A Special Kind of Awful

It seems every time I come back here I need to apologize for my long absence. I often mean to write something, but am then overcome with self-doubt. Is there any value in putting my voice out there? There is already so much noise, so many competing issues and perspectives that my own life seems to shrink in comparison. Then there is the fact that I have long ago given up on writing about the original theme of this blog because frankly, I’m often too tired to cook.

So this blog has become a sort of chronicle of the chronic (illness). I have mixed feelings about this. When I’m in an active flare I tend to scour the Internet for illness narratives that are similar to my own. I then have the pleasure of yelling, “me too! me too!” to a disembodied voice. I’m not really sure how helpful this is. It can be comforting to know that there are other people out there dealing with the same thing, but it does take me out of the business of living my own life. Then of course there are a myriad of blogs and wellness sites offering really time-consuming and/or expensive health advice. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a believer in alternative medicine and have integrated much into managing my illness, but I’ve given up on boundless energy and living to 120.

Not everyone has good health and for most of us life is punctuated by illness be it brief or chronic. I think as a society we used to understand this better. Technology, heroic medicine, and rabid capitalism are perhaps to blame for this forgotten wisdom. I am so incredibly grateful and privileged to have the support system I have for the simple fact that I can rest when I’m sick. Right now I’m feeling a very special sort of awful, but I will rest and it will pass. Many people don’t have that privilege and my sense is that those of us who do feel a lot of guilt and shame about not being as productive. We must produce and consume lest we be a burden to society at large. That is pretty shitty. It isn’t the kind of society I want to live in. It isn’t even necessary. I can hear my more conservative friends groaning about people abusing welfare and disability and siphoning up all of their oxygen. Perhaps I’m naïve, but my sense is that when you allow people to truly heal or accommodate for their illness then they tend to be more productive. I know that when I feel well the last thing I want to do is sit around motionless sucking everyone dry like a Lyme infested tic. Pardon my sarcasm, but the rhetoric surrounding government support is often cruel and dehumanizing and I find it very troubling.

I am rambling a bit. I suppose what I am trying to say is that illness narratives can be helpful, self-care is important, but I also think there is value in moving beyond an individual management of illness. At some point perhaps for reasons beyond your control or for reasons that are really in our collective control, you will get sick. Your body will bear the weight of illness and feel weary. Don’t forget that. Advertising will try to tell you otherwise, but you really can’t run away from your humanness.

The Moody Blues

Outside there is sun.
It is only sun
But men stare at it
And afterwards they sing.

I don’t know the sun.
I know the melody of angels
And the hot sermon of the last gale.
It screams until sunrise
When death poses naked
In my shadow.
-Excerpt from “The Cage”  (my translation)

The above is an excerpt for one on my favorite poets, Alejandra Pizarnik an Argentine Jew who killed herself in the 70s at the age of 36. I am drawn to these lines because I feel it captures the particular type of sadness that can creep into your body in early spring when everything is coming alive again and you are stuck. This time of year, historically has been tough for me, but today as I prepared the earth for planting I realized just how far I have come. Continue reading

Emailing Shamans, Critical Thinking, and Retrieving Souls

On Tuesday I emailed a shaman. That is a very bizarre sentence, when I say it aloud to myself I can’t help but chuckle, but the 21st Century is a very bizarre time and you can indeed contact them through that medium. I was interested in doing a soul retrieval, something I had first read about in Elena Avila’s bestseller Woman Who Glows in the Dark: A Curandera Reveals Traditional Aztec Secrets of Physical and Spiritual Health. The basic idea is that when you suffer a trauma or susto (fright) a part of your soul leaves your body leaving you disconnected or lost. This is very similar to psychotherapy’s concept of disassociation, but the difference is in therapy the focus is why and in soul retrieval it is where. Both interpretations seem valid, but from personal experience in psychotherapy, the constant rehashing of wounds and wrong doings can become rather self-indulgent. It seems that the shamanic practice is less concerned with why and focuses more on the practicality of bringing those pieces back together. It is difficult to say if analyzing the hell out of why we are dysfunctional facilitates the process. I don’t think in my case it hurt, but I also feel that most people who seek out therapy have a fairly good idea of why their lives are falling apart and maybe a soul retrieval would save a lot of time and grief. Continue reading

The Vine that Ate the South (and My Heart)

