Tag Archives: transformation

The Gift Within Your Health Crisis

flashlightWhen you are in crisis, the very idea that a gift lies within the experience can seem absurd or even offensive. What is the gift in receiving a life-threatening or debilitating diagnosis? How can there be a gift within being suicidally depressed or the experience of uncontrollable panic attacks? When you are the one in crisis, I have personally found that to be the most difficult time to see the gift. Of course, it is much easier to see the gift as an outsider. In fact, you will no doubt have at least a few people trying to comfort you with age-old clichés such as, “Well, you’re learning something, aren’t you?” or “Every cloud has a silver lining,” or “Don’t forget, everything happens for a reason.” In the midst of a healing crisis, not only can these tired clichés utterly fail to comfort us, often they enrage us because we feel completely unseen in the immensity of our pain by those whose profess to love us.

When it comes to facing a health crisis, whether mental or physical, it is very easy to dwell in fear, despair, and desperation. When you come to the point where your quality of life is seriously affected, or your life itself is threatened, you are in crisis. You will be challenged on all levels. There is no denying the difficulty of this challenge nor the painful feelings and experiences that often arise within it. But I have found that within the crisis also lies a gift, if you but choose to see it and focus your attention on it. This gift has many facets, and many of those facets will be unique to you. Here I wish to highlight some of those aspects of the gift that seem to be common for many of us.

Ironically, one aspect of the gift that lies within the crisis is the opportunity it gives you to notice its existence. No one can turn your eyes toward the gift but you, and that is part of the gift itself. When you make the choice to open to the possibility of there being a gift within the crisis, you are shown and experience unequivocally your own courage and your own power. You realize that it is within your power, and yours alone, to see and embrace the gift which lies there for you. You also experience, without a doubt, the enormous eye abstractcourage it takes to wrench your attention away from the despair and pain in order to look toward the gift, even if for only a moment. Within this profound realization, your power is given back to you (or rather, you see that it was yours all along). You realize you can choose where you focus your energy and attention, and ultimately, this means you have the power to directly affect your experience as you move through and meet your health crisis.

But there is even more to this gift, as if that were not enough. Another aspect of this gift is your own healing. When I say healing, I am not speaking of recovery from disease or injury as we normally conceive of it (although that is always a possibility as well). Rather, the profound healing I am speaking of could better be described as evolution. I just heard an interview with Jean Houston today in which she shared that the new paradigm of healing is not about fixing or curing, but rather about becoming. The gift within the crisis gives you the opportunity to allow your own unfolding into the next stage of your evolution — your becoming. More precisely, the opportunity is not actually in whether or not you will evolve (for that is inevitable), but rather to what degree and to what level you accept, allow, and embrace the flow of the evolutionary process itself. This includes the degree to which you are able to accept and love yourself — all aspects of yourself — as you move through the crisis and your own unfolding.

What will the experience of this healing and transformation be like for you? It will be unique to you. No one’s gift is the same, for we all unfold uniquely, even if we may all be heading in the same direction. It will depend upon where you are in your evolutionary process when you come upon your health crisis. It will depend upon countless other factors which make up the whole of who you are and the particular process you must go through. It will even depend upon your perception of the evolutionary process itself as you move through it. To what degree are you perceiving the process (your health crisis) as a gift and to what degree are you resisting it? This will be a factor in determining your experience of it. How much are you able to let go of the tendency to compare your own healing journey with another’s journey? This will also affect your healing experience. There are countless other factors as well.

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In the end, whether or not you experience this gift within the crisis as a gift or as a curse is a matter of perspective and choice. I believe we evolve through these experiences regardless of if we see the gift in them or not, although how easily, quickly, and consciously we experience that healing is largely up to us. None of what I’ve said here is meant to minimize or deny the challenge and pain in these situations. In fact, part of loving all aspects of ourselves through these times is in acknowledging the enormity of the pain we feel and then choosing to meet those parts of ourselves that hurt with unconditional love (rather than turn away with denial, avoidance, or condemnation). When we come upon these times, we have a choice in where we focus our energy and attention. Ultimately, we get to choose whether or not we see the gift because it exists as a possibility within our own hearts. The gift exists as an opportunity to experience, consciously and openly, our own evolution and healing.

