When Everything Is stripped Away: What Remains?

For the past few years specifically, living in my body has often felt horrific. I craved an escape from managing this chronic illness, clawing my way to any semblance of stability or calm throughout the day, only to realize that by clinging, the intensity of my discomfort grew.  The world of healthy people with nine to fives, walking their dogs after work before heading out to see friends for dinner felt like a bizarre dream compared to my daily ritual of survival.  

Even with bursts of hope, small moments of resurfacing, moments of magic (the sunsets! The birds! Falling in love!) it felt so terrifying, so hopeless, beyond any pain or nightmare I’d imagined.  As a high-achieving, curious, and athletically driven human, this house-bound life was not what I envisioned.

I questioned my ability to survive it. 

Most days, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to survive it, as nothing about my situation felt improvable.  Daily, moment to moment, I’d find myself wondering when it would all end, disbelieving that this kind of mental and physical torture could endure. 

I couldn’t understand how my body had become so ill after years of eating solely organic superfoods, meditating, practicing gratitude, exercising, and thinking extra positive.  I also couldn’t understand why I wasn’t getting better, or why my doctors couldn’t figure it out. I reached the point where the pain of living made me unrecognizable to myself, as if I were wearing muddy, sepia toned, weighted goggles and a lead suit over my fragile frame. 

When even basic acts of digesting, bowel movements, and walking became too difficult to manage, desperation led me into a two-week stay at a hospital in Mexico for hyperthermia treatment.  We hoped that by blasting the parasites and Lyme infections, my gut would miraculously rev into gear and I could get my life back.  

The idea of baking myself for four hours at 107 degrees while being pumped full of antibiotics almost sounded thrilling.  The anesthesia felt like a welcomed escape from being with my thoughts. I could visualize the critters shriveling up, my body rising up like a proud warrior in the aftermath.  I felt hopeful. I repeated the word “love” as the anesthesia took over in each treatment, using every ounce of belief and positivity to ensure it worked.


However, I came back from the hospital feeling defeated, even more fragile than before. Happy New Year, Theresa, I would ironically say to myself.  My knee joints crunched and ached as I walked each morning.  The rest of the day flooded with a fatigue as thick as cream cheese and the fog that came along with it felt like my brain had been scrambled with oatmeal.  Even putting on my spandex after showering– the only article of clothing that fit–left me exhausted and in tears. I felt like I had aged 90 years and would be fading anytime soon.  The sadness consumed every thought, every action.  

I wondered: what is left when everything you thought you needed to be happy is stripped away?  What remains?

I didn’t have a job. I clearly didn’t have my health.  I was too weak to exercise beyond slow walking, too tired to dance.  As much as I wanted to eat my favorite foods, the simplest foods, I felt flu-like after doing so, and dreaded the hours of daily enemas necessary to remedy what the gut failed to push out.  I learned to associate hunger with panic. I didn’t have the energy to see friends or read a book. I even felt embarrassed that this was happening to me, that I should be doing more with my life.  I was too dizzy to drive or leave my neighborhood. For months, I just survived and waited.

So, what was left? What kept me holding on?

The people.

In the chaos of what my body battled each day, the people in my life kept me buoyant.  They provided a portal in which I could continue seeing the magic of this often confusing human experience.   

When my partner came up the stairs on his return from work each day, the sepia tone lifted and softened.  We’d hug and my thoughts of panic settled. As we leaned back on climbing crash pads enjoying the California sunset on our porch, I felt safe.  Just watching Netflix documentaries together in bed allowed me to feel like the luckiest woman alive, providing a moment of escape before the next day began. 

Daily phone conversations with friends and family acted as a life vest when the dark moments continued to surface. I’d call my mom and her partner, my aunt, my brother, my best friend from college, remembering and knowing that we do this thing called life with a little more ease when we remember to connect with one another. 

 Friends from college flew down to see me and accompany me to my appointments, staying only the day so I didn’t have to host.  

Even strangers I’d encounter throughout the day started to feel like friends:  The woman at the natural grocery store started calling me her angel and developed the habit of giving me a big mama bear hug and a deep red lipstick smudge on the cheek before I headed on my way.  My angel, she’d say as she squeezed me, reminding me of the hugs my childhood nanny gives me every time I visit home.  

There is even the woman I passed a few weeks back, pushing her shopping cart through our neighborhood, smiling toothless as she wished me a blessed day so earnestly I almost cried. 

In these moments, I remember that it’s all about the people.

It’s about taking care of each other, showing up for each other, reminding each other that we are in it together. It’s about making eye contact, hugging, and listening. It’s about sharing the unlimited resource of joy. 

Now when I I look back, it reminds me of husking fresh corn on the cob as a kid.  We’d pull back layer by layer, revealing silky fibers and eventually golden kernels of perfection. I look back now, understanding how when everything is stripped away, what remains is so beyond beautiful and simple, so clear: the people remain.  Our ability to love one another remains.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this blog should not be used to treat or diagnose disease or health problems and is provided for your edification and delight only.

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