Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Change: 19

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

Most of my friends have been in therapy and they seem to have all “graduated.” “You’re done,” their therapist will say to them after a few years, or sometimes months, or, in my mother’s case, after six sessions (which, in my humble opinion, seemed impossibly wrong).  (Sorry, Mom.) Yet, from the outside, they don’t seem different to me at all.

I’ve been with 5 different therapists in my adult life (six if you count the woman who only wore purple, which I don’t) and not one of them ever set me loose voluntarily. 

I started going to Therapist Number 2 (I’ll call her Dr. K) when I was in my twenties because I wanted to stop smoking and quit my job. It was with Dr. K that I became indoctrinated to the idea that our grown up problems nearly always originate from our pasts. I’m not sure how I got through a previous therapist and two and a half decades of life before this dawned on me, but once it did, I started looking at everyone and everything through that lens.

Similarly, AE acts like a private investigator, asking questions about my past, about relationships, about accidents, about illnesses, trying to piece together a story that might explain my collapsed foot.  I’m not sure why it took me six months to remember that, as a child (seven or eight years old) I fell down a flight of stairs and landed with my right foot crunched under me. Three toes were broken and I was in a cast up to my knee for weeks.

AE says that maybe the bones weren’t set correctly, or they just didn’t heal right, but that the break could definitely explain the sorry state my foot slowly ended up in.  Just to be sure, she asked if I had a picture of myself from my childhood where she could see my bare feet. She wanted to see if she could somehow detect whether my problem was from that break, or genetic. 

So, one day I sat on the floor surrounded by boxes of photographs, dumping out all the envelopes marked “Old Stuff” and sifting through them. I have very few pictures of myself from that time in my life and even fewer that include my feet. Yet, eventually, I found the exact right picture of myself. It was actually a picture of my childhood dog  – an Irish Setter – and I was standing next to her, barefoot, in my pajamas. You can’t even see the top of me – it’s a picture of me from the knees down. And it has a date on the border; I was 11 years old.

As it turned out, AE couldn’t make a definitive judgment call from the picture, but that did not disappoint me. I was so delighted just to have found the type of picture she was looking for, I didn’t even care that my feet were too small to assess. This, too, reminded me of therapy – the way we can turn ourselves inside out trying to find long ago explanations for current upheaval, and in the end, it doesn’t really matter what the cause is, it’s just needs to be fixed.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Change: 18

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

AE’s table seems like a regular massage table, but it has a foot pedal that electronically raises and lowers it.  I’m not sure if it’s leather or vinyl because directly on top sits a plush tapestry rug for extra comfiness.  On top of that, she lays a regular bedsheet. She has one for each client, their name written on a little strip of masking tape at the corner.

My sheet is beige with blue and pink flowers.

She has one of those hanging plastic cubbies in the closet – the kind where you can store shoes or sweaters – and that’s where you stash your clothes. The only windows in the room face south so on sunny days there’s a lot of shine streaming in, even in the winter. Lying on the table when the sun is soaking through the window makes you feel like you’re on the beach, the ceiling fan loping in slow circles above your head, creating a sweet breeze. The energy work makes you feel drunk like the midday beach sun can – woozy and happy and unable to keep your eyes open.

On those sunny days, there are two little contraptions stuck to the window that whir and click. I don’t know what they are, exactly, but the sunlight makes them throw off little rainbows that dance around the walls opposite the windows. The clicking sounds like a tiny typewriter and AE and I have this joke that the Keebler Elves are writing their novels when the sun comes out.  On dark, cloudy days, there’s no clicking – the elves have writers’ block.

The walls are yellow, the ceiling is blue, the thick carpeting is green. There’s a full length mirror, a couple of houseplants, a tall, delicate corner shelf and a low table with a lamp, a digital clock and a jolly Buddha. It’s a small space, so even with its sparse furnishings, the room feels both empty and full.

There are a few small paintings that lean against the wall near the corner shelf. They look like they’re some kind of studies in light refraction.

“Did you paint those?” I asked her a few weeks ago.

Not only did she paint the small canvases sitting against the wall, I also learned that many of the paintings that hang throughout her house are hers. “I always thought I was going to be a famous New York City artist. But what I’ve learned is that what I’m really supposed to be doing is this,” she said, gesturing to my body with her chin while her fingers dug into my flesh.

AE said those words to me on Wednesday, February 13, and I instantly understood that, despite having written fewer than two dozen posts in the past year, I needed to come home and start this story. There was an urgency and a surety about it that I can’t explain. Just the thought of it started making me feel better.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Change: 17

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

AE has this way of talking about bodies that makes me feel like I’m living with a superhero.  She talks about the body’s intelligence and how it naturally tries to reorganize itself.  She’ll say things like, “your body is trying to find its way,” and just hearing that sentence makes me want to cry.

