Once in a while, I ask a client if they would be willing to share their experience with the type of work I do, to help others understand what it’s like and how it might be able to help them, too.
This week, Emily sent me this BEAUTIFUL story! I know that many of you will find it incredibly encouraging and inspiring.
As many women do, I didn’t realize how oppressive my pain was until I was free from it. I would say it all began shortly after my second son was born about 12 years ago. I came home from the hospital with a terrible headache that lasted for nearly a month, most likely caused by the botched epidural I received in the hospital. Shortly after the headache faded, I noticed my neck was extremely stiff. I had trouble looking over my shoulders. The pain rarely ceased. Sometimes it would feel better than others, but most of the time, the stiffness was present. At times, the pain would radiate down my shoulder blade and into my arm joints, especially my wrist and elbow. Other times, the pain would radiate upward into my head leaving me with a nauseating headache that pounded behind my right eye and cheek bone. Soon after my third son was born, I noticed the pain spreading all the way down into my hip and at times, even in my leg and ankle.
I went to multiple doctors. I was told everything from, “you have the early onset of arthritis,” to “this is all in your head.” My family began to believe that I was a hypochondriac. I was told, “you need to get more exercise,” and “try to clean up your diet.” Doctors gave me a wide variety of anti-inflammatory drugs, none of which helped. I began to think that pain was going to just be a normal part of my life. Then I moved to Spain. Of course I brought my pain with me. I tried to bury it as well as I could and I was fairly successful for a while. Until a new pain began. A pain which could not be ignored or pushed aside.
While on vacation with my family in Northern Spain, I began to notice a fullness in my throat, a kind of bubble that made it difficult to eat. I always felt full. Then soon after our return I began to feel a sharp pain in my right side shortly after eating. I went to the doctor only to be sent home with antacids. A few months later, I begged to be seen by a gastroenterologist. Finally, I was referred to a doctor in town. She did a scope of my stomach only to find that it was perfectly normal. Her diagnosis was “stress”. I was prescribed more antacids. Meanwhile, the pain began to increase and I rapidly lost weight. I had a constant headache, pain in my neck, most of my joints on the right side of my body, and to top it all off I felt like I had been kicked in the side by a horse.The only thing I could swallow without horrific pain was Ensure (yes, the nasty vitamin drink).
For eight months, this was my life. I lost a total of 40 lbs. I began to develop neuropathy in my hands and feet. One doctor thought I was anorexic. My family was suffering. And I felt completely alone and guilty that my health was such a burden for everyone in my life. I began to close myself off and prepare to die. Only by the grace of God was my final appointment changed at the last minute to see different provider that I actually knew from a Bible study. He didn’t even recognize me because of my dramatic weight loss and he was convinced that I was dying from pancreatic cancer. For the first time, labs were taken and I had as much screening as the hospital could handle. I was so sick and malnourished that I couldn’t even stay awake in the waiting room of radiology. With the “C” word on the table, my husband and I decided it was time to get me to the States, quickly.
Upon arrival at the hospital in Newport News, Virginia, I was quickly admitted and given an IV. Within 24 hours I was diagnosed with complete gallbladder failure. Within 48 hours, I was undergoing surgery to remove the problematic organ. I remained in the States for two weeks post-surgery. I thought my journey was finally over. But fate had other plans for me.
Nearly two months after my surgery, I began to feel different digestive symptoms. I had pain after eating, AGAIN, but this time the pain was higher. The symptoms began to increase and I began to cut out food. I saw a nutritionist who helped me figure out a diet plan, but it wasn’t enough. I ended up cutting out ALL animal products including eggs, dairy, and honey or anything with carbonation. I limited my fat to 3g per meal. So, I felt like I was back to life sucking again, maybe forever. My B12 dropped so low that I gave serious thought to crashing my car into a ditch. Again, I felt abandoned by the medical community and left to my own devices. My family, who was elated for a time over my quick recovery, began to distance themselves from me. And I from them. I shut the door to most all of my relationships. I just couldn’t cope the thought of regression. Things were looking pretty grim. Pretty grim indeed. Then, like an answered prayer, I was referred by a friend to Ariana Mullins.
I arrived for my first appointment in terrible shape. I had trouble walking up the stairs because the pain in my joints was excruciating. I was so cold that I had to wear gloves. My entire body felt like it was going to fall apart at any moment. I was also guarded emotionally because I had been neglected by the medical system and I was afraid that the CranioSacral Therapy process was going to bring all of that guilt and fear to the surface in one big explosion. However, I was willing to try anything to feel better. I had absolutely no idea of the kind of deep inner and external healing I was about to encounter.
During the first session, I had a very hard time relaxing. My whole body was stiff and guarded. I had been removing myself from my pain for so long, I had a hard time finding my way back to it. I remember not knowing exactly what to do while I laid on the table. Was I supposed to talk? Was I supposed to close my eyes? Was I supposed to feel something specific? So many thoughts were running through my head. I wanted the process to work. I wanted to find healing. I needed relief! I was so angry at my body for not functioning properly. It was if it was punishing me for some obscure reason and I was the abused soul trapped inside of it. Ariana quickly picked up on my body bashing. She reminded me that I wouldn’t speak to a sick person that way because it isn’t their fault that they are sick. In the same way that one might encourage healing in an ailing person, encourage healing in ailing body parts as well. Cover it with good thoughts. Reassure the hip, don’t scold it.
