United Bodies

United Bodies is a podcast about the lived experience of health. Join health and disability writer, producer, and activist Kendall Ciesemier and her guests as they explore how different components of our health—mental, physical, social, and spiritual—interplay with one another and intersect with the whole of our identity. When we understand these forces in our lives, we can meet both ourselves and others with more empathy and maybe even realize our fights for equity, justice, freedom, and accessibility are united.

Latest Episode

What Makes an Enjoyable Life With Andrea Gibson


March 15, 2024

With Guests:

Andrea Gibson is the Poet Laureate of Colorado and one of the most celebrated and influential spoken word poets of our time. Best known for their live performances, Gibson has changed the landscape of what it means to attend a “poetry show.” Gibson’s poems center around LGBTQ issues, gender, feminism, mental health and social justice. The winner of the first Women’s World Poetry Slam, Gibson is the author of seven award winning books, most recently You Better Be Lightning. Their live shows have become loving and supportive ecosystems for audiences to feel seen, heard, and held through Gibson’s art.

Listen, Rate, Review and subscribe on:

In this Episode:

As the first season of United Bodies comes to a close, here’s a conversation that will buoy us all by proving what’s possible.

We’ve been talking about building the world we need — be that through destigmatizing the hard stuff in our life through humor, liberating ourselves through movement, choosing to write a new story for our lives, finding bodily pleasure, or reconciling our spirituality. Today we are bringing all of those threads together in a conversation about accessing joy amidst the deepest of suffering, amidst any circumstance even while staring down our own mortality, because ultimately, that is true freedom.

Choosing and experiencing joy can be difficult for so many reasons and we will address those — be it our knack for comparison or shame, or our resistance or fear of embodiment and presence. Our guest today, Andrea Gibson, proves that navigating these forces are worth it to experience the fullness that joy can bring to our lives. Andrea is Colorado’s Poet Laureate and one of the most celebrated and influential spoken word poets of our time. Their poems center around LGBTQ issues, gender, feminism, mental health, and social justice. The winner of the first Women’s World Poetry Slam, Andrea is the author of seven award winning books, most recently You Better Be Lightning.  Andrea joins us to share the experience of feeling joy amidst life’s greatest challenges.

For more, follow: 





KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:00:00] Welcome to United Bodies, a podcast about the lived experience of health. I’m Kendall Ciesemier, your host. 

As the first season of United Bodies comes to a close, I want to leave you with a conversation that I believe will buoy us all by proving what’s possible. We’ve been talking about building the world we need, be that through destigmatizing the hard stuff in our life through humor, liberating ourselves through movement, choosing to write a new story for our lives and our family, finding bodily pleasure, or even reconciling our spirituality.

Today, we are bringing all of those threads together in a conversation about accessing joy amidst the deepest of suffering alongside any circumstance, even while staring down our own mortality, because ultimately that is true freedom. Choosing and experiencing joy can be difficult for so many reasons, and we will address those, be it our knack for comparison or shame, or our resistance or fear of embodiment and presence.

Our guest today, Andrea Gibson, proves that navigating these forces are worth it to experience the fullness that joy can bring to our lives. Andrea is Colorado’s Poet Laureate and one of the most celebrated and influential spoken word poets of our time. Their poems center around LGBTQ issues, gender, feminism, mental health, and social justice.

They are the winner of the first Women’s World Poetry Slam and the author of seven award winning books. Most recently, You Better Be Lightning. Andrea joins us to share the experience of feeling joy amidst life’s greatest challenges, including weathering their very own stage four ovarian cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Andrea, welcome to United Bodies. I am so wildly excited to be speaking with you. 

ANDREA GIBSON [00:01:59] Thank you so much. I’m so glad to be here. 

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:02:02] So there’s so much I want to get into, but I want to start with kind of a broad question to check in on where we are meeting you right now. What is joy to you right now in your life?

ANDREA GIBSON [00:02:15] What is joy to me? Well, I think that one of the things that I’ve been learning over the last couple of years, is that joy is. And I don’t know if I, I think I can, I’m going to speak for everyone here. 

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:02:32] Okay. Go for it. On full authority. 

ANDREA GIBSON [00:02:35] And really get myself in trouble right from the get go. I think that joy is our natural state. I think that we have an abundance of awe, astonishment, and joy, just rushing through our beings. And I think that I lived most of my life thinking I had to go find joy. I had to do things that would cause joy within me. I thought good things had to happen to me for me to find and have access to joy.

