I am Lonely; I am Loved

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Throughout illness, I could not simply or efficiently answer the question I was so often presented with: “how are you?” I’m sure the answer seemed like an obvious, “not good.” To  the outside eye— I was undeniably amidst a shipwreck. I was skinny and pale and frail and depressed and being told there was probably no way out.  But “not good” didn’t resonate—it wasn’t true. The experience of being sick  felt (feels/felt/feels) dynamic.  I was learning indispensable lessons. I was developing as a human, deepening as a spirit and as a creative. I was gaining a wealth of knowledge and a sea of love and compassion. How could I be miserable about such a beautiful makeover?  I was very hopeful—always, almost painfully hopeful. I once read that “hope is the opiate for the truly hopeless.” I wondered if that was me. I still wonder if that is me. Maybe it is, but it feels more true to say that it has been light and dark all at once. All of my life, maybe—I have felt the lightness in equal proportion to the darkness. Amongst these monumental inconsistencies was the desperate loneliness I felt while absorbing more love than I even knew existed. A love not only from my fellows but also from myself. But what brings me to this post is not necessarily the reflection of the past (although, I am very much reflecting) but the feeling I have presently: Why after getting so much healthier do I still sometimes feel so completely heartbreakingly alone?

I had never felt more alone in my life; I had never been more surrounded with love. The two have sat side by side for the last three years fighting for attention. Well which is it—are you lonely or grateful?  The gnawing ache of isolation— the total seclusion— paired with a swelling of people and homemade food and an abundance of affection. It was (is/was/is/was)  a loneliness that felt like punishment, that took a chainsaw to my heart, slicing away the pieces that felt uplifted and loved;  It was (is/was)  a groundbreaking, fascinating  joy and comfort I experienced as a community of protectors gathered around me. There was an army gathering for ME, with my life as their cause. But what was, in some ways, even more profound, was the experience of me leading the army. All  of those moments in the day when no one was there holding me up, I was handed an opportunity to hold myself. In my insomnia ridden madness, when my portion of the world was silenced and inaccessible, I got  to know myself. I got to learn to have a relationship with myself thus altering my life forever into a more comfortable existence. And yet, knowing myself, loving myself, and experiencing a hearty love all around me didn’t  completely cure the loneliness that comes with being sick (sick/ human/sick/human?).

I spent months—maybe a year, who knows—lying in bed during the sun-drenched hours. The hours one was “supposed” to be outside.  The majority of my days were spent in one corner of my bedroom locked inside of my body. My bed had lost the value it held in comfort at that point. A bed is only exciting, cozy and comfortable when you aren’t forced by some tyrannical bacteria to be in it all of the time. In a dire search for entertainment, I listened intently for every rustle in the trees and for the intricacies in the songs the birds sang. I know it’s 2017 and there are so many options for entertainment and it seems ludicrous that I would have to resort to the noises outside of my window to do the trick, but, at my sickest, I couldn’t tolerate the dynamic, intrusive noise of the television, I was too tired to read, and I was in too much pain to sleep. Not to mention, that I couldn’t emotionally tolerate the television,  I was unable to stomach the effortless joy and beauty that sitcom characters presented. Watching television added to my loneliness—it was a reminder that life was happening and I wasn’t invited to the party. It was the same when my neighbor had band practice. The mysterious band practice always happened in the evening. The sun light would be slowly departing —a measure of the time, of how little I’d done that day, of whether or not I had eaten anything, of the fact that bed time was coming and I wouldn’t be lucky enough to actually fall asleep. An aggressive depression barged in, another day gone and wasted. At the center of my depression were the faint sounds of drums and guitars— my peers able to express themselves creatively, easily taking part in their preferred art form.  Their music mocked me. Band practice would finish, the sky would be midnight blue, and I would be in the same—or similar— position that I started my day in. Closing my eyes made my heart race and dropped me into my body in a way that increased discomfort so, like an infant, I looked at everything. I looked at whatever the moonlight revealed to me outside of my window. I looked at the colors in my room, I listened to audio books about self-compassion. I heard my roommate get home verging on early morning hours after a full day of not being home. I could do that once. I could come and go, taking for granted the kind of energy it took to “come and go.” I could get home late. And I could easily and organically just…fall asleep. I missed those days.    My peers were at work, at yoga class, hiking, on set, traveling, at lunch dates and coffee dates, dancing, going to the movies, and I was still in bed. Those were the loneliest days of my life. Even when i went out, I was separate. I was more tired. I was too tired to converse. That kind of fatigue locks you in your body, in your bones into a sort of quick sand of self-pity. To look at the world and not feel a part of the world. I felt like I was behind one-sided mirror. I was able to see everyone, living, doing just fine, but I was alone, no one saw me, no one cared because I barely had the energy to speak up: we were separate, you could never know how bad I felt.