By cheering on my body, two things happened. First of all, to encourage afflicted parts of the body, I had to put my mind on them. I had to think about the pain and concentrate on it in a way that allowed me to better understand where the pain was coming from. Secondly, I realize that I was pouring my energy into self-disgust instead of healing. What a complete waste of precious little energy. I thought of a rice experiment that I watched in science class in high school. A group of scientists stood around a bowl of rice and yelled at it, calling it names and badgering it. Then they had a separate bowl of rice at which the scientists would speak softly and lovingly to. They would say things like, “you are so beautiful,” and “you are the best rice in the world.” In the end, the “loved” rice maintained its white hue while the “hated” rice turned black and began to rot. Was this what I was unintentionally doing to my body? I decided I needed to help my body become the “loved rice”.
So my problems were far more layered that I could have imagined. My brain was soon to be the MVP of my healing game. During our very first session, Ariana keyed in on my vagus nerve as a potential contributor to much of my pain and digestive issues. She focused on finding areas along the nerve that may have inflammation or blockage. I could feel heat and pressure around the area just behind my right ear while she worked on the back of my cranium. Something was happening, but I wasn’t sure what it was. Later that evening, Ariana sent me an article about the vagus nerve. For over a decade, I had been dealing with “strange” right side pain, and finally, FINALLY, I was reading an article that described my symptoms perfectly. I remember feeling vindicated and that I wasn’t manifesting the pain in my brain. My brain was sensing a disruption in the flow of information which my body perceived as an injury or pain. The trick was going to be allowing healthy communication between my body and my brain, and Ariana was there to put the puzzle, which is my body, in the correct places for the first time maybe ever.
Ariana and I continued to work together once a week for several months. Each time, she would follow up with me a few days after our session to see how I was progressing. Some sessions we would work with the vagus nerve, but after about three sessions, we moved on to my organs. She noticed that my stomach was pushed up deep into my rib cage and that several digestive sphincters were stagnant. Through Visceral Manipulation, she was able to pull my stomach down into the appropriate place and reactivate the dysfunctional digestive sphincters. It took much longer before we were able to work with my liver pain, maybe 6 sessions or so, due to the tender nature of the organ. The trauma of losing its partner, the gallbladder, left the liver inflamed and overworked. It was as if my liver was grieving the death of its close companion. Or maybe it was my own anger with the length of my illness and the feeling of medical neglect that I stored away in the liver. Either way, I needed to deal with it.
As Ariana worked with my liver, she had me lay on my side. It was, not surprisingly, in the wrong place. It was against the back of my rib cage which accounts for the rib discomfort I had been feeling since the surgery. I remember feeling myself go limp, a relaxation I hadn’t had for a very long time, maybe years. I even drooled a little while she gently pulled my liver back into place. This particular session marked a big turning point in my healing. Though I experienced pain relief as early as my first appointment, the work with my liver allowed my brain to process the big picture. I began to crave fish for the first time in months which was a sign that my digestive track was becoming healthier and stronger. I still remember trying my first bite of fish after eating strictly vegan for nearly a year. It was simply amazing. A major win for my body, mind, and soul. Ariana continues to counsel me on my diet and give me many helpful suggestions on which foods to incorporate for different purposes.
For about three and a half months, I saw Ariana nearly once a week and thereafter, once a month. Some sessions brought huge changes while other changes were more subtle. Some evenings after a session of Visceral Manipulation, I felt sensitive in the areas which were worked. But within a day or two, the sensitivity wore off and better functionality ensued. My digestion is far better these days. However, old habits are hard to break even for the body. I rarely get headaches and when I do, I know some bone in my cranium has probably shifted and is putting pressure on a nerve. And I cannot remember the last time I felt joint pain in my arms or legs because I feel so much more aware of the problem when it starts. The pain is not nearly as widespread and never gets the chance to get far before I am mindful of the origin. Now, after one session, I can tell a huge difference. The other day, I went to see Ariana with terrible congestion that I could not shake for weeks. She was able to adjust the palate of my mouth and realign my bite as not to put undue pressure on my sinus cavities. The very next day I had remarkably less congestion.
I also feel like I am better able to articulate my feelings about my health with my family. Instead of having mysterious pain that puts me on edge with everyone I love, I can identify the problem and communicate specifically with them about why I may seem a little frustrated or angry where before, my sharp tongue was just that, a knife that cut those I loved without reason or provocation. My bodily awareness has also put me in better communication with my own brain which has in turn turned me into a better communicator with people in general, but especially my family.
I used to view my pain and suffering as a weakness; as something that got in the way my forward motion. But actually, it’s a gift. I look back on all that I was able to accomplish even in the midst of terrible physical distress. I still made dinner for my family even though I could not eat it, I moved, threw parties, went to parent teacher meetings at a Spanish elementary school…. The list goes on and on. What an amazing thing to realize one’s own strength and beauty. And to be reminded that strength and beauty is not the same thing as perfection. Even children hurt when they grow, why should it be any different for adults?
CranioSacral Therapy has transformed my entire life in the most precious way. I have learned to embrace my body for what it is and listen to it when it is trying to tell me something. Listening to your body does NOT make you a hypochondriac; dwelling in your pain and not changing the cycle does. Now, as a gift to my children, I send them to Ariana as well. I have already seen major improvements in the anxiety levels of one of my children and my other has far fewer headaches after only two sessions.
As a whole, my family is stronger, healthier, and happier as a result of the care I received and still receive from Ariana Mullins. She is kind, educated, gentle, graceful, and overwhelmingly helpful. I wish everyone in the world could see her! I just do not have enough kind words to express my gratitude to her and the help that she provides for all of her care receivers.
Wow. This is so wonderful, and it has been such a privilege and a joy to work with you, Emily. Thank you so much for sharing your story!!