In the past few months, I’ve had a colonoscopy, a spine MRI, a spinal tap, and a brain MRI. I’m sorry. I’ll stop bragging.
After being diagnosed with a peripheral motor neuropathy over a decade ago and following years of feeling “off” In Vermont, I initially sought answers from a naturopath, which led me down a rabbit hole toward a thing called Candida, a systemic yeast infection that isn’t quite recognized by “real” doctors. I don’t mean to dismiss my naturopath by saying she wasn’t/isn’t “real,” but I do mean to point out that the alternative medicine path didn’t work for me. Or at least not in the way I wanted it to (so maybe it was working and I had no patience). Basically, it didn’t lead me to a “legitimate” diagnosis, and the measures I took to mitigate the effects of the thing I purportedly had only made me feel worse. The way to fight Candida is to cut out sugar (aka energy) from your diet and to take heavy doses of probiotics and anti-fungals, which is the same as declaring nuclear war on your gut and then asking your body to keep up with the blast and the fallout. Needless to say, this shit didn’t work.
When I moved to Indiana, I decided to take the more traditional route, which led me to a gastroenterologist and back to a neurologist. I still didn’t know how to describe what was going on in my body. It was unpredictable each day. All I knew (or thought I knew) was that something wasn’t right.
Steeped in such uncertainty, naturally, I wanted an answer. After the spine MRI revealed thinning in multiple locations, I was told I might have MS. I have to admit, at the time I was told this, I misunderstood what MS was. For whatever reason, I though it was scoliosis and I downplayed the prognosis. When I better understood the implications, I broke down in tears. Fortunately, I have a great support system, so it didn’t feel like I’d have to experience it alone. Hiding pain – sickness, especially – or feeling like you have to hide pain only makes things worse. I’m lucky that I get to be vulnerable.
At a certain point, I actually wanted to have MS. At least I would be able to label what was “wrong” with me instead of continuing not to know. The truth helped to magnify the silly ingratitude of such a desire. The spinal tap and brain MRI showed no signs of MS; in fact, everything was perfectly normal. I then had to reckon with the possibility that I was…okay. So, why did I want to be sick in the first place? Do I still want to be sick?
I’ve experienced similar longings for self-sabotage before. When I played sports in high school, I remember quietly hoping to get injured. If I couldn’t play, I couldn’t disappoint anyone. I imagine I was afraid of success, afraid of the responsibility that comes with working hard and, if I’m lucky, achieving. It’s likely that something similar was at play in this recent proximity to sickness. If I’m sick, I’m somehow less responsible; there’s less pressure on me to be somebody, to do something with my life. I’m not sure where these feelings of pressure even come from in this speculation. Regardless, it’s a petty excuse not to work hard; not to commit to projects that matter to me; not to commit to life, the greatest piece of art I get to create.
The limbo I situated myself in through all this testing gave me a way out of writing, for one thing. It’s like I was telling myself, “Well, I can’t do that until I know what’s wrong with me.” Now I must ask myself: What if I started to live as if nothing is wrong? What if I started to write without contingency? What if I started to write recklessly, passionately, whole-heartedly? What if I dissolved my fears and concerns, my gross longings for escape and absolution from freedom and responsibility, and displaced them with my boundlessness?
That reminds me of a Marianne Williamson quote. David Foster Wallace would probably get frustrated by its triteness (even as he desperately wanted to surrender to it), given its status as meme, but that doesn’t diminish, for me, its resonance. I know I need to keep revisiting it, and hopefully it serves you too, dear reader:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
May I achieve my own infinitude and inspire you to do the same; together, let us waltz through the cosmos.