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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Waking Up Is Hard To Do

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My eyes started to shut involuntarily as I rounded the last set of stairs to our hotel room. Knowing I had only a few seconds left, I urgently guided my 3 year old’s right hand to the railing as I released his left. I knew he would be much safer guiding himself the rest of the way than holding onto me. I left him behind as I rushed toward the last step and into the hallway, where I dropped to the floor and tucked my head into bent knees, hoping I wouldn’t lose consciousness. Again.

Thankfully, my husband was just a few steps behind our son. “Should I call 911?” he asked as he burst into the hallway.

“No. Wait.” I said. A few times I’d been able to stay conscious (or semi-conscious), and a call to 911 felt a bit over-the-top.

But this time, my plan wasn’t working. My world faded to black only seconds after I saw that my son was being guided safely away by my in-laws.

“Good,” I thought. And then...nothingness.

My next “conscious” moment could barely be described as consciousness at all. I was not aware that I was Melissa, that I was a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend. I was not aware that I was in Placerville, California, visiting my husband’s family, planning to visit my friend later that day to celebrate the 4th of July, or that the temperature was already nearing 90 degrees at 8 o’clock in the morning.

I was not even aware that I was a human being. 

I was only aware of this one, most precious thing: that I was something struggling to stay alive. Shallow, rapid, requiring everything of me, was my breath. I could not see, hear or feel anything, save my breath.

The paramedics arrived quickly. They asked questions about who I was, where I was, what date it was. I was so hot, I said. I needed water, I said. “I need some fucking water,” I said, hoping the added emphasis would let them know how serious I was.

I was passing out again, I said.

“Get the scissors,” I heard. There was a tug at my dress, then my bra, and the unfamiliar feeling of sticky cool pads on my chest.

And then…

I was Melissa, mother to a sweet boy who was guided away by loving grandparents. Wife to Matt, who was not allowed to hold my hand. My heart was struggling to beat and I was struggling to breathe.

The paramedics carried me up the stairs and into the ambulance where I was administered oxygen. “Her heart rate dropped to 35 but is back up in the low 40’s...”They were on the phone with the Emergency Room.

“The pads,” I thought. The cool sticky pads on my chest. I had taken a CPR class before I began teaching yoga. These were defibrillator pads.

Deep inside, every cell of my being began to panic as I realized how grave the situation was. And in the very next instant, I knew that panic would not help me. I needed to focus every ounce of my energy on breathing. I closed my eyes and began to meditate on this mantra:

“Inhaling, I am healthy. Exhaling I am safe.” After only two rounds of my breathing meditation, the paramedic to my right interrupted, “MELISSA. MELISSA! I NEED YOU TO KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN.”

“Inhaling, I am healthy. Exhaling, I am safe,” I thought, full of doubt, as I stared at the white metal ceiling of the ambulance, unable to control the rapidity of my breath.

Moments later the doors of the truck burst open and I was wheeled out into a hot breeze and a brilliant blue sky. Then this next thought came to me, as sure as ever:

“I will probably live. But I might not. My sweet boy is loved by so many wonderful people, and he will be ok. Everything will all be ok, whether I live or die.” A sense of peace washed over me, despite the fact that I was still working very hard to breathe. 

Hours later, after being administered two full liters of saline, I began to feel a bit like myself again. I was forking a piece of pasta from a flesh colored plastic plate when a woman, who I correctly assumed was the charge nurse, stopped in her tracks and boomed, “Boy am I glad to see you sitting up and eating! You didn’t look so good when they wheeled you in here. You really scared the paramedics this morning.”

Ever curious, I inquired as to why. “Well, your heart rate dropped pretty low when you fainted. For someone as young and healthy looking as you are, it’s usually not too much cause for alarm when your heart rate’s in the 50’s. The 40’s we start to get a bit concerned. You dropped into the 30's at one point, and honey, after that, there’s really no place left to go.”

She explained that in the movies, we see doctors try to restart hearts when they stop. “But that’s not how it works in real life. When you’re in the 30’s, we stop the heart, and then restart it again. Thankfully, you jumped back up to the 40’s and stayed there so we didn't have to do that to you. But you had an irregular EKG on the ride over, so we’re going to have you see a cardiologist.”

