Tag Archives: tolerance

Reciprocal Compassion

April 3, 2014

I was scrolling my social media feed this morning and saw a post by one of the special needs organizations I follow. Unlike some of the images I have seen from them before, they were poking fun at how individuals outside the autism community ask questions that they feel are ignorant. I had to pause. Three things unsettled me:

  1. This organization’s mission is acceptance, yet the tone of the post was exclusionary.
  2. The page asks the world to be more understanding of disorders, yet they were criticizing someone for asking a question and also implying a level of ignorance in the asker.
  3. The group often celebrates individuality and touts open-mindedness, yet they were so quick to set up an us (we get it) vs. them (they don’t get it) scenario.

My only thought is . . . such a pity. Compassion is meant to be unconditional. That means that despite misunderstanding, difference or even naiveté, we are called to respond with tolerance.

As I have said before, tolerance is not setting yourself up to be a silent punching bag. However, it is definitely not compassionate to respond to people with something akin to, “Duh, I can’t believe you didn’t know that. How stupid are you?”

Instead of assuming, which gets everyone into trouble, try reaching out with love. For instance, here are some questions you can ask when you feel compelled to strike out to justify your position or retaliate with a snarky comment:

  • What was my interpretation of their view? Our reactions (e.g., wow that was silly, I can’t believe they said that, what a mean statement) are based on life-conditioned interpretations and it is important to recognize our own patterns. The trick is then to wipe away your emotional bias and see the statement as if it were on a page.
  • How can I see this person with loving eyes? Even when someone hurts us unknowingly, we tend to strike out to combat the pain. Before you act, think of what you could do to stop that wicked cycle in its tracks. Try looking at this individual as if they were a child and imagining how adorable, precocious, goofy or vulnerable they would be. Our adult selves are not far from those children.
  • What can you do to improve their understanding? Tolerance begins with you. Instead of assuming someone is ignorant or despicable, consider that they simply may not have good information and may be feeling awkward about the topic. Try humbling yourself, validating the individual and offering help, “That is one way to see it. Would you like to know more about what makes my child so amazing?”

Not everyone will be open, comfortable, ready or capable of accepting your compassion. That does not mean you should not offer it. More so, instead of the hurtful cycle of reciprocal criticism, you can shift into sparking cycles of reciprocal compassion. Imagine opening the eyes, minds and hearts of others . . . that’s a hopeful gift you can give the world.

One final thought. If you carry the burden of angry victim, you will be setting up a courtroom of judgment in your mind. In that room, you may play the role of judge (presiding), the prosecutor (accusing), the court reporter (rehashing), the bailiff (barricading) and the jury (dwelling). If you play all or even one, imagine the diverted energy you are investing.

Let go of the need to make the world see it your way or walk in your shoes. Each soul is busy enough just trying to walk in their own. The best you can do is enlighten with respect, respond with gentleness and offer abundant compassion.

The Sensitivity Spiral

April 14, 2013

This is probably one of the toughest posts to write. Why? Because it’s my story—the vulnerabilities I don’t share, the trials I don’t trumpet and the moments I almost lost myself. It has a hopeful conclusion, so open your heart and let me tell you about the sensitivity spiral.

When I was a little girl, I couldn’t walk through the detergent aisle in the grocery store without itching, sneezing and feeling suffocated. And every summer as an adolescent, I avoided cut grass like it was cut glass. Then, feeling bold and invincible (a.k.a. a teenager), I took a job baling hay on a friend’s farm. I wanted to prove I was as capable as any boy, was resilient and, well, just earn some cash for movies. I layered up in a flannel shirt, gloves and jeans, praying that the hay wouldn’t actually touch my skin. A few strands got in and made my arm look like it was scratched by a feral cat. But I was able to hide it and put on the, “I’m not having trouble breathing face,” as I walked calmly behind the barn and tried to recover. You see, my body is acutely sensitive.

It took lunch with a beautiful friend recently to remind me that we all struggle and many of us have some health challenge. For instance, I now know that I score five in skin tests for most allergens—grass, dust, cats, pollen, weeds, mites and (sadly) some dogs. By the way, the scale goes up to four. I like being an overachiever, but really?! In a quirky addition, they believe I lack sufficient enzymes to properly process pork, so having an “oops” with bacon on a salad is anything but a funsie.

