• Ultimate Sleep Hacking

    I have had a disrupted sleep since I was a kid, but it didn’t become chronic until I grew up and assumed the anxiety of the adult, whereupon it became a real problem, requiring drugs that were hard to get. Doctors would be abstemious and hard-nosed about prescribing them, so I tried all their various recommendations, and even taught myself to meditate which took ten years. The result? I became so depleted, I contracted Chronic Fatigue Syndrome from a trio of the many herpes viruses which basically eviscerated my energy, and sent me into a quiet, a very quiet, too quiet life. The eight or nine herpes viruses are carried by most of us, but they need stressors to become active. I provided them with many stressors, moving countries, continents, chasing stories from dawn to dusk and parties from dusk to dawn.

    We now know that 80 million Americans suffer from a variety of sleep problems and that there are 80 kinds of sleep disorders. By the time I was 40, I found that a tiny dose of an old-fashioned anti-depressant could deliver a night of sleep, and my life began to improve, radically and fast. But fifteen years of broken sleep has rendered me paranoid and worried, so last summer I bought an Oura Ring, which is the most sophisticated sleep tracker on the market to date.

    Below I attach the Oura’s records of last night’s sleep. I have about 20 data points to consider. First of all, I know I was over-tired by supper-time, but instead of a nap, I powered through and by 10 pm, I was frazzled and it was hard to sleep – took me almost 80 minutes. And I woke constantly, through the night. My heart rate was high, my deep sleep low. Based on the data, I am more aware. I can make adjustments. The reason this is important is that the 20% of us (Please see my RCCX Theory essay, linked here ) who carry this sensitivity, which goes along with a more intense sensibility, can easily tip into complete sleeplessness. More and more people are recognizing that they are carriers and that their lives are impacted. Last month Justin Bieber confessed to the syndrome, his manifests as Lyme and it sent him to Christianity and marriage. Lady Gaga has it. Morgan Freeman, ‘Girl’s’ creator, Lena Dunham, Cher, and a host of others less famous. Ten million Americans and between 3 and 6% of the world’s population are sick with fibromyalgia, which is cousin to CFS.

    Last week, a woman just south of me, Darden Burns, who had CFS for decades, killed herself because she hadn’t slept for months. Everything she tried worked for a while, then failed. Her life was heroic and makes it clear that, if you want to live, you must apply sleep hygiene. You must be conscious.

    Next week Your Best Sleep Ever, an alternative medicine approach to improving sleep begins. It’s free and you can register here.

  • Reading this Might Save your Life

    The modern physician should know as much about emotions and thoughts as about disease symptoms and drugs. This approach would appear to hold more promise of cure than anything medicine has given us to date

    Hans Selye

    I am 85% recovered from a Chronic Fatigue relapse. Which means I have recovered twice. Which makes me anomalous. Traditional medicine claims a cure of 6%, and functional medicine which combines alternative with hard-core science has been able to “cure” 60% of patients, but mostly in part. There are many others like me, but we are decidedly in the minority. A tiny minority.

    But I am hiking the hard hills (cautiously), writing a steady two hours every day (hey it’s a start), and embarked on a spring cleaning routine, the contemplation of which at any time in the past three years, would have sent me into a tailspin of exhausted self-loathing. I still cannot contemplate giving a party (which I love) and travel is out of the question. I cannot publish.

    The only thing that wasn’t affected was my curiosity. I could read, I could study, I could learn.

    Early on, CFS/ME/Fibromyalgia – they are generally identified as lying on the same continuum – was considered mostly psychogenic, but it turned out that antidepressants helped only 5% of sufferers. “The yuppie flu”, “the worried well”, the contempt leveled at sufferers was searing and still is, if you cast your eye over the linked Reddit thread.

    Then doctors began to collapse, were forced to revise their opinions and in order to crawl out of it, pushed every button and pulled every lever. No cure was found. Some things worked for a little while or helped a little going forward. Herbal and other nutritional supplements were found necessary by doctors with the disease – it is why complementary medicine can claim substantially more success than straight-up western medicine.

