Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Tender Place

In many disciplines of medicine,  it is thought that each of us has a weakness, an Achille's heel, a place where our problems accumulate and manifest. For some people it's their stomach, for others their skin, for other's still it's their back, or shoulders, some bone, or muscle, an organ somewhere in our bodies.

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For me that place has always been my lungs and my chest, my breathing.

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I don't just mean colds, though any innocuous, little cough I get is apt to quickly become a respiratory infection. In high school I had six respiratory infections in ten months and was prescribed as many courses of antibiotics. Over the years, I've suffered from panic attacks who's main symptom (other than the overwhelming sense of dread) was shortness of breath. Had random, intermittent asthma attacks that don't seem to have an actual physical origin. Allergies that manifest in the respiratory system. When our house was moldy, my most persistent symptom was a continuous cough that wouldn't quit for almost a year and culminated in pneumonia.
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But it isn't just physical. It's not just scar tissue in my lungs, it's not just a weak immune system, it's not just a kink or a peculiarity, I've actually come to believe that it's where I store my negative emotions. My, for the lack of a better wording, fucked up shit.
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When I started meditating seven years ago, one of the things that quickly became an obstacle was my breathing. Instead of relaxing me, deep, focused breathing actually added physical tension to my body. I'd had the same experiences for years, during gym class, dance and yoga since grade school; a sudden tightness in the chest whenever I payed attention to my breathing.
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I even use to smoke as a coping mechanism, transferring emotional problems directly into my lungs.
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Usually, after I get stressed out and worn down enough, I get sick. I don't do well with stress, so this happens quite frequently and in the last three years my immune system has been under a lot of external duress, though it's definitely on the mend.

For the last week, I've been more or less suffering from all the classic symptoms of my usual respiratory troubles.  It feels like my annual fall cold come early, capping a tiresome summer perfectly and dismantling all of my best laid plans.
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It's hard to admit that your body as a fragile thing. In a health conscious environment, it's easy to take its short-comings as weaknesses. I've even had people say as much to me. That somehow being physically frail implies that you're not a dynamic enough a person. I try to take that in at a stride. As frustrating as physical issues can be, I don't measure my weight, or that of others, in how healthy they are.
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A friend who's a massage therapist once pointed out that emotionally sensitive people are also often physically sensitive as well. So instead of lamenting over my plans undone, my inability to shake doldrums and aches and blocked sinuses, I spent the week trying to listen to my body, telling myself "No. We simply can't go to the garden, stay up working on stuff, go do fun things we had planned. We can't. It takes however long it takes. Lay low."

It took long enough; today is the first day I feel like my usual self, inspired, with energy and joyful plans. A few of which involve working on my lungs, my upper body, my sinuses, with herbs and energy-work and exercises.

Weakling or not, the older I get, the more attention I pay my Tender Place.
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Do you have one?

Important notes, comments and questions:

1. "The Tender Place" is a rather sentimental poem by Ted Hughes in The Birthday Letters. In it, Hughes describes how SP's temples were hooked with electrodes during her bout of ECT at McLean Hospital. Ask me like anything about SP. Actually SP had both sinus trouble and stomach issues, and some biographers believe, rather convincingly that the illness that killed her was an extreme case of PMS, or rather PMD- Pre-Menstrual Dysphoria. Any other SP buffs out there?

2. Speaking of sentimentality is anyone else absolutely crazy about the new album by The Civil Wars?!? Eavesdrop? The Smashing Pumpkins cover? The absolutely perfect brake-up song The One That Got Away?

3. I'm wearing a dress that got way too little wear this summer, from the lovely and sadly not-often-posting Waves, via the most inspiring little vintage store in the world Frida Marina. If you're ever in Helsinki look up Waves' sister Maria. Girl's got the magic! I lopped off most of the sleeves to make it more practical and for once I think that was the perfect thing to do, they rest like little wings.

4. Orange cha glad blogger fixed that commenting problem? Me too.

17 comments:

  1. Oh god, I feel you. I have sleep apnea and asthma, so my breathing is definitely my tender place. It gave me a lot of problems in high school before I started learning to manage it.

