Greetings! It’s been awhile since my last post and I have important news to share.
For starters, I am writing from Knik, Alaska. Knik is a small community located about an hour north of Anchorage. Our family is settled in here for an undetermined amount of time. Simply put, we are on sabbatical.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the last month constructing this post because there is a lot to tell in order to explain how we got here. 2017 proved to be a pivotal year for me personally and the lessons I learned from the experience I wish to share in this post. Jeremy also had an event filled year and the combination of both of our experiences culminated in an unexpected turn for our family.
The best way I can describe where Jeremy and I have found ourselves these days is in the space between stories.
“In between the old and the new, there is an empty space. It is the time when the lessons and learnings of the old story are integrated.” Charles Eisenstein (1)
I like to call this space The Pause.
So, Where is The Pause?
The Pause is integral to the natural rhythms of our daily life, our week and our year – our entire experience from birth to death. In each and every breath, there is a pause, a brief space between the action of the inhale and the release of the exhale, a stillness between gathering and letting go where action ceases and you do nothing more than just be. The wisdom of the pause is in each and every breath you take.
I did not understand this principle until very recently but the more I roll the idea around in my mind, the more I see evidence of it woven into the fabric of our everyday lives. The Pause is a space where we can experience transformation, connection and appreciation. It is an invitation to get to know ourselves.
Culturally, we created traditions around these pivotal moments in our lives. For instance, the hinge point in our day happens when we take our evening meal. Many people still value dinner as a vital element of family life. We come together at the end of our active days to connect with one another before moving into the release and the rest of our evenings. In some families, we say grace. Expressing gratitude for our sustenance, our family, our community, and our spirituality has been an integral part of our human experience for a very long time and for a very good reason. Regardless of whether we say grace or not, connecting regularly with our families at the evening meal helps our children orient themselves in a more healthy way.
The Chinese have a season of the year for The Pause. In the hinge time between the birth and growth of spring and summer and the decay and death of autumn and winter, there is a pause called late summer. In this season, the garden reaches its full potential, becoming abundant with bloom and ripe with the fruits of our labor. In this space between growth and decay we are invited to pause and appreciate what is. It is an invitation to integrate the lessons from having lived into our sense of self and move forward. These lessons are the fruits of our labor.
So what happens when we don’t appreciate the fruits of our labor?
When we don’t take this opportunity, we still move forward, but life reflects a lack of nourishment and we feel it more and more as the years roll by. We feel it as dissatisfaction, regret, pain, loneliness and, in the worse case scenario, despair. Not all is lost however, for at this lowest emotional point you possess the greatest potential for deep healing.
How do I know this? Because I lived it.
My Journey into The Pause.
I had been struggling for years. Pain, fatigue, inflammation, allergies, metabolic disorder and asthma were piling up, one on top of another, and sucking the joy out of my day to day experience. I was helplessly watching my hard earned physical abilities slip away. I wanted to maintain the physical lifestyle I had grown accustomed to. I wanted to enjoy outdoor pursuits with my family. I wanted to live many long years to watch my boys grow into men and follow their dreams. I wanted my life back.
But it was getting to the point where there was no such thing as a symptom-free day. When you get to this point without knowing why, you begin to wonder how many years you’ve got left. It feels as if the life is slowly draining out of you – a leaky tire with no obvious hole.
I tried to keep a good attitude. Most days I felt certain that if I just kept working the problem I would find the solution and get my life back. There were days, however, that I slipped into depressing and fearful thoughts that, not only would I never get better, I may only get worse. As the years ticked by with my symptoms waxing and waning without rhyme or reason, I began feeling more and more helpless and my search became more intense.
I spent countless hours researching everything I could about my symptoms, about chronic illness and what other people in my situation were doing about it. I worked with several different practitioners and dedicated myself to numerous dietary and supplemental regimens which provided temporary relief and no answer to the vexing question always on my mind….what the heck is wrong with me?
This is when I first learned about functional medicine. One of the main tenants of functional medicine is uncovering root causes of illness in order to treat at the foundation of the problem rather than treating the symptoms themselves. I read many testimonials from patients like me finally making progress with functional medicine doctors so I decided to go this route.
