Episode 26: Being Curious Every Day
with guest Sarah Sears
Sarah: Thank you.
L: It’s really cool to be sitting here with you.
S: It’s wonderful to be here.
L: And we’re in your house.
L: We’re in the treehouse part of your house. Surrounded by trees. And we’re in Vermont.
L: We’re in Winooski right?
S: We’re in Winooski.
L: Winooski, Vermont. So you’ve agreed to be the first podcast interview in-person with video.
L: I know! So cool! And thank you for being willing to do it.
S: Of course.
L: So can you start by giving us a summary of your health journey?
S: Sure. So last April, early April, I was in a horse riding accident. I don’t remember it. I was able to call my partner and I said “I don’t know where I am,” and “I don’t know what happened.” She knew where I was, so she and my brother came and got me. There was a lot of… like the horses running around crazy. Their story of it was like… I set them up for the perfect storm. But they could tell right away that something was wrong. They took me to the emergency room. I was admitted to the ICU, I had a brain bleed. I was only in the hospital for a couple more days. I have about 2 weeks of amnesia so the beginning of it is really fuzzy. I probably spent about 8 months in bed. Not completely, you know. I would get up and we were able to hire my yoga teacher to come and support me daily, which was amazing.
L: Oh I’m so glad!
S: She was amazing and she would come over. So if I couldn't’ get out of bed, she would just sit with and keep me company or empty the dishwasher and sleep the floor. You know, little things that I started to be able to do. Quite early on, we started going to the barn and I didn’t have any fear about being around the barn or the horses. So we would go visit the horses and I could be upright for maybe an hour before I needed to sleep again, or being laying down. Eventually I started being able to walk, and being able to walk out on the causeway, which just visually worked for me. Because my eyes weren’t working well together so being in the forest or things like that was very hard visually. Then we moved into going for daily walks. By the end of the summer I started to drive a little, and I feel like walking down the stairs was easier. And then winter came and, you know, it’s just all harder in the winter. There’s not as much sunlight and there’s ice. You know.
L: Yeah especially in Vermont.
S: Yeah, so… then Kathy was able to pick me up and take me to the pool, which was amazing. I was able to start doing yoga slowly, like for weeks, I would say I’m gonna go to yoga. I’ve had a yoga practice for a very long time, but there were stairs and people so it just took months before I was really able to get back in the studio. But now, I’m feeling really good. The summer is amazing, and I was just telling you that I can drive with the windows down, which is awesome. I put music on. I have to be careful about how much stimulation I give myself, or it will just exhaust me. Or it can make some of my neurological symptoms come back, which is like the left side of my body just moves slower than the right side of my body. Then I’m more at risk for falling and things like that. Or I get dizzy or I just get really overwhelmed. I also spent months crying. Like a small child crying.
L: Oh man I bet.
S: So if there was a loud noise, or if there was something stressful. With a head injury, it’s a combination of the neurological stuff and then the PTSD from just having such a major accident.
S: I think having amnesia and being in the hospital was really hard on me emotionally and on my nervous system.
L: Yeah, I bet. Yeah. It’s a trauma, for sure.
S: So it’s hard to pull all those things apart, but it’s just the goal is to like, keep the nervous system happy. Sleep a lot. Continue my recovery, but…
L: There’s this word that comes up for me through most of the stories that people have told on the podcast. Which is … it’s sort of like a double-edged sword. The word is “disoriented.”
S: Mmm hmm.
L: I’m wondering, because as I hear you telling your story. This sounds like a major disorientation in your life.
S: Yes. I’ve told a lot of people that all of my most dysfunctional coping mechanisms… I mean alot of our coping mechanisms are double edged swords, right? But all of my most dysfunctional ones got pulled out from underneath me. [Before] I worked a ton, which was a great way to move away from your anxiety or all those things. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t really get out of bed. I’m incredibly extroverted in sort of my spirit. But I didn’t even know how to respond to people’s text messages… I would start crying and hand my phone to someone who was here.
