New month, new progress, new test results

Spider Web, Rockefeller Forest, Humboldt Redwoods State Park © a rainbow at night

I’m pleased to be writing that I’ve made many great strides in getting my life back on track over the last three weeks. I logged back into my Twitter account and began using it on a daily basis; participated in two “spoonie” meet-ups online, #SpoonieChat and #SCTweetFlix; am replying to some messages when my brain has readily-available thoughts on the topic; and have joined a sort-of spoonie/artist/support group/project, even if I only participate sporadically.

Other things haven’t changed so much. I have yet to open any e-mails, or even log-in to my account for that matter. And I’m still staying far away from the M.E. community and the Lyme disease community, i.e. anything to do with that style of advocacy or activism. I momentarily tried to look at how the Lyme community was fairing, but immediately saw memorial posts concerning a young woman’s suicide. I’m not psychologically prepared for that constant exposure again, as I think I’ve made very clear. I stepped into the M.E. community to test the waters, also, but that was equally a mistake.

Mostly, I’ve gained back a lot of personal power that I didn’t even realize I’d given away. I’m on a journey here, and no one has the right to tell me how far along, or at what point on their map, I should be at. I don’t even have the right to talk to myself that way. I’m also under somewhat less stress now that I’m no longer shouldering my family members through their own recoveries. I still have a lot of trouble communicating, particularly in person, but since being on antibiotics for two weeks, that has temporarily improved. In hindsight I wonder if all my temporary improvements in brain function were due to the antibiotics, or just this time.

Now that I’ve moved into the part of grieving where you can look back and see why you handled things the way you did, I realize that I didn’t do much honouring of the choices I made, even the unconscious ones. But I now have the opportunity to re-frame and integrate the experience, so I’m going to take it.

I honour the parts of myself that knew not make my drama everyone else’s responsibility. I honour the parts of myself that recognized I had to heal a little bit more first, or all my interactions would be coloured by distortions too thick to see through. I honour the parts of myself that knew I needed merciful stillness, not ruthless force, and I honour that which gave me permission to listen.

Whereas part of me assumed I’d be swallowed by deep regret over the time lost, friendships lost, and God knows what else once I finally got free, I very surprisingly feel gratitude. 

I’m grateful for even having had the opportunity to take that “time off” to recover. I’m grateful for all the fights I didn’t provoke out of my own pain, had I forced myself to socialize. (Although, in the state I was in, I can’t imagine I’d have been able to find the words for any argument, honestly.) I’m grateful for me being able to realize I was the one who was overburdened with grief, and that it wasn’t anyone else’s job to revolve their life around me to fix that. (Not that I would even do that, but I recently witnessed someone who was blaming an entire community for their own emotional suffering, to the point that they thought the community had to change to make them happy. It did make me think, “Damn, I may have trouble being around certain groups, but at least I realize this is a personal issue, and that no one owes me an apology for living their own life the way they’re entitled to do.”)

I’m still terrified that the day will come when I’ll wake up and everything will have changed without me knowing why, that I won’t be able to tolerate anything again, or another severe trigger or actual lived trauma will set me back months or years. Just as I fear that the next bad headache will be the start of another relapse. Just as someone with depression fears that that one day of sadness will turn into six months of crushing despair. The difference now is.. well, probably something neurological, as the antibiotics have shown me. But I’m no longer allowing that fear to stop me from participating in whatever ways I can choose to, while I’m able.

Thanks to meditation, I have long since found the place in myself that knows It’s not the feelings, nor the thoughts, but the One who is experiencing those things. That place in me is always still, no matter what. To be simplistic, that’s what we call “the lion’s roar” in Buddhism, the ultimate truth within us that causes all other noise to fall away, like beings from all four directions bow away from the sound of the mighty lion’s roar claiming its territory.

From my current perspective, I have two options. I can listen to the survivor’s guilt, the irrational shame, and ruin my life (or at least this stretch of it). Definitely allowed, but not recommended, and clearly unbeneficial. Or, while I’m healing, I can remember that the end point of treatment will be to eventually FEEL that those thoughts are untrue, as well as know that. But the way I see it, there’s zero reason for me to wait until I FEEL those things aren’t true before I start living better. I know the chaos is full of lies, regardless. I know they’re lies now, and I’ll know they’re lies after recovery. Why do I have to wait for my ever-so-fickle feelings to catch up with what I already know, when I can just start living that way, right now? Yes, I’ll still have the thoughts, and they’ll still feel true for the time being, but I know they’re not, and I’d rather have the thoughts while I’m attempting to put my life back together, than have the thoughts while I’m holed up in my house for months.

I can’t give away my power to change the things I can. Because this is how I gave away my strength, by forgetting the immensity of power lying within all the tiny, monotonous choices that actually make or break your life. When I saw myself writing in my last post that I’d started to self-perpetuate my suffering, I knew I had to change that, or it was not going to end well. It also gave me a little hope, because I finally saw a piece of this that was within my control. If there was something I was doing to make this worse, then that also meant there was something I could do to make it better, simply by making a different choice. So I did, and here I am, three weeks later, continuing the momentum that sprung from me publishing that last post after six months of complete silence. That post took me three months. This one took me three weeks. That should say enough.

I don’t doubt I’ll still have “good days” and “bad days.” I’m trying to mitigate the chance of another “disappearance” a bit by taking Sundays offline, in hopes that, like so many other symptoms, if I just rest for a bit regardless of how I feel, I may be able to prevent whatever it is that builds up and make me cognitively shut down. I’m not sure if it’ll work, as I still have no idea what causes that, but I’m trying, damn it.


