One of the biggest challenges with pain is that it can push those you need the most, further away. The first thing it seems to do is affect one’s ability to love or even tolerate themselves and soon after, the same for everyone around them. One day, during these challenging times, Alex honestly said, “I don't love myself, I don't even know what love is and I feel bad 'cause I think that means that I don't know… if I love you.” Those words were very hard to hear but I knew in my core this too was an effect of pain. I remembered the bright and strong person she was when I first met her, with a singing voice that could melt the worlds heart but ended as briefly as it appeared.
I had faith that the woman I knew was still in there somewhere and I was impressed that she was able to hold her own at one of the toughest internships in the country, whether or not she was able to exceed expectations. I refused to give up on her, even if we’d only been together for months and she had become uncertain about love itself. I knew the real her underneath, despite all the mud, and I simply refused to give in on that person. No matter the odds.
In an effort of desperation, I joined the Swedish Institute in New York because they seemed to be the best in the world with a $40,000 price tag for two years. That wasn’t easy to swallow but I figured that if anyone could help me learn how to help my wife it was them, besides, massage therapy can be an amazing career for those who master it and especially in New York.
(For those who don’t know, massage therapy is simply the mastery of soft tissue manipulation in the aims of easing pain, tension, stress and indirectly, everything that stress fights to inflame and destroy. As a profession, it has only been licensed since about 2001 and as a result the overall skill of the massage world still has a long way to go. If the effects of a massage disappear within days, that practitioner still has much to learn. Two to three weeks are necessary for the hope of permanent change that then makes massage more than a relaxation splurge moment into a vital necessity for life.)
The Swedish Institutes school and curriculum was impressive but unfortunately none of their legendary faculty had experience or even hope to overcome fibromyalgia. Still, I did my best to master their teachings and it took everything I had just to keep Alex’s pain from getting worse.
When someone is in that much pain it's almost impossible to massage them because their nerves are so hypersensitive that the amount of pressure you need to make a difference is simply too painful and their own pain, ironically enough, gets in the way of the very thing they need to help them recover. They fall into the state of which nothing works, or as I call it, “below the threshold of efficacy.” At the same time realize that the more skilled the therapist, the higher their own threshold of efficacy on clients will be.
We tried many wellness activities in the hope that they would help her. Eating better didn't help, sleeping more didn’t help, deep tissue massage wasn't even possible. As my skills increased I later became able to turn her muscles from stone to Jello over an hour of work but then watched, transfixed, as her muscles magically turned back to stone. It was as if her mental pain had gotten so intense that it was instantly manifesting in the body. Much like how a person may tighten their body when afraid.
Since we had the grandmothers nationwide logistics to worry about, we only applied for residency at the location she was at, out of the 15 potential places because we didn’t want to strain the grandmother, who was praying for the death of her Alex’s career. It only seemed fair right?
Naturally, she ended up not getting residency. Her work recommended finding other arrangements for the grandmother and then trying again in three years, which I agreed with but felt it was a wrong potential reason.
Alex was truly devastated. She’d sacrificed her mother’s inheritance, or $20,000, on the grandmother alone (Mostly in increased rent needed for a bi-polar elderly that refused to go anywhere else) and another $10,000 in associated costs for a specialty internship in Manhattan, NY that paid $30,000. Her career seemed to be over with, apparently, no one she could really turn to. The grandmother insisted we all went back to California to give up on Oncology, even though Alex felt like she would be giving up on her own mother and dream of trying to make a difference.
Fortunately, Alex was given a two-year fellowship that would begin in two months, which seemed guaranteed to get residency and a great career move. We were unaware that the field she was getting into was controversial and only because the very person who championed themselves as being it’s leader was the same person who threw it under the bus in order to protect some of their own actions.
Even though she worried she potentially had ten years left to live, she was happy with the idea of spending three of them on additional internships and fellowships before getting residency which would then be another three years. But that was her dream and I fully supported her to the best of my ability. Otherwise, I felt she’d spend her last ten years feeling like a failure despite any of my encouragements.
Alex was expected to complete her current internship around July 12th, but since she was the only one who didn’t take vacation days or time off it should really have been July 6th.
