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Pickin’ up the pieces

Updated: Jul 11

**TW: I speak plainly about mental health, grief, death, and PTSD. Read when resourced.

I’ve considered how to write this story for quite some time. Even while I was in the midst of things, I knew that one day I would need to sit and sort through - utilizing this expressive tool called writing.

I have hesitated in sharing this story as some of the things I have to share may potentially shine a negative light on other characters (and no, no names are named, but you may know me irl).

While I am the main character here; I acknowledge and validate that they have their own versions. By not sharing this part of me I have been harming myself with my own silence. Some of what I have to share may potentially shine a negative light on myself as it involves my own mental health struggles. And yet, it’s so important to me to be as honest as I can be and also name that there are large portions of last year that I simply don’t remember. I share some dates as a way to ground myself in the timeline, and there are many backstories (and side stories) not shared. 

I remember talking to a friend in the mid-2020-ish and she gave a great analogy for the state of things. My friend shared that it felt like someone had thrown a bunch of confetti pieces into the air and they were currently still suspended in time and space while the world waited to see how they would fall. 

For me, many of these pieces would stay suspended for years. Being a full-time yoga teacher it took AWHILE for some resemblance of “normal” to return, and even longer for me to feel a bit of security and stability. (Tbh…still working on the stability but morphed more into sustainability) Instead, the pieces aggressively came crashing down in 2023 with compounding grief, circumstance and forced new beginnings.

As a whole 2023 was both the best and worst year of my life, with February being a standout. Throughout this year, I found myself retreating even more within myself unable to share publicly the depth of my grief and feelings. I felt myself wanting to protect others, and my own, reputation's and thus I stayed mostly silent - minus a few friends and confidants that I could speak freely to/with and not feel judged.

A recent-ish conversation with a friend in a coffee shop went something like this:

Me: heart/word vomits

Them: “wow that’s a lot, and then the ripple effects.” 

Me: stares off into the distance “yeah…the ripple effects.”

Prior to the start of 2023, I sensed that certain aspects of my life were nearing completion. My beloved dog, Fizzgig, was 17 and it was becoming more and more clear that I would need to make a choice soon. I had always imagined that I would be able to leave the country when he transitioned and when I got his prognosis on January 2nd, I was both saddened and amazed that the timing lined up with an already planned 3 week travel adventure that included swimming with manatees in Crystal River, FL, leading a retreat in Costa Rica, and scouting a new retreat location in Guatemala.

Also, on January 2nd I dropped my partner of 3 ½ years off at the airport where they would begin a month-long Yoga teacher training across the country. Prior to the new year, we had several “state of the union” conversations and it wasn’t super clear if we would continue to stay together after the retreat. There was nothing wrong, but things simply weren’t feeling right. We had agreed to stay together as nothing was on fire, and we would reassess at a later date post business commitments.

I found the month of January to be the biggest practice of presence. I was putting the final touches on the sold out retreat, maintaining a long-distance relationship with an already uncertain future, and desperately clutching the countdown clock to the at-home hospice appointment.

I learned a new phrase, anticipatory grief, and how it can almost be worse than the event. The idea being that waiting for the thing is maybe a bit worse than the actual thing. For me, I found it impossible to look ahead or make plans for the future. I couldn’t imagine my world without Fizzgig, and any attempts at seeing beyond the inevitable were impossible due to the flood of emotions that were always lurking.

My goals become more short term and basic: food, rest, and community. Sure, I planned some retreats and travel, but also googling travel related things is one of my most favorite ways to escape while still being “productive”. Throughout this month I really felt held by those in my circle. I went on walks with friends, had lots of visits from people who also loved Fizzgig, and stayed in communication with my partner. They initially had a challenging time adjusting to being away and we talked daily. I started to consider that maybe we would work it out, while remaining cautious to not get overly attached to the outcome.

On February 2nd, Fizzgig transitioned and it was both awful and beautiful. The hospice worker was so kind and gentle, and allowed for plenty of space without rushing. While I know I was super lucky to have him as my furry (and disgruntled) companion for 17 ½ years, it’s never enough time. I was with him until the end and reminded him “I love you forever” to which he characteristically grunted - part embarrassment and part acknowledgment of a lifetime of love shared between us.

My flight left the following early afternoon and I spent the in-between hours being passed off to different friends with a blur of tears, food, and comforting words/gifts. The few days in Florida were super healing: family, friends, manatees, nephew puppies, and warm weather. Although I knew my heart would continue to hurt I felt somewhat renewed and prepared to lead the retreat.

