A Year of Seed Planting

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.”

― T.S. Eliot

This year, I’ve had more time than any other year to reflect on its occurrences and lessons, making the transition to the New Year more meaningful than ever before. For me, as I’ve stated a few times already, it was physically and financially one of the (if not the most) worst of my life. However, in many ways, I started and accomplished a lot of what I hoped to do. I put together a presentation and gathered the courage to ask many, many places if they were interested in hearing it. I learned to make jewelry and quickly made a lot of earrings and bracelets that have received wonderful initial responses. And I made cards and calendars from my photos that I took on the PCT. It was a year of planting seeds that I now wish to expand upon. Next year, I hope to find more places to give my talk at and places to sell my art. And clearly, it will also have to be a year of repair in order to physically become a functional human being again. Since time is quickly falling away and the new year is just around the corner, I decided to just list a few of the highlights here and expand upon them later.

My biggest accomplishment: Giving 29 presentations after I volunteered to give my first one at the end of April! I am very proud of the presentation that I put together and of the responses I have received. It was all completely self-generated and I partly wanted to do this to challenge myself. My life has been very solitary and speaking is not something that I have had to do much of in any capacity. I am very appreciative of the outcome.

Something new that I learned: Perfectionism stems from shame. Prior to reading about this, I did not feel like the word “shame” really applied to me. I have never had a problem talking about things that have happened to me and never felt like I was the cause of these things. This year, however, I learned that shame is feeling unworthy of being loved for who you are. If you are not loved for just being you, you feel that you need to do things to earn love. And this, I can very much relate to.

Greatest find: The blog “Momastery”. When I first heard of this blog, I wasn’t initially interested in reading it because I am not a mother. However, once I did take a look, I wanted to read every post! This woman (Glennon Doyle Melton) is who I aspire to be! She is extremely honest, open, humorous, loving, and compassionate, and has done tremendous work in forming a community of people who are both real and supportive of each other, and who help those in need. So many of her posts made me cry from either the goodness she has done, or because I can so deeply relate to her feelings. I am thankful for the writings (and speaking) of her, Anne Lamott, Marianne Williamson, Ally Hamilton, Brene Brown, Cheryl Strayed, and Oprah. They are all role models for me, along with my yoga teachers Jacqui Bonwell, Georgia Reath, David Vendetti, Jojo Flaherty, and Todd Skoglund. Another amazing discovery I made at the end of the year is the “Humans of New York” posts on Facebook, where a man photographs and asks his recipients something very meaningful about their lives. I am just in awe at the different challenges that we all face during our time here and the great strength that we all possess to overcome them. Absolutely incredible.
(An audience member at one of my talks this year was extremely concerned about the amount of honesty that I give and was very worried that this would make me prey to predators. I have always felt protected by the truth, and I remain adamant that vulnerability is the only way we can truly connect with one another and heal. I have only to look to the role models I just listed to remind me of my conviction).

Biggest surprise: I got into disagreements with two people this year- both of whom are in the “friend” category. One of them is someone I often get into disagreements with, who lives his life very differently than mine, and whom I have more than once told that I would not like to communicate with anymore. The other is my nice, upbeat friend from my previous job. I knew that when an issue arose between us (the first of its kind!), it would eventually bring us closer together after a period of intense discomfort and honesty, or that it would bring the relationship to its end. So far, it has gone the latter. (Tough times will definitely test the strength of a relationship! It is not humanly possible to always be happy with someone, and being able to talk about where you are coming from and lend an open ear is essential to reaching an understanding and its subsequent growth). And, surprisingly, through all the disagreements and the actual attempts at creating distance with the other person, it is he who still communicates with me, and he who I have reached a greater depth of understanding with. This was the surprise of the year for me. He is the person who most regularly communicates with me, and he is the only person (other than my friend Erik, who has lived in the Netherlands for the past 5 years) that makes contact with me on the holidays when I am otherwise left in an excruciatingly lonely void. He remembers that my brother died on Thanksgiving, and although compassion is not something that is natural for him, there are times when it leaks out and I am so very grateful for it. If nothing else, he is a great teacher for me.

