Unbecoming – My Journey to Freedom

Posted on February 7, 2020

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In 2019, one of the books I loved listening to on Audible was Michelle Obama’s, “Becoming”. This post is an homage to that beautiful journey.

It has been exactly a year since I posted to my blog. I have heard from a few people over email, checking in to see if I was okay. I am. I am more than okay. I am happy and thriving. Here is an update – a warning, it’s long and detailed. LOL.

2019 was a phenomenal year of unbecoming for me. I underwent the 200-hr Yoga Teacher Training program at Poweryoga Canada. It was four months of being on an emotional roller coaster. The program challenged my notions of who I am.

Who am I? Who are we all? We are carefully crafted personas. We absorb the world around us and create our identities in response to what we think is acceptable and will bring us happiness. Since my teens, I identified as a teen caregiver to her mother who had Young Onset Alzheimer’s. I always knew about the genetic risk. You see, my family has had people impacted across three generations that we know of – all in their 40s and 50s. My teens were spent as a carer, my 20s recovering from the trauma and my 30s is when the reality of being at-risk began to sink in. But Alzheimer’s or other health challenges don’t happen in a vacuum.

In my 20s, I became a social worker. In my 30s, I became a wife and an immigrant. With that, the identity of a woman of colour, a minority got attached to me – I didn’t choose it. But my experiences made me identify with it. When I moved to Canada, I landed my dream job of working at a local Alzheimer’s organization. I got to specialize in designing and scaling programs for people living with Young Onset Dementia – DREAM JOB – SCORE. And that became a huge part of my identity. “I am a social worker with a specialization in young-onset dementia.” It brought me immense joy and satisfaction.

In my mid-30s, I came (back) to yoga and in my late 30s, I came (back) to Vipassana meditation. Somewhere along the way, I identified as someone who has experienced depression, anxiety, trauma, and rage. I can’t pinpoint when it was exactly, but I became a woman who chose not to have kids. I became a lot of things. Some I chose. Some I didn’t.

In 2017, at the peak of my career, I began to develop what some may call anxiety – I was having panic attacks. It may seem like the nature of the heavy work or the work culture may have something to do with it. Yet, knowing what I know now, it was the beginning of my unbecoming. I quit my job in November 2017. That same day, I signed up for the Vipassana retreat in February 2018.

In February of 2018, I went to my second Vipassana retreat, after a gap of 11 years. I had gone the first time in 2007. I had such a hard time during that first retreat and when I came back, I had an intense experience with chronic body ache which never really went away. So I stopped meditating. I had spent the year journalling regularly in 2017. I had developed a deep connection with my inner voice and something told me it was time to go back.

After my Vipassana retreat in Feb 2018, I had committed to meditating daily. And I have been. On January 31st, 2020, I completed two years of daily meditation practice. In 2018, I began with a goal of meditating at least 30 minutes every single day. And I did. In 2019, my goal was to meditate 60 minutes / 1 hour every single day, and I more or less did! In November – December 2019, I went back for my third Vipassana retreat. This time I committed to meditating 2-hours daily – the recommended daily practice by the global Vipassana organization. I have been able to do this quite easily. I completed 60 days of the 2-hour practice on Feb 5th, 2020.

In 2017, when I quit my dream job, I had only expected to reduce my work hours – I had expected to work part-time and pursue other things – things I love. In August 2018, I joined the Huntington Society in an attempt to take my specialization in Younger Onset Neurocognitive Degenerative Diseases to the next level. And I did. Huntington Disease is a genetic neurological condition that impacts people between the ages of 35-55. I got to work on the genetic component with younger people – deciding on genetic testing, processing the results of testing, or living at-risk for a condition that threatens every aspect of what we call “The Self”.

In Alzheimer’s circles, genetic Young Onset Dementia is just a statistic – less than 2% – 5% cases are genetic – I remember telling people, helping them calm down their anxiety. But it also felt a bit like denying my own existence. The acceptance and validation of my personal risk in the Huntington circles filled a deep need within me.

The daily meditation was doing its own thing inside me as well. My issues with mental health and chronic pain started getting resolved. Anxiety and depression became “small things” that I coped with by breathing deeply or taking rest. In April – June 2019, I participated in an 8-week group on Mindfulness Self-Compassion. This immersive course in learning to be kind to myself was incredibly empowering. I could radically accept every aspect of me and bring love and tenderness to those experiences.