One day, Alex had only two hours left to complete a shift and the grandmother had a heart attack, so Alex naturally went home directly to make sure she got to the hospital alright. That work place later told her that was no excuse for not finishing all of her records, when she had never left records unfinished before.
Although we all made it to the hospital with the grandmother, we feared the Medicaid bill they would send us because although we found a place of residence in New Jersey, that state failed to activate her Medicaid out of intentional negligence. In order to activate her Medicaid, they insisted I took her to over twenty locations and each of them turned out to be defunded, no longer in existence or simply a wrong department. I went back to the first location we’d gone to and it turned out to be the right one but because I was alone, this time, they “couldn’t help us.”
The grandmother’s health turned for the worse over the next few weeks, needing multiple hospital visits, she even took a fall in the kitchen due to water, yet without any signs of water or any sign water would have been there...
The combination of a wild grandmother who was getting more and more frequent chest pains, including falls in New Jersey with insurance that simply refused to cover her… was just too much for us.
We found a two-story house in the next state for $1,500/month which was right on a lake and hopefully big enough to swallow her evil. Around June 15th on a Friday morning we loaded a Penske Truck with everything we owned and drove it 12 hours to our next place, unloaded, got five hours sleep, then set up hospice to care for her daily while we were gone. I also installed an electronic door handle on the front door so they could always get in and Alex made the grandmother two weeks of prepared meals that just had to be microwaved. We then drove 12 hours back to Manhattan, trucks scared Alex so I had to do most of the driving. Luckily 4 Monster energy drinks, 5 coffees and 3 5hr energy drinks barely helped us make it back alive. Did you know that if you manage to hit something in the sky with a WHAM sound it means you shouldn’t drive into the lowhanging bridge ahead that google sent you to in order to save 10 minutes off your trip? Wild.
Over the next several days she apparently never stopped complaining about us to that hospice as she didn’t feel we were doing "enough" and "stealing money" that was never being sent to her, as explained hundreds of times that North Carolina was giving her less money because they "assumed" we were "helping her too much." Why her hospice never tried to help with that mess is beyond us.
Like an arch villain discovering TNT for the first time, the grandmother learned that if she lied enough to hospice they’d investigate us over charges of “neglect and theft.” No matter how many times we showed her bank accounts, they kept harassing us and reporting us and subjecting us to constant investigations, every time could have cost Alex her license to remain a Doctor in America and thus destroy her chances of ever working as a vet of any kind, anywhere. It was as if we had hired Satan himself to care for a Sauroman of a grandmother who seemed intent on destroying Alex’s career and health.
Since I grew up in a cult, I never fully believed in god but in these times I found myself on my knees daily as I prayed for help and strength in the impossible mission of ‘saving Alexandra.’ I felt a little like I was her angel, I only wished I was a better one. I really didn’t want her remaining years to be filled with pain like this… it just wasn’t right...
Yet I’m oddly thankful for these times for they are what forced me to learn more about the art of healing so that my light could complete with the building darkness around us.
When life tries to knock you down, get stronger.
When you think you have nothing left, fight harder.
When you think it's all over, start again.
Every day is literally a new day.
Let us not hold onto the burdens of the past.
The grandmother’s dementia took a turn for the worse and her viciousness became truly beyond reason. She sat herself right in front of the front door of our home so she could greet Alex with nothing but venomous comments like, “It’s YOU’RE fault your mother died of cancer!” She also daily threatened to commit suicide by saying she was either going to take none of her heart meds or all of them. Along with occasional threats to place our rat poison traps randomly into our food.
We sent her hospice a recording of those threats, with the sole plea to help us get her to a place that could better care for her, but they only responded with, “How dare you want to send her to an assisted living home and how dare you record her!”
We went to the state for help, we called the police and even the fire department for help but they too just shook their heads. Yet if the grandmother did successfully take her own life while Alex was at work or I was getting groceries or at school then we would have been held 100% accountable, despite our desperate attempts to get real help which her hospice had ironically been devoutly against.
In North Carolina you easily become the assumed caretaker with all legal risks of care, AND magically have no rights or ability to help them find better care should one find their own resources lacking for the task at hand. We simply had no rights or hope in that truly ungodly state.
