For months now a post about the inner journey has been rumbling around inside of me trying to find a way out. I resist writing it because so much has happened that I don’t know if I’ll remember all the pieces, or where to begin, or how to tie it all together. It’s a little overwhelming. So I’ll start with simple sentences and see if one of them is the thread that will unravel the story.
Travelling is stressful.
Blogging is stressful. At least for several years I made it stressful.
About a year ago I was diagnosed with arthritis in my knees and right hip.
It felt like a death sentence.
I didn’t believe it. I didn’t want to believe it but nevertheless it was the beginning of a spiral in and down. At the time I didn’t know it was the beginning. I more or less ignored it. We were soon to leave for two months travel around Turkey, Jordan, and Egypt. I didn’t want to know about arthritis. I lived fully on that journey, participated in all activities, often in pain, frequently helped by pain medication.
I’m only 66. How could I possibly have arthritis? It makes no sense. My mother lived ‘til 86, her mother ‘til 83, her sister ‘til 90. None of them had mobility problems. One of my sisters has had a hip replacement but she has shallow hip sockets and was a gymnast throughout her childhood and teenage years. My other two sisters, who are both older than me, have some arthritis but no mobility problems. No women in my family that I know of have ever had significant mobility problems. And certainly not in their mid sixties. How could it happen that at 65 I’m diagnosed with arthritis and the only ‘cure’ is to ‘manage the disease’ and take anti-inflammatories. I expected an aging body but not this and not yet. If I’d been seventy-five and not sixty-five I may have been better able to deal with it.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), by the way, increase your risk of sudden death by heart attack by 200-400%, and the risk of stroke, and death by stroke, is similarly increased. Even with short term use. None of my doctors tell me that.
Finally now I have to face that I’ve been in a lot of pain for a long time and it’s not getting any better. “They” say that pain is a great teacher. I’m not sure what I’ve learned yet, if anything. I’m still angry. And feel powerless – which gives rise to anger.
And so early last January we went to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. It was Don’s choice, and although I didn’t want to go there I knew that I absolutely needed to go there.
You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometime you just might find you get what you need.
For three months in SMA I delved deeper and deeper into the murky depths of my unconscious – which is never unconscious if you’re willing to go there.
I believe the body is a mirror of the emotions. Physical pain is an outlet for unfelt emotional pain. What in my heart, in my psyche, was causing me so much pain? What was I not feeling? I worked with a cranio-sacral therapist and an energy healer. I weaned myself off medication I’d been taking for ten years for Restless Legs Syndrome. I hardly slept. I cried. A lot. Almost every day. I finally finally healed my fractured relationship with my mother. I rediscovered that I’d never wanted to be human. I discovered that I especially didn’t want to be female. No matter the vicissitudes of being human, and of being male, I knew being born female meant that from the start I would be at a disadvantage and so unconsciously I resisted being female.
It’s extremely painful to resist who you are.
After three months we left SMA and went to our favourite casita by the beach in La Manzanilla. Finally I was out of the darkness of SMA that was mirrored back to me by the cold dark house in which we were living. In La Manzanilla the accommodation was bright and open, and there was a private pool and a view of the ocean. It was glorious.
I began to heal.
I started doing core strengthening and stretching exercises every day. I gradually worked up to being able to walk for an hour with only mild pain. I felt as though I’d emerged from a long dark tunnel.
Then we returned to Vancouver and I once again set out to find a cure.
Looking for a cure affirms that there’s something wrong. It feeds into the psychological owning of the disease. I’m not the free agile active Alison I used to be. I’ve become the Alison with arthritis and in pain. I don’t know her very well. I want the other Alison back. If I focus on a cure it affirms the disease. If I ignore the problem I’m afraid that it will only get worse. I wish there could be a simple way out of this conundrum but I haven’t found it yet.
In the last four months in Vancouver I’ve continued with the core strengthening and stretching exercises. I’ve also tried laser therapy, Feldenkreis, chiropractic, Eldoa, trigger-point massage, regular massage, and physiotherapy. I’ve learned new exercises to further strengthen the pelvic girdle. I have new orthotics, and I’ve had my misaligned pelvis realigned. I have even considered hip replacement sooner rather than later. I’ve seen four different doctors. Two of them said that I was a long long way from needing hip replacement. Then what is causing so much pain? None of them had an answer for that.
