Published in Dynamic Chiropractic September 2021
Remember back to school, pushing to get through midterms or finals and then crashing immediately after the madness ended? In all of my years in practice, I’ve seen it from the other side, with students coming home after being off at college or grad school. They come in for a visit after finishing up finals and they’re a mess! Their bodies are failing after being overtired, overcaffeinated, overstimulated… This is what’s known as the “Let Down Effect.”
According to Dr. Marc Schoen, who coined the term, the Let Down Effect “is a condition that leads to illness or symptoms following stressful events, such as conflict, time pressured work projects, or school exams.”
Since our bodies only have one old-school way of handling stress, this effect can also occur after positive stresses, like weddings, vacations, holidays, or transitioning to retirement. We know of these situations as “eustress,” stress that’s considered to be positive. Whether the stress is positive or negative, our bodies handle it in the same way. The body doesn’t recognize the difference, so the process is the same.
The human body only has the capacity to handle so much stress at once… we strive to survive the situation. As soon as we move through it, and have a second to catch our breath, all that physiological and psychological aftermath kicks in to affect our overall health. The stress response is designed to be short term, with a regulation back to homeostasis. This is especially difficult under prolonged stress without a clear ending, such as in legal action, illness, grief, or searching for a job.
Since March 2020, our entire society has been in the throes of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. As the world begins to now reopen with the vaccine being distributed, travel bans lifted, and masks becoming obsolete, it is now that we will begin to see the Let Down Effect in action. This shows up differently for various people, with impact related to their physical and emotional states of health. For some, it’ll show up as anxiety/depression, for others as arthritic pain, sleep disturbances, binge eating, or headaches/migraines.
I’ve personally seen patients who literally hadn’t left their homes in a year. The fear and isolation that has been predominant for so many people will have profound effects that are just starting to be revealed. Even for people who haven’t been as strict about staying home, they still report higher levels of social awkwardness and unwillingness to be in public. Yet, life is beginning to get back to business as usual, so even those who aren’t fully embracing it, will have to push through their comfort zones to some extent.
The chemical effects of chronic stress will begin to present as the stress itself is lessened. What’s fascinating is that the same process occurs even if the perceived stress is lowered. The stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, which initiate the immune response, have been working so hard to bring each person through their individual situation, will begin to deplete as the body receives the signal that the stressful stimuli is reduced. Simultaneously, prostaglandins, chemicals left behind after the stress response, tend to instigate the inflammatory response which can directly lead to arthritic pain, heavy or painful menstrual cycles, and migraines.
A study published in Neurology in 2014 tested the hypothesis for the Let Down Effect in relation to migraines. It concluded that “reduction in stress from one day to the next is associated with migraine onset the next day. Decline in stress may be a marker for an impending migraine attack and may create opportunities for preemptive pharmacologic or behavioral interventions.” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24670889/
Anita Wang, MD says, “The Let-Down Effect is the equivalent of going from 100mph to a dead stop in a car. It’s not good for your car, and it’s not good for your body.”
Some amount of the Let Down Effect is inevitable, but how can we smooth out the transition?
Reducing the stress gradually is the most profound way to ease the changeover in our bodies. Once the uncontrollable stress is reduced, you can introduce higher levels of mental and physical stress, like running, exercise, or crossword puzzles. Bringing the stress down slowly will allow the body to regulate more efficiently. Coming home after a stressful day and checking out in front of the tv is like bringing your body to that dead stop without any slowing down, whereas going for a walk after work or coloring would guide the body toward a level of homeostasis with a calming effect. This is known as somatosensory regulation, rhythmic activities to calm the brain. Actions with consistent movement will allow the brain to settle without coming to a complete halt.
Sleep is also an important part of rebuilding the body’s strength. After I see a patient who’s been involved in a car accident, I teach them that they’ll be extremely tired for the next few weeks. This is due to the trauma their body has been through. Internally, there’s an intense amount of repair going on which may not be visible, but will zap their energy. I recommend allowing themselves more time to rest and to lighten up their schedule. The same process applies for coming down from an emotionally stressful situation. Rest is the way to support the immune system to protect us from downward spirals into poor health.
