Where's the Poop, Robin?
Where My Healing Was Hiding
Part 6: Please Clean Up After Your Dog
Trigger Warning: This series discusses controversial and critical views of Chronic Lyme disease, chronic illness, mental illness, trauma, health, medicine, religion, politics, and just about everything. It is intended to express my personal perspective, for exploring the many facets of physical and mental well-being that I found conducive to healing. Some ideas may cause discomfort if one has not experienced a similar stage in their journey, and/or one has not found the resources to understand them in their intended context. I explore paradigms that I myself at one time considered offensive, but in my healing journey have found the capacity to inquire and even embrace. I am not a medical professional and this is not medical advice. Please engage with these thoughts only relative to your individual capacity to receive them, and allow yourself safe distance if you find them overwhelming. Personally, I believe our triggers are our greatest teachers if we learn to converse with them gently, but one must first come to a place of internal safety.
This is Part 6. In Part 1, I discussed my paradigm shift from germ theory to terrain theory, and highlighted the role the Sympathetic Nervous System plays in susceptibility to chronic illness when dysregulated by chronic fear and stress. In Part 2, I began to question my narratives of Chronic Lyme, and shared my journey beyond pathogens as root cause, particularly stress. In Part 3, I had to face the fact that my own Lyme journey began after a hellish 9-month withdrawal from 16 years of prescription antidepressants, and my triggers made it clear my body was still holding onto that trauma and causing symptoms, even though the pathogens were gone. In Part 4, I discovered the link between my “hereditary” Major Depressive Disorder, antidepressant medication, and my worst neurological Lyme Disease symptoms: the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) region of the brain. In Part 5, I found that the ACC is damaged by chronic stress and fear, and mine was being dysregulated since birth by a religion based in fear and punishment.
Everything became crystal clear to me as I was writing my resignation from formal Church membership. My real disease was a spiritual autoimmunity, in a sense. I hated myself. The brain and body followed and started attacking the pathogen: me. Every time I went to a service or Bible study, that self-hatred was only reinforced as holy, through the doctrine of “total depravity,” particularly the Calvinist flavor. I’ve seen it more appropriately (in this case) called “POST” – Piece-of-Shit Theology. It’s basically a religion that says, “You ARE the poop, Robin.” Humankind is totally depraved since our evil conniving ancestral adulteress Eve chose her pride and selfish desire to “be her own God and decide what is good and evil,” ate an apple, and doomed us all to misery on earth and the eternal wrath of God.
Oh, but Jesus was murdered for you (or because of you), so it’s all okay now. God loves you…
… He’s just not very pleased with you, you undeserving worm.
I couldn’t live like that anymore – literally. I couldn’t live. I certainly couldn’t heal with that mindset talking to every cell of my body. Who could? (I imagine people who have committed actual crimes and abuses would find this theology comforting, as God offers pardon; however, when you're simply a child crying over spilt milk, I think the threat of hellfire is a bit overkill. Many life-long Christians proclaim faith in God's grace, yet have zero corporal knowledge of actual freedom from guilt.) So this is the impetus behind my religious posts about deconstruction, critical analyses of Evangelical doctrines, and all the Biblical posts that are going to make the atheists cringe, and the Evangelicals cringe, and even my immune system cringe. I’m still struggling with the vast implications of this massive life change. Because my own healing, my own salvation – the confession of my story, the forgiveness of myself, freedom to be myself, love myself, and know the real God and Creator of my beautiful self – still feels like a threat. Though I am healthier, and happier, more loving and grateful and spiritual than ever, my body still does not feel safe having obtained that abundant life through beliefs contrary to what I was raised with, even if I can find it word-for-word in the same Bible. It’s taken over a year to get this out. And I’m still shaking like a leaf.
Healing is hard.
What makes it a little easier is that I have not felt the need to reject my faith altogether. I still believe in God. I still believe in Jesus. I still believe in resurrection, and I still believe that the Bible is true… with a loooooot of interpretive distortions over the last few thousand years and languages and cultures. I may use this space to explore my new faith and share the ways I’ve deconstructed my old damaging beliefs. I may offend a lot of people. I may change my mind. I may stop writing. I don’t know why I’m here. I’m just telling my story.