And since my cancer diagnosis two years ago, I have just been present to the fact that, that joy is what is in here and I have spent a lot of my life, having walls up against joy and sort of pushing it away without even knowing I was pushing it away. So joy to me is just my natural way. And the key is to tap in to my natural way.

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:03:38] Wow. Already so much to break down right there. How, how do you know that joy is your natural way? How do you know when you’re in it? 

ANDREA GIBSON [00:03:47] Because I know how I found it. So I lived 45 years of my life, sometimes joyful, but I had a ton of pain. I am like, we all do. I had, a lot of anxiety. I had chronic panic attacks. I had depression. I had bitterness, judgment, blame, all of those things, even though I was really conscious about what all of those things were. And I was writing about them and, and you know, how we shouldn’t be bitter and that sort of thing. After my diagnosis, I had this, I mean, almost in the instant of my diagnosis, I, something happened where I, I talk about it and, it just sort of felt like a gift that landed in my lap, where I just stopped resisting my life.

I stopped resisting, the facts of my life. So I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It was a very aggressive form of ovarian cancer. So I could tell that if I fought against it. I was going to be absolutely miserable. And I also had an awareness, something happening inside of me almost immediately, which was I was suddenly in the present moment because I no longer could bank on the future. And I no longer cared to I don’t know, complain about my past or, or something, but suddenly I was in the present moment. And I realized that in the present moment life was extraordinary. And in spite of everything that was going on, it should have told me that life shouldn’t have been extraordinary. Like, I just suddenly could feel things dropping off of me. I could feel how much of my past I was, um, desperate for approval, desperate for applause, that I cared a lot about what other people thought, that I held grudges, that I was blaming. And as that fell off, what was left was just this almost overwhelmed, just feeling wonderful, which was so wild with the contrast of what the outside event. And I say the outside event being cancer, even though it was in my body. I think of my body in many ways is on the outside of my spirit. And so that’s how I know how accessible it is to us because I didn’t feel like I was set up to be in that position that wasn’t what my life was and it happened at the time that I got the hardest news of my life.

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:06:15] Yeah, I think that that’s really, really interesting. I identify with it in a few ways, which we’ll get into, but I wonder if you think that we have to have our lifespan, our mortality, our expectations rejiggered in order to get that overwhelming sense. 

ANDREA GIBSON [00:06:38] So, no, and I really want people to know that so they don’t root for bad things to happen. Like, no, you don’t, that doesn’t have to happen. There’s actually a practice that is involved in this and, and there’s a lot of ways. to frame it. But for me, it was like, sort of like, and this is an idea that is in a book called The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer. And what he talks about is like, we spend almost our whole lives trying to keep bad things from happening and try to make good things happen.

So as soon as I, he’s like, stop doing that. And I’m like, stop trying to make good things happen and stop trying to make keep bad things from happening. So first of all, what that did was it just freed up so much energy and just like, wow, recognition of how much I was doing that. There was also this idea that I’ve written it, I’ve written about it before, but who said this?

I think it was Eckhart Tolle said life is no, he, somebody else said this. I don’t know who it was, but he said, “Life is difficult but it stops being difficult when we expect it to be difficult.” And I think one of the problems with our culture is that we are set up from the very beginning to think almost every challenge is not supposed to happen. As soon as I got rid of the sort of not supposed to’s, it just started freeing up so much for me. 

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:08:01] I guess I wonder, you know, in my own experience, right, this has, this freedom, this, like, freeness from, I don’t know, I think the, the confines that life can, like, really force on us. I have experienced it through being born into illness and kind of always having, an expectation that I didn’t know how long my life would be and in having, you know, the only cure for the illness that I was born with would be a liver transplant.

I ended up having two liver transplants, but all around me growing up, you know, all the sick kids that I knew just died. They died young. And so I saw that and I saw myself in them, because those are the people around me that I most identified with, the few other kind of quote unquote “sick kids” that I was exposed to.

And I think in a lot of ways this allowed me to be really bold, like it gave me a boldness in my life, because the scariest thing was already present. It was already there. I knew what it was like to kind of be on that line of mortality. And, and so I think I, I understand what you’re talking about from that perspective, from the perspective of having to reconcile all of these things and like, “Oh, man. Well, if this could potentially happen to me, if I, if I have no certainty in the world, if the whole thing is an uncertain experience, right, then, then I should just go, I should just go bananas and go after every single thing and be as bold as possible. And because what do I have to lose really?” It relates to, I think a lot of the sentiment that you experienced upon getting the diagnosis. I think what was so surprising to me is that when I,I fell back into health, well, I fell into health for kind of the first time in my life, right after I graduated from college. And I suddenly didn’t have this kind of big, scary mortality question all the time. There was like a longer window, a longer horizon, if you will, for what is, was possible, what seemed possible for my life. I suddenly became so much more inhibited by everything around me. And what has been so interesting to see you talk about like experiencing a joy amidst this horrible diagnosis that has rejiggered your life’s expectations in a lot of ways.