    “I was shocked to learn that somehow medical education has completely missed an epidemic affecting so many gifted young people (mostly women), leaving the patients to fend for themselves.”

    Dr. Sharon Megalthery

    Finally, after thirty years of effort, there are trials using drugs originally aimed at other illnesses: the abortion pill, RU 486 might be able to reset the nervous system, mestonin, used for Myasthenia Gravis, helps with mental fatigue, Ampligen looked good at first, but no. Still no cure. Still no drugs. Still no effective simple test. Still no protocol.

    Tens of millions of us suffer somewhere along the CFS/ME/Fibromyalgia continuum, including Lady Gaga, Lena Dunham, Cher, Stevie Nicks, filmmaker David Putnam, author Suzanna Moore, Randy Newman, the 10th Countess of Mar, Lauren Hillenbrand, and so on into infinity. Some estimate that we are among tens of millions of missing lives.

    Further, it may be an epidemic about to soar. The Agency for Occupational Work and Safety recently reported that 43% of Americans consider themselves too tired to function at work. 97% carry least at one risk factor of fatigue, and 81% perform jobs where fatigue is a danger to others.

    Jennifer Brea, a Harvard Ph.D. student fell ill mountain climbing at the age of 27, and after being dismissed by doctors, put together, from her bedroom, an award-winning documentary called Unrest, which premiered in 2017. This gave the disease profile. Last month, Jennifer announced that she had been cured by craniocervical surgery.


    “..in my case, the circumstantial evidence strongly points to some structural defect the surgery resolved (e.g., relief of a squished vagus nerve, better CSF flow), but I put my money on the brainstem. Where does the cause of my PEM (if not all PEMs) reside? I can’t be sure but if it turns out that my PEM is truly gone, then I’d put the money, at least in my case, on the brainstem.” (PEM is Post-Exertional Malaise.)

    Brea was initially diagnosed with a conversion disorder, which basically meant who the hell knows, but Brea says today, “the mechanism was structural. Its impacts were systemic.”

    My mother bio-hacked her way out of schizophrenia by becoming an Adele Davis acolyte. I cannot imagine the discipline it took. She had no help, no one was thinking about curative nutrition at that time, much less the many other things she tried. But for her, exercise was core, she forced herself to become, slowly, arduously, a competitive golf and tennis player. She trained her mind, scheduled daily rest, learned meditation, and taught herself to speak fluent French in her 70’s. Wherever I moved in the world handwritten lists of nutrients would follow me and every new discovery was outlined in exhaustive detail. It wasn’t a complete cure, reality breaks were still part of her life but she was more than just functional. As a result, I was the only person I knew who would in every city, search out an immunologist who would test me for nutrient deficiencies. I believe that’s why I didn’t collapse completely when I fell ill. But for twenty years, I operated in a fugue state with maybe 65% of my energy. And then ten years ago, suddenly I was normal. I behaved as if I were normal with the predictable result: CRASH.

    After I relapsed, as soon as I could sit up in bed and type, I studied. And a few months ago, a theory of everything coalesced. “First step,” I thought “what the hell, maybe this is psychological?” So I hired a therapist who had a practice in Los Angeles working with people with CFS and Hashimotos. Within a few sessions, we identified childhood triggers, and I began to apply behavioral modifications.

    It didn’t really take. I mean it was interesting, but I’ve had seven therapists over the years, mostly because I was terrified of developing schizophrenia. All my neuroses have been fully disinterred and examined.

    Back to the drawing board. Whereupon I read about the discovery by the Japanese who, given that their citizens will literally die from overwork (karoshi) put their backs into it and identified the malfunction of the Vagus nerve as the culprit.

    They tested their theory by triggering Vagus nerve shutdown by challenging subjects’ cognition with a series of tests, pursued until the subject was exhausted and was unable to transition from fight or flight (sympathetic nervous system) to rest and recover (parasympathetic nervous system). In some people, not all, under extreme stress, the Vagus nerve which triggers the rest-and-recover system starts to curl up and die. This is a literal description and why surgery is sometimes called for.

