This August, “living the dream” became an Olympic event that ended up coinciding with the 2016 Summer Games. I had prepared as much as possible, conferred with my coaches, planned a feasible routine and decided to compete. But I knew that competition would only continue to be possible by asking for a lot of help – something I once avoided but knew I needed to learn to embrace. And I even introduced Renegade (the song) in Medicine Hat, AB with the sentiment that asking for help was becoming the most Renegade-like thing I could learn to do. So ask I did.
Sometimes it meant telling people that I was an injured person and, when prompted, describing what had happened to my spine and it’s discs. It felt like a confession; I hoped the “Olympic Judges” wouldn’t find out my handicap. I realized I would rather describe myself as strong and prove it, than explain my weakest link. I encountered so many kind people who were quick to show they cared; they far outnumbered those who were uncaring or even unkind. But I still had to reach out and ask everyone, everywhere I went, for help. Not knowing which position they would take.
It was easiest during the first two weeks of this trip, working with RuBarb Summer Camps in Moose Jaw, SK. What an awesome time I had working with so many energetic and creative youth! Though my health-promoting activities required time, I had more time in general, less driving and lots of help.
Friends, Erin & Travis invited me to stay in their lovely house while they went on Holidays in Manitoba. This was a welcome adjustment from where I had been booked to stay – in a second floor room with a ton of stairs to haul heavy gear up/down (without bed sheets or towels). And this was only the beginning of help being offered and freely given to me wherever I went.
My office in Moose Jaw was the “green room” behind the stage at A.E. Peacock Collegiate, where 7 songs were written in 2 weeks with approximately 70 young people. (Recordings and videos forthcoming!)
I was so happy to hang out with these super creative youth with their artistic experience, seemingly-bottomless energy and ultra healthy spines. They were not only willing, but enthusiastic about trying new things and creating new music. The first week resulted in a tune called “Epic Gummy Bear” as well as “Harry Potter and the Dragon Lord”, which was a song that lead into a play that was completely composed, directed and cast by these awesome young geniuses. The second week brought five more songs, written in five daily sessions that featured singers, dancers, musicians and storytelling. (Recordings forthcoming!) If that sounds full… it was. But doing this work filled me with joy and hope and fresh creativity.
On my way to Saskatoon, I stopped in beautiful Buffalo Pound Provincial Park. I found a beach where I could write and stretch and feel like I was on vacation. The people at McNally Robinson’s Prairie Ink Cafe (both locations) are just the best and I had a great time and an awesome dinner! But I chose to lift more of my own gear than I had been lifting… and just like that, the vacation was over.
When I came back to Moose Jaw later the same day, I was tired. The next morning, I couldn’t squat without spasm. Prompted by lack of energy and painful movements, I went for a few Acupuncture treatments and found not only relief, but that I could get back to my exercises quickly. And I was grateful! Particularly because I had 5 daily songwriting sessions for the next 5 days with other performances thrown in and I knew how much energy I was about to give. And it was worth it. It was all worth it!
Kindness could be found everywhere. I met the nicest people in Moose Jaw but also EVERYwhere I went. My efforts to release or remove pressure were especially rewarded in week 2 and although obstacles abounded, they mostly existed in week 3: THE TOUR.
Before leaving, I felt encouraged. There were no more “shooting pains” or burning sensations in the nerve in my leg/foot. I was moving so much better and immediately before departing Moose Jaw, I even jogged across the street! It lasted for seconds but I caught a glimpse of what my future could be like if I could do that for a few more seconds, down the road… and eventually, minutes.
After the first drive and performance in the same day, I was confronted with some harsh feelings of limitation and guilt. And when I needed help and support, at times I experienced hindrances from unexpected sources. I knew this part of the journey meant pushing my limits, physically and mentally. I felt prepared for that, being that I’m a well trained Olympian. However, I was not prepared for the wellspring of emotion that erupted during this journey.
