I get a lot of questions, most of which are ridiculous, about my love for nature. ‘Your beliefs are absurd’ people keep telling me. And for the longest time I never felt the need to explain otherwise. It wasn’t until things turned upside down for me the last couple of weeks. Crazy how something minute can resurrect an entire fraction of your past. Today marks the anniversary of my first diagnosis and I kept help but think of how far I have come and how nature has been an integral part of my journey. I always loved nature from when I was a kid, it was my childhood friend. When things got ugly at home, I found solace amongst trees. But it wasn’t until I was an adult that I became fully affiliated with nature.
There are a lot of things that go through your mind when you’re first diagnosed with an ‘incurable illness’ or any life-threatening illness. How will this affect my day-to-day life? Will I have to take medication forever? Will I die? However, seldom do we stop to consider the impact our conditions will have on our feelings of self-worth and the complex relationship we form with our bodies. Yes, Seldom!
It wasn’t until I became a high school teacher that I finally understood that our pre-teen years are pivotal in our development of self confidence. Teens crave attention and acceptance, wanting nothing more than to fit in. I know this. I was once here. Knee deep and diving head first. However, imagine that in the midst of this emotional roller coaster, you receive the news that you have serious ovarian issues and the responsibility of managing it is dumped in your lap. It’s a traumatic experience, especially for a teen, and when 15-year-old me was diagnosed with ovarian issues I was not prepared for any of it. I never understood why I was just getting irregular menses or hormonal episodes as my peers. It also didn’t help growing up in a toxic environment where there was no room for Self-Worth or Love.
I spent the next few years in denial. It became worse when a decade later, the ovarian issues graduated into something more serious. I didn’t like to talk about my illness then, and I still don’t to date. Matter of fact, I became more guarded over the years. I have mastered the skill of being dismissive at appointments with specialists, I have often refused to take my medication and I often ate things I wasn’t supposed to. Sometimes I still do that. But, it wasn’t until I noticed the behavior of the people around me shifting that reality began to sink in. In the past two years I have been caught in between my mom treating me as if I were made of glass and people around me acting as though I was making the whole thing up. Rumors also started circulating amongst my peers. One got so out of hand that my mom had to get the influential people in my life involved. A lady in my workplace started a rumor that I had contracted a serious disease, resulting in several people either pitying or avoiding me. It was an incredibly embarrassing ordeal.
By the time I began my holistic treatment journey I had grown fairly comfortable talking about my disease and had become more responsible with managing it. I was talking about all the advantages of managing chronic illnesses holistically. And even though I was getting into serious debt just so I could afford specific procedures and medications, it was better than having my family and friends go down the financial drain with me. However, despite my best efforts, my health began to further deteriorate. In the last few months I have been constantly in pain, Some nights I haven’t been sleeping, I have barely been eating and have gained a considerable amount of weight, which really makes no sense to me. It Made me feel different and defective. But most of all, I always work towards protecting those around me rather than have them see me suffering and in pain. So I became a master of hiding pain. I’ve lost friends for it, but I have come to learn that some battles are best fought alone.
Within months of a varied treatment that has put me in debt, I recently started developing new symptoms. Even though I have barely been eating, I constantly felt full. My abdomen was hard and distended and I stopped having regular bowel movements. This was exactly what happened when it was finally decided that I needed to take a trip to the hospital. But this time, instead of being met with kindness or concern, I was met with irritation and disinterest. I was a wrench thrown into their otherwise slow night. Tests were performed and they concluded that I was constipated. I was given an oral laxative and sent on my way. I was relieved that the ‘thing’ wasn’t the cause of my recent distress.
The following week, amongst all sorts of fake truths of where I was, I had an appointment to receive my monthly transfusion and within minutes of them reviewing the blood culture, my doc visited my exam room and confronted me for my recent lifestyle stray. Like the typical old me, I had to come up with a clever lie about where I spent the nights. I had stayed for good health for a while because I was disciplined in my holistic journey and then I wasn’t. I pleaded with my doc, begging her to do everything in her power to prevent me from needing radiation, chemo, or surgery. So, a few weeks shy of my 27th birthday, I went under for further tests for the first time. The first thing I did upon recovering from all the torturous tests was feel my stomach. I can vividly remember the feeling of the soft, crinkly plastic underneath my fingertips. Signaling my brain that my worst fear came to fruition. I burst into tears and sobbed uncontrollably, I felt like my life was over.
There were a lot of things that happened during the remainder of my 26 years. I found out that my condition, which was originally intended to be temporary, would become permanent if I didn’t make crucial changes. Old treatments failed, new treatments were started, and eventually surgeries were to be performed. I was angry and depressed. Why me? Why couldn’t I be “normal” like everyone else? I regressed back into a state where I hid my illness from people, devastated every time someone found out about my situation.
