Published in Community Shamanism, Madison, WI. Spring, 2000.

As Monday morning begins my legs are little sore and my body a little stiff. Understandably so, Saturday I rode my racing bicycle 50 miles. Sunday morning, I ran the Michigan Trail Half Marathon (13.1 miles) on the Potawatomi Trail in the Pinckney recreational area in mid-state Michigan. A very challenging course with mud, sand, roots, rocks and huge hills that never stop until the finish line is crossed. I then gardened for 3 hours in the afternoon. I feel alive today. I feel full of energy today. Even though I pushed my body this weekend. As I do every weekend, and often during the week. It is this kind of activity that feeds my soul, now that it is all back.

It wasn’t always this way for me. From the autumn of 1990 through the spring of 1998 (nearly 9 years) I struggled with chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS) also diagnosed as fibromyalgia, Epstein-Barr virus and/or myalgic encephalomyelitis. The medical community explains six different viruses that the body never kills off and that go through stages of active symptomology and remission can cause the illness. I had two of those viruses, Epstein-Barr virus and cytomegalovirus. This illness is characterized by symptoms including chronic sore throat, swollen lymph glands, sleeplessness, extreme and debilitating fatigue, low grade fever and/or below normal body temperature, feeling cold to the core of your insides, headaches, mental confusion, muscle weakness and pain, depression, to name a few. One of the most debilitating aspects of this illness is the loss of ones life as one knows it. I was always so full of energy. I was always the person who had to be in on everything and at every event. I ran marathons. I bicycled centuries (100 miles in one day). I ran speed work training runs and competed in 5K running races, often placing in my age group. I was super mom, wife and employee. Then this monster slowly began to take that life away.

In the autumn of 1990, several days after running the Detroit marathon, I contracted bronchitis. It was a virus I seemed to have never completely healed from, until 1998. Once the congestion and chest pain had waned, the chronic low-grade symptoms of CFIDS set in. I tried getting more rest. That didn’t change the symptoms. I took vitamin C. The symptoms continued. I didn’t sleep well at night. When I did sleep it was not the deep R.E.M. sleep that rests the body and mind. I began having difficulty awakening in the morning. I became moody and emotional. I couldn’t shake colds and flues when they hit. My family would recover from a virus in a couple days. I would finally recover after around six months only to catch the next round of viruses. The colds and flues became chronic. You know how drug-out and awful you feel when you have the flu? Nearly every day of those nine years felt like that, but I just kept on pushing through. Living life tired and sick. As the symptoms relentlessly progressed. I became depressed.

I continued to attempt to run and bike and live a full life only to become more ill. I was able to run two more marathons over the next several years and to attend to most of my tasks, though in a condensed version of my past. I pulled in without knowing what was happening. I closed down my energy centers and went into survival mode. The illness was strangling the life out of me. Most people who know me don’t know I lived like this. I am not a complainer. I hid it so well. I just kept going when I could. My family can attest to the price they paid, but even they do not know the depths of agony and desperation that preyed on my sanity in the deep aloneness of my being. At times I wanted to die. Especially the days I had to stay in bed because I was too exhausted to get up and do anything. I would scream to my demons and Gods and cry myself to sleep. My body was so cold, so tired and in so much pain. It is difficult for me to write and think about those times even now. Definitely my “dark night of the soul”.

In an attempt to help you understand the devastation I felt with this illness the following is a description of a day, any typical ordinary day in my life under siege of this illness.

I awaken from my restless slumber after the sixth ring of the morning alarm.Slowly rising to find that I have to face yet another day in-which my body is in defiance with my will. How do I make it through this day? At this early hour the desperation already colors my attempt at the day. The cold pervades my entire core. The warmth of yesteryears devoid from my body acts as a memory only to cause me to feel the loss of my health. It teases me of what used to be.Of times when winter camping was fun because I was strong and healthy and warm. Of days spent hunting and ice fishing and skating and skiing. I loved being out in winter when I was warm and healthy. Now I am cold in the house where there is heat. The heat does not enter my core. It surrounds my body but does not enter. My hands and feet are ice-bergs. The core of my body a glacier. There is only cold. Cold that feels like death. Cold that slowly pokes at me. Day after day. Relentless prodding eating away at my will to live.

