Thursday, May 13, 2010

The "M" Word

I was updating the Bastyr naturopathy team on my latest symptoms when the intern nearly let it slip.

In response to one of my many Is this normal? questions, she replied, "I'm sure it's nothing. "That's not uncommon in women who are pre-mmm ... In women your age."

Wow. Really? "It's OK, you can say it."

She smiled nervously, as if afraid her gaffe might prompt a bout of hormonal rage or uncontrollable weeping. "We're not really supposed to use that word. It could refer to anyone under the age of 50, after all. If you think about it, we're all pre-menopausal."

"Sure we are," I replied. Just some of us more than others.

There's no getting around it, the "M" words are starting to apply to me. Middle aged. Midlife crisis. And yes, I am probably closer than I'd like to admit to the big one: Menopause.

If I were someone else, I might be researching plastic surgeons or looking into that cute little sports car I've always wanted. Instead, I am just getting sick.

Or maybe not "just." The naturopath who is supervising my case, Patrick Donovan, has an interesting perspective on illness.

"Chronic illness," he says, "is often the evidence of your Essential Self, your own true essence of being, struggling to emerge from the transformative fires of chaos and affirm itself against the inertia and complacency of inauthentic and uncreative living. It is the consequence of the suppressive and restrictive effects of fear and persistent denial on your life."

Ordinarily this kind of language would go right by me. But, "inauthentic and uncreative living"? "Fear and persistent denial"? These are some of the core issues I'm working on right now.

He goes on: "Fear, complacency and denial are powerful obstructions on the path of transformation and self-discovery that must be shattered. Illness is often the very process needed to do so."

In other words, maybe there's a reason I'm confronting this illness, in this way, at this moment. I can choose not to look at it that way, of course. I can continue to deny the effects of my everyday choices on my health. I can continue to subject my mind, body, and spirit to high levels of stress. I can keep taking care of everyone else while neglecting myself. I can keep masking the symptoms.

Or, I can be awake to the full experience of this illness and what it has to teach me. My body is trying to tell me something about how I've lived my life up to this point. And I believe, if I pay attention, it will also point me to the path of recovery.

So if this is my midlife crisis, I say bring it on. I am ready to be done with fear and denial. I have big plans for the second half of my (in the oft-quoted words of Mary Oliver) "one wild and precious life."

Body, I am your student. Lead the way.

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