Life can be so chaotic and messy and difficult that we tend to focus on only seeing the negative, even in each other. It can be hard to remember to appreciate people when you see they are doing well. Often the “perfect child” is the one who gets forgotten. The kid who are having a harder time tend to get all the attention. It can be easy to snap or yell without thinking about it when a child does something wrong. But these same children may go totally unnoticed when they are doing things well or excelling at a task. This certainly happens with children who have totally neglectful and absent parents, but it happens with children who have hurried parents as well- parents who may simply be too overwhelmed and distracted to notice enough of the positive things their children are doing. Although they may come from very different family contexts, the commonality here is that all of these children find that they only get acknowledged when they did something wrong or they had a problem with something. An aspect of their life not going well becomes subconsciously synonymous with receiving validation, care, and attention. The lesson they learn is that they can create problems and then receive love, affection, and recognition. This frequently continues uninterrupted into adulthood, and the same pattern continues to repeat itself endlessly- unless of course the time and intention is taken to shift and change this habit. So ask yourself: how do I connect with other people when things are going well? How do you get attended to when my life is going smoothly? How do I get my feelings acknowledged when there is no catastrophe? Can I ask for things I need, even when things aren’t going badly? If you feel like your friendships or partnerships have become a subtle contest of how many problems we can have- how negative we can feel about our lives- these might be questions you start asking yourself. Can you relate to the people in your life when things are going well? When you start forming friendships around mutual negativity, when you only connect over what is going wrong in your life, it can send you into a self perpetuating spiral. It is okay to connect with people over struggles. In fact it can be incredibly important and validating. But it is equally important to think about how else you can connect with the people you care about when things start to go well.
When I found out what was wrong,
When it was given a name,
I felt my body screaming YES.
Over and over it shouted. YES.
LISTEN- it screamed. HEAR ME.
My body had tugged on my lungs- splintered my bones- to make sure I heard it my body had stomped my own liver.
Over and over- this is how it cried. HEAR ME. LISTEN.
How hard my heart had squeezed on itself before I would notice. How much my skin burned itself- how tight my stomach twisted.
Still I would look away. Like it speaking words I could not understand. A language incomprehensible.
But now I know what is wrong. And every cell is screaming YES. YES. THIS IS IT.
There is rot in my blood- the are worms crawling in my gut- there is sickness swimming through each swollen organ.
My body has been shouting at me.
And when I finally heard it: it screamed YES.
It screamed YES.
It screamed YES.
In action. In movement. In purpose.
Aware of the drift.
Again. And again.
I ask myself:
Where is the breath?
Where is the tension?
Where is the story?
Where is the movement?
It always comes back to this:
I bring it to now.
To the story. To the movement. To the body. To my presence.
Sexual liberation is such an important journey to take and it is often so misunderstood. For you it may be just as liberating to acknowledge that you like basic things in bed as it is for someone else to admit that they like all sorts of rough and freaky things in bed. It’s okay to like it sweet and gentle, it’s okay to like it hard and edgy. What’s not okay is to not know yourself- to deny yourself. To not know what you really want. What’s not okay is to stay in a relationship with someone you are not sexually compatible with. Who doesn’t satisfy you. The specific practices you engage in are not related to how sexually liberated you are. Owning what you want, whatever that is, and finding people with compatible desires to own it with- that is whats important.
Being sexually liberated does not mean you have to be kinky. It does not mean that you have to like having sex a lot or even at all. It means that you have gotten to know yourself deeply without shame, without judgment. It means you understand the deep roots that trace back through your life that has caused your sexuality to develop the way it has. It means you understanding the influences that have sculpted your sexuality. And it means that you revisit your desires often, letting your thoughts and your fantasies shift and unfold as you change over time. It means embracing your own unique version of sexuality, whatever that looks like for you, and find ways to practice and celebrate it with others who want it like that too.
This is the story of my body finding illness
And how in illness I found peace:
My whole life is a picture being colored in,
each moment turned towards this purpose,
every second another step on a path- moving towards my own pace.
It is here I found the wholeness- a singular glimpse
that flashes forward moment by moment-
unfolding in my surrender to presence.