And yet, people called everyday. Countless people were willing to help me. People brought me food, they sat in that bed with me, in that corner of my room. My friends skyped with me, my mailman delivered multiple care packages, friends were willing to listen to me, to hold me while I cried. My boyfriend never once complained about all of the laying in bed we did—in fact, he let me know that he wanted to lay in bed with me because he was WITH ME. One of my best friends ran a fundraiser for me. People donated. People that I barely knew jumped on board to warrior for me, donating consistently, sharing on social media constantly. The love was ENDLESS. I was put in touch with person after person after person who also suffered from illness. And, in speaking and laughing with one another, loneliness often evaporated on the spot only to creep back in later. My dear friend came to Southeast Asia with me and took care of me for two months—feeding me, watching movies with me, healing with me. Another friend flew a more manageable distance across the states to wheel me to and from doctor’s appointments. I was written letters, poems, emails and texts all with the same sentiment: You’ve got this, and we’ve got you. My roommate whom I envied for her energy was a house of compassion and cheerleading. And,as for myself, I was growing more and more in love with myself everyday—not in a narcissistic pseudo-love way but in the way you innocently come to love a child. As I got to know myself, I got to forgive myself and have compassion for myself. I had ignored me for far too long and she was fucking screaming for some attention and acknowledgement. I met myself in person, and I wanted her autograph.

And with all of that experience, all of that love thrown at me in an almost reckless way, (we are talking love on top of love on top of love from all ends of the Earth: Need more? Have more.) I still felt (feel/felt/feel/felt) lonely as fuck. It’s not that I feel sick and separate anymore.  I feel entirely human again, albeit a bit tired and with maybe a smaller bandwidth than others. But I’m certainly not locked in a corner of my bedroom; I am cruising through the sunshine on foot. I’m cruising lonely. And loved. People kept telling me while I was very sick that no one could ever know or understand what I was feeling in my body. Because it’s impossible—the feelings exist only in my body, I can’t show you or share with you, we are separate and always will be. I can write about my experience and some people will relate but it remains my own. And so perhaps it’s just lonely to be human. A biological impenetrable wall. And maybe pre-illness, I was fighting that reality. I so needed “the pack,” I needed us to fully get one another and be together and do it together, and understand each other. I took no comfort in myself. I’m still sad that this experience of illness has been mine and mine only—that no one will ever be able to know all of the precise obstacles I had to experience through illness; and that I will never understand the precise obstacles you had to experience through illness or whatever you’ve gone through.  And there we go again: we are all having the same experience of individual experiences—we are all susceptible to be misunderstood. We are all alone, therefore we are never alone—we are one.

Fun and love and a broken isolation barrier,

Jackie

 

 

Fall Down, Get Up, Repeat.

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Ideally, I would wake up at 7 am everyday and immediately scoop a fresh wad of coconut oil into my mouth for fifteen minutes of oil pulling. After spitting out the freshly swirled toxins, I’d down 16 oz. of fresh celery juice. Then I’d use green tea to get my caffeine buzz on, journal, pray, and meditate. Around 8:30 am, I’d  start responding to emails and writing. I’d make my morning smoothie around 9:30, do more work, eventually get to a yoga class, make a raw salad for lunch, take an hour to rest, hit an infrared sauna or acupuncture, get some joyful activity in like socializing or dancing, and end my night with a healthy ,balanced meal, my necessary supplements, powdered magnesium, and red root tea. I’d then zap with my TENS machine and be in bed with a delicious story by 10 pm to read for thirty minutes before I passed out, benefitting from a solid 8 or 9 hours of perfect rest. IDEALLY. Sounds overwhelming right? So perfect it’s jarring. That’s why it’s an ideal. Because right now I’m sitting in this cafe writing and eating french fries. I woke up at a lagging 9:30 am,  oil pulled for ten semi-bearable minutes, drank coconut water, drank a couple of cups of coffee (instead of the more advantageous tea), responded to emails, made my smoothie by 11:30 am,and got out of the house— not to do yoga but to work. Also, I forgot my supplements at home. Eh, oh well.