    I am going to radically simplify here: push your brain too hard, and your Autonomic Nervous System gets stuck on fight, flight or freeze. And then your body triggers hibernation. You become a bear in winter whether you like it or not.

    Hibernation can take many forms. A list of the illnesses caused by ANS (autonomic nervous system) dysfunction is as long as your arm. The acronyms MCAS, POTS, EDS-HT, enhanced intracranial pressure, these are just a start. The body will do anything to make you stop and give it the relief it needs. In my case, the Epstein-Barre or mono virus, which most of us carry, activated. Also Herpes Simplex and the Cytomegalovirus, all of which I tested for. I had the mother of all flu for two years before I began to crawl out of it. Truly I have never been so sick. It was terrifying. Added to that, because of Canada’s bonkers health system, I had no GP. I went to emergency five times until they found me a doctor on an Indian reserve four hours away.

    Once I discovered the Japanese theory, biohacking became relatively straightforward. I found herbal anti-virals from Dr. William Rawls, a physician who contracted Lyme, and built a practice from his discoveries, After two months the viruses were suppressed. I have been meditating for 30 years but I imposed a strict program which puts me into Theta or deep deep relaxation for an hour every afternoon. I slowly began to exercise, and if I felt PEM (post-exertional malaise), would force myself to take a long break. For two and a half years I was allergic to sugar, wheat, dairy, and chocolate, so I gave them up. I became ketogenic. I purchased a compendium of TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) herbs, innovative nutritional supplements that nourished my body, mushrooms, and minerals that optimized my brain and triggered Nerve Growth Factor. I am smarter than I was at the beginning of my collapse. Within three months, I was almost normal. I am almost normal. I can eat anything. I can hardly believe it.

    It is a Wild Wild West out there in CFS/ME/Fibromyalgia land. An internist told me last week that in conventional medicine, no one knows nothing. There is a diagnosis code now, which means physicians can claim it on insurance forms. But again, few pharmaceuticals help, and none cure.

    Individual physicians, many of whom have the illness have innovated protocols, most of which look like the one I devised for myself: super-nutrition, mindfulness, deep rest, a paleo diet, techniques to trip activation of rest and recover, and if necessary, surgery to free the Vagus nerve from its trap.

    But the theory of everything comes from Dr. Sharon Meglathery, a psychiatrist and GP, who works in private practice in Arizona.

    In 2009, Meglathery developed mast cell activation (MCAS), postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), raised intracranial pressure, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and a host of other potentially disabling syndromes which she identified as lying within the setting of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS-HT) or hypermobility.  

    She spent seven years researching, scouring forums, gathering data from her patients and those on the forums, reading into the scientific literature, experimenting on herself, and challenging assumptions held by the medical community.

    “Early on, my broad medical background revealed that several commonly held assumptions about these conditions must be false.  By letting those assumptions go, I was able to find a neuropsychiatric marker, dubbed CAPS, which predicts a higher risk of chronic illness regardless of hypermobility status which has stood the test of several years.  From there, a lucky break revealed a set of candidate genes which pulled all of my observations together. The knowledge of these genes changed the course of my illness by presenting novel treatment options, and I expect will pave the way for new pharmaceuticals.” 

    The Vagus nerve is starting to receive popular attention as something that we all need to look after, to cherish, but some people are genetically predisposed to its malfunction.

    “The genes of interest include CYP21A2 which codes for a crucial enzyme involved in the acute stress response (21 hydroxylase), TNXB which codes for tenascin, an important matrix protein implicated in EDS-HT and C4, a gene involved in the complement system and implicated in schizophrenia, CVID, MS, lupus and other autoimmune diseases. ” 

    Dr Sharon Meglathery

    Megalathery found that most of her patients operated as if they had grown up in an abusive family, even if they had not: their fight or flight instincts were finely tuned, they were hypervigilant, they had increased threat detection and enhanced stress response. And since nature likes to take with one hand and give with another, there are gifts that come along with an enhanced stress response. “If present in moderation,” says Meglathery, you can demonstrate “enhanced empathy (ability to read emotions in others), sensory sensitivity, superior pattern recognition/information processing, times of intense hyperfocus/obsession/special interests and unusual abilities (often in music, arts or abstract thinking).”

