Episode 2: Back-story Continued

Episode 2: Back-story Continued

People change jobs all the time. Why was the thought of leaving my job, which I knew was making me miserable, causing me to cry uncontrollably in my office every day?  I think it was because the thought threw me into a real identity crisis.  All of my energies had been devoted to this one thing — being a philosophy professor – for so long. It is who I had worked so hard to become, and who I had been for so long. It’s how I saw myself, even when seeing myself as just a professor was actually causing me quite a bit of pain.  It caused me pain because I knew I was so much more than a professor – I was an artist, a friend, a mother to my dog, a family member – so many things I felt I had no time for.  Identity was something that gave me comfort, and simultaneously caused me pain. It was who I was, but never captured who I really was, and even felt like something I had to strain to pretend to be . . . something I even had to hide my true self in order to succeed at.  It was definitely something that did not allow me to listen to the messages that my emotions and body were sending me. Those had to be silenced to be productive as a professor, and yet that silencing was exactly what got me to the point where I couldn’t be productive at anything anymore. Identity fed my ego, and yet it made me feel bad about myself, like I was living a lie . .  . like it was my greatest success, and greatest failure in my commitment to myself.  Identity, it turns out, is full of paradoxes; a blessing and curse, something we make willingly, then something we become enslaved to.  The most difficult thing has been, and still is, breaking my pact with the particular identity-lens through which I had seen myself for so long.  I want to tell a little story about how that cord was finally cut, and how I still struggle to not retie it, when so many temptations ask me to do so.

Today’s story is a story of gratitude.  Gratitude, especially, to two colleagues and one therapist, who had an instrumental role in getting me on a road I really needed to go down.  It is a road, also, that I’ve been able try out because my parents and friends supported me and said: “Yes, we are proud of you for going down that road that we know you must go alone. We are here cheering you on.”

When you are having sort of a nervous breakdown, or anxiety attack, or midlife crisis or whatever the hell it is, your brain races way ahead of you.  All the time.

Everything feels like the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” You know you need a change, and a big one. But big changes are super scary.  When I sat in my office crying and saying that I think I need to give up my career, and then feeling the overwhelming fear of what that might meant, my extremely level-headed colleague and friend said: “Maybe we can ask a smaller question than “should I end my career,” like “could I maybe take a leave?” “Why  don’t I look into that for you?” Thank the universe for sending me this level-headed friend.  Questions like “should I end my career?” feel like “should I jump off a bridge?” . . .  questions that should not be contemplated in this state of mind. They are too stressful and too crazy.  I needed to wait on that, and make a smaller move that’s more manageable.  Next question: What kind of a leave should it be? This is where I offer gratitude to my second colleague, who went to lunch with me and said: “I want you to make an appointment with your doctor . . . I recognize what you are feeling, I’ve felt it, and I’m going to call you at the end of the week to check in with you that you’ve made an appointment”.  Ok, thank the universe for this colleague too. She gave me a direct assignment. I could handle that. I did it. The doctor took it from there. I accepted the doctor’s diagnosis, and the suggestion for medication and counseling. I was starting to let go of control and accept help. Those were huge, huge, necessary steps in this process.  I made an appointment with a counselor who was recommended by a friend.

Day one with the counselor:

Counselor: “So tell me, what role does your emotional life play in your daily life and daily decision making?”

Me: “Uh, I basically suppress it in order to function professionally . . .  and that’s why I’m here.”

Counselor: Ok, so what would it be like to give your emotions a say in your decisions?

Me, crying: “I probably would not be able to do this job anymore. I’d probably leave this town and go home.  I’d probably find a way to do more art.”

Counselor: “So why don’t you?”

Me: “I want to.”

