Episode #28: You Aren't Broken. Your Body Just Needs You.
Welcome to the Freedom from Empty Podcast: Building Strong, Effective, Resilient Leaders and Humans. My name is Booth Andrews, and I am your host. Thank you so much for joining me for this episode.
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After a lifetime of intentional disassociation from my physical and emotional needs, an integral part of my own healing journey has been intentionally working bring my awareness back to my body, and the messages it sends through physical sensations. I took a 200-hour yoga teacher training for the sole purpose of rebuilding some of the connections between my brain and my physical body. Yoga, it turns out, is extraordinarily effective for this purpose.
I was reflecting this morning on my brain’s ingrained response these days when I realize I am not feeling well. Perhaps this response is grounded in the fact that I essentially waited until my body and mind were in free-fall to begin to listen to my body’s signals at all.
My response goes something like this:
Example Number One:
Early in the summer, my mental illness was declared in remission by my mental health professional. A few weeks later, I had some medical procedures performed. For about 10-14 days after those procedures, I felt extremely tired and anxiety seemed to be lurking close by. I remember thinking to myself, “Well, that remission was short-lived.” (The remission that I had not experienced in all of the years since my 2012 diagnosis. The remission that I had worked 7 long years to find.) And then, my oldest sister reminded me that my body had experienced those medical procedures as trauma. OF COURSE I didn’t feel well. But, it didn’t mean that I was sliding back into my chronic mental illness. I took gentle care of my body, including giving myself permission for lots of naps and cuddles with my little people, and over time, my body recovered.
Example Number Two:
I have shared a number of the challenges I have experienced with my knee over the last year or so. As I have explored options for healing and recovery, I have also been unable to engage in my normal weightlifting activities. Weightlifting has also been an important component of my personal recovery. When I lift weights, I feel self-efficacy. I can see the positive results from the work I put in. These results are much more obvious than the results that we often see in other areas of our lives. In contrast, the positive benefits when working to recover or live with a chronic illness are not nearly as obvious or timely. I reached a point late in the summer when my brain started to believe that I was broken. That I was never again going to be able to do the things that I love to do. On one hand, I have had to advocate for myself to find medical professionals who didn’t just shrug their shoulders and tell me that I am too young for surgery. On the other hand, my brain got stuck on “I’m broken, there is no hope” loop. As I write this, my knee isn’t where I would like to be, but it is improving, and for that I am grateful. I have also have a knee brace, gym, coaches, and physical therapist who are helping me maximize my capacity even within my current limitations.
Example Number Three:
Earlier this week, my anxiety came to pay me a visit. It started with adrenaline running through my system, followed by fatigue and that old, familiar nauseous feeling. There were definitely some things that could have been considered triggers earlier in that day, but nothing of an extreme nature. Once I got home and settled on the couch, with the nausea and my desire to crawl into a hole in full force, I started to wonder if I was crashing. As in, crashing into depression. I started to panic for a moment. I was afraid I was broken. Again. But I chose not to let my brain churn, and instead I took care of myself . . . a cup of hot tea (instead of alcohol or junk food) and an early bedtime. As I prepared for bed, it occurred to me that I had been out of my normal routine that morning, and I wondered if I had missed taking my medication. I still don’t know for sure if I missed it . . . yes, I could benefit from the small investment of a weekly pill organizer . . . but I was proud of myself for the choice I made . . . not to let my brain run away from me and choosing to engage in comforting activities instead. The next day, I still had some excess adrenaline, but my brain felt much better and my anxiety was lower. I didn’t think I was crashing anymore.
Through each of these examples, my fear pattern has been the same:
I am not feeling well.
I become aware that I am not feeling well.
Not feeling well prompts a fear that I am “broken.”
And I am afraid the “broken” state is permanent.
Then, with the passage of time and some gentle care, and sometimes with the support and assurance of my support network and professional resources, I realize that I am not, in fact, broken and the way I am feeling is neither devastating nor permanent.
So, this morning, I decided I will try to reframe my fear when I see this pattern play out again in the future. Instead of being afraid that I am irretrievably broken, I will say, “You are not broken. Your body just needs you right now. It needs your care, attention, and your intention, . Take care of your body, and trust that the rest will be okay.”
I think my fear is completely understandable. As with any chronic, potentially fatal illness, of course we live in fear that the illness may return. I know that for me, and I imagine for others, watching mental health advocates succumb to suicide, also strikes a fear chord in me. If they couldn’t beat the illness, often with extraordinary resources and walking the path of advocate for hope among others, what is to say that I won’t succumb again too???
While there is no guarantee that I will not experience a recurrence of my disease, that does not mean that every ache, pain, anxious day, or dark moment is an indicator that I am irretrievably, permanently broken or broken.
You are not broken. Your body just needs you.
For those of us who are used to demanding that our bodies “show up” the way we want them to and when we have goals that require our physical capacity (Breaking News: all goals require physical capacity) having our bodies start to struggle to meet those demands can be fearful and unnerving. And when we are afraid, and lacking information, it is absolutely human nature to fear the worst.
When my oldest daughter, a volleyball player, broke her ankle in the last few weeks of summer practice, we both went to the potential fear that her season was over. Thankfully, it wasn’t. But again, it is completely normal for our brain(s) to go there.
The next time your body starts to send you signals, or even starts to shut you down with sickness or injury, notice if the voice in your head is a fearful voice; a voice that says you are broken and that everything you have ever wanted or hoped for is lost. (I would like to say that is an exaggeration, but I can totally get there in my own mind). If it is a fearful voice, I encourage you to try a different script.
You are not broken. Your body just needs you.
And then, listen to your body and tend to it as gently and intentionally as you can. In many cases, you will find that you start to feel better sooner than you imagine. And if you don’t, I also encourage you to advocate on your own behalf with whatever medical professionals and whatever continuum of your care you need to give you the best opportunity for healing.
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