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Suffering and Spiritual Struggles:
Part One

By Gary F. Zeolla

I’ve suffered from health problems for much of my 41 years. And these health problems have caused me many spiritual struggles. And, of course, I am not alone. Many people have experienced a “spiritual crisis” as a result of suffering.

This first part of this two-part article will give a brief overview of what I have struggled with in my life. Part Two will then look at the spiritual issues. It will also relate my struggles to the struggles many have been undergoing as a result of the events of September 11, 2001.

A Short Summary of My Life

In college, I was a National Collegiate Powerlifting Champion. And powerlifting was the most important thing to me at that time. I had full intents of continuing to lift and compete for the rest of my life. I was even planning on a fitness related career.

But in 1982 back pain forced me to quite competing and eventual to stop lifting weights altogether. So I gave up any plans of a fitness related career. And for the next 12 years I lived a very cautious life, always fearful of causing a flare-up of my back pain.

During those years, I was also in several minor accidents that caused various injuries, such as bicycle accident that injured my right knee that required surgery and a fall that injured my left knee and fractured my left ankle. These injuries caused me stop doing much of anything to try to stay in shape.

Then during the time I was attending Denver Seminary (1988-90) I developed a couple of rather strange health problems: neurological “tics” (minor muscle movements that can be incredibly irritating) and noises (cracking and popping sounds) in my ears. I have struggled with insomnia since high school, but when these problems flare up at night it make sleep impossible. In fact, they were so bad initially that I barely slept for months. And this forced me to drop out of seminary. It’s hard to study on virtually no sleep.

Then in 1994 the back pain worsened to the point where it crippled me. For the next six years I was unable to be “up” (sit, stand, walk) for more than 30-60 minutes at a time without ending up in severe pain. So I spent much of the day lying down. I also couldn’t lift more than two pounds without ending up in severe pain. This was a very distressing situation for a former National Powerlifting Champion!

After several years of this existence I began to make a concerted effect to try to get back into shape figuring this would help with my back pain. And it did seem to help some, but then In July 1999 I was in a very serious bicycle accident. I could have easily been killed in this accident, and it left me with several injuries that took months to heal.

But after recovering from these injuries I began to once again look for answers to my back pain. And in the spring of 2000 I finally found it through the reading of Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection and other books by Dr. John Sarno. Following the mind-body techniques outlined in these books, I was able to completely overcome my back pain (see the eBook Overcoming Back Pain for further details in this regard).

After overcoming my back pain, I began to be more active than I had been in years. This included riding my bicycle for the first time since my accident. But not wanting to ride on roads anymore, I rode on a bicycle trail that basically went through the woods. But doing so caused my allergies to really flare-up.

I have had hay fever ever since high school. But during the years I was crippled with the back pain I became perpetually congested. So it was obvious that I was becoming allergic to more things than just pollen and the like. But it was more a nuisance than anything else. But now, the congestion became so bad that I couldn’t sleep at night.

So I gave up trying to ride my bike on the bike trail figuring that was the source of the problem. But the congestion and sleeping problems continued. And as a result of not sleeping I got sick with a cold or flu several times over next several months.

Then in February of 2001 I developed restless leg syndrome. When this first flared up I didn’t sleep for a week. This led to a particularly bad bout with the flu, after which I never felt quite right again. From then on I struggled with increasing severe fatigue.

But despite this, in the spring of 2001, since my back pain hadn’t returned, I began lifting weights again for the first time since college. And when I did, I noticed that my right shoulder, which I had injured in the second bicycle accident, was noticeably weaker than my left. And the fatigue was making it very difficult to work out. But despite these problems, after just a few weeks my lifting was going surpassingly well. I even had thoughts of competing again, but now in the master’s (over 40) division.

However, in June I felt like I pulled a muscle in my upper back. But rather than healing in a couple of weeks as a pulled muscle would, the pain not only continued but wrapped around to my lowest front, left rib, and then encompassed my entire torso. I also began to repeatedly feel like I was pulling muscles. As a result of these problems, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in August. Lifting weights seemed to aggravate the pain, so I gave up lifting once again.

However, Dr. Sarno mentions fibromyalgia in his books, and he considers this problem to also be caused by psychological factors. Then after some investigation I came across the book Freedom from Fibromyalgia by Nancy Selfridge. This book applies Dr. Sarno’s theologies more directly to fibromyalgia.

Utilizing the mind-body techniques described in this book, I was able to bring the generalized torso pain under control. However, the fatigue didn’t seem to respond. But I decided to try lifting weights again nevertheless.

And after about a month, again my lifting was going well. But then, I began to experience a string of what felt like pulled muscles. A very severe pain in my right thigh forced me to stop doing lower body exercise in October, and then a after experiencing pain in my right arm in November I once again gave up trying to lift altogether. But this didn’t stop the feeling of hurting myself.

I began to feel like I was pulling muscles just doing everyday things at home. In fact, once again, I would experience pain if I tried to lift anything over two pounds, but now not in my back but anywhere in my body. And the fatigue was worsening to the point where the slightest activity, such as just typing, would leave me exhausted. So once again I had to spend much of the day lying down, but now due to fatigue rather than pain.

Meanwhile, for quite some time I was noticing I was getting less and less flexible. I first noticed this while doing stretching exercises. But now it was getting to the point where I could barley move. Walking was reduced to taking little “baby steps” at best, and I could barley lift my arms enough to comb or wash my hair. As a result of this stiffness, in December I was diagnosed with stiff person syndrome (a very rare autoimmune disorder).

Then in January 2002 I began to have episodes where I would be completely paralyzed for several hours at a time. And when I say completely, I mean it. There were times when the only thing I could move was my eyelids. At best, I could move my hand just enough to work the TV remote. But sometimes I couldn’t even do that much.