I am imperfect. At everything. Including healing from Lyme disease. A shorter way to get the point across is to say, “I am human.” But I have found that statement to be ineffective; we need specific examples in order to actually believe that other people are just as human as we are. Or I do, anyway. I’ve always felt a little paranoid that I was missing some very important piece of information about this whole life thing— especially the whole healing from illness thing. Like other people had the rules—the user manual, the directions—and I didn’t. I would often get advice from other women—people who had previously suffered from Lyme—and I used their advice as an opportunity to beat myself up. Everyone was doing it better than me! “Your” diet was better than mine (or at least you were more disciplined about it), “you” were a better meditator, you saw the “right” doctors, took the “right” herbs, did the “right” research, spent money on the “right” things, you drank better water, had a better air purifier, did the “right” energy work, etc.  I thought I was bad at being sick (and “you were good at it??)  I cried every single day even though I knew it was harmful to my central nervous system. I cried every single day. And I thought maybe if I could just stop crying, I’d be doing it right.  I looked at people who seemed to hold it together—was that the right way, I wondered? I looked at people who worked serious jobs—was it a more serious job I needed? I looked at people who took two years off of work—did I need to take off? It was an endless mind-fuck. And now people are looking at me through sick eyes and wondering some of the same things: what does she do that I am not doing? She’s better at it than I am. I can’t be as disciplined as her. What’s her diet? Her protocol? on and on.. I’ve heard  you say these things and I’m here to tell you all about how I fuck up.

It’s important for me to write this as a wellness advocate— as a person who preaches a certain diet and lifestyle—to let you know, that I fall short a lot of the time. We cannot all be Kris Carr or Louise Hay. I hold myself to pretty high standards as you saw in my “ideal day.” Some practices have just become habit for me—no questions asked. And other practices—the ones that have less severe consequences— I have to work hard at. And some things, I’m just waiting on the willingness to carry out (like quitting coffee). The most important thing is that when I do fall off of the horse, I get back on. And that I get back on quickly. One of my dear friends once told me, “there’s only one rule. The rule is that you never, under any circumstance, beat yourself up.” That’s the rule I carry with me. It makes it much easier to get back up if I’m not whipping myself into a state of unrelenting weakness, forcing myself to stay down.

Two weeks ago, I was in Hawaii—my first vacation in three years. I took the vacation thing to heart. I ate all wrong, consuming more dairy and gluten than I’ve had in at least a year. I over did it physically, doing long hikes without shoes/water, and I didn’t get enough sleep. Oops. A few days after getting back to LA and trying to get back into my healthy groove, it was my birthday. Again, I bailed on my raw afternoon salad, I ate sweets that night, and instead of prayer and meditation, I spent the whole morning crying. Then it was Thanksgiving and, again, I “cheated” on my diet eating some extra desserts because… it’s the holidays!

It’s true. It’s a very hard time of year to eat a mostly-vegan, gluten-free diet. So, I fucked up a little. Every single day, I fuck up a little. Either I eat something a little off of the perfection I’m going for, I drink too much coffee, I forget to exercise or I don’t rest enough. It is challenging to fit it all into one day and have a job and live with any bit of flexibility. So, I don’t. But I do always wake up with the intention to try. I am always willing to get back on the horse when I fall off. My inner dialogue after whatever poor choice I made is something like this, Ok, that didn’t feel great. What’s next? Should I maybe consider doing it differently next time? Should I drink some detox tea or hit a yoga class? Or do something else that makes me feel good now? It’s OK. It happens.  If I don’t beat myself up then I have the space to compose a solution. So, let’s be real: you’re probably going to slip up this holiday season and abandon some of your custom self-care practices. What do you do then? Keep going, be kind to yourself, allow humanness and try again. And please know that all of us—all of us—are fucking up, too.

With fun and love,

Jackie

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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

 

 

 

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

No Inner-Child Gets Left Behind

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Stored trauma is Lyme disease’s best friend. They play off of each other like school yard bullies relentlessly tormenting the mind, body, and spirit. Lyme is an opportunistic disease and tends to jump on those whose systems are already compromised. Personally, I had a weakened immune system from years of infections and antibiotics, I had been breathing in mold and smoke all of my life, I had those heavy -metal- filled amalgams in my mouth, and I had—maybe most importantly—a shitload of stored trauma. Healing the past has been a vital part of  my recovery; I went into the basement and the attic and met the old memories, had a new experience with them, and then went to the freakin’ Materials Recovery Facility where they got recycled into something new and sparkly.  But how to do that? Getting sick stripped me of all of my effective coping mechanisms. I had nothing— no distractions, no booze, cigarettes, cake, no over exercising, and no late-night coquetry (well, Ian got some of that). I had only myself—a self that was ignored for most of my life, a self that I was scared of, a self that I often absued. Caring for myself and healing all of the built up heartache meant getting in touch with my inner-child (yup. deep breath. I am talking inner-child work. It might get weird. But if you’re here to save your life then maybe it’s time to try weird shit?)—that little girl inside who had been shouting out for attention for two decades. The little girl who I just kept hushing, “you want to rest? Well, too bad, I want to party.” We were going to have to team up to fight this thing. I was going to have to pay attention to all of her needs. My parents weren’t showing up for me and I was either going to cry over that every single day or take the power back into my hands and “re-parent” myself. My boyfriend and my friends made an incredible support system, but there were too many times where I was left alone and panicked. It’s frightening to go into the darkness alone—naturally, we want someone to hold our hand through the haunted house tour. And that’s ok. Hold a hand. God knows, I hold so many hands. But, acquiring the art of being my own primary care-taker while everyone else acted as support instead of the other way around enhanced my life, my freedom, and my health.  I needed to find a way to rely on myself, to hold myself through the hard times, have my own back, and thoroughly heal from all of that old nasty trauma.