A truth that was verified: I believe that in our cores, we are made of love. If we were weren’t stressed, in pain, under pressure or hurt, we would be much kinder to ourselves and to one another. No matter how a person behaves, I believe that there is a deep layer of goodness in the center and that most harmful behavior is a result of self-protection from being further hurt. I was both amazed and humbled from an admission from someone I know that allowed me to see this belief of mine is most definitely true. It was a highlight of my year.

Part of me that is working the best/ in most consistent alignment: My weight! I am happy that with minimal movement and no restrictions on the food I ate (other than my several weeks of no gluten), my weight was consistently low for the duration of the year! (And considering it was a post thru-hike year (and that I have not even been able to walk or do yoga for the past 2 months!), I think that is especially impressive!). I attribute it to a greater degree of calmness and better alignment with starting to share my gifts in terms of how I make my living.

My goals for next year:

1) Heal my body so that I can move and become a functional human being again!
(Also continue to heal my intestines and find a resolution to my skin issues).

2) Find more places to give my talk

3) Make more art and find buyers for it

4) Start writing for real!
a) Begin work on my book
b) Expand my blog

4) Re-attempt my daily gratitude practice by writing down 3 things that I am grateful for every day.

5) Start a consistent meditation practice
(at this time, I can not sit cross-legged or kneel, but I can lie down)

6) Start reading A Course in Miracles
(I was first introduced to this text five years ago during my AT hike. At that time, I was not interested in looking into it. It is a Christian- based text, and I did not identify with that. However, since that time, as a result of my yoga practice, and experiences on the long trails I have hiked, I have come to a broader understanding of the term ‘God’ and feel ready to read it. This is the text that Marianne Williamson bases her lectures and spiritual principles on. It is concerned with transforming fear based thoughts into love based ones in order to feel more at ease and access more of our potential, as well as heal ourselves and the world at large.)

7) Drink more water!

I wish you all a Happy New Year!! I hope it brings you great health and removal of all things that are blocking you from attaining the things you desire!

And remember, great beauty can come out of great pain!

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Surgery Needed

I got the MRI done yesterday and found out today that I have a large lateral meniscus tear with an accompanying cyst. Surgery to have the meniscus removed is the only way I can hope to relieve the pain and become functional again. (Happy Holidays to me!) Right now, I am wishing I had this done before Christmas. The earliest I can now have the surgery is January 8th (if I have it with this random guy I saw who someone rated “worst doctor ever”), but that would mean I would have to cancel my talks on the 10th and 11th, as I won’t be able to drive or move so soon after surgery. (It turns out that one of these libraries hasn’t even listed my talk on their website yet (??) and the other still has the wrong name of the trail and my name misspelled (both of which I asked to be corrected weeks ago!) and no other information). For the last several hours, I have been trying to look up better orthopedic surgeons in Boston, but it seems like none of them accept my poverty level health insurance and since it is New Year’s Eve, I can’t get ahold of anyone and am stuck waiting. I have been wanting to write a re-cap of this past year, but at the moment, I am feeling too upset to do that. I’m scared and worried about a whole bunch of things at once. Maybe I can still find some calm time to reflect a bit later on.

Nostalgia

A fellow PCT hiker of mine (Delaware Dave) just got around to posting his PCT pictures on Facebook these past couple of days. As I started to look through them, I kept thinking, “I know where that is!”, “I’ve been there!”, “I have a photo just like that!”. It was a wonderful trip down memory lane. And then I was completely surprised to find this picture of me, which made me laugh!
Screen shot 2014-12-27 at 12.14.40 PM

I had forgotten that he had taken this picture and at first, I didn’t know where it was taken. It looks like I am sitting down in the middle of nowhere! But after seeing the next picture of the suspension bridge, I remembered this was the last time that I saw him just before mile 800, as he was not feeling well from altitude sickness, and I wanted to move on. (From his next few photos, I learned that I had just missed seeing the cutest little bear who was scoping out his campsite!!).
I was sick with giardia at this point, and on my way to becoming infected with C. Diff. and re-tearing my Achilles in this section. But I look so happy… This is where I belong- out in the woods… out in the open where I have instant friends. Lately, I have been comforting myself with the thought that I will be in this situation again. I will have companions, my body will move again, and my spirit will feel happy. I want to return to my happy place and feel alive and happy and fulfilled.

