“You’re not eating the right foods
You’re not exercising the right way
You don’t practice enough gratitude
You’re not spiritual enough
You’re not evolved enough
You’re not meditating enough
There aren’t enough positive thoughts in your day
You’re not reading the right books
You’re not listening to the right teachers
You’re not taking the right supplements or enough of them
Or on the other hand…
You’re not choosing to take medication, as honestly, you don’t need to be a martyr to pain…”
These are just some of the insidious words that can swirl around our heads when we’re on a healing journey, particularly a healing path with a chronic condition.
Next year, I will have spent a quarter of a century in the well-being community. We’re passionate about our craft, our skills, our knowledge. We’ve seen the wisdom we impart work beautifully with clients. We work from the heart, and we work as a force for good. All of this an absolute truth.
What happens, though, when we and our clients are surrounded by the vastness of wisdom and knowledge? With so many choices and avenues to head down?
Is it possible that there’s the potentially creeping message of not getting it quite right? If you’re not seeing improvements in health or wellbeing, you’re not doing enough? Or you haven’t found the right healing path? And that most insidious phrase of the inner critic…you’re not enough?
We are, of course, constantly evolving and learning, and sometimes the path that will be of most benefit, is still waiting for us. We need to be careful though, as that skulking message of not being enough, can worm it’s way into our pyche.
With my practitioner hat on, I direct my energies to the healing potential of womb work, the power of menstrual cycle awareness, and how to move through menopause in a conscious and reflective way. Yes, I’ve been evangelical about the modalities, staying true and authentic to the way I have seen the work change lives, my own life included.
Without hyperbole, the work has readied me for the challenges that I may or may not face over the course of the rest of my life.
How do practitioners and those around us respond to a condition that is also not curable. In fact a condition that is as hard to comprehend, as it is to pronounce, and therefore not easy to engage with.
I am a practitioner, but also someone with a chronic and incurable condition.
I have a cyst in my spinal cord, part of my Central Nervous System. The cyst is known as a syrinx, and those with a syrinx have a condition called Syringomyelia. In my case, it’s congenital so the syrinx formed while I was in the womb.
Strange terminology, and a condition that is considered to be rare (although I’m not convinced it is that rare, but that’s for another time!)
It’s interesting having a condition that is not only unrelatable, but hard to pronounce! Due to it’s “otherness”, the condition, by it’s nature doesn’t create a culture of general understanding. It’s a little too alien for that.
Although, to be fair, information available about it is very limited and, at present, not enough research in the UK has been put into it.
The added bonus of Syringomyelia is that many find that it’s not a stand-alone condition; it’s usually present amongst other syndromes and medical challenges for us.
I’ve been told I also have Fibromyalgia and have had Irritable Bowel Syndrome for as long as I can remember. Whether you’re in the well-being community or not, Fibromyalgia and IBS are more familiar terms; more relatable. More information and resources are at hand to share, and therefore to offer the possibility of help and support.
On the scale of how much these syndromes affect our lives, IBS can be anywhere between an annoyance and debilitating; a Fibromylagia flare up on the other hand is most definitely debilitating.
If you add Syringomyelia back into the mix though, what you have is a condition where there’s the possibility of the Central Nervous System being interrupted, that the body’s reactions and responses may not be as expected.
This makes so much sense to me after the many years of trying numerous modalities, and being confused why I seemed to respond in the opposite way. I always wondered why acupuncture exacerbated symptoms!
The moment of epiphany for me, was listening to a talk recently given by Anthony Williams, known as the Medical Medium. Much of his work is directed at those with chronic conditions, such as Epstein Barr, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and digestive issues.
He was talking about those of us walking around, trying to cope with chronic conditions, and not knowing WHY we have them. He has his theories, his belief systems and methods of improving health. He has a huge following, however his protocols don’t resonate with me personally.
My epiphanic moment though, was realising that I DO know the WHY for these chronic conditions I’m living with. My Central Nervous System has an interruption in it. I have a syrinx, a cyst in my spinal cord. Not a cyst ON my spine, but IN my spinal cord.