In love & light,
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The Choice of Self Acceptance

graveyardI’m in Colorado now, having made the trip in early October to Boulder for what I thought was a short stay. Well, things didn’t go quite as planned, and I ended up in the ER in Boise, Idaho, on my way out here. Turns out I had a partially collapsed lung and ended up being grounded for a bit. My dad was kind enough to come and rescue me from Boise and drive me back to Boulder, where I have been ever since.

During the experience in Boise, I thought I might die. I began to reflect. This wasn’t always a pretty process, at times filled with morbid thoughts, confusion, and terror. But some meaningful questions surfaced during that time of deep inner reflection: Why do I want to live? Do I want to live? Who do I want to be if I live? What’s important to me? Eventually, my heart answered with this simple statement: I want to accept and love myself just the way I am. This was clearly the next step on my evolutionary journey.

This theme didn’t go away. It stuck with me, even now that I’m settling in Boulder and feeling (somewhat) more removed from impending death. And so I set the intention to accept myself on all levels. This falls under the category of, “Be careful what you wish for because you will get it.” What I quickly came to experience is that in order for me to accept myself in this way, all those parts of myself that I had been ashamed of and condemned, and then finally denied through elaborate efforts to prove that I am not that, started to rise to the surface. After all, I cannot accept something I am unconscious of due to denial, and so these things had to bubble up so I would have the opportunity to fulfill my intention to accept myself fully. Being surrounded by family and friends greatly accelerated this process, as you can imagine.Bubbles

After setting this intention, I have gone through several layers of what it means to accept myself, and I have no doubt there is more to come. But for now, what it has come down to is this: Full self acceptance is a simple (but not easy) choice. It is a choice stemming from a commitment to live in love. This choice is not based on logical arguments which explain why these aspects of myself exist, therefore somehow exempting me from shame or blame. It is not based on logical reasons which prove my beliefs are untrue and therefore prove I have no reason to be ashamed. It is not based on spiritual bypasses which tell me these aspects of myself are “ego-based” and are therefore not who I really am. No, this choice presented itself to me when there were no more excuses, no more logical arguments, and no more spiritual bypasses. The choice came when I could no longer talk myself out of feeling the full, terrible force of the shame, when all pretense was gone and I was facing head on those aspects of myself that I had been denying and hiding all these years. It was at that moment when I realized I had a choice: I could choose to accept and love Tearmyself for no reason other than I am committed to living in love, or I could choose to continue to hate myself. It really was that simple. And, choosing love in that moment was quite possibly the hardest choice I have ever made.

And so what I’ve learned so far about acceptance is threefold:  1) I had to set the intention (make the commitment) to accept myself fully. 2) The choice to fully accept myself (and by extension, others) only becomes available when I allow those aspects of myself which I have been condemning and denying to bubble up, to come into my conscious awareness. And, those aspects only arise when I am willing to feel fully the shame that goes along with all I have been denying. I found that this is what it actually means to look at myself honestly. It is not a mind game. It is all about being fully available to feel the pain. 3) Once the stage has been set and the choice arises, I now have the incredible opportunity to choose love — to accept myself exactly as I am — for no reason other than I am committed to living in love. This is a choice I must make over and over, day in and day out. It’s that simple. It’s not easy, but it’s simple.

The implications of this choice are vast. I know now that the level at which I am able to accept and love myself is exactly equivalent to the level at which I am able to accept and love bird flying2others. I also know that my true heart’s desire is simply to give and receive love more and more fully, When I can face head on what I am most ashamed of in myself and still choose love, I can face anything in anyone else and choose love with them as well. For when I am totally honest, I notice that I carry all those qualities that I have condemned in others within myself. This, I believe, is one of the most important keys to healing ourselves and our planet.

