August 4, 2006 at 3:12 pm (Uncategorized)

I had an interesting realization today. I think of my body as something outside of me. I think of it as, well, an it.

Here’s how this epiphany came to me. I got a massage by a woman who specializes in rehabilitating whiplash and other neck injuries. She was amazing. I think she has little angels living in the tips of her fingers. She found the aching, painful spots, and somehow made them feel better. For the first time since the car accident, I haven’t felt completely locked up and in a great amount of pain.

But like many other practioners of alternative healing, she was crunchier than granola. She said things like “listen to the wisdom of your body” and the “pain is trying to tell you something.” And then she said that I should be very grateful to my body for handling the accident as well as it did. Otherwise, she pointed out, I could have broken my neck.

She must have sensed the dubiousness rising off of me like steam on a cold morning. “Too weird?” she asked me, in response to my silence. “Well, how do you think of your body and the pain it is producing?”

That was a damn good question. Every time my neck starts to tighten and throb, I certainly don’t try to discern what it is communicating (with the subtlety of a sledgehammer) to me. First I ignore it; then I loathe it. I’m not terribly conscious of my exact thoughts, but they go something like this: “Stupid neck. Stupid back. Stupid neck pain. Ow.”

When the masseuse was finished, she asked me how I was feeling. “It’s feeling much better. It’s a lot looser,” I said. “It?” she asked, with a gentle smile. Try saying, “I feel much better,” she ordered. I did, but it felt weird.

I spent the better part of my day since the massage mulling over why it was more comfortable to conceive of and refer to my body as a separate entity, and as a thing, something not fully human. I came to the conclusion that part of my sense of my self has been damaged by sarcoidosis. The disease has fundamentally altered how I perceive my body and its functionality.

With autoimmune conditions, such as sarcoidosis, multiple sclerosis, or rheumatoid arthritis, the disease isn’t caused by outside agent attacking and damaging the body. Instead, the illness stems from within. Like other autoimmune conditions, sarcoidosis results from a healthy immune response gone awry. In other words, my body has turned against itself, using its own healing and protective mechanisms against me. That is why the only way that doctors know how to treat sarcoidosis is to bombard the patient with high doses of corticosteriods and other immune system suppressants. They topple the inner watch towers and trick the army of white blood cells into retreating.

Oddly enough, having this internal civil war reminds me of when I was pregnant. Although I loved my baby beyond words before he was even born, I did have a strange sense, especially as my pregnancy progressed, of being colonized from within. A.J., the Neonate, as we called Andrew before he arrived in the world, was clearly making his needs a priority over mine. He slept on my hip so that I couldn’t walk, messed with nearly every one of my bodily functions, and altered several of my organs. As a fascinating article on preeclampsia in a recent New Yorker explains, a fetus is all about surviving. It even changes the shape and structure of its host mother’s blood vessels to make sure it gets all the nutrients it needs.

Of course, at the end of pregnancy, if all goes as it should, you are blessed with a baby and your body (sort of) returns to normal. But what about sarcoidosis? I doubt I will ever again be able to trust the innate wisdom of my physical self, when it has so obviously screwed up so royally. I mean, I can understand a cell randomly mutating to cause cancer. That’s one little mistake, albeit one with serious repercussions. But producing granulomae wherever the hell it feels like? In my heart? Come on, that’s just plain idiotic. Even if the disease goes into remission, I will always expect it reappear, after lurking dormant for some time unseen and unheard.

Although I didn’t end my massage experience with a resolve to listen to my body, I did, at least, feel some compassion for the bag of flesh and bones I carry around. I have been through a lot in my life, and I can feel deep within me the toll this disease and its treatment take on me. “Poor thing,” I thought, as I drove around town running errands. It’s a start, I guess.

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