I got my Masters Degree in Counseling in 2003, and my certification in nutrition coaching in 2006. In other words, I've been immersed in the field of health, emotions and food for some time.
So when I woke up with eyelids nearly swollen shut a few weeks ago, I was perplexed.
What could have brought this on?
The first Sunday I woke up looking like a blowfish, my concerned husband insisted on taking me to urgent care. Three hours and $231 later, I left with nothing different than what I had already done: take an antihistamine and apply cold compresses.
That did not help at all.
A visit to my naturopath the next day provided some helpful tools to improve the symptoms: acupuncture, salt-water compresses, suggesting avoiding grains to see if it was an allergy, and a homeopathic remedy. Later we discovered that the allergy approach was not working either.
A week later, I puffed up again!!
More compresses. More ice. Resting in bed as the swelling went down.
My problem was becoming chronic, and with that, the skin around my eyes was permanently red, dry, cracking and peeling. Sometimes I even had patches of raw skin!
I was so miserable.
And all of my misery and confusion were aggravated by the thought, "I should know how to manage this! I should be able to resolve this!"
There's a sort of shame that comes with working in the fields of health-coaching and counseling when one is not a magazine-cover-worthy picture of health and vibrancy.
I was miserable. I was confused. And I was feeling terrible about myself.
But, as is true in so many ways, we can't see our own stuff as well as we can see others'. It's also true for healers: A dentist can't give herself a root canal. A massage therapist hires another bodyworker. In nearly every instance, we all typically do better with someone else's perspective.
So I pursued a wholly different perspective: Chinese Medicine.
I made an appointment with my husband's acupuncturist, Brendan Kelly. We both swear by him after he helped Justin resolve the plantar fasciitis that had kept him in excruciating pain for more than a year.
Brendan practices Traditional Chinese Medicine, which takes a completely different view of health and all conditions. Basically, TCM looks at the body, food, and emotions (along with everything in life) as expressions of the five elements: fire, earth, metal, water and wood.
TCM also looks at nearly all symptoms in the body as being a product of Yin-Yang imbalance, which can also show up in any combination of heat-coldness and dryness-dampness. So you can have symptoms that are hot and dry; hot and damp (like mine); or any other combination.
It turns out that my whole cluster of symptoms can be explained by excess heat, excess dampness and excess wind. All of which, interestingly (or oddly) make sense to me.
(Some) Signs of excess heat:
- Physical: Redness, burning, heat, inflammation, sweating, etc.
- Emotion: Stress.
(Some) Signs of excess dampness:
- Allergies, puffiness, excess mucus, etc.
- Emotion: Stagnation.
(Some) Signs of wind:
- Itching, dryness, asthma, wheezing, coughing, lung-related symptoms.
- Mentally: monkey mind, excessive thinking.
- Emotion: Grief.
In other words, all of my symptoms are the result of excessive heat (too much doing, too much stress, and a heat-raising diet), excessive dampness (the slowly growing stagnation from so much doing, plus a dampness-promoting diet), and excess wind (grief and too much thinking.)
Brendan's view was really eye-opening. With his help, I can focus on the things that reduce heat and dry up dampness (i.e. a cooling diet; no spices; no dairy,) and doing things that help temper wind (i.e. meditation, rest, non-doing.)
It all starts to make sense.
Yes. I've been moving through a tremendous amount of grief and stress over the past six months. And my traditional approach (get busy) is only making things worse. I've slowly been feeling a paralysis creeping over me as everything has been feeling like an uphill push.
So in addition to seeing Brendan for acupuncture, I'm following my own coaching and counseling playbook:
- Observe my emotions and their connections to my physical symptoms. Use EFT and other tools to process them.
- Continue my morning meditation, and allow myself to meditate for as long as I want.
- Slow everything down: how much I'm working, how much I'm planning, how much I'm doing, and allow myself to learn to BE.
Indeed, our health is inexorably linked to the rest of our lives.
What's happening within is a reflection of what's happening without. And vice versa.
To a certain extent, that slow-creeping paralysis was my inner wisdom screaming for me to slow down; to stop pushing. I've been in compulsive doing/busy mode for the majority of my life. As the granddaughter of farmers and a life-long straight-A student, I grew up with huge value placed on keeping busy and doing.
I know I'm not alone in this.
Our society's collective high value of doing (over being) shows its dark side in heart attacks, strokes, mid-life crises, substance abuse and so much more.
There must be balance between doing and being.
The state of doing also interferes with our ability to be present to our emotional states.
When we fail to acknowledge, experience and effectively express our emotions, they show up as physical symptoms.
All of life is a single whole. Physical symptoms are just an expression.
This is the work I love doing. I LOVE uncovering what lays beneath the surface and bringing it to the light so it can be healed. I am always my own subject, but sometimes I need help in stopping so I can actually be present to myself.
If that's something that interests you, then give me a holler. I'm really good at helping you resolve and move through difficult emotional blocks (grief, trauma, resentment, etc.)
And if Chinese Medicine intrigues you, and you're in the Burlington area, by all means go visit Brendan at Jade Mountain Wellness. He will provide a powerful, different perspective on what's producing and feeding your physical symptoms.
As I said before, we ALL benefit from having someone else look at our situation.
Sometimes, we're just too darn close.
And sometimes we need a completely different perspective.