Your Healing is Killing Me is a performance manifesto that seeks to replace individual self-care with collective self-defense. One artist’s reflections on living with post-traumatic stress disorder, ansia, and eczema in the new age of trigger warnings, the master cleanse, and Kickstarter-funded self-care.

 

Based on lessons learned in San Antonio free health clinics and New York acupuncture schools; from the treatments and consejos of curanderas, abortion doctors, Marxist artists, community health workers, and bourgie dermatologists. Part performance, part lecture, part therapy (cuz my insurance doesn’t cover it).

 

This performance is unprocessed, gluten, and guilt free because capitalism is toxic and The Revolution is not in your body butter.

 

27 steps from my apartment to the front stoop

2 flights of stairs

5 steps down to the sidewalk

7 blocks to the Nostrand stop

2 flights down

Take the A to Jay Street

Transfer trains across the platform

The F to Herald Square

5 blocks to the Chinese Acupuncture School

5th floor

 

There is an elevator.

Most days it does not work.

 

My knee hurts. My qui is blocked. I am too hot inside.

An hour session used to be $20. Now it’s 25.

 

A DO NOT SPEAK CHINESE IN THE CLINIC sign hangs on the door. I always ask my acupuncturist in training lots of questions. Today I ask Why did you put the needles in my back? You don’t normally do that. Eh, new moon, Eastern medicine, he scoffs. I’m not sure if my acupuncturist in training actually believes in acupuncture or Eastern medicine even. Maybe going to acupuncture school is something his parents made him do. I don’t even know if I believe in acupuncture but I do like it when the he sticks the needle in my forehead, right there between my eyes. Point #20 of 28.

 

For stress, he says.

 

I knock out cold every time. He turns out the lights. It’s one of the few moments I sleep peacefully. One whole hour. Sometimes it’s the most uninterrupted sleep I will get in weeks. He comes back to check in on me:

 

Your job is very stressful, no?

Yes; I admit.

 

Do you like your job?

Yes, I have to admit.

 

Remember that the next time you sit down to write.

 

365 acupuncture points.

14 major meridian lines.

 

I go to the acupuncturist because I have eczema. On face value this doesn’t seem like such a big deal right? But my eczema is extreme. Nobody can really tell you what exactly causes eczema but they think maybe it is a combination of factors that include: genetics, abnormal function of the immune system, environment.

 

Before I had health insurance as a working artist, before Obama Care, before I knew what I had was eczema, I had a black market doctor back in Texas. A physician who happened to be an incredible actor. That’s how we met. I would call her every time I had a flare up, send her pictures of me, swollen eyes shut close. That’s how bad it was – I couldn’t even open my eyes some days and she would write me a prescription, of what? I didn’t even care – but it would relieve the itching, the open, bleeding sores on my face, in between my fingers, in the folds of my arms. The creams were $100 a tube and they were the only thing that would stop the itching. I later found out she was prescribing me medication that also had testosterone in it. I was transitioning and didn’t even know it but all of a sudden, everything made sense – the rapid weight loss (over 50lbs), the mood swings and violent outbursts, including the time I banged on the hood of some man’s car in the hood cuz I had the right away god damnit! “I know you see me muthafucker.” I later found that the medication that had testosterone in it was also highly addictive. I quickly became dependent on it. If I stopped using it, my flare ups would be even worse than before, so even though the directions on the tube clearly stated discontinue after two weeks if you do not see improvement, I just kept lathering the creams on my eyes, around my mouth, in the folds of my arms and in between my fingers because the way I felt off the cream was far worse than the way I felt on it, until she finally cut me off, saying that she was treating the flare ups, the reaction, but not the cause.

 

I don’t know what’s wrong with you. You could have an auto-immune disorder.

An auto-immune disorder?

Like lupus.

Lupus?

I think you need to see a doctor.

 

I think I’ve had eczema since my twenties but it always went undetected or misdiagnosed. My mother’s response was your skins too dry. You should use ponds. Mexican mothers think they can cure everything with ponds and/or vicks vapor rub. So I would excessively scoop ponds cold cream by the handful until I found out that ponds also flares up my eczema.

 

While it is not an allergic reaction, certain factors, including foods, can trigger eczema. Heat triggers my eczema. I can’t live in New York in the summer. Dirt triggers my eczema. I can’t take certain subway lines cuz they are too dirty. And of course stress, stress triggers my eczema. I am a working artist in the United States of America.  I live in one the most expensive cities in the nation. I have a lot of stress but I do like my job. I try to remember that when I sit down to write.

 

I once did the master cleanse, for an entire month, because someone told me it would help with my skin. This was before I was diagnosed with eczema. You’ve heard of this right, the master cleanse? According to one website the master cleanse is “a liquid diet that provides a healthy amount of calories and nutrients specifically suited for weight loss and cleansing, all the while resting the digestive system and allowing the body to heal naturally and has been tested and approved since 1940 by millions of people all around the world.” I didn’t care much about the weight loss. I wanted to increase my focus, my energy and heal my skin. Millions of people, all over the world, since 1940 said this was great – what could possibly go wrong? So for an entire month I lived off of lemon juice, mixed with cayenne pepper and maple syrup. Flushed out my system with warm salt water before going to sleep and completely fucked up my digestive system. My digestive system was supposed to be resting! Now I can’t eat foods high in acidity and citrus including lemon & lime, orange, grapefruit, papaya, mango, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, all berries really. Nightshades such as tomatoes and eggplant, most chiles especially red chiles, chile japones, chile flakes, chile powder, paprika, and of course, especially cayenne pepper. Essentially I can’t eat most things Chinese and most things Mexican. I am the daughter of a Chinese Mexican immigrant. Do you see the irony? I often have to be reminded again and again that I am allergic to these things because I am a habitual self-poisoner and I really like grapefruit.

