Sunday, July 24, 2011


I’m at Intelligentsia the day after I get back from Seattle with tea and my journal, squeezing in some writing before heading out to see Giselle. I love that the school/clinic is so close to Intelligentsia. As I’m staring off into space in between constructing sentences, watching people file in and out of the shop a girl one table over from me catches my eye. She’s reading a giant textbook. I don’t know her. I’ve never seen her. I have no idea what material her textbook is covering but something feels oddly familiar about it. It isn’t the kind of familiar where I’m suddenly thinking “Oh, I’ve seen that or done that!” It’s more like a peek into some future endeavor. A very slight, gentle push into an idea I didn’t know existed until now.
School has never been a strong point for me. Shortly after my freshman year of high school I was counting down the days until graduation. Even college seemed unappealing until mom brought up the subject of hair and suddenly I felt I had a purpose. I was excited about the idea of studying something I could actually do and use…anywhere in the country.
Fast forward nearly eleven years and here I am in Chicago with a wonderful job, in an industry I still love, but with a nagging feeling of “what’s next?” Moving to Chicago ignited something that has either developed or remained dormant until the move, the stress of assisting at work and residing in a frigid climate. Dermatitis is still threatening to eat away at the fingers of my left hand on most days. While I’ve done an ok job with just “dealing” with it, I’m still in pain most of the time. I feel my days are numbered with hair now and I’ve never been clear on what the next step is. Nothing has kept my interest for long when I think about alternative routes so I always return to hair and push the rest away.
“How’s work?” Giselle asks once we’re in the tiny room.
“The same.” I nod. “I mean, everything is good still, I just want to feel calmer.”
She nods, silently taking my pulse. “You have the pulse of an athlete.” she smiles and I beam.
Minutes later I’m on the table, needles in and the door closing is the last thing I hear before I close my eyes.
I’m half asleep, vaguely aware of some dream I’m having, my fingers opening and closing a little when the door gently opens again and Giselle appears.
“How you feeling?” she asks.
“Good.” I slur and grin.
She begins to take the needles out, stopping for a moment to look at me.
“Are you happy at work?” she asks.
I nod. “Mostly.”
“OK.” she continues with her needle removal then stops again. “Because you know, you can change careers at any time.”
It is then that the image of the girl at Intelligentsia with her giant textbook spread out in front of her flashes across my mind and suddenly, everything is clear as day. I’m going to be an acupuncturist when I grown up.


I don’t know what it is about Seattle but I’ve wanted to visit the city for years now. I can’t even remember how I got started with the idea of going. A client maybe? A book? I don’t know but I’ve finally planned a trip out there. I haven’t had a trip by myself since Stockholm two years ago. I actually went there instead of Seattle right before I moved to Chicago thinking that I better squeeze in one more overseas trip before moving further from the eastern part of the country ensuring a shorter flight time and a direct route via Delta Airlines. Once in Chicago, I would always have to connect through Atlanta to get across the ocean.
Two days before leaving I had another appointment with Joanna. I wanted to fit in one more acupuncture treatment in before going. The kind receptionist told me upon checking in that Joanna was out sick and Giselle who was also every bit as wonderful would be taking care of me. I don’t like to bounce around with service providers but decided that for whatever reason I am supposed to meet Giselle. Instead of rescheduling, I sit and wait.
The receptionist was right I think to myself as I’m back in the familiar room with Giselle and her assistant Marie answering the same questions Joanna asked me a week before. I feel like a bug being tacked to a board as she inserts needles in various extremities and leaves me to rest for a little while. I fall asleep again amazed at my ability to do so being I never take naps.
Giselle explains that she wants to see me again and I simply decide that I will reschedule with her. I’ll see her as soon as I get back from Seattle.
At 8:35am on Wednesday I’m sitting in an aisle seat on an American Airlines flight with a silly, girly book as the plane takes off for the west coast. I realize while I’m reading said book that I have no idea how to get to my hotel once I land. I completely forgot to get the directions. I keep reading thinking I’ll figure it out when I get there.
And figure it out I do after a half hour walk from my gate to a train that takes me into downtown. I then take the Monorail to the Seattle Center and follow directions from a map finally reaching my hotel, happy when I’m told I am able to check in early. Once in my room I flop on the bed and giggle. I’m here!!!