In gratitude & love,
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Depression/Bipolar Part 2 – What’s Working for Me

In Part 1 of this series (Depression/Bipolar Part 1 – Why Traditional Western Therapies Weren’t Enough for Me), I explained why the traditional western therapeutic approach to treating mood disorders (in my case, depression and/or bipolar II, depending on which psychiatrist you ask) wasn’t enough for me. With the traditional approach, I was merely surviving, but not thriving. In this post, I’d like to share what is working for me. But before I go into that, I’d like to make clear that I don’t mean to imply that I am now happy at all times with never a moment of depression. Yes, it’s true I can now say that I finally understand what it means to truly live and that I have experienced and continue to experience true joy, creativity, passion, gratitude, and love to depths I had never dreamed of before. Yet, I still have times when I will sink into the depths of depression. Even now, my mind sometimes falls into those old habitual thought patterns that have been engrained over the course of 35+ years. These times are much less common and don’t last nearly as long, but they still happen. So maybe it would be more accurate to say that the approach I’m about to describe is simply a process that I suspect won’t end at some final destination where I am eternally blissful in every moment of every day. Perhaps that state of being is possible, but I’m not holding my breath. My sister, who is the CEO of a small business, recently shared an insight which illustrates this idea. She has been noticing that many young people fresh out of college have the expectation that they should be able to find a job in which they will be happy all the time. She pointed out that this is simply an unrealistic expectation, and that no matter how much you love your job, not every day will be perfect. There will be days when you wonder why you didn’t just stay in bed. (My sister is wise.  That’s why I call her Yoda.) The same is true for me with my mood. I’m a work in progress. Still, the approach I’m using now has been so life-changing and so much more effective than the traditional approach that I feel it’s worth sharing in hopes that it might resonate with some of you struggling with similar issues.

Everything started to change for me during my training in the therapy I now practice called Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy (BCST). This training wasn’t your typical class. It was organized into ten, five-day modules spread out over almost two years, which means there were about two months between each module to give us time to integrate what we experienced/learned into our everyday lives. I quickly learned that in order to be an effective practitioner of this therapy, I needed to live the teachings myself. To be honest, this was the only way I could prove to myself that this therapy really works. I wasn’t going to practice a therapy based on someone else’s stories or just accept without question the underlying theories. I needed first-hand experience. And so I decided to dive in head first, allow myself to embrace the experience, and see where it led me. It was over the course of those two years — with support through my group training and from individual BCST therapists — that I began to transform. I discovered that the therapy I was learning to give to others was the key to addressing my own issues, most prominently the debilitating depression I had been living with since I was a young child. Below is an explanation of the three main components that have been vital for me in this process.

  • Listening to my body with curiosity and appreciation. One of the most important steps I took was to simply feel and listen to my body with curiosity and appreciation. This is easier said than done, believe me. To do this, I first had to let go of all the analysis about why I was depressed. My teachers called this “letting go of the story.” After many years of therapy, self-help books, and personal growth seminars, I could easily name all of my underlying belief systems which I was sure were contributing to my depression. I could list my childhood traumas or talk about my parents until I was blue in the face. Unfortunately, that approach was largely ineffective for me. I also had to let go of the idea that there was something wrong with me that I had to battle and eliminate. The key for me was a change in perspective from one of judgment and pathologizing to one of appreciation. I began to recognize the incredible intelligence behind how I managed my experiences. I realized that I had made it this far for good reason, and that whatever I had been doing worked. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be around to debate it. So with this perspective, I started to listen to my body in a way I never had before. I let go of the story and started listening and looking for the intelligence in my system. A whole new world opened up. I was (and continue to be) amazed at the incredible intelligence at work behind my so-called detrimental “patterns” and “belief systems.” Bit by bit, simply by listening to my body, I experienced more and more ah-ha moments where I realized certain patterns I had always hated in myself are actually very intelligent responses to my particular life circumstances. These reflexive patterns are how I managed and currently manage my experiences to survive and to fulfill specific vital needs — and they work. This change of perspective was a huge key for me because my bind of self-hate was finally released. Once I stopped fighting and hating myself, other possibilities I could not previously see began to open up.
  • Connecting to the underlying healing forces & who I really am. One of the focuses of BCST is supporting the underlying intelligence/healing forces/healing ability of the body. As a practitioner, I can actually feel these forces at work in a client’s body. But in order to feel these forces in someone else, I needed to feel them in myself first. And as I started listening to my own body with curiosity and appreciation, I started to palpably feel these forces at work within myself. This connection to the underlying intelligence of my system led me to felt-sense connection to who I really am at a core level — the one underneath the depression — the one who could heal my own heart and mind.  I suppose some people might call this core level the “soul” or “spirit.”  Whatever you call it, this connection to the center of who I am somehow led me to the insight that I am the one with my own answers. In fact, I am the only one with my own answers. I have found that, for me, working with my depression is not about fighting it; rather, the work is about staying connected to my core or center. For me, this is a tangible experience with incredible results. The more I focus on staying connected with that core part myself rather than on fighting my depression, the more my state of being is one of joy, love, gratitude, beauty, creativity, and inspiration.
  • Surrounding myself with proper support. The most critical part of this process for me has been having the right kind of support. Basically, I need people around me who can recognize and reflect back to me who I really am at the core level. In addition, these people all share the following qualities:
  • They recognize that I am unique. They know that what will work for me will be unique to me. There are no cookie-cutter solutions.
  • They realize that I have my own answers. They are not there to give me answers or advice. Instead, they support me in finding my own unique path to healing.
  • They have a perspective of appreciation rather than pathologizing. They are not interested in fixing me or making me better.
  • They trust and recognize the underlying intelligence at work in my system and know that they do not “know better” than that intelligence.
  • They trust my process and are neutral as to the outcome or results.
  • They can see who I really am at the core level.