Each day passes slower. Quiet. Tuned in.
This is the story of my body finding illness
And how in illness I found peace.
changed. Each vessel, each nerve:
online- awake in its own awareness of itself-
Like rebirth. Intertwining in each silky tissue.
This journey. This deepness.
I am expansive.
And again- the slowness: like moving through thick water,
whispering in the smallest moments:
a chorus of cells singing precious old songs:
I am alive. I am online. I am tuned in.
This is the story of my body finding illness
and how in illness I found peace:
for now that I am sick, I have never felt such grief,
and I have never felt so calm,
and I have never moved so slow,
and I have never been so well.
The deepness- the rawness-
Each muscle in my chest turning over
And spilling out.
Each slippery cell sliding around on
Itself, exposing the
Unformed, pulsating backside,
Writhing heavy in the deepest part of me:
Baby eels twitching and stagnant in the
I scoop them up. Pull them tail first
From the deepest belly cavities-
Exposing what has been hiding,
Growing unnoticed in my abdomen,
Feeding in the dark.
I find what was gnawing at the foundation:
Everything I thought was holding me up
Has been softly crumbling,
And I did not know.
My bones are hollow,
My skeleton cracks and topples-
But behind, the stars: cold and bright:
Searing my gullet,
Illuminating each squirming piece
Of rotting tissue.
Anxiety- worry- panic- automatic negative thoughts- fearfulness. I’ve known these feelings intimately for as long as I can remember. Pounding heart- shallow breathing- flushed cheeks- I learned to live my life while experiencing these sensations- sometimes without warning. It was a badge of shame up until as a young adult I began learning about mental health and illness- after that I realized I wasn’t alone, and that in fact there are names for my experiences. I started identifying as someone with an anxiety disorder and tried to feel some sense of pride in this label.
I saw mental health therapists to help me deal with my anxiety for years. They taught me cognitive skills for managing my anxious thoughts. They helped me process past trauma and dysfunctional family dynamics that likely contributed to the development of these feelings. All of these tools helped me to extent. I didn’t feel as alone, and I felt like I understood the underlying reasons for these issues better. But even with this new insight, the anxiety was still there. No matter how much talk therapy I did, the anxiety didn’t really change.
Sometimes the symptoms were debilitating and I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed- or I’d cancel on events or experiences I really wanted to do because I was just too anxious. Other times I was able to stuff it down and carry on with my life- even forgetting it was there at times. All in all, I’ve managed to lead a very functional life considering the level of constant stress and worry that was always following me. But it still distressed me.
Fast forward to about two years ago: I started having serious and pervasive symptoms just vague and ambiguous enough that I could write them off as nothing. However, they kept getting worse and worse until I could no longer ignore them. I felt sick and miserable almost every day and I couldn’t explain why.
Eventually I was diagnosed with a rare and serious autoimmune disease called Mast Cell Activation Syndrome or MCAS. I could write extensively about the psychological process of coming to terms with the realities of this diagnosis- but I’m writing this for another reason.
I quickly became disillusioned with the traditional western and medical models for treatment. I kept asking, “But why? Why am I getting these symptoms? Why is my body reacting this way? What is the original cause?” And I got no answers: simply more medications and the insinuation that I was asking silly questions and just needed to accept being sick for the rest of my life.
This led me down the path of naturopathic, nutritional and other alternative treatments. In this new perspective, my body was fully capable of healing from illness, I just needed to support it with natural supplements, vitamins, dietary and lifestyle changes. I was so desperate for relief at this point that I dove in whole heartedly to all the recommendations.
The diet change was dramatic- I was instructed to eat a whole foods, ancestral diet- only vegetables, meat, fats and fruits. It was hard at first and I went through a very intense detox period where I felt worse than ever.
After surviving the detox, I have noticed small and slow but still significant improvements in my physical health, which I am hoping will continue over the years. However, one of the most shocking side effects of these dietary changes that I did not expect was what happened with my mental health.
