Journey To Wholeness: Personal Healing through Spirit and Soul-self Connection


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Chapter One

Journey Into Hell






Another morning of cold
Cold to the core of my soul
Snuggled by the fireplace cocooned in polar fleece
Blankets of warmth bearing the faces and designs of power in my life

Another morning of cold
My body aches from the inside out
Doubt fills my mind about how I will do my day
Barely enough energy to warm my body how will I live my day

Another day of cold
Grey sky smirking with the promise of snow
Cold wind caressing the remnant leaves of autumn
Clinging in desperate memory to the warmth of the past

Another day of cold
Winter encroaches and I am not yet warm from the passing summer
The sun sinks lower and lower to the south
How will I shine when I feel so dark and cold

Another night of cold
Cold dark cold
The death angel flies by teasing my weakened soul
I am nearly ready to follow

Another morning of cold
The sun is reborn in the eastern sky
Reminding me that I have to do the same
Defy the cold and shine

~ Colleen Deatsman 1993

I slowly rouse from my restless slumber after the sixth ring of the morning alarm. Drifting into an uneasy consciousness through mists of pain and physical discomfort, I awaken to find that I have to face yet another day in which my body defies my will. In the early morning gloom of my bedroom, I do a quick body check to see exactly how I feel, and hope for a miracle: Joint and muscle pain, low-grade headache, freezing cold, fuzzy head, and a complete lack of motivation to do anything. The same old grab bag of gnawing, hellish symptoms. My heart sinks and I realize that I would really rather not have to wake up at all. Every single morning I drift to consciousness and slam into this brick wall of pain, anguish and disgust. It is a wonder that I have not gone completely mad by this point. Sometimes I think that maybe I have. How can I possibly make it through another day of this? Even at this early hour, I am already desperate and I don?t know how to deal with this continuing nightmare.

The cold is the worst. It is an aching, shivery cold that pervades my entire core. The kind of cold that makes the muscles in my arms, hands, feet, and legs ache with the dull throb of arthritis-like pain. Even the slightest movement sends stabs of biting pain up my legs, back, arms, and shoulders. I know that I will somehow have to get out of bed soon, so I try to loosen up my muscles by carefully, tentatively moving them back and forth under the covers. This tiny movement somehow scoops a draft of air under the sheets and I am thrown into a fit of teeth chattering, bone-wracking shivers that I cannot control. A moan of pain and anguish escapes my trembling lips and I clench my teeth and wait for this agony to subside. The warmth I once felt in years past, now completely absent from my body, is only a distant memory, causing me to reluctantly acknowledge my decline in health over the last few years. I am frustrated by taunting recollections of the way things used to be and the things I used to do. I grew up in a family that reveled in the great outdoors. My father, who at any other period in history would have been an explorer, pioneer, or mountain man, taught my brother and I from the time we could walk how to hunt, fish, camp, canoe, and live off the bounty of the wilderness. As I lay in bed in the grip of this god-awful cold, I think about the joy-filled days we used to spend out on the icy surface of a frozen lake, ice fishing from pre-dawn until well after dark. I am tortured by thoughts of times when adventures like weeklong winter camping trips were fun because I was strong, healthy and warm. In fact, we would spend most of the colder months hunting or ice fishing, skating or skiing in and around my rural central Michigan stomping grounds. I used to love being outdoors all the time, in any season. Hunting morel mushrooms in the spring, Walleye fishing up north in the summer, deer hunting in the fall, and especially ice-fishing in the winter, because of my indomitable robust warmth and health. Now I am freezing cold indoors when the heat is on high. Many days I snuggle up to the fireplace, cocooned in blankets, and even then the heat does not enter my core. It fills the room and surrounds my body but does not enter. My hands and feet are icebergs, the core of my body a glacier. There is only cold. Cold that feels like death. Cold that constantly pokes at me, day after day, relentlessly prodding me, maliciously eating away at my will to live.

The scratchy raw feeling in my throat and the enlarged aching lymph glands in my neck compound this all-pervading cold. It feels like I have the flu. My head aches, my body aches, and I just want to stay in bed, but I suspect this is not the flu. I have been struggling with these symptoms far too long. I admit to myself that it has now been several years that I have experienced this same pattern. Yet I still try to convince myself that these symptoms have a simple and relatively benign cause. Unable to rise, I lie in bed and try my very best to ignore the evidence. Unwilling to accept the severity of my symptoms, I still try to delude myself into believing that I might be battling some chronic Asian super-flu or something. My reflection deepens, and I realize that it must be something entirely different.

