Zombies and Personal Growth

I have spent the last several months in a state of low-level anxiety that occasionally spikes at inopportune moments. (Like there’s ever an opportune moment for anxiety.) For a while now, I assumed that the origin of the anxiety was my 6-day stay in the hospital last year – but the more I explore it, the more I realize that it’s a build-up of several life events and circumstances, and there isn’t any one thing that is the culprit. It’s not just my health, or my living situation, or my job — it’s all of these things and more. There’s not one catch-all solution because there’s not one catch-all problem. However, I do feel like I have a better handle on what’s going on, and I am taking steps in the right direction.

What I’ve discovered, both on my own and with a bit of guidance from others, is that the instinctive, animal part of my nature isn’t getting everything it needs – namely around shelter, pleasure, activity, and connection. I don’t feel particularly safe or comfortable in my home. The only way my job feeds me is financially, and even that is somewhat lacking. I am not able to be as physically active as I would like to be somewhat due to pain – but also due to the fear of throwing another blood clot or worse. And the list goes on. I have said before (and it is still true), that my anxiety is not debilitating – but the things that contribute to it are really piling up and making everyday life a challenge. So it’s high time I do something about it.

One thing I am trying to do is take a breath and recognize my wealth when I find myself in the deathgrip of a scarcity mindset. And as luck would have it, this past weekend, I had one of those all-too-rare opportunities to look around and realize how amazingly blessed with friendship I am. And, like many important life revelations, I have a zombie to thank for it.

A handful of my friends actually committed to being locked in a room with a zombie chained to a wall. We had to solve a series of puzzles in order to find the combination to the lock that would reveal the key that would allow us to escape the room. However, a buzzer would go off every 5 minutes, and the zombie’s chain would get a foot longer. If she touched you – you were “eaten” and could no longer physically participate in the solving. It was adrenaline-pumping, stressful, ridiculous, and SO MUCH FUN. I don’t think I have laughed that hard or squealed that much in years. (Here’s a link to their site. Go do this. You will not regret it.)

Here’s the thing … I’m a nerd. Many of my friends are not. Or at least not in the way that I am. But the one thing that draws me into a relationship is passion. If someone is passionate about what they love and finds a way to bring that passion into the world in some creative and life-affirming way, then I am undeniably drawn to them — and I definitely have some pretty magnetic friends. This event was not the sort of thing that at least ¾ of them would ever consider doing had I not asked them to join me. But they committed, they came (a couple from different states!), and they showed up, despite the fact that this wasn’t their thing. I couldn’t have asked for a better present if I tried. In fact — after the event, I found myself looking around the dinner table at the amazing people who had gathered to help me celebrate my birthday. And maybe it was coming down off of my adrenaline high, or maybe it was low blood sugar because the food was taking so long to get there — but I actually teared up a little and thought to myself:

This is my family. These are the people that show up.

The space for the zombie adventure was limited. I couldn’t invite everyone I wanted to invite, and I felt genuinely bad about that. It’s hard thing for me to be exclusive, even if inclusion is prohibitively impractical. So the people sitting around the table last Saturday are not the only people I consider beloved family. Not even close. There were many dear friends not present, and they are certainly friends that show up with just as much passion. It just goes to show that my abundance in this area is large, and my connections run deep.

I am making several changes over the next few months that I hope will bring my life back into balance. This past weekend served to get a jumpstart on those changes by motivating me towards pleasure, joy, creativity, and a whole lot of laughter – not to mention the recognition that I really do have an incredible support system. I’m not saying that zombies are the cure for all of my ailments, but it was a darn good way to start.

Devil Year

I picked up my first deck of Tarot cards when I was a teenager. I wasn’t even Pagan yet. I distinctly remember asking my mother if I could have a deck, and her replying, “You can, as long as you don’t believe in them.”

Well, I’ve always been kind of a rebel. Sorry, Mom.

Truth be told, I don’t believe in the cards, really. I’m not a predictive reader. I don’t think the cards give me any insight into the future, because I don’t believe that the future is set in stone – or that time is even linear. And the cards are just uniformly cut pieces of cardboard with pretty pictures on them. But what I do believe is that we already have access to all the answers we need – it’s just that sometimes we need translators to help us figure out that information. That’s what the cards are for me — visual translators.