I just am wondering, sitting here, being someone who’s kind of fell from sickness to more health in my life, is it possible to have that experience when you’re not staring down your mortality? 

ANDREA GIBSON [00:11:06] Well, I, I love everything you shared and I think the, the thing about it is, is that is a, an enormous part of it for me as well. There’s something about mortality that I think is the seed of our joy in this life. And it’s so sad because I, you know, I spent so much of my life feeling suicidal and I, if I had tapped into trying to form like, actually recognizing that I could die at any minute, anybody could, my life would have been so much happier.

And I think that we think the opposite, like, we think that if we really get familiar with mortality, if we sort of welcome it as, as part of life, then we’re going to be miserable, and it really doesn’t, it really doesn’t work like that. I mean, yeah, I’ve been actively working to form a loving relationship with my [00:12:00] mortality ever since I was, I was first diagnosed and a loving relationship doesn’t mean like, you know, like there that grief isn’t involved. It’s just like loving. I give attention to it and I don’t ignore it. And it’s always there. And yeah, it’s one of the things that I’ve been talking about the most because I do think that it is a key. I mean, my therapist had told me years ago that a lot of her happiness came from knowing she was going to die and knowing everybody that she knew was going to die because it just woke her up and there she was. And like you say, a friend of mine who was in a cancer group that I was in, she is pretty far away from her cancer diagnosis now, you know, years. And she’s, she talks about what you’re speaking of, of how she got further and further away from the diagnosis, the sort of enchantment of life started to leave her. When people would ask her if she was out of the woods, she would say, she told me people were still asking if she was out of the woods, and she said that someday she would find herself reaching for saplings to put in her path so that she could have that sort of aliveness. That’s really cool.

That I think many people have when they’re confronting their mortality, but you don’t have to get sick to do that. You just have to tap into the fact that our bodies, we, we will leave our bodies someday. And everybody we know will. Right. 

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:13:30]  Well, it’s, you know, it’s the idea that we’re all dying, just some of us faster than others.

ANDREA GIBSON [00:13:35] And I and I took a photo in my yard the other day because there is this, I don’t even know what kind of flower or bush it is, but it was blooming everywhere. And the different blooms were in different states of dying, like of, of wilting. And it was just the loveliest photo because, you know, some of them are just coming alive and some of them are, you know, all the way wilted and gone.

And then I was also [00:14:00] looking at it and thinking, wow, but we’re all, we’re all part of the same, you know, we’re just different blooms, leaving, wilting at different times. 

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:14:09]  Yeah, I think that that’s the core challenge, I think, is how do we take the lessons of staring mortality in the face, like how do we apply that to people who might not realize that they even have a mortality or, you know, aren’t inherently aware of their own mortality and is like, how can we make that the lessons of the dying available to the living, right?

Even though we’re all kind of… dying, right? One of the questions I’ve had is, is joy a choice? Like one thing I find, I found a magician said to me once, which is very funny, in order to have an enjoyable life, you must enjoy life. And I loved the simplicity of that because I was like, well, obviously that is [00:15:00] true, but that means I have to choose joy or experience joy, even amidst the life I already have, and I can’t change the circumstances of my life, that means I only get to choose if I experienced joy amidst those circumstances.

ANDREA GIBSON [00:15:20] I think it’s complex or I mean, maybe it isn’t complex because I don’t want to suggest that I don’t, that I don’t have days that joy is really hard for me to get to, you know, people who are in physical pain––you know, I have. friends, like for example, that just have mental illnesses that they, that just, it can be really difficult. You know, I’m not saying it’s simple, but I think the thing that I did was I recognized that the world was telling me that I was supposed to have a particular response to the diagnosis, like that, I think about it. I’ve called it like the math of emotion. There is no math of emotion. Circumstances do not equal particular feelings, but we’ve decided as a culture that they do.

We’ve decided a cancer diagnosis, a very serious one is like just despair and grief and that is how you like finish that equation. But when I figured out that that had sort of been programmed, like that is just my programming and I don’t, I don’t want to just be a replica of some toxic thing the culture has said––

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:16:32] There’s some ableism there too, right?

