And it's not for lack of direction; I know what I am good at and what I love to do. It's just that there are so many directions I feel I am being pulled in.
Perhaps a nicer, less divisive way to say that, is that I have many colourful threads that form my web of being! :)
I often feel this pressing need to categorise "it", to pack it down nice and neatly into a label, to be able to explain to people what I do in a concise sentence without feeling like I've left large chunks of who I am stranded by the side of the road, all for the sake of simplicity.
And so here I am, eating disorders dietitian by day; (newly) Zenthai shiatsu practitioner by candlelight.
In one studio a yoga teacher emphasising the importance of play; in the next a nutritionist distilling hours of reading textbooks and research papers into digestible information that my clients can understand.
Studying naturopathy and Chinese Medicine on one hand; investigating the clinical applications of CBT and DBT for eating disorder clients on the other.
Sometimes I feel like a bit of a jill of all trades. Master of none. A case of shiny object syndrome. A fraud. Not really good at any one of those things.
Hello, voice of my inner critic, I hear you loud and clear.
And he is; unlike myself, who - after six long years of university study and a brief stint as a wildlife veterinarian working on an achingly beautiful island (a dream job in the eyes of many) - left that life behind to uncover more of who I knew I was but had not yet discovered. I travelled Asia alone for a few years teaching yoga, and returned with new focus to begin my Masters degree in nutrition and dietetics.
But even once I finished that degree, I still felt there was yet more to be discovered.
In my own healing from disordered eating (and at the worst times, what I now recognise as an undiagnosed eating disorder) I came across the non-diet approach and Health at Every Size movement. The relief at finding these missing pieces (and not having "wasted" yet another two years of my life studying) was indescribable. Using my mind to sift through and utilise the growing evidence base around these approaches excites and stimulates me. It motivates me to make the world a safer, more inclusive and healthier place for my children.
And yet... as rewarding as this work is for me, teaching yoga and hands-on bodywork still fills me with a flavour of peace I simply cannot get from hours sitting in a clinic working with nutrition and eating disorder clients.
To be truly fulfilled with the work I do, I need to use both my brain and my body.
My mind and heart.
My intellect and my creative soul.
In grade six I set up a lunchtime counselling practice in the schoolyard where girls fighting with each other could come and I would act as their mediator. I made business cards and asked my best friend to promote me.
In high school I was academically the top or second top student every year, finishing secondary school with the highest possible score in the state's system. I was a nerd, geek and all those "smart kid" labels so many people use to manage the vast complexity and uniqueness of individuals. When they were on the same subject line, I chose to study physics over art even though I adored art. I thought I needed physics under my belt to keep doors at university open to me.
I fucking hated physics.
I was also very physical. I loved to run and was naturally gifted in athletics. But I had a strict Chinese mother who forbade me from missing school to compete in anything beyond inter-school sports. So I did what I could within school hours, winning age champion in athletics, cross country running, and overall age champ in my final year of high school (it's amazing what just a little bit of running training in the bush after school can do!).
I've never lost my love for movement and later helped myself through years of study by working as a yoga teacher, and at one point was a sponsored off-road triathlete.
I don't write this to brag, but rather to help myself try to get clear on what lead me to this dilemma of not being a purist. Or why it even matters.
Now, I'm a dietitian, scientist, nutritionist, counsellor, eating disorders specialist, yoga teacher, bodyworker, mother, lover, wife, witch, meditator, student naturopath, speaker, artist, athlete, traveller, writer, business owner, and a thousand other things. I have been a veterinarian, wildlife researcher, public health worker, carer, and a thousand more things.
But none of these labels covers each and every aspect of myself - quite the contrary. Each label reduces me to something known, something safe and neatly defined. In doing so, they become highly inauthentic.
So labels - not helpful.
Motherhood as a path to clarity
Feeling the need to take a break from the yoga world I had surrounded myself with, after Archie’s birth I pulled back from attending and teaching regular yoga classes and instead practised karma yoga - cleaning countless pooey bums, breastfeeding through many sleepless nights, and loving unconditionally through bliss and pain, agony and ecstasy.
At times I have felt empty, shattered, broken, like pieces of my soul were missing. I had no lasting desire to practice yoga, do AcroYoga, to dance, or even to play. It wasn't even that I didn't have the energy (I've been powerlifting from four months postpartum and it feels great). It was more that I didn't feel ready to face those parts of myself again.
Perhaps the memory of who I was before children - a vibrant and free little being flitting from one south east asian country to the next, teaching yoga in jungle studios or practising flamboyant forms of body expression as I pleased - was too painful to touch whilst immersed in a sea of nappies and milk-soaked sheets, and at times not leaving the house for days or weeks.
When Kairi was 5 months old I returned to my work with eating disorders and nutrition, but for the most part I put the yoga and bodywork stuff on hold. The experience of being a new mum is so somatic and visceral, maybe I needed an escape into my head and so chose to stay with the clinical, analytical side of the work I do.
But that’s not the entirety of who I am.
It’s now been nearly a year since I had my second baby and I’m feeling a palpable shift, to re-emerge once again, more true to the many aspects of who I am.
Last week was the first time in what feels like a long time that I did something that wasn't "heady" professional development. I attended a Level 1 Zenthai Shiatsu training on the Sunshine Coast with one of my most respected and long time teachers, Gwyn Williams.
A few days after the course has ended I can still feel my passion for the healing arts returning, like a trickling stream growing into a strong flowing, wide river after some long awaited rains.
Thank you to Gwyn and all the beautiful souls I met and reunited with over the four days. I feel in my bones that this is the start of something beautiful. I'm now looking forward to becoming a more integrative, truly holistic healer. I am remembering who I used to be, but more importantly, who I am becoming.
I'm feeling the urge to go back to more physical endeavours - my art, movement, yoga, play. The right brain stuff!
Hence the dilemma over "what to call myself" once again coming up...
So I try to remind myself, that there is no need to label. There is no need for complete crossover of skills from one domain of my being into another, although my experience has shown me that this happens seamlessly without my having to think about it. For example:
- My working knowledge of women's hormones from my work as a nutritionist and student naturopath helps me give menstruating, pregnant and peri-menopausal women more options in yoga class.
- The meridians and Chinese medicine I learn in Zenthai Shiatsu comes across when I'm teaching a Springtime-themed yoga class. It helps in clinic when I suspect blood deficiency in a patient and this is confirmed by low stored iron levels on a blood test.
- My understanding of pranayama helps me ease the anxiety of a patient with a long standing eating disorder.
- My passion for the non-diet approach and experience as a HAES dietitian keeps me grounded in my body when studying Ayurvedic or Chinese medicine diet therapy. Having embodied intuitive eating stops me from becoming dogmatic and overly-cerebral about these philosophies.
So I'm not just a dietitian. I'm not just a yoga teacher, a TCM practitioner, a bodyworker, or any one of the labels I've tried to wrap myself tightly in for the sake of security and neatness. And that's ok.
There are purists and there are hybridisers. Neither one is better than the other.
I am no purist. I am a hybridiser, a blender or arts and science, a concoctress, an alchemist.
I am what I am.