Meeting up with my partner in San Jose on February 8th wasn’t quite the glorious reunion I had envisioned. I could try and blame myself: I should have eaten more in the morning, I started my moon cycle on the plane, I was more in my grief than I/they were prepared for. But ultimately, things just felt off. Our energies weren’t on the same plane. It was their first time in my most favorite country and I was eager to show off my favorite places, and it felt like they simply weren’t interested. I tried harder, and the more I pushed, the more it felt forced. Breakfast spots, art walks, rooftop views all felt muted as my excitement wasn’t mirrored. When we arrived at the retreat center, the magic of the place was breath-taking, and as we landed there so did the finality of losing Fizzgig. 

I went to a bad-bad place somewhere after dinner. My grief overtook my reason and I couldn’t stop sobbing while attempting to do some yoga in the beautiful shala overlooking the iconic Whale’s Tale of Uvita. My thoughts spiraled quickly and I wanted to escape: from the place, from the moment, from existence, from the pain, from the loss, from it all. As I sank deeper into myself, my partner was busy creating videos of them doing yoga. They kept repeating and refilming, over and over again. I dissociated more and more. I don’t remember exactly how our conversation went but I know I was seeking attention and support and grounding. They wanted to film, and snapped at me for not being supportive. I couldn’t tell you how long I laid on my mat in a ball. But I did eventually come back and got a grip on the moment. When we got back to our room, I shared what had happened and how dark it got for me. I don’t remember their response or us going to bed. But what I do remember is what happened at breakfast the following morning - February 11th. Our retreat participants were set to arrive later that day and they looked at me and said “I don’t want to be involved with you romantically anymore.”

I stood up and walked away, going back to our room. I texted some friends, and my therapist, and got myself some support to get through whatever may happen next. After some time to reground myself, we had another conversation. We decided to “get back together” for the retreat and travels ahead and recommitted to the follow up “state of the union” conversation when we returned.

The retreat week was magical. I was determined to not let the circumstance influence my ability to show up for the 18 travelers, and wanted to celebrate my achievements and success. We explored, danced, laughed, and it truly was EVERYthing I could have dreamt of with some extra surprises thrown in (hello, bringing in a tattoo artist to spend a few days giving us tattoos by the pool!). And sure, it was also sprinkled with awkward feelings, heart-wrenching silences, and WTF moments. Some of them still make me feel some rising heat when I think of them today. Gotta feel to heal, right? RIGHT?! right….

side story that deserves to be shared: my uncle also passed away suddenly during the week I was in Costa Rica. Unfortunely, I had no space to fully feel this loss. Nor was I able to attend his funereal. It took me months to process this and it's still something that I regret not being able to show up more for my family

Leaving Costa Rica on February 18th, I felt extremely full and satisfied, while also feeling empty and disrespected. My appetite was nonexistent, and I did my best to consume calories. Shout out to KIND bars and smoothies, y’all the real MVPs! 

The second part of the travel adventure together was just as bumpy. There were amazing moments that made me smile, arguments with insults hurled that still take up too much space in my heart/mind, truthful conversations around how we were feeling, and confusing moments where I wondered what would happen upon returning. I chose to sit with the unsavory interactions, and address them upon returning. I took everything one day at a time, and YEP! still alcohol-free.

Sidenote: the petty part of me extended the previous paragraph and got REAL specific;  the healed part of me hit delete

The journey home that began on February 22nd was long and uneventful - yay! - and we parted ways with love and connection. I spent a few days helping with some rather important family matters, and we stayed in communication. At this point, I still expected, and was in some ways looking forward to, a clearing conversation. I had things to say, and still wasn’t convinced we would continue. I wanted to address the things that had transpired in the previous weeks. I’m not even sure how to describe my feelings when they called me on February 28th with a final decision of not wanting to continue our romantic relationship, but “still wanting to work with me on a business level.” They wanted space to figure themselves out, as they had been in relationships for most of their life.

Floored - shocked - disrespected - silenced - abandoned…basically the final trigger for my PTSD to place it’s talons firmly into all my systems

I don’t blame them nor name them as the lone catalyst in this narrative. In hindsight, I see how I was primed for the overtipping and most likely had been in a suspended trauma state since 2020 times. I can also acknowledge the ways that this relationship most likely played a role in keeping me there. #thankstherapy

Regardless, here is where all my pieces crashed down.

I was prepared to begin massage therapy school the following week, and for a moment I considered NOT attending and using that money to disappear for a bit longer - really anywhere that wasn’t here. Ultimately, I decided that I was NOT in a place to be making big decisions and I should just stay the course.