In it’s simplest form, the Central Nervous System is the part of us that tells our body what and what not to do. It’s the communication hub for everything we do, from breathing (communicating with our autonomic nervous system) to urinating, to moving.
It’s therefore a crucial part of the human body to not be firing at full capacity!
For those of us who have been supporting ourselves for years, spending probably thousands of pounds, trying to find foods, exercise/movement, spiritual guidance, and modalities to support us, somewhere along the line, the message has popped into my head – “I’m getting it wrong”.
This has called for me to take an about-turn in perspective, and in the process, ease of my own mental health.
How might it feel to be at peace with NOT trying to get BETTER, but instead focussing on ways to have BETTER DAYS? Suddenly meeting Syringomyelia becomes less of mountain to climb.
In our “fix-it” culture, though I’m not sure how well that sits.
My question is, who’s with me?
Who’s on their own journey with a chronic condition and simply wants to enjoy better days?
Or just as potently, who, as a practitioner can support those with a chronic condition to enjoy better days, rather than looking to fix the condition?
What does it mean, living with an incurable condition such as Syringomyelia? Yes, there’s the possibility of it not getting any worse, however, it’s clear my symptoms have worsened. Yes, there’s the possibility of it progressing, that’s a fact, but absolutely NOT A GIVEN.
However, bear in mind that straining when doing a poo, or picking up an object that’s too heavy are ways that a Syrinx can worsen. It’s not necessarily hard to create situations for deterioration and progression.
Perhaps it really is as simple as relinquishing to knowing that I will NOT get better, but I WILL feel better on some days.
Some folks use the term “warrior” when it comes to fighting chronic conditions.
For myself the “warrior” term, and “fighting” is counter intuitive. If I’m chronically fatigued, why would fighting be a congruent and effective way of approaching these conditions?
What if “being” with the condition, listening to what it’s asking of me, conversing with it, playing around with what might help, my nervous system can be calmed rather than over-burdened.
This approach really is born out of the menstrual cycle and menopause awareness work: listening to my needs. Not necessarily conforming to societal and linear expectations for health conditions to have a beginning and an end. There’s so much more in between.
The possibility that following the path of least resistance, can lead to a more soothed soul.
I do though, also understand the need for others to step into warrior mode, it places us in a stance of action, not taking what we’re being faced with lying down, it’s something to overcome. I get it, I really do. It’s just not my chosen direction for this situation.
If I was looking at a condition that was curable, had an end point, yes I subscribe to standing as a warrior. In fact, it was how I approached having ankle surgery last year. With one foot in surrendering to the length of time the recovery would take, and the other in warrior mode; working diligently and valiantly, seeing the ankle healed and holding me with certainty and strength. Little did I know that my Central Nervous System was choosing a different path for me.
The reason I feel compelled to write this piece is as a support to those of us living with chronic conditions; that we’re not getting it wrong, whatever healing path calls us.
Not getting it wrong to be looking to create better days. It’s not fatalistic, it’s calming and a relief to stop the quest for health perfection.
And lets face it, trying to perfect anything in these Covid times, with all the outside pressures of living during a pandemic; it’s just a pressure too far!
If you’ve sat with me as I’ve held space for you in a treatment, led a meditation for you, held space in circle, heard your words; you know that I always invite you to meet where you are, that all is as it’s meant to be in that moment.
The message always is – you are not getting it wrong and that you are enough.
I’m not getting it wrong; I am enough.
It’s been so insightful hearing other’s experiences who have been kind enough to read the piece. The words of a wise yoga teacher have stayed with me. She shared the yogic perspective of the Warrior; that of strength, courage and resilience, rather than of fighting.
It made me take a breath, and acknowledge how all of the warrior aspects have kept me moving, learning and even supporting others in the work I share.
At the beginning of the year, I set an intention of TRUST for 2020, you know, a word of the year kind of thing. Nearly every day I’ve spoken a mantra of ” I welcome TRUST (yes upper case TRUST!) into all aspects of my life”. Dear goddess, has it held me while symptoms have worsened, other challenges have come my way, and in the outside world, living through a pandemic!
Is it possible to be a Warrior of TRUST!