My latest tests results are equal parts disturbing and fantastic. Good news first?

My last homocysteine level before this one–which, in conjunction with a methylmalonic acid bloodtest, helps determines the rate of your folate metabolism, as well as suggest your risk of stroke and blood clots–was almost 30 (29.4). It’s supposed to be under 10.4 at the maximum, which means it was literally three times as high as it should ever be. Not great! Before my folate deficiency really kicked into gear, it was a lovely 7.2 umol/L. Well as of March, it’s all the way down to 15.8, which is basically only 5-points-above-normal. I’m almost cured of my folate deficiency!

Similarly, when I began treating these methylation problems, I could only tolerate a meager 100 mCg of methylfolate every 3 days. Now, I can tolerate a wonderful *500 mCg* every 3 days, and I’ll probably be able to increase that, soon. (As well as B12, of course, but I need more methylfolate than B12 at this point. I’ve found the hydroxo-cobalamin works much, much, much better than any other type, for me. So heads up: If you have the MTHFR C677TT homozygous polymorphisms, in addition to being homozygous–that is, having both/two copies–of COMT V158M, COMT H62H, *and* MAO-A R297R, like myself, you definitely want to take the hydroxocobalamin form of B12 and just save yourself the money and suffering of trying the other forms. Yes, it works even better than methyl-cobalamin.)

My cholesterol levels are also fantastic and I don’t know if I mentioned here yet, but I’m no longer pre-diabetic after a lot of dietery changes to help treat PCOS. No relapses, there, either!

Now the bad news, even though I don’t know how significant this is yet because I don’t see my neurologist until next week. First, I haven’t found the results of my intracranial pressure reading, or else they aren’t putting it on my online chart, so I don’t know what’s going on, there. I did however get the results of my spinal fluid analysis, and while my glucose is normal (I think?), my protein is normal (I think?), and my white blood cells appear normal (pretty sure?), there were two things that were present that were absolutely not supposed to be: Lots and lots of neutrophils, and blood. I know this could point to meningitis, but I’d like to think if that were the case, my doctor would have called, because that’s serious? So I hope there’s some other explanation. I refuse to Google anything and scare the hell out of myself over what could be going on. I’ll find out soon enough.

Also, while I know the results of my MRI must be in by now, they, too, have not yet posted to my online chart, so I don’t know the results. And honestly, with the wave of fear that overtook me while reading the CSF results, maybe that’s a good thing, in the event it does reveal something troubling.


The spinal tap itself went great, but the recovery was peculiar, and combined with missing my IVIG for two additional weeks, I was feeling beyond terrible. The most bizarre symptom was that I could not stand more than two minutes without severe shaking, all over; the kind of trembling that makes even your teeth chatter together. But I wasn’t cold! Luckily it resolved as soon as I lied back down, but that definitely wasn’t in the “this could happen afterwards” care sheet.

About a week after the lumbar puncture/several days after my eventual IVIG infusion, I had all the symptoms of fighting some type of infection, but without a fever. It was enough to make the room tilt and spin whenever I moved, have hot and cold sweats, cause ringing in my ears, and ultimately a severe headache toward the end, but no fever? Then I remembered, I rarely ever get a fever, no matter what is happening. So after several days of that hell, I said “screw it” and started my antibiotics. I immediately began feeling better, as quickly as the next day. I spoke with my immunologist and was given more antibiotics, and I moved my appointment up by two weeks so we can discuss why my immune system isn’t able to stop all these bizarre infections from happening these last six months, even with the IVIG. I’ll also ask about mold exposure, because that’s a real possibility that I haven’t forgotten about.

During all of that mess I spent most of my time tweeting to pass the hours, and in the process befriended some great people. I tend to feel like an outcast on Twitter the longer I’m on there, so we’ll see how long I last on there this time.

Until next time,

 

Kit

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Facing My Worst Fears On Social Media: Am I Really So Terrible?

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” ― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Short answer: No. No I’m not.

Reasons I almost didn’t write this:

Because of a pathological and unwanted sense of obligation to protect others’ public image, especially if it involved abusive and/or shameful behaviour, even more so if it was directed specifically at me. Because of decades of being made to feel that it was never their behaviour that was shameful but rather my speaking about it that was the problem. Because of decades of spiritual abuse that, also, mostly condemned those who spoke about wrongdoings instead of the wrong behaviours themselves. Because I was programmed to have emotional loyalty to people no matter how they acted or treated me. Because old habits die hard.

Reasons I absolutely AM writing this:

Because the very act of publishing this is an act of healing. Because the God I actually believe in supports those who speak the truth, not accuses them of being “unspiritual” if their truths make others uncomfortable. And because I can assure myself that no names or identifying characteristics will be mentioned, nor are they even remotely likely to ever read this.

So here’s something I’m actually excited to write about… Last month, or maybe the month before, I’m not sure but right before I returned to social media because I had healed enough to start responding to messages and e-mails once again… Some time ago, I faced my very worst fears in social media and relationships:

Someone not only misunderstood me, but thought the very worst of me, used my benign actions to justify their irrational belief that I was of ‘bad character,’ insinuated that I was being selfish with my time, and looked at things I’d written or shared on social media with an authentic energy and interpreted it instead as directly passive aggressive or malicious against them. Then they said what they thought they needed to say (I’m being generous, here), and blocked me everywhere, before getting to see the physical proof that they were actually 10000% wrong in their assumptions. Not a single conversation about what had been bothering them. Just accusation, character assassination, gone.

They took some of my worst fears, (1) that someone would use my words against me, (2) that I should never speak because people will just misinterpret it to mean something completely different and probably malevolent, (3) that someone would stalk things I did or said on social media to concoct a narrative in which they assume the worst of me, (4) that someone would guilt-trip me over the time I needed for self-care and (5) respond to it with accusations of selfishness and/or view it as an ill-conceived personal attack on them, and (6) that any or all of it would be used to justify abuse, character assassination, and/or emotional abandonment, and rolled it alllll into one. big. grand. gesture.

And guess what. I immediately recognized that it was completely unjustified.

I refused to accept blame for things I hadn’t done, because I knew none of it was true.

I didn’t go into hours, weeks, or months of self-abuse thinking I possibly deserved any of it.

And I survived.

Not only did I survive, but I even assertively stood up for myself (before they bailed, at least).

And, as a bonus, I didn’t move to contempt. Hurt over being thought of in such a way by someone I’d started to trust, yes; anger at being mistreated (a good sign for someone who’d always been punished for expressing anger), yes; disappointment and confusion, yes. But not contempt, not hatred, not a sudden need for self-protection by going on the offense, and no thoughts of “what a terrible person you are for doing all this.” They’re not. I know why they did what they did even if they don’t understand it, themselves. I’ve been a version of them in my past, believe it or not, when I didn’t know the true depths of my mental illness. And because I have compassion for the situations in my life that caused me to behave irrationally with others, I can have compassion for the situations in their life which caused them to do this. (Plus I lived with an infection for 7 years that reliably turned my brain chemistry upside down every 5-6 days. But anyway.)

As Elizabeth Gilbert wrote in Big Magic, about a woman who’d read her book and imagined a narrative within it that wasn’t actually written: “Their reaction doesn’t belong to you.” I’m only responsible for what I put out, not how it passes through others’ personal filters, for better or worse. I know now that I don’t have to allow those “worst fears” to have power over me anymore, because I know I will not only survive should it happen again, but that I have healed so much in at least this area, that I won’t be sent into a spiral of self-loathing, automatically assuming I deserved it. I can’t even explain the pit “old me” would’ve had to crawl out of in the past, the way it would’ve stirred up abandonment depression and sincere beliefs of “maybe I am everything they think.”

I’m making tremendous progress this year.

This isn’t even counting what happened at the beginning of the year, when I warned people about someone who had copied and posted my work but changed the words around to reflect their own story and history. Instead of any “thanks for letting us know,” and despite me sending them the link to my piece, I was met mostly with people incredulously claiming it wasn’t mine, and how dare I say such things. Ha! So part of my path this year seems to be learning to not be affected by blame or praise. But especially the blame.

“How equanimous are you when people express their views of liking or not liking what you do? Do you take it personally or understand they are simply expressing their own bias? Does praise or blame disturb your balance?”¹ “As the Buddha said, pleasure and pain, gain and loss, praise and blame, fame and disrepute constantly arise and pass away, beyond our control.” He said, “There is always blame in this world. If you say too much, some people will blame you. If you say a little bit, some people will blame you. If you say nothing at all, some people will blame you.”²

I think I’m doing pretty good so far. Don’t you think?

On second thought, don’t respond to that.


I cannot live my life letting fear of what someone might misinterpret decide what I do or don’t do, what I say or don’t say, what I share or don’t share. I’ve lived most of my life walking on eggshells for everyone else, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend the remainder of my life doing it, too.

Even now as I write and edit, I feel fear over what others will think about this. Maybe that won’t ever go away. But it doesn’t have to: I’m going to write, speak, share, and live, regardless.

I’m happy about all the progress I’ve made, even if it took something painful to help me realize it.


Takeaways for others, I hope:

  • I didn’t include this part of things, but make sure you’re not accusing someone of something that may actually be partly or entirely due to a technological glitch.
  • Don’t take your thoughts so seriously. Some meditation practices help us contemplate situations from the perspective of, “Do I really know this is what’s happening?” Much of the time, we truly don’t. This can help us find that place of spaciousness from which we can choose to respond instead of react out of past hurts or abuse.
  • If you have mental illness, try to remember your sick brain may colour your perspective of what’s going on. Although not everyone has the luxury of being able to find that spaciousness, not even myself, at all times; the key word is “try.”
  • Likewise, remember if someone has a disease affecting their brain, there’s very little chance it won’t also affect their thoughts, as well as the way they process information. Have compassion.

Above all, remember everyone is doing the best they can with what they have to work with, and for goodness sake, try to think the best of each other.

"To love somebody is to let them be who they are and do what they have to do."

a rainbow at night


1. Focused and Fearless: A Meditator’s Guide to States of Deep Joy, Calm, and Clarity, by Shaila Catherine, 2002
2. http://www.dharmanet.org/samples/bv4a.htm

How Did It Get Like This? I Was Not Raised to Be Peaceful.

© a rainbow at night

I had an unexpected moment of crying earlier, after realizing I had gone back to some old, unhelpful habits, but what actually brought me to tears wasn’t the slip-up. It was the sudden, immense gratitude I felt over having become this person I am today, who now not only has the tools to change and live better, but even the awareness to notice when they’ve regressed. We’re talking about me, this woman who was raised with a psychological and spiritual toolbox that could only ever bring about mental and emotional distress, whose relationship with almost everything and everyone was accompanied by intense suffering… Simply put: I was not raised to be peaceful.