I was an adult before I ever got to be a kid, and I was pissed off about it. Full of resistance, I sought people out who would care for me the way my parents never did. Collecting father figures and mother figures was my favorite hobby—I had a whole china closet full of them and, yet, no real fulfillment. My collection brought me short-lived comfort; my internal-void remained. I was introduced to inner-child work in 2013  when I was detoxing from a wildly fucked up romance. In an effort to snag what little dignity I had left and not text or call this dude, my friend suggested I start telling myself everything that I wanted him to tell me. When the quick-fix cravings hit, she would say, ” put your hand on your heart and say, ‘I love you. I’ve got you.’Imagine a photo of you as a little girl that is just so cute and precious and start taking care of that girl.” I was down. Anything to get my life back. I found myself picturing my little self and organically saying, “I’m your guardian now and I’m going to take really good care of you.” That became my mantra. I said it all day ,everyday, so that I could make positive choices for myself: like going on a hike instead of calling someone who would inevitably hurt me. I practiced just enough self-love to keep me from getting involved in another demoralizing situation, and (for the skeptics) I’m here to tell you that my practice paid off—I have been blessed with a beautiful relationship. However,  when I got bit by a tick just six months later,  my inner-child got tossed away and quieted again. She suddenly needed way too fucking much from me (sick people are needy as fuck), and I had no idea how to give it to her.

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I spent a long time beating myself up for being sick—maybe a year. It felt like my fault, like I was weak, powerless, or had bad Karma. There were moments where I was so angry at myself for not being able to “pull it together” that I considered physically harming myself. I couldn’t stand the sight of myself in the mirror. Every single day was agony. I couldn’t tell what was worse —the physical symptoms or the way I emotionally tormented myself. My internal dialogue went on repeat, “Get better. Be better. What is wrong with you? You’re disgusting. You’re weak.” Oh hi mom and dad!  That voice started keeping me awake at night. I lied in bed seething in pain and with a monster in my head, “you’re faking it. You’re not even really sick. This is just a ploy to get people to pay attention to you. Stop being so afraid. You’re not dying. You are being SUCH A BABY.” I only got sicker. Shockingly, that cruel self-talk wasn’t doing the trick. I was not “pulling myself up by my boot straps” at all. In fact, I was getting to a point where I could hardly put on my own shoes. As my symptoms ramped up and not a single doctor had a complete answer, I got willing to do whatever it was going to take—to do whatever was in my power— to get well.

I said farewell to the audiobook “A People’s History of the United States” which took up  most of my cell phone space with its 35 hours of “entertainment” and purchased—instead—self-help books like, “SelfCompassion,” by Kristin Neff and “You Can Heal your Life,” by Louise Hay. I listened to those calming voices preaching self-tenderness in the car, in bed, and while I made myself food. I was in research mode, a good student of self-love, entirely teachable. It was one thing to care of myself enough so that I wouldn’t reach out to a toxic dude, but how do I take care of and love a sick person? Like a really sick person?  I went practical—the basics— I started with the 101 course, if you will.  I used to work in childcare—I have looked after hundreds of children of all ages. I used my behavior as a caregiver  as my blueprint for my own self-care.  I would never let a child go hungry or thirsty or without sunscreen. I wouldn’t let a kid fall asleep without brushing their teeth and listening to a calming story in their comfiest PJ’s. If a child woke up afraid, I would comfort them.If they were too hot, I would take layers off and give them some water; too cold, I would give them layers and hold them tight. It seems so simple, but I certainly wasn’t that careful with myself on a daily basis. There’s no “age plateau” where we stop needing those simple things; we just get better at tolerating the discomfort.  I had to learn that it didn’t make me “high-maintenance” to need the basic human comforts. I didn’t let myself go hungry, thirsty,  without a nap, or without my vegetables. That was a tremendous beginning for me, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

