Celebrating My Health

 

Today, November 21st 2016, is my 29th birthday.

My birthdays are different now—this is the third year in a row that, as my birthday approached, I wasn’t just excited for the endless birthday attention and validation but I was excited about the potential for a healthier year. A happier year. My birthdays now come with a newfound hope—hope that painfully evaporates as  the year plays out as hard as the one before it.

I got bit by a tick on November 17 2013, 4 days before my 26th birthday. That was my last amazing birthday. However, in my memory it’s tainted with the knowledge of the danger that I now know was lurking.

It was a typical birthday for me. Filled with mini adventure and friends. I took a trapeze class and then unapologetically karaoke’d until early the next morning.

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Trapeze. November 21,2013

I had no idea that bacteria was scurrying through my body just waiting to make a formal attack. I, in fact, thought I was gearing up for the best year of my life.

About 3 weeks later, spotted with strange rashes,  I was diagnosed with Lyme disease.

By my 27th birthday, 11 months later, I was falling apart physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The ten months of antibiotics I was on had failed. I was so sure I’d be well by my birthday, but instead I was very sick.  I was lost, it was lonely and dark.November 21st, 2014 was my worst birthday yet.  I went to an audition and it was one the first times I couldn’t sit up without support. I sat in the casting office holding back tears and using all of my strength to keep my head up and to keep my back straight—lifeless. I cried the whole way home. It was rush hour in Los Angeles so the “whole way home” was—not exaggerating— two full hours of torture.  I had plans to go to the shooting range because I had never shot a gun before and decided that was what I wanted to do. Probably because I was really angry. I never made it which is probably for the best—I didn’t have the strength, I couldn’t stand up,  no matter how much I wanted to fake a celebratory experience, I didn’t have the will. I surrendered into my dear friend Gina’s arms. I burst into tears and collapsed at the top of my staircase and she held out a cold piece of cake and an unlit candle. Which seemed apropos.  She held me. She changed me out of my clothes and into pajamas. I took an ambien and went to bed devastated.

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Caption on IG:  “good morning 27.” November 21, 2014. It was all I could do to open my eyes. 

That year was a hard one to swallow. But all of the holistic healing I did left me much better by my 28th birthday. I wasn’t 100% but I didn’t cry all day. We had a little house party. I had fun. It was mellow.

This year, I’m even better, albeit terrified to rejoice and trust it.

Reflecting over the last few years is painful. Thinking about the hope that came with each birthday and the incredible hardships (physical, emotional, financial) that followed breaks my heart. Denial is a coping mechanism. A good one. Sometimes, it’s the only way to stay alive through the hardest times. The denial has mostly cleared now that the pain is more manageable. And I can look realistically at the last few years.

I’ve been laid up.

Unable to hold my own head up.

Under 100 pounds.

Mad at my family.

Heartbroken.

Getting poked with needles.

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Taking supplements.

Eating pounds and pounds of raw veggies.

In a wheelchair for any extended periods of walking.

Crying.

Crying more.

Screaming out in pain.

Learning.

Learning a LOT.

Loving

Accepting love

Nurturing a beautiful romance

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Touching on radical acceptance and next-level patience.

Finding new passions.

Getting fired up about those passions.

Gaining a level of intimacy with my friends I never knew existed.

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And this year as the “lyme-anniversary” approached with my birthday following, I decided to take my first vacation in three years!

I spent  November 17th, 2016 on O’ahu.

I was tired that day…because I did a five-mile hike.

I haven’t walked more than a couple of miles at a time in over two years. I conquered this rocky landscape under the afternoon sun without water. That was a horrible mistake, but I survived it!

Oh, hahahaha, it wasn’t the only five mile hike I did. But it was the only one I did with shoes on. I took on the five-six miles Aiea loop trail… barefoot…like an idiot.

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When I lived on Maui —four years ago—I would hike barefoot all of the time. In fact, I would convince others to go barefoot—“it’s much better. You’ll be fine. You can feel the Earth. You can grip easily and if it gets wet, you don’t have to worry about shoes.” No one was EVER happy about the decision, and I laughed at them and called them names. Because, once upon a time, I was a big asshole and I thought anyone who couldn’t hike barefoot, jump off cliffs or do something equally as dumb was a “wimp.” Then I got sick and couldn’t even stand up and got some compassion for our fragile humanness.  I softened. I would never “force” someone to go barefoot today. Except myself.

Guess what? I couldn’t handle it. I held back tears for the last mile of the hike. Every time I took another step and felt the million tiny stabby rocks break the surface of my skin, I squealed. I thought of my friend who told me in a fit of anger four years ago that it felt like he was walking on a cheese grater. It DOES feel that way. I thought of the 12-year-old that I made go barefoot on a hike called “swinging bridges.” Poor thing was so miserable. Now I know why. I owe him a big apology. Also, I realize that I sound like an insane human right now, and I have no defense. I was insane. And I am deeply sorry that I ever made anyone take their shoes (AKA FEET PROTECTORS) off. I will never do that again. I am proud to say that I, too, cannot handle it.

But, still, before all of the intense pain, I was beyond happy to walk through the mud, climb the trees, and smell nature. I almost forgot how wonderful it is to move through the wild.

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how cool is this tree? 

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That wasn’t even all I did that day! Later that day, I got on a horse. It was my first time riding English. It was my first time posting. And it was my first time on a horse in over three years because that was something else I quit doing when illness came along. I got back on the horse, literally and figuratively.

We spent a day at Pearl Harbor. December 7, 2016 will be the 75th anniversary. Pearl Harbor is beautiful—the last time I was there it was December 7, 2011, the 70th anniversary. It’s yet another reminder of how lucky we are each and every time we take a peaceful breath. As I stood over the USS Arizona where hundreds (maybe over a thousand) died, I felt the luxurious breeze, the hard sun, and my lover’s presence. I felt grateful to be standing on my strong legs, to be smiling again, able to hold my head up, able to walk. So lucky to feel alive. And I can’t help but feel immense gratitude for all of those who came before me fighting—and dying— for my rights and my freedom. Thank you.

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We made a stop at the USS Missouri where many less tragic stories took place. The main story being that it was the ship where the official surrender document was signed by the world powers bringing an end to WWII.

The USS Missouri is a giant maze of a ship. It holds thousands of men at a time. But, to be clear, it holds them uncomfortably. It’s no cruise ship; it’s a war ship. The cafeteria is uglier than the one you ate at in grade school and the sleeping arrangements are cramped, smelly and itchy. The stairs up and down the countless decks are steep enough to kill, and the chains that hold the anchor have more girth than an elephant. It’s intimidating, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a tiny bit afraid of A.) the ship accidentally launching while I was on it B.) getting lost in the lower decks and never being found again or C.) hitting an iceberg suddenly and sinking into the shallow waters of Hawaii where I’d swim safely to shore (I’ve just seen Titanic too many times.)

Before you “board” the husky ship, there’s an opportunity to take a photo in front of a green screen. Because apparently we all just want to feel like we are Disneyland. I was into it. Our hosts knew all about the secret prop table of army helmets so instead of some boring ol’ smiley photo in front of a war ship, we took this:

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Apparently, I will go to war with my coconut water. And also this photo suggests that none of us should ever sign up for war since apparently all we would  do is scream and take cover.

I thank god for our army—truly. I don’t know how they live without things like coconut water and duvet covers.

The trip to Hawaii showed me just how far I’ve come in my health. It was amazing to be back in my body like that, and I’m so grateful.

And today is my birthday. I’m feeling the love big time. I’m faced with a choice about how I want today to go as I sit here in a shitty mood. I’ll keep you posted.

With fun and love,

Jackie

 

 

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This Week

Hello!

This week, I opted for a post on Monday due to Tuesday’s election.

As a person recovering from Lyme disease, I do not have the luxury of being wildly angry and fired up about yesterday’s events. It’s too exhausting, too taxing and too risky to let myself spiral into the darkness.

Instead, I have to focus on love. And healing.

Here is a link to my new wellness advice column. Yesterday’s column was on how not to panic. View it here. 

Love and hugs to all who need one.

Jackie

 

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What this Election Season Made Me See, and Why I’m With Her.

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I am a woman with a hard-hearted history towards women’s issues—I was quick to unite with sexist men in an effort to gain their attention and approval. I’m ashamed to say that I thought women were being over-dramatic and whiney about what I once also considered “locker room talk.” I didn’t understand why women found cat calling so annoying and disrespectful. I was all “free attention? what’s the problem?” I came from the “I’m asking for it” line of thinking. Yes, even around rape. My father and brother made it very clear that whatever came my way…I WAS asking for it, that I was a “whore”, and that if men ever had a bar fight it was the woman’s fault. Because women don’t know how to keep their mouths shut. And now we have a big-mouthed MAN named Donald Trump, and his words may kill millions of people. His slandering words directed at women have made me sick to my stomach—partially because it’s not my first time hearing them. His center stage presence has propelled me to ruminate about WHY I ever thought it was okay to speak about women like he does— why I once was the girl who preferred to be “one of the guys,” how it feels to be a girl who has been sexually degraded, mistreated, and abused. How it feels to be a terrified girl. And also how it feels to be an incredibly powerful and intelligent woman. His words have been like gasoline to my inner-fire for FEMALE.

I spent most of my life trying to be more masculine. I was brought up to believe that the only asset women had was their sexual power—their hotness. And if that’s really all we had to offer then we better be very very hot. It seemed like by my generation,  the expectation of aprons and dish gloves lifted and was replaced with an expectation for smoking hot sex, perfect vaginas, perfect faces and perfect bodies. I got “lucky” and happened to be a very pretty young woman. I didn’t need hair dye, diets, or proactiv to be considered attractive.  I strategized for my father’s love by leading with red-hot sexuality and supplementing with  “manly” qualities: a firm handshake, a foul mouth, drinking, being low maintenance, being a smoker, a wide strut, ego, confidence, drive, having a pair of “balls,” being drama free, being a go-getter, provider, money earner, heavy hitter, etc. Of course this definition of manly is what my upbringing showed me; these qualities do not represent manliness. My target was to be the sexiest girl in the room while also being “one of the guys.” When I was about seven, I told my father I wanted to be a football player. Trust me, I didn’t. I just wanted his attention. That’s the way it starts. That’s the innocent version of needing Daddy’s attention. The more grown up version is unsavory to say the least.