I was raised to judge, be cynical, feel vengeful, hold grudges, be elitist, a perfectionist, and to never relax. No one wants to suffer like this, but we can only do what we know at that time. I am a completely different human being, now, although like anyone, I can slide back into old thoughts, habits, and behaviors when something or someone triggers my protective defenses, when I react instead of respond. But now I have enough awareness to pause, realize when I’m not happy, and decide what I can do about it. I now sit with the knowledge that I am worth my own happiness; that I’m worth investing in myself and my healing in all ways; that it’s okay not to be like everyone else around you; and it’s okay to be the first to change.

Unfortunately, what often happens when you’re the first to make positive change within your circle–whether it’s your friends, family, or family of origin–is the very people you thought would be happiest for you actually ostracize you the most. Their egos feel threatened by you trying to become more or become better, because it makes them feel worse about the damaging behaviors in which they engage in their lives. They lash out and try to stop you from being true to yourself so they don’t have to deal with their own feelings of inadequacy. It’s heartbreaking.


I remember when this path first started, for me. Don’t laugh, but my internet broke for two full weeks, at a time when I had a craving for knowledge, for “something.” So I watched two weeks worth of spiritual programming on my television–perusing channels I didn’t even know I was paying for–and found all sorts of things. I had the realization that there were many other paths to peace than the one I inherited from birth, Southern Baptist Christianity, which teaches we’re inherently sinful from the moment of conception and that only Jesus can “save” us from their god’s eternal wrath. Meanwhile, Buddhists believe in original goodness, not original sin.

The next big step was ordering the Toni Bernhard’s book, How To Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers. Like Mara trying to mislead the Buddha, I could practically hear the voices of my family in my head as I tried to deprogram my former brainwashing:

Who are you to think you can do this? Who are you to think you have what it takes to find your own peace? Who are you to investigate what YOU want to know instead of trusting what you were taught? Who are you to take enlightenment into your own hands? Who are you to think you are even worth it?

The book gave me an introduction to meditation in the form of mindfulness, which was the perfect outlet for me, personally. I don’t enjoy visualization, and I don’t enjoy posing in awkward, painful positions just because they’re supposed to “take me higher.” But I did enjoy learning how to pause and pay attention to my life and what is happening RIGHT NOW, without a need to judge it. I desperately needed to learn how to do this. My life up until then was passing me by because I was never taught to find gratitude in the present moment; I was only taught to get to the next one, and almost all of my actions AND thoughts revolved around using time efficiently.

Underneath it all was the assumption that using time efficiently would equate to a life well lived, but all it actually did was equate to a life that I couldn’t remember living.

Why? Because if you’re always living for the instant gratification and self-congratulation of “efficiently” using the moments that follow, what happens to ones you’re already in? They’re ignored. Instead of living in your actual life, you’re living in your head about what you think could be happening next. How is the brain supposed to make memories out of your life if you only ever give awareness to what’s going on in your own mind? There was so much happening around me, but I was going through life asleep.

The-Time-Is-Now

There’s a saying, if you take care of the Now, the future will take care of itself, because the future is made up of nothing but present moments. Here’s an example, for those who don’t quite get how living in the next moment leads to a life forgotten. You could be reading this half-heartedly, picking up the remote or cellphone every few minutes, distracted, wondering what you have to do tomorrow, what you need to plan in order to make that happen… But is the time to plan for later, when you’re already doing something? You can pause, and realize what you’re doing right now. You may be lying down, or sitting. Your attention is on these words and how they might apply to your life. You may be sipping a drink, cool or warm. You may be comfortable, or uncomfortable. You might enjoy the colors on this page. You might take notice of your breath and realize it’s too quick and shallow with anxiety, and relax your body. Now what are you doing? You’re on the internet–connected to a system that is literally going to outer space and back to provide you with this very moment in time–reading an article. Who knew there was so much peace to be found right here? How has your experience changed since you began this paragraph?

Ironically, while writing this, I heard my mindfulness bell chime. It’s an app you can download for your mobile device (for Android or iOS) that you can set to periodically chime throughout the day, helping you remember to pause, breathe, and focus on what you’re doing in that moment. Toni Bernhard’s describes a method in here book of taking ten comfortable breaths while you focus on one sense at a time: What do you see? What do you currently smell? What do you currently feel in your body? What do you hear?

Is there a Mara in your life, or in your head, telling you that you don’t have what it takes to live a better, more present, enjoyable, peaceful life? Asking you, Who are you to think you can do this?

I leave you with the ever-beautiful words of Ralph Marston yet again, which gave me the courage to even write this blog entry:

“Start where you are, and do what you can. Make use of what you have, in the time available to you, and there’s much you can get done.

Don’t waste your time waiting for conditions to be perfect, for they will never be. Go ahead, with things as they are, and begin making real progress.

The place to aim is as high as you can imagine. Yet the place to start is right where you are.

Let go of any concerns about not having enough time, or money, resources or anything else. Focus instead on the great value and potential of what you do have and of what you can do right now.

See the real treasure that exists in your opportunity and ability to make good, effective use of this moment. Claim that treasure by going ahead and putting forth your very best effort.

Today is your day to achieve and to make your world a better place. Start where you are, and get yourself solidly on the way to wherever you wish to be.”

a rainbow at night

The Darker Side of Relating Christianity to Chronic Illness

church edit
Photo © a rainbow at night

My experience is not uncommon and yet no one is talking about it. Christianity never helped me deal with being sick. It told me–or maybe it was just the people involved–to “hold on to God’s promise” and if I “just believed hard enough,” God would restore my health. Yet what I actually found was just how threatening the reality that is chronic illness can be to people with deeply held religious beliefs.