I unwillingly recall that these chronic symptoms actually began several years ago with recurring sinus headaches. Growing up I had never been troubled by any kind of head pain, but as the illness took hold, these throbbing, aching headaches developed as my immune system overloaded. The pressure in my face was so acute that often I would become extremely light sensitive. Nausea would then develop and I frequently found myself forced to purge my system by vomiting. There were times that I recalled thinking that the only way that I would find relief was to split my head open to relieve the pressure. I had never known such desperate physical pain, even as a marathon runner, triathlete and someone who has experienced childbirth. They were powerful, painful, "give me drugs now" kind of headaches. I have always been kind of a drug elitist, believing that the best way to treat an illness is to let the body take care of itself. The most I ever did was take a little vitamin C or Echinacea to help beef up my immune system. As a rule, I have never liked to take pills, but these headaches were torture. So, my treatment preferences and useless elitism went out the window, and out of the medicine cabinet came the Ibuprofen, Sinutab and the doctor?s prescriptions. The pain often kept me up into the wee hours of the morning with hot packs on my face in an attempt to lessen the intensity, but with little relief. The over-the-counter drugs I tried made me feel dried out and groggy. Occasionally, herbs were helpful but were not curative. At the same time, sudden-onset asthma and multiple allergies moved in making every room, every activity, and every place I went a potential health hazard. For a healthy young woman in her prime, I was rapidly becoming crippled by this illness.

As I remember those long, pain-filled nights, I am also reminded of the many nights of insomnia I have had to endure. Nights when sleep evaded me no matter what I did. When these first began, I thought it might have been because I was a person with a lot of energy. I had always been a night owl of sorts, so I thought perhaps my biorhythms were set to be more productive at night. Attempting to make the best of it, I utilized the wakeful nighttime in constructive pursuits. Sometimes I was even grateful that I had the opportunity to get the housework done that I had postponed during the day because of the demands of the family or my other obligations. However, it soon became clear that this insomnia was more debilitating than I had first surmised. Often the next day, and for many days to come, my energy would be drained and the flu-like symptoms would worsen. I struggled to make sense of, and rectify, this condition. I felt so sick, so fatigued, and yet I could not sleep. I began to notice an underlying tension gripping my muscles, preventing me from relaxing. It was an edge that was barely identifiable, yet ever present. I groped for understanding. How could I be so tired and not be able to sleep? It defied all logic. This whole fatiguing, chronic illness monster was proving to be an illogical riddle that I could not begin to solve. It not only defied logic, but treatment. I felt like a prisoner being tortured for no possible reason. Nothing in my life had prepared me for this, and I could not figure out what to do.

The near constant energy drain, sore throat, swollen glands, body aches and insomnia would then lead to times when I needed to sleep not only all night, but into the day, and often most of the day. Blending and weaving into these constant flu-like symptoms was the ever-present low-grade fever chill causing me to shiver with a feverish cold, even while snuggled under the thick layers of blankets and comforters in my warm waterbed. The mental and emotional struggles became equally energy draining as I would search for understanding. Despite my strong will, and all of the focus I could muster, I couldn't rise out of this malaise. Consider what it might feel like to live every day of your life with the fever, body aches, inflammation, swollen glands, sore throat, foggy mind and headaches of the flu, never feeling even the tiniest bit good, let alone one hundred percent. A plaguing malady that runs for days into weeks into months into years, without the hope of having it be over after just the usual couple days of discomfort. It took some time because I am a strong fighter, but eventually the chronic torture got the best of me. Emotionally I became angry, anxious, depressed, and felt I had no way to slay this dragon. I had been kidnapped by a mysterious force, chained and tortured, with no perceivable means of escape. As if that were not enough to contend with, I could see the illness worsening over time and progressively moving into new places in my body. It seemed as soon as one area improved, another would become inflamed. As new pain emerged, despair slipped in, sucking away even more precious life energy. It was a difficult struggle not to submit to the constant drain. Just before sinking below the surface, I would somehow rally. Calling on my tenacious and stubborn nature, I attempted to tough it out, believing that soon the symptoms would dissipate and I would be healthy and fine. I forced myself to think positive and assured myself that some day my body would heal from this "flu".

