Scarred & Scared – Illness, Depression, Suicide (Call Me)

I have been ill for one year. It is a mystery illness that results in itchy welts called hives (chronic idiopathic urticaria), all over my body most of the time. There is no cure. My life is lopsided and hard. Food, once a great pleasure, is now a nuisance. All of my favorites are triggers. Wine and chocolate, the tasty, heartwarming habits that I consider a significant perk of adulthood, are no longer consumable. Sleep is not guaranteed. Scratching is unavoidable. Clothing choices are now all about covering up. Leg shaving is an exercise in medieval torture. Outings are easily canceled when lips or eyes swell to boxer-like proportions.

I am scarred, scared and often uncharacteristically depressed. I don’t do depressed well, but I am learning.  Earlier this month, I had a particularly bad two weeks, with hundreds of hives covering my legs, a fever, and overall exhaustion. I wept at the doctor’s office. I wept watching people eat and drink normally. I cried with my husband who has been a rock and asks God on a regular basis to give my illness to him. I would never want him to have this. I would not wish this on even the most hateful person. It is too much, all the time.

In the midst of the storm, while surrounded by a loving family, I often feel alone. This illness will not kill me, but I often wonder if the length of life matters when the quality is severed to an exposed nerve. I have been thinking about this a lot of late. With the suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, I find myself thinking about the emotions, emptiness, and desperation that bring a human to end their life. I don’t plan on doing so. In fact, I love life. I want more of it. I want all of it. But, I want it with bubble baths, a nice merlot and perhaps an occasional shrimp cocktail. I want to stop itching. I want my body back. I want to make plans, and follow through with them.  I want who I was before, but with the insight that illness can rob you of all your favorite things in a heartbeat.

Anthony and Kate could no longer face their storms, and I get it. I hate it. I despise the psychological trials and suffering that humans must endure. But, I get it. Trying to continually find the sun, when illness (mental or physical) casts you in darkness is not just hard. It is like repeatedly climbing to the top of a jagged, razor-sharp mountain and sliding to base camp on your naked, swollen belly. It is an oozy, puss-filled wound that scars over, only to be yanked open again and again.

When I first learned of these celebrity suicides, I asked the same question as most, “Why?”  Then, as I settled into another day of bruised skin, blistering pain and endless scratching, I realized that sometimes, dragging yourself up when your bones are made of glass and your brain swims with what you’re missing, does not seem doable.  If you feel like this today, I get it, I feel it. I know you. Let’s help each other. Let’s keep our candles burning and help each other see at least a glimmer of light.

If you need me, I am here. (912) 695-5552. Call me. Leave a message if I do not answer. I will call you back. If you want to text, I’m up for that too. Humans suffer, but we do not need to do it alone.

If you feel like you can’t take a minute more. Dial this number. Do it. You can. You should. You need to make it one more day, one more hour, one more precious moment.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

1-800- 273-8255

Blessings that if you are suffering, you know you are not alone.

V.L. Brunskill

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Googling Strangers- An Adoption Poem

Magnifying glass

I Google family found and lost. The ones on my biological father’s side. Uninterested in reunion, communication, excess.

Examining familiar faces, posted on social media, wondering what it’s like to erase a sister, bad seed, father’s whorish mistake. That’s what they said.

Too fat, they said that too. Particular, rigid people raised in servitude to a father who served a government willing to lose him. Ill-fitting, outside.

Missing pieces defining years of search. Spit on by stragglers. Found, un-found, inconsequential, invisible, forgotten.

Pretending not to care. Half-strangers, half-bloods, half-broods, I lie. Wonder at similarities, stitched in skin.

Remnants unraveled in bits and pieces of internet babble. Remnants coursing veins denied. Remnants stalled in binary reality. Not mine. Yet mine.

Bye-bye biological brotherhood. Until someday,
a sunrise, or never.