Over the next few days I run along an ocean path, spend lots of time wandering around the Pike Place Market, eating incredible fruit and taking in all the energy of the people swarming around me. I usually don’t like crowds but I’m somehow not entirely bothered by them right now. I go to the Space Needle one night and ride an elevator to the top and wander around. I take in the view of a sunset over the vast expanse of land and water.

A friend from Chicago gave me her best friend’s number and she and I met up for a yoga class the next day, following up with coffee the next afternoon with her husband at the shop he works at. I decide yoga and massage must happen during every vacation as the latter of the two happened the day after yoga.

I went to Ummelina after a friend from Atlanta recommended it. I met Molly and was blown away at how the place was set up. Before my service I took a shower in a giant “room” that had an overhead showerhead that felt like it was raining on me, while “jets” on the side walls horizontally blasted water in the most amazing way, onto my tired body. I wanted to stay there all day.
I dried off with a heated towel, and put on the “gown” I had changed into earlier and followed Molly into a small room that felt like being inside of a tree. The walls, floor and ceiling were all wood. She left me to get comfortable, face up on the table under a thick sheet.
For the next ninety minutes she worked hard at all the knots I’ve accumulated in the passed six months. I felt many of them release as I did my best breathing through all the uncomfortable spots. We talked a little. I told her about all the things I wanted to see while I was here. She brought to my attention that I don’t need to race around everywhere while I’m here in Seattle.
“You’re not going to see everything while you’re here, so it’s best to not try but to go slowly, figure out what’s important to you and go from there”
It’s almost like a switch flipped and suddenly I felt like I had permission to be at ease, to simply do what I wanted to do despite the well meaning suggestions from friends and clients. Most of these suggestions, restaurant recommendations, tours, day trips to islands via a ferry, and the like sounded appealing. It’s not that I didn’t want to do these things but I was on a hunt for something else. I wanted answers to questions I didn’t even know I had and wanted to relax into myself in ways I don’t normally allow when I’m in the swing of my day to day routine at home.
Once Molly was finished and I was back in my gown, my hair wild from air drying and having my head being massaged, I emerged with eyes half open and watery from tears that came when she worked on my back in between my shoulder blades. This happens every time. Tears are sparked despite having no memory to evoke them. She puts a heated neck pillow across my shoulders and has me follow her to the waiting room to sip some water and further relax before heading out into the world again.
“How do you feel?” she asks, sitting across from me.
“Amazing.” I smile.
“Glad to hear it. You had some pretty tough spots in there. I don’t know what you were doing but your body released them pretty quickly which is great. Do you have any questions for me?”
I decide to tell her about my back and the tears. “What is that about?”
She nods. “Funny you say that because when we keep our emotions in, we store them in our bodies. I’ve had that reaction too. We need to find ways of releasing those emotions. Also, I was going to ask you how is your digestion?”
“Slow.” I laugh.
“I thought so. I think acupuncture would be great for you.”
I squeal and tell her I’m already doing it.
“Good! Keep it up! Also, find ways of expressing those emotions so they don‘t get trapped.”
Molly and I chat a little longer before she continues about her evening and I sit still a little longer.
Later that night I lay in bed after a long bubble bath, barely staying awake for a movie that I ordered through the hotel.

My remaining days in Seattle were filled with a certain calmness that I have rarely experienced in life before. I set about each day to the ocean to watch the water before taking a walk in some unknown direction, discovering some coffee and eating fruit from the market or granola from a cute place I kept happening upon. I visited the neighborhoods I wanted to see, wandering in and out of different shops. I talked to random people and really listened to them happy for a little bit of company. I went out to fancy dinners, saw a burlesque show, and found my way to Volunteer Park. I found all the coffee shops I wanted to visit and took bubble baths every night. I even managed to take naps. I had boundless energy due to what, I don’t know. Was it the fact that the sun didn’t set until 10:30 pm? Was it that I wasn’t talking for ten hours a day like I normally am when at work? Or was it simply because I was somewhere else? Maybe a combination of all three. Whatever it was, it was glorious and I desperately wanted to bring this feeling back to Chicago with me.