I knew I was in a whole new ballpark by the admission paperwork alone; it took me many hours over several days to fill it out and I immediately saw the value in this effort. This new doctor wanted to know EVERYTHING, including my attitudes about health and healing. He spent two hours with me in our initial visit after which I had more vials of blood drawn from my arm than I care to think about. We were going to look under as many stones as seemed fruitful. Luckily, this search paid off.
The first piece of concerning news was that I tested positive for Hashimotos, an autoimmune condition of the thyroid. I was not completely surprised. Based on my symptoms and family history I suspected a thyroid disorder was a good possibility.
What completely threw me off guard was the presence of antibodies to Lyme disease. I do not know when I picked it up or how long I have carried it, but based on the symptoms, a decade or more seems likely. When you do not treat Lyme in the acute phase, you can develop chronic Lyme, presumably for life.
Autoimmune disease and chronic Lyme are both considered incurable. This was the last thing I wanted to hear. The perpetrators were identified but I had no promise of winning my battle, only the possibility of management. I was facing a new reality, a new story, and suddenly, somehow, instinct was telling me to give in. Unknowingly and unintentionally, I entered the empty space between my old story of control and struggle and a new possibility of acceptance and release.
In this space I learned to let go. In this space I learned to accept things as they were. In this space I was willing to reevaluate a belief system which created the habits that ran my life. In this space I began to see how the preconceived notions and ideas I carried into my homesteading life were incongruent with the reality on the ground. I became able to recognize that how I was living was not serving me. I was pushing through, head down, trying to force life into my preconceived notions of how it should be. Worse than that, I was trying to shape myself into preconceived notions of who I should be. I was wearing myself thin trying to fit square pegs into round holes. In this paradigm I could never be enough.
Dropping the B.S.
“Knowing others is to be clever.
Knowing yourself is to be enlightened.
Overcoming others requires force.
Overcoming yourself requires strength.
To know that you have enough is to be rich.
Push through and you may get your way, but return home and you will endure.
Live out your days and you have had a long life.”
Hashimotos and Lyme, it turned out, were not the root cause behind my illness. In my pause I was able to see how my old habits and an incongruent belief system were the deeper source of what ailed me. I did not need to overcome disease, I needed to overcome myself. Attempting to overcome disease is pushing through; overcoming yourself requires the strength to let go. Letting go requires returning home. To return home is to embrace The Pause, appreciate who you are and realize you are enough.
By wearing myself thin I became susceptible to disease. The resulting ailments were messengers I had set out to conquer without first reading the memo.
My memo said something like this: “Yo! Allie! (I use exclamation points here to indicate yelling because the longer you ignore the memos the louder they get.) “Give yourself a break!!!!!! Be kinder to yourself. Don’t push so hard. Stop trying to jam square pegs into round holes!” It took a long time and a lot of suffering for this message to finally reach me, but reach me it did and for that I am very thankful.
To thank the messengers rather than wage war against them can allow for the most profound healing. By shifting the illness perspective from one of victimization (disease is happening to me) to one of personal responsibility (my choices make me susceptible), I put the power back in my hands to change my situation.
“Returning to the space between stories, we can choose from freedom and not from habit.”
When we embrace The Pause, we allow ourselves to re-evaluate our stories. When we re-evaluate our stories, we can re-evaluate our belief systems. When we release the b.s., we can change our perspective and when we shift our perspective, we can change our stories. The first step is always awareness and awareness is the essence of The Pause.
It was time for me to stop trying to get somewhere and just embrace the place I found myself in.
So what did that look like?
In this place I succumbed to fatigue and I slept…a lot!
This place was also thick with despair. Even though I had been experiencing relatively mild depression for some time, it was not until I received my diagnosis that I plummeted. Accepting my fatigue, accepting my pain, accepting my diagnosis and, hardest of all, accepting my depression, allowed all of those things to crash down on me at once. This was when I felt despair. Despair is a scary feeling and, when you are alone, I imagine it can feel unbearable.
Luckily I was not alone.
Not even close.
