Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Fresh Start: Be Your Own Guru?

Part One:

Author, and Jack of all trades, Jonathan Fields shared a post on his website in 2010 beginning with these words:
I spent the better part of the first 40-years of my life looking for a guru, that person who would just blow me away with her or his prescience, kindness, compassion, vision and guidance.  The one who would give me the answers.  Who would tell me what to do to get to that place where I finally felt like I had “made it.”
So many others I knew had found one and their lives seemed so much better, more directed and purposeful for it, but that never happened to me. I would attend lectures, teachings, seminars, trainings and retreats and, inevitably, end up leaving early because some combination of information, integrity, pace or delivery did not resonate.  Why couldn’t I find that person?
It finally dawned upon me…
The person I was looking for was the one I would need to become.
I found his article a few years after its publication because of a search for a blurb by the same name posted on a page run by a little online magazine startup several acquaintances of mine began writing for around the same time.  Incidentally, this publication does not treat their contributors very well at all, so if you come across any magazine titles similar to pachyderm diaries I highly suggest avoiding becoming a contributing author, but I digress.  The gist of the blurb by, Rachel Brathen was to always trust your intuition, and know that your wisdom is much more vast, and valuable than you're probably aware.  And each time you read, or learn something new that resonates deeply within you it's really because it is reminding you of what you already know to be true.

That last line became a beacon guiding me back to myself at a time I needed it the most. It was Spring 2015, and I had already walked squarely through the center of downtown Hell by myself, and was eager to find my way home.  A time when I needed to trust that I was my own expert; the guru I had been hopeful to find.

Since my late twenties, I had been experiencing an annoyingly slow, yet steady decline in my health and vitality.  I say "annoyingly slow" because it just kept creeping up on me ... much like characters in The Blob, I had a very much run-don't-walk mentality, but no matter what I did (healthy-er eating, gym memberships, more sleep, alkaline water), I couldn't escape this constantly encroaching cloud of dis-ease.  There were, however, very few outward symptoms or signs of a problem.  I looked like a perfectly well 27 year old on the outside, causing me to show up in relationships as a total flake: the constantly cancelling creep who didn't value her friendships or family ... all the while everything on the inside felt totally, and utterly wrong.

My energy bottomed out - like, drag yourself out of bed, go grocery shopping, come home put groceries away, go back to bed - bottomed out, I felt as though the very cells in my body were dehydrated to such an extent they deserved their own dedicated chapter in a Steinbeck novel.  My body had all but lost its ability to maintain its temperature.  My joints snapped, and popped like break dancers on a bubble wrap dance floor, my body was in so much pain I couldn't stand to be touched.  When receiving change at a checkout counter at the store the cashier would have to put it on the counter and I'd scrape it off into my purse because having my hands engaged in any sort of jarring activity no matter how gentle, set off a sensation of being stabbed by thousands of needles all at once, and I couldn't bear the pain.  Then, the panic attacks set in.  At this point I had only experienced what I could describe as "anxiety" maybe three times in my life, and now my days had become a cascade of panic and distress.  But why?  And who on Earth was going to have the right answers for me, when every time I reached out for education, help, or support I was met with dismissal, thems-the-breaks attitudes, or push back from some of the closest people to me who thought it was all just a slimy excuse to get out of doing things I "secretly" didn't want to do?

During my frantic search for answers, desperate for relief I heard it all:
you don't really love me
you can't even be bothered to (fill in the blank)
you just don't want to see me
you could do (fill in the blank) yesterday
you look fine
it's all in your head
you just need to get out more
you're a liar / just tell me the truth
you're depressed
Well, yes.  Days turning into months turning into years of feeling like your very life force is being sucked out of your body while no one believes you, or helps you can, in fact, leave you feeling a touch "depressed," but through it all I was still the happiest, and most hopeful person I knew (minor gripes aside).  I don't know if that speaks to my positivism or paints a grim picture of the company I keep, but what I've come to know of the "black dog" depression is often referred to as, it wasn't anything remotely close to what I was feeling.  However, the moment you mention uncontrollable anxiety / panic attacks all people seem to want to talk about, and educate you on is anxiety AND depression, because apparently it's illegal to experience ONLY anxiety on its own.  You're clearly suffering from mental illness if you experience panic attacks, your overall outlook must be glum, and if you insist that you are, in fact, not held hostage in the clutches of depression, you're obviously in denial and not ready to face the truth of your condition OR (deserve to) get help for it.


Not all anxiety is created equal, and not all panic episodes are caused by the same triggers.  Anxiety, I've come to learn, is not a one-size-fits-all, take a pill and feel good, or just change your behaviors, mind over matter tidy psych 101 text book definition disorder.  It is often a symptom of a larger problem.  So how is it, if very few professionals treat it as such, that we can find out what our precise malfunction actually is?  I went from a bright, confident twenty-something to a sweaty, hyperventilating mess, bawling on my kitchen floor for what I could only discern as no reason at all.  It doesn't help that this is a common description of occurrences among those with panic disorder.  Every time I've talked with someone about panic episodes, I begin by telling them, "It's the strangest thing..." only to have my sentence finished by words from their mouths, "...They come completely out of the blue!"  Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not so obtuse to actually believe every single panic episode experienced by humans of all time come with zero obvious warnings, social anxiety, and the gamut of postpartum difficulties are just a couple of possible exceptions.  What I am getting at, is there's a whole other group of weirdos out here like me who have had their entire lives turned upside down with little to no warning, and I'm finally able to share my personal experience with it in order to not only organize my thoughts and uncover previously unrecognized clues from my past that could've let me catch onto all of this sooner, but also to help anyone out there feeling like they're completely losing their minds at this very moment, and have no idea what to do next.