By the time summer approached, I grew restless in a different way. The job that I enjoyed thoroughly began to drain me in a different way. The despondency around the disease was exhausting. Don’t get me wrong, it is natural and 100% justified. Yet for me, my work and spiritual practice had proven to me that just because some aspects of a person change, doesn’t mean life is over or that they have forever changed.

For 25 years, I have thumped my chest and proclaimed that dementia changed my mom. She was not who she used to be! What exactly did I mean by this? I meant that her mood changed, her physical and cognitive capacities changed. Yet, having experienced deep rage I know that that was not the full picture of who I was. So, how could someone change intrinsically just because of how they appear to others changes?

All decisions in my life have been impacted by the high genetic load of dementia in my life! What I chose to do for work, whom I married, whether or not I would have kids. All as a reaction to trauma and fear.

During the Yoga Teacher Training, my teacher Kinndli, asked us, “What happened and how old were you?” This was a question she asked us repeatedly. And I realized that I was operating from my child ego state. What this means is that I am responding to current situations with coping patterns I had as a child. You would think that as a social worker I would have figured this out myself. And as I write this, an element of shame comes up. Yet, knowing what I know now, I proceed with compassion and validation.

Yes, I knew about ego states because of my education and there was a time in my life where I did the work of constantly observing my responses, and it helped greatly. But this work is exhausting. When things got busy or chaotic, I did not continue with it. I also feel that prioritizing the meditation helped to bring these things back to the surface. I focussed entirely on reparenting myself – acceptance, validation, compassion for the littlest and the biggest things and slowly things began to shift.

I seem to be closing a lot of circles. It cannot be a coincidence. I did not plan it this way. For instance, on November 26th 2019, I entered the third Vipassana retreat. It was the second anniversary of me quitting my dream job. The day I emerged from the retreat, December 8th 2019, was the 19th anniversary of my suicide attempt.

When I went to the Vipassana retreat in Nov-Dec 2019, I had thought I would come out feeling reinvigorated by the break and time to reflect. But work continued to not excite me. It continued to feel like a burden. I made the decision to quit my job by early January – after giving myself an entire month with the daily 2-hour practice to see if it helped shift anything.

Coming back to Kinndli’s question, I zoomed on to who was I before all this shit happened. Before I wanted to create a world without Alzheimer’s, who was I? I was a little girl with a journal and pen, writing down her feelings, experiences, and learnings. I have been writing since I was 11 years old. I want to write. A book. Many books. I am being called to it. While writing saved my life, there was a time I believed the limiting thoughts in my head. I believed writing was hard. I did not have ideas. Today, I am consumed by ideas for this book, and other books and more books.

January 31st 2019, was my last day at work as a “social worker with a specialization in young-onset dementia”.  I hope to write books as a second career. My at-risk status for Young Onset Alzheimer’s is more of a blessing today. It has helped me open my spiritual eyes – to what is important and grounding me in the present. I live with joy and gratitude. Each day I feel a new layer peeling away and being able to see truly what divinity means. Don’t get me wrong, I still fight with my husband and get annoyed with my friends and family. The intensity and frequency and the passion of these are diminishing. From a person who felt the world was a cruel place, I now view the universe as a friendly place with abundance for all.

I am so grateful to Sid for believing in me and being the best friend anyone could ever have. We made this decision together and for both of us.

Screenshot_20200105-183600_InstagramI took a break from this blog last year as I started writing my book. I was pouring all my ideas into my journal. I was writing. Furiously. Just not here. I tried my best to complete my book and then quit my job. But I realized I had to break up with pain to truly believe the words I was writing. I had to give up the narrative of time being short for me. I had to give up my identity of trauma and tragedy. I had to simply just be. This is a huge risk and the child in me is scared. But I hold her each day and whisper to her, “You are enough! You are creative. You can do this.”

I remind her of the words in the Bhagwad Gita that my mom introduced me to (or wait, was it the Mahabharat series title song that led her to explain it to me):

“Karmanye Vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana”

“You have every right to work but not expecting fruits out of it.

Do not focus on the fruits and never be inactive.”

 

All of this and more in my book. 20-20: The Year of Reinventing / The Year of Writing.