While reading a few days ago, I realized I’m still so angry at the people who hurt me that I instantly recoil at the mere mention of Christianity. However, much of what the religion has become today is a mockery of what Jesus actually stood for, and I owe it to myself and others to focus more on the type of person Jesus was and less on what people have done with him. I need to stop judging Christianity by the actions of people calling themselves Christians. This anger arising in me is a healthy response to having been wronged, but it is also a message and warning that something needs to change. I of course cannot change what has already happened, but I can work toward forgiveness before it turns into a lifelong bitterness that I blindly accept instead of rightfully question.

Forgiveness for the brainwashing, when I was at my most vulnerable;
Forgiveness for the innumerable times I was told in a manner of words,”If you’re sick, it’s your own fault for not believing in God strongly enough“;
Forgiveness for the years wasted on false promises, year that could have been used to help me find real meaning.

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

In our context, “forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past could have been any different,” and “in order for forgiveness to happen, something must die.” So I understand I need to stop clinging to what I wish would’ve happened and move forward…after I properly grieve.

Most Christians I was exposed to back then felt they had to protect their image of god through bizarre logic, such as:

  • If you believe in Him, you will be protected from anything “bad” ever happening to you;
  • If something bad does happen, it’s because you weren’t doing something you were told to do; and
  • Bad things will continue to happen until you get rid of all the “evil” in your life allowing the bad things to happen.
  • In other words: Everything is your fault.

The Christians I encountered literally blamed me for this disease. They told me I must have been doing something wrong in my life for this to be happening, and said God was “allowing satan to punish [me]” for it.

During my first few years of illness, some of their suggestions about this “evil” were:

“Stop drawing dragons; they’re symbols of the devil!”
“Someone in your household has been watching pornography!”
“Get rid of that gargoyle; it has a ~bad energy~!”
“This is a generational curse because of your parents’ sins!”

It was all about other people telling me what I needed to do in order to earn their god’s love, nevermind that being “perfect” is completely unattainable; was that the catch? Trying to appease “The Church” in order to be loved by their god will only leave you struggling in self-hatred. But apparently, then and only then would their god take away this “curse” of illness, a plight bestowed upon my physical form because I literally wasn’t good enough to receive his mercy.

Does this mean Tammy Faye Bakker died from cancer because she didn’t pray the right way, was tainted by original sin, didn’t repent enough, or had a generational curse?*

From what I’ve seen, things like this are the main reasons people stop believing in any religion, especially Christianity. They are led to believe that God hates them for being a lowly human, that God is punishing them for “original sin,” and they can’t wrap their minds around anything “allowing” so much suffering in this world. (Side note? Buddhists believe in original goodness.) But a belief in Something Greater is not your opt-out of experiencing anything painful.

Disease is a not some freakish anomaly that shouldn’t exist. Anything with a body can and likely will get diseased at some point, and it’s not a punishment from either the underworld or spited gods. There will also come the morning where you will see your last sunrise, and you will die. Yet instead of being one of our greatest, most revered teachers, Christianity describes death as our “last enemy.”

I have a different view on how spirituality and illness intertwine. Is it not true that disease is one of the main conditions drawing people to religion in the first place?

Within the many boxes and ellipses of spirituality and religion, I mostly fit within Buddhist Unitarian Universalism. I believe there are infinite ways to connect to the divine, and anything claiming to have a monopoly on that force should be approached with caution and skepticism.

In Buddhist practices, there’s a common misconception that “life is suffering.” But as Thich Nhat Hanh elaborates in his book, “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching“:

If we are not careful in the way we practice, we may have the tendency to make the words of our teacher into a doctrine or an ideology. Since the Buddha said that the First Noble Truth is suffering, many good students of the Buddha have used their skills to prove that everything on Earth is suffering. … But in other parts of the same sutras, the Buddha says that he only wants us to recognize suffering when it is present and to recognize joy when suffering is absent. . . . We need to say, ‘The basis for this suffering is such and such an affliction,’ and then call it by its true name.”

I believe, before we incarnated, we all agreed to the conditions of this earth and the existence of suffering, illness included. I don’t believe God/the Universe/whatever-your-preferred-title controls our actions. This Source Energy might want to pull us toward Love, toward our connection to this Source, but cannot stop us from hurting ourselves or others. We are all beings in our own right, not puppets, and free will exists. “Bad” things do happen to “good” people. Natural disasters happen. Terrible diseases happen. People abuse each other in unthinkable ways. And from those situations emerge some of the strongest people on this earth.

To admire strength but then deny that this is how strength is actually born, is to ignore that steel results from setting fire to iron. As Viktor Frankl famously said, “What is to give light must endure burning.”

Wonderful things can come from having experienced illness, and its’ timing in our lives–truly the timing of everything in our lives–is absolutely essential. Most are stopped in their tracks and have a chance to ponder how they arrived there. Near-death experiences invariably bring people closer to, if not the divine, then what they consider divine in their own lives. What’s really important to them? And what’s really important to the people closest to them, who often obtain a second-hand awakening by osmosis?

