When I reflect on the past eight years, I am emboldened by my ability to transform. Committing to an entirely new way of life is no easy feat, but I believe that change is within everyone’s capacity, if it is approached through compassion and community. We all carry unique pain and experience personal challenges on a daily basis, and it is how we choose to evolve in the face of this fragility that either paves the way for our path to healing or keeps us planted firmly in the past.
For me, dealing with chronic illness has pushed me to reclaim my life as much as my health. I’ve reconnected with old friends and introduced beautiful new faces into my circle. I’ve overcome feelings of isolation and confusion by tapping into a source of strength previously untouched. As much as I’ve struggled to enjoy social settings that revolve around food and drink, I’ve also found passion in creating and photographing vibrant, healthy meals. Most importantly, I’ve worked to make peace with myself by learning to be vulnerable and honest with others about how I’m really feeling, rather than putting on a performance of holistic well-being.
During the past few years I’ve slowly relinquished gluten and dairy, processed foods, refined sugars and caffeine. I’ve removed harsh chemicals from my home and use only the purest makeup and personal care products on the market, or make my own. I cheat occasionally with a glass of red wine. I’ve learned (regrettably) that I can’t just wash my hair with apple cider vinegar and baking soda, try as I might.
I’ve also connected with so many people who are struggling with similar health issues or living with chronic disease. Acknowledging that I wasn’t alone and eventually cultivating a community that could offer specialized support and care were essential factors in my recovery. I’ve especially found peace in ancient practices that honor mindful living and eating. In particular, meditation, yoga, and regular acupuncture sessions have made it easier to embrace the difficult art of acceptance and detachment.
In many respects my parameters and new practices present an opportunity for me to experience life as it should be realized: balanced, nourishing, and in pursuit of the profound. At the same time, I’ve had to stop searching for meaning in my diagnosis or viewing my illness as the necessary prerequisite to claiming my identity. While I would never completely revert to my old eating habits or way of living even if I could, I do wish there were more options and easier access to specialty foods when I’m dining out or traveling.
I’ve learned to exist more comfortably in the gaping chasm that separates eastern and western medicine. My countless experiments have taught me that achieving good health cannot be approached from only one perspective. What works for some is not guaranteed to be the golden ticket for all. There is as much need for western medicine as there is for Chinese medicine and I regret that these philosophies are so divided.
The biggest challenge I’ve faced these past few years is developing deep and sustaining self-compassion. I’ve experienced as many bad days as good, which can make it difficult to maintain my routine or keep my anxiety in check when I feel my health slipping out of control. It’s true that I no longer binge on a pint of ice cream or eat the entire bread basket at dinner, but having restraint in those moments can make it difficult to resist a freshly baked batch of almond flour cookies or refrain from attacking a large bag of raw cashews that should have lasted me all week. Learning to love myself in those moments and remaining nonjudgmental in my practices is demanding to say the least, but embracing my imperfections has become easier.
There is so much grace and beauty to be found in the realm of holistic healing. Meditation, for example, uses simple observation of breath to return, without criticism, to the present. Whatever your personal battle might be, I hope that you too can find relief in this tranquil space. At this moment, and really every moment, we all have the capacity to begin healing.