On my last day I was up early and once again, at the water watching it move, my eyes breaking away a little to stare at the mountains off in the distance. I talked to God for a while before walking to eat that delicious granola one more time. I made one more trip to the market before heading back to my hotel to pack up. I felt completely calm the whole morning. Usually on the day I’m traveling I am filled with anxiety, even when I’m completely prepared. Not today though. No freaking out about how I’m going to get back to the airport, no anxiety about packing even though I had to use my body to help zip my bag closed because I was bringing so much back with me. There was nothing but contentedness.
I found my way through a little bit of rain to the train station and after about an hour, made it to the airport. At 10:30pm, we gently landed at Chicago’s O’Hare airport and by nearly midnight I was in bed vowing to do this vacation thing a little more often.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


“Would you please just go to the clinic?” my roommate Dana pleads to me one Sunday evening after I’ve relayed the details of my ever-increasing overeating and stress lately. I’m embarrassed to say that after nearly 4 years after my last binge, the idea of indulging in that crossed my mind and freaked me out so badly that I had immediately gotten myself to an OA meeting.
“I will.” I promise. “I‘ll call tomorrow.”
Dana has been asking to try acupuncture since we met given my issues with dermatitis on my hands, constant anxiety and lets not forget my personal favorite, PMS. I’ve read a thousand times that acupuncture helps these issues among many other things, by ways of regulating the flow of energy within the body. I don’t see how sticking a bunch of pins into various body parts will help but I’m so desperate right now that I’ll try anything.
On Monday morning I call the clinic at the school that Dana attends and am able to get in to see Joanna at 3pm. I am told to wear comfortable clothing, to eat something before I come and to prepare to stay for ninety minutes. I text Dana immediately and squeal about my upcoming appointment before setting about my day.
I arrive at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine a few minutes before 3pm. I’ve been here once before with Dana when she wanted to practice massage on me, something I will never turn down. The classrooms take up floors 17-21 in a massive building in the Loop. The giant windows in each room reveal spectacular views of downtown Chicago. I’m so glad I’ve at least been here once before, otherwise, I don’t think I would have found it.
I get to the 21st floor and check in. As I’m filling out the stack of paper work feeling grateful that I have no allergies and I’m not currently taking any medicine I feel I familiar stab in my lower abdomen. I sigh as I’m stabbed again by a dull aching pain sending heat throughout my entire core. Cramps. Great. I take deep breaths and continue to fill out the paper work hoping they don’t get any worse while I’m here.
Once completed, I hand over the stack to the receptionist and sit down again. Usually when in waiting rooms, I grab a magazine or a book from my bag but I have no desire to do any such thing. I try to examine whether or not I’m nervous. Nope. Not really, which again is unlike me. I don’t mind trying new things obviously, but I still get nervous. Today there is nothing but hopefulness that this acupuncture business will work.
“Melissa?” A pretty brunette materializes in front of me.
“Yes.” I smile.
“I’m Joanna.” she smiles back extending her hand.
I stand and shake it. “Good to meet you!” I exclaim, while again being stabbed in the stomach.
“This is Charlene, my assistant.” Joanna steps back and I shake Charlene’s hand.
“Come on back.” Joanna and Charlene lead and I trail behind them until we enter a small room with a massage table in the middle of it, a few chairs against a wall and a counter with some cabinet space and various doctor-looking things on it. I try not to stare.
The three of us sit and Joanna, holding my paperwork, asks “So what brings you in today?”
I explain everything and she asks if I’m nervous.
The questions that follow are more intense than anything I’ve ever told even my primary care doctor before. I don’t feel shy in answering, as I feel I’ll do whatever it takes to make this better. The cramps are ever increasing and I feel myself beginning to sweat. I don’t however relay to her that this is happening.
Joanna and Charlene take my pulse. They look at my tongue and Joanna writes some things down. Minutes later, I’m on the massage table with my shoes and socks off, my yoga pants rolled up to my knees, and I’m staring at the ceiling while Joanna and Charlene prep.
“Ok, I’m going to put two needles in your ears first to induce a calming effect.” Joanna says before I feel a tiny sharp prick in the upper right part of my ear. She does the left and asks how I feel.
“Good.” I nod. I have no awareness that anything is sticking out of my ears at the moment.
She rolls up my shirt a little to expose my stomach. She puts four of the tiny needles into my belly. Two on top, two on the bottom. A few more are placed into my arms, and legs. I’m amazed at how I barely feel anything.
“Ok. I’m going to place this heat lamp over your abdomen.” Joanna says, bringing over this contraption to have it hover over my exposed flesh. “I’ll be back in five minutes to check on you then leave you for another fifteen. That ok?”
I nod.
She and Charlene exit and in about a minute and half I’m practically asleep until I hear the door open.
“How are you Melissa?” Joanna’s head peeks through the cracked open door.
“Good.” I smile.
“Good. I’ll be back in fifteen.”
I do actually fall asleep in this time and it feels heavenly. Fifteen minutes felt like fifteen seconds as I hear the door open again and Joanna returns with Charlene. She removes the lamp and the needles asking me if I’m ok with taking some herbs.
“Of course.”
“I want to give you two. One for the PMS and one to help calm the itching in your hands.”
“I’m going to leave them up front.” Joanna says removing the last needle and doing another quick check to make sure she’s gotten all of them. “I want to see you once a week for a month and then we’ll re-evaluate where to go from there. Sound good?”
“Yes.” I smile.
Later, when my shoes are on, my herbs are in my bag and I’ve made my appointment for next week, I notice as I walk out with Dana, whom I ran into, that my cramps are gone. Completely gone, as if they were never there.


