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A Brief But Necessary Insanity

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I was in real estate sales. So were 14,000 others in my city. The phone was strapped to my ear. Awake or sleeping I took those calls. If I didn't, the next agent was a quick dial away. On a ski run in Keystone, I hit the powder, swished to a stop and answered the cell phone. Vacations didn't count; the client did.

Arrhythmia became a problem. My heart didn't stick to the regular tha-thump, tha-thump. It periodically went into a catchy tango leaving me light-headed and weak. Blood pressure readings crept toward hyper-tension. On top of that my marriage was failing.

Lifestyle: unsustainable.

The marriage was the first to go. Easing emotional pain won out over dealing with physical issues. But the pain didn't ease. It intensified. Engulfed in a twilight fog I disappeared while somebody else ran the show.

That somebody got up in the morning, dressed, brushed her teeth, made coffee, kept appointments, laughed appropriately, and finalized contracts. Sometimes she wondered why her head was offset from her neck several inches to the left, and her right arm floated out in front of her body. The ground was too close and every step jarred, but one thought kept her going. She was tough. She had endured worse than this without dulling drugs or alcohol.

I hovered above and to the side, detached from her feelings, if she had them, watching her from a distance.

The thing that brought the 'I' and the 'she' back together was a bit of synchronicity, a CD with the title, Healing Wisdom Qigong. Neither she nor I had bought it, but there it was. She tried to watch but the slow, trance-like movements of the woman with long black hair made her squirm. Stillness wasn't part of our repertoire.

The following day as she raced between appointments, all she could think about were the hypnotic motions and the flowing, long black hair.

That night she made herself follow along with the woman on the CD. Every twitching nerve fiber screamed resistance but she stuck it out to the end. We were desperate.

She did it that night, and the next, and the next and as she kept doing it our life slowed down. One morning 'I' was back. My head was in proper alignment with my neck and the floating arm had rejoined my body. Qigong had saved my sanity.

I told my daughter about qigong. "I gave you that CD," she said. "Maybe you should try Somatic Experiencing therapy, too."

"Som... what kind of therapy? Nevermind... I'm fine, honey... really." Therapy was great for other people but I was 98% okay, right? I should be able to figure out the errant 2%, no problem.

"Just read the book, Mom. This is different."

So I read Waking the Tiger, by Peter Levine who developed SE after studying how animals in the wild deal with trauma. The concept fascinated me. I searched for a Somatic Experiencing practitioner in my city. There were two and I made an appointment with the one nearest my office.

Seated in the plush reception area, I flipped unconsciously through Vogue while thinking: Please don't comment on my appearance. I wanted someone to see beyond the wrapping into the turmoil it masked, but the wrapping was my protection. When she walked in, red lipstick and coiffed blond hair, I was uneasy. Can a mask sense a mask? "Cute shoes!" she said. I suppressed a violent urge to throw them at her and run.

The magic of qigong continued to restore balance within but I knew I'd come to a critical juncture and needed more. The following week I booked with the other therapist. A harrowing snarl of freeway marked the 60 minute drive to an address on the far side of the city. Parking was non-existent. I found a spot six blocks away, plugged the meter with as many quarters as I had, and hurried. I hated being late.

An Asian woman stepped through a door to greet me... an Asian woman with long black hair. "I'm Thea," she said. "Please take off your shoes."


Calm radiated from her like heat. "Put your chair wherever you feel comfortable. We'll sit there." The room was volume and light. Wood floors glowed. High windows streamed golden shafts of sun.

"Any place is fine," I said, wondering why it mattered.

"Your body knows where it wants to be. Just listen."

And so it was. Each week I couldn't wait to navigate the gnarly drive, find parking, and enter the realm of Thea. I called my daughter and sobbed gratitude, "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" She knew what I meant.

Under Thea's care, years of trauma left my body and I began to feel safe. I may not have found that 2% part of me without her. It had been missing for a very long time. Then one day she cut me loose. "You're fine," she said, and I knew she was right.

There were other aids, like writing and yoga that were (and still are) essential to the process of slowing down and unlearning destructive behaviors. I'm grateful for all of them. Over time they turned my life inside-out. I quit real-estate, retired, sold everything I owned, and moved to the other side of the world. Here I write, meditate, daydream, and write some more. My blood pressure is normal. My heart tangos with happiness, not arrhythmia, and my mind takes brief excursions to the wild side, but I let it go. Now it knows the way back.