The Body Keeps the Score [Birthday Edition]

Forty-one today. Forty + One.

And because I'm a mom of three, a bi-vocational pastor, and because we have a softball game and a school dance tonight, forty-one will look like eating dinner with my family. It will look like more dark chocolate than usual. And like soaking up sunshine next to the tomato and basil and thyme starter plants in my sunroom.

For some reason, FORTY felt more monumental. The end of an era, the beginning of the next. I had a party and invited old friends I rarely get to see. We ate cake and curried lentils.

But my forty-first year? Well, let me tell you, this year got started on the wrong foot. At my fortieth birthday party, I could hardly eat those curried lentils. My stomach was unhappy and has been for most of the last 12 months. I spent countless dollars and countless hours on finding a cure once the specialist's prescription did nothing for me. I life-hacked my way through National Institute of Health research, put myself on protocols of herbal antibiotics and probiotics, ate low-acid foods, ate low-FODMAP foods, ate Vita-Mixed foods, until at spring break this year, I looked at my husband and said, "I can't figure this out on my own. I have to get answers." That was six weeks ago. I then marched myself to a functional medicine doctor (you know, the kind insurance doesn't cover). I got bazillions of dollars in lab tests done--you know, the kind insurance mostly doesn't cover. And I spent a bazillion more dollars on supplements--the kind insurance definitely doesn't cover.

BUT, as I waited for the answers to trickle in with each new lab result, I started following a new food plan--it's nothing to write home about, but it made me feel somewhat better.  I found out and avoided foods I was sensitive to (Beef, people, and ginger, black beans, avocados, pineapple, bananas, cashews, peanuts! And many more). And as the rest of the lab results came in, each a piece to the puzzle, I am now seeing the big picture. And it's a crazy-ass picture, if you don't mind my English.

To put it simply, it starts and ends with a thing called leaky gut (or "intestinal permeability" for you science-y types), and from there it leads to vitamin deficiencies, low iron absorption, hormonal imbalances, and auto-immune indicators for thyroiditis and rheumatoid arthritis. None of this is a life sentence. Functional Medicine doctors are by definition root-cause-approach people, meaning in theory this is all reversible.

But it requires some serious buckling down on my end in terms of how I manage my life for the next several months. If I can buckle down well, I'll probably re-unite with black beans and lentils in 12-18 months. But as I process the road immediately before me, like anyone grappling with health issues, fleeting waves of grief roll over me--because food means so much to us, doesn't it? It's New Pi's cheesecake on anniversaries and chocolate mousse cake on birthdays. Or the black bean cupcakes for my stepmama's birthday. A warm tomato from the garden, shared with a daughter on a summer day. It's once-in-a-while sautéed mushrooms on steak for a special occasion.

Some of you who know me well have said or will say, But Heather, you're like the healthiest person I know!?! And by that, I know you mean that I make some of the healthiest choices of the people you know.  I believe it, for the most part. Filtered water, natural cleaning and body products, as much organic food as I can afford, low-sugar eating, yoga, prayerful reflection. But actually, none of this has made me the healthiest person you know.

I don't know why some people are more susceptible to falling apart like this. Or if maybe most people feel horrible and think this is what normal feels like? I've eaten my share of the Standard American Diet over the years, and I'm sure it's taken a toll. Living in a 21st century modern world where typical stress levels are jacked up 24/7 doesn't help either.  A lot of us probably need to clean things up, calm things down, and go into repair mode with our diets every few months.

But here's another factor: when I was nine years old, I was really, really sick. Like four-months-out-of-school sick, like bleeding-ulcers sick. If I could go back and do the same lab tests, I might find that many of my problems then are the same as my problems now. It was a stressful time in my family, so stressful that I was a nine-year-old with ulcers who then developed life-altering asthma and allergies for the next fifteen years.

Recently, a friend told me that in healing, it's usually the body that is last to repair.  Over the last, thirty-two years, I've been healing in spiritual and emotional and psychological ways. I know better now how to live connected to Peace than I ever did. Imperfectly, mind you. But still, my mind and spirit are out of sync with the chaos happening in my body. The best way to explain this? Well, the body keeps the score.*

But here I am, forty-one, and I want to settle things with my body that have already been settled in other parts of me.  So, I'm choosing to celebrate this year without cake. I'm celebrating a garden that will grow lots of cruciferous vegetables and herbs for me to live on this summer, celebraing that I have plenty of flowers to satisfy my soul's ache for beauty, and that--praise Jesus--I'm not allergic to cacao. 

If we share a meal together in the next few months, there's no need to feel sorry for me if I'm eating canned salmon on greens with cucumbers and olive oil and foregoing the lasagna or subs or burgers. Honestly, things could be a lot worse. But maybe pray for me to hold the course, so that my body has a chance to catch up.

*Title of NYT bestseller, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.