when the monster in the hall is me

Posted: November 4, 2016 in Uncategorized

Recently I have felt like I’m being pursued by something that very much Does Not Love Me – something that seeks to steal anything and everything it can from me.  Like I’m moving down a long hallway, and doors that once opened onto access to specific joys and pleasures are slamming shut and locking one by one.  The hallway is getting narrower and darker, and whatever is behind me will not be satisfied until I’m locked in the room at the very end of the hall, and I can’t figure out where the emergency exit is.

The clarity of that analogy snapped into place a couple of weeks ago on a Monday morning, when I discovered while getting ready for work that I’d somehow developed a poison ivy rash for the fifth time since spring.  I noted the blotch on my neck and the patch on my arm, and felt the doors shutting.

Three weeks.  Poison ivy is a three week proposition for me, whether I get treated for it or not, and I’m so intensely allergic that often I’m still forming new blisters at 2.5 weeks.  Three weeks of not going out in the sun, and not doing anything that will make me sweat or get overly warm.  Three weeks of itching.  Three weeks of struggling not to scratch.  Three weeks of interrupted sleep.  Three weeks of intentionally not touching or being touched by my husband, except in the most deliberately cautious ways.  Three weeks of watching it crawl all over my body, because it NEVER just stays in the place where it first started.  I’ve been taking a homeopathic preventative once per week (for several months now) that helps by toning the reaction down.  It helps.  It does not stop the reaction, or even shorten it.  It’s a three week sentence.

Maybe three weeks doesn’t sound long to you.  Maybe it’s not.  Maybe I’ve got cumulative fatigue, from this being the fifth round since spring.  Fifteen weeks of my 52-week year interrupted by this evil plant begins to feel like a deliberate attack by that Something That Does Not Love Me.

Understand here that I didn’t touch any poison ivy plants in the days preceding this breakout.  I did clean our garage a couple of days before, taking everything out and rearranging and such, but I did it in gloves 100% of the time, and long sleeves most of it (until I got too hot in them).  So, like the LAST time I got it back in September, I can only conclude that I touched tools that I used at the previous home, which was badly infested with poison ivy.  But, you know, WITH GLOVES ON.

So that’s what came screaming through my mind on that Monday morning as I processed the beginning of round five, and left me sobbing and yelling at G that I want my life back.  Those emotions and thoughts followed me for an entire day as I went about being responsible and reliable with tears just leaking down my cheeks.

It’s not JUST the poison ivy that I was thinking of.  It’s everything piled up together.  I was on a fantastic journey, letting God teach me to love my body, in the best shape of my life, running nearly 10 miles per week, and then arthritis came in a few years ago.  First it took running away from me, over time it took walking (for exercise) from me, and for the last year or more, if I even stand too long (like *through the worship set at church* after greeting for half an hour) I pay a heavy price.

Then came fatigue.  Not just “I’m a little tired” stuff, but a level bordering on a handicap.  Fatigue that meant I couldn’t drive more than about 10 minutes without feeling like I might fall asleep.  Fatigue that made me nod at my desk at work – not from boredom or lack of activity, but in the midst of being busy, engaged, interested, and enjoying what I was doing.  Fatigue that left me walking around feeling every day like I was just coming off an all-nighter, with the many physical pains and discomfort that holds.  Six months into this problem, when my doctor dismissed it as perimenopause and basically told me to live with it, I “solved” the fatigue by changing my sleep schedule to a ten-hour night.  It “works” for the last six months or so – I am functional again.  But I feel like two full hours of every day of my life is stolen from me.  It impairs my ability to take care of what I need to do at home.  It has all but cut off most of my relationships – by the time I work and get what I can done at home, there’s pretty much no time for keeping up with the people I love.

So discovering the fifth round of poison ivy rash brought it all crashing down on me.  I could practically hear my pursuer panting behind me.  Don’t run.  Don’t walk.  Don’t stand.  Don’t be awake.  Don’t enjoy time outside.  Don’t.  Don’t.  Don’t.  It felt like the Thing That Doesn’t Love Me would not be satisfied until I’m locked in a room somewhere.

That feeling was compounded when I woke up two days later with a sore throat and congestion, which got steadily worse day by day.

That feeling was compounded when I applied coconut oil to my rash and yellow stuff ran from it continuously for an hour – no sign of stopping, so I finally wrapped it in gauze and got on with my day.

That feeling was compounded when I woke up in the night already sobbing from the pain in my hands, which was at 10+, and sent to shrieking at G when he gently placed a hand on mine to pray for me.  Subsequent thought and conversation with my doctor is that (thankfully short) episode was probably stress-induced gout, but it was flat out terrifying to wake up in so much pain that was, in the moment, utterly unexplainable.