    Twenty percent of us carry the CAPS mutation. This is not a small number. That is a market.

    The finely tuned nervous system can also demonstrate “bursts of emotional dysregulation, dysautonomia, motor and sensory syndromes (hallucinations, dystonia, catatonia, cataplexy, non-dermatomal sensory symptoms, non-epileptic seizures, etc.) and inappropriate states of consciousness (fight/flight, freeze, shutdown).”  

    Further, these diseases cluster in families. Meglathery believes we intermarry because people with the mutation are attracted to each other. So you may find in such a family, CFS, heart disease, bouts of psychosis, autoimmune diseases, multiple sclerosis, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, gender fluidity, PTSD. Children may have ADD, Aspergers and sensory processing disorder. And there may be members who are massively successful, who hang the moon. In other words, if you can master your genes, you become super-human. There are two of these in my family, one ran the British General during the Second War, the other became the most successful gold miner of all time.

    I can trace my mitochondrial DNA (matrilineal) through four generations. Most of the women and some of the men demonstrate negative aspects of the RCCX hypothesis, and some of the giftedness as well. What appears to come along with our genetic cluster, as a sweetener from nature, is seven longevity markers, with several of us surviving into the 100s and most into their late 90s.

    And it isn’t just the CFS syndrome that is triggered by the CAPS mutation. Internet theorists are starting to suspect that mysterious illnesses like systemic lupus erythematosus, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, myasthenia gravis, selective IgA deficiency, multiple sclerosis, MS, Parkinson’s, Graves, Hashimoto’s, ME/CFS, Fibromyalgia all turn up when your body just cannot handle another day in an adrenalin circus.

    And what is the world right now but an adrenalin circus?

    I admit I have had a lot of time to think over the past three years, but I believe Dr. Sharon Meglathery’s work is ground-breaking. Has she not cleared a wide road down which we may find the actual cure to life on earth? Is this genetic anomaly not showing us the next step in evolution?

    “I believe that these genes, particularly C4 and CYP21A2 sit in the most highly mutagenic part of the genome because mutations of these genes provide novel ways of responding to ever-changing environments in terms of response to pathogens/brain wiring for C4 and stress response/brain wiring for CYP21A2.”  

    Are the people with CAPS and the ways they heal showing us how to best live? Do these food allergies suffered by the sensitive mean that some of our food is profoundly unhealthy? Can food become super-nutritious for everyone? Are the routines by which we spend our days counter-productive? Is our way of life killing us? Should we be exposing ourselves to endless waves of adrenalin and stress? Are agricultural and industrial chemicals and EMRs destroying our nervous systems? Are most of our illnesses the result of the ways we live? Are we maladapted? If we are to progress, to become smarter better innovators, do the 20% of us carrying the CAP mutation show the way?

    The Economist published a long essay in their summer culture issue called The Curse of Genius, wherein they examined the plight of children so brilliant they lie in the top .1% of intelligence. Inadvertently they prove Meglathery’s hypothesis:

    Giftedness may even be linked with physiological conditions such as food allergies, asthma and autoimmune diseases, which sometimes go hand-in-hand with “sensory processing disorder”. For many exceptionally intelligent individuals, everyday stimuli such as a radio playing in the background, the colour or texture of food, a vibrant display on a classroom wall or a scratchy label in a piece of clothing can become almost unbearable. Because his brain function is so acute, Lorenzo’s senses are more than usually finely tuned, believes Hilary. “He can hear things that we can’t. He can find it impossible to do his homework in a room that would seem to most people completely silent.”

    The secret to living to 900, as we did before Adam ate the apple, according to the Old Testament, may lie buried in the cure for the complex of diseases that Meglathery identified. Short form: increase rest, digest and recover. Super nutrition, exercise, connect, better sleep. Change everything.

