The following post was written in a time of great distress for me. In particular, I wrote it before I figured out I was suffering from a severe magnesium deficiency, which caused anxiety, heart palpitations, chest pain, insomnia, fatigue, joint pain, and exhaustion. While the despairing parts of this post have not followed me into my mental health and more stable life, I think this remains a powerful post that speaks about important issues of healing and wellness. Perhaps most importantly of all, I get positive and inspirational and kick-ass-y again at the end. Huzzah!
See here for my post on magnesium and a bit on my own experience. I’ll write more about that in a bit.
When I was 21 years old, my body betrayed me for the first time. It seemed like no big deal back then. Can’t have babies? Low hormone levels? No problem. At least I can focus properly on taking my finals.
In retrospect, this has been one of the most disrupting psychological changes that has ever happened to me.
As small as my own health issues are, I don’t trust my body anymore. Is it still “broken’? Yes. My acne comes back in pernicious waves. My menstrual cycle winks in and out of existence. I never sleep a full eight hours, waking in the middle of the night needing to eat and meditate. My heart races with even the smallest decisions because my adrenal glands pump out adrenaline like its their job.
Is it ‘better’? Yes. But I do trust it?
No. Not by a long shot. Along with the knowledge of what happened to and is happening in my body, I also now firmly believe that the way we treat our bodies is supremely important. This makes the betrayal sting all the more. As I move forward with my healing, doing what I’m “supposed to do” rarely makes a difference in the way that I’d like it to. “I’m doing my best, god damnit, what does this thing want from me?” Much as I write on this blog about positivity and patience and progress and loving change over time and all that crap, on very many days I walk around with a frusrated desperation that compels me to kick things more than hug them.
My body broke, and partly because I killed her. Sure, she had her own issues, her own genetic programming. But I ate the wrong things, I exercised the wrong ways, I starved myself. I was trying to do the right thing, and I failed. I can’t trust myself, I can’t trust my body to save me from myself, and now that I am healing, I struggle every single day to find trust in both of us. We broke. We fixed ourselves a bit. But we are nowhere close to “done.” And even if we ever get there, I don’t know how long it’ll take to trust us again.
The dominant theme of 2012 and 2013 for me has been loss of innocence. While I ‘broke’ my body in 2009, I ‘broke’ my brain in 2012. That’s a story for another time, and I’ll share it with you if it’s ever relevant, but take my word for it for now, that that has been every bit as if not more disillusioning than breaking my body. No longer do I believe life is easy. No longer is everything under my control. No longer do I trust my body, and no longer do I trust my brain. People tell me the trust comes inching back over time. It might not ever be perfect, but it does come back, they say. I don’t know. That seems a long way off.
As a part of my work as a philosopher, last week I was reading about people’s existential wrestling with suffering, and I came across this sentence by ethnographer Arthur Kleinman:
A closely related feeling is grief and wretchedness over loss of health, a mourning for the bodily foundation of daily behavior and self confidence. The fidelity of our bodies is so basic that we never think of it–it is the certain ground of our daily experience. Chronic illness is a betrayal of that fundamental trust. We feel under siege: untrusting, resentful of uncertainy, lost. Life becomes a working out of sentiments that follow closely from this corporeal betrayal: confusion, shock, anger, jealousy, despair.
To which I could only say: Amen, Dr. Kleinman.
Much of my struggle in 2012 and 2013 has been dealing with anxiety, and I think a big part of that anxiety comes from this loss of trust. I question everything I do, everything I eat. How might that food affect me? Should I really have had that glass of wine? What if mustard gives me acne? Is eating fruit going to kill me the way everyone in the paleosphere says it is? I don’t wake up in the morning and presume that everything is going to be all right the way that I used to. This is what Dr. Kleinman is talking about. People walk around with the basic assumption that their bodies are just going to keep on working normally. Now that I have broken my body and my brain and watched them do things that hurt me so badly and made me so unhappy at times, and now that I have undertaken healing that has evolved over the course of several years — I wake up and go to sleep every day in a state of nasty, unceasing, disillusioning, heart-breaking distrust.
