Narrative Medicine and the Wild Woman Archetype

This month, I am focusing my creative energy on writing, exploring the connections between how I journal and tell my stories and the Wild Woman within me.  Last summer, I bought the book Women Who Run With the Wolves, by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés. I read the beginning and it fed my soul in new ways. Because of life and the swirling of time, it got misplaced behind other books while I dove into skills labs. It remained hidden until recently when my friend played audio of Dr. Pinkola Estés during our writing group. She chose to share the rendering of La Loba, a story from the book. It was so beautiful. I immediately went home in search for it. When my hands finally touched it, I felt sparks.

This book anchors me to the book that’s inside of me, yearning to spill onto a page, and it is sparking in me this desire to share the importance of narrative medicine.

So this week, I want to discuss the nature of how we are being in our stories. She says:

To further our kinship with the instinctual nature, it assists greatly if we understand stories as though we are inside them, rather than as though they are outside of us. We enter into a story through the door of inner hearing. The spoken story touches the auditory nerve, which runs across the floor of the skull into brainstem just below the pons. There, auditory impulses are relayed upward to the consciousness or else, it is said, to the soul… depending on the attitude with which one listens.

Ancient Dissectionists spoke of the auditory nerve being divided into three or more pathways deep in the brain. They surmised that the ear was meant, therefore, to hear at all three different levels. One pathway is said to hear the mundane conversations of the world. A second pathway apprehended learning and art. And the third pathway existed so the soul itself might hear guidance and gain knowledge while here on earth.

Listen then with the soul-hearing now, for that is the mission of the story. 

It is worth my sharing of this entire passage, because I believe she asking us to explore story on at least two levels. Where are we in relationship with the story and how can we understand the ways our body can hear the story?

As I reflect on what I have journaled and think about what I will write in the future, I gain the following perspective: I am not only the story teller but I am also there to witness my own story. And the way I do that will have an impact on my path.

I am given freedom, permission, connection to the Wild Woman to write out from another part of myself. The way I hear my own story from my soul or just merely as a conversation I had with myself as a woman in pain, as a confused woman.  How profound a difference might this make? It changes the outcome of understanding my health history and the the lessons I learn in order to change and grow in strength. In order to feel my way into my feminine and embrace the woman I am instead of letting the voice get lost in a sea of mundane. Instead of letting myself get swallowed up into how hard the journey was/is, I can let it led me to my strength.

She continues to tell us how this listening from the soul is a connection to the Wild Woman, a gateway:

Bone by bone, hair by hair, Wild Woman comes back. Through night dreams, through events half understood and half remembered, Wild Woman comes back. She comes back through story.

I am reminded of the way I tried to write my story out for doctors when I was seeking treatment and help. It was chronology based: this doctor said this, I said that… and of course parts were missing. Our perception of real events changes and is altered over time.  I compare this to my journal or generative writing written in real time with my group. The generative pieces are filled with more fire, filled with more grace, filled with more suffering. This contrast is very useful as I set out to develop an outline for my book.

These entries are the seat of the soul, where sometimes I am reflecting on something from childhood or a journey home, those events half understood and half remembered, when surrounded with the present moment in my journal, have much more context and so many more pieces of a feminine and honest me than the ones I wrote to bring into yet another doctor’s office. In that monologue, I am desperately trying to get every detail out correctly, to not miss a thing, to present myself as not crazy, to validate my abdominal pain instead of just accepting it, being mad at it, or letting it exist just because it does.  Instead of allowing them to dismiss it.

In my journal, no one  dismisses the pain (and therefore me), and when I listen to these pieces from my soul, I see how I started to become whole again, and I see that young girl scared and trapped inside me begin to bloom and come out and join me.  And I understand why.  So, tell me, where is your Wild Woman?

Where does it take you? How do you reflect on your writing and your own story when you imagine that you are writing for the soul? For the connection to the Wild Woman?


From the jacket:

Within every woman there lives a powerful force, filled with good instincts, passionate creativity, and ageless knowing. She is the Wild Woman, who represents the instinctual nature of women. But she is an endangered species. For though the gifts of wildish nature belong to us at birth, society’s attempt to “civilize” us into rigid roles has muffled the deep, life-giving messages of our own souls.

In Women Who Run with the Wolves, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés unfolds rich intercultural myths, fairy tales, folk tales, and stories, many from her own traditions, in order to help women reconnect with the fierce, healthy, visionary attributes of this instinctual nature. Through the stories and commentaries in this remarkable book, we retrieve, examine, love, and understand the Wild Woman, and hold her against our deep psyches as one who is both magic and medicine.

Dr. Estés has created a new lexicon for describing the female psyche. Fertile and life-giving, it is a psychology of women in the truest sense, a knowing of the soul.

Estés, Clarissa Pinkola. Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. Rider, 1998.

The Dose

Every person’s depression and thyroid-disease story is different. And if you have been impacted by thyroid disease, you might be able to relate that there’s not really a beginning, middle, and end:

I have made a lot of slow, but perfectly beautiful changes in my health over the last nine months and, well, as I like to say, “little hinges swing big doors.” These changes have culminated into decreasing my needed thyroid medication by 38 mcg and maybe more still. I don’t have a thyroid gland and was placed on medication in infancy—at seven months.

