As the great 13th century poet and scholar Rumi once said, "You already have the precious mixture that will make you well. Use it." But the key perhaps is to tap into mixture. Such was the case of Laura Mayer.
When she was just 14, Mayer was diagnosed with progressive degenerative disease called Anterior Horn Cell Disease, which interferes with motoric functioning in the lower part or the gray matter of the spinal cord. She was prevented from having full use of her hands and was told that each month for the rest of her life she would lose one millimeter of muscle strength and would not live past 40.
Despite her grim prognosis, she studied occupational therapy at New York University and became a licensed occupational therapist. However, by the time she was 26, her left hand was totally paralyzed and she lost function in her thumbs. Over the course of several decades, Mayer endured 18 surgeries, including multiple tendon transfers in her hands.
Even with the procedures, she couldn't lift a pen for more than five minutes without her shoulder hurting. Blow drying her hair caused intense pain. She was exhausted and ready to give up. "I felt riddled from head to toe and didn't know how I was going to continue to survive," she explains.
But it wasn't until she stepped out of the medical box and focused on her spiritual self that she was really able to transcend her disease. "When my heart healed I knew my hands would heal," she explains. "When my hands didn't matter anymore in terms of how the world saw me, and I just started to love me, the healing intensified."
Since starting on this path of deep spiritual healing, Mayer has witnessed a total transformation in body, mind, and spirit. In her new book, Unlocking the Invisible Child: A Journey from Heartbreak to Bliss, she chronicles how was finally able to heal. She can finally perform simple tasks like holding a pen or a cup without experiencing pain. I asked Mayer to tell me more.
Q: It's so interesting that you decided to become a licensed occupational therapist, even with the limitations of your hands.
Laura Mayer: I was very good at compensating and figured out how to do things. I remember using my teeth to open most things, like my children's Pampers. But it was emotionally, spiritually and physically exhausting. I needed to do it. It was part of my surviving; I believe that it was the greatest thing I could have done. Occupational therapy preaches functioning, so it was great a mirror for me.
Q: What was it like when your doctor told you you couldn't work anymore?
Laura Mayer: By the time I was 43, my hand surgeon said that I had to stop working, especially as an occupational therapist. He said, "There's nothing left we can do. We don't have any more tendons." I thought, what am I going to do? I didn't want to live, but I knew that I couldn't abandon my two children. They are really what kept me going. That was my invitation to dip into the spiritual world. I was really physically, emotionally done. I remember looking in the mirror and saying there's no life force in me anymore. My eyes were hollow. I had gone through a divorce. So I was really at the darkest night of my soul. That was the bottom for me.
Q: So what did you do?
Laura Mayer: The Rabbi at my temple asked me to teach religion. Even though I thought "I don't know anything about religion," he basically felt, you've been an OT for 20-odd years, you know how to work with children, you'd be perfect. And that opened a whole door for me to spirituality. I began this incredible period of reading everything I could get my hands on -- going back to the 12th century when everything was about your heart and joy. I didn't live in a world like that. So it ignited this deeper love inside this very dead place. I got very involved with Jewish renewal at a retreat and healing center in Accord, N.Y. called Elat Chayyim. I would do weeklong meditation retreats. And in all of that learning and growing I started to like myself more and stopped thinking about me and my hands and started just to open up.
Q: How so?
Laura Mayer: My hands were getting worse. But I remember the teacher at one of the retreats was talking about Jacob's Ladder. And I realized this disease in my spine is my Jacob's Ladder -- turning woundedness into healing. Or the ladder was my spine and this disease was in the marrow of me. It was as deep as deep as deep can go. It was in the structural foundation of my being. These incredible healers helped me to go deep within me to find the source of the trauma and the pain and to say "I don't need that anymore."
I would visualize my hands with my fingers perfectly straight. I did that every morning and I would stretch my fingers out. It took about eight months until I noticed the first change. A couple of months later I noticed another change, and then one incredible morning, I felt that my thumbs were in a normal position and that I could actually flex my thumbs. A lot of healers said to me that the physical manifestation is the last thing that happens. But I will never forget finding that I could move my thumb for the first time in 25 years.
Within a year, I felt myself calming. I knew I was shifting internally. I was becoming whole. By getting in tune with my intuitive self, really going into inner-child work and discovering how much of me was still hurting, from those early moments of my life, I was holding onto sadness and beliefs that no longer served me. I realized with the help of a lot of amazing healers, when my heart healed, my hands would heal.
Q: What did all this teach you?
Laura Mayer: I went into all of this healing saying, "I just want my hands to be perfect. I just want to be able to hold my glass like everybody else and not struggle." But I found myself shifting to where it didn't even matter what my hand function was doing. It really mattered how my heart held me. That was the beginning of loving myself enough and turning that huge corner of feeling like such damaged merchandise to where I'm absolutely perfect the way I am.
When I started focusing and unlocking my inner child dramas and traumas that I still held, that allowed me to open up, release and heal. It helped me to recognize how damage is done so early on. It's really about having the courage to love yourself enough. And when you love yourself enough, you will have the courage to change your life. You can go into areas where you are holding pain that no longer serves you. No matter what it is, it doesn't have to be as dramatic as a physical disease. But you will know that you have a right to exist in this world and be the best you can be.
To learn more about Unlocking the Invisible Child visit dancingheartdancinghands.com.
(Photo used with permission.)
For more by Jeryl Brunner, click here.
For more on emotional wellness, click here.