Most people are normal. But some are just built different. I won’t name names– but some people I love are Beasts. Like the badass awesome kind. They got Six Flags tickets for never missing school. As adults, they have years of sick days banked. They take vitamin C for a cold and it goes away in a week or 7 days if they don’t. They go about their days casually eating whatever they like, from any random gas station or buffet line or street vendor. They nonchalantly share a beverage with a taxi driver in Vegas and the communal challis at parties. They sleep when there is a bed and time or rally and string together all-nighters on a whim. Check-ups and screening and labs feel optional while every vax is an obvious and easy decision. They have no idea what a hospital is like outside visiting hours. They rarely even remember having a bloody nose! or headaches or cramps or panic attacks or depression or anxiety or hives or rashes or vertigo — and if they do, they can usually pinpoint a reason with a correlating remedy. They occasionally take a hit, but mostly stay sharp and active and healthy. I love these people. So much. And admire them and appreciate them — and am always in awe of them.
For awhile, I thought my favorite Beasts found some secret that I did not. But with mid-life perspective in conjunction with being this unwell, I now believe that they are just built different. Like my Spider Plants– they survive nearly anywhere: in any soil and any light and will gladly accept any amount of water –or whiskey. They may not always be thriving, but their system mostly plods along and does what it is supposed to do. I am not built like that. At all. I’m more like my Orchids: Keep air at 71 degrees with 74% humidity – no direct breeze. Regularly soak in tepid unfiltered water – but be careful of wet feet. Indirect but bright natural light. Exclusively use a specialized planter and potting mix. Remove damaged leaves promptly but leave the wiley green air roots. A tiny bit of expensive organic nutrients only if needed. And THEN they will occasionally produce beautiful flowers — with obviously lots of rest and patience between each flowering. And don’t ever forget to use a stick with tiny clips to hold up the blooms or the stem will snap. That one is me.
For a span in my late teens and early 20s, I was literally nicknamed “Sensi-Kel” as in “Sensitive Kelly” — and it wasn’t just with one person. The moniker expanded into multiple friend groups because anytime someone heard it, they immediately agreed and believed it fit so perfectly that they also adopted it. And I didn’t mind. Even a little. I am super sensitive. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. I’m just sensitive; It is probably best stated clearly as part of my name so that all are aware. I might be the OG Sensi-Kel, but I’m definitely not the only one. I share blood or genes or vibes with a bunch of people like me. Sometimes it can be hidden like a functioning alcoholic– and other times, not. We try not to talk about it, even secretly among ourselves, because it is boring. And fruitless. And embarrassing. And super super annoying for everyone else. But especially annoying for us. Just murmuring, “immune compromised” needs a trigger warning. But hear me out…
Orchid people can be fun!! And funny!! And helpful and creative and smart and a delight to be around. We are often easy on the eyes and naturally gifted. We are generous and cooperative and kind. We are beloved by most and a force for good in this world. But for some reason– we are regularly unwell to varying degrees and with a variety of differing maladies… They can effect the body, mind, and spirit in any combination. Illnesses or injuries or diseases or intolerances or divergences or disorders or traumas — some with names and treatments. Many without. They can come and go and change and morph and develop and flare and subside. And for most of us, Bud Bergstein’s wife Allison hits uncomfortably close to home.
I don’t know why we are regularly unwell. It has been suggested by a few who love us– that to even the playing field, we’ve been nerfed. People like me would be way too awesome and it would be unfair so The Powers at Be decided that we need to be made a little less powerful. We needed an equalizer. competitive balance. achilles heel. thorn in the flesh. kryptonite. weaker vessel. Maybe we have been nerfed… or maybe we are just built different or maybe someday something will be discovered so it all makes sense. But I promise you that it is not a choice or deliberate or manipulative. At least not for me. And it doesn’t seem to work like that for other Sensi-Pals either. We do what we can and way way way more than the average bloke… but nevertheless, some have not survived or have a seriously reduced quality of life– which makes me vigilantly conscious of my own health — body and mind and spirit. I strive to be well and a trooper and productive and capable and strong and resilient and easy going and low-maintenance. But it just doesn’t always work like that.
When I was kid, I’d get the same cold, but mine would turn into croup where I’d be rushed to a steam shower and when that didn’t work, the ER. One of my earliest core memories is literally not being able to breathe, blacking-out, and then watching the panic from above. I’d get a bee sting and my entire body would react. My strep quickly turned to scarlet fever with worries of meningitis. Thankfully, I was home-schooled so I honestly didn’t often get sick or even stressed –and when I did, I had unlimited time to heal and rest and recover. Yet by 12, I had a chronic migraine. Just all the time, this blinding pressure and pain. I went to specialists, clinics, labs, scans, studies, chiropractors, therapists, biofeedback, even surgeries and prayer circles. I tried every pharmaceutical, diet, and natural remedy that showed any glimmer of hope. I was barely a teen before finding out the hard truth — that not everything has an answer. What works for some doesn’t work for all. Not everything can be healed or cured or resolved or even named.
