Episode 29: Intuition + Epic Bathroom Tales
with guest Gretchin Gifford
Lauren: So, welcome.
Gretchin: Thank you. Happy to be here.
L: I'm happy to have you here and excited that you're doing one of the first in person interviews in Season 2.
G: I'm so happy and that I actually got to see you today. It's amazing.
L: Yeah me too. Woo hoo. And then we have this candle between us. It makes everything that happens more poetic.
G: It does seem poetic doesn't it?
G: There is something magical about fire.
L: Yeah I like that. I actually, just for full disclosure, I asked Gretchen to bring a candle.
L: And I asked you to bring a candle because I thought it would make it really nice for the interview.
G: Yeah. There's something just kind of special about it.
L: Yeah. I like it. So, alright. So, can you start by sharing like a summary of your health journey?
G: Sure. So, uhm, I think how far back to go? Uhm….
L: You can go pretty far back.
G: Go pretty far back.
G: So I've always had stomach problems off and on like most of my life and my daughter was born in 2012. And then about a year later I started to get really, really severe stomach pains and no one really knew why.
G: And in two different occasions they were so bad that I blacked out.
G: And I would go to the doctor and they would always be like “Well you're fine now. So, it's probably just something that happened and something that passed you know maybe was a cyst maybe it was you know some kind of flu that came on.” And I got to a point where I really had to stand up for myself and say “No this isn't okay.” I can't be afraid to just you know pass out in public from pain.
L: Yeah, yeah.
G: At any point. I had a really wonderful family doctor who I actually had brought my daughter in for an appointment and this doctor looked at me and she said “How are you doing? Your daughter is fine. How are you?” And it just opened up this conversation and she and I began talking about what I was experiencing. I was emotional. I was afraid of going through this again. And so she set up an appointment for me with a gastroenterologist and we did some tests and found out that I have Crohn's disease. So for the last...gosh, it's been about five years now...didn’t seem that long. I've been working through that and figuring out which foods work for me which I don't. I'm on a really good medication. I'm luckier than some people with Crohn's disease who have ongoing problems. Uhm…
G: But I haven't really allowed myself on my health journey to think too far ahead yet.
L: Yeah. And so five years since you got your diagnosis.
L: And I remember when you and I were in college together.
L: You also had some stuff going on back then, too. And by the way, I’m saying this, we don’t have to put this in.
G: No, it’s fun.
L: So I'm remembering some stories, you actually used to tell some kind of funny stories.
G: I did, yeah.
L: About stuff that you would have to deal with.
L: With your [unintelligible]...
L: Shall I go there?
L: And the reason I ask is because it sounds like you were dealing with it for much longer than five years.
G: I definitely think so. It would come on like bouts of really severe stomach sickness and it would last for maybe 24 hours. It seems stress related. So here come finals like, I'm going to be living in the bathroom for a few days.
L: Oh, man.
G: But I specifically remember telling you the story about how my husband and I had this really kind of romantic moment in a public restroom. Not too romantic.
L: No, it's not that kind of romantic moment.
G: Not a romantic moment. But yeah. And I had to….It was kind of like that with any person I dated, I had to let them into my trust zone because it is like I'm really spending a lot of time in the bathroom stomach sick. You know. Yeah there's diarrhea, throwing up. I mean, I was I was going to be having issues. So I really maybe a good thing is that I really learned to trust people very quickly like if you're okay with me you know destroying your bathroom. I used them. That's an exaggeration.
G: Then we'll be together a long time.
L: I'm imagining that in like a dating profile. Something like “Just full disclosure…”
G: I hope you don't care about your bathroom too much because I'm going to damage it.
G: Yes. So, I remember when I met my husband. Mark. I met him when we were in college and one of the first times I went out to dinner with his family we went to this old backwoods diner and I was probably nervous and being with his family for the first time and our relationship was pretty serious. I'm thinking oh I wanna make a good impression on these people.
L: Yeah. Yeah.
G: And uhm, I'll never forget the meal either because it was like…
L: Oh no.
G: You know, meatloaf dinner, mashed potatoes and gravy. It was like all the trimmings.
L: Yeah, yeah.
G: Carrots, maple glazed carrots. And then of course they came around and they're like “Oh, do you want pie?” Of course I want pie.
G: Who would not want pie? So, I ate a big piece of apple pie. And then it was just like you know, I'm going to be violently ill.
L: Oh no.
G: So I gracefully excused myself, you know, tried to hide the sweat…
L: Like what’s happening inside is not what's happening outside right now.
G: Right now. My mascara was maybe running a little bit. So, and uhm I'll never forget this bathroom either. It's funny how these traumatic moments they really stick with you.
L: Yeah you remember remember the details.
G: Yeah. The bathroom was, they must’ve been doing some kind of renovation because it was like they patched together this bathroom and there was this long hallway and ramp that was made out of like some kind of not stable plywood.
L: Oh no.
