Welcome! A word on this new blog:
By Dr. Cody Clayton Gardner, DPT
Hi, beautiful people!
First off, I feel inspired to say: if you are reading this, I am incredibly grateful to you. I’m really stepping into my story and my gifts in creating this blog. This has taken a lot of courage. The sheer fact that you are reading these words means that you care enough about yourself (or me) to be vulnerable, use up some of your valuable time, and step into a new space to hear what's on my heart. Now I have the simple task of making sure it’s worthwhile to you!
I think it would be helpful to give you some context about me prior to getting into these ideas I want to present. After all, it doesn’t make sense to read recipes from a cement-truck driver who has never cooked a day in his life! I am Dr. Cody Clayton Gardner. I am a human and actor who holds a Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Washington University in St Louis School of Medicine. I have walked many miles with burdensome weight on my shoulders trying to reconcile those seemingly conflicting passions. I may get into that in the future, but for today, let’s just say I have done my personal work and have come out with clarity. Who I am is an actor. What I do to support myself in pursuit of my artistry is work in the physical therapy field to help performers optimize their movement to showcase their best artistry. I grew up in the arts. I started my artistic journey as a jazz saxophonist, but quickly found my home, thanks to the pushing from my mother, in the drama club. That really was my gateway drug.
From there my journey led me to singing, dance, beatboxing, all while cultivating my love of music with bungee-strapped saxophone cart in tow. I played sports my whole life (I’m grateful to my mom for never letting me sit around at home), but I had never found a community in soccer, swimming, or track like the one I found in the theatre. In the theatre, I could be my full, unadulterated self. In the theatre, I wasn’t “too sensitive,” “too emotional,” or “too much.” In the theatre, I found safety.
I’m truly lucky to have found a friend group, resources, and inspirational art to grant me sanctuary enough to decide to take control of my life. It allowed me to make the courageous life choices that have led me to where I am today. During physical therapy school, I made the decision to specialize in performing arts medicine, and I pursued the education that I would need to be successful in that arena. I also joined an on-campus theatre company for health professionals, which I participated in all three years of my Doctorate education. I decided to apply and work with NeuroTour Physical Therapy on the Lion King National Tour as the tour physical therapist for nearly two years. I decided to choose myself despite the pressures from the leadership of NeuroTour to compromise on my values. I walked out of the theatre after getting fired with my head held high. I started my professional acting career. I started a mentorship with a successful owner of a performing arts PT practice. I started my own performing arts wellness company, SYZYGY Movement Solutions, without an MBA or much savings. I choose a curiosity, infinite-minded, vulnerability, authenticity-based mindset. I’m here to get it right; not to be right.
All these accomplishments. . . And still, I struggle. For the longest time, the narrative I told myself is that I am innately too sensitive—too much—to be loved, and that it is by the grace of others and by making myself useful to others that people keep me around. We all have our traumas, but I was effortfully ignorant to them. I had decided long ago that emotions have no use and will only cause you unnecessary pain. So I numbed. I have numbed with work, accomplishments, porn, alcohol, working out, marijuana, codependent relationships at different times throughout my life.
But starting my sophomore year of undergraduate at Texas Christian University, I took my first step on an entirely different journey that now consumes my waking hours. One day, after brutally and sardonically biting the head off someone who tried to joke about my weirdness, I found a spot in my heart I had never recognized. I had stumbled upon a roiling pocket of pain and anger in my heart. I felt horror. I felt grief. And when I tried to talk about it, I found myself surrounded by people with the same “f*** the world” attitude I felt guilt about. This feeling I had is best summed up by Alicia Keys in her memoir, More Myself: “We shift ourselves not in sweeping pivots, but in movements so tiny that they are hardly perceptible, even in our view. Years can pass before we finally discover that, after handing over our power piece by small piece, we no longer even look like ourselves.” I looked back on my heart and was terrified. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I didn’t know how that pocket even got there. Real change is rarely comfortable, but I began.
“We shift ourselves not in sweeping pivots, but in movements so tiny that they are hardly perceptible, even in our view. Years can pass before we finally discover that, after handing over our power piece by small piece, we no longer even look like ourselves.” --Alicia Keys, More Myself
I started asking my Fraternity brothers, whom I love deeply. Many of them shared similar sentiments about engaging in carnal relations with our terrestrial mother. However, one of them met me where I was and made me feel seen and heard. He vulnerably shared that he struggled with similar feelings, and he gave me a piece of advice that I’ve never forgotten: “When you go about your day, you look at the ground, don’t you? Try looking up. See all the things there are to see. There’s a lot more beauty in the world to experience if we just give ourselves the chance to look up.”