What’s cool about this particular set of translators is that they contain a few very specific coded systems, and at least one of those systems works incredibly well for me — the numbers. There are 78 cards in the deck broken out into 22 major arcana (or trump cards) and 56 minor arcana (the regular suits). Every one of them is associated with a number, and the relationships between those numbers in a reading can often give me more information than the pictures themselves.

Another aspect of Tarot-based numerology that I find pretty cool is the idea of Life Cards and Year Cards. Just like you might be a Cancer or a Sagittarius, you also get (at least one) major arcana archetype that walks with you throughout your lifetime. You can figure it out by adding up your birthdate (month, day, year you were born.)

You can do the same process with your most recent birthday and see what archetype is influencing your year — also known as your Year Card. And herein lies the point of this post. Today is my birthday — a capital “B” Birthday in a couple of different ways: First, I turned 40. Second, I am starting my first ever “15″ year — which in the Tarot is The Devil.

Here’s the Crowley-Harris Thoth Deck version, which I prefer:

Image

I have never had a Devil year. I have never known anyone who has. (Or if they have, they haven’t told me about it.) Mathematically, it hasn’t been possible for people in my generation to have a Devil Year – so this is my first one. When I do readings for clients, I can generally give a “here’s what my year was like” synopsis for most of the archetypes. But the Devil? No clue. I know what I think this year might be about – but I really have very little idea what to expect. So I thought it would make a decent blog post series. I’ll take a look at the events, thoughts, feelings, etc., of my year and record them here to see how this year shapes up for me. (Plus, how cool is the tag “Devil Year?”, amirite?)

So here’s what I think the year will be about … and we’ll see if I’m right when I turn 41:

I think this will be a year about contracts — exploring contracts I’ve made that no longer serve me, and entering into new ones with fresh and discerning eyes. I think this will be a year about secrets — uncovering some of the ones that I have hidden from myself and revealing ones that keep me from being more free and open in the world. I think this will be a year about desire — sexual, creative, life-affirming desire — and likely identifying those desires I already embrace and those I sabotage and keep tamped down. I already know that this year is going to hold a great deal of change for me — and I think that this year will be about how I embrace that change. Do I do it with joy or resistance? Passion or begrudging acceptance?

This could be a big year. And I am curious to see what it was really about when I sit down to write 365 days from now.

 

 

“God wants you to have babies.”

In my last post, I talked about coming to terms with a procedure that would effectively render me infertile. I had made my peace with the loss of a choice to have children, and was actually looking forward to having minor surgery that would improve my quality of life. I made the appointment to have the pre-op conversation with my doctor and get the ball rolling, hoping to have this taken care of before Thanksgiving.

About four hours before my scheduled appointment, I received a call from my doctor’s office saying that my insurance wasn’t going to cover the procedure. That was frustrating enough. Then the office manager outlined the reason why … and I wanted to break something. My HMO is with a medical group run by a Catholic hospital – and because this is a sterilization procedure, they won’t cover it. “Fine,” I said. “I was hoping to change to a different medical group, anyhow. What about my other HMO option with Presence?” Turns out they’re Catholic, too.

I have been pretty lucky in my life not to have to deal too closely with the intersection of conservative social views and healthcare. As a woman, it has always been on the periphery of my awareness – but until recently, I have never had to do much with gynecology beyond my annual physical exams. So ramming headfirst into a restriction based solely on the belief that “women should make every effort to have babies” is incredibly jarring.

I don’t want this post to imply or turn into Catholic-bashing. There are some very dear people in my life that are Catholic, and are likely reading this right now. This isn’t about Catholicism as a whole. But I do believe that religious views, no matter the denomination or faith, have no place in the healthcare system – particularly when it comes to insurance coverage. I talked before about looking into patient advocacy as a career or at least a volunteer option. I’m feeling that pull again after this experience.

I’m planning to fight this decision. My doctor’s office should be calling me with more alternatives later today, and word on the street is that if it’s medically necessary (and it is) then the doctor should be able to override the restriction and get the insurance company to cover the procedure. So it’s not a done deal yet. But it made for some feelings of hopelessness and anger. A night of pizza, bad TV, and video games helped, and I’m in a better space today.