I wanted to make my crack smoking, cheating, lying father proud. He was the STRENGTH. He made the money. He drove the Porsche, and he used his money to control us. I wanted to be like him. Hard like him. Not soft and weak like my mom. I cheated, I lied, and I did drugs. I desperately sought love and affection from men. I took my clothes off in front of crowds, I danced on tables, and I made out with all of the girls FOR all of the boys, and precarious situations were the result. I was told that any trouble was my own fault because I was a “slut.” But really, I was a young teenager with minimal guidance, and I didn’t know how else to get “love.”

I was 16 and my father was leaving the house to go see his new mistress. I stood in the kitchen, watching him go, not knowing if I’d see him again. I begged him, pleaded with him, to come back to us when my eye caught something strange sticking out of his “briefcase.” It wasn’t really a briefcase anymore. It was an overflowing sack of dregs and crap, but there was this shiny photo sticking out that looked familiar. It was my headshot. “Dad, why do you have my headshots in that briefcase?” He laughed and twitched and spurted out from a thumping heart, “Oh! I carry them around and tell people you’re my wife.” I was confounded and silenced. And he left. What people? His drug dealers? And also, sadly, I felt loved. At least he wants me. Did he tell the creep he copped from the other day, I wondered. He had sat me down around that time to boast about how he saved some girls from drug-den torment. Apparently, his dealer had a couple of girls over and when my dad paid for the drugs, the dealer said, “watch this.” The dealer tossed the drugs and told the naked girls to get down on all fours and “fetch.” My father bragged to me, ” I kicked him down and told him that I have a daughter and how dare he treat women like that. I beat the shit out of him, Jack.” I stared at him baffled AND totally jealous. He was taking care of those girls and not me. Did I need to degrade myself that much to get his attention? And also I really hoped he didn’t show that guy my picture. Because dealers were coming to our house seeking out my dad and I was really scared that they had seen my picture. Because I am a woman and constantly afraid of being raped.

Where was my dad when I was 17 and ended up in an empty parking lot with a guy three times my age and three times my size. A guy who was supposed to be helping me “straighten out my life” took me somewhere private and told me to sit on his lap—that I needed a hug. I cringed as he pulled me over to him but I didn’t know how to stop him because I was afraid to use my voice and I didn’t know how. Because I didn’t want to excite him further. Besides, it seemed like I hadn’t been hugged in a while.

When Hillary and Trump took the stage, I  didn’t actively care so much about women’s issues —well, not beyond our right to choose. Initially, I was not a huge Hillary fan. You know why?

I was a pre adolescent when Bill Clinton was in office and what I remember about the Clintons is this: Chelsea Clinton was “ugly” and Hillary was laughable. Why? Chelsea was a bookish looking teenager and Hillary cared more about the state of affairs than her body or her dresses. For that, the pair were the butt of many jokes in my home. Because they weren’t sexy.

 

And as the 2016 election rolled on, I was getting more and more fired up for Hillary and more and more angry at Trump.  Here’s just a sliver of what Donald Trump has said about women:

He  has called women “bimbos,” “pigs,” “gold diggers,” and “FAT” He’s compared women’s faces to the faces of dogs.

He said, “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisy her husband, what makes her think she can satisfy America?” Ouch.

He tweeted, “While Bette Midler is an extremely unattractive woman. I refuse to say that because I always insist on being politically correct.” Unattractive? Bette Midler founded the New York Restoration Project in 1995. That’s your city, Donald. How about thank you?

His favorite part of Pulp Fiction is when Sam tells the guy to tell his girlfriend to be cool. He said, “‘Bitch be cool.’ I love those lines,” Donald said.

Donald Trump said women should be punished for having abortions. I was scared because my boyfriend was abusive and I didn’t want to live a life like my mother lived and I didn’t want my child to experience an upbringing like I had. I was with the guy because he was just like my father and I didn’t know better yet. You want to punish me?

Donald Trump joked that he would date his daughter. “If Ivanka wasn’t my daughter perhaps I’d be dating her.” Yeah, my dad thought that was funny, too. It fucked me up. Ivanka, my heart goes out to you and to your mother who accused your father of rape. 

He said this about Katarina Witt,  the gold-winnning olympic athlete: “Wonderful looking while on the ice but up close and personal, she could only be described as attractive if you like a woman with a bad complexion who is built like a linebacker”.

He mocked Rosie O’Donnells weight. Multiple times. Rosie started the Rosie’s For All Kids Foundation for disadvantaged children.  What has Donald done? No, really—WHAT has he done?

Oh, he ran beauty pageants and you know how he ran them… He had pageant girls parade in front of him so he could separate who he found attractive and who he didn’t. Before the pageant even began, he sent girls home. Thank you for contributing more image issues, humiliation and insecurity in women world-wide.

He tweeted: “26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military- only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together?” THEY EXPECTED MEN NOT TO RAPE. 

Maybe that’s confusing for Donald Trump considering he has had three rape allegations against him.

And then there was the— now infamous— tape of him bragging about all of his “pussy-grabbing” and his ability to kiss whoever he wants because he’s famous. That’s terribly bothersome, but what bothered me more about the video was the woman who greeted him immediately after his comments with a big smile and a great dress. The way he kissed her. The sly and creepy way he put his arm around her, and the way she seemed to not care. The way she hung her sex up on his arm and the way he carried it with pride and said “Melania said it’s ok.”  I’ve been that pretty girl.  It’s not rewarding. And I can’t stomach that being a woman’s role in society anymore.

After that video, a new tweet surfaced: #repealthe19thamendment . And that’s when my heart broke and I got really scared. This is the man my country elected to run for President? And, he’s not even far behind. Oh my god. How many people feel this way about women?

I do not need any more time in my life dictated by an ego maniacal sexist. By the way, my father destroyed his life and ours in the process. I have direct experience with what an ego like that can do. There’s no money—only debt. There’s no love, only psych wards, and hospitals, and heartbreak. That’s all. I will do everything I can to negate this crazy belief that what we have to offer as women is sex, attractiveness, “a pleasing aesthetic.” I will be part of making a woman president. Not because she’s a woman and not because she fits some bullshit standard but because she is smarter. She has more experience. She has self-control. She is stronger. She has self-restraint. She has WORKED HARDER. She is wiser. She has compassion. She cares. Her fortitude is admirable. Her policies are logical. She HAS policies.  She deserves to be the next President of the United States. And I’ve never been so proud to be FEMALE.

 

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The Symptoms, Part II: Physical

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The symptoms! Everybody wants to talk about the symptoms. I view healing as a rhombicosidodecahedron— a shape with 120 edges. There seem to be endless tools/ sides and alley ways— all need to be used.”Symptom-bonding” is one very small (albeit necessary) part , but if we get stuck there too long then we miss the 119 other aspects of healing.  At some point, when I started taking note of the things that zapped my energy vs. the things that gave me energy, I noticed that talking/obsessively thinking about my symptoms was actually a ZAPPER. Trying to “figure it out” made me more sick and more confused. Every little sensation I experienced sent me on a panicked google spree, zapping my energy and ruining my day. Once I learned the hard way, I took a different approach: Instead of googling (and almost never finding anything helpful) I would take a nap, eat some celery, meditate, go to an infrared sauna, laughed out loud at something, or do any number of things that actually took me one step closer to wellness.  I stopped talking about my symptoms for the most part, and got busy doing things that brought me joy and wellness,  but that doesn’t mean that symptom talk  is not a crucial part of the road to wellness. At first, I needed to feel heard, understood, and validated— especially with an illness as elusive as Lyme disease.

I, like many people with Lyme, initially got stuck in symptom research -mania. Of course I did. I was trying desperately to figure out what was happening to me, to gain some sort of control over my body, and I was questioning whether or not I even HAD Lyme disease thanks to the doctors around the world that claim Lyme is not real. I have had doctors look at my POSITIVE Lyme blood tests, hear my symptoms and say, “it’s not real,” or, “I don’t like Igenex so I don’t count them,” or, “Lyme is treated with antibiotics. If you took antibiotics then you have post Lyme disease which isn’t really Lyme disease.” And to all of those MD’s I have said, “So then what do you propose I have?” Only to see raised eyebrows, shrugged shoulders, and a confused response of, “well I don’t know. You’re an interesting case.”  COOL. It’s no wonder I  questioned myself and my symptoms.  It’s only natural to become hyper focused on your “condition” when the world at large seems to resist it. You start googling, looking for validation, looking for a solution and asking any fellow Lyme sufferer—”Did you have joint pain, heart palpitations, trouble breathing, trouble walking, seizures, etc.” Becoming  a symptom- fanatic happens in an effort to save our own lives.

At Wellness Companions we work with newly sick people all of the time that want to dive right into symptom-bonding. We get it: the gratification of someone else understanding what you feel, validating what you feel, confirming that you’re not crazy, AND giving you hope that it can/does/will get better is indispensable—especially  in the beginning stages of illness. And, yes, it’s extra important when most people in your life probably couldn’t begin to understand what you’re feeling. I got more and more angry the more I tried to describe what I was feeling to others. They didn’t get it, they’ll never get it—how could I expect them to? But I get it and I’m here to tell you: You HAVE the symptoms, you’re not making them up, they are likely Lyme disease symptoms, you can trust yourself, and I suggest you take your power back and get busy doing things and talking about things that actually make you feel better! Trust me, it works.

I’ve decided to list off and describe my main symptoms, list some solutions I found for them, and leave it here for anyone who might need just a little reassurance that what they’re feeling is entirely “normal.”  But I have one request: I urge anyone who is chronically ill to shift attention from the symptoms to radical self-care as often as possible. Because I want to see you thrive. And I want to hear your stories about getting well. I am not suffering from many of the below symptoms anymore, but the more well I got, the more I realized I wasn’t making any of it up and the more respect I had for what I went through and how the bacteria ravaged my body. I’d love for this post to be a space where folks can share their symptoms and solutions—feel free to comment below. In the often isolating word of illness, it’s so important to not feel alone.

