This is a question I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. You might ask it of me, as it’s been quite some time since I’ve written here.
I’ve been on a sabbatical of sorts, albeit an unintended one. A foray into mysterious and murky terrain, seeking those bright nuggets worth the effort to bring home. Ultimately, it’s been a healing journey of my own, inspired by a surprising diagnosis. My teacher said, “Heal, Ivy, but don’t just heal for you. Do it for all of us.”
“Where have you been?”
Earlier this week, I was outside my new home in Durham, North Carolina, bending down in the ripening moonlight to offer bite-size Snickers bars to Batman, Cinderella and a few ghosts.
In Mexico, the 3-day festival of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, begins with All Hallow’s Eve and continues with All Saints’ Day, followed by All Souls’ Day. More than a night for spooky costumes, it is an occasion to honor ancestors and those who have passed from this realm, to sit vigil at the graveyard and give offerings, even to look your own mortality square in the face.
Interestingly, similar ancestor holidays are celebrated across the world. In Japan, the Bon Festival calls for decorating ancestral graves and holding family reunions. In parts of India, Pitri Paksha is a 16-day festival to honor one’s forebears. Families create ceremonial altars with framed photographs and food offerings to satiate the spirits and revive ancestral memories.
A deeper reading of the question, “Where have you been?” invites reflection on the lineage we are each part of, the passage of our lifeblood from one generation to the next and now coursing in our own veins. Who came before you? What was the great mission or learning of their life? What evolution did their life accomplish, and what is left ripe for you to unfurl further?
Two years ago, in September 2015, I was diagnosed with Grave’s disease, an autoimmune form of hyperthyroid. Many of the textbook symptoms had surfaced that summer: unexplained weight loss, tremor, racing heart, loose stool, difficulty sleeping…. I would struggle to catch my breath while climbing the stairs to my apartment with the added weight of a grocery bag in my arms.
I started with herbal treatment for hyperthyroid but when my symptoms got worse, I saw an endocrinologist who determined that I had the autoimmune condition Grave’s. The recommended treatment in the US is typically to remove the thyroid or irradiate it, then take thyroid supplementation for the rest of your life. Sitting in the endocrinologist’s office, a clear voice in my center said “No.” That was not the direction I would go, if at all possible. I elected to start a medication that controls the symptoms, and to begin exploring what it would take for me to heal – and thus I started down the path less traveled by.
Grave’s and most other autoimmune conditions are considered genetic, which was odd to me as I did not have any known family history. I wondered how this malady had come out of the blue for me. A day later I heard from my aunt: “Given this diagnosis, it might be helpful for you to know that in my 20’s I had some kind of thyroid problem – and so did your grandmother.” The details were fuzzy, but enough to reveal a pattern.
“Where have you been?”
Over the last two years, I have changed most aspects of my life. I stopped working to focus on healing. I went to India for several months of treatment with an Ayurvedic physician. My symptoms returned and the doctors adjusted my medication. I moved back to the South to the support of family (my sister and nephews) and to replace the harsh desert with the lush landscape of my childhood. I’ve explored many types of healing methods. Mostly, I have slowed down, and I have turned inward. So far, I’ve kept my thyroid.
Now, after ten months here in my new home, and two years since an illness changed my life, I feel my body and mind settling into a new pace, a new steadiness. My strength and energy have returned, and with them, a natural drawing of my attention outward again. I’m making new friends in the community around me. I take long walks in the engulfing deciduous forests that feel so familiar, and so nourishing. I have resumed seeing clients both in person and by phone, with a new sense of kinship with those on the healing path.
I want to share the nuggets I am unearthing, in hopes that they may cast light for others, including you. In this newsletter’s “Swastha Practice” column, I offer a method to change old habits, a challenging enterprise under any conditions and so very central to healing.
It has become clear to me that I’m being called in my work to focus on women’s health and the uniquely female needs on the path of healing. This initiation has been the sort where I look back with new eyes and recognize the thread that has been woven through all along. You’ll see my focus on women’s health take center-stage more overtly going forward.
Thank you for reading. It is a privilege to have your eyes pass over these words, a privilege I don’t take lightly given the influx of noise that clutters the web. I welcome your thoughts and comments below or privately via email.