My anxiety is gone. I remember this dawning on me as a close friend made a casual comment about how my “anxious brain” was coping with a particular stressful situation that was happening in my personal life. I thought about it… and found my self saying, “I actually don’t have an anxious brain anymore”. Sure, I felt nervous or stressed for a couple hours or a few days here and there in situations where it made sense to. But the chronic, unending, irrational, unnecessary sensations of anxiety that once followed me everywhere? Gone.
My body felt grounded. Calm. Slower. More in tune with myself and the world. Where did this feeling come from?
I had not had a sudden break through in therapy. I had not suddenly been using cognitive skills more intentionally than before. I had not “let go” of my past traumatic experiences in a new profound way. What had changed?
Primarily, my diet had. I had heard rumors about nutritional treatments for anxiety and other mental illnesses in the past, but I had always dismissed them. My issues were more serious than that, I believed. There was no way that simply changing my diet would change the types of thoughts I had in my head. The insinuation had almost been offensive to me in the past. I just didn’t buy it- until I experienced it for myself.
I started delving into the research around diet and nutrition’s effect on mental health. What I learned is that a huge part of our nervous system lives in our guts- highly sensitive nerves are wrapped all the way around our stomach and digestive systems. The quality of our nervous system- including how we behave, how we feel, our emotions, our thoughts, our perceptions- is influenced by the make up of gut bacteria that live in our stomach lining. Certain gut bacteria species- ones that feed on sugars, heavy carbohydrates and processed foods- tend to correlate with the nervous system sending distress signals from the gut to the brain, and can cause shifts in brain chemistry that exacerbate anxiety and depression. These “bad bacterias” can be flushed out with a whole foods and high nutrient diet, and slowly get replaced with new, healthier bacteria species. These “good bacteria” also send cues through the nervous system and into the brain: sending signals of calmness, and boosting brain chemicals that cause feelings of wellbeing. These changes take time- at least six months of dietary changes before mental changes generally start. But there is in fact a scientific basis to believing that nutrition changed by mental health.
I wanted to share my story because I spent so many years in talk therapy and never seemed to improve beyond a point, and after a while I just believed it never would- I thought I was destined to be anxious forever. After six to eight months after dramatically changing my diet- I no longer feel like I have an anxiety disorder anymore at all.
This is not to say that I believe all anxiety and depression comes for poor diet. There are many multifaceted layers to mental health and wellness- diet simply being one of them. I also don’t believe this means that you should go out and try to convince everyone in your life to dramatically change their diets for the sake of their mental wellbeing. Not all people are capable of that for a variety of social and socioeconomic reasons.
But it’s now something that I always keep in the back of my mind, and offer as a possible course of action to people who may feel open to it. After my personal experience with nutritional medicine and the relief of my mental health symptoms, I can’t ever dismiss the connection between them again.
I ask my body: why are you set on destroying me?
My cells have anxiety, in their panic they attack my tissues with aggressive fear.
I plead with my body: let go your suffocating grip. My organs dump poison into my blood.
I beg my body: let these toxins dissolve. Release into acceptance. Surrender your internal battle.
But in its own terror, my body has been swept up in a conspiracy against me.
My healing sabotaged by my own tissues. By my own cells who do not trust me.
I whisper to them: quiet now. I will try to be gentle.
My nerves on overdrive. My stomach hot and dry.
I am desperate for peace. For truce. For the natural pulsation of my being. But I am stuck running downhill.
This is the tragedy of my body. This is my consequence. I am sorry- I will be tender now. I will care for you.
I ask my body: will you trust me?
This is a guide to living on the land that hates us:
Remember, we are stuck in a cruel inbetween- our punishment for the malice of our ancestors:
We cannot stay her, and we have nowhere else to go. So we stay and we crumble, cell by cell.
This is how we live on the land that wants us gone. We plant in the soil that makes us sick- we have poisoned it ourselves.
The ground despises us. We destroy it. The water is tortured. The wind is ashamed of us.
The land will not forget the great tragedies. It is not like the herd that was caught in a landslide. It is not like the nice that drown when the plains flood. It is a twisted grief- the land is consumed by long years of wretched death.
I go to the forest, I ask for forgiveness. I give my gratitude to the trees that reject me. Their roots lift me from the ground, and they push me away.
