Cupcakes, percocet and Wanda Sykes


My days have blurred together. I know it’s Monday, but have no idea what the date is. I’ve been in a percocet haze for the last six days. It makes my head feel swimmy. Six days ago I had minor back surgery due to a fall on black ice earlier this year in January. After months of going to the chiropractor, doing physical therapy, acupuncture and massage, I finally got an MRI done, which revealed I had chipped a disc between my L5 and S1, and the piece that broke off was lodged somewhere it’s not supposed to be and crushing my sciatic nerve. I had no choice but to have surgery to fix the problem if I ever wanted to be pain free again and return to my normal life of yoga, running, and cardio. All my surgeon had to do was make a 1 ½ inch incision, pull back my muscle, remove the broken chip and cleanup my disc where it broke off. Piece. Of. Cake.

Back surgery. I was terrified. There are so many nerves. So many risks. I was afraid I’d wake up from the surgery and be a paraplegic. This is a place my mind often goes to automatically: worst case scenario. But my neurosurgeon assured me “I’m going to take very good care of you,” and held my hand before I went into surgery, and when I came out. And he was right, he did.

Sporting my sexy scrubs before surgery.

My days since my surgery have been filled with percoset induced naps, marathons of the Golden Girls and Gilmore Girls, books and magazines. Each day, I try to walk a little farther than the day before. I have a plastic pedometer from Walgreens that I’ve strapped to the waistband of my pants to track my steps. I’m so glad I have this to feed my competitive nature. Early on, I had one day where I only took 100 steps. Yesterday, I walked 1,460 steps. Today, I’m up to 1,064 and I’ve only been awake four hours. Progress!

My first venture outside post-op

I’m looking at this down time as a gift to rest, something I haven’t been able to do much of lately. I have no schedule, no agenda, no appointments, no meetings to attend, or projects to work on. I’m learning to be happy doing nothing. However, I hit a bit of a low point yesterday when I took a selfie of my bun, yes my bun, and posted it on Instagram. I got a little bored, so I put my hair up in a bun for the first time and wanted to share my achievement during this growing out phase of my hair. After that, I watched Wanda Sykes’ standup comedy routine and ate ice cream out of the jar in bed. It was pretty fantastic. Even though I’m a Type A personality and have a hard time doing nothing, I’m pretty good at being a patient. I’ve had a lot of practice with it.

Bun selfie.

I got sick a lot as a kid. Flu, viruses, colds, even pneumonia. I was in kindergarten or first grade when I got hit with pneumonia. I remember feeling like I was walking through a swimming pool of water every day, my body weak and heavy. I remember getting x-rays taken and putting on a heavy, gray apron over my clothing. I was wearing a royal blue short-sleeve blouse with white elephants. The vest felt heavy like lead. I liked the feeling of this extra weight against my body, like I was wearing a suit of armor to protect me. I think I was sick for a week.

I never minded being home sick from school. I watched Scooby Doo and colored in the new coloring books my mom stopped to get me at the drugstore on the way home from the doctor. I usually got a fresh pack of crayons to go with it. I looked forward to taking my medicine, swallowing spoonfuls of thick pink liquid that smelled, looked, and tasted like bubble gum. My mom made me hot chocolate from the Swiss Miss packets and added a fluffy cloud of whipped cream. She served it in my favorite Garfield mug. Every morning she made me cinnamon toast with the perfect ratio of sugar to butter. I still make that for myself whenever I’m sick.

I’ve always been a good patient. I didn’t complain, sulk or wish I were in school. I liked being home watching cartoons, coloring, eating lunch with my mom. I remember when I got the flu in 4th grade, I missed a week of school. I watched Benji movies and felt a tightness in my throat whenever he encountered danger as he struggled to find his way back home. My mom brought our black and white TV from the kitchen to my bedroom and set it up on a TV dinner table so I could watch TV in bed. I felt like a princess. She checked on me throughout the day bringing me something yummy to eat each time: red Jell-O, a can of ginger ale with a straw, and cupcakes—always cupcakes. They were the kind you get from the grocery store that come in packs of six. Vanilla with whipped frosting that made your teeth turn colors.

I ignored all homework. My best friend Kimmy brought my homework assignments to me. I didn’t do all of them because I was too tired, but also because I had better things to do like watch Benji movies and eat cupcakes. That Monday when I finally returned to school, my teacher, Mrs. Perrault, made me take all the quizzes I missed all at once. I still joke today that she was the toughest teacher I had. She loaded us up with homework every night in every subject. I got in trouble once for rolling my eyes and sighing audibly when she added yet another assignment to our homework. She seemed to take turns embarrassing her students in front of the class. I think she enjoyed it. Anyway, I got an F on my quiz on the 13 colonies. (I was never one for history.) My score was somewhere in the 40s I think. I just remember her red pen marks slashing through my answers—and non-answers—on the paper. She also gave me a quiz on the book we were supposed to be reading: “Dear Mr. Henry.” I hated that book and of course didn’t keep up with my reading while I was out sick because, you know, Benji. I made up answers to most of the questions.