Consider the last few paragraphs as prologue for the ACTUAL story I want to tell: 

Pickin’ up the pieces - the magic of massage therapy school and how it helped me move through my highly triggered state. (and yep - title inspired by a Widespread Panic song)

School began on March 6th and I was as prepared as I could be: new notebooks and pens, cute first-day-of-school outfit, and I had even read some of the first chapters in the textbook. I still remember how it felt on the first day observing everyone that was arriving. Scanning their faces, being curious about how/if we would interact, and all the jitters of a brand new beginning intertwined with my own internal struggles.

I was real quiet the first few weeks - but quickly noticed that school was the “easy” part of my days. I could mostly pull myself together and be present for classes, but would quickly dissolve when class ended. The first two weeks were a crash course in all the new things, and our 3rd week included 3 tests – 3 days in a row. I felt like I had something to prove and went REAL hard and consequently got all A’s but also was REAL tired. 

Me and the “ex” kinda stayed in touch - mostly because we “had” to. We had another sold out retreat in 5 months, were “stuck” in the same room, and I was already freaking out about how to get through that experience while still recovering from the last. We had several conversations about how to proceed and came to an agreement that we would do the retreat together but promised to stay single as it would only complicate the already complicated situation. We had several walks, and we still ate tacos together on my birthday (March 10th).

During this time, I concocted a mental-health vacation of a lifetime so I could not feel so focused on alllll the what-ifs of the next retreat. Read all about The Galapagos Islands + planning here - it’s a 27 minute read and literally has everything I know/experienced + fun photos. (butterfly photo is stamped March 11th and feels relevant to share here as I was feeling rather similar)

They had a long international trip planned and I felt dread warped with a “knowing” about what was to come. Maybe I created this scenario, but also maybe I just knew what my soul needed in order to fully release the relationship. Towards the end of their trip, we had an earlyyyyy morning conversation/arguement where their commitment to our previous “stay single” agreement started to waver - I felt the dread/knowing latch on more ferociously. 

The day of this conversation (April 5th), I went to massage school feeling extra triggered mixed with off-the-charts anxiety comingling with ready-to-roll tears poised and ready to be released and thus blowing my cover of "everything is ok" I had worked so hard to maintain. This particular day at school we were in the lab doing trades which means we were learning new techniques and then practicing them on a partner (which also means that we get to receive these techniques from our partners - bonus!). I sat next to a person I hadn’t had much interaction with before this day so I felt a little bit nervous allowing him to touch me when my systems were already on high-alert. Through a dynamic process of open feedback and conversation I taught him how to touch me with extra stressed systems. At first, I was super nervous to speak up, but I allowed myself to share part of my story for the first time in this space. He listened to me when I talked about my activated PTSD and we worked together to find a safe touch. We had a follow up conversation with one of our teachers that reaffirmed how I had many choices in my life - who I let touch me, where I show up, how to communicate my needs in platonic situations, and how I can opt out.

As these weeks continued, I was having difficulty eating. My ability to eat had progressively declined since January and I got to the point where I couldn’t even get tacos to stay in my system (gasp! - at one point I considered titling this story “A Year Without Tacos” but it was really only a few months but also it felt that dramatic as tacos are my favorite food group). Around this time, we were also covering the anatomy and treatments for the anterior torso cavity aka the muscle groups located in our bellies and torsos…ah synchronicity. We spent 3-4 weeks doing work on this compartment, with special attention to our PSOAS muscle.

First, a moment to discuss the psoas…or the pesky psoas as I like to call it because the “p” is silent so right away it’s a bit of a pain. Our psoas is super cool, for many reasons! It starts in the front of the spine (upper half and back of the body) and crosses over to the front of the body to insert on the top of the thigh bone (lower half of the body) - so it crosses over all sorts of planes and imaginary borders. Even in a topic like anatomy/physiology there is still room for debate and difference of opinions. My understanding is a little more broad: our bodies are super efficient and are going to do what they can to make expected and necessary actions happen. In other words, our bodies don’t read the textbooks and they do what they want. The psoas has been credited with hip flexion, hip stabilization, spine flexion, controlling the rate of extension in the lumbar spine, and there’s some room for different opinions. There are also many muscles that work in conjunction with the psoas to do these actions. The psoas is often dubbed the “fight or flight” muscle, and some logic may follow: we are often poised to react based on the high stress environments we live in - hello, late stage capitalism - so often our psoas (+ others) are often found in a contracted state with rare occasions for a full release. AND not all of our bodies read the manuals and we have preferences for how we perform basic actions aka habits and patterns of movements. It’s my opinion that a combo of the above observations have our collective psoas’s on high-alert. Prior to massage school, I would credit 2 people with touching me in the psoas and each time I FELT it as that’s the one - the peaky lil SOB that is not happy with me...(foreshadowing: it begins in the front side of our spine and the only way to affect that muscle is go through the belly)

