I almost left this morning. I thought I would be happy here. No, I wanted to believe deep in my heart that five nights alone would cure me, would take away all the unhappiness of the last year, erase the old me and renew and cleanse me into a new, happier, stronger, more can do me. But no epiphany came to me. No new me emerged. On the last day of my “Momma needs a break" vacation I was left tired, frustrated, wanting.
For the past year and nine months, I was part-time entrepreneur, full-time care giver to my very ill son, no time wife to my dear husband, and more than full time bodily host to my “fuzzy wart,” aka my darling but needy one-year old Pomeranian who attached to my body as if she might die. Each day that my son gained his strength and the gripping symptoms that kept him bed bound eased, I knew that I would take my leave and rest and recharge. I had given all of me to find out what was making my twelve-year old vibrant son writhe with constant nausea, headaches, dizziness, asthma, allergies, temperature irregularities, fatigue… Not one doctor at UCLA (rated the #1 hospital that year) would give our son any more than, “I don’t know. Maybe you should see a different specialist.” No one cared in that entire behemoth of research and “compassionate care.” Not even after I wrote to the President, Board of Supervisors, etc. and was promised a look into my son’s case. Not a single person replied.
I spent hours researching on the internet until I found a study on the National Institute of Health’s website by a doctor in Wisconsin that had done research and found a promising treatment for children with chronic nausea. I found her email in the notes and sent her a short note stating my son’s symptoms and asking for any resources that might help us find a diagnosis and cure. To my utter surprise, she responded minutes later. She was, in fact, starting a new trial and offered to hold a spot for my son. His symptoms were in line with the ailments she had spent her career studying: Dysautonomia. There it was. A word I could cling to and roll around in my head and tongue. And there was hope, but it was thousands of miles away in Wisconsin. I was in California. My son was so sick that I wasn’t sure he could even make the journey by air or car. I replied thanking her for answering and offering such a great opportunity but did she know anyone closer to home doing similar research. Yes, just forty miles away at Children’s Hospital Orange County was a colleague who also did this research and treated kids like mine. Like mine. I felt another thread of relief. There were others that suffered like he did and possibly, hopefully a cure.
I immediately called and made an appointment for two weeks later. I couldn’t believe it was that easy. It would have taken at least a month or two to see a specialist at UCLA. Those ten days seemed to drag as his symptoms got worse. I thought about taking him to the ER, again. But knew that they would look at him, run some blood work and send us home. He wasn’t about to die, yet. He wasn’t that sick. How can a doctor say he wasn’t sick enough when a young boy once full of so much energy that he ran everywhere instead of walked could barely walk without my assistance and could only get out of bed to eat and pee.
The morning we would meet the twenty-first doctor, we were nervous and jaded. We hoped for an answer but braced for passive rejection. What we got was relief and confirmation that a virus had disrupted his autonomic system so badly that he had Dysautonomia. It would take months to recover as his body realigned itself, healed itself cell by cell. This virus, while not the cause of this condition, set his body in motion to collapse the beautiful system of nerves and signals that made his body function without thought – you know, all those things that keep you alive, like the beating of your heart, breathing, temperature regulation, digestion. The research this doctor had been doing was on different modalities of healing and a new device that looked like a hearing aid sending pressure at specific points in the ear (not yet covered by insurance while still in trial phase).
We left hopeful with a recommendation for acupuncture, biofeedback, hypnotherapy, anti-histamines, anti-anxiety medication and the new device. We could try them out and see what he responded to. Because of his out of control allergic asthma, he was already taking anti-histamines and the month before we had started him on Lexapro to help with his mounting anxiety and depression. Two possible cures down but what to pick next. We chose acupuncture. And continued the homeopathic supplements we had started the week before we saw him. The recommended acupuncturist was in Orange County and it took us five hours to get there have the treatment and get home. The second we got back in the car after a luxurious hour – a two for one (they did a free treatment for moms) he was car sick and the nausea was back at level nine out of ten. After two weeks, we stopped. I asked around for biofeedback and hypnotherapists but most didn’t work with kids. I felt like a failure, again. What now?