Clean eating and minimal alcohol intake also go a long way in supporting the body during the let-down process. Processed carbohydrates and alcohol increase inflammation, which is already high after severe stress and leads to higher rates of physical pain and migraines.
Collectively, our society will be going through a communal Let Down process as the world returns to normal. Knowing that this a time of higher potential for physical and mental conditions is critical and can keep people from feeling like they’re falling apart when they should be better than ever. As a Doctor, I’m aware of this phenomenon and have already seen it repeatedly in my practice. I’ve found that explaining what this is and the timing of it, offers comfort to those dealing with it. Often once the condition is known, it’s easier to accept and manage with the techniques I’ve outlined.
Published in The American Chiropractor July 1, 2021
As Doctors of Chiropractic, posture is our focus, but I find it riveting how posture can be a clear indicator of someone’s mood. What’s even more intriguing is being able to neurologically shift someone’s level of joyfulness just by altering their posture. For our patients who are suffering from anxiety and depression, that is incredibly powerful. Being able to “flip the switch” to turn on joy is something most people are unaware of and something so desperately needed in this time. Here’s where the mind-body connection really takes the lead.
When you see someone in clear distress or depression, the typical posture is kyphotic — shoulders rolled forward, anterior head posture, sitting in a slumped position, exaggerated thoracic curvature. The jaw, head, neck, and hips tend to ache from the shortening of the musculature in the anterior aspect of the body. Neurologically speaking, the amygdala is on overdrive. The emotional area of the brain is lit up, working to process trauma and pain. That is a hard-wired response to stress, a survival instinct physically manifested. Anxiety can alter the brain’s plasticity, initiating the fight-or-flight response, even when there’s no actual threat. The brain becomes hyperactive from stress with a lessened tolerance to distress, especially the amygdala. Whether that stress is perceived or actual has no impact; the responses are identical.
In contrast, someone happy or joyful tends to stand upright, head lifted, chest open, shoulders back. There’s an elevation from the ground up. It portrays confidence and poise, commanding a level of respect. The prefrontal cortex is actively running the show to control posture and cognitive function. The frontal lobe processes uncomfortable emotions and puts things into perspective, rationalizes by using logic, and calms the amygdala’s response. This is a self-regulating system of innate design.
The “old-school” design of dealing with stress worked well in earlier times when someone could run, escape from danger, and have time to recover. It would allow their body the time and space required to return to homeostasis. In today’s busy lifestyle, there’s typically no time before the next stress rushes in, especially with the constant barrage from devices and social media. So we tend to live in a heightened state of stress on a consistent basis.
Here’s where it gets interesting. By actively changing your posture and doing something as simple as walking, stretching, or yoga, you can alter your brain function. Going for a walk encourages different areas of the brain to engage, which helps calm anxiety and depression. To be clear, I’m not saying there isn’t a need for medication for clinical levels of mental health disorders, but these movements can also be powerful adjuncts to prescription therapy. For people suffering from milder anxiety or depression, these tools can have a profound impact on downshifting distress. Stimulating the brain properly can give someone a fighting chance to stave off depression and anxiety.
