“Megan’s perfect,” the dental hygienist said as she placed my file on the reception desk after my 6 month checkup.
“Finally!” I laughed as I raised my hands above my head.
She and the receptionist simply looked at me like I was a crazy woman.
What was merely a benign statement indicating once again that I have no cavities (33 years and going strong), I turned into a lifetime achievement award.
The rational part of my brain put everything into context, but the tiny little voice that drives my ego jumped and did a quick somersault of joy inside my head. Someone finally announced what I’ve been striving for since I came out of the womb: perfection. Perfection. Perfection!
Then, throughout that following week, everything went to hell in a hand-basket metaphorically speaking: I spilled salad dressing on my shirt, stepped in my puppy’s poop in the backyard, lost a set of keys, forgot to grade a set of papers, screwed up my lesson plan, and re-injured my hamstring while doing a fancy yoga move. (To name a few of my daily screw-ups.)
Honestly, there was a side of me that got really angry and fixated on those small hiccups. (I have always been a driven, anxious, analytical, and somewhat fearful person. I was born a meconium baby and literally was scared shitless to leave the womb. And, I had digestive issues, possibly ulcers, when I was 16 and worried about everything under the sun. Back then, I would sometimes even be so anxious and hypoglycemic that I would pass out on the sidewalk or at a restaurant or in the clothing section at Wal-Mart So, there’s been a pattern of high anxiety there since birth.) Innocently enough, these little imperfections from that week then led to self-criticism and obsession on emotional pains of the recent past like an argument with a friend or an insult by a student. These small past events then caused me to really delve into my past and psycho-analyze myself and others. Which eventually led to my recurring health problems of muscle-twitching and neuropathy/burning sensation on my leg and face.
But on this particular day, I heard the phrase “Megan’s perfect” in my mind again and I started to laugh. And something amazing happened: the buzzing, burning electical sensations on my face and scalp stopped for a split second. A quick little window of opportunity opened and I happened to take advantage of it. Fortunately it was my planning period at work (I’m a high school teacher) and so I went underneath my desk at work and pulled out my yoga mat. I dimmed the lights, unrolled the mat and then flipped myself upside down in a forward bend and started to really breathe in deep inhales and soft exhales. I then did a fun rabbit pose (imagine curling yourself into a ball and arching your back while trying to touch your forehead to your knees). Again, I breathed deeply and exhaled softly. Over and over again. Moving out of rabbit to another forward fold to a triangle pose and then an extended downward facing dog all the while breathing deeply and softly. And something beautiful happened: my heart led the way and my mind and body followed. All the weird body sensations disappeared. My heart beat wasn’t rapid anymore. My anxiety had passed through me as did all of those obsessive thoughts and stresses. All that remained was a brief moment of perfection when everything was in tune.
I went back to the business of being an English teacher and I started grading research papers again. The rest of the day, my body felt amazing and my heart was open. The day unfolded quite nicely without any direction from my little ego-centered voice that lives somewhere inside that analytical brain of mine.
Last spring/summer and early fall, I flipped out when these bodily sensations happened and later got a perfunctory diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) by a shoddy ER doc who didn’t have much patience in listening to my complaints. Nor did my general physician want to take the time to figure out what could be causing these sensations. (See my older post “When to Punch Your Doctor In the Face”)
What happened to me this time around was not because I reached a state of full time perfection (as the dental hygienist so unwittingly led me to believe). It happened because I opened myself up to discovering more about myself which included paying attention to my body and what it is trying to tell me. I was referred to a functional medicine/preventive medicine doctor in St. Louis who gave me the gift of her time, intelligence and wisdom. She is originally from India and holds special degrees in internal medicine and rheumatology/chronic illnesses from U of I Champaign and Washington University in St. Louis. But, she believes that the whole body, the mind and the emotional/spiritual side of a person needs to be examined and treated. On that rainy day in October, she held my hands and listened as I told her what was going on with my body. In my life. In my heart/mind. She smiled and said, “I don’t believe in the idea that a physician cures all. I’m your partner in this. Are you willing to do the work to help yourself get more balanced and healthy?”
“Yes?” I questioned while trying to hold back tears.
“No, I’m serious about this. You can’t expect me to just give you some pills and push you out the door and tell you you’re cured if you take these. This is a journey where we will work together to fine tune things specifically to your needs. I’m willing to get down to the physical part of what is going on with you, but you really need to decide if you’re willing to get down to the core of you as well,” she firmly but lovingly said in her beautiful, powerful Indian accent.
“Yes, I’m ready,” I said as the tears rolled down my face.
We talked about MS symptoms and how other neuropathic pain sometimes can hide under that umbrella of a diagnosis. We talked about stresses in my life (from the really big ones to the small ones and everything in between). As I talked and she listened and asked specific questions, she took copious notes. At the end of our one-hour session, she asked me if I was willing to get a MRI to rule out (or rule in) MS. I said, “No.” My grandmother had a brain tumor that killed her and my mother went through the MS diagnosis procedure (complete with MRI, muscle probing and spinal tap) with no real diagnosis as well. I didn’t want to go down that path. “Plus,” I said sheepishly, “I have a gut feeling that it’s connected to stress. I know that sounds stupid, but well, I don’t know, I just feel like my gut is right.”
“I think your gut is right, as well,” she said and then smiled and reviewed her notes with me. She was leaning towards neurotransmitter issues (hormones produced in the adrenal glands) and asked if I was willing to do a series of tests that looked at my cortisol, adrenaline and serotonin production as well as another test to analyze my Crohn’s ilietis and digestive problems.
Fast-forward through the urine, spit, fecal samples I had to collect and ship out as biohazard material via UPS and FedEx. Fast-foward through the serious attention I now am giving to the food I eat by trying to “eat the rainbow” for better digestion, nutrition and prevention of dis-ease. Fast-forward through my readjusting my sleep patterns and deepening my yoga and meditation practice. Fast-forward through the monthly therapeutic massages I go to and the mindful, joyful living I try to do each day. Even fast-foward through the discovery that I had high cortisol levels and malabsorption of B vitamins, and fast-forward through the follow up appointment I had to get the pharmaceutical grade vitamins, supplements and pro-biotics to help me balance out my system. Push pause on the particular moment that I realized I was in charge of my healing, my health, my happiness and my journey. Let’s examine this moment briefly together: how amazing is it that I get to choose how I experience, react to, enjoy and heal my body?
True, my analytical brain wants to do a somersault and joyfully scream, “Megan’s perfect!” but my heart knows better. My heart, being in the center of my body, knows that this journey is more about joy, about laughter, about breathing, about discovering, and about self-love and the giving of love than it is about my physical sensations and quirks that will need to be fine-tuned every so often. For me, this knowledge I have gained is perfection for it was given and learned as a way to be free from all defects, real or imagined. Moment by moment I can tap into that knowledge to set myself free.