Blessings to know your roots,

V.L. Brunskill

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Trump Bumps, Gut Health & Giving Up Chocolate

I call them my Trump bumps. Just as his presidency churned into mind-melding, bone-grinding gear, I broke out with an unexplained rash. My malady, which causes itchy welts to form all over my body and sometimes blows my lips to Kardashian proportions (Angioedema), is called Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria, a fancy name for hives.hives

For nine months now, these torturous little skin lesions have been my constant companion. To discuss these sometimes pie-size patches, I must first quell the most common myths about them. They are not caused by allergies. I’ve been tested for everything and am among the most un-allergic beings on the planet. They are not caused by stress. Stress hives usually appear only on people’s arms. I do have stress in my life and stress does exacerbate an outbreak, but it is not the cause. They are not contagious. You don’t have to wear gloves if you come to one of my book signings.

As anyone cast into a mysterious health condition, I have been reading about my hives since they arrived. I’ve tried every antihistamine on the market (and found they make the condition worse with prolonged use), and every topical ointment (Sarna and Benadryl Gel are the best but relief is short-lived). Nothing relieves hives. The itch is like having the Chicken Pox twenty-four hours a day.

A couple of months ago, I joined a private group on Facebook where thousands of Urticaria sufferers share the treatments, tests, and diets they’ve tried. There is no cure for hives. There are treatments suggested by traditional doctors (Cyclosporin/ Xolair shots). However, each comes with significant costs (shots are $300 to $2000 a month) and health risks. Cyclosporin is used as an anti-rejection treatment for patients who undergo organ transplants.

Without any other feasible options, I’m working on fixing my gut. What is God’s name does this mean? I asked the same question when a high school, nutritionist friend suggested this could be the cause. My gut has served me well for decades, what could be wrong with it now? Why has it suddenly gone haywire? Why isn’t it one of the organs we can just get rid of?

In desperate need of relief- I started taking a probiotic. A refrigerated version that costs $25 a bottle. It made the hives worse for about four days, and then, I experienced a bit of relief. At least, I think it was the probiotic. It’s hard to know for sure as I have also given up chocolate, wine , shellfish. Chinese food, and cured meats and cheese (which send me into skin-ripping overdrive).

Vitamin D has been tested as an add-on therapy for hives and some in the Facebook group think it helps.  So, I’ve added large doses of D (three times a day) to my daily routine.  I was not sure it was helping until I ran out of the supplement and experienced a horrible breakout. (Ask your doctor about taking large doses of D as there can be adverse side effects.)

Now back to the probiotics. Reading more about gut bacteria, I’ve discovered that many studies prove that our guts are the source of most sickness. Our changing food supply (GMOs/pesticides/hormones) is fueling an epidemic of allergies, autoimmune diseases, and likely my Trump bumps.

In addition to probiotics, I’ve started to read labels and no longer eat most boxed foods. I find that if I eat anything with a laundry list of ingredients, I suffer. I can’t tell you which chemical, preservative, or dye is the worst (although Maraschino cherries and red dye are forever no-no’s since I awoke with a Quasimodo face after plopping a few extra cherries into a Manhattan).

Since narrowing my eating to mostly skinless chicken, meat (from a local source butcher) and veggies, I have fewer Trump bumps, and I don’t take my prescribed laundry list of antihistamines (six different types multiple times a day) unless I get a mouth/throat hive that could hinder my breathing. Yes, I carry an Epi-pen.

My left hand is swollen and covered in hives as I type this. The burning hives on my hands come from the pressure of my palms against the laptop. I get them on my feet as well, when I walk a lot or eat a high histamine food or trigger.  The hell of this disorder is that when I believe I have them under a bit of control, a flair up covers me head to toe and I’m back to the drawing board.

It’s not easy writing about this health issue as I don’t want to come off as whiny. I know there are far worse ailments out there, and that hives will not kill me. However, as there are so many hive sufferers in the world, I  feel it necessary to share my journey to spiritual and physical health.