ANDREA GIBSON [00:16:36] Yes, and what I did, I think from the beginning and what I’ve done is, can I access more joy in this moment, you know, and when can I, like, when can I? Soon as I started doing that, it was just like, it was almost always, I, I, and it’s so weird to say that, but for the first year of my diagnosis for like 11 months, I hardly left a state of bliss. I mean, it was almost constant. 

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:17:08] Wow. Did that feel like, I mean, like divinely given? I mean, was it surprising to you as you were experiencing it? 

ANDREA GIBSON [00:17:17] I was like, what is happening? You know, I was talking to you because I had chronic, so I had health issues leading up to it. I’d always had immune illness. I had chronic Lyme disease for like 15 years. 

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:17:28] I got bit by a tick in 2020 and it’s been really awful. 

ANDREA GIBSON [00:17:32] It’s terrible. I mean, it impacts your mental health, your physical health, and it causes anxiety, it causes depression, you know. Yeah. I went right from having the worst panic attack year of my life, my mental health being absolutely terrible, to getting the diagnosis, and then, um, And I was taught, and this is where I got to Lyme disease, my Lyme doctor visited me in the hospital, the night I was diagnosed. And we were [00:18:00] just talking the other day, and he was like, it was just like something happened. It was like, I could not stop talking about love. It was just everything felt different in me. And I didn’t quite know, at first I think I thought, is it the pain meds, like what’s happening and then over the next days, I thought, wow, I am in something. Life is extraordinary, life is so beautiful. And then I also cherished life so much that I felt actually ambivalent about dying, which is a weird thing to say, but for that whole first year, I couldn’t say I didn’t want to die because I was trying to be impeccable with my words. And every time it sort of, I tried to speak it, I couldn’t and I couldn’t figure out why.

And I think it was because I felt like the state I was in sort of introduced me to the afterlife in a way like I felt just so much peace. I could feel that we were [00:19:00] we are all every living being is so cherished by the universe that created us and so it didn’t feel like it would be much different to die than to be in the state that I was in the state that I was in just felt like oh gosh, I can’t relate to anybody anymore. Everybody thinks I’m so strange because I’m sitting here with cancer and just fricking smiling all the time. But yes, it shocked me. I didn’t expect it. I have a number of friends that if the experience had happened to them, I, I would have expected it, but not with me. I was a mess. 

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:19:36] One thing that you talk about a lot is being present, that experiencing joy has also allowed you to be more present and, or maybe being more present has allowed you to experience joy, the chicken and the egg, which comes first, unclear. But you, you also just said that it, it can be really hard to access joy or to choose joy when you’re in a lot of pain.

I wouldn’t equate cancer as something that couldn’t cause pain, and I know you’ve experienced other kinds of physical pain. I think presence in general can feel really scary, really uncomfortable, especially when you’re living in physical pain and illness, but just holistically for a lot of people, it’s like a very uncomfortable place to be is in our bodies. Was there an on ramp to experiencing this presence for you without fear or without letting the pain that you were potentially in at the time usurp the present moment? How have you navigated that? 

ANDREA GIBSON [00:20:39] Okay, let’s see. So there wasn’t much pain for me in the beginning. Um, I had a very easy time with chemo.

I will say that I had, uh, the second time when the cancer came back for the second time, I had a surgery that was on my liver and my diaphragm. And I had pain from that surgery that was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. It was really, it was really painful as I’m sure, you know, and then this one day, it hit me so bad that we didn’t know if I was supposed to go to the emergency room. And that day I said, I’m going to not fight this like I’m going to completely surrender to what this is. And it was really interesting. I relaxed every cell of my body. And I said, I’m, I, I accept you. I accept your pain. And right when I did that, I had this wild experience.

Of, this is gonna get really woo woo, but I’m a very woo woo person. I try to tame it down for podcasts. 

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:21:50] No, go, go woo woo.

ANDREA GIBSON [00:21:51] Let’s do it. All right. And as I’m surrendering to this excruciating pain, my grandma, my aunt and [00:22:00] my grandma, my, my aunt died of ovarian cancer decades ago. And my grandma, her mother, died of a broken heart after. And right when I surrendered to this pain, I felt my grandma, my aunt rush into the room and just, I never had an experience of feeling so loved in my entire life. So in that moment, it wasn’t joy. It wasn’t joy I was feeling, but I was feeling the most incredible sensation of a love that I had ever felt while at the same time feeling the worst pain that I had ever felt. So, you know, maybe there are moments where joy isn’t possible, but love is. And I’ve also encountered moments where I personally, I couldn’t get to love because the, the suffering was so much. And sometimes, you know, what’s interesting about that is like, for example, I’m on a chemo now that when I started, I was really hesitant to start because it can cause a significant amount of vision loss. My doctor described it like fogging up a pair of glasses and trying to see through that. So when I did the first round of that, I knew going into it that I might lose my vision, but for some reason I hadn’t conceived of the fact that, and this is just goofy, that I hadn’t conceived of it, that I would struggle to be able to see my computer screen to write. And so when I couldn’t write those days, I couldn’t figure out how to surrender to it. I really couldn’t. And those were some of the hardest days. My partner encouraged me to write songs out loud. I started working on this podcast that I had been putting off and doing things that I didn’t actually need my eyes for.

