Today I am welcoming my aunt, Donna, as a guest-poster for the blog.
She is only a handful of years older than me, being my mom’s baby sister, and has often been more like a big sister than an aunt.
Many years ago, Donna was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. And just a few years ago she was hospitalized and was honestly near death. Since her hospital visit she has had spinal surgery and is now awaiting another spinal surgery. She’s had a long, hard road, but she has committed herself to her yoga practice and it has helped her through her struggles. A few weeks ago one of her practice photos was so beautiful and inspiring that I asked her if she’d like to share her story. She agreed. I’ll let Donna tell you the rest.
What Yoga Looks Like
Greetings and Salutations! I’d like to thank my niece – and best friend – Fit Bitch, for inviting me to share my Yoga Journey with her – and subsequently, with all of you. o, Fit Bitch, thank you for always supporting me and believing in me; for being my “as-often-as-possible” yoga buddy; and in the spirit of full disclosure, for forcing me to pick up a (pink, of course!) pen, and (fresh, clean, untouched) paper (word of the day: papyrophilia = a lover of paper).
But, as much as I’d lover to tell you about my stationery obsessions, that’s not what I was asked to do.
My Yoga Obsession: The Early Years
My whole life I avoided things that were meant for “skinny girls” – gymnastics, figure skating, ballet…yoga.
it seemed everywhere I looked I was being put down and left out. The one and only yoga class I went to in those decades was a prenatal class. That didn’t go so well; and I decided “Yoga is for skinny girls!” Yoga would be added to the “Reward List” for when I finally got skinny.
Over the years I’ve tried to get my Fibromyalgia body into shape. My favorite activities were Aquacize, running, and hiking – the latter being the only one I am still able to do.
I “Got Sick”
A couple of years ago I became very, very sick. In an attempt to treat my aforementioned Fibromyalgia, my family physician essentially poisoned me with too many dangerous medications, prescribed all at the same time.
My official diagnosis was Medication Induced Encephalopathy due to Polypharmacy. I also had Serotonin Syndrome and Cymbalta Poisoning – followed swiftly by Cymbalta Withdrawal Syndrome.
I nearly died.
My husband was not able to get me to wake up and stay awake. I couldn’t pronounce words properly. My heart even stopped at one point! I saw a vision of my late father walking down the hall toward me. i was very, very sick.
After a couple of weeks of being hospitalized I was finally released from the Close Observation Unit of the Neuroscience ward, but with permanent damage to my thyroid, liver, kidneys, and the memory, balance, and speech pathways of my brain. (I now have brain damage.)
While I was in the hospital, I had many tests done, as they tried to figure out what was wrong with me. They did a CT scan and made the discovery we were not prepared for – I needed Cervical Spinal Surgery, and as soon as possible. I was having significant spinal cord compression, which could, very suddenly and unexpectedly, cause paralysis. I finally had the surgery in December 2014.
After I got out of the hospital, I knew the fight for my life was beginning. I knew I had to work hard if I was ever going to be that strong, independent woman I’ve always been. It was not going to happen on its own.
My Wellness Plan was made up of 3 parts: 1) Get me a therapy kitten, as I would have to get up and care for her, and to give me something else to focus my energies on; 2) Walking – every day we took our little kitty for a walk, which got me out in the fresh air, and exercise my heart and lungs; and 3) Yoga: for improved balance, stability, and strength. I was ready to hit the road to wellness running (well, hobbling) until I met with the Neurosurgeon: NO YOGA until after the Spinal Fusion surgery, due to the high risk of paralysis. I was absolutely crushed! It would be another whole year before I was finally given the green light to go ahead and finally begin my yoga practice.
My Yoga Practice: #whosaysfatchickscantdoyoga
It was the end of May, 2015. We were packing up the car for our trip to the Annapolis Valley (Nova Scotia) for the annual Apple Blossom Festival. My husband asked me “what’s with the yoga mat?”
