Tuesday, February 6, 2024

I’m Feeling Better. I Think This is Why.

 Hello Invisible Audience,


I have a stuffy nose today, that started as a sore throat and a headache on Friday. But unlike other recent illnesses, this one feels different: it feels like it’s just a minor physical symptom that will fade, instead of the portent of an unending illness that will slowly erode my will to live.


It feels different because I am different, in some ways that feel remarkable. I want to share those ways with you, but not because I think I’ve figured out some hidden formula to help others get better. I want to share it with you first so that I don’t forget what’s been working, and second so that, if you chronically feel terrible, you know that the way out is not something you can adopt from someone else’s treatment plan. You have to find your own treatment plan that works for you.


The Nervous System

The biggest change in my life has come from learning something from a friend of mine who works with people trying to recover from chronic illness. According to him and the research he’s done, the reason some people recover quickly from illnesses and some just don’t has to do with trauma. If you’ve experienced trauma—like I have, and like my friend has—your nervous system is already jacked up, to put it bluntly. Add in a long-term bout of pneumonia, or a case of Lyme disease, long COVID, etc., and your body’s already panicked outlook on life is going to skyrocket and stay there. This is also true of chronic pain.


Learning this made my entire life make sense, Invisible Audience. I have been sick in one form or another for as long as I remember. I kept trying to treat the symptoms, or the illness. It would work for that one thing, but then I’d get sick in another way. One thing after another after another. So even though Lyme disease has been the latest and greatest, it was not even remotely the first thing.


Most of the following things that have worked for me have worked because I’ve been able to put things in the context of trying to calm my nervous system. After I found the things that worked for me in that framework, things began to change rapidly for the better.


Find the People Whose Words Make Sense to You

“Being a human is weird,” my friend says. I bought him a website domain name that ended in .guru as a joke, because he’s supremely uncomfortable with the idea of being lumped in with other healers or coaches who claim they have the one right way to help someone. He talks about the science behind the tools he suggests, but he also says, very often, “If this tool doesn’t work, we’ll try something else.”


There are undoubtedly others who do similar work, but use vocabulary around God; the Universe; Divine Light. None of those words or dogmas hit me where I need them to: in a way that I can take in and appreciate fully. So I don’t seek them out. I seek out more people who speak in the way my friend does, because what he says makes sense to me.


Stop Listening to People Who Won’t Listen to You, and Stop Trying to Convince Them of Your Validity


Boundaries are hard for me, Invisible Audience. It feels like I am risking death to tell someone how I really feel about how they’ve treated me sometimes. But it turns out this is a really big part of healing a jacked-up nervous system. It turns out that there’s more than one way to traumatize someone: the first is the act itself, wherein I learned that what I wanted or needed or felt didn’t matter. The second is learning from that trauma how to perform that same act on myself, over and over and over again. Staying friends with people who don’t listen to me, validate me or show up for me. Saying yes to things I don’t want to do. Spending all my energy trying to convince people that my experience is real, and valid, and that they should believe me.


Stop Doing the Things That Make You Feel Worse or Have No Impact

It is true that there are some foods that make me feel worse if I eat them. However, none of them have conclusively shown up on a blood test or stool test or any other test. I eat it and I don’t feel well. It sounds simple, but it took much longer than I wanted it to because I was too busy listening to what everyone else said I should be eating instead of just listening to my body. This led to some doctor-prescribed disordered eating, that connected nicely with an eating disorder I had in high school and continued body image issues I’ve had to make me feel awful and blame myself for not being able to eat well enough to feel better, or lose weight. Invisible Audience, getting a dietician who practiced Intuitive Eating was the very best thing I’ve done for myself, ever. Now I eat what sounds good. Period. I am less likely to choose things that make me feel like shit. I eat a lot of healthy foods, because they make me feel good. And so, so much less of my head space is taken up by thinking about what other people think about my body. It is the most amazing gift I have ever given myself.


Meditation makes me feel worse. So does focusing on my breath. This is not true for everyone, but there is a growing body of research that shows that many people with trauma and PTSD have similar experiences to mine. I have stopped trying to convince breath coaches and yoga teachers and meditation enthusiasts that this is real, even if it still enrages me that they’re shaming people like me for not “doing it right” if we feel worse instead of better when we try. But I’m no longer trying to get them to own that they’re wrong. I just don’t do the things that make me feel worse, because it was teaching my body that what I felt didn’t matter.



Writing makes me feel better, Invisible Audience. Last week I felt so, so tired. I wrote about it, and the feel immediately went away. I have no idea why this works for me. I’m going to keep doing it.


Safe Touch

I live with two, super-cuddly cats. I’m single. It turns out that I need human touch, and that, until now, I’ve only allowed myself to get it from people who were helping me recover from pain. The problem was that these people were aiming at seeing me less as I improved, when what I subconsciously needed was to continue to get the validation and touch they were offering. So I’m going to start scheduling preventative massages that aren’t dependent on feeling awful to go in. I’m just going to go because it feels so good to have someone I trust touch me. Hopefully, with time and more work, I will feel comfortable enough to try to find others I trust who I can enjoy even simple amounts of physical affection with.



I have been in talk therapy for years, Invisible Audience. Recently, I started with a new counselor, who is fantastic. Not only do I feel like her general approach to therapy is helping me, we also started brainspotting recently. She describes it as a cousin to EMDR, and it is impacting me SO. MUCH. Some things can’t be talked out. Some things must be felt through. Brainspotting is helping me identify and clear those kinds of things that have been stuck for a long, long time.


This isn’t anyone’s pathway to health but mine, Invisible Audience. I hope you can find yours, too.


Love and better kisses,


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