Lay Low and Go Slow

Over the last several months, my emotional state has been cycling through periods of relief, anticipation, dread, and hope. In the last nine months, doctors have presented me with the good, the bad, and the uncertain. However, it’s only in the last week or so that I’ve been able to apply the wisdom I have diligently collected over the years. I have found a way to step back–out of the turmoil–and release my attachment to the outcomes.

This last weekend was objectively rough. On Friday, I spent six hours in the hospital for my lumbar puncture procedure. My low blood pressure and viscous bodily fluids made for a long and exhausting day, but the performing doctor and entire staff were incredible kind and knowledgeable.

The hospital had just acquired a new machine and I was the second patient to undergo the fluoroscopically-guided lumbar puncture. I was able to lay comfortably on my stomach as the doctor used a continuous X-ray image on a monitor to identity the best entry point and monitor the flow of cerebrospinal fluid. Two small bottles of a local numbing agent were injected at the chosen site, and then the doctor spent 20 minutes conversing with me as the fluids slowly dripped into a small vial.

I slept for 21 hours post-procedure and woke up feeling well, aside from some soreness around that small blue “X” on my lower back. My attending nurse had warned me about headaches and spinal fluid leaks, so I made an effort to lay go and go slow.

I have been an overachiever for all my life, so the lessons that 2018 has presented me with have admittedly been difficult to swallow. Repeatedly, my body has begged me to slow down, rest, and let go. I want desperately to do more, but I physically cannot.

Last year, caring for my body meant waking up at 4:15am every morning to lift and run before work. It meant teaming with a nutritionist to closely manage my macros and spending 10+ hours weekly on meal prep. Self-care meant strength, physique, and optimal wellness. It meant feeling really good about my body.

I had to stop working out in early April because I was collapsing five minutes into a workout, even when my trainer scaled me back from lifting 90lb to simple body weight exercises. Every few weeks, I try HIIT and sun salutations, but my body tells me to stop. So, I do.

Lately, caring for my body means pairing fresh, local, organic, and in-season produce with organic grains and proteins. It means sleeping (a lot!) and limiting exercise to short walks on cool evenings. It means speaking kind words to my body, despite the quickly-depreciating muscle tone and the perpetual bags under my eyes.

This is my reality right now, in this moment. And all that exists is the present moment. I’m coming to realize that it’s my duty to pay attention and respond with compassion in every moment–perhaps especially in those moments where I’m given the difficult task of showing myself the same level of love I would a family member or dear friend.

I woke up on Saturday sans the infamous “spinal headache” and excitedly began testing my body’s limits. I couldn’t put on socks without help, yet I insisted on a mile-long walk in the misting rain to watch the sunset. I am still dealing with the physical consequences of that decision, including the sensation of approximately two dozen knives through my skull and a fetus-free pregnancy waddle.

The experience reminds me now of what the nurse said: lay low and go slow. And it brings to mind that every decision, both in business and in life, involves a cost-benefit analysis. Had I stayed inside, I would have missed that gorgeous sunset and the sensation of rain drops kissing my checks; had I stayed inside, I might not be suffering the effects of the stabbing spinal headache.

After months of anxiously awaiting lab results, diagnostics, and calls from the doctor, I’ve let go of that desperate need to know what’s next. Somewhere, a lab technician is analyzing my spinal fluid. Soon, my infectious disease doctor will review the results and adjust my treatment plan accordingly. By this time next week, I will know whether the fungal infection is lodged in my meninges or if our search will continue on to my bones and joints.

I’m not afraid anymore. I’m not anxious nor depressed. I don’t feel lonely, hopeless, or sad. I understand that all I can do right now is experience the moment and express gratitude for what I do have–a loving boyfriend, caring family, and understanding boss; a roof over my head, nutrient-rich foods, and exceptional medical care. I have is way better than a lot of people, and I fully aware of and grateful for that.

With each passing year, I am coming to realize more and more that humans are well-equipped to cope with hardships and grow from their experiences. Yet, unvarying security holds the highest value, thereby limiting the population from recognizing disaster as an opportunity to practice resilience.

In spite of all the turmoil, I feel as if I’m in the eye of the storm: I feel safe, secure, and capable as I take shelter in the basement of my life. We’ve been experiencing some severe monsoon weather lately, with flash flooding and mature trees snapped like twigs. In such storms, I take shelter indoors and watch intently as chain lightning sprawls across the sky, birds take shelter under porch awnings, and water pools on the sidewalk outside.

It is so easy to watch nature without judgement, even as it exercises a tremendous power that sometimes leads to loss. Life is filled with loss, if you haven’t noticed.

It is often more challenging to view our own thoughts, emotions, and reality through that lens of mere observation without judgement. However, I’m finding that with achy body and compromised cognition, it’s been far easier to focus on what’s important. With limited waking hours and energy, instances of worry become glaringly futile and wasteful.

All I have is this moment, and this moment alone. I may not be out crushing goals right now, but I am taking shelter from a tempestuous storm. I am listening to my body and its fluctuating needs–laying low and going slow. At least until this storm passed.

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