A Time to be Born and a Time to Die (Article 2)

  

MESSAGE IN A BODY

The body knows things that the mind can’t stomach.

September, 2003. I’ve been a runner/cyclist/hiker since my teens, and getting my body to the top of a mountain was never a problem till now. The occasion is a friend’s 40th birthday hike (yes, this is how green Vancouverites deal with advancing age – invite their friends to take a 2-hour vertical hike.) It’s a steep climb that starts near sea level, not unlike other hikes I’d been doing several times a week all summer. But this time, my heart rate spikes like crazy every time I take a few steps. It’s embarrassing – and scary – to hike like an out-of-shape senior and I book a doctor’s appointment the next day.

The surprises kept coming. I’d always prided myself on having a slow pulse and low blood pressure, but now both were dangerously high. My heart was teaching itself to ‘palpitate’, and my toes were flushing from dark red to purple every 10 -20 minutes, much to the fascination of my doctor, who invited the other docs to take a look. I was inexplicably exhausted and had rushes described in medical texts as “feelings of impending doom”. It wasn’t a panic attack; further tests revealed extra-high levels of cortisol, and the flushing had now spread to my face, chest, fingers and lower arms. I was referred to the hospital’s top internist, who diagnosed a rare and possibly deadly adrenal gland tumour called ‘pheochromocytoma’. He sent me home with a bottle of double-strength iodine that I was to drink (yes, really, but not the whole bottle) to prep for a radioactive scan that would confirm the diagnosis. Which – surprise, surprise! – came back negative, to my internist’s disdainful disappointment. (He quickly dropped me as his patient, apparently more interested in rare diseases than in helping me.) My GP was more compassionate, but stumped. I took my symptomatic, splotchy, malfunctioning body to a naturopathic teaching centre.

The naturopaths were also stumped. In a desperate bid for attention, my body had now added crippling insomnia and distressing gastrointestinal dysfunction to the mix. (Let’s just say that the competing colours really clashed now.) In a touching moment of sympathy, two of the student naturopaths offered this:
“We can’t identify a physical source for your symptoms. We think it must be emotional. Is there anything you’d like to talk about? Do you have a problem you want to share with us? We could book some appointments for massage, and you could just talk while we help you relax. Would you like that? Does that sound like something you’d want to do?”
I looked at the earnest, fresh-faced twenty-somethings and thought, “That sounds insane. Where would I even start?? You have no idea how many years that could take!” Even thinking about how to put my trauma into words overwhelmed me. I thanked them for their time and paid my reduced-rate fees, then stumbled into the noonday glare of the street. Whereupon I wept and wept, all the way home.

That moment of clarity – the absolute mind/body connection of my ailments – should have started a healing journey back in 2003, had I chosen to accept it. But I never take the easy way if there’s an insanely difficult alternative. (Just kidding. But not really.) I think the real issue was not being ready to acknowledge the tsunami of emotional and spiritual troubles that were swamping my frail little boat. Nevertheless, my body kept sending out the SOS, rising (or stooping) to a level of creativity I must grudgingly commend. The body knows.

My body took to collapsing dramatically in the middle of the night. I’d awaken with a need to get up – get water, get air, get outside. Before reaching this goal, my body would hit the floor and I’d be out cold. These loud bumps in the night would awaken Henry, who would find me unconscious and unresponsive. When blood was involved, he’d call an ambulance and I’d wake up to see firemen (they always get there first) and paramedics staring down at me. The hospital would run tests. Nothing. They liked using the word “syncope” to describe what had happened. The ER staff began to say I looked familiar. But no medical explanation could be found.
A few days after one of these nighttime events, I went to see another naturopath, who was trying to help me integrate my symptoms with my subterranean emotional life. I began telling him how I’d felt myself “leave” as they lifted me by stretcher into the ambulance. He looked alarmed as he tuned in to my energy. “It feels like you’re still gone,” he said. “You need to decide to come back. I mean, consciously decide. If you don’t…..” As bizarre as this might sound to some readers, I immediately knew what he was saying. I was trying to exit my life. And I needed to stop exiting. Or else.