A rapid cadenza of events sent me onto a feverish journey deeper and deeper into myself: the Myers-Briggs, becoming a mentoring figure to new brothers in the Fraternity, TA’ing for the Biology department, my Child Development courses. Soon, I was mediating conflicts in my Fraternity, engaging in conversations about psychology, and having very little patience for small talk. Soon, I was the guy in the corner at the party who you knew you could have a deep and enlightening talk if you wanted to. For the first time in my life, I was realizing what it meant to embrace the true, sensitive side of me.
Then Physical Therapy School started. I went in thinking I knew who I was, that I was capable and smart, and that I had a plan. Oops. It turns out that high stress can bring out the goblins in you. Who-da thunk?? A breakup, a near-failed class, a life reflection, and an ostracization by a physical therapy class that makes you question whether you seamlessly stepped into a high-school-time-machine later. . . I experienced my first bout of clinical depression, my first ocular migraine, and my second vestibular migraine.
It’s funny how engrained our trauma-survival strategies are. I was diagnosed, and. . . My brain said it wasn’t real. I just needed to push harder, cope harder, and turn off the emotions, and THEN; THEN I would be at a safe enough financial and social place where these feelings wouldn’t need to exist anymore. However, as the Nagoski sisters postulate in their book, Burnout, our brain doesn’t work like that. Dealing with the stimulus doesn’t negate the emotion. Instead of moving to emotions, I avoided my emotions.
It’s also funny how the really good things in life can mask our emotions. Lucky (or unlucky) for me, I had the biggest stroke of fortune: I landed my (I thought) dream job. I was going to be the PT for The Lion King National Tour. The novelty, the travel, and the new relationships were all the balms I needed to band-aid my emotional injury. But the existential dread, the lack of motivation, the negative self-talk, the hopelessness, the “stuck” feeling—well, of course they came back!
Fast forward to a year after leaving Tour. I had a new girlfriend I was desperately in love with. I was planning on leaving my job to start my practice. I was motivated and I (thought I) knew myself. Again. SO GOOD. Whoever says that starting a business is lying through their teeth. It is soul-suckingly, worth-doubtingly, physically-exhaustingly (?) hard. I had no money. But I had someone I loved. So, I poured all my effort into the one thing I though I had control of. I have never tried harder in a relationship. No. No. NOT a good thing. I had to save her. Don’t bother asking, “From what?”: I don’t know. I became jealous. I stopped looking at her as the beautiful, wild, strong woman she is and instead as proof to myself that I was worthy. I had to be as much of-service as possible to keep her around. I had to. By June, she ended it, and my life was over. Granted, there are things she needs to work on, too.
I know it’s said all the time, but I’ll repeat it now emphatically: without struggle, there is no progress. I was face to face with my demon. Depression, suicidal ideation, unworthiness. Despite the crap we went through, my ex is still an incredible human being. I shared with her in our “last conversation” that I had the idea of finally getting into therapy. She agreed. Because of her courage to end things and because of her compassion, I was handed the resources and the inspiration to get to work. The realization that my past trauma hurt someone I love was undeniable.
The cadenza continued. I’m happy to share that it hasn’t stopped. Brene Brown quotes fill my phone. Self-help and psychology books clutter my nightstand. My phone doesn’t go two days without playing a mindfulness podcast. I have gone through and uncomfortable amount of growth in this past year. “True belonging first comes from belonging to yourself fully.” Like that! I’m full of quotes! I’m becoming a living Proverb! I’m fascinated, and I feel like this thirst for knowledge was always a part of me. I am returning back to the sensitive, feeling, artistic, enthusiastic, imaginative kid I was. And it is beautiful.
But now I’ve been faced with something of a conundrum. Where does this story fit in the life I live? I hold these truths for myself, yes; but I want to help others. I know so many people are going through the same struggles I did and am going through? But where does this come up in me being a physical therapist? An actor?
Where do I want this to take us?
With this blog, I am stepping more fully into this identity.
I am starting this blog for a couple of reasons.
1) Primarily, I feel that our world today, particularly the worlds of healthcare and the arts, thrives on the silence of others. In straddling both worlds, I have personally witnessed the shocking degree to which passionate individuals are forced to compartmentalize their reality and from the endeavors that actually benefit from bringing our full and beautiful selves.
