Brains and Pain and the Void: Discovering the Magic of Thought & Using It to Champion Your Story—These Are the Words of Maria Lytle
I met Maria for coffee the other day.
I had known I had wanted to meet with her one-on-one ever since she brought her story and her voice to the event we had in Portland, Oregon this last Spring; guitar swung over her shoulder and a look of deep understanding in her eyes, Maria shared her story through rhythm and song. Through showing up in the most vulnerable and beautiful way she could have.
Once we had our drinks, her a turmeric elixir and myself a dandelion root tea, I felt that same sense of understanding that she had brought to the event all those months ago, reaffirming the why—the reason why her presence in this world is so gosh darn impactful.
And selfishly, I wanted to gather up some of it for myself. To carry with and use as a reminder whenever that tinge of loneliness slips into my day. When she spoke, she spoke from her heart. When she listened, she listened from her heart. Now, I am convinced that there is not a single person in this entire world that would pass up the opportunity to grab a coffee or tea beneath brightly painted walls and the chatter and vibrancy of a Saturday morning with Maria.
This is her story, but first, I strongly suggest you give the song below a listen, as these were the words—her words—that echoed throughout the bright room that held or first event this last Spring.
The moments in my life where I have felt devastation most deeply and a cold run through me were the times I felt unheard. Unseen. Where I gathered every ounce of power within me to scream my truth but only heard an echo reverberate from the void.
I tell the doctor my legs feel numb and my legs can barely carry me. I handwrite a list of my symptoms: “SO tired, like, deeply exhausted, migraines, weakness, and the numbness I mentioned last time. Remember Maria, ADVOCATE FOR YOURSELF”. Even when I have my pain and discomfort scrawled on a sticky note, even when I state to the gentle-mannered physician with conviction “This is not in my head, trust me, I study brains!”, I am dismissed and left in the questioning. I don’t know, is it in my head? I mean, I’m told it’s depression. But I’m not feeling depressed. I know my thoughts can be cruel, but why would my head be playing these tricks on me for so long?
Since I was a little girl, I was fascinated by the magic of thoughts. Here is this thing in our heads that is so complex and dynamic and somehow orchestrates everything that happens in our bodies. I’m currently a doctoral student in clinical psychology, and I can still attest to my love for the brain. We can imagine and dream with it. We can look at mountains and process its magnitude, the smell of pine trees, and the way the cool air feels on our faces. Our brain and thoughts can be lovely in that way: bringing awareness to things that are good. As a therapist and as a living and breathing human, I also know that thoughts can be harrowing. Our histories can whisper things to us that simply aren’t true- that we are not enough, that no one cares, that there is something fundamentally wrong with how we are wired. Our thoughts can also tell us that our experiences are not valid.
I was a competitive swimmer in high school. My body felt electric when I felt my arms cut through the water and my legs pound against the surface. I noticed when I was 17, the electricity dulled; I was hardly dragging myself to the end of the lane. I became intimately familiar with the center stripe on the bottom of the pool and my own circling thoughts. Pull harder, be stronger. My coach pulled me aside one day, curious about why my times were getting exponentially slower and I racked my brain, wondering the same. For years, I tried to find a specific answer. It was countless doctor appointments, inconclusive testing, and then dismissal with, “let’s make some changes to your antidepressants.” When I was 22, I finally was tested for Lyme Disease and I felt an immediate sense of relief that I could point my finger to something that made sense. I also felt permission to feel rage. Rage that years of vulnerably disclosing my symptoms were addressed with apathy and rage that I started to believe the lie that there was something broken in my being.
I hope you have been affirmed in your experience with Lyme Disease. If you are in the depths of depression or anxiety, I hope you are feeling validated in that as well. I sincerely wish for you to have a community of loved ones rally around you that listen when it’s hard. I wish for you to have medical professionals on your side; ones that take the time to sit with you and join your team in finding relief. And if you don’t, I am sorry. I am sorry that you feel unheard and unseen. I am standing with you in that space and yelling at the broken system that doesn’t meet your needs. Your experience is real. Your thoughts about your pain and discomfort are true. Take comfort in this community, friends, and please do not stop championing your story.