I have learned that when I get an allergic reaction, I shouldn’t automatically reach for the antihistamine. Well, sometimes I do reach for it, but I like to play investigator and discover what metaphors are under the physical disruption. This must be my genetic disposition. I need to write about everything when the reasonable among us would just pop the blasted pill.

Anyway. I woke up the other day with pain everywhere in my body. I haven’t been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, but when I woke up, I was sure I had it. It felt like a war was going on inside. A day earlier, I discovered a slow leak from the upstairs bathroom down through the wall. A plumber came over and took out some of the wall board to reveal mold on the inside of the wall.

AlergiesAll I did was get a whiff of it. The next morning, I woke up in a disorienting land of alarm. It seemed like all the troops inside my body were mustering. I was itchy and dissociated (a sign of being in “fight or flight”), and I felt like I was floating in space. My feet didn’t seem to be touching the ground. I did take some antihistamines, but the attack was already underway.

After a quick search on the internet, here’s what I found about allergic reactions: it’s not the mold attacking me, it is my protectors—my own antibodies! The antibodies are sent off to find and combine with pathogens. The clumps of pathogens with antibodies hugging them send off messages, like flashing neon signs: “Foreign!” Foreign!,” This cues the white cells to find and destroy the clump.

It was clear to me, though: someone is confused. The antibodies have attached themselves to my own tissues and fibers. The white cells are attacking me instead of the mold. How did such a mix up happen? I realized it was like war where “friendly-fire” happens. We kill ourselves. This is auto-immune.

My whole body was attacking and defending itself, all at once. I experienced it as a pain like shrieking metal in my muscles and joints. Picture horses with the white of their eyes flashing, and saliva flying. Mutually-assured destruction. Someone had pushed the red button without stopping to ask who the real enemy is. The whole error, I realized, was based on mistaken identity and fear of danger.

Sound familiar? We live in such a world, every day. Confusion and chaos reign. A wild flailing without caring who gets hurt. My poor body has been mirroring the politics of our day!
How to fix this? I felt better writing all that down. My body is so much more clever than I give it credit for. I also felt compassion for my body which got so confused in its alarm of the moment that it started fighting itself. And then I started feeling compassion for the warring sides in our society, similarly confused and in alarm, flailing at one another without caring what the outcome is.

The fix for the fibromyalgia, at least in this case, was to give it time. Do some other things, like eating well, see a doctor smart about this sort of stuff, and start meditating. And yes, antihistamines got me over the hump until the mold could be addressed. The fix for what’s going on in our world? I haven’t a clue. But I do know that digging under the surface is often helpful in getting grounded during times of chaos. This is what I call “finding your inner voice.” When my feet are on the ground and I’m in my body, I can find solutions a lot easier.

Lou Ellyn Jones helps women find their voice so they can be a more authentic and courageous presence in the world.

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