If someone can look at me and say that God, however you define It/Him/Her, has not healed me and transmuted my life, they’re not looking closely enough. I was a horribly angry person, swarmed by negative emotions, spiritually and psychologically fractured. Like so many others, I thought chasing The American Dream would give me happiness. Nothing could have ever given me pause like the experience of disease. I can say in all honesty that I wouldn’t change a thing, because no other turn of events in my own life could have possibly created the person I am today.

In a perhaps ironic twist, I actually do believe my soul helped decide this life. Not all the specifics, but I do believe we help choose our time of birth, our place of birth, our body, even the parents to whom we incarnate, and have decided beforehand which main lesson we wish to tackle this round of life. Reincarnation is a given, although I don’t yet see any evidence to support we were once ants, trees, or tigers; the energy of other types of life operates on a different vibration than we do, I think.

But am I enacting the same blame upon the sick as the Christians I rejected, by saying our soul chose to experience disease?

I don’t think so. Saying our souls choose a specific outlet for the powerful alchemy of suffering in order to grow, is not the same as saying you are inherently bad, that some omnipotent being is punishing you and you must appease it to make the pain stop, or it will continue to berate you with suffering until you “love” it enough. As a survivor of many types of abuse, I can say with some authority that sounds no different than being under the control of an abuser.

The people trying to tackle my experience of disease through Christianity didn’t know they were hurting me. They didn’t realize they were blaming me for my disease because of their own desire to protect their personal understanding of god; their inability to reconcile the version of Him in their head with the thought of Him “allowing” illness to happen; and because they saw illness as a curse to be delivered from, not a fact of life with which all must cope.

They didn’t know it all ultimately came from their fear of not being in control. 

Those people should not have turned this devastating illness into my responsibility to “pray away,” but inside I’d like to think that if they knew any better way, they would have done so. Even if I am still working on my forgiveness, I am glad I have not become that which has hurt me, so I will not hurt others in the same way. And may it be so.

a rainbow at night

Updated October 2015
* Of course not–don’t send me hate-mail.

See also:

Unpopular Opinion? The Taboo of Gratitude Within Chronic Illness Communities

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I don’t know why this is an unpopular opinion, but it is:

I feel blessed to live in a country where I can obtain so many accomodations to offset the effects of my disease.

If I were in many other places, or a third world country, I would have died within a few months of getting sick; there would have been no chance for me. Obviously that wasn’t the journey I was meant to take, it would not have given me the lessons I was meant to learn, so here I am.

Things are not perfect, but it is a wonderful thing that we do have support systems in place for people in my situation, regardless of how many politicians call us malingerers or how many bitter people try to loop everyone on social security/welfare into one big “something for nothing” group.

All these things–social security, medications, things like laptops that help us connect to others in a housebound state, and things like wheelchairs and adjustable beds and home IV therapy–give us a chance at life that many before us never had. (Hell, when I was growing up we had to endure illness without the invention of the internet! Can you imagine? Haha.)

This thinking I’m doing comes from a frame of mind that doesn’t expect other people to owe us anything. It comes from pondering Buddhist philosophies which seek to be realistic, accept What Is, and not live life in a constant state of wanting. Because that’s certainly not the mindframe of most here in the West. It comes from thinking that we are worthy of love and joy and peace simply because we exist, but hey, suffering also exists: as a fact of life, not a punishment.

Yes I am upset at the discrimination of the now-infamous “47%”; yes I think it’s our responsibility as human beings to try and care for one another and get help to those who need it; yes I think it’s our responsibility to speak out against injustice, when we have so many means to help people, and those in places of power are not cooperating. I’m not suggesting we simply turn up our noses, say “it is what it is” and not try to change it.

But while you’re waiting for things to change, you have to accept the way things currently are; you have to become aware of what you already have, and realize how fortunate you are to even have that.

It is amazing that you have methods to help manage your illness: Medicine to help ease your pain; soft beds to lie in; the right food to eat; indoor temperature control, which is an often overlooked accomodation. Many in developed countries, I think, forget that the majority of the world does not have these things to the exceeding surplus that we do. If you have something that the majority of the world does not, you are blessed.

I cannot forget that if I were somewhere else without these accommodations, I would perish. My daily life makes that uncomfortably apparent.

Of course it is disappointing when there exists external items to help you even further, that were created for the purpose of helping–like money, certain foods, medical treatments–and for whatever reason, you don’t have access to them. All the time, I see people with myalgic encephalomyelitis with no hope of getting better because research for our disease is not being funded (though the FDA did recently vow to find medications to treat both CFS and M.E.–not “ME/CFS,” but both separate, distinct conditions). All the time I see people with chronic Lyme disease and its related co-infections trying to raise their own funds for their treatment and cure, because our government does not currently believe we even exist and getting the proper medications can be impossible. And I see people who are disabled and who should be able to receive benefits to live on so that they won’t become homeless, but who are not getting them due to flaws in the system. Things are not perfect.

But what about what you do have? What about the things that help you face the day, without which you’d have been gone long ago? Does it truly not matter that those things have helped you stay alive up until this point?

Sometimes when I am grieving the things I’m “lacking” but “should” have, at some point I try to practice gratitude for those that do have them. I.e. I try to be happy for those whose test results and various means of funding enabled them to get the PICC lines and ports and hyperbaric oxygen therapy and infusions. And somewhere out there is a person who cannot get any antibiotics, who wishes they had the medication I do; a person who wishes they had a doctor who believed them, like I have; who wishes they had adequate pain management; had funding to get daily living accommodations; friends who were there for them; family who supported them…

I’m still going to be extremely disgruntled when my head feels like it’d be better off removed than attached to me.

