Archive for December 29, 2017

It Was “Just Stress”

Zen stone reflectionIn my last message, I told you about being hospitalized with what seemed to be a stroke-related episode. At least, that’s what the doctors and nurses told me. Granted, it seemed peculiar that all the imaging of my heart and brain revealed no damage as a result of that scary event.

Over the phone, I got a different diagnosis from my husband Harvey, a psychiatrist who specialized in trauma until his retirement. (He and I are separated, but on good terms.) His conclusion was that I was suffering from hyperventilation syndrome as a result of many months of tension and lack of exercise. That really fit for me. For months my muscles had been hot and tight with tension. But never mind, I was bent on my goal of driving to Arizona for the winter.

How ironic, though, that I, a former yoga teacher and trauma therapist who taught thousands of others how to relax, should now be overwhelmed by stress-related physical symptoms. All I can say is that we humans usually teach what we most need ourselves. It was anxiety (or fear, as I see it) resulting from childhood trauma that led me to a serious practice of yoga when I was in my thirties. I have a deep and personal appreciation of the role of fear and the resulting damage to our well-being.

Somehow, recently, with moving to Arizona for the winter and numerous other stressors, I neglected my routine yoga practice. Focusing and cardio workouts were also set aside. I’m on a journey to discover my biggest Self and to take charge of my own life. That often means taking on stressors I would not otherwise encounter.

My message to myself? If I’m going to go on this journey of independence and taking charge of my own life, I need to take stress reduction very seriously.

Just today I was listening to a podcast of Elizabeth Gilbert about women who never got the message that their lives belong to them. She spoke of the importance of honouring your own life. If you refuse to answer the call to do what you need to do, she says, you atrophy. I like to think of myself on a hero’s journey with the classical unfolding of events: the challenge, the fear of accepting the challenge, the setting out on the journey, meeting countless challenges and – I hope – finally emerging as the individual I am meant to be.

Maybe, I tell myself, I’m taking this whole journey idea too seriously. Then a scene from my childhood comes to mind. I recall how, when I was in public school, I used to race home at lunchtime to listen to the soap opera Helen Trent. The very serious music would come on and the announcer would say: “Helen Trent is a woman who will not let life pass her by because she is over forty,” to which my mother would sigh, “Oh dear. If only Helen would let some life pass her by, she’d be much happier.” Maybe she was right.

What do you think?

Far Away From Home

DSCF5595It started out like any other morning. I got out of bed, pulled on my dressing gown and settled in for morning meditation. Then, as always, I had a breakfast of fruit, yoghurt and a bit of cereal.

The day before when I was sight-seeing, I’d been deeply touched by a trip to a mission church on an Indian reserve here in the Arizona desert. The church rises up, white and ornately carved, a surprising contrast to the beige surroundings of the desert. One of the features that impressed me was that the original parishioners went in search of Jesuit Father Kino who was respectful of their religion and synthesized the two spiritual traditions.

The pamphlets about Mission San Xavier were beside me that morning. I picked them up to read and found that the site had been in continuous use as a parish church since 1692. Of course in those early days it was a simpler structure. Subsequent generations had improved on the building until, today, it stands as the finest example of Mexican Baroque in the United States, so says the pamphlet. Interestingly, it has remained as a working parish throughout the years. Its parishioners are still the local First Nations People.

DSCF5521I was fascinated watching the recent renovations of the original egg tempera paintings high up around the alter. A woman who worked on the Sistine Chapel heads the painstaking restoration, carefully removing the shellac a former restorer thought would preserve the paintings. In fact, the shellac darkened them.

But I’m getting carried away and forgetting to tell you what made this a remarkable morning. An hour or so later, having put down the church’s story to eat and then clean up the kitchen, I returned to read more about San Xavier. This is the scary part. I could see the letters, but I couldn’t make sense of them. They simply didn’t compute.

Terrified, I dialled a friend to take me to the emergency department at the hospital. He came and got me. We went to the local hospital where they did all the modern technical things; brain scans, heart monitoring and chest e-rays. They found nothing wrong, except that my normally healthy blood pressure was out of sight. They wanted me to see a neurologist, but this hospital didn’t have one. They’d take me by ambulance (for $1,000 plus) to nearby Tuscon’s larger teaching hospital. Here I remained for three days with every conceivable test on my brain and my heart. Still, there was nothing evident except high blood pressure. At last they sent me home with a prescription to lower my blood pressure.

Of course I had bought travel health insurance before leaving home. It cost me over $4,000. I felt sure I was covered, regardless of any catastrophe. The trouble is, there was a three day gap between one insurance company and the next. And when did I go to hospital, ride in an ambulance and spend three days in bed in the Tucson hospital? You guessed it: I lacked coverage on the very days I was hospitalized. I am now faced with a huge bill.

Maybe you’ve had the experience of your usually reliable body giving out far away from home. If so, you realize how frightening it is when familiar faces are not surrounding you.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? I’m sure I’m not the only one to have fallen ill in a strange country.

Photos from