I'm not healthy. Something happened about 8 years ago that profoundly changed the way my body works. No one else would know this by looking at me. If you saw me outside walking around, you would assume I am just like most other people outside walking around. You'd assume that my experience and abilities are pretty much the same as yours (assuming that you are healthy).
You know what they say about assuming.
When I got sick, my nervous system changed. It does not work the way I'd come to depend on it working. The biggest change? The well of strength and energy I used to have is gone.
I used to have more than enough energy to work full time, care for my daughter, workout, walk, do tae kwon do, drive hours to go to volleyball games and clarinet lessons. I could get up at 5:30 a.m. to go to the gym, then shower and work a 10-hour day, cook dinner, and then practice volleyball serves with my daughter, until watching a little TV or reading before bed. I would go to bed and sleep soundly until I woke up at 5:00, hit the snooze a couple times. You get the picture.
I wish I could have my normal back
This was normal, not remarkable. I did not know there was any other way of being in life.
And then I got sick and never got back to that normal. I look at those days now and realize they were remarkable.
Now I have maybe 30% of the energy and strength I used to have. I always feel fatigued and weak. I sleep fitfully if at all. I feel numb and tingly. I can't drive well so I work from home and that's about all I can manage. Some days I can walk around the block ... other days I'm luck if I can walk down to the end of the street.
This new normal has been a big change for me.
Doctors don't help
At first I went to doctors believing they would know just what to do to help. They didn't, at least not so far. I have no diagnosis and no plan for treatment except a repeated recommendation to take antidepressants even though I'm not depressed. I think that's the default treatment if you're a woman and experiencing unpleasantness in your body. Maybe doctors think if your mood is better you'll be less concerned about the unpleasantness.
I went to lots of doctors and got more and more frustrated ... always seeking the perfect solution that would return me to normal.
And then I realized how much of my very limited energy I was spending on something that wasn't panning out. How much time from my life that might be shorter because of this illness I was spending sitting in doctor's waiting rooms and getting angry and frustrated because I wasn't being listened to. How much time I was in front of doctor's blank blinking faces that didn't understand how really sick I felt because it wasn't apparent from looking at me, because their tests didn't show anything abnormal.
Taking charge of my time
Then I realized I could choose to spend my time differently. I realized I could turn my focus toward feeling better by doing things I could control.
There are always things you can do. Even if you can't shake the new physical strangeness, you can chip away at the suffering. As the Buddhists say, pain is a given, but suffering is optional.
Here are some ways I've found that you can feel a little better:
You can meditate to become more aware of how your mind is working. Just being aware of feelings of stress and pain and frustration can help them dissipate.
You can research and try supplements that relieve some symptoms.
You can try other kinds of healing. One of the most beneficial modes of healing for me has been acupuncture.
It took me a long time to try acupuncture because my vague notion of it was that people would stick needles in my body ... kind of like a bunch of vaccinations all at the same time. Also, individual practitioners can be expensive ... hundreds of dollars a session.
A cheaper way to get stabbed with needles
Then I found out about community acupuncture. Community acupuncture clinics offer acupuncture on a sliding fee scale. The clinic I go to, Salt Lake Qi, allows you to pay what you want between $20 and $45 (Note: as of 6/2020, this scale has changed to adapt to COVID-19 distancing requirements, but is still more affordable than most private practitioners).
You sit in a recliner in a room among other people also in recliners. You tell the acupuncturist what symptoms you're having and/or what you want to work on. She listens carefully and feels the pulse in your wrist. Maybe she'll ask to see your tongue. Based on that information, she decides what points on your body to target.
The points usually pierced on my body are in my hands, feet, and forehead. But I've also had points at the base of my skull, in my shoulders, and in my belly.
Then she grabs a package of new, hair-thin flexible needles and goes to work.
There is a little pinch when each needle goes in. It is a needle piercing your skin after all, there's no getting around that. But then, after the needles are in for awhile (around 10 minutes for me), this delicious relaxing feeling pours over you. Your mood lifts and you doze in the dimly lit room, soft soothing music playing in the background. Sometimes I'll even listen to a meditation through headphones while I doze.
Adjusting the body's energy flow
The acupuncturist talks about moving the energy around in my body. I can feel this happening. Sometimes my heart beats faster. Sometimes it slows. Sometimes there's a faint buzzing sensation. I lie there, relax, and observe.
You wait at least 40 minutes ... or longer if you like, and then sit up when you're ready to be done. Catch the eye of the acupuncturist as she rolls by on her rolling stool and she comes to remove the needles.
I do this once a week most weeks, and pay $31 per session (this cost has changed as of 6/2020). It helps my body approach homeostasis where nothing else has. I often feel a little more tired that day and a day or two afterward, and then I start to feel a little better ... clearer vision, more at home in my own body.
When I recommend acupuncture to others, they often say, "Needles? I can't stand needles!"
I can relate to that. The idea of needles piercing your flesh can bring on a fear response. We all want to avoid pain. But what if you're already in pain? What if your body is not giving you strength and energy pain-free? Acupuncture has taught me that avoiding pain can prolong it. And sometimes relief from pain can come from unlikely places — needles in your hands, feet, and forehead, for instance.
In American culture we are so focused on western (allopathic) medicine that we're often blind to other sources of healing. Other cultures have healed bodies in other ways for thousands of years. And yes, those methods have been studied and proven. Our doctors cannot fix as much as the healthy believe they can.
If you're sick and searching, it's worth it to try acupuncture. Don't be afraid of the pain. It's so small for the benefits you get. Being afraid of pain might prolong your suffering.