December 14, 2018

When I woke up one morning 7 years ago, I knew something was wrong. My neck ached, but in a different way than I had ever felt before. By the time I stepped out of the shower, my pain was gone, but the next morning it returned. Each day it stayed a little longer and strangely, it moved around my body. One day my neck would ache, the next day it was my left knee. Then the next day the bottom of my foot, followed my my right shoulder blade. I have a very high pain tolerance, so it didn’t slow me down at all, but it was beginning to worry me. After a few weeks the pain was widespread and never dulled. I would wake up in the middle of the night because both my arms were inflamed with pain. I would feel vomit rise to my throat as I worked, the pain washing over me in waves that made me nauseous and breathless. I thought about my life: I’m a single mom who only sleeps a few hours a night as it is. Losing any of that sleep could break me. And I’m a hairdresser. Without the use of my hands I can’t make a living. I worried that the extreme stress of raising my special needs son on my own had created a crisis in my body that I wouldn’t be able to outrun.

I went to see my doctor, an amazing woman who really listens to me. She tested me for all the suspected culprits of this type of pain, but found nothing. She continued to think about my case and would check in with me every few days, letting me know she hadn’t given up on me and was committed to figuring out what was wrong. One day after driving for a few hours I looked down at my ankles and they were swollen to twice their size. I stopped by my doctor’s office and drew her a picture of what my ankles looked like and the next day she called me with her diagnosis. After looking at my picture she had me tested for sarcoidosis and the test was positive. It’s an auto-immune disease that can be deadly, but can also go away in a short time. I went to 3 or 4 rheumatologists in the next year to seek treatment, with varied results. One told me I was perfectly healthy. “Good news!” she said. “I’ve tested you for several things and there’s nothing wrong with you!” Another sent me away with a prescription for steroids, which did wonders for my pain and enabled me to keep working and sleep through the night. And one walked with me through the illness, teaching me how to step down slowly off the steroids, advising me that one auto-immune disease can easily morph into another. (He was sure I was developing Lupus).

After several years I had still not been able to ween myself from the steroids and I was gaining a lot of weight. My face had the tell-tale moon shape that prednisone gives you and my body was lumpy and swollen. I still had pain–enough that exercise was excruciating–but could manage to sleep and work. I felt like I was always bracing myself. I was afraid to turn my head too fast or run or put too much weight on my ankles or wrists. I felt fragile and puffy and tentative.

Two years ago I lost my health insurance for good and at the same time I began to notice the tell-tale butterfly rash on my face that indicates Lupus. I started getting sores around my hairline and on my wrists and when I Googled them, I saw they were also symptoms of Lupus. I knew I had to do something about my health and I decided to reach out to a client of mine who is an acupuncturist. I have known him and his family for many years and I trusted his expertise. We decided to barter acupuncture treatment for haircuts and I resolved that even though I knew very little about Chinese medicine, I would do whatever he advised me and I would trust him.

I faithfully followed his dietary suggestions and saw him every few weeks for 3 months and I noticed that I was beginning to really feel better. I felt like energy was moving through my body again, I wasn’t always bracing for injury. My daily pain level had been cut in half. We decided I would try again to slowly step down off my steroids, and in another 3 months I was feeling even better. My acupuncture treatments were really painful and I had no idea what he was talking about when he described the energy channels and yin and yang and all the other Chinese medicine stuff he tried so carefully to explain to me. I really didn’t care. It seemed to be working, so I was like, I’ll do whatever you tell me to do! And if you need to twist that hot needle around in my leg until I scream in pain, carry on!  As long as I keep feeling better, do whatever you need to do!

Then last December, a year ago, he suggested that I try intermittent fasting. I had no idea that it would do me any good, but he advised me to drink only water or plain tea all day, except for 3 hours in the afternoon, when I could eat and drink whatever I wanted. For 3 days. I hated it, but I did it. And for the first two days I felt horrible. Then halfway through the third day I began to feel better than I had in years! It was amazing. It really felt like my body was healing itself, becoming whole again. Energy was flowing through me and I felt very alive. I began to make it a regular practice to fast intermittently several days a week, and I was quickly able to completely stop taking prednisone. I dropped dozens of pounds and began to practice yoga again. I would stare at myself in the mirror in yoga class and couldn’t believe that I could bend and stretch and stand on one foot–all my weight on one ankle–with no pain. My body got stronger and leaner. By the summer I added running to my routine, something I hadn’t been able to do in years.

When people noticed my weight loss, they would ask me my secret. Was I dieting? Oh, I was fasting? Maybe they should try that, too! Acupuncture? Did that help you lose weight? I had no idea. I really could care less about my weight. How could I explain the gratitude and the relief I felt at not being in pain all the time? At not constantly worrying that I would only get worse and worse, compounding illnesses until my body wore away? I have no idea how to help anyone lose weight. I have no idea how to explain why acupuncture and fasting have worked for me. I don’t know how to help anyone heal. I don’t understand why it worked for me. But I do know one thing: I have never been so grateful for this amazing, energy-filled, yoga-praciticing, regenerating, shrinking body of mine! I don’t know why I healed, but I know that I did. And I am beyond grateful for what I consider a second chance at life. I feel blessed and I feel lucky.

If you ask me to explain sarcoidosis or fasting or acupuncture I can’t. If you ask me why I healed when so many others only fade away, I definitely can’t. I know it’s not because I am more faithful or more good or more blessed that I have found healing and renewal. It’s not because I found the best acupuncturist in the world or because fasting is a cure-all. I can’t explain what has happened to me, I can only tell you how I feel. When I work a 14-hour day and have no pain in my hands or cramping in my feet or swelling in my ankles if feels amazing! When I practice yoga and watch my body bend and stretch and strengthen I can barely contain my surprise and awe! As I run around my neighborhood in the middle of the night or through the woods in the middle of the day I literally hold my hands up in the air in praise to God because I can’t believe how alive I feel. I appreciate my health every day. I do everything I can think of to maintain it and celebrate it. As I pray for my friends who have lost their loved ones to terrible disease and for my friends who’s bodies are wasting away from illness, I also thank God for the gift of health.

I didn’t earn it and don’t deserve it, but I will appreciate it every single pain-free, healthy day.


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