We would like you to meet, Lauren.
With words that carry the kind of strength and hope that can so easily be forgotten while fighting a chronic illness, Lauren has been able to share with us a voice - her voice - that pushes us to see pain, obstacles, and the feeling of losing control of who you are, as every reason to live a life beyond the limitations of this disease. To seek out the things that make you happy, and to dream big and make those big dreams come true.
To see the impossible as possible, to create, build, and cherish a life that does not hide or become discouraged when the very real feelings of fear and self doubt arise. In fact, I'd say that Lauren teaches us that leaning into these feelings, though uncomfortable, can bring us more clarity and confidence than ever before.
Here is Lauren's story...
Over the past few years, I felt like I was failing.
I felt like I couldn’t keep up. It didn’t make sense why it felt so hard to take care of myself or why simple things felt so overwhelming. I would lay in bed wishing I could lie there until I disappeared. The exhaustion was intense. I felt I was inadequate because of how it held me back. A piece of me thought I needed to put more effort into seeing things were easy while the rest of me felt like something really wasn't right. I spent seven years bouncing from all kinds of doctors, acupuncturists, healers, psychics, anyone I could find to figure out what could be causing what I felt.
No one had answers and they all insisted that what they were doing should be making me feel better.
Except it wasn’t. I decided I’d just live with it. Still, I was frustrated that I couldn’t do as much as other people and I pushed myself. I judged myself. I kept quiet about a lot of what I was feeling.
I tried to hide it until I couldn’t anymore.
I never actually thought all of my symptoms were related. Everything seemed so random and disconnected. The exhaustion and inability to think, the overwhelm, anxiety, the difficult time I had eating, depression, lack of creativity, pounding heart that wouldn't calm, memory loss; I thought all stemmed from past trauma. I did everything I could to heal those traumas while thinking, without a single doubt, that I’d get my life back once I did. Instead, everything I was feeling was magnifying, becoming more intense. Once I found out it was Lyme and what that meant; I broke.
I thought I was getting to the end of healing it, not starting at the beginning. For so long it felt like everything around me was crumbling and I couldn’t hold the pieces together because at that moment, I crumbled too.
I truly wanted nothing more than to give up. I felt like I wanted to be finished turning big challenges into positive things and I wanted a break, to feel like I could come up for air. I needed everything, including myself, to crumble. In a way, I think I needed to temporarily give up.
Through giving up, which was dark, I found myself on a strange path to surrendering.
I began to desperately want my life back, not knowing if that was even an option. It’s scary to watch your physical health get worse and worse, faster and faster. I felt like I had gone from strong to fragile, independent to dependent, hopeful and positive to detached and irritable, always on the go to struggling to get out of the bed or off the couch. So much of what I loved disappeared and I was left feeling like an emptied out version of myself.
During this journey to surrender, I decided I needed to be gentler with myself. I pushed myself through for too long and sometimes I’m not even sure how I did it. I realized that I deserve the same care I give to everyone else. Staying with family for a few weeks, I felt this overwhelm of gratitude.
So much was lost but the time with them felt like a gain.
From then on, I began accepting this life, what I feel like, and the Lyme and co-infections. Instead of attempting to battle it, something shifted. The pause that I’m still experiencing began to feel like a gift. Within this pause, I’m becoming closer to myself. I appreciate, respect and trust my Self more than ever. My life is not gone, it just looks different than what I imagined for myself.
I started to see that even though my body feels fragile, I'm the strongest I've ever been. There is joy in moments where nothing seems to be happening. The way the light falls in my apartment, watching the clouds shift, the stillness and the sounds that rest within that stillness are all beautiful and I’m still and quiet enough to soak up every second of it.
The appreciation for the people in my life who are there for me through this grows every day. Within this space, I discovered that I’m still here. So much was stripped away but I am still here.
I thought if I'm given this opportunity to start fresh, since everything was wiped away, then I can create something even more incredible. I don’t know how it’ll unfold but I daydream about what my life could look like, what I’ll be able to do. I daydream a lot. It gives me hope. It reminds me to allow all of this and see where it takes me. I’m not sure why my life looks this way right now but I do still have so much I’m grateful for. I’m grateful that I got myself out of the dark place I slipped into. Temporarily, I forgot my own strength.