My tour companion accurately stated that being on tour is often like being in the military (in terms of how schedules need to run, food/sleep need to be acquired and plans need to unfold). You must pay attention to your body and give it what it asks for, because you expect it to work hard for you. Truthfully, it felt like the military and we were at war. I did my best to “roll with” every adjustment that needed to be made, but without my normal coping strategies being easily accessible (and often not an option when the military was ‘on the move’), my only weapon was awareness. I was aware of every person, place and movement who helped or hindered my progress; I employed every effort to focus more on feeling good and appreciating things I loved about this journey than on the struggle. But the struggle made itself known loud and clear… it needed to be heard. Because I needed to let it out.
There was the “what if I can’t” future fears about not only the long journey home (driving from Calgary to Winnipeg) but also the strengthening journey beyond when I returned home. I met these anxieties with self-compassion and self-soothing as much as possible, which revealed to me that I deeply desired to uphold all of my commitments and plans, but that I didn’t have to. As a result, I feel far less compelled in the direction of “I should / I must” and much more patience in making peace with the current reality.
It was even more painful to face the “look what happened” past regrets; the guilt, shame and vulnerability of decisions I made (to the best of my ability at the time) that didn’t help or may have made my situation worse / caused me harm. By the time I developed a plethora of coping skills, I had developed quite a bit of anxiety as well but I am quite skilled at remaining positive. Before this tour, I preferred not to talk about the pain (as I felt it made things worse), but at times it also resulted in the stagnation of emotion that needed to be released. And at times, the degree to which I compensated to cope on my own felt unhealthy and compulsive. It was difficult, but I let go and allowed myself to feel the weight of it all… and process it emotionally as I have other “Bugs” and “Monsters”. I seized opportunities to release emotions, to declare truths behind fears (often crying them out) which robbed them of their power. And I chose to allow this process to happen as “healthily” as possible… (whenever the military was stationary) with occasional frustrated or anxious outbursts that were understood completely by some and not at all by others. Still, I knew the release was necessary and was grateful for not one but TWO of my sisters who opened their homes to me, my tour and my healing. They supported me when I was calm and able to do Tai Chi in the back yard and also when stress compounded, nerve pain returned and lead to a full-blown panic attack the day before heading home. I also had the benefit of Network Chiropractic adjustments on the road, which helped me to release and recover; providing powerful insight in the process. (I told Dr. Jo at Elan Wellness in Calgary that I felt like I needed to get angry and cry. She said she felt I had all the tools and supports that I needed and wished me well.) I felt rewarded as the balance of compassion and blame I felt toward myself was shifted and I was left with far less anger at myself and more whole-hearted appreciation for my amazing body. After all, it has done some pretty wonderful things for me that have resulted in some pretty amazing experiences.
The tour shows were all wonderful experiences with great people in awesome places. There was the usual mix of attentive listeners and audiences who just wanted to rock and I loved and appreciated connecting with them all.
Generosity abounded… and I was even able to ask while exhausted at times because of COURSE I should, can and do have all I need. I left a pillow at the hotel in Calgary but aside from that, not one thing was missed. It was difficult, life-changing, necessary and so much more than the major career development I knew it would be.
The grieving of this loss felt like “emotional decompression”… similar to the spinal decompression treatments I had before and after the journey, but with far more tears. I am grateful for physical, mental and emotional opportunities to LET GO and allow positive pressure to release tension.
Spinal Decompression – my view:
I returned home to a perfect birthday gift – an X Hose Pro Extreme! It’s a lightweight garden hose that expands and retracts (shrinks) with water, doesn’t kink and weighs a small fraction of the one I was using. As I happily wandered around my back yard, nurturing my plants and feeling lighter than ever while doing so, it occurred to me that this perfectly symbolized how I felt internally. It was as though I was carrying a heavy weight without realizing it’s burden and now I could enjoy giving of myself from a lighter place; without kinking. (Okay, maybe it’s not the perfect metaphor, but I like it.)
I returned home to crisis, but clear-headed. My Partner has Cystic Fibrosis and was feeling more ill than ever before. It was strange the way I experienced the full emotion of the situation, but could still process it so well without feeling heavy. As my Man and I moved through HSC, the hospital where my Dad went for cancer treatments, diagnostic testing and eventually died, we supported each other in the most mutual ways. I held belongings while he went for an X-ray, he held my hand when we walked past cancer care and other traumatic wards. Both incapable of pretending to have more energy than we actually did, both totally in love and desiring to support ourselves and each other.