Ok. So, I go home and think why don’t I? What about all the work I put into this career? What about money, how would I make a living? Where would I live? How can I leave my colleagues hanging? How can I let everybody at work down? They are depending on me, and they’ve taken a chance hiring me. How can I let my parents down? They are proud of me. How can I let my teachers down? They are proud of me for getting a tenure track job. What do I do about my home? What if I can’t sell it? How would I get my dog to my home-town, that’s like 3,000 miles away and travel would be hard on him? What if he doesn’t like it there? What if I can’t find a new job?

And what if I stay?  I can’t stay. I can’t live like this anymore. Truth time.

A leave is requested and granted.  Three months of therapy and some pharmaceuticals to manage the emotional roller-coaster and to keep strong, and keep courage.  A 4,000 mile southern drive across country in the middle of winter. Home. Comfort. Fears. Excitement. Adjustment.

The Sinking Unknown: Part 3

I’ve been working part time for about a month. I’ve been curious to see how the dysautonomia/POTS would react to a schedule. I enjoy having purpose to my day, and a light scaffolding of meaning and achievement seems like a good thing for mental health, even if the job is much smaller than others I’ve held. An admin job is about what I can handle right now. It is simple.

But my energy has been extremely low these past weeks. I am following the doctor’s orders, walking 2-3 miles a day, drinking 2 liters of water, meditating, following my pristine diet, yet I feel like I need to sleep all the time once again. I walked to the store on the beautiful 80 degree day this week, and barely made it home, shuffling along like an old woman. What is happening to me? I am terrified. I am terrified. I am terrified. Will it get better? Will I remain in this limping state, only able to work a part-time hourly job with no benefits?

The credit card debt grows. The disability appeal process extends. Breathe, yes, breathe. When I am scared to this degree, all I can do is ask for help from greater beings beyond me. Beings that I cannot see, but nonetheless must trust are there. I wish I could see them and meet them now.

I am 44. I am a trained yoga teacher. I have an extremely healthy lifestyle, and yet, here I am, living with the mystery of this illness. Did I do something to “create” this illness, per The Secret? (I’m back in the “Failure of Will” explanation.) Is it epigenetics, coming from my parents’ emotional turmoil? (Ok, better. There is science emerging around the effects of stress on our DNA. But I’m pointing a finger. Not helpful). The unknown invites a million unanswerable questions.

Only Vanderbilt and Johns Hopkins seem to know much about dysautonomia. I don’t think funding or interest is high for this illness, which seems to be true for autoimmune syndromes in general.

I went to a POTS support group page on Facebook yesterday, as there is no physical group in Portland as far as I know. I was sad to read that a young and vibrant (or formerly vibrant) MIT student and athlete had committed suicide, apparently because of POTS. I was already feeling the fog of dread move in, and this sad news didn’t help. It is so important to have support and understanding in this world. For an INFP like me, the risk is in trying to process it all internally and alone, in the magical inner world.

But the inner world is also at times a confusing death trap. I must remember to go to the outside world too. The glittering trees! The delight of a good book. The little collage project. The cat I adore. The glorious world, just being itself. Oh all things like this, I need your help!

The Real Change

As a blessing from the gods we met the three people that would wisely guide me out of that turmoil and help me to find the way to my self-development journey.

Andrew and Kate from Exile taught me how to literally “stand” on my own feet. The ancient neurophysiologic practice they teach led me to a powerful awakening process. It is like a second learning to walk. Through this practice, I built physical and emotional integrity and mental clarity that I had never experienced before. Vanda, my life coach, helped me to free the family patterns that were holding me back. Thus began the process of relaxing and becoming into myself. These graceful souls helped heal me. They held my hand while I was digging into the darkest parts of myself; into the most painful things I needed to face in order to break free. They enlightened me to the path of discovery of my true affinity and to developing the courage to build a new life to live according to it. They taught me about the abundance and creativity of the female energy, how powerful women are, how powerful I am. I had to persist in opening the space and sticking to the process, the rest was like magic, it simply emerged. I’m grateful and honored to have met these amazing people. My dear friends, my soul mates.



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