I kept up the weekly appointments with the naturopathic doctor. He started feeling better and gaining energy. His asthma was getting under control thanks to new meds from the pulmonologist. But I was exhausted after going to one or more doctors every week for more than a year. I finally stopped it all. We would take spring break off. No doctors, only the essential medications and supplements. I was done worrying. I was done stressing. I could not give it any more attention.
And to my utters surprise, which really shouldn’t have been since I’m a believer of the Law of Attraction (you get what you think), he got better and quickly. In a month he was able to move around, the symptoms were less severe and less frequent. In two months, he was able to sit up and do thirty minutes of schoolwork when his teacher came to the house. In three months, he was caught up with all his schoolwork and wanted to play with his friends. He passed seventh grade and played Nerf guns with the boys on the block until he had an asthma attack. But the smile on his face lit my pilot light. My spark had gone out but seeing him alive and running and happy made me want to add some happiness back in my life.
I thanked God for this gift and asked the Universe to allow me to find myself again and re-start my consulting business. And the Universe answered immediately. Within a few days, I had firms calling to hire me or work on multi-million dollar bids. I said yes to every one of them. I was re-emerging.
We spent the summer slowly re-building the life before the illness. I was still ever cautious. While beloved friends invited him to do all sorts of active adventures, I was resolved not to let him over do it. I could see the look of “get over it. He’s fine now.” But I couldn’t have handled another long-term setback at that point. And neither could my son or husband. The worry and fear kept me and him from moving forward.
My therapist said I should take a week off and go recharge. Every few years I had taken quick trips by myself to the Ojai Retreat nestled at the top of a hill with beautiful gardens and separate cottages. I loved those magical trips alone indulging in the quiet and doing what I wanted when I wanted to do it. When those words crossed her lips and into my ears that I needed and deserved a break, I should have felt an affirmation. But I felt guilt and worry. How would the tiny world that I had created over the past two years survive without me? What if Gavin got sick again? What if our dog wouldn’t stop barking and the neighbors complained? What if I wasn’t around the minute a client needed an answer?
But what if I allowed myself this gift? What if I gave myself the space to heal from the heaviness and constant alertness of any sign of a cough that might turn into a trip to the hospital and a week on steroids to get the asthma under control? What if I turned that love, compassion and care giving to myself for one week?
Several months passed before I gained the confidence to decide when and where I would go: Sea Ranch, a picturesque community dotting the Northern California jagged coast and rugged redwood forest. And my partner, my lovely husband stepped right up and took care of all the arrangements so our son and dog and cat and all the million little things that needed handling were done without my asking, nudging, reminding. That was the start of my healing.
With great expectation I loaded my Subaru Outback for its first road trip and headed north zig-zagging the shore. I tried not to have any expectations except rest, reading and meditating. And as I pulled into the gravel drive and unlocked the unstained wooden door to the one-bedroom cottage clad in gray redwood singles that would be home for the next five days, I was hit with a blast of heat from the wall of windows and skylights. It was a very hot day for this area, reaching 88 degrees which had been fine driving with the windows down and sunroof open. But the home had been locked-up tight and no AC. I immediately was frustrated and questioning my decision. I opened every window and door cursing under my breath and totally missing the point: an unobstructed view of the Pacific ocean with waves crashing over rocks, birds chirping from the magnificent pine tree whose limbs hung down to the ground like a yoga pose, looking more like an oak than a pine tree, and the absolute stillness that I had come seeking.
I chose to drop the barrage of negative thoughts behind and took a seat in a weathered Adirondack chair on the back deck perfectly situated for taking in the sweeping view. Relaxing into the wood planks and reclining back gently resting my arms on the wide chair arms, I noticed a gentle breeze cool and unwavering. Inside could be hot or cold. It no longer mattered because my butt was now firmly one with this space and wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. But nature called (at least, my nature called) and I had to go back inside to the inferno. Only this time it had been changed by the cool ocean breeze and felt comfortable and serene. This would do, indeed. Good decision. Now the rest can unfold like a butterfly escaping its cocoon. Yet, the excitement and tension of driving nine hours, got my gears going and my shoulders rose and got stuck just under my ears. Darn it. Not again.
