The itch that couldn't be scratched
Updated: Nov 25, 2018
November 12, 2018
Discomfort is an invitation.
A few years ago I broke out in head-to-toe hives. I'd never had hives before, so I wasn't actually sure what they were at first! But a quick consultation with Web MD (and then a local MD) confirmed that they were, in fact hives. Now, I'd never had an allergy in my life. But I'd had a number of odd symptoms popping up over the prior couple of years, combined with a feeling that something wasn't quite right....
Well, these hives covered me from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. (Have you ever had an unrelenting itch on the bottom of your foot?!) Many of the hives were the size of saucers. And they itched. Oh, how they itched!!! I was itching to my bones. Benadryl put me into a zombie-like state and did little to relieve the reaction. I took a few days off of work so that I could prepare and execute a plan of action. I spent hours in a sauna trying to "sweat it out." I bleached my sheets, threw away my soap and shampoo, and even bathed in distilled water.
I returned to work feeling less than spectacular and in long sleeves. In my first session of the day my voice became hoarse. I grabbed some water and continued. As the session progressed I began feeling as though a bowling ball had come to rest on my chest. I felt dizzy. I apologized profusely to my client and ended the session. A co-worker drove me to the Redi-Care and I was treated for anaphylaxis. The next 6 months were a flurry of doctor's appointments, medications, and unexplained phenomena. "Idiopathic" - that's fancy doctor speak for "beats me!"
My daughter still giggles about the morning I woke feeling "off". When I emerged from the bedroom she screamed "Mom! You look like a duck!" She was right. My lips looked like I'd received collagen injections with a turkey baster. This symptom came and went, along with the swollen eyes and eyelids that drew suspicions that I'd been in the ring with Floyd Mayweather. After several weeks of spending hours each night researching any and every possible cause, prognosis, and cure, I reluctantly began to grasp the uncomfortable reality that some itches cannot be scratched.
Mindfulness invites us to breathe and invite sensations, thoughts, and emotions into our awareness - the way we open the door when someone knocks and then wait, with kindness and curiosity, to hear their message.
Self-compassion invites us to turn toward ourselves with genuine kindness and regard for our well-being. It invites us to care enough about ourselves to ask "What do I need?" and then respond.
I began tuning in to what my mind and body needed and I did my part to create an environment within my body in which I could heal. I ate whole foods and got enough sleep. I took up yoga for stress-reduction. I reduced my workload. I took the medications that helped to manage my symptoms. But my journey toward healing really began with a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course, followed by a Mindful Self-Compassion course.
I confronted the long-standing patterns of thinking and behaving that had increased my stress level to the point that I'd developed an autoimmune condition.
Perfectionism. Self-criticism. Chronic busyness. Fear. Self-doubt. Unrelenting standards.
I believe that these were the root sources of my discomfort. Chronic stress is toxic to our bodies - especially the cardiovascular and immune systems. Learning to be in the present moment and create a sense of peace within my mind and body was essential for healing from my burnout. Self-compassion allows me to view myself through a compassionate lens and take steps that truly support my overall well-being. In return, I can show up better equipped to help others.
Mindfulness and self-compassion practices are backed by tons of research supporting their positive effects on physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Six months later my hives eventually disappeared. But the message they brought I won't soon forget. That is - that discomfort seeks to inform us. Discomfort may be telling us what's out of alignment in our lives. Or helping us recognize what is important to us. Or pointing us in a direction in which we need to move.
I practice as an individual and family therapist and teach mindfulness and self-compassion courses throughout the community. My intention is to share with you wisdom and practices that can help you strengthen your resilience to stress, live with more fulfillment and joy, and create deep, satisfying connections.