Ok back to our story, but let’s do this next part timeline style, as it’s quite curious:

Thursday April 13th

We started with the most superficial abdominal muscles and the focus of the lecture was the role of the nervous system in this work. We were taught how to approach people (and their potentially sensitive bellies) with care so their nervous systems would relax, their bellies would soften, and we could access the muscle groups. Welp - my nervous system said EFF NO, initially. My partner that day was a former bodybuilder who often forgets his own strength. While we previously were not friends, after this day we became a lot closer. He came in heavy and ready with his hand to my belly and much more force than my nervous system (and sensitive center) could handle. My belly hardened and pushed his hand out. I could feel my pulse pounding in my belly and ALL my systems saying NOPE to the touch. I again found myself in a situation in which I needed to advocate for safe touch for me in real time. I shared a similar blurb about myself that I did previously, and we worked with my system for a lighter touch until I could feel myself relax. He held his hand lightly on my belly until we found a place that was tolerable and waited, and waited, and waited. EVENTUALLY, I softened and he stayed just as light and just as present to how I was responding. He later reported that he was sore the next day from the holding back on pressure and strength. In between trades, we were given time to share what we experienced and my partner shared with the group what had happened. I started to speak to share my experience and was cut off by the guest teacher. I instantly felt uncomfortable and the beginning of a swirling trigger but before we moved on, another student spoke up and asked me to speak. I felt a relief in not being silenced, and shared what I experienced in my systems - I knew then that it mattered that I was able to share my story. I spent time sitting outside that afternoon, and overanalyzing what all of “that'' could mean. I was pretty convinced that this incident was another symptom of my PTSD and became concerned of what others would think when/if I were to have a breakdown while receiving the bodywork in the classroom setting. Once I got started, stopping might take awhile and that fear of being seen felt worse than the actual experience itself.

Friday - Sunday

I spent time in Winston with my sister and nephew - who btw is THE cutest kid and has brought me so much life and laughter over his short-ish existence on this planet. We both love dinosaurs, swinging on the swingset, reading, and running while screaming. I feel it’s important to share some glimmers in this timeline too. 

Sunday April 16th

Had a conversation with my ex who confirms they are dating someone else that they met on the trip. All the feelings…all the stress of the unknown future and how-in-the-actual-fuck I was supposed to continue to do business with them…all the pain in my belly now even more in knots. We agreed to talk about our future business partnerships, with the decision restly soley on my shoulders (and heart). I barely slept that night and phoned a (few) friends in the Pacific time zone to talk to me. I’m so so so grateful for folks who answer my call, and check in afterwards. 

Monday April 17th 

From the moment I opened my eyes after a mostly sleepless night I knew I was not well. I put my hands on my body, and took some time to listen to her and ask what she needed - a method I have often used when my logical mind just can’t seem to figure it out. She very clearly stated “I need help”. I cleared my schedule for the afternoon/evening and went to school in the morning - one thing that I did know is that I did NOT have time for make-up work. I couldn’t focus during the lectures and I had zero strength/energy for the hands-on portion. I went and sat in the grass during our break and a classmate (soon to be friend) checked in on me and asked if I was ok, I said “no” but that I would be. I left class and went directly to urgent care and was turned away with an appointment made for a few hours later. The doctor asked me if my issues/symptoms were physical or mental…and I truly didn’t know, and honestly, what’s the difference at this point?! (Btw...this was a bit of a red flag for the doctor and in hindsight, I totally get it) I heard him consulting in the hallway to determine where to send me, as they didn’t have the right resources for my needs - either ER or mental health facility. I was already seeing my therapist twice a week so I readied myself to call her at my advocate just in case the decision went one way. Fortunately, I was sent to the ER, and spent my time in the waiting room(s) studying for a test the next morning. The hospital was rather busy so I was set up in a bed in the hallway of the ER. As tests were run, and IVs connected and drained, and I observed all sorts of wild occurrences - I made a promise to myself that this was my bottom. That no matter what I wasn’t going to let myself get any sicker than I was at that moment. That I would do whatever it took to feel better. I was sent home after a few hours with meds, a referral to a specialist, and a potential diagnosis: stomach ulcer

Tuesday April 18th

I woke up and already felt a little better than before. I spent my morning studying: but not only for my test, I also read up on what Ayurveda has to say about stomach ulcers. I got a 100 on my test ;) and truly felt like things were finally moving in a good direction. I taught a shortened schedule this day and ate small portions of bland food - tupperwares of rice from friends has extra nutrition, fyi.

