In the Body of the World

by Marina Ingrit

On this day, June 26, 2015, I climbed a tree.

I was out in the neighbourhood with friends, foraging cherries from a favourite spot behind an abandoned house. I noted that day that I felt physically strong, which hadn’t been the case for awhile. But I’d been working on it and it felt like I was in an upswing. I proudly posted this photo to Instagram, and in the comments, stated that I hoped I’d still be able to climb trees in ten years. Exactly 2 days later I was hit with a terrible virus that was to be the tipping point into a debilitating, chronic post-viral illness.

Things change. Sometimes dramatically and in ways we’d never imagine. The tree has since been replaced by condos and I am still trying to heal from the hostile takeover of my body.

Since that day my life has been very contracted, the landscapes I inhabit have folded inward considerably. The garden has always been my grounding, sustenance, healing, resistance, rebellion… but there’s an urgency to it now. The relationship is richer and there’s a deeper meaning that was always there to some degree, but I could never quite place what it was exactly. I knew it was important — like breathing — but it took losing the ability to think clearly for me to find the words. In the introduction to my last book, Grow Curious, written (even I don’t know how) when symptoms like light sensitivity and dizziness were so extreme that I could barely see the words I typed against the back-lit screen, I stated that the garden is my mother. She/they/it/kin is a body that feeds me, a mirror that reflects my true nature, and a compass that brings me back to parts of my being that were lost to trauma a long time ago. Losing my ability to connect and be with the garden over and over again through the last four years has been unsettling. There is a growing body of research that says (albeit with more complexity than I can explain here) that some chronic illnesses develop or are at least exacerbated by trauma. But illness itself becomes its own trauma. An overwhelmed body striving to bring itself back to health via a torn and fragmented map. Grief and loss piled on top of other, older losses.

And yet, it is not all bad. Even when it feels unbearable, life is nuanced and complex. In fact, a lot of my work these past 4 years has been in staying with this complexity in a healthy way and directing my brain towards a positive bias, not to diminish how truly brutal this has been, but to “unmap” (to use a great word that I learned from Jen Lemen) the mindbody from the traumas that have occupied it (me) since childhood when parts of my brain were still forming.

It is not all bad because despite the suffering, grief, and loss — the contracting of my life — other parts have expanded. My life is still full of goodness and love, probably even more-so than before. Yes, definitely more than before. Friends fell away, but others stayed, and those relationships are truer and more knowing than ever. They understand that I am not less than I used to be, just different. The old Gayla is gone for good and that’s okay because it was her time — she wasn’t whole anyway. I am vulnerable, but not fragile. I honour my boundaries and limitations more directly, and in doing so am better able to respect theirs.

I feel things much more deeply, or at least I recognize now how deeply I have always felt and am becoming more comfortable with allowing that vulnerability to flow through me rather than walling it off inside. I have become more loving and compassionate and have come to see that the “tough love” I applied to myself, but not to others, was cruelty disguised as care.

I’m more consistent in trusting myself and this imperfect body. I am a better listener and better at allowing space to act on what I hear, although I am also still learning how to listen and how to act. I’m not as easily led astray by garbage that doesn’t matter, by external judgment and value systems that were never mine to begin with, but that I wielded against myself anyway like a vice that was constantly applying pressure, weakening my system in small ways that gave way to bigger ways through time. Turns out I have always been operating at an disadvantage, but it was normal to me and expectations were high. Somehow I just kept driving, pushing that boulder uphill because that’s what we are supposed to do. We survive. I was adept at surviving, but I had little knowledge of how to thrive. I was told repeatedly — first by parents in a broken home and then later out in a broken world, that I was not enough, could never be enough. I was endlessly proving my worth, my existence, any right to take up oxygen and space. Somewhere inside I knew that we are all valuable regardless of what we produce, but the message is so insidious, so omnipresent, that I capitulated again and again and again. I took it in. I ate it up. I made it a part of my body.

Four years later, I have no concrete answers about the state of my health. Things are up, down, and sideways. Bodymind/Mindbody. That’s where I focus. Together as one, unseparated.

Perhaps I’m naive. Maybe this won’t be the way out of chronic illness. I’ve continued looking for answers in medical science, but help there has been sparing, and the stress of it often just makes things worse… they simply don’t know what this is and I’m not going to sit around waiting, passively hoping they figure it out within my lifetime. Regardless, the trauma-informed work I am doing is the way towards a healthier way of being in the body and in the body of the world*. Untether the mind, free the body. All bodies thriving: resilient, wild, connected, whole.

*Note: In the Body of the World is the title of a book by Eve Ensler about her experience with cancer.

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