A Missed Diagnosis
It was 2014. I was 52 years old. I had been having issues with chronic illness for a decade. The doctors thought it was all in my mind. In 2012, I had my second case of spinal meningitis. In 2013, I had my second major abdominal reconstruction. I had been in and out of doctors offices and hospitals for over a decade. My illnesses and symptoms were continually dismissed as related to PTSD or in my mind. Time after time, I was ignored and dismissed. I was sent out of the hospital twice with life threatening conditions as I wasn’t believed until I almost died. It took ten long years to hear that what I had all along was advanced stage Lyme disease. At the end of 2013, I found a new doctor, an Integrative MD outside of LA. She was the doctor of last resort who tended to see the worst cases. The first time I met her, she said, “I’m pretty sure you have Lyme Disease.” The chance of having 2 cases of spinal meningitis is one in 14 million. She was the first doctor to listen and look for the root of my illness. 4 months later, I was diagnosed with late stage Lyme Disease. I remember bursting into tears. They weren’t tears of sadness but tears of relief. Finally, someone listened. I was believed.
My name is Catherine Grace O’Connell. This is my Kintsugi story.
Right away, I was placed on an intensive antibiotics protocol that triggered severe seizures. These were full body seizures that were debilitating. They lasted from 3 to 8 hours. From that point on, I couldn’t care for myself. I couldn’t drive. I could barely function. The treatment had terrible side effects. Over the course of a few months, my weight dropped to under 100 lbs and my organs began shutting down. On 11/11/14, I went through a Near Death Experience. It was terrifying. I was gone, and then I was back. I was confused as I was ready to die. I didn’t think that I would ever get better. I was absolutely exhausted and suffering badly. I came back but couldn’t understand why. I wasn’t afraid of dying. I was afraid of living.
Cycle of Abuse
My life began with abuse. My father was an alcoholic, orphaned and abandoned as a young boy. He was filled with rage. I remember being terrified to speak. I was sexually abused as a young girl and it impacted my life in ways I couldn’t begin to understand. I kept everything inside. Growing up, much of it I had consciously forgotten as it was deeply repressed. I remember my nights being plagued with nightmares, bedwetting, sleepwalking and something called “sleep paralysis.” It’s devastating as I would be curled up in the fetal position for hours and trapped in a body that was completely paralyzed. I was fully awake but couldn’t move or speak or scream. I learned later on that it’s a disassociative state due to trauma. It came back in full force during my battle with Lyme Disease. Growing up, I didn’t talk about these things. I never told anyone. I never spoke of the abuse. My family wasn’t that kind of family. I learned to be silent and not to show emotion. I also learned not to ask for help. This pattern would continue throughout my life. When I lay dying for almost a year, I never saw my family. That was devastating. I’ve since separated myself from them and created my own family through my friends.
All I knew was abuse. I didn’t understand that I deserved to be loved and treated with respect. My relationships reflected that. I ended up in a 20 year marriage that almost cost me my life. It definitely cost me my mental well being as I ended up having a breakdown. It was the breakdown that forced me to get help and to get out. For that, I’m grateful. It ended up being a great blessing and far more of a breakthrough in the end.
Following my divorce, I moved to LA to get my Masters in Spiritual Psychology and to delve into a lot of deep, inner work. I wanted to figure out how I got to where I was and to make sure it never happened again. I had been on a deeply spiritual path for 20 years. I knew the answers lay within. That began an inner quest to heal everything I had buried and repressed for most of my life.
Learning to Save Myself
When I had my daughter in 1991, I almost died as the doctor had left behind a large part of my placenta. Two weeks later, I began hemorrhaging severely. I was rushed to the ER and found that I had a terrible infection. I underwent a D and C that was far more excruciating than labor. I couldn’t have any anesthesia or pain medications. For 3 endless hours, they scraped my uterus and the infection was brutal and raw. I remember laying there screaming in agony. After that, I tore the ligaments in my hip and couldn’t walk. My husband didn’t care for me. I was completely alone, in pain and with a new baby I was nursing every couple of hours. It was almost impossible as I was on crutches. I was going back and forth to Northwestern Hospital. They couldn’t help me.
I was fortunate to find an amazing chiropractor/acupuncturist. Within 2 sessions, the crutches were gone, and I was walking again. I was astonished by the results. This sparked a curiosity in alternative healing methods. I began to study everything I could about holistic healing, energy and the mind/body connection. This lead to a passion and a deeply spiritual path. I was trained in many different modalities and trained as a Reiki Master Teacher. I earned a master's degree in Spiritual Psychology. I realized the immense power we have within ourselves to heal our body because we are simply energy. During my battle with Lyme Disease, I found an empowerment coach who was also an energy worker, Laura Bruno. Her husband had Lyme disease, and she helped him to heal from a case very similar to mine. While I was bedridden, we would have phone sessions. I remember one call where she raised her voice and said, “You’re a creator! You must create. I remember getting angry as I couldn’t function. I snapped at Laura, “How the hell am I supposed to create?” Her calm response: "Did you know Matisse did his greatest work from bed? So can you…". With that, I began to create.