I must rise to get my daughter, Lauren, off to school. Her stepsisters are at their mother’s this week so the house is still quiet at his hour. My husband returns from his morning run and gently prompts me to get up. I roll out of our warm waterbed to find I can barely move. The muscles have stiffened and ache with deep malaise. I fight back the tears as the agony is slightly reprieved with movement. I long for the days when I too could rise before daybreak to begin the day with a morning run. To watch the sunrise over sparkling frosty fields that appeared to have been magically enchanted by winter faeries. The ice crystals glistening in the new sunshine. My husband is compassionate about my struggle but I know he does not fully comprehend the magnitude of the anguish and frustration. The loss that only I know. I feel alone in a body that does not behave as it should. What is wrong with me and why won’t it go away?

My muscles scream in defiance of the movement I request of them.They ache in ways I had not known possible. When in good health, one can not know the pain that forces another to know the boundaries of insanity. The fibers ripple with pain that feels like ice picks jabbing at each cell. Every joint in my extremities feels like a hinge grown taut with rust. My throat is swollen and sore again today. The glands in my neck are swollen giving the notion of having the flu. If only it were just the flu. Then I would know that in a few days this painful, energy zapping monster would be gone. But the break down continues. The break down of physical well being, mental fortitude, and emotional strength. The cold, the ache, the pervasive fatigue linger, all day, every day. Day, after day, after cold dark day. With each morning a new frontier of pain, exhaustion and struggle. Each morning a return of the pervasive ache and cold and fatigue.

I rouse to the sensations of exhaustion. The day has barely begun and already I am so exhausted it is all I can do to rise. I grapple with discomfort as I pull on my clothes and stumble down-stairs. Lauren is already in the kitchen getting her breakfast. She has had to become so independent, I think to myself, as she gets herself ready for the day. I wish I had the energy to pop up in the morning and make a warm hearty breakfast for my family. My Martha Stewart fantasies are never realized as each day I struggle just to get up in time to drive her to school. I vow that tomorrow will be different. But it isn’t, because each day is like today. “What is happening to me!?”, I shout with despair into the confusion in my mind.

I return home to decide what it is exactly that I will be able to do today. The cold penetrates my awareness and screams at me to rectify the situation. I crawl up the stairs on my hands and feet like a crab. I am so tired. I slide on my swimming suit and grab a towel. Down stairs and out on the deck I slip into the subtle comfort of the heat of the hot tub. My saving grace. The only thing that warms my chilled body. My body shivers as the cold meets the heat. In 104-degree water I continue to shiver and feel cold for about 10 more minutes. Finally, the heat penetrates into the core of my body and I begin to feel warm. The muscles loosen and relax and I feel comfort.

The time has come that I must leave the warm solace of the hot tub and prepare to act as super woman. You know, the doer that takes care of all things. A role I know contributes to this disease. I re-enter the house and head to the shower. As the warm water runs down my body any hope I had of accomplishing anything today dissolves as I am too fatigued to stand up any longer. I collapse to the shower floor as the tears mix with the stream of water running down my face. On this day I must cancel my morning appointments and return to bed. The fatigue and pain are too great. I lay in bed and look out at the clear blue sky.

The sun begins to peak into the south window above my bed. I love sunny days. I love to be outside and be up and active no matter what time of year. The sunshine only reminds me of what I am missing. “How can this be happening to me!”, I cry into the emptiness of the room. As a licensed professional counselor I know well the clinical signs of depression. I finally admit to myself, I am depressed. I wonder how and why a person so full of life can be feeling this way. Sleep eventually enters and rescues me of my mental and physical torment.