One of my AT friends, Skip, recently asked if he could have one of my calendars. I received a card from him yesterday in return that brought tears to my eyes. The photo is a scene of a group of silhouetted thru-hikers standing outside of a shelter under a magnificent sunset. I hope he won’t mind if I quote his beautiful words…
“My life hiking is one of my happiest lives. Sometimes the nostalgia can be more than I can bear, and it’s everything I can do just to remember to breathe. My heart is in nature, and the mountains, and the sunsets. I dream of the day I can live with my heart again. That’s my euphoria and completeness.”

(Nostalgia… Breathing… Living with his heart…!!! The very things that were going through my head in the past couple of days! I love my thru-hiking people- especially the ones that remain connected to me in some way!)

I feel such the same way as Skip does, and really appreciate the affirmation of my own feelings. Despite many people in my life not being able to understand these feelings, and the consequent self-questioning that follows, I have recently arrived at an acceptance of them. It’s okay to want to return to a lifestyle that makes you most happy. It’s okay to not be okay with the life that we are taught that we are supposed to live. I have learned that I am a homebody with a gypsy soul. If I am not resting and storing up my energy, I need to be physically moving, be surrounded by like-minded people, have a purpose to my life and a reason to get up, experience more, and see more of the world. And there is nothing wrong with that.

I can’t wait until I can thru-hike again!

Learning more about my latest injury

I’ve been reading as much about meniscus tears as possible and the news does not look good. It seems that most medial tears require surgery. There is no blood supply on the medial side of the joint and therefore no way to bring healing nutrients to the injury. This explains why the size of the swelling in my knee hasn’t been tremendous. A Facebook friend who had a similar injury told me the excruciating pain is probably fluid leaking into the joint, which is why I could find nothing to alleviate the pain. He gave me a link to the doctor that repaired his knee and when I asked how he repaired it, he answered surgery. Great… Surgery means a recovery time of several months. My desire is to stay away from this option and heal it with love instead! However, I guess I will have to find out the size and complexity of the tear from an MRI first. (From the pain I have been experiencing, I would guess it is now a large, complex tear).
My yoga teacher, David, offered a ball rolling self massage class as a treat before the holidays on Tuesday. I was very excited about this news as it has been the longest time since I have done any of this kind of work and my body has been greatly in need of it. He used to incorporate some of this work in his classes, but I can’t even remember when the last time I did this was! And at this point, it is the only class I can attempt. One of the co-owners had just finished teaching his class when I arrived. When I passed him in the hallway, I told him that I had torn my meniscus. “That happened to me, too!” he said. I was stunned. I knew he had torn his hamstring years ago, but never heard about him injuring his knee. “I had the surgery and half of my meniscus is now completely gone!” he happily said. (I can’t imagine this being a good thing!). I told him that the orthopedist I saw said there was nothing I could do. He shook his head and told me to tell him I need to see a sports doctor. “I couldn’t straighten my leg.” “Neither can I!”. Apparently, the injured tissue keeps getting caught, creating pain, as well as causing the leg to give way.
I brought my mat into the yoga room, where my teacher was setting up a special light display for us. “I tore my meniscus!” I told him. “I heard!”, he said.
“How did you hear?”.
“I saw something on Facebook. I silently looked at it and my jaw dropped open. What are you doing about it? I can give you the name of my physical therapist. She knows a lot about the meniscus.”
It doesn’t surprise me that Todd immediately went for the surgery, whereas David advocates physical therapy. They are opposites in a lot of ways. Todd is very logical, scientific, and non-emotional. I have a friend, who also possesses many of the same traits as Todd, who keeps imploring me to see a doctor, go to physical therapy, heal myself by following the “standard practices”, which I have a high degree of resistance to based on my previous experiences. Surgery is not even a question for him. David, on the other hand, is highly emotional and although he and I both see merits in some of what science has shown, we tend to rely on a deeper and more holistic wisdom. He is trained in myofascial release and does bodywork, as well as teach yoga. And although he was highly against chiropractors a couple of years ago when I was seeking one out, he has since been seeing one since he injured his back this past summer. Whereas Todd is against the display of emotion, David often says that it is not a good day until he makes someone cry (to release something that is hurting them). (I am clearly more on the same side that David is!).
I was very happy to be in that room with him on Tuesday, witnessing the depth of love that he has for what he teaches, the extra effort that he puts into making the room cozy and decorative, and the thought that he puts into the music that he plays for each class. There is no question that he excels at what he does and it is so nice to see someone using his gifts to his fullest capacity. I’m not sure how much the class actually helped me due to my level of pain, but it was good to be reminded of some of the techniques and positions, and it was definitely good to laugh again.