I’ve since figured out a lot about my vision. I’ve been working close with an optometrist and it’s way better [00:24:00] now, but yeah. And so the key is to, like, I don’t ever want anybody to feel shame about anything that they’re feeling because I’m sure you know as you’ve talked to lots of people with illness like there are so many different ways to do it that that are it’s going to be different for everyone like it’s not like joy is the ultimate thing like for example I spent my life feeling angry and some people, I think particularly women, live their whole lives, never feeling angry.

They get diagnosed with a serious illness and they’re feeling rage. Thank goodness. Like, thank goodness. Sometimes we just have to feel the thing that we haven’t been feeling. And for me, it was joy. 

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:24:42] Well, first off, I’ll say that I interviewed a woman, Wanda Irving, earlier who has lost all of her children, and she said that anger was actually the only reason that she’s still alive, which was profound that [00:25:00] anger was her way of navigating through grief.

And you know, I, I really appreciate that you say that, you know, sometimes you can’t access joy. Sometimes there are moments where it’s too far or that that isn’t necessarily always the goal. It doesn’t have to be the goal, or that’s not how everyone responds to everything. I think it’s also really important to talk about the fact that you can have both. You can have anger and joy and that those could actually, you know, this is actually something that I was really interested in asking you about because I know that you know that suffering can coexist with joy and in a very granular way. You could be experiencing joy one moment and suffering or sadness the next and that experiencing more deep joy doesn’t eliminate deep suffering, which I think [00:26:00] is easy to misunderstand or expect that having more joy is only possible when you also aren’t suffering.

ANDREA GIBSON [00:26:06] Yeah. I mean, like, also, sometimes our suffering or our allowing ourselves to suffer, allowing ourselves to feel grief, to feel fear, to feel rage, is the portal to joy. I mean, my therapist who I’m always freaking quoting. She taught me in my twenties that, you know, we can’t shut ourselves off to grief without also shutting ourselves off to joy.

She said to think of it like a kink in the hose. You stop the flow of sadness, you stop the flow of happiness at the same time. So when I talk about joy, I’m not ever, and, and I hope nobody ever does this, is just to try to push away your feelings that will, that won’t ever ever do anything. What I do is because I have feelings come up all the time. I just, I just will welcome them as, as much as I can. And I even [00:27:00] commonly like invite them to be bigger and just say, do what you got to do. Because the more permission I give the feeling to be the, the faster it moves through. 

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:27:11] Yeah. I think that that is what a lot of. I’ve had a lot of therapists tell us. Another challenge I find in my own personal experience of trying to find access or choose joy, experience it, is that I get really caught up in comparison. I look around at the people in my life who maybe aren’t experiencing the same challenges, who perhaps are operating with more carefree ease, you know, which doesn’t feel as accessible to me as someone who always has to be vigilant about my health and draw out their consequences, have to be on top of treatment and careful and, you know, balance kind of the full time job of illness with daily life, and then I just get stuck in resentment.

It’s easier for them to access and harder for me to access and then I feel devastated. You said before, which really was amazing to me, “I don’t want anyone else’s lifespan. I don’t want anyone else’s body.” And when I heard you say this, I had to admit, I had a hard time believing you because sometimes that is all I want.

And I’ve noticed that this desire has only grown bigger in me. It wasn’t necessarily big during a lot of my liver stuff. And when, once that settled to a stable place, as we mentioned, I got bit by a tick and contracted Lyme and other tick-borne infections. And then it became huge. And so I guess I, wonder if you felt that way before and, and if so, like, how did this change?

How did it change that you don’t want anyone else’s lifespan or anyone else’s body? How have you been able to give up that picture of the life you wished you had for the one that you are having. 

ANDREA GIBSON [00:29:01] Okay, so a few things. I felt that all the time with Lyme. And weirdly, I no longer have any symptoms of Lyme, and I’m testing negative and I was just talking to my doctor about what the heck happened. Was it chemo? Was it that I healed trauma. What, what happened, that I all these years so sick with Lyme and the years I was, and this is really important for, I think, listeners to know the years I was sick with Lyme, I felt way worse than I did with cancer.