But I still wasn’t ready. The next time I had an ER-level collapse, it was a Monday morning, 8 am. One minute I was sitting at my computer, checking the weather. The next thing I remember is waking up at the bottom of our stairway, nine hard steps to an uncarpeted landing. The firemen were watching the medics as they shone bright lights into my eyes. This time, I sustained a cut upper lip, now permanently scarred, and some cuts and bruises. More tests at the hospital. The diagnosis? “Syncope”. Maybe it should be my middle name.

I wrote a poem about falling down stairs – you can read it in my Poetry section. A poem can make almost anything seem poignant, lyrical or funny. I went with funny for this one, because the truth is, my body was spooking me out. By this time, I knew I was burdened with decades of emotional baggage, but my mind was playing its own game: the game of “Nobody Could Begin to Understand All You’ve Been Through, So Why Even Try?” Clever, solution-less reasoning. The mind/body competition was getting fierce, but so far, my mind – my tough, stubborn, I-can-survive-anything-all-by-myself mind – was in the lead. Because that’s what tough, damaged hearts urge minds to do: suffer in silence.

36 replies »

  1. Marilyn, Cathy and I can relate with the physical turmoil you have been through. Really helps us appreciate the temporary nature of life here.

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  2. Marilyn, I was flabbergasted by your sharing. I too have been trying to understand my body as it constantly puts me through pain after pain, shifting, dizzying, sometimes almost gone, other times it hurts so bad I cry. I have studied a lot of energy healing methods which have helped me to survive but they didn’t fix my pain, tight muscles, cramping, sudden sciatica, heel pain so bad I can’t walk…etc. Finally God led me to a holistic doctor who uses acupuncture, chiropractic, meditation, colors, supplements and a host of other modalities that were new to me in spite of years of study in alternative medicine. It is helping, but it is slow. Yes my pain comes from very real traumas, spiritual emotional and physical. Years of abuse are now surfacing. Some of it I was unaware of, but most of it I knew about. But I never processed it and now my body is crying out for processing. Not easy. I am learning to think with my heart, to honor and protect my inner self and to be conscious of life and living. A long ways to go yet but the frigid crystals in my emotions are starting to loosen. My mind urged me too to suffer in silence. But eventually the pain became too much and I had to find a solution, or die in the attempt. I didn’t want to live the rest of my life in constant pain, unable to walk more than a few minutes at a time (and even that hurt), unable to sleep, feeling constantly tired, to name a few. I am slowly finding my way back to a peace and joy I had forgotten existed.

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    • Rosiland, thanks for your open sharing. I’m glad that you are starting to heal and have found some ways to get back to “a peace and joy (you) had forgotten about.” It seems we are capable of storing a lot of pain and trauma before we can’t take anymore. I’m also happy that my story has found its way to you! So many old friends are coming back into my life thru this blog. It’s such an unexpected joy!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, you had textbook PTSD, Marilyn!! The body sure does know…God created our physical, spiritual, and emotional selves to be unified just like Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I disagree with the gentleman who commented above that physical pain makes us appreciate the temporary nature of this life: God’s will is NOT for us to suffer in silence to the point where we are sick. We are not on this earth only to long for heaven…God created all things for our enjoyment. The church created a super breed of Phariseic thinking whereas to discuss your pain or voice your opinion/heart was ‘unspiritual’. I drank that Kool Aid for years, but NO more! As soon as I made healing my #1 priority, guess what? Jesus was right there to make me whole. It was and is a process that took lots of loving counsel from a non-COC Christian counselor. It was after that time that The Lord led me to my husband who has further helped me heal. Marilyn, I love you, dear sister. Thank you for writing. Thank you for your vulnerability and courage. I’m reading a wonderful book by Brené Brown entitled “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Changes the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead”. It is changing my life! Google her and listen to her TED Talks…mind-blowing.