Wednesday April 19th

I had several questions (and concerns) and met with the lead teacher of massage school who was more than happy to listen, and have some potentially challenging conversations. We talked about gender biases that are enmeshed in massage therapy, addressed some rumors I had heard in a mature and non-gossipy manner, and shared my fears about “my trauma coming out” in the middle of class. Best of my recollection, he reassured me, “No one in that room is going to judge you for anything that may come up while on the table. And if they do, they shouldn’t be in this profession.” Even thinking about this moment a year later sends waves of validation and permission through the center of my cells.

Thursday April 20th

Another day to learn about treating the muscles in the abdominal cavity and this time

our friend the pesky psoas was on the table, literally. My trade partner that day was someone who most definitely hit on me the first time we met - to which I responded with a timely trauma dump of my current situation - to which he kindly backed off. I let him know of my super recent diagnosis and about how I had responded to the techniques last week. The same guest teacher who had ignored me the previous week stopped by the table and wanted to work on me. I told him my diagnosis in hopes he would just walk away, but nope - he wasn’t “scared of my diagnosis”. The LAST thing I wanted was this person’s hands on me (or my belly) so I tried once more to respectfully say no and was mostly ignored. My lab partner then stepped in and advocated for me to which he finally listened, and walked away. Reminder: the psoas sits on the anterior (front side) of the spine and the only way to treat this muscle is to slowlyyyy sink your weight into one’s belly bypassing our gushy middles and touching the spine from the front. To me, it feels like this single, but ornery, guitar string that sits at the back of bony structures of my spine/pelvis, and it’s being strummed with increasing pressure (and well-aimed fingers). Once contact is made with the target muscle, we wait, and wait, and wait for the muscle to soften with continuously applied soft yet firm pressure. It’s almost inevitable that one goes into an almost trance-like state of relaxation, and often the therapist’s hand is almost completely enveloped in the client’s abdomen. The WILDest part (in my opinion) is the release, when it’s possible to feel just how deep in the torso the psoas lives.

After class, I spent time more time outside in deep contemplation over my big decision. I just so happened to take on my first pet sitting client (s/o to Diplo the dog for your company) and had quite a lovely backyard to sit in, feel the breeze, watch the shadows and light, and simply breathe. I knew there was only one choice: to take back my retreat and trust that it would all work out.

Back to story mode:

I spent the next few days talking with a few close friends - which required me to tell my story of what happened - which I had most definitely been mostly avoiding - and started to gain the courage to have the conversation. Whenever I thought about doing the retreat with them in this current situation, my belly would actively let me know how disturbing those thoughts were. I would instantly feel nauseous and crampy when I allowed myself to consider that possibility. One friend asked me a super important question that continues to take up space in my brain: “how are they contributing to carrying the burden of this retreat and this decision?” And with that lingering question, I knew that I had been holding the burden of not only our business partnerships but also our romantic partnership. That I had been the one doing all the work to hold things together, and how heavy and exhausting that had felt.

When we talked, I was direct and fair and let them know my decision on the retreat and a plan of action (sidenote: I also made a decision to keep them as a guest teacher in my Yoga Teacher Training - yup, we were rather enmeshed at the time - my reasoning was that if I took my personal feelings out of the equation then they deserved to keep the hours we had previously agreed upon. I made a different choice the following year after much internal struggle). 

The process was mostly stress-free - all things considered. We drafted an email and gave folks a chance to opt out with no questions asked or feelings hurt - and to my delight only 1 person took this option. Sure - there were some bumps and some pettiness, and I also paid them more than fairly for their contributions. I felt a boost to my confidence for the ways that I handled the situation like a BOSS, and rather quickly (and synchronistically) sold the open room. 

With that major stress handled, I felt like I could more fully focus on my own healing - can’t heal without changing the environment that is making you sick. I used all my tools to get myself back to eating again. I rolled with snacks everywhere, added extra fat and calories to pretty much everything, and so much delicious full fat ice cream. I also started getting extra comments on my body - how great I looked, how folks wished they looked like me, etc. I quickly and directly addressed these by letting them know real quick that I was sick and my body was not something to idealize or even comment on. Yeah, I made it uncomfortable because it was uncomfortable.

I continued to kick ass on tests and in fact never made below a 94 with multiple 100s to boost my ego. Full disclosure: good grades aren’t necessarily everything AND they sure did help me feel better when I needed it. They reminded me that my brain wasn’t broken, and that I could learn new things. My favorite tool was to record the lectures, and then sit outside and color while listening. While I’m bragging about my performance in school, I would like to publicly award myself “quickest test taker that has ever existed” and humbly accept. :) I would like to thank Alex Trebek and college days where I would ALWAYS win due to my fast reading skillz.