I’m still going to feel like crying when I hear another child with M.E. has been forced into a mental asylum because their doctors do not understand the harm they’re inflicting.

I’m still going to be bothered by the fact that I will never be able to get IV antibiotics with my test results, just because my immune system functions too poorly to make those tests show enough positive antibodies.

Again, I am not saying we are to be emotionless zombies without a reaction to anything. I was honestly scared to post this. I feel like, if absorbed in the wrong way, it will seem like I’m saying, “You’re lucky to get what you get, so shut up,” and that is not my intention. I also don’t want to type this and make it seem like I live in a fantasy world where nothing bothers me. I’m trying my best to improve my state of being through whatever means available, just like the next person, even if often my body cannot cooperate yet.

I just find it better to guide our thoughts into gratitude instead of dedicating our limited, precious time and precious energy to all the things we don’t have; self-compassion is better than self-pity.

I find it better to realize that having anything to help us through disease is a miracle, because we are not, in fact, entitled to it, but blessed that we got sick in a place where anything at all could be done for us.

I just find it better to live in gratitude.

a rainbow at night

(Postscript: I know I’m not entirely responsible for how people perceive my writing, but I do hope I’ve framed this enough in the way of, “You are lucky to get what you get, and I think it’s best to focus on that while you try to get whatever else you need.”)

How I Forgave the Doctors That Called Me “Crazy”

jagged leaf shaped like a heart rests upon wooden boards on the ground
© a rainbow at night

This year I feel I’ve really evolved as a human being. A lot of my focus has been to get rid of the anger I’ve felt. One major thing I finally let go this year, actually, was the resentment aimed at those who got to enjoy things I may never get to do, ever. Sure, I couldn’t be angry at friends or family, that was easy enough, but put me in the room with a stranger who’s telling me about how they’re going to a party that night with all their friends, and… You get the idea.

I owe that in huge part to reading Toni Bernhard’s How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers, for actually giving me the tools to know how to do that: How to acknowledge those emotions without feeling I was a bad person for even having them, and focus on how much more wonderful it was that they did get to do those things, than it was that I could not.

But I honestly don’t have any explanation for how I came upon the realization I’m about to share in this post, besides that my brain has apparently developed some kinder, more mature, more well-rounded ways of viewing things I’ve thought a thousand times before.


Probably close to 95% of people who have either Late Stage Lyme Disease or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis–or, if you’re like me, both–did not arrive at that diagnosis very easily. (As those are the main two diseases I have, they’re my focus, but feel free to apply this to similar illnesses.) No, it probably went something more like:

  1. Go to the doctor expecting a quick fix for unusually-persistent symptoms
  2. End up getting passed around to every specialist known to medicine because primary care physician has no idea what’s wrong with you
  3. Get called crazy by every single one of them when the tests either come back negative or don’t show anything significant enough to explain why you feel like you’re dying
  4. Possibly get prescribed the most strongly contraindicated “treatment” for your disease because no one knows what you actually have, yet, which makes you immeasurably worse
  5. Get called crazy a few more times, and thus end up being evaluated by numerous psychiatrists who don’t find anything wrong with your mental state, or who
  6. Blame everything on a mental disorder that doesn’t actually cause anything you’re experiencing
  7. Finally get the correct diagnosis years later, through what seem like the most random series of events that ever played out in your life

Am I right?

All in all, the stage of acceptance known as “anger” doesn’t really ~just go away~ like some of the others.

The resentment and anger at all the doctors who could have helped you sooner had any one of them just not been so determined to say it was “all in your head”; the anger at those who said there was nothing wrong with you, when you actually had a progressive disease; the resentment at those who thought you were faking just because the tests were negative; the anger you experience all over again at remembering any and all of the horrible doctor visits where you were pleading for them to do something, anything, only to be told you just needed to get out more, and probably see another psychiatrist.

Trust me, I’ve been there. So when this sort-of-epiphany hit me, it was like a ten-year burden had been lifted off of me:

Did I truly, honestly think, that any one of those doctors who called me crazy, had any idea that I was actually suffering from a progressive neurological disease? Did I really believe that those people, those fellow human beings, somewhere inside knew that I was dying, and just decided to recommend exercise and antidepressants for the sheer fun of it?

If they had known that what a terrible disease the original “chronic fatigue syndrome” was–that it was actually myalgic encephalomyelitis, that it was made worse by exercise, that it was progressive in 25% of cases and fatal in roughly 1 of 20–would they have just told me to “get out more,” or “exercise more,” or “get back to work, you’ll be fine”?

If they had known that chronic Lyme disease (or bartonella or mycoplasma) exists where I live–that it would lead to multiple sclerosis, that the tests are often negative even if you do have it, that I still needed long-term antibiotics based strictly on the clinical presentation–would they have told me there was no way I could have it, that it was harmless even if I did have it, or that it was “only fatal in people with AIDS” and that there was “no reason to treat”?

Absolutely not. What kind of monsters did I think these people were?

No one in their right mind, especially a doctor who has sworn to Do No Harm, would know the truth of a disease so destructive and still call their patient crazy.

If someone was suspected of having MS, or HIV, or cancer, or a neurodegenerative disease, these physicians would have done everything they could to identify and fix the problem. If they had known what I was up against and the right approach to treatment, they would have done it.

