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Living Like Lazarus

November 15, 2010

I’m watching The Today Show and there’s a woman on there talking about chronic inflammation. She’s saying how “they’ve” discovered that chronic inflammation is now attributed to a host of ailments, everything from heart disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus,  to depression. Natalie asked her what could set off chronic inflammation. She said a common cold or even stress. She went on to say that unlike acute inflammation with its fever and redness, chronic inflammation has no real symptoms. You can have it for years and it does all this irreparable damage and you never know it. There are blood tests, but we all know they most of us don’t go looking for trouble. My mother always said they if you went looking for trouble you were sure to find it.

With my own heart disease and arterial disease, not to mention the joint ailments I’ve had for decades, I suspect I’m one of those folks that have had chronic inflammation for years and years and years. In fact, I suspect I’ve had it since I was a child. Maybe there are people who don’t live with this underlying state of tension, who live all their lives feeling safe and secure. I think my tension began in early childhood and is probably less now than ever; in my whole life ever.

I suppose we all assume what we feel is what everyone feels. Does the person who is bipolar not think that everyone feels the same way, the narcissist, the obsessive compulsive, the one who is depressed or even those who hear voices? Or is it we all assume we are the only ones; that no one else on earth feels this unease, this constant state of stressfulness. Either way, whether we assume we are the only one or that everyone feels the same way, we seldom believe what we feel is something that is not our fault and if we could just do better, think better, act better, feel better, we would be better.

I do know I am better now than I have ever been. My body may not be better and may be damaged beyond repair by decades of inflammation or whatever, but mentally, emotionally, I am better than I have ever been. I know that because I am happier. I am not the elated, ecstatic crazy happy I’ve occasionally been during my life, but I’m not the depths of despair sad and despondent I have been either. I am more steady and consistently content and at peace. I feel safe and loved and free to love and show that love.

While I still feel a slight underlying nervousness, it is far less than it has ever been. I am also learning to retreat from situations and people who, when being around them cause this feeling of danger or nervousness to increase. I don’t have to have a logical reason. I don’t have to protect someone else’s feelings. It doesn’t have to make sense to others or even to me. If it feels bad, I can leave. If it hurts, I can quit.

I’m on this “Ornish Program” to stop or even reverse heart disease. I’m hoping to not only live longer, but live better. You might say I’m hoping to be cured of an incurable disease. But really, I’ve already experienced a miraculous healing.

Lee and I had a long talk last night. We were having this deep and honest discussion about the benefits of having a serious illness and how ashamed we can feel by recognizing that we have gained something, anything by our illness. I’m not talking of the usual “blessing,” or even the “newfound appreciation of life” we chronically or seriously ill folks usually talk of. This is not the, gag me with a spoon, “gift of my cancer” BS.

We were talking about the embarrassing fact that being ill, really ill can bring with it love and attention, caring and compassion, a break from overwhelm and even an excuse to retreat from life for a while. I’m not saying we chose it. I’m not implying we make ourselves sick or want to be sick or even enjoy, ever enjoy being sick. I am saying though, that there can be moments if not days or weeks when illness brings a relief or a safety or a break we never anticipated but find ourselves appreciating. Then, that appreciation leads to embarrassment and shame. How could we enjoy or appreciate finding out someone actually loves us and doesn’t want us to die? How could we enjoy a break from a life that was out of control? How could we possibly enjoy being held and loved and appreciated? How could we possible enjoy finally feeling safe even as we face death head on? How could we appreciate finally having an acceptable excuse to leave places that feel bad and to stop doing things that hurt?

We like to say it’s okay to find the gift in illness. We like to say it’s okay to appreciate another day and to discover what is really important to us. I say, feel and believe that all the time. It’s also okay to find there is a gift in having a cup held to your lips by someone who loves you; having your hair washed by your spouse or your child walk you to the bathroom. It’s okay to relish in the love shown through another’s tears and the fear of losing you seen in their eyes. It’s okay to love feeling loved.

We are a people who hide from ourselves and each other. We let petty nonsense tear apart our families and pride prevent our saying what we really feel. We’d mostly rather be right than happy and practice that preference on a daily basis. We wait till we stand at the bedside of the soon to be dead to say what we shoulda, coulda and woulda said every day were we not so caught up in how we look and sound and appear, maintaining a persona of strength that will shame us as we lie in that bed. Then, when like Lazarus, we rise from that bed, not dead after all, it’s so easy to resort back to strength and righteousness; inflamed once more.

There may not be symptoms, but there are signs. When I stop telling the truth; when I stop crying; when I pretend I’m not afraid and when I pretend I’m not hurt or scared, I’m inflamed and all that is denied on the outside is destroying me on the inside. May every bite of whole grain, every bean and fruit and vegetable remind me that a real feeling of calm is as vital as every bite. I need less then 10 gm of fat and 0 gm of stress in my life. Just like no one else can eat for me, no one else can keep me stress free. I know, I know. There will be stress, but like the occasional splurge on the diet, when the stress comes, I just have to spend the next few days being extra diligent.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Lynn Kelly permalink
    November 15, 2010 11:42 am

    Great blog Allie. I shared it with several friends. You write so beautifully, makes me a bit jealous, but not enough to cause inflammation! ha

  2. Tony permalink
    November 16, 2010 12:30 am

    Hi, I’m just an average dummy. I wont even try to write on your level. So here goes. Thank you for baring your soul. It has helped me realize what a moron I must be to live with. Geez, my poor wife. No wonder she wants a divorce. All this self-loating must be a major turn-off. I’ve got the same illnesses you have in spades. So what. What’s the difference if you have heart disease, joint problems, a cleft palate, a speech impediment, male pattern baldness, a-cup breasts, six toes on each foot. Does it really matter what your affliction is? I think not. Maybe, life is just life. It’s what you make of what you have that matters. Do you ever get tired of spinning your wheels? I know I have.

    • November 20, 2010 6:14 pm

      !!?? What? !!?? “Does it really matter what your affliction is?” Duh, YES. Comparing heart disease to male-pattern baldness is quite the stretch. I’m not a man (with or without male-pattern baldness) but I’d guess that few bald men clutch their lovely shiny heads and wonder if this time their symptoms mean they should call 911 or not – a situation that is, sadly, all too common for heart attack survivors for the rest of their lives.

      Allie, I too have observed that it’s too bad most of us need a life-threatening crisis like a cardiac event to smack us upside the head until we “get it” about all that “petty nonsense” out there. Beautifully put.


      • November 20, 2010 6:25 pm

        Thanks Carolyn, your comment hit home after a few of those wondering moments were all to present yesterday as I quite overdid myself and pretended (when will I learn!!!!?) nothing was going on. It’s all relative I suppose…I remember well when getting caught at a red light could ruin my day…

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