Ellen Blum Barish

Ellen Blum Barish

When people ask what got me to sit down to write my memoir, I tell them it wasn’t just one thing.

There was the fact that I had been through something frightening as a child that I had never fully processed, but I was emotionally ready.

My children were grown and living on their own.

And writing had always provided a safe place for self discovery and expression.

But there was a fourth thing, a thing briefly mentioned in my memoir but not discussed for reasons you will soon understand.

This thing that got me thinking that the time was now was a case of hives.

Yeah. Hives.

As in that red, itchy rash that appears on the surface of skin. Urticaria. An allergy response. Mine were chronic which meant that those raised red bumps lingered for longer than six weeks.

When your body shows visible signs of disorder,  it’s hard not to stop and take notice. There’s the discomfort – itching, burning and stinging. There’s the worry over where it originated or what it might turn into. There’s the daily manuevers to cover it with properly textured clothing. And if it continues as long as mine did, battle fatigue can set in.

Once the scariest options were ruled out and it was generally under control, I was able, to some extent, accept that I had to find a way to live with it for a while.

That’s when I consulted Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life, a mind-body treatise connecting physical ills with psychospiritual ones that was very popular in the 80s. Under hives, it said, “Small hidden fears. Mountains out of molehills.”

Hmmmm… I thought. I considered myself in a good place at the time. I had been in therapy. I had been teaching personal narrative and turning to words my entire life. What hidden fears could be stalking me?

When I dug a little deeper, I came upon a National Institutes of Health journal article titled, Spiritual and Religious Aspects of Skin and Skin Disorders.”

It read, “The skin is a great projection screen onto which physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of the person are constantly made visible.” It went on to say that episodes like mine can arise when a person is not unified with his or her “shadow aspects.”

But it was the chocolate story that got my attention.

A medical student became covered with hives every time he ate chocolate. Under hypnosis it was discovered that when he was four, he was visiting the zoo when he witnessed a snake ingesting a rabbit. The next morning, which was Easter, he was given a chocolate bunny and after eating it, he immediately broke out in hives. This repeated every time after eating chocolate. Only after he reprocessed this memory did he no longer develop a case of post-chocolate hives.

This haunted me, until I made the decision to write the scariest thing I could think of. The thing I had been trying not to write. The story I had been avoiding for decades.

Soon the hives faded and a book had begun.

Why bother to identify hives as a writing prompt when there were clearly enough reasons to write my story as it was?

I now think of that case of hives as bees buzzing in my ear – a call to action – that would ultimately, thankfully, make for sweet healing.

Is there something trying to get your attention? Something going on in your body, mind or environment asking to you stop and take notice?


Photo by Ante Hamersmