In the summer of 2013 I got a concussion during a spastic attempt to rock climb. Those who have experienced concussions can attest to the fact that you feel crappy during a concussion, but you’re also pretty confused about what’s happening. It’s not until the next day that you truly begin comprehending how horrible the feeling was. More so, the subsequent day, you realize you had still been feeling terribly that day after. It’s probably a known scientific fact somewhere: we can’t perceive the depths of our own sickness until we look back at it from a position of health. This is why interventions exist.
In light of this, I am pleased to announce, during this last month I have found myself in a happy season of well rounded health. It reminded me of a random anecdote from sophomore year health class. Dom Giancola, my funny, beef cake, Italian, baseball coach health teacher drew an equilateral triangle on the board, and explained how true health is only realized when three areas of your life are equally strong: Physical, emotional and social. Then he drew a series of scalene triangles which represented a persons varied commitment to different aspects of their health.
A few times in life, I’ve considered how, at best, my health triangle is isosceles with a very long social line. This became my own standard for true health. But now, in this strange season of joy and peace, I have reached a new conclusion: Giancola was right, and I’ve never truly been healthy.
Has anyone ever had to admit a personal ideology was founded on a random song lyric you loved in adolescence? For me, it was the opening line in a Dexter Freebish song called “Leaving Town”: Oh, your reputation so golden, you’re never lonely and you’re never home.
Any past roommate can attest to the fact: if we live together, you will see me the least. My greatest fear has always been loneliness. Throughout a vagrant adult life, I’ve managed to maintain an overactive social calendar. Coffee dates before work and a systematic Rolodex of dinners every night of the week.
This pace of social life had inevitable repercussions on my physical health. First, there was no time to exercise. In some seasons, I’d find a work-out buddy, but if that commitment fizzled–at all–on the other person’s end, I wasn’t about to exercise alone. Second, constantly eating out, or in another person’s home, results in little to no control over diet. As my physical health slowly declined–due to stress, but more on that later–I needed to cut out more foods. The problem was, my pride made me mortified to announce myself as a picky eater, so I often opted for a stomach ache rather than appearing high maintenance.
Over the past few years, I have slowly attempted to pare down my social life. Quality over quantity. This insatiable appetite for meeting new people was going to kill me. I was turning thirty, and it was way past the time to start investing more in the friendships I knew would last. The last year I lived in California had gotten so out-of-control-socially-busy, I had to admit to myself that all my interactions with friends had become surfacy, lightning-round, catch-up conversations. All this moving had pulverized any possible continuity, so there was rarely a friend who could notice destructive patterns.
Still, I made it a point to never be “alone with my thoughts”. What, on earth, was I so afraid to uncover?
Two years ago, my worldview rug was pulled out from underneath me. I had waded into one of the most complicated and heart breaking humanitarian crises of my generation and didn’t come out in one piece. So much of my westernized brainwashing was uncovered and I became anxious for the first time in my life. “If I’m this brain washed, we’ve all got to be, and now I don’t know how to talk to people about it.” At this current juncture, the internet is teeming with proof that many people my age have had a recent “deconstruction process”. We shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it.
Quite obviously, stress has horrible affects on our bodies, so naturally, as my anxiety crescendo-ed, so did the physical damage. I started getting these horrible stomachaches. It was high, like an ulcer, but then also weirdly a terrible mid-back ache. I couldn’t tell if my back ache was hurting my stomach, or my stomachache was hurting my back. After most meals I felt impaled–straight through–and didn’t know how to stop it.
Without health care, and with a strong observation that most my friends were beating auto-immune diseases by diet, I started cutting out different things. This took me all the way until last month (November 2018) when Mindy Kaling posted a pancreatic cancer awareness info-graphic. This is what had tragically taken her mother. I knew right away I didn’t have the cancer, which usually kills you within 6 months and gives you jaundice. I was not yellow and had suffered for over a year and a half, very much still alive. The thing that jumped out at me was this symptom of a high stomachache that was also a mid-back ache.
Now, while I still haven’t seen a doctor, I can report that since I started following a diet for chronic pancreatitis, I HAVE FELT AMAZING. Not only that, I’ve lost weight in a healthy way.