Blessings for healing,

V.L. Brunskill

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Quit Stomping on My Soul- Morality & Cutting Toxic Cords

What would you say to someone who examines the checkout line at a busy department store, not to decide which line will be quickest, but to see which cashier matches their race and ethnicity?

I was with someone who did this. I encouraged her to join me at the shortest line. She did so begrudgingly, then left our line to checkout with the only Caucasian cashier (whose line was double the length of the one we stood in). Her action was premeditated, obvious.

I did not call her out on her action. It was one of many assaults on my moral principles and I knew that her response would be instinctual denial. She has denied these judgments before. Yet, whenever I’m in her presence, her actions illustrate her belief that the pigment of someone’s skin is a worthy tool for judging character.pexels-photo-220147.jpeg

This person is surrounded by like-minded individuals who act as a bubble to protect her immoral inclinations. They display the same biases. They speak poorly of African Americans and Hispanics, accusing entire ethnic groups of leeching from the medical system, and stealing America’s resources.

Does my poor judgment of their morality make them universally toxic people? I think it should. But, as I’ve discovered in the Moralities of Everyday Life (Yale) course that I just started taking, one person’s soul-sucker is someone else’s chum.

A lack of shared moral views is one barometer we use to define toxic behavior. As I begin to cut cords with those who cause me moral anguish, I don’t want to fall into the age-old trap of name-calling (a specific R word comes to mind). Labeling them would be the same as them labeling others. I choose instead to ponder what has been discussed for centuries- the source of a person’s moral compass.

Does our religion determine what we think is moral? I believe in a God of equality. I believe we are all made in God’s image. However, some Christians have no problem judging humans based on color, race, or sexual preference. Take, for instance, the bakery owners who decided they could not bake a cake for a homosexual couple’s wedding. Are gay people toxic to the bakery owners? How did they arrive on that moral plane? If we are members of the same Christian religion, why don’t we share a common understanding that the love of God is inclusive?

Morality for me is defined by instinct. It is right and wrong. I believe that moral behavior can only be labeled as ‘moral’ if it does not harm other humans. Morals may be partially learned, but I suspect we are also born with innate moral inclinations. Take empathy for example. Some children exhibit none, while others are innately compassionate. I believe empathy is essential to morality.

As I continue the journey to heal my physical (chronic idiopathic urticaria) and spiritual health, I seek to learn as much as I can about the things and people who cause me soul-level anxiety. I hope you will help me along the way by sharing what you have learned.

  • How do you define toxic behavior?
  • Have you cut cords to define a more peaceful existence?
  • Is your morality innate or learned?
  • What defines moral behavior for you?

Lots to think about. I have so much to learn.

Blessings to ponder what makes us moral,

V.L. Brunskill

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Reclaiming Faith- My Childhood Companion

I wrote this a while ago and just discovered it in my draft file. As I reclaim spirit in my life and strive to heal physically, it is especially important to recognize the faith that has always been with me. 

I am a Christian. I am also a survivor.

My adoptive mother and brother were heinously abused by my adoptive father for more than a decade of my childhood. I lived in a secret turmoil that I was not allowed to share. Fear tucked me in at night, and the shining reality of stress woke me every morning.

I was the older sibling, the responsible one, in-charge, and overwrought with a deep need to save my family. I spent every waking hour wondering which path would secure our safety. I worried until my stomach burned with ulcers. I ached with every bruised lip and broken bone my loved ones suffered. I lived a self-imposed world of escape plans, daring rescues, and invisible castles with locks galore. I spent every non-school moment creating realities and wishing so hard, that I spoke those wishes in my sleep.

Yet, inblogj6 all that tumult and pain, I never once felt I was fighting alone.

When people hear the story of my childhood, they ask me why I am not more damaged. I often credit the strong genes I inherited from my biological/first family. I have a fortitude forged of hearty Newfoundlanders, and fight born of West Virginia mountain people who were soldiers even when there was no war.

