Updated: Jun 1, 2022
Inflammation can happen, as Webster shares, in two ways: emotionally or physically. I would beg to argue that we can also be spiritually inflamed. We can get puffed up because we have been "rubbed" the wrong way, for many reasons.
Words are so multifaceted, full of meaning and connotation. Wouldn't you say? To explore the ways that inflammation can occur, I'd like to offer you my personal narrative about inflammation.
The story begins with a 15 year old losing their mother to breast cancer and then experiencing her father's battle with prostrate cancer not too shortly thereafter. Sorry to bring you to the uglies so quickly, but that is how inflammation begins, in the uglies, or might I say, in the shadows.
At 15, I did not know that I, too, would have to contend with my own cancer sentence to learn personally how chronic inflammation works. I had been rubbed by my parent's experience to such a degree that I was more than swollen physically, but first, emotionally and spiritually.
I was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) fifteen years later when I was 30. This form of leukemia causes the lymph to swell throughout the body. For me, the lymph under my arms, in my neck, in my groin and gut were the biggest culprits. They were so swollen that you could see them (at least the ones in my neck) protruding.
As you can see in the picture below, my normally slender cheeks are wide with lymph. When I was first diagnosed, I struggled to poop, even. My lymph were so enlarged that they were impinging upon my intestine. I'm happy you can't see that here. I'm sure you are, too.
But like I mentioned earlier, it is in the shadows where inflammation can grow. It is in our not doing or saying the things we need to, which allows it to grow.
Many people ask how I knew something was wrong. What made me go to the doctor? I always tell people my Sadako story:
I was living in South Carolina at the time, teaching 7th grade. It was during
our WWII unit. I was standing at my podium reading about how Sadako was
running in a race and fainted. There is a mention of her lymph nodes in
the text and her later diagnosis with leukemia. At this time, the lymph
in my neck was swollen, I was struggling to breathe walking up the steps or
to keep pace in my own and other teacher's yoga classes, and my belly was
full of what I thought might be another baby. But nope, not another baby to
be found, but lymph nodes the size of half dollars. I remember that day,
feeling my lymph nodes as I read, and thinking: "Nawwww!"
But, yes, I was "rubbed." The cells that we all have in our body were staying
stagnant in mine, unable to die as they should, and being overcome with
Needless to say, I know something about inflammation. CLL has helped me to understand the importance of my diet. When I use the term diet here, I mean more than what I eat, but rather all that I give my attention to: family, friends, work, stress... and food. Whether we have a diagnosis or not, we should all be so choosey. What we allow in affects how we are able to interact and for how long we are able to be (in many cases) with others in our body. Our experiences "rub" us.
Over the years, though people would say that I seem fine, I have had to remind them that many diseases go unseen. The way that one is inflamed takes many different shapes. I was most certainly emotionally inflamed first and as I neglected to deal with the ways that I was being mishandled, by myself and others, things festered. And because I did not want to listen, to cut people who were hurting me off or speak up in the ways that I was being led, I became spiritually inflamed. I stopped relying on and listening as keenly to God because if I did, I would have to leave, stop or start doing something other than what I was doing.
Through a book by Lise Van Susteren and Stacey Colino, Emotional Inflammation: Discover Your Triggers and Reclaim Your Equilibrium During Anxious Times, I have discovered four different reactor types: "nervous, revved up, molten, retreating." (read more about them in the pictures below). Each type is a reminder that we all get inflamed. It is how we react to it that makes a difference.
Fortunately, there are things we can do about our inflammation, and reaction styles. There is something we can do about it emotionally, physically and spiritually when we take the time to become aware of our needs and to respond. Inflammation is imbalance, plain and simply. When we realize something is out of balance, we have options: pull it out of the shadows and do something about it, or let it fester as the shadow grows.
The body is one whole, so though I attempt to distinguish one type of inflammation from the other, they go hand-in-hand. When I was first diagnosed, one could see my body physically inflamed, but as I mentioned, that did not happen first. I had gotten too far away from balance in all of the ways. Truly, the only way to solve this inflammatory quandary is to investigate the whole, to expose how I was inflamed spiritually, emotionally, and then physically as a result.
I respond to the imbalance in my body in several ways. 13 years into many treatments for CLL, my system continues to try to find equilibrium. I have tried multiple rounds of chemotherapy, which no longer work for my body. So, I currently take a daily dose of oral therapy called imbruvica, and most recently this week, as the Imbruvica has started to show minimal signs of support, and inflammation has began to swell again in my body, I have begun sitting again for infusions of a "targeted" cancer therapy drug called Rutuxin, also known as a monoclonal antibody.
To balance all the Western drugs, I counter with herbs and supplements, I juice and fast intermittently, and practice my yoga: meditation and movement practices. I try to stay out of stressful situations and overwhelm with people by speaking my mind and sharing loving, firm truth. I pray, journal, write and burn, and ask myself pertinent, revealing questions, which I propel myself to answer.
1. What am I not saying or allowing myself to feel?
2. How aren't I relying on and asking for help from the energy that makes worlds?
3. How aren't I taking care of my whole self?
4. What do I need to let go of now?
We can douse ourselves in all the medication we want, but if we do not deal with all that is inverted, we will not truly heal. I speak here from the perspective of someone who has what has been termed an "incurable disease". So, I know there is something very deep in the shadows for me here. I am no longer hiding from this fact. There is work for me to do as CLL continues to "rub" me. I intend to see it and respond so that however my experience is "rubbing" me and my family, friends, and students, it may ultimately bring life.
What is "rubbing" you, my friend? How would you like to go about addressing the inflammation that you see in and around you? Maybe I can help? Spend 30 minutes with me to discuss how.
In spirit and in truth,