S: So it was sort of disorienting, in that my coping mechanisms were gone. My way of being in the world was gone. I couldn't walk down the stairs. So part of our vestibular system is like, where is horizon for us? For most people their horizons are here, but mine was way up here. It felt like the world was falling out from underneath me.
L: That’s like a ride you wanna be on for 2 minutes, but then it’s horrifying. I mean it just sounds...
S: So the first time I walked from here to Scout, which is a coffee shop like less than half a mile away, there’s a big hill. It’s actually not that big, but… I just had to be like “You know how to walk down a hill. Just move your feet and don’t think about it.” I had to coach myself.
L: Wow! So you weren’t orienting as much visually. To pair it up with your physical movements. Wow! Oh man.
S: I also had disinhibition, which I’ve never had before. One of the first adventures I took was to go to this yoga workshop with David Swenson and Shelley Washington. Shelley came over to give me an assist and I was like “Oh I’m not gonna do that, I have a head injury.” She was just the sweetest person and she was sort of in my space here, and I just gave her a kiss. Which I would never do!
S: I told people after, and they were like, “Well it’s like a yoga…” But it’s weird to be in your body and not know how it’s going to act or what it’s going to say.
L: Because your body is this vessel for expression. And usually what’s going on inside is the Command Center is premeditating and thinking about social rules and “How do I want to come across?” This disinhibition, it sounds like you didn’t have this screening process.
L: As you tell the story, you are so full of delight.
S: In the context, it was totally fine. But it was so surprising to me.
L: Oh my Gosh. Obviously, it wasn’t the end of the world. You can look back and you can laugh. You probably still have a positive relationship with her? Did you ever talk to her about it? Ask her, “What was that like?”
S: No, I didn’t get to talk to her. It was actually a really big workshop.
L: That almost makes it even funnier that you didn’t get to be like…
L: So disinhibition and like, yeah, with that theme of disorientation. The reason I call it a double-edged sword, is because from my perspective, and I’d love to hear you perspective on it… When I got MS, actually a lot of the things you’re talking about are resonating with me and I don’t think I’ve ever talked to someone whose had symptoms like this. So I’m feeling kind of touched.
L: You’re describing it so well. There have been moments in time where it just feels so overwhelmed by life. And it’s not an emotional overwhelm in the same way like, you know, if i didn’t have symptoms. It is emotional, but it’s more because there’s a physical thing happening to me. Like when I get brain fog, I don’t know how to respond to texts. So anyways, the reason I’m thinking disorientation is double-edged is because:
It’s sort of terrifying, frustrating, all of those things.
It’s also, I think, a beautiful thing to be taken outside of my regular, everyday unconscious patterns and to re-experience the world in a whole new way.
S: Yeah. I have said to so many people that this have been such a gift. I think we’re both therapists and love people and are intrigued by sort of how people see the world. For me, it’s just given me so much insight, into like “Oh I understand social anxiety…” In a whole new way. Even though I had empathy for it before, I was experiencing some version of that. Of like, I don’t want to leave the house, and I don’t even wanna go to the coffee shop because I’m going to run into people that I know and I don’t know what’s gonna happen.
L: Yeah. Yeah!
S: It was like “Oh isn’t that interesting.” It was like, you guys. “I’m hiding in the house because there’s someone is mowing the lawn and I don't want to talk to him right now.” I mean that’s never happened, but it was like that.
L: I don’t even wanna have to talk to you right now. But I’m doing it.
S: It’s also been a gift of like slowing down. I think a lot of when we’re on auto response to things. We’re not in that present moment. We’re just like, “Sure yeah,” or you know, texting back. So being taken out and have to slow down has been an incredible gift of getting to know myself in a new way. It’s not that I’ve changed so much, like my spirit, it’s getting to know myself in a different way.
L: It’s like a whole new dimension or something.
S: Yeah! I am terribly claustrophobic, and for a little while we were talking about getting an MRI. I was sort of on the fence about a.) whether it would be helpful treatment wise and b.) was the stress worth it? So I went to see a therapist to get some EMDR.
