Tag Archives: soul

What Does It Mean To Feel Alive?

For our first small group session, we did an active listening exercise where we described a moment where we felt most alive. Mine was about a morning in Jamaica, the summer of 2011, where I and a few friends got up early to swim. The sun wasn’t scorching yet, and the water was just cool enough to be refreshing. I floated on my back, eyes closed. The last few years had been extremely rough. My soul felt like a raw piece of meat that had been beat with a mallet. It felt like my body and mind were set against me, determined to kill me.

Some people feel most alive when their adrenaline levels are high, but I’m the opposite. For me, high adrenaline levels mean I’m afraid, that I’m in danger. There’s a theory about anxiety that it was biologically important back in the days when life was really dangerous, when we lived without much shelter and death by wild animal was common. That anxiety kept us alive and told us to run when we encountered danger. Now, however, most of us don’t need that much anxiety. I certainly don’t – I’m not in a bad area, I’m pretty much white-passing, and I’m not being hunted by animals. That adrenaline/anxiety sparked up at every little thing, and told my body that sitting in class was a life-or-death situation. I didn’t feel “alive” in those moments, because I wanted the feeling to stop.  I wanted to shut it off. I wanted to be dead, because at least then I could have peace and quiet.

Floating in the ocean, my ears beneath the waves so the only sound was my own breathing, felt like being alive. I felt whole, my mind and body not fighting. It was sort of weird, too, because I also felt disembodied at the same time. That felt like freedom, like I had found a way to escape the chaos of the physical, and just be. Recapturing that is not easy. The closest I get is when I can’t sleep at night, and I lie down in Baxter’s room. It’s the coolest room. The sleeping bag is slippery, and feels a little like water. The only sound is faint rustling. After a half hour or so, I feel calm again, pieced back together, and I can go back to bed and fall asleep.

What this taught me is that my soul is connected to the ocean. Whenever we go to the coast, I know that I could live by it forever. When I’ve visited deserts, like New Mexico, I feel off-kilter, like something is missing. The ocean has its rhythms, like a pair of lungs, and follows the moon. It’s steady, but also not predictable. It’s totally, completely alive. 

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Food to the Body, Food for the Soul

ImageI have a confusing relationship with food. I love it, but it doesn’t always love me. I can’t eat red meat more than once a week or I start getting chest pains, foods high in fat or oil make me sick, and artificial sweeteners give me terrible stomach cramps and insanely itchy skin. It’s unfortunate for a person who loves hamburgers, onion rings, and the new Sparkling Ice drinks.

So I’ve had to adapt. I eat mostly chicken, wheat bread, yogurt, and cereal. I loooooove cereal. I would eat it for every meal if I could.

I haven’t always been so methodical about food. When I first went on medication, my appetite was suppressed. All food tasted like ash. It took a lot of focus to eat and to eat anything besides sweets. My body had grown silent and refused to tell me when it was hungry and what it needed. After several medication changes and six years, it has awoken and although it’s a little more sensitive than before, we essentially understand each other.

Now that I’m married and primarily responsible for making the food (Chris is the dishwasher), the new challenge is summoning up the energy to think of and prepare meals. If it was just me, I would eat an assortment of random things for a meal (vegetables and dressing, toast with an egg, etc), because it takes focus and time to put together a coherent dish. However, it’s not just me. It’s me and a 26-year old man who can eat a whole pizza by himself and was raised on the hearty meals of the southern Midwest. He needs food.

It’s weird to think about the appetite of another person. Sometimes it’s really stressful. If I’ve had a particularly bad day and haven’t been able to move a frozen chicken breast to the fridge because I’ve been asleep all day, I worry about what Chris is going to eat. Even though he is perfectly happy with his meal, I don’t like seeing him making three peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when I had planned on coconut chicken and rice. Other days, it’s extremely fulfilling. I’ll pull myself together and make an inspired sloppy Joe recipe with brown sugar, zesty Italian dressing, and chili powder, and watching Chris eat three of them is food for my soul. I never thought I would take pleasure from cooking; I even rebelled against the idea because it sounded too close to submitting to a life of “a woman’s place is in the kitchen.” In practice, it’s not about that though. Chris loves food and so to be able to make something he likes makes me feel good about myself. It’s also a tangible accomplishment during a day that otherwise seemed pretty pointless.