So there begins a long list of symptoms if we have too much or too little. My biggest personal struggles: fluctuating estrogen hormones, depression, and slow bowels, dopamine, cortisol, escapism. I am petite so weight gain for me takes a while for anyone to notice, but my body will begin to suffer with just 5-8 lbs extra—too little T4 and my bowels are in a standstill, my metabolism crashing. Add inadequate stress management with fast-paced, no-room-for-error jobs and you likely have a recipe for pain and grief.

One of my noted beginnings was as a teen with shifting hormones. When I was thirteen a doctor suggested I didn’t need the Synthroid. I was too “normal”, he said. This was based off of his training, I didn’t fit the hypothyroid description. Synthroid worked really well for me as a child. They took me off of it and about two weeks later I battled sliding into a coma for a few days. While this ended up being a really good lesson in what would happen to me if I didn’t take my medication, it was also the instagator of major depression and a waking nightmare for my family when soon after this event, I became suicidal. I learned how to get help when it got bad, but I had lurking suicidal thoughts until the year of my 40th birthday—the year I finally fell in love with myself and suddenly, whole-heartedly, could live forever.

Over this last year I have had my labs tested every few months… I am grateful I have a doctor that understands how sensitive the endocrine system is.  The biggest shift is being able to feel my body. Since 2008, I have focused on natural choices in all areas of my life. I have always been a cook, rarely ate fast food, I cook a lot of veggies and pretty-close-to balanced dinners, learned about herbs, studied mindfulness and crystal healing, and all these are wonderful things… but I still had ground to cover in order to feel good mentally, physically, and emotionally.

For years my body had been overloaded with toxins from daily sugar, alcohol, eating too much, not eating enough greens, eb and flow of getting enough exercise, and a four-year span of chronic abdominal pain from inflammation and a not-so-great appendicitis recovery, plus a myriad of female organ issues.

I have been on a really high dose of thyroid (for my body weight) the last six years. Then in August, suddenly all my tests started coming back too high! When we started decreasing it, I was scared of becoming depressed and constipated, so this last time when the labs were still too high, I began to meditate with the intention of discovering why the decrease was happening. I was totally amazed by what my body said to me “It’s okay, Brandy, without all those toxins and inflammation, I can UPTAKE so much better.” And I immediately felt relief in the truth and wisdom of hearing my body talk. There was less interference.

Oh—that’s a new thing—my body has a few voices that were hiding behind coping mechanisms for a really long time. There’s another story about how I reduced toxins. It didn’t happen for me overnight, and I have a feeling there’s more change to come.

My thyroid journey will never end and menopause is only about ten years away, ready to add its very own dynamic. Thankfully, I know I should find a health coach when I get to that stage! I feel like I am finally on the right path. My plan to live with vitality until I’m 102 will succeed if I maintain the path I am on, listening to my body wisdom, slowing down, changing the way I handle stress, creating beautiful rituals of self-care, presence & planning, meditation, and loving and honoring myself.

With you in realizing, chasing, and achieving the dream,

Brandy Bell, CHC

Stiffness, Stillness, and Movement

I just finished a month-long movement challenge. To me, making movement a part of my day has been less about an intense, fitness program and more about noticing what my body needs and wants. Am I tired? Am I tense? Stressed? Sore? Maybe dehydrated?

Movement can be anything from pacing when you’re on a phone call to working at a standing desk with an option to sit, from playing hopscotch to going for a walk, stretching, swimming, sex, painting, paddling, yardwork, yoga. It can be working on your posture while you watch your favorite show or read this article.

It wakes up your body and helps you get out of your head. It brings you oxygen and often reminds us to drink more water. It also helps you to be still.

Be still? Why is being still connected to movement? When you’re stuck on something, stillness enables you to think about it calmly without being restless to move onto something else or becoming consumed with resolving it to the point of anxiousness. Often, when we’re restless, it’s because our body needs to expel energy. To exchange old energy for new energy. But if we never give energy the chance to renew, restlessness can seep into many areas of our lives. Thus, practicing movement allows us to also practice stillness. We cannot have this stillness without movement.

Both are important for overall health. Consider a child who hasn’t played all day and is bouncing off the walls when you want them to settle down. Without movement, the child has all their energy buzzing with no outlet. This doesn’t change when we get older. Notice your partner furiously tapping their foot at dinner, or palming the side of the couch again and again with a trace of aggitation? Notice having an unpleasant night’s sleep and waking tangled in the sheets? As we age, we simply take on more responsibilities and create tons of energy inside our minds. Movement remains the most important way our bodies dispel all this extra energy, allowing us time to rest and heal.

Are you new to movement or recovering from a long-term injury or pelvic pain? Not moving for hours without the explicit purpose of sleep or mental rest is damaging to tissues, I refer to this as stiffness. As a result of stiffness, overstretching the body is very easy.

Here’s a tip if you feel stiff: ease into any movement (regardless how small it is) to prevent muscle tears. Our muscles are pretty delicate when they haven’t been moving because they are so tight. When you begin a movement routine, make your stretch only a fraction at the beginning. Add a little more as you go, without any bounce. We don’t want to be scared of moving, but I know that’s not always easy. Think of this as fun, be curious and patient. Be especially nice to your neck and hips. It’s probably not going to feel good if you lift really heavy things or get on a pogo stick or trampoline. Walk, it’s okay to go slow. You will gain speed at the perfect time for you.