Sadly, you can have people around you and still feel very much alone. If the people in your life are struggling with their own discomfort around your suffering, you will feel alone. Some people, however, can gracefully hold space with suffering and, as luck would have it, Jeremy is one of those people. I feel immense gratitude for the strength he brought to the table.
Relief at Last.
All through February, I functioned at less than half my normal capacity. By the end of the month we were to begin filming season four of the Edge of Alaska. Jeremy, with a lot of Bjorn’s help, ran the farm and worked many long hours on the show. Not only was Jeremy capable of further taking up the slack I inevitably left behind, he also comprehended the value of encouraging me to give in to whatever my body was asking of me. If that required spending the entire day in bed, so be it. “The boys and I will be just fine,” he told me. And you know what? He was right. Ironically, it’s when mothers don’t allow themselves to unravel that our children ultimately pay the price. We cannot be our best selves for them if we are not whole and well.
Luckily I did not need to spend whole days in bed but by allowing myself to crash for two or three hours every other afternoon or so, I quickly made progress. I rested and followed the protocol prescribed by my doctor. Symptoms diminished and my energy started to return. A good part of that initial progress had a lot to do with Jeremy’s support.
By March my health was beginning to rebound and I was gaining back energy. By mid-summer I was mountain biking with the boys around the neighborhood. These short jaunts always needed to be repaid with a long nap but I’d learned to love the jaunts and the naps equally with no judgement. I may never return to my previous capabilities and I’ve learned to be okay with that. It doesn’t mean I don’t work towards this goal, but I do so without the emotional strain of clinging to the outcome.
It was just about this time in my healing process that life was getting a little more complicated for Jeremy. While I was intentionally practicing the art of letting go, Jeremy was about to be thrown into it.
Jeremy’s long time friend and dog mushing mentor, Ken, was reaching the end of his life and Jeremy began frequently driving 600 miles round trip to Knik to see him as often as he could.
He met Ken not long after moving to Alaska nearly 30 years ago. Jeremy had just discovered the world of dog mushing when he met Ken out on the trails. Not long after that, Jeremy took a dog handler’s position with Ken and moved into a small, one-room cabin on Ken’s property that Jeremy aptly named the Mush-room.
Ken had a talent for breeding and training world class racing dogs and Jeremy quickly discovered a new passion working with these animals. Ken shared his wealth of knowledge and Jeremy eagerly applied this knowledge in countless hours working with both Ken’s dogs and eventually his own. Over the years, Ken and Jeremy became very close friends.
Now, with Ken’s life slowly fading, Jeremy made several trips to be with him and to hold space with Ken in his suffering. Ken passed away in July and Jeremy continued to drive to Knik to help Ken’s grieving partner deal with the property he left behind. She had no interest in staying in Alaska and needed to put the house on the market.
Ken’s property was his life’s work. He’d built his home, a handler’s cabin and raised and trained sled dogs from his yard. His whole life was infused in the place. The handler’s cabin had served as Jeremy’s first home in Alaska, and although he came and went from Ken’s regularly over the next decade, he maintained a connection to the place up until he moved to McCarthy.
A very small amount of rational thought and a heap load of sentimentality went into our decision to purchase the place. It was not our intention to move there but to eventually fix up the main house and rent it as a means to pay for it. The Mush-room, which Ken had expanded into a one bedroom cottage, would serve as a place for us to utilize when we traveled to the Anchorage area for supplies.
It was right around this time that fate played its hand. Okay, maybe it was Discovery who did that. We found out the tv show had been cancelled.
Jeremy truly enjoyed being a part of the Edge of Alaska production and the cancellation was definitely a disappointment. Yet, at the same time, we both saw this as an opening to something new. We just weren’t sure what that was. In truth, we are still feeling that out.
For the first time in our marriage we entered into a pause together. We looked back at our 14 years of remote homestead living, our struggles and accomplishments and the space we suddenly found ourselves in. We were at a hinge point in our personal lives and our homestead life and we recognized the wisdom in following the course that was opening before us, rather than putting our heads down and pushing through.