I couldn’t let it go. Not any of it. Not for three days. Not until I finally allowed myself to meditate with no time limit and no expectation. I sat on that now familiar resting spot and let the stillness outside enter my chaotic and judgmental inside and after a while I started to equilibrate - matching the inner with the outer. When I woke from the stillness, nearly two hours had passed. I felt my shoulders relax and my neck soften. I smiled and the world came into focus and with it three deer maybe fifteen yards away snacking on the dead grassy meadow. They sensed my awakeness and looked at me with ears pointing like sideview mirrors determining if I was friend or foe. A friend they decided and continued munching then lying down in front of me taking in the view while chewing their feast.
I made my yummy kale salad, a favorite that everyone asks the recipe for, and ate at the table watching the deer watch the ocean. I was content and glad that I had come. Maybe now the healing could begin. But after putting the dishes away those nagging thoughts came back. You should be doing something: hiking, reading, writing, going into town, meditating, something. You should feel better than this. You should be rested and feel energized by now. But I didn’t feel anything except I had failed at this, at healing me. I’d made another bad decision.
My bully had not stayed home in Santa Monica. She followed me here. I had invited her in as a child and given her the keys to the gate of my education: to teach me who I was and who I would become- the me, myself and I curriculum. I had encouraged her to tell it like it is and given her a bright shiny whiteboard and boxes upon boxes of colored smelly markers to list all the things I should be and especially all the bad things I am: lazy, fat, stupid, uncoordinated, ungrateful, unworthy. She relished at being the best professor on campus. For she could instantaneously list everything wrong with me since the day I was born, and I was her only student and always captive audience - keeping the door to the classroom locked, bolted, and some days welded shut. But me, the real me not my ego, had been naughty, sneaking out and searching for enlightenment and finding glimpses of it. More and more days the door would open ever so slightly, and I would dash out but would come back out of habit, out of comfort, out of fear. The Professor would keep her student in line at all costs, especially on this trip.
On the fourth night, the professor and I duked it out all night. “Why can’t you just realize that you’ll never be more than you are now, except more pounds if keep eating those cookies and pizza. You’re just not strong enough to have it all. You’re never going to win. I’m smarter and quicker than you. Give this all up. Go home.”
And by seven AM, I jumped from the bed in a flurry and started throwing things in bags and throwing in the towel. This was a bad idea. I shouldn’t have come here. I missed my family, even my fuzzy wart. Nothing here could help me become a new and better version of me. This was a complete waste of time and money. What was I thinking? If I leave now, I can be home by 2 and have the rest of the day to unwind and get back to normal.
Coffee. I need coffee first. It’s two hours until civilization and a real coffee shop. And there is that Iyengar yoga class at ten that I was thinking of trying. The wind is calmer today, and the ocean is so beautiful. I can just have a cup of coffee on the patio in my new favorite thinking spot and then go. Definitely after that I’m out of here.
With my favorite greenish, blue ceramic mug of hot Peet’s coffee and a dash or two or three of chocolate almond milk and my favorite blue sheepskin blanket, I sat and sipped and watched and listened. In the total silence (not even the crashing of waves this morning) a bird in the tree next to me trilled breaking the silence, again and again until his call and was answered. What were they talking about? What did they need on a beautiful day like today? They both quieted and so had I. Being in the moment with no other thoughts of leaving or traffic, I had opened a space within myself. I saw the bully charge into the classroom marker in her hand and march up to the blackboard ready to write every nasty negative word about what I…And that’s when I saw her for what she was: a bully. And as I said those words in my mind and labeled her, she stopped and looked at me and dropped the marker.
Pushing her out of the door down the corridor through the gates and shutting them behind her, I had freed myself of all the hate and unkindness. She vowed to sneak in. She was smarter than me and would find a way, she screamed. I turned and starting walking away saying I will be watching, and you will never walk into my classroom again. You will never have the lectern from which to define me, to box me in and keep me closed off from the light of the world. I am my master and my education is beyond what you could ever provide. You need not ever apply again. And I smiled. My epiphany had come.
Gentleness and kindness is what I need to give myself I say as I take my last sip of now cold coffee. It’s almost ten. I dress and drive fast. The yoga class is about to begin when I enter the small studio in the only row of shops one town away. I quickly grab my props and take my place as the instructor, begins her opening remarks, “We are here today to find the gentleness and softness within and nurture it. Let’s begin.”
Good decision. So glad I stayed.