On Friday, I finally received some fascial bodywork that I had long been desiring. I went to see the woman who performed the series of 10 rolfing sessions on me way back in 2007! The last time I had seen her was April of 2011. I had written to her about my meniscus tear to find out her opinion, and just as I thought, she said she could help provide some space for my knee (although she recommended that I ice it, elevate it, and compress it, as well as seriously consider the surgery). (The medial meniscus is highly important for stabilizing). It was great to be on the table, having someone work on my body. Daphne is very feminine and always shares her latest man stories with me, which is always humorous, light, and hopeful, and we also talk about transformational life stuff during our sessions. Her work has gotten much lighter with more experience, which was perfect for me. My initial series was quite painful and back then, I equated pain with lasting change. Now, I believe that lighter work is just as beneficial when it comes from a skilled practitioner. Just as in the article that I had read in the New York Times, she avoided touching my knee and instead worked on my feet and hips, and then did a bit of opening on my inner thighs. I have not been able to stretch my left hip at all for the past 7 weeks because I can’t externally rotate my left knee without extreme pain, and my right hip has gotten extremely strained from trying to bear the weight of both legs when I attempt to walk. She asked me to breathe into my hip, and my first breath made the tissue more pliable and easier for her to manipulate. (This breathing thing we are taught to do in yoga really does do something!) She then opened up some of my pec tissue, my throat, and finally my back muscles (which she was very impressed with!). It was clear to her that the yoga I’ve done has paid off. My posture is better and my body is visibly physically strong (even after 7 weeks of barely moving!). And perhaps even more importantly, she was impressed with my attitude and mental strength. After the last couple of years I’ve had (and really this lifetime that I’ve had), I just couldn’t believe this latest injury, leaving me unable to even walk! How could this possibly be happening to me?! I have come to learn, however, that feeling bad about my circumstances is not helpful. It is merely a fact of what is happening. And the only thing I can do is choose how I will respond to it. So, I have been trying to keep my spirits lifted as much as possible and gather healing energy for the best possible outcome. Daphne said that when things like this happen, it is an opportunity to gain a greater body awareness. There is no question that my body awareness has exponentially grown in the past few years. And there is also a lot of evidence that my mental strength has grown a great deal, as well. I told her that this year has been both physically and financial extremely difficult (probably my worst ever!), but that spiritually, it has been one of my strongest. She was not at all surprised by that correlation. She said the spiritual strength is something that will remain with me throughout my lifetime. When I got off the table, I felt so much lighter and felt like I could almost walk again! And unlike my visit to the doctor, I got a big parting hug! I love my holistic healers!

(It only took a few steps for my knee to give out again and since last night, it has returned to its normal high level of constant pain, but at least some tension has been removed from my back body!)

And thanks to my friend Taylor, who painted me this beautiful card, I now have a reminder to breathe!
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Torn meniscus