Test taking protip: go through the test once and answer the questions that you know without having to think about it (it’s kinda like a brain dump) and circle the questions that make you stop and think, go through the test a second time and answer the questions that you have to think about a lil bit - but not too hard, and finally leave the questions that REALLY make you think for the final round. #yourewelcome

The best days at school were test review days for Advanced Anatomy & Physiology - easily my favorite tests to take because they made me think and also the class I studied the most for but also loved the most! Test review days were so ridiculous - partly because it would happen in night class which by the time night rolled around I was super loopy (and giggly). But also because we ALL were super competitive and the reviews were often done in teams, or partners - but either way points were tallied and winners crowned and shit was talked. Laughing until it hurts was such good medicine.

During these times, we all bonded more and more. Massage school is similar to yoga teacher trainings in that you all spend A LOT of time together learning insightful material and techniques. PLUS in massage school, we spend a fair amount of time in consensual touch as we practice and receive the techniques. We all got real close, and would have lunch together, epic pool parties, and insightful and illuminating outside porch talks on breaks with a broad range of topics and opinions. 

There was one moment where a group of us were studying together for an upcoming test, aka watching anatomy videos on YouTube from a hot tub, and one of my friends asked “what’s your favorite muscle that you’ve learned about so far?” I could almost feel myself dissociating as I considered all the personal growths and a-ha’s from the first half of the training. I gave some cop-out answers because it felt impossible to give enough back story to explain my personal experiences effectively. 

Tbh…the biggest gift of massage school was a personal revelation that may seem obvious but to me I was oblivious…I’m hypermobile.  

What does that even mean? In school we learned about the normal range of motion in all the joints and ways to get folks back within these ranges using the specific and targeted tools of bodywork (slightly different than massage). And then there’s hypermobile people who’s normal range of motion is outside the “normal” limits. Sure, I had heard of hypermobility but that wasn’t me. I had grown up in the dance and gymnastics worlds and seen hypermobility - middle splits, legs behind heads, contortionist-like backbends. That wasn’t me, and never has been me. This topic deserves its own post (coming soon), but briefly, my normal range of motion is above the averages and much of my yoga practices over the last 15ish years may have been making my issues worse :)  

The second half of massage school went even faster than first and was filled with deeper connections, next level silliness and laughs, adventures in pet sitting, the addition of Yoga Teacher training weekends, diving into Guatemala retreat plans and magic, and hands-on clinics where we practiced on the general public. While I was super busy, I felt myself come back to life and it was a version of me that I hadn’t seen since 2019. I had missed her, and was skeptical of how long these ups would last.

I continued to eat bland and mono foods with an occasional check-in to see if tacos were possible - not yet. I went to follow up doctor visits and was cleared of any potential parasites from traveling, and eventually scheduled an endoscopy to get a look around. I can feel myself wanting to go deep into my feelings and stories to explain how this was its own mini-trauma. Like many systems, the medical system is broken (or maybe working just like it was intended) and not meant to be convenient. The short version: I took the only appointment available until October, and they only schedule them between 7am - 2pm on Monday - Thursday. I had a test that day and woke up at 3am so I could eat something as not eating was a major trigger to belly pain, low energy, and all the other unpleasantries I had been experiencing. When I arrived at my appointment after school hours, I was turned away for drinking a sip of water (ok fair, that’s my fault) and then shamed for not prioritizing my health and made aware that everyone else had managed to follow the rules. Sure, I’m the problem with your limited schedule and availability while I am actually out here doing my best to better myself and my situation. Whew…

Clearly, I didn’t return. But I did take more responsiblity for my health, and trusted what I was receiving from my body. This slightly empowered me to take even more control of my situation, while also working to find compassion for the employee who must have been going through her own -ish to be so accusatory and assuming of me. 

We graduated August 17th (in between 2 YTT weekends - not on purpose) and many showed up in coordinated onesies - no it wasn’t my idea, but obviously I participated. The rest of this magical day contained pizza and pool parties, naps and afternoon caffeine, dinner and tacos (!), and staying out until 2:30am - nope! No alcohol for me. Another glimmer moment and sense of accomplishment - both for my belly and my heart. With all the things, I had graduated and met a group of amazing people who had accepted me fully.

I had less than two months before my plane left for Florida/Guatemala and lots to do but also wayyyyyy too much free time. This time included:

Floyd Yoga Jam - the most wonderful time of the year

Passing the MBLEX - the standardized test for massage therapists

Getting myself licensed - whew, a whole process that has a lot of hoops to jump through and head-scratching moments of wtf are you asking me to do?!

YTT completion + graduation celebration

Even though it sounds like a lot, I found myself with lots of unstructured time and not-so-motivated to study hard for the MBLEX. A new wave of grief found me and floored me. Much of the previous 6-months felt like a fever dream, with huge gaps in my memory, but lots of new knowledge that had beefed up my brain. 