    I have had to take extreme action to cure myself. From twenty relatively successful years in Toronto, London, and New York, I moved to deep country, on an island regulated so tightly I live in a giant park. Our house is surrounded by an older growth forest, with a ravine and a couple of pristine creeks. Ten years ago I built a certifiable healthy house, with no off-gassing in any of the materials, even to the point that we have no drywall in the house. We eat organic, local humanely-raised meats. I have a vegetable garden. Jamie has built a spectacular garden around me, to the point where sometimes I feel as if I am living in a fairytale. Every step along this path was determined by whether something made me feel sick, or better. I sacrificed the glittering prizes of life in the passing lane. But this life is what my body and nervous system needed to thrive.

    I think RCCX points the way forward. People suffering from the condition are our canaries. They almost certainly have gifts we can use. Perhaps the human’s next step is enhanced empathy, sensory sensitivity, superior pattern recognition, intense hyperfocus, and unusual abilities in the arts and a disconnect from the hyper-consumption living.

  • Is Mysterious Illness Really Wisdom Training?

    Last week the NYTimes published a piece about the actress Selma Blair and her diagnosis of MS. MS is another of the mysterious illnesses into which category fall CFS/ME and Fibromyalgia. For the first while, Blair was told by doctors that her tiredness was a function of being a new mother, and barely stopped short of saying “It’s all in your mind.” Eventually, after a struggle, she was formally diagnosed and felt relief that finally, she could do something about it.

    This is a typical response to mysterious illness, both from GPs and from sufferers. People, women mostly, resonated to Selma’s story.

    “There are some things about M.S. that certainly remain a mystery,” said Kathy Costello, the associate vice president for health care access at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. “But a significant amount more is known now, versus 20 or 30 years ago.”

    What if mysterious illnesses are the catalyst for transformation?

    Yeah? After how many billions spent? What did all that money and research find? Well the disease is intermittent. There is no cure. You can take steroids, which break down your organs while giving you relief. There are symptom management strategies, but no one truly knows nothing.

    I have a friend who used bees to force his MS into remission. He would lie down on his stomach, his wife would place bees on his back in a cross pattern and the bees would sting him. He would howl in pain but then the MS would go into remission for a considerable period of time.

    “Most people with the disease have the “relapsing-remitting” form of M.S., which means that they experience a cycle of worsening and recovery.” (Kathy Costello again). Basically, it is an immune system disorder, or a ‘who the hell knows’ disorder.

    Because I grew up with a schizophrenic parent, I’ve had about six therapists in my life. There was no way I was following in her footsteps.

    Let me ask a couple questions. What if all mysterious illnesses start in your mind? What if you could stop them in their tracks by bringing forward the emotions you are suppressing using said illness? What if people who did so were considered courageous, not weak? What if you became so attuned to your inner self that like an expert mechanic, you could pop the hood, tinker around, find the offending fear or rage or sorrow, let it out, fully experiencing that moment and then letting it go? Leaving yourself in recovery.

    Every bout of therapy has given me access to new strengths and new solutions. But mental illness, even at the level of a cold is still considered such a liability, that people hide any manifestation of it, refusing to admit that they are the cause and that they hold the cure in their own hands.

    Because I grew up with a schizophrenic parent, I’ve had about six therapists in my life. There was no way I was following in her footsteps. I moved cities five times when I was younger and always found someone new. As a result, this idea to me is not shaming or indicative of my weakness or inability to “measure up”. Every bout of therapy has given me access to new strengths and new solutions. But mental illness, even at the level of a cold is still considered such a liability, that people hide any manifestation of it, refusing to admit that they are the cause and that they hold the cure in their own hands.

    Because I was acutely, daily, aware of schizophrenia I read widely and seriously, and the one theory I found that made sense, is that without schizophrenia human evolution would have been much much slower. The energy in a schizophrenic brain is so over-powering that ideas and theories and connections and then solutions, happen very very fast. This is certainly true of the schizophrenics in my family. The only problem is that their brains, driven by excitement, take the next step into madness.

