Letting the Ideal You Go

I hope you have been shining your light in the world in the way only you can.  

I’ve been huddled under a proverbial lamp, in a cave, working on a project that has morphed from a two part blog post about the herb Albizia into… 63 pages, and it is nowhere near finished.  I go to sleep thinking about this project, I wake up from dreaming about it, and I have flashes of “oooooh, yeah”s while walking home from work.  I’ve been living this project for almost a year.  I’ve had to learn a ton in order to write what I’m writing, some of it really joyful, and some of it quite challenging.  As I am human, I have to deal with the annoying artistic self-doubt that is inevitable when so much has been invested in one project.  So, I’m trying to keep my eye on the prize, or as David Lynch would say, “keep your eye on the donut, not on the hole” and forge ahead anyway knowing that if this work helps one person, my job is done.  

While I’ve been quite silently writing in my lamp-lit cave, I’m working with clients and getting really nice results with them and their hard work. I have been having some revelations which I hope folks find useful through what often seems like oversharing – these revelations are in part personal, and in part what I see and hear when working with others.    

This revelation is a big one for me because my entire existence as an herbalist revolved around one singular notion.  (And I have overachieving clients and students who most certainly fall into this category.)

The ideal me. 

More specifically: me in the ideal state of health. 

I have to say, is exhausting to try to meet these expectations.  

And, in this moment of exhaustion coupled with being so fed up with this focus, I decided to break up with my continual striving to try to get my body to be something that it is not. 

You see, I have spent YEARS trying to make things better that are never going to be better than they are right now.  (Do you know anyone who is like this?)

And yeah, people who make their living working with people to help them improve their health are so not supposed to be saying these things.

But let’s get real here.

Some things can only get so much better. 

Example: I will never not have migraines. 

It’s not in the cards for me. 

Yes, I do things to manage them (diet, sleep, herbs, physical therapies, stress management, not overworking -hahaha-, sunglasses on sunny days, and so on), but beyond this, well… they’re genetic.

I’ll always be at risk for getting migraines, especially when the conditions are just right, and that’s the facts.

With this whole “ideal state of health” nonsense… getting a migraine would mean some form of failure on my part.  When I would get one, I would agonize over what I did “wrong” to cause the migraine (typically something out of my control) in an attempt to “take responsibility” for my health.

I’d agonize so much that I’m quite convinced I made everything worse in the long run (like: more intense migraines than necessary when I would get them). I’d focus on when I’d be getting migraines and not all the good parts of my life, like the fact that I was not getting nearly as many migraines overall and that when I got them they were less severe. But the anguish when I would get them would make the pain scale seem like it was a 10/10 when in reality it was more like a 6-7/10, and sometimes a 4-5/10.

This type of “taking responsibility” with the intensity of a “this is very serious” brigade applied to all other aspects of my health in an attempt to obtain this high-expectation ideal.

You know, like the notion of the ideal period. (I kind of hate that I wrote that now.)

The self-flagellating over not ever achieving that because, hello, I’m willing to do whatever it takes to obtain said ideal period (even going to painful Mayan abdominal massages, and other phsyio-therapies that were uncomfortable, upsetting and expensive) was intense, and intensely unhelpful, and for what purpose?

To have to honor my body and rest less during my period? To have my periods fall exactly every 28 days with my flow flowing perfectly, to have no PMS ever, to have to take fewer pain-relieving herbs during my period because god-forbid I get cramps like every other woman in my family has for generations because… I want it to be that way? Because someone told me it should be that way?

Pfffft.

Here’s the core of this self-induced torture: if I desire it, it must be so. And if I cannot have it, well then it must be a reflection of who I am as a person. And if I cannot get rid of cramps that I’ve had forever, then I’m a “bad” person. 

How is that helpful for me, or anyone wanting to get help from me, or anyone else who seeks “alternative” healing?

I remember getting a Mayan Abdominal Massage and being told that it was my fault that I had bad cramps. That “if only” I would comply with recommendations then they’d go away. Guess what? My period did not improve – and I had been compliant with the recommendations. 

I went to an acupuncturist who told me the same thing as the MAM therapist, after complying with their recommendations for months, and guess what? My period had not “improved” to their liking, and therefore it was my fault.

What these treatments did provide was a massive uproaring of “F*&^ you” welling up inside of me, and they lost one of their clients/patients. 

What they also provided was a way for me to see, many moons later, that my thinking was what was faulty. I was striving for the ideal, and so were the practitioners, but the ideal is just that. An ideal. I was allowing myself to be held hostage by these ideals, victimized by them, frozen by them.

Ideals are great and all, without them where would we be? But in terms of “health goals” being tied to the ideals, they are not entirely realistic for someone with a lifelong/chronic health condition.

We can always find something to improve, and being driven by that seeking can make us a bit crazy, and blind us to all the good that is happening in our lives.

I realized: Life is too short to be beating on myself for a moment longer.

I’m quite content to continue taking care of myself and settling for what blessings are bestowed upon me from now on. Less stress is one of those blessings. Less inner tension when those this-is-so-not-ideal health moments arise is another.

Like, maybe fighting all the time is not the way to live? I mean, it’s exhausting and self punitive, and just not all that great. Maybe if we accept that we have done all we can do (if we really have, and when it came to the external things, believe you me, I had) then we can finally get what our body is most needing: acceptance and love.

You know, the kind of acceptance and love you may have wished you had when you were growing up. The kind of acceptance and love that you wish you had right now. The kind that tells you “you are enough, you are loved. You are amazing.” The kind that let’s you relax into your body. The kind your soul is begging you to provide it with, the kind your body desperately needs.

I’ve been repeating to myself, singing it so that I can feel it in my bones, the Hawaii’an Ho’oponopono prayer, “I love you, I am sorry, Please forgive me, Thank you” with the following additions, “I love you. I am sorry. <pause for a breath>Please forgive me, I love you. <pause> I love you. I forgive you. I love you. Thank you. <pause> Thank you. <pause> I love you.”

While it sounds hokey, and believe you me, it sounds hokey to me, it has been working wonders when I start to get caught up in my idealistic views that are nothing but painful detours.

At some point, we really have to say, “there is nothing more I can do but accept things for how they are and to simply love and be happy within this moment.”

I’m not saying to not take the herbs, or exercise, or change your diet, I’m saying that we all need to have a realistic vision, and drop the expectations – not just with each other, but of ourselves. Most importantly within ourselves.

These idealistic expectations are crushing us, and preventing us from living great lives. I say all of this because I see this mindset working with my clients too, and when I speak with other practitioners about their clientele and patient rosters. It’s pervasive, it’s everywhere.

We alone have the power to stop judging ourselves so harshly with unrealistic standards.

I’ll never play the way a 40 year old violinist who has played every day of their life since they were 4 years old and who attended top tier conservatories has played. Never. But, does that mean I do not have the ability to enjoy my playing for where it is at right now, or that I should not bother learning? Absolutely not!

Why would we think it is any different with our health-states?

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