When the System Keeps You Sick

The doctor sitting across from me has crossed her legs. She’s about 10 years younger than I am, and she’s just come back from maternity leave; there’s an adorable photo of her new baby behind her on her desk. She’s not wearing much makeup, and it makes me glad I didn’t put on much makeup today, either. I don’t realize that, half-consciously, I’ve decided that wearing less makeup is more likely to incline someone to take me seriously.

I’m telling the doctor that I believe I have parasites, and she’s telling me she believes I have mental illness. She reaches into her arsenal of facts and pulls one out that’s the percentage of people who fervently believe they have parasites who suddenly no longer believe they do after they go on antidepressants.

I’m familiar with that statistic. For the past two years, instead of advancing my life as a writer, I’ve spent my hours reading about illness. “Yes,” I tell her, with equal authority in my voice,“because those drugs have been shown to take action against parasites.”

I’ve been to about 10 doctors at this point, and no one can explain my creepy-crawly skin, dramatic weight fluctuations, swollen eyes and face and drenching night sweats that last all night every night. (And I’m too young for menopause.) The degree to which the doctors condescend to me varies from physician to physician and does not seem to calibrate with whether the physician is a man or a woman. Indeed, the very system seems to condescend to me: I catch a glimpse on one of the intake forms of a checked box whose code numbers translate to mean physically well but worried.

Physically well? I’ve just spent the entirety of my appointment delineating my symptoms. Where in the land of sanity is this doctor getting the impression that I’m physically well? Because my hematocrit and my mean platelet volume are where she expects them to be? I have looked her in the eye and told her it feels as if I’m dying. I have asked her—trying not to beg—if there isn’t something else we can think of, together.

“What should I do now?” I hear myself say, fighting back tears. “Just go home?”

In the end, neither the doctor nor I am correct in our diagnoses. It isn’t parasites and it isn’t mental illness. It’s an imbalance of iron and manganese, which I believe is a mirror for an imbalance of gravity and electricity—in other words, an error in the way in which my body was cycling time.

Einstein and all the quantum physicists in their neat little quantum-physicist suits are correct: past, present and future co-exist. But here’s the new part that I had to figure out myself: they co-exist, but they’re all happening at different speeds. Illness has nothing to do with “killing” or “detoxing.” It has to do with only one thing: synchronizing with time.

I had to figure out the core etiology of my mystery illness on my own because the way the system is designed is deeply flawed. Anything that isn’t ratified by randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trials is considered “woo woo;” and randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trials are funded by drug companies. We have not only painted ourselves into a box, we’ve painted over our eyeballs, too.

Is it any wonder we understand the core etiology of so few of humankind’s diseases? We’ve been viewing the human body through a dark, tiny lens.

Is this an essay about health and feminism? Yes and no. To be honest, I don’t see it as about male vs. female so much as about old vs. new. It’s about locating authority outside of the self, versus inside it. There’s an old way of doing things that’s very rigid and bureaucratic, limited and linear, and there’s a new way of doing things that’s much more expansive and collaborative, intuitive and fluid.

It’s the men of our culture who are considered brave—sword and shield—but it’s the women who dare—i.e., Rosa Parks. What’s called for now is to be daring, because we’re about to enter a period of transition where the old is going to start crumbling and giving birth to the new. In the future, bricks-and-mortar rigidity will yield to a more electric fluidity in a way that’s so powerful and natural it will almost make us wonder if the fleet-footed avatar wasn’t the more “real” version all along.

The future is female—but it doesn’t exclude men. That’s the whole point. The future is feminine, and feminine power is not the power of the oppressor, but the power of the group. Feminine power is present in both men and women—and in the future, it will be the power we use. 


Alethea Black’s story collection I Knew You’d Be Lovely was published in 2011. Her illness memoir, You’ve Been So Lucky Already, is now available. She blogs about health and wellness at WelcometoHeaven.com. Alethea is a three-time MOTH StorySLAM champion and lives with her miniature dachshund, Josie, in LA County, California.