That “flu” feeling: You know the malaise, the aches, and the sore throat that hit the day before you get the flu? Yeah, I lived with that on and off for a couple of years. I had it early on in my illness, and I kept convincing myself that it was just a very weird cold. I wish I had stopped treating it like a cold and started treating it like Lyme disease. Solutions: REST, Neti pot, infrared sauna.

Extreme fatigue and weakness: Lyme made me hella tired. More tired than I had ever been—more tired than I thought was humanly possible. There were days when I couldn’t hold my head up. There were days where the stairs were too hard. I was too weak. Extraordinarily weak.Driving was scary and I had to pull over more than once to take breaks. Getting dressed was a chore, and I sat down in the shower. My eyes burned, my face hurt. My voice was weak. Cooking for myself was difficult. I was too weak to hold a baby, to carry a grocery bag, or to …smile. Everyday tasks became unreasonably difficult. It’s  a very “normal” reaction to Lyme and, yes, I thought I was making it up. Please save yourself from that torture— you’re not making it up. What helped: RESTING, acceptance, prayer, meditation, ozone therapy, IVIG, herbal supplements, BIE, acupuncture, infrared saunas. quality diet. 

Insomnia: The Devil’s work. I’d stay awake for 50 hours straight, and when I did sleep, it was rare to get more than 3 hours in a row— I tossed and turned, wept in pain, thrashed out of frustration, and then got up and tried to survive another day.  I tried everything: Exercise, no caffeine, massage, meditation, every natural supplement you could imagine, baths, candles, movies, reading, whale fucking music and the list goes on. I tried Trazadone which made me suicidal and Kolonipin which had equally damaging effects.I really am so sorry if you’re suffering through this. It got better for me, and I believe it will get better for you too.  What ended up working: Ambien worked OK, Valium was better, and a natural supplement called Tranquil Sleep from Natural Factors, inner-child work, breath work. 

Joint pain: It sucks to have arthritic pain. I spent many nights icing my knees and heating my hips. My joint pain moved through my body—it could be there one second and gone the next. It was stabbing and awful. Sometimes, my wrists got it, my fingers, my toes and ankles, but my knees took the hardest hit. I’m sending love to your sweet joints!  What helped: curcumin supplements, poke root oil, epsom salt baths, moderate exercise, anti inflammatory diet, TENS machine, acupuncture, ice packs, heating pad.

Myalgia pain/ muscle soreness/ foot soreness: Yes, I was one of the lucky ones who got that all-over pain they talk about. So brutal. My back was indescribably tight at all times— no amount of massage or acupuncture or rolling around on a tennis ball relieved the pain for any significant amount of time. The pain kept me up at night. And my legs felt like I had just done a 30 mile hike every single day. Some things made pain worse especially when herxing. The Cowden Protocol made the muscle pain so much worse that I eventually had to stop it because standing up became way too painful. Stretching and exercise made me hurt more—especially yoga. What helped: anti-inflammatory diet, curcumin, magnesium, infrared, IVIG, Ozone, ice packs, heating pads.

Muscle twitching: Nothing feels like powerlessness more to me than when my muscles twitch uncontrollably.  I had it all over my body— my face to my toes. It especially sucks on the face—the eyes. I don’t experience this much anymore. I’ve realized that exercise can set it off.  My best solution: Magnesium and/or magnesium with calcium. 

Brain fog: This is a sad one. I found myself constantly word-searching, forgetting names for the first time in my life, and walking around in a complete daze. One day, I couldn’t remember how to write out a check. It’s very painful and felt quite literally like I was losing myself, my ability to think. There was a time in my life that I felt very on-point. The brain fog of Lyme made me feel like I was constantly missing the point, the bullseye, just a little OFF and dreamy and tired. It was deeply depressing. What helped: essential oils especially frankincense, Omega 3 and 6, sleep, forgiving myself and trusting it would get better, rest, moderate exercise, meditation. 

Heart palpitations: I’ve actually had these for a long time. They got worst with Lyme and scared the shit out of me many nights.  What helped: CoQ10, breathing, staying calm.

Breast pain: I was in terrible breast pain every single day for about one year. It hurt to hug, it hurt to lie on my stomach, it all hurt. I’m not sure how this plays into Lyme but for me it came with the illness. Good news: I NEVER experience this one anymore not even much when I’m PMSing. How I fixed it? under wire free bras. That’s it. Or no bras. Let the babies breathe. 

Anxiety/ Depression: Read last weeks post for my in-depth experiecne with Lyme depression. My anxiety was just as bad. I will comment on that in the future. Try meditation, supplements like ashwagandha, acupuncture, massage,  clean eating,  a creative project, gratitude lists, and therapy. If you need extra support from anti-depressants, don’t be ashamed to ask. 

Thyroid/hormone dysfunction: Yep, my hair started thinning—quite a lot. I lost weight. I lost my appetite, my periods got much more painful. I lost temperature control in my body, and my circulation was shit.  It was very scary. I took naturthroid for a while, but I didn’t love it. A friend introduced me to a supplement called Xenostat that helped me a lot! After I started taking it, my hair started growing again.  Also, the progesterone-only “mini pill” or “pop pill” helped my periods and balanced my hormones. 

Dry heaving/ nausea: I have done far too much dry heaving over the last couple of years. I have felt extremely nauseous more times than I can count. Super hot. What helped: homemade ginger tea. Add lemon and cayenne for  an extra healthy kick. Aloe Juice saves the day—drink it 30 minutes before a meal. Also, try waiting 30 minutes before a meal and one hour after a meal before drinking any fluids. That’s a gem.

Other sensations came and went like intense ear pain (I constantly felt like I had a super painful ear infection.), swollen glands, shortness of breath, and numbness and tingling. Other common symptoms that I’ve discovered from talking to people with Lyme are air hunger, night sweats, dizziness, gastrointestinal dysfunction, bladder pain, seizures, fainting, fever, bells palsy,  and headaches—all very common.

Crazy, huh? It’s hard to even remember all of the symptoms because there are so many. But they’re all SO real.  How could one disease present with SO many seemingly unrelated symptoms? I don’t know. I don’t question it. I don’t bother. It’s a waste of my time and my time is needed for healing. I just know that the symptoms are 1.) real 2.) treatable and 3.) reversible.  I urge you to refer to this list any time you feel alone and misunderstood. I urge you to take note of your pain, welcome it, and then get busy focusing on how to care for yourself. We are so powerless over so much of what happens inside of our body. The best way to heal is to take power where you can get it: self-care, treating the symptoms, focusing on the things that bring you joy. focusing on something like taking a photo, taking a bath, or meditating gave me energy and made me feel powerful!

Feel free to comment here to the symptoms you relate to or to add to the list so that someone else can feel heard. Let’s start the solution revolution.

With fun and love,

Jackie

 

 

 

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The Symptoms, Part One: Depression

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I sat submerged in the bath water.  The bathroom was dark and quiet, lit only by one large, flickering candle. My face dripped with sweat from the steaming hot water infused with epsom salts. I was motionless. Only my eyes shifted, taking note of my surroundings— the blue walls, the dancing light, the sparkly new bathtub—I worked hard to have my old one replaced because it presented with moldy spots, and as a person recovering from Lyme disease, the sight of mold scared me— and the water. I noticed the still water, and it was calling me to go under, go quiet, go completely still until my heart stopped beating. I stared at this element that I once found harmless and enjoyable, and how weird that I suddenly couldn’t see any other use for being in the bath other than it being the thing that assisted in my death. Why hadn’t I noticed that before? It seemed so obvious. How easy and seemingly peaceful it would be to just go under water and stay there. All of the hell I was living would stop—no more doctors, no more pain, no more fear, no more needles, no more uncertainty, no more isolation, no more crying and staring out of the window next to my bed, no more HOPING, and no more being let down. The temptation was great. I was spiraling and then suddenly I gasped because I had stopped breathing, and I pulled myself up to sitting. The water rippled with force and I frantically pulled the drain open and jumped out of the tub. The appeal was so great that I thought I shouldn’t use a knife or get in the car for the next couple of days.That night I became  intimately acquainted  with the  profound uses of everyday appliances. And I needed to protect myself.

That’s the type of depression that taunted me during my sickest year and a half.  In the moments that symptom flare- ups made death seem imminent, I would be almost relieved, “good. let it be over. I don’t want to live like this. This is not a life.” Sometimes, I hoped I wouldn’t wake up in the morning. It felt like too much work just to stay alive. Lyme depression is two-fold and a real mother fucker. First,  Lyme is a neurological disease—that means it’s a disease in your brain. That means that anxiety and depression are a SYMPTOM. Second, along with the depression and anxiety, you’re hit with a host of other symptoms. For me, I had extreme fatigue, insomnia, terrible physical pain, loss of appetite, hormone and thyroid dysfunction, and  brain fog…just to name a few. So, all of the things I’d generally use to fight depression like exercise, socializing, working hard, food, books, creative outlets, spontaneity,  or vacation also got taken off of the table and I was left isolated, broke, and painfully under slept. It’s common knowledge that the experience of being home sick with a cold or the flu can make someone a little batty. Now think about that experience on repeat for many weeks/ months/ years, add A LOT more symptoms, and then remember that you CANNOT sleep. Sound like hell? It is. I was in hell. As a person in the Lyme community, I hear it all. I hear about the deaths that are a direct result from Lyme. I hear about people getting cured. I hear about the seizures and the fainting and the permanent brain damage, and I hear about those whose lives will be forever better because they fought and prevailed. I hear the cases that are just “mild” but so disruptive. And I hear about the people who kill themselves—there are more than you’d like to believe. It doesn’t surprise me. It was so real for me. It’s very hard to want to live when there is a disease in your brain affecting how you think and when most of what was previously enjoyable about life gets hijacked. Lyme disease pushed me right to the edge. For some reason, I got willing to turn around and fight the wind, and LOVE is what pushed me along.

I had met depression earlier in life in more manageable doses. My attempts to harm myself in the past were half-assed: In high school, I tried to cut myself with a metal nail file —I quit as soon as I broke skin, I tried to be bulimic in middle school, but it took way too much energy to force myself to puke,  and, as a teenager, I took a lighter to my skin every once in a blue moon to make the mental anguish quiet down. Yes, I liked forcing my brain to redirect its attention to physical pain and off of my thoughts. But, in the end, I LOVED being alive. Yes, there were moments of serious darkness, but, most of the time,  I was excited about life.  With Lyme, I didn’t feel alive. Everything I loved about life felt like it was taken from me without my consent. There was no escape from the mental or the physical pain. It was prison.  I had *very sparingly* comforted myself  with the idea of suicide in my earlier life—I’d remind myself that if my depression or anxiety got bad enough, I always had an out, but it never got bad enough. It never lasted long enough…not until illness.

