There was a whole lot of sturm and drang associated with having to quit working as an NP about 18 months after I was diagnosed with ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome):
- Seeing my income drop precipitously
- Being unable to afford COBRA insurance and so being without coverage until Medicare would begin two years after official disability determination (don’t get me started on how colossally stupid it is to grant disability and then make us pay out of pocket for healthcare)
- Self-image issues related to being chronically ill and yet not looking “sick enough” that drove me into endless cycles of pushing myself to act normal and then crashing/relapsing for days or weeks afterward
- Self-esteem issues associated with no longer being able to do what I loved and friends and family doubting I was really as sick as I claimed
- Almost losing my home to foreclosure before I could get it refinanced with the help of my former husband and still good friend (we’ve since remarried)
Reflecting on it while composing this post, I realize my journey back to being as healthy as I could be with a fatal, chronic illness started with the foundational Tibetan Buddhist practices known as ngondro (NUUN-DRO), during which practitioners perform 100,000 repetitions of what is called the preliminary practices:
- repeating Refuge and Bodhicitta prayers while prostrating the body full out on the floor with arms above the head
- purifying karma through visualization and repetition of a 100-syllable mantra
- constructing mandalas to purify attachment
- purifying delusion through visualization and prayer
I lived alone the whole time (3.5 years) I was doing ngondro. I did an evening practice to eliminate obstacles, too. It worked for me as Dharma teachings promised it would. Like most, if not all, Buddhists who complete the preliminaries, I was changed inside and out. Most evident on my face, which even on a good day looks like I’m grumpy and dissatisfied, my features softened and I even looked more peaceful. I no longer felt self-pity, unfocused anger, disappointment and recrimination (what did I do that gave me ME?).
With little time to do much online research while doing ngondro, I dove back into it when my Buddhist practice no longer took all day. One of the first places I found a spark of hope was Donna Schenck’s blog at http://www.culturedfoodlife.com/ Donna became quite ill with her last pregnancy and found her body repaired itself when she began fermenting, or culturing, food.
Like Donna, I started with dairy kefir (KEFF-er or KEY-fur), essentially milk that uses beneficial bacteria to consume at the lactose (milk sugar) and turn the result into a delicious, tart beverage. Then it was on to a fermented tea called kombucha (COM-BOO-CHA), fermented carrots, dill pickles, sauerkraut, radishes, and garlic, among other veggies. I found I wasn’t a huge fan of fermented veg (if you have a prize recipe, send it to me and I’ll try it).
I reasoned the body makes new cells all the time and these new cells would be healthier and stronger because of the beneficial bacteria I was consuming. I felt better drinking kefir and kombucha. This drove me to learn more about cultured foods. At the same time, I started buying vegetables at the local Farmers Market and signing up for lots of food blogs. Ultimately, I became a member of a site started by a young woman named Wardeh (WAR-DEE) who showed how she uses traditional ways of preparing foods that are seasonal and more nutritious than conventional, processed food. Here’s the website: https://traditionalcookingschool.com/
Something else was going on at the same time. I began working with the ANS Rewired program. This proved to be as good for me mentally and physically as meditation and cultured foods. More on that in the next post.
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