L: And EMDR is…
S: Eye movement reprocessing desensitization.
L: So that’s kinda like a process you can do in a therapy office?
S: Yeah, it’s bilateral stimulation that helps your body when you’ve had anxiety or trauma, it can help you re-process so that you can have less fear about it. It’s very effective with trauma and sometimes very specific phobias or fears, like claustrophobia.
L: I like how you were like “I went to go get some EMDR.” Like you’re picking it up in the bulk section of the grocery story.
S: So I called the therapist who works with a lot of other therapists and I’m like “You don’t know me but can you see me?” She’s awesome. So she’s there and i’m there and I have these little things holding onto and they vibrate back and forth. She’s taking me through the meditation and, in the beginning, you don’t actually confront your phobias. You just hang out with it and usually, like this meditation was supposed to be imagining coming up to the machine and then to be after. Because you want to connect your body with positive emotions, you know, so like being done with it.
S: So I’m there, we’re doing the meditation. We’re totally quiet, but like in my meditation, I climb into the machine to like, look around. I can feel myself getting so anxious.
L: Wait a second. In your mind, you climbed into this machine. In this meditation, it was as though you were…
S: Yeah. So when you get an MRI, you have to wear this mask when you’re getting it on your head and you can’t move. So I’m like curiously going in.
L: Kinda like underground cave spelunking.
S: So we finish the meditation and she’s like “How’d it go?” I said it was fine until I decided to climb in it. What’s wrong with me? Why did I do that? But in that moment, I just realized that’s me. I am so curious about the world and even when something scares me, I really really want to understand it. It was just this beautiful insight, like I kinda knew that about myself, but it was so clear in that moment. Like what are you doing, Sarah?
L: There was part of you that was so surprised that this was happening and another part of you that thought this is the most natural thing I can do right now.
L: That’s amazing.
S: Yeah. There are little things like that that are like, “Yeah, this is really innately me,” that I’ve had more chance to learn more about.
L: One of the questions that I love to ask myself and sometimes other people is “What is it in you that hasn’t changed through your experience with your body?” Part of that, I think, is learning what’s always been there. And I am curious what your answer to that question is.
S: Yeah. You know, even though most of my coping mechanisms were sort of taken out, I mean I couldn’t do yoga… I couldn’t move. I spent 2 weeks, you know in yoga you learn to spread your toes, I’ve never been able to spread this pinky toe on my right foot. I spent 2 weeks just trying to move my pinky toe because it gave me something to do.
L: You got a little victory there.
S: I’ve never had time to move my pinky toe.
L: Finally. Finally.
S: Even though … I was able - that curious, problem solver part of me - was able to take pieces of things i've always done of the past and be able to use them in this healing process, which has been really cool to see. I couldn’t read, I can’t really read. Reading words is hard, but listening is OK. But I think in the first two weeks, I couldn’t even listen.
S: My brain couldn’t make sense.
L: Couldn't process it all, yeah.
S: So I found an audible book that the voice was nice on and it kept me company.
L: So when you were listening to it, it sounds like it was less about listening to the story and more about the sound of the voice.
S: Yeah, it’s just company.
L: Just company. That’s really sweet! It’s also cool that you let yourself do that, because I think there’s always this judgmental part, that’s like “This is silly. I don’t need this voice to keep me company,” or whatever. But we need that. We need to hear sounds that soothe us. I think just being willing to, I’m almost thinking of you doing a bunch of these little experiments with yourself. As you tell these stories, I’m like, yeah.
S: I have all this, you know, like, therapy, yoga, you know all these tools. But there were days where I was like “I don’t wanna do any breathing.” You know? Like “Fuck that.”
L: Fuck breathing!
S: Even that took too much energy. So yeah I had to find things that were super soothing and made me feel good and were like zero energy.
L: Yeah. Hmm.
