Thursday, May 16, 2019

Learning to live, part I.

"I want to change the world; instead, I sleep.
I want to believe in more than you and me.
But all that I know is I'm breathing.
All I can do is keep breathing."
-Ingrid Michaelson

I've been going through a really rough time, particularly over the past several months. Physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. I am addressing the root of my issues one by one, and it's very tiring work. I'm hanging in there, but please be patient with me. I wish I could be more to everyone, and someday, I hope to share with you all my journey of healing. But right now, all I can do is keep breathing.

On February 21, I shared the above image and caption on my Instagram account.

Prior to this, I was in such an incredible amount of pain. Of all kinds.

Physically, my upper back and shoulders had hurt continuously for nearly eight years. It started in 2011 when my son Carson was a toddler. I thought I'd hurt myself by lifting him. The pain was unreal; my whole arm felt like it was on fire and the pain radiated from the top of my head down to my fingertips. I saw a chiropractor right away who ordered an MRI and X-ray. Both turned up negative.

A year later, I saw a general practitioner who put me on steroids and muscle relaxers. The pain returned full-force as soon as I stopped taking the medications.

I then saw a different doctor who told me it was due to low progesterone and hypothyroidism. He put me on hormones, which helped for a time, but things then got much worse. In addition to the muscle pain, I became exhausted and felt achy all the time. I couldn't get up in the mornings and needed a nap each day by mid-afternoon.

I took matters into my own hands. I stopped taking the hormones. I did a six-day juice fast. I quit gluten. I bought a Theracane. I got massages. I earnestly started lifting weights and working out, but nothing fixed it. I got pregnant with my daughter Clara and delivered her in 2014. The pain persisted.

A year ago, I saw a holistic nurse practitioner who took several vials of my blood and told me I was essentially normal, and she could prescribe CBD oil if I wanted.

I gave up. I was going to have to endure this trial for the rest of my life.

I quit my beloved job as an assistant and accompanist for a prestigious high school choral program. I also quit teaching private piano and voice lessons. Sitting at the piano put me in more pain than anything else, and the amount of hours and attention these jobs required created significant amounts of stress. I felt stretched thin as a mother and worried that my kids were getting only the very little that was left of me.

Emotionally, I was completely drained of everything except anxiety and depression. I didn't have energy for joy, excitement, anger or grief because living with chronic pain is so draining. It saps the life out of you. I felt constant anxiety over the many demands of my life I couldn't meet because I was hurting so much. I felt depressed because I had once achieved so much, but now, I could barely do anything. I perceived that I was disappointing so many people.

Spiritually, my physical pain and emotional sickness impeded my ability to connect with the divine. God seemed so far away. I couldn't feel His love anymore. I started to think maybe He wasn't there, because my endless pleas to be cured were met with silence. Attending church was exhausting. I felt like I had to put on a brave face and endure hours of discussions about how if you're righteous and good, everything in your life will work out and you'll be happy. Here, I had done everything expected of me for my entire life, and I was as miserable as I'd ever been. I would go home after these lessons and cry, feeling like the world's biggest failure.

In hindsight, I see now that I was enduring the effects of a traumatic incident -- losing my mother to cancer. The mental illnesses and chronic pain I'd already had for years became unbearable in the wake of losing a parent. But I didn't feel like I could fully process the trauma. I had to be strong and "get over it." I pushed it down and tried to ignore it. I just wanted to "move forward."

Towards the end of last year, I began to unravel. I was desperate to escape the pain. I wanted to die or to run away. I envied my mother and her escape from this wretched life. I fantasized about leaving my family and going somewhere far away where no one knows me, somewhere I could start from scratch and be totally alone. A place where the people who loved me wouldn't have to suffer with me and my problems. I honestly believed everyone was better off without me.

It was a dark, horrifying and lonely place to be.

Thankfully, my husband Dillon saw what was happening and guided me toward professional help. He saved me.

I started seeing a counselor in January, in the middle of this breakdown. She helped me understand the trauma my mind had endured, and how I could alleviate this suffering. I had to acknowledge some painful truths about myself and make some big changes. Most importantly, I had to learn to live differently. I had to understand my limits, set boundaries with myself and others, and take care of myself.

You see, I had always been very good at taking care of others. Even as a small child, I wanted everyone to be happy. I wanted to do everything expected of me, because it meant people would accept and love me. I was a teacher's pet, a straight-A student, an exemplary worker, always on time, always dependable, always said "yes." This pattern continued on through my life well into adulthood.

In the meantime, I habitually cast my own needs aside. I didn't have time to sleep or see a doctor or exercise or even EAT sometimes because other people -- clients, church congregants, family, friends -- needed me first. And I could manage this type of life before. But post-loss Jenna couldn't hack it, and at the end of 2018, it all came crashing down on me.

My counselor first gave me some ideas about how to manage my anxiety, process my grief, and begin to heal. One exercise that particularly helped was free-writing. She instructed me to set a timer for five minutes and write whatever came to mind, without editing or analyzing. I often spent more than five minutes doing this, and the time was fraught with strong, painful emotions. But at the end, I felt lighter.

She also suggested I begin practicing yoga. I immediately bristled at this idea, because I had tried yoga in the past and hated it. I couldn't enjoy the practice because I'd get caught up in whether I was doing it right, breathing right, holding the poses long enough, and so forth. It felt like torture to me. But I wanted to get better, so I decided to trust her. I signed up for yoga at the gym just up the hill.

That's when things started to turn around for me.

1 comment:

  1. Oh man, I wish we lived closer to you all! I feel like being near you guys would be good for us.


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