Even as a kid I noticed that I got sick a lot more than the other kids at school. I was always fascinated by my classmates who finished the school year with perfect attendance. I should have gotten an award for most days missed from school.

I’ve always been the type of person who gets diagnosed with rare things. I once had a rheumatologist send me down the hallway to her colleague’s office, a dermatologist, so he could take a picture of my hands. She had just diagnosed me with aquagenic wrinkling of the palms, a rare condition that causes the skin on palms to wrinkle more than normal after being submerged in water. She also telephoned her daughter, a med student, to swing by her office so she could witness this rare occurrence. I wonder if my hands are in some medical journal I don’t know about.

Even this thing with my back. So random. I fell stepping out of my husband’s 4Runner. My foot hit black ice and I fell forward. Hard. I couldn’t just walk away with bruised knees and an aching back. Nope. I had to have surgery. I’m complex like that.

We like to think of our bodies as indestructible, at least I do. But we’re actually very fragile beings. Our bodies are kind of like cars. Every once and a while, something breaks, and we need to go in for a tune up. And sometimes that tune up is longer and more complex than we had expected. So I’m going to sink in to what is, fluff my pillows, take as many naps as I need, eat as many cupcakes as I want, and trust that my body will let me know when it’s time to do more. Now excuse me, the Young & the Restless is coming on in five minutes. …

Cupcakes + Gilmore Girls = best medicine

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Somewhere in the middle

I’ve been craving calm lately, and rejuvenation. I’ve spent the last few weeks perusing yoga retreat websites, searching for the perfect destination. I needed something restorative but also inexpensive.

Then I heard about Yoga Fest from my yoga teacher, Andrea. The annual day-long retreat in Raleigh features dozens of yoga sessions from meditation to acrobatic yoga. I attended my first Yoga Fest on Saturday, and it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life. It was a day of releasing for me. I let go of emotions, tensions, judgments. By the end of the day, I felt cleansed, lighter and looser. It was a powerful experience and more than I could have imagined.

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My day started out with an amazing Yin Yoga session with my yoga teacher Andrea. She’s the coolest yogi I’ve ever met. I just adore her! She’s a wonderful teacher. See how happy and relaxed I am after her class? 

The biggest turning point of my day came in the afternoon. Between sessions, I visited the exhibitors’ area and had my aura read for $5 by a woman from a Raleigh yoga studio. I’ve always been fascinated by aura readings and curious about what my own aura looked like. I’m not an expert on the subject of auras, but I’ve been reading about them since I received mine. The best way to describe an aura is it’s a field of energy that surrounds a person and reflects their essence — who they are and what’s happening at their core. The rainbow of colors that appear in an aura are supposed to reveal one’s emotional, physical, spiritual and mental well-being. Since I’ve been dealing with some heavy emotional “stuff” these past two months I was eager to see what my aura would reveal. I placed my hands in the outlines of what looked like two metal fingerprints and within seconds my aura appeared on the screen in front of me.

I studied it for a second and turned to the woman beside me anxiously awaiting her analysis. My aura contained an overwhelming amount of red, which she said represents high energy, creativity and love. “You have a lot of passion,” she said to me. I smiled and nodded. But red, she continued, can also indicate anger, stress and too much thinking and analyzing. She asked if I had been under a lot of stress lately, and I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Not really.” I’ve been managing my stress better at work, doing more yoga and meditation every morning and sleeping well. So no, no stress. She said I have so much energy, creativity and ideas that I want to accomplish, but I’ll never be able to accomplish any of them unless I focus my energy. True. That’s been an ongoing issue.

Aura cropped

“This concerns me,” she said, pointing to a darker area on the screen. I looked closer at the cloudy blob of darkness sitting in the center of my chest. It looked like an ominous, black hole and it was near my heart. I noticed more murky blackness along the edges of my aura, around the crown of my head, but the hole in the center of my heart appeared the densest. “You’re protecting yourself, keeping your emotions closed in,” she said balling her hands into fists and pulling them to her chest. She mentioned illness and grief. I told her I had suffered a great loss in February. She nodded as if she already knew.