People ask me a lot about how I do it, how I did it. “Overcome PCOS.” “Overcome body image issues.” “Overcome perfectionism.” I don’t know. Time? Hard work? Iron-clad will? A lot of it has been amazing, empowering, enlightening, beautiful. But this trust issue… every day is a struggle. Things get better, but do I trust they’ll stay that way? No. I do keep at it. I have no choice — I’m not going to let any of this defeat me. This is my life, damn you, damn God, damn it all the hell, I’ll be damned if I ever stop living as fiercely and defiantly as I am humanly capable.
I write this confession not as a ploy or a bid for sympathy. My problems are far less entrenched, far less terrifying, and far less desperate than so many millions of people in America and around the world. I am in fact quite happy and well-adjusted, and I have made significant progress in many spheres of my health. I write it instead to share with you this fact of distrust and the role it can play in our lives. To share with you my own humanity. To tell you that while I do believe in positivity and patience and healing and taking control of our own health, I understand what an enormous struggle it can be from a variety of angles. This is for anyone with any kind of body or brain betrayal…depression, anxiety, overweight, acne, diabetes, serious life-threatening illnesses, chronic pain… I am writing to elevate, pay homage to, and hug your psychological struggle. Perhaps most importantly, I write to share with you the basic fact that while lacking trust is so heartbreaking, we have to leap into it anyway. We have no choice.
So how do I do it? If I in fact “do” it at all?
Perseverence and patience are the names of the game. And maybe even faith. Faith comes into play because we have to believe that what everyone says is true. We have to believe healing is possible. Hell, it’s already happening, we’re already doing it. We just have to believe in it. We have no other option so far as I can tell. If I don’t believe it’s going to get better, I may as well pack my bags, say farewell to my dreams, and shrivel up in a corner of my mother’s sofa. Don’t think it hasn’t crossed my mind. I fantasize about it almost every day.
We also need patience. Nothing worth having was ever achieved in an instant. We need patience for ourselves, for our bodies, and for our aching, tired brains. We need patience for all the pain in our lives and in the lives around us. Patience for grace and for forgiveness and for healing. Patience for love. Patience for learning. We need time to let our bodies relax, and we need time for our psychological selves to relax, too. So many of the relationships within our own beings have become tattered, and each of them takes its own time in healing. Let them. The less we interfere in the healing process with worry and anxiety and fear and suspicion, the faster the recovery in fact goes. And the more we forgive ourselves and let the healing move through us, the more efficacious it is. We have to get out of its way, trust that it is happening, and give it the patient space it needs in order to do so. Forgive ourselves. Embrace. Hold. Rest. Accept. Cherish. Love.
Perhaps, however, we need perseverence most of all. We need to be able to put our heads down, and we need to be able to push when the going gets rough. I’ve learned recently that life isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s tough as nails. Sometimes it kicks us harder than we think it’s possible to recover from. But we dust ourselves off. We keep going. Why? Because we must. Because we want to be alive. Because joy is real, because trust is real, because love is real. There’s no throwing in the towel. This is the one chance you’ve got. You’ve got one body, and you’ve got one brain, and you’ve got one heart. No one’s going to care about them the way you do. Give them your all. Let the tears roll. Let the swear pour down your face. Let the screaming fits rip through you. Then push through them because you love being alive. Hell, even if you don’t, trust that someday again you will. This is what living is for. This is your chance. You’re allowed to fuck up. What you’re not allowed to do is quit. Don’t quit, don’t quit, don’t quit.
These are the principles by which I undertake my healing. It’s about healing my ovaries, definitely. But it’s so much more than that. It’s about healing my brain, and it’s about healing my relationships, and it’s about stepping defiantly into the future even when it’s frankly terrifying. I have no idea what life entails for me tomorrow or the next day or ten years from now. I struggle with trusting my ability to handle it every single day. This means that I am often tired. Very tired. And tired of being tired. So tired that some days all I want to do is weep.
I don’t believe that life is easy. I don’t believe that trust is easy, or that healing is easy. What I do believe, however, is that I am equal to the task. We are equal to the task.