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I Know Who I Am

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This essay is dedicated to Jennifer Jenson/Acupuncturist, Rebecca Porrino/Naturopath and Denise Martini/Healer. These three women saved and enriched my life. Thank you.

The nausea from my illness would envelop me like a thick, black cloud. To escape I’d squeeze my eyes shut and imagine that I was running in a marathon. I’d get lost in the repetitive sound of my feet as they hit the pavement and feel the pounding rhythm of my heart against my chest. I felt I was there. I could almost taste the salty sweat that dripped from my brow. I wasn’t sure why this scenario would come to sooth my suffering, but I grasped on to those fleeting moments because I felt healthy and strong. Eventually these escapes became my dream: to run in a marathon and live my life again.

I wasn’t a runner, although each day of my illness felt like a marathon. After the first year passed without a diagnosis I realized why the images of running became a haven from my misery. Running was a metaphor for my daily struggle with illness. Like a runner, I was alone on my journey. I would have to find the inner strength to overcome my challenges and not be a victim to them. I’d gain peace of mind and spirit when I successfully broke through the barriers that held me back. I believed that as a runner I would have to endure pain and suffering, but in doing so, I would be able to completely surrender to the moment. Most importantly I knew that in order to achieve these trying feats, both the runner and I would need to know who we are. My dream became a part of me because I believed that one day I would run, which would only mean one thing: I was healed.

Being a sick person was a title I thought I’d never have. I owned my own fitness studio and was the poster child for health. As a trainer, I had clients with cancer, diabetes, sciatica and anything you could imagine. I was their guiding light to a better life— the one they wanted to have. I took great pride in this, but it came easy for me, unlike most people. So I took my health and fitness level for granted. I approached my clients with compassion and honesty, but in hindsight my efforts were shallow like I was. I wore a false mask of empathy; behind it I felt I was above the hardships of others because I had it all figured out.

“You live a fairy tale life,” my friends would tell me.

I’d just smile and nod my head. Then I would obsess about how my house could be cleaner or fancier and how maybe tomorrow I’d clean out the closets and rearrange the linens. My life was like a marathon with no finish line because nothing I achieved was ever enough.

My unending marathon soon caught up with me and illness took its place. The illness began following a hernia repair surgery. I’d experienced a few surgeries before and knew that afterward I would vomit for hours, so I took medicine to stop the vomiting from happening and stayed the night in the hospital. I woke up with incredible pain and immediately knew something was wrong.

“Your wife didn’t have enough fat, so I had to yank the patch down. And I had to sew her fascia together too.”

My husband repeated the doctor’s words to me as I lay suffering in bed with the right side of my body pulled so tight that my naval was an inch over from its usual place. I remember thinking “yanked” could not be good. But I was more concerned with the horrible scar that puckered my abdomen than the gravity of his words. Two months later the stitch was gone and the scar was minimal, but only on the outside; my symptoms surfaced quickly after that.

I started waking up at 4:30 a.m. hot and sweaty, feeling like I was going to vomit. I’d stagger to the bathroom and endure over an hour of cramping and a loose stool while being overcome with nausea. The smell would make me gag. My husband eventually installed a glass shelf for incense to help comfort me. I’d make it back to bed exhausted, but would quickly return to the hot seat. I began finding faces and animals in the rug design beneath my feet to help distract me and pass the time. When my kids woke up I was done, but the shakes took over and the nausea lingered the entire day. Soon I was afraid to go to sleep because I knew what my morning would be like. One Saturday morning I ended up at the ER fearful I was going to die. They took some blood and sent me on my way suggesting I see an MD the following Monday.

Both the runner and I must know who we are.

Being new to the area, I chose a local doctor and made an appointment. I sat across from her hopeful my blood results would reveal my illness. I immediately told her of my recent surgery and that I was sick soon after. She politely scanned over my blood results and asked me some questions. She nodded her head and made some notes and glanced at the clock. She took my blood pressure and my temperature. She glanced at her watch.