She says the body has 2000 pounds of tensile strength. I don’t know if that’s 100 percent accurate, but the point is, it can withstand a lot of multidirectional force and torque without breaking down. It’s built to hold us. Together. No matter what.

When shifts take place deep within us, and our bodies compensate, slowly and quietly, over decades, it’s like the ultimate act of benevolence. Our pain is often the inadvertent result of our bodies doing everything they possibly can so that we can continue to function.

Like a dysfunctional marriage, we often don’t even see the contortions we must assume to keep ourselves stable.  Until, one day, when it all starts to break down.

When AE talks about the body, you can feel the Herculean efforts it makes. It’s a dedication that I too often take for granted.

So I lie on her table, feeling a warmth and appreciation toward my body that I don’t ever feel at any other time in my life. Certainly not when I’m hobbling around, feeling like my foot has betrayed me.

I stand in front of AE’s full length mirror in my pink Jockey underwear and dingy sports bra, focusing only on how fleshy I’ve become since my high school eating disorder days.  And even when, during a New York City dinner, I can feel a little click in my ankle and discover that I can rise from the table and walk, pain-free, for the first time in a month, I don’t spend a minute saying, “Holy shit, Body! You are doing amazing things to make us well again. Is there anything I can get for you? A bath? A hot oil treatment? Maybe just fluff up a few pillows to rest those tired dogs on?”

I don’t ever think those things. But when I’m on AE’s table, I’m reminded that I should be thinking them all the time. And if I could just remember that, it might be the most valuable benefit of all.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Change: 16

Helen Keller Day

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

Could today be the day?

My foot barely hurt at all yesterday and today it feels pretty good as well.

AE says that her heart surgeries created such a twist in her torso that it took years for her Carpal Tunnel to resolve. Her hand remained numb for a long time and then, after a long while, it became “slightly less numb,” and just stayed that way. Eventually, she resigned herself to having a numb hand for the rest of her life. Then, one day she was folding laundry and she noticed she could feel the clothing with her numb hand. She could feel it. 

She started running around the room touching everything, like Helen Keller when she learned to sign. Poof. The numbness disappeared and never returned. AE’s yo-yo had spun out.

My husband lost his most of his vision when he was in his twenties (a genetic condition that emerged suddenly and unexpectedly) and, as you can imagine, had a hard time dealing with the loss.  In addition to the many eye doctors, neurologists and spiritual healers he visited at the time, he started seeing a psychologist to help him sort out his complex emotions.

After a time, when it became clear that his condition was permanent, the therapist counseled him to begin the grieving process for the old, sighted him.  She said that a loss like that was like a death, and it was necessary to mourn the loss of the Old Him so he could move on and see what the New Him was like.  As sad as that sounds, it was enormously liberating for him and it’s an idea that I’ve used in my own life – for example, mourning the loss of the me that had dad, which is different than mourning the loss of my dad himself. 

When AE talks about resigning herself to a life of numbness, I think of it as her mourning the AE That Could Feel. It’s not about giving up.  It’s a way to move on.  And sometimes maybe we need to move on in order to get to what’s next.

I have not yet mourned the me who can take a daily 3-mile walk, or the me who can run around on a tennis court, or the me who can pedal through an hour-long spin class, or can take a tour of her son’s new college, or can rip it up at the N’Orlean’s Dance Party Fundraiser this Friday night.

I still wake up and wonder, is this my Helen Keller Day? And maybe that’s holding me back.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Change: 15

Un-Do The Twist

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

“In order to get your foot to move, I have to free up the twists throughout your body.” This, like everything else AE tells me, makes perfect sense, even though I don’t understand what on earth she means.

During every session, she makes a point of explaining or demonstrating how pain in one part of the body is directly related to some other part of the body being off-kilter. It reminds me of that song that goes, The leg bone’s connected to the hip bone and the hip bone’s connected to the waist bone.  I used to sing that song to my kids at night because I could go on and on with the connections until they finally fell asleep.

I’ve never been a skeptic about this phenomenon, always buying into the idea that body pain can originate from places unexpected. But even as a believer, I did not expect to experience such crazy shit.

AE would press a point in my abdomen and I would get a sudden and splitting headache.  She would be releasing fascia around my knee and my teeth would ache.  Last week, she was working on my right foot (the bad foot) and I had zinging, stinging pains in my left eye the entire time.

“Where do you feel that?” she asked.

“In my eye!” I said.

“Wow! That’s so great!”