I had been sick for about ten months before I started losing hope. It was when I stopped sleeping in September of 2014 that I spun out of control. It went on night after night—adding up to 50 or 60 sleepless hours at a time. The relief came in very small doses—maybe 3 hours of sleep in a row—never a full nights sleep. I was desperate. My eyes burned, and I was driven to tears throughout each day. I took many variations of sleeping drugs—most didn’t work, and two of them made me more depressed. More emotional pain would cause less sleep which would cause more physical and emotional pain and on and on and on the cycle went.

One October day, I sat on the bottom step of my staircase trying to execute the simple task of putting my shoes on. Something that I used to do in less than a minute multiple times a day was now a terrifying, olympic- style task. For the gold, all I had to do was put my fucking shoes on. But it was so hard—I was so tired. I took a deep breath and slipped one foot in, methodically tied the laces and then paused. I took another deep breath and did the same on the other foot—the last bunny ear went through the hole, I pulled tight and PHEW, I just sat there. I couldn’t move, I had exhausted myself. The roaring sadness was called from my gut and rose up through my body and tears choked out, one after the other. I just needed to stand up and leave the house. Anger struck.  I was enraged with myself, “how the fuck is it possible that you can’t stand up. STAND UP. STAND UP.”  I wanted to drag myself across the floor by my ponytail and beat the living shit out of myself. And that thought devastated me. The desire to harm myself, the self-loathing I was feeling became so unmanageable. I wouldn’t get well if I kept it up.  I needed help.

That  Thursday night, I decided I had enough. No matter how tired I was, or how sick I was, I was going to go to show up at the Hollywood Mental Health Center at 7:30 am the next day—Friday. It’s where my insurance told me to go when I called hysterical.  I crawled out of bed with blood-shot eyes encased in dark circles and willed myself to get ready— put on a sweater and some shoes, grabbed my insurance card and just went. I hadn’t been in therapy for almost a year, and I certainly was not on any anti-depressant, I was free-balling, trying to be “strong,” and it obviously wasn’t working. It was a cold, foggy morning,  and I was  NOT drinking a coffee near a fireplace. I was shivering on a long, scattered line  with Hollywood’s homeless population.  I kept my head down and my nose tucked in my sweater because it smelled, and I was too sick to deal. The man in front of me kept hacking up phlegm and the guy behind me fluctuated between nodding out and jarring himself awake with the sound of his personal cocktail of snore and snot.  Goddamnit, this is not my shining moment, I thought. When I looked up to determine how much longer I’d have to wait, I fucking saw someone I knew. Not a friend—not yet— but an acquaintance I had met a couple of times through friends.  I was painfully ashamed—so ashamed that I considered leaving right then. I couldn’t be seen in this place. I was supposed to be the girl who had it together, but  I couldn’t justify leaving—it was too dangerous, my life depended on what came at the end of this stupid line. He, unfortunately, spotted me, and he came over to greet me like it was just some normal morning. I was so sick I felt like I was dreaming, and he was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, “Hey, are you ok?” he asked. I acted surprised, “hey, whoa, crazy running into you. I’m uhh. I’m OK, yeah. I’m actually just considering leaving.” Yeah, Jack, play it cool on the line at the Hollywood Mental Health Center lol. His face was compassionate, and  he told me—point blank— to stay. He was the familiarity I needed to get through that morning, and he was so kind to me.

I took a seat on a plastic orange chair in the waiting room with the rest of the early morning crazies, and, for some reason, I told my new friend what was happening in my head and in my life. I had nothing left to lose. I mean, how was I going to get around the fact that I was spotted at the Hollywood Mental Health Center at 8 am on a Friday morning—sober.  Only desperate people do shit like that. He listened intently and casually said, “I have a therapist and she takes your insurance, and I respect her a lot. She’s well educated and no joke. And you won’t have to do any of this nonsense.” A gift from the fucking angels, “Are you kidding me?” I said, “Insurance wouldn’t give me any therapist’s names. They just told me to come here.” “Oh yeah, I know,” he said with an eye roll, “her name is Claire. Call her, she’ll be good for you.”  I took her info and waited out my turn in the clinic because I was trying to cover my ass from all angles. If Claire didn’t work out, I needed something else in motion.

I called that day, and she got right back to me. It seemed like one of the first times since I had been sick that a medical professional got right back to me. And it saved my life. It was all of the hope I needed that day. That week. The first time I saw her, she promised that she would have my back—that even if insurance failed, we would be able to work something out. I’ve been seeing her twice a week, for free, for almost two years. Insurance never failed. Her office, her familiar face, her kindness, her insights, and just the simple consistency salvaged what was left of me.

I sat in Claire’s office last night crying about how far I’ve come, how lucky I feel just to have an appetite. How lucky I feel to be able to hold my head up. She wrapped up the session at minute 49 instead of 50 so we could “talk about a couple things.”  She said, “I don’t know if you noticed, but I’m pregnant.” I took a moment to congratulate myself on “being right,” because I had a suspicion she was pregnant and THEN promptly congratulated her. She spoke directly—her maternity leave will start in March, and she’s taking six months off.  She will no longer be working in the office where I see her—she will have a private practice and not be accepting insurance. She might do sliding scale with me if I need it, but, in the meantime, she will help me find someone new. BUMMER.

I started writing this a few days before I got the news and I’ve come to realize in that time just how much I credit her with keeping me alive/afloat during the last couple of years. The magic is this:  Just as I NEEDED her in the moment she came into my life and just as I needed her for the last two years, I am now perfectly capable and ready to let go of her. My need is not what it was. I AM alive. I AM afloat. I am so much healthier, in mind, body and spirit. She watched me fall completely apart and slowly reassemble the pieces—sometimes finding new, shinier pieces while throwing away the old ones. And how amazing that I feel ready to part with what we had. Yet again, it is proven to me that I CAN trust the Universe.

I think more today about how grateful I am to have some sense of myself back. I am often excited about life again. The days where I “just can’t imagine another day” are fewer…much fewer. Actually, they’re rare. But for a while there, I was just holding on and hoping it would pass reminding myself again and again that I was willing to do one more day. I was willing to do another hour or minute while I took care of myself and did the next right thing. I was willing to keep swimming and not let myself drown. And I was willing everyday until I got here:

Today I woke up at 6:30 am after about 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep, drank celery juice, drank some tea, read some spiritual stuff, and then STOOD IN LINE at the Chinese consulate to pick up my visa for an upcoming trip. And I was grateful for that whole hour-long wait—that line was glorious.

With Fun and Love,

Jackie

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A Note for my Caretakers

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Dear Caretakers,

I imagine that this will be the first of many letters and many conversations between us. I’m starting here in a seemingly distant and formal way  because I’m not strong enough for the more intimate teary-eyed conversations right now. I’m also unsure of who needs to read this letter, and I want to give each and every one of you an opportunity to know that you are seen. As I ascend to wellness and the fog is slowly clearing, the vast impact my Lyme disease has had is coming into focus. I look around and I see many faces who have fought with me, and I have no idea what your experience has been, how hard it might have been for various reasons— I never asked. I’ve counted 20 of you who were very close to me over the last three years— 20 of you who I consider to be my main caretakers. 20 of you who were present for much of the suffering, many of the needles, too much of the heartbreak and all of the unthinkable need I was experiencing. But that leaves out maybe 200 people— or more— who donated, prayed, tracked my progress on Facebook, or worried about me. This letter is for all of you, whoever needs it: those of you who fought with me on an almost daily basis on the front lines, those of you who stayed back in the trenches gathering much needed supplies, and  those of you who prayed from your bedroom.  You were not my cheerleaders— you were my ARMY. I write every week about my story—my personal struggle with Lyme disease, stored trauma, and chronic illness. Yes, I often touch on how grateful I feel to have had the most compassionate army of people surrounding me, protecting me from all angles, but it’s come to my attention recently that you have been at war, too. This isn’t just my story—you’ve had your own journey watching someone you love suffer and fight for wellness. And no matter what part you played in this particular journey, your feelings— whether past, present, or future— are valid.

I can empathize—I’ve watched all members of my immediate family,  suffer for most of my life, and I’ve remained unable to do much of anything to help. While I have seen physical illness take hold of people, my family mainly suffers from addiction and mental illness—heartbreaking diseases that impact all surrounding loved ones. Addiction is called a “family disease” for a reason—the powerful current ripples out larger and larger often affecting generations of people whether they’re drinking OR NOT.  People suffering from diseases like these tend to be under the delusion that no one else is affected, that no one else could possibly be in the kind of pain they are in. But I can assure you, there’s PLENTY of suffering to go around. And it’s that type of thinking, that you’re not allowed to have feelings because you couldn’t possibly be suffering more, that prolongs the effects and keeps the current going strong. For a long time, I didn’t let myself really experience the hurt and abandonment I felt because I just assumed that my father suffered more than I did. He talked often and loudly about his own fucked up childhood and made it clear that my own was a cake walk compared to his. I have no idea if that’s true. But I watch people tormented by that voice all of the time—it says, “oh, but my father had it so much worse than me. He was abusive BECAUSE he was abused so I should just be grateful for what I got.” Or, “My mother was the one who suffered in her illness, I can’t possibly make that about me.” It seems like a very compassionate and empathetic voice but really its DNA is that of martyrdom and martyrdom is the tidal wave on the horizon preparing to wipe you out. IF that voice is active around my Lyme disease, if you are one of the 20— or one of the few hundred— and you have suffered through my illness let me just say your pain is valid, your fear is valid and whatever you experienced or begin experiencing is 100 percent valid. I’m not delusional—I’m not saying that Facebook friend #427 is wildly affected by my Lyme disease and needs to seek counseling. I’m just saying that whoever you are and however you’ve been affected—I hope that you have given/ are giving yourself an opportunity to feel it.