Yesterday, when I heard Trisha Yearwood sing Oscar Hammerstein’s song ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ in a Fox television production of The Passion, I recognized a gentle dreamer sitting by my childhood side, watching over every plan I penned in my hidden notebooks. I felt the sweet embrace of my miraculous companion and knew that every hopeful word I wrote was his to share.

I felt the presence of spirit as a child. I  called it my guardian angel. Today, I wonder how any abused child finds a way to believe they are watched over? I was optimistic when optimism was not an option. I believed we would survive when survival was impossible. I held steady in my plans, hopes, and dreams of escape when escape seemed the last thing we might accomplish. I saw riches where there was only want.

When you walk through a storm
Keep your chin up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark
At the end of the storm
Is a golden sky
And the sweet, silver song of the lark

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone

I was too young to know the source of the light that carried me through.

Now, at fifty-something, I know that I never walked alone.

Blessings for light and healing,

V.L. Brunskill

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Cat Cuddlers- An Enlightened Species

catthreeWhen my daughter first suggested that we stop in at the Purrvana Cafe & Cat Lounge at 1402 Barnard Street in Savannah, Georgia, I was skeptical. I pictured a dining experience marred by a mess of furry seasoning. If I want pet-hair in my soup, I can eat at home.

As we approached the café, a billboard welcomed with an appropriate sentiment for the chilly Savannah day- “It’s kitty cuddling weather.” As we stepped into the slim shop, we were greeted by a croissant menu, wafts of freshly brewed coffee, and a large window divider that separates the café from cuddling headquarters.catone

We ordered our grub and thirty minutes of cat cuddle time for $5 each. The pretty cashier explained that the cats I watched leap to and fro in the Victorian style parlor behind the glass were available for adoption. All cuddle fees go to their feeding and care. Since the café opened in October 2017, the café has placed twenty-two cats in forever homes.

As soon as our food was ready, we were taken back outside to an outer door (separation of kitchen and animals is the law in Georgia) and into a small vestibule where we were asked to sanitize our hands before entering the surprisingly sweet-smelling feline abode.

Upon entry, we were warned that Noir (a large black cat with a leopard face) could swipe our bakery goods at any time, and that eating while standing might be best. We sat in a couple of wingback chairs, drinking coffee and eating without a single swat from the curious critters.

Melted onto high shelves without a care, diving and dancing up the bars on the front window and lazing in the noon sun on a window seat, a dozen creatures occupied the lounge. A laser pointer toy rested on a highboy armoire and I used it to entice a pretty gray gal into play.cattwo

While spending time with the lovelies was wonderful, the true benefits of the cat café were not clear until more patrons arrived. The first, a young woman wearing a heavy wool coat and cat-eared knit cap, sat next to a curled-up napper on the elegant sofa. She stroked its fur and chatted with us about missing her animals. They lived out of state with her parents while she attended college.

A light, tendril of artistry entered the café next. Calling himself Flannel, and wearing red plaid pants and low, button-covered hat, this young man might be taken for a musician in some circles for his long locks and sprite-like appearance. When he spoke, I found him to be enlightened beyond his years. An illustrator, protector, and lover of animals, he illuminated the room.

It turned out that both of our cohorts in the business of cat cuddling attend Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). At fifty-something, I oft forget the bright wash of twenty, when life stretches in front of you like an endless prairie to be inhaled and explored at a gallop. I also forget (and part of my healing journey is to remember) that there are still so many creative, humble, gentle conversations to be had with the generations of now.

At the Savannah Film Festival this year, I brushed sleeves with these young people, intoxicated by their sparkle. At the cat café, I was privy to the depth of the light they encompass. They are a generation of twenty-somethings not content to follow old rules or expectations. They are forging paths of love, planning escapes, and walking toward a light some of us older folks have allowed to dim.

Perhaps, healing this old soul is best accomplished by seeking the youthful light of younger souls.

Animal lovers are earth’s meek, yet mighty warriors and I already adored them before we visited the café.  However, a love of animals is not the only reason to visit the Purrvana Café and Cat Lounge.

