“Are you a canary?”
The question caught me by surprise. Doctors don’t usually ask these sorts of questions. I thought for a moment, catching his drift.
“Yes. I think so,” I replied
He glanced down at the test results in front of him, then looked up at me over his glasses.
“Canaries die first.”
I’ve been exhausted for years. I’ve been low energy for so long that I began to think that it was just my “normal.” In fact, an acupuncturist I saw for my fatigue stated as much. “You were just born this way,” he said, like that was that. A Chinese doctor thought my fatigue was due to holding grief in my lungs. An alternative healer concluded that I was “bored.” None of them were wrong but none were completely right, either.
My low energy sank into no energy, which perseverated into painful, incapacitating fatigue. I awaken after ten hours of sleep tired and go downhill from there. As this current doctor told me, I’m not even running on reserves anymore. I’m going on sheer will. This made me cry.
Now, at last, I have an explanation that is measurable and helpful. Despite the news being rather serious it is also oddly relieving. I’m not simply pathetic: I’m sick. I am tired because my liver and adrenal glands have gone into functional failure. This is no small thing. My liver is ailing due to a thousand food sensitivities that I did not know I had and my adrenals are failing due to chronic stress — all the yoga, therapy, meditation, and muesli notwithstanding.
The good news is that I can heal these things. The bad news is that I must sacrifice mightily to do so. My already pleasure-spartan life must tighten it’s belt. If I thought a vegan table looked paltry, it’s a veritible schmorgasbord compared to my new regime which I affectionately refer to as “Vegan Lite.” No wheat, no sugar, no soy, no dairy, no eggs, meat or mushrooms. No almonds, cashews, vinegar, gluten, spelt, black beans, ginger, raspberries, pineapple or grapes. Worst of all, no alcohol. If you ponder all this a moment, you will realize that what is left is seeds and leaves. Birdfood. I am a canary.
Now in addition to being sick and tired I am hungry. I made waffles for my children this morning. Banana waffles. I love banana waffles. I had a smoothie: a fortifying concoction with the texture of fine sand and the color of brown and green paint blended together. Cheers!
Interestingly, and not coincidently, I just finished Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen’s Crossing to Avalon, in which she links the idea of not being truthful with yourself to illness. She wonders if all dis-ease takes root when we deny or dismiss the truth that is urging itself upon us: the truth about who we really are, what we dream of, what we want or don’t want, the truth about the job that is killing us or the relationship that is comatose, the truth about the fear and fractures that are consuming our hearts.
I think about the past number of years of my life and all the stress of my unspoken desires, thoughts, and feelings. In the past six months I published my first book, my marriage and bank account hit the redline of empty, my mother died in my arms, and I turned 50. My little bird body collapsed from all the stress and the toxic, unspoken truths.
This SNL diet (Seeds ‘n’ Leaves) is a reclamation and restoration project: I am restoring my organs and reclaiming my life. That’s the hope. I’m in three weeks today (yay for me!), and not a drop of wine or a niblet of bread has crossed my lips. I am surprised, proud, and truly disgusted that this is so. Summer without caprese salad? Without wine? Without pasta? Did I mention that I live in the wine counry? Did I mention that I am both a gourmet and gourmand? A Taurus?
The fact that I am eating lentil and kale salad, rather than brie on a chunk of chewy bread, says two things: one, I really, really want to feel better, and two, I have a will of steel. Eating (and I use the term loosely) in this way doubles my determination; if I’m going through this hell, I sure as heck am going to learn from it. Hence forth I shall be speaking up, speaking out, and speaking my truth. It’s scary stuff, saying what needs to be said. It may shake up the pea patch a bit. Some folks might leave and some things might die, but like my addiction to bread, they weren’t good for me in the first place, no matter how yummy they seemed.
No more cage for this canary. It’s blue sky and salad time.