I ventured into the deep south for the first time last August on the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity.  I was just this snot-nosed kid from El Paso who somehow managed to get on this bus comprised mostly of very brave Mexican activists who were following in the footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr. and being invited into the warm congregations of  African-American communities along the way. It was surreal, beautiful and humbling and I didn’t feel worthy. Everytime I think of that trip I get goosebumps. What an honor.  Continue reading

Everything is not Illuminated

I promise I will go back to writing about recipes and herbs and all of that good stuff, but for right now I am riding this wave of change…or shift? I’m not sure. When I sit down to write it is to describe mountains and beauty and the changing sky and how everything is magic. I want to dance and cry and roll around in the dirt. It’s like being a child again which in many ways is wonderful, but also a very vulnerable place to be. Continue reading

Questions on Healing

This entry may be a bit of a ramble…bear with me. Do you ever have that feeling that you may have just stumbled upon something, but can’t name it? I’ve been feeling that a lot lately. Life is becoming a huge and confusing revelation.

If you read my last post then it probably comes as no surprise that the idea of healing would become important to me, but that is only part of the story. Last year I began working with refugees and my main responsibility was to administer a virtual therapy project. What began as very promising only produced moderate results which was at first disheartening, but got me to thinking. Was it a problem with psychotherapy or the fact that therapist and client were not able to be in the same room? Does the healer/needer of healing relationship pose a problem in terms of power dynamics? How can we mitigate that without blurring boundaries? How necessary are bounderies? Our refugees tended to be from the same region…what does collective healing look like? If the problem was psychotherapy then what would be a more meaningful alternative? What role can nature play? What role does ceremony play? What role does activism play? Does sharing one’s story in this context help or harm? Can that even be measured? Continue reading

Herbs I’ve Been Digging Lately…

Hello friends! I’ve been super busy lately and the days are flying by, but I told myself I was not going to let this blog die so I came in for a quick post. It is all part of my master plan to gain discipline which is definately a skill that can be learned even by the most undisciplined (like myself).

I’ve been taking a fairly intensive herbal medicine course for the last three months and have learned so much about the natural world and myself, but I’d say the key element in this process is turning yourself into a human guinea pig. How can you recommend an herb you’ve never tried? This is a list of five herbs that I am absolutely loving right now. Many of them I have not been taking for very long so I am still uncertain of whether I’ve gotten the full effect, but just having them in my life has made me happier which is good enough for me. Continue reading

Decolonized gut?

I don’t have the best record with this blogging thing. I’ve started several and always seem to abandon them after a week, but I have a feeling 2013 is going to be my year so I’ll give it another go. Some big things have happened in the last six months: I graduated from university, began working with an amazing non-profit, moved home for a spell to be with my father as he went through chemotherapy and radiation (and beat cancer!), and finally have decided to take my own health seriously.

This is why I decided to come back to blogging…I have some serious changes to make. As many a  24 year-old  in the 21st century living in the United States of America I’ve done some hard living. Long nights, stress, unhealthy food choices, and too many substances combined with a distrust of most doctors (and crappy insurance) is starting to catch up with me.

I’m lucky to live in Austin where there are plenty of alternatives in terms of approaches to health and wellness and found an integrative practice that focuses on nutrition and treating causes of poor-health rather than just masking symptoms.  After over an hour and a half with the doctor it was recommended I take several blood tests and avoid dairy and gluten for the time being. I was also perscribed some multivitamins and given tips on breathing exercises. Quite different from my other experiences with doctors! I walked out feeling pretty empowered, but later on the reality of these dietary changes began to sink in. It didn’t help that this news came two weeks before Christmas and I have been travelling non-stop since. It has been pretty terrible actually…everyone around me is munching on holiday food and drinking egg-nog while I eat dry vegetables and meat because it seems that everything contains gluten or dairy. A lot of this is just bad timing. Travelling means a lot of eating out and I am sure things will get easier with time. Right now though I am dreaming of  this…


And I know there are some gluten-free, dairy-free alternatives to this, but it just isn’t the same.

I still plan to include Latin-American recipes using as many local and seasonal ingredientsas possible, but now I am going to have to be extra creative. I’ve enrolled in an intensive herbalism course that begins in January so I also hope to include some of that information. Afterall, my interest in herbal medicine comes from the older Mexican women in my life and only intensified through my travels.

I haven’t been this excited for a new year in a long time! I knew the world wasn’t going to end (more on that later…)!