“Everything looks fine,” she said, holding her clipboard against her chest.

“Well something is wrong,” I replied, tears welling in my eyes.

She checked the time again; no sympathy, no concern.

I left the appointment with a referral, but I was frozen in fear. I thought, “She doesn’t care. How is she going to heal me if she doesn’t care?” But I was raised in a society that believes that a doctor’s word is true and that you can rely on them to help you when you are ill. So I floated from doctor to doctor and I believed them when they told me that my colonoscopy and endoscopes were normal. I trusted that my CAT scan and sonogram were perfect. After one year of visits and a drained inheritance, the final doctor stood before me, tucking her hair behind her ear with a smile that could be found in a magazine ad and said, “You look healthy to me. All the tests are normal. You just have anxiety. There’s nothing else I can do for you.”

“That’s it? I look healthy?” How do you know? You don’t even know me,” I replied in disbelief.

Her eyes reflected a look of detachment. Nothing was going to change her mind.

I left the office like a person who had just gotten into a car accident. Shock had intervened and was trying to protect me from further trauma. But then a moment of clarity overcame me and I thought, “I know who I am and I know that I’m sick. I will not give up no matter what anyone tells me.”

I am alone on my journey.

Standing alone when I felt so weak and vulnerable was a challenge I wasn’t prepared for. Not only was I dealing with a sickness that no one could diagnose or even believe I had, I was enduring the wrath of everyone around me. My own family began to believe that anxiety was my problem. They thought I should seek a therapist. The other moms from my kid’s school talked about my being anorexic. I’d get judgmental glares from strangers because I was so skinny. I began to feel so anxious in public that I could hardly go to the park with my kids or even leave the house.

I was in a state of severe depression and there were many mornings that I wished I were dead. Not being able to find a diagnosis felt like I was hanging at the edge of a cliff knowing that even the slightest of breezes could blow me over. Yet even though the illness was literally killing me, I was still wrapped up in losing my beauty. My hair was dull, I had acne, my body was skin and bones and even my eyes had lost their sparkle. The woman that I once was had vanished.
I wanted to run far away and never come back, but I had nowhere to run and a body that wasn’t capable of running. I had myself and no one else. I had to be my own advocate and follow that deep knowing that everyone else was wrong and I was right. The only option that I could see was to open myself up to the Universe, a vulnerable woman with nothing to lose and so much to gain.

I would overcome my challenges and not be a victim to them.

When I ran out of external options I was forced to do one thing: look inside of myself. I don’t consider myself to be enlightened, but I am a spiritual being and I spent much of my twenties reading spiritual books and exploring new ideas. Through the years I’ve always believed in something larger than myself. Some people call it God, but I tend to refer to it as the Universe. I believe that the Universe resides in each of us and that we each play a unique role in this higher good. Since I believe that I create my own reality, I believed to my core that I had chosen this sickness and the let down of all the doctors. I felt that something I was doing or the way that I was living my life was terribly wrong. I knew I needed to find some answers and quick if I was ever going to heal.

My first decision was to see an acupuncturist. I lay on the table, needles poking out from my body and I cried. No, I sobbed— deep sobs from my core; sobs of frustration, fear and betrayal. I felt my life energy lift from my body with large, spread wings and then gently return with a violet glow of light. I knew then that I was finally on the right path.

I found out that day that my nervous system was going haywire. But it had been that way for my entire life. I was literally jumping out of my skin and was unable to find any sort of calm, rest, or relaxation. My body couldn’t take it anymore and on top of that I wasn’t assimilating any nutrition from my food. I sat on a bench outside of the office building overcome with the awareness that came to me. I realized that I was living in a shell and that I would have to find the courage to break through and begin a new life.

I’d gain peace of mind and spirit when I successfully broke through barriers that held me back.

Breaking out of my shell and really opening up to my past hurts and disappointments would be my path to true healing. I began to see a healer/therapist to work through my issues. The main issues that were negatively affecting my life were my need to control everything and my desire to be perfect, which stemmed from my belief that I wasn’t good enough. So I went back to my childhood to see where it all began.