Alex was in so much pain now that her spine began to give up. Her ribs began to slip completely out of their sockets and looked like a coat hanger under her skin or something, making it poke out. I simply did my best to keep sliding them in and helping the area fight inflammation. Why didn’t I let a doctor do that? Of course, that was my preference but the doctors she happened to see when it happened just shrugged and let me do it. I considered it was like sliding a submarine back into harbor, knowing that if I went in at any angle other than it’s design, I may do permanent damage.
Alex began to believe her grandmothers words of evil, that she was a horrible person, a thief, and of no use to anyone. I’d often summon a lot of strength just to approach the grandmother and say, “I know you wish you got more one on one time with Alex but she’s trying to pursue a career which was her mothers last wish and your anger and words are making her sick and I’m worried that if this continues she may not have long to live.” The grandmother shrugged as if I had said I saw a piece of trash outside and said, “That’s not my problem if she dies. We all die.” (Cue creepy music.)
We were truly drowning in every sense of the word, and we had no one to turn to. We had no rights to find other arrangements for the grandmother while the state simply didn’t care about the lives of the caretakers. I even paid $100 for a psychologist who declared she was fully competent to live in 2018 on her own because she knew that “100-50=50”… impressive test. While in other states the competency test actually tests to see if you’re able to live on your own and handle your own affairs.
The sheer amount of evil that was thrown against Alex and I was unlike anything I’ve ever read or imagined. The grandmother herself was three times more manipulative and destructive than the cult I was in and the state we landed in appeared to want to compete with her.
I feared that Alex’s health was quickly approaching a ‘point of no return,’ if we hadn’t passed it already. Every specialist we desperately took her to, literally shrugged their shoulders and gave a prescription that was never expected to make a difference, costing us thousands of dollars in deductibles that were only hoped to help with “managing her symptoms.”
These were supposed to be Alex’s years of healing and they were being ruined. I had to act and luckily I found the answer, acting.
I pretended we were being evicted. I spent $80 in packing material from home depot and packed up the entire first floor and bubble wrapped literally everything.
I told the grandmother that unfortunately I didn’t think the assisted living place was an option anymore as she probably lost her seat. She said, as she usually did, “Just send me to the streets then!” I said, “If you wish, then which park would you like to go to? And let’s look at some nice tents for you on amazon.” After thinking for a little bit she said, “Do.. do you think I can go to the assisted living home?” I did my best not to smile, after seemingly years of torment I had finally succeeded to providing space to breathe for Alex.
Once the grandmother was securely in the assisted living home, we still visited her often and found out that the reason her hospice was fighting us so much was because they then had no purpose to serve her and lost out on the money they would have been making. All of that pain, threats and investigations they threw at us, as well as risking the grandmother’s life, for profits.
To me, these days felt as if we’d barley escaped the haunted chasms of Morridor to a gently parting of the clouds, finally allowing us a breath of fresh air and rays of light that would help to give us hope. Alex’s healing could really begin. I had hoped that I’d finally be able to do more than “just” keep her chronic pain from going above a level eight.
Yet her health was getting worse and worse, now plagued by misguided beliefs that “she may not have done enough” for the daemon who cost both of her parents lives and nearly succeeded in taking ours. I began to try and throw new modalities at her in the beyond desperate attempt at trying to find things that would help, no matter how minute the improvements were.
I was operating on fumes.
Acupuncture helped a little but its effects were very gentle and seemed to require a full wholistic approach to see permanent gains. I tried positive energy work, which was something that I used to disbelieve in myself. I was always a believer in the cosmos and energy but not necessarily with a clinical approach to pain and disease.
I massaged her like I always did, which always resulted in her muscles returning to stone. But at the end of this massage a miracle happened. They remained loose.
It was the ureka moment we had been literally dying for. Her gains from that massage would last for another 20 days.
Positive energy was the key between all wellness activities having no effect, to having strong effects. We found that trying to navigate life’s treacherous oceans and hurricanes without also working on positivity like an isolated muscle, while working to overcome stress itself, was simply impossible. What if all we really need is just a touch of positivity in our lives in order to get into more action, and less self-abasement?