I can’t imagine  what it must have been like to be with me every single day through such horror, so many breakdowns, and so much illness. I have no idea what it was like for you to listen to me talk about my own impending death on repeat. Or what it was like for you to watch me go from excited about the full life I had in front of me to bed ridden and in tears every single day. I don’t know how it felt to lose your fun, reliable and available friend. I don’t know what it’s like to care for someone at such a young age, to not know if they’re going to get well and to be terrified to lose them. I don’t know what it was like to stick me with needles while I yelled out in pain, or  what it was like to leave my house when I so obviously didn’t want you to leave. Or how painful it might have been to hear me talk about how suicidal I was or how much I hated myself for being sick or how much I just “couldn’t do another single day in my body.” I imagine that, at moments, I may have felt safer in my own body than you felt watching me—I always held some sense of knowing that I was going to be ok (one day), and you might not have had that. Maybe you were scared to leave me alone, maybe you were scared to hang up the phone with me after I expressed so much pain. Maybe you’re scared that I’m going to abandon our friendship or relationship now that I don’t “need” you anymore. Maybe you’re scared that I’ll forget about you. Maybe this experience kicked up some old experience you’ve had with illness and death in the past or maybe it’s scared you…maybe now you know too much about the in’s and out’s of illness, fucked up doctors and how the medical system doesn’t EXACTLY have our back. And maybe you’re fucking mad at me. I don’t know. I know that I’m incredibly grateful for every single moment that you loaned your hearts to me, and I know that your love has altered me forever.

You people have inspired me every single day to be a better human. You have taught me through your own kind hearts and incredible efforts how to show up for the people I love. I am grateful for each and every thing you did for me. For you who held me day in and day out, always believed in me, and made me feel beautiful when my lips were purple and I was under 100 pounds. You who flew around the world with me to care for me while I got Ozone therapy. You who put me up in Florida and wheeled me around Disneyworld so I could have a day of magic in the midst of shit. You who sent me care packages, called, and texted endlessly. You who made me fundraisers and rubbed my body when it hurt. You who changed me into pajamas, who helped me get up stairs and hills, who brightened up my day with smoothies, food, and laughter. YOU are my fucking heroes.

I sincerely hope that you’ve gathered your own support through whatever journey you’re on—your own army—and that, if you haven’t, you begin to get help now if you need it. This is not just a message about my Lyme disease. It’s also a message to say that no one gets left out of life’s obstacles. Pain is pain—it’s relative and credible no matter what. And while I’m not particularly ready to counsel with you on how the past three years have potentially hurt you, I do want you to know that you are in my thoughts. I hope you know that I think of each of you everyday. That I know I couldn’t have gotten well without your endless support and love. I hope you know that I’m not going anywhere, and that now we get to do all of the fun things we’ve been planning for the last three years. I hope you know that every single hug, every text message, every phone call, and every time you held me while I sobbed, screamed and cried took me one step closer to health. And please know that as I heal, I imagine all of us healing together.

With Fun and Love,

Jackie

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How I Went From Healer-Phobic to Healer-Friendly

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“I’m so horny! It’s killing me,” I whined, steeped in sexual frustration, in the backseat of a Toyota on Sunday afternoon. Three of us were squeezed in the back seat—two of my closest friends and me— and they had been listening to me have random sexual outbursts all day.  Ian is on his lengthy- as- fuck dream trip, and I feel a little…insane without him. “I barely even masturbate,” I yammered on, “it bores me these days, just makes me more sad.” My friend is a talented energy healer, and we’ve worked really well together in the past so she said, “OOOO, I wonder if I could try some sort of energy work on you where I could get you to an orgasm without even touching you. I’ve never done it, but it’s so fun to work with you because you’re so open.” Me, so open? I thought. “Hah. remember when I was NOT open to any of this nonsense,” I retorted, “And, YES, let’s absolutely do that!” I feel baffled when “healers” of any kind suggest that it’s so wonderful to work with me because I’m so open and available. That was so not me. Pre-illness I had the “luxury” of being  healer-phobic, the “luxury” of judging people, the “luxury” of being closed-mided,  the “luxury” holding onto resentment and anger, and the “luxury” of eating a nightly waffle sundae.”  We piled out of the car to stop in at an organic, over-priced, crystal-decorated Malibu eatery. It was the kind of place that attracts all of the wealthy white people on green-juice fasts who are willing to pay $15.00 for a tube of coconut oil and $175.00 for a beach towel. Did I think it was ridiculous? Yes. Did I love it there? ABSOLUTELY. The wall of supplements made me feel candy-shop-dazzled, the all natural body butter was enticing, and, oh my god, they served vegan, gluten-free and SOY-FREE grilled cheese. Heaven. All I needed was Ian near me, and I would have had an orgasm right then. Yes, all-natural sunscreen and kale wraps turn me up and on. No shame here:  I’m an oil-pulling, green-juicing, meditating, all natural healing… weirdo. It gets worse: Over our new-age grilled cheeses,  we talked astrology. I know very little about astrology, but I love when people talk about it. Let me rephrase: I love when astrology-interested folk want to talk specifically about me and my sign. We were looking at my chart, and our astrology-savvy friend took note that one of my moons was in one of my  houses (blah blah blah) , therefore, I’m a “wounded healer.” My eyes got all big, “wounded, healer,” I squealed, “Oh my god! My distance healer just told me that one of my archetypes is a wounded healer! How cool!”

How cool? What in the ever-loving fuck is this life? 

I grew up eating raisinets for a healthy snack and drinking coca-cola with  meatloaf dinner.  I  suffered from panic attacks and lots of random infections all treated with…you guesssed it…antibiotics. I breathed in smoke and mold all day, was harassed by my father, tried to take care of my mother, and lived in a fantasy land most days because it was safer than reality. By highschool, I  had bronchial infections every couple of months, and I lived on cheez-it’s, salami, funyons, the hangover BLT, and hazelnut iced coffee with tons of half and half. I self-medicated my anxiety with drinking, smoking in excess, and instigating unruly sexual situations that numbed the pain of my missing father. Self-loathing began intruding on every waking moment of my day activating my first major step toward a healthier living.

I cleaned up my act and stopped drinking. I bought a sports bra, got a membership at the 92nd street Y, started drinking some water, and ate some cottage cheese between my late-night waffle sundae binges. I thought I was the healthiest. Only the healthiest people eat cottage cheese and own sports bras.  Then my panic attacks resurfaced with a vengeance. When I was one meltdown away from becoming agoraphobic, I started taking anti-anxiety meds. I thought I oughta also dabble in meditation since I didn’t want to be on meds forever so I attempted a ten-day silent meditation retreat. I made it three days and claimed, as I left,  that I just wasn’t meant to be quiet.  I nearly lost my mind sitting with myself in the darkness and silence—there were too many  painful memories, there was not enough coffee, and no space to exercise. No, thank you.

Those three days validated my experience with holistic approaches to healing—they weren’t for me. I was madly-pro western medicine: Bring on the quick-fixes, the distractions, and the antibiotics! When it was convenient or it was necessary, I was down to be spiritual, but it was always short-lived. I never wanted to be TOO spiritual. A little bit of toxicity felt sort of YUM to me; I brought the FUN to dysfunctional. And I loved me some fatty beef.

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Something about being a sweet, peaceful vegan seemed so stale and virginal to me.If I could stay just a little edgy, a little hardened, I’d be more interesting, I thought. I wanted to be only half in touch with myself, only somewhat open-minded, and the adrenal burn-out version of healthy which looks like too much excercise and distraction while chowing on some kale every once in a while. The mention of eastern and holistic approaches to medicine and healing made me tighten. It was like people were talking about crossing an ocean in a row-boat—haven’t we got better things to do and my god, that sounds like unnecessary labor, hello, there are cruise ships these days! But, Jackie, cruise ships are bad for the environment, you said. “Well, I’d rather ignore that so I can get where I’m going faster, thank you.” It was true, I sort of (gasp) didn’t care about the environment, the toxins in the air, in my food, or in my water bottle. Not to mention my distaste for chakras, angel cards and acupuncture. What a snooze fest! I had already given up booze, drugs and cigarettes, did I really need to go full-on new-agey grandma? My judgments were just a way of covering up my extreme discomfort around “super spiritual.” I wasn’t ready to be seen. I was full of untouched trauma, stuffed to the brim. I felt like “Healers” had some sort of special powers. . .like they were the only people in the world who could see my thick and vast unbecoming wounds. Healers made me feel like my mask was being forcefully ripped off of my face, like all of the grime, sadness, jealousy, and petty resentment that I was hiding from the world— was suddenly visible. So, when I came into contact with one, I either got the hell out of there, or I put a thick wall up—pretending to have no feelings.  I had spent a couple of decades trying to keep my toxicity IN and under control, undetected.

My best efforts to control my humanness got me Lyme disease. And my best efforts to get well from Lyme disease—which included tons of antibiotics and distraction—got me much much sicker. The cruise ship I was on capsized after ten long months of doing it “the fast way”of western medicine.  I was left with that damn rowboat.  And, if I was going to survive, I was gonna have to get in and start rowing—slow and steady —with a shit load of patience. I was afraid of sitting with myself, slowing down, going soft, needing help, being seen, vulnerable and human. But my options were to go “there”—into the darkness of my soul/my truth with love as my main form of protection— and heal from Lyme, or to avoid “there” and probably stay sick. I surrendered completely. I was willing to be seen and to go into the pain so that it could lose it’s power over me became my focus.

I did everything anyone suggested from Ozone therapy, supplements, herbs, and body work. I changed my diet, I took the herbs, I meditated more, acupuncture became a weekly practice accompanied by chinese herbs, and I worked hard on self-love. And then—my biggest challenge— making friends with healers. Opening my mind so much that I could actually believe, for just a second, in something as silly as astrology. GASP.  But it helped! And then, reiki. And that helped. And then water blessings and neuro- feedback, group meditations, yoga, prayer, chakras, crystals, and getting hugged by Amma.   My  body sucked up this new way of life, like I was a plant that hadn’t been watered in a decade. I became a person that craved group meditations, green juices, acupuncture and reiki. Love gave me sunshine and alternative-medicine (in whatever form) gave me water, and some time later, I started to fucking bloom.

