Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Release & Surrender: Journey through the Depths of a Health Crisis

from Doreen Virtue deck of Angel Cards
For the past month, I've been trying to put in to words the experience of moving through a recent personal health crisis related to my ulcerative colitis. I'm sure this singular post will not do it justice, more will surely follow.

Of all the things that have come up for me during this time, the one constant has been...release and surrender. 

These words carried me throughout my five day hospital stay in mid-May. The image of this angel (see image) card danced in my mind repeatedly throughout my stay. There was nothing I could do as I lay helpless in bed, hooked to an IV machine, poked and prodded every few hours and getting little rest. During this time my mantra became release and surrender.

Coming out of the hospital I was optimistic that I would quickly return to my normal activities, but that was not the case. It has been a  month since my time at the hospital and I'm now only starting to get small tasks done daily. When all the hard work I had done towards building my professional career seemed to fall out from underneath me, my thoughts went to release and surrender.

When I missed the opportunity to visit my dad, watch my niece graduate from high school, or welcome a new baby niece to the family, I reminded myself to release and surrender. 

I never imagined I'd fall ill so quickly. From what I've researched, some women experience complete remission of their colitis during the pregnancy. Unfortunately I fell in to the other, less-fortunate bucket who experience more severe symptoms. For the past 20 years I've manged my ulcerative colitis without ever having to be hospitalized. This was a first for me and hopefully the last. Coming off the excitement of sharing our baby news, landing myself in the hospital only a week later was not at all in my plans. While the baby has been okay throughout this entire ordeal, not much of my pregnancy has gone the way I thought it would. I'm learning to release and surrender to that too.

I had a feeling my colitis was acting up, but I never thought it would go out of control the way it did. In fact, I thought the disturbances I was feeling was because of the pregnancy and from having to drastically change my daily routine with regards to care because many of the things I was taking are not "cleared" for pregnancy. I saw my GI doctor and we determined a regiment, but it wasn't enough. At the same time, I was experiencing a lot of personal stress and working myself towards exhaustion. It goes without saying that my body finally crapped out of me.


In the course of three weeks, including my hospital stay, I lost about 20 pounds (of which I didn't need to lose nor ever wanted to lose) and was left unable to move around my house without assistance because I was too weak. Bye bye strong toned body. I could barely stand in the shower by myself let alone make myself a meal. I kept myself going by fierce determination to make it through the day with hopes that tomorrow would be better. In my weakest moments, I doubted my ability to stay strong and admit that at times I wanted to give up.

If it wasn't for the constant checking in of my dear friends and family, notes from students and colleagues, I don't know how I would have made it. Their love and support has carried me through, definitely feeling their prayers and sentiments of love throughout the days.

It's hard to explain to people that don't know anything about ulcerative colitis just how debilitating it can be. Partially this is because its embarrassing to talk about and partially because it's a private matter. I've never really been embarrassed to talk about it before, but trying to educate people about what was happening--that going to the bathroom all day and night every hour on the hour coupled with total loss of control of my bowels and not being able to keep food in, left me so physically and mentally exhausted from all the pain and discomfort that even thinking was challenging for me. I couldn't even form words without putting forth some major effort. I was completely humbled.

I thought a lot about my mom during this time. She battled her way through cancer for 11 years and very hardly complained, at least not to me. I don't know how she did it. My teacher Dharma would say "She did it because it needed to be done."

I'm finally at a place of recovery and upswing many thanks in part to my aunt who took me in to nurse me back to health. Though I'm still not 100%, I am on the other side of what seemed like a never ending decline. I don't know how long it will be before I'm back to my normal pace, but that's not really the focus right now. As a friend and fellow yoga teacher reminded me "health first." Gaining strength and recovering is my top priority. What I do, I do because it needs to be done. The mantra keeps playing in my ears. I sometimes don't have the energy to walk the dog, but I do it because it needs to be done. My legs feel like jello after and I want to lay down, but I keep on moving mindfully from task to task.

My yoga practice is this now one day at a time, one breath at a time. I am also practicing a health dose of Ahimsa for myself and for my baby. I have no other choice. The asana I do includes Child's Pose , gentle stretching and heart openers. Mostly, I focus on breathing. As I get stronger, I've started to add in some gentle strength training. For now, I listen to what my body and baby need and go from there.

Ironically enough, I came home from the hospital and the first card I pulled from my Angel Card deck was Release & Surrender. I haven't touched those cards in a long time and I usually only do on a whim. I was curious since the image of that card kept coming up for me during my stay. I guess you could say I was getting the message loud and clear.

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