I was mostly able to move through this unwelcome situation by finding the next right thing to do, and by thinking in terms of “I think, I feel, I know”… even when there was so much unknown. We acquired medication and were told if it didn’t work, to go to Emergency.
Dead flowers for the rearview mirror: from my Niece in AB & the ditch in SK.
Thankfully, the love of my life is now recovering well. We both are – he passed on whatever he had caught overseas that made him so sick. But my healthy lungs were not affected in the same way, and we’re both doing better every single day.
Before I left, I was denied help from a major source. I had felt so alone for so long, trying to recover without the right supports in place and asking for help felt defeating for some strange reason. But I wrote “Maybe You Will” and half of a soon-to-be song called “Brick Walls“. This loss being acknowledged was only the tip of an emotional iceberg that I now feel has melted completely. And I’m asking for help left and right, as I did on the road, with more confidence than ever that what I need can and will arrive at the right time.
After returning home, I wrote Part 2 of “Brick Walls” and performed at the last two Festivals of the season (Winnipeg BBQ & Blues Festival and Shine On). I also had the opportunity to make noise in the middle of downtown Winnipeg with my favourite rhythm section in the whole wide world (Alasdair & Mitch) at CBC Manitoba’s Music For Lunch.
And now there is other work to do. My Athletic Therapist and I are striving to create increased body balance with more focus and less flexibility, activating correct muscle groups that were not engaging properly. My cholesterol was considerably low before I went on the road and despite my best efforts has dropped even more. So I’m taking steps to increase it to a healthier level so that my body can rebuild and regenerate better.
My awesome Network Chiropractor at home advised me to cut ties with things that no longer served me, which I envisioned while pruning dead parts from plants. I’ve also been doing more writing, with the goal of setting my perspective free and filling in any blanks I saw as missing from my story… which is not done yet.
I have learned that there is a two-part process ahead of me that involves strengthening my physical body with positive pressure to increase it’s capabilities and removing negative pressure as much as possible. I believe this, combined with thinking, feeling and knowing will keep me balanced as I move forward.
I am not an olympian and although I feel I deserve a gold medal for the ways I encountered what was ahead of me on the road, I also know I don’t need to do it again until I am ready. The next time I travel, it will be less Olympic and more Vacation. I will be healthier than ever and able to run in the morning and drive and perform without taking drugs. (Though they are still part of my story for the time being, I see them in a lesser role than I once did.) It may still feel like the Military and maybe even like running a marathon, but I won’t see it as competitive because I feel far too supported by the love that surrounds me. And I’ll know that nothing could disqualify me from the health and enjoyment of life I know I deserve.
This weekend, I was given the “go-ahead” to try riding “Betty”, Dad’s motorcycle… success!
My passionflower vine has faced it’s share of hardship but is doing better than it has in a long time, which I attribute to fertilizing, cutting back (pruning) parts that it no longer needed, and the use of a fungicide/insecticide intended for roses, but that seems to be working on whatever bugs were attacking it. For years, I tried spraying it with soapy water and other recommended treatments but the bugs always came back. Now it’s finally getting what it needs and not only blooms more than ever, but it’s leaves are thicker and darker and seem to be more healthy. I wonder how well my body will respond to receiving the exact treatment it needs at the right time? If I grow new “leaves”, what will they look like?
I’m more prepared than ever to ask and receive my way toward feeling better than ever. And I’m filled with self-compassion and understanding to such a degree that I’m able to stand up for myself if or when I might be faced with the opposite.
I’m positioning myself to move toward perfect health and reaching out toward my dreams. All that’s left is to walk through the next phase of this journey while staying focused on what is ahead more than what is behind. And I know I can become stronger. In fact, I am already. Thanks for walking with me, friends. I believe in us.
Page 1 of a notebook given to me by one of my sisters, that served as a “foot-tambourine stomping block” during the tour… as I was acting out dreams with open eyes…