In my excitement, we began to get into eating well, gentle motion and one by one all of the wellness activities. Again, she saw no gains until she was doing all of them at once. Most people will notice immediate gains when they pick up and stick to a wellness activity, but extreme fibromyalgia seems to have this additional hurdle of requiring the magic of them all at once to begin making slight permanent changes for the better, day by day. It’s truly challenging work when fibro is usually paired with an utterly crippled ability to care.
All In all I organized quite a treatment plan together for her, which included peppermint and lavender aromatherapy and topically as lotions, a complete heat and ice medical massage approach, all of the wellness activities and a beautiful room to heal her in.
Her chronic pain level began to drop. Three months later she became a better runner than me and has been free of fibromyalgia ever since, with occasional recurrences of pain here and there in areas lacking in proper movement.
And on top of that, doctors no longer agreed that her life span was in danger.
We had achieved the impossible, whether or not her industry accepted her into their ranks we had our lives to live out.
Unfortunately, she didn’t get residency after three years of specialty internships/fellowships and at a large pay cut for the honor of learning more about cancer and hoping to make the odds of residency selection ‘eternally more in ones favor.’
Her career truly felt like it was over despite our impressive story of overcoming the impossible. We had improved too late. I was too late.
Every single place she reached out to as a next move mysteriously turned her down. She was even considering general practice positions that would consider having her focus more on Oncology. It was an ultimate moment of ‘all hope was lost’ and it seemed that these GP positions, at least, would take her, even if it meant the end of her career as an Oncologist for that world generally never lets a person try to enter again once they’ve stopped doing specialty residencies.
Yet she even got turned down by the GP practices. It didn’t feel fathomable to be an intern for another year after doing the last three years of internships and fellowships AND not even gain acceptance in GP positions that fresh graduates out of Vet school will usually take up. Her chances of landing GP positions would have ironically been far higher if she’d never tried to pursue oncology specialty training.
She wanted to give up but I could tell how much she cared about Veterinary Oncology, so I simply wouldn’t let her. I knew how painful it can be when a loved one insists to keep going along a dream we have become certain is dead, much like trying to convince them that the new gold fish is truly just sleeping.
But I knew she could make it. I knew it was her path. I knew the field of Oncology would be better off with her being a part of it.
We kept fighting for our next inches in motion and mental wellbeing as laid out in this book to the best of our ability. The one wellness action we still have a hard time with to this day are affirmations. How silly is that tho? Why can it feel so hard to simply say we have the success, body, mind and career that we wish? I’ll later share my thoughts on it but I generally find it to be one of the toughest wellness activities.
We then went to Richmond for a last attempt specialty internship and managed to grow body and mind enough to impress them enough they became very strong allies heading into residency season. They were truly amazing people that truly helped to fight to bring the best out of their cadets, instead of treat them as passing cogs in the industrial machine.
At the end of that internship, Alex finally successfully landed residency as a Veterinary Oncologist because of her ability to keep fighting, despite the odds. And growing in the face of stress itself.
She lived one of the most inspiring rags to riches stories I’ve ever come across and regret that I’ll never be able to do it justice.
And to think it all began with coffee with a side of biceps.
Life is not easy to say the least, and we can often make it harder by wasting our time beating ourselves up over things we feel guilty or insecure about instead of working to accept ourselves and improve that which we dislike. At least now it feels like we have a fighting chance.
“Nothing can harm you as much as your own thoughts unguarded” – Buddha
When someone tells me that their muscles hurt I say, “Lets help it heal then let’s make it stronger so the same actions (that are sane and safe) no longer hurt it.” It’s the same deal when there are elements in our lives or environments, that can make our life hurt. Same thing. I say, “Let’s work on healing and improve the strength of our center so that no matter what happens out there, our own health, energy, light, power and ability to make a small difference cannot be threatened or obliterated.”
The program I essentially put together for my wife and I, is essentially this book and it took me two years to make it this legible. It’s an honor to be able to share it with you now and I hope it’s somewhat easy and enjoyable to read at the same time. It then took me another year to learn how wellness activities are supposed to work during more challenging times of pandemics and social unrest.
I can't tell you that this book will solve all of your problems, but I hope at least it helps a little, and hopefully in areas you may have thought were impossible to improve, before now.
And above all, keep loving.
There are plenty of people out there that make life less worth living.
Let us become even a slight reason for others to exist.