But they didn’t know. And that wasn’t entirely their fault. Sure, there are always some doctors who go in it for the money and don’t care that much one way or the other, but they are few and far between. And sure, a doctor who keeps up to date on the latest research and alternative therapies is going to be more open-minded when it comes to a rare case. But when it comes down to it, there is a whole cluster of reasons why most of the specialists we saw were completely incapable of giving us an accurate diagnosis, the biggest of which is lack of information.

The reason we patients advocate so much is because in our hearts, we know that if someone else has the information we didn’t, they might not have to wait so long and suffer so much before getting accurately diagnosed and treated.

We also can’t forget that it’s not 100% the doctor’s responsibility to figure out what’s wrong with us based on absolutely nothing: We have to be honest and not afraid to be our own advocates. My LLMD says: The passive patient never gets better.

Now, there are some exceptions. There are doctors who know the facts and, because of legal reasons and public position, choose to turn and look away whenever one of “us” come their way. But that is also very, very rare. Most all of the dozens upon dozens of specialists had no idea what was wrong with me, what was wrong with you, and could only give us the best advice they knew, based upon what they thought was happening. In hindsight I really do understand how someone could think I needed psychological intervention, if they had no clue that my disease really did do all the things I was reporting.

You don’t throw a paralyzed child into a swimming pool–as happened to one internationally-recognized M.E. patient–to try to “snap them out of faking ill,” if you honestly believe they are sick. You do it if you honestly believe they are faking ill, because you have no knowledge of what M.E. actually does. If there is anyone to be upset with, it’s those in charge of spreading facts about these crippling diseases, and who don’t do it; not the doctors who have been armed with information they believe to be true, who just so happen to be completely misinformed about what we have.

So I finally just stopped being angry at them for not doing what they weren’t even capable of in the first place.

You may have heard before that, Forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past could have been any different, a quote popularized by Oprah although she’s not who originally spoke it. And in my realization, I also let go of the thoughts that any of the doctors who had mistreated me out of their ignorance, could have ever treated me any differently based upon what they knew. If they knew better, they would have done better.

I am now going to instead focus on how blessed I am to finally have my diagnoses, and be glad that I am one of the lucky ones who still had time left to begin treatment. I hope this can help some of my readers move past their anger, also, perhaps just a little more quickly than they would have, otherwise.

Be blessed in the New Year, and always!

a rainbow at night

Here we go again! (A real post, this time.)

All right. A real update! As far as I’m aware, the strange macular rash on my stomach is gone. For now.

My weekend sickness? Otherwise known as the 7 Day Flare? Well, in the beginning it was from Friday to late Saturday. Eventually it was all of Saturday and Sunday, which is when I mainly started to notice it. A couple of weeks or so ago it started to be Sunday and Monday and now, I think it has moved even further down the week. (I do recall pondering the possibility of it working its way forward, but other things could be causing this, such as when I had to stop antibiotics for a week last month, and the re-exposure to new bugs via the fleas…)

All this weekend, I was fine. On Sunday I even chased my dog around for a minute! But Monday night I started getting an awful headache, which I’ve had since. I’m unsure if it’s a migraine or not, because it moves around and started in my neck, which is not typically migraine-y…? But I did get an absolutely awful episode of Alice in Wonderland syndrome the night before. But yes, then Tuesday wasn’t great, but by the time I awoke on Wednesday I was in full meltdown mode, as if it were a weekend. Then today was even worse. I did have a fever yesterday and much of today, but no thermometer to check its severity. I’ve been so medicated. Ibuprofen every few hours, Lortab every four hours, and I’ve already gone through half a pack of my ginger gum whereas I usually only need one per day! Every morning since Tuesday I’ve woken up with simultaneous excruciating head pain (worse each day), wanting to vomit, and the room spinning. I know some bug is flaring up, because I have been fighting dehydration for three days, and subsequently had very, very bad Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome–I’m lucky to be able to be upright the few minutes it takes for the restroom! Yesterday my father even asked if I needed help getting there, which was truly humbling. (Do I look that bad?) And for it to be happening despite me getting adequate water and electrolytes… It’s typical of my spontaneous bug-related dehydration episodes. (But no hospitals!) Even worse, my cardiac symptoms, which sprung up with September’s Beginning of the Month Lyme flare, are in general so much worse, and they haven’t left yet! In addition to the arrhythmia, I’ve also had chest pain, and I’ve been struggling to breathe. I am always needing to take a deep breath (it’s not air hunger, though) and it gets worse when I lie down. So, further evidence for my electrolytes being off, as far as arrhythmia, but… The chest pain, and then difficulty breathing when I lie down…?

I’m starting to wonder if whatever I picked up from the fleas is affecting me worse than I initially thought. I do have an appointment with my LLMD on the 14th, and I’ll be telling him about all these things in case he wants to test for something. I’m not sure what it would help, since I’m already on the treatment, but… It might be important to document re-exposure, if it did happen. So that’s where we’re at…

…I just took a moment to read my last post and noticed that I had nearly the exact same symptoms last Tuesday and Wednesday. Severe headache that started in my neck, bouts of severe dizziness, and (though I forgot to write it above) I also had shin pain yesterday, just like this time last week… Ah! See, this is why I keep a health blog. :\ I had forgotten all about last week, but there seems to be something of a pattern with these symptoms. I really hope next week isn’t this bad–especially because my appointment is on a Wednesday! That used to be the best day of the week for me, but it’s certainly not anymore. You just have to go with the flow, though. I’ve really been into Buddhist teachings and everything concerning living in the moment. Because that’s all most of us can do–take it one moment to the next, and enjoy as much peace as we can along the way.

Til next post!

a rainbow at night