My phone rings at 9:10 a.m. on a Thursday. It’s a dear friend who needs to talk. Problem is, I’m on my way to the doctor because my entire body has broken out in hives.
But context is in order, so let’s back up. The week went something like this:
Friday, Jan. 20 – I take myself to Poets House in Lower Manhattan overlooking the Hudson River and while away an afternoon drinking coffee and reading from a 2003 volume of short stories, poems, and interview snippets from The Paris Review. Divine, glorious experience. The evening gives way to a lively happy hour with friends.
Saturday, Jan. 21 – Participate in the Women’s March on New York City with a smart, determined group of friends, new and old. The night brings the beginnings of the nasty stomach bug that’s making its way around.
Sunday, Jan. 22 – A blur. Lifting my head off the pillow proves challenging. So does keeping anything down, including water.
Monday, Jan. 23 – Light! I can feel myself coming back, slowly. One banana, one piece of toast at a time. I even coach two clients in the evening.
Tuesday, Jan. 24 – The literal purge starts to feel like it should extend to more. I start cleaning out files, creating a list of action items, making sure to rest when needed. It’s a productive day.
Wednesday, Jan. 25 – About 6 a.m. I am awakened by itching that jolts me up. Hives! Wait, hives? I have hives? The itching escalates as the day progresses and I finally cave and buy Benadryl. I get relief within the hour and enjoy a quiet evening.
Thursday, Jan. 26 – Again I am awakened by itching, but this time it’s 2 a.m. and the hives are everywhere. My neck, thighs, forehead, hairline, stomach. They are red and raging. I want to rip off my skin. I take two more Benadryl, finally fall asleep, and then call the doctor first thing.
Now we’re at the point of the phone call from my friend.
But wait, there’s more context.
Did I mention that while I was reading a short story by Lorrie Moore and interview highlights from Vladimir Nabokov at Poets House on Friday, it was also providing a diversion from what was happening simultaneously in Washington, D.C.? Some guy with his hand on a Bible. You get the idea.
Each day from there, something. Like successive smacks in the face that come so fast you have no time to recover from the last. Women’s health. Muslims. The environment. Obamacare. The wall. Public education. Conflicts of interest. Freedom of the press. Then, petitions, phone numbers, calls for action, more action. What or who do I have time to save today? Clean air? Women in third-world countries?
And I wonder why I’m puking up my guts?
See, for many people, what I’ve outlined above would be two separate areas of my life. What’s happening with my physical body and what’s happening in my country and subsequently, the world. But I don’t see it that way. I haven’t for a long time, since September 11, 2001, actually. It was that day that rocked me to my core and that day my world view changed and that day that inspired me to change my entire life.
And it was the ensuing journey that helped me awaken to the fact that it’s all linked, the physical manifestation of what’s happening emotionally. And not just within me, but in the collective. (That journey is chronicled in my memoir called Alive in the Sunshine).
So now I come out of the doctor’s office with instructions to hit the drugstore and as I make the six-block walk, this phrase downloads into my mind: Our government has no conscience, so it’s like our country has no conscience.
Bam. That’s it. Our leadership is soul-less, heartless. And I’m not handling it very well.
My mind goes to the word ‘snowflake’ that’s been bandied about. They’re right. I’m a snowflake. I’m melting at the notion of what I can’t control.
But this is a six-block walk. And somewhere around block five something shifts. Wait, isn’t it a GOOD thing that I can’t handle this? Don’t I want to be empathic, inclusive, humane? Isn’t it a positive thing to want to be led by conscience, heart, soul?
The physical maladies are a temporary setback. They’re a call to action. Get strong. You need to get strong to stand in your beliefs and contribute to this.
Interestingly, I have for the past year or so been in a transition state of some kind. After some satisfying, lucrative freelance gigs ended, I was left to figure out my next chapters. It’s been a rough go on some days, but in the mix I’ve published a book, helped a lot of coaching clients find their voice, and started teaching creative writing to seniors. I believe there’s something else coming and that our national and global circumstances, such as they are, will help me see more clearly where to direct my energy moving forward.
This week I looked up a few things in my copy of Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life and found the results fascinating. She has a chart that explains the holistic meaning of specific physical ailments. First was “stomach issues” and here’s what it says is the probable cause: “Dread. Fear of the new. Inability to assimilate the new.” Bingo. Then I looked up “vomiting” and it said this: “Violent rejection of ideas. Fear of the new.” Uh huh. Hives are also related to fear.
By the time I walked home with my drugstore purchases, I had begun to understand more of what was happening within me and all around me. I called my friend. She sounded low energy. We talked about what was happening in the world, sharing our concerns. She admitted with quiet resignation to doing something very uncharacteristic of her – in a disagreement with a loved one, she had thrown a glass bottle against a wall.
What are the odds that when she called in need of talking about it I was heading out to see a doctor about hives? Why are so many of us flailing, spinning, crying, freaking? What is happening?
Damn snowflakes with a conscience, that’s what.