S: I can’t remember if it was my yoga teacher who sent me this podcast, I don’t know if you’ve seen it but it’s Rhonda Patrick. She does a lot of great health healing science stuff and one of her studies was on using a sauna and how it increases your lifespan and also how it releases these reactive heat proteins. It was super cool. But I was like “All I have to do is get in a sauna? That I can do.”
L: Let’s do that one!
S: When I did start walking in July… the causeway is like 6 miles long and I really like to go to the end of things. So you don’t have to walk the whole thing, but that’s like a part of my personality. I was like “I'm gonna find the easiest movement I can do. Because movement is important for healing from my perspective, and I am just going to see how long I could do it for.” Other people were like “You’re walking 6 miles,” and I was like “It’s all I’m doing right now.” But it worked for me. So I kept trying to find the easiest thing I could do.
L: I like that. What a beautiful goal. It’s like a method. You know, what’s the easiest next step for me that’s still helping me get where I need to go. I’m just processing it because I’m like “I need to hear that.”
S: Sometimes going to PT and OT, particularly OT to help me understand some of my eye stuff.
L: And PT is physical therapy and OT is occupational therapy.
S: PT I ended up not doing for a variety of reasons, mostly because I knew a lot of the stuff. And my yoga teacher kept saying this to me: nobody knows what you’re experiencing in your body. And that was so helpful to me because, in Western medicine, the way it's set up, they’re always trying to tell you what’s happening for you.
L: That’s so true. It’s almost like their mansplaining your body.
S: Going to a doctor appointment was stressful, you know. It was stressful to organize the time, to get someone to drive me. And then just to be in that space. Another big thing was like, as low-stress as I can make things and being OK with that. As I got better, being able to add things in. Adding stress or stimulation can be like going to a coffee shop and saying hi to friends. It doesn’t have to be going to PT.
L: Yeah, no offense friends, but sometimes it’s stressful for me to even interact with you. The thing is it’s clearly not a personal thing, because they’re your friends. But yeah. Anyway. Are there any questions or wonderings that you’re still sitting with or trying to figure out right now?
S: Hmm… Well I think head injuries are - There’s not a clear recovery. Like, so, where do you end? This winter I had to take like 3 or 4 naps a day. [Now] it’s really sunny out now, I’m taking in a lot of Vitamin D. Taking a nap a day is good, you know, I did make it a whole day without napping and I was really tired the next day. So I guess I don’t know what the winter will look like, I don’t know what a year from now will look like. I don’t get obsessed about it, and I think one of those gifts is that shift, is that I get to be in the moment. I get to see what my energy will allow me to do in that day.
L: Mmm hmm.
S: I was sitting with a friend the other day and … I’ve been sort of working on a book and i’ve been getting back into my artwork and I’m teaching yoga. I mean I haven’t touched the book and I’m doing a little bit of consulting/coaching. There’s all these little things and she was like, “What’s next?” But I said I think it’s more like planting a garden and you get to see kinda what comes up. You know? And I’m not an expert gardener so it’s always kind of a crap shoot. Like, “Oh look, that happened!” Which is a beautiful way to be in the world and I think there are some people who are able to be like that in the world. I’ve always been very goal oriented so you know when you’re goal oriented, you’re sort of living in the future versus living in the moment. This is allowing the world to do its thing and I get to be a participant rather than having to drive things. Which is amazing.
L: It is! I see that, as you say it, this joy and wonder.
S: You just get to be curious everyday, like “How is it gonna go?” And I have to say, my yoga teacher, Kathy McNames who runs Yoga Vermont, she has that spirit always. So getting to be with her last summer as she was supporting me in my recovery… I really just got to be around someone who was really like “Look at that caterpillar!” or whatever it was that was happening. Which is a mindfulness way of being. She really embodies that, I don’t know hard… I mean, she’s practiced a lot of yoga but it comes very naturally to her. And so, I guess the questions are more like I’m just curious, “How is it all gonna unfold?” I don’t know.
S: What’s cool is that I don’t feel anxious about it. In my pre-head injury life, I would’ve been like, I don’t know what’s gonna happen and that’s scary and that’s unknown.