I threw myself a giant pity party that lasted for three days, mulling over the half marathon and whether or not I’d do a full. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter so long as I am happy with whatever I choose. No one says I have to run 26.2 miles. No one is pushing me one way or another. However, I have marked the time off of work to do this already. All I have to do is sign up…and then train.
A co-worker of mine runs marathons. I have clients of all ages, lifestyles and backgrounds that have done at least one if not many. Why do I feel I can’t achieve this? Why do I feel that I’ll somehow drop the ball again?
Before I can talk myself out of it only to talk myself into it, the out of it again, I go to the office at work and get online. I find the Atlanta race and sign up.

13.1 Part Two...

This…is a bad idea. I think to myself as I’m packing up to leave work. It’s Friday and I’m getting off early to head to some area of town I’ve never been to in search of the athletic store I have to visit to pick up my race gear for tomorrow’s half marathon. I signed up for this wanting to train more than I actually did. Chicago handed over the ugliest spring of my life and sadly, not much running happened. I seem to have a problem with training anyway. It seems the minute I set a goal, I turn around and run in the opposite direction from it. I often leave myself scrambling in the end to “fix” it or “catch up”. Running is cumulative though. I have to train to earn the high mileage days that carry me through a race. Some narcissistic part of me believes that because I’ve been running since high school, I can do this. I logged ten miles a couple of weeks ago. That’s good enough right? I can do 13.1 tomorrow. Right?
Eventually I find Fleet Feet at Piper’s Alley, and tell the kid behind the desk of race bibs my name.
“Melissa?” he says and I nod.
“Does your last name begin with an “N”?
I nod because all of this is done alphabetically and I’m standing in the line where the “N’s” should be.
“What’s your last name again?”
He thumbs through the race bibs for a second time now and I’m getting nervous. I know I signed up for this.
For the love of God. No one has said that to me in a long time…not since elementary school.
I pretend I didn’t hear him and spell my last name. He still can’t find the race bib. Another guy comes over and asks my name. Four point five seconds later he’s handing over the blue and white bib with my number, corral letter and first name printed across it. I walk away to the next station where we are to pick up our t-shirts. Some pushy old lady is following behind me so closely I can practically smell what she had for lunch. I’m tempted to turn around and say something snarky but refrain. I try to take some deep breaths and acknowledge that my PMS related hormonal issues are no one else’s problem. Even if they are breathing on me. This is reason number 545 I shouldn’t really be doing this run. I’m already fatigued and full of my usual dose of monthly self loathing that I will only find fault with my efforts. Plus experience has taught me that my best races certainly don’t happen during this time, adding to the self loathing. Still, I don’t want some nasty, negative part of me telling me what I can and cannot do.
I leave Fleet Feet and walk back to the train. I look at my race bib and see I’m in corral “A”. (most races have a staggered start so everyone isn’t running all at once. They group corrals together based on estimated finish times) No. I stare at it. This isn’t happening. My mind races, looking for another letter that could possibly happen before “A”. Nope, “A” is first. Yup. Not only have I not trained well but I’ll be running with the fastest group. Awesome.
I don’t remember what I said my estimated finish time would be but I do remember annihilating my last race time, finishing half an hour faster than I had anticipated. When I signed up for this one I thought that I would be training harder and improving even more.