    It's tempting to pretend you don't have it, "tough it out" and go along your routine as if it weren't there, as if that would make you stronger. I'm learning, though, that the strength comes from internalizing it, accepting it as a part of you, and adjusting your routine/lifestyle accordingly when it rears its familiar ugly little head. You gotta take your system's quirks as they are and give your body the fuel and love and rest it needs.

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  2. Yoga is better for your this problem. Yoga, meditation, massage all are very helpful for you.


    Regards,
    Mobile Massage

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  3. Kiitos kauniista sanoista! Seuraavan kerran kun tulet Suomeen, koitetaan järjestää mun ihana pikkusisareni tänne Helsinkiin, niin että tekin voisitte tavata. Ja mun siippa tuuraamaan kaupalle niin voidaan karata jonnekin teelle :).

    Kaikki mikä mussa tapahtuu, tapahtuu päässä. Joskus nuorempana musta tuntui, etta "asun" mun päässä, että muulla kropalla ei ole niin väliä. Muusta kropasta tulikin sitten kömpelö, pitkähkö, honkkelo, kun mieli taas on aina ollut notkea, syvä. Vasta nyt lähempänä neljääkymmentä oon oppinu "fyysisemmäksi". Mulla on myös todella huono näkö -vaikka silmät on teevadin kokoiset, niillä näkee tarkasti vain reilun 10 cm etäisyydelle.Silmissä usein tulehduksia ja kaikkea kummaa. Sukutaipumuksen ansiosta oon koko ikäni vertaillut näköhäiriöitä, auroja, kiputuntemuksia ym migreeniin liittyvää, äidin, sisaren, veljen, tädin ja oman pojan kanssa. Juliuksella (se oma poika:) eka migreenikohtaus tuli nelivuotiaana; heräsi kesken päiväunien ja tuli kertomaan oravasta joka on mennyt pään sisälle, ja nakertaa vasenta silmää, sieltä sisäpuolelta. Olisin tehny mitä vain voidakseni ottaa kivun pois, ja mietin samalla muita lapsia joiden vanhemmilla ei ehkä ole aavistustakaan siitä miltä tuollainen tuntuu.. Oon oppinu elämään oman herkän kohtani kanssa, osittain juuri siksi kun sisarukset omaavat saman taipumuksen. Oon lukenut migreenistä paljon, tiedejulkaisuista Siri Hustvedin romaaneihin (vapiseva nainen ei kyllä mulle avannut mitään uutta), ja jotenkin taipunut hyväksymään ominaisuuteni, joka selkeästi linkittyy psyykkiseen haurauteeni, vaikeuteen kestää tietynlaisia muutoksia ja stressiä, sekä sentimentaalisuuteen, vai pitäiskö sanoa melankolisuuteen. Ja kaikkihan on piilossa näennäisen sosiaalisessa ja ulospäinsuuntautuvassa naisessa, siinä mikä on pintaa. Oon täysin samaa mieltä, vanhemmiten sitä oppii olemaan itselle armollisempi. Tän hetkisessä tilanteessa (yrittäjä ei voi olla sairaana) on tosin omat haasteensa. Oon ollut viikon flunssassa, joka päivä töissä 8-10 tuntia... Toivon vaan että itsehoitaminen ja lepohetket kotona riittää, että säästyn jälkitaudeilta..
    Täällä on ihana alkusyksy, ilma on raikas ja kaikki värit "kypsiä." Mä lähetän sulle sitä fiilistä merien yli ! :)

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  4. My sister's tender area is her weight, as is my aun'ts; my mom's tender place is her heart; mine is my jaw. I love the idea that everyone has an "achille's heel" when it comes to their health. It's comforting, in a way. Breathe easy.

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  5. nuorempana maha kipeytyi aina,jos vähänkin hermostuin,epäröin tai yksinkertaisesti sain nukuttua liian vähän. Nykyään ehkä vähemmän,kun tiedän tämän syy seuraus suhteen.
    Pelkkä syvään hengittäminen auttaa aikalailla,kunhan siihen tosiaan muistaisi kiinnittää enemmän huomiota.
    Ihastuttavaa syksyä toivottelen:-)

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  6. Replies
    1. Girl, I miss you. And OWE you earrings. Email me pls.