G: So already it was like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I'm like “Oh my gosh how am I going to get down to the bathroom?” So, I wobble my way down there and I walk in and right in the light fixture above the bathroom there is a huge hornet's nest and these huge wasps or whatever were flying all over the place and we have a history of bee allergies our family and I just have a fear of bees.
L: So you thought it was the worst moment of your life.
G: The worst moment of my life. The toilet is blocked by killer bees in my mind.
L: Oh my gosh.
G: And so I walked back out and I was like I'm just not going to go to the bathroom but…
G: You can't not go.
L: Yeah, yeah.
G: So I told my my now husband, I was like “ I have a problem. Like a big kid. So I said “Can you come with me please?” And he's like “Yeah, is everything okay?” And I said “Yeah.” So I had him walk back with me and of course he's surprised by this hallway too.
L: Yeah. You look at this thing…
G: This is not going to work for me. And he's like “What's going on?” I said “I am going to be violently ill and I don't know what to do.” And I said “There are bees.”
L: Can I just say, the fact that you are buttoned up and you're like “I'm going to be violently ill. Just FYI. To begin with.”
G: Just putting that out there. This is going to happen.
L: Meanwhile there's like this invisible countdown ticker that I'm imagining right into the red zone.
G: Right. I don't know what I'm going to do. It's inevitable. So, yeah he's like “Don't worry everything's fine. Go to the bathroom.” I went to the bathroom while he swatted wasps away from me.
G: This is like the quintessential point in our marriage where it was just like a relationship based on say…
L: He protected you.
G: He protected me and stayed in the same room with me while I got violently sick.
G: Uhm...And I remember actually saying in this moment….I don’t know if we were engaged yet. I remember specifically saying “Will you marry me?” while I was on there.
G: I don't know if it was because like I was just so in love with him in that moment for being so protective and so like whatever, everything's fine..
G: Or if I could not let this person back out into society with my secrets. You know?
L: Is it because you’re that amazing or just because I can't have you letting anyone else know this happened?
G: Yeah. Never tell anyone this happened to me.
L: Oh my gosh.
L: I’m imagining this as the most wild, outlandish proposal stories ever.
L: Which it wasn't technically a proposal because I know you guys have an actual proposal story.
L: Uhm...but, I can totally understand why in that moment you were overcome with love.
G: Yeah completely. I was like okay this person is going to be here for me for the rest of my life. And I still tell him about that story and like it's the same feeling like when I was standing at the altar waiting for him to walk into the church when I was getting married. The same feeling….like this person is here with me. He's showing up for everything.
L: Yeah, with an emphasis on everything.
L: And that’s the thing, it’s like you said earlier when you were talking about dating that you feel like or you felt like you needed to disclose pretty early on.
L: Making sure that people were okay with hanging around for this.
L: And also it helped you to actually develop trust with people even sooner.
G: Yes. Very early on it was like if someone could appreciate bathroom humor, I was like OK. They're in my safe circle you know.
G: Because bathroom humor was my life.
L: Yeah. Yeah that totally makes sense. And I think I mean, I do think that having a health challenge of any kind is in a way...It's almost like a...whether you like it or not, a little bit of a filter for who you're dating.
L: Because if they're not up for it, and not everybody is, then you have that information sooner.
G: Yeah. I would absolutely agree with that. It's true.
L: And that is good information to have because inevitably most people do have health challenges as it turns out.
G: Yeah, right.
L: And and so it's nice to know that you're going to be able to, in your case, go through these team building exercises.
G: Yeah, very early on.
L: That's such a sweet story.
G: It kind of is.
L: So, you are actually one of the first people...you were the first person to share a little bit about your health journey with the “This Is Not What I Ordered” community through the video that we made.
L: Really around before the podcast even launched its first episodes. And you're like the first person in that video to share about yourself.
L: And one of the things that you said in that video was how much it would have meant to you to have a community of people who understood what you were going through earlier on in your journey. And I wonder if you could tell me a little bit about what it was like for you and if that's changed at all. As far as community.
G: Yeah, absolutely. I think that the moral support would have been really important to me because I didn't feel like...and maybe it's a little bit kind of how we were raised in a way or at least how I was raised. You look at doctors as professionals, like when they tell you something you I would almost take it as like. This is the word of God that they know what they're doing.
G: I would you know I'd have three different doctors give me three different recommendations and I think, well they must all be somehow right. So this whole journey was a big big part of learning to listen to my intuition about my body and get to the point where I was like it doesn't matter how I think I should be feeling or how they think I should be feeling or what they think is going on at the end of the day. This is how I feel and I'm not okay with that.
G: And I think I would have gotten to that place a lot sooner with some support. And people say, you know...not all doctors are right about your body and it's not that they're even necessarily misinformed it's just their using their intuition and their knowledge and their experience to make a decision.
G: And it might not be what's right for you and you need to kind of gather more information and kind of trust your gut unintended.
L: Yeah, so learning to really listen to what your needs were and not just taking what a doctor said at face value.
