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I was going through my phone yesterday deleting old pictures to clean it out and save some storage. I went back about three years ago and noticed something that, bizarrely, I really hadn't realized before.

So, right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, I had moved in with my boyfriend (now fiancé...something good that came out of that pandemic!) and we were living in very close quarters with our roommates. I had also just 'finished' my Bachelor's degree in music, though I had no closure on it as my graduating recital was cancelled, as were my last performances with the orchestra I'd played with there for four years. I was in the midst of preparing to go to Boston for my Master's degree, though I was extremely uneasy about all that due to the borders being closed and having no idea how long the pandemic would go on for or how it might affect the degree.

One day in the summer, I was sitting out in the yard reading a book about meditation (which is kind of hilarious), and started to get itchy. I went in and got my partner to look at my back, and we realized it was covered in hives. A few hours later? My entire body. A few hours after that, I was having some really awful esophageal spasms and my entire body was covered in hives and swelling more by the minute. We biked to the hospital (again, some aspects of this story are truly hilarious) and I spent the night getting pumped full of antihistamines that ultimately did nothing. My mom drove in from out of the city the next morning, picked my partner and I up and drove us out to her place where we stayed for the better part of a couple weeks. I was in and out of the hospital in varying degrees of agony, no answers, and no relief from both the pain in my throat and the swelling through my entire body. Two weeks of not being able to move without screaming agony, barely sleeping, feeling completely broken. Finally I was able to walk again, move again, somewhat enjoy what felt like a second chance at life again. It was so utterly bizarre, and no doctors were able to tell me what happened, all we knew was it wasn't an allergic reaction.

I haven't had hives since.

The reason I find all this so interesting is because, looking through my old photos, I realized how many times I'd taken pictures of myself with hives. Along my spine, on my arms, on my legs. Little spots (literally) throughout the years. Before the solo with the Northumberland Orchestra. On my way back from the Christmas show with Durham Chamber. After this stressful time. At that audition. You can literally see the hives on my arms in the picture my mom took of me at Santa Monica Pier after my USC audition the January before COVID happened. I remember feeling so embarrassed, I didn't want the panel to be able to notice them.

It is curious to me that I didn't ever really, in an embodied way, put two and two together that the hives were a stress response of the utmost severity until I was literally incapacitated, being lifted on and off of hospital gurneys for two weeks. When I did my counselling degree, a colleague of mine who was studied in holistic wellness practices told me fairly straight up that the hives were an inflammatory response in my body due to a chronically stressed and overwhelmed nervous system. Everything I've learned since corroborates that theory.

But how is it that I never really noticed the pattern? That I never truly was willing to see just how worn through I was? It honestly never occurred to me. I didn't even see the pattern, no matter that it was literally written on my skin over the years.

Looking back on those photos of the ever increasing severity of the episodes that led to my experience that summer, I have so much compassion for myself. I didn't know that my body could communicate to me. I didn't even think to listen. I was just afraid of it. I was afraid of it getting in my way, stopping my pursuits. I never would have ever stopped to look at the symptoms and understand that they were there because they were responding perfectly to the environment I was in. I would never have thought about how I could rely on my body to me honest with me. I certainly didn't think that being swollen for two weeks was good for me while it was happening.

What I'm learning by approaching wellness from a holistic lens is that everything happens for a reason, and every part of me (especially my body) is involved in what I do. It's funny to me that I was reading that meditation book when it happened, it was almost like my body decided now is the time to scream at her because maybe this time she will listen. Maybe it was just that all those chemicals that had been locked away in my tense and tight muscles and fascia were finally released when I relaxed enough. Whatever it was, it was the right time.

I made a lot of lifestyle changes after that episode. The first one was just...listening to myself. Through my training at Rhodes I learned how to listen to my body and what to listen for. I learned how to feel the tugs and pulls of an authentic no, and the fluttering of yes. I learned about my faith and what I believe in as a part of this universe. I learned how to be alive, not just a machine.

While I'm thrilled I haven't had an episode since, I'm still scared. I still fear my body often. I get scared that I'll get sick, get scared that there are more sinister things locked in there somewhere waiting to come out. But the difference is, I'm willing to hear them this time. Willing to live through the illness, willing to understand. Listening to our bodies and responding to them in real time is a practice, it's not something that is mastered overnight or even in an intense injury. It's a choice we make every day to say, I'm here, I'm listening, I trust you. What do you need?

I remember that first day, walking around my parents yard slowly, wobbling, my partner and mom standing there biting their nails haha. I was ELATED. I couldn't believe I'd pulled through it (and neither could they I don't think). Feeling my achy feet in the grass and the joy bubbling through me at being able to enjoy a nice day...that hasn't left me. Every day feels like a gift. I made a pact with myself that I wouldn't steamroll myself ever again. If I got doing something and started to beat myself up, or I was pushing myself to unhealthy expectations, I was going to stop. And you know what, I have. Some days I don't and I tend to feel sore and achy the next day or get a cold or something, so I know I've pushed too far. Most days, I feel okay. It's a slower life, that's for sure. I still keep busy, but it's different now that I'm listening in. Like I said, I'm a little fearful of the next time my body tells me off, but, I think that I trust it enough now to move through that when it comes and see what I learn next. I can't help but think though that simply being conscious of our bodies as part of us makes a huge difference. Simply being aware and being willing. That goes a long way.

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