And now I’ve come full circle back to some of the first sentences I wrote:
Travelling is stressful.
Blogging is stressful. At least for several years I made it stressful. I don’t stress about it anymore though it never leaves me. I think about it every day.
Finally I have come face to face with the incredible amount of stress I’ve been under for the last five years since we began our nomadic journey. I’ve come to see how I’ve ignored the stress in order to continue with whatever adventures we were having, how I’ve stopped meditating, how I’ve come to rely more and more on pain medication instead of listening to the body, how I’ve stopped communicating with, and being open to receiving, help from spirit. I’ve had Netflix on my laptop since last December and have gotten into the habit of watching it for about three hours every night. If not engaged in the outer world while travelling and all the experiences that offers, I’ve had my head in my laptop – writing, photo editing, playing on the Internet, watching movies. And watching TV dramas. Even with being aware of the body contracting around the dramatic events I was seeing I continued to watch anyway.
For five years I’ve been obsessively juggling two worlds – the outer world of travelling with all its attendant stresses, and the blogging and Internet world with all my self-created stresses. This is an exaggeration, but not by much. Of course I’ve had lots of mellow times. But early in our travels we were in Southeast Asia. We’d come across a Buddhist temple, wander in and simply collapse on the floor and sink into a deep meditation. We did the same in Hindu temples in India. But this gradually lessened. We didn’t feel the same spiritual connection in the churches of South America. Eventually I stopped meditating altogether. I lost the deep body and mind relaxation, peace, and stillness that come through meditation. I did anything but meditate. Anything but let myself sink deeply into presence enough to ease the body.
My sympathetic nervous system is completely strung out.
I’ve come to believe that on a physical level the pain is being caused not by reduced cartilage in the joints, though there is that, but by soft tissue damage and muscle imbalance. I’m becoming more aware of which muscles are over-firing and which are barely firing at all. I work at retraining them. I’m hoping the new orthotics will help with the tracking of the kneecaps and that this will help reduce the pain in both knees and shins. I’ve stopped watching dramas on Netflix, and now watch lighthearted froth or nothing at all. I’ve eliminated sugar and wheat from my diet.
Of course I’ve started meditating again. A little.
I’ve started being more conscious about asking spirit for help, especially before I go to sleep.
I’ve started to visualize healing.
I’ve connected with the eternal innocence of the body.
And what did all this new activity produce? A conscious awareness of a hidden belief: that I’m getting old, that the body will gradually deteriorate, and that there’s nothing I can do about it. It doesn’t matter what I try nothing will work. Seriously? Seriously? No wonder nothing has helped. You get what you believe.
There are all kinds of studies demonstrating successful ways to reverse or slow down the affects of aging. There are all kinds of studies showing the power of visualization.
As soon as I became conscious of this belief I could feel it crumbling and falling away. The pain immediately lessened.
I focus on the lived experiences I’ve had throughout my life that plainly demonstrate to me the power of belief, of visualization, of saying yes, of connection to a power that is beyond ordinary reality. The mind loves to doubt. I remember one of our teachers saying that ‘doubt’s job is to doubt’. That’s what it does. I focus on the successes I’ve had through employing unconventional and non-ordinary healing practices to help keep doubt at bay.
I’m hopeful, though not yet pain free.
For months now our life has been on hold while I searched for answers, for a cure. Not surprisingly Don has been feeling stuck. Finally we reached the point where we decided to simply claim our life back. We’ve booked a flight to Mexico. We leave on October 31st. Woohoo! Travelling again. To new places.
We’ll spend four months exploring the Yucatan Peninsula, Cuba, and parts of Central America. We will travel slowly. I’ll pay better attention to the body’s need to unwind. And we’ll walk, or not, depending on what I’m capable of. I won’t be taking any NSAIDs.
Photos of the day: Top: Sunset from the patio, La Manzanilla, Mexico
Bottom: Folk dancer in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2016.