The Case Study of Mister Woo

First, a story.


Mister Woo is a 45 year old male.  Three years ago he was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.

Woo had lived a moderately healthy lifestyle.  He had gone to the gym twice a week, ate broccoli and two portions of fish a week, and subscribed to Men’s Health magazine.

Since his diagnosis of an autoimmune disease, Mr. Woo has upped his exercise routine to everyday, though he feels more tired and needs pain medication to get through just a few hours of his schedule.

He has done a juice fast, consulted experts in naturopathy, acupuncture, Reiki, as well as allelopathic surgeons, though he gave up his health benefits when he quit his job.

He no longer reads Men’s Health but instead spends his days logged into a chatroom for persons with his autoimmune condition and shares links from a huge bookmarks folder he adds to from obsessive Google searches.

Mr. Woo has given up his dream to go on a month long photo-history journey throughout the Netherlands.  He is now planning a trip to a research hospital in Detroit to participate in new clinical trials.

Mr. Woo has started suffering marital problems because he doesn’t share his thoughts and feelings with his partner.  His partner complains that Mr. Woo no longer acts and talks like a regular person but is a walking encyclopedia of his disease.

Woo admits that he becomes mired in debates about diets and supplements.  For all Mr. Woo has tried, his condition has not improved very much.

Today he was diagnosed with clinical depression and required to give up his hunting rifles because he’s been making suicidal threats and gestures.

Mr. Woo is taking a break.  He voluntary admitted himself to a psychiatric inpatient program.

He feels resentful toward his wife and brother who suggested that there was more going on than just his autoimmune troubles.  His wife cries into the shoulder of another man as she feels rejected for trying to help and wishes that Woo would stop yelling at her that she doesn’t understand anything about his condition.  She feels guilty for wanting to go out with her friends and for not having a chronic illness.  She is entertaining the idea of separation.

Mr. Woo’s brother visits him once in the hospital.  He offers Mr. Woo some extra accounting work for his business and wants to take Mr. Woo on a meditation retreat for 3 weeks.  Mr. Woo grudgingly accepts the work but laughs at the idea to go for any type of retreat without the risk of a guaranteed benefit.  He claims that he failed at yoga, “just like everything else”, and that he has the perfect treatment plan mixing biologic pharmacotherapy with a diet infused with Turmeric (which he has bulk ordered from Amazon) and juices made from raw green vegetables only.

Mr. Woo attends a multidisciplinary team session with his psychiatrist, his specialist, a dietician, and his wife.  Mr. Woo walks out of the session and discharges himself from the hospital.  He shouts at everyone in the meeting that they do not care about helping him and that their ideas will make him worse and that his wife needs to cut out her moaning, and no he won’t do couple’s therapy.

Upon leaving the hospital, Mr. Woo checks himself into a motel.  His funds are dwindling as he sits on the edge of the bed washing back narcotic pain medication with a bottle of whiskey.

Mr. Woo is discovered dead by the housekeeper the next day.  It doesn’t appear to be a suicide per se.  It appears that he just wanted pain relief and had been hiding misuse of his medication, pain medication bought illegally, and engaging in binge drinking.  Everything in his system had caused him to stop breathing in the night.

Mr. Woo is cremated.  Two years later his brother marries his widow.  The life insurance company is refusing to pay out.  His former partner has discovered over $26,000 in credit card debt.  Still, every year she runs in a 5 k marathon to raise money for the autoimmune disease research charity.

Mr. Woo died before his four year old son could get to know him.


What the heck was that?!

The above story is meant to be fantastical and is just a piece of fiction.  Yet, I can imagine that most of you have known someone or heard of these similar fates before.  And, maybe, you can see ways that you are like Mr. Woo or perhaps his brother or his wife or his young son.

The point isn’t that we hear a story and we judge Mr. Woo.  The point isn’t that chronic illness and disease are relationship killers or precursors to addiction and suicide.  The point isn’t that natural treatments or conventional treatments are somehow better or worse than another.  The point is not that a meditation retreat would have saved Mr. Woo.  No, none of those make an intended point..

The point I take away from this story is that we, by default, want someone or something to blame.  And yet, that isn’t helpful no matter which person’s shoes you decide to try on.  Maybe, the point is that many little things can build up.  And they usually do.  But, instead of obsession, rumination, and trying to do it right, we come to face that acceptance is the only tangible control we have.

Life isn’t an easy journey.  Chronic illness, be it mental or physical or both, poses many complicated dilemmas that further make life unpleasant and complex.  But I’m here to tell you that, at any point, accepting THIS moment and not taking it too seriously is likely the most positive thing you can do.  I know it’s true for me.




Pardon My Panic Attack

This past weekend I had an IBD flare.  I don’t deal with being sick well.  You’d think I’d take it in stride considering my illness is CHRONIC.  But, no.  I freak out.  I have a panic attack which snowballs into making things worse.

Anxiety and depression are components of chronic illness and are chronic illnesses themselves.  I tend to ruminate.  I notice every little pain and think the worst is happening inside me.  This past weekend, I thought I was dying.

When you feel so bad that you start to think you are dying, it sucks.  But in a way, it’s also the point where you may or may not be able to laugh.  Life — no one gets out alive!  It’s true!