Sometimes, something would provide some relief, but more often, I just needed to find ways to cope. And I did cope. Because I loved life. A real lot. I loved adventure and connection and curiosity. So I found ways to work with my system. I’d learn to notice the signs that things were going downhill and I’d execute an arsenal of tactical strategies to right the ship and limit my downtime –but it all got way more complicated with a family. Every pregnancy led to gestational diabetes and bed-rest and scary bad deliveries. If a strep letter went out to the class, my throat would be entirely closed that night. We’d go on a swamp tour and I’d get a bug bite that took me out for a month. We’d tent camp in a sage field and I’d end up with debilitating allergies where I couldn’t breathe in fresh air. Every virus and bug and flu and surgery would hit me harder and left me just a tiny bit (or a lot) worse for the wear– and I’d often contemplate if life inside a human-sized hamster ball was an option.
When the whispers first started at the very end of 2019, it felt like our family (along with all of the other Orchids) took a collective breath and held it. This wasn’t mind over matter. This wasn’t because I am a liberal snowflake (which I am ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜🤎🖤🤍!!!). I knew. I literally could foresee based on 45 years of experience, that I would probably get this. And my system would most likely not handle it well. I was so careful. My people were so careful. We didn’t want to speak it into existence, but we all knew, Sensi-Kel’s system and covid would not be a good mix. And if it wasn’t me, it was going to be another beloved Sensi-Pal. Spider Plant people (and even most normal people) could go about their lives, not live in fear, and barely mask-up with their schnozzle hanging out — but not me. Not my fellow Orchids.
One Sensi-Pal of mine has a mantra that goes, “disappointed but not surprised” — because this was predictable. And it all is. But I guess that is probably why I feel adequately prepared right now. Each time I got sick or had surgery or had a baby or got a bug bite, I’d be very unwell, execute a plethora of coping mechanisms, and then eventually get back to functioning– but not quite as well as I was before. Just over and over. I was consciously embracing every moment because it would be pretty naïve and short-sighted to think I would always be mobile and self-sufficient and clear-headed; that eventually, I probably wouldn’t bounce back very easily — or at all. It is a constant internal consideration of risk / reward — and then making it a priority to mindfully care for my entire system. Not self-care like a spa day with magazines and mimosas and Friends — more like essential regular maintenance or risk a total system collapse.
I’ve always had excellent insurance that I’ve utilized to the max — so some of these strategies were advised by therapists and professionals and doctors. Others are passed down from my own ancestors or through traditional knowledge from various cultures or researched or implemented on a fluke or desperation or a gut instinct. They aren’t a cure or a miracle, for me or for anyone else. This isn’t about lyme or covid or a specific condition, just about strategies for coping, especially when the normal stuff isn’t really working. They aren’t in place of medicine or a doctor or labs or research or science. They aren’t in order of discovery or importance or ease or practicality. They might be obvious or annoying or unrealistic or bonkers or not work for anyone else– but they are what I personally do to cope while having a system on the very cusp of functioning. I don’t do them always. Or with perfection. Honestly, I can’t even claim that I’m doing my best, because doing ones best is often exhausting and not usually worth it for me. I do what I can when it feels right.
The irony is not lost on me: Of someone currently so unwell that they are home-bound — doling out free healthcare advice — because it clearly isn’t effective 😂. But I’m choosing to frame it differently: Despite my very sensitive orchid-like build, I’ve spent many decades living an objectively fulfilling life and even in hermithood, I believe that I am still living a fulfilling life. But mostly, this isn’t really advice. Or for other people. It is mostly for me. It seems like a valuable exercise to consider and process and write about how I opted to deal. My stories and what sometimes works… for me. So it isn’t gone forever with the next inevitable wave. And just maybe — something will help one being feel even a smidge better in some related or unrelated way. And a smidge better is always preferred to the same or worse –and it seems like it might be fun and relaxing and therapeutic. I like to write! Especially when there are no expectations or pressure. And maybe someday, my memoir from hermithood will help someone else cope. <3
Peace and love my friends — especially my fellow Sensi-Pals — and even more especially to The Beasts — our Spider Plants — our Luisa(s) — our Earths — our support mains. I know it sucks to be unwell. But honestly, I have to think it sucks even more to love and cherish and protect and provide for those unwell… especially chronically unwell… And when reciprocation is limited… Thank you for still choosing love.
–As with everything — ZERO judgement or even a 2nd thought for people who do things different. Ever. You be you. IMO. Life works better that way.