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Just because it gives you a rash doesn’t mean it’s bad for you: on the inevitable discomfort of change and what to do about it.

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Four and a half years ago I broke out into a full body rash that itched like a mother. It was very poorly timed because I was about to cruise around the Caribbean with a bunch of entrepreneur/change-maker types at Summit at Sea.

Bikini + sun + full body rash = not cute and not comfortable. Itch city.

In the Spring of 2011 my life was in total renovation mode.

I’d left NYC with no plans of where to settle next. I’d gotten rid of most of my belongings, and what was left filled about a quarter of the smallest storage unit I could rent. I was in the process of unraveling my business partnership with my mom and finally creating full financial independence. (I tell the story in depth in my book, Money: A Love Story, which is now available on audio!)

I’d also accidentally fallen into a romance with a guy I barely knew who I invited to drive across the country with me on a whim.

I had left my comfort zone far in the distance. Every aspect of my life was up for overhaul.

And so I broke out into a rash. Old patterns were rising to the surface and needed to be released.

Just like when you do a juice cleanse and you get a headache the first couple of days as the toxins leave your body, my skin broke out as my toxic thinking and ways of being were leaving my experience.

Often when you upgrade your diet or workout program you feel worse before you feel better.

Upgrading your life is the very same thing.

You may break out in a rash as your body and being adjust to the new way. It doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. It doesn’t always mean you have to dump the guy or quit the job or switch directions.

In my case, it meant I was on the right track. It was just super uncomfortable because I was making significant, necessary changes.

(As a result of the massive changes I made that year, I paid off all my debt, doubled my income, doubled my savings, got a book deal, and fell in love with the man who became my husband. All so worth a couple of weeks of itching.)

I think so often when we have a physical ailment or everything in our life turns to turds for a bit, we automatically freak out and stop in our tracks.

We forget that our bodies are connected to our lives and that perhaps our bodies need to catch up to our psyches and adjust to the new normal, too.

I chose not to run to the dermatologist because I knew she would probably prescribe me steroid cream, which I know doesn’t heal anything. It just masks it.

(This is what was right for me. I’m not saying don’t ever go to the doctor. I’m just saying consider listening to your body before grabbing a prescription.)

I wanted whatever needed to leave my body to leave my body. I wanted whatever needed to leave my life to leave my life. I wanted it up and out, not covered up.

(Sometimes the cover-up comes in the form of drugs, alcohol, overwork, over exercise, or even social media. There are an infinite number of choices when we’re looking to avoid the discomfort of actually feeling something.)

Getting rid of what no longer serves you is uncomfortable, but don’t let that stop you. {Tweet it.}

Getting rid of what no longer serves you is uncomfortable, but don’t let that stop you-tweet

The reason we stay stuck where we are is because we’re avoiding the itchy rash of change. We’re avoiding how bad it feels. So we stay with the chronic, low-grade feeling bad of where we are instead of dealing with the acute pain of change.

Allowing the experience of the acute pain of change promises eventual relief. Staying stuck has no such promise.

If we’re willing to scratch away for a while and let whatever needs to leave leave, though, the rash will heal and we’ll end up with new, luminous skin.

On the other side of the itch is a life that works way better than the one you were willing to get uncomfortable to let go of, and it will be worth all that scratching.

 

OVER TO YOU:

Have you ever experienced the “itch” of changing your life in your body? What do you do when faced with the inevitable discomfort of change? I’d love to hear your experience in the comments.

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  • Cassie says:

    Oh my gosh!! Thank you for sharing this! I’ve been dealing with a literal rash on my legs for months now and am treating it naturopathicaly but wondering if this too is part of my growth process!
    Knowing this happened to you brings me so much hope and joy because I keep thinking, what am I doing wrong??? When maybe that’s not the question ?!
    It has been humbling and forced me to rise above my shame even when I don’t feel powerful because it looks and itches like crazy! It is also making me aware of my mind and what I’m thinking when the itch comes on.

    Wow! Total breakthrough!! Thank you!!!

  • Renee says:

    This article is right on time. I actually have a really bad rash on my foot, and I know that it’s linked to the changes that I’m going through mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. I just trust in my ability to nurture myself through it. Just like when I’m sick, I nurture myself until I’m well again. I know there’s sweet relief that follows. So I try to just ride the wave & take care of myself until the relief gets here.

  • Dawn Keogh says:

    I chuckled when I read the subject line this morning, and chuckled some more when I read this piece of wisdom.

    My psoriasis flared up this spring after a calm period of 18 months. It decided to flare along my hairline and behind my ears down both sides of my neck. The steroid gels and creams prescribed in the past weren’t being very effective. I was very thankful I didn’t get the whole body flare up this time around (which took 9 months to diagnose, starting as “all over body yeast infection” to “you’re allergic to the sun” – that theory failed when winter came and I still suffered)

    During meditation this June, I realized that my immune system had been undermined by the stress of an exploratory surgery early May (early sign colon cancer, all clear now!), my 60th birthday, my daughter’s 18th birthday followed by her high school graduation a week later. Would she walk? It was questionable, this highly gifted red haired child of mine was doing what she does best: walking the knife edge till the last moment, then pulling it off.

    My meditation exercise asked me to treat my over stressed self gently and lovingly, these were huge transitions. I also was led to investigate Triple Burner Merdian balancing exercises during a meditation. My itchy scaly, and sometimes dried egg pus ickyness quickly calmed, I’m almost clear now. Medication helps but meditation was even more effective.