Back from my reverie, my body symptoms assure me that today will not be that day. I want to believe that tomorrow will be, but day after day, this is still with me. Even during those times when it seems that I am seeing progress, it is not long before the symptoms morph and intensify yet again. In this early morning state of semi-consciousness, I try and process the facts that conflict with my unrealistic hopes. Before I can even raise my head, I slip yet again into this process.

For days now I have not felt like eating at all. I have forced food down because I know I need to eat to regain my strength, even though it has made me nauseous. My weight has been dropping but not in a healthy way. I have always had a muscular athletic body, but like so many women brainwashed by media advertising, I also think I could stand to loose a few pounds. Because of this, I have not been all that dismayed with the weight loss up until now. Recently, though, I have begun to look gaunt and I can no longer avoid seeing it for the decline in health that it is. I have felt colder more of the time and I have even less energy, more signs of undeniable decline.

In addition, my weakened immune system has begun to read everything as an invader. In the last few years, I have become more sensitive and allergic to everything. I have been most severely affected by chemicals. The slightest hint of chemical odors such as perfume would send me into sinus headaches, swollen glands, asthma attacks, body aches, temperature changes, and intense fatigue. The physical assault when chemical odors entered my living space was instantaneous. I became aware that my body felt vulnerable to everything and constantly toxic and polluted. I stopped wearing perfume and began to avoid all scented products such as shampoos, conditioner, lotions, etc. If I used these products, I could actually taste the chemical smells in my mouth. I couldn't get rid of them and my head would feel ready to split in half. I had to switch all of the household cleaning supplies to natural unscented products. Even the wonderful scented candles I so enjoyed became forbidden to light. My husband stopped wearing cologne because of my physical reactions and I finally felt I had to ask my daughters to make concessions in their use of perfumes and beauty products. Simple requests like using nail polish and remover in a room closed from the rest of the house, not putting on perfume in the house, and not wearing perfume when we were together, were a real hassle for teenagers. They often forgot to follow these requests and that lead to an immediate exacerbation of the symptoms. Swollen lymph glands, sinus headaches, and shortness of breath from these chemicals appeared instantaneously. My body became beaten down and stiff from the constant barrage of chemical assaults.

The same symptoms occurred in public places such as the detergent aisle of the grocery store and the local performing arts center where people wore their colognes and perfumes heavily as they dressed up for their special evening out. I had to weigh the importance of seeing a performance against the realization that I would pay a high physical price for attending. Smoke-filled rooms always presented a physical challenge as well, and I began to have to eliminate restaurant choices and social settings when possible. I loved to go dancing but when that entailed confinement in a smoky bar, I had to decline. It became extremely physically uncomfortable to stay long at my husband's family gatherings due to the smoke and heavy perfume in the house. Since I could not change this environment, I simply had to suffer through the physical effects that lingered for days. My place of employment was another unavoidable smoke-filled place that created problems for me. At the beginning of the illness, I tolerated these toxic situations until finally I became so ill that something had to change. I forced a smoke-free work setting at the counseling agency at which I worked, creating immense resentment and resistance. I spoke to family about the issues of my sensitivities, often to no avail. It amazed me how many people were unwilling to change even when it affected someone's health in such a clearly adverse way. These special requests the illness required me to make placed impositions on my family and co-workers that added to the frustrations I felt with this bizarre, unknown illness. However, those impositions were nothing compared to those I had to place on myself. Everywhere I went and whatever I did, I had to be diligent and alert to keep my chemical exposure to a minimum. That is a very difficult thing to do in a society as chemically laden as ours.

One evening while picking up my daughter from her boyfriend's home, my husband and I were invited by the boys' parents to come in, have a beer, and watch the important Michigan State University football game. By then steadfastly trained, I quickly surveyed the room. Both the parents and their guests were smoking. The room was blue with the haze. I so wanted to join them, but my husband and I declined saying we were too tired to stay when in reality we left because the smoke would have made me extremely ill. Just the limited exposure of standing and conversing in the hallway for ten minutes had its adverse effect on my battered immune system. I felt badly about this for weeks. I wondered if these generous people thought we were "sticks in the mud" for not joining them in their party. But mostly I was angry that I couldn't stay and have fun because of how my damned body was reacting. I hate to miss anything. I have always liked to be right in the middle of it all. I felt robbed of the good times I could no longer enjoy because of what I was going through. These mysterious reactions and symptoms were limiting my activities in nearly every facet of my life.

