Precious Snowflake: a term used sarcastically by my husband’s family to describe a person who takes himself, or herself, too seriously.
This evening, four sets of neighbours are gathering at one house for dinner. We take it in turns to host and tonight the most senior of our hyper-local citizens are wining and dining us. And wine and dine us they will, as they used to own a very successful restaurant. There will be beautiful wine and mouth-wateringly good food. However I need to take my own simple food and sparkling water because I simply can’t ask them to cater for my dietary restrictions. Which to be honest, makes me feel like precious snowflake and part of me wants to make up an excuse and not go.
Years ago I worked at Te Papa (Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa) when it was a project in development on the Wellington waterfront. As a member of the corporate sponsorship team, I was involved in organising a fancy pants dinner for sponsors on the eve of opening. I can still remember how grumpy the chef was and how judgy I was of someone’s wife who sent through a list of things she couldn’t eat. I would have called her a precious snowflake. If only I’d known then what was in store for me.
Two months ago, I ate bread with gluten for the first time in two years, by mistake. The following day, intentionally I tried goat’s milk – cow’s milk is clearly a no – go but I thought I’d try another kind of milk. Within a few hours I began to feel distinctly out of sorts, the following day I had a panic attack, muscular aches & pains and digestive upset followed. I was anxious, not sleeping well, it knocked my menstrual cycle off it’s regular course and two weeks later, when I thought I was safely out the other side, my lower back seized up from all the muscular tension.
I have no doubt that the cause of this autoimmune flare up was gluten and dairy (although it took me a week to figure out there was gluten in the bread) and as wickedly uncomfortable as the experience was, it was useful confirmation. I’d been feeling really good beforehand and the flare up happened at what was usually a hormonally very stable time of the month, so the culprits were obvious. I may well sound like someone who takes themselves too seriously to the eye-rolling waiter at a cafe, but I’m not kidding when I say I can’t have dairy and gluten. My body has been a strict, but very responsive and consistent teacher.
Two years ago, on a good day, I could just manage a gentle one kilometre walk. I was sleeping badly, waking up panicky in the early hours of the morning and not going back to sleep. My digestion was dodgy. I remember gingerly walking down the single flight of stairs at home, with one hand braced against the wall, wondering if I’d ever be able to bounce down them again without effort. My thinking was foggy and I couldn’t concentrate.
Today, I regularly sleep through the night. Often I wake around 3am but not with anxiety, and a short practice of breathing sends me back to sleep. I’m pooping everyday. Walking several kilometres a day and practicing yoga. My mind is increasingly clear, my body increasingly energised. My mojo is returning!
In anticipation of writing about my process of healing, last week I asked Adam (my husband) to write a few paragraphs on ‘then and now’. As he handed over his laptop he said “I’m a bit nervous about you reading this as it’s not very flattering … but you did ask?” Yes, I did ask. And no, it’s not very flattering. I read his words and feel very vulnerable. My inner critic cackles with glee and tells me I am indeed the most precious of precious snowflakes.
Two and a half years ago you were exhausted and everything was hard. Any unexpected thing was too much, dropping something, a wrong look or word were enough to tip you into meltdown. You had a hard time concentrating and focusing. You slept badly most nights, you were grumpy, stubborn and unpredictable. Your brain was foggy so processing information and making decisions was hard. Making choices to care for yourself, or allowing others to care for you, were challenging. You didn’t want to admit that you were sick, you desperately just wanted to get on with your life. You stayed awake at night researching what was wrong with you, worried that you were dying. You were seeing doctors every week, sometimes twice a week. You had panic attacks every time something unexpected happened. Days where you felt like ‘Tink’ were rare and it was crushing as they faded.
There hasn’t been any magical fix, but slowly over the last year you’ve become healthier. You sleep better, are more comfortable in your body and your emotions are more stable. You have taken ownership of your health. You pay attention to the effects rest, food, stress and practice have on your wellbeing. You do more of the things which make you feel good and less of the things which make you feel bad. You have energy reserves and are more resilient when things go wrong. You are able to focus, make decisions and get things done. Maybe best of all you laugh more.
I do indeed laugh more. I attribute so much of my healing to nutrition and to eating food I know is giving my body what it needs, not the food which I know sends it into an inflamed tail spin. Yet learning how to rest, for someone who has been responsible for taking care of others as long as she can remember, has almost been the hardest lesson of all.
Over the last few months, as I’ve shared my story of learning and healing with friends, they have encouraged me to write about it. About my experience of using food, rest, gentle exercise, contemplative practice and the support from family & friends, as medicine. Between the lines of this story is my growing understanding that Western medicine doesn’t have the answers I need.
And so I will continue, although not in this post, to share more of my recipe for healing and the new science which is emerging to validate (for those of us who require validation from the scientific community) the role of lifestyle factors in healing. In the meantime, I will go to dinner with neighbours and try to be a less apologetic precious snowflake. While continuing to be mindful of others and I am also learning to say “this is me, these are my choices and they keep me well.”