L: Right.I have to figure it out.
S: And like I have to figure it out. I have to know and I have to make a plan in order to be ok. Now I’m more like I’m along for the ride and it’s gonna be OK.
L: Yes I can relate to that so much. It’s this weird, almost goofy joy that comes from letting go. And when I asked you the question of “Is there anything you’re still wondering about,” what’s neat is that you had both the thing you’re sitting with, which is “I don’t know how long this is gonna take or if it’ll ever end.” And then you immediately wove into your own response to that, which is essentially, “I don’t have to know. Let’s see. Let’s just be in the moment.” To me, that’s one of the deepest answers we can give. We think we have answers, and even when we think we do, often we’re wrong anyway.
S: I’ve been really understanding that in my yoga practice. I’ve practiced ashtanga not seriously, but for a long time. I’m now hitting postrues that I wasn’t able to get before my head injury. I mean, once my balance got good enough that I could do rotated postures again and things like that. And I’m learning things! There’s this posture that I didn’t wanna do. It’s like you’re wide-legged and you’re balanced and eventually you fall forward.
L: That’s a really wild…
S: I was afraid I was gonna crash, and I just didn’t really… and then I was like “Oh, not only do you flex your legs enough that you can use your calves to land, but your head is a bowling ball. If you put it back, it’s a break!” I had all these things about why I couldn’t get postures. That sort of assumption that “Oh it must be my hamstrings.” But I think that now, I’m just in my body differently and using it differently day to day and also practicing more, I’m just like “I was so wrong. Look what I just discovered!”
L: I was so wrong about…?
S: I was like, “Oh if I keep stretching this way, it’ll get me to that posture.” “Oh if I keep doing this, it’s gonna get me”… But then I would be like “What if I just try this out?” And then it just happens!
L: So the mind wanted to tell you all the limitations of how it wouldn’t work and you had to do it this other way and something shifted in you. Where you tried something new? Or you thought outside of your …?
S: I don’t know it just came to me. It just happened. Like, “Use your body this way,” and it was like “Ohhhh!”
L: I think that’s the kinda cool thing. It just happened. You didn’t think your way there.
L: That’s so neat!
S: My brain didn’t work and still has trouble working. I come from a very academic family and we have a culture that’s very obsessed with thinking. So I think it’s just moved me into my body in a way that I’ve experienced little pieces of but now I think I can to be in that much more often. Which is cool and fun.
L: It’s so neat, I feel excited talking to you about this because sometimes I feel how guilty for how much joy I get from the disorientation of my chronic illness. I don’t want to tell anyone that they should feel good about their chronic illness. For heaven’s sake, let’s not tell anyone what to think or feel. And it’s like life is more fun for me now. I feel more improvisational, I feel more open to newness. I think I’m a lot more fun to be around. I think someone told me recently, we hadn’t hung out in a while. He was like “Something has shifted about you. It’s very fun to spend time with you.” I was like “Wait a second, what does that mean?”
S: Sue was like you laugh so much more now and I was like “Oh, ok, that’s good.”
L: That’s sweet.
S: Yeah so sweet. I think when you’re like goal oriented and driven it’s coming from here. And when you get to be playful, it’s just easier.
S: I’ve been thinking about… There’s something about when you’re sick or injured that you’re not supposed to have fun. That just doesn’t have to be the case. And actually, if you have fun you’re gonna feel better. That’s just how it works. Yet it is really tricky if people are like “Oh how are you doing? I’m like, “Life is good. I get to garden. I get to take naps. Have you seen my tan?”
L: So I have a question, since you’re on the topic of “You can experience joy.” One of the themes that comes up for some people, and I don’t know if this is true for you or if you just want to think about it together with me… Some of us can feel guilty for not doing more work and I think squelches the joy factor in our lives. It’s like “Since I’m not working, the least I can do is not have fun. So that it shows that I’m not just being lazy.”
S: That I have a right to be in bed.