I tried to ignore all these symptoms and carry on with life. But in moments like those, I knew that my health was actually declining. I was losing my body, and my mind, not to mention my emotional fortitude. This shook me down to my core. I realized with despair, this is not just the flu. No, this is something much deeper and more serious. I have had this conversation in my head on a regular basis as I have desperately attempted to sort out the cause for my deterioration. Do I have the flu? No, the flu doesn't last this long. What else can it be? It must be the flu. I wish it were the flu so that my body would be healed in a few days and I could get back to my normal life. My body is screaming to me, "I am hurt, help me". But I don't know how, so I just keep going on, living with the monster inside of me, pushing through each day. I resolve once again to make the best of what I have.

I have lain in bed far too long at this point and have run out of time for processing or reverie. I must force this ancient feeling body to rise out of bed and get my daughter, Lauren, off to school. Her stepsisters are at their mother's this week so the house is still quiet at this hour. My husband returns from his morning run gently and playfully prompting me to get up. He does this from a safe distance, verbally cajoling me to get moving. He long ago learned that even the gentlest rousing touch would be painful to me and I would react with angry snaps of rejection. He has been careful ever since to avoid a situation that could be just as emotionally hurtful to him as it is physically painful to me. I roll out of our warm waterbed to find I can barely move. I successfully fight off another bout of shivers, and although that is a small victory, I am overwhelmed by the penetrating muscle pain I am feeling. Every fiber of my being ripples with pain as I attempt to sit upright. My muscles are stiffened and ache with the deep, tender discomfort of fibromyalgia. Every joint in my extremities feels like a hinge grown taut with rust. My sore throat and swollen lymph glands tell me the infection is still present and my body is struggling to defend itself. Instead of waking to improved health after a good night's sleep, today dawns a continuation of pain and struggle. I fight back the tears as the agony slightly abates with continued movement. I long for the days when I too could rise before daybreak and begin the day with a morning run. To again watch the sun rise over frosty fields that appear to have been magically enchanted by winter faeries, ice crystals glistening in the new sunshine. I miss that part of my life so much.

My husband is compassionate about my struggle but I know he does not fully comprehend the magnitude of the physical anguish and the emotional frustration with which I struggle. It?s hard for him too, because he doesn?t want to admit that the "wonder woman" he thought he married has become sickly. I don?t want him to have to deal with that, so I keep as much of this misery to myself as I can. I just wish I could find someone I could talk to who would truly understand. Stepping out of the shower, he inquires as to whether there is anything he can do for me. It?s clear that he loves me and so badly wants to help. I see how difficult it is for him to helplessly watch this happening to me and I know he feels the thick dark cloud of depression and illness that hangs over me. He feels the brunt of the sharp words that I don't mean to say. He feels the impact of my moodiness and how unpredictable I can be, depending on the status of my symptoms at any given time. So, I respond to his inquiries and offers of help by telling him "no thanks" and "I'm okay". He knows I'm not, but what can he do? I have lost my life as I once knew it and no one knows how to help, let alone begin to understand. I don't know what to do about this life-eating monster that has invaded our happy home. I grudgingly realize that he is losing a part of his life too; through my suffering and inability to be the fun-loving healthy partner I used to be. My desire for sex is almost non-existent and his needs often go unmet. I am far too exhausted to exert the energy necessary for satisfying intimacy. There is nothing left of myself to give. And even if there were, the light caressing touch of lovemaking is often too painful to tolerate. I sense his feelings of rejection and this saddens me so very deeply. I am letting down the love of my life. Being a trooper and a light spirit, my husband squares his shoulders, puts on a happy face, and continues to love me. But, I can feel the distance this lack of intimacy is putting between us. This makes me feel more alone and helpless in a body that does not respond as it should. "What is wrong with me and why won't it go away?" I silently plead in my head, as my husband kisses me goodbye and heads off to work. He lithely moves down the stairs and glides out the door to his car. I wince and struggle to keep moving, my frustration forced aside by the concentration I need to lend to the simple act of locomotion.

