Posted by: alegra22 | November 10, 2013

breathing and oxygen and gravity

Last Sunday I found myself in the ER, holding the hand of a friend’s father. I asked him to tell me stories about his life to keep my mind on the surface of things. So he did. He stroked my hair and I curled up on three chairs in the waiting room, still gripping his rough bear paw of a hand. I closed my eyes. He told me about his childhood and farming. When I was coherent enough we discussed our sons (his son is our downstairs tenant) and every so often he’d get me to laugh. What was important was that I felt safe with this man I’d only met a few times. It was in his eyes, his presence…it made me believe forces were at work to keep me on the planet.

Dan was in Hamilton, about ninety minutes away, and we had no idea what was going on with me. I just knew that I was running a fever, couldn’t string sentences together, kept fading in and out of consciousness, and that I’d woken up this way with no apparent cause. A lot of time passed. My friends Grant and Ellyn arrived. Normally I wouldn’t have asked them to come but I wasn’t sure if I was dying and I figured if I was, I wanted Grant there to give me my last rights, “You were a pain in the ass, Alegra. Go to God in peace and when you get there I expect they’ll all recognize the reward I should receive for putting up with you here on earth. Amen.”

Hours passed although I didn’t realize it. When Grant arrived I felt the need to hug his foot. I was fascinated with the softness of his shoe. He shrugged and told me the brand they were and that they were suede, because that’s the sort of friend he is; when the storm hits, he is a steady lighthouse. I closed my eyes and listened to the sounds surrounding me. A week after, he’d be giving me a hard time as we recalled events with friends over  homemade pizza and wine. “You were really attached to my shoe, Alegra,” he said, rolling his eyes, “I just went with it.”

We both agreed that when I sat up and punched him in the leg for threatening to move to Australia, I was on the mend. After the leg punch, he told me he knew how to cure my ills, in particular my fever. He was going to tie me to the roof of the car and hit the highway in faith all that fresh air would do me good. I dared him to. That’s when we both knew I probably wasn’t going to die.

Hours later the ER discharged me. I had come back to a certain level of being able to complete sentences (mostly in the form of smartassery) and I could walk on my own again. They suspected a strange virus. Surrounded by my children and husband, we left the hospital, but the fatigue/fever and disorientation kept coming and going. To summarize: another trip to the doctor and more blood tests have revealed things I was already aware of but hadn’t given much credit to over the years. Here is the thing that people without chronic illness sometimes have a hard time understanding; from the age of about fourteen, I felt I had two choices, to either surrender or fight and either choice demands, initially, a certain level of compartmentalizing.

In the beginning, I interpreted surrender as being debilitated and unable to earn my worth in the world, but fighting meant overriding my body and its chronic fatigue, bronchitis, food sensitivities, brain fog, heart racing, asthma, muscular pain…I could go on. So, I began to fight. As I got older, I researched the body. I studied alternative health and almost became an acupuncturist. I experimented with diet, cleansing, exercise, prayer,  and supplements.

Every few years, I’d get to a point of desperation coupled with the resources to go to a doctor. I’d get answers here and there that led to another stage in the journey, but mostly, I learned to use the energy of my mind and spirit to stay one step ahead of the fear I felt when I fully inhabited my body. I learned to compartmentalize the bouts of illness. I learned to counter desperation with action. I’ve been an athlete since I was eighteen. When you’re dancing, training, and surfing 2 or 3 sessions a day, you learn to push through limitations. Out in the surf, when there is a set wave on your head, you don’t get to say, “Oh, I think this is pushing my body too hard.” You take a breath and wait for whatever comes. You surrender to it. And then you come gasping to the surface, grab your board, paddle for the horizon, despite how fatigued you might be.

My second series of blood test results had markers for reoccurring ongoing glandular fever/Ebstein Barr. This coupled with my inappropriate sinus tachycardia and genetic food sensitivities is enough of a reason to explain almost everything, but we’re not finished with the sleuthing. The difference is, on Sunday something changed in me, in fact, since coming back from California (a blog for next time now that I’ve broken my blogging silence), everything has changed in me.

Last night, Dan and I sat up with Joaquin watching Rise of the Guardians. Dan was gently kneading at my shoulders as he does most nights but something had changed in me. I could feel a spread of warmth through my muscles at his touch and I remembered what it was like when I first met him; I hadn’t felt that sort of safety in my body since I was a child. It was like coming home. I didn’t say anything to Dan because I’m learning to relax back into that other language between us, the unspoken one. It is the language of intimacy. I’ve been speaking it with my children since their birth and last night I understood that when Dan has been saying to me, “I miss you. The children get you all the time” he meant it. Giving birth to three children was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. It meant I was absolutely anchored to the planet, committed to being in my life with all of its joy and pain. In the last few months I’ve begun to understand that while my fierce determination has brought me to this point in time, I no longer need it the way I once did. I’m swapping it in for something else: the vulnerability of trusting that my purpose on this planet is to simply exist.

On Sunday, Grant said something to me after threatening to tie me to his roof rack. He said, “I know what’s wrong with you, Alegra. You woke up this morning into reality and you’re just not used to it. You’re experiencing all of this breathing and oxygen and gravity and it’s all uncomfortable and new. You’re in shock.”

I think, at the very core of my spirit, Grant is right. It doesn’t discount the very real issues in my body, but it addresses my response to them.

As I sat with Dan, Joaquin curled up between my legs and carrying on a conversation with me about which characters he liked and why, I moved through the waves of feeling safe in my body. It was almost overwhelming at times and my mind wanted to time travel, to control the experience, but instead, I kept breathing and surrendering.

This morning I woke up and knew I was ready to come here and write it out, because it is my mind’s way of feeling safe in this business of pain and joy and oxygen and gravity. It is my way of simply existing.



  1. Amen. (what else can someone say, when what’s needed to be said has been…said) Much Aroha, Much love, Much Miss You Guys!

    • We miss you too xxx

  2. This “the vulnerability of trusting that my purpose on this planet is to simply exist.” Oh yes, yes yes….

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