    What if mysterious illnesses are the catalyst for transformation?

    What if mysterious illnesses hold the key to the next evolutionary step?

    What if, buried in illness, is the wisdom that we, as a species, need?

  • My 19th Nervous Breakdown

    24 million people worldwide have CFS; 300 million (or 3-6% worldwide) have fibromyalgia.

    Last week I hied myself off to a psychotherapist on the island. Kendra, I’ll call her has 22 years of experience in Los Angeles and has treated many people with Chronic Fatigue and Hypothyroidism. This is extraordinary to me because in the 25 years I have been lugging this illness around, I have met in person no, repeat, no physician or naturopath who knows more than I do about it. 24 million people worldwide have CFS, and those with Fibromyalgia count between 3%-6% of the world population. 5% of the world population is 300,000,000 people. These are staggering numbers, and in response, many thousands of practitioners, research labs and government agencies are now involved in working out a cure. They are not getting very far. They know it is an immune system disorder, they think it has to do with the microbiome, and it is triggered by some kind of viral or bacterial infection that does not go away. But that’s pretty much as far as they’ve got People are bedridden for decades, and many do not improve, in fact, they get worse.

    About six weeks ago I found Dr. Rawls in the States who contracted Lyme Disease after he had been practicing as a GP for several years. He was sick for ten years. While he was down and out he researched herbal medicine and came up with a constellation of herbs that work to destroy the microbes that trigger Fibro, CFS/ME, Lyme, Shingles, etc., all the culprits causing dysfunction. I’ve been on his program for six weeks and I feel very much better. I can work and I can exercise, though I still have Epstein-Barre Viral symptoms – that’s the mono virus, appropriate given myself as a teenager.

    This is what I’ve done to heal myself: moved to the country, worked from home, found a peaceable mate, built relationships within my family, taken medication “to improve the quality of my sleep”, started Low Dose Naltrexone, constructed a nutrient programme with various doctors and naturopaths that is bleeding edge, learned to meditate, learned to pray, established a rock-firm spiritual practice, spent hours hiking hills with my dogs, bought four dogs, given up gluten, dairy, sugar and alcohol, built a healthy house surrounded by a conserved forest, monitored all my blood work and fixed anything that was out of whack. It’s a full-time freaking job.

    Anyone who grows up with a schizophrenic parent is behooved to monitor one’s mental health, and I have had a half dozen therapists over the decades, even a classic Jungian in London, who helped me find the beginnings of my writer’s voice. I am intimately aware of my precious self and its various (sometimes amusing) perambulations right back to the year dot, and I’ve made friends with myself. I am conscious 60% of the time, sometimes more. But therapy I realized, specific to the illness, is something I’ve not tried.

    Just prior to my visit, I’d been studying the role of the autonomic nervous system and CFS. There are several practitioners who insist the disease is caused by an overactive flight or fight response. This made sense to me. Much of my work has scared me nearly to death, and in fact, the first thing that Kendra established was that I’d fallen ill after two years interviewing torture victims and the falsely imprisoned. I’m no Marie Colvin but along with listening to Palestinian nurses detailing Iraqui soldiers slamming baby’s heads against hospital walls, not to mention being up close and personal to families who had lost children in Northern Ireland’s terrors, I’d spent eight months strung between New York and South Africa nailing down the rights to Nelson Mandela’s biography and spent his first weeks of freedom in his back garden. Exciting as hell, but seriously exhausting. Plus one was shot over and nearly trampled in one of those African stadium rushes which are blinking terrifying. This coupled with a sometimes hair-raising though fun and exciting family given to paranoia, rage and reality breaks, set me up for Autonomic Nervous System disorder. And all I have to do is shift myself over to the para-sympathetic nervous system (which is when you feel relaxed, rather than feeling ready to fight the Kurgan hordes or whatever) AND LET MYSELF HEAL.