This past week has been one of the most physically painful weeks of my life. My attempted short walk last Sunday created lasting excruciating pain in my knee. Not only could I not put any weight on it, I could not even lie in my bed without constant shooting pain. I could not straighten my leg and there was no position that I could lie in without immense pain. By Tuesday, I knew that my injury was too acute for my chiropractor to be able to help. I had trouble even breathing because the pain was so intense. I had no idea how I was even going to be able to lie on his table!
It took me about a half an hour to try to drag by leg down the street for a coffee on Wednesday. Every step sent a sharp pain through my leg. I had to teach two hour long yoga classes that afternoon and was in tears or near tears immediately preceeding both of them. I wasn’t in any state to provide for my students due to my own pain and inability to move myself, but since they wanted to do yoga, I quickly shifted into teaching and calming mode (surprising myself at my ability to do this!).
My chiropractic session didn’t contain as much laughing as I thought it would. He was required to wear a face mask by the insurance company because he didn’t get his flu shot and I had to get my temperature, pulse, and blood pressure taken, as well as my height and weight recorded. I found all of these new implementations to be quite ridiculous! No one is sick! I’m going to the chiropractor! He tested my knee and said it passed the test for a torn medial meniscus. He said there was not much he could do about it and that I should see an orthopedist and get an MRI. He did rub the back of my head at one point during the session. “How ARE you, Wendy? It’s been a long time!” He remembered some of the stories that I used to talk about during our past sessions. And at one point, after I asked something that I can’t quite remember, he answered, “Everything is possible- right?”. I nodded, considering that I say that in my talk… I figured there would be a high five at some point, and I was right. He told me to ice my knee as much as possible.
After I left, I called my insurance company and made an appointment with an orthopedist before teaching another yoga class. Along with the intensity of the pain, I was experiencing a lot of fear. A big part of me wants to be able to hike the CDT and this news of the tear is taking that hope away. I have been practicing imagining myself in the future in a healthier and happier state instead of sinking into the despair of the present.
On Friday, I saw the orthopedist. The introduction wasn’t the nicest. He just stood there looking at me, not understanding that I wanted to be called Wendy. He wanted to know what happened six weeks ago. “Nothing. I was standing in the bathroom and I turned to leave and my leg gave out and then swelled up.”
“Okay. You were in the shower…”
“No. I was standing in the bathroom.”
(He didn’t seem to understand). “In front of the sink…”
“And how did you turn?”
I was getting a little exasperated. Nothing I did would have resulted in a torn knee. Actually, I believe it happened in my yoga class in mid-September. My teacher wanted us to do something that I knew was bad (especially for me, but in general, as well). I didn’t do the first side, but since she said she was waiting for us all to do it on the second (my weaker side), I decided I better at least try. My knee made a popping sound so loud that I assumed everyone in the room could hear it! I had planned on going for a hike that Thursday because my yoga classes were cancelled, but I couldn’t because of my knee pain. I postponed the hike for several weeks, and even then, my knee hurt. When I told another teacher before class about my injury, he said my other teacher should never have had us do that- that it was like jumping out of a 10 story building and landing on one knee! It did gradually start getting better until that day in November.

He asked if I had ever had problems with it before, but didn’t have time for me to give him my history. I told him about it swelling up in 2012 and how I saw a physical therapist, who decided that scraping it with a metal tool was a good idea.
“She did that?”
“Yes!”
“Did it help?”
“No!!!”. (I’d like to know whose bright idea that one was!)

The Orthopedist agreed that the meniscus was probably torn and said they would take x-rays, but would likely not see anything. The next step would be to get an MRI. He then told me that there is nothing you can do about this type of injury. “I tell people it’s like chipping your tooth. Too bad.”
(Okay…!!)
The x-rays looked fine. He said they would contact my insurance company and see if they will agree to an MRI.
“And in the meantime…?”
“Don’t go on any big hikes.”
Is he kidding?! I can’t even lie down!!!
“Don’t do any squats or lunges.”
“Okay”. (I can’t even walk!!!)
So, I rest my case. This is why I don’t find going to doctors helpful at all. I don’t see the point in having an expensive MRI done if they have no ideas on how I can heal it. I think I will get some fascia work done to open up some space around the injury and see my chiropractor at least once a week. At least these people offer healing touch and positive energy! And I will try to heal my injury with love- my own and that of the universe! If anyone cares to send me some, I will deeply appreciate it!

My hurt body

Sometimes, I really, really dislike my body. For over five weeks now, I have been in near constant pain and have not been able to walk or do yoga. Something happened to my knee one night. I was standing in the bathroom and as I turned to walk out, my leg kind of collapsed and then proceeded to swell up. I had to drag it behind me like Quasimodo the following day, and ever since then, the bones that meet at my inner knee have been on fire! Teaching yoga really hurts it and that has been hard. I can’t externally rotate my knee without a lot of pain. Even holding it straight in plank really hurts! I have attempted to go to a couple of Monday classes at my yoga studio since my membership is wasting away, but most of the time, I haven’t been able to do much of anything. The Monday before Thanksgiving, one of my teachers told me that I can’t do yoga. Maybe I can swim, she said. Otherwise, I need to rest. She said that she doesn’t want to see me there. That night, I went home and read an article in the New York Times, dealing with some of my favorite topics- the advantages of manual therapy over talk therapy, fascia, and trauma being stuck in the tissues of the body.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/11/17/less-talk-more-therapy/?_r=0

