In 2014, I continued countless hours in physical therapy for my back, shoulder, and ankle. I wanted to release pain and regain mobility in my lower back, through therapy and, finally, the miracle of spinal epidural injections. I wanted to release the shoulder muscles left painfully contracted by a cast and sling for my radial head fracture, and eventually moved into deeper healing after trigger-point injections. I wanted to figure out how much I could heal my ankle function, to avoid a surgery for which I am a poor candidate and from which recovery would be a tremendous challenge.
On top of all that, the endocrinologist (my third one) told me to just let multiple thyroid nodules keep growing until my breathing or swallowing became so impeded that I would need a thyroidectomy. My esophagus already curves like a road avoiding an obstacle, and I was having intermittent swelling in my neck which made swallowing uncomfortable. My primary care doctor suggested trying a gluten-free diet to see if that might have some effect, since my bloodwork put me in the low end of the normal range for thyroid function.
Between these physical issues and the chronic pain I experience from a connective tissue disorder, I felt trapped. I lacked energy and had mild depressive symptoms. I had trouble concentrating. The more I hurt, the less I moved. Then, in May, Fred and I embarked on Persephone Brown’s Spring Cleanse for Renewal: no dairy, wheat, sugar, or alcohol and lots of whole foods. I chose to reduce—but not eliminate—caffeine, because I am comfortable with a small caffeine intake. This made the cleanse easier for me, and at the end of 11 days, I felt lighter, more clear-headed, and nourished.
At the end of that week, though, we left for a rendezvous in Norfolk with Florentjin Hofman’s Rubber Duck. The duck was totally worth the trip. Eating at Doumar’s was delicious; however, it left me feeling bloated and achy. When we came home, I decided to return to a gluten-free diet to see if it made a difference. In the months since, I have experienced less swelling in my neck, reduced arthritis pain, increased energy, and much clearer thinking.
Feeling better opened me up to new possibilities. In October, I started working with ProNagger Rachel Z. Cornell and her approach helped me release a misguided (and paralyzing) belief that I can’t move my business forward by working in small increments of time. With her support, I got my website ready for its soft launch before I left for Patti Digh’s Life is a Verb Camp. To apply this wisdom to create daily movement, I asked my friend Kirsten if she wanted to be my exercise accountability buddy when I returned.
One of the unexpected gifts of camp was beginning to reclaim my body—pain, scars, size, limits, and all. On the first night at camp, I tried contra dancing, amid much giggling and directional confusion. My ankle (even with the support of a hiking boot) said no to sashaying, but I enjoyed watching the dancers twirl and improvise.
At lake dance with Lila the next morning, I saw nervousness—my own and that of fellow dancers—melt into movement. The wild wind ruffled the water’s surface in perfect concert with the sweep of strings in my ears. When Sara Bareilles’s “Brave” came on, tears rolled down my face. I had never listened to the lyrics before. After lunch, I went to Peg’s lovely reiki session. I left feeling refreshed and ready to create beautiful art with Linda and Susan.
At yoga on the second morning, Hilary’s steady calm was soothing. I found myself frustrated, as ever, by the asana my body simply cannot do—kneeling or planking. Just then, Kurt came up to help and simply said, “You know you.” Why is it so hard to trust that phrase? After lunch, I went to Brandie’s session on perimenopause and menopause and learned about how to care for myself during this transitional time. Then I went to Shannon’s hooping workshop, which was a delightful challenge to this first-timer. (I’ve been hooping—though I use the term loosely—almost every day since I got home.)
When I returned to lake dance on the third morning, a blue heron skimmed over the water. I cried at receiving a beautiful message from my dad, eight years gone, still reminding me that love never dies. A flock of geese took wing and wheeled around three times before landing, as if being sure that each dancer had noticed their flight. Mist swirled above the lake while we danced, alone and together.
A few days after I came home, Kirsten and I started our exercise accountability practice, exchanging daily texts sharing how we move. Caring for my body in an intentional way has been a great support as I navigate re-entry. Having learned at camp that I experience pain whether or not I am moving, I’m committed to daily joyful movement.
[All words and images copyright Paula J. Kelly, unless otherwise credited.]