Shuffling toward the bathroom my muscles moan in defiance of the movement I request of them. They ache in ways I had never guessed possible. Emotional anguish descends once more. When in good health, one cannot know the pain that pushes another to the boundaries of insanity. I have become intimate with the fragility of this human mind weakened by incessant suffering. In my pain, guilt, and frustration, I am angry with my husband for his radiant health. It feels painfully unfair that he is able to be inspiringly athletic first thing in the morning while I suffer with simple movement. I am angry that he has the ability to be happy and pleasant when I feel so miserable. Why can?t this wonderful man save me from this somehow? Isn?t that what loving husbands are supposed to do for their wives? Just thinking such a thing sends pangs of guilt and self-recrimination ringing through my being. Despair and confusion fill my world. Searching yet again for some form of rationale, my fuzzy mind tries to identify these symptoms as the flu. No, I don't let myself go there this time. I am weary from having waged this mental battle just moments ago. Yet, for an instant, hope flickers at the appeal of a simple explanation like the flu. And if it was the flu, that in a few days this painful, energy-zapping plague would be gone. I am so tired of going round and round over the same issues in my mind. But, I can't control it. It seems like I have an endless loop running inside my head. Still, no matter what I tell myself or however many times I go over it, I can feel that it is not just the flu and today the breakdown continues. The cold, the ache, the pervasive fatigue, and confusion have returned again today. Reluctantly, I acknowledge they will linger today, all day, and probably return every day. I feel doomed to have them haunting me day, after day, after cold, dark day, perpetuating the insidious breakdown of my physical well-being, my mental fortitude and my emotional strength.

My morning has barely begun and already I am so exhausted it is all I can do to bring myself to stand upright. I grapple with discomfort as I pull on my clothes and ease my body down the stairs. My daughter is already in the kitchen getting her breakfast. She is such a strong and independent soul, I think to myself as I watch her get ready. Even though I have made it a point to prioritize the needs of my daughter, my decline has forced her to assume more and more responsibility in her young life. She has become so very capable for one so young. Envious, I long for the return of that kind of strength. I wish I had the energy to pop up in the morning and make a warming, hearty breakfast for my family. I don?t want my sweet daughter to have to do everything for herself. My Martha Stewart fantasies are never realized however, as each day I struggle just to get up in time to drive Lauren to school. Frustration blends with guilt, compounding the physical pain with emotional torture. I vow that tomorrow will be different, but I know that won?t happen, because each day begins similar to today. "What is happening to me!?" I shout with despair into my own confusion. Any hope of an answer is enveloped in a fog of chaos and carried out of reach of my desperate mind.

Logic has become a profound challenge. My mind is ensnared in the grip of inability. I cannot think. I cannot reason. I cannot function. Simple decisions are frustrating mental somersaults that roll over and over in the gray mists of my confusion. The life I am living and the world around me have become surreal. I am detached and numb, watching my life take place at a distance. It is as if my life has become a movie happening before me, including me, yet I do not feel a part of it. I am being swept along, bouncing off the sharp edges of pain and despair, unable to break away from the script it feels like someone else has written for me. In the quiet thickness of my morning mind, I attempt to focus on the task of getting my daughter to school. Today, like most days, I know I should not be driving. This murky mental state is similar to the drug reaction that medications warn about on their labels. "Warning, do not drive while taking this medication." But I have obligations and I simply must. I have a family to take care of and a life to live, so I fight through the fog and focus on conversing with my daughter about her upcoming day. We reach the school, and with the all-consuming excitement that only the young can muster, my beautiful daughter scampers up the school sidewalk and disappears into the brick building, heading towards the new adventures that seem to be daily occurrences in her teenage world. Today, like most days now, I do my very best to avoid the other mothers as they gather together for the brief social klatch that dropping their children off gives them. They all look so fresh and put together, as they try to get my attention to join them. I feel ashamed of the way I must look. I don?t even have the energy to check myself in the rear view mirror, let alone get out and talk to these nice people. I?m sure that it looks like I just crawled out of bed, pulled my hair back, and threw on the sweats I?m wearing. Fact is, that is just what happened, except that I didn?t just put on these sweats, I had slept in them. That thought is enough to make me throw in the towel. There?s no hiding that I?m in bad shape today, so with the briefest of waves to the gathered mothers, I pull the car back out into traffic and drop the pretense of focus I have had to assume for my daughters sake. The weight of my discomfort drops back down on me like cold, wet wool.