S: Yeah, I mean it’s easy to talk about like “Oh that’s never happened.” But of course it does. I actually worked with someone before I got injured who talked about our ego structure in terms of how our ego is connected to that doer part of us. But really as humans, we just get to exist. We don’t have to do anything. So I had worked with him for a couple of years before my head injury, but I was able to go back to it, because he would email after our talks. So I got to go back and read through all of those and I was like, “Oh this is it! I get it just enjoy existing in whatever is available for me to exist with.” And it doesn’t mean that when I see people, I don’t joke about it. People are always like “You’re so tan!” and I’m like, “Yeah, uh, I’m not working.”
L: That tends to happen.
S: Because I’m sitting in the sun by the pool - healing. There tends to be that social interaction. So It’s fine if I’m around people who aren’t gonna question that and then I have a harder time if there’s some sort of social interaction... I just monitor it I guess and surround myself with people who are supportive of me doing exactly what I need to do. I think when you have like a big event or you’re sick, everyone has their own reactions - which is true for anything - but you notice it in those moments. And sometimes you get people’s projections on to you, of their own fear or their anxiety about “What if that happens to me?” Or whatever it is. There is this dance of protecting yourself from other people’s stuff that just naturally comes up. Because we all trigger each other just walking around in the world. So I guess I just try to figure that out a little bit I guess.
L: It’s tough. I think a lot of the times, for me, when feelings of second guessing myself come up or when I forget that we don’t have to do anything to claim our place in the world… Sometimes I think about how others might judge if they find out about how I spent my day. That’s when I get stressed out, but when I remove that concept of anybody else’s judgement, I’m just living the day. To be honest some of those days are not fun and joyful the way that I love. Some days it’s just like “Dang I don’t even wanna watch TV” and I’m just staring at the ceiling. That hasn’t happened in a while, but I can remember those days. Some days it’s just a bad day and I’m not worried about people’s judgments. But sometimes I do really get caught in some anxiety about what people would say or think.
S: And that brings up that sense of belonging. In our culture, we have a lot f this “Be your authentic self and then you’ll belong.” But what if that authentic self gets in the way of what we culturally expect of one another? That’s why I think it’s so important to find a community. There's no one in my particular yoga studio that cares about what anyone else is doing. They’re just there to practice. They don’t even care what you’re doing. I have been able to reconnect with people because I have more time. I was able to call my roommate from high school a couple times a week. It’s nurturing my relationships that help remind me of those things when I’m having a bad day… whatever it is that really feeds me.
L: This whole topic of judgements and “What are you supposed to doing right now”... I feel so similar to you so I’m like “Let’s workshop together”… Do you ever question if you should be resting as much as you are? Or if you should be doing more?
S: 3 or 4 weeks out from my injury - probably 4 - because I was about to go down the stairs. My wife Sue and my yoga teacher Kathy were here, and I was like, “You guys, what if I’m faking?” Because I had a head injury in high school and the way … I couldn’t see very well and essentially the neurologist said to my mom that I was faking. So I think I internalized that. And they didn’t know much about head injuries then, so it is what it is. But that idea of like “How do you know if it’s real? And what is real?”
L: Absolutely. I’m nodding my head over here.
S: Sue said this beautiful thing to me. She said, “You know, if you’re faking it you really need it and I hope you have fun.”
L: You know what I like about that answer is that… so, the question is “What is reality? What’s real and what’s not?” There’s a certain stress that can come up. What if I’m faking, what if i’m a fraud, what if I’m bad? These are the types of themes that can be associated with that question. Sue, your wife, her response to you was - the subtext of what she was saying was “I love you. I’m not judging.” To have humor with that and to take away even the question, does it even matter? We want to make sure that we’re living in such a way that we understand what our needs are and that we’re getting the support we need for whatever conditions we have. But also to be able to say - and this is getting really existential - but… what is reality? We don’t know; we’re kinda creating reality together. I’m not saying we create our illnesses. Obviously. We don't create traumatic brain injuries, but we’re all dealing with it in different ways. I remember when I first got my MRIs and saw the lesions on my brain and spine. I was like “Oh ok, that’s real. Clearly. I mean I have a picture of it.” But then, just days and weeks later, I still thought that I was faking. I really had internalized this idea that my being tired, my needing to take naps all day during work, my inability to do as many adventurous things… I kept thinking I’m just being lazy. Because I have that notion from my childhood, because I had a thing happen where that concept of faking came up. So it’s almost like a story that plays.