In the overall Chronic Lyme Disease paradigm, I do think that medicine, nutrition, exercise, therapies, detox, science, testing, technology, and all that, can be helpful, necessary, and good. I’m not saying all diseases will magically go away if you just love yourself. We need a better healthcare system. But I do think a gracious self-image and loving inward thoughts are vital to health (via the limbic system!). I think all the biomedical interventions that were probably necessary and absolutely helped in my healing weren’t just biological mechanisms, but a healing message to my mind and body and every cell that I’m finally listening, I’m finally paying attention, and I’m here to do everything in my power to love you and support you. This is why placebos work. It doesn’t necessarily matter what gets put in the body, the most important thing is the message: I see you. I love you. I protect you.
Is this how Jesus healed people?
I believe that Lyme Disease was a gift. It did not make me sick. It made me well. Lyme Disease was my teacher and my healer. Now, in that belief, in appreciation for my life’s journey, I have to give the same credit to depression and psychiatric drug withdrawal… and that’s a much tougher pill to swallow. I have to give the same credit to the spiritually abusive Church that buried me in all the guilt and shame. It’s going to take an awful lot of communion wine to get that one down. But I believe that love and gratitude heals, and I have to consider that to heal all the traumas and hurts in my life, I need to view them with love and gratitude. No, certainly not for the evils and abuses. But for myself. For the wonderful God who can take the pure evil of someone else’s sin, and turn it into a fire that refines me into the golden goddess I am today. I’m not quite there yet, with forgiveness and gratitude, but I don’t judge myself. I honor my intention and my journey.
In “Healing the Child Within,” Charles L. Whitefield, M.D, writes, “...forgiving is a process that is analogous to, if not in large part identical to the grieving process.”
I like that. The Church likes to talk about forgiveness as something we just do, or God won’t forgive us. As if it’s easy to forgive, to love the enemy, the person who lied to you, stole from you, drugged you, raped you, silenced you, abused you, damaged your brain, and made you sick. No, no. It’s a grieving process. Forgiveness isn’t love and hugs and naive apologies. It’s not a confession and a prayer away. It’s a process. It’s all the stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance – and the moving in and out and back and through them in cycles and seasons. It can be revoked. It can be reactivated. It can be re-evaluated. It’s a process of transformation.
I would add that forgiveness and grieving are analogous to, if not in large part identical to, the healing process.
All that being said (it really has been like 6 seasons of How I Met Your Mother, hasn’t it? No pun intended!), I want to reiterate that this is my journey. One toxic habit from Evangelicalism that I’m working to drop is the need to tell other people what their journey should look like. Certainly, I wish everyone could experience what I feel: free, happy, loved, loving, and healing. But it’s not my place to say where anyone ends up or how they get there. One of my favorite Bible verses is John 21:22. Jesus said, [what I do with the other guy] “what is that to you? You must follow me!”
But I do wonder how many people could be helped, if they just knew that there might be some misconceptions and downright lies about their self-worth fueling their chronic illness, through thought patterns and stress hormones. If more people knew about the power of deconstructing toxic thoughts and neuroplasticity, could healing – not just Lyme but all the co-factors and comorbidities – be accelerated?
⚠ Trigger Warning: Religion, athletics, USA Gymnastics, and abuse
As I observed in Part 2, everyone I met with Lyme has an other story. The more I learn of those stories, the more possible sources of self-destructing thoughts become apparent. Many are raised in religious homes. Were they toxic like mine? Celebrities with chronic illness abound. Is the media and public scrutiny toxic? How many people with chronic illness carry a past of outright abuse, which they may or may not even know they're hiding (the phenomenon of post-traumatic dissociation can range from foggy memories to completely blocked memories)? A large percentage were athletes, and I am struck by how many were gymnasts in particular. The Larry Nassar investigation blew the lid wide open on trauma and abuse rampant in gymnastics. Simone Biles’ mental health break at the 2021 Olympics shot it straight to the top. The 1996 “Magnificent Seven” demonstrated the abuse of one’s own body that's actually expected of gymnasts (Kerri Strug, Dominique Moceanu), and Dominique Dawes has committed her career to fiercely protecting young gymnasts from the abuse she suffered:
“I never want any of my kids or anyone else’s kids to go through that level of emotional abuse and verbal abuse. This was not something unique just to myself, it was everyone… I woke up every single day in fear, with anxiety. Did I love the sport of gymnastics? Yes. That’s why I stayed, because of my teammates and the love I had for the sport. However, the culture that I lived in was toxic and still is.