AE becomes especially giddy when there’s a direct connection between the top and bottom of me. She says it’s because things have cleared out enough for me to really experience how the body is not just disparate parts all held together in a skin suit, but a highly organized, completely interdependent system.

“Once we start this process, the body is in a state of unwinding. You don’t have to do anything, it just happens,” says AE.  “Bodies can unwind for years.”

I imagine a yo-yo hanging from a tightly twirled string, spinning and spinning while the string straightens itself.

No one knows how long it will take for their twisted up body to unwind. Or how many obstacles it will encounter along the way. AE says that some people just need a few key areas released and the yo-yo spins out on its own. Other people, like me, take a little longer.

AE has mentioned that ignoring the good stuff and focusing on the bad stuff is probably not the best use of my energy. But moving my attention is as hard for me as moving my foot is for her. Actually, probably harder.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Change: 14

It’s The Arms, Stupid

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

Of course fixing my feet was not going to be as easy as AE made it sound. I thought she was just going to pop that talus bone right back onto the calcanus and all my troubles would be behind me. But that’s not how things work around here.  “First we have to deal with those arms of yours,” she said.

“What’s wrong with my arms?”

AE had me stand in front of the mirror and study a pair of arms that I’ve looked at every day for my entire life. They looked fine to me, but apparently they’re not. She pointed out how my shoulders roll back and the insides of my elbows point forward, how my hands hang toward by back rather than toward my front. She looked at me from every direction, like a property surveyor who’s making sure the edges of your lot line up precisely with the plans he’s been given.

“Your fourth hour line is a mess,” she said, invoking a rolfing term. In my ignorance, I’m unaware that this means she’s not only going to fix my pronating feet, she’s also going reposition my arms on my body. Of course, I’m completely unaware of what that might entail.

My arm “problem” confounded me for a while. After our sessions I would go home and study them in the mirror and there wasn’t a thing about them that seemed amiss. It occurred to me that maybe my twisted arms were responsible for my never being able to execute a push-up. Or why I would invariably injure myself within a few sessions of weight training, even if I was lifting the smallest possible amount of weight.

My arms hang much different now than they did back in those first sessions.  I actually came across a picture of myself, taken with my son before his junior prom, probably a month before I started to see AE.  My body looks completely deformed to me now in that picture – my shoulders drawn so far back it looks almost painful. That used to be my normal.

There’s this completely irrational thing that happens to me whenever I can’t execute some physical objective with my arms. I fall apart. I can’t exactly name the feeling but it sits somewhere between brokenness and shame. It rises up in my throat and my face gets hot. I can’t speak because, if I do, I’ll just sob. This has happened in exercise classes, yoga classes, dance classes, and tennis lessons. It’s even happened when I’m trying to move furniture. It doesn’t matter what the activity is, only that it requires some upper body strength and there’s someone present to witness my failing.

But when AE tells me my arms are twisted and it’s causing havoc in my body, I don’t feel either shame or broken. I feel like suddenly, for the first time, someone understands what’s wrong with me. And when she says she can fix that, too, I say, “Bring it.”


Monday, March 11, 2013

The Change: 13

 What's Wrong With Me?

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

This morning, I did 45 minutes of demanding vinyasa yoga. Last night I had to use a cane to get from the bedroom to the bathroom. That’s how changeable my foot is. 

Actually, it’s even more changeable than that. The other night I went out to dinner in the city, limping the three blocks from the parking garage to the restaurant and, two hours later, was able to walk back to the car pain-free.

Not that it really matters, but I’m going to explain what’s wrong with me now because I have a feeling that future posts will be easier to understand if I do.

My feet pronate, which means I walk very flat-footed, with my weight on the insides of my soles.  My right foot is so severely pronated that, when I first came to AE, I was practically walking on the inner SIDE of my foot.  AE uses lots of technical, bone terms to describe it but in laymen’s terms, my foot bone didn’t sit directly under my leg bone.  It’s like my whole foot had shifted out of position.

The first day I saw her, AE said my knee problems were related to this “collapsed” foot.  (I remembered what Jillian had said about my knee pain being foot related, so I kept an open mind.) I thought AE was going to tell me to get orthotics, as many chiropractors and podiatrists have suggested in my past. In fact, I have orthotics, but I haven’t worn them in years.

“You’re not going to be able to fix anything in your body until you get that foot fixed,” she said.

I was waiting. Surgery? Orthotics? She wasn’t offering up any suggestions and I was confused.

“What am I supposed to do?” I asked.

“Well, we have to get that talus bone back on the calcaneus,” she said. I nodded like I knew what she was talking about.

