Monday, July 18, 2016

Badass Women: Anika

Perhaps my favorite thing about being a yoga blogger is that it connects me with so many wonderful people all around the world. 

I'm lucky that I got the chance to meet Anika, our next lovely lady in the Badass Women series, through a series of emails that immediately clued me in to how thoughtful, strong, and smart she is.

Anika lives in Washington state, practices Hatha yoga, and is dedicated to her practice and to sharing her story on her blog, Chronic Yogi. She is a total badass and she is changing the world through her beautiful, honest, courageous voice! Anika blogs about her life with Lyme disease, discussing her chronic illness in a way that helps people connect to, rather than feel alienated from, their bodies and spirits. I'm incredibly grateful for her presence in the world of yoga blogs, and personally inspired by her story.

Badass Women: Anika

What sorts of things do you do to connect in with your inner goddess and warrior woman energy?

I live with Chronic Lyme, which is really tough condition! For me it looks like some combination of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and chemical sensitivities. 

My capacities vary widely: sometimes I can cycle and hike, sometimes I need help getting to the bathroom and back or getting covers over my feet (and just about anything in between). 

Having a yoga practice through this means that I cannot strive to a next level or even know, in the morning, what kind of practice I can do in the evening. It means that I have to see what movement is going to support my body and its healing in the moment of my practice: is it an active standing practice, is it a slow practice that allows gravity to release pain and stiffness, or it is simply using a bolster to support the opening of my breath and release of tension? 

Being present with what supports where I actually am in my body on a given day supports my ability to connect to my chronic illness warrior self and finding the capacity for self-love. 

Connecting with other people with chronic illnesses is a huge source of strength for me. This January I ran an eight-week program called Living Chronically, a group for people living with a chronic condition—pain, disability, illness. When living with chronic pain, it’s easy to become isolated and easier still to then feel as if we’re doing something wrong and judge ourselves for not accomplishing everything we would if health issues were not a barrier. 

When spending time with other folks with chronic illnesses and exploring our relationships to aspects of ourselves as whole people—spirituality, sexuality, community—I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the inner strength and badassedness of the people around me. This community reminds me to hold myself in this light as well. When I’m in too much pain to live my life as I wish, when I have to cancel activities I was looking forward to, I am reminded that I share the struggle with kickass friends. 

Our pain is not our fault; our fortitude is to our credit. 

This sense of shared struggle is part of why I have my blog, the Chronic Yogi: On Being a Chronic Illness Healing Badass. I have had folks contact me to let me know that because of a post on relationships and chronic illness someone has been able to revision what they bring to a partnership as someone with disabilities, or that a post on triggers has helped a person stop blaming themselves for changes in friendship networks that they have experienced since getting sick. This feedback inspires me to keep working to shift cultures in which people with chronic illnesses often end up isolated from community. Pretty badass. 

What has shaped your journey to this point in your life?

There are so many things. Being a survivor, I’ve had to work to develop a sense of connection to myself and sense of safety inside my own skin. My yoga practice has been a huge part of this! Being queer has been so valuable to this work. It has given me access to vibrant counter-cultures that celebrate a wide range of having a body—fat bodies, hairy bodies—and different ways of communicating around intimacy and sexuality that does not make assumptions about what works for everyone. 

Having Chronic Lyme has been such a challenge to this work! Since the condition is not recognized by the CDC and treatment is not covered, I have had to spend a lot of time and energy living with intense pain and distress while facing not being believed by health care professionals. This has brought up so much hard history and been such a source of struggle. Holding a PhD in Gender Studies has helped me to be able to research, push back, and continue to seek adequate care and treatment for my health as well as advocating for and supporting others with Chronic Lyme (or those with conditions such as Fibromyalgia, MS, Chronic Fatigue, Chemical Sensitivities and other illnesses that often have symptoms that are the result of un-diagnosed Lyme disease). 

What practices help you stay grounded and help you rejuvenate?

Being in nonstop pain is freaking rough. It takes so much energy to keep getting through the day and keep striving to get well. It’s easy to focus on my body as a problem to be solved. My yoga practice helps me to make a space where I can experience a sense of home in my body. I write more about this here and here.

I have been trying to develop a practice of cultivating small, everyday pleasures. Finding moments to go to the ocean and watch the waves, appreciate eating raspberries off the vine, or sit and have tea with a friend. These moments, however small, can rejuvenate my energy and commitment to working through pain. 

What would you tell a woman who needs help tapping in to her inner strength?

I think many women, in many circumstances, need to hear, “This is not your fault” and, “You are not alone.”

So often women are made responsible for circumstances they did not choose—from bring abused to getting a chronic illness—and are asked to examine how their own actions caused their pain. To women facing this, I want to stress, “This is not your fault.” You can and will heal but this is not your fault. You did not cause the pain you are in and you do not to be worn down through examining what you could have done differently to avoid it. 

When we feel we are to blame, it is easy to feel alone in our pain and struggle. We believe our struggle to be separate from the cultural conditions that make it possible for our pain to play out the way it does. But you are not alone. There are others who face the pain you face and whose struggles are similar to yours. You are not alone. 

Where will you go from here? Any badass plans for 2016?

I will continue to develop the Chronic Yogi as a blog through this year. Often folks living with chronic pain, illness, and disabilities face mental fog that makes long reading too laborious. I am committed to writing the Chronic Yogi blog in short, accessibly written pieces. Over time, I plan to publish a Chronic Yogi book, keeping the commitment to accessible writing and chapter breakdowns. 

I first started Living Chronically as part of my work as a UU Director of Lifelong Learning. When talking with people in the role of a director, I learned that many folks with disabilities and pain talked about not being “as much” a part of the community due to limited energy or not being able to contribute to committee work or the financial life of the organization as much as they would like. 

Living Chronically was different from a support group in a medical context. It was led by and for those with chronic illness, with the goal of facilitating as sense of belonging and membership in a larger community, rather than with the goal of imparting new skills or beliefs. This year I will also be applying for grants to further develop the Living Chronically series, piloting the format in a variety of community settings. This project will also lead to publishing a curriculum and facilitation guide to support different communities forming their own groups… which would support larger networks of badasses! 

A heartfelt Namaste to you, Anika, as you continue to walk your path and share your story!

PS Meet more badass women: Megan, Lauren, and Summer.

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