Is It Time to Write a New Story?
Last week, I divulged to you that a swift kick in the rump was delivered to my derrière via the climatic Hypothalamic Amenorrhea diagnosis. Spark notes version in case you missed it: my diet and lifestyle, albeit constructed with the best of intentions, created a maelstrom of hormone imbalance, and I'm working to rebuild/heal the part of my brain which has been most affected: aka my Hypothalamus. Check out the last post if you're interested in the full version.
I admit that, insofar as my lifestyle and health as of late go… I have been coasting. I have been riding the waves of the last major change I made in my health/life. Another way of putting it: I have been stuck in a rut.
Ever heard that a “rut” is just a grave with the ends knocked out?
The book I'm reading right now, Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins, describes the rut of one of the main characters in a way that echoed familiar to my ears:
Which makes complete and total sense; if we aren't expanding, then we're contracting, and I was doing some serious contracting. The rut was getting deeper... and deeper... and I found myself craving the direction of darkness which was at once tiresome and also… all I wanted.
Flash back to four years ago, a time in which the story I wrote about myself cast me as a struggling artist in New York City with no medical insurance who was facing abdominal pain (to the point where sometimes, while walking down the busy streets of New York City, I'd have to duck into a diner, cafe, or shop to take a knee), quarterly sinus infections, chronic fatigue (which was compounded by the fact that I often worked 24 hour days), and migraines. A series of doctor appointments, sonograms, and tests racked up a bill upwards of $1,800.00 (a pretty penny to a self proclaimed struggling artist) and yielded no results.
Uninsured as I was, I took matters into my own hands and decided that maybe, just maybe, if I decided to treat my body with more respect, I'd see some results. I cleaned up my act, hit the Integrative Nutrition books, and did some serious life changing shi(f)t.
Life got all sparkly and new. It was fantastic.
Then, once I was feeling better in my body and my life, I realized that New York City was no longer my home, and I packed my bags. I spent two years in a nomadic state, being a globe trotter, freelancer, and occasional waitress/dog sitter/office manager/actor.
At first, the freedom that came with this nomadic lifestyle was freeing. I could be whomever I wanted to be. I could be… whomever… I wanted to be.
Holy crap. I could be… whomever. I. wanted. to. be.
Suddenly… I didn't know the story I was writing anymore.
If I could be whomever I wanted to be… whom did I want to BE?
Stick that in your pipe and smoke it for a second.
If you could be whomever you wanted to be, whom would you be?
After spending a year in a vacuum, practically frozen while simultaneously throwing all the noodles at the wall to see what would stick… I realized: the truth is, we write our own story.
Every single day we have the opportunity to write a different story for ourselves. We can choose to continue in the story we're already in, we can make a change, or we can have change thrust upon us.
When I first got the ha-HA diagnosis, it felt like the story was thrust upon me, and the initial story I wrote was a Bronte-esque drama: “woe is me,” “I may never have my own babies,” and “you only have yourself to blame.”
Then, after doing some research, I found confirmation that this can be healed with diet and lifestyle, and it does not have to be a Bronte novel in which the heroine is destined for despair and misery.
It is my choice to rewrite the story.
Hypothalamic Amenorrhea? It's just the beginning of a new story.
That's all well and good to say. But how exactly do we go about writing a new story?
For me? It evolved into a lovely step by step process.
Step One: Tell yourself the current story you're in (the old story; the one you're ready to leave behind). Write it down like you're penning a memoir/autobiography. Allow yourself to connect with the story; the details are important. Pin down: The Who. The What. The Where. The Why. A lot of my current story is in the previous blog post and above in this blog post. But I'll break it down a little for the folks playing along at home:
The Bronte-esque heroine headed towards her demise.
My what, where, and why:
My old story (the one about the struggling artist in New York City) was bred from fear (the why). I not only took on a major health change out of a desire to feel better but also out of fear. The thing I was most petrified of was cancer, namely breast cancer, and so I avoided foods that were linked with increased risk of spontaneous breast cancer (rather than genetic): namely sugar, meat, and soy.
[There are few clinical studies that prove the increased risk of breast cancer in association with soy isoflavens, but my fear was so intense that I didn't want to risk it. In doing so, I cut out soy nearly all together. There are many studies that have indicated an inverse relationship between soy consumption and premenopausal breast cancer. (Source 1, Source 2). My logic followed that if I cut out soy, I cut out the increased risk of breast cancer. Please view the sidebar for more info on sources and my opinions.]
