This was written by my good friend Cristina. She has come a long way since this piece but her insights are still very valuable.
I’ve experienced chronic illness for most of my life. There’ve been a variety of symptoms and diagnoses over the years. It’s been a challenge to be in this body with these feelings. Being in and out of physical and psychic pain for so many years is an education. I’ve sought advice from Eastern, Western and alternative practitioners, and been assisted by many modalities. They were all useful and revelatory. Though what has been the most useful and revelatory have been the effects of illness itself.
I saw early on that my environment was affecting my health. Not just the physical environment of stressors, pollutants and irritants, but my internal environment as well: the many layers of personal history, conditioned beliefs and fears, the unexpressed, the internal conflict with what is false and what is true.
When you are sick a lot, most of the feedback you will get is that there is something wrong with you. You are labeled as being less of just about everything that is valued: less healthy, less attractive, less positive, less functional, less sane, less able. Not only do others see you as less, you see yourself as less. The things you have a lot of — pain, uncontrollable feelings, uncontrollable body — no one wants and everyone fears. You can become more and more afraid and self-trust can become a distant memory (if you ever had it at all).
Many years ago I had a therapist who offered me a different point of view. She said, “Have you ever considered there is nothing wrong with you? Have you considered that how you are is an appropriate response to your life? That you are seeking real balance in a world that is out of balance?”
I recently underwent some medical tests because of some difficulty I was having breathing. I was used to having fatigue, pain, allergies and occasional bouts with bronchitis but never anything of this magnitude. I thought perhaps I had developed asthma. The tests were inconclusive.
A few weeks before a close friend who works in public health had tested positive for TB. She had just begun a course of treatment as a quarter-sized spot was found on one lung. Because of how much time we spent together, she encouraged me to get a TB test. The test revealed I had converted to positive as well. The drugs used to treat tuberculosis are very hard on the liver and I was already compromised because of other conditions. The possibility that I would also have to start treatment brought another layer of fear of more illness and more loss of quality of life.
A question came into my mind, “If I did nothing to get better, would my body live?” Not a practical question in the face of tuberculosis, but I was aware of how tired I was of all the things I did to get better — not just better physically but also better as a person. I wanted to know that if I relaxed my attempts, my body and spirit would heal anyway. I wanted to know that if I did less to get better, did less to be, I would be fine. It became important to know that my decision to stay alive, to stay connected, was not one made out of fear.
This brought me to another question that had persisted in my psyche since I was a teen, “Do I want to live?” I realized I was still unsure of the answer. It wasn’t just a survival question about my body staying on this planet. It was a question about being in relationship with what is: the people in my life, the world as it is, my process, my feelings, my body. I looked at how tired I am most of the time not just physically, but on all levels. Tired of feeling pain, tired of feeling afraid, tired of not feeling safe in the hands of life, tired of feeling like there was something wrong all the time, tired of not trusting myself, tired of being tired.
I saw how much of my energy goes into what I think I should do. How I think I should be. I should work harder; I should think better thoughts; I should be healthier; I should be a better friend; I should be prettier; I should be… just fill in the blank. Sometimes the “shoulds” take up so much room, I don’t know who I am or what is true for me. In the rulebook in my brain, there is always something better to be. It is never okay to just be how I am.
The last several years have been about a lot of things. One of those things has been trust. My body and psyche speak to me so loudly, I must listen. Every time I act from that place of paying attention, I experience greater freedom. It’s not so easy when my inner guidance takes me to my greatest fears and difficulties. It happens gradually, in increments I can handle. What is a miracle is that the more I trust myself and what comes from me, the deeper I go in my relationships. The more I trust myself, the more I learn that it is all trustable.
I had a series of dreams during this time. In one dream I was listening to my heart beat. It took me deep into my body, into my bloodstream and into my lungs. I heard a question being asked, “Do you want to be here?” I heard the answer, “Yes.” I heard the question and the answer over and over again. It was not coming from my mind or my usual consciousness. It was coming from my body. What followed was a vision — a dragon appeared inside me — fire burning in my blood, heat everywhere. It wasn’t frightening. The grief, the dampness in my lungs was drying out. I was hot and sweating, and it felt wonderful. It felt correct.
Then I saw a beautiful brown woman. I felt I was in her hands. I was safe. She let me know I could trust my body. It was righting itself. I could trust this illness, I could trust my feelings, and I could trust all of what my body brought. She said it was all bringing me to balance. In my dream I was elated that I would be healed. Then I realized she didn’t say I would be physically healed, she only said that my body was righting itself and bringing me to balance. There was no other outcome. It was a shock to feel that I could trust my body and it didn’t mean I would necessarily be well or even live.
In that moment something shifted and I knew a lot of things at once. I could trust no matter what. Trusting had nothing to do with outcome. Trusting is an energy and, like healing, is a gift. It comes when it’s time for it to come, and I am not more than or less than because I can or cannot trust, not more or less because I am or am not (what is considered) sick.
Since then when I’m faced with what reduces me to feeling like there’s something wrong with me, some internal knowing shows up to let me know I’m fine. I’m in life as I am, going through experiences. I’m part of Nature. I’m not more or less. I feel how I feel — it isn’t better or worse than anything and it doesn’t have anything to do with my value.
I had the required x-ray a week and a half later. No signs of TB, no lesions, no congestion showed on the film.
I still feel tired to varying degrees. My lungs still feel congested from time to time. I still experience pain. I go in and out of states of stable and unstable health. I don’t know how things work. It’s a mystery. I’m concerned on and off about what it all is — what my body is doing. I know something is going on and I know there’s more in there that will reveal itself to me when it’s time.
Experience tells me the effects of my illness have brought me to more of myself, to more of what I really need, to more of what is true, to deeper relationships. Marion Woodman in Coming Home to Myself writes, “What if the symptoms of my illness are trying to heal me?” Healing is not just about the body. Life is bigger than how I think.
I write a lot about trust. I seem to need a lot of trust experiences. I think many of us do. A lot happens in our growing up that sets things in motion so that it’s hard to trust.
The usual view is very narrow. Illness is bad. Health is good. Depression is bad. Being happy is good. Dying is bad. Living is good. We all have lists. What happens if life is bigger than all of this good and bad? What if what we think of cause and effect isn’t all there is? Every gift I have has blossomed through the vehicle of trauma and illness. Our gifts and strengths come through many vehicles. Things are not often what they appear to be. The results of events change and evolve as time goes on. What is one day a heartache can open a door to compassion the next. Events and people are connected in such complex ways. It is all very big.
Stinson Beach, CA