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How to follow your gut

January 3, 2013
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When it rains, it pours. That’s sort of what life has been like around here. I’m sure you’ve had times like this, when upsets in your world sort of collide and multiply, leaving you exhausted and feeling like there’s nowhere to go but down.

I’m here to tell you that following your gut is your way out. Your way up.

follow your gut

Want to feel faith pour into your heart? Here it is:

My husband and I have been…rocky. Since my son was born. Heck, since I was pregnant. For those of you with kids, you know that caring for a little one can rock mom and dad’s world in inexplicably intense ways. It’s not just the lack of sleep. It’s suddenly seeing yourself in a new role, coming to terms with a life change, reliving your own childhood, etc, etc. New mamas, I feel ya.

It’s not worth trying to explain all the fights and tears of these past 2 years. Just believe me. There was a lot of straw on the camel’s back.

Three days before Christmas, we cancelled our weekend getaway plans (insert serious drama here) and went our separate ways. We spent the holiday apart. It was the lowest feeling I’ve ever had about this man I love so much – a feeling like everything was just awful, that I was awful for sending him away, that we were awful for being at this terrible place.

He seemed to concur. Especially the part about me being awful.

But somewhere in my gut, I felt expansion. A yeah-this-is-right type feeling.

So, the first rule to following your gut is this:

1. Stop and listen.

Your body talks to you. Ever had to take a test or face someone you really didn’t want to see? Know that icky feeling you get? Kinda squirmy? That’s an example of your gut instinct. It doesn’t always make sense but it’s there. So stop. Get quiet. Pay attention. What message is your body sending you?

Your gut is actually full of the same stuff your brain is made out of. I’ve heard it called a second brain. It’s smart. So we listen.

And when I did, my body was sending me signals that I made the right decision. Even though I was so upset I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, couldn’t do much but cry, there was a lightness inside. This feels…ok. This feels good. To get some space. Live on our own terms, for a day. A week? A month? I didn’t know.

And that leads me to the next rule:

2. You may not know the answer. Just focus on the feeling.

The feeling here was relief. Like I was finally home from war. That felt good. Despite everything, I could not deny the voice inside that knew this was for the best. How can you think when you are constantly in the middle of a fight? How can you make decisions for yourself when you are wrapped up with someone else’s stuff?

We had some time.

We thought. We felt. We teetered out of our coupledom and into being ourselves, standing on our own two feet.

We finally came together, with our guards down, with honest talk and openness. A whole new level of relief. No more boxing gloves. We had had a breather and it made a huge difference. We agreed, it had been the right thing. Hard hard hard. But right. This is obviously a much abbreviated version!

The end? Not quite.

The next day our cat yowled fiercely.

He held one paw totally limp. Broken wrist? No idea. I love this cat. This is a cat that gives his whole heart, all the time. And you’ve never heard a better purr. He belongs to my husband but it was love at first sight – this kitty has been on or near my lap for 8 years. Heart aching still from our marriage upheaval, we whisked our kitty to the emergency vet clinic.

It felt really strange – not only for one crisis to end and another begin – but because our cat showed symptoms very specific and similar to my husband’s mother before she died. A limp arm. A circulation problem. Uncanny to see another loved one hold a useless limb.

After some very expensive testing we learned that the problem with our kitty was quite severe. Not a broken wrist at all – more like advanced cancer sending a blood clot down his leg. Unable to come home in his current condition. Thousands more to do a biopsy and possibly treat cancer in a 14 year old cat? Or was it time to send my best little furry friend off? If you’ve ever had a terminally ill pet you know what it feels like. The worst part, the decision hanging over your head.

It all felt like too much. Too much emotion, too little sleep, too many decisions. My gut said to wait another day. Give another day to absorb it all. Maybe another day would let us see him off with clear vision. I wanted to be there, to hold him as he went on his next journey. Maybe I just wanted to stall. But still.