Meanwhile, my allergies seemed to be worsening to the point where I was reacting to just about everything, and not just in the environment, but also to foods. As a result, it got to the point where I could barley eat.

For reasons I won’t go into here, it became clear that the allergies were in fact the cause of my stiffness, pain, and fatigue. So after much investigation of my options, I started undergoing an alternative form of allergy treatments known as NAET (Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Techniques).

This form of therapy was developed by Dr. Devi Nambudripad (whom most people refer to as “Dr. Devi” given the difficulty of her last name). This treatment method is described in her books The NAET Guide Book and Say Goodbye to Illness.

So starting January 14th, I began going to a doctor for NAET treatments three times a week. And over time, they were very clearly helping my food allergies. I could now eat foods that previously would cause me to become very congested from just smelling them. But environmental items didn’t seem to be responding as well.

Meanwhile, I began to experience severe side effects from the treatments. This was strange as most people who undergo NAET treatments experience little or no side effects. But in my case, there were many times when I would end up completely paralyzed after a treatment. At other times, the fatigue would be unbelievable. And sometimes, pain would flare-up in one or more places in my body. There have even been times when my entire body would be in pain.

But despite these problems, over time the NAET treatments seemed to be working, and my stiffness and fatigue gradually improved. I also began to notice improvements in some of my other problems, such as the insomnia, tics, and restless leg syndrome. So it seemed like the treatments were helping quite a few different problems.

All along I had been trying to at least go for a walk each day. But given how stiff I was, I was only able to go for very short and slow walks. But now since I was starting to feel better, I began to very gradually increase the speed and distance of my walks. I also started doing stretching exercise again. And over time, I was becoming noticeably more flexible.

I finished with the NAET treatments in the middle of June. However, not all of my allergies had cleared. The doctor said that sometime it can take weeks or even months after the treatments are completed for some allergies to fully clear. So I would basically just have to give the treatments time to work through my system.

Also, the doctor had determined that various toxins (like heavy metals and chemicals) had accumulated in my body and that these were contributing to my symptoms as well. So I began undergoing “detox” procedures to clear these out of my systems. And again, this would take some time to complete.

By the end of June I improved to the point where I began lifting weights again. And after several weeks I was once was again doing rather well. The feeling of pulling muscles continued, but by now I knew these weren’t real injuries, so I would just ignore the pain. And over time, such pains became less of a problem. The fatigue was also gradually becoming less severe.

By the end of August it seemed like I was almost completely recovered. And I honestly thought my remaining symptoms would gradually disappear over the next several days. But instead, I ended up with the worst flare-up of my symptoms that I ever had.

For almost two weeks I was virtually or even completely paralyzed. And when I could move, the fatigue was unbelievable. Just trying to read or type for a few minutes would bring on indescribable fatigue. I was also experiencing waves of pain throughout my body. And after not being a problem for months, my “tics” began flaring up again, so I had trouble sleeping most nights.

To make matters even worse, throughout this entire time, the weather outside was unbelievably beautiful. Perfect blue skies, about 80 degrees, with low humidity. But during this string of gorgeous days, I was trapped inside, vegetating in front of the TV.

I wasn’t able to make it to her office, but I called the doctor. Over the phone she couldn’t say for sure what was happening. But she did say that it sounded like I was undergoing a “healing crisis,” and all that I could do was to gut it out and wait for it to pass. However, she did say that she never had anyone have such a crisis as a result of NAET treatments.

Once the flare-up has lessened somewhat I was able to make it to the doctor’s office. She determined that various environmental items were still clearing, and that it would take about a month for these remaining allergies to fully clear. So it was probably exposure to several of these remaining allergens that caused the flare-up.

I started with the NAET treatments in the middle of January, and it is now the second week of September. So I have already given this treatment method eight months to work. And the idea of having to wait another month is not very appealing. But I really hate to try something else while there is still a chance that this treatment method will work. And the doctor gave me a treatment method that I can do at home that she hopes will help to prevent any more flare-ups. So that leaves me hopeful. At least it gives me something I can do to help myself rather than just waiting.

So that brings my health situation up to date. And needless to say, all of these health problems have had a profound effect on the course of my life. First, as indicated, my originally planned “career path” was ended because of my back pain.

Secondly, all of these problems have caused serious financial difficulties. With the serious health problems I have experienced, it has been years since I have been able to work a full-time job. I’ve tried to make a living writing, something I could do around my health problems. But that has never proved very profitable.

Meanwhile, medical bills have been rolling in. And many of these were not covered by insurance, such as the NAET treatments I underwent. As a result, I am now in rather dire financial straights.

And finally, all of these problems have forced me to live a rather isolated life. So for some time I have had basically no social life, friends, or “love life.” I cannot even go to church or Bible studies anymore as my allergies always seem to flare up. The best I can figure is that it is the cosmetics products people are wearing that are bothering me.

The closest I come to a social life is via the Internet. But even then, I have often had problems typing for one reason or another. So for instance, so many emails piled up during the recent two-week flare-up that I’m not even going to attempt to get caught up with them. So my apologies to anyone who emailed me during this time and didn’t get a response. For that matter, I hope the above enables the reader to understand why I have posted so few “new” items on this site this year, and why I haven’t been too efficient at responding to emails.

That said, Part Two of this article will look a the spiritual struggles I and many others go through as a result of problems like those described above.

The above article was posted on this website September 11, 2002.

Ethics, Spirituality, Christian Life
Dealing with Suffering: Ethics, Spirituality, Christian Life

Health, Nutrition, and Fitness
Miscellaneous Health Concerns: Health, Nutrition, and Fitness

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