Cardiologist? You might think that, at this point, I was alarmed. But my very first thought was incredulity. My heart? "No way. I have a healthy heart!” I assured myself. I ran a marathon once, and how many half marathons? I taught yoga and made a human being! And, just recently, I laughed for TWO HOURS STRAIGHT without keeling over while watching Melissa McCarthy's  SPY. Wouldn’t I know by now if I had a faulty ticker?

In the past 30 years, I’ve passed out at least 10 times, starting at the age of 6, when my mother was trying to extract a splinter from my pinky. For years, we were unable to get a definitive answer as to why I lost consciousness on occasion. I’ve had blood glucose tolerance tests, sleep-deprived EEGs, more EKGs than I can count, and more than a few embarrassing fainting episodes (namely, the time I hit the concrete in 5th grade…lucky for me, my teacher incorrectly assumed it was because my stone-washed jeans were too tight, so they unzipped them while I was unconscious, airing my California Raisins underwear for the entire 5th grade to see. (Sidebar: I was called “Raisins” by one boy until I graduated high school. I haven't forgotten Shane!))

And I’ve been seen by countless neurologists, the best of whom diagnosed me with a sensitive vagus nerve. I was, as he explained, “Like one of the women in the old-timey movies who passes out when they see something frightening, or if they get too hot. Even slight dehydration can cause you to pass out. You have to be careful to take very good care of yourself.”

Which, as we know, is super easy in motherhood.

So now, at the tender age of 36, I have a cardiologist. Who has a resident in tow. Who has a medical student in tow.  All of whom concluded that my case was “interesting” and “a little muddy.” What every patient wants to hear! I get to wear this super sassy heart monitor 24/7 that looks like the cell phone Andrew McCarthy used on the beach in Weekend At Bernie's, and am scheduled to have an Echocardiogram on Monday to see how my heart is functioning. 

After that, who knows? I’m not sure whether I will get the all clear if the monitor and echo show nothing, or whether I will be subjected to more tests. To be honest, even with extensive googling (don’t tell my husband!!!), I still have no idea what kind of defect(s) they are looking for, and what the potential impact on my health/life expectancy they could have. I am in a state of limbo, and doing my best to navigate it with gratitude (for excellent medical care) and positivity (about my future…I still do believe I'm like those ladies in the old timey movies, just a little less skinny and a lot less classy), lest I go down the deep dark rabbit hole of anxiety, which threatens to consume me on a daily basis.


And, anxiety…it is so pointless, really! If we do not know the future, isn’t it only beneficial to think of it positively? We have research that proves this! Yet we still allow ourselves the gluttony of dark thoughts. Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert says it’s because we think we can prepare ourselves for the worst by visualizing it, but the tricky thing is, we’re actually really terrible about predicting how we will feel in the future about whatever situation we imagine (even the worst ones!). I digress.

Oh! And did I mention that my cardiologist told me I cannot drive for the next 3 months? Super fun! I cried a snotty blubbery mess most of the way home from the doctor’s office and called one of my BFF’s and cry/yelled a lot of curse words. And then, I walked through the door, put my big girl panties on and decided that I will make this car-less 3 months an adventure. How? Thankfully, the weather is (mostly) nice this time of year and there are plenty of places my boo and I can bike/bus to together (not to worry, I am also equipping myself with a life alert style necklace that allows me to be located by GPS at the press of a button. It also has fall detection should I faint without warning (which I never have)). Annnnnnnddddd...as an added bonus, at the double press of the button, the device can also give me an instant "mom makeover" should I unexpectedly run into Cristiano Ronoldo while lunching with the hubs on the Nike campus.

Anywho, follow my blog for more on this suburban SAHM’s car-less summer adventure!!!

I’m joking. 

I think…

But seriously, how lucky am I to live in the age of Instacart (I don’t even have to put on a bra to get my groceries!?!), Amazon, and GPS location services? And lovely neighbors and friends who’ve committed to visiting so I don’t lose my mind for lack of driving freedom (don't worry girls, I'll put on a bra for you)!