But wait, there's more!  As if all of this wasn't awesome enough, being Dust-Bowl Nervous Nelly, and all, everything finally came to a point in late 2012.  I had loaded up and moved house that summer, reduced stress, cut toxic relationships off, began (I thought) taking better care of myself, and yet, none of it mattered.

I gave up.

And that, above all else was my biggest downfall.  I began treating my body like a fast food alley dumpster, and by Christmas of the same year I had effectively lit the dumpster on fire, and rammed it into a brick wall that subsequently fell apart hitting me one brick at a time.  I had completely obliterated my immune system, was full of inflammation, and Santa topped me off with a double eye infection (thanks niece & nephew's preschool!).  If it's true that when you listen to your body as it whispers, you won't have to hear it scream, then let's just say mine was at full-on Ban Sidhe level, and by the February of the following year I was in trouble, without the luxury of putting it off any longer.

Except for one problem... 

I still couldn't get the help I needed.  In fact, it took nearly another full year to find the answers for myself.  I realized pretty quickly into 2013 as I lay wasting away in bed barely able to eat anything, wholly averse to outside stimulus (no reading, no writing, no computer, no television, no music, and no phone) that I was on my own here.  I had the energy for about one text, and thirty minutes of research a day.  So, I just followed the clues.  As you may know by now, I believe life flows in cycles, and leaves breadcrumb trails for us to follow in order to find the answers we need, and since nothing else was taking up my time, I went within and listened to the messages my body was giving me (as if 1/3 of my hair falling out, bleeding gums, and crumbling teeth weren't enough already), and paid attention to what information was trying to find me.  Incredibly enough, patterns (thankfully) began to emerge that spoke to me deeply, and I tumbled down the rabbit hole of forums like The Curezone, and started learning from the experiences of others.  Around this time it seemed everyone in popular culture and natural medicine was obsessed with intestinal parasites, and after engaging in a bentonite clay colon cleanse found in a chapter of The Tao of Health, Sex, and Longevity that claims to remove stringy sludge from your lower intestines (I'm proud to announce, the plumbing is squeaky clean), I was introduced to the company Humaworm, where one at a time, I completed each herbal cleanse, feeling marginally better during each round, but still crashing afterward, and having yet to feel the earth move under my feet, my final move in this first attempt at healing myself came from a full round of their herbal antibiotic supplements.  Trust me, the sketchiness of how it sounds to buy non-FDA approved, herbal, antibiotic capsules off the internet is NOT lost on me!  But more surprisingly than watching myself in my total desperation hit "pay now" for what could've turned out to be literally anything ... They worked!  I woke up the next morning (New Year's Day 2014) feeling like a completely different person.  The brain fog was lifting, the excruciating vertigo was dissipating, the tension in my abdomen was lessening, and my anger was rising.  The entire 2 year climax to the disaster that had become my personal health had been the result of an undetected gastrointestinal infection that had NONE of the typical symptoms or clues that most present with.  I was at once, devastated, and relieved.

My heart was broken over the fact that I had suffered for two years with something so simple.  I felt betrayed by those closest to me who were so keen to keep taking from me during a time when I had the very least to give, and others that refused to help me help myself, and made every step of this process more difficult than it needed to be.  I was shattered that so many years of my life had felt as though they'd been stolen from me.  So many opportunities I had to pass up, and circumstances that went unchanged because I just didn't have what it took to involve myself in anything outside of this nightmare that had become so much of my daily living existing.  It takes a lot of courage to say "no" to the things and life that you dreamt for yourself, and say "yes" to the things and life you need for yourself in order to not only stay alive, but eventually, and ultimately thrive.  Dreams, after all, are useless to a dead person, and I was circling that drain fast.  A coward is not someone who turns away from their wants and desires in order to honor the highest good.  That, in fact, is the ultimate act of bravery.

Through the sadness of this time, I was able to see a fuller picture.  I had found my answer.  I had something to build from.  And I was learning the biggest, and most important first lesson from this entire experience: The best and worst thing about all of this is knowing that I have made every choice and decision that have brought me to this place.  The worst is that I have essentially done this damage to myself.  I can see the choices I made in my youth that paved the way for exactly what ended up happening to me (no, I didn't go around licking unsanitary surfaces hoping to get an infection on purpose, but I may as well have).  The best part is, I can make new choices at any moment, and with a lot of determination, actually reverse the damage that has been done.  This should not be a problem for me - if there are two things I've got it's courage, and a will that has yet to be broken.

If you are struggling with illness (mysterious or not) and you feel alone, know that you're not.  You're probably a lot more courageous than you give yourself credit for, as well.  If you still feel that knowing some strange lady on the other side of the computer screen has walked a similarly terrifying path through Hell as you have isn't doing much for your determination or motivation, maybe the mantra that kept me going will serve you as well:

If Britney can get through 2007, you can survive this.

To be continued...