My insomnia was a son- of- a- bitch. When hard-drugs weren’t working, I needed to find a way to soothe myself enough into a sleep. That’s how I started a dialogue with “little me.”   I would put one hand on my heart and one on my belly and picture little Jackie. My imagination— which sometimes works like the Beauty and the Beast mirror— showed me a toddler. She sat alone on a metal folding chair in the middle of a dark room. Her shoe laces were untied and she wore grungy sweats. She was so lonely, afraid, and dying for someone to come save her.  And, in my head (because, hello, Ian sleeps next to me and I was still trying to seem *somewhat* normal) I would tell her things like, “you’re OK, I’ve got you. I know this is so so scary. And I know you feel so bad. Yes, I feel that crazy pain all through our body. It’s real. I’ve got you. I will take the best care of you that I can. You’re not making this up. I love you.” It was usually the only thing that would calm me down. And, eventually, I started imagining myself hugging her, and ASKING, “what do you need little Jackie?”  And then I’d listen. This is truly one of the fucking winning practices in healing. My inner-child is smart as fuck. Every single time I ask “what’s up?” she’s like, “this is what’s up! Please fix it!”  Sometimes, she wants things like Advil or a cool cloth and other times, she wants a hug, but A LOT of the time, she really wants to have FUN and be free. It’s my job to give that to her. When a child is sick, parents do the bulk of the work to get them well, right? A Doctor only steps in for prescriptions and a diagnosis. So, it only makes sense, that we need to constantly care for ourselves the same way.

I was getting noticeably better. I had  this direct line of communication to my inner- child.We were having ping-pong conversations before I knew it, and I started knowing exactly how to care for myself at all times. I no longer saw little me in that lonely metal folding chair. She grew up a little bit, wearing bright colors and a high ponytail. She was healing and needed to play and be free more and more. The more I did this, the healthier I got, and the less I needed from others— including my parents. Being able to meet my own needs time and time again left me feeling, ultimately,  free.

Now I’m in the home-stretch and I’ve got this one problem: there’s a wildly hurt teenager in me that i really do not want to commune with. So much damage was done in those years, they were the most dangerous years of my life—because my parents were more unreliable and more destructive than ever, but, on top of their ruination, I was harming myself.  I turned all of my anger inwards and started self-medicating to make the pain stop.  I remember once around 16 when I was so stoned I hadn’t stopped laughing for three hours… or maybe 30 seconds? There was no such thing as time. I said to my best friend, “You know, if I ever met myself, I would absolutely hate her. We would never get along.” We both laughed so hard, knowing it was true. I hated myself. I shudder thinking about those years, between the way I behaved in public and the lunatic man who merely resembled my dad that lurked around corners in my “home.” So, can’t I just put that all to rest? Tie it up in a neat little box, pack it away in the attic, and just forget about it?  Apparently not.

I sat at my shrink’s office confessing how deeply I’m aching for Ian, (who’s Ian? Keep up!) the man I love who I don’t get to join on his big adventure for another 4 weeks. “I don’t know. We are both in so much pain. And it’s sweet, but it also feels just…excruciating,” I said. She suggested, like a good pain in the ass shrink, that it wasn’t just “love” and just “missing” each other, but that it may be something deeper. Something probably relating to my family of origin. ugh I had to open my big mouth about Ian. Here we go again. “Really? I think that’s maybe a psycho-babble stretch. I mean, how many times am I really going to miss my dad?” I retorted. “Exactly,” she said, “I think you miss your dad. That’s not to say that you don’t miss Ian and love Ian and that you guys aren’t yearning for each other. It’s the excruciating pain you’re experiencing that I think might have something to do with your dad.” With the same immediate shock value of a popped balloon, I broke and started to cry. Oh, fuck.

I kept that idea safely on the periphery for the next few days, not letting it quite into or out of my sight. I got on Skype to do a distance-healing with the dazzling, vital, sweet and madly intuitive  Emily, and as I detailed the week, I mentioned the possibility, “My therapist thinks that Ian’s departure has opened up my “dad” wounds and that all of the hollow emptiness I feel in my heart is actually from my father. I mean, whatever, it’s almost too obvious. So obvious I don’t really buy it.” But Emily, bless her,  was intrigued. I had to open my big mouth again. Thankfully, her instict had been precise on earlier occasions so I trust her. In our work together that day, she had me travel back to my past, finding the moment that left me with that hollow emptiness. In my meditation,  I found this one tragic scene from when I was 17—the day I watched everything I knew about my nuclear family collapse in on itself. Emily had me watch the scene play out and then freeze everyone and everything except my younger self and my present self. Everyone was frozen —my father froze mid-stomp on his way to attack me, my mother froze with her head in her hands crying in the car, and our dog froze in a frantic bark. Emily said, “approach your past self and tell her all of the things that she needs to hear right in this moment.” I slowly approached her, feeling very skeptical. I judge her, and I don’t know how to comfort my teenage self. She’s so stabby.  So I started with the basics again. I took her by the hands and brought her to the curb to sit down, I got her some water, and I took her bubble-gum pink leopard coat off. It was a warm day in October and she was covered in sweat from running, screaming, crying, and being dressed in 1,000 awesomely torn up layers. I fanned her off, helped her breathe and got her some food. I parented her. All things that I needed that day, that year, my whole life. Finally, I was able to say some kind things, “I love you. it’s ok. you’re ok. You’re beautiful, and you’re doing the best you can. Don’t worry about your dad. I promise you are loved.” My 17-year-old self was feeling calmer and calmer, and as I walked her back to the car, to finish out this scene, I said, “I really love you, and I promise dad is just high. This isn’t about you.” My past self turned to me with a smirk, totally cool and calm, and said, “thank you, you know, I don’t even like him that much. I think this day is actually the beginning of my freedom.”