    Since that moment of revelation, a true Ah-Ha moment, I feel good almost all the time. Kendra bolstered this theory with the work of an overlooked physician, Dr. John Sarno, who taught at NYU, who said, ‘look, your body is talking you into this because you need it. Figure out why you need it and the illness will vanish. It might take some time, you’ll have to work with your mind, and maybe bloody hard, but you will recover and you will not relapse. Sarno insists that pretty much all illness can be related to uncathected emotions, including cancer. We give ourselves disease, in order to block uncomfortable feelings.

    No one (in the CFS/Fibro community) wants to hear it’s all in your mind because that means you are weak and pathetic and do not deserve to live. This, of course, is a militarist view and not helpful or deep or caring or useful. What people can hear is that “Hey girl, you were so disciplined and hard-working, you blew up your nervous system and you have to find a way for it to heal.”

    This idea is pretty much anathema to the massive CFS and Fibro community of patients. No one wants to hear it’s all in your mind because that means you are weak and pathetic and do not deserve to live. This, of course, is a militarist view and not helpful or deep or caring or useful. What people can hear is that “hey girl, you were so disciplined and hard-working, you blew up your nervous system and you have to find a way for it to heal.” This skates very close to New Age “if you build it they will come” philosophy. I don’t care. Right now, it is working for me.

    In my mother’s time, what I experienced in a mild form and somaticized, was called a nervous breakdown and you were considered weak, rather than diligent and courageous. During the 18th century, it was called neurasthenia and you were considered weak and pathetic. Nervous system diseases, I believe, and surely this is obvious, are related to the blistering hot speed of change, both societal and personal. We have built ourselves a terrifying world, where people are hag-ridden by one imperative after another every day. I do not know the solution, but recognition, I learned from one of my many therapists, is at least half the battle.

  • The Full Catastrophe

    Over the weekend, Lena Dunham announced that Christine Blasey-Ford’s testimony triggered her fibromyalgia. This illness, which Lady Gaga also carries, along with millions of others, is barely understood. It is a kind of rheumatism, a disease of the nervous system, muscles, tendons and sinew that bears some resemblance to depression, and is often treated by anti-depressants. It is perhaps a somatization of depression, along with a maladjustment to massive structural change. Equally, as Dr. Sarah Myhill, one of the leading physicians of Chronic Fatigue and its attendant illnesses, globalization has brought home a whole bunch of new viruses which have overwhelmed our immune systems.

    Women are 90% more likely to contract fibro, as my dear cousin calls it, as one would nickname her perpetual friend, her companion in life. It becomes that. As Dunham describes it, it is pain, pain in all its wondrous variations, a symphony of pain, an extraordinary mirroring of the shadow relationship between the body and the world.

    I feel that this has a simple enough explanation. Has anything changed more than women’s lives in the last 50 years? Dunham and Lady Gaga have been lifestyle pioneers of their generation, and without moving to judgment on the value of their contributions, they have been impressively public in moving the goalposts of acceptable behavior for women, pushing the limits of expression of identity with a single-minded will.

    Do I show my age or weariness when I wish for a consolidation of our gains? Two generations ago, women knew what to expect from life. Almost all of us spent at least part of our lives in secure marriages, in one or two cities or towns, knowing people in those towns birth to death. One hundred years ago, says Dr. Myhill, she would have spent her entire life in one valley in Wessex, eating the same food, encountering the same viruses, her life for the most part predictable, if not completely safe. Despite extreme boredom, her immune system, she states, would have loved her.

    We need to catch up with ourselves on the most fundamental of levels, which is to say our bodies. I’ve moved seven cities and three continents in my lifetime, mostly on my own, mostly with very little in the way of support. I am confident that I can hack a living out of almost any wilderness now, and in my wake, and in that of millions of others, more or less accomplished, is a veritable symphony of achievement, independence, and freedom.

    Blasey-Ford’s testimony last week, genuine or not, was a cry from that aching corner of women’s psyches that resonated all around the world. It felt real, it felt deep, almost every woman on the planet could see herself in that girlish woman, deeply credentialed, busted back to herself at a powerless fifteen. But that is not who we have become in actuality. Not at all. Aching we may be, but as a sex, in the last fifty years, singly and together we have hung the moon.