Oct 08 2014
I have four lumps in my neck. One has been planted firmly in place for several years. It’s roughly the same size as its partner of four months across my Adam’s apple, above my left shoulder. These stubborn, elongated knots are proud parents to the two small pebbles which nest between them in the hopes of one day growing larger, lumpier, mightier. In my current uninsured, penniless state, I must accept them as temporary parts of my body.
After all, the body itself has often felt like a tumor. As a compulsively neurotic, perpetually uncomfortable child of religious dogma and first-world conditioning, I have lived all of life thus far inside my own head. The concrete reality of my physical body has always been a nuisance, a hurdle in the way of the romantic, blissful state I imagined for an idealized version of myself. That distant future self was thin, strong but undeniably feminine, allergy-free and fully hydrated, generally happy and deeply in love, wealthy and laudably charitable. One day, there’d be no more rashes or sniffles or itchy throat, no more digestive distress or irritability or hypersensitivity. I thought this state of impossible perfection could be achieved only through sincere devotion to God. I sometimes blamed Him when He didn’t acknowledge my faith by renewing my health and vitality. But I knew it would happen eventually. If not in this life, I was prepared to wait until my first day in heaven to undergo the transformation.
During my last year of high school and first three of college, Crohn’s Disease took what little strength I had. I was frail, faint, in near constant pain. My heart rate was fast, but my cognitive functioning was slow. I often prayed to God to be put out of my misery. I bargained sometimes, reckoning that maybe a miraculous healing could serve as a testimony to His power. But I didn’t want to keep barely hanging on. One night, I called the prayer hotline of the Trinity Broadcasting Network in desperation. I received an empty recitation and speedy dismissal in return for my honest plea. In moments like these, continuing to survive felt like an unnecessary chore. “ Please, God. Take me home or free me from this mess . ”
After much time and several rounds of drugs, including steroids and (briefly) antidepressants, after a hospital stay and countless high-calorie meals, I was able to get through the worst of it and slip into remission. I’m glad to have avoided surgery and the severe complications that many others deal with as a result of the illness. Following my recovery, I didn’t think too much about the Crohn’s. The entire experience still feels like a very vivid bad dream. I was so alienated and so helpless in the face of what I saw as a demonic attack.
When I finally abandoned my superstitious worldview and began to address my solipsism and anxiety, I became more grounded in my physical reality, accepting myself as an organic being in need of real care and upkeep. I’m not much different than a plant that needs watering or a bird that needs its seeds. Though I am also a complicated person, a thinker and a dreamer, I’m also a heap of matter which will someday melt back into the earth- its home and ultimate source. I may never be an ideal or a perfect paragon of health, but perhaps I can be the best version of myself. This is a brand new feeling, a whole new realm of responsibility. It’s up to me to figure out what to do.
Today, my chronic allergies and depression are largely under control, thanks to a 95% gluten-free diet. This change was the first practical step toward self-renewal. I still struggle each day to remain present in my body, keenly aware of the issues that need addressing. I have to remind myself to stay committed to improving my physical health in order to keep growing and learning for as long as I possibly can. I know that no magic, no sorcery or luck, will make me whole or save me from the inevitability of death. This thought overwhelms and humbles me. So much hard work lies ahead. At least this time I don’t want to give up, and that’s a start.