Until May 29th, I thought I had it all handled. I prided myself on being able to handle stress. I achieved my successes on my own. I didn’t marry money or inherit it, I made it. I maintained my integrity through a 35-year career. I made choices that were contrary to becoming successful in my chosen field, yet I achieved success. I thought winding down my career would be relatively painless. What I have subsequently learned, what my body is yelling at me about is that speed kills.
2017 was a stressful year but I had thrived on stress in the past and I thought it would carry me through. When my negotiations and other stressors had been resolved in January this year, I knew I was tired and thought our 3-week vacation in Hawaii would resolve the exhaustion. On our way home at the end of February, I got a bad cold that turned into pneumonia that lasted over 4 weeks. I went off HRT hormones as I was told by the emergency doc and others that they caused all kinds of problems – probably my arthritis and the excessive swelling linked to the Milroys disease. In early March I felt the A-fib but didn’t know what it was as it went away relatively quickly. By the end of May, it was full blown and wouldn’t stop.
Since, I have had a few anxiety attacks, no A-fibs that I know of as pills control that for the most part. What pills don’t control is the personal reckoning. Death huddles in the shadows of our lives while we pretend and hope it’s a long way off. We mistreat our bodies and ignore our healthy intuitions as we strive for success, meaning and happiness in our everyday routines that are more stressful than successful, more mundane than meaningful and more frustrating than happy.
I worked diligently at taking care of myself: eating properly, taking supplements, exercise, therapy when I got stuck in challenges I couldn’t understand, and, overall, trying to do the right thing. What I disregarded was the speed at which I did everything. Fast moving, fast talking, intense, type A doer would be my inevitable undoing. Now, I have no reserves for any stressors and I am faced with breaking my addiction to speed. I must move, talk and think more slowly. I have been told to do nothing. No more engagements or service work as those set up degrees of obligation that turn on the adrenaline – which evidently is my “crack.” I have caught myself twice thus far starting to engage in another’s problems, wanting to help resolve their angst or fear. This is what I can’t do I say to myself. This is where I walk away. It’s confusing for me and more so for Tim who is now in the full force of his summer with lots of classes and people reaching out for help and I can no longer be the auxiliary help, my reserves are gone.
I have been seeing my old therapist who is helping the anxiety with EMDR and giving context to my burn out. As we talk about my fear, it’s not about dying, it’s about not having fully developed a sustaining spiritual life. It’s one thing to go full bore in the peak of youth and health and quite another when those qualities wane. When I volunteered for hospice many years ago, I learned those people who had an enduring faith let go of life more peacefully when their time came. I picked up a new book by Frank Ostaseski who started the Zen Hospice Center in San Francisco during the AIDS crises entitled “Five Invitations” – “discovering what death can teach us about living.” It calms me and reminds me that one’s “self-critic” is the deadliest voice in our heads. I never asked why me with the A-fib, I wondered what I had done wrong. I told myself I was stronger than this. A-fib however is a pre-death message that I can ignore or embrace. I am choosing to embrace it.
I meditate now twice a day – or at least try to calm the hurricane mind. I am figuring out nutritionally what western medicine ignores – the key resources that calm the heart, lower the blood pressure and quell the anxiety. As I organize it more fully, I will write about it because my goal is stop or at the very least minimize the “scare” drugs. I am re-wiring my brain, first and foremost no political TV, no caffeine and no engaging when my buttons get pushed. I had an incident this morning with someone who turned the problem around on me. He said “well I didn’t like how you wanted me to do something. I would have done it differently but I did what you said.”
I paid this person a lot of money to do something and the something doesn’t work properly and his response was it was my fault. I listened, I thanked him for checking and I told myself anger is useless, don’t engage and cut your professional ties. End of story. Pre-A-fib I would have carved him new apertures.
I get lots of advice that I ignore because no one can tell another person where to find comfort deep within one’s being. Regardless of all the well-meaning suggestions the first step in healing is accepting. I accept that A-fib is a physical metaphor for my life up to now. My heart has knocked on my mind’s door asking for mercy and gifting redemption and forgiveness if my mind will do the hard work of finding peace.
It starts with beauty. Intuitively, my heart/mind knew that long before the A-fib. I have a sculpture that is being installed on Monday – 12 feet tall of welded metal. It’s called Hallelujah. I am building or rather Jonathan Robinson is building my homage to Quan Yin – Chinese Goddess of compassion. I build big things. My big things are physical metaphors of my suffering and redemption. The land and the earth where I build my big things loves them – you can tell when you walk through, you can feel the land’s joy. I will try to show this journey on my blog because I think we all need to find acceptance, redemption and peace – together.