A fascinating research study at Duke University in 2015 showed:
“We all experience a host of common life stressors such as the death of a family member, medical illness, and financial uncertainty. While most of us are resilient to such stressors, continuing to function normally, for a subset of individuals, experiencing these stressors increases the likelihood of developing treatment-resistant, chronic psychological problems, including depression and anxiety. It is thus paramount to identify predictive markers of risk, particularly those reflecting fundamental biological processes that can be targets for intervention and prevention. Using data from a longitudinal study of 340 healthy young adults, we demonstrate that individual differences in threat-related amygdala reactivity predict psychological vulnerability to life stress occurring as much as one to four years later. These results highlight a readily assayed biomarker, threat-related amygdala reactivity, which predicts psychological vulnerability to commonly experienced stressors and represents a discrete target for intervention and prevention.”1
Keep in mind, this study was done years before the COVID-19 pandemic and could already predict a higher level of treatment-resistant anxiety and depression for those people with heightened amygdala function. Sustaining the onslaught of news and social media in the past year has undoubtedly increased stimulation to the world’s collective amygdala. For those more prone to processing the emotionally driven medical, political, and racial reports, it is a nightmare waiting for the next years to come. Anxiety and depression are already a problem with exponential growth, with statistics showing anxiety disorders as the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 18.1% of the population every year. “Major depressive disorder” is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15 to 44.3.2
As Doctors of Chiropractic, I believe we have a calling to educate our patients on how to process the trauma and reset the neurological paths to protect and support our patients’ mental and physical health. Encouraging our patients to incorporate ways to stimulate their prefrontal cortex in daily life can help downregulate the heightened amygdala response. Simple activities like walking, meditating, stretching, or incorporating yoga poses into their day can go a long way toward improving mental health. These are examples that they can teach their families, which can have a profound ripple effect in decreasing overall anxiety.
A few months ago, my daughter asked me, “Mommy, if you could do anything, what would your dream job be?” She’s 8, super smart, opinionated, quick-witted, funny, and really inquisitive. I thought for a sec and said, “You know, I’m super lucky and blessed to love what I do already!” I’ve been a Chiropractor for 15 years and I really do love helping patients and seeing their lives transform. She pressed and said again, “No Mom, your DREAM job!” Without thinking, “author” flew right out of my mouth! Honestly, I was as shocked as she was! I’ve always been an avid reader, since I was little.. in fact, my girl had just been teasing me about how many books I was into. We counted 9 – reading ADD perhaps? But to write a book? A book worth reading??? That would absolutely be my dream…
I think there’s pure magic in reading something that touches the heart and changes the mind to see the world differently, even just a little. Ever since she asked me that question, I’ve felt little nudges to start writing.. and so I have. Today, I registered the domain name and here I am writing my first blog. It’s a huge (scary) leap of faith for me. Feeling exposed and vulnerable… but that’s what life is all about, right? That’s where God really digs in and does His best work. My prayer is that sharing my experiences will help others along a similar journey.
Running and faith are so interconnected for me… I’ve been running pretty regularly for years, since my first divorce in 2012. It was an ugly divorce, a long grueling process. My world was crashing and I felt like I had only a few options for handling it… I would try to make light of things and say, “Well, I could either hit the bottle or hit the pavement.” I was trying to manage staying sane through the divorce, while raising my little girl (less than 2 at the time), running my practice, and dealing with the lawyers. I was on the brink…
I’ve never been athletic, never played sports growing up. In fact, I still will duck anytime a ball comes toward me! Oddly enough, though, I ran here and there over the years. Never longer than a few miles and not with any goal in mind. There was always something cathartic to me about running, even when I couldn’t go more than 2 minutes without feeling like I would die right there on the trail.
I decided to train for a half-marathon and it was life-changing. At a time when there was so much of my life out of control, running was one thing I could work at, see improvement, and feel a sense of pride. I didn’t have much support back then. No running group or running buddies. No support from family. In fact, a family member said, “What makes you think you could even do that? You’re not a runner!” But, something in me needed to keep going. The first time I crossed that finish line, it was incredibly emotional. The sense of accomplishment was completely overwhelming. That’s the thing about running… the only way to cross that finish line is to do it on your own. There’s something so incredibly gratifying to that…. so empowering! After that, I was hooked and now have completed many halves and even a full marathon.
I’m not a fantastic runner. I have good seasons and really rough seasons. But, it’s not about that for me. It’s about how I feel. It’s about being outside in God’s beauty. It’s about putting that training plan up on my fridge and marking off my runs. It’s about my daughter watching me set goals, train hard, and accomplish them. It’s about praying while running through the hills and valleys of life. It’s about connecting with the running buddies I’m blessed to have. It’s about knowing when to listen to my body and reel it in. It’s about feeling strong and passing other runners when I can! It’s so much more than just putting one foot in front of the other.