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    • Well, I agree with both of you! Bill was diagnosed with MS as a young man, and he speaks from that perspective: this body is only our temporal dwelling, something I appreciate more as my body ages and I can see where it’s heading (even more so when I look at my mother, age 83, and see my arthritic hands on her). But I know what you’re saying, too. When our body is crying out for emotional and spiritual healing, it’s time to pay attention and face our ‘inner demons’. I also know what you’re saying about “Jesus was right there to make me whole.” I felt that, too. Thanks for the book recommendation — I will definitely check it out.

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  4. Marilyn, I’ve posted before when you were writing under Henry’s blog but I have to say again that I greatly appreciate your vulnerability. It’s helping me to revisit and vote with the trauma of the letter and changes that occurred so rapidly during that time in the church.

    Throughout my adult life, but especially after the letter, I struggle greatly with depression and anxiety. After many years of struggles, I feel I have it under control but occasionally it still haunts me. Much of my depression has to do with the inadequacies I felt being in the church. So often, I felt “less than” because I wasn’t able to do x,y or z because of my depression. It was very scary to face those demons during therapy and to come to grips with disappointments in myself and the church but I felt much better after crossing that bridge. I’m sure you’ll share in upcoming posts about how you learned to deal and heal. I can’t wait to hear!

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    • Thanks for sharing how this is helping you. The church culture made many feel “inadequate”, and depression plus anxiety is a heavy, heavy place to be. I’ll be tackling that subject soon, too. Your comments really encourage me to keep writing… so thanks again.

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  5. Hello Marilyn,

    I read your article. I wanted to say I am so sorry for your pain. I have never met you or Henry but for some reason feel a connection. I did speak to Henry once on the phone. Are you doing better? I hope so!

    Doug

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    • Thanks for your empathy and concern, Douglas. I am doing MUCH better — I don’t think I’d be able to write about it if I were still in the thick of it. Hope you keep reading ! It’s very healing for me to do this.

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  6. You and I are so much alike. I have had several health crises after age 40 for just this reason — my longest illness lasted three years. A very wise therapist told me (in 2004 — I didn’t completely collapse until 2009) that my body was talking to me all the time and I kept telling it to shut up and leave me alone. She was right. Looking forward to more of these entries — hope you are able to write about it now because you have recovered? Sending healing thoughts in any event because even if this is past, we need healing of some kind every day. Thanks so much, Marilyn.

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    • Hey Kimberley, yes, I’m doing so much better and that’s how I can write about it now without falling apart (again). Thanks for the healing thoughts too — can’t ever get too much of those!

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  7. The Greatest Commandments are simple not convoluted and dizzying. We love the LORD with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. That love for a jealous God is not to be exchanged with the love we have for others. Then we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves not as we love God the Creator. All the laws and the prophets hang on these. Bottom line is that anything in a Christians life that does not fall in line with these is out of line. No matter how hard you work confusion will eventually ensue. Likely the harder you work when out of line with these principles the more convoluted and confused your inner workings will become. We must obey God rather than man! Imho.

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    • Yes, the commandments are so simple, yet we still get lost, hurt, and confused along the way — maybe a few fortunate Christians don’t. But the older I get, the more I see that most of us get knocked off course at times, and the enemy certainly knows exactly where to strike. It helps to share our struggles and worst times with others. We get perspective, advice, understanding, and the comfort of knowing we aren’t alone.

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  8. I skimmed through your article. I will re-read it when I’m less tired. I will also re-read because Chrissy seemed to gleam wisdom from it and I trust Chrissy’s input. Take care. Will reply later once I get some sleep and de-stress!..

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    • Hope you get the rest you need! As my article notes, it’s wise to listen to our bodies….even if they just need a break.

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  9. Oh Marilyn, how challenging. Your vulnerability is appreciated and valued. Have you read the book by Canadian author Gabor Mate “When the Body Says No”? WHen you mentioned the mind/body connection, I thought of some of his work. Such a connection between all facets of our being.
    Please keep writing…don’t stop. I am a fan…I am connecting on every entry. 🙂 You have many gifts, Marilyn, and writing is one of them.