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:29:30] That’s what I say about my liver transplants. Yeah. I mean, I, I honestly, Lyme has been much harder in a lot of ways. 

ANDREA GIBSON [00:29:39] It’s hard also in a cultural way because so many people don’t believe it. And I had a lot of shame that I carried because I was like, I have this illness that if I say, if I say I have this, I’d say it to doctors and they’d say that does chronic Lyme doesn’t exist. And I’m like, okay, well, I can’t walk. And you know, I can’t walk. 

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:29:59] I’m not sure it’s a real entity is what someone told me. 

ANDREA GIBSON [00:30:02] Yeah. Yeah. It’s like I would have nurses –– I read poems about it on stage and nurses would come up to me after the show and tell me that the disease I was writing about didn’t exist. It was so upsetting. I had a really hard time. I live in Colorado like I couldn’t hike. I couldn’t go anywhere. I couldn’t, I never felt good enough to go anywhere. And I mean, for years, the only place I really ever went for many years were my own shows because it was how I made my living, like that’s how sick I was with Lyme.

And I definitely had it then. I know that line that I shared is hard to believe and I’ll try to root it in how it came about why I don’t want anybody else’s body and why I don’t want anybody else’s life as soon as I was diagnosed. Well, first of all, I had spent my whole life knowing, I mean, I had told my friends for years that I was going to get cancer at 45. Like I, it was like, I knew it was going to happen. And that’s when I got cancer, it was almost as if I could see the future. And so when I got it, I immediately felt this sense of everything in the universe having my back, that anything that came my way would come on behalf of my spirit’s evolution and would come on behalf of my purpose in this world. And so that meant I immediately believed that cancer had come on my behalf and then I also believed that death when it came would come on my behalf and come on behalf of the greater good. And so I feel that I, you know, of course, like I long to, in many ways to be like, God, I want a long lifespan. Like I want that, but I also have a faith in my spiritual being that if that isn’t what happens, that is what is best for my spirit. I just believe that at this point. 

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:32:04] Touché. Touché, Andrea. I think that’s, that’s awesome. 

ANDREA GIBSON [00:32:09] That doesn’t mean I’m not going to call you sobbing on, on my deathbed.

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:32:15] You’re like, but I do reserve the option.

ANDREA GIBSON [00:32:18] I reserve the right. I reserve the right to, to sob. 

KENDALL CIESEMIER You know what? That’s entirely fair. I like that. I appreciate that. And it does make sense to me. When I first heard it, I was like, really, really? But it does make sense to me. I appreciate you engaging with my suspicion or my hesitation about that statement.

ANDREA GIBSON [00:32:45] I’m aware of people’s suspicions about it. I have friends who are suspicious, suspicious about it. You know, friends who saw that video and, and they contact me and, you know, I always talk about it. Like they’re always telling me my grief can come out of the closet. Like no need to wear this straight jacket of joy everywhere you go.

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:33:04] They’re trying to like de toxic positivity you or something as if you would ever be an arbiter of toxic positivity, which is so funny.

ANDREA GIBSON [00:33:14] What I know of this time, like, I’ve never, you know, it’s weird to say I never really felt a calling before because I was doing stuff that was important to me.

But I have felt my calling through the last two years is to just experience what’s happening and tell the truth about what is happening. And so if the truth were about my grief or a lot of grief or a lot of fear, I think that that would, that would be just as important to share. 

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:33:42] You would share that too. Yeah, I love that. I really love that –– that it’s the calling is to tell the truth about what you’re actually experiencing in the moment. And it just so happens that it is joy, which I think is all the more interesting and confusing. Very, very cool in a lot of ways. And I think also very informative for other people.

ANDREA GIBSON [00:34:07] You know that I think a lot of people can do it and you can just practice with little things like the next time something happens that really irritates the crap out of you, like you can be like, okay. Can I find joy in this moment? Like, what if, do I have an option for joy right now? Like, you know, and you could just try it with little things, you know, and just keep taking it up a notch every so often.

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:34:33] Yeah, you’ve talked a lot about being afraid to experience joy, or the fact that joy feels risky or can feel risky. How have you navigated stepping into that risk and stepping kind of aside from the fear? 

ANDREA GIBSON [00:34:51] Yeah. Well, first I want to say that I think so many people feel that joy is risky, but they’re not always conscious of it in the way that I wasn’t always conscious of it for a long time. I think specifically with people who have a history of trauma, I think that joy starts to feel unsafe because I think really often, especially if we have trauma, early childhood trauma, we’re in a state of just, you know, we’re just doing our child thing like we’re in awe of the world and we’re so happy and I think when that contrast happens where you go straight from joy to something really traumatic, then it’s the joy you start to you’re sort of wired to distrust.