That verse from Hebrews is what I hope my writing may do: to spur one another on toward love and good deeds. I feel that my daughter really provoked that in me, brought that dream to reality. Here’s my first step down that path, my first blog. Hopefully, the first of many.
What a long year it’s been… to say 2020 has been ruthless is an understatement. COVID-19 has most of us quarantined at home and social distancing when we’re out for essentials. Finding the new normal, with the anxiety of not knowing when (or if) life will get back to normal, is almost too much to bear. It feels like Groundhog’s Day – going through the motions without anything to break the monotony, except for the latest devastating statistics. The fear of the unknown brews and festers in our mind and spirit, if we allow it… it takes a specific intention to not drown in the abyss.
Prior to this pandemic, we were all going through something individually but this virus has brought our world together in a way that’s unique. We are suffering as a globe, in so many ways… physically, financially, spiritually. It’s so heavy and there are so many ripples involved with this destructive disease.
When I get overwhelmed and want to stick my head in the sand and hide from the devastation, I think of Brene Brown’s “Braving the Wilderness.” I’m a HUGE fan of her work and read this book prior to the pandemic. Her writing about collective moments really touched me and have been on my heart, going through this time.
“Show up for collective moments of joy and pain so we can actually bear witness to inextricable human connection…. We have to catch enough glimpses of people connecting to one another and having fun together that we believe it’s true and possible for all of us.”Brene Brown
This is why we go to church, to concerts, to sporting events – to experience these moments with others. It makes the experience so much more profound than listening to music or watching a game alone. I believe this is something good that’s coming from such a horrific experience, that we’re all in it together. This virus doesn’t discriminate, all of us and our loved ones are at risk. It puts things into perspective… what’s really important? What’s all the fluff in our lives that doesn’t need to take up our mind-space? Where does our faith really lie?
Years ago, I was at the Cap10k, a race here in Austin that brings over 20,000 runners together to race around the state capital. It’s a fun race with tons of energy and supporters that I’ve run multiple times. I was with friends and said, “you know, I’ve read that most people find running in times of crisis.” A buddy of mine looked around exclaimed, “Wow – that’s a lot of crisis!” With THAT many runners there, it was eye-opening to see… and heart-breaking to think that ALL those people might be going through something big.
I found running when I was going through my first divorce. My daughter was only 15 months old when her dad and I separated, so I had to keep it together to be able to take care of her. I went from a part-time stay at home mom and a part-time chiropractor to a single mom who was working full-time and the sole owner of my practice. It was A LOT (and still is). I would joke with my friends and patients and say, “well, I could either hit the bottle or hit the pavement.” As offhand as that seems, it was real for me. I began training for my first half-marathon, pushing my girl in our jogging stroller.
Running brought clarity to my life. A time of solitude to sort out my thoughts and feelings about the transition I was in. I have never been athletic, never even played a sport growing up, so improving in something physical was really big for me. It was empowering to see my distance increase, to see my pace get faster. Something I love about running is that it’s all on me. Yes, weather, mood, nutrition, sleep, company all play a big role, but in the end, it’s all up to you.
Running is a natural way to find peace amidst all the stress that’s around us, especially in these unprecedented times. The simple act of repetitive movement taps into the autonomic nervous system which controls how our bodies function. The repetition allows our bodies to go from an agitated state to a calmer one. It’s not just about the endorphin release, although those feel-good hormones are a sweet bonus. It literally helps our body and mind to calm down and disperse the negative energy that brings us down. There’s something meditative in getting outside, finding your breathing, and running. For me, if I don’t exercise, my anxiety goes way up – I’m more snippy, restless, and high strung. Not exactly a great way to feel when the world has gone crazy. I’ve found that I need to exercise daily just to maintain some sanity! It’s also brought about great conversations with my daughter about how powerful exercise is in dealing with stress and anxiety, something she deals with. I hope she turns toward exercise as a way to manage her own stress, as she’s seen me demonstrate throughout her life.
