Looking Back on 2014

Holy cow, 2014 is wrapping up.

For Christmas this year my husband and I will be back on the East Coast with twenty-five of my family members, all of whom are enthusiastic Christmas celebrators, so my attention over the last few weeks has been very much pulled in that direction.

Except for the rare occasions when my husband and I forego family travel and celebrate just the two of us at home in California, every year it seems I spend December anticipating end-of-year celebrations (which in my family lingers to New Year's Eve and sometimes beyond; or in my husband's family requires a trip to Brazil) and then wake up one morning completely surprised to find myself in a New Year.

This year I am trying to reserve some brain space to look forward to 2015...what do I want from this coming year? Where have I been over the current, waning one?

* * *

2014 began with my attention being drawn in numerous directions "professionally," as I continued to muddle my way forward. (I put professionally in quotation marks because I have never felt very professional, the entirety of my adult working life having been spent in a patchwork of various, mostly part-time, positions.) 

In 2009 I pivoted away from my decade-long expectation that I would go to graduate school for urban planning or another 3-D design field. For numerous not-quite-tangible reasons, it felt...off.

My experience with my body in my late teens and early twenties - anorexia, depression, vulvodynia, undiagnosed digestive issues, wrist tendonitis so severe that it left me out of work and dependent on my sweetheart to cut my food for me - rocked my worldview, upended my perceptions and expectations of myself and my life.

Clawing my way towards peace with my physicality had become so big that I was pulled towards helping people build rewarding relationships with their own bodies. I wasn't sure how, but bodywork and movement and energy medicine had been helpful to me and sharing those tools seemed a natural progression. I imagined that I would build a private practice in a group office with other allopathic or complementary care providers.

It didn't gel. 

I made a three year plan and followed it. Partway in I could tell it wasn't right, but I pushed ahead anyway.

I became a massage therapist, and a yoga teacher. I studied Healing Touch, an energy medicine, and put in a lot of volunteer hours at a clinic and a hospital. I realized that the goal of having a private practice wasn't right for me, but rather than admit defeat I figured that by adding writing and public speaking to the picture I could patch it up and make do...Despite these changes the pieces still didn't come together.

I finally admitted that while I have benefited immensely from the study and practice of massage and Healing Touch - as have my clients - the isolation of one-on-one therapeutic work is, for me, draining. 

Teaching yoga fulfills some of my needs: it provides community, a place to be "on stage," and allows me to support people through a physical healing experience - but there is much more that it doesn't address.

On the business side of things, I realized that from a marketing perspective helping just anyone relate to their bodies was too broad, so I narrowed my focus to chronic illness. My healing arts business contacts advised me that "chronic illness" was still too vague to constitute a niche. By this point most of my other health issues had receded, leaving vulvodynia as the one last hellish outpost and the obvious choice for further specialization. But I resisted. Too close. Too shitty.

Where the hell was I going? I kept walking towards a business model that didn't fit my talents, in service to an as yet undefined population. 

Last December I was planning to throw in the towel; I would start taking physical therapy pre-requisites in the spring, go to school, and get a real job.

The universe had other plans. I went to one day of chemistry and my soul caved in; I was waitlisted and didn't get into that or any other required courses. PT schools require that you work in a PT office prior to admission, but despite my overqualification and willingness to accept the pitiful pay advertised, I didn't get any of the positions for which I applied.

Besides, I didn't really want to become a physical therapist. I just wanted to solve the problem of how to help people struggling with their health and get a paycheck for it.

Just as the PT plan unravelled, a couple of key events pulled me back to the healing arts. There had to be a way I could make this work. I bit the bullet and decided to focus on serving women with pelvic pain. Maybe that would provide the focus I needed?

Not really. It didn't solve the fact that I don't like the isolation of therapeutic work. And I was tired of constantly pushing ahead without the support of outside structure. 

"Grad school!" a friend advised. "Thesis work provides the umbrella for you to research what you wish in addition to much-needed deadlines and mentorship; if you like the ideas behind healing more than facilitating the healing, get a PhD and teach."

I looked into it, spending the late spring and early summer finding programs I had never heard of (did you know there is such a thing as medical anthropology?) I perused public health degrees, a master's in yogic studies...But none of them appealed. My husband and I have a house and a life in our town, and neither of us wanted to take on student debt, pick up, and move.

In July I started this blog. It was something people had recommended over the years, a suggestion out on the periphery that had spiraled its way inward. Between my desire to write, to reach women with pelvic pain disorders, and with the tenth anniversary of my diagnosis approaching, it seemed fitting. Besides, my health was better than it had ever been, and it seemed like I might finally be out of the woods, so the blog wouldn't be a dirge about how much life sucked.

