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August 26, 2016

August 26, 2016

Last week, I told Lisa I wanted to take pictures in the ocean, which meant I needed to get in the ocean. I live two blocks from the ocean. It is hot as Hades in Southern California. It is summertime. What is the big deal? Well, it has been over a year since I have jumped into the ocean. I returned from traveling in Spain and Israel last summer with beautiful memories and a horrific case of MRSA staph. I had a hell of a time shaking that beast from my system and found that it aggravated some old neuroses (many of which were the result of PTSD caused by repeated illness in my twenties and thirties). Yet, it was the staph infection that led me to look even deeper into my health and decide to remove my implants. The combination of ferociously strong antibiotics, a strict and healing eating program and my explant surgery rid me of the MRSA, but some lingering fears remained. One of those fears was going in the ocean. I built up a wall of fear and told myself, “It is dirty. It is full of bacteria. It is possibly where I picked up that infection. It will make me sick.” These were a few of the thoughts that were on repeat in my head for the last year. However, last week, I said to myself, “Basta! I am healthy. I am strong. I need to jump in the damn ocean, because I am stronger than my fears.”

For the days leading up to said “jump in the ocean” challenge/photo shoot, I was filled with anxieties and remnant strings of PTSD that I have experienced for over 20 years. When you have been chronically and acutely ill, the mind plays tricks on you. The fear that illness can happen again in a flash can sometimes feel overpowering. The fear that I am still vulnerable to being knocked down by sickness can creep into the dark shadows of my mind.  However, in the end, I put on my bathing suit and allowed Lisa to encourage me down to the beach. The wind kicked up. It was not particularly warm. I kept thinking, “Why the hell did I sign up for this?” I quickly reminded myself why. I refuse to allow fear to rule my world. I refuse to show my daughter that fear will hold me back from anything, except perhaps an upside down roller coaster. I draw the line. In all seriousness, I know I am healthy. I have shown up over and over again this year for myself and for my health.

So, with all of that in mind and some championing from Lisa, I hopped into the ocean. It was windy and chilly outside, but surprisingly warm in the water.  I swam about and washed away the power I had given to my fears.  After high-fiving myself, I started to swim back to shore. As I started to get closer to Lisa, we exchanged some hand signals about my small victory. I then remember glancing back, seeing a wave and, next thing I knew, I hit the bottom of the ocean and guzzled what felt like gallons of salt water. I have no clue how that happened, but it tested all levels of my resolve to not instantaneously lose my mind about having now ingested gallons of {my mind is screaming, “dirty, infected, bacteria-filled”} ocean water. Lisa must have looked down at the camera right at the exact moment this happened, because she saw my squealing with joy and then a split second later, caught me coughing up my lungs and looking as if I had seen a ghost. In that moment, I decided to choose to be ok and to hold onto my power. I coughed up and out loads of water and remembered that my power and my health are not given away or lost in an instant.

This past week, I have experienced an ongoing practice in holding that strength and trust even when my body has traversed a few hiccups. I ironically experienced physical ailments that made me momentarily face these fears again and, once and for all, own that a dip in the ocean did not weaken my system last year or last week. These are the normal rhythms of life. A pimple is not always MRSA. A stomachache is not always caused by a bacteria picked up in the ocean. Neither is indicative of some failure on my part. I don’t need to try harder if I know I am taking care of myself.  The scales have permanently tipped. How I take care of myself day in and day out is where I choose to place my attention and focus. Did I eat well? Did I rest? Did I exercise? Am I managing my stress? Am I spending my time with people that make me feel well? Those all matter way more than ocean water, airplane air, a dirty bathroom or any other quick encounter out in the beautiful world. My immune system is the culmination of many moments and decisions and not available for the taking in any one. It does not all tip and crumble in an instant. PTSD has been put to rest.  It took twenty years and much hard work, learning how to properly care for myself, to know my strength is greater than any fear. 

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