Having Had My Chain Yanked

I was upstairs in my little room, lying on a yoga mat with the intent of stretching and meditating, but really just lying on a yoga mat. Suddenly I had the sensation that I was not alone, and there on the deck was a bobcat, a particularly large and beautiful one.  He looked at me while I looked at him, then he casually ambled off.

I told this story to my friend Dan, accompanied by the photo above. “The bobcat allowed you to see him because you were worthy and awake,” he wrote. “It sounds like you are seeing again. I mean really seeing.”

He quoted these lines from Rilke’s “Turning Point”:

For a long time he attained it in looking.
Stars fell to their knees before his compelling vision,
And as he looked on, kneeling, his intensity’s fragrance
Tired out a god till it smiled at him in its sleep.

And later:

Animals trusted him, stepped into his open look grazing,
And the imprisoned lions looked into it
As if into an incomprehensible freedom…

“Turning Point” is an appropriate phrase, because I do feel that I have reached one. And also because so much of this experience is about turning, in particular turning my head deliberately, repeatedly, and rapidly to facilitate my vestibular readjustment, and turning my body to loosen up and possibly revive the memories of joyful motion. Some of the exercises feel absurd, but I have been reassured that they help, and I’ve had to put my faith in all sorts of things these days. There’s a lot to get used to. I’m literally out of balance, and I’m easily fatigued, and my eyes are dry and tired. I often have a vaguely headachy feeling, as though invisible hands are pressing on my skull, and the one-sided deafness can be disorienting at times, and some days I feel like I just stepped off a merry-go-round…sort of wobbly and woozy…and that’s just the way it is.

I’m turning my perspective around too. I’m learning what I’m dealing with, and learning to adapt. A Ranch neighbor who was in a terrible car accident more than a decade ago reached out to me recently and graciously offered to be a mentor and friend. She has endured more than her share of suffering with extraordinary grace, and I was so moved by what she wrote, and found her insights so helpful and wise, I’ve decided to share her words here:

You will learn to move forward and find the best path to begin this momentous journey of healing not only your body but your spirit, and the taking back of your life.  Will it be the same as before? Probably not, but that is what life is, an everchanging landscape.  Sometimes we gracefully traverse it and at other moments we are miserably crawling around, looking outward for a reprieve, for we are drawn to that easy beautiful path.

I have found personally that my toughest moments were the ones that brought me the most insight not only into myself but those with whom I spend my closest moments, and I have grown beautifully. I have crossed a desert of pain and hopelessness, not always gracefully, but like that ugly duckling my time has come at last…I am a swan!  I know there are tough days but there are many more good and I live those fully. There are some things I can no longer do, although I have done my best to try, but I have stretched my wings and found new avenues to travel which I never would have known existed without having had my chain yanked!

My dearest, you have had your chain yanked. Now thank the universe that you have been given a chance to live more fully and with more gusto, taking chances you never thought you might, because you now will grow an inward strength you never really knew you owned.

Yes, you will heal, and yes, there will be times of great trials for you physically, mentally and spiritually, but with each assault you will rise to the occasion because you will soon understand that maybe this freak little tumor saved your life more than you know right now. 

It turns out that life is how we look at it, and how we respond to twists and turns, some of which are scary. And we are frightened that we will never be the same, but thinking back, was the same the best that life had to offer or just a controlled flight that we had learned was safe to make? Or is life the wild outback with beautiful new vistas, scents of unimaginable delights and possibly finding oneself doing what we once thought was impossible but is now a new passion?

The birthing process is not easy as you know, but one of my teachers once told me that a child born through a long labor was much stronger because they fought for life. That is you now. You are going through your own labor, and you will come out of it stronger because you know you can endure these next contractions. My work is not me healing you but sharing with you energies and teaching you possibly different modes of healing your body and introducing you to various ideas that will bring you comfort as you heal. YOU WILL HEAL, IT WILL TAKE SOME TIME, YOU WILL LEARN TO ADAPT, AND ADJUST.