Several hours later I awaken knowing half of my day has vanished. I have so much less time now to accomplish the things I need to do. I dress and eat and take the several hands-full of supplements that will supposedly rebuild my immune system. I have just a few minutes before my first appointment so I pick up and house and prepare the therapy room. I wonder how I can stay alert. She arrives and we begin processing. I begin to feel more alive as our session progresses. By the end of our time together I think to myself, I am okay. It must be the flu and I am getting better. Literally, for 9 years I would defy myself with this statement. My next several appointments go fine and I am feeling more like my old healthy self. I am able to interact and share in each of my client’s struggles. I enjoy my work and am so thankful for my private practice and my wonderful clients. This is one of my saving graces with this illness.

As my appointments finish, dinner is prepared and the kids settle into doing homework, I notice I am feeling very angry inside. The fatigue and achiness are not as prevalent at the moment but emotionally I am extremely frustrated. I know this illness now and know that it takes a huge part of me to just keep going. The emotional wear and tear is equally as difficult as the physical. Running allows me the freedom to be just me. No roles or expectations. Just outside in the fresh air. It eases my depression and gives the illusion of health. I decide to go for a short run. It feels so good to be out in world. The trees and birds and all of life bustling as I cruise by. The first half-mile hurts as my stiff body awakens to the movement. The next mile is glorious freedom. The mile after that is sheer fatigue as I struggle to keep going. It used to be so easy to run four miles. I would tell my husband, “I am going out for a short four miler. Be back in half hour,” and think nothing of it. As a marathon runner, 4 miles was a walk in the park compared to running those 20 mile training runs and 26.2 mile races. At two and half miles my body signals me that all is not well as the muscle pain sets in. My legs and feet are so heavy. My shoulders ache and slump forward. I breathe deeply and try to move my body forward. I feel as if I am moving in slow motion. I finally relent to walking. The ultimate devastation for me, “the runner”. This dark monster of a disease has taken away the only thing I do for myself. My outlet, my love. “If I can’t run, I want to die!”, I scream out into the woods through the tears that stain my face. I attempt to pick myself up emotionally and walk-run back home. I agonize over what is happening to my body. Into the evening I attempt to be as present for my family as I can muster the energy to be. I fall into bed at 9:45 p.m. exhausted, unable to sleep again. The cycle continues.

I’ve learned to live with it and at the same time I can’t take it anymore. Can this body really be only 38 years old? It feels like it must be 100. The coldness and the pain invade my very being and identity. The fatigue spends the day with me riding along side every move I make. It interferes with my judgement and clouds my perceptions. I have hardly the concentration to figure out the bills, it’s no wonder next week’s mail returns so many mistakes. I must say no to invitations and commitments because I may not be feeling good enough to push myself to attend. I can no longer teach classes or be a Girl Scout leader. I stay at home, resting and waiting. Resting and waiting for this to go away. That’s what the doctors told me to do. Go home and rest. Do they have no clue? I have three children, a husband, a career, a home, and my life to live! I am a marathon runner, a bicyclist and a triathlete. You mean there is no cure for this? In a world where man has flown to the moon and we have created nuclear weapons there is no pill that makes me whole again? Nothing to bring back my life that is diminishing before my very eyes?

This brings up the “treatment” by the medical establishment. Appointments and tests and “Sorry, Colleen, there is no treatment”. This virus never leaves your body. It will be with you forever, and, we can’t treat it. Rest might help, but anytime you get “stressed” it may activate the virus. Acceptance of the diagnosis was painful and slow and never complete. I could not accept that I would have to live the rest of my life in a compromised fashion. Dr.’s Epstein and Barr discovered Epstein-Barr virus while doing research on patients whom died of lymphatic cancer. So, left untreated am I going to die of lymphoma? And if there is no treatment, how do I prevent this from happening? Go home and rest? Where do I cut back to give myself the rest? Children deserve a mother who is there for them. A mother who has enough energy to give them what they need. Children deserve to have mother who is not in bed or dragging” through the day. How do children learn to embrace life when their mother is struggling to just get through each day? My husband deserves a wife who has the energy to be a fully functioning partner. And I deserve a full life! And what if I am actually dying from this? Does anyone know? Does anyone care? The anger grows in my belly as I wrestle with how to make sense of my world.