In her midlife, every woman deserves a chance to go travelling alone; just to test the possibility of rolling with “fuck it”
The teachings of Red School tell us that there are psycho-spiritual phases of menopause that we move through. This knowledge is gold, and a way to keep us anchored and sane on the uneasy path of midlife shifting. The first phase we enter in perimenopause, is the chamber of separation.
What does that look like? Probably the most disquieting time of the menopause journey, because the call to be separate from, well, sometimes everyone and everything, can be extraordinarily strong.
This summer I was blessed to have had the opportunity to travel to Bali and Australia. The trip to Bali was to complete my teacher training in Womb and Fertility Massage Therapy. Then on to Australia to spend time with my beloved aunt and cousins. Circumstance meant that I was to be travelling alone, as my family wasn’t able to join me on my adventures.
As I hugged my darling ones tight at the airport, and walked through passport control, this midlife traveller was oozing excitement. The prospect of heading to the other side of the world, only having to look out for myself, was actually quite exquisite. I was fully embracing separation.
Travelling while in the phase of separation felt utterly easeful. I didn’t have to worry about anyone else’s needs but my own.
Flying to the other side of the world and back did, of course, mean spending time in the company of the same group of people for an entire day each way. But, I was able create my own travel bubble, so that I would only chat if I wanted to. In reality, “fuck it” I really didn’t want to! Small talk with those around me was kept to a minimum.
The freedom was there to observe parents, often with an exhausted look in their eye, as they had to navigate the challenges of long-haul travel with their little ones.
Before perimenopause, the yells of other’s young children would have yanked at my heartstrings, but with perimenopause, there’s a shift. “Fuck it”. There’s no need to take on the screams and yells of the intensity the children felt at take-off and landing; I knew they were safe in their parents’ arms. I was simply able to offer the parents a supportive nod and understanding smile.
Mapping out my own space in the small, tight environment of an economy class plane seat even felt unproblematic. Sitting next to a couple of women chatting about Love Island, again I could phase it out and concentrate on my book, choose a film, do a bit of writing. “Fuck it”, there was an element of joy connected to only choosing self-care. Just to switch on relaxing meditative music to drown out the constant rushing sound of the aeroplane so I could try and sleep, was bliss. There was no call to think of anyone else’s sleep needs.
Travelling through I don’t know how many time zones, and only having to take care of my own discombobulation was a huge relief. The brain fog of perimenopause was going through several multiples of intensity. Could I have taken on anyone else’s jet lag? Phew, I didn’t have to!
That said, I was travelling with an injury, which pricked at my vulnerability. Severe ligament and tendon damage to my ankle, meant a countdown to whether or not travel was even going to be possible. The vulnerability sat in opening myself up to accepting assistance at each airport.
The experience of sitting in a wheelchair, being pushed around by various strangers, was a true lesson in surrender. Surrender is the next chamber of menopause after separation. This meant dipping my toe quite deeply in this phase.
Not simply the practicalities of surrendering to my inability to walk long distances, but to the vulnerability that I found myself steeped in. The discomfort of being in a wheelchair was immense. Accepting help in this way, when in my heart surely I’m an independent, vibrant and very mobile person. It was a challenge.
The wonder and upside of airport assistance, though, was being whizzed through customs and passport control at each of the eight flights I took!
Of course, there was the physical side of perimenopause; the odd hot flush, interesting experience on a plane; insomnia; aches and pains; and a crazy-ass short 18 day cycle, all came with me on my travels. But I could breathe through each menopause manifestation, without having to concern myself with anyone else.
Before I went away, a male friend asked me if I was nervous about going? I was quite shocked to be asked this question. Would he have asked my husband the same question? Did I give the impression that travelling alone was going to be a nerve-wracking experience? Was it a misogynistic expectation that I needed a man to make me feel safe when I travel? Was it other women he knew who may have been genuinely nervous about travelling alone, being projected on to me?
Was I nervous? Absolutely not. Even with the injury, I was only excited. “Fuck it” hey, we have Whats App and Facetime to stay in touch with loved ones now! Separation was firmly holding me.