I can see already that this is true. But the reason it is possible for me now is that I have begun to emerge from a debilitating depression.  My initial response to the aftermath of the surgery was trauma, panic, insomnia, and fear. I think I was in a state of shock. I did not believe that I would ever recover, and it seemed to me that the quality of my life was so diminished, it was not a life I wanted. I have never been so depressed in my life, and it was scary.

But I’ve been working hard, have had a lot of help, and I’m taking medication for a while. I still struggle with sleeplessness now and then, but it’s not a nightly ordeal, and my anxiety and negativity have lifted. I get pretty fatigued by the end of the day, and there are still discouraging days when I feel somewhat precarious, but at last there is room to let hope enter.

It got me to thinking about depression and suffering, and what we learn and gain from these if we make it through. As my friend wrote, perhaps I will live with more gusto, and do things I never before imagined.  Perhaps I will develop an inner strength I never knew I owned. I hope so.

Recently I happened to hear a podcast in which Krista Tippett  interviewed Andrew Solomon, Parker Palmer, and Anita Barrows about depression, and their insights deeply resonate.

“Suddenly, in depression,” said Barrows, “you are ripped from what felt like your life, from what felt right and familiar and balanced and ordinary and ordered, and you’re just thrown into this place where you’re ravaged, where the wind rips the leaves from the trees, and there you are — very, very much the soul in depression.”

I knew exactly what she meant. For a time, I was no longer myself.  I dreaded each day, was afraid to see people, and felt no joy or enthusiasm about anything. Now, thankfully, I recognize that I am still in here. I have a long journey ahead, but my spirit and determination have returned. And I have a new kind of awareness about life. Solomon expressed this idea with eloquence:

“I think the awareness of my own vulnerability has made me more aware of other people’s vulnerability and more appreciative of people who cushion me from the things to which I am vulnerable. So I think it’s made me both more loving and more receptive to love and given me a clearer sense than I would otherwise have had of the value of love. And I suppose — again, without wanting to get into a suggestion of specific doctrine, but that has also given me a sense that some abstract love in the world, which I suppose we could call the love of God, is essential and significant. And it has been increased in me, both in terms of my appreciation for it, and my feeling of being loved or held.”

I feel that way, absolutely. My therapist says that the goal is post-traumatic growth, and that’s what I am striving for.  Becoming suddenly impaired and having so many new challenges and discomforts to get used to  is a transformative experience I would have loved to have skipped, but since we don’t get to choose, I might as well turn it into something positive and emerge stronger and better. I have one more MRI and one more trip to LA in July to confirm that the tumor is entirely gone (they said it was, but we want visual proof of its absolute absence) and then, no more looking back. Only onward.

One thing I’ve already learned is that I am absolved. No more beating up on myself. I have suffered enough. I’ve been a good enough, well-meaning person, and I don’t intend to waste any more precious life energy flagellating myself and dwelling on sadness and regret. Also, I’m learning that we get to choose what owns us…I can focus on an unpleasant sensation and let it dominate the day, or I can label it differently and pay attention to something more worthy. I’m learning to be more compassionate of the suffering of others. I’m learning that I have some remarkable, kind, and gracious people in my life. I’m learning to be helped. I’m learning that I have been very truly loved. I’m learning that I still like the way sunlight fades the paint on an old wooden house, and how the yellow grass is turning russet, and that if I happen to look up at night, I see a sky powdery with white stars so wondrous it’s hard to imagine they are not singing us all awake.

So I’m a little wobbly, but upright, and open to possibility. Precarious, yes, but leaning towards the light. I have seen my depths and demons, but maybe there’s power in facing those and learning to manage them, and maybe I’ll be better than ever, and live more fully, so the whole experience will have been a net gain.

As Barrows writes:

that had been stopped
is beginning to move: a leaf
driven against a rock
by a current
frees itself, finds its way again
through moving water…

To be continued, I’m happy to say.

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