The winter of 1997-98 I entered into what I now know to be my “dark night of the soul”. The Epstein-Barr virus, chronic fatigue, fibromylagia, and depression advanced to epic proportions. Suicide was an inviting thought. That’s incredibly unlike me. I am an eternal optimist, a fighter, a survivor, and a believer that all pain and suffering has some purpose. How could this be happening to me? I had lost my love for life, lost my energy to live life. The illness intensified causing me to alter my life even more to accommodate it. I explored every avenue I know of about this illness. I have fought it. I have denied it. I finally embraced it. I have explored the personality profile, the mirroring, the psychological and emotional perspectives. I have explored relationships. I have explored every alternative form of healing available in the Lansing and surrounding area and every homeopathic remedy, herb, and supplement. I have explored spiritual possession and psychic attack. I have explored myself. I stopped running long distances and monitored my energy output as if it were an endangered commodity. I limited the number of clients I would see weekly in therapy and was careful not to over-do. I was forced to leave time for just being.

Hence, the Shamanic initiation. Initiation to the spiritual path by the Spirits themselves with my unconscious agreement. I now know the purpose for the monster in my life. The chosen path, the good red road. It is being, not doing that is important in life. If I wasn’t going to pursue it, it would pursue me. It hunted me down, caught me and had me in it’s strangle hold. Exhaustion, pain and flu symptoms engulfed my life. I attempted to push through it like everything else. The symptoms would abate and then intensify over the course of several years. Changing myself and my life forever more. I “woke-up” just in time. During the course of the illness I began to recall “past life” experiences of being Native American, then Asian, then during medieval times. I experienced visions and feelings that I had no explanation for and no one in my life that I could ask (so sad our spiritual communities have digressed to this point). My gifts of intuition grew. I was secretly afraid I was losing my desperate grip on sanity. As my journey for light continued, I was drawn to Jamie Sam’s Medicine Cards. The animals showed me much insight and I began to read the cards professionally. It felt natural to have this connection to the animals as I have always found solace in nature and communicated with the animal spirits. This Spirit connection, attuning to Reiki, and being in nature as much as possible helped me to survive this dark time. Communing with nature is the tangible force that has kept me sane and living.

I tried everything in an attempt to heal. I tried every supplement and herb that claimed benefit to the body, spending thousands of dollars. I did yoga, stretching, dancing, meditation, and self-hypnosis. I received massage, energy bodywork, acupuncture, chiropractic, genesis sound therapy, colonic irrigation, etc. These therapies were all helpful but not curative for me. Acupuncture was most helpful in boosting my immune system moreover it also caused me to open to “visions” during my treatments. My spiritual search accelerated greatly as I looked for the meaning of this pain, this illness and this life. I joked with my husband that I would pay anything and go anywhere to find the “witch doctor” that could cure this monster. Little did I know that “witch doctor” was me and it was within myself all the time.

As a teenager I read every Native American and Mountain Man book I could get my hands on. I longed for that connection with Spirit and the Earth. I had spiritual experiences I could not explain. Naturally, when I saw the advertisement for The Way of the Shaman basic training I was drawn to attend. It is important to share with you that it was very difficult at that time to make any kind of commitment to be somewhere as I never knew if I would feel healthy enough to be able to attend or spend the whole day. I am not a “workshop” person so the commitment of money, time and most importantly, energy was a leap of faith in itself. I did not attend this training looking for a “cure” or even a treatment for the CFIDS. I had long given up hope that I would find healing and instead attending looking for a Spirit connection that I had been searching for since early childhood.