We now had a second home just large enough to accommodate our small farm and we needed to turn it into an income source to be able to pay for it. We had often talked over the past two years about spending a chunk of time nearer to a town to allow the boys to partake in sports or other interests. I still have healing to do, some of which could be supported with greater access to health care providers. Jeremy, after a long year of holding space for other people, just needed a breather. All signs were pointing in the same direction. It was time to take what I’ve decided to call a sabbatical.
Just before Christmas we packed up our animals and some personal belongings and moved into Jeremy’s old bachelor pad, the Mush-room.
The Passing of the Torch.
I have never really witnessed Jeremy experience grief until we moved here. Sorting through Ken’s personal things, Jeremy was touched by nostalgia and grief. It gave me an opportunity to hold space with him as he moved through the experience of a deep loss. “There will never be another friendship in my life like Ken’s,” he told me.
As we were settling into Knik and accepting this new chapter in our story, something magical was brewing. Through word of mouth alone we had secured our first renters. Two teenage Iditarod racers from the lower 48 booked with us for the upcoming Junior Iditarod. In addition to providing housing for the racers and their dog teams, Jeremy made himself available. Jeremy is always eager to share his knowledge and passion for dog sledding and these two young mushers were glad to be on the receiving end. It was a joy to hear him mentoring over the phone.
With the passing of Ken from Jeremy’s life, Jeremy could see himself moving into the role Ken once played for him, a sort of passing of the torch. The timing is sweet; we have two young boys eager to build a new dog team with their father. I can think of no better way to honor Ken’s spirit than to bring the passion for dogs back to life in his home and pass his hard earned knowledge forward for those who wish to receive it.
It required stepping out of our old story to catch the whispering of this new possibility.
Life in Knik is a huge departure from life on the Nizina homestead. There are elements of living on the grid we are thoroughly enjoying (hot, running water for instance) and there are elements of remote homestead living we dearly miss. I cannot say with certainty what’s next, only that we are currently in the space between stories.
This does not mean we are taking a break from life. We are still busy farming, parenting and earning a living. It is our intention to travel back to the Nizina as time and expenses permit to continue to make progress on the farmstead infrastructure and, when the time is right, we suspect we will return to our homestead on the edge. In the meantime, we are allowing for a new story to unfold. I look forward to writing more about the old story, for there is much to share, as well as keep you posted from The Pause.
Best wishes to you for the new year….may you make it an awesome story.
With autoimmune disease and other chronic illnesses on the rise, there’s a good chance you or someone you know is struggling with a chronic, undiagnosed condition. If you’re interested in learning more about functional medicine and/or mind-body medicine, here are some resources I highly recommend:
Functional Medicine Institute – Learn more about functional medicine and find a practioner.
Healthwise Clinical Nutrition – Dr. Flannery is an amazing practitioner. He and his staff, in addition to providing excellent care, maintain this very informative website with regular, up-to-date articles on their Health Blog.
Autoimmune and other chronic conditions require lifestyle changes which are challenging because we all get comfortable in our old ways of being and resist change. Luckily there are tools to assist in this process. Here are some of my favorite websites for assistance:
Autoimmune Wellness – Mickey Trescott and Angie Alt are the co-authors of this great blog about living a healing lifestyle with an autoimmune disease. They each have personal stories with autoimmunity which are worth a read. They also provide success stories from their readers. Being inspired by other people’s stories goes a long way in the healing process. This is also my favorite website for awesome autoimmune protocol recipes.
Lyme Less Live More – A good resource for learning more about living with Lyme.
Tapping – last year, having just learned about tapping, I signed up to listen to The Tapping World Summit produced by Nick and Jessica Ortner. I found the experience so helpful I purchased the talks so I could continue to use them as part of my treatment plan. The next summit is coming up in February, it’s free to listen and well worth the time.
Mind Body Medicine – One of the physicians I discovered through the Tapping Summit was Dr Kim D’Earmo. I immediately bought her book, watched her videos and put her tools into practice. This was a game changer for me and my favorite go to resource. I highly recommend her book, The Mind Body Toolkit. You can get it in print from Amazon or an ebook package with video and audio from Dr. Kim’s website.
1. Non-Doing: The Space Between the Old and the New, by Charles Eisenstein
2. The Tao Te Ching, translation by Tolbert McCarroll.
Box of cards
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