Suffering from Undiagnosable Uncertainty
In the Fall of 2015, I sat in a lecture hall wondering if I blended in with everyone around me. Heart racing, palms sweating, and my head burning as the professor spoke on a topic that seemed irrelevant compared to the racing thoughts in my head. The only explanation for my condition seemed to be a physical problem, “perhaps a heart attack” my mind said. About an hour later I was sitting in an emergency room with no answers for what I was experiencing. While my blood pressure and heart rate were very high, I appeared physically healthy in every other sense according to the nurses and doctors. This was my 4th visit to the emergency room in a month.
I remember staring at the ceiling one evening, feeling overwhelmed by the sensation of simply existing. I was uncomfortable with every aspect of myself and this was nauseating. The way I was feeling manifested itself in a plethora of ways. My face appeared eyebrow-less as I had picked out the tiny hairs at random throughout the day. I was pale and tired. I had no appetite. I was breaking out in rashes. My throat burned. My arms tingled. I was burdened with a constant state of emotional misery. I was embarrassed that all of this was so visible to everyone I encountered. I couldn’t stand that I was burdening my friends and family by needing their support, and it had even led to conflict with some of them.
Doctor after doctor continued to tell me that I was fine simply because they were not able to detect anything abnormal other than very high blood pressure and an elevated heart rate for someone of my age and weight. I knew I was not fine. With every eye roll and sarcastic comment from my “health providers”, I felt worse than ever. I was constantly fighting between the embarrassment of continuously seeking medical help and the fear of not knowing what was wrong. And while acute conditions were repeatedly ruled out, none of the doctors I had seen were willing to invest their energy in helping me discover the root cause of my symptoms. While I did have a history of anxiety and depression, experiencing my first full-blown panic attack at the age of 9, I had never experienced anything this severe.
Purification through Conversion: The Trigger
The previous Spring, my life had changed forever. For the first time, I had experienced authentic friendship centered in Christ. While I had been blessed with good friends growing up, I had never experienced an authentic relationship with an explicit goal to know Christ through it. For the first time in what felt like forever, I was able to be authentically and totally vulnerable to another person. Through this, Christ gave me an invitation to let Him into the parts of me that were broken, ugly, and shameful. He used my friends’ compassion and understanding to introduce Himself to me in a way I had never before been able to see Him in my heart: as a friend. He asked me to trust Him that He would love me regardless of my failures and wounds, just as my earthly friends did. I accepted this invitation by ridding myself of the negative influences in my life that were keeping me from doing this. I made an honest and authentic confession. I willed to pursue Christ in every aspect of myself. So, why then months later was I in so much misery?
Preparing for a total relationship with Christ is not an overnight process. In fact, I would argue that in most cases it takes a lifetime of trial and error, but anything is possible through Christ. In order to have a total relationship with Him, we must have space inside ourselves to welcome His presence. Room must be made for Him to enter our hearts which may force us to face intense periods of purification.
More Than My Physicality
The spiritual and the physical are deeply intertwined (1 Catechism of the Catholic Church 365). We often hold onto our spiritual wounds within our very physicality. In fact, the physical and the spiritual are so deeply intertwined that our spiritual wounds can manifest themselves in very physical ways. This physicality of spiritual suffering can often confuse us, making us think that we are experiencing physical symptoms to physical problems, when in fact our bodies are reacting to something much deeper.
Perhaps you’ve held onto something for so long you don’t even realize it is there. If you don’t have the ability or tools to release the tension brought on by negative life events, they take root within you. That’s exactly what had led me to the point of physical and emotional torment that I was experiencing.
After my conversion experience in the Spring, I began to identify several wounds that had taken root inside of me. At first, these wounds were difficult to even name. It took time and observance of my internal reactions throughout daily life to identify them. Oftentimes, I noticed my reactions to very slight offenses, such as someone rescheduling meeting for coffee, stirred up anger in me that was out of proportion with reality. Situations such as that helped me identify that I had a deep fear of receiving love as well as a fear of being abandoned, even by Christ. Receiving love requires vulnerability, to be fully and authentically loved your full self must be known. There were several instances in my life in which I had shown vulnerability in search of an authentic relationship with another and was only met with apathy or abuse. This unknowingly wired my brain to associate the negative emotions of being left or taken advantage of by being vulnerable and trusting someone to love me. Being able to identify this and name it led to the gradual dissipation of the physical pains I was experiencing. It allowed me to seek care from the appropriate sources.