G: Right, and doing my own research a little bit. And, uhm, since then I really got involved in the mom community because when I did become a mom I was like “Oh I want other moms to talk with” and I really felt that just having them close by was really important at that time, too, because they were at a place in their lives where people were telling them things like “This is how you raise your child.” and they're like “No.”
G: And so I think the whole parenthood aspect was really a lesson in not all doctors are going to be right or the perfect fit for you. And it was a lesson in saying my voice means something and how I'm feeling means something…
G: And listening to that and making decisions based on that. So, I think I really like to look at my….my illness as a blessing in some ways. And it amazes me that my physical illness really opened up my emotional intelligence and my spiritual intelligence.
L: Can you tell me how? Some of the ways that it has?
G: Well I think part of it was listening to myself more. But I also got really into doing meditation. A big part of why no one really knows a lot about Crohn's disease. It can be hereditary...they believe they can be brought on they think by like a really bad stomach illness where your body never really quite recovers from it.
G: Also anxiety tends to make it worse and bring it on or causes flare ups. So I started doing meditation to help with the anxiety but I also just got a lot of inner wisdom from meditating and I basically had an amazing counselor helping me with my anxiety. And she really taught me to kind of become friends with my inner voice because I think when you have anxiety you learn to kind of say like “Oh, that crazy person on the inside…” like, “Don't listen to that person, you know, they can't be trusted.” Almost.
G: And I learned to kind of become friends with that anxious part of myself.
G: And I was like wow this person is pretty cool like they might be having a temper tantrum or kind of a freak out mode. But there's some real stuff going on there. And all of a sudden I started listening to my inner voice. And so I mean I could get really off on this topic about intuition….
L: Do it, because the whole podcast is about what happens for you.
G: Mmhmm, yeah.
L: And intuition is one of your big things…
G: It is.
L: When I think about you I think about intuition. So it almost seems that if you didn't talk about it…
G: Uhm, so I don’t want to get too far off topic. But, uhm, one of the things I really felt strongly in my meditation was that I could connect with some of the people in my family who had passed on. And I'm not like saying holding a seance with grandpa or anything like that but…
L: That would be okay, too.
G: Kind of. But I would focus on their energy to get me through certain things so like my grandfather was...he’s an Italian man, big Italian guy...wore like, uh, a big ring on his, uh, big gold ring on his finger. I have his ring on my keychain and I carry it with me everywhere. He was really compassionate. He was an amazing storyteller and he was really strong and he didn't let anybody give him a hard time. And so when I would meditate sometimes if I was having a hard time at work or any anxiety I would be like “Grandpa I need your energy today.” And you know whether it was like spiritually channeling him or if it was just like...I'd think of him and kind of become him in a way and like kinda take on that energy a little bit. I'd walk into my day stronger. I wouldn't let people push me around. Really helped with my anxiety. And so it's kind of amazing to think that the whole Crohn's journey endlessly. My intuition opened up this whole other world where I was connecting with him and I kind of have an interesting story to share about him because I'm also just very...It did make me very open to the idea of mediumship, uhm..
L: And mediumship is?
G: So I guess you would call it...maybe communicating with people who have passed on.
G: So I decided one morning, and I can't really remember what triggered this. My father is very intuitive and he had told me, he said you know “I've been feeling like Grandpa around a lot lately. I can just feel his presence around.” and he's like “I don't really know why.” and he's like “Do you think you could maybe kind of meditate on that and kind of get some feedback?” and I was like “Okay.” And I was working from home that day and I was up early and, uhm, my grandpa would get up really early, 3:30...4 in the morning, he’d always have a cup of coffee but, uhm, I wasn't really a coffee drinker when he passed away and so I was kind of excited I was like “Grandpa let's sit down have a cup of coffee together.” And I set up a chair up to the dining room table and I made myself a really strong cup of coffee and I sat down in the other chair and I….the way I do my kind of meditation is I just imagine I'm in a space and I imagine the person's there and it's all imagination. But I try to focus on the things that maybe I didn't create in the picture. So I closed my eyes and I just imagine my grandfather and he ended up being at this camp that we used to go to when we were kids he was sitting at a picnic table and I walked up to him and I sat down and I said, and again this is just like me imagining being there with him. And I said “Grandpa is there anything you want to tell us?” And the said the next image was him holding out a birch branch to me like hold both hands held out with the birch branch and I was like...okay that's interesting. And I said you know what else do you want to show me. And immediately the view cut to an image of him pointing to the back side of the camp on the left. And then the back side of the camp on the right. And I was like okay and I said “Okay is there anything else?” all of a sudden the image change to his garage. And there was a large red tool chest and he was pointing in the top of it. And I don't know how to explain but I felt in that moment that something was in there that wasn't supposed to be and that was it. And as long as I've told you was how long this experience happened. And I was like I bet my dad's up, it’s 10:00 in the morning.
G: So I gave him a call and I said okay dad it's kind of random stuff. But tell me if it means anything to you. I told him about the bird branch and he said “Well tonight we were going to go up to camp,” and he said “I wanted to cut down some birch trees for your sisters wedding. She wants to cut them into little, like, stumps to put along her uhm, the aisle for her wedding.” and he said “But I didn't feel like..” he's like “That’s Grandpa’s camp and he's said “I didn’t feel like I could go and take those. And I've really been struggling with that.”