I tell the river that I love her- I run my hands in the water, and she coils her tendrils around my DNA- gripping the edges of my telomeres- stretching and distorting them.
I live on the land that makes me sick. I ask the land to forgive me. I give my tears to the ground, and it’s bitterness grows up into my body- suffocating me in fatigue- stifling me with panic- whispering, we over and over:
Get out, we don’t want you here, get out.
I live on land that is angry. We are trapped and it cannot push me out like the rotting splinter so it eats me from within.
The invaders wither. Our stomachs hurt. Our heads pound. Our nerves turn to fire and ice. The land will have its revenge.
Just take it. Until I was well into young adulthood, I assumed that pain was just a normal part of sex. Of course, by this I mean sex as defined by the typical penis-in-vagina penetrative sex generally practiced by cisgender and heterosexual couples. Vaginal discomfort was such a regular part of my experience that I just accepted penetration as something that was just going to hurt sometimes. Even beyond my personal experience, I was overtly taught as a young preteen that most women bleed the first time they have sex, and that it is often painful. Once you “get through” this first time, I was told, it can feel better the next time.
And so the layers of my internalized sexism continue to be uncovered! The more I unlearn the patriarchal underpinnings of my own belief systems, the more I discover they are lurking within me. These ways of thinking have been so conditioned into me that continually, I find the things I took for granted have to be confronted and dismantled, over and over in an endless spiral. It goes especially deep around sensitive cultural topics like sexual health and behavior- the layers of social mythology I thought were truth keep peeling back. Without serious critical thought we assume these stories to be objective- we just accept the patterns we have already experienced as the way things are supposed to be.
What I thought I knew about “normal” heteronormative sex I learned from peers, from adults, from magazine covers, from film and TV: Women are supposed to be sexy, and supposed to be desired by men. To be sexy, and to be desired by men, we have to enjoy having sex with them. To enjoy having sex with men, we have to enjoy it in the ways that they want it. And often, that means enduring penetration, even when it is uncomfortable. These messages were underpinned by even earlier lessons taught to me from the beginning of my sexual development, when I read passive descriptions of women in sexual education materials: “the man puts his penis into the woman’s vagina”. This began the framework in my mind where I visualized women “taking it” from men- lying on their backs and acquiescing. Then came the often repeated idea that losing my virginity would certainly hurt, and that I would very likely bleed, but that this was normal and it would get better with time. The lesson all of this taught me was that discomfort was something I would simply need to endure because it was normal, and I was expected me disregard it for the man’s enjoyment. It was assumed that I would go through with it regardless of how it felt to me.
It is only recently that I am recognizing the layers of absurdity I was brainwashed to believe. I was literally taught that I was supposed to bleed and suffer for the pleasure of men, from the beginning of my sexual development. I was taught that penetrative sex is something that men require of us, and we must portray to them that we desire too, regardless of if we really did. So even desire was taught to me under this guise of patriarchy: that not only must I acquiesce to sex to keep men satisfied, but I must perform as if I desired it exactly in the way they desire it as well. Keeping the man happy was supposed to be my primary turn on- and good enough to outweigh any physical discomfort I really felt.
It wasn’t until I was into my twenties that I started realizing that there was actually no reason why penetration was somehing that had to be suffered through. Despite growing up in a liberal home, and being familiar with feminist thought and writings, it took me a long time to realize that no one should have to “suffer through” any sexual act. That no one should be penetrated unless they really truly desire it and experience genuine pleasure from it. That when you are adequately aroused, penetration can occur without any pain or discomfort- but in fact it could feel fantastic. I never recognized before that being penetrated can in fact feel amazing.
All these beliefs I had just accepted as medically accurate: assuming that penetrative sex was just a somewhat uncomfortable experience, but that I had to let it happen: that at best it wouldn’t hurt me too much, or leave me feeling raw or sore.
No. This was all false. And now I work to embrace a whole new mindset, where penetration is something I can ache for. I can ravenously wet and slippery long before penetration occurs. I can be so turned on and dripping before any penetration happens that when my vagina finally entered it is ecstatic feel so filled up. It can feel amazing- it should feel amazing. And if it does not feel like this to you, maybe there are hidden messages you have also been assuming to be true.