While it was often difficult to put into words, I could eventually pinpoint, through prayer and relaxation techniques, whereas in my body I was holding onto this unresolved trauma. From the muscles in my back tensing up while receiving emotionally abusive comments regarding the quality of love, I gave to my elders as a young child, discomfort on the left side of my back remained. From undergoing sexual abuse and the internal conflict of wanting to come forward versus preserving the ignorance of those I loved most versus receiving the attention I craved, a knot in my stomach developed. I had become so used to these physical pains and discomforts that they were my normal. And it was terrifying to release them. My own body was afraid of what sensation or potential pain would replace each one. Perhaps it would be worse than what I was accustomed to. They reflected the wounds in my soul in a very real way. But, Christ was offering to replace those wounds with His compassion, and I was finally ready to let Him. I had to know and believe that through Him I could receive love and He would never abandon me. My friends’ witness to this through their investment in me led me to trust Christ.
It wasn’t until I had the necessary tools to heal and I had identified my wounds that I was subject to the physical manifestations of deep-seated mental and spiritual wounds. Had I not had a heart opened to Christ, I would have found no cure for what I was experiencing in my physical body and perhaps would have lost all faith. My healing needed to go beyond my biology. My will was finally strong because I had experienced love itself in the person of Christ through authentic friends.
At the beginning of all of this, I sought help for only the physical ailments of my body. But, more than anything I needed spiritual and psychological support. While I believe there was a deeply spiritual element to what I was experiencing, I also needed treatment for my mental health through continued use of anti-depressant medication and cognitive therapy. Because all aspects of my health – spirit, mind, and body – were impacted by the effects of my woundedness, I needed resources to treat and heal them as a whole.
An Interplay that Demands Recognition: Treating the Whole Person
During this time, the doctors that treated me could not branch out from the physical sphere of my health. I needed a doctor who saw the whole picture and who was not afraid to admit when he or she didn’t have all the answers. I needed an authentically Catholic doctor who could recognize all aspects of my humanity. While I give an immeasurable amount of credit to the Divine Physician, Christ Himself, for my healing, He used earthly physicians from different fields to orchestrate my healing.
I eventually found a doctor who explained to me that what I was going through was more than physical. As I sat in her office one day, she said very bluntly, “You’re killing yourself.” She recognized that I was not doing anything to release the tension and stress brought on by life events, and it was eating away at my overall health. As she was a Catholic, she identified the need for me to turn to Jesus in prayer for healing and to seek psychological support by finding a counselor. She encouraged me to release what I was holding onto. And in a moment— I can only describe as miraculous—I found the courage to do just that.
The Need for A Complete Health Care Experience
CMF CURO’s mission is to provide a total health care experience for its members by uniting the spirit, mind, and body. This is why I choose to work for CMF CURO. From personal experience, I understand this integral approach to health care is something that the current system is deeply lacking, which only leads to more suffering. The current approach to health care prevents a doctor from even beginning to address treatment options for the spirit and mind, allowing them only to focus on the body.
Patients waste time and resources, at no fault of their own seeking out treatment for illnesses of the mind and spirit that are affecting the body. These patients are mocked and dismissed by stressed-out providers, during a time in which they need compassion more than ever. Doctors need the time to explain to patients how mental health can affect physical health. They need to have the humility to direct them to resources such as counselors and priests that can treat people where the medical field simply cannot. We need doctors that are willing to give Christ a space in our healing.
If you are suffering from deep-seated wounds of any nature, refuse to let them block you from a total relationship with Christ. Our staff is here to help you discern and find treatment for your needs.
Don’t let your wounds keep you from Christ!
If you are struggling with a mental health-related issue here are some resources that can help:
- The CatholicPsych Institute
- National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255