S: I think that in our culture... I worked a lot with people with hidden disabilities. Our Western medicine really… they’re understanding of MS and the brain… they just discovered that we have this other organ operating. Did you see that article? It’s essentially all of our connective tissue. So in my experience… not only did I have a brain bleed, but I got stepped on by a horse. So I have a ton of inflammation in my body. My sinuses swelled shut and each week something new would pop up. Someone once told me, “The body prioritizes.” It’s like Christmas lights turning on and turning back off. There was crazy nerve pain and I had some blood clots in my leg. But we don’t - Western medicine sees our body as the brain and then like the connective tissue. So now they’re starting to understand that connective tissue operates as one organ. Which has a lot of implications for inflammation for things like MS. The other things is that, I saw a lot of non-Western medicine healers during my recovery. But one was a structural integrationist - he does structural integration or rolfing. I had a ten series with him before my accident. When he came to see me post-accident, he could read the things that had changed in my body. This works on the autonomic nervous system. The calm that I get from this is like a yoga calm. I was listening to a podcast with Bessel Van der Kolk and Krista Tippett. She was interviewing him and asked him, “Out of all the things you’ve tried in your life” - and he’s a trauma therapist - “Out of all the things that you’ve attempted for yourself, what’s been the most helpful?” And he said it’s rolfing. And I was like “I knew it!”
L: You knew. You said it out loud and then he said it out loud!
S: And that’s not the reason most people go to see someone for rolfing. They usually go because their body hurts. But it works on our nervous system. I would have terrible days and I would call Greg and be like, “Greg can you come?” And he’d come to the house because it was too hard for me to drive and get over there. My whole being lifted after he left. It was like I was putting glasses on; I could see better. I don’t know if I was anxious and it helped bring my anxiety down. I don’t know. But not only did it help my physical body but - you know the physical body and the emotional body are really one.
L: Yeah! Wow, wow. That’s really cool. I’m gonna go check that out. So what does it mean to you to have a fulfilling life and has that changed as a result of your condition?
S: Yeah, I think that before my accident, connection was important to me. Being social was important. And now I think I just experience connection with people on a very deeper level. And with myself. I think that for me is what is fulfilling is my relationship.
L: That’s so cool. That’s it. Do you have any funny stories from your health journey?
L: I know you’ve already shared a few, but do you have any more funny stories from your health journey?
S: I’ll try this one. I was not there. I mean, I was there but I had amnesia. So the story is... I was looping, which I had only ever seen on Grey’s Anatomy. *Laughter* When you have a traumatic brain injury and you can’t make new memories, you’ll ask the same question over and over again. So I would be like, “What happened?” and Sue would be like, “You had a riding accident.” For some reason I knew to ask who I was riding. So I would say “Who was I riding?” and Sue would say - and my horse is named Karma, and she had been sick and injured. She would say, “Remember your horse was injured, so you were riding the other horse,” whose name happened to be Buck. And I would say “I was?!” Like so surprised. So this repeated. Eventually, Sue was like “I’m so glad that I had watched the Notebook.” Because he goes and tells the same story to his wife. “I just had to pretend that I was him in the Notebook.”
L: Aww so sweet, so much love there.
S: I totally teased her for liking the Notebook, but it was so helpful because she was nice to me. So eventually she tried to change it up and I would be like “Who was I riding?” and she was like “This might surprise you, but you were riding Buck!” I had to go back into the emergency room to make sure I didn’t have any deep vein blood clots, which I didn’t. But… the same doc who had admitted me when I first went in got a really good chuckle out of the fact that I was looping. She was like, “You’re looking so much better!” So yeah, I think that was pretty funny. I mean the whole thing was just funny.
