Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Slowing Down (Part II)

"The bigger the task, the more we have to slow down."

I came across this quote yesterday in one of the many guides to gluten-free living I have checked out in the last few weeks. I think it was used in relation to cooking, but it struck me as an apt description of my healing process.

It is taking a long time to feel better, and I am not a patient woman. With each new bout of sinusitis (and they are coming more frequently now, albeit with less severity and shorter duration), I rage at the universe. What do you want from me?! I demand. When will this be over, so I can get back to my life as it was? See, I don't always know exactly where I'm going, but I'm always in a hurry to get there. For months I've viewed this period as an inconvenient detour on my way to wherever I was headed next.

But another possibility has been nagging at me these last few weeks. What if this illness is not just a detour? What if the universe is saying, in no uncertain terms: Greene? It is time to change the way you live.

* * * * *

Celiac disease is an autoimmune response to a single trigger: gluten. However, if the immune response is strong enough, it can cause the body to become confused and attack other, more beneficial foods as well. The result can be a vicious cycle with food: the body wants more, rejects more, absorbs less.

I have often felt that I needed to eat more than most people--and certainly most people my size. I've lived with a constant, gnawing hunger that I (in my ignorance) tried to fill with more and more carbs. Wheat carbs, for the most part. Not that there's anything wrong with wheat; many people seem to tolerate my former diet relatively well. For me, though, it wasn't just too much of a good thing. It was too much of the wrong things. Satisfying in the short term but failing, ultimately, to truly nourish me. And in the process, blocking my ability to be nourished by other, more compatible foods.

Viewed in this light, the past several years of symptoms weren't just a random collection of pesky complaints to be medicated away, one by one. They were my body trying to tell me what was happening. Since I didn't listen, my body had to speak louder and louder, until I could no longer ignore it. Hypothyroidism? it nudged. Yep--runs in the family. No problem, there's medicine for that. But ... depression! Tougher to find the right medicine, peskier side effects, but I can live with it. OK then, how does SINUS SURGERY UNDER GENERAL ANESTHESIA WITH NO PROMISE OF A CURE sound?! OK, body. You win. I'm listening.

It is the curse and blessing of natural medicine that it is (at least in my case) not as fast as Western medicine. I am treating my symptoms, but gently. And while I am experiencing them, I am also learning from them.

For instance: Corn. Turns out, we don't like it. It has taken three major bouts of sinus swelling and pain in the last month for me to hear my body say so. But there is hope, because as I learn to listen, the reactions are getting quieter, more subtle. Yesterday my body used an almost-civilized tone of voice to inform me that it's no great fan of grapes. Grapes. I said. Got it. And (after a conveniently timed acupuncture session), the swelling and pain stopped in its tracks.

My body is also telling me what we do like. Spinach. Marinated zucchini. Quinoa. A perfectly ripe avocado. When I eat these foods, you can almost hear my body sigh with relief.

* * * * *

It's all one hell of a metaphor, really. Most of my adult life I have lived with another kind of hunger, an aching need for the taste of someone else's approval. I have tried to fill that need with many things: good grades, publications, the right partner, even my children. All have been wonderful aspects of my life, no question. Yet the hole just seemed to grow deeper. I pursued promotions and pay increases. I bought the house I had always wanted in the kind of neighborhood we had long envied. Still, I felt unsatisfied.

I can see now that my life has been one big case of too much of the wrong things--the things I thought I should want--getting in the way of truly absorbing, enjoying, and being sustained by the things that are right for me. Worse, it was getting to the point where I couldn't tell the difference anymore.

It's time to start paying attention to that inside voice, the one that is telling me: More of this. Less of that. If only I can remember how to listen.

Change takes time, and practice. I am still unearthing hidden sources of gluten in my diet; still gravitating to the wrong foods (for me) out of habit. I am still too easily caught up in wanting to be successful by someone else's standards. But I am also investing in myself as I never have before: comprehensive healthcare, organic produce, high-quality supplements. I am surrounding myself with people who support me in becoming who I am truly meant to be. I am beginning to see there is another way to live.

More and more, I am allowing myself to be guided by these questions: How would I feel if I refused to take one more bite that does not feed my unique body, and feed it well? What might be possible if I refused to live one more day--one more hour, even--in a way that does not nourish my soul?