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.




Grief: The Simple Version


I sat in my new therapists’s office.  It was just after Christmas and New Years.  Today was our first session together.  After exchanging pleasantries, she said to me:

“When I got to work this morning, I got the news.  And I feel bad because it’s our first session and it falls on me to tell you this — J., your counselor for the past six years passed away on Saturday.  I’m sorry.”

** It was a huge punch in the gut **

He had stage four cancer that had gone undetected.  One day he went up to the ER because he had a very sore throat.  Three weeks later, he died.  I didn’t get to say goodbye.

A second story:

Sarah lived with her father.  Her mother died when she was just a baby.

Her father had sunken into a life of alcoholism and he found himself angry, bitter, and out of control.  He was verbally and emotionally abusive toward Sarah.

Sarah found comfort in her relationship with her grandmother, Rose.  After school, she would go there and do her homework.  Her grandmother taught her to knit and sew and make macaroons.

Sarah successfully survived her youngest years and went to school for web and graphic design.  She lived a big and blossoming life in the big, bold city.

Then one day she got a call.  Her grandmother had passed away during the night.  She quit school and became deeply depressed.  She started to feel physical pain all the time.  Many years later, Sarah would be officially diagnosed with fibromyalgia.



What is it?  Queen Elizabeth the II, regarding the death of Princess Dianna, said, “Grief is the price we pay for having loved.”



Make no mistake, grief is not limited to those who have died.  It’s possible to grieve a marriage that ends, a friend who moves far away, the loss of some social or professional status, the loss of one’s health or the disability of partner / child, the things that were once your dreams and goals that never became.

brokendreams  divorce

Grief is the experience of loss


Grief isn’t a predictable thing.  Some people naturally work through it.  Many people get stuck in what we in the biz call “complicated grief.”




There are many things one can do when grief comes.  But, the truth is we don’t need more books or photo albums or the lighting of candles in churches.  There isn’t anything wrong with those things, but one needn’t seek a complicated answer.

In my own grief, I quite often fail to see the forest through the trees.  Nothing takes the pain away.  But, pain is simply pain.  Pain and suffering are different.

What if we accepted our grief?

What if we changed in such a way so as not to live in resistance to grief?

What if we just allowed ourselves to feel it?  

Does grief have a color>  A smell?   A voice?