Becoming open to any possible form of healing has made me free— my life has become boundless with so many options. Yeah, I’ll talk about the power of crystals with an open mind, yeah I’ll talk about intuitions, heart, and powerful candles. I’ll also talk about all of the western approaches to healing that work—western medicine works when used correctly. I don’t give a shit what we are talking about as long as it’s something that helped someone else get closer to wellness realized. I light candles and I turn on an essential oil diffuser, and I sit on a yoga block while I practice breathing into my belly—INTO MY FIRST CHAKRA. I believe in magic because why not? In my experience and from what I’ve seen, you have to believe a little bit in magic and pixie dust if you want to beat Lyme disease. Beating Lyme disease isn’t even my priority anymore—thriving is my priority, and I won’t let any of my judgments, my resentment or my fear of being seen fully as a human get in the way of my best life. Healing from the inside-out is healing that lasts. I don’t know about you, but I intend to thrive for many many many many years to come.

With fun and love and weird ju ju,

Jackie

PS: Please use your discretion when choosing people to work with! OK? My “team”  came highly recommended to me by people I trust.

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Lyme Disease Stripped me Down to Human.

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I felt like I was hitting my stride toward the end of 2013—25 years old, single, sexy, and with a whole world of options in front of me. It seemed like I had absolutely everything I needed to succeed in life. Most importantly, I was young, healthy and pretty. Yes, I had those bonus things like being talented, smart, and ballsy. Blah blah blah. But first and foremost, I was young, healthy and pretty. And living in Los Angeles— just to be cliché. I sat outside of a coffee shop in Franklin Village, LA, drinking coffee with my friend Nick. Franklin and Bronson is a very “Hollywood” corner,  densely populated by improv actors and screenwriters having coffee-shop-meetings about their upcoming “projects.” Nick and I sat rolling our eyes at every opportunity but also. . . entirely fitting in with the crowd.

Clad in a black dress decorated with a gold zipper  running snug down the center , accentuating  my small waist line and coming to an abrupt stop just a couple of inches below my crotch,  drawing attention to my legs which looked extra long thanks to my five- inch- high, colorful, hippie-swag platforms, I giddily listened to Nick’s compliments, “god damn you look hot. My lord. You need to walk around like that all of the time, you’ll get an agent in a second.” I smirked—knowing exactly what kind of sparkle my blue eyes made when I smirked because I had spent way too much time smirking at myself in the mirror. . .for practice, I guess.  I thought I had already swallowed my daily prescription of validation when I noticed a man at the next table looking at me intently. He was smoking, had overly manicured black hair and hopped- up energy. His energy is what exposed him as a James Dean wannabe rather than a James Dean look a like. I had no interest in him romantically, but I was curious to find out what words were sitting on the edges of his eyes, the cliffs of his tongue.  On our way out, as I sauntered past his table, he stopped me. Through a manic lisp, he spoke with a sense of urgency—anxious to get something out of life, to go somewhere he wasn’t, passionate or painfully discontent, I wasn’t sure— he asked if he could photograph me. I could barely get a word in, he lit another cigarette, complimenting me up and down on how “interesting” I was, how perfectly “symmetrical like Charlize Theron,” how “hot my body” was my “legs,” my “hair.” He was sure (something that is amateurish in this town—all the pros know that there’s no such thing as a “done deal” until you get to set or get your check) that if he photographed me *free of charge* he could hook me up with the best agent in town. After he took out his iPad and showcased his truly spectacular fashion and portrait photography, I agreed to take his card and contact him. He complimented me five more times before we finally walked away, and when we were just out of ear shot, Nick laughed, “literally all you need to do is go outside and opportunities meet you. HA! You lucky bitch.” An opportunity met me, alright. That one exchange changed my life forever. That one exchange, that one meeting  was the beginning of my strip poker game with life—the game that stripped me of pretty (and almost everything else I identified myself with) and left me profoundly HUMAN.

Nick was right, it had been a fact—my looks got me stuff. Sure, being an “attractive female” comes with its own set of dilemmas: I’ve had a serious stalker, I’ve been talked AT in demoralizing ways, middle-aged men did shady things to me when I was much too fucking young, my father carried around my headshot telling people I was his wife (YUP), and I often felt like my only  noticed asset was that I was fuckable—like that was my only earned girl-scout badge, if you will. I’m not sure if being “attractive” was the motivator of such treatment or if “female” did the trick on its own. A combination of the two plus the undeniable fact that when I entered a room,my palpable sexual energy preceded me(something we can just blame, if you don’t mind, on the fact that I was born a Scorpio) was sometimes heavily troublesome. But, I’m somewhat ashamed to say, it was never something that really bothered me. We are all so often judged on our physical appearance and if my appearance was one that sparked endless attention, free stuff, and “any guy I wanted to have,” it didn’t seem like something to complain about. For me, being a pretty girl won me my father’s affection, got me through grade school and junior high mildly tormented but NOT completely abused. Being pretty earned me a seat at the “cool kids’ table” like two or three times; “pretty” became synonymous with “enough,” and that’s when being pretty got me into real trouble. When it was the prime definitive quality about me. That “pretty” was something that I relied on— that I needed as my sort of fall-back plan on a daily basis—THAT was a problem. And, I’m blessed/cursed with self-awareness so I knew it was a problem, and I knew that, at some point, I was going to have to learn another way. I was waiting for the day that I would have to learn about self-worth based in something else—like an amazing career, child-bearing, a PhD, or volunteering for countless hours. The day would come when I’d have to earn my space on this planet for reasons other than being print-ad material. What I didn’t know was how and when I would be shown. And, apparently I was way off about what I was going to learn. I didn’t learn that self-worth and meaning was found in a three-piece suit career at an accounting firm with problem acne and a child at home. I didn’t learn that hours of volunteer work earned me a girl-scout badge that said something other than “fuckable.” My “lesson” wasn’t in the form I expected—I mean, is it ever? What I learned is that I don’t have to do or be a damn thing to earn my space here. That I don’t need any badges AT ALL. And just so the Universe could make it interesting and have a laugh, my  lesson started on a photoshoot—a photoshoot where I was trying to prove both my looks and my coolness.

I contacted the photographer from Franklin Village; I knew exactly what I wanted to add to my portfolio: “woodsy elegance.” I wanted to capture my “nature”— both glamorous and adventurous— my simultaneous love affair with the dirt of the mountains that welcomed worn-in hiking boots AND the concrete city streets that welcomed high heels and dresses made of silk and tulle. Capturing my “essence” (not my essence at all—those are just bullshit definitions I attached myself to) meant going to the woods and rolling around in piles of leaves in a short dress. See where I might be going with this?

It was November 17th 2013, four days before my 26th birthday, and a miserable day–I was betraying myself just to get some free photos, willing myself to sit through the discomfort of being objectified on this photo shoot. I don’t want to give the reader the wrong idea. The photographer had good intentions, and he did not physically harm me in any way, but I was extremely uncomfortable with our exchange that day, and I never spoke up about it. I felt dirty and just wanted to get the whole thing over with before dark. I rolled around in leaves, sat in piles of mud, climbed around on trees, and lied on all sorts of precarious terrain to get the shots I wanted all while he said things like, “lick you lips, hot hot hot.” In one milli- second of those two hours, I got bit by a tick—the mother load of ticks. The tick that , ironically,  stripped me of the attachment to my “worn in hiking boots” and the attachment to my “city strut” AND the tick that gave my voice its platform to stand on. I would never stay on a photoshoot that made me that uncomfortable today. NO WAY.  Not to mention the LOL that I paid a high fucking price for those free set of photos—literally like 40,000 dollars of medical bills, I’m not even trying to be figurative.

When those bumpy, itchy, unattractive rashes broke out on my body, leaving me uncomfortable being scantily clad for the first time in my life, I was immediately thrown for a loop—what does one do with physical insecurities? And that was just week two of an *almost* three year long journey. I panicked at the sight of those rashes, frightened that I had psoriasis—god forbid. I was so vain and so scared of losing my “looks” that when the doctor told me I had Lyme disease, I was like, “oh cool, well, at least that won’t SHOW. Sure, it *could potentially* affect my heart and brain and nerves, but, like, you won’t see it. It’s not psoriasis.” Then the antibiotics gave me a really bad yeast infection—next-level yeast, people. So, I didn’t feel my sexiest, and I had a new scar where they biopsied one of my rashes, but whatever. I still recognized myself—or the self I had come to identify with that wasn’t really myself at all—the self that lived riding the coat tails of my looks.

About nine months and 1,000 pills later, something confusing was happening. My energy, vibrance and vitality were shutting down, like one room going dark at a time until the whole house was pitch black and haunting.  I didn’t know how to move through such unknown territory. I didn’t know how to find the door out, and I had lost my most dependable resource: my beauty.

My back slowly grew more and more hunched until I was horizontal, laid out by life. My hair started thinning and stopped growing, my eyes got dark, I dropped to below 100 pounds, my cheeks lost their pink youthful essence and, at one point, went yellow And then, one day, I needed a wheelchair (or piggy back rides) if I was going to be walking for any extended time. The mirror, something that had been almost like a friend to me all of my life (maybe even my best friend), became my enemy. What I saw looking back at me disturbed me. My reflection, once upon a time, offered me an endorsement, and it was suddenly the catalyst for deep self-loathing and fear. I could not stomach taking a selfie— I feared the camera. For the first time in my life, I didn’t want my picture taken, I feared being tagged in photos on Facebook, and I feared walking into rooms of people without my sexual, flirty, fun, and hot armor. I felt like a lightless, somber ghost of myself. I could no longer confidently strut around. I sheepishly hung my head, feeling invisible or worse—like an unwanted burden. Men stopped noticing me, girls stopped looking up to me, and I stopped noticing myself. My flirty, fun, pretty self was like a costume I zippered up tightly every day—it literally held me together, and without it, I was truly naked, vulnerable, and terrified. GUTS were spilling out. And so I did all there was to do if I was going to get well (and I would do anything to get well): I learned to love myself naked, vulnerable and terrified—I learned to love my guts. I learned that I am worthy just because I am. I didn’t have to do or be anything other than human to take up space and receive love.