G: And so I said “I think that's okay because he’s like holding these out to you.” You know.
L: Wow. Oh my gosh.
G: And so that was really powerful for him. And he said where grandpa was pointing in my vision was where they had planned to take them. But they later found out there were more up in the back on the right. So that was really powerful to me. And then I said “Okay one other weird thing,” I said “This red tool chest, it's like a standing one. I had never seen that. I don't know what it is.” And my dad said “Oh yeah that's Grandpa’s tool chest.” He said “We got it from him when they passed away and it's in my garage.” And I said “Well something's in the top of there that isn't supposed to be.” And he's like “Yeah, well I gotta go I'll talk about this later.” but I'm like…
L: Oh no! So you had to wait?
G: Eight hours later that night, and I had him get on FaceTime so I could see him go out to the garage. And he went out there and he just kind of dug around the top of it, and he's like “I don't think anything's here.” And I said “Will you look one more time for me?” And he goes “Fine, fine.” So he went and he took everything out of the top and in the very bottom in a corner was an old altoids tin and some of my grandmother's jewelry was in it.
L: Oh my gosh.
G: And that’s so my grandfather, like everything had a place. Like you would walk into their home and there was not one thing out of place so if her jewelry was in that tool box he would not have been okay with that.
L: Yeah. So yeah that's so cool.
G: I thought it was cool.
L: And so just kind of going back to the concept of resources for yourself as you developed your life living with health challenges….
L: That one that we don't often talk about on the show yet and maybe we will more is the resource of our ancestors.
L: Tapping into the wisdom of the generations that came before us.
L: Which is so important and powerful.
L: It's something that we've all got this lineage and to lean into that and say like “What can I draw from these amazing people who came before me?”
G: Mmhmm. Yeah.
L: So that's cool.
G: It's really cool. And you can do it in really simple ways, like I have a great grandmother who passed away during childbirth. And her name is, uh, was Pearl. And I'll just sometimes say “Grandma Pearl give me a sign that you're around.” And little things come up like...an e-mail popped into my inbox the other day that said you know, “To find the pearl go here” or something.
G: That's kind of weird, you start to notice these little synchronicities and maybe you're just more aware of it because you've asked it to me it seems to come up in really special places or at times in my life where I'm feeling like what do I do next or I think I'm on the right path but I'm not sure.
G: And you know somebody will ride by on a bike and be like “Hey, Pearl!” you know.
L: Did someone pay you to do that?
G: Yeah. Cue the driver.
L: This is such a cool conversation.
L: Because you were mentioning a few times at the beginning of the story like this is a meditation, this was an imagination.
L: And I think it's so neat how you know….I think, and I know about you - you're so accepting of many different ways of seeing spirituality and things like.
L: That it's so personal to each person.
G: It is.
L: And I love that I get to pick what I believe. And so one of the things, my main litmus test for “Am I going to believe it?” is does it make me feel good?
L: And so if what you're talking about is working for you then that's perfect for you.
L: And I like that we're talking about this topic because I actually do the same thing with my grandmother and I love to connect with her.
G: Oh wow.
L: And one way I connect with her is by looking at the moon and noticing how like there are some pictures of me where I look like her and I can feel the strength of who she was even though I didn't really get to spend time with her as a kid.
L: She passed away pretty early when...I was 3 when she passed away and yet I do feel strengthened by who she is.
L: And so I would love to tell….I don't know if you remember this, but early on in my M.S. journey and I contacted you because I was struggling with a new medication that I was taking
L: And it was this pill that it was, it was...I was very nervous to take it. Something in me was saying this isn't a good idea. But I wanted to try it. And I thought, you know, before I make this decision I'm going to contact Gretchen or maybe I had just started taking it.
G: Yeah I vaguely remember.
L: Well what happened was I said “What should I….” You know, my question to you and it wasn't really to you was like “Help me connect with the ancestral kind of vibe.”
L: What do my ancestors want me to know about this medication? Then you told me that you saw this woman standing with this giant casserole that was big enough to feed an army and it was I mean there was more that we talked about. But I wound up going back to my mom and saying like “What is that all about? There's a casserole.” and she said well, she used to make this very specific kind of casserole and she would always make too much and which I thought was really cute and funny. So there is this connection there but then I also started to find out that the medication was making me nauseous and then I found out that when a richer foods when I took it it really helps...helped the nausea subside.
L: And so it was so neat. I'm just thinking about that story, I’m like how can we connect this more to chronic illness more?
L: Here’s how is that there is a way that listening to your body, listening to your intuition, listening to your ancestors whatever you want to call it you're listening.
L: And that's really cool and it was really nice to be able to talk to you about that.
L: I think probably a lot of people can relate to. We don't...we're all just looking for answers.
L: And especially with health challenges like what do you do?
