Shavasana- A Visit from Nana

Updated: Oct 11, 2021

My late 20's/early 30's were simultaneously magical and very painful. I suppose that might be the same for everyone? I feel like I may have been behind. I finished my degree in Wildlife Ecology at UNH, began working at a job that would become my dream job, and met my future husband. At the same time, I ended a psychologically abusive relationship, and began the process of trading distracting myself with keg parties or music festivals to looking at my triggers, childhood and relationship baggage, and the way that I moved through the world and responded to stress. For a while I ended up working 60-70 hours per week. It was at a non-profit for healing wildlife and doing environmental education which was work that I loved, and I could control my outcomes. Being productive and making a difference felt great, and offered a way that I didn't have to sit still with my nagging thoughts or why I might feel anxious or have looping thoughts.

But the culture wasn't great at work at the time, I still didn't have healthy coping mechanisms, and I felt low and anxious a lot. Women's medicine is far behind men's (think: a pill for making sure men can enjoy sex into their elderly years but a male contraception still does not exist) and since the age of 11 I had been dealing with very bad periods. For two days out of the month I would take 4 advil every 4 hours, use a heating pad, and lay down between work and school but that would barely make a dent in the cramping. For about a week prior I would become very irritable and low, a lack of self worth would swallow me up and my brain would trick me into thinking nobody wanted to be around me and essentially that I was worthless.

Phew! Even writing this now I can feel the tightness in my head and chest, down cast eyes, and withdrawl I would feel during these times. I was told several things by doctors that now make sense based on the lens of our patriarchal society "some people are more sensitive to pain than others", or "many women have mood swings around their periods, it's normal". Is that right? Something to just live with?? I don't think so. I should add that those doctors were all female, so the "women should suck it up and aren't worthy of resolving things" Koolaid is/was apparently very strong. Thanks to better doctors and the generations behind us speaking up and not being satisfied with dealing with answers like that, I was finally diagnosed with PMDD, severe Dysmenorrhea, and later they would catch PCOS, premature ovarian failure and clinical signs of endometriosis. Those first diagnoses were such a breakthrough, they gave a reason and validation for my monthly mental health struggles, and offered relief through prescribed medication, and a path for me to explore natural and lifestyle supports.

Around this time I took up yoga as a practice weekly. This was about 15 years ago and I didn't know much about yoga but it was starting to gain momentum in our region. I lived in Portsmouth at the time and there is and was an amazing studio by donation called Yoga by Donation (in fact I am going to make a donation as soon as I finish writing this, and encourage you to do the same!). The breath work and asanas, strengthening your body with your own body, and of course stillness of Shavasana was such a great match for learning to be comfortable in my own skin and breathing through anxiety, worry, and digging through the tough stuff. It was in this studio above the health food store that smelled amazingly of lavender, vitamins, and candles that I had a dream-like experience with my Nana while in shavasana. I was in her kitchen, where we had played restaurant so many times, and I can still remember the sink with the scent of Palmolive with the window that looked out over the small patch of woods I would like to explore in. My Nana had lived through the Great Depression, and her basement was set up like a grocery story, which I always thought was fun to play pretend cash register in.

I had never given it a deeper thought, but this day in shavasana she took me down to the basement, and asked me to look around. I saw hundreds of dried goods, canned soups and vegetables, and still kind of just marveled at how organized everything was. But she said "Everyone has anxiety, my dear. This was, during my lifetime, one of my physical manifestations of an extremely deep rooted fear. It just shows itself in different ways, but everyone has it." The sweet chime of the singing bowl rang and I began to come back to my body. Huh. If my strong, wise, well-put together Nana had anxiety, somehow it gave me permission and grace to struggle with it without a harsh judgement of myself. I felt like I had been seen and validated, and I will always be tremendously thankful for that visit and warm words of encouragement from my Nana, be it a dream or her truly reaching out through the cosmos. Of course I believe the latter:)

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