Sometimes while working and going through my daily routine, I will run across the interviews I’ve done and sometimes I will even take the time to stop and watch the videos again. It’s so funny, I feel like I know all these stories inside and out, but I will still hear or notice new things about them that inspires me. This happened the other day with Kate Milliken’s videos – she has put her MS in remission due to an epiphany – and I wrote a little draft to remind me to post something about them.
Then last night, I got back from speaking and participating in one of Jennifer Pastiloff’s amazing yoga retreats in Ojai, CA and the work she does reminded me of Kate Milliken’s epiphany because Kate had an epiphany while in a yoga class that changed her life forever.
One of the things Jen does is have a theme or mantra we focus on for each yoga class. For example, I spoke about Maya Angelou’s epiphany at one point in my talk and the take-away in that epiphany is, “We are loved by Love Itself. There is nothing good that we can’t do.” The theme for one of that day’s yoga classes happened to be Love – the love that we are and have in our lives. So while in poses, Jen would say and have us say or think, “I am loved by Love Itself.” “What does that mean? What does it mean to be loved by Love Itself? Who loves me and how do I love?” … things along those lines and then she’d have us do writing exercises after. (If you’re into yoga, writing, and meeting cool people – mostly women, but there are always amazing (and cute!) men there too – I highly recommend her classes and retreats.)
I came to my blog to write something about Jen’s work and Kate’s epiphany in yoga class and here was a little reminder draft for it! Once again, SERENDIPITY at work! (Or senility, but let’s be positive.)
I love Kate and her story and she now has a new project to help others with chronic diseases: www.MYCOUNTERPANE.com. There are 4 parts to this video but here’s one of them I thought you might enjoy along with her interview from the book – I highlighted the part about the epiphany in yoga class for you “skimmers.” For more on Kate and all her videos, please go HERE.
Kate Milliken’s Epiphany as told to Elise Ballard
In July 2004, I was thirty-two years old and my fiancé broke off our engagement two months before the wedding. One day we were en route to happiness, and the next he walked out the door. I still don’t know why. And he didn’t have the ability to tell me. I’ve come to peace with that now, but at the time I was crushed, especially because I am one of those people who wants the answers to things.
Suddenly I was entirely on my own at thirty-two years old. I realized for the first time that I had to take responsibility for myself and start living on my own terms. The broken engage- ment forced me to do a lot of reflection on what I wanted to do with my life. I’d been an on-camera sports reporter and television producer; I knew I liked television, but it wasn’t quite working for me as a career. I decided to start my own business, creating mini-documentaries for private clients. It’s what I do now and it has been a total joy: I love what I do.
I had been working incredibly hard to get my business off the ground, and by December 2006 it was finally thriving. My heart was healed, and I felt I could move forward with my life.
Two weeks from that exact moment, two days before Christmas, I was in the hospital. In the course of a single week, I had gone from being incredibly active to finding I couldn’t put one leg in front of the other. The doctors found a lesion on my C-4 ver- tebra, in a spot that could have left me paralyzed. I was stunned when they told me the diagnosis: multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disease that causes your body to attack itself and eat the myelin that protects your nerves.
MS is terrifying, especially when your body starts acting weird. My present was scary, and my future was even scarier. I lay there wondering why, when everything seemed to be going so well, something like this had to happen. My reaction wasn’t “Wah, poor me.” It was much more cerebral, more like: “This is interesting.” And then, on my second day in the hospital, I found myself blurting out, “You know, maybe this will be the best thing that ever happened to me.” Needless to say, everyone thought I was crazy and in complete denial. But really, that was the start of my epiphany.
So I began my journey with MS. I suffered the symptoms and began injecting myself with Copaxone, one of the medications in the MS world that can make a positive difference. Copaxone reduces the chance of a relapse by 35 percent, changing the fight against MS from what it used to be fifteen years ago.
But I also knew I had to get control over my stress and my anxiety, since those things trigger MS episodes—which vary from things like a tingling in areas of your body to not being able to walk properly, even going blind. It’s such a catch-22 because the disease makes you tired and stressed, which causes you to start feeling really weird, which stresses you out worse because you think you’re going into an episode…and that is the worst possible thing because it only exacerbates the MS. The whole goal of dealing with MS is never to inflame your body enough that it starts eating itself. That means staying away from stressful or exhausting situations.
So here I was living in New York City, arguably one of the most stressful places to live on earth. And, just to add to the drama, I’m thirty-five and single. So thirty-five, single, living in New York, and now I have MS? This is really going to help my love life—how can you even think you’re going to get a boy- friend when you have to tell him that you have a disease that could put you in a wheelchair? I realized I had to find a way to stop, right in the current of the biggest, busiest city in the world, and find a place of calm, and accept my age and situation. I had to figure out a way to get control of myself, and really, really evaluate and find out how this was going to be the best thing that ever happened to me.