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    • Thanks, Terry Lynn. (I probably didn’t spell your name right. Sorry.) I’ve read several books by Mate — including the one you mention. He’s great; very open and real about his own struggles, too. Keep hoping I’ll be able to meet him someday, since he’s local. I appreciate your encouragement!

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  10. Marilyn
    I appreciate your sharing your story.Henry came and helped our church in Grand Rapids a few times and my wife and I remember those occasions with great fondness. I suffer from health issues and have had PTSD. Jesus never intended for our relationship with him to be a burden. I have also found that sharing my challenges with people helps me and helps them understand better and improves the counsel they provide. Keep writing and keep the faith. My wife Lisa and I will keep your family in our prayers.

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    • Rob, I appreciate your comments, your reading, and your prayers. I love what you wrote: “Jesus never intended our relationship with him to be a burden.” Quite the opposite — but a works-based focus twists this, to our own detriment.

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  11. Darren and I are so valuing this story, Marilyn. We read the entries together and talk about them. We left Johannesburg to live in Kent, UK 9 yrs ago. At that point we left the church and had a family group with two other families. It was a difficult time and I wrestled with myself for years. Reading has helped me (M Scott Peck and Marcus Borg are two of the authors that have been helpful) as well as talking to people who understand. I have studied to become a psychotherapist and the individual therapy I had to have during my course was unbelievably difficult but helpful too.
    We try and live a simple life in a modest house on the edge of a woodland. My daily walks in the woods with my dog are another source of peace for me. I have needed to 100% reframe my ideas of who God is and my relationship with him. I don’t think I am there yet, but I don’t think we are meant to be ‘there’.
    Would love to catch up one day and talk in person. Thanks

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    • Hi Wendy, It’s lovely to hear from you and Darren! Your simple life in Kent sounds wonderful. We also live near beautiful woods along a salmon-filled river, and I go there often with my dog, too. I wish I could sit down with you and talk about your psychotherapy experience; in fact, I’d love to be one of your ‘clients’!
      Thanks for your encouraging words. You and Darren have always been a special couple — so warm and loving.

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  12. Marilyn – I have enjoyed reading your posts and hope that you continue to find healing. Just so you know, for my 50th last year many of that same group hiked the Red Rock Canyon – a little gentler than the Grind 🙂
    xo

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    • Hi Kelly — even the name, Red Rock Canyon, sounds gentler than “The Grind”! Worst thing about the Grind is the view — all you get to see are the bums of people hiking in front of you!
      Thanks for reading … Hard to believe a decade has passed since your first B-Day hike!

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      • Still don’t like the view on the way up! And that’s most of the journey!
        I will take your suggestion about Red Rock, however. Thanks!

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  13. I’ll take this moment to wish you the Best Happy Birthday a little brother could wish. May all our ‘climbing’ become a little easier. Love,Doug

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      • Happy Birthday Marilyn! Wish I could celebrate with you. Hope your day has been wonderful and may this be your best year ever!
        Love, Howard

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      • Thanks, Howard. Wow, 2 of my brothers commenting on the same thread — this IS a special day !!

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  14. Marilyn- I connect with you. Your vulnerability coupled with your deep, expressive writing makes me feel valid. I experienced episodes of PTSD after my son was born in 03 and again later in 07-09.
    The church is healing. I am healing too.
    Jennifer

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    • Sounds like you’ve been on a similar journey. I’m glad to hear that both you and the church are healing. It also encourages me to hear that my writing helps others at different stages of understanding and accepting what’s happened in their lives. Thank you for commenting!

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  15. You may have a condition known as postural orthostatic tacychardia syndrome. A neurological work up including a neurological tilt table test is the only way to make a proper diagnosis. It is basically a “glitch” in the autonomic nervous system. It is usually treated with medication, increased salt and liquid intake, and exercises that increase leg and core strength. Blessings to you and your family.

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  16. “As bizarre as this might sound to some readers, I immediately knew what he was saying. I was trying to exit my life. And I needed to stop exiting. Or else.”

    I had to stop here and weep. But I don’t have time for weeping right now. I want to read further…but I know, I’ll need to return and…consider this issue for myself…

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