 

I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

You could have an auto-immune disorder, like lupus.

 

So I started looking up lupus on the internet. The worse thing you can do when you are sick and do not know what is wrong with you is look things up on the internet. A friend of mine intervened, pulling me out of the rabbit hole of health hysteria.

 

Why won’t you just go see a doctor, girl?

I don’t have health insurance. That was far easier to say than admitting that I am actually scared of doctors and sometimes science even.

Go see my case worker. He’ll see you for free. Free honey. You just have to tell him you think you have AIDS.

Wait, what? AIDS?

Well, you don’t know what’s wrong with you.

Yeah but AIDS?

Smash the stigma, honey. The doctor said you might have an auto-immune disorder. AIDS is an autoimmune disorder. The consultation is free and he’s nice, really nice. Go see my case worker.

 

So I take a train uptown to a free clinic in Harlem, wearing huge sunglasses to cover my swollen eyes and the open sores on my face.

 

Seated between an addict and a prostitute the two women look at me and say:

What happened to you mami? You look awful.

 

You know it’s bad when the addicts and the prostitutes think you look awful.

 

What’s wrong with you?

I don’t know I respond and start to cry underneath my huge sunglasses.

I don’t know. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

 

After doing a full STD work up, the case worker, who was really nice, takes me to his cubicle and says:

I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

Nobody seems to.

But I’m going to get you in to see a doctor today.

 

He makes several phone calls. Tells whoever is on the other end of the line, You have to see her today. Hangs up the phone. Click. And then the nice case worker tries to help me apply for Medicaid. Apparently my income was slightly above the level to qualify but the nice case worker was determined to help me out. He was going to find the loophole, the condition, the possibility that would help me get insurance.

 

By Any Means Necessary.

 

He pulls out a long form and after too many questions, he asks:

Do you have any mental illnesses?

No I respond quickly.

 

Does anyone in your family have a history of mental illness?

No I respond just as fast.

 

He asks the question again:

Does anyone in your family have a history of mental illness?

Uh, no I say.

 

I’m going to ask you again, this time he says it slowly:

Does any one in your family have any history of mental illness? Anybody. Anything. Depression, even. Everybody gets depressed. Depression counts.

 

I feel like I am not answering the question the way I’m suppose to.

What’s the right answer? I ask him.

I feel like I am answering this question all wrong.

 

I can’t answer that, the nice case worker says. I can just ask the question again:

Do you or anyone in your family have a history of mental illness?

I said no.

Medicaid denied.

I have never known how to play the system.

 

But the nice case worker did get me in to see a doctor that day. The doctor lady, who was also very nice, says to me, Normally I’d get in trouble for this but they are transferring me in two weeks so I’m going to run every test I possibly can on you.

 

I was tested for lupus, mercury poison, diabetes, high blood pressure, low blood pressure, cholesterol…I even got a pap smear…which I hadn’t done in over 5 years.

 

The next week I went back for the results and the doctor lady said:

I told you. My boss wanted to know why I ran so many tests. I told him I didn’t know what was wrong with you.

What’s wrong with me? I ask.

According to the tests, nothing. But clearly there’s something wrong with you. We can both see that.

So what do I do?

I don’t know. Maybe you should see a dermatologist.

 

Another doctor? I thought on the subway train back home, defeated, sunk into my body, still wearing my big sunglasses to hide the open sores on my face, when a stranger comes up to me and says, You have eczema. It’s pretty bad, huh? You itchy? My friend Julio on 42nd can get you some cream for that. You don’t even need insurance. Just call him. She hands me his number on the back of a sales receipt.

 

Julio on 42nd street deals black market eczema cream. Did I even have eczema? I use to think maybe I was just having allergic reactions. I was convinced I was allergic to New York, its one-hundred year-old buildings, their dirty door knobs, the heat of the radiator in the winter and the air conditioner in the summer.

 

I saw an allergist in Brooklyn once. Apparently you can’t get food allergies and environmental allergies tested in the same visit and each series of tests cost $500 on top of the cost of the visit. I took the environmental test first. Paid $500 to find out that I was allergic to cats but you see, the thing is, I already knew I was allergic to cats before going to see the allergist. This was not new information to me. I never got the food allergy test. I already know I can’t eat lemons and red pepper though sometimes I do it anyway. I was hysterical, the testosterone was probably still running through my body. I paid you $500 to find out what I already knew. I ‘ve been allergic to cats all my fucking life. I’m an artist I don’t just have $500 laying around.  The doctor felt so bad he waived his consultation fee.

 

You need help he said.

 

That I knew. Maybe I should just call Julio but did I really want to get into another black market underground cream racket? Maybe I should just go see a dermatologist. This was out of hand already.

 

So I went to the best dermatologist in all of Manhattan, a fancy clinic in Soho that treats acne, administers botox and does face lifts for the rich.

 

Eczema.

 

She said as soon as I walked in the door barely lifting her head from her clipboard. Before I had even sat down, You have eczema. It’s extreme. Then she prescribed me a cream. The whole visit was less than 15minutes. Painless. Why am I so scared of doctors? Doctors are not scary.

 

Do you have health insurance?

 

But doctors operate inside a system that ultimately doesn’t really care about your health. This cream is pretty expensive but it will do the trick. I went to the pharmacy right away, filled the prescription, opened the box and found out the cream she prescribed was the same cream my black market doctor prescribed in Texas, the one with testosterone. Yeah that one.

 

I shoulda just called Julio.

 

Your Healing is Killing Me (an excerpt) by Virginia Grise