The week before I was set to travel to Guatemala + graduated my YTT students, I started to hear rumors and rumblings about some political unrest in Guatemala. I wrote extensively about that experience here so feel free to explore that story, and what it’s like to have to cancel a whole retreat the day before your plane leaves - it’s a doozy. And yes - I still made the Galapagos Islands dream vacation happen, which I almost (maybe) didn’t.

I returned to Charlotte on October 29th and immediately dove into my new career as a massage therapist. I spent November overworking but trying to make as much money (and gain as much experience) as possible. I had one final adventure planned…

Sidenote: This next part of my story probably also deserves its own post but also this post/story is incomplete without it and it would be a major disservice to not tell it in its entirety.

Somewhere around September-ish I decided I needed one more travel + training for the year. It was partly motivated by seeing my ex-partner do more travel but also by a need to gain new massage therapy skills that would take me out of my hands. I researched more locally based Thai Massage and Craniosacral trainings but was already scheduled to travel when they were happening. Which led me to discover the Costa Rica School of Massage + a 10-day Thai massage training for the beginning of December. When the most perfect flights lined up at a reasonable price it felt like fate, and when I saw an opportunity to potentially see the turtles arriving on the beach and to re-visit Nosara (my most favorite place that I hadn’t visited since 2019) I was SOLD! 

I arrived on Wednesday December 10th and immediately made a friend while we waited for our shuttle (and other travelers). We arrived in Samara just past sunset and quickly got settled. We did a half day of training on Thursday and a full day on Friday. I learned that this training included not only folks like me who showed up for the 10-days but also a group of 20ish who had been in Costa Rica together since August and had earned their whole certification while there. I could sense how close they all were and felt warm fuzzies (and giggles) as I imagined what shenanigans would have ensued if my school crew had been in this set and setting. I made some beautiful connections (my roomie just so happened to be from Asheville - 2 hours away from home (!) and was excited for how the rest of the time would unfold.

I skipped town on Saturday morning as soon as the local car rental shop opened and made my way to Nosara with an Airbnb booked for the night + an appointment to surf + a full list of “must '' do's (and eat’s). The turtles had arrived early so I opted for a cute spot closer to the town area. I did all the things - had my favorite banana coffee smoothie, saw my favorite surf instructor and learned to turn-ish on my surfboard, watched sunset with the rest of the town, visited a potential future retreat spot, and even found a “secret” beach that I was taken to my first time there and hadn’t been able to locate since. After sunset, I took myself closer to home (one of my #1 solo travel rules) and stumbled upon a new/forgotten taco spot - I found it on google maps and thought it was new but when I walked in my wifi instantly connected - I remembered having been there in November 2019 with my brother - and it just so happened that of the 3 different groups dining there we ALL WERE FROM NC!! Everything felt so divinely interconnected and beautiful. I went to be early (per usual) feeling content with the synchronicities.

I woke up early and quickly saw a group Whatsapp message for the training asking if we had heard from another student of the training - the message came through around 2:30 am and I immediately felt like whatever this was about probably wasn’t good. I walked to the beach to the sounds of the howler monkeys and experienced a beautiful sunrise with what looked like giant wings in the clouds. While I sat, I watched my most favorite sight: Costa Rica beach dogs who honestly must be the most happiest dogs in all the land. I was inspired - so I started acting like them - running, zig-zagging, splashing, and also giggling and spinning. 

At that moment, I felt mostly complete with my side quest to Nosara - minus a delicious breakfast and one more banana coffee smoothie (!) - and decided to head back to Samara early. I checked in with my new friend from the training and shared my location via apple-technology - just in case the campus started to look for me with the foreboding fear taking more roots in my subconscious.

When I returned, people were pretty scattered about but we all received a text later asking us to gather in the classroom area in the evening hours. As I was walking to my room (and obviously peeking in open windows), I thought I saw the missing girl with her boyfriend (they had met while down there and were both super cute and in their 20’s). I skipped a bit and decided the meeting was more to put new systems/boundaries on us so we didn’t create unnecessary confusion. When I saw the full teaching team (plus some folks I had never seen) show up to this meeting and their faces, I knew that this meeting wasn’t what I thought/hoped/wished. 

We were quickly and kindly and painfully informed that the police had found the missing student’s body and that she had passed away on the beach. The next few minutes were quiet - the air filled with shock - and eventually someone spoke and then others shared and many hugged and we all cried. 

I don’t plan to share all the details that I learned of her passing over the next few days, and some pieces are relevant as they were personally triggering and mirroring.

Her middle name is my first name, she was a yoga teacher in love with the moon, and she died by suicide in Costa Rica.