Just for fun, I will leave you with this brief snippet of an online conversation with my good friend, Jason, when I was filling him in on my frustrations. (Edited and posted with his permission.)

Me: According to the insurance guys my boss met with, if my doctor can convince the insurance company that my procedure is medically necessary, they have to grant it. So I am going to see about fighting this thing when I talk to them.

Jason: Good. Because “God wants you to have babies,” is not an acceptable response from an insurance company.

Me: I feel like I am in the Middle Ages or something.

Jason: Maybe you can use a course of leeches.

Me: That will remove the demon in my lungs for sure.

Jason: Good idea!

Jason: Oh, wait… You’re a witch.

Me: Crap.

Jason: So it’s probably best to go ahead and set you on fire.

Jason: Now, there IS a copay for that procedure…

Jason: But it’s cut in half if you use the generic equivalent!

Me: What’s the generic equivalent of “burning at the stake”?

Jason: I’m glad you asked.

Jason: The generic equivalent is actually just like burning at the stake, only you have to hold very still all on your own. So it would be better to refer to it as “burning” rather than “burning at the stake”.

Jason: Of course, you could bring your own stake, if you like.

Jason: We’re committed to providing you with an excellent execution experience.

Me: What if I spelled “stake” like “steak”, and just burned that, instead?

Jason: That would be fine, too.

Jason: But to be clear, we’re still setting you on fire.

Me: Crap.

Finding Beauty in Fraying Threads

The healing process continues. My energy level is mostly back to normal. I still have up days and down days, but I seem to be reaching an equilibrium where every day looks pretty much like the day before. My leg is still swollen from the clot that is stubbornly sitting there, taking its sweet time to dissolve. I still get short of breath sometimes, but nothing remotely close to the symptoms on the day of The Event.

Now that I am pretty much stable, I have been able to do some more exploration into why this whole thing happened and what I can do to prevent it.

One of the most likely causes was the fact that I was taking birth control pills. I say “most likely” because we’re still not entirely sure that was the primary reason. I also tested positive for a genetic mutation that makes me more likely to form blood clots. (It’s apparently extremely rare. I’m very special.) I am hoping beyond hope that it was the birth control, because that means that I can stop taking the blood thinners after 6 months and be done with them for good.

I wasn’t taking birth control to prevent pregnancy, although that’s a really handy side effect. I was taking it to control my period. My apologies to those of you who aren’t in to reading about menstrual issues — skip to the next paragraph if that describes you. At the end of 2011, I bled for 35 days straight. No let-up. The only thing that stopped it and brought me back into balance again was the birth control. And now, I can’t take it. I have bled since The Event, and the blood thinners aren’t making that a pleasant experience, but at least my periods have stopped when they’re supposed to. I don’t trust that luck to continue, however, and my options for resolution are limited.

I’ve been talking to my gynecologist, and the option that I am going to go with is called ablation. It’s a fairly simple procedure that destroys my uterine lining so I won’t bleed. It also essentially makes me infertile, since there’s nothing for a kid to hang onto or get nutrients from. Pregnancy is still possible, though — which would be dangerous for both me and the baby — so once I have healed from the ablation procedure, I’m getting another procedure done that’s similar to getting my tubes tied, just much less invasive. The nice thing about all of this … I get to keep all my parts and my quality of life has the potential to improve tremendously.

The doctor asked me over and over about my plans for children. I assured her that I don’t want to have biological children, and if I did change my mind, which is unlikely, I wouldn’t be averse to adoption or surrogacy. My token line is, “I am an awesome aunt. That’s good enough for me.”

And yet… I am still struggling with this. It’s not that I want children. I really don’t. I love kids – but I value my freedom and independence more. I am single mostly by choice, partially by circumstance. When I was much younger I thought I might want to raise a family, but that shifted around my late 20s. For most of my adult life, I have been childless by choice. So why should this change be such a big deal? I don’t want a kid, now I can’t have one. No harm, no foul, right? … Right? 

So why does this feel like such a big deal?

