Recently, I had a mystery illness. I woke up itchy one Friday morning. I realized that I was covered in hives. My entire body was red and splotchy. I called the advice nurse. I was told to take some antihistamines. I started with Claritin. I was told to also take Benadryl on top of that. I was worried about being groggy so I did not take it during work hours. The Claritin was supposed to work within 2 hours. It did not so I ended up seeing my doctor that afternoon. I have seen her for decades so she knows my story and how my anxiety might be resurfacing.
I have grappled with chronic illness. I believe my condition is stress-related. My doctor disagrees because she feels like I’m very committed to self care. She feels that I have bounced back from my inflammatory condition which hasn’t flared up in over two years. I take daily medication twice a day which I will likely do for the rest of my life. As part of my workout regimen, I take a multivitamin, flaxseed oil, and vitamin C. I also take digestive supplements ever since I lost my gallbladder. My doctor agreed that the recent workload at my job sounds really stressful. She did also point that many colds and flu viruses this year have come with some unusual symptoms like hives. Between a state audit of records and preparing for accreditation at work (the thought makes me feel I’ll break out in hives again) and M’s dance competition, I have had quite the month of March. The hives eventually subsided but then I began to experience joint pain and swelling in my fingers, feet, ankles, knees and wrists. My body has been known to retain water whether it is due to hormones, being 45 and a woman, salty snacks being my weakness or the fact that I’ve been drinking a lot more Starbucks chai tea to stay awake and for energy. ( No esta bien because I am supposed to avoid non-herbal teas that can cause inflammation. ) I sometimes get sore muscles from working out but stiff joints was new for me. I didn’t know if it was my age or a virus but I did let my doctor know about these new symptoms.
I had my moment of drama, my woe is me, what is happening, is this yet another health challenge. The surgery that resulted due to my inflammatory disease was followed by gallbladder removal the following summer. Experiencing those illnesses brought me spiritual growth.
I recently read Kathleen Norris’ wonderful memoir Acedia and Me. While the book mainly focuses on the detrimental effects of acedia, the book is also about her husband’s debilitating cancer and ultimately his death. I feel she is one of the great spiritual writers in that she lives in our world and relates traditions from monastic life to our hectic world. It makes sense that some monastic practices can feed us. I also agree with Norris that illness, pain and grief can serve as sources of inspiration and clarity. My own health challenges over the years have given me clarity about my life, purpose, passions and faith . I could not have reached certain conclusions about my values if I had not been ill. I sometimes forget I have been hindered in the past so this mystery illness worried me. I don’t ever take my health for granted
When I began to experience joint pain, I could have easily decided to sit on my couch and treating myself with Biofreeze or ice packs. Instead I powered through and went to bootcamp. It was a struggle; I couldn’t push myself as hard as usual. Eventually the swelling subsided. My joints got better. The patron saint of joint pain is St. Albert so I can add his name to the litany. Whatever illness I experience I give over to God. I can transform illness into inspiration.