Trajectory Changing Question
Following my Near Death Experience, I was still bedridden. In the spring of 2015, my daughter came over and we had a conversation that would change my life. I had been making a lot of strides in my healing but would slip back into old patterns and ways of thinking. My daughter was frustrated. She looked at me and said, "Mom, what would you do if you were well?" Without hesitation, out popped…
"I would to travel. I would travel the world!"
It was a startling and immediate answer that came out instinctively. I was surprised by this and remember grabbing my computer and creating a bucket list. Soon after, I hired a travel agent and began planning a trip around the world. I could barely walk around the block but my dream was very much alive. I began to focus on travel, my dreams and getting well. In that instant, I stopped focusing on illness. I certainly didn’t heal in an instant. That took time. But my focus changed and my beliefs began to change along with it.
I ended up not being able to travel, but it didn’t matter as I believed that I could. The universe took me in a new direction as I started creating a blog. My daughter had been encouraging me to start a blog for over a decade. Up until this moment, I had never taken the first step. Frankly, I had no idea how and it happened very organically. She took photos of me and we uploaded them onto Instagram. Honestly, I never heard of Instagram. This was the beginning of a new life. I started getting so many positive messages and responses. I began reaching out and sending my cell to people to help them. Before I knew it, I had a business and a new direction.
I wasn’t focusing on my illness. I was focusing on passion, purpose, joy, creativity, serving and I was getting well fast.
Unlocking Inner Power
I stopped all treatment and the crazy Lyme protocols that kept me trapped in illness. I don’t advocate that for others yet I knew it was the right path for me. I continued doing natural therapies like energy work, acupuncunture, homeopathy and herbs. I let go of the rest and began living life. My mind was getting stronger my body followed. I stopped putting energy into my illness and began focusing on wellness. I began channeling all the energy I had into dreaming and wellness, and my life began to change. It did take time. It was a process that continues today. The Lyme is completely healed. Truthfully, I never think of it. I never worry that I’m going to get it again. I know that it’s only energy and I refuse to give it one ounce of my energy or focus.
Our minds are like a radio transmitter, and we are constantly sending and receiving signals. It is extraordinarily empowering to know how much power we have inside of us to impact ourselves and even others. Knowledge is everything. The greatest knowledge comes from personal experience. I’ll be honest. I had a lot of negative thoughts throughout my life, mostly about myself. I had to become aware of how this was an internal, unconscious stream that was affecting my health and wellbeing. I had to learn redirect negative thoughts constantly. This is hard work, and it takes immense focus and dedication. It’s about making the unconscious conscious. It’s imperative to reprogram our unconscious and subconscious thoughts to positive and empowering ones.
Taking Control Back
My health is much better although menopause is definitely having an impact. They say it isn’t for sissies but that’s another story! All the signs of acute Lyme disease disappeared entirely. I am strong, and I have a renewed desire to live and achieve a happy, joyful life. I work constantly on the energy that I emit, the thoughts that I have. Old patterns and disempowering thoughts pop up and take me astray. I’m human. Very human. It’s a constant process to heal and unravel the old stories and beliefs, and to shift them to more empowering ones. The awareness doesn’t mean it’s easy. But it surely gives me tremendous hope because I have seen the transformation with my own eyes. We need to peel back the layers of pain to reveal the light beneath the shadow. I firmly believe that everything we go through is a necessary process to reach wholeness. I feel thankful for the process I had to go through, even though it meant so many years of physical and emotional pain. Without it, I would not be where I am today.
We have the family we are born into and whom we need to learn from in order to progress. Then, there is the family we create ourselves. Believe me, that little girl inside still wishes she had the Norman Rockwell family. I have to listen to her, hug her and let her feel the sadness. I created my new family of like-minded people, who love and support each other, through my community. I have friends from all around the world now and that’s pretty cool!
I want to share my personal story to touch others and change lives in the way my heroes, Brene Brown and Oprah, are doing. I live to inspire others through my journey. I hope to empower middle-aged women to know that they are relevant. I am working daily to shift the perception of women at Midlife & Beyond to one that is vibrant and empowered through my Forever Fierce Revolution Community on Facebook. Next, I’ll be working on a book and a Ted Talk and any other wonderful opportunities that come my way. For now, I am happy to be part of the #WereKintsugi tribe!
This video is not easy to watch but will give you an insight into the progress that Catherine has made.
Read her Blog on a collaboration we did!
You can follow Catherine:
On Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/catherinegraceo/
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/TheFierce50/
Sign up for her Newsletter: https://catherinegraceo.com/
We would love to hear your loving comments. If you have a Kintsugi story and would like to share in order to empower and inspire, please email firstname.lastname@example.org title Kintsugi Interview.
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"I became a single mom, really unsure about anything. I didn’t have a good family support system and the survival fire in me was bursting. I knew I would have to work hard, stop blaming others, stop waiting to be saved and really save myself. I wanted to be a role model for my son."