Are You Leaning In? The TABOO of Not Talking.


By Annette Wagner, Managing Editor

Have you noticed when life hands us health challenges, we don’t talk about them? Things that can be potentially life-threatening. Issues that make you change how you live day to day. Stuff that scares the hell out of you because it might kill you. Or not.

Many of us seem to make a habit of just not going into all the gory details for fear of – what, exactly? That we might sound like we are hypochondriacs? or that we are whining? Looking for pity? Or that we might somehow make it real if we talk about it?

Well, I am hauling this one out of the dark. It is time to pull back the curtains, let the light in, and have a conversation about this tendency to hide concerns about our health when it isn’t going the way we want. I am doing this partly because of our dear Cosmic Cowgirls Art Matriarch, Sue Hoya Sellars who distinctly disliked doctors and refused to see them for her back pain – which turned out to be a sign of serious heart issues. Might things have gone differently for her if she had seen a doctor? Maybe, maybe not. That is not the topic of this article.

Where I am going is all about having a conversation in the light about the dark scary things that go thump in the night and worry at us constantly. Why? Because in a culture that abhors death, we stuff far too much under the covers because of this fear that talking about it will make it real.

It’s as if the so-called Law of Attraction has poisoned us to the point we cannot talk about hard stuff.

Part of learning how to live in connection with my community, my tribes, means learning how to share and trust and lean on them occasionally. I will admit I am FAR more used to being the one who is leaned upon, then the one who leans on someone else. Which is one reason I do not share much of anything about the health issues hiding in the dark under my bed. They are very real and alive and periodically make the quality of my life downright awful. So I am sharing my dark secrets here out in the open as a way to encourage you to talk about yours with those you love.

Dancing the Cosmos by Annette Wagner, 2012

Dancing the Cosmos by Annette Wagner, 2012

My body’s immune system is not normal.

The reality is I live in a gray area between what doctors define as normal and unhealthy. I cannot eat food other folks eat. My  body does not respond “normally” when I get vaccines. Flu shots are poison bad and not to be ever considered. Mold is not my friend.

My body is strong, resilient, and very good at finding its balance. Which is good because things can whack me off center when I least expect it. Having been over-exposed to pesticides as a kid, overdosed on antibiotics, and coming from a long line of women with the Sight makes for a system that inherently has its own opinions about “normal.” I am what some call sensitive and others call a “canary in a coal mine”.

All that is the context for the last six months of pure hell. It all began on a day in May when I decided to go into the backyard and pull weeds. Not a task I do very often. Given a choice between gardening and creating in my studio, well the answer is obvious! The only reason I went out was because the jungle-like state of the weeds was making me feel guilty that I had not been out there sooner dealing with it. So off I went and tackled a nice tall patch with both hands for twenty minutes, tossed the pulled up weeds on the compost pile and retreated to the studio.

Later that afternoon, my left wrist started aching. Then it started turning red and swelling up and getting more and more painful. There was no obvious bug bite. I tried icing it thinking I had pulled the muscles. Didn’t slow things down a twit. The swelling and redness continued to spread as did the pain. By 2am in the morning, my left arm from the point of my elbow to my middle finger was a mass of screaming pain. I could not grip or move my fingers, the nerves were tingling like someone had a strangle hold on them, and I was not sleeping.

When I saw the doctor that morning, she poked, prodded and pronounced it a bug bite due to the redness and swelling. Told me to take anti-histamines. So I did and the swelling began to go down over the next couple days.

SheddingHer Skin by Annette Wagner, 2010

SheddingHer Skin by Annette Wagner, 2010

Then, the dance began. The swelling began returning, only more localized. The knuckles on my left hand took turns swelling up very red and painful over the course of the next several weeks. I tried to figure out what I was doing to cause this. Tweaking the nerve at my elbow, eating something particular, etc. Nada.

Then the knuckles on my right hand decided to join the dance. One would swell up and I would be in screaming pain unable to move the fingers. Unable to grip a paint brush or even a glass of water. It would calm down and the other hand would jump in and do the same thing. At least they took turns.

The tests started piling up for auto-immune disorders, Lymes disease, carpal tunnel syndrome, etc. All negative. My allergist/immunologist is convinced the joint pain is tied to that day in May and that something triggered my immune system and now its having a post-traumatic auto-immune response to whatever it was: insect bite, pesticide exposure, pollen overdose. Fill in your idea here.

Why do I not talk about this?