In our fair city, the café attracts young art students and the lessons they can teach those of us who have lived long (and perhaps lost touch with our spiritual gifts) are worth far more than the five-dollar cost of admission.

P.S. The croissants are warm, buttery bliss.

Blessings for cat cuddles and renewal,

V.L. Brunskill

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Reclaim Your Gifts- Secret to Healing?

My world slowed to an introspective, desperate spin in May 2017. It was eight months ago and yet it feels like forever. My family and I had returned from a beach weekend on my beloved Jekyll Island in Georgia. I awoke that Monday morning with a huge bump on the back of my neck and swollen lips.


Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island. Photo by Lisa Westberry

The doctor assumed that either fried oysters or a new medicine were the cause. I stopped consuming both. I took steroids and antihistamines. But nothing worked. I was soon covered with plate-sized welts that itched and hurt.

Off to an allergist for food testing. No allergies found.  I was diagnosed with chronic  idiopathic urticaria, a fancy term for hives. I was told that they are not food related and that they will someday go away in the same mysterious way they arrived. The allergist suggested that I take truckloads of antihistamines (five different kinds at a time) and wait.

Two trips to the emergency room later (with a swollen tongue and closed eyes) I sought out fellow sufferers on Facebook. It was there that I discovered how urticaria ruins lives, breaks hearts and tests the fortitude of the human spirit. Doctors gleefully remind us that our condition cannot kill us (as long as we keep an EPI pen close by). While it is not fatal, we live the torment of being covered in raised patches that move, change size and shape, and itch like a constant case of poison ivy.

I have looked at every treatment under the sun, including Chinese medicine, herbal teas, supplements, and finally rearranged my life to a Paleo, low histamine food lifestyle. I still have hives. I still cry at night as I tear my skin from the itch and cringe at the pain.

This brings me to a phone call I had last week. I was chatting with a prospective speaker for an upcoming webinar. I am a conference producer in addition to writing books. The woman, also an author, asked about my forthcoming memoir and when I explained the topic (my trans dad and how hiding ‘her’ gender for a lifetime stole her ability to be human), she inquired about my health.

Now, here’s where I go out on a limb. Risking a ridicule, that I spent the last twenty years avoiding. The author I spoke with last week is a Reiki master. According to Wikipedia, Reiki is a form of alternative medicine developed in 1922 by Japanese Buddhist Mikao Usui. When I explained my itchy woes, she asked if I considered myself to be spiritual. I explained that I am spiritual and have a strong faith.

“Are you an empath?; she inquired. The question stopped me in my tracks.  An empath is a hypersensitive, intuitive person who feels everyone’s emotions times ten. 

“I used to be,” I replied.

She laughed, “Well, then you still are. When did you start blocking your gifts? I think this is the cause of your illness.”

Now, I am somewhat science-minded and this explanation sounded ridiculous at first. How could blocking out the painful absorption of other people’s angst, hate, hurt, and moods cause hives? Ridiculous, right?

Maybe not. I was once a gifted tarot card reader. It started as fun. Yet in readings, I told people they were pregnant before they knew it and foretold many things that I could not know by any earthly knowledge. I stopped reading cards when my daughter was born for fear it might bring negative energy.

“Reclaim your gifts and the illness will leave you,” my new author friend told me.

The first step in my journey of reclamation and healing is this blog entry. Admitting that the gifts exist is difficult in a world mired in insular, earthbound ministries. People will think me mad for writing this. I may lose credibility. Yet, I felt the force of her words and think the message may be my truth.

I reclaim these gifts today. I will share my journey to wellness of mind, body, and spirit here, and pray that other’s will find healing as I learn the medical, and spiritual path to a cure.

  • Have you blocked your gifts?
  • Are you having medical issues?
  • Did you find your way by reclaiming your power?

Please share your story in the comments. You can also email me at vbrunskill at

Blessings for healing and love,

V.L. Brunskill

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