At home I shower, make dinner, and call to schedule a taxi to pick me up to take me to Millennium Park so I can catch a shuttle to the start line. I attach my race bib to a t-shirt, make sure I have cab money ready and my iPOD is charged. I set my alarm for 4:30 am and pass out.
At 5am, I’m dressed, fed, caffeinated and in a cab. The driver asks me how to get to Randolph and Michigan when I tell him that‘s where I‘m headed. I tell him I have no idea and think to myself, isn’t that what I’m paying you for? We get there and I get on a school bus with a whole bunch of runners and we head for Lake Shore Drive. The girl sitting next to me is holding her race bib and I see that her name is Michelle and she’s in corral “J”. My heart begins to race again and I feel sweat begin to dampen my reddened face. I’m being reminded again that I’m going to have to run like I stole something for a little bit until I can mix in with the other corrals.
The sun is rising over Lake Michigan. It’s stunning. The water glitters beneath it and everything is peaceful. I’m getting excited. I enjoy the ride, seeing things I haven’t before. I haven’t made it passed Soldier Field before so this is certainly interesting.
Once we arrive at the South Shore Cultural Center I meander looking around before finding a place to sit for a while and people watch. We’re awfully early. It’s just before 6am and the race doesn’t start until 7:13am. Runners of all shapes, sizes and ages are milling around. Some are stretching, some are jogging to warm up and some are taking pictures. I love the energy of a race day. Everyone seems happy and excited and I feel lucky to be a part of something. I also feel a little lonely. I prefer to run alone. I prefer to race alone so as to not worry about whether or not I’m “slow” or “fast” based on my running partner(s). I say this but I truly enjoyed running track in high school. Our long runs didn’t seem so long when we went as a group. I didn’t pay attention to much except for the conversation. My co-worker Lindsay has mentioned to me the benefits of running with a group and I’m currently thinking that maybe it’s not such a bad thing to at least attempt.
Not only am I watching people but I’m watching for their corral letters. I find several people with “A” on their bibs and I relax a little. Only a little. Most of them are men it seems. Tall men with long legs like giraffes.
Twenty or so minutes before the race begins we’re to line up in our corrals. We’re told that because of the rising temperatures that we’re advised to slow down. The sun is already up and bright. My belly begins to do weird things. After the Star Spangled Banner and a count down is completed, we’re off! Michael Jackson sings to me via my iPOD and I’m giddy. I go and go and go and finish mile one in 7:45. Whew! Mile two and three are also completed in under eight minutes each and that is when the decline starts. The weirdness happening in my belly increases. Sweat is pouring down my spine and my breathing is so labored that I don’t have a choice but to slow down. The next two miles are completed in nine and then ten minutes.
By the time I get to mile seven I feel a gigantic sense of relief that I made it to the halfway point after seriously considering turning around and going back. It’s completely ridiculous to be out here. The sun is burning my skin and the temperature is still climbing, and we’re all still running.
Mile eight and nine are sprinkled with more walking than running as I feel my legs getting heavy, and the soles of my feet begin to burn. My ass feels like it’s carrying giant bags of rocks at the moment and I want nothing more than to be done.
By the time I see both mile eleven and twelve I am walking entirely. A black flag has been called signaling that the race has ended due to the weather and the clocks have stopped. I run the last 1.1 miles and am grateful to not know how long it’s taken me to reach this point.
I bumble around a moment, drink some water, and stand in the shade stretching my calves feeling lost. I wish Jeff were here. I’m standing in a sea of tired runners and eventually make my way to the shuttle buses and climb aboard.
At Millennium Park, I get off the bus, still pouring seat and covered in a thin film of dirt. I had planned on taking the train and a bus home but decide that will take too long and get into a cab right outside of Intelligentsia. I think about Jeff and while knowing he has to work, I wonder if he’d be up for getting brunch with me. I’m staring out the window wishing I had my phone with me, when I see him crossing the street heading to work early. Out of all the people surrounding him. he is the only person I see.
Later I’m at Toast on Damen, completely ravenous, eating like it’s the last day of my life. Jeff has called twice but we keep missing each other. I turn over in my head how do I expect to run a full marathon when I didn’t bother to train for this half? Maybe I won’t. I decide that just because I run well doesn’t mean I have to race. Still, some nagging part of me won’t let go of the marathon idea and how fun that challenge will be. Another part pipes up and reminds me that I stand for a living and will destroy my joints. A cross-training part tells me there is always yoga, cycling, dancing etc…the ever optimist part says I can do anything, and the pessimistic part says to throw in the towel.
I decide that I don’t have to decide and call it a day.