That feeling was compounded as the cold got enough worse that I had to sleep sitting up at night in order not to choke on the congestion.

The feeling was compounded as I had several middle-of-the-night incidents of all-over body itching – I’m talking about every inch of my body, every crack and crevice, all of it itching to a level that I imagined getting pliers and start peeling the skin off to make it stop as I fought off panic attacks trying to push through.

It’s been a rough run.  I have felt like I’m becoming an invalid.  I have wondered countless times what in the world is happening to me.

Two nights ago I came home from work and was in bed asleep just a little after 5 PM; finally I slept a night through without choking or itching.  I woke up yesterday finally feeling like I’m healing.  The mental fog lifted.  I’m feeling less like a cornered animal.

Through this ordeal, my new doctor has been in constant contact, emailing daily with help.  I’ve been taking three holistic things to help my skin heal faster for almost a week now (I didn’t go for steroids, as I just couldn’t deal with five rounds of steroids in less than a year), and I can see that really starting to happen – my skin is healing.

At some point this week, I grumbled my way to the bookshelf and found the most hated book I’ve ever owned – my book on spiritual roots of physical illnesses.  I only open it when I’m desperate, since it invariably pisses me off.  I wanted to see what it had to say about auto-immune diseases, since what I’ve been experiencing seems to fit in that category.  I thumbed through.  Three things mentioned.  Fear.  Anxiety.  Self-hatred.

As far as fear and anxiety – at least BEFORE all this busted out – I’d say no.  Those things don’t drive me or haunt me, though they’ve been hanging around quite a bit while I’ve walked this hall the last couple of weeks.

Self-hatred – first I was going to say that couldn’t be.  After all, I’ve been on such an incredible healing journey the last, oh, I don’t know, 5 – 10 years.  I used to really hate who I was, but these days that’s not true.  I don’t hate “me.”  I have a ton of understanding and compassion now for me.  I have forgiven the old me for so much stuff.  I treat today me with grace and humor.  I like me.  I love me.

But then I was quickly reminded:  before all this broke out, I was on that fantastic journey.  Letting God teach me to love my body.  It was so much fun.  I was growing.  I was changing.  I felt physically the best I’ve ever felt.  I was reveling in the fun of running.  I was living on my bike.  It was joyous and I felt like a new creation.  Then, when arthritis came and shut me down – you know what else got shut down?  My experiment of letting God teach me to love my body.  I stopped.  Completely.

You know why?  Because I didn’t love my body.  Because I DON’T love my body.  I’m angry at it.  I was given something beautiful, and my body took it away from me, and I can’t find a way to get it back.  And, yes, I hate my body.  I don’t hate *me*…but I hate my body pretty hard.

So I’ve been trying to process that, because I DO believe that spiritual roots are a thing.  I won’t stop pursuing physical solutions as well, but if I keep on doing the thing that brought it all down on me…well, that’s just flat out foolishness.  And I do believe my hatred of my body probably was the catalyst for this cascading series of awful events that cumulatively add up.  Perhaps I am the Thing That Doesn’t Love Me that’s been forcing me down this hallway and slamming the doors shut.  How trippy is that?!

Yesterday I realized this:  if I loved my body only because it was getting more fit, looked better, performed better what I wanted it to do…and then I decided to hate it when that changed…well then, that makes me like one of those asshole boyfriends that loves the girl while she looks the way he wants her to look, while she’s putting out what he wants, and then gets hateful when her appearance changes or the sex isn’t as good.  If I were counseling someone in one of those relationships, I’d tell her to RUN.  Dump the jerk.  He won’t change.  Move on.  You deserve better.  He’s shown you who he is.

But in this scenario, my body is that girl, and I am that jerk.  I’ve had a feeling in the past two weeks that my body had decided the problem is ME and is systematically trying to evict me from the premises.  And hey!  Maybe that’s correct.  Maybe my body is trying to get rid of the jerk that doesn’t love it.

So, will I be like that guy that will never change and should be left behind?

Or will I repent and return to intentionally loving my body?  Letting God teach me to do so?  He was doing a great job, and then I shut Him down when I didn’t like the things that happened.  He’s more merciful than people; there’s a “new mercy” available to me this very day, just like every other morning of my life and yours.  There’s an opportunity to stop going in the wrong direction.  To start new.

I don’t know how to love my body.  I’ve proven that.

He does.

Now.  To listen well enough to let Him lead me.

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