“Is that something you can do?” I asked, half expecting her to laugh at me.

“Oh, sure,” she said. I’m not sure why I was so surprised by this answer. Reconnecting my talus bone and my calcaneus certainly technically fell into her reported purview (“she can fix anything except broken bones and death,” they’d said). But it seemed too easy – especially for the way my life goes.  “Here’s what’s wrong with you and I can fix it.”  Few people have ever said that to me, and if they have, for the most part, they’ve been wrong.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Change: 12

Tangled Necklaces.

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

My favorite of AE's analogies is that of a tangle of necklaces.  You have to tease one out and gently work it away from the bunch.  Sometimes you can only loosen it, and then you have to move to a whole different necklace for a while. If you’ve ever done this – untangle necklaces – you know that it’s a slow, deliberate, often frustrating process, especially early on, when you can’t tell where one necklace ends and another begins. Then, after a while, the necklace ball loosens up and they come apart more easily. At the end, you have only a few left to untangle and it’s a breeze. 
That’s a little what it’s like being with AE.  You’re the necklaces; she’s the untangler. She gets as far as she can and then we have to stop until the next session.

I’m sometimes left agitated or emotional for a bit while my body figures out how to incorporate the new changes she’s created within it. Often, I spend the days after my session eating chocolate in an attempt to console myself, although it really doesn’t work.

AE says that for some people, the ball of necklaces is not very complicated. You tug on a few strands and the whole thing comes apart with ease. Not surprisingly, that’s not how things work with me. I’m a ball of necklaces for which you have to turn on some soothing music and make a nice cup of tea.  You’re going to be there a while.

I don’t think it needs to be spelled out (but I will, just in case) that I feel very, very sorry for myself that I’m such a complicated necklace ball.  It took me a long time to understand that this was the case and even longer to accept it.

AE has told me from the beginning, “Try and love the journey.”

That’s the type of thing I can imagine myself saying to someone else going through something like this and I wouldn’t blame them for wanting to punch me in the face for doing so.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Writer of a Certain Age

Huffington Post published an essay.  I'm so psyched.  It's here if you want to read it:
A Writer Of A Certain Age

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Change: 11

 Not Exactly The Summer Of Love

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

Several things started to happen last summer and, over time, I came to believe that they were all related.

For one, my foot started to hurt. A lot. It hurt too much to play tennis and some days it hurt too much to walk. By this point, I had had about four sessions with AE and had seen nothing but positive results, but the pain in my foot seemed related to the work she was doing on me and it scared me.

When I say, “it hurt too much to walk,” I mean two things. Some days I couldn’t put weight on it – as in, “Honey, can you pull the crutches out of the closet for me?” Other days, I could get around the house and function in my daily life, but I couldn’t take my Daily Walk, which is the 3-mile, head-clearing constitutional that I take every day that I don’t play tennis. My Daily Walk serves many functions: it’s my main means of socializing – I make walking dates, not lunch dates; it’s my main means of exercise – it helps me keep the pounds from creeping on; and it’s my Prozac (I don’t think that needs any explanation).

The other thing that happened is I started chanting more.  The Friday chanting group began to go to in the spring invited me to their Wednesday night meetings.  I also started making time to chant at home on my own – for 2 minutes or 5 minutes in the morning – and I began to hear the rhythm of the chanting it in my head throughout the day.  It seeped into me and calmed me down in a quiet, natural way. Something about chanting made me miss walking less.  It helped me endure not playing tennis.

Another thing that happened was I stopped writing.  I continued writing for work but I stopped blogging and stopped writing creatively (which, translated, means: I stopped writing about me). This didn’t feel like Writer’s Block. I just completely lost interest in it.

Like tennis and walking, writing grounds me. I know it may seem like I do it for an audience, but, really, I do it for me. I become different person when I write: more compassionate, less judgmental.  It makes living in the world an all around easier experience for me. Through writing, I come to understand things – about tennis, about mothering, about relationships – it’s literally how I process the events in my life.  Stepping away from it left a big hole – or, at least I expected it to.

In fact, I felt no hole from moving away from tennis or writing – two activities that seemed unthinkable for me to be without. I missed walking – a lot – but I tried to socialize with my friends over coffee or lunch instead.

By the end of the summer, I was able to more work because I spent no time playing tennis. I was able to learn how to chant better because I stopped rushing out of chanting sessions to meet someone for a walk. And, oddly (for me) I didn’t feel the least bit bad about myself for letting go of my writing.

These were all very big changes for me, but as changes go, not inherently bad.

But, after a while it caught up with me. Foot pain. No endorphins. Lonely days. Too-tight jeans. No creative output.

I became a little depressed.