But, what’s the purpose of me writing about the drama that, for almost a month, I’ve mostly saved for my mama? I haven’t written a thing in 4 years (coincidentally, since I became a mother), so why now? Because I have learned a few things along the way that I feel compelled to share with you:

Gratitude and positivity are the best medicine

Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’ve heard this a thousand times. Then why the F. aren’t you listening yet? Because you haven’t been scared shitless, that’s why. So go jump out of an airplane, feed some hungry sharks, or whatever it is you need to feel absolutely fucking terrified. Just don’t overdo it! Get it? Wink wink. Because I promise you, it will CHANGE YOUR LIFE.

Ok. Back to me. You see, of all the times I’ve lost consciousness, this is the first time I was genuinely scared shitless (figuratively speaking, I didn’t actually shit myself, which is apparently a real possibility when you lose consciousness, given the number of times I was asked by medical professionals whether I did, in fact, crap my pants. So…hooray for bowel control!). Anyway, from the moment I thought I may not live through the day, I have been deeply grateful for every minute of my life, especially my time with my son. And, yes, even when he’s being a turd, because 3 year olds can be turds sometimes.  But so can we. Breathe and move on.

I’ve also been doing this 21 day gratitude meditation with Oprah and Deepak Chopra and it has been absolutely life changing. [Insert eye roll here. Which is appropriate because that is egg-zactly what I do when I see O on EVERY SINGLE COVER of her magazine while standing in the checkout line. Really, Oprah, really?!]

But, thanks to this change in mindset, I have been – literally - giddy with joy for my life (and even grateful for Oprah!), despite the various inconveniences of the last few weeks and the uncertainty about my health. I have allowed more time for grace, and less time for anxiety, because ain’t nobody got time for that (Yes, I know this video is hella old. It’s still funny.)

The point? Yoga is great and all, but meditation is where it’s at.

Prepare for the end by acknowledging that it will come, and that’s best for everyone, really.

What is WITH our obsession with living forever? It is so silly! And self-centered! We live in an age where pretending to not age is what is expected of us, ESPECIALLY women. Wake up! We are going to have hairs growing out of ungodly places someday (if we don't already) and the worst part is: WE WON’T BE ABLE TO SEE THEM AND EVERYONE ELSE WILL. And, if you’re lucky, YOU WILL LIVE LONG ENOUGH TO CRAP YOUR PANTS SOMEDAY and YOU WON’T EVEN BE ABLE TO CLEAN YOURSELF.

Breathe that in, y’all!!! Real deep.

And how, exactly, are we preparing for that? By pretending it isn't true and, instead, shooting ourselves with botox and fillers and killing our feet with high heels and push-up bras that, respectively, damage our feet and restrict the flow of breath in and out of our lungs? No thanks! And, yet, according to Time’s, Nip, Tuck, or Else article, cosmetic procedures will soon be as normal as makeup!? That. Is. Terrifying.

Trust me on this: the only way to live forever is to LOVE as FULLY AND DEEPLY as we can, starting now, to INSPIRE the hearts and minds of others, and to PASS THE TORCH of generosity and kindness.

To LOVE is to CHANGE THE WORLD.

And, lastly, why is it best for the world that we will all, someday, have our end? Because British philosopher Alan Watts said so. (Grab the tissues and play it. Twice.)

Yours truly, madly, deeply,
Melissa



Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Rage against the [man on the two wheeled] machine

As I strolled along a gorgeous California beach sidewalk yesterday, I couldn't help but pause for a moment to contemplate the beauty of the ocean, the sun and my life. And as a magnificent humpback whale breached not very far from where I stood, I felt overwhelmed with awe and gratitude...

...until some nasty old dude on a bike slowly wheeled by me muttering these words, "Mmm, mmm, mmm, sexy, so f___ beautiful. What I wouldn't do to..."

First and foremost, let me tell you that I scanned the entire perimeter to make sure he was talking to moi. Being in my fourth month of pregnancy (basically the stage where you just look like a chubbier version of yourself) "sexy" is about the last word in the English dictionary I'd use to describe myself. When I realized there was no one else near, and that this pervert was indeed speaking to me, I felt a wave of heat rise in my chest and then rush through my entire body. I mentally scanned the small items I held in my hands and decided there was only one I was comfortable losing, dog treats. I grabbed a fistful and hummed them at his head and muttered the words, "F__ you, mother______."