Maybe it’s the stigma attached to a woman who doesn’t want to fulfill her what society might call her “biological imperative.” Maybe it’s the continuing sense that I am being left out of a club. Maybe it’s residual guilt that I feel like I should want kids. I come from a big extended family that’s pretty tight-knit, and I am the only unattached, unmarried, childless cousin over the age of 20. There are 14 of us – so I feel like an oddball at family gatherings, even if I get to be the cool aunt who lives in the mysterious land of Chicago miles and miles away.

I really don’t know. It’s probably a combination of all of the above and some things I haven’t even considered. I don’t even think it’s worth trying to find the true reason. It’s just enough to know that I am sitting with a loss, even if that loss is something intangible that never existed and will never come to pass.

But honestly? Deep down, the loss that I am mourning is the loss of choice rather than the loss of a potential child. When I was young, I felt threads of possibility reaching out in every direction. And I still do, to some extent. But I am finding growing older to be a little like fraying cloth. Some threads just aren’t available to me anymore. That doesn’t mean the tapestry or rug or whatever-metaphor-you-want-to-use isn’t or can’t be beautiful. It just means I have more limited options on how to create or sustain that beauty.

The key word here is “create” — because even though I won’t ever give birth to a human being, I will continue to give birth to projects, music, art, friendships, harebrained schemes, and rituals. I will breathe life into experiences and ideas and stories and songs. Creation is a pretty multifaceted gig, and I feel like I have been given a second chance at life in order to make a number of possibilities come alive.

Breathing, healing, and dreaming.

The power of a new perspective

I suppose one of these days I will get back to blogging about things that are completely unrelated to my health, but today is not that day.

One thing about the new doctor that I dislike – she is not very prompt about getting back to me with my INR results. This is the second week in a row that I have had to call to pester her for them, and I hate the idea that I might be labeled “a bother.” But then again – this is my body we’re talking about, and learning to be my own advocate has turned out to be an incredibly valuable gift from this process. Luckily, my pestering paid off. She finally returned my call to let me know that I am not only back in the therapeutic zone – I am smack dab in the middle of it, which is perfect. Now the Coumadin can get to work dissolving these clots like it is supposed to.

Before I made it back to the therapeutic level, I was struggling. A lot. I had the good fortune to talk to a friend of mine who is not only a lovely and supportive human being, but a professional nutritionist as well. I was so grateful to her for the compassionate way she answered my questions and validated that I was doing what I am supposed to do.

One of the best pieces of advice she offered me may seem like such a minor adjustment – but it had a major effect. She encouraged me to think of getting my INR results not as a blood test, but rather a blood check. I’m not being graded on this. And therein lies the problem. Every time my INR has fallen below therapeutic level or isn’t getting there fast enough, I feel like it’s all my fault. I feel like a failure – when the truth is that there are so many other factors that affect how Coumadin functions, or how Vitamin K works in my body. I just need to figure out what works best for me and stick with it. And like every other learning process, that takes time.

Language has a weight to it. Words have power. I know this. I study this. I teach this. But I do occasionally get thrown off-guard by their impact. I am continually fascinated by what a simple act of reframing can do. It makes me wonder what other stories I am currently telling myself that could use a language shift or minor adjustment, and what new perspective that shift could open up for me.

Ah, growth opportunities. Can’t escape ‘em.

Wouldn’t want to.

“I love you, leg,” and other weird things I am saying lately

Ah, the trials and tribulations of being on blood thinners. I hit the therapeutic INR level last Friday, which is fantastic, but then on Tuesday it had dropped back below 2. Coumadin is a tricky, tricky drug. I am a little nervous about it fluctuating this much, but the doctor seems to think that it will be okay eventually. I am going to trust her. My prayers these days are for equilibrium more than anything else.

I participated in an online distance healing event at a friend’s suggestion. I am no expert on Reiki or really any form of nontraditional healing, but I am not the type of person to turn down help or support, no matter what form it takes. One of the things that the facilitator suggested after the session was to create a talisman that would remind me of my intention and goal for the healing process and outcome. I make jewelry, so I have a ton of spare beads just waiting to be used. I rummaged through my collection and found a few with words on them. I reached in the bag and picked three at random and got: “Feel”, “Self” and “Love”

Well, then.