Being the grand dreamer that I am, I imagined that a website could provide me a much larger platform to help women with pelvic pain disorders. Rather than working one-on-one with a select few, I could facilitate the coming together of a hypothetically limitless number of women. A website could serve as a community and a source for education: interviews with pelvic pain experts, allopathic and complementary care providers, videos of yoga classes, tips on finding and building the networks of emotional and medical support women need to pull themselves out of the isolating hell of pelvic pain.

Could a website be a way out of the swamp?

I knew that question could not be answered with thinking or researching, only doing. In an effort to start somewhere, the blog it was. 

The creativity and satisfaction of producing a concrete product revived me. It gave me clarity. Not overarching, big-questions-in-life clarity, but what's-the-next-tiny-step-I-take clarity. 

After starting the blog in July, August brought a shake-out.

I left my two massage and bodywork jobs, finally saying no to the guilt that had propelled me to stay.

I stopped teaching Pre-Natal yoga, a class I had had mixed feelings about for a long time. Back in May I had started teaching Yoga for Chronic Illness, and preferred to put my energies toward that nascent but more fulfilling project.

I started an official hiatus from my Healing Touch studies; after three years of studying and practice, I am 80% of the way to meeting the requirements to become a certified practitioner, which would allow me to shift from volunteer to paid work. And yet...the last few hurdles don't seem worth it. That goal was part of an old plan, a plan that has fallen apart and not yet reconstituted itself.

While I felt completely done with doing massage, I didn't throw the Healing Touch baby out with the bathwater. I dropped my official studies, I walked away from a weekly hospital volunteer post that I didn't enjoy, but I have continued the clinic volunteering that has fed me for three years with its warmth, community, and guidance.

I did not drop these obligations lightly.

Over the last decade, most of my jobs haven't lasted more than a year. Right after college it was legit to shop around for a good fit, but when I chose a direction, pursued a plan, and still didn't get anywhere, I began to feel like a flake, doomed to wonder the earth eternally, never staying long enough in one place to grow roots and flourish. 

For this reason some people around me, including one whose guidance I value highly, did not encourage what appeared to be a reiteration of my self-destructive pattern of not finishing projects. My elders chided me for idealism and perfectionism and a lack of seeing reality for what it is. Yes, and.

At the end of the day I have to make my own mistakes, and I didn't want to continue the mistake of stubbornly pursuing things that weren't going anywhere. Yes, I have more ideas than I know what to do with and consequently abandon a lot of projects. Maybe it's time I re-frame that as part of my creative process and role with the punches.

I may not finish everything I start, but fear of commitment is not my issue.

I've been in the same loving relationship through all its crazy ups and downs for eleven years; I got married when I was only 24. Three years ago we bought a house together with the plan of staying in it beyond our 30 year mortgage. And even though my professional vision hasn't materialized, I have diligently pursued it.

Despite my doubts and the doubts of others, I re-prioritized. By October a new order was established. Healing Touch and bodywork were in the hobby box. "Professional" focus was now yoga and the blog-someday-website.

And then?

In November and December I slid into the mists. I neglected the tasks required to grow the website. Without a team to hold me accountable, I did so without consequence. Thrice-weekly posts provided cover while my intentions faded. Faint wisps of intent are not enough to drive action, so that job was taken on by robust but stealthy doubts. 

I am a flake, doomed to wonder the earth eternally, never staying long enough in one place to grow roots and flourish.

I was anesthetized to this quiet process by the challenges and distractions of the rest of my life, all capable of taking up whatever time I had under the guise of legitimate need. 

In these final days before my trip back east, I am forcing myself to turn and look. Salvage my efforts so the November/December slide doesn't continue into January. Remember the foundation I built in October, the desire that drove it.

Where do I stand? 

* * *

If you have actually read this far, I am surprised, as I am equally surprised that I wrote this far. 

This morning I only intended to pen some holiday wishes and let you know that I won't post again until January.

Whenever I hit publish I never know whether my words will ever serve anyone but me. I have no idea who reads this, and as far as I can tell, my readers are a quiet lot and small in number. I would think you a figment of my imagination except every once in a while I get the odd comment or a brief email.

If any retrospective of the last year would have served you, oh not-quite-mythical-beings, perhaps the twists and turns of my medical journey would have been the more relevant choice.

But as I wrote on Monday, chronic illness finds its way into all the nooks and crannies of my life, even my professional aspirations.

I am not the only woman whose pelvic health problems have inspired a professional path - I know a physical therapist, yoga teacher, and a somatic psychotherapist who fit the bill - and I am hoping that just as these women so beautifully serve their communities, I too will someday serve mine.

I guess this retrospective is relevant after all.

Many unexpected hours after I sat down, I am glad I wrote this. The mists of the last couples of months have been laced with dread - what the hell am I doing? - which looms larger with the expectation of purpose that a New Year brings. 

Facing and acknowledging the demons has left me lighter. I haven't solved my problems, but apparently I didn't need to. A tallying of accounts was enough.

I leave my work tidy, a neat package I can pick up in January. 

* * *

As for 2015? Apparently that is a post for another day...