I pray that you find a healthy way to manage the stress affecting each one of us. If you’re not a runner, go walking. If busy schedules have kept you from running in a while, now’s your time. I pray that you find moments of joy in the chaos. To practice gratitude for what you do have… another day of health, food in the pantry, the sunrise, God watching over us, the smile of your children, the wag in your dog’s tail, the book that draws you in. To keep your focus looking upward and to keep the faith.
Just after Thanksgiving break, my next door neighbor said something that cracked my guarded heart wide open… I had been in a dark place after spending Thanksgiving alone and being away from my daughter while she was at her Dad’s. It was a long separation and she had been upset about being away from me for so long. That part of being a single mom never gets easier… there’s no way for me to comfort her or take away her pain. My heart and spirit were feeling numb.
My girl had finally come home after 12 long days and I picked her up from school. I felt my heart come back to life as soon as I saw my girl smile! It was gorgeous out which completely matched our moods. We went straight home to pick up our bikes and go to a new trail that we hadn’t ridden before.
As I was struggling to get the bikes up on my bike rack, my next door neighbor pulled in her drive. She is lovely, though I don’t know her very well. We just moved in A few months before and she and her husband have always been so welcoming and friendly. She has this free-spirit /Rasta vibe that’s easy to like.
She popped out of her car and started walking toward her home, seeming overwhelmed or tired… not her usual joyful self. We exchanged hi- how are ya’s and she let on that it wasn’t the best day, but what are ya gonna do? But, then she said something that stopped me in my tracks. She said, “I see you momma. I was a single mom for 10 years & I see you. I see you.”
Eliza was there listening and saw my eyes fill with tears, just as they are again right now. I thanked her, my voice choked up. In one look, across our front lawns, there was so much love and understanding exchanged.
It was a message I SO needed to hear, but didn’t know I needed to hear. I had felt so invisible as I moved through the holidays. Invisible being away from Eliza. Invisible in the crowd as I ran the Turkey Trot Thanksgiving morning. Invisible as I isolated at home instead of joining sweet friends who had extended invitations for Thanksgiving dinner. Feeling invisible with nobody special to spend the holiday with. Feeling like I didn’t matter.
Saying she saw me removed that cloak of invisibility I had been wearing. It broke my heart wide open and released the emotions that I had been stuffing. I feel that sometimes God uses people to deliver the messages we most need to hear, and I truly believe that’s what happened that day.
Not only did she lift the depression that had been creeping over me, she reminded me that one small act of kindness can touch someone’s heart. We’re all capable of doing that for each other… when you have those thoughts of admiring something about someone, say it! It might be exactly what their hearts and spirits need to hear. Let them know, you see them. 💗
Throughout my life, a deep aching lonliness has consistently been present for me. It’s been a darkness that’s followed me in and out of homes and relationships. Honestly, I can’t remember a long period of time where I didn’t feel it. The relationships I tend to draw, and be drawn to, have not yet served me in a fulfilling way… they’ve dimmed my spirit, even while causing growth I clearly needed. Yes, there’s purspose in the pain, but the pain itself has been brutal.
I often question my choices and seek wisdom and clarity from the close friends I’ve been blessed with. Typically, it comes back to a few common themes… my struggles with self-worth, the desire to be loved, and the craving to be understood. Even through actively working on these issues, they’re so deep rooted that I often miss them. The pathways are so entrenched in my thoughts and actions, it’s tricky and slow to rewire… to create a new normal.
I’ve turned toward God in times of need and in times of joy – focusing on being more openly grateful and thankful for the blessings in my life… but that deep lonliness creeps in and locks into my heart. The holidays have been tough this year and I’ve felt lost and isolated. This verse caught my breath tonight, as I read it for the first time.