When I relayed the story to Matt later that evening, he laughed (thankfully, for some strange reason,  my incredibly zen-without-trying-to-be husband finds my bouts of rage/passion amusing). And when I added,  "Had I had a rock in my hand I would have thrown it at his ____ head!" he laughed even more.  Because I knew this addition would turn his admiration to worry, I didn't tell him that: as I continued to walk down the sidewalk, I imagined old dude passing by me again, and myself, running full force to knock him off his shitty bike.

Yes, my friends, this is RAGE. Next to jealousy, the least "sexy" of all emotions. Especially if you're a yoga teacher, and expected by your community and colleagues to be a living example of patience and compassion.

So how do I reconcile these feelings and my position? First, I will not give in to the oh-so-tempting excuse that "my hormones are reeking havoc on my body during pregnancy, leading me to say and do irrational things." Why? Because my closest friends would be the first to comment "Bullshit" below this post. They know me well enough to know two things: 1) I am a pretty patient and laid back person, 2) however, when someone pushes one of my few buttons?

FIRE.

And secondly, part of my reconciliation involves simply being honest and sharing my experience. How can teachers inspire current and future yogis if we are constantly hiding our dark sides?

***

When I went to bed last night, I felt the need to ponder my reaction and my buttons. First, I imagined walking along the same stretch with a few of my closest friends, wondering how they'd react in the same situation. Tory? She'd make a quick comeback that would have me dying of laughter. Raven? She'd roll her eyes and say, "Ugh, disgusting," and continue our conversation. And Cathy? Well, let's just say the guy would already be on the ground and there would be a crowd of people confused as to why some crazy lady just pushed a nice old man off his bike.

Next, I wondered why we would all have such different reactions. After some reflection, I realized that my (over)reaction was much deeper than this particular instance. In fact, if I had to estimate, I'd say my rage is nearly a quarter of a century old, stemming from too many instances when a member of my family made lewd and inappropriate comments in my presence. I never felt comfortable speaking up and sharing how it made me feel; I never felt safe to express my fear, anger and disgust.

During yoga teacher training my instructor, Ana Forrest, pointed out that I was holding unexpressed anger in my body and that I needed to learn how to get rid of it. At first I didn't know what she was talking about, but the fact that her comment irritated me was a clue that she was pretty tuned in and  I'd better pay attention.

So I did. And I asked questions, like "why" and how" and she responded with answers like anger isn't always a bad thing, it is also the source of your passion and you just need to learn how to transform it. I listened. And I've watched myself shift from the very seemingly calm on the surface Melissa who buries things in my gut to the, "F__ you, mother___" Melissa. I'm not happy with either of them; what I need is a balance between the two.

***

Imagine that, in between your index finger and thumb, you are holding a spring that has been pinched tight for twenty five years. The expansion of your two fingers is the only thing that will release the coil...

...now also imagine your body, hunched in a tiny airplane seat for a five hour flight from San Francisco to New York. What is the  first thing this coil and your body will do when released from this tension? They will first stretch as far as possible before relaxing to find a more comfortable, sustainable position, somewhere in between the contraction and expansion.

This is the stage I am in right now with my anger. I am stretching beyond my natural comfort zone, I am springing further than the coil needs to be at its resting point. This, I hope, is the first step (at least on my journey) to finding balance.

I offer this up to my readers and yogis who may too be on the same path with anger or some other repressed emotion. I just hope that - for your sake - your unexpressed feelings aren't of the pervy nature, and that you're not riding a bike in my direction.


-Melissa

Photo borrowed from www.123rf.com

PS - Thanks to my other dear friend Marcie for helping me process this experience and for the visuals...for the record, had she been there with me, she'd have just laughed at the old fart.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Across the universe (which is hella far because it won't stop growing)

As some of you may know, I've recently become a little obsessed with NPR's radiolab, a podcast where "science meets culture and information sounds like music." I love it so much that I've considered taking up knitting a sweater for my boy dog that reads "Bitches love me" so that I have something productive to do while listening.

Yesterday, I tuned in to Radiolab's episode on space. I was so inspired by what I heard that I subjected last night's yoga class to a mini science experiment, creating a playlist called "Space Yoga" with songs like "Across the Universe" by the Beatles, and "The Scientist" by Coldplay.