I found this article particularly fascinating because the author was experiencing similar pain in her knee, and even more so because the therapist didn’t even touch her knee during the session. Instead, she worked on releasing other parts of her body. I thought back to two and a half years ago when a similar thing had happened to my knee. For weeks, it kept swelling to twice its size and I couldn’t do yoga, which was greatly upsetting to me. (Like now, nothing traumatic had occurred. It just started swelling and hurting). I still wanted to at least be in the room of my normal classes so I could get the benefits of what the teachers were saying. I decided I could just go to classes and lie down with my legs up the wall for the duration. I finally e-mailed one of my teachers about it and he thought that it was torn (which really scared me!) and that I needed to see someone about it immediately. I ended up going to physical therapy, where the woman scraped my knee with a metal tool, bruised it, and then scraped the bruise the next time I was required to go! She found it interesting that my hips didn’t lower at the same time when she had me demonstrate a squat. I told her that was due to my scoliosis and that that needed to be considered with my knee injury. She brushed that concern off and said she didn’t have time for that. I found a chiropractor to work with instead. It was obvious to me then that the area that is injured is not where the problem is originating from.

The Monday night before this Thanksgiving, before I went to sleep, I suddenly felt like I was going to cry for the first time in awhile. The need seem to have passed for a moment, but then subconsciously, tears began to pour out of me. All holidays are tough for me, but Thanksgiving is especially hard because it is the anniversary of my brother’s death. Although I don’t spend time consciously thinking about it, I usually feel sad in November. My body shook as I returned to the moment that I learned of his death. Tears poured out as I felt the same emotions that I experienced that day 14 years ago. Again, I felt angry that he had left me. And then the anger transitioned to sadness that he was no longer here. Grief, emotions, and trauma live in the body. Our cells remember.
The next day, my knee felt a bit better! Something that needed to be released was.

I returned to yoga the following week. “Are you cleared to be here?” my teacher asked, surprised to see me. I told her I think I know what is going on. “My leg bones are crunched together. I need someone to pull my leg and separate my bones!” On the spot, she made up a class that was beneficial to me- focusing on lengthening the muscles of the legs. Afterwards, my knee felt better than it had since the day the injury occurred. However, since then, it has been more and more painful! Sometimes, the pain is excruciating! Today is one of those days. The sun finally made an appearance after at least a week and I tried to go for a short walk. It took only a few minutes for the pain to build and since then, I have not been able to get it to calm down! I have wondered many times during the past few weeks why I get injured so often and am never able to heal from them in this non-hiking life and how I heal so much faster when I hurt myself on the trail! A friend told me that when I am hiking every day, I am constantly tearing down my body and therefore my body is constantly in rebuilding and repairing mode. I think he is right! I know for sure that all of that mobility keeps the lymph and other healing elements circulating through the body. I often think that if I were backpacking, my knee would have healed itself long ago! I really think it is time for me to go on another long walk to heal from this sedentary lifestyle I am living! I know my injuries are all a direct result of the curvatures of my spine. Because the two sides of my body are so different, I shouldn’t be doing the same kind of yoga that a person with a normal spine does. The patterns of imbalance lead to strain that my body can’t tolerate anymore and then I am left completely immobile like I have been for the past 5+ weeks! So, so frustrating!!

I decided that I need to go back to my chiropractor, who I haven’t seen since February of 2013 when my insurance ended! He not only works on my spine, but works on releasing tension in my soft tissues, as well. He can tell what level of emotional stress I am experiencing by placing his hands on my occiput. After the stresses of this past year, I know this tension is extremely high. I can feel the tension, tightness, and stress in almost every part of my body. I don’t cry at my chiropractic sessions, but I laugh a tremendous amount, and I believe that laughter is just as good of a release as crying. I can’t wait until Thursday! Let the laugh-fest begin! And hopefully my knee will begin to open back up and allow me the movement I so deeply desire!