L: I don't know, what medication do I take? It's a personal decision.
G: Right. I spoke to a man a few years ago and he was really struggling just with the idea of “Should I take medication?”
G: For years he was extremely spiritual and he wanted his spirituality to heal him. And so we talked about that concept and what we thought about it. And I think what I told him was you know, I'm not saying that your spirituality can’t heal you but also consider that the spirituality that you understand may be somewhat limited in maybe what the universe could do through medicine. And so we talked about that and I end up telling him, I said, “You could always try the medicine and then let your intuition kick in too.”
L: Oh wow.
G: Like try it for a period of time and then see because sometimes you need to I think experience something to really know if it's even right for you.
L: Right, totally. What you just said reminds me of a phrase that my mom has always said which is “You can't go into a closet and pray for a hot dog and expect God to give it to you.”
L: You have to get out of the closet and make that dog for yourself.
L: That’s what God wants you to do.
L: Which I think is obviously a funny story.
L: This is where my sense of humor comes from. My ancestors, my parents and their parents. But the idea that there's different ways to look at spirituality in the way that my mom kinda taught it to me was trusting something greater than ourselves and also trusting ourselves to be part of that greater peace.
G: Mmhmm. That greater peace. Yeah.
L: And to take responsibility.
G: Absolutely. And to know that that wisdom can be channeled through you and is within you.
L: Yes. Yes.
G: Really amazing. There was a...it's really similar to your story about your mom but my parents always took us to church growing up and those big banners... I'm sure there's a bible quote that I'm just going to butcher right now but essentially the same thing it was like, you know, “Even though I'm drowning I won't pray for a boat. I'll pray for the strength to swim.”
G: And I remember that from being I don't know eight years old but it really always stuck with me in that knowing that inner strength was in me and that, uhm, some higher power could work through me.
G: You know whether you believe that it's just your own subconscious as your higher power or you believe in a divine source of your higher power or the universe however you perceive that to be.
G: It's all good and it's all there to help you. And I struggled with that concept for a long time too because I think … growing up and seeing and witnessing maybe different religions you can often see the struggle between like the good and the bad and knowing where that is. Uhm... I had two recent sessions with clients who are like you know what's the point of life? Like what does it matter if I do good or I do bad. And so we would kind of take it back to square one and say you know if we want to know one thing for certain about life one thing that we can say for sure we know it's that humans were designed for survival. We know that we were designed to survive. Our bodies will heal. They will adapt. So if our purpose is to survive what fuels survival? And we know that positivity and love is the fuel for survival.
L: I like that.
G: And so if you want to go back and say what is the purpose of life? Well we're here to survive. And love fuels the survival. So I always go back to square one and then it makes me feel like if you're aligning yourself with that positivity then you're always in a place of positivity and survival and healing.
L: All right. Episodes over. That was fantastic. I have everything I need now.
L: Just kidding. That’s so beautiful though. In fact I didn't clutch my heart because I have a little microphone on my, on my shirt but that really touched me. What you just said and you put it so clearly.
G: Thank you. I like to think about that a lot because I have to go back for myself to the simplest way of understanding things. And I think a lot of clients come to me and they're like “Why am I here?” And I have to be like “I don't know but if you align yourself with love and healing then you'll always be in the right place.”
L: I’m just taking it in.
G: *Laughs* Just taking it in.
L: Just taking a moment. Sometimes I think the best response when I'm talking to people is a little bit of silence.
L: You know it's like letting it sink in.
L: It’s like when you put lotion on it has to get absorbed into your skin. I'm like yeah….Waiting.
G: Just gonna let it happen.
L: How do you make sense of the role of your chronic illness in your life, given your spiritual approach to life?
G: So it's a really good question. I was thinking about it when we were just setting up. I'm not really….I'm of two minds about it. I'm not always the person who thinks like everything absolutely always happens for a reason. Uhm...I'm kind of the type of person who thinks that sometimes we're just dealt a really shit hand and that's just the chaos of life.
G: You know maybe it's a gene that was passed on from someone who knows? You just never know why. What you were exposed to that caused this illness and trying to figure it out, a lot of times, and make sense of it, uhm...will just make yourself crazy. Like, I remember my husband and I had a conversation one day and he's trying to figure out how my daughter caught the flu. And we must’ve talked about it for 20 minutes like “Did you wash your hands?”.... “Oh did you wash your hands?” like….
G: Did you see so-and-so at daycare putting hands in his mouth and touch her hair like this huge conversation about it and then I was like does it matter?
L: Right, it happens.
G: We’re all throwing up.
L: That’s going to be one of the quote memes from the episode, “Does it matter? We're all throwing up.”
L: Gotta figure out what stock photography to use for that, though.