I think some of it is just really rational, like why not? Like I can feel right now, like I can feel that I could just be like, okay, I could start, I could spend the next two weeks just sobbing about, you know, how likely it is that I would die soon. And then, what would happen? I would get to the end of my life and, and just have memories [00:36:00] of, of just being in resistance to my life for, for the end of it.

And, and I just don’t want that. I want to get to the end of my life whenever it is like, you know, maybe it will be when I’m 90 and, and just be like, wow. I did that. I filled my cup till the end. You know, I, I was part of this world because I think that when we are complaining about our lives or when I was complaining about my life, I didn’t feel part of the world.

I felt like I didn’t want this world. I felt like I didn’t want to live, and also that doesn’t mean there aren’t moments where I, I go to my partner and I say, I have to complain for the next 10 minutes. You know, like, I’m just gonna, I’m going to complain. So I don’t want to like front as somebody, some enlightened, I, I am not enlightened. I know that for a fact. 

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:36:59] You seem pretty enlightened, but okay. 

ANDREA GIBSON [00:37:01] No, I am not. So I think I just, it’s, it’s kind of rational. Like, why would I, if I can, if I do have the option here? Why not? Yeah, why not? 

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:37:15] Why not? Because if it ends up being that you are happier or more joyful, like, isn’t that the better of the two options versus more miserable?

You know, something I’ve really experienced, in the last few years as I’ve navigated Lyme, but also like the reconciliation of childhood sexual abuse, which has been really hard and horrible and really difficult to weather. And I think for such a long time. I didn’t think that I deserved to feel joy because it felt like, oh, I actually, like, I need to sit and mourn this thing.

I need to sit and like, feel this and deal with it. And I, I, I actually don’t get to have joy because that would almost be offensive or denying the fact that this really awful thing had happened or that it mattered, I guess. It’s almost like––

ANDREA GIBSON [00:38:15] dishonoring yourself. 

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:38:16] Yeah, dishonoring myself, dishonoring. And I, eventually I got to the, this point where I just realized I was making myself miserable, in, in actually making myself miserable by forcing myself to kind of sit in this state of sadness that I was, I was actually just completely negating myself or, you know, who I really felt like I was, which was overall a very kind of positive, bright, bubbly, joyful person. And I started realizing that the only time I was experiencing joy was when I was, I’m really into [00:39:00] music. I also really like I found movement to be really helpful, like the most helpful thing in my life.

And when I would dance run, which is my version of running, it’s just dance running, which is I put on music and I just. I’m just going at the beat. I’m moving my hands. I look, I look scary probably. I also broke my elbow doing that, cause I fell. But what I will say, it’s aggressive. It’s aggressive.

What I will say is that when I realized that that was the only place I was experiencing joy amidst all of this other stuff, I just realized I could actually have that more often that I didn’t have to reserve it for this, like one little space in my life that I sometimes got to that I could actually just let myself have more silliness. I [00:40:00] didn’t have to remove the whole fact that this thing had, had happened to me and that I was dealing with Lyme and that it was COVID and everything was sad and bad and dark. I didn’t have to remove that. I only had to insert the fact that I could also run dance or dance run in all of life. Like more, more often dance run. That was really helpful to me. Have you ever experienced, like, shame for feeling joyful?

ANDREA GIBSON [00:40:31] You know, the way I talk about what you’re talking about, because I think about it all the time, is that there was a moment where I felt like I had to break the promises I had made to my pain. And I didn’t have a realization before that I had made promises to my pain.

And in my personal pain, you know, my history of sexual assault as what you’re talking about. I felt like I had to [00:41:00] honor that by honor it, but also not just in a personal sense, but for those of us on the left or whatever that means at this point, I also felt within the culture, the social justice culture, an almost pressure to be unhappy that, and, and I questioned myself, like if some terrible world event had happened and then I was actually having a good day, what, what did that say about who I was? Like, was I a bad person, you know. And even the quote, like, if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention, which I, I used to love. And I know for a lot of people, outrage is what will activate them to create a more compassionate world. That, I learned, is not what activates me to create a more compassionate world. It is actually the better feelings. Like, I mean, not the bet, not the better ones. I don’t think there’s actually better feelings. 

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:41:59] Yeah, your therapist would yell at you for that one. 