While in Bali, as my fellow sisters gathered for our Womb and Fertility Massage teacher training, we did experience a few of the earthquakes that claimed far too many lives in Lombok. As the effects of the earthquakes emerged and the number of lives lost rose, my soul was rocked. But during the earthquakes, there was a definite feel of “fuck it” in me. If my life was going to end, what a beautiful place to transition; surrendering to mortality.
I would absolutely love to go back to Bali with my husband and children. For a different experience of family togetherness in a country that took my heart. And without the support of my husband, who took over full parenting while I was away, I could not have taken the trip, and for that I will always be grateful. But the gift of travelling while in the phase of separation was truly liberating, and an experience I will treasure as part of my menopause journey.
To explore your own perimenopause journey through a self-directed program, Perimenopause Unwrapped is available to dive in.
Isn’t it strange that we live in a time when communication has never been faster, never been more immediate, or more intense; yet there are still so many subjects that remain taboo.
Baby loss is one of them.
Whether through miscarriage, still birth, termination due to anomaly, or neonatal loss. It’s hard to talk about and even harder to hear about. What do you say? How do you react? Do you open a conversation or politely change the subject?
On October 15th each year, the end of Baby Loss Awareness week, in honour of every soul not able to stay in this world, a wave of light is created. At 7pm your own time, we are invited to light a candle for an hour and connect around the globe. This is a huge step towards having the conversation, but gently.
What has struck me, in conversations, in work with clients, in reading courageous posts by others who have experienced baby loss, is that often we are encouraged to forget, to “move on”, to try for the next baby. It’s all part of the picture of discomfort and why it’s remained taboo.
But, without honouring every soul that has blessed our womb space, without opening the possibility of finding peace in our heart, how do we heal?
It’s nearly 14 years since my tiny Baby Harry was born sleeping, at only 20 weeks. We were given photos of him, and his hand and footprints. These stayed in a memory box, only for my eyes and the eyes of my family. They are treasured, yet painful, yet beautiful memories of a moment held in time; a moment that left it’s resonance for many years.
My experience of baby loss was heightened with losing my Mum to cancer three months before Baby Harry, and my Dad who died suddenly three months after Baby Harry. With six months of all consuming trauma and grief, I guess I was on a mission to healing, and in all honesty, survival. It’s almost unbearable for any one person to be faced with so much grief in such a short space of time.
My healing journey unfolded organically; the right therapists came at the right time. These are the therapies and choices I made; everyone will have different needs, so this is certainly not a blue print, but hopefully an aid:
Counselling – I was extremely lucky that the hospital offered a counsellor in the maternity unit for supporting baby loss. She truly was my lifeline. I realise not all hospitals offer this, so seeking a bereavement counsellor is an opportunity to be safely witnessed in grief.
Homoeopathy – There were three bereavements to juggle. Often not knowing which one was emerging at any moment, sometimes all three hitting at the same time. But, medication was not an option for me; so working closely with my homoeopath was how I stayed afloat. Finding the right remedy at each stage of my process was her skill that I held with such gratitude.
Nourishing bodywork – connecting to the right massage therapist kept me embodied with my physical experience. so I didn’t lose that part of myself.
Nourishing food – But still holding the importance of a fine organic bar of dark chocolate and all the endorphin release that can bring!
Solitude – To allow the aching tears to release, to allow myself the space to sob and sob and sob, without explanation, without guilt. With each sob I knew this release was a necessity and didn’t hold back.
Exercise – I started seeing a personal trainer and started kickboxing – the endorphin release here was a gift and the rage had an outlet.
EFT – Tapping gave me the opportunity to work through the trauma in a way that wasn’t overwhelming. Working through episodes that held the most charge during that traumatic time.
Psychotherapy – During my next pregnancy, I was on a high all the way through. After she was born though, I entered an almighty slump. Whether it was Post Natal Depression I’m not sure, but I sought support as soon as I could. It was time to move beyond counselling and explore with more depth. The gratitude I hold for my therapist will always be so deep. After losing Baby Harry, my menstrual cycle had been truly nightmarish, with all consuming pain most months. It was my therapist who wisely suggested that I was reliving the pain of Baby Harry’s delivery each cycle.