L: The whole thing! It’s funny because I remember in the last interview of Season 1, Blur said “None of this is funny.” And it’s true in some ways. I think for me, even in my journey, none of this is funny. But then in another way, I love that you’re saying that everything is funny. Nothing and everything is hilarious.
S: I remember it was one of the first times I was home by myself, I was home alone for like 2 hours. I was sitting in the backyard, and two baby squirrels fell out of this gigantic tree. One didn’t make it and the other one did, but I didn’t even have the dexterity to do anything to help the squirrels. The best I could do was take the dogs inside the house so they wouldn’t eat the baby squirrels.
L: I feel so bad for laughing. I thought they didn’t get hurt in this story. You’re like “One of them didn’t make it.” Geeze! *Laughter* All of a sudden it’s like baby squirrels falling from trees. You might fall down the stairs. Who knows what will happen next?
S: Sue got home. It was pretty traumatic for everyone… I don’t really remember what happened, but I was trying to tell her about the baby squirrel in the backyard. She definitely got the idea that neither of the squirrels had made it. She was trying to talk about how to get rid of the baby squirrels. “Oh we can put it in a bag…” and I’m like… So then there was this big miscommunication. I was so confused about why she wanted to put this living baby squirrel in a bag. So then she was like “Oh the baby squirrel is alive!” So she went out and put the baby squirrel in a little box. And then my yoga teacher who knows how to do everything, I was like “Kathy I’ve got a baby squirrel” and she came and picked it up and took it to the baby squirrel rescuer and all was good.
L: Meanwhile you’re just sitting there like, “This is freakin’ wacky world I’m living in right now. I’m just at home, everything’s weird. Squirrels falling. My wife’s trying to put them in bags. I don’t know what she’s talking about.”
L: So what do you have now that you might not have without your traumatic brain injury?
S: I feel like I have so much. You know, getting back to that piece about I get to exist just because I exist. Not letting my ego run the show, the ego is a construct. I think that it just allows me to be, which gives me so so much on a daily basis. And as a therapist, I was like “OK I should probably deal with my death anxiety.”
L: I should probably deal with my death anxiety.
S: It’s like me climbing into the MRI machine. Like “OK let’s do this.” So I rewatched all of Six Feet Under, which is such a beautiful, beautiful HBO series. It’s about a family that runs a mortuary - is that right word? Funeral home! At the beginning of the show, someone dies and they tell their life story. So it really makes you think about all these life issues and, in a beautiful way, talks about these existential things. [Spoilers]. Yalom, who’s a famous psychotherapist, one of his more recent books in his older age is all about how everything is really about death anxiety. I think that if you acknowledge your death anxiety, that we get to live a more fulfilled life. So I got to spend like 3 months, and I still do but not in that same intensity, like watching Six Feet Under and reading Steven Levin and really contemplating that. Our ego, when it gets, you know, attached to these things, it’s really us trying to avoid this death… of itself. Not of our physical body, even though it feels like a death. It was sort of like super therapy in some ways. The gift is that I get to exist and I’ve gotten to confront some pretty deep anxieties. Which allows my life to be much more fulfilling.
L: Wow, that’s so cool. Well the very last piece is that I give you a fill-in-the-blank. Which is... Finish this sentence: This is not what I ordered…
S: This isn’t what I ordered. But I feel like I don’t have to order anymore. Does that make sense? When I studied abroad in Italy, one summer in college, we’d go to these little restaurants. The chef would just tell you what was on the menu and what they had and what was in season… and then come out with all these amazing things.
L: I’m smiling so big right now. That’s such a great analogy. That’s beautiful. It’s like the chef’s tasting menu for the rest of your life. We spend so much time trying to pick the perfect thing from the menu and sometimes we miss some of the best dishes.
S: Mmm hmm. Exactly.
L: Well on that note, I’m hungry. Let’s go get some lunch! Thank you so much for joining me.
S: Thank you so much. So special.
L: This was really cool.