I now am carrying a leather cord in my pocket with those three beads strung onto it. I reach into my pocket now and again, and remind myself that healing takes time. That I am supported. That I am loved. The trick is to provide the same level of support and love to myself that I have been feeling from my networks of friends and family.

This is a particularly difficult challenge right now. I am trying to follow doctor’s orders and do everything I am supposed to do in order to prevent a recurrence. But it is clear to me that the root of my motivation is fear rather than love. Here are some irrational thoughts that keep spinning through my head:

My body tried to kill me. I don’t trust my insides right now. What was that twinge? Why is my heart beating too fast? When am I going to collapse again? I’m feeling light-headed, so therefore I am about to die. I am never going to get better. How can I be more active when there’s a blood clot waiting to move to my heart? My body tried to kill me.

This kind of talk isn’t helping anyone, especially me, and it’s just serving to increase my anxiety levels at a time where I really need to relax.

I am scheduled to teach a path/class next February which will have a major focus on self-love and being conscious of being in the present moment. When I agreed to teach this work, I was thinking more along the lines of perception and emotions rather than physicality. This health scare experience is opening up an entirely new way of viewing my relationship to my body and self-love. It’s not about loving myself so I can be more confident and move through the world with a greater sense of ease and openness to sharing love with others (while an absolutely worthy goal) — it’s about loving my body despite the fact that I am currently afraid of it.

My new doctor (who is wonderful) joked that now that I’ve been through something like this, I will be calling her every time I have a runny nose. And it’s true that every twitch or twinge or discomfort has me worried that I am suddenly going to collapse and be taken back to the hospital or something worse. I am attempting to reframe those twitches and twinges as signs that my body is just trying to communicate with my brain to let me know how to adjust so I can be more physically in balance. So the current focus of my personal work is to attempt to consciously love parts of my body that I am afraid of.

Admittedly, it’s a little strange to say, “I love you, right leg.” But I am doing it. Saying it enough might even make it true. It’s even stranger to say, “I even love the blood clot you’re currently holding, because it reminds me that life is sacred and therefore needs to be lived fully.”

It’s a work in progress. What a gift to be alive to work on it.

Thoughts on Impact

Recovery continues slowly but surely. I still (as far as I know) haven’t hit that magic “therapeutic level” of blood thinness, but I am still managing to get back to life as usual. I am at the office for the second day in a row, and that feels good. I never thought I would be glad to get back here… but the fact that I can sit at my desk and feel pretty normal is something I am not taking for granted.

I met the new, in-network doctor this morning, and the majority of my fears have melted away. She’s wonderful. Very accessible, smart, funny, and really seems to have a handle on what to do with my treatment. She took the time to answer all my questions, and I feel pretty comfortable with her. I will still probably change networks to something closer to my house when I get the opportunity, but for now – I think I am going to be okay. I can’t tell you what a relief that is.

The truly amazing thing that happened today … on my way to see the new doctor, I happened to pass the woman who had witnessed my collapse and called 911. She was out walking her dog again while I was driving by. I stopped and called out to her, and she recognized me instantly. She even remembered my name, which was pretty remarkable.

How often do you get to tell someone that they saved your life, and mean it literally? She was getting goosebumps, I was shaking. The moment was heavy and joyous at the same time. I am so glad I got to express my gratitude to her. I was so taken by the moment that I forgot to offer to bake her cookies… or hell, a 7-layer cake. (I think saving someone’s life is cake-worthy.) But we’re neighbors, so I am sure I will be able to be more present if I see her again and offer to shower her with baked goods.

I am continually struck by the impact we have on each other’s lives – even, as in this case, the lives of total strangers. It is making me much more conscious of how I move through the world, and how I choose to interact with people. A call to 911 might seem like an obvious way to have an impact on someone’s life … but the woman who saved me thought I just had low blood pressure or something. She was shocked to hear that I spent six days in the hospital and very nearly died. It just reminds me that every action or choice I make has weight to it, whether that’s a smile at a store clerk or giving direct feedback to someone I care about – and that feels like both a burden and a glorious obligation to be fully aware.

Food for thought as I sit at the desk in my office. Breathing fine. Pain free. Alive. All thanks to the kindness of a complete stranger.