Womb Massage – When my Womb Massage teacher lay her hands over my womb during my training, this was the portal to the most profound healing in my baby loss journey. After a few sessions, my womb cleared the traumatic imprint held of his birth, my cycle eased and the pain subsided.
Family constellation work combined with EFT – It’s hard to describe the power and resonance of speaking with Baby Harry and “hearing” what his words might have been to me. This has led me to a place of complete peace with him.
Honouring my baby – A couple of years ago, with guidance, I went to his graveside and held a little ceremony, which, due to the family constellation work, centred on forgiveness. It’s a peaceful place to be.
Menstrual Cycle Awareness – My life would never be the same after losing Baby Harry. Of course it would never be the same, just as with any huge life event. We inhabit a space following baby loss where we can run the gamut of emotions. There may be pure sadness, guilt, confusion, resentment, moments of acceptance followed by moments of all consuming pain. The list is endless and purely personal. Menstrual Cycle Awareness has been a source of guidance; when are the emotions most acute? Recognising that emotions arise and shift over the ebb and flow of the cycle. Perhaps the feeling of acceptance is present in the summer (ovulatory phase) of the cycle, only to cross over the next day to autumn (pre-menstrual phase), when maybe guilt and resentment take over. The awareness is a container towards acceptance.
My intention is to spread awareness of baby loss of any kind, and hope that the women and men this journey has touched are acknowledged.
It is uplifting, although painful to read, as more and more baby loss stories appear on social media. But a ripple effect has been created. Others are inspired to share, taking us all a step closer to healing the collective pain.
With the huge amount of work I have been open to over the years, I can put my journey into words, without tears. Instead, I have such gratitude to Baby Harry, and love for those walking a similar path to me.
I invite you to light a candle at 7pm for an hour on 15th October and bring about a wave of love and healing.
What if you were able to gain access to a source of power, of creativity, of action; a place where your voice will be heard, usually taking different guises – sometimes with enthusiasm, sometimes with sheer glee, sometimes with uncompromising honesty, sometimes with tenderness? This place can also be a gateway for deep emotion, anger, revelation, but also love, empathy and understanding.
Could all of these dimensions be found in one place? Spend some quality time with the wise and inspirational Alexandra Pope and Uma Dinsmore-Tuli and all will become clear.
I did just that last weekend on Alexandra’s and Uma’s Womb Wisdom Retreat in stunning Stroud. Here, my head, heart and psyche were held, tested, at times turned 360 degrees by relinquishing to vulnerability, but most importantly nurtured.
Shared with other beautiful souls, we coupled with our source through Womb Yoga. We were taken through exquisite Yoga Nidra by the equally exquisite Uma Dinsmore-Tuli; we connected yet floated around our bodies. How was that possible?
And we were taught gently, purposefully and formidably, by Alexandra, how to access this source I’ve alluded to.
Ladies, it’s within us. Oh yes! It is held within us, in the form of our monthly cycle. If we can acknowledge the different seasons throughout our cycle, we can allow ourselves a freedom and most importantly an acceptance that what we experience on day 1 of our cycle, will be different to, say, day 8. Again by day 15 we will be experiencing a whole other force, and by day 24 we might not even recognise who we were a few days before. There is a sound and sensible reason for how and why we shift throughout the month. Each phase serves a purpose.
All this from the menstrual cycle? The key word here is cycle. Once you delve in to the powerful world of the menstruality, a theme becomes most apparent – as women, because we do cycle, we ARE not and CANNOT be linear. Ironically and sadly, many of us live and work in a fashion, where we are expected to perform to same level of ability, energy and clarity, day in day out.
Let me share a rather freeing concept, that at each stage of your cycle you will be able to harness a different kind of power. I look forward to sharing some of these ideas in later blogs.
All I know is since the retreat, since delving deep into my seasons, I have been an unstoppable force! The procrastination has halted; unexpected, unplanned conversations to clear old demons have taken place; future plans have been actioned; heck, I’ve written my first blog!