One day, after two years of self-love affirmations and deep inner-healing, I was walking past my bathroom mirror and I saw something—something I had never seen before. What was meant to be a quick glance at myself  before I turned the light off instead gave me great pause. I stopped abruptly, turning to face the mirror to investigate what I was seeing. It was so new. So different. I didn’t see my face, my eyes, my hair, my weight, my skin, or anything external. I saw something so beyond the shell that I am, I saw into the vastness, the boundless spirit that is my true self, and she was so mother fucking beautiful that I had to just stand there crying and appreciating her for a few more moments. Without thinking,  I put my hand on my heart—my fierce human heart— and said out loud,”I appreciate you.” And I meant it. I felt like I was taking my first fresh breath of air in my whole life—like I had legitimately never taken an unpolluted breath or seen myself so pure. Not to be dramatic or anything, but I was basically reborn. And then that moment passed. . .probably as soon as I went on Facebook and compared myself to someone else.

It ebbs and flows, there still are days when I can’t believe how weathered I look. But, far more often, I feel like a warrior princess queen. The letting go and the surrender to being human—uncool and unpretty—sucked,  but do you know what happens after you shed the old skin? You grow brand new skin! AND you have a say in what it looks like this time around. You get to choose what baggage to keep and what to let go of, you get to choose precisely who you want to be. My skin is radiant. People are commenting on how vibrant I look, how pink my cheeks are, how clear my eyes are, and how it’s nice that I have a little more weight on me. But that’s not the payoff. Well yes it is, it’s certainly part of the payoff that I’m looking good and feeling mostly good again —I wouldn’t do all of this hard work if getting well and FEELING vibrant wasn’t part of the deal. The *other* miracle, for me, is that I don’t need your validation. The payoff is that I see way beyond the boundaries of my shell and into the vastness, the MAGIC that I truly am. I have yet to find any wardrobe or girl-scout badge more sparkly or more interesting than human. 

With fun, and love,

Jackie

 

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The Power of Whispering “Please”

 

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I was in a yoga class last Tuesday afternoon, August 30th, 2016. I had spent an hour “opening up” (insert: eye roll), breathing, and getting in touch with the silence and stillness of my body, feeling so grateful for how far I’ve come on my way to wellness. After savasana, I felt all calm and centered, all like “mmm namaste.” Slowly packing up my mat and water bottle, I swiped my phone out of airplane mode simultaneously driving my energy to erratic and off-center. A message from my cousin immediately popped up that read, “I’m sure you’ve heard the news. Will you be at the funeral?” PANIC. I hadn’t heard the news. I was about to hear the news. My 23-year-old cousin passed away tragically in the earliest hours of Tuesday morning. “Passed away” suggests some sort of peaceful movement into another realm, but, I can assure you, nothing about it felt peaceful. Not to me. For me, it was more of a disorienting impact, like when those cartoon characters see stars after getting hit really hard. I couldn’t breathe. The same room I had just gotten all namaste in, held space for my hysterical tears. I immediately thought of his mother—notably one of my favorite people on this planet— and his brother. My heart aches deeply for them. I made a fierce and confident decision in that moment, on my knees in tears, that no matter what, I would be at the funeral. Yes, I knew it was across the country, I knew my health wasn’t super stable, and I knew that I was super short on cash, but I also knew that I WOULD be there. My (almost) three-year long struggle with Lyme disease has taught me a thing or two or three or four about compassion, about humanity, and about empathy. Well “you” taught me, actually. You know who you are—all of the people who have had my back again and again and again over the last couple of years—you’re the reason I know how necessary it is to show up. After I pulled myself together from the shock of the news—out of the hysterics, floating into more a cloudy daze of confusion—I got in my car and drove home to look up airline tickets. Apparently, I had spoken too soon and too confidently. The cheapest ticket was $930.00, and painfully out of my price range. And yet, I went, and I went fully available to my family. How in the fuck, you ask? Because just when I thought I had been shown my fair share of love in this lifetime, I was proven wrong, love saved the day. . . again. As it turns out, there might not be a shortage on that shit.

I’ve always been way more comfortable in the role of care-taker. I truly believed that I didn’t need— “you” clearly needed love and support and help, but, me? I’d be just fine. I’m tough enough, I can take it, I thought. As a kid, I would watch my brother or mother suffer under my father’s cruelty and wish/pray that I could just trade places with them, thinking that I had some sort of magical armor that they didn’t. I played that role for a good long while— giving, giving, giving until I used up all of my energy, got Lyme disease and had nothing left to give. OK, I had to stop giving, but I certainly wasn’t going to ask for anything. GASP. How could I? I would just take care of myself, like I always had.

I continued working as a waitress (I don’t suggest this) to desperately try to pay bills. I refused almost every offer of accompaniment to the doctor, assuming I would just need a couple of months and lots of antibiotics to get back to my “normal life.” Without my asking, a couple of friends jumped in over this short period— my dear friend ran a $1,500 fundraiser so I could cover some antibiotics, another friend took me to one doctor’s appointment, my mom paid for a months worth of an intramuscular antibiotic, and my boyfriend held me while I cried a few times. I thought, at that point, that I had used up my predetermined supply of love, help, and support one gets in this lifetime; as though, upon entering the world, we are handed an allotted number of chips or tickets, and each time we are loved, we hand one in, making us want to “save them for a rainy day.”

My storm came. I took a nose dive into the unfathomable darkness of Lyme disease and multi systemic chronic illness. If I was going to get well or survive, I was going to NEED help—next-level help. I certainly didn’t know how to ask or what to even ask for. It seemed like I needed too much—like I’d probably die waiting for my needs to be met. Finding myself in fetal position, terrified and disturbed, I whispered out into the universe, “please.” Just. . . please. Looking back, it seems like all I had to do—once I surrendered to reality— was sit back and ACCEPT what people were offering me. Here is just a glimpse into what people have done for me over the last two years:

You fed me : One friend flew across the country just to cook me batches of healthy food. My freezer was full of cauliflower soup, lentil stew, lamb burgers, tzatziki sauce, and carrot ginger dressing. Another friend delivers me groceries or home-made meals during every single IVIG treatment. I’ve been treated to countless lunches, dinners, green juices, and smoothies. I have been sent gift cards to Whole Foods or Gelsons just…randomly. I’ve opened my front door to surprise packages from friends and family chock full of nutritious sustenance—from meat, to protein bars, to nuts and tea. hehe. My boyfriend has spoon-fed me / force-fed me more times than I can count, and my family—oh, my lovely family that knows nothing about the insane diet I’m on worked their asses off last time I saw them to meet my dietary restrictions. THANK YOU.

You tucked me in: I kid you not, I have been rocked to sleep. My back has seen many loving hands, and my forehead has been calmly caressed by countless. I have been sung to, massaged, and even CHANGED into pajamas. YUP. Those were the days…when I’d be so sick I couldn’t take my own pants off. More than one person has changed me into comfortable clothing. More than one person has seen to it that I fell asleep. More than one person offered their bed or couch or arms when I needed comfort. THANK YOU.

You STILL take me to the doctor: In extreme ways and not so extreme ways, I have been taken to the doctor. One woman who suffers her own struggle with Lyme disease, took me to get blood drawn before she ever even met me a couple of years ago. Other friends held my hand for blood draws or took me to the doctor when I simply COULD NOT do it alone anymore. And then there were three special people who did long-term treatments with me. One friend took me to Florida and did a week-long doctor visit with me. He wheeled me around in a wheel chair so I could be a tourist in between doctor appointments and bedtime. Another friend traveled to Indonesia with me for two months, reading me books, singing to me, and cooking for me while all of my blood got removed, restored, and returned. My boyfriend met us during that treatment and has sat through days and day and days of IVIG treatment with me and doctor’s visits and ER visits with me, entertaining me with things like, “Heads up.”  THANK YOU.

You paid my way: We raised over $18,000 to help cure me. I think about 300 people donated to my health. 300 people! Each one of those souls played a part in my recovery. Some people donated 1,000 dollars and other donated 5.00 and every penny cracked me open a little more, showing me just how abundant love is. I needed every cent that came my way, and I still do. A sweet friend of mine just purchased me a very expensive air purifier that I couldn’t afford, my aunt and uncle got me a much-needed new pair of shoes, and my mama buys me supplements. I wouldn’t have had a chance in hell without your help. A certain “you” gifted me a laptop. UH, THANKS. And a certain “you” gifted me crazy expensive supplements, coffee enema supplies, meals, and striaght-up cash. THANK YOU.

You LOVE me: You have listened to me, you have let me cry on your shoulder, you have had endless compassion and kindness for me. You have talked to me for hours, given me advice, loaned me special weird healing things, cried with me, cried for me, sent loving texts, made me laugh, came to visit, taken me for walks, called to check in, skyped with me, and cheered me the fuck on. THANK YOU.

That’s just grazing the surface of the last two years. Here’s what happened in one day:

Last Tuesday, August 30th, 2016, I sat talking to two of my favorite humans about my cousin’s passing, “I don’t know what to do,” I said, “I want to be with my family, but I don’t know how to get there. I can’t afford it. It hurts to be so far away.” And one of those women, a woman who knows too much about death, said, “do you want me to put it on my credit card?” Just as I was saying “no. . . that’s too much..” my other friend casually said, “Why don’t I see if I have miles.” I’m still not super good at accepting help. I STILL think I’ve used up my fair-share so instead of saying, “oh that’d be great, thank you,” I was more like, “well. I mean. If you’d be willing and..” awkward weird space-filling chatter and shifting and nail-biting. While I got weird, she found a flight and booked it. When I said, “you’re an incredible human,” she said, “nah, just a human. You’ll do it for someone else one day.” Two people were willing to get me to my cousin’s funeral. And two other people helped me pack/decide what to wear, AND another person drove me to the airport at 4:30 in the morning the next day. I swear all I did was whisper please.

I landed in South Carolina on Thursday afternoon, walking into the heartbreak. I’m wordless. I just love them so much, and I don’t know what else to say about it.  I watched person after person flood the home of his mother with food, flowers, and hugs. I watched her struggle to accept all of the kindness. I watched people step up and pay for expensive and necessary things because death is not only so heartbreaking for the loved ones, but it is also bank-breaking. Grief is not a weekend deal. It goes on for a long, long time and so should support.