Even though I had parents who loved me and who tried their best, there was never a sense of security in my life. This insecurity began early on; my parents separated when I was three. My lack of support became more prevalent when they divorced four years later. My parents floundered after that and my older brother had a harder time than I did adjusting. Then, one year after the divorce, an intruder broke into our house and raped my mom. I didn’t wake up until morning. My mother’s friend came into my bedroom and explained that something had happened. Our house was full of policemen. No one really explained the details and the man was never caught. My aunt came to stay with us for a while. She brought a gun. I remember sneaking into my mom’s room and looking at it under the pillow. The man came back, but left quickly when he realized my mom was waiting for him.

It was then that I began to not trust life. I didn’t believe that things would work out for the best. I didn’t trust that I’d be okay. To feel safe, I began to try to control every incident, every move. I was in a constant state of flight or fright and my relationships with people suffered from then on.

I would have to endure pain and suffering, but in doing so, would be able to completely surrender to the moment.

Changing a life time habit isn’t easy. The issues at hand weren’t my only hurdles. After being sick for two years and losing my old life, I had to dig deep to remember who I was. Before I was ill, I was sure I knew who I was. I was a mom, a wife, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a business woman and a beautiful person inside and out. I still held some of these identities when I was sick, but I lost the ones that really defined me. I lost the titles that made me feel special and important.

Sadly, I had gained a new title that was now defining me, a sick person. Not only was I still ill, but I was also lost somewhere in a deep abyss. I was struggling to be a good mother and wife and yet I could barely muster the strength to take a shower or brush my hair. Most days I was amazed that I was still alive; my fight to live was all but gone. I felt that I was alone in a hot desert with no water and no strength left to move on. Finally, I quit trying and did the only thing I could do: surrender. This was the harsh gift of extreme suffering and the key to any true self enlightenment.

Once I truly and utterly let go, a saving grace came into my life: a talented naturopath who actually listened to me and believed that I was sick! After allergy tests and blood work she was able to diagnose me with a condition called leaky gut. Apparently MD’s are unaware of this condition and often diagnose it as irritable bowel syndrome. Through vitamin shots, extreme diet changes and supplements, enemas and everything else you can imagine I was on the road to being healed.

I have since discovered that my illness was a result of an extreme allergy attack to the anesthesia from the surgery. Because I didn’t allow my body to do its job by throwing up after my surgery, as I had done with the previous surgeries, the toxins stayed inside of me. As a result, my body went into anaphylactic shock causing my organs to restrict and my bowel to be blocked. In addition, the yanking down of the patch during surgery created scar tissue that adhered the organs together on my right side, which caused circulation and digestion problems, hence the leaky gut.

My journey with illness still continues to this day on some level. Even though I wouldn’t wish my suffering on anyone, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. My life has changed in so many ways. I’m okay with just resting now. I believe that I am loveable and worthy even if my house, car, or appearance aren’t top notch. I trust in the moment and whole heartedly believe that what is happening is for my best interest. All of these amazing and powerful truths offered me a way of life I never knew existed. I feel at ease in my world. I don’t feel as if I’m crawling out of my skin in anticipation of doing “something”. I still have ambition and goals, but they don’t define me anymore. The time has come to run into my life instead of running away from it.

I believed that one day I would run and that would only mean one thing: I was healed.

My dream became a reality last June when I ran as part of a relay team in the Rock-n-Roll marathon in San Diego. I ran my all as the hot, summer sun beat down on my brow. My thighs burned, my hernia patch ached and my tendons screamed at me, “STOP!” But I didn’t stop; I ran harder and faster. And I cried; I cried with purpose and with a smile on my face. I tasted each salty tear as if life itself was coming from my eyes because, for me, it was. But as the tears fell and as I continued to run each mile I knew it was so much more than that. It was pride— a deep pride in myself for knowing who I was, even in my darkest hour, against all odds and never giving up until I was healed.

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