I realized, as I came out of this time traveling experience that once I gave myself all the love I needed in that moment, I didn’t need my dad anymore and the experience completely transformed—from one of traumatizing heartbreak, to one of total freedom and joy. I also—wait for it—didn’t feel empty without Ian. With the willingness to heal this part of my life, I’ve had more and more memories surface over the last few days leaving me feelng irrationally unsafe in this world. That’s the risk of doing this work—all the stuff really does fucking surface. But UP AND OUT, BABY, my body has limited storage space and I need room for joy! I know now to go into the darkness, to let it surface, and heal it instead of ignoring it and powering through. Because no matter how much I try to fight it with my mind, there are things that my body will not let me forget.

Two nights ago, I laid awake panicking. Why, I wondered, while tears soaked my pillow, why am I especially panicked in my own home, in my own bed? Why, in my unscathed, sweet home today, do I feel terrified, like someone is lurking around every corner. I thought I’d ask that teenage version of myself what was up since that has worked so well in the past. Again, I was willing to do what it took to fall asleep. I did the ol’ trick: one hand on my heart, one on my belly, and I asked, “what is going on? Why is it at home that you’re so afraid?” In my imagination, we were sitting on the same curb outside of my teenage “home” that I comforted her on in my last meditation.  She said, “Well, it’s not outside that’s scary. It’s in there,” she nodded to the front door, “that’s where I fear for my life.” Ding ding ding.  My home was always the scariest place to be. There was no resting in my house, resting left you vulnerable to god knows what. By high school, I was realistically safer outside of my home. So, of course I feel like enemies are at every window or just outside of my door. Of course. But I am safe now. In this present moment, I have given myself a very safe life. And, so, with the knowledge of why I’m freaking out, I can start comforting myself, “you’re safe. you’re loved. It’s over. It’s OK.” All of that healing in the middle of the night when no one else was around to comfort me? It’s proof that I have everything I need within.

People ask me all of the time if Ian has been my primary caregiver. And, I usually say something like, “it has taken a village to get me well, but, in the end, I have been my own primary caregiver.” I am not a victim today. I can choose how to take care of myself, who takes care of me, and furthermore/even more radically I can give my past self all that she’s been looking. ALL of my past selves. Even the needy, over sexualized, annoying and sweetly confused teenager. I’m calling off the search party! Now, I can get get busy collecting memories instead of mother and father figures.

With fun, and love,

Jackie

 

 

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.

Finding your G-Spot: On Gratitude

g-spot

I was sitting  in a circle of spiritual strangers on a meditation pillow,  my knees resting heavily on the pillow’s surface, my sit bones heavy on my heels, and my head heavily hung— crying. The air was humid—the air was always humid  in Bali. We had just been led through a magical service conducted by the radiant and tender High Priestess of Bang Li— an experience that thawed me out, leaving me in tears. A vibrant woman approached me softly, “I feel moved to speak to you,” she said, “are you sick?” God, it hurt me so bad to know that I didn’t look well, that people could see it,  “I’m getting better but, yes, I have Lyme disease. I’m in Bali doing Ozone therapy,” I said.  She held my hands,  “I had MS, I was about to end up in a wheelchair—in fact I had ordered the wheelchair— and now my lesions are reversing because, in a weird way, I started vibrating above the illness.  You will get well, I can tell.” I cried harder…because I was sad, because I was exhausted, because I hadn’t slept in maybe 2 weeks, because I felt loved in that moment.  We talked for a good while—she was Greek,  a graduate of MIT, and on her way to study mysticism in Thailand and she found her extraordinary story hilarious. She laughed and laughed. I cried. “You just need a few things to heal,” she said,  “one, you need to laugh.” I stopped her, ” I never laugh anymore. My sense of humor is gone.” It was true. I had been suffocating in my own sadness AND lack of sleep for so long. Her lightness was contagious though, and  I softened enough to release an honest smile and chuckle. I felt free in her presence.  She continued, “you need to vibrate above the illness. Do what brings you joy. I think you belong on stage—dancing or acting.” I lit up, my energy coming more forward thinking about the things I loved.  “And, third,” she said, “you need gratitude.” I jumped in, “OH I have that!” She said, “I can tell, you’re actually full of gratitude.” I was so relieved. I was doing something right all of that time. I was/am grateful and she could see it. I wear gratitude like I wear my other glaring personality traits—loud and proud. She hugged me goodbye that night, promising I’d get well, and we never spoke again, but she gave me an incredible gift in that brief exchange. That was the night I welcomed my sense of humor back after an absurdly long intermission, I reinstated myself to the performing arts, AND that was the moment that I realized that my gratitude practice (nine years deep) was having a profound effect on my life. In more exciting words, I’ve done the work, I know where my G-Spot is and—ahem—I  can orgasm whenever I choose.

