.  At some point during our session, he would ask me if I’d ever seen the Louise Hay book, a question that would infuriate me, because he asked it practically every session. Seriously: every two weeks he would hand me this book he’d shown me countless times and ask if I’d ever seen it before.

If I were a stronger, more confident person, I would have said, “Of course I’ve seen this book. You give it to me every fucking time I’m sitting across the room from you.” But I never did say that. Instead, I'd smile, take the book, and look up what might be wrong with my body, all the time wondering what was so unremarkable about me that my $200-an-hour psychotherapist couldn’t remember from one session to the next that he’d handed me the same stupid book at least a dozen times.

That said, the Louise Hay book usually had some interesting insights.

I stopped seeing Dr. Bob, but I did buy myself my own copy of the book. When I look up “Foot Problems,” it says, “Our feet have to do with our understanding of ourselves and of life – past, present and future.” And, “Foot problems often signify fear of the future and not stepping forward in life.”

A skeptic might say that all of Louise Hay’s body part assessments are relatable to everyone. But when I look up something like “Bulimia” and read, “Hopeless terror. A frantic stuffing and purging of self-hatred,” I can say with confidence, “Nope. Not me.”

This week, my son and I went dorm shopping for the first time.  I suspected, years ago that, given my physical history, I would have some severe malady overtake me as I prepared to let go of my oldest child. That like my mother, who was incapacitated by back pain for the months leading up to her retirement, my physical pain would disappear as soon as the feared emotional event occurred and there was no longer a need for a distraction. 

I’ve wondered throughout this year whether these foot problems were that distraction. Whether AE was just an accidental catalyst for some monumental physical malady that could have been anything, but ended up being my foot, and if it weren’t my foot, would have been something other all-consuming thing.

I wonder still whether my foot will be back to normal come September once my “real” trauma has passed. Whether “fear of the future” and “not stepping forward” have everything to do with trying to hold on to my boy just a little bit longer. And whether the fact that my foot is feeling better lately, in small but regular increments, is actually a harbinger of that back-to-normalcy.

It’s hard to know. I’m sure AE wouldn’t rule it out.  And Dr. Bob, after having me read the foot passage aloud, perhaps for the 800th time, would most certainly say, “What do you think?”


Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Change: 32

(This is an ongoing story. If you want to start at the beginning, click here.)

AE and I talk about a lot of things over and over, but the thing that seems to come up most often is my weight.

I’ve gained weight since I started seeing her and it’s no surprise. I used to walk all the time and now I never do. I spent a few ugly months feeling sorry for myself and mollifying that self-pity with nachos and chocolate chip cookies.  I don’t play tennis. I sit at a desk working more. No wonder my ass is fat.

But here’s the thing: in the beginning of my treatment, AE hooked me up with several clients so I could get real life testimonials. Women who called me on a Sunday afternoon and whom I spoke to from the wicker chair on my front porch. Women named Mary and Amy and Kathleen, who all told me that they had gotten THINNER during these treatments. Lost pants sizes. Were in the best shape they’d been in for years.

So, you know, I thought that might happen for moi. 

And these last few months, when I stand in front of the mirror in AE’s treatment room, she kvells about how my body has changed.  How I’m so much longer and leaner and how my legs have become so slim.  She’s very convincing, because I think she probably believes it’s true.

But it’s not.

I just took out a stack of shorts from last year and many can’t even be buttoned.  Others, shorts that used to hang loose on me, now fit me like sausage casings. It’s been many weeks since I’ve gotten a handle on my eating and found an exercise regimen to take the place of walking, but I still feel like a cow.

The hardest part of it all is to feel at odds with AE. To explain to her that every indicator – scale, perception, tautness of pants, reflection – demonstrates that I’ve become bigger, and for her to say that, in her eyes I look smaller.

I’m not smaller. And I’m not even the same. I’m bigger, and in all the worst places.

Nearly every chronic pain that I’ve suffered from over the past 15 years is completely gone, and a huge amount of my daily anxiety has disappeared. But I’m heavy. And it’s depressing.