It’s been almost two months since my husband and I lost our baby. And it’s a loss unlike anything I have ever felt. It’s a shock to the heart, to the body. Most of all, I grieved the potential, what could have been. Now, what I’m mostly left with is anger. I’ve been through a lot of tough experiences in my life – chronic illness, deaths, divorce – but nothing compares to losing our baby. That black hole, it feels like an abyss. And I was staring directly into it. As I sat there studying my aura on the screen, I saw so much sadness. It’s a strange thing to see your emotions displayed in front of you. It was almost like looking at a self-portrait I had painted. But it’s up to me to change the canvas. The woman who did my reading recommended I meditate more, do some deep meditative breathing and yoga postures to open the chest and release the emotions I’m holding onto. “The gong bath will be good for you,” she continued. “It’ll be interesting to see what your aura is like after the gong.”

Gong bath. I had been hearing about this all day but had no clue what it was, and for some reason I never felt compelled to ask someone. I guess I wanted to be surprised and not go into it with any expectations. With my phone, I took a photo of my aura on the screen, thanked her, and went off to my final yoga class of the day: Cultivating Calm. How appropriate.

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The whole time I was in the class, I couldn’t get the image of my aura out of my head. Every time I tried to concentrate on a particular posture or my breath, my glowing red silhouette with that black hole in the center kept popping up. I kept thinking about how much better I thought I had been doing, how my life was getting back to normal … almost. But I’m still healing. As a friend so eloquently put it, I saw my “true colors,” and it scared me.

“Breathe in possibility and optimism,” the instructor said during our final meditation. “Breathe out fear and doubt.” As I breathed out, I pictured the black hole in my chest leaving my body and light coming in. My closed eyelids trembled as I tried to hold back the tears.

As I waited for the gong bath to begin, I pulled out my phone and Googled “gong bath.” The first result brought up: “A gong bath is a form of sound therapy where the gong is played in a therapeutic way to bring about healing. … The term gong bath means that you are bathed in sound waves, there is no water involved, or clothes removed.” Well, that’s a relief.

I closed my phone and laid down on my yoga mat, waiting to be healed. A woman with thick, blonde curly hair, black and white geometric yoga pants, and an off-the-shoulder black flowing t-shirt entered the room pushing on wheels a gong the size of a Smart car. She suggested lying down on the yoga mat with your head toward the gong and laughed as she told us one of her friends describes the gong bath as a “magic carpet ride.” The idea of floating around on a magic carpet sounded good right about now. The ultimate metaphor for freedom.

She turned off the lights, and as I laid there looking up at the dark, empty ceiling, I kept thinking about the words “healing” and “unreleased grief.” “Give yourself the gift of letting go,” the blonde-hair girl spoke gently into her wireless mic. And with that, the gong bath started. The sounds of the gong began gently like ripples of water, then increased in intensity. I could feel each sound wave reverberate throughout my body. I tried to stay grounded in the present and not let my mind drift, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the past – and that black hole. Eventually, the obsessive thoughts stopped and I let myself just be.

I’m not sure how long the gong bath lasted. Ten minutes? Fifteen? When the gong music stopped, I laid there waiting for something to happen to me. Was it over? Am I healed? What am I supposed to be feeling? Do I feel any different? With the lights still off, a musical recording began to play a New Age song I wasn’t familiar with. I didn’t know what the song was about because the lyrics were in another language, but it was beautiful and moving. As I laid there flat on my back, palms turned upward toward the sky, something broke inside of me. Hot tears slipped from the corners of my eyes and slid down my cheeks. My throat tightened and my chin trembled as I tried to hold back the tears. This is the stuff I’m still holding onto. Let it go. I surrendered to my grief and started a flood. Tears streamed down both sides of my cheeks. Some tears pooled in my ear canals and slid down my jaw bone and down my neck. Others rolled off my skin not knowing where they landed. I felt like I would never stop crying.

When the lights came on, I dug in my bag for a tissue and dabbed the tears from my eyes. I was a mess. My cheeks were wet, my neck, my chest. I felt like my whole body was covered in tears. I kneeled on my mat and started to roll it up when I noticed there were tears the size of dimes pooled on it. I had never seen my tears manifested in that way. They looked so big — perhaps the larger the grief, the bigger the tears.

I took a few deep breaths, then collected my things and hurried out the door to my car. I didn’t want anyone to see what a mess I was. When I stepped outside, the gray rain clouds that followed me on my morning drive had dissipated and the sky was now a cloudless blue. I turned my face to the sun and let its rays dry the rest of my tears. And I told myself, “I’m going to be OK.”

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Andrea introduced me to the works of poet Thomas Merton after her Yin Yoga session. “Sit still and rest.” Ah yes. And I love the second poem “At the End …” I think I’m somewhere in the middle.