Moving to Italy to obtain dual citizenship was a very brave thing for me to do, because it faced my most dreaded fear: being alone. I have been more isolated in these months than I ever dreamed I would be in my life. Instead of panicking, I let myself cry about it a bit, then got to work on all the things my busy social life never allowed me to do.
One, has been cooking for myself a very nutrient rich, lean, fruit and vegetable heavy diet. Another has been the necessity to walk everywhere every day. Walking is amazing. It’s almost as if we were created to travel that way. It is a weirdly powerful cure for all types of anxiety symptoms. I’ve been forced to be alone with my thoughts, sort through them, and find healing.
I am very blessed to have a wonderful support system and access to the internet. A few of my closest friends also find themselves in new cities, dependent on long distance friendship whilst they seek out new, local friends. We are able to share and invest in each other, and it has become a strangely rich time for me, socially.
I’m over here living the introvert’s dream. I’m sometimes lonely and I’m usually home. For those of you familiar with Meyers Briggs, I’ve always tested 100% extrovert, when Meyers and Briggs are quoted as saying, “anyone who is 100% anything is certifiable” (okay, that was more of a paraphrase). I’m starting to see the credibility there.
While I’ve learned to enjoy the quiet, simplicity of an introvert’s wonderland, I am still energized by good conversation. I need these daily phone calls from my friends. I’ve also struck conversationalist gold upon discovering the podcast, Armchair Expert. I love how these dialogues mirror those of mine with close friends; vacillating between light-hearted pop culture references and poignant vulnerability.
I am finally able to write, which is something I’ve always felt the LORD nudging me to invest time in. I recently dug up a novella I wrote when I was seventeen and am excited to see if I can dust it off enough to maybe publish it someday. There are three other unfinished novels on my drive besides that one. This excites me.
I believe this season is vital in preparing me for what’s next in my eventual move to France. European bureaucracy has been a real foe, but I’ve learned to beat it by releasing my need to control how timely things happen. Once I decided things would take as long as they were going to take and it wasn’t going to ruin my life, I became next-level victorious. This season is also familiarizing me with the very real struggles of daily life and loneliness for fellow immigrants, whom I hope to be a friend and refuge to.
Forced to simplify my life, it has become okay for a meal preparation or grocery shopping excursion to take up a sizable chunk of time. As many of you know, I’ve been bouncing back and forth between Europe and the US every three months for awhile. My anxiety always increased during my time in the US, and one such breaking point was finding out about smart phone applications that did your grocery shopping for you. In France, I’d spend a good amount of the day tootling along on public transportation to the butchers, then the produce market, then the super market, then back home in time to make dinner for guests. This gave me a lovely sense of productivity. When I found out that you can punch in your grocery list and have someone fling it into your car as you drive by, something inside me died. My whole day was reduced to five minutes. This made me anxious, because I know how busy American life is, and how necessary this service feels. It also made me sad for my friends who have to use this on account of the day being so otherwise full. I know my tendency is to fill empty spaces and I wonder if I would feel compelled to create extra tasks for myself if shopping happened so quickly.
All this to say, I want to be an encouragement and not rub people’s noses in something that feels impossible for them. I’m not going to pretend to understand the pace of a mother’s life, but I want to suggest a kind of intervention that says, “slow down and let go.” Time doesn’t have to be this heinous overlord. Walk places. Find the people you can be vulnerable with, but also laugh about shared opinions of television shows.
Last night, I rewatched “Wisky Tango Foxtrot” and for those of you who have seen the movie, there is a scene where the US military is trying to find out if the Taliban were the ones bombing a well they dug for a village in Afghanistan. Come to find out, the women had been bombing the well with old soviet mines, because prior to the well, the best part of their day was walking to the river together to gossip and catch up. Sometimes we think making things easier and faster is better, but I think more often than not, we are robbing ourselves of a sweetness.
I keep trying to think of what someone could have told me to bring me to health. Maybe nothing. The LORD probably had to put me in a situation that confronted my deepest fear. In any case, draw the kind of triangle you imagine your current life to be, and don’t settle for isosceles.