The next rule of following your gut is this:

3. Say “What If?”

What if we waited. What if we paid for a night of hospital boarding. He wasn’t in pain, so what if?

He stayed another night and my hurricane of tears turned to intermittent rain.

And on the way to the vet the next day, they called. Can you believe this? His condition had improved (!) and while the outlook is still quite grim, we could come take him home. Love him up for a few more days. Say our goodbyes and let him sit on his favorite couch. I’m so grateful we waited a day!

We never got to say goodbye to my husband’s mother, we didn’t get that last chance to love her up. I say that from a heart heavy with regret. But I feel really strongly that this is another chance to do right. And so we will. Even though I’ll be damned if I can get a pill down this cat’s throat. I’ll keep trying. I love this kitty.

The last rule of following your gut is this:

Take it one step at a time.

You will never have all the answers up front. Your body only responds to the present moment. So stop. Listen. Feel for what’s there, under the logic and anger and confusion. Take a small step responding to what you feel. It may not make sense, but ask “What if.” Maybe if you listen carefully, the next step will appear.

And it will be divine. And this time, you will have no regrets.

  • Michelle G.

    Michelle my dear. Thank you so much for your honesty and your wisdom in such a difficult time. I am sending you loads of love and wish only the best for you and your family. Big hugs!!!

    • Michelle Pfennighaus, CHC

      Thank you so much

  • Lisa Miller

    Michelle, for so many other women out there…we say thank you. Thank you for pouring your heart out. Thank you for your strength. Thank you for your honesty. Thank you for being you. We all stand behind you with massive amounts of love. xoxox

    • Michelle Pfennighaus, CHC

      Dude, it’s hard. I’m grateful. xoxo

  • Lisa Miller

    Michelle, I just opened this in my email inbox and immediately thought of you…divine timing. ;-)

    “Sometimes one can learn much more about life, love, and happiness, when they’re single than when they’re in a relationship, when they’re looking for work than when they’re working, when they’re confused than when they’re clear, and so on…

    And if they allow themselves to learn what there is to learn, rather than resist, their life will be transformed, and that which was, will be no longer.

    So happy for you,
    The Universe”

    • Michelle Pfennighaus, CHC

      love this, thanks lisa

  • Carrie Saba

    Thank you for sharing this Michelle! I had tears as I got to the end. Listening to our gut in difficult times is so important and so hard to do sometimes. This was such a great reminder to me – thank you.
    The ups and downs of marriage and parenthood is not talked about often and as I read your words I remembered those days early on being a parent and getting to a new norm with my husband. Actually, even as the girls get older I feel like we adjust and ebb and flow to a new norm all the time. Your strength to follow your gut gives me strength to continue to check in and follow my gut.
    We recently lost one of our cats and it was sudden. I can relate to your wonderful furry friend and where you are with him. I love your “what if”. Thank you again for sharing . . .sending you a big hug and healing energy.

    • Michelle Pfennighaus, CHC

      “The ups and downs of marriage and parenthood is not talked about often” — Carrie that is so true. And it’s really hard to hear when you are young and full of hope that the future will be perfect! ha! xo

  • Leila Tobin

    It is amazing how eloquently and laser sharp you can describe two situations I myself, have lived through and can once again, relate to… It is so refreshing to have another human being be so open about pain, vulnerability, triumph, trust and simply life. Like Carrie, I had tears in my eyes at the end of your story…. thank you, Michelle. I feel like I’ve known you for much longer, much before music class…:-)
    P.S. If you need a fantastic holistic vet, let me know. (we needed her for our then 12 y old cancer ridden kitty)

  • Nikki

    Beautiful, Michelle. Thank you for being so honest. I’m sorry about your cat. I know the pain. I hope this year brings you peace and happiness. Much love! xo

  • Kelly Dahl

    Michelle, your words have moved me so much. Thank your for listening to your gut and knowing that this is a story that so many of us need to hear. Sending you lots and lots of love and many warm thoughts for your sweet kitty.