    I love your work Kate, many thanks!
    Dawn

  • Meg says:

    This is an awesome post, Kate. It made me day and helped me get a deeper perspective on going through transformational periods in our lives. I love the way you understood this in your own life. It is such an important lesson to learn. Growth is hard. It is uncomfortable because we are leaving our comfort zone behind. It reminds me of what I read in Barbara Stanny’s book: ‘You’ve got to be willing to be uncomfortable.’ I think what puts it perfectly in words is this quote from Sharon Salzberg: “There are difficult periods that are inherent to a path. It is not a sign of things gone wrong.” I am going through such a phase in my own life and I love the fact that souls like you exist almost as a guiding light for others. Thank you! :)

  • Aaron says:

    Hello Kate,

    I am writing in response to your email about the rash that indicates release for change. I understand and appreciate the concept, but am concerned about some of the language in the email. The opening sentence includes the phrase “itched like a mother.”

    I’m wondering what that is supposed to mean. It sounds like the rash was really bad. Why would you use the word “mother” to describe something bad? Is that an abbreviation of the phrase “mother-f***er?”

    If that’s the case, you might want to rethink the use of this word. From my perspective, it expresses misogyny.

    Thank you for reading my email.

    Aaron

  • Paula Hill says:

    Kate!
    Perfect timing (per usual!)
    Call it a rash, call it diarrhea, call it change…I’ve been struggling with horrific blow-out diarrhea for the past two weeks after a veggie burrito at Chipolte (sorry to shout out the blame here!)
    Holed-up, in agony, berating my Self for not listening to my hesitation in getting the brown rice vs white, lashing out for not being able to attend functions ’cause I can’t be too far from the can, holding a tight-lipped or downturned mouth hostage since I’m unable to muster a smile…I get it!
    Had to sit, and write, and read, and listen, and pursue what I really want. What makes me vulnerable and scared and lonely and piss poor?
    The fact that I’ve been blaming others for my lack of success, shaming them for not stepping up to help me (even after I declare “I have what I need” really blows.
    I need to decide what I want and ASK for it.
    Step out and be my Self, knowing success shall present itself in good time. For I am great, I am good, I am capable, and willing, and able.
    Thanks for being brave and outspoken!
    You Rock,
    Paula
    PS This is NOT a diet I’d recommend, though I’ve lost ten pounds in two weeks!

  • Becky says:

    This was Great…thank you Kate! It is good to hear that ailments(rashes) are not always a bad thing…what is it trying to teach you…what is the lesson. A positive spin on something that usually makes us beat ourselves up.

  • Martha says:

    This was one of those perfectly timed doses of just the right medicine. Thanks, Kate! I’m actively working on clearing some energetic blocks right now and I’ve had more than a few pangs. It seems like there should be only relief to come from it, but I do feel like I’m trudging through the old stuff to get there. Reading this gave me a freshened resolution to lean into that discomfort and to just keep going. Thanks for the encouragement!

  • Cat says:

    Yes!! This resonates with me for so many reasons, I’m over here laughing so hard I wanna cry!!

    Last night, my rash was insomnia. Usually, it’s eczema!!

    I woke up at 1:26 am, and was wide awake… like, *I could go for a workout right now* – awake. My mind wasn’t even really busy. I was just AWAKE. I got up for a glass of water around 1:45, but that short trip didn’t help. Around 2:30, I got restless and got up again. Looking out the window with a cool breeze on my face was pleasant, but when I got back in bed, I couldn’t get comfortable and my eyes refused to stay shut!
    *toss*turn*toss*turn*flip*flop… 4:00.
    I got up, grabbed my journal and my water. I went to the next room and proceeded to write out exactly what my ideal week would look like. From Monday morning through Sunday night. I got elaborate, I got eloquent and *dreamy*, I even sketched a couple pictures in the margins.

    40 minutes and eight pages later, I went back to bed and was asleep in less than 10 minutes. When we got up, around 7:45, I was a bit tired, but felt so much lighter and excited to turn that ideal week into a reality!!
    AND THEN to hear a certain Dr. Northrup discussing this New Moon energy!! She reminded me to read this very blog.

    I love it when life just works.
    Thank You for this insightful piece!!

  • Martha says:

    Love this I have a weird rash on my neck and left arm I thought it was a ringworm bought cream but it was not working now I know why thank you so much for this message

  • sally says:

    I’m going through a ‘rash’ now – thank you for making me less afraid of it!! Big changes, and I want to get to what is next. Sometimes the only way through is through!

  • Korynn says:

    This reminds me of when I got a massage a few days after moving back to Hawaii. It had been over a year since I had gotten a massage and the few months before that I was so stressed out it was like survival mode. As soon as I got the massage my body felt super ick for the rest of the day as it was releasing all of those emotional toxins I had built up. After that wore off it was like the floodgates of love and abundance opened right up!

  • Aloha! Yes Indeed, Kate. I resonate with your ideas of the body speaking your mind as the rash is an indication of old negative behavior patterns (which no longer serve us) busting loss. I have written, talked, complained, etc. about my rash, in particular the crazy itch-scratch cycle, after moving to Hawaii last year. I am embracing the big change in my life and willing to consider the self-Soothing messages of “I can choose NOT to itch” or I can scratch the itch and get a moment of release, but then the prolonged pain and interruption to the healing cycle doesn’t get me where I want to go. So I ride it out, to the best of my ability, and let it pass. I am healing bodymindspirit with each and every gentle breath and whisper of encouragement I give to myself. You were my “itch whisperer” today, Mahalo nui loa. Great big Thanks!

    • Kate Northrup says:

      Good for you for sitting with the discomfort so it will pass. That in and of itself is a spiritual practice!

  • Maria says:

    So excited to find a deep and practical woman!

    I’m in the rash, and in trust. Just like a snake shedding her skin, and a mermaid figuring out how to return to her ocean.

    THANKYOU for sharing dense and dark waves of life!?

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