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  7. i'm happy you talked about this! our bodies are vulnerable, sometimes it is easy to forget. I find stress always appears in my skin drying, and severe muscle tension. Sometimes it is best to accept these things about yourself and make sure to get some time in everyday to nurture yourself.

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  8. Oi Milla :) Sorry to hear about the frequency of these chest irritations. No fun at all! My place is my stomach for sure--and fortunately for me deep breathing and meditation seems to alleviate so much of that tension that I store there. I won't go into details about the myriad of ways my stress manifests itself there, but it ain't pretty I can tell you that. Anxiety and stress affect my entire being and I find myself incapable of eating, sleeping, etc in those moments. It is rather refreshing though to know that I may just be a sensitive person. I think I'd rather be sensitive and sickly, than not. I think the biggest part of getting older is finally understanding these things, don't you? The older you now kind of gets the younger you. Sick or not, cute hair thingys abound in this post :) Hugs to you!

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  9. PS: would you mind emailing me your address... andreaanddouglas@gmail.com I came across something that I thought you might like. Nothing fancy or anything.

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    Replies
    1. I miss you and your world much girl. Keep us posted. Are you on face crack?

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  10. i love this post. for me it's my jaw and my head. it's a big deal. i need to keep my teeth for the rest of my life so i have to work on it. relaxing. any time there is a toxin to process - environmental, emotional, or actual (virus, alcohol, etc.) it goes through my head. it's very painful. and the intrinsic connection between emotional and physical is apparent - but then what? how do i let go? how do i put that stuff somewhere else??

    i just don't know yet.

    sending love to you and your lungs.

    sadie rose

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  11. anxiety goes to my stomach, anger to my jaw

    i don't know why folks don't talk about this stuff, it is so common (and not a weakness)

    p.s. thanks for crediting the dress b/c i was distracted by it the whole time i was trying to read this post; the sleeves are perfect that way

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  12. Oh I can relate for sure. I love that you are so honest and able to reach through the internet making a connection. Thank you.

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  13. oooooh, mine is in my upper body. I hold tension in my neck and shoulders, and I breathe shallowly. I had to re-learn to breathe ...an occupational therapist at work helped me with that. Then again, anxiety is in my stomach. Not crampy..but.....uh...the other kind of stomach troubles. haha TMI? I'm a serial inappropriate-poster.Hey, at least we are aware though right? People think I'm batsh*t crazy when they've got ailments that always pop up, and I"m like "are you stressed? anxious?"...and they're "oh, YEAH i am!" love to you, hope you are feeling better. x

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  14. I've been thinking about this post a lot over the last week. My tender place is my lungs too. When I was a child and had a cold it always ended up as a persistent chest infection. When I was a teenager and freaked out my anxiety manifested as an inability to breathe. When I'm stressed or concentrating I find myself holding my breath. When I'm exhausted my chest aches and I find it hard to take a deep breath.

    Like you, I meditate, but I also find it more tension inducing than releasing to concentrate on my breath. And this week I realised that the one time I really feel relieved from that perpetual lung stress is when I'm running. Unexpected, I know, but I guess that when I'm running is the one time that I have no control over my breath- I literally need every single inch of air I can get (how I like to see it- there's no mischief for the unused air/lung-parts to get up to) I automatically, mechanically, breathe as hard as I can and there's no conscious adjusting of my breath or concentration on inhaling and exhaling. I know from friends who work in neuroscience that sometimes conscious thought can disrupt automatic pathways in the brain (think about the mechanics of walking up the stairs as you walk up them and you fall down), so perhaps it's that simple- think about breathing and it becomes hard to breathe.

    But in the end all that I found is one of the main reasons I enjoy running. With my body totally occupied with work there's no mischief for it to get into, no anxiety for it to tool around with, and my mind is free to dream.. which of course is my main goal for every day, just as it should be :)

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  15. PS: just ignore my problematic mind-body dichotomy there, ha!- I'm just separating the automatic body processes from the conscious ones in an over-simplified way.. also, I'm no scientist- witness the brilliant phrase "lung-parts"..

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