Healthcare is in huge need of a dose of personality. This reality of large health systems and insurance company is the dehumanization and depersonalization of care. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t expressed frustration with their healthcare. Decreased time with your doctors, lack of bonding, miscommunication, and red tape from insurance companies are issues the everyday American faces. Everyone is quick to point fingers at the doctors. However, to get an accurate understanding of this decline, we first must look at the system. Healthcare in the United States has been rigged and taken advantage of by the interaction of two factors: the overhaul of non-healthcare providers as owners/shareholders/investors in healthcare, and the development of health systems. Healthcare companies are not run by doctors: they are run by businessmen. And their only interest in healthcare is the cash-cropping of pain and dysfunction to turn a dollar. Every year, investors look for growth on their return percentage, and every year, healthcare workers and patients bear the burden. The result of these C-suite pressures is delegation of duties to less educated workers, enforcement of productivity ratios (which, by the way, is how much of the time is spent treating), gentle encouragement to take work home with you, incentivizing workers based on productivity instead of quality of care, catering to insurance companies to mooch up reimbursement rates, and turning health*care* into an assembly line. The result for patients are the exact aforementioned frustrations. To improve healthcare, we need to turn away from business and toward relationships. The number one complaint from my patients on their healthcare is feeling unheard. The time and vulnerability it requires to listen is the price of admission to quality healthcare. Healthcare will benefit from allowing workers to bring their full selves to work. Compassion fatigue happens when we have a scarcity of love to give. We overflow with that with which we are filled. Healthcare workers don’t need a surplus of cash: we need a surplus of love, support, and safety. That starts with the systems. Our system is failing. This needs to be talked about.
The arts, and artists, are lauded for being ambassadors for the human experience. Every artist wants the manifestation of their truth to resonate with another human being. Yet, leadership in the arts, just like in healthcare, has been monetized and raped by individuals who could care less about the mission. So, the creation of something as a celebration of humanity is instead commoditized, slapped with a deadline, and—worst of all—manipulated for the sake of twisting artists into giving and giving. Performers are some of the most selfless and giving people I know. We will, without hesitation, suffer for our art. “The play is the thing,” right? The dark side of this coin is that business-people know this. Instead of validating and making the vulnerable move to ensure the team is taken care of, there are those who don the cloak of charitable spirit to manipulate artists into giving more time, more energy, more stress, more pain, MORE than they will be compensated for. Artists are humans first: this truth should be the wellspring of inspiration and the foundation for equity. Humans have human needs. And humans should not have kill themselves for the baseline of needs. And the art is all the better for bringing our full human selves to the creative space. When we are grounded in our values instead of cut off, we gain access to the fullness of our story. After all, we are storytellers.
2) Secondly, I want to have another outlet to educate people about the body, the mind, and the intimate dance they weave with each other. There are a lot of misconceptions, High School Coach advices, and Googled articles out there; I would love to clarify. After all, wellness begins with empowerment and allyship—you can’t be friends with someone you don’t know anything about. I’ll be writing periodic blog posts about anatomy, physiology, fitness, movement, and nutrition, yes. But also psychology, leadership, worthiness, mindfulness, trauma, belonging. . . All that juicy stuff. And as evidence-based as I can muster.
3) Third, this blog serves as an exercise for myself. With every keystroke, I am reminding myself that my words, my thoughts, and my opinions carry value. Not only that, but as a creative, I need to construct the systems for myself to expose myself regularly to my creative mind. I have a phone-storage’s worth of creative ideas. Plays, books, series, albums. . . They exist for me in what I call “the world behind my eyes,” but my journey of self-love demands I bring my ideas, my self, to the tangible world. Thank you for witnessing my journey.
4) Finally, I’m writing this to exercise my writing muscle. I’ve always loved reading and writing. Unfortunately, a decade’s worth of scientific writing has slowly nudged my bright-eyed, wholehearted creative mind out of the picture. With this weekly workout, I give myself permission to step into my gifts and nurture that hibernating, child-like love.
To close. . .
Ok. I’m done. This first post was a long one, but I don’t feel bad. I’m stepping into this realm completely as me. The people who are filled by it will stick around. The people who find it tedious will find other virtual places to spend their time. And that’s ok. I want to write weekly! Honestly, I’ll probably just be thought-dumping whatever is real for me in my world.
As I said before, I want to start conversations! I want to “listen” as much as I want to write. I will do my utmost to create a safe space for people to bring their full selves. I would be so honored if you would make the vulnerable and courageous decision to share with me your reality.
Please stick around. Walk beside me. I like holding hands.