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A Canary's Eye View — Challenges
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The Spiritual Challenge
of A Canary's-Eye View

Making this site about my health presents a spiritual dilemma of its own.

Body image

Doctors tell parents to warn their children when they start the teenage growth spurt, not to dive into water they have dived into all their lives. Teenagers grow so fast that the body image — specifically the sense of how tall they are — doesn't keep up with reality, and serious head injuries are common from diving into water that's no longer deep enough for them.

Similarly at menopause, my health deteriorated so rapidly that I couldn't get in touch with my new reality. Lifting 50-pound bags of fertilizer, which I had done for years, suddenly put my back in screaming agony. Keyboarding at my computer often made my elbow feel like a nail was driven through it. My arms didn't have the strength to turn the steering wheel of the Saab I'd gotten six months before. Migraine-like headaches started crippling me when I got exposed to smells that used to just annoy me. I started getting sick from eating one food after another that I had been eating all my life.

If I listed all the abilities I which I took for granted, and lost then, it would fill pages. I kept getting myself into trouble because I would keep doing things I had already discovered were bad for me. (Still do.)

Conscious illness

In order to take better care of myself, I learned to be very conscious of how I treat my body. I let myself grieve for my lost health, and consciously cultivated an image of myself as disabled. This has helped. But it's been four years now, and my body image has still not caught up. I wonder whether it will. I have developed a lot of discipline, and a routine that serves me well, but I still keep discovering myself "forgetting" and doing something I know is likely to hurt me. There's no question I am "in denial."

Sometimes I even have to insist on my right to be ill. Our culture exerts pressure to have a stiff upper lip, to not rock the boat, to not trouble others with one's suffering. If you're sick, it's your fault.

The other side of the coin

However there's also a problem with insisting too much. Identifying with poor health is dangerous, too. I have always been an exhibitionistic person: in psychotherapy, for example, I would "perform" for attention, rehearsing a "problem" repeatedly, in more and more detail, because the therapist gave me attention for it. Of course that just increased my identification with the "problem"!

In therapy I have learned to decide what I really need to talk about, to feel the energy of the session coming from me, not from the therapist. I have not yet learned how to deal with the subject of my health, in relating to other people. It's a mighty fine line to draw, between trying to keep conscious of my body's needs, in the face of my own denial and time-lagged body image — and not glamorizing my ill health. I need to be seen, to be accepted, as who I am in all my experience — and at the same time I need attention *not* to be focused on my sickness.

A middle path

It's an important line. Attachment to suffering I don't need. I don't want this site to contribute to that. I am using this site to record information that I can point people to, so I don't have to say it repeatedly. I want to offer information which might be useful to other canaries, and to let others know how life is for us. I hope that will contribute to less blaming the victim, and more compassion.

I'm also interested in hearing of similar research others are doing to understand this kind of condition. But I don't want to get into conversation about my health. I ask your support in my effort to walk a middle path between attachment to health and attachment to suffering.

— Catherine, 5 October 2000