If I can still see so much beauty and find such deep contentment even in my most uncomfortable moments, I know I’m strong enough to do something positive with this.
The little things are celebrated and I take advantage of moments I’m able to create, swim or float around a little, be with friends and family, walk outside…even if its not as much as I want. It’s when I fight it and don't accept the truth within that moment that it all starts feeling like too much. At the same time, there are times when I need to feel sad or to grieve, to feel confused or think it’s unfair because those feelings need my attention too.
For as long as I can remember, painting has been a passion of mine. It's also something I’ve done to process emotions and to heal. Over the past few years, it’s become difficult to paint the way I used to or as often as I'd like. It was hard to accept that had also changed. Knitting or weaving have been comforting to me. It sends me back to my Grandmom's porch where we sat together crocheting. There are so many ways I feel I’m being brought back to who I was when I was younger. Since oil painting doesn’t seem to be an option for me right now, I’m playing with watercolors. I don’t really know what I’m doing but I love it and I feel somehow very connected to my child self experimenting with acrylics.
When I’m able to watercolor, I'm reminded of what’s still inside. The vibrancy within me that I thought faded shows up on paper. All the colors and textures speaking to one another and influencing each other feel symbolic. As if the different experiences, emotions, and expressions within me are communicating in the same way.
While I may not be my most vibrant physically, what I have to express, share, and give is vibrant.
Creating a cozy space to live in softens the feeling of being stuck inside. On the emotionally challenging days, I feel held by this space. As if I’m nurturing myself by making my home nurturing. Even in this beautiful space, there are times I feel isolated. My mind can run off comparing myself to friends, other people my age and all they’re able to do. Self doubt visits. Those thoughts don’t help, they leave me frustrated and wanting something that I’m clearly not meant to live at this moment. It also enhances the overwhelming feeling of not having found the right type of treatment or combination of things to get myself back on my feet.
Discouragement arises while I try to sleep with sharp pains in my body. So many emotions. Fear of overdoing it or not doing enough, confusion around what to do next and when that should be, disappointment when I think something will make me feel better and it doesn’t.
Disappointment when people choose to judge this experience I’m in rather than attempt to understand it, irritation with how difficult it is to explain. Sadness for the life I thought I’d have is something I think most people probably experience in one way or another. If I give into these feelings beyond letting them move through, then they run my life.
I’m not giving my life up to anything, my thoughts and this disease included. The feelings are real and deep, alongside them run threads of joy in simple things, strength, determination, freedom from trying to be something I wasn't, the ability to truly be honest with what I need, want and am able to do. There is love, growth, clarity, and a deepening of the relationship I have with myself.
In the past, I’ve pushed through challenges with my focus on helping other people. Right now, I’m gifted this time to care for myself.
Finding out that what I’ve been feeling for years has been Lyme related made me realize that I absolutely had to stop pushing against what my body was so clearly trying to tell me.
Stop and rest. Be still. Listen. For once, put yourself first. I fought that hard, but in the end it changed everything.
I was all tangled up in trying to keep up, trying to hide from what I felt, to pave over parts of myself so I could do what I thought was best for other people. I wasn’t the reason I did most things. My inspiration for teaching yoga came from feeling alone in my pain and wanting other people to have support through theirs. At the time, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with that. Now I see there was a flaw. I wasn’t in the picture. My focus was on doing what I thought was best for others without ever asking if it was what was best for me. In so many areas of my life I was giving up my needs to make everyone else more comfortable or to give them what I thought they needed.
This pause has given me time to remember who I am, what makes me feel joy, where I came from, what I care about, what’s really important to me, and to stand up for myself.
It was an unexpected route, but it's bringing me home. I feel grateful for this illness. Without it, I’d still be lost. I'm not sure where I'm going or what I'm doing but I know that I'll be me as I travel through.
If you would like to continue to follow Lauren's story, be sure to visit her Etsy Page for recent creative projects and art + Instagram for daily inspiration, yoga updates, and insightful and honest quotes -and lots more!
*Be sure to check back in as I hear she has lots of new pieces of art in the making!*
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