G: Well, so I try not to really overthink that. And I think it's maybe that's kind of how I connect or maybe even disconnect the physical from the spiritual because it's like this is happening to me. There is nothing I can do about it. So I have to make the choice how I'm going to react to it and how I'm going to handle it. And when I say that it makes me maybe sound kind of more stoic than I am because I'm not going “Oh I'm sick today I'm going to see the joy in this every day.” Like no that's not reality. I'm gonna sit on the toilet and cry sometimes and just accept that it's really a hard day, that I'm in pain and I'm not happy. And then…. It might take me awhile to come out the other side and be like “OK tomorrow I'm better and tomorrow I'm going to deal with this differently.” But in the moment it kind of comes back to just acceptance of the present moment like, this is where I am today it's not where I'm going to be tomorrow in terms of my spirituality and my perspective. And so I always say like “Oh I always look for the positive in this.” But you can't when you're going through it always. And I like to tell people like that's okay just be in that moment.
G: Even if it's not a good place.
G: Uhm... You don't have to appreciate it. You don’t have to say like “Oh, life's struggles, aren't they grand?” Like, no.
L: Right. Detach yourself from reality.
L: I think that being in the midst of those difficult moments because especially after having done, you know, so many episodes of this years I've had many difficult moments.
L: Like I had a migraine recently and I was thinking about the show and the guests and the listeners and like how am I gonna get through this. And the bottom line was the best I could do in the midst of all that pain was to remember the listeners.
L: To remember the other guests, to remember that I'm not alone.
L: But I didn't feel good.
L: I didn’t feel good and I wasn't happy about it. I didn't feel joy. I didn't uhm... like it wasn’t helping me spiritually. I felt like I was getting through.
L: And that's what you're saying is some days I will sit on the toilet and cry like that's so real and I think so many people can relate to that.
G: Yeah. And allowing yourself to have that moment and not being like “Oh I shouldn't complain. There are people who are worse off than me.” Like, no. You're having a tough day. Be gentle with yourself and let yourself have that tough day.
G: So I guess maybe to kinda tie it back to the original question, that you know I just think that it's just hard sometimes. I don't...I don't like to help people. There is a purpose to your pain.
G: Because you don't want to hear that.
L: Right. I don't think anybody wants to hear that said to them.
L: Unless it's them saying it to them.
L: It's a very...it's more empowering if we come to that in our own way in a moment in time and it feels that way.
L: That's awesome.
G: And I don't think it's necessarily true I don't necessarily think there is a purpose to the pain and I think it's just life is tough sometimes.
G: I sometimes think that there's a bigger overarching purpose in you know my illness. It’s put me in places, it’s taught me things. And so I can see its purpose and my overall life. But when I'm in the thick of it and I'm in the pain like there... there's no purpose in that. That's not the good. That's the tough part. We have to get through.
L: Yeah I like how...Because what I was asking was “How do you make sense of this?” which is kind of a weird question.
L: Because...do we need to make sense of it?
L: You know I don't know. This is my wondering out loud question and what I like is the essence of what I heard you just say was maybe there isn't a way to make sense of this.
L: But what I do know is that I can kind of be there for myself no matter what.
L: And that I do get to pick my approach the best that I can. So it's almost like…..no, no no no. I don't know how to make sense of it but here's how I deal with it.
G: Yeah, exactly.
L: Like that’s kind of how I feel too. Like I just don't think I could ever make sense of it. But I can't tell myself different stories that feel empowering about it which I like.
G: For sure.
L: Even telling the story that I'm not alone.
L: It feels good.
L:That's so cool.
G: Yeah. And that's like the people part, you know. That's the good part.
L: Exactly, yeah. Totally.
L: Okay. This is a question I've never asked before.
L: Because I can't...I don't know, I feel like I can ask it to you.
L: It's a little bit of a silly question but it's serious.
L: Why are you so awesome?
G: Oh, why am I so awesome. Let me tell you.
G: I love this question because you have to answer it.
G: You have to. There is no way around it.
G: Uhm...I am an awesome mom. I'm such an awesome mom. I am not a good parent.
G: Those are two very different things. I’m just going to put that out there. You know, I don’t want anyone thinking I'm like you know...some ideal parent.
G: Because everyone has a different version of what an ideal parent is.
L: Sure, yeah.
G: My apartment is a mess. Ellie pulled a half a banana peel out of the couch the other day and then Mark fell on the other the next -
L: It’s a family team building kind of treasure hunt, that you intentionally set up clearly.
L: And the prize was the banana peel itself.
G: Yes, right. And maybe I'll find the actual banana. I don't know.
L: The big prize.
G: And I'm a really flaky parent. You know, I forget her coat when I take her to school...all kinds of you know, I've really, I've given her a rough life. She doesn't have everything she needs but I absolutely celebrate her weirdness, her creativity and I have like a love for her that could just move mountains. I see all the good in her and I really try to understand how different we are because she is sassy. She says what she wants. She orders me around all the time and I'm so like, you know not that person, so I really try to celebrate her differences and not be like I can't stand you because you're so different than me.
G: That’s not cool. So I'm an awesome mom and I think that I really, really love validating people. I love when people come to me in the thick of something that's horrible or great. I'm going to be their biggest support or their biggest cheerleader and I don't say that to be like “Oh I'm so awesome, I'm so me.” Like, I genuinely love seeing people succeed and because I've always been the type of person where it's like if they're doing it I can do it. So I never look at somebody who is succeeding and….I’ll have those human moments. I'm like why can't that be me.