“I will bless the Lord who has given me counsel; my heart also instructs me in the night seasons.” Psalm 16:7
There have been dark seasons when it comes to dating for me. The emotional roller coaster of meeting someone new and it failing within a few weeks, again and again. After my experiences, I’m not sure that my heart is the right guide to trust. I’ve been dating for a few years since my second divorce and I will tell you, it’s not for the weak. Dating tests every growth you’ve worked so hard to achieve… I’ve learned to acknowledge my needs (to allow myself to have them) and to clearly vocalize what I want from a relationship. I know more of what doesn’t work for me than what does, to be honest.
Attraction to someone’s energy and character along with their looks is so rare for me, that I tend to give it time and space to see where it could go. Yet, the rare times the butterflies do show up, it’s easy to get blurry vision… And then, I pray for discernment.
Dating often leaves me defeated and heartbroken… almost void of hope. The more I know of who I am, the less likely I am to settle. Overall, that’s a win! But, it does lead to a lot of time alone. As an introvert, it’s not all bad, but it can be too much of a good thing. I desire to have a deep, rich love. A true partnership. A relationship that allows for challenge and growth without disrespect. Until then, I pray for discernment in the dark seasons. To wait for what is right.
The people who inspire me most are the ones brave enough to share their stories. We’ve all got a story, but most of us are too afraid to show our true selves and share all we’ve been through. I believe in using discernment to decide what to express, how soon, and to whom… But allowing others to see our pain, our brokenness, and the journey from that darkness can be the most freeing thing we’ve ever done.
I’m a single mom and sole business owner with no family near… I have been guilty of becoming accustomed to being an island. Recently, I had a major health scare. I had cancer 14 years ago and have been clear ever since… until this summer. I had a test come up questionable and had to have a biopsy to determine if the cancer had come back. I went into a panic of what would happen to my daughter, to my practice and co-workers… what would happen to my daughter and I financially. The heaviness consumed me.
Health issues have a lot of “hurry-up-and-wait” times. A week between the first test and funky result, two weeks till the biopsy, another week for results… A month of anxiety and prayer desperate for this to pass. During that time, I initially reeled in denial, but then chose to share my struggle with people I trusted. A small circle of friends and a group at church… each one of them a blessing in my life. The outpouring of prayer and positivity lifted my spirits. Typically, I retreat into seclusion… hiding from others and myself, if I’m honest, feeling like I can’t burden anyone with my problems. Ruminating that I don’t have a loving partner to lean on. It only leads to more loneliness and isolation. Thankfully, the biopsy came back normal! A way I’ve seen self-growth this year has been in reaching out in hard times, in being vulnerable.
I was raised to learn that sensitivity was weakness… that you kept struggles private, secret. The more I grow in my faith and in life, the more I know how limiting that is. Recently, I was visiting my family and came across journals I had written back in high school. I have no memory of writing them, but the situations are clear in my mind. I wrote about wishing I was someone else, hating my body, feeling lonely, struggling with coping. It broke my heart for my younger self, but also validated that what I remember was accurate.
Our pastor said in today’s sermon, that we are the loneliest generation ever. I found that so sad… and so odd since we’re more “connected” than ever. How real is what we share? Do we show our genuine selves or just the highlight reels? Maybe it’s just a higher-tech way of hiding and filtering our true selves. I wonder if the empathy seemingly lacking in our society comes from this pressure to hide every flaw. The appearance of perfection trumps being authentic.
Brene Brown‘s book Daring Greatly changed my thoughts on vulnerability. The way she writes about it is so convicting… that being vulnerable is the best sign of bravery.
It’s not easy to put your pain and struggles out there… the fear of judgement and rejection is real! It opens up the opportunity for someone to exit out… but it also opens up the opportunity for a deeper connection. True intimacy. I’ve been single for a few years now and have gone on many first dates. A few that have lasted a bit longer, but nothing that’s been long-term.
