April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
~T.S. Eliot, “The Wasteland”
The rain is pattering on the eaves, which inspired me to write out of my normal context (granted, this happens most often between the hours of two and three AM), because the sound of Spring rain, the sight of birds flying with nesting material, the smell of rich, loamy soil is nearly enough for me to overlook the persistent ache in my head and the accompanying dullness of mind and spirit which seems to fill the brain with the very same mucous clogging my sinuses.
Seasonal allergies—yay. Three years ago I inadvertently triggered a series of physical traumas in my attempt to stamp out the inevitable march of immune sensitivity which was then my only complaint, physically speaking, outside of the occasional lower lumbar flare up. Little did I know what ‘imbalance’ really was, until I tipped the scale just a wee bit too far. So this, then, is a cautionary tale—for health-conscious, for those who choose to grow their own food, for those who believe that wellness begins with good choices and sound practices. See, I do believe that our bodies have everything we need to heal ourselves, that it is finding the right combination of food and mental/physical/spiritual practice which can both stave off dis-ease, but also cure whatever ails us. I have my own personal experience as proof, in fact—I’ve been experimenting on myself for years!
“I’ve grown up in a world that seems to have a pill for almost everything. College kids pop caffeine pills to stay up all night writing papers, while our parents are at home popping sleeping pills to prevent unwelcome all-nighters. We can take pills for headaches, stomachaches, sinus pressure and cold symptoms, so we can still go to work sick. If there’s no time to eat right, we have nutrition pills, too. Just pop some vitamins and you’re good to go, right?” ~Camille Kingsolver (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle)
Let me say, first and foremost, that I believe that it is our personal responsibility, part of the ownership of a human body, to take active participation in the upkeep and maintenance of that body. Which means: “know thyself”, in short. We may not be our bodies, but it makes good sense to take care of our vehicles. I have read every book, (well, nearly so, anyway—I am a bit obsessive that way, you know), on every dietary practice known to mankind, and here’s the rub: they disagree. Not just a little, not just over time, from one fad to another, but across the entire spectrum of time, culture, and trend. They change their minds, a lot—that is about the only consistency I discovered.
What this tells me is two things: 1. they’re all right; and 2. none of them are completely right. The factor is oversimplification—that, granted, one can make sweeping generalizations based on case-study groups, whether cultural, logistic, or symptomatically, but the one factor missing out of all of them is simple: human diversity. We all have our own individual gene map as well as personal history, so only us as individuals can hope to understand the keys to our own bodies, and therefore our own health. As House always said: “Everybody lies”. We do it not out of malice, but because we don’t all come from the same reference point, so it can be unintentional—it is closer to mis-communication. We also all have stories, excuses we make up for why things are as they are, which is how we create those reference points.
So, here is my story of enlightenment, concerning allergies, digestion, and auto-immune reaction:
- 2009: “Taking the Blue Pill”: Phase II game, challenging reality and re-creating the wheel. Physically, pretty fit, hadn’t had a cold, flu, any viral or bacterial dis-ease in years. Just the seasonal allergy thing: hay fever, sinus pressure, headaches. If not caught in time: the sinus infection, which I then only knew to treat by going to the M.D. and getting antibiotics. I had been practicing yoga daily for a few years, which helped immensely with the back pain (caused by degenerating disk L5), and treated the sinus stuff mainly through preventive measures such as neti pot and sinus-draining foods. Some medications worked sometimes, but nothing consistently and nothing completely or preventative. I felt the need to ‘up the ante’, and tried my first cleanse, having read extensively about the benefits of colonics, yet feeling that if one were to really clean things out it should be done from top to bottom, so to speak. It was in the Spring, and I had just begun to have a hay fever type of reaction, with immense sinus pressure and terrible headache. The first two days were hell—the headache increased, with the added caffeine withdrawal, accompanied by flu-like indescribable body aches and pains. ‘This is not uncommon’, said the literature and forums on cleansing, citing the body’s release of toxins from the organs. Sure enough, Day Three brought not only complete pain relief, but also clear breathing and no sinus pressure at all! I was hooked. I had decided on quarterly ten-day cleanses, to be sure all of the toxins, heavy metals, whatnot were out of my system. Come Fall, I also enrolled in a seven month yoga teacher-training program, feeling ready at that point to embark on a more spiritual arm of this quest for purity and enlightenment. Within a few weeks, I had contracted the swine flu, which downed me for a solid week—the first viral infection I had gotten in maybe ten years. In the yoga weekends, I found myself enduring more pain—not from the yoga practice, but from all of the ‘stuff’ which comes up, much like what happens with massage and acupuncture—releasing energies can sometimes be a little uncomfortable. I also had started inexplicably gaining weight, although I had changed nothing about my diet.
- 2010: With the teacher-training finished, I conclude that I am in no way ready to try and teach anyone else, still immersed in my own journey of physical and psychological discovery. I enroll in the Landmark Forum, and negotiate through the entire “Curriculum for Living” in 6-9 months. Still bloated, not adjusting to the “new” body. Fall comes (I’m noticing a pattern here I hadn’t before…): I sprain my ankle, which takes a full year to heal. With the birth of grandson #1 late in the year, I begin a period of much more travel than before, which sets off different allergic reactions.