But I only suspected these things when I moved to Arizona and, like most kids, I overlooked the side aches, dizziness, sniffles, wheezing and itching. I just thought you lived with it. I tried every over-the-counter allergy medication and even a few prescription ones that doctors assured me would, “take care of it in no time.” Nothing every really worked long or well. I managed through avoidance—running from cats, walking around lawns and never taking my shoes off, religiously replacing air filters and avoiding anything in bloom . . . despite a sincere love of flowers and trees.

However, in stubborn Sara fashion, I suddenly decided I wouldn’t live that way. I took a job with a florist, signed up for softball, decided to start hiking and went horseback riding. It wasn’t easy. There were many reactions. Still, I refused to live in fear and not experience life fully. For years, I thought I could get by.

Other unexplained events happened along the way that, now, I look back and realize were connected. I went numb and lightheaded in my first apartment because of the new carpet. I sprayed weeds for an afternoon and ended up sick to my stomach with a burning sensation in my limbs. I blacked out a few times after eating out or drinking an artificial drink. I would sit at a freshly cleaned desk and accidentally touch my face, resulting in a welt. I wore dry cleaned pants and my legs would itch fiercely. I ate chips (unaware of the MSG) and had to go home with a feeling of food poisoning. I fixed irrigation leaks in my yard and ended up with days of anxiety and nausea. I drank a holiday latte with spice and my throat felt like closing. The list goes on.

I pause here to say that this is not a woe-is-me post. I resist pity and have no use for special treatment. In fact, I wouldn’t even give myself special treatment . . . I kept living, kept ignoring it and kept making choices that were normal by social standards. I even went through a barrage of tests—everything from blood work to MRIs. Nothing explained the reactions beyond, “I’m just sensitive, I guess.”

It took nearly losing my life to awaken greater self-awareness and the power of choiceful living based on your body. You see, after 30+ years (who’s counting?), I went on a multi-day camping trip into remote Arizona. Offroading, trekking, crawling through brush to see animals and helping to scout. While I was there, I felt “off” and foggy as I popped antihistamines like candy. I started to sense my body was overstimulated. That evening, I bolted up in the middle of the night and felt like death was lingering near the bed. Unknown to me, I was in full systemic allergy overload.

By the time I got home, I was emotionally, physically and spiritually drained. I was having recurring panic attacks every few hours (something I only experienced once before when I lost my father), I was unable to keep food in my system, my heart was racing up to near arrest levels, I was experiencing intense fear and my entire body felt like it was on fire. It was an all-out attack on my well-being . . . and it lasted for weeks. Emergency rooms; tissue mineral analysis; more blood work; ultrasounds; so many doctor visits; and no relief from the cycle, no answers and no solid rest.

Yet, I had to function, to work and to hide the out-of-control spiral I was experiencing. I prayed fiercely, I cried often and I probably scared the $%#* out of the few friends in whom I confided. What do you do, after all, with a friend who can’t explain why she is feeling the darkness creeping in and her body shutting down? Some implied it was “all in my head” or “just stress.” Others supported as best they could, but I could hear the fear and helplessness in their voices. So, I pulled away from everyone.

After more than six months of symptoms off and on, I decided to try a vacation to Spain. I thought perhaps stress and my environment were causing it. Thanks to processed food the evening before departure and airline food enroute, I had one of my worst reactions in the garden patio of my friend’s home, as guests gathered downstairs for a feast to graciously welcome us to the country. I was lost. The me I had known was a shadow. I was up nearly 30 pounds, despite being unable to keep food down, felt like every nerve ending in my body was exploding and was facing unpredictable emotions that I couldn’t even fathom. I did my best to survive and not show my angst, but I knew I had to find an answer somehow.

Upon returning home, I dove into naturopathy, energy healing and weeks of research. There were small glimmers of hope, but nothing more than a day or two. Then, one of my best friends gave me a copy of The Clean Program and I figured, “Why not?” So, I prayed that night, and asked God to save me or take me.