While my heart mourned for her and her friends, I also selfishly asked why-the-fuck did I come all the way for this to happen?

Because I’ve been her - not just earlier this year but in other trips to my most favorite country - other stories yet to be shared that involve panic attacks, blackouts and a thrice broken heart.

I have wanted to walk into the ocean and let it be sorted out by forces way stronger than me. I have wanted to disappear until the pain stopped. I have wanted to walk away from it all.

And the thing that I have learned in the extra 22 years of life I have lived past the years that she was given is that it gets better.

It always does.

Somehow, someway.

And having a track record of success of surviving my darkest nights and thoughts and circumstances helps me remember in the dark times I experience now that I will get through these too.

And I remember what it was like to not have that track record of success to refer to. 

How it felt to have no experience with my intense emotions and no proof that I would ever feel better. 

In hindsight, I have many wishes of wondering if I could have made a difference - you know in the maybe 12 hours we spent in an open room practice space.

And yet, I did see something or something in me recognized the same in her.

Because when you have felt that sadness/madness it touches you differently - your soul is forever marked.

But the marks will fade - if we allow them.

We will feel alive again - if we just give it time.

And experience also tells me that one day I will feel like shit again, and that’s ok too.

Being confronted with this familiar pain in paradise, I focused on the one thing I knew I could trust: true connections.

I phoned friends from home, I openly shared with new friends, and I took time for myself to be in the darkness.

In this circumstance, it was the darkness that saved me. 

Earlier in the year, I accidentally became an early riser. Go to bed at 8pm enough times and eventually 5am becomes your friend. The darkness at night would begin to feel so suffocating that I would “have” to go to bed. But the darkness of the morning felt fresh and new. 

Waking up at 4:30am to go sit on a dark beach with only stars and waves (and that one night a meteor shower) would become my most favorite tool. Sometimes it was just me, other times a friend would join. And we would sit in silence until the light started to peak up over the mountains to the east. And then I would start to move - sometimes dancing to the sounds of the morning, others like my best friends the beach dogs, and others sun salutations coupled with song and mantra. 

The colors of the morning glimmering off the waves were the most spectacular I’ve ever seen. And as the sun got closer to being seen, more friends would often join. I would sit and breathe and pull oracle cards and conversate with other sun chasers. Once the sun was firmly in the sky, I would return to my room for breakfast and prepare for class. The rest of the days had similar rhythms: class, light lunch, class, dinner with friends, sunset with more friends (like everyone in town), and then go decompress in my bed with studying and reading. 

Ritual and routine and community - the magic salve for the aching heart

I could feel compounding interest gathering in my bones and joints from the combination of the emotional stress of the recent events with the physical stress of the trainings from both a practitioner and as a receiver plus a rather uncomfortable (and unforgiving) bed. While my hypermobile body could most certainly be moved into deeper versions of the thai stretches offered, I was also most certainly not in a position to be stretched to a place of “feeling” it. With the help of my partners, again mostly men, we learned safe range of motion for me through me communicating openly and honestly. 

Our final test for certification consisted of memorizing and performing a 2-hour session from memory of the 100 steps we were taught. I went first as the practitioner and really enjoyed the experience of giving those stretches to someone I had never worked with but bonded with on the beach.

When it was my turn to receive, after all the things, I WENT TO SLEEP!!

Now for many this may be no big deal because you often fall asleep during massages.

For me, it showed ultimate trust in the male practitioner, the safety of the space, and the relaxation of my mind. I didn’t even feel disturbed upon awaking and not quite knowing where I was. I still felt held. 

To be completely honest, I can’t remember the last time I fell asleep anywhere that wasn’t my bed. 

Every sound bath, meditation, savasana for awhile has still kept me in high alert - not quite able to shut down my brain and rest. 

And it wasn’t always this way. 

So it stands to reason that it won’t always be this way either.

I will find a balance again.

I will feel safe-ish and find rest-ish.

I found it in Costa Rica, even with all the things. 

I will find it again within myself and with all the things

The journey home, and subsequent landing in holiday-season-palooza felt forced and fake. I don’t really do major commercialized holidays and am somewhat used to the disconnect between my experiences and the collective, but something about this year left me feeling even more dissociated than usual. Maybe it was the lack of warning by being in the tropics or the missing of my most favorite companion or even still my ex-partner who also didn’t celebrate or more general confusion around the passing of time throughout a rather confusing year. 

There’s something about the changing of seasons that makes the passing of time more tangible

If it was cold again then somehow it had almost been a whole calendar year since this whole story started.

And with so much still undone, it feel unjust to simply end.

And yet, that’s life.

A series of abrupt, and often unplanned, beginnings and endings and almosts and maybeeees


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