I mentioned in my previous post how I did this cold turkey. A harsh transition from the Standard American Diet (full of soy) to nada soy, nada meat, nada dairy (also associated with higher estrogen levels)? Think of Emeril screaming “BAM!” and shocking the heck outta my body.
But mine didn't adjust because on the heels of this transition to vegetarianism/no soy/no dairy came an unpleasant encounter with disordered eating and increased levels of life stress.
Step Two: What about this story isn't working? What doesn't feel good?
Fear can be a powerful motivator, but it is not often one that allows us to be kind, compassionate, and loving to ourselves. Fear leads to extremes.
As my life became extremely unbalanced and unsustainable, my body was living in a constant fight or flight state.
Things the hypothalamus does not like? Constant stress.
Step Three: How do I want the new story to feel?
Feelings are our most powerful navigator. We can trust our feelings to be our compass. There are three basic levels of communication (with ourselves and others): feelings, thoughts, and words.
Feelings are primal. They're hard to convey, but they are honest, instinctual, and reliable. Gut feelings are usually spot on.
Our thoughts are the first level of translation from feelings that our lizard brains can muster. Thoughts are where we usually get caught up. Anxiety, stress, and worry stem from trapped feelings and the thoughts that spring up in association.
The next step is to words.
Ever been in a fight with someone, and you just simply canNOT convey your feelings? No matter how hard you try, what you say comes out completely wrong. The opposite extreme is also a great example. Ever tried conveying how much you love someone through words? It is nearly impossible to capture that explosion of warmth in words.
These two examples also illustrate how there are two basic choices we have for our feelings: love or fear. Do we choose the path of love (i.e. namaste: the light within me bows and honors the light within you) or the path of fear (which is often misinterpreted as hate)?
While not impossible, there are a few humans who are capable of capturing their true feelings in words. They are the ones that we say, "Oh my, you have such a way with words," to.
And there are those who convey their feelings with art. That's why great paintings, music, dance, and written words (to name a few) can move and resonate with us so much.
The lizard brain is a powerful, magical tool, after all.
So in step three it's all about imagining how you want the new story to feel. And then, if possible, get that feeling down on paper in whatever way you can.
If I'm choosing between love or fear, I want to go the way of love, with this one.
Before we move on to step four, you may be thinking, “why would you ever choose the way of fear?”
Pause for one second, and think of a time when you tried to make a change before you were ready. Maybe there was a time when someone else tried to change you, but you weren't ready to change.
It's ok to be sad. It's ok to be in a state of fear. It's ok to retreat, contract, and live in pain.
So, yes, sometimes, though I hate to admit it, I have chosen to go the way of fear. I have reveled, rejoiced, and savored fear. I wouldn't have told you that, at the time; I probably would have said that I would do anything to get out of that discomfort. But it's not until we actually DO that anything that we will get out of the discomfort.
Living the story of fear is often the most difficult, and it can best be viewed in hindsight.
This new story though? I want this new story to feel empowering, strong, fun, and free. The old story was a drag. If the old story was Charlotte Bronte's Wuthering Heights or a sweeping, dramatic piece like Verdi's "Teneste La Promessa" from La Traviata, then I want the new story to be a Maya Angelou poem mixed with a Jackson Pollock painting and a bowl of ice cream with rainbow sprinkles.
Step Four: Write the synopsis you would find on the book jacket of this new story.
I'll admit that even though this was my own idea, I felt a little silly doing this part, but imagining the basic plot line of the new story is important; gotta have a sunset to ride off into!
Book Jacket Synopsis: When a woman is diagnosed with Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, she realizes she has been given the opportunity to grow, learn, expand, and challenge herself. She will meet several strangers along the way who will guide and empower her, becoming a team of support who do a heck of a lot more than merely heal her hypothalamus.
Step Five: Live the new story.
It was time to rewrite my story, and I like this new one a whole lot more. Life has been WAY more fun since my doctor called because I like this new story.
Is it time to rewrite yours?
If it is, I totally invite you to take a stab at the steps I detailed above or share your own steps with me. Whatever it takes for you to find joy and excitement for life… that's the story I wish for you.
To your happily ever after (with many rewrites to come, I'm sure),