One day I dragged myself to a yoga class—one of the things I had been using to help manage my anxiety—and my body started tingling like crazy. I was scared I was going into an episode. I lay on my back on my mat, with tears just streaming down my face because I felt so bad. The teacher came over to me and asked me what was going on. I told him, and he touched my shoulder and said, “It’s okay. You’re here.”
And that was it. That moment changed everything. His words reverberated in my mind: “You’re here. You are here.” I wasn’t dead. I was here. I was fighting. In yoga class, you do the warrior poses, so I told myself, “You are a warrior!” From that moment on, everything zoomed right in. I was present and I stayed present. Now I knew what that meant and how important it was. Every time I felt myself not being present, I brought myself back with the mantra “I’m here.” The future, the unknown, is scary. And I cannot get scared. It causes adrenaline in my body, which feeds the MS. I’ve got to stay in the known, which is now. That gave me control over my mind when it wanted to jump into the negative zone.
From that point on, my world opened up. I developed other affirmations to help. I would walk down the street, and my mind would start generating thoughts like “I’m so screwed,” “I’m never going to make it,” or “I’m never going to be able to have children because I’m never going to find somebody.” But every time these negative thoughts would come, I would just say, “Out. Out, out, out.” Every time I saw someone in a wheelchair, I would say out loud, “Not today. Not today.” I’m sure I seemed like a crazy per- son! But it didn’t matter—I was not going to let my mind go to those places, so I’d say these things out loud.
I got turned on to an osteopath, Dr. George Kessler, who really helped me. Not only did he give me nutritional supple- ments, but he gave me a whole different way of approaching MS. He said, “MS is an inflammation, and what might be inflaming you? I don’t use the word disease. Your body is going through a really interesting process.” This radically different perspective was incredibly empowering, and I would even say it helped turn this journey into becoming somewhat exciting.
This is where the third and probably most powerful moment of my epiphany emerged. I started to think, “What if . . . ?” What if I was able to actually reverse my lesion? What if on Christmas Eve I could make a toast to my parents and tell them that I’d done that? What if that was possible? I would fantasize about it, and my body would fill with this incredible excitement—it reminded me of those first-date hormones you feel. I took a card and put it on my mirror, with two words: Reverse it. And every single moment for five months in the back of my mind I repeated this as a mantra. When I wasn’t saying “Out” and “Not today,” it was “Reverse it.” Reverse it, reverse it, reverse it, reverse it. And I never stopped dreaming about how amazing it would be if that happened.
I evaluated my life in terms of stress, diet, and rest. For the rest of that year, I kept up my regimen with the supplements from Dr. Kessler, took my Copaxone shots religiously, practiced breathing, allowed myself to sleep in, stopped thinking I was lazy if I took a nap, and did all the other things I could to support my healing and getting my MS under control. That meant yoga, reiki heal- ing, and of course my mantras. I accepted that this was my new world. I lived in both realms of conventional and complementary medicine and took the best of what both had to offer. I lived in this whole world of possibility that was intoxicating. And I started feeling a lot better.
In December 2007, I went in to check the status of my MS, which is done by MRI. We got the MRI back—I filmed this, actually—and the radiologist couldn’t find the lesion on the scans! My doctor was shocked and admitted that he had seen that happen in less than 1 percent of his patients.
There were times during the active phase of my illness that I was so lonely. I would be catching a taxi, or by myself on a Saturday night in my bed, and I would just say out loud, “Believe.” Believe it’s all going to come around, and what if it does? What if I get the guy that I want? How amazing is it going to feel when I’m standing at the altar? How beautiful will it be when I find the guy?
I was probably going out once a week at this point, and on a blind date I met Tyler. Tyler’s mother suffers from ataxia, which is a neurological symptom much like MS that attacks the central nervous system. He had seen the worst of it, and when I told him about my MS, he basically said, “I understand it’s a crap shoot, and I’m willing to take the gamble. It doesn’t define our relationship.”
We dated. We were engaged after five months. We got married after nine months, and right now I am five and a half months pregnant. My life has drastically altered, and I am in a very happy place.
My epiphanies were real, drastic shifts in energy and changes of perspective that came in a moment of clarity. They centered on generating my own sense of hope and allowing an open chan- nel of faith and possibility. I also learned that it’s key not to feel so sorry for yourself that it cripples you and keeps you from looking for guidance and clues. Challenges in life can be gifts—lessons in taking risks, taking leaps of faith, conquering obstacles, mak- ing things happen, and believing in the what-ifs. This is what makes us grow, and for me, what makes life exciting.
~excerpted from Epiphany: True Stories of Sudden Insight