Finding Beauty in the Face of Adversity: Michelle Gerrard
Lilacs and sunflowers are two very different blooms that thrive in opposite climates. Lilacs need to endure frost to truly flower and release their sweet aroma. Sunflowers reach and speak to the warmth. They grow higher and higher so that they can grasp at the sunshine that infuses them with life. I have gathered different forms of strength over the years of illness from these two blooms. Lilacs teach me lessons of rest, knowing that it is okay to be delicate and that strength does not always roar. Sunflowers, my heart’s bloom, is a flower that has taught me to grow no matter where my seeds are planted. A flower that endures, that will grow bright and beautiful through a crack in the cement. A beauty that takes up space is hearty and yet strikingly beautiful. A permanent reminder that I do not have to make myself small just because I am wounded. I can, with my collected scars, still rise.
Life is a balancing act. Living in both joy and pain, learning to surrender our innate desire to control.
I have been called to create since I was a child. Mesmerized by the beauty that surrounds me. Writing, music, dance, photography, cooking, painting, flower crown weaving, horseback riding… I wanted to do it all. Any way in which I could express the multitude of emotions flowing through my little body, I yearned for.
Before I was born, a part of me was taken from me. From violence, I lost part of myself before I could truly know her. It wasn’t until the last couple of years that I started to navigate the emotional trauma of my past that I made the connection between trauma and physical ailments. There is extensive research that connects early childhood trauma and physical illness (autoimmune diseases, cancers, etc.). I fought the idea for quite some time until I found a group of practitioners that truly felt right for my body and soul. With their guidance and love, I began to see how events that occurred in my childhood set my body up to be hyperactive and, in turn, caused sensitivities and illnesses to be more prolific in my body. Not everything is emotional or related to trauma, but it is a part of a whole. It has become one of the most significant findings that have lead me to deep and true healing.
In my 31 years, I have had to rebirth myself over and over. From surviving on brown rice for over two years due to a rare form of E. Coli that destroyed my system, to holistically treating and overcoming Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), followed by a strange neurological condition that started overnight, then losing my best friend at twenty-eight years old from Gastric Cancer, and suddenly losing my ability to swallow… and then a diagnosis of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome. That is the short version of a very interesting 12 years from 18-30. There were days and nights where I honestly did not think I would survive to watch the sunrise over the horizon. Nights of terrifying pain, one particular night where I woke up and my vision was almost entirely nonexistent. When the Mast Cell began, I remember what it was like realizing I could not swallow. I remember living on liquids so vividly and thinking… I will never eat solid food again. More than anything, I remember holding my best friend’s hand and wishing she could stay but knowing she had to leave.
Cooking has always been my haven. When I started to become allergic to even my safe foods, I lost all hope. I stepped out of the kitchen, believing that the chapter of me creating in that space was over. Months passed, and I began to crave the feeling of dough in my hands. The feeling of a knife gliding through an onion, the aromas of garlic hitting a warm pan of olive oil. I missed the markets and all their vibrancy. I knew that to cook without being able to taste would never be easy, but I also knew at that point, living without cooking was not a life I desired. I did not cook for myself: I cooked to nourish others. It was my way of showing love, of taking care of the people I cherished.
There was deep frustration in the beginning. Learning to rely solely on smell, touch, and sound. In the end, I learned so much and improved exponentially as a cook and as a person. My story is no different than all of our stories. Every single one of us will face trials and tribulations that, at the time, feel insurmountable. I went from writing my will and goodbye letters to writing my first book of poetry. The most common question I get asked is, how do you continue with limitations and a looming fear of leaving the Earth? The best answer I have is I truly feel like there is nothing that different about my life.
Yes, I have an unpredictable disease, but life is unpredictable. Now, I have the gift of knowing how precious time is. How fragile life is. I live in a way that truly embraces the moment of now, finding beauty in the face of adversity.
Illness has taken many things from me, but it has given me more. I cannot lie and say I do not have days that are covered in the saltiness of my tears. Days that feel lonely and impossible. Days that hurt in ways that words can never fully describe. What I can say is that, through creativity, nature, and therapy, I have found new ways of getting through those days.
The summer of blooming flowers, grasses and mustards taller than my body, will forever remind me of the ebb and flow of life. We forget so often in this fast-paced world of ours that we are nature. Our bones made of stardust, our skin touched by the Earth. Just as the seasons come and go, so does life. Seasons of joy, love, growth, and seasons of retreat, grief, and pain. They are all necessary for us to truly experience this one incredible life we have. I can be both the sunflower and the lilac. Coexisting, expanding and growing when they are meant too.
My deepest wish is to continue to create for all my days. To dedicate my life to leaving beauty in my wake.
I wish for all of you a multitude of moments that take your breath away — moments of slow appreciation. When the moments of pain come, I wish for you a quick reprieve.
Words have the power to connect us with ourselves and the world around us. Language and speaking out loud can calm our nervous system and help create a sense of peace and belonging in our own bodies, even when they are ailing. I would love to share an invocation that you can hold onto when your heart feels a bit tender or when you are navigating a transition in your life. You can always say the words aloud for a person you love, wrapping them in the healing nature of your heart.
Invocation for Resilience and Love
I know in my heart that all things pass with time. I am resilient and have so much to give this world. I know that there is medicine in loving and healing in connection. Let me spend my days living more for today, with appreciation for others and the magic we bring to this blue planet, our home. Thank you for my existence. Thank you for the beauty of my life.
Michelle Gerrard-Marriott lives in Ojai, California. She is enchanted by the midnight sky. She wakes with dusk and rests with the sunrise. The water is another home. Horses some of her closest friends. She left pieces of her soul in Kenya, Australia, and England. She yearns to feel all forms of love and to give love at every possible turn.