G: I really try to think that could be me and look how cool it is that someone's doing that. And the opposite, too, if someone comes to me struggling. I can go to that place with them and be there with them and be what they need. I think. I think I'm good at that.
L: I think you are too and I'm your friend so I'll tell you right now.
G: Oh, okay.
L: I can validate that you're good at validating.
G: Oh my gosh.
L: I like that. I knew you'd be up for the task of being willing to share about your own strengths…
G: Yeah, mmhmm.
L: Because it's so important that like, if we're going to bare all about our health we should bare all about our strength like you know, we’re awesome.
G: Mmhmm, yeah!
L: And the question is why are you SO awesome?
L: So it's like it's not like, are you even awesome at all? It's like why are you this awesome?
G: Yeah. How did you take it to the next level, yeah. I’m with you.
G: So, yeah.
L: So, what has surprised you the most on your health journey?
G: I think…..I think I say this for everybody. Looking back and taking time to recognize how strong you were in moments where you thought you couldn't get through it. And then looking ahead and saying, okay if I got through this then I can get through other things. So it surprised me that I would look back and say like first of all that I think I was capable of kind of taking this very forward thinking approach and saying, well look at everything that I have done...and then boosting myself up to say you have a lot of stuff coming up but you're going to get through that too. I didn't think I was capable of that. I didn't think that I could be that strong and I still have to remind myself every day. I seem to think I'm going to get to a place where I'm like yeah I'm just bad ass and I am so awesome that nothing bothers me and everything's perfect and I'm always going to be prepared for the next challenge and it's not true. I could look back on how to give myself words of encouragement going forward. But yeah, I'm surprised at the strength I've had and I'm surprised at the strength I don't think I have. Does that makes sense?
L: It totally makes sense, because I think a lot of us wonder when am I going to get there quote unquote “get there”.
L: Like when am I going to get to the place to arrive.
G: You are there.
L: Totally fine with everything.
L: And maybe that's not. I don't know. Now we’re getting into another topic but like maybe that's not the goal. Maybe, maybe the you that can be as strong as you are in those moments isn’t even thinking about arriving you’re just being.
L: You're being strong.
G: And so what does that say for the present moment?
L: [unintelligible] says at the present moment, or “The point of power is in the present moment.”
L: It's the only place we have power.
G: Yeah so true.
L: It is so true.
L: What does it mean to you to have a fulfilling life? Has that changed as a result of your health condition.
G: I guess, I always kind of thought that…. and maybe this is just kind of how your upbringing is like you know how when you were 13. “I can't wait till I can drive and then sixteen, you know like I can't wait till I'm 18. I can’t wait on 21.” Like I always had that forward thinking approach. So my whole life I was like “Oh when I'm a grown up this is what I'm going to do and this is going to be my most fulfilling life and I had this idea that I was going to travel the whole world” and not to say that that's off the table now, but having a family and realizing everything I need and have ever wanted is under one roof. And it's I have the food in the fridge. I have my family close by. I have a bed to sleep in. Like that is my most fulfilling life and I don't know if it's just age that changed that or maybe it is partially the illness in that I experienced so many moments during that illness where it was like my family was by my side. I mean one of my most difficult episodes with my illness. I was breastfeeding my daughter while my husband was holding me like...that's where we were. And that was our life.
G: And it was like do I need any more than this? I didn't. And that moment…
L: Oh my gosh.
G: So do I need any more going forward. I still say though I just want a fireplace and a bookshelf. That’s it.
L: Santa. This is what Gretchen wants.
G: Universe, are you listening?
L: Right? When you’re an adult Santa becomes the Universe.
L: You’re like “Oh I have everything I need.” And there's this gorgeous moment, but you’re like “But also a fireplace and a bookshelf would be nice.” Just that way, in case anyone’s going to be sending in like fanmail.
G: I just want to put that out there.
L: I was thinking though like if anybody's listening to this and feels moved. I would love to see a painting or some piece of art like a sculpture of that scene that you just described where you're breastfeeding your little girl and your husband is holding you while you hold her.
L: That's so beautiful.
L: There's a article I thought recently that essentially said space holders, meaning people who hold space….
L: Hold sacred space for others, who care for others need space holders, too.
L: In order to provide that loving care we need.
G: Yeah. I haven't had that wisdom. Hit me right in the face one day because it got really cold out and we were all walking together. And my husband I had jackets on and my daughter had left her jacket somewhere and I was freezing. But I took off my jacket and gave it to her and as I gave her my jacket he put his jacket on me. And it was just like this.
G: Like, yeah.
L: Oh my gosh.
G: You know, I just had that moment like, as I'm caring for someone else I have somebody who is also there to care for me. I don't know whose care --
L: I’m just saying, good luck to Mark.
L: Mark’s listening to this episode, chilly in the corner. Like...I love you, honey!