My outlook on life started to shift once I turned 27. I know it probably sounds weird to say this gruesome challenge changed my life, but it did. After spending years with no one to talk to about my experiences, I now had finally found an outlet, a home. Nature became all the encouragement and support I needed to finally be able to begin repairing my damaged relationship with myself. This was where my close-knit relationship with nature and the mountains solidified.
Looking back, I now know that none of the things I experienced were worthy of ridicule. I believe that had I received proper emotional support I may have been able to establish a healthier view of myself earlier in life.
Yes, I have had this Disease for some time now. Yes, I may have a ‘permanent condition’. But that doesn’t take away from my value as a person. If anything I think it’s helped me have more empathy and understanding of others.
After all the tests and consolation, I realized more truths. The truth about being Disease-free is you are never truly free. The disease is lurking in the shadows at all times, waiting for the moment you let down your guard and inevitably weaken to the clutches of a horrible world. You will always worry and apprehend your stresses before letting them take over your subconscious. You will always look behind every corner and into every alleyway and duck before you need to, apprehending the monster that will surely block your path to happiness. This was me. This had been me until I found the mountains. At least I made it my point to visit nature more, climb the mountains, sit near the river banks and waterfalls, look up the stars and the morning, make time to catch the sunrise and sunsets, until I made nature my home, my spirit would still be frail.
I used to live with that fear everyday. Regardless of near remission of my lifetime (and hopefully the last), I will never shake that stone-cold chill in my bones when I remember the consequences of letting go, for even a moment, of the responsibility I hold to myself to keep the condition far away and out of my life. It’s the greatest responsibility I’ve ever had and the most frightening mission I’ve ever had to undertake. That feeling of being careful yet grateful every single day remains ingrained within you, and every moment you don’t feel pain and feel somewhat normal is a blessing.
An innocent, nauseous event or a random stabbing pain in my stomach could jolt me to attention as my friend forces herself to shake off the uneasy panic rising in my throat. It’s absolutely nothing, I think, just a human body being normal. How disappointing would it be to every single person in your life, including you, if you returned to the days of full, inexplicable darkness and self-abhorrence?
But what is normal, exactly? Is a chronic patient choosing to live holistically ever truly normal again?
Is normal the day you forget what the hospital walls were like when you briskly walked through them looking for an exit. Is normal the day you delete calendar doctor appointments because you no longer need to start your day with a daily dose of fleshed-out reality? Is normal the day you can finally write “N/A” under existing health conditions? Is normal the day you can close your eyes and no longer see a painful review of your most excruciating moment seeing the doctor write you another prescription to yet another unsolvable problem? Is it normal when it no longer affects your relationships?
No one can guarantee it won’t come back, no matter what you do. Normal is the day you can remember your past without the sounds of tense whispers and heavy, shallow breathing, then nothingness. Normal is the day you can hear about your medical history without feeling your skin lift up and roll within itself. Normal is the day you can brush away the tears that fall when you remember just how far you have come and how much further you forever will be from a relapse.
I wish I could say normal will be possible, but the truth is, you will never be or feel normal. However, you will never want to be. Because when you cross the street and get to the other side, you feel the breeze on your face and your hair in the wind, and you know this is life. You are living it. You survived what almost took away those basic, human experiences. You overcame the obstacle that almost stripped you of what it means to be truly alive. There are no fancy words or prescriptions in the world that could heal the heart that broke when you were first diagnosed, but now is a step towards fulfilling your desire of feigning a normal existence.
I know how exhilarating it feels to daydream of a better dream—the days you will no longer need to live and the feelings you will no longer need to feel. The emotions you suppressed for so long will pour out and your own mind can’t wrap around the prospect of Chronic illnesses no longer following you, like a mark on a hunted prey. You will no longer need to ask its permission to have a decent day.
Maybe I am forever afraid. Maybe I will be forever careful. Maybe I will always take a moment to remember how it felt to be unaware.
Maybe I will relapse one day, because that’s just how life goes—it goes into darkness before it ever shows you light.
But maybe I won’t relapse. Maybe you won’t either. Maybe you’ll live an entire full life without ever seeing the horrors of its treachery again.
I can’t imagine how exciting it must be to envision a world without a broken you.
Any chronic illness should never define you. You thought for so long you were defined by the condition that broke and rebuilt you. Then you came to understand your condition never ever did that for you.
Your survival did. It did it for. But Nature did more for me. It gave me my self-worth back. And gave me an outlet and an a home. Find what helps you and stick with it.