I read the other day that the atoms in our bodies keep changing, and that your entire body is replaced every nine years. Not sure how they’ve tested this!
It makes you think – if this is true, why is it that our bodies still stay roughly the same over the years, including scars, tattoos, etc.? But my initial thought when I read this was: it’s almost nine years since the start of my symptoms which eventually led to a diagnosis of M.E., so if all the atoms in my body have changed in this time, why do I still have M.E.?
Why do my cells, which are different from those I had nine years ago, still fail to produce enough energy? Why do the neurons in my brain and central nervous system still send the wrong signals around my body? Why does my immune system still over-react? Why do my muscles still ache and give me pain at the slightest excuse? Why is my blood circulation still so poor?
There’s a story that is sometimes told as an illustration of organisational inertia. The idea is to put a group of monkeys in a cage, and at one end some steps leading up. A bunch of bananas is placed at the top of the steps, and after a while one of the monkeys will go up the steps to get the bananas. At that time, water is sprayed on all the monkeys (I hope this is just a thought experiment and that no-one has actually tried this at home …).
Then another monkey will try and get the bananas, and all of the monkeys are hosed again. After a while, if a monkey tries to climb the steps, the other monkeys will attack it, because they’ve worked out the connection between the steps and the water; and this will continue even when no more water is sprayed, and then no monkey will try to go up the steps.
At this point, one of the monkeys is taken out of the cage, and a new one put in. This one will try and get the bananas, but the others will attack it, until it no longer tries. Then another is replaced, and another, until finally none of the original monkeys are left. Eventually, we reach a point where none of the monkeys in the cage have ever been sprayed with water, but none will attempt to get the bananas, because “that’s not what we do round here”.
So my current body is made up of monkeys, sorry, cells, which didn’t start off with ME, but have “acquired” ME because the system that is the body has somehow moulded them into its pattern.
This indicates that the ME is a fundamental part of my body, just like the colour of my hair and eyes, the lines on my hand, the odd scars and marks. It is part of what makes me who I am – at least for the time being (nine years and counting).
Which reminds me of a phrase that came to me during a retreat a couple of years ago: “This is my body, given to me”. And of the story in John’s Gospel, when the disciples ask about the man born blind, and whose sin was responsible, and Jesus says instead “he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him” (John 9:1-3).
So this is my body, ME-conditioned monkeys and all; given to me, given for God’s works and God’s glory to be revealed in me.