  • Crystal

    Michelle, I am inspired by your courage and truly appreciate your honesty. As usual, your words resonated so deeply with me. Thank you. Sending lots of love your way <3

  • Angie W

    Beautiful, open and honest words Michelle. I’m so sorry about your kitty. Sending healing vibes to all of you.

  • Sheena

    Wow, this is incredible. Thank you for this. I also felt quite emotional by the end. I responded to your story more than I can say, so thank you for sharing.

  • JoAnne

    Wow. I wish I could hope through this internet thing and give you and your family (including that awesome kitty) a HUGE hug right now. What an amazing post and such an important one. People just don’t talk about the hard stuff often enough. Life isn’t all bunnies and rainbows but we can each make it through things if we try. And having a support group of good people around makes it just a little easier.

  • Niki | Spilled Ingredients

    Thanks for sharing your story and for the reminder to listen to our gut when it’s hardest to. Your heartfelt, raw honesty is refreshing, and it resonates a great deal mama, you are not alone. Hugs while you love up your kitty and work your way up.

  • Judy Griffin

    I really appreciate your courage in sharing this in such a positive way. Yes, I believe that even when things aren’t going right you can still turn it around and come in from a new perspective. I think you did that here which is an important lesson for you, your family, & all of us. As a woman happily married for almost 24 years it isn’t possible for to be in a state of bliss. There will always be peaks to savor & cherish, valleys to weather and teach you, and then there might be some real heavy lifting along with some thunder & lightening. It’s important to give the clouds time to clear & let the sun shine in.

  • Liz

    Wow thanks for being so honest. I can relate, marriage is HARD! And it gets ridiculously hard once a babe comes along as I’ve discovered over the past 8 months since my daughter was born. It’s refreshing to hear that I’m not alone in this struggle to keep it together. Let 2013 be the year to work towards a happy married place :)


  • Melissa Dowling

    Wow thanks for your raw honesty I can feel it in my gut. I have been re-learning to follow mine too. My best wishes to all of your family, both 4 & 2 legged. X

  • shannon slechter

    Michelle, you are always so willing to put yourself out there in hopes of helping others. That is so altruistic of you. Love the idea of listening to your (my) gut, will try to keep that in the clear part of my head. Sending healing thoughts to you and your husband, and glad you’re getting some qt with your kitty.

  • Dayva Savio

    Such a great reminder to listen closely to what our bodies are telling us. Our innate wisdom. Love this and love you. You are truly amazing.

  • Lauren

    Michelle-you are brave, you are wise and you are real. I really admire you an appreciate what you do. Hard, hard stuff-sending light and grace.

  • Alina

    Thank you for this beautiful post, and so beautifully written.

  • Debbie

    What a beautiful and true post. Thank you for sharing your life with us. It must have been hard to open up to the world, but you are so right about gut feelings. I hope and pray that things work out for you and that your life will get better. Sometimes it just feels like the world is crashing in on us and we just don’t know what to do. The right thing, and only thing to do is to move on and breath. Life has a way of working itself out, without much help from us. We may not always get what we want, but if we LET life happen instead of trying to MAKE life happen, it will be easier. I hope your kitty gets better, I’ve seen it happen before and I hope your relationship works out in a way that you are both happy with. Peace and blessings to you and your family.

  • Lauren

    Try crushing the pill up and putting it in wet food or tuna. My childhood cat lived with a thyroid problem for 2 years on his medication and this was the only way we could get him to take his pills.

  • Mariyam

    Thank you for sharing your truth with us all, I love the human being i see in your writing!

  • Ingredients WeChoose

    Beautiful! and so true. moved me to tears. xx

  • lauri

    The baby years are tough. My husband heard more than once, “I’m sorry, but I can’t handle anyone else touching me. I’ve had a baby hanging on me all day…don’t be mad” ..and sometimes I hated him. But we were tired and our kiddo didnt sleep for 11 years, it was rough! But we hung on, and are best friends again. I wish you the best, and let us know how the kitty is

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