My road to recovery from illness has had many facets. Like peeling an onion only to get to the next layer, tears and all. There’s been the physical symptoms to address, but I knew from the beginning that this illness was more complex.
In 2012 my baby son was 3 years old. I started working out again for the first time after pregnancy. I wanted to get back into shape and to deal with the postpartum anxiety that had escalated through the first three years of my son’s life, to an uncomfortable ceiling.
Two months later I was feeling great. I did a body-weight workout three times per week and ran whenever I could. Then, on consecutive workouts I started getting chest pains. This was so strange that I ignored them at first, thinking it was a pectoral muscle strain. But then I noticed that the pain went away if I sat down to rest, which a muscle strain wouldn’t. When I clued in it was my heart I called a cardiac nurse friend of mine who said, “You realize that chest pain means your heart it stopping”.
Um. Nooo. I had not realized this.
Needless to say I stopped working out. Tests revealed that my heart was in perfect condition, but that I had Grave’s: my thyroid was being stimulated to produce too much thyroid hormone, which felt similar to being on a steady drip of adrenaline.
I had been studying shamanism for the year prior to getting sick, and working with a shaman.
One particular day I had a strange waking dream or vision, of me or a woman wearing a headdress with deer antlers on it. I was standing inside a pillar of energy that was so dynamic and powerful that my arms were thrown wide and a song bellowed out of my mouth with such force that it nearly took my jaw off its hinges. There’s a poem I saw in We’Moon that blew my mind with how similar the experience was. Here’s a bit of it:
Rise, Music, out of the Earth!
I feel it below me and just beyond the world
A cavern full of sound, a storm trapped beneath a mountain
howls at the edge of my throat.
I burn to let it sing through me!
And from this cloud as thunder and lightning, fierce and ecstatic,
crackling, roaring, drumming, brilliantly radiant,
deep as the oldest stone,
comes the music of the ageless universe, renewing itself,
the infinite, revealing and creating itself.
Unhinge my jaw and open my mouth as wide as a serpent’s
and let flow out from me the flood that presses against my heart
from beyond – music of the Other World,
Oh Goddess, these songs are straining inside of me
like wild angels!
Angela Galik 2009 via We’Moon
There was so much Power there, something I had never before felt that I could be a part of. I had been used to being a Mouse for many years, not a Lion. Surely this wasn’t me. The vision left me thinking, “I am afraid of this. I am afraid of my potential”.
My teacher consulted the spirits. When she came back she had me undertake a protocol to step into my Power. This involved me going up into the woods and performing a complex ceremony over the course of an afternoon. I was to speak to the trees and my hearth-spirits about all the things I wanted to let go of and a list of accomplishments I would do in the next year. I was to revisit the spot in one year to come full circle and complete the ceremony. I did it all to exact specifications.
Within weeks I was on the couch with Grave’s.
Months later I was seriously questioning everything: the shamanic path I had been on, my faith, my teacher’s abilities, the spirits, their existence and their love for me. I mean, this year was supposed to be all about me ‘stepping into my power’ was it not? What was I doing here on the couch then with a chronic, debilitating, life-altering, path-shattering illness? I wasn’t able to do anything on my list of accomplishments. Had I not done them fast enough? Were the spirits angry with me?
A year later I saw my list of accomplishments. It was very ‘me’. Over the top unattainable, unrealistic. This was my way. Instead of taking in life in small bite-sized chunks, I had always bitten off more than I could chew, and in that process, pushed myself to extreme levels to succeed, without any regard for my body, my psyche or my loved ones.
I realized this addiction to extreme behaviour defined me in the past. Now, there I had been once again working out hard and playing hard and I undertook this protocol that was so hard-core, the spirits would know how serious I was!
I thought the protocol would make me ‘strong like bull!’, like some Titan or something, impervious to ruin and disease, able to leap tall buildings with a single bound…right?
Enter full catastrophe mode.
In all seriousness, I actually hoped it would help me finally shed the fear and anxiety I had been plagued with – I saw this as my Big Block to advancing in my shamanic work and stepping into a more realized Self. Not only did this not happen, but it seemed like the opposite had happened. I didn’t receive help to get stronger, I perceived that I actually got much, much weaker. I began to think it was all a bunch of bullshit. I felt like a fool for believing in any of it.
But then, at some point it dawned on me was that this disease was spirit talking to me.
This was my protocol.
You see Graves Disease, it’s achingly frail, fragile and paper-thin, like the walls of those baby wasp nests you find on the forest floor in summer. It’s sticky and all tied up tight like a ball of waxed string. It’s full to the brim, boiling with frenzy and fury. It’s isolating, a hermit in the cave for 20 years, an ice fortress. It’s exhausting, exhaustive, worn to the bones bone, that spot that you rub and rub and rub until it’s soft. It’s swimming and swimming and then.. finally hitting the bottom.
Graves is not my ball and chain or my karma. It’s not a consequence.
It’s a guide.
And, it’s a conduit. It’s only since having Graves that my body began to speak to me, or that I was still enough to hear it. Or, defeated enough to listen. And man, the body will tell us so many stories if we become willing to listen. Those stories are at the root of what stops us from stepping into our Power, our birthright. My body has gracefully, patiently held them for me all of these years.
So, now I unpack.
The spirits have a funny way of working.
The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door. ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés
See part three of this story here
See part one here
featured image by Christian Schloe