As I learned to journey and connect with my power animals and Spirit teachers I felt more energy flow through my body than I had ever felt, even prior to the illness. It was not a burst of active energy but a supple energy that flowed up through my body and made me feel alive. It felt foreign yet wonderful to be so power-filled. Alive! My old power and self had returned and was somehow magnified in a way I had never felt before. Not only did I "make it through the day”; I came home from the all day Saturday training and was able to enjoy an energy-filled exhilarating five-mile run. Doing the same again after Sunday’s training. Learning to journey and connecting with my power animals and spirit teachers was profoundly healing. It has filled the void that had been inside of me all of my life. Journeying on a regular basis keeps me connected to that power source and hence, healthy. When I asked about this I was shown that journeying actually raises the vibrational level of my body boosting the immune system and rendering it more powerful than the viruses. Due to this Spirit connection, I am strong and happy and healthy. I have no symptoms of the once debilitating illness that almost cost me my life. I am absolutely amazed and thankful. And I journey very regularly. Not only did my physical, emotional, and mental health improve; my Spiritual health was ignited for the first time in my life. I felt touched, loved, connected, renewed and I felt I had finally found my home. I continue to feel that way a year and half later. My passion for this spiritual healing has led me on a journey I dared not think I could practice.

One month later during the Extraction training, I learned not only how to clear intrusions from others but was shown how my power loss and intrusions came to be. I was able to look back at the conditions that precipitated the illness. In 1989 and 1990, around the time this illness began, there were many stressors in my life such as divorce, turning 30 years old, completing my master’s degree, change of employment, remarriage, moving, completing my first marathon, etc. All of these positive stresses. However positive, they take a toll on the body, psyche, and spirit. I learned we do not allow ourselves enough time and nurturing for dealing with any stress, especially positive stress. Without proper integration time, we begin to wear down. At this time we become more open and susceptible to influences around us. In my case, I was shown by my Spirit Teachers that I was being psychically attacked on a near daily basis from my husband’s ex-wife. Prior to this training I did not understand or believe psychic attack occurred or that it could be debilitating. I was shown clearing techniques and shields to protect myself. This too was very healing and I continue to use these techniques when needed.

Attending the basic training has been life changing for me. It has illuminated a path that I have been seeking for a long time. Remembering these techniques and communicating directly with spirit has filled a void. It makes sense that spirit lives in my void, as in the great void. The extraction and nature Spirits training’s deepened this connection, healed more of the personal wounding and have helped me to reach out and do my part in helping to heal the world. Each advanced workshop takes me deeper into my knowing and the knowing of life. Each journey takes me deeper into an unknown that I recognize, some how, from some where. Each client’s struggle teaches me more. The deeper I enter into shamanism, the deeper my healing. My goal now is to help others feel spirit in their void too.

My journey is far from complete. I have been privileged to study soul retrieval with Sandra Ingerman and I am currently a part of the three-year intensive training and initiation through the Foundation for Shamanic Studies with Michael Harner. I also continue to study with a local “shaman” who does not call her-self such but who has graciously been my teacher of both Spirit and life. I continue to study under Myron Eshowsky all of the wonderful knowledge and love he has to share through the advanced training’s.

All of this Empowering, Incredible, Healing! The English language does not have the words to describe the deep place this remembering and training has and is taking me. The journey has become more than a spiritual practice. It is a way of living. Shamanic healing has become the greater portion of my therapeutic practice as well as my way of viewing the world. Psychotherapy is so much more effective when combined with shamanism. In talk therapy it is very difficult to heal what is not present. Until we are whole on all levels we can only struggle to make sense with our minds.

As a result of the amazing healing I have experienced due to shamanism I began a small study last fall in my practice inviting individuals with similar illness/diagnosis as my own, to receive a free soul retrieval/shamanic healing session. Each person filled out a questionnaire prior to the session, 2 weeks after and 6 months later. I am interested to know if shamanic healing is helpful for all who are challenged with this health issue or if this was unique to my situation. Approximately half of the participants also attended my “basic” training on how to journey. I am also interested to know if healing does occur is it more effective and/or long term in those individuals who learn to journey and do so on a regular basis as part of their spiritual practice. The results are not conclusive at this time, as 6 months has not yet elapsed for some of the participants. Indications thus far are that positive healing has occurred in both the group that received healing and the group who received healing and journey training. In my personal journey I have accidentally found that when I have not journeyed for about 2 weeks slight symptoms begin to return. Obviously regular power connection is an important aspect of healing for me. By the way, I ran a 25K race two weeks ago and have bicycled over 500 miles in the past two months. I am also able to be the super-human mom and taxi service I want to give my child. You know I’m journeying regularly. May the force be with you!