When I woke up, I went shopping and followed every single food recommendation to the letter. Simultaneously, I got a chlorine shower filter, switched body products, changed to a coconut organic detergent and shifted to alkaline drinking water. After a couple of days, my body kept its first meal down. After a week, my heart started slowly coming down to one or two attacks a day instead of every few hours. By two weeks, the fear started to drift away, and I could feel my fingers and toes again. By the one-month mark, I was carrying a sense of hope that was true to my core. At the two-month mark, my weight was back down and my outlook was way up.

Through intense documentation (e.g., grids, three-day food challenges, cross-reaction lists), my world slowly became clearer. I thank God, Dr. Radha G. Rishi and Alicia Benjamin, among others. You see, my environmental allergies were pushed into a state of excessive activity. My body was so overwrought that it literally turned on itself. Any food I introduced with even a slight reactive quality became an enemy and was rejected. Any chemical I encountered, even at low levels, was a threat.

So, the only way to regain balance was to eliminate all of the offenders, until my body could build up antihistamines and purge toxins. I had to convince it that food was not the enemy and that I would safeguard it from unnecessary chemicals. If you look up “multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome” online, you will find a disparaging array of links talking about how it’s a psychiatric issue, unexplained and unsubstantiated, and nothing more than some people wanting special treatment. I cringe at this indictment and, until now, shrank away from sharing my experiences. I didn’t want to be viewed as freak, fragile, faulty or forsaken. I also didn’t want attention, as it’s hard enough to navigate life without having every spoonful, every sniffle and every choice examined by well-intentioned folks who wonder, “Will you be ok?” or “Are you sure you should have that?”

My view now: chemical sensitivity is real. How it manifests, the factors of hormones and stress, the genetic and environmental background of individuals, and the patterns of exposure all play a part. There is no pill to fix it; in fact, ironically, pills with binding agents, chemical fillers and preservatives are one of the issues. It was the moment I saw my dear nephew’s face go blotchy after eating his first birthday cake, which contained common food coloring, that I knew I had to be his voice too. I had to let people know that reactions are not imagined. I had to start to educate all of you on the many unknown chemicals we have come to accept in our food, water and lives as “normal.”

Riddle me this: if four people don’t react to an artificial substance and it gets released to the public, but a fifth person does, is that the fifth person’s fault? Maybe that fifth person is your canary. It’s hard to admit now but miners used to send canaries down mine shafts to test air quality. As long as a canary kept chirping, it was safe. If it stopped, the air was poisoned and the miners should avoid entering. What if I, and others like me, are merely your canaries? I’m chirping now, and I won’t be silenced.

Tips for surviving the sensitivity spiral:

  1. If possible, go organic for your food, body care and cleaning products
  2. If you can’t pronounce it, for heaven’s sake don’t eat it
  3. If something contains preservatives, additives, fillers, binders and undisclosed “natural flavors,” steer clear
  4. If you feel “off” or have recurring symptoms you can’t explain, try a food journal (remember that reactions can occur up to three days after you ingest something)
  5. If you repeatedly yearn for a food or substance, it may be an unhealthy addiction to the reaction (an unsettled system becomes like an addict, craving what actually harms it)
  6. If you have environmental allergies and want to build resistance, consider a small daily dose of local honey, immunotherapy shots and/or careful exposure to the offending substance over a gradual time (consult your doctor)
  7. If you need guidance, don’t hesitate to seek out an allergist, and never settle for a physician who doesn’t listen or take you seriously

Where am I today? Honestly, I relapsed to a degree. I let my busy lifestyle and excuses about my schedule derail me. I also slipped into a false sense of security because the symptoms were only “occasional” for a while. I’m paying for it with pounds and reactions. My choices are my own. I cannot ignore my body chemistry. The changing seasons, my increase in cortisol due to life transitions and my slip from proper eating are trying to pull me down the spiral. So, it’s time to shift back on course and nourish myself in hopeful, helpful, healthy ways. I am just starting to read, but already loving, The Beauty Detox Foods by Kimberly Snyder, C.N. I heart the Glowing Green Smoothie.

One final request: be sensitive to the sensitivities of others without making them feel broken. Allergies can shift with time and exposure. You never know what they, or you, may be presented with in life. We’re all unique. Let’s celebrate it and support it, not judge it.