Sitting here on a frigid Philly afternoon, while the sun is streaming in through my windows, and the wind is gently stirring the trees, I am about to get naked with ya'll. A bit too chilly to strip off the layers of clothes, reveal the Goddess body I have earned in the past 56 years, but sexier still, as far as I am concerned, is being emotionally revealing.
I am at my dining room table, which is my workspace as I live my long held dream of being a full time journalist who telecommutes. Next to me are two calendars; one for this year and one for next. Some of the spaces have scrawled on them appointments, speaking engagements, radio show schedules, weddings to officiate and social activities to enjoy. There are far fewer of the work related entries than there were as 2013 wound down. That's a good thing, believe it or not. It would have terrified me back then, since it would have reinforced the belief that I couldn't support myself if I wasn't nearly constantly working. I had been living paycheck to paycheck as a therapist who spent 12 hour days seeing clients and then coming home and writing until midnight and sleeping for maybe five to six hours, only to awaken and begin the next day's routine. I had myself hornswoggled into believing that I could keep up that routine indefinitely, bargaining with myself that I would slow down eventually.
A year ago, on Thanksgiving, I began the inevitable trip down the rabbit hole. It happens to be one of my favorite holidays, since it allows me to experience what I do as a daily practice, with other people who are similarly engaged. That morning, I noticed lesions developing on my left forehead, that the next day, emerged full blown with swelling in my eye and accompanying ice pick pain in my temple. A trip to the ER confirmed that shingles had come to call. I was advised to rest and take pain meds as well as an anti-viral. I was also told to see an ophthalmologist lest I lose the vision in my eye. No surprise that it intensified on the third anniversary of my mother's death, since I have long believed that our bodies are containers for our life experiences and unexpressed emotions. A few months later, most of the immediate symptoms were gone and now I have what I refer to as occasional 'shingles tingles,' which feel like feathery touch on my head; not unpleasant, but a reminder of the loud and clear message I had received that I needed to offer better self care.
Although I was aware of the impact on my life, I continued my 'normal' and in retrospect, rather insane routine of work, little rest and now what I imagine as 'hostage negotiation,' since I really was a prisoner of my own terror of failure. I would let myself out of the cell to envision a life in which my needs were taken care of so I could finally cease the frenetic pace and do what I love. Breathing the air of freedom was tantalizing, but short lived.
In June of 2014 on the way home from the gym following what I viewed as a normal workout -- one of four or five I did each week in addition to the aforementioned work/play routine, I experienced a heart attack. While unexpected, it could have been predicted with family pre-disposition, stress level, diet (even though it was primarily vegetarian, it was still too high in sodium and cholesterol), elevated blood pressure, and poor sleep habits all in the mix. An insertion of a stent, medication, cardiac rehab, naps, seven to eight hours sleep a night and a huge shift in attitude are, five months later, keeping my ticker counting off the moments of my life.
One of the decisions I made this summer was that when I was sufficiently recovered, I would begin to teach other women about heart healing; not merely the cardiac muscle, but what in Sanskrit is called the 'anahata' or heart chakra, which is also referred to as the 'unstruck note'.
Although I have dramatically altered my perceptions, workaholism still holds me in its grip, as I have switched the hard driving intensity from career path to cardiac rehab. Of all of the addictions, workaholism is the only one that is encouraged. I had been attending three days a week, increasing my time in the gym, up-leveling my performance, getting a whole bunch of praise from the therapists, family and friends for how well I was doing. My own 'atta girls' followed me to the car each time. Twelve weeks later, I graduated from the hospital based program to one housed in a local wellness center luxuriously appointed gym where I have been putting in 50-60 minute workout times five days a week. The downside of that routine was that often I would emerge exhausted for the rest of the day and need to take a nap to be able to have a normal semblance of functioning in other areas of my life.
Another round of health issues was raised when during a series of tests, 'incidental findings' were revealed....lung lesions, breast nodule...all so far, nothing of major consequence, and most recently, diminished adrenal functioning related to aforementioned crazy-busy lifestyle. I used to say that I was 'running on adrenaline and fumes' and 'burning the candle at both ends until there was no more wax left.' I was told by the doc who offered that diagnosis that she thought I should cut back on my workout schedule since I was pushing the envelope in ways that could do further damage. My Type A competitive persona balked at that suggestion; feeling as if something I loved was being taken from me. Here I was wanting to prove that I could overcome this physical limitation and once again, it felt like my body was betraying me. One measure of my self proclaimed success was how much I sweat. I had seen a bumper sticker back in October that said "It's Not Sweat, It's Liquid Awesome.' I was determined to pour forth a measurable amount each time. In the past week or so, I have stepped back the workouts, still feeling a sense of satisfaction, as well as improved life performance. No longer obsessed with the thought that I have to prove myself.
As a result of these revelations, I have begun to speak on the subject 'From Wonder Woman to Bionic Woman'; since once upon a time, I was exhibiting savior behavior and now I have a bionic body part that keeps my heart pumping.
Although it might be hard to imagine, I really AM grateful for all of these occurrences, since they have brought me huge revelations, an awareness that we get do-overs, a deeper appreciation for family and friends who have kept my spirits high, my writing jobs and delight that my body has an intelligence that my mind alone can't conceive.
In the past few months, I have dyed my hair purple, danced on stage with Chubby Checker, had my Opti-Mystic meme created from one of my quotes go viral when Julian Lennon posted it on his Facebook page, spoken on two webinars and been on HuffPost Live. There's still some life in this seasoned woman yet!