I used to pray for God to send me someone to have in my life. He sent plenty! Nobody that I felt a lasting connection with, though. I began to realize that it’s possible to date but connecting is very different. Now, I pray for God to send a relationship with depth. Someone who’s taken time to dig deep and work on themself. Someone who’s worked to heal the pain of their past, in the ways that I’ve worked (and continue to work) on mine. A man of faith, integrity, and grit… someone who makes me belly laugh… someone to be an example of a good man to my daughter. Someone who will be vulnerable with me while protecting each other’s hearts. Until then, I will practice being transparent with the people closest to me. To make a habit of sharing my story to help someone through a similar struggle. To “encourage one another and build each other up.” 1 Thess 5:11
This weekend, I took my daughter shopping. My sweet and sassy 9 year old, was desperately seeking a pair of overalls. The 90s are back in full effect! (Scrunchies – I can’t even!) So, we grabbed a few things and headed to the dressing room. She tried on the overalls and a t-shirt first and unabashedly exclaimed, “Wow! I look SO cute in this! I love it, Mommy!” She continued on like that as she tried on the other things. “This looks SO GOOD on me!” I mean, loudly! So authentically! Part of me was thinking, “Ok, clearly we need to work on humility here.” I mean if a grown woman was saying that in the dressing room, we’d all have eye rolls galore (and probably peek out to see who this self-proclaimed awesomeness was in all her glory).
Then, it occurred to me that it was really beautiful and inspiring, how she talks about herself, how she sees herself. I joined right in and agreed enthusiastically, “You are gorgeous, baby girl! You’re rocking those overalls!” Sadly, I know that life will come along and tear down that confidence… body image issues will likely arise as she gets older, kids will find things to tease about, social media will creep in to steal her self esteem. I hope for her to go into adolescence with a mindset and armor as strong as possible. I want to protect this innate confidence she has built.
Part of the reason she has the self-concept she does is out of my fear of her having the self-esteem issues I deal with. So, I do my best to fill her up with positive vibes. For Valentine’s Day for the past 2 years, I’ve put up notes on her bathroom mirror as reminders of how special she is. (Stole it from FB – loved the concept) She loved it so much that she refused to take it down and even requested it again this year! This is something we could all use, right? How hard would this be to do for ourselves? Could we fill up a mirror?
It breaks my heart to hear people I love struggling with self-esteem, body image, and comparisons to others. These people are absolutely unarguably attractive and so much more than their good looks. But, we only see what we see. I struggle with the same… the weight that’s shown up since I turned 40, the cellulite that never goes away (training for a marathon doesn’t even touch it), the shape of my nose, the way I look in pictures… I could go on. It’s rare that I get relief from myself… I would never talk to anyone the way I talk to myself!
Why is that? Why is it so easy to see the beauty in others, even to the point of envy, but we can’t see it in ourselves. We can’t see ourselves the way God sees us.
The messages that replay in my mind are not kind. Honestly, most come from people who have no business occupying so much of my mindspace… But there they are, over and over again. I shared that in a therapy session some time ago. It made me sad but was so normal to me, all I’d ever known. My therapist asked me, “who’s the voice that stands up for you?” I began to weep and realized I didn’t have one. That was a lifechanging question for me and hit the core of my heart. I realized I need to let God, and the people He works through, be that voice for me. To open up to hearing Him.
My dear friend has reminded me that someone needs to earn the privilege of giving feedback in my life. It’s something I had allowed to happen freely with the wrong people. I would then take it upon myself to play it over and over until it became my truth. It’s not been until fairly recently that I’ve come to realize the lies that ruled my life… The distorted thinking that stole my joy.
I’ve heard it said that the enemy knows just how to attack us in the ways that sting the most. He cracks that whip again and again, until we are raw. But, eventually, we lash ourselves so effectively that we learn to hold our own whip, allowing him to step away and move on to the next soul to steal. Let’s set down that whip… enough is enough. We deserve better.
I’m a work in progress in this area of my life. I’ve made improvements, but it’s not a natural path for me to take yet. I notice the negativity more now, instead of it playing constantly in the background. When I pick up on it, I try to determine if it’s truthful or not. Is it consistent with how God sees me? Turning down the volume on the noise is a huge lesson for me. I pray that we can find peace in the quiet.