Before I left, I told my his mother, “keep accepting the help. Everyone wants to help you. Let them.” She looked at me and said, “But I’ve already gotten so much help over the last year.” She has been in the throes of her own serious health struggle this year. “There’s no point at which you’ve used up help, support and love. There’s always more,” I said. And I KNOW that to be true because of what “you” have shown me.

For some reason, I still slip back into thinking that I’ve used up my chips. I landed back in LA around 1 am on Sunday night and, get this,  two different friends offered to pick me up from the airport. At 1 am! Just when I thought I’ve had enough, my phone rings, a text comes through, a note comes in the mail, someone donates to my fundraiser, or I get a much needed hug.

I love you, my friends and family. I only hope I can give back an iota of what’s been given to me. Thank you, Lyme disease, for giving me an opportunity to learn about love so that I can show up during this trying time. And *please*, if you read this and know my family, show up for them right now and in the months to come. It takes a freakin village and every single person counts, every single hand, counts. And, I beg of you (I’m not whispering now) if YOU are the person who needs help, ask for it. Ask anyone.Because shame is deadly.

Here is my cousin’s memorial fund.

love upon love upon love,

Jackie

 

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It’s My F#$%^ Party Now, and I’ll Cry if I Want To.

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I walked into a healing space this past Sunday morning, a space where people go to feel their feelings, get quiet, and be all lovey-dovey. I took a seat— I totally do the lovey-dovey shit. Immediately bored/ over caffeinated, I started surveying my surroundings. To my right, there was a big childlike sign, a huge white scroll taking up the better part of the wall. Even though the all-caps font was uninteresting, the hot pink lettering was a zing, calling my attention to the words, “DON’T WORRY.” I smirked, yeah, worry is a useless emotion. I swiveled to my left and got instinctively and irrationally angry when I saw a nearly identical scroll taking up the back wall that said (in the same boring all-caps font), “BE HAPPY.” AH, of course, that saying, “don’t worry. be happy.” I don’t like that saying. I’m not a monster—I like the song because c’mon the dude makes magical music with his mouth, but I have a problem when the lyric stands on its own as a pressuring and trivial blanket statement. There is no light without the dark. Sometimes, it IS sad, and sometimes we cry. The broad statement, “be happy” makes me want to throw a protest. I get all defensive and “activisty:” WHY? Why is it shameful to be unhappy sometimes? Isn’t sadness a part of life, and something we have to move through? Isn’t unhappiness often revealing something to us—that it’s time for a change, maybe. Why is it shameful to cry? Why is it especially embarrassing to cry in public? Should tears be stored and saved for only special occasions? What’s the special occasion? The psych ward? Rehab? Jail? A funeral? Because from what I’ve witnessed in my short life, those are the places you go when you just keep stuffing your cells with garbage. How many times have you been told, “don’t cry?” How many times have you watched another panic at the sight of your tears and say something like, “no more crying now, only smiles.”  Or, if you had a childhood like mine, then you know what it is to get in trouble every time you cried–to have to hide your tears— your unhappiness, your honest concerns for what’s happening—and build up an armor of “numb” to protect yourself from a heated attack.

OK, fine, so maybe my reaction to phrases like, “don’t worry, be happy,” have SOMETHING to do with my past. . .but hear me out.

My home was a battleground, and my bedroom was my trench. There were land mines, step on one and experience an explosion. No matter how much memorizing I did, no matter how limber, acute, and dexterous I learned to be, there was always a new land mine. I never quite had the system figured out, and I TRIED—in an act of fierce self-preservation, I tried. Smart-enough, pretty-enough, quiet-enough, kind-enough, polite-enough, good-enough are assets that will always lay just outside an irrational alcoholic’s peripheral vision—they do not see “enough.” And, as a child, I didn’t know that it  wasn’t personal, and there was nothing I could have done/been to make it better. There is NO hidden map to avoid the land mines in an alcoholic home—you will continue to step on ones, they will shock you, it will hurt, and then, if you’re like me, you will go to your trench and cry. Because crying wasn’t allowed anywhere else.

My father came home out-of-the-blue one day in 1995. My dad wasn’t expected at home much, and he certainly was never expected before dark. . .on a weekday. His absence was delightful. I was six or seven, and my brother was/is/has always been 16 months older than me. We sat on our dirty, old, orange carpet in the living room, playing, while my grandfather watched over us admiringly. My grandfather, a man who might resemble the minds-eye of a jolly candy shop owner—his toothless smile lit up a room and the warmth that came from his slightly overweight body was as comforting as the duvet cover when you’re exhausted. In his endlessly loving eyes, we were perfect without having to do a damn thing to prove it, our existence was enough for him. He was on after school child-duty while my mother worked as a receptionist in a doctor’s office, a job she needed to take because my father’s Wall Street checks didn’t quite make it home. I remember hearing my dad’s car that day. My heart skipped a beat, his stomping darkness preceded his entrance. I had learned in my seven years of existence how to take the temperature of a room and be hyper/painfully aware of my surroundings. I mean, land mines will do that to you. I could tell without him entering what kind of mood he was in. Energy shifted, I held my breath, and he finally stormed in— his dark hair disheveled, like black paint splattered on his head as his long- legged strut whooshed by us accompanied by a volatile smirk and “hello.” “Hello,” I said, thinking, “speak loud enough so he can hear you but not too loud.” My smile was gone. I kept my voice down, holding my breath, and I waited like a soldier at war, standing-by to see what the enemy might do first; hoping that he would eat something and leave again or eat something and go to bed, or eat something and die— anything but stick around. Instead he shouted for us, and like his little soldiers, we went running, “coming, dad.”

There were some crumbs on the kitchen floor. Come to think of it, they were quite possibly left by my grandfather. He did ALWAYS have a habit of leaving a mote of crumbs around his chair—he was a pastry-lover and eventual diabetic. Regardless of whose fault it was, there were just a few crumbs— something that’s fairly normal in a house with two working parents, two young children, and, that day, a 75-year-old pastry-eating man who couldn’t bend down. My dad’s reaction, I know now, had nothing to do with the crumbs. He probably needed a good cry, he probably needed a hug. My brother and I stood, shoulder to shoulder, as he shouted at us, harassing us and name-calling, “you’re a couple of pigs,” “you’re fucking disgusting, now get down on your knees and pick up every last crumb.” When we got to our knees, on opposite sides of my dad’s legs under the kitchen table, he grabbed us by the backs of our necks, as you would grab a dog, and shoved us into the ground again and again, as you would do to a to a dog who peed in the house, “there are no fucking crumbs allowed in this house.” (That house was super unpleasant and needed a remodel in like 1950. . .crumbs were not the issue). My face was burning and I had that knot in my throat, the thing that happens right before you burst into tears. That knot was my warning signal…HOLD IT IN, SWALLOW, I was shouting in my head, DO NOT CRY, Do not let him see you cry. If he saw me cry, it would be like setting off another land mine. He HATED when I cried and, quite frankly, saw no justified reason for me to EVER shed a tear or be angry or overwhelmingly happy or have really any feelings, for that matter.

We were sent to our bedrooms for the remainder of the night. I wanted to spend more time with my grandfather, but we were told not to say goodbye to him, not to speak, just to go to our rooms. So as we marched sheepishly away, I covertly glanced at my grandfather on my way up the stairs, my eyes begging him to come save me. He looked devastated and helpless. I got to my room, shut the door, sat on my bed and quietly wailed, holding myself while I shivered. I’d always get so sweaty in the midst of attack, and by the time I had my freedom to release, I’d be drenched and cold. I loved my bedroom. I felt safe crying in my 30 square foot dust-box as long as my dad stayed downstairs. That is the most common example I have of my process. I hurt all of the time, and I held my breath until I found solace in my room. My room was a haven— a place to live in fantasy, to cry, and, later, in a natural progression under the circumstances, to do drugs.

My family fell apart and dispersed. I sobered up and became really passionate about my emotional freedom and my growth as an individual. I didn’t want to save my sorrow for my bedroom or even for my house. I didn’t want to “behave,” or “be quiet,” or be the kind of person who said, “stop being over dramatic—pull yourself up by your boot straps.” I wanted to HEAL. I’m all in for this journey—mine and yours—the anger, the grief, the joy, the laughter, the sadness, the mother fucking TEARS. I watch people behave like assholes all day, every day— I live in LA. Customers snap at their baristas or make some sideways comment about the long line they’re standing on or shut doors in your face, or shout unrepeatable things at other cars on the road, but CRYING in public is a fucking taboo. Give me a break. Crying is a necessary part of healing and growing. It doesn’t need to be saved for your shrink’s office. If you need to cry now, cry now. If you’re sad and need a hug, say so. It’s better than going home and taking it out on your family in some ass backwards way. Trust me.

Healing is not easy or fun, but I have solid role-models to show me what ignoring trauma looks like and that looks a lot less fun.My brother is, unfortunately, a prime example. He’s not so into feeling shit. I swallowed years of nasty, condescending language from him. When we were sent upstairs as kids, I would try to team-up with him, feel it with him, and he would shoo me away with a pained and angry stare, “go away.” He never did any crying with me, he never even told me how it made him feel. He called me a “drama queen,” “annoying,” “a pain in the ass,” “a liar.” He stuffed it all, had sudden outbursts of rage, and found a way to numb further. . .on repeat. If you take a look at both of our lives today, I may be the one with Lyme disease, but I am the more healed. No bacteria in my body could ever be a match for the poison that has built up in him over the last 30 years. I am, somehow, with all of the medical shit I have going on, the healthier one. . .sadly, without getting into the dark details, it’s not even a close call.

Twenty  years of poison- build- up ahead of my brother is my old man’s example.  Not knowing how to handle his own childhood trauma, his own emotions, initially made him a highly unpleasant human, but as time went by, he became a dangerous human. So, when he mounted our suburban front stoop at noon in 2005—a stoop that was supposed to be my entrance to home but instead was my landing pad for a war zone—in a pair of gray boxers, 20 pounds too skinny, and began chasing me and my bloody mother around and cursing at us while all of the neighbors watched, I had to wonder, “what the fuck was SO UNACCEPTABLE about the tears I cried in public? Or about those crumbs under the table?”

Feel your feelings, save the world.

With fun, love, and tasty, salty tears,

J. Shea.

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