Of course, many of these people were classmates in the BCST training, my teachers, or therapists who had done the training. I have also found a few amazing friends who share these qualities. Having these people in my life is vitally important because they can see through all of my crap to who I really am, even when I cannot. Oftentimes, it is that reflection of my core self that helps bring me out of my states of despair and back to a connection with my center. These people are rare, but they’re out there.

My hope is that some of you reading this post might resonate with some of what I’ve shared of my experiences. If so, I’d encourage you to first find people to support you who have the qualities I listed above. It’s easy to find all sorts of people who think they have your answers and want to fix you. You might even feel like you need to be fixed! But for me, it was important to find those people who recognized that I have my own answers and know that the keys to my own healing are inside of me. That is true empowerment. That is how I learned to take real responsibility for my own health.

Aloha,
Penny

Depression/Bipolar Part 1 – Why Traditional Western Therapies Weren’t Enough for Me

You might think from the title that this post will be yet another rant from one of those woo-woo types who wants to rid the world of the evils of western medicine, particularly in regard to mood disorders such as depression or bipolar. It’s true, my husband recently declared that I am officially now “one of those woo-woo people.” Ah, well. Even if I have crossed over into woo-woo land, I still like to think I can… well, think. And the truth is that I have seen medications and good counseling save far too many lives to discount these treatments so easily. I have one friend in particular who says that when she found the right medication to treat her mood disorder, she finally felt like she could be more of who she really is and at long last knew what it felt like to truly live. Still, in my particular experience with depression (or bipolar II, as it was diagnosed by one psychiatrist), I found that medications and psychological talk therapy were not enough. What does “not enough” mean? Well, these treatments did help me to survive because they gave me enough of a boost to refrain from committing suicide (a real plus!). But the truth is, I still felt directionless, hopeless, and without passion or vitality. I could not see the beauty around me. I did not feel gratitude for my life nor see a greater purpose. I did not feel true joy, love, or inner peace. I was surviving, but not thriving. And so I knew I had to find another approach (in addition to all I was already doing) if I ever wanted my life to be about more than always struggling to keep my head just above the water so as not to drown.

Some of you might also be wondering why medications and talk therapy haven’t been enough for you. Perhaps you might still have a glimmer of hope that there must be some way for you, too, to begin to thrive, not just survive. In this post (Part 1 of 2), I’d like to share some of the reasons the typical western approach to treating mood disorders (diagnose, medicate, and support with psychological therapy) wasn’t the cure-all I’d hoped it would be for me. In my next post (Depression/Bipolar Part 2 – What’s Working for Me), I’ll talk about what did work for me and why.