I very excitedly answered “If I do yoga tonight, I’ll be able to say ‘I’ve done yoga every day for a week’!” I kept up that daily practice (I even participated in Yoga Fest with Fit Bitch) until November, when the FFF (Fall Fibro Flare) too me out of commission. Then my practice got demoted to every other day, focusing solely on Restorative and Yin practices (oh how I love my bolster!)
I love my home yoga practice! I very rarely get to an actual live class, for various reasons. The main reason being my actual reason for doing yoga in the first place…
My Intention: Yoga is Making Me Feel Better
If you look at a group of yogis in a studio class, heavy on Vinyasa, most of the people there will tell you the reason they are there is for a work out, for exercise, for weight loss. And that’s great! For them, and for most people, really. But not for me. The reason I show up on my mat is for healing. My yoga practice is wholly therapeutic. I am in it to get my body into the pose correctly, and painlessly, and I need to rest in that pose for a little longer than a flow class allows. That’s why I love Yin classes! Especially at night. Letting gravity help clean every last drop of goodness out of each pose.
As previously mentioned, I have a home yoga practice. I rarely go to a live class, but I follow some fabulous teachers on YouTube. I have learned most of what I know about yoga from practicing along with videos.
Being in a body that hurts on levels of 7, 8, 9 out of 10 on the pain scale on a daily basis, being able to choose exactly what kind of class my body needs is extremely important. There’s nothing worse than finally getting yourself to an actual class only to find out that you are not physically capable of doing that particular class.
The best reason to bring your practice into the solitude of your own home would have to be “pajama yoga”! Or, maybe the pause button?
How I’ve Benefited from Yoga
One of the first things I noticed, as far as benefits go, was my sleep. For the first time in my life, I fell right to sleep! Truly amazing. Another huge benefit I’ve noticed is that I now know how to use my entire body! I am reaching with my whole side body, not just with my arm. I can get down and back up from the floor now. My balance has improved a great deal. My ability to relax and calm myself; everything has come from my yoga.
I am learning how to use my body in the way in which it was intended and that has taken a lot of stress off the areas that usually “made up the difference”. I am much more relaxed, overall, and that translates into lower pain levels. All because of yoga.
The Wait 2.0
Sometime last Fall, I learned I have some significant lower back problems, causing referred pain down my left leg. I was told to take it easy with the yoga until I got in to see the surgeon. After a year of tests, switching doctors, and waiting, I finally got to see the back surgeon’s Triage Physiotherapist. I was overjoyed when she reassured me my back problems had nothing to do with yoga, as I’d secretly thought to be the case. Yoga and I, once again, got the green light. I would be able to get ready for Yoga Fest again. I was elated! Until….
I passed the triage and was granted an audience with the good doctor himself. Hoping to hear good things, like “We will fix you right up!”, only to be told, instead, “Be very careful”, left me, once again, in a pit of despair.
It turns out I have Spinal Cord Compression, which could very easily, and very suddenly, cause paralysis. Sound familiar? Here we go again.
So now I have the possibility of not one, but two spinal surgeries in my near future. one in my lumbar spine, which is not being put on the back-burner, and one on my cervical spine (another one, that is), which takes presidence. And once again, my yoga practice will have to be re-evaluated and checked for neck safety. But mostly, we just wait.
At least I know that yoga will always be there for me, when I finally get the go-ahead from the doctors again.
I really want to add that Donna’s journey has been tumultuous. And it has been hard on all of her family. We have seen her down and out and suffering.
Last year, Donna and I were out shopping for a bit and I said something about living forever when she replied with “I don’t want to live forever. I don’t want to live in this body for much longer.” That was heart-wrenching for me to hear. And it has made me sad ever since. But, through all of this, she has maintained she is a yoga warrior.
I hope and pray that, if permitted, she is able to continue with her practice. And that she will heal a little more each day and that the pain she endures daily will subside so that she will want to stick around with us a little longer.