Maybe it’s just me, but when I decide to dig into something, I want it to be a smooth upward trajectory toward successfully meeting my end goal. I’m not a fan of the bumps along the way… things throwing me off course… old patterns showing their ugly ways. Nope, I want to make that decision and have it all go my way.
I realize how arrogant that sounds as I type it out those words. But, isn’t it true?
I talk about this with my patients daily in my office… I’m a chiropractor and have been treating patients for 15 years. One of my favorite parts of my career is seeing someone through their recovery. I’ll begin caring for someone who has taken the time to come in, wanting (sometimes demanding) immediate relief. They’re often in pain and not at their best. Their daily activities have changed, because of pain. Their exercise routine has changed, because of pain. Their ability to play with their kids has changed, because of pain. Sitting comfortably to watch a movie is long gone, because of pain. I have to gently set the proper expectations for healing… usually something along the lines of: “this didn’t happen overnight and it won’t go away overnight either, but it will get better. You won’t always feel like this!”
It’s so much easier to say that to someone than to hear it for ourslves.
I get it… I want that miracle cure too! Last fall, I had been training for my second full marathon and had progressed to running 17 miles for my long run. I was in the thick of the training, almost to my peak mileage. Two days later, I was leaving work, excited to finish up a bit early that day, when I was in a car accident directly in front of my office… my car was totaled and I had all the signs of a concussion and whiplash. Thank God I was alone, that my daughter wasn’t with me. It was completely surreal to be standing in the middle of the highway looking up at my office, not knowing what to do next. It all happened so quickly, but could’ve been so much worse.
I tried my best (against any advice I would’ve ever given a patient) to dive back into my training. I went out for an 18 mile run, as planned, that ended up being a pitiful walk. I had to accept that my body just couldn’t recover that quickly. This was bigger than sheer will. I would have to allow myself the time and grace to heal… something I’m not well versed in. I wasn’t able to run for weeks and was forced into realizing how much running plays a role in my emotional state. My go-to for stress relief had been running for years. That being stolen from me, and the constant pain, was too much. I fell into a depression and felt like a failure. I begrudgingly took myself out of the marathon so I would have time to get well.
It took months for me to get back to feeling like a runner again and I’m still not at the pace or endurance I’d like to be at. That second marathon still weighs heavy on my spirit. It’s easy for me to feel stuck on not having accomplished that goal, even though it was beyond my control.
What’s always surprising to me is that as people heal and start feeling like themselves, they completely forget how far they’ve come! It’s so much easier to see change in someone else than to see it in myself. I’ll often point out that two weeks ago, they couldn’t get on and off my table without crying out in pain or moving like they were 50 years older. They’ll have completely forgotten how they originally came in! Or they might not notice that they haven’t had headaches in weeks, when they had been constant daily burdens. God designed our bodies for physical healing, but it’s not always smooth. It’s typically two steps forward and one step back. The overall trend is toward recovery, but there are some setbacks along the way. After a bit, they usually get “over the hump” and the healing starts to really gain momentum.
Maybe it’s the same for emotional and spiritual healing.
I’ve often heard that when pain finally outweighs fear, that’s when change can be made. It takes something agonizing to push us to move toward growth. The fear is nothing compared to the heartbreak of living in pain like this for the rest of our lives. But it’s not smooth… not at all. Just because we make the decision to heal those flaws and character defects, they don’t just disappear.
God is the only one who can heal those hurts. Only God can grow tough scars to cover the raw wounds we all carry. The process is excruciating and humbling. Just when you think you’ve gotten over your hangups and can coast, the old patterns and weaknesses surface. It’s a test of patience, of faith, to continue on the path toward recovery. There are no clear guidelines or maps to follow. No GPS directions. Maybe it’s in using those setbacks as ways to help someone else along in their journey. To relate to each other, rather than judging each other. Knowing we all have our issues and though they might be different, but the emotions surrounding them are usually similar. It’s a matter of trying and failing and staying the course. Fixing your eyes on God so that all else falls into place. Finding progress, not perfection.