The Year That Was 2016: Part Two (a.k.a. You Look Familiar; Have We Met Before?)

So, a while back, I published The Year That Was 2016: Part One. That would indicate that there would, at least, be a Part Two, right? So, a few weeks later, here we go.

I’ve determined that 2016’s raison d’être was to help us figure out what we are made of. Because 2017 and beyond will demand that we have a clear idea of who we are and what we will and will not accept and we are going to have to defend these boundaries with every part of our being. For me to get to that, though, required taking that first step back to figuring out who I am and what I’m made of.

By the end of 2015 I was unrecognizable. I had made one significant accomplishment that year, something that neither my mother, nor her mother had achieved: I turned 50. And…now what?

In an earlier version of this post, I spent at least a thousand words describing how sick I had become, without even realizing I was sick. How disconnected from my life I was. How badly I needed to disconnect from the outside world by the time Friday afternoon rolled around (well, I needed that by the time Monday lunchtime rolled around, truth be told). What it comes down to, though, is a concept from Julia Cameron’s book, Transitions:

I had abandoned myself.

I know exactly when and how it began. And, by the end of 2015, it was literally killing me. I was in constant pain, emotionally and physically. Outwardly, I was living an active, “healthy” life: I was riding my bicycle between home and the ferry terminal, I walked from the Ferry Building to my office next to the Dragon’s Gate entrance to Chinatown in San Francisco. I had been vegetarian for about 18 months.

But years of stress had left my system in constant fight-or-flight mode, which was made worse with the onset of perimenopause. Heel and knee pain made walking and cycling extremely painful, and, psychologically, I could no longer have the television on or even listen to music in my free time, because I couldn’t stand to hear human voices after the work week.

I put off seeing a doctor about the heel and knee issues because the doctor I had been seeing could never resist the urge to fat-shame me. I could have walked into her office with a sword sticking out of my ribs and she’d tell me I’d be just fine, if I’d just lose 80 pounds. I had received notification that she had moved on, and I had been in pain for a year, so I decided to give the new doctor Kaiser assigned to me a try.

He listened to my issue with the heel, and to the sounds my knee makes when it flexes (a sort of mash-up of bubble wrap popping and a paper bag being wadded up). He printed out stretching exercises from the physical therapy section of the website, to alleviate the heel and knee issues. He did not mention my weight at all.

Stretching the heel and my quadriceps (to help the knee) led me to try yoga again. (I had started a semi-regular practice in the summer of 2014, but stopped when Simon got sick and I put every spare ounce of energy I had into his care for the last few months we had together. I did not go back to yoga after he died, though hindsight indicates it would have helped me deal with the grief that consumed me.)

I began a home yoga practice, piecing together sequences I found in Yoga Journal, and after a couple of weeks, I thought I might like to try yoga classes.

*record scratch*

Classes? With PEOPLE? ARE YOU STUPID? Every time I thought about it, my brain invented all kinds of reasons not to try classes. You’re too fat to do yoga in public! You don’t know the names of all the poses! You’ll fall over all the time! Yet it felt like something I needed.

I looked at yoga studios in Alameda. Most of them looked nice, but when I saw the page for Leela Yoga, I saw photos of people who had bodies that looked like my body. So there went the “you’re too fat” argument, because people with my shape are doing yoga. And they look happy! The studio held a Yoga 101 workshop the following weekend, led by Beth, the lovely and amazing owner of Leela. Thanks to Beth’s lighthearted and welcoming approach to yoga, not only did I learn the names of the ubiquitous yoga poses, I learned that it’s totally all right to fall over! (Even experienced yogis fall over.) Now, instead of hearing all of the negative feedback and fear in my brain, I was hearing a message that maybe I had found a safe place. A sanctuary, that wasn’t my apartment. And Beth not only led a wonderful workshop, she stayed after and went over the class schedules with us, pointing out classes that were best suited to our needs (for me that was, slow pace and not crowded*).

I began adding Tuesday night Gentle Yoga classes to my schedule. I was finding all of the kinks that I needed to work out, physically and emotionally, but I was in a safe space to explore these issues, surrounded by supportive and intelligent people. It was in Gentle Yoga class that I found the strength to do the impossible!

Healing was taking place, but by early summer I had healed just enough to realize how sick I had been. I knew I still needed to make some major changes to my life, but still felt stuck and terrified of jumping into the unknown. I attended a couple of workshops led by Nicole Smith Levay and signed up to explore life coaching with her.

For the last half of 2016 I worked with Nicole, unwinding decades of negative messaging, helping to find my voice again, and envisioning, describing, and committing to a life that I actually want to live. A life that I don’t need a vacation from or want to retire from. And there were parts of that life vision that I began living in immediately (writing and restarting my blog being one of those things), not just dreaming of living it “someday”. It was—-and continues to be-—a lot of hard work, as anything worthwhile is. But, with Nicole’s steadying guidance, and the physical and emotional awareness that I had picked up from my yoga practice, I had finally reconnected with my life and all of its potential.

Which set me up well for what happened on 8 November. As the full horror of the election result dawned, I realized that my part to play in saving my country, in saving our democracy, made my life vision a hell of a lot bigger than I had originally penciled out. A new life began taking shape during the last six weeks of 2016. The plans I began making are exciting and terrifying, but I have created such a solid foundation in faith and strength that I know that I can handle anything that 2017 throws at me.

Every. Single. Time.

I am very happy that I will be showing a selection of my photographs at Portal 18 this weekend. I never remember how labor-intensive preparing photographs to show is, though. The process usually goes like this:

1. Print/have prints made;
2. Wipe down work area before matting/framing;
3. Mat each photo;
4. Write title of photo and name on the mat;
   4a. Screw up on penmanship and/or the pen coughs up a hairball;
   4b. Get a new mat and start over;
5. Take the back off of the frame and wipe down the glass
6. Put matted photo in the frame;
7. Flip the frame around to inspect for dust/smudges;
8. Remove photo and wipe down the glass again;
9. Replace photo and flip frame around again;
10. Remove photo and wipe down the glass again;
11. Replace photo and flip frame around again;
12. Find another piece of dust;
13. Wipe down work area again;
14. Remove photo from frame and wipe down glass again;
15. Replace photo and flip frame around again;
16. Find a cat hair on the mat;
17. Cuss/cry;
18. Make a cup of tea;
19. Remove photo from frame and wipe down glass. Again.
20. Replace photo and flip frame around again;
21. Find a small speck;
   21a. Decide no one else will notice, and so what if they do because if I have to take the photo out and wipe that damn glass on more time, I’m going to smash it.
22. Seal up the back of the photo;
23. One last wipe down of the glass and frame;
24. Vow that the next time I will pay whatever sum of money necessary to have a professional frame the photos.
25. Admire your lovely framed photos;
26. Deliver photos;
27. Find the nearest cupcake provider BECAUSE I’VE EARNED IT.