Now that I AM on the way to a full recovery, I’m here to back her up—an “attitude of gratitude” is indispensable during illness (or at any other time—let’s be real).  It can be the light IN the tunnel—not at the end of it. And if joy and happiness are scientifically proven to support our immune system then making a list of things we are grateful for (which is a verified way to increase joy and satisfaction) seems like a really obvious place to start, right? But how to gratitude!? How does this practice just become part of your life instead of that nagging thing that you HAVE TO DO every night?  And, how can you ALWAYS be grateful no matter what horrifying thing is happening in your life? Like  chronic illness, depression, loneliness, death, divorce, and so on. Gratitude got me out of bed and happy to participate in my life countless times, and how did I get there? Like so many of my stories, it all started  with my personalized cocktail of cocaine and daddy issues. 

My father was in rehab again.  He had been sent once  before under the same Wall Street conditions, “get sober and you can keep your six-figure income and your executive position. Don’t get sober and keep up this behavior— we will have no choice but to fire you.” Eight years earlier that threat worked, but this time, he was frighteningly unaffected by the potential risk. He was wildly against getting sober—putting him in rehab was like caging a lion, he was just waiting to get out and go on a killing frenzy.And I, apparently, wasn’t one to judge.  On February 14th, 2004, while my dad sat on his hands in rehab fighting his cocaine addiction, I ripped my first line off of a mirror in a bedroom on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. And I got so high—so staggeringly high. Later that night/early that morning,  back at home, I was experiencing my first miserable come-down while my brother stumbled around freshly wasted. We did what 2 high siblings affected by alcoholism do—we fought an incoherent, mindless fight. He wanted to visit our father in rehab, and I was not invited. In fact, I was forbidden, he said. I squealed in his face, pissed off,  provoking him to throw cautionary punches at me, purposefully grazing past the tip of my nose— just to let me know how mad he was and close he was to losing it. I eventually stormed off to bed. Defeated and exhausted, I fell asleep as the sun came up.

When it turned out that my dad didn’t want visitors, we were given the option to write him a letter. I wrote him a fucking letter, alright— my anger toward the old man had become unhinged. The problem with my “unhinged” letter was that it lacked ANY strategy. If my plan was to shame him into getting sober (which I believed it was), I was failing miserably.  My real motive—that of a 16-year-old girl desperate for her dad’s attention— went undisguised:

“I’m a party girl. I just ripped my first line of coke the other night. I party hard.I’m no goodie                -two- shoes. I drink and smoke and take pills—I measure up to all of the guys, but I don’t get carried away. Not like you. So this isn’t coming from some pussy place. I know what it is to love drugs, and I know     what it looks like when someone needs to stop. You need to stop. I love you.  Jackie”

Ah, the Hallmark greeting card from one dysfunctional family member to another.

He never wrote me back, but in his first few turbulent days back from rehab, he asked to speak to me alone. I was on edge and excited—I hadn’t been alone with him in so long, and I was hoping for some deep connection, a new spark, love reignited. We went into his office, I took my seat at his cherry oak desk and he strutted to the power seat— behind the desk. His office was dark, heavy, and cluttered.  We  lit our respective Marlboro lights. He took a deep drag and as the smoke filled his lungs, he got his thoughts in order. He leaned back, exhaled, smoke filling the room, and said,  “Let me just read your letter aloud…” After he read it in full, he took another drag, put his cigarette out and leaned forward— his elbows on the desk and his piercing narcissistic eyes challenging me.  Yikes. Embarrassing—I could even see that I sounded loco. But I kept my cool, “yeah, well, it’s true. I do drugs, and, as it turns out, I like cocaine.” He grilled me. We must have talked for an hour about my specific experiences with sex and drugs before he challenged me to not drink, smoke or use for two weeks. “Two weeks. that’s all,”  he said. Anxiety coursed through my body. He took note, “you look scared because you’re thinking about the two weeks, but you can do it just one day at a time,” he said.”OK. but how in the fuck will I not use ‘one day at a time’  for TWO WEEKS?” And that’s when he laid out some other tools like journaling, the serenity prayer, and gratitude lists.