There is a mindful way and an unmindful way to approach death.  The unmindful way was me freaking out and ushering in the suite of panic:  shallow breathing, dizziness, worsening nausea, restlessness, thoughts of going crazy/imminent death.  I started having some traumatic thoughts of choking on my “final breaths”.  That wasn’t mindful, but I’m not saying this in a judgmental way.

At such a point, what do you do?  My best solution was to reach out to another.  To just let the panic attack happen and blurt out all my feelings and worries to whoever will sit with me and listen.  Sometimes, we all lose it and need others to be mindful for us.

Different people may be or less helpful, appreciate them all.  If you pray, here’s a good time!  If you have a pet, then you are really lucky.  I have a cat.  She curled up with me and comforted me.  There is always someone that can pick up the ball when we can’t be mindful ourselves.  To seek comforting is human.  We don’t always get it the way we want, but we can appreciate the forms the universe takes in meeting our need.

Can you relate?  Who are the helpers when you are in need?  There are always helpers!

I am the Cancer

An ego identity is the face we show to the world. It is also a way we define ourselves to ourselves.




Many people with chronic illnesses choose the illness as an ego identity. There are many reasons for this, but most are psychologically unhealthy. We may claim that we seek community, but relationships built around suffering usually start to create suffering. We might claim that we wish to help others from our experiences, but to truly help another is not to limit them but to share in discovering unlimited potential.


Wellness is experienced when we don’t limit our identity. The whole of our lives is greater than individual aspects. Wellness is about opening and acceptance. One dead tree, even if it is the tallest and oldest in the entire forest, does not nullify the grandeur and the many complex systems found in the forest’s entirety.


While a person may suffer limitations due to a disability, illness, or circumstance, life can still be as fulfilling as we wish to make it. Not limiting ourselves with a diseased ego identity is a simple way to admit that there are possibilities and passions that we are opening to discover. We refuse to be pigeon-holed into a universe that is mired in pain and suffering. Illnesses can be very painful, but no one can claim that pain is all there is to life.


young cheering woman jogger open arms at sunrise seaside,vintage effect
Be Limitless


What good things can you identify about yourself that open your heart and realize the potential of your mind / body / soul?

Calling the Magical Unicorn

So, I find myself awake at 4am.

I’m beginning a Crohn’s flare up.  Pain, bloating, you name it — like a pitbull, it’s growling in my face.  I’m not impressed.

I am trying to get to the bathroom.  The house is dark.  Of course, the eye infection I’ve been battling off and on for two months has crusted my eyelids shut.  I almost trip over a shoe.  All I need is a fall right now considering my last fall landed me in the operating room and wearing a leg immobilizer for four months.

I make it to the washroom.  The cat meows because it’s time for her breakfast.  I tell her she’s going to have to wait until I got sorted out this morning.  She doesn’t understand.

I return to my bed.  I pour a cup of cold tea from a kettle I made yesterday afternoon.  I add some sugar — I have a feeling I’m going to need it.  I turn on my light — are there any house flys that have decided my tea is their swimming pool?  No?  Good.  That was a most unpleasant experience two days ago.

I can’t find my eye drops.  I have three different kinds at this point — one is an antibiotic, the other is Visine for red eyes, and the other is a lubricant formulation.  The table beside my bed is quite cluttered despite yesterday’s attempt to organize and clean it.  There are my dentures, my eight pill bottles, papers from my counsellor, appointment cards, and a quart of paint that I haven’t used for anything in about a year.

Finally I find the Visine.  How good it feels within the first few seconds for my dry, red, burning eyes to feel bathed in comfort!

So it’s 5 in the morning.  I find myself, somewhat blind, and trying to open the box for a new lamp.  This one is a salt lamp.  Not just salt, but special salt from the Himalayas.  I struggle to rip the tape sealing the box.  I get it out and figure out how it goes together.  I am mindful not to electrocute myself as my aching back protests as I bend for a free slot to plug into on one of a few power bars.  The light works, fair enough.




Finally, I am starting to be able to see.  I read the product description on the side of the box.  There’s a leaflet for some health company that apparently has a lot of yoga products.  The box reads like an advertisement.  The general message is about “ions”.  I had heard of ions before.  Is it scientific?  I don’t know.  There is a mess of health advice that is either too clinical for me to understand or too pseudo-scientific to admit that you buy into it.

It feels like I’m calling the magic unicorn for answers.

This morning I am supposed to get an infusion of a newer Crohn’s drug.  It would be my first time with this medication.  I mull over my experiences with all these medications.  I don’t feel hopeful that this will be the one to change my symptoms.  I feel bad because I’ve kept the doctors busy filling out paperwork and getting the chemo ward at the hospital all set up to give me the infusion by IV.  Now, I don’t want to go.  I am flaring up anyway — I don’t know if you can even have it when you flarel  Regardless, I know I’ll be hiding from phone calls for a while now.

My thoughts go toward medicinal marijuana.  Does it work for Crohn’s?  Who is studying it?  What are the findings?  A glance at Google suggests that marijuana is a treatment for IBD, but everyone summarizes the research as, “we need more research.”  Meanwhile, I am still here.  Suffering.




I have a friend who smokes marijuana.  They could get me some.  I could try it.  The legality of it all is changing in Canada.  They are going to legalize and regulate and tax it.  I’d just be jumping the queue by a year or so.  I feel highly superstitious asking this, but it stands to reason, “At this point what do I have to lose?”

Let’s give the magic unicorn a try.  Afterall, the cat wants her breakfast!