April 30, 2014 

This week I start a new drug. The fact that it is new, just an addition to an ever-lengthening list of drugs, surprises me just a little. I have believed that with good judgment, adequate exercise, healthy eating habits, and decent sleep (when I can find it), I could maintain a good quality of health. I not only wanted to do it all myself, I thought I must. I didn't expect help. 

When I was 20, 18 months into a miserable marriage and just completing college in Chicago, I was brought down by a virus I contracted in a Lake Michigan winter wind. I had lived two years in South Bend, Ind., for my initial college experience. The first Oct. I was there in 1967, I was entranced by the snowfall. In Oklahoma we didn't see much snow and never saw it for very long. Here the flakes bombed the campus, the cars, the people and accumulated on the ground, the trees, and the buildings. For weeks and months. In May it was still snowing but I was no longer delighted. 

After two years in South Bend I transferred to the Univ. of Ill. in Chicago. The snow was still plentiful but added to it were the gusts off the lake. I was colder than I had ever been and for longer. In December, 1970, when I finished the required coursework to earn a BS, I had another cold. When the cold had resolved in Jan. I noticed some weakness in my right leg which grew worse. I was at home in Tulsa, visiting my parents for Christmas but when it came time to return to Chicago, I, instead, entered the hospital. Where I remained for 44 days. 

I slept 22 hours a day without meds. I had no pain but also very little feeling and less control of any muscles. My vision doubled at a short distance, I couldn't hold a spoon, and standing was out of the question. 

When I left the hospital I had received the diagnosis of transverse myelitis. According to the doctors, a virus from the cold had entered my spinal fluid and damaged nerves. My right leg and left arm were most affected. The doctors said to swim and to expect that I would age faster than usual. They didn't limit my expectations for my healing but also didn't offer any long term therapies. 

The result was that I believed my healing was up to me. I was 21 and still fairly steeped in denial so I really didn't see much of a problem. I didn't walk for four months but gradually my strength returned. I didn't doubt that I would recover so I was completely optimistic.

I entered graduate school that fall at the University of Oklahoma in Norman and enjoyed a fairy normal graduate experience--long hours in the library, weekend drinking, limited sleep, and lots of walking. My body grew stronger and I assumed a normal existence.

The next years took me to southern Ohio for my first job in a psychiatric hospital and then to southern California for a doctorate. Starting in Ohio and continuing in California, I swam as the doctors had recommended.  I had been as athletic as any girl in a girls' school in Oklahoma was--not very. Summers in Oklahoma kept everyone inside from 9-6. Evenings were lovely, catching fireflies and stringing dandelions. But outside activity was limited.

In California, however, I was amazed and delighted by the gentle days and nights. In the winters it rained. I thought I was in paradise. San Diego in the 1970s was an overgrown town with friendly folks and multifarious opportunities to explore interests of every ilk. I jogged, painted watercolors, attended artist's receptions, wrote and attended author's receptions, drank wine on the beach, made a skydiving jump, climbed the vertical trail by Torrey Pines golf course to the beach. Additionally, I maintained a private practice doing psychotherapy, kept my own books under the tutelage from my CPA father, and bought a condominium. Life was great.

I pursued my interest in meditation. The last quarter in graduate school I learned to meditate, perhaps the most helpful course I took. But life was busy in my 20s with activities and in my 30s with work but by 40 and thereafter, unpaid bills had come due.  It was time to delve deeply into my shadowy undercurrents.

The psychological framework provided by my studies and my work helped me appreciate the order and the beauty and the precision of my inner world dynamics. Meditation gave me a construct for holding the craziness and pain and overwhelm. I had developed well my Controller, the part of me who insisted that I function rationally in the world. But my feeling side had been neglected. Now it demanded attention and in meditation found it. 

My 40s proved to be less about work and more about integrating the unconscious dynamics whose time had come. Meanwhile, I swam four days a week and went to the gym to lift weights and use the cardio machines three days. Physically, I didn't grow stronger as I had been doing until 40, but maintained (almost).

My meditations deepened my self-awareness, as though an inner teacher showed me flip cards and said, 'Look at this and this and this.' Details from every age appeared, I looked at them, experienced my feelings, and watched them pass. I respected the wisdom in my meditations which clearly wasn't related to my intellect. I lived more spontaneously. 

Menopause at 55 issued in startling and devastating physical changes. I had visited China, contracted a cold, taken Cipro and returned to the US. No big concern. I didn't have another period and "felt" a pool dry up inside me. Each day I walked with more difficulty. The nerve damage symptoms from 1971 returned incrementally. I was left in pain, without much muscle control, and unable to think clearly. After consulting three doctors, I established a hormone replacement regimen which helped immensely but not completely. I still couldn't walk evenly.

It has been nine years since then and I've found a wonderful doctor who measured and replaced amino acids. I swim a mile daily and I feel great. But walking is still a challenge. A physical therapist has given me some pertinent exercises which I practice religiously. But I've also noticed that my healing is more than just physical. A spiritual component has developed from my many hours meditating which guides me. I've learned to expect support from non-physical reality and to look for it. And it always comes. Now I value my partnership with non-physical reality and rely on it. I've learned that blending the physical and non-physical parts of me defines true healing.





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