1.  Fight, Fight, Fight!!  Wait, who am I fighting again? For me, a big component of my depression was self hate. I suppose there are some people who are depressed and also love themselves unconditionally, but I would venture to say that would be a rare person. Usually, there is some component of self loathing, even if it is simply because we hate ourselves for not being able to just be happy already. The way I was taught in therapy and support groups was to look at my depression as a disease, as something somehow separate from me which I had to battle and eliminate. After all, if mood disorders are diseases like cancer, then we have to fight them! That’s what we do to survive — fight and destroy! But for me, seeing my depression as something to battle ended up backfiring. One reason it backfired was because of that pesky self-hate component to my depression. It turns out that “my depression” and “me” weren’t actually all that easy to separate. In the end, all I succeeded in doing was beating myself into a bloody pulp (emotionally speaking). You see, it turned out the battle I was fighting was with myself, not with some entity called “depression” lurking within me. The truth is there was no such entity. There was only me, a person experiencing depression. All I was doing was heaping another dose of self hate on top of the large, steaming pile I’d already created. This was one case where I had to stop fighting to win the battle.

2.  I’m complicated, thank you very much. Seeing depression and other mood disorders as diseases also has another effect: categorization. The doctor needs to label your disease (give you a diagnosis) in order to prescribe the correct medications and provide the right kind of counseling to treat the disease. I must say, I despised this process. I did not want to be labeled. Some part of me screamed inside that I am a unique individual, that what has gotten me to this point in my life is complicated and not so easily analyzable and medicated away. I found the idea of being put into some sort of box called “depression” or “bipolar II” (as if that explains everything and can now be managed appropriately) to be wholly inadequate. I am not a puzzle to be solved. Where was the recognition of me, a real, live, unique person? This kind of recognition was missing in this whole process, and it turned out it was critical for my recovery.

3.  Medicate my troubles away. Not so much. I want to emphasize again that medications are absolutely critical for some people. Sometimes it comes down to life or death, literally. My intent here is to share my experience, not convince anyone to take or not take medication. With that said, I have found that for me medications just aren’t the answer. Part of the issue, I admit, is that I have a real problem with the fact that we just don’t know much about what these things are doing to us. As I said, we’re complicated. These drugs do much more to us than help treat our mood disorders (as is evidenced by the numerous so-called side effects, which are actually just effects of these medications). But even more importantly, when I finally found the supposedly “right” drug combination according to my psychiatrist (after many horrendous wrong combinations), the effect was a numbing of my feelings. I could not feel the lows anymore, but I also could not feel the joys. To me, this wasn’t living. I admit I could have tried more combinations. But there came a point for me when I said to myself, “This isn’t worth it. I need to do this another way.” I knew deep inside this wasn’t the right path for me.

4.  Analyze, Analyze, Analyze!!  Wait, I’m dizzy. Through approaches such as talk therapy, self-help & spiritual books, and personal growth seminars, I began to make all sorts of amazing discoveries about my underlying (and previously unconscious) belief systems. I discovered what they were, where they came from, and why and how they contributed to my depression and every other aspect of my life. This was transformative and really the beginning of finding my way back to the land of the living. After all, awareness brings with it the opportunity for change. But then I fell into what I lovingly refer to as the “self-help trap.” Here’s how it goes: 1) I see a belief system in myself like “I’m not worthy” affecting my behavior and running my life.  2) I understand where it came from and that it “no longer serves me,” as all the self-help gurus so helpfully point out.  3) I nonetheless still behave/feel the same way, regardless of this awareness. I don’t know why. It’s ridiculous!  4) I become disgusted with myself for behaving/feeling the same way yet again.  5) I beat myself into a bloody emotional pulp for doing the same damn thing over and over again.  6) I feel depressed because I’ve just beat myself up AND I’m a self-help failure. And down the rabbit hole I go. This obviously doesn’t work for me. I had to stop analyzing myself into a hole.

So where did all of this leave me? Alive, but barely. I certainly wouldn’t describe my state of being as truly living. But hope springs eternal (at least on my good days)! I thought there surely must be another approach that would work for me. I couldn’t possibly be the only one thrashing about aimlessly in the self-help rabbit hole. In my next post (Depression/Bipolar Part 2 – What’s Working for Me), I’ll delve into what actually did work for me. Who knows? Maybe it will support you on your journey as well. Stay tuned.

Aloha,
Penny