Just over a year ago, I found myself pantomiming the stomach bug to a sympathetic but non-English speaking pharmacist in the Tokyo airport en route from Hong Kong to Atlanta. So thankful was I upon receiving a box of medicinal powder packets covered in Japanese and a cartoon of kids playing soccer (Note to self: revisit pantomiming skills.) that I was confident I could make the remaining 15 hour flight without a hitch. If only. Thus began my first visit home to the fam since the new year and serious health wake-up call.
It only got worse, and soon enough I was getting poked and prodded after not being able to eat for a full week – and after looking forward to good Mexican food for months. “Maybe your stomach doesn’t digest properly,” said one specialist. So I bellied up to the lab at 7 a.m. the next morning where a lab tech served me – totally not kidding here – scrambled eggs with radiation mixed in, while I made jokes about this being a faster route to glowing skin than a facial. This was followed by lying there for an hour while we all watched my stomach go to town on them, my breakfast glowing green from within on an overhead monitor. The result? A bizarre anecdote but no diagnosis.
“Maybe you have an ulcer.” So my next stop was a decades-premature endoscopy and colonoscopy. Don’t you just love a good summer vacation? The youngest patient in the prep room by 25 years, I was pretty sure this avenue at my age was one of no good. Best sleep of my life, sure, and a laugh when I woke up still loopy to yell through the sheet divider to a fellow patient, “Oh my god, you will so love it. Best. Sleep. Ever!” Then the doctor comes in. She starts out my telling my mom (you know, you have to have someone sign you out after anesthesia, and the hubs was in Hong Kong. Surely a missed moment of marital bonding.), “Elizabeth may not remember this later, but we removed two precancerous colon polyps and found the makings of a stomach ulcer. This can be due to stress, especially seeing these symptoms at such a young age.” Still reeling from Michael Jackson’s favorite anesthetic, I start crying, and manage, “Can’t I just *sob*quit my job and *sob* become a yoga teacher?” I can count on one hand the number of yoga classes I’d taken that year as self-care had been bumped to sleeping on the couch of my priority list. It was a sign.
I’m all healthy now after a serious talking-to about stress management by my doctors and a stunning reminder that if you don’t slow down, your body will do so for you. My first stop back in Hong Kong? A yoga studio membership, later a yoga teacher training and now an all-out yoga love affair in an attempt at work/life balance, sanity and perspective. I also exhibited remarkable professional restraint by giving up one of two work BlackBerrys, not taking them with me to the gym or bed (“But something might happen!” Yeah, it didn’t.), trying to limit the number of after-hours conference calls across time zones and treating yoga like a non-negotiable work meeting. A meeting with the biggest client of my life: my soul, my body, myself.
While I didn’t quit my job, I did become a yoga teacher. And I did get the universe’s memo that my mind, body and soul were suffering from my lack of boundaries, balance and self-nurturing. I tap into this experience on a regular basis when needing perspective, and as a reminder that the often self-induced stress, worry and perfection-seeking isn’t productive and certainly isn’t worth my health. A final lesson gleaned from this experience was realizing the importance of listening to my body. I’m so grateful that I got sick and had the opportunity for preventative care, but perhaps it was because I didn’t listen early on. First the body whispers. You never, ever want it to have to shout.
Oh, and I’ll definitely share the recipe for Radioactive Scrambled Eggs just as soon as the lab tech writes me back.