Because its frustrating enough for me to deal with that I do not want to burden anyone else. Because I just want it to stop and go away. Because maybe if I ignore it it will go away. Because other people have way more serious life-threatening stuff going on. This is not that big in the grand scheme of things. Then, I wake up in pain and wonder – will I have to stop sketching and painting one day? I heave a huge sigh and stand up and face the day again, pain or not.

The reality is I am unweaving this slowly. We have some very solid clues of what is causing my body to attack itself with these swellings. My immune system either over reacts or under reacts compared to a “normal” system. Right now, it is overreacting. My intuition knows this is tied to that day in May.

I am also learning how to lean in on those around me and talk about these things my immune system and I have to deal with. I am finding out folks are willing to listen and hear and support me. They don’t have a fix and I don’t need them to have one. I just need them to be there listening and letting me lean in. I am learning to trust that sharing this about me doesn’t change how they hold me and in fact helps me to stay positive and determined to overcome this challenge and return to a place of balance once again.

And that, my friend is why I am writing this article. To leave you with some support, a story and the thought that maybe, just maybe, it may be a wonderful thing to share what you are hiding under the bed. And I don’t mean the dust bunnies sweetheart!

So there it is.

My health secret out of the dark closet.

Do you have one?

Are you sharing it with those in your tribe?

If you are not sharing, why not?

If you are, how does that feel?

Are you leaning in?


Annette painting in rocksAnnette Wagner, M.A.,  is a Visionary Artist, Color of Woman Intentional Creativity teacher, Art Doctor, author, and shamanic practitioner.  She paints in the Contemporary Symbolismstyle and works extensively with metaphor, symbol, and color. She is also the Managing Editor of the Cosmic Cowgirls Magazine

Annette studies with American Master painter Sue Hoya Sellars and has a Masters in Women’s Spirituality  from Sofia University. Her background includes over 25 years of hi-tech experience including 21 patents. She is owned by her dancing daughter, two cat beings, the man of her heart, and her Muse. You can view her artwork, visit her Etsy shop, and read more about Annette

Author: Annette Wagner

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  1. Thank you so much, Annette, for naming and breaking the taboo around talking about health issues and sharing what is going on with you. I has seen glimpses on FB in the Cafe about your challenges and wondered how you were doing with them. I bow down to your courage and the I honour the energy it takes to live with this type of pain/condition. And yes, I too, am a “canary in a coal mine”.

    Your art nourishes me, as it reminds me of the importance of each moment and our unfolding in the cosmos, regardless of how I many be feeling. Red Thread Blessings.

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  2. Hi Annette, Thanks for this very interesting article. First I am having compassion for your suffering. To answer your question, the reason I don’t share any of my health issues is because I have a belief it would threaten my livelihood if I did. I don’t want anyone I work for thinking I am unfit or weak for the job. I don’t want it to “interfere” in people’s image of me as a teacher or a performer. As far as my own health challenges they are less as I age. I suffered horribly as a teen with Anemia, which is gone now. I had a dance injury in my twenties that put my life on hold and I worked through it with exercise. Another injury threatened my piano playing, but I worked through that with specific exercises as well. Once in awhile I wake up with a headache…not in the summer. I believe it’s from slight arthritis in my neck. I have to be careful of chocolate because too much can cause a headache. I also struggle with the sound of a room full of people talking. Disorganized sound wears me out.

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  3. Thank you for this honest and piercing article. Many of us have drunk the spiritual koolaid and feel like failures if we have big challenges of any kind, body stuff included. The ego sounds kind of like this: What? This? You? Now? Are you kidding me? After all the work you ‘ve done on yourself, well you MUST be doing SOMETHING WRONG! And who the hell wants to face that, let alone, hold the lantern high for others to see and judge. Ahhhh…..yes, well. My body issue is right out there. 100 pounds of excess baggage on this goddess body. I love her and respect the history that this weight reflects. I am a Warrior Goddess and I’ve come to terms….almost…with the idea that I am one with this space and size and weight. Except when I pay attention to the signs that I am pre-diabetic. Then it’s not just an ‘accept and move’ on kind of issue. The weight might not budge, but I sure can pay attention to my blood sugar levels with a little gizmo called a glucometer and pricking my finger a couple of times a day. Dr wanted me to take meds. I said “no, give me six months, I’ll deal with it with food and exercise” and I am. And no, I don’t share much of this…some…but not much with my tribe. Why, same reason as all the other things we hide: we want to appear as spiritual beings, rather than vulnerable humans. I get it. I have started sharing more and more…and will keep on doing so. There is no shame or failure in having physical issues such as yours or mine. and LOA or not, we have to talk about it in meaningful, connected ways. Thank you again Annette.

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