Redefining Illness

 Art by  Bec Hac

Art by Bec Hac

Six months ago, I was officially diagnosed with Candidiasis, which can be considered many different things – an illness, a disease, an infection. It is essentially anything that makes one chronically unwell. Candidiasis affects over 40 million Americans of all ages, yet not everyone knows about it. People can go their whole lives suffering and accepting it, simply because doctors have a hard time wrapping their heads around illnesses that are difficult to grasp.

Candidiasis disrupts one's entire body, creating parasitic-like yeast overgrowth in the gut, spreading in the blood, and reaching everything from the brain to one's feet. The problem with Candida itself, is that it’s in everyone, but not everyone experiences its explosion, the moment that turns everything into more bad than good, creating unrest for its sufferers. So when I learned that this had been floating in my body longer than I would’ve ever guessed, the rapid weight gain, chronic fatigue, more headaches/migraines than normal, and an increase in depression and anxiety started to make sense.

The journey to decrease Candidiasis begins with understanding that there is no finish line, that the entirety of one's life is fighting to stay healthy, because unfortunately, we’re destined to destroy ourselves. Human lives are infinitely more fragile than we presume them to be, our immune systems require work, our bodies require constant attention.

In order to begin getting rid of Candidiasis, one must starve the candida of what it wants, rejecting its pleads,  and not feeding it yeast, sugar, and carbs. It was terrifying at first because I had a very specific idea of what a college student living in her own apartment’s life should look like. It didn’t involve illness, and it was much freer and less restrictive. I had to change my frozen pizza, Arnold Palmer, and candy from Walgreens diet to something that was beyond me, something that made no sense, something that needed way more energy and money than I had.

At first, it was a lot of researching and trying to understand what the fuck was going on in my body. It was creating my own diet, and following the Internet’s instructions, unsure if whether what I was doing was working and whether I was doing it right. I had seen multiple doctors at that point, and nothing was getting better. Eventually, my mom finally had me see a nutritionist. After seeing the nutritionist, I was given six different vitamins to help kill off the Candida and help strengthen my immune system, and then I was put on an extremely strict diet that was supposed to help clear my Candida in 2-3 months.

For 2 months, I had nightmares about eating sweets and bread almost every night, feeling nothing but guilt if I slipped up (which I rarely ever did purposefully). I let Candida take over my life. I was losing it, and I was in a state of constant unrest. I later learned that putting a time stamp on it would only increase my anxiety because I tirelessly counted each minute and each day until I’d come to the end and recognize that not much has changed.

I went to get my blood test redone, and had the nutritionist analyze my blood work. I had improved drastically in the parts in my body that needed help, I lost about 20 lbs, but the Candida was still there, and I still didn’t feel fine, even though I've never really understood what exactly fine means.

As the months passed and I began learning more about my condition and tried my best to stop pitying myself, working towards getting better, but falling hard on my bad days, I discovered that a relative of mine experienced Candidiasis years ago. We were sitting side by side at my grandpa’s birthday, and she told me that one of the major influences of Candidiasis is emotional. It’s about rerouting the brain to stop thinking that there is any normal way to live in our bodies. It’s about understanding your relationship with your body and how to communicate with it, how to learn about what works and what doesn’t. No doctor can tell you that. No one can explain to you how you feel more than you can.

I met up with the same relative a few weeks later and she gave me text on everything related to Candidiasis. She muscle tested me, and spoke about how much energy has to do with how we connect with our bodies. She taught me the importance of unlearning guilt and shame and how to stop equating my Candidiasis with my own personal failure. Then, she handed me a print-out on Candidiasis that changed everything completely. 

The first line said, “Candidiasis is a state of inner imbalance, not a disease.”

This is when I began to start viewing my condition as an imbalance, everything from the growth of yeast in my body to the chemicals in my brain. These are just disparities, things I have to live with, but things I can work on coping with and on.

The pain doesn’t stop. Every day is a brand new experience, anxious as to when I’ll get a headache or a migraine, preparing to be too tired to go out, pushing people away because I can’t be intimate, and feeling self-conscious and fearful that I’m a burden. I am emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted, but there isn’t much room to pity myself anymore. There isn’t time, nor is there a reason.

I have learned that it is okay to feel bad. It is okay to feel bad and to keep living, that there was never an eternal promise of happiness (and good health) when one enters existence. My imbalance shouldn’t prevent me from living to the best of my abilities.

At the end of the day, I am doing everything I can to fight what’s inside of me. I was raised to know how much strength resides within me, regardless of how much pain I endure and how much it tries to weaken me. I know that I am capable of fighting this, that all it requires is believing in myself to get through it, and recognizing everyone is battling something, and that I am not alone.

Learning to let go of the word illness and not allowing it to become a heavy weight that slings over my shoulders while dragging me through the mud isn’t easy. I want to, so badly, get through life without feeling like it’s eating me alive. At the same time, I don’t think there’s a single soul that gets that lucky. Our conditions are all specific to us and none of us experience life the same, so categorizing illness as debilitating for everyone, is wrong and harmful. We must redefine what it means to be well, and drop notions of good and bad.

Most of us are just merely getting by, but sometimes that’s enough.