L: Thanks Mark.
G: Yeah, Thanks Mark. That’s so him. He's like “I don't need a coat.” like so him you know.
L: Yeah. Awww.
L: Can you tell a funny story from your chronic illness or your health journey?
G: There is so many, just trying to think if I could find another one. You'll appreciate this though.
L: Oh, no. What’s this gonna say about me? It's more stories about poop and bees. I know you love those Lauren.
G: These are your favorite, I’ve been saving them just for you. I know I'll get home and I'll think of a better example but…
L: That’s okay, you can make a video of it for the listeners if you want. You know, post it on Instagram. This is how you want it to become public and well known.
L: I'll take any gastrointestinal stories.
G: Well I remember in our suite in college like there was only that one bathroom and you know, I feel like you want to be respectful of your other roommates. So I was really sick one night and there was a bathroom out in the hallway that was more like a restroom, and I know I'm not the first one to abuse it because when I went in there it was not pretty to begin with.
L: People have been having their private moments in there for some time.
G: So I went in I sat down and this was like before people were always taking their cell phones to the bathroom, so I brought a crossword puzzle. I was like I'm going to be awhile. As soon as I sit down, somebody starts banging on the door.
L: You were about to have your own bathroom vacation
G: I don't know if I'd call it a vacation.
L: Maybe like a road trip.
G: Maybe like an exorcism.
L: Okay, clearly I don't have the same chronic illness as you gives on like it's like a road trip because you had a crossword puzzle, and you’re like “Lauren it's like an exorcism.”
G: My head was spinning around.
L: Got it. This is an inopportune moment to be banging onto the door.
G: Super inopportune. So I was like maybe they'll go away.
L: That’s what we all hope.
G: So I was in there no less than, I mean I don't know a half hour like I just was like so sick.
G: I remember at one point like I had the pencil from my crossword puzzle and I was like biting down on it because I was in so much pain.
L: Yeah you are. It's like, I imagine it's like labor in some way.
G: Oh yeah.
L: The contraction and…
G: That's a lot of what it's like with Crohn's disease, especially if like you're trying to pass any kind of inflammation or….it was just so bad. And I remember I was like finally felt that like the wave of relief like...this is over and I got up wash my hands and I went out and there was the cleaning lady and she had stood outside the door the entire time.
L: Oh my goodness.
G: She was like “I hope you enjoyed yourself.” I was like, “Why would you wait?”
L: So it was almost like you had an audience.
L: Oh no.
G: We are you know, sisters in agony and mean and I came out and she was like “Good lord you were in there a long time.”
L: She's like “I know because I was timing you.” That’s like exactly what everybody doesn't want to have happen when they're in the bathroom.
G: Mmhmm. Yes.
L: If they have somebody like waiting for them outside and then the longer that it takes.
G: I've had so many moments like that. Like why would someone put a vending machine outside a bathroom? People are out there ordering you know up their Twix bar and I’m in the bathroom on like, my deathbed.
L: There’s so much joy just outside this door. Very different story.
G: Oh my gosh.
L: So thank you for that story Gretchen.
G: Yeah, sure.
L: What do you have now that you might not have had without your health challenges?
G: I know where every bathroom is in the state of Vermont.
L: You have an internal map.
G: Internal map. Yes I know where to go. Definitely have a more intuitive sense of my body. I won't do things or eat things that I know are going to upset my body. And I definitely just went to that college phase where I was like cheese balls probably going to end up you know talking to the cleaning lady outside the bathroom I didn't care you know. So, yeah I think I have the intuition. I definitely feel like it played a part in my spirituality because it did help me to trust my inner voice. I can talk freely about these things. That doesn't bother me, like I don't...I don't care who sees it or who talks about it. It's my reality and I'm okay with it. I love that. I love that I can be like “Diarrhea is great.” and it does not bother me to talk about.
L: Seriously that might be like most people’s biggest fears is talking about pooping in public.
G: Yeah. Oh yeah, I know.
L: And you’re like, invincible. I'm good. Just try and scare me.
G: Same way...and then I've given that to other people too they like I'm not feeling well and I'm like It's OK. Yeah I have a bathroom you can destroy.
L: Yeah, yes.
G: It’s been destroyed before.
L: Yes go for it. It is a resilient bathroom.
G: Yes, exactly.
L: Because it's comforting like that's what you need when you really have that physical symptom like you need to go.
L: And to have that just allowing energy is huge.
L: So that's awesome, you've got a lot for yourself and other people are beneficiaries of.
G: I like to think so.
L: Yes. So, the very last piece is a fill in the blank. Finish this sentence. “This is not what I ordered….”
G: My first thought was can you deliver it to the bathroom? Because that's where it's gonna end up.
L: That’s the delivery address, it’s very specific.
G: That’s not what I ordered. Can I have a doggie bag? I'll take it anyway. I’m on borrowed time.
L: I'm like, it’s fine.
L: Thank you. It was so nice to sit with you and spend the time together.
G: Same here. So special.
G: I appreciate it.