- 2011: The year of sailing—which may have been my saving grace—few complaints to recall. Allergies begin to show different patterns—instead of rain providing relief, the pressure gets worse, etc. Is it the toxins from the BP oil spill, I wonder? I also begin to notice over-reactions to mixing alcohol with any number of things—certain foods, activities, etc., more food-related allergies as well. The dreaded Five-O comes and goes with a whimper. The ‘bloated’ feeling becomes common, as does the frequent fog in the brain, which I describe as ‘moldy brains’.
- 2012: In honor of the end of the Mayan calendar, I embark on the year of living each day as if it were my last—quite the challenge, which came to manifest in some curious ways. Early in the year I take on a more-physical job than I’m accustomed to—a 1200 square foot tile job–and in the process sustain a stress injury to my shoulder, which ends up as a recurring dislocation, causing nerve damage to the right arm. In April, hay fever lights a fire in my head so bad my front teeth are pushed out of alignment, and convinced I have an abscessed tooth, visit the dentist. It was a sinus infection, no abscess. The back flares up, the left knee…then other joints—my hands begin to swell and lose function—it’s official: I am falling apart, and it is a rapid decline. (Here’s where I’d like to insert that it is not particularly helpful to remind one of one’s age in relation to the degree and acceleration of physical deterioration. Not to mention unkind, too…) I try massage, up the ante on spiritual practice (return to “A Course in Miracles” daily), start another cleanse, and visit an acupuncturist, who informs me that my “gut is mush”, and the level of decline and damage is just a step or two from something serious and permanent (such as M.S., R.A., Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, Celiac, whatever designer dis-ease popular at the moment, and ultimately, the “Big C”). Hundreds of dollars in treatments, tonics, and homeopathic remedies, and I begin to feel a little better, intermittently. The first acupuncture treatment, by the way, I literally thought I was going to die, not during, but later on that night—the pain was excruciating, and I have high tolerance. When I told the Dr., she looked a little shocked, and mentioned some possible past-life karmic flush. Meantime, my bowels begin backing up and blocking, so we have to treat that as well—something uncommon to my primarily-Pitta nature. Here is where I truly begin to understand what has been happening, but it is not until now that I have put all of the pieces together.
- 2013: Six to twelve months later, dietary changes have caused much of the weight to drop off. Barring a few bouts of “I don’t want to admit I need a special diet,” and “I have created this, therefore I can un-create it,” which led to some temporary setbacks, the first quarter of this year has been better. I feel that I am on the road to recovery, and have the tools to prevent future issues. One of the snafus I kept snagging on was my desire to attain a more vegan lifestyle. Not for me, apparently, at least not until the gut has healed.
Some of the things I learned on my road to self-discovery via the intestinal tract are:
- (Datta) If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. What I now know must have happened, after reading oodles of books and consulting with several knowledgeable medical practitioners, is that I should have re-invested my intestinal flora post-cleanse. From birth, we spend our first couple of years building up a nice brew of bacterial soup in our digestive tract, or else we spend our lives sickly and under-nourished. While I had a history of problems which do point to a compromised system (eczema, allergies, anemia, etc. – read the G.A.P.S. book–I’m the poster child), my lifestyle choices from my twenties on helped to create stronger immunities and general health. When I did my series of cleanses, however, I cleaned out the good guys along with whatever toxins were in there, thus leaving myself open to any ol’ bug which came down the pike, ultimately leaving me in a state of constant and rapidly degrading auto-immune reaction. This is the “leaky gut syndrome” one hears about. Ayurvedically, I knew that there were issues, because they were indicated by my tongue—not only did I have a nice crack down the middle, but I also still have ridges along the outer edges (although they have diminished gradually as I’ve changed my diet), both of which indicate malabsorption, (leaky gut).
- (Dayadhvam) The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. Stubborn willpower (that Pitta thing I mentioned before) will not fix leaky pipes once they are already damaged. Deal with it, and do the repair before attempting changes based on philosophy. One of the things I did find the various experts agree on is that wheat is hard to digest, and animal protein (while it may stay in the system longer) is easy to digest, thus more bio-available. Anything green is good—eat lots. So, I avoid wheat and other gluten (avoid, not eliminate), and I am back to Ovo/avian-pescatarian, which is a fancy name for “I don’t eat red meat”. I also religiously take probiotics and enzymes, and have added much more fermented foods to my diet. Sugar is another biggie—while I have gradually eliminated virtually all process sugars some time ago, I know understand the way that all carbs are treated by our systems, and have a much higher level of consciousness regarding intake. Salt (who knew?!) is not an issue for me, since I have low blood pressure—adding a bit actually makes me feel better.
So, what about the allergies? I knew you’d ask, so had an answer prepared: I still have them—hay fever may or may not be a part of my reality for a while longer—I do hear that allergies can be ‘cleared’, and it makes sense that one can in fact de-sensitize oneself by slow re-introduction of the stuff that creates histamine reaction. My oak trees try to help with this—I find oak pollen hiding in the folds of curly-leaf kale even after I’ve washed it. When I began this post, in fact, was one of the worst reactions I’ve had to date, which led me finally to medicate—I took one Allegra and one Ephedrine. After days of suffering, the one sinus that doesn’t like to drain and causes all the nasty problems ran like a faucet and I had relief. So, that, my friends was another lesson:
- (Damyata) Sometimes just take the bloody drug! It’s all about moderation, right?
London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina
Quando fiam ceu chelidon—O swallow swallow
Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.*
Shantih shantih shantih
~T.S. Eliot, “The Wasteland”
*what the thunder said – (Give, sympathise, control)
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