By Holly Herring
I’m living on borrowed time.
I have to be. When I was a teenager I had a dream or revelation or something that suggested to me—quite strongly—that I would die before I hit 30. Looking back there had to have been a situation or something that led me to this. I don’t know now.
All I know is that I was absolutely positive that my life would be very short and that I did not need to worry about things like nutrition or cancer because I was not going to be around long enough to find out about long term effects of anything.
I am quite surprised to find myself sitting here today at age 48, screaming hot on the heels of 49.
I am, indeed, alive and kicking. This is a shock to me every single day that I wake up still breathing. When I first was 30, I thought to myself “well, 30 isn’t absolute, it could be death at any range of 28-32.” Since I had myself convinced of this short life expectancy I hadn’t thought much about where my food came from, what was in my tap water, or what chemicals were in any of the things that entered my body on any given day.
By my 35th birthday I really started getting nervous because I was still alive.
I had been seeing doctors for pain and inflammation and a whole slew of other symptoms and a diagnosis had started coming in as well. I had all kinds of genetic shenanigans going on inside my body and changes needed to be made. The doctors all seemed very concerned so I figured it was time I started looking at what I did and what I ate under a new microscope. The microscope was called, “Oh my goodness I’m over 30 and still alive with no idea when this roller coaster ride will stop”.
I started paying attention and found out how scary the world around me was.
I mean, it had always been scary for me, but in completely different ways. I had never been afraid of my food or my water before. Now I was aware that acidic tomato sauces should not be in aluminum take out containers because I might get Alzheimers. Be careful at the beach because there might have been a raw sewage spill and I could get E-Coli. I remembered seeing pieces on the news about E-Coli and I didn’t want that.
There was fluoride and chlorine in my tap water so I had a filtered pitcher for my drinking water only to discover that in my hot showers all those scary chemicals were in the vapor I breathed into my lungs. There was formaldehyde in new carpet and landlords seemed to replace carpeting like it was paper towels now. Every place I moved into had brand new carpet that could probably kill me. I began wondering how old my apartment was and if there was a possibility of lead in the paint.
I had a doctor discuss some lab results with me one day and he was concerned because I was low in some vitamins. He started asking me about my diet. I told him “Oh my diet? It’s keeping me alive.”
He looked at me with a questioning look “Keto? Paleo?” and I just looked back at him and deadass replied “No, twinkies. The preservatives are keeping me alive.”
I could tell in that moment that this doctor had an internal debate in his head. There were decisions he now had to make like what sorts of educational materials he needed to give me about nutrition. Maybe he thought I was joking and he should chuckle, and maybe he needed to call for a psych consult. All I know is his pause went on far too long and his mouth hung open the whole time, as if his brain was too occupied with so many thoughts there was no brain power available to remind him to close his mouth.
Finally, he just said to me, “you aren’t being serious, are you?”
I briefly explained to him about how I was far past my life expectancy with no explanation whatsoever and that I had started examining the world with its air fresheners and artificial scents, and flavors that probably were giving us all cancer. How a trip to a ranch for healthy fresh air ended in me talking with the neighbors who were all part of a cancer cluster, and about all the things in the food and how hard it was to make a choice when adding creamer to by coffee (I had only exploited cow juice and subsidized soybeans’ oil to choose from).
“This is why I need preservatives in my food, doc. My diet, it’s keeping me alive.”
This doctor paused a minute then he told me that it appeared I had a lot on my mind and maybe nobody climbed mountains in one big step; they did it in lots of tiny steps. He suggested my first tiny step was to take vitamins, and wrote out a list of vitamins he wanted me to start taking and sent me on my way.
Dutifully, I went directly to the store and bought all the vitamins on the list.
I went home and looked them up online so I was sure to take them at the right time, with the right foods, and that the brands I had purchased had a good reputation. I was serious about this vitamin thing as I hit my 40th birthday. But, the vitamins were so big and chalky. If some of those vitamins were bites of hot dog, probably people would have sat around waiting to apply the Heimlich maneuver as I swallowed.
I felt really uncomfortable taking vitamins. I could tell that my doctor was concerned when I explained that I hardly had taken any of the vitamins I had purchased at my next visit. “Well, take gummy vitamins then.” This felt like cheating at vitamins but I did it.
Honestly, I made a good try at taking care of myself in healthier ways. But life got really serious again soon after The Great Vitamin Experiment.
I was reminded that there were scarier things out there than choking on vitamins. I had challenges to face that no vitamin, or water filter—and even no keto/gluten free/GMO free/Fair Trade/Free Range lifestyle could protect me from. The world had challenged me to a duel and I couldn’t be obsessed with chemicals and cancer clusters at that moment.
I was slaying dragons.
In the long run, I needed to be really loving towards myself; forgiving. I needed to show myself grace. There is absolutely no way I can protect myself from all the environmental and ethical monsters all around me, not even with a good vitamin taken with filtered water each day.
I’m not focused on my food these days, I’m focused on my spirit. I am feeding my spirit good, healthy things and surrounding myself with like minded people. In exiting the kind of hell I emerged from I realized that me being alive at all really is a riddle and a mystery.
I can spend this borrowed time being a little more relaxed on some of the external forces and focus a little bit more on the internal.
My personal Loving Kindness Meditation goes like this:
May I be safe from harm.
May I be happy just as I am.
May I be peaceful with whatever is happening.
May I care for myself in this ever-changing world graciously, joyously.
Holly has bonded her spirituality to her activism. She began her relationship with Buddhism through Fo Guang Shan, an international Chinese Mahāyāna Buddhist organization and monastic order based in Taiwan that practices Humanistic Buddhism. However, she finds herself more aligned with Stephen Batchelor’s more secular Buddhism currently. Holly works in homeless services and is very passionate about promoting the inherent worth and dignity of all people as well as eliminating stigma about homelessness and behavioral health.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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