I’m sitting on my Yoga mat in a lotus position, eyes closed, hands in Anjali Mudra, letting my mantra for the day wash over me.
“I’m going to get rid of my pain…”
No. That mantra doesn’t feel right. It feels harsh, soaked in expectations, in denial of my body’s present experience and the physical pain that it feels.
Deep breathe in, feeling my pelvis expand with oxygen.
Don’t think. Feel.
“I’m going to let my pain move through me and out of my body.”
Deep breathe out.
Hands stretch to the heavens, offering a prayer to my Self.
Jennifer Lopez told Elise Testone on American Idol last week: “A big part of being an artist is baring your soul. And that’s a scary thing to do sometimes; show the world how you’re feeling. But it’s what makes people connect to you. It’s what makes people relate to you.”
I have learned from experience that a big part of being a leader is having the courage to bare your soul as well, or at least having the courage to be vulnerable because that’s what makes you relatable within your sphere of influence.
So here goes: I had an Endo flare-up last week, and it left me feeling battered from the inside out. Let me back up a sec for you. I was diagnosed with Endometriosis six years ago, after years of chronic pelvic pain and unexplained women’s health challenges. Endometriosis is a gynecological medical condition in which cells from the lining of the uterus (endometrium) appear and flourish outside the uterine cavity, most commonly on the ovaries. Its most common symptoms are pelvic pain and/or abnormally severe period cramps. In the past year, I’ve been working with a naturopathic doctor to balance my hormones, heal my Endometriosis and food allergies and restore my body to health, all while running a business. I’ve witnessed so many positive changes in my body over the past year using alternative and natural treatments that I thought all the pain was behind me for good. I began to forget. And then it happened on Monday, the day before Pay Equity Day.
I had a routine OBGYN appointment for an annual checkup (all the ladies know that’s code for a Pap test). As “luck” would have it, my period came that same day shortly before my appointment but my OBGYN was able to do the test anyway. I’ve read that having a Pap test can cause temporary discomfort in a healthy body, but for a woman with endometriosis, it can stir up inflammation that can lead to pain. By nightfall I was laying on the couch, curled up in a fetal position, pillow to my pelvic area, wincing in pain.
My husband held my hand that night, tears in his eyes, saying, “I wish I could take the pain away.” And I realized that even though I was in excruciating pain, I was lucky. That everything would be all right in the morning. I would make it through this.
Except that everything wouldn’t be all right in the morning, at least not for my business. Because the next day was Pay Equity Day, and I was supposed to attend a workshop and networking session on salary negotiation for professional women. The event was being co-sponsored by a Commission on the Status of Women in my city, and I’m a candidate to be a new member on their board of directors. I really wanted to attend this event, but my body had other plans for me.
I could have crawled out of bed at 6:30 the next morning to get ready for the workshop, exhausted, still in physical pain. I could have put on a fake smile, a thick coat of under eye concealer, and I could have headed out the door, but really, whom would I be serving? Certainly not myself! Instead I sent the organizers a message apologizing for missing the workshop and expressed my desire to reschedule a meeting with them at a later date. They responded back positively. Then I gave myself permission to give my body the rest that it needed until the pain subsided.
So why am I baring my soul and telling you these private details about my body and my life?
- As a leader and a writer with a national platform, I feel a sense of responsibility to help young women in any way that I can through education and outreach. Did you know that approximately 176 million women and girls worldwide suffer from endometriosis; 8.5 million in North America alone? I don’t want one of these women to ever feel alone.
- We all experience pain in our lives, whether physical or emotional, and I want you to know that pain doesn’t have to define you. It can admittedly limit your choices on a particular day, but it doesn’t have to limit your life or your capacity to lead. It can even give you a purpose to lead!
Can I push my body as hard as I sometimes want to grow my business? No, and that’s really frustrating at times. But instead of marinating in my frustration, I look for the lessons to take away so I can continue to grow, serve and hopefully inspire you.
Here are the life lessons I’m ready to share with you today:
1. Catastrophizing pain is guaranteed to bring you more pain.
When I was in the middle of my Endometriosis flare-up, the fear voice in my head was singing its self-righteous tune: You got too cocky, you with the natural medicine and the positive thinking. You shouldn’t have underestimated me. You’re never going to get healthy for long. You’re always going to live in this pain. Just get used to it already. Why fight it? It’s a losing battle. Wise up. Stop with the childish fantasies. Admit that your treatment is failing. You’re failing.
I’m sure your fear voice sings different lyrics but the tune is always the same, right? But what if you make a conscious choice to rewrite the lyrics? Can you change the tune?
I gave it a try. It goes something like this: You keep fighting for your health and you’ve come so far. Instead of experiencing physical pain on a daily basis like you did seven years ago, you have an occasional flare-up once or twice a year. It’s painful sure, but compared to where you were, look at how strong you are. Your body is healing itself! You researched to find a specialist you trust and she’s going to work with you to find answers. One setback isn’t a failure. It’s another piece in the puzzle to help your doctor understand your body. Keep going. You can get through this.
These lyrics make up a tune that’s so much more fun to sing. The next time you’re going through hardship give it a try!
2. Fear kills confidence and connection.
I’ll be honest: I debated writing this blog post, really, really debated because I was afraid. I was afraid that my clients would stop investing in me if they knew I have health challenges. I was afraid that the women’s organization wouldn’t want to invite me to be on their board of directors if they knew… Knew what? That my body wasn’t perfect? That I wasn’t perfect? Because I’m broken? That’s my insecurity.
Leaders are supposed to be strong, right? But when I’m in physical pain, I feel weak. If you’re going through painful times, do you feel weak too? Rather than fighting it, can you acknowledge the pain; allow it to move through you, and then out of your body? Can you make strong decisions in moments of weakness? Can you take imperfect action steps in moments of uncertainty? Can you be vulnerable enough to share your weakness to help someone else so your strength shines through you both? I believe you can! I’ll lead the way for you to do so.
3. Vulnerability = Strength Beyond Measure
Vulnerability is not weakness. I define vulnerability as emotional risk, exposure, uncertainty. It fuels our daily lives. And I’ve come to the belief — this is my 12th year doing this research — that vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage — to be vulnerable, to let ourselves be seen, to be honest….Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.
Brene Brown, “Listening to Shame”, TED.com
I act weak when I hide and allow my fear to lead. So I’m choosing to be vulnerable and strong. I’m choosing to trust that if I’m being myself, and honoring my unique gifts and the wisdom that I have to share even in struggle, that I will naturally attract the clients and the people I am most meant to lead and serve.
My mantra today is, “I’m letting my pain move through me and out of my body.” If in doing so, that pain can transform into wisdom that heals you, then it all has to be worth it. I no longer feel weak or broken. In fact, I feel pretty perfect and strong even in my imperfect body. I wish the same gifts for you.
Ever after in faith of ourselves,
For Further Education:
“Lead-Her to Good Health: How to Take Control Over Your Health & Hormones Today So You Have the Energy to be the LeadHer™ You Were Born To Be!” a 74-minute tele-class with Tina Marcantel, ND in our Campus LeadHer Success Kit
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