Moths as Metaphor, Muse, and Healing
Sometimes when I begin a creative project I have the whole process mapped out and planned beforehand; I know exactly what I am creating, how I am doing it, and how it will be used. But other times I start on a whim, or on a feeling from my muse that this is just something I must do, answers will come later.
That is how the moths appeared to me. As some of you know, I’ve recently begun treatment for chronic Lyme Disease, which I have likely had for about 10 years now. My health has always been unpredictable and limiting, but this year it’s been much worse than ever before. So far, treatments are going pretty well… but they do wipe me out. I’ve been spending the vast majority of my time curled up in soft places, unable to do much more than rest.
My ceramic studio is gathering dust and my kitchen, too, misses my presence. As a naturally extremely driven person, I have to admit I’ve been doing a bit of pining for them as well. I miss being able to work. (I LOVE to work.) But I’ve been struggling with these health issues for long enough now that I know how important it is to release those pressures and allow myself to truly rest and heal.
About a week into my first treatments, the moth dreams started. During the day I was fussy and frustrated, needing some kind of creative outlet that didn’t require the energy I didn’t have or the focus of my blurry brain. But at night I felt free, and I dreamed of moths… of flying, of following the light, of snuggling safely into soft warm cocoons so that I can melt into the healing process.
Because that’s really what this feels like to me, back to back days just nestled into my little blanket cocoon with hot packs and medications that make me dreamy and drowsy. I’ve been allowing myself to melt more and more with each passing day, to just be in the present and be in the pain and be in the exhaustion and let my body and brain seem to dissolve. After all, that’s what happens in a cocoon - goo.
Do you know what you’d find if you were to cut a cocoon in half? Most people would probably say some kind of caterpillar-moth hybrid, a being with a body and some legs, maybe starting to sprout delicate little wings. It makes sense that in those soft safe little pods a gentle transformation is taking place, step by step. But that’s not the case. Inside a cocoon is goo. Just goo. There aren’t even many specialized cells - just a primordial glue that makes up the creature as it transforms. Before it emerges from its cocoon or chrysalis, that goo miraculously re-forms itself into a new little butterfly or moth ready to take on the world. (And if you’re wondering where I learned this fascinating information, this Radiolab Podcast is a fantastic listen!) Yes, inside those pods of safety, there is a complete breakdown taking place. It’s not particularly subtle, nor is it particularly gentle.
I was reminded of this as I had a new kind of test performed last week. It’s called a “Dark Field Microscopy” and basically it takes a drop of your blood and magnifies it a bunch so you can see your blood cells in a really visual way. As my doctor and I watched things move and drift around on that little glass slide, we started seeing little wispy streaks appear amongst the rounded forms of healthy cells. “Those are the spirochetes, that’s the Lyme Disease itself” my doctor explained. “And that cloudy/fuzzy stuff at the edges are the barriers it constructs out of toxins in your blood. They essentially build microscopic little cocoons out of things like mold spores or heavy metals toxins.” Apparently, that’s why detoxification is such an important part of chronic lyme treatment… Lyme is tough on your liver which makes it ineffective at flushing out the bad stuff, which the lyme then uses to protect itself and hide inside. Removing those toxins exposes the spirochetes to your own immune system or medications designed to target them.
How ironic, then, that I’m battling to clear out these fuzzy cocoons that are forming in all the nooks and crannies of my veins so I can fight the very disease that’s been fighting me so hard for a decade, while all I feel like doing is wrapping myself in a safe little cocoon and melting. Perhaps just another sign that cocoons are emotionally spiritually significant in my life right now.
I’ve been keeping that in mind as I face the ups and downs of my own treatment. On days when all I feel up to doing is watching cheesy sitcoms on Netflix or napping, I remind myself that it’s okay to have “goo days.” On the days when I feel up to working on a project or baking something special, I remind myself that I can go as slowly and as gently as I need to, that there is no time limit on my life or my work. And when I think about how much I miss doing more regular magical events, I remind myself that my job is to be in this cocoon right now, and that I will be able to do so much more when I eventually start feeling better for good. I have to take every day one step at a time and, for now, that’s okay. I’m on the road to a better life.
So, on those days that I’m too beat to do anything more taxing and have too much brain fog to focus on reading or writing, I turn again to the moths. I’ve started playing around with embroidery since it’s something I can take with me to my doctor’s appointments and IV infusions and can even do in bed. But all I seem to want to work on are these moths. Their imagery sticks with me day and night. Do I know what I’m making them for or how I’m going to use them? No. I just know that it’s important and I need to be doing this right now. I need them to be meditations and reminders of the self love I need to give myself so badly right now. I need them to be permissions to rest when I have to. I need them to be reminders to keep my eyes and heart set on the light. I need them to give my restless hands something to create. And mostly, I need them to be a way of chronicling my treatments through art and beauty and craft and care. I want to look back at this chapter of my life as one of quiet contemplation and growth, not as a traumatic and pain-filled period of darkness. Having something -anything- else to focus on helps my brain stay in the battle, and sometimes that is the hardest fight of all. Thank you, moths.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little glimpse into my art and healing process! I’ve been trying to be more and more vulnerable this year and one way I like to do that is to talk about my illness on my own terms. It’s empowering to be able to say “I’m sick, and this is how I am finding or making beauty from that.” So, expect to see all of these embroidered moths return at some point in the future, when they’re ready to emerge from their gestational cocoon and become some new kind of Wondersmith magic. Until then, I’ll just be here in my little cocoon, working, resting, and melting into goo on my own schedule.
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