ANDREA GIBSON [00:42:03] But like, for me, it’s like, I have way more to offer the world when I’m at peace or when I’m feeling, you know, happy. And so some people also will be more activated by fear or, or grief, you know, but yeah, I had to look at all of that and look at the way that like, my social justice life was like in many ways, I had felt encouraged to be unhappy so I could prove my, that I, I care. And then also my own promises to myself and my past and my pain, I had to, I had to sort of shuck those as best as I could. 

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:42:44] I love that. Your promises to your pain. I think that, I think that that’s what, how a lot of us navigate again without having it be real conscious until it becomes very clear that we can’t get out of it. 

As we wrap up here, you know, I want to talk about the everyday that you’re living in, that we’re all living in, you’ve said that the tiniest amount of life can be so full. And so I’m wondering what fullness looks like to you and how you’re experiencing that in your, in your daily life?

ANDREA GIBSON [00:43:20] So one of the things that is also happening is I don’t really feel in a heightened awareness that like I don’t have as much time as other people because I don’t think of time in the same way. It’s almost as if like the moment is where eternity lives and it certainly doesn’t live in the future. And so I feel like, oh, we’ve all got this moment. I’m right here. You’ve got this moment. And when I don’t have a body anymore to experience the moment, then I won’t know it or I will be experiencing the moment without the form of my body, you know, and, my day, you know, my day is, is funny because, I just became the poet laureate of Colorado.

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:44:07] Congratulations. 

ANDREA GIBSON [00:44:08] Thank you. And prior to that happening, my days were pretty spacious. They’re less spacious now, but my priority in each day is to create a healthy amount of spaciousness where I actually do nothing, where I just sit and watch a squirrel or I just pet my dog for 20 minutes. So when I start each day, I actually, so I live in Colorado and if I go west, I’m right in the mountains.

If I go east, I’m in all of this open space and just like farm stands and silos. And each morning after I, I start my day with yoga and then I drive to my favorite coffee shop and I get a tea and I drive for like 20 minutes through the pastures. And there is this thing my therapist taught me years ago, which is if you’re in fight or flight, you go into a [00:45:00] narrow focus space where you’re acutely focused on one tiny spot, your vision actually narrows.

But if you want to try to get out of that heightened space, you can put your hands out to the side and focus on your peripheral vision. And it can take you out of that very acute traumatic place. And I think that’s why I drive, because the mountains, you know, they’re gorgeous. It’s the Rocky Mountains, but I think that’s why I drive east, because it just opens up my periphery. There’s no trees, it’s just wide expanse. And I think it starts my day by getting me out of that, that like, you know, of just being like, no trauma here, you know. 

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:45:41] Mm hmm. Yeah. That’s really interesting. You know, I think the present moment of it all, because I think you could think of fullness and you could think reduced lifespan or uncertain lifespan, right? And you could just rat race yourself into the ground by trying to [00:46:00] squeeze the juice out of every moment. And it sounds like what you’ve done is really almost the opposite, which is squeeze the juice, but without the death grip. 

ANDREA GIBSON [00:46:13] Yeah, my partner after the first year of cancer and I said something like, you know, I probably will die soon. And she’s like, “No, you don’t really think that because if you did, you wouldn’t have been living like this.” And I said, “living like what?” She’s like, “You would have gone and done the bucket list, travel. You wouldn’t have just sat here.” And I’m like, “No. Sitting here has been amazing. No, this is exactly what I wanted to do is to just finally be here and pay attention.”

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:46:44]  That’s cool. That’s really cool. Finally be here and pay attention. Wow. All right. Well, I feel like we’ll end there because I don’t even know how to respond to that. This has been beautiful and so important to me and I think you’re just magnificent and I feel so honored that I have gotten to share this space with you. So I really just appreciate your time, Andrea, and, and really, really appreciate your work. 

ANDREA GIBSON [00:47:17] Thank you so much and I appreciate you too. This is one of my favorite conversations I’ve had in a while. 

KENDALL CIESEMIER [00:47:25] Jumping in here to say that this is our last episode of season one on United Bodies. If you enjoyed this podcast and want to hear more of us, please share this with your friends and rate us.

Tell us on social media. Tag at Ms. magazine or me @KendallCiesemier and let us know who you want to hear from on season two. A big special thanks to all those who helped usher the first season of United Bodies forward, providing invaluable support and encouragement, including Rachel Kennedy, Cary Daniels, and Matt Boynton.

I also want to say thank you again to all of our guests who gave us their time, and to all of you, our audience, who have listened. It really means so much. 

United Bodies is a Ms. magazine and Ms. Studios production. The show is created and produced by me, Kendall Ciesemier. Michele Goodwin is our executive producer.