Mysterious Illness and Melting Ice

Ice slowing melting & refreezing in our pond (March 22, 2022)

I recently read Sarah Ramey’s memoir, The Lady’s Handbook for Her Mysterious Illness. Published just last year, it is described this way:

“In her harrowing, darkly funny, and unforgettable memoir, Sarah Ramey recounts the decade-long saga of how a seemingly minor illness in her senior year of college turned into a prolonged and elusive condition that destroyed her health but that doctors couldn’t diagnose or treat. Worse, as they failed to cure her, they hinted that her devastating symptoms were psychological. …Ramey’s pursuit of a diagnosis and cure for her own mysterious illness becomes a page-turning medical mystery that reveals a new understanding of today’s chronic illnesses as ecological in nature, driven by modern changes to the basic foundations of health, from the quality of our sleep, diet, and social connections to the state of our microbiomes.”

Book Jacket Cover

I haven’t experienced the horrifying stories she recounts with medical personnel, but I know others who have. I think it helped that I was usually drawn to alternative practitioners, though Sarah had her own horror stories with alternative practitioners. She finally found help with practitioners of Functional Medicine, and my own primary care nurse practitioner is aligned with that field. For that I am grateful.

I identified with the mysterious nature of auto-immune chronic conditions–when I reflected on it, I realized that they have been a part of my life for many years–most recently, Hashimoto’s thyroid disease, SIBO, adrenal fatigue, and borderline diabetes, but earlier in my life there was endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, and gradually developing multiple chemical sensitivities, and multiple food sensitivities. For most of my life, I managed to work and keep my balance, but it became more and more difficult. Finally, when I turned 65, and could access Social Security and Medicare, I retired from my work as a full-time minister.

I wondered at the time if being released from the stress of full-time work might bring me relief from the illnesses, but that was not to be the case. Instead, I was better able to manage living with the illnesses. But it is a delicate balance. If I eat well (for me that means no refined sugar, no gluten, low carb, lots of vegetables, and meat, while avoiding the list of specific foods that give me problems), if I rest when I am weary (which is spending some variable part of every day lying on the couch), if I take certain natural supplements (for example, I take Berberine, which has been shown to be as effective as Metformin for helping blood sugar balance), and if I don’t overdo it anywhere, well then, I have some energy to do things I love, to write, to garden a bit, to learn new things, even the miracle of building our little pond last year.

Sometimes, I can forget that I have these illnesses. Some days I wake in the morning rested and glad to greet a new day. I might have several hours to work on projects. I tend to get more weary and achy as the day goes by. And during these two years so far of COVID, I have been glad for the many opportunities that the world on Zoom provided. But then, something happens that upsets the balance, and I am sunk into a lower level of functioning, just barely able to cook my meals and take care of the basics. Most recently, I think that my body might have reacted badly to my second Shingrix vaccine. The last four weeks have been mostly couch weeks: reading books and watching British mysteries on Roku. I hope that I am emerging from that now. It is not easy to know what upsets the balance–all I can do is respond to it.

Because I am always asking questions about meaning, I appreciated the connection that Sarah Ramey made between our chronically ill bodies, and the larger ecology of the earth. I think about that too. I wonder if my own body is mirroring the afflictions of the earth I love, is somehow sensitive to the larger web–global warming, the prevalence of forever poisons, the loss of communal connections, the ecological balance which human beings have undermined. If that is the case, can I love my body as I love the earth? Can I grant her that self-care that has been neglected for too long?

One aspect that Sarah Ramey sees as critical is our need for human connection. I was reflecting on how for much of my life I made connection through activism, through shared work. I still feel the impulse to act for justice, in small ways, but there are less opportunities now for the connection that used to be a part of it. I have also felt more isolated since retiring, and, of course, since COVID. Maybe I need to learn something new–to nurture connection that is not at all about work or social justice, but about something more elementary. Can I be cherished, not for what I do, but for my being? Can I cherish others in this way? Can I also cherish myself in just this way? Perhaps it will require a kind of spring melting of some other kind of hidden ice. May it be so.

Hard to see, but there is a thin clear layer of ice on the surface of the pond this morning, but more of the winter ice is melting each day. March 26, 2022

Pond, next steps

Photo: Cutting old donated carpet in 2 feet+ strips

I had a slow start today. I haven’t talked much lately about living with chronic illness, but for some reason I’ve been feeling much better energy than usual this spring. Still, I have a method for energy use: First of all, I rest when I need to. But what seems to work with garden projects is that I exert myself for a short while–say 10 minutes, or one wheelbarrow load. And then I sit and rest for 10 minutes. I don’t time myself, that is just a guess. I stop when I need to and rest until I can start again. While resting, I drink some iced licorice-root tea–that is a big help. I make a big batch of the tea (boiling licorice root for 15 minutes), and cool it to keep in jars in the fridge. Then I put together a big plastic glass (with a cover to take outside) adding ice and some lemon juice. Licorice root is said to be good for adrenal glands, so maybe this is why it has been so good for my energy.

But for example, this afternoon about 3 p.m., after my slow start, I was able to make my way outside. I started on the next step for the pond–cutting the old carpet (that I collected for free) into strips about 2 feet wide. I started with the biggest carpet piece I had received. Margy bought me a really good pair of carpet cutting scissors. Oh my gosh–they are so sharp and nice and easy to use. So I cut one 8 foot (?) strip, and then I rested. Then I cut another one. It went like that. After I had finished cutting that carpet piece into about 8 strips, I decided to see how it might lay on the pond surface.

But then I had another thought while experimenting. Since the pond is no longer going to be 3 feet deep, but rather about 2 1/2 feet, and since I have a pond liner that is 20 by 20, why not make it a bit wider at the top. (Since the equation for the pond liner size takes into account depth and width and length.) So instead of 11 by 11 1/2, just add a bit more on the half that has a one foot planting shelf, let the pond be closer to 12 by 12, and the planting shelf be a bit wider too. So I started digging again around the top edge. And then I remembered the advice to make a sloping “beach” edge for small critters to be able to get in. So I did some of that. Again, bit by bit.

While doing this further digging, I again saw more bright orange bittersweet roots. This is the biggest reason why we are using carpet strips as an underlayment. Some folks like sand better, but we need something that can stop the roots from puncturing the pond liner.

So the next photo is what it looked like when I called it a day. I was lying in the hammock a bit, resting, and then when I got up I could barely move. That is the other part of this process. I get really exhausted and sore all over. So I came in and took a hot shower, and then took two aspirin, which lately always seems to help. I’ll be down for the evening, but tomorrow, probably ready to start again. Unless I am not. I am sharing all these details to say that I am so grateful I am able to do this outside work, in this rhythm of work and rest. And also, maybe it might be a helpful suggestion for others who don’t have stamina for whatever reason. Work and rest, work and rest, in little segments. It has been a good day.

Photo: the pond, which is wider now (on the left and foreground), with blue carpet strips covering the “beach” area, and going down to the bottom.

Balance

Today at 4:21 a.m. marked the transition from Summer to Fall called the Autumn Equinox. Today the night is equal in time to the day. It is a festival of balance.

Photo by Margy Dowzer

Photo by Margy Dowzer

I feel a bit out of balance, staying up too late, waking with a headache, feeling like I have too much to do, and a bit rattled by all of it. But I took a walk in the beautiful cold crisp morning, and felt the warm sun on my face. I took time to journal, and listen to what the Mystery within might offer to me.

Here is what I heard from my old old grandmother: “You can always choose to step into balance at any moment. Do so now, on this day of balance between light and dark.”

And then I felt a sense of joy and peace in my heart. May you also find the way to step into balance today!