The last 6+ months have been transformative and trying, to say the least. I’ve faced some of my deepest fears, highest levels of stress, and saw control dissolve to make room for an unbelievable amount of personal growth. It’s the type of growth that made me see it’s part of my mission to guide others in the process of also overcoming fears, stress, and the need to control in even the most trying of seasons of life as a practitioner and friend.
My latest life update is that I’ve reached a point in this season of being sick where I now can’t eat solid food. I’ve been put on a liquid medical food diet for a few weeks to see if it will help my gut lining to reseal. Essentially what my doctors think is happening is that my gut lining is so damaged and permeable (click here for an explanation of leaky gut) that everything I ingest is leaking into my bloodstream and causing me to have autoimmune-like reactions.
It’s a bit of a race against the clock now to heal before I develop an actual autoimmune disease or something of the likes, and that is indeed stressful as hell to think about.
The approach to killing off the pathogens I tested positive for has been ineffective at reducing my symptoms, so now we have to look at regaining my health from others angles. The leaky gut is contributing to my hyperoxularia, so even having collagen and gelatin (two compounds that usually promote healing of a leaky gut) is harmful to me right now. Collagen and gelatin contain amino acids that convert into oxalates, worsening my leaky gut and leaching into my blood stream. Another reminder of how individual nutrition is, something “healthy” can be harmful in certain cases.
Anywho, the bottom line is that I’ve been afraid of reaching this point, being put on a liquid diet is literally a last resort in the medical world. It’s stressful, and I have little control of what happens from here. But here I am. I’m doing it, and I’m okay.
reflecting on fear
I jumped into 2019 reflecting a lot on fear. My fears keep becoming realities. I was afraid of jumping off a cliff and fractured a vertebrae. I was afraid of having an appendectomy and now I have potentially life-long damage to clean up. I was afraid of how little I could eat these last few months and now I subsist on powders mixed with liquid. I was afraid of the toll my health would take on my relationships.
We’re resilient beings, though. My vertebrae healed after 6 months of rehabbing it. My appendix was removed and now I know more about the GI tract than I ever thought I could. My body needs a rest, and this liquid medical food diet will be fine. My relationships have been put through the wringer but their goals are clearer and stronger.
The human condition makes us think we have more control than we actually do. Control is comforting, and control is about handling fear and creating distance from. There’s so much to be said about adaptability in the face of our fears and invite them in for processing.
Back in college I conquered my anxious tendencies and panic attacks by getting uncomfortable and facing my fears all the time. It was my goal to do one thing each day that made me uncomfortable, and I did it for a good year and a half until I had new habits to handle life’s uncertainties. I successfully broke the vicious cycle of feeling fear and stress when I didn’t feel in control. I don’t have to seek out discomfort these days, life has been plenty uncomfortable lately and my saving grace is that I can say with conviction I’m strong enough to handle it.
The list I’ve outlined here is how I’ve overcome tough seasons before and how I handle the one I’m in now.
1. set boundaries
Boundaries are wildly important for fostering both what we want and need in life. Boundaries determine the levels of intimacy we have with others and how much energy we expend at each level. Burnout happens when we don’t set up boundaries for ourselves.
I wasn’t great at setting boundaries until my mental wellbeing and relationships were at risk of falling apart in the last half of a year. I had especially poor boundaries when it came to work because achievement was part of my identity. I had a huge reality check this summer where my burnout was screaming at me to refocus where I put my energy and discern what levels fo intimacy I was capable of. And when I say intimacy, all that means is the closeness I practice with those around me (boyfriend, friends, family, etc..).
I had to rework my identity before I could successfully exercise my boundaries. I had to hole up instead of saying yes to everything and everyone. I can now confidently say when I need time for myself and say no when something doesn’t serve me. It no longer feels selfish, I just have healthy boundaries that put me at the center of my needs. What a concept, eh?
Boundaries are an instance where control has a place in life. Control in this case is actually a health thing because we are letting ourselves receive before giving.
2. figure out your reset mechanism
Whether you meditate, socialize, go for a run, or binge on netflix for an afternoon, you need to have a means let down in the face of fears and stressors. Refuge is where we can mentally rest and reset ourselves, bringing ourselves back to reality. This is a time and place where you want to check in with yourself. Sometimes when we’re trying to cope in a situation we make more of the issue than it actually is. Whether you relax first and then process, or use the relaxation space to process, processing has to happen before you can respond to fears and stressors.
My means of reset include organizing something, cleaning the apartment, or cooking alone. For whatever reason, it’s just where I process and let down because I’m comfortable in those spaces. I’m not much of a verbal processor. I much prefer to write things down before I work through something verbally with another person because I tend to react instead of responding.
3. learning the importance of conviction
Conviction happens when we replace fear with trust in life’s potential goodness. I was certainly not a person who said much with conviction before 2018. It was a big year for me spiritually, and I had the right community to lead me by example into belief. Even if I hadn’t rekindled my relationship with God, I would have needed to learn the importance of belief and truth for a full and vibrant life.
One of the first classes in my MNT program was biochemistry, where I learned how humans have control of genetic expression. It immediately made sense to me thinking back on my health history. I’ve had so many seasons of being ill while stressed and had the hardest time recovering, but when the stress subsided I “magically” got better. If you don’t believe the science, read Dr. Lipton’s book The Biology of Belief.
4. mantras to repeat
respond instead of reacting
sift softness over chaos
choices ought to reflect our hopes and not our fears
control is about fear and intimacy is about risk
the only person I can control is myself
5. learn to live in the process
Goals are important. But how we get from point A to point B to reach that goal is even more important. If we get paralyzed by the space between point A and point B, we don’t learn anything along the way and proliferate our suffering. That between space is called the process, a window of time where it is perhaps advantageous to let go of control to make space growth. Growth usually feels like you’re falling apart at first. It’s like breaking out of a skin layer to fit a new one. It’s true for personal growth and intimate growth in others. Growth takes time, it’s a process we have to let happen to us.
Without fail, all the events that have ever caused me emotional turmoil were situations where I didn’t feel in control. For as much energy as I can give this year, I’m called to dig into how I guide the process of healing. Because the process is where we learn to grow and how we get stronger.
we are more resilient than we believe most of the time.
Once your boundaries are set and you’re taking care of you as best you can, make space for joy. Life isn’t linear or static or a given. We are going to go in and out of seasons that bring everything from calm to hell. Overcoming fears and stress is a life-long process. You can overcome fears in one season and it will make you feel like superwoman. Yet, the next season might tear that progress down as a challenge for you to build it up once again out of resilience.