When Simone Biles was at the Olympic Games [in the summer of 2021], when she cited mental health issues for not competing [in the gymnastics team final], it just reopened wounds. It reopened feeling the enormous amount of pressure and just reliving the times when you never got a day off. Even if you were sick, you still had to go.”
(Bethesda Magazine, March 2022, emphasis mine).
Gymnastics culture sounds a lot like Church. As I read these accounts I’m just flabbergasted more and more when gymnastics comes up repeatedly in the Lyme community. If the experience sounds so much like mine with religious indoctrination, is the toxic self-image also present, never feeling good enough, always afraid of letting everyone down? Have the same stress and fear hormones been eating away at our immune systems?
You genuinely love your community, so you stay. This is who you are, so you can’t leave. You figure since everyone else is okay, you must be weaker, overreacting, you should just get over it (self-gaslighting). If you fail, you’ll take the whole team with you ("the Church needs its body!"). If you’re sick or injured, you still have to do your part ("be a prayer warrior!", encourage others with your testimony, join the "greeter ministry", stuff envelopes!) 7-days-a-week devotion and training (services, personal devotions, group Bible study, prayer meetings, phone calls, food trains, worship practice, youth group, nursery duty, community events, nursing home visits, VBS). One bad move and it’s all over (beware “falling away”!)
When we come down with a debilitating illness and need to rest and take care of our bodies, what message is playing in our head? Holy Sabbath? Rehabilitation? Never! Get up and do it anyway. Winners never quit. No pain, no gain. Suffer for Christ’s sake. Don’t be selfish. Take one for the team.
Team sports sounds a lot like like parenting, sounds a lot like "Church families." Does the guilt that comes with parenting, needing to show up and perform your best even when you're sick and tired, sacrifice yourself for the team, "never give up, never quit," contribute to the disproportionate number of women and mothers who struggle with Lyme and other chronic illness?
When we finally hit rock bottom and can’t grin-and-bear-it anymore, can we possibly feel like anything but a failure? Does our self-worth completely disintegrate when Lyme obliterates all of our familiar measures of success or goodness? Does our own soul turn auto-immune?
I am a tenacious believer in absolute rest and self-care for healing. If we were raised in a culture that told us that was unacceptable, the very thing itself that we need to heal only triggers a stress response for breaking the rules. Impossible disease.
Simone Biles said making a decision to take care of her own health and safety was "the most courageous" thing she's done. "...it was my biggest win. I had to put myself into consideration for one of the first times throughout my career. Most of the time, I've always put myself on the back burner, because I've always cared and thought about everybody else before myself." She continued, "I was like, 'You know what? I have to do what's best for me, what's safe, and what's healthy for me.' "
The hardest win you'll ever fight for is valuing your own worth, to sacrifice all you've been for all you are becoming.
And this is why I’m obsessed with unconditional self-love, self-care, and self-compassion. No one can change your brain the way you can. No one can talk to you or your inner child like you can. No one can tell every cell of your body that they’re safe, and loved, and worthy even though you know all their secrets like you can. No one can receive the Divine for you. Everyone is hurting. Everyone falls short. Everyone gets upset, and confused, and triggered at some point, and everyone will let you down sooner or later. If you aren’t there to catch yourself with the Divine that lives in you, you will continue to fall, again and again and again.
This is not selfishness. Once we learn to live our own lives in our own bodies with our own gratitude and love, we receive this strength and joy which exudes love and compassion to others. If you are that amazing type of person who suffers yet continues to take care of everyone else… I honor you... and I want you to know that it’s okay to turn that grace onto yourself as well. God already has. And if you won’t or can’t, thank you for your sacrifice. I know exactly how much it costs.
And that’s the story of how I met myself.