Then Aragorn laid his hands on Merry’s head and, passing his hand gently through the brown curls, he touched the eyelids and called him by his name. And when the fragrance of athelas stole through the room, like the scent of orchards and of heather in the sunshine full of bees, suddenly Merry awoke, and he said, ‘I am hungry. What is the time?’ -J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
It was mid-afternoon when I sat on the crinkly white parchment paper, swinging my legs like a five-year-old. I’d taken half a day off work just to make this appointment. Having prompted myself with possible Q&A scenarios, I imagined how the conversation would go, and let’s just say my hopes weren’t high. But just in case I had a burst appendix or internal bleeding, I sat there in the cold, sterile room and waited.
In came the doctor at last. After getting diagnosed with IBS for the third time that month, I stared non-amused at the substitute primary care doctor, as he sat back in his chair and began a narration like we were around a campfire.
Dr. A: “You know, I often wonder if the pioneers struggled with IBS. Did they hurt when they went to the bathroom?”
Me: “Yeah, probably – a lot of them were cannibals.”
Dr. A: “I think it’s stress. I think you’re high anxiety. A lot of times, many people find that what really helps them is acceptance – acceptance of the way they’re built.”
Me: “Accept that I’m in constant gastrointestinal pain? After every single meal, no matter what I eat? Could we at least run another test to rule out that it’s not the colon or something else serious?”
Dr. A: “Well, we could. We could put a scope down your throat or up your butt. Would we find anything? I just don’t know…”
(Me neither. Which is why I suggested it.)
Dr. A: “I know you want to do something, so I’ll give you some options. You can take [this] pill… or you can take [that] pill… you can take [this] antidepressant that’s good for paring with the one you’re already on… or we also offer an IBS-awareness class.”
He eyed me carefully. “But you’re not going to do that, are you?”
Me: “Probably not.”
. . .
The story’s not a new one. A battered human being looks helplessly into the eyes of a medical practitioner, only to get left confused, hopeless, or convinced they’re crazy.
In a fabulous book called Writing As a Way of Healing, the author describes her experience with an Ethiopian cleric: “If I were sick to Ethiopia, the process …would involve me in a therapeutic journey or quest. I wouldn’t be alone in dealing with my illness. The cleric and I would form a healing partnership. This is because my illness is understood in communal, mind/body, interactive terms” (Desalvo 178-79).
Can you imagine getting this kind of consultation?
Also, environment is everything. In the Houses of Healing (or even in the Elven refuge of Rivendell) featured in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, there is a rich therapeutic quality to the environment because of its connection to nature, community, and personalization. Aragorn calls the hobbit Merry “by his name” and offers an herbal remedy. It’s a place where leaves still look like leaves (not those kind of leaves), and you can hear the rush of waterfalls and warm breezes and see the sunlight spilling in through the windows. At night, the moonshine seeps into your room and casts your bed in a milky glow. Instead, we feel like lab rats interrogated under florescent bulbs that pulse the phrase: “don’t be anxious, don’t be anxious.” It would be nice if today’s medical facilities – homes away from home for so many – looked more like houses of healing and a less like whitewashed tombs. (And if physicians’ expressions looked less like Hugo Weaving’s Johann Schmidt from Captain America. “Hail Hydra,” anyone?)
Sometimes I forget, but once upon a time my best friend and I graduated from Healing Arts Institute, a massage therapy school in Citrus Heights. Even back then, I had the deeply-rooted desire to heal and be healed. Back then, I knew little of how much healing would need to be done and how vital these wellness techniques would be. Eight years later, I find myself again yearning to work with my hands in that field. That’s the thing about God-given schemes – they tend to resurface.
For those who are considering treatment plans (and so you don’t feel alone in this uphill climb!), here’s a list of types of therapy/treatments I’ve tried, as well as specialists seen.
Allergist (appointment scheduled for this Wed), gastroenterologist (ordered endoscopy after Celiac diagnosis), dermatologist, physical therapists (general assessments and trigger point release), massage therapists (deep tissue, Swedish, hot stone), acupuncturists, Bowen therapists, chiropractors, Kaiser mental health counselor (who turned out to be a social worker), Soulcare counselors (marriage and family therapists through Bridgeway Christian Church).
Muscle relaxants, antidepressants, anti-nausea meds (currently on), Acutane (intense 4-month treatment for acne), Paleo diet (gluten-free, dairy-free, refined sugar-free, minimal processed food).
These treatments were for everything from chronic headaches to gastrointestinal pain to depression to social anxiety. On the outside, things don’t necessarily look any better. But there’s been a lot of growth on the inside, and I have a deepening hunger to learn more. The truth? We live in a sick world, and sometimes people don’t get better. But if you lose your hope, you’ve lost something more important than your health, and that’s what the medical industry cannot steal. Nothing can destroy your spiritual health, no matter what happens to your physical/mental/emotional. Jesus Christ rose from the grave to defeat the curse of death, so together with Crowder I can say, “Ain’t no grave gonna hold me down.” Even when you strike the bottom and probe through the dark filth of despair, you can still say with eternal confidence: It is well with my soul</em>. If you have ANY questions about any of these procedures or treatments, please comment below or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
These past two months, I’ve completely reshaped my diet, added items to my therapeutic toolbox (check out future blog posts and Instagram for more on those!), and read three books simultaneously in the hope of finding true change: On Hope and Healing: For Those Who Have Fallen Through the Medical Cracks by Neil Nathan, M.D.; Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard A. Swenson, M.D.; and Master Your Metabolism by Jillian Michaels.
Besides these three sources, there are two others that have soaked me with inspiration this past week in particular. Both are committed to thriving in both their personal and professional lives, and both are passionately pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams. I want to be brave enough to do the same. These two are Maggie Talley (freelance writer + personal trainer @ Eat, Pray, Lift) and Scott and Elise Grice of Hey, Sweet Pea (and their online branding school My Own Irresistible Brand). From here on out, the long-term goal is not keeping a desk job – much as I’m grateful for my current position at WJU – but transitioning into a work environment better suited for my body, as a writer and holistic health advocate.
On a side note: advocating for health does not mean turning the general public into a sea of hypochondriacs and narcissists. It means showing how their physical health matters, but, believe it or not, it’s not what matters most because nobody lives forever. At least not in these bodies. Thank God. There’s a greater good that matter more: truth and a sacrificial love that seeks its own wholeness but also knows its place. There’s negative energy you just can’t always “shake off” like we learned in massage school. That energy belongs to people who are just as battered and need healing too.
Healthy boundaries = wise. Self-absorption = unattractive.
The truth is, I can rant and verbally abuse those working in the medical industry (and trust me, my mouth slips and it happens), or I can release them from my expectations and place my hope some place more trustworthy. I can become part of the solution instead of another casualty in the messy wake of money and power. Instead, I’m determined to be an advocate for holistic health. I really want to see my brothers and sisters pursue wholeness – whether that looks vigorous or like lying in bed, waiting for the scent of orchards and heather to arrive. They say your most fruitful ministry will come out of your greatest pain, so there’s a fire lit under my tail.
Subscribe for more to come next week!
Learning + healing with you,