I return home to assess what I will be able to do today. Several errands must be completed. I calculate the bills, empty the dishwasher and water the plants. The fatigue spends the morning hours with me, riding alongside every move I make. It interferes with my judgment and clouds my perceptions. I hardly have the strength required to make my mind function to calculate the bills. It's no wonder next week I find that so many mistakes were made. Invariably checks will return that were sent to the wrong place or for the incorrect amount. I forget things often and overlook obvious details. Not just in calculating the bills but in all my daily tasks. I feel angry and frustrated at this pervasive and debilitating mental fog. I am a college educated professional woman with a master?s degree, for God's sake, and here I am unable to complete a thought or to finish a sentence. My vocabulary has declined to that of an elementary school child. Potentially dangerous situations occur when I forget to unplug the coffeepot or turn off the stove when I leave the house. Self-criticism then ensnares me as I mentally and emotionally beat myself up for being so stupid. The emotional abuse I burden myself with only perpetuates the helplessness I feel. Depression and feelings of inadequacy press down on me. My freedom and happiness are chained to the walls in this dungeon of disease.

I have existed with this mental, emotional and physical pain for so many years now that depression is a constant, unwanted state of mind. The depression wasn't there in the beginning, but slowly began to grow as a result of the continual breakdown. When will this end? How much longer do I have to survive like this? When no answer presents itself to satisfy me, I begin to wallow in despair. In the darkness of my being, I feel I can no longer continue. I want to leave this life, this body, and this horrible pain and degeneration! I attempt to clear my head so that I can realistically consider my options. Suicide appeals to me in ways I cannot deny. More often than I would like to admit to myself, I longingly contemplate the release that death at my own hand would bring me. This isn't the first time I have toyed with this escape and I am aware it will not be the last. Before I can even register my actions, I find myself sitting on the bedside, loaded 20-gauge shotgun in hand. This gun and I are best friends, having spent hundreds of hours alone together in the woods. We?ve been up before the dawn, witnessed countless sunsets, been soaking wet, frozen cold, and baked by the sun together. I have held her in my arms more than any lover I have ever known. It feels somehow right that this nightmare might be ended by such a beloved companion. The bright black metal gleams up at me invitingly with the promise of release. I raise the barrel and feel the satisfying heft of this weapon. Just one quick flick of the finger and this hell would end. I look down the end of the barrel and smell the slightest hint of gunpowder and oil as I open my mouth. I am barely cognizant of the cold metal resting on my lips in this state of desperate confusion created by the mix of pain, depression and mind fog. I think I hear the distant tinkling of some strange and engaging wind chime as my eyes close and my left hand tightens around the steel. The rhythmic sound carries me away until I realize that it is the sound of the gun barrel clanking against the bottom row of my teeth. My shaking finger rests precariously on the trigger and it is a wonder that the gun does not discharge from the shaking of my finger alone. Then, out of the corner of my fluttering eyes, I notice the childhood silhouette from my beautiful daughter's kindergarten year. The flood of maternal drive and emotion clears my head and my mind snaps back into focus. The daze evaporates and I realize what I have nearly done in this state of sleepwalking despair. As I let the shotgun slip from my shaking hands, I acknowledge that it is the love for my daughter that has kept me from killing myself. I emotionally whip myself for even considering such a thing. How could I honestly think about this when I have such a wonderful family and fulfilling counseling practice? Dying isn't really what I want. I just want to be free! Free from this pain, this fatigue, this ache, this cold, and this thick mental fog. I don't want to live like this anymore. I am world-weary and I want out. In this dark place of pain-created vulnerability, I completely relate to the choice of euthanasia by the terminally ill. I empathize with the desire for freedom that they look to achieve through death. I scold myself for being so cowardly as to even consider checking out, and my will to survive returns. I must fight to continue for the sake of my lovely daughter. The thought of her having to deal with the suicide of her mother opens the floodgate of tears and I let them flow. I cry out loud and I cry hard. I cry for her, I cry for my family, but mostly I cry for myself. I cry that I can't find just one hour of peace amidst this agonizing madness...