Chronic Hives and Other Gifts

"Once you begin to heal, what you discover will not be the new you, but the real you. The you that was there all along; born with love and joy." —Desmond Tutu


In 2018, I found myself in an unexpected season of chronic hives, accompanied by relentless anxiety and depression. There were moments I felt like my life as I knew it was over. I lost hope of ever returning to the "me" I had been for 47 years. The thoughts and stories that played in my head day and night were filled with what I often described as "gun-to-the-head terror." I was consumed by fear and hatred of my physical symptoms. My world became very small.

Ironically, that season turned out to be one of the greatest gifts of my entire life.

I was given an opportunity to be still and get really curious about who I was beyond the habitual, repetitive stories my mind created.

As a lifelong perfectionist and people-pleaser, it never occurred to me to question the narratives in my head. My head was where I lived! I was constantly planning, analyzing, comparing, projecting, and figuring things out. Vigilance was the name of my game. My mind was like a sonar on a submarine, continuously scanning for what might go wrong so that I could manage and control all potential outcomes. I embodied the mantra, "If it's to be, it's up to me!"

Thankfully, a prolonged season of hives, anxiety, and depression showed up as a brilliant course-corrector.

I was given an opportunity to learn how to live in the world rather than in my head.

With the help of some patient and compassionate mentors, I began an excavation—an un-learning of old beliefs and patterns.

I began to understand that all experience is filtered through my mind—that I don't experience the world as it is; I experience it as I am—through a lifetime of unquestioned beliefs and conditioning. I saw that I would never be able to pin-down any experience long enough to stake my happiness and peace in it.

As a result, I stopped trying to manage my experience—my thoughts, feelings, emotions, and physical sensations/symptoms.

The first thing to fall away was vigilance. It no longer made any sense to track emotional states, symptoms, thoughts, and visceral sensations. My attempt to manage them had been exhausting.

There was a palpable, physiological shift in the midst of that surrender.

I found myself relaxing more in the natural momentum of Life. Instead of putting my faith in my mind's interpretation of each moment, I began to see that there was something beyond my intellect's grasp that was more trustworthy and stable.

Then, something interesting happened. I had moments of suddenly realizing I felt joyful again. There were moments of unexpected peace and bliss. And then moments, weeks, and even months with no hives.

In the absence of my attempt to control life, I was being lived. Effortlessly.

I realized how long I had been under the spell of belief that my experience was THE truth rather than my mind's clumsy interpretation of it. I had been buying into the dramatic stories of what my hives meant, and what my anxiety and depression said about me.

I had been confusing my bodily sensations of overwhelm, urgency, and fear as evidence that my mind's stories were true and real. When I felt overwhelmed about an upcoming event, I assumed that the awful, visceral sensations that accompanied the story were saying, "Yes, the story is TRUE. Now, you must do everything in your power to get control of this situation. You must avoid the overwhelming thing at all costs."

And then, thank God, I woke up from that 48-year-old belief.

I realized that the uncomfortable sensations of overwhelm and urgency are NEVER an indication of the truth of my mind's stories. They are never pointing to anything outside of me. They are only and ever pointing me back to the truth of who I am.

They are saying, "Hey, you! You are identifying with a grossly inaccurate, me-centered, dramatic version of reality. Come home. Come back to the truth of who-you-are. You think this is somehow on you, but it's not."

There is a space that is untouched by our mind's stories. We can't intellectualize it, define it, manage it, or control it.

But we can be open to sensing it, knowing it, and trusting it.

In that space beyond our mind's grabby reach, our bodies relax. Our nervous systems settle. Our hands stop gripping the proverbial wheel so tightly.

We heal.

It took a brilliant season of hives, depression, and wicked anxiety to wake me up to that ineffable space beyond my mind's narratives.

In the discomfort, I discovered that there is far less for me to do, figure out, or manage than I once believed.

Now that I understand what the discomfort is, it is welcome.

I am beautifully held in it.