(Part 1 of 3 part series.)
By Chris Wagner
There’s a saying that life can turn on a dime; meaning that the life you’ve been living is suddenly turned in a completely different and unexpected direction. Often this change comes with challenges and one is left with the work of sorting it out and making decisions that will affect all that follows.
My change of direction came with the onset of severe rheumatoid arthritis over 20 years ago. At that time I was busy as a facilitator and volunteer; spending free time biking, hiking and traveling. Quite suddenly I could barely move; my whole body was inflamed and in pain and my energy disappeared. It took a long time to get diagnosed. Then I made my first major decision and said no to the prescription drugs that would require monitoring my liver monthly. For almost a year, I waited for this condition to go away and brooded when it did not. Feeling that I’d been separated from the world I knew and experiencing anger, loss and frustration, I finally listened to the still, small voice in my head – I do not want to live like this!
That led to the second major decision. The life that I’d had was no longer viable. It seemed important to accept this reality and the only route there was to be completely honest with myself. It was time to acknowledge that RA has no cure and it would be up to me to get healthy around it. Make peace with it instead of fighting. Discern necessary needs from unrealistic wants.
With this change of strategy, many positive things began to happen.
Almost instantly, a friend lent me a copy of the blood type diet book and it made so much sense that I started following its suggestions. Within a month, much of the pain was gone. From there I discovered the naturopathic and Chinese medicine schools in Portland. They spent much time with me, truly listened and taught me about supplements and herbs. I received a lot of bodywork, acupuncture and homeopathy work. And, I started using MSM which reduced the inflammation. I kept doing research and took more health-related classes.
This work became my job with the goal of getting healthy around this auto immune disease.
During this time, I had to stop teaching which caused financial loss. I went through my savings, sold valuables and began to build up debt by cash-advancing the rent. This is not an uncommon occurrence when a serious medical condition happens. It’s so easy to start falling through the financial cracks. Finally, a friend encouraged me to apply for Social Security Disability. Never having received financial assistance, I applied because it was clear I could drown in debt. It was a long process and the income was low, but it gave me the means to keep moving forward.
After that I spent several winters in Mexico, knowing it would give me the means to get even healthier, especially with fresh foods, sun and walking everyday again. So began the partial remission that would last for 17 years. And, when I returned to Portland, I found work compatible with my condition and renewed the commitment to work on my health. When the house where I lived was foreclosed in 2006 and affordable housing was not to be found in the city, I found a small studio in Tillamook County and moved to the coast.
What I didn’t know was that I was headed for the right place at the right time. I would find not only meaningful work, but a community of people who were filled with the passion of what I call spiritual generosity. This wonderful quality would get me through the best and worst of times.
Next – Part 2 of series: Finding a calling in the non-profit world, a crisis, another life-changing decision and ideas for planning before a crisis happens.