In case you don't have an entire hour to spend downloading these songs or listening to this fascinating podcast, I'll give you the Cliffs notes version and cut to the juicy parts...which I read before and after class (with my eyes open, curious about what sorts of funny faces my students might make at my feeble attempt to drop some wisdom. What the hell does the final frontier have to do with yoga??? Thankfully, no one tried to knock me out with a block or strangle me with a strap.)

"Einstein's General Theory of Relativity says: If you live in an expanding universe of this fabric of space and time, no matter where you are, it will look like you are at the center. Which means there is no center. Every center is an illusion because space is constantly expanding." And, he continues, "We may not even be the principal stuff of the universe, that's how insignificant we are...what we can see or detect of the universe is about four percent."

Translation: From your vantage point, YOU ARE THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE! But, well, it kind of doesn't matter because it's an illusion because the universe keeps growing. Sub translation? It seriously doesn't matter whether you meet that deadline, reach all of your goals or lose those last five pounds because you are a speck on a speck on a speck!

Conversely, the podcast continues with this quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet: "What a  piece of work is man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving, how express and admirable."

Translation: We humans are incredibly fascinating creatures!
Sub translation: We humans are incredibly fascinating creatures!

So I asked my students whether they could ponder both concepts during class...how amazing it is that our bodies can do really cool things like sun salutations and warrior poses, but how really truly insignificant it is whether or not we can rock bakasana or viparita dandasana because in the grand scheme of things, who gives a shit??? Certainly not the universe, that's for sure!

I didn't preach a word for the next hour and fifteen minutes, but, after everyone was warm and fuzzy from savasana, I ended class with this quote:

"We are mostly water, which is made up of mostly hydrogen. The number one ingredient in the cosmos? Hydrogen.

Next in the universe is oxygen, next on earth and in life? Oxygen.

Next in the universe, carbon. Next in life? Carbon."

Translation: "We are not simply in the universe, the universe is in us."

Sub translation: Keep eating your veggies y'all, because "we" are all still growing...


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Melancholy and the infinite sadness

Ok, that's a bit dramatic. Maybe it's just a momentary wave of emptiness? I'm missing loved ones passed. And old friends. Having something to say. Something good to hear. My youth; finding baby Jesus in the King Cake.

Maybe it's the rain. Beating against my windshield as the sky turns dark every day at 4:45pm. My poorly gloved hands gripping the steering wheel in a futile effort to get the blood there. Knowing that it won't reach my fingertips until May.

And then the roses will begin to bloom.

But until that moment this blah northern Cali winter weather. Blah blah blah. How far beyond the fog is the light of the moon???

I think I'll take a pic of my puppy writing a blog. That might cheer me up. I wonder what he has to say...


"Hungri mom. Sqwerl. Kitti kat. Pro-shoot-o. Phill whole in my bellie."

Thank you, furry one. Not quite the caliber of Enzo in The Art of Racing in the Rain, but a valiant effort nonetheless.

PS (Because there's always a PS) - Turn up the volume, then click here.

Monday, December 6, 2010

"Your body is the harp of your soul"

I visited the Body Worlds Vital exhibit recently with the expectation of viewing the anatomy of the human body from a yoga teacher's perspective. I left moved in a way I didn't expect...having a new appreciation for the miracle machine that houses our spirits.

This quote was posted on the wall of the exhibit and I broke the rules to capture it on my iPhone because I loved it so much. I read it in class the other day because it was so fitting for the practice of yoga...


...but it's also fitting for the practice of life.

-Melissa

PS - For those of you who love Gibran, this is a quote from his poem, "On Pleasure" from The Prophet.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

My book is on Amazon.com!

Click here to purchase a copy of Belle Douleur on Amazon.com!




Is this real life :) ?!?!?!?!?!??!?!?

Friday, November 5, 2010

This morning's note from The Universe

"Looks change...Beauty lasts.

Gorgeous,

The Universe

PS - The "thing" that makes beauty lies within you..."

And here's proof...have you seen four more beautiful grandmas?

 
 
PPS - To get your own notes from the universe, click here.