When he said “every night, you write down 10 things you’re grateful for,” my immediate response was, “but what if I have nothing to be grateful for?” Sound familiar? Have you scoffed in a similar way the last time someone suggested you write a gratitude list? My dad, totally fucked up in so many ways, came through with a life-long lesson in that moment: “You have nothing to be grateful for? You have ten fingers and ten toes. There, that’s 20 things.” I giggled, a bit ashamed that I had missed something so equally simple AND significant.  He went on, “you have all of your limbs, your senses, you can walk, you have shelter, a bed, and food.” Oh shit— It was jarring that I hadn’t thought of those things myself, but I’m forever grateful for that lesson— even though I didn’t take the suggestion for another couple of years.

Neither of us made it through the two weeks without using.  Instead, we took one last family vacation to the bowels of Hell. Apparently, Satan found the taste of me  unsuitable for his palate. Too feisty or too sweet,  he couldn’t fully digest me so he spat me out. Once I was upchucked from that vile journey, I had a lot of grime to clean off. And so at 18, I started wiping away the debris with spirituality. When a wise woman on the spiritual path suggested that I start writing gratitude lists due to my blinding self-pity,  the lessons my father taught me in his office two years earlier came rushing back.  I picked up a pen and started writing: ten fingers, ten toes, my limbs, and my senses. It was an unbearably painful time— so I kept writing and my lists grew;  I’m grateful for my limbs, my senses, shelter, food, a job, clothes, and my friends. And they kept growing.

In 2009, when my twenties were as fresh as a juicy peach, my treasured friend asked me if I wanted to participate in a gratitude email chain where we would each write our daily lists and “reply all.” “Sure,” I said, not thinking much of it, unconsciously assuming it would fizzle within a few months because most things like that do. How fun it is to be proven wrong sometimes. That email chain has changed my life. There are 11 of us on the exchange, all women,  and we have been writing for —please wait as I access the left side of my brain—seven years! We started as friends in NYC and, in seven years time, we have adventured with one another through big moves, marriage, children, death, divorce, break -ups, new relationships, new jobs  and, in my case, illness—all through gratitude listsWe have had delicious “gratitude brunches,” attended each other’s weddings, been on the other side of the screen when the first  “Introducing: insert new baby picture” got sent, been cheerleaders for each other’s dreams, and every one of those girls donated to my fundraiser. I’m so grateful for them. But because of all of that practice, I never have to do much digging to find my gratitudes, and, as a result, I’m often (not always) one of those “glass half-full” people: often optimistic with moments of pure elation. Let me be super clear as you may now be rolling your eyes at my perkiness. I am madly-pro taking days off from “positive thinking.” This is no time to go beating yourself up for not being “grateful enough.” If you need to lie in bed and steep in self-pity every once in a while, I support that, and I believe it’s also crucial to healing (in small doses). I never suggest you “gratitude list” your way out of feelings, out of humanity, but that you gratitude list yourself into a more balanced view of reality. 

You’re feel -good- G can be equally as accessible (if it isn’t already). Here are some tips:

Make your own email chain! All you need is one other person and access to your own discipline and consistency. It can take as little as 30 seconds to shoot off a gratitude list and  connect with a friend. Most of you know that I’m all about FUN (and love) so give yourself a laugh and a creative outlet as you write your lists. The subject line is where all of the genius is in our group:  We have seven years worth of quirky subject lines:  “G’zzzzzz ma Ladiezzzzzz,” “Gratitat,” “Nothing left to do but gratitude,” “Forever G,” “In Flight Gratitude announcement!” “Saturday Graterday””Guys WHOA I need gratitude,” “Spring Ahead into Sunny Gratitude,” “She’s All Grat.” “Even in Frosty California, Gratitude Survives,” “We so G and so Free,” “Grateful Feet have Got A lot of Rhythm.”  Do you catch my drift? I know, we are *the coolest.*

If your stomach is turning at the idea of being on a gratitude email chain with corny subject lines then simply start writing lists. Write them on your phone as you sit in waiting rooms ( or half-naked on the exam table), pause your stinking thinking and say things out loud when you’re stuck in traffic, write things down in your journal, and on the days when things are just so bad and you’re desperate, text a friend and say, “wanna do the gratitude ABC’s?” All day long, you can go back and forth with that trusted friend stating what you’re grateful for. They say “I’m grateful for my hot Ass,” and you say, “I’m grateful for my Bone Broth.” And they say, “My Cat,” and you say, “My Dog —AND ew you have a cat?” This is so efficient as you’ll be mastering multiple “healing activities” at once: gratitude, laughter, AND companionship. But if you’re still rolling your eyes and you’re a driven person that just needs a challenge then I challenge you to find one thing a day and write it down for the next 365 days.Try and make it as specific to the day as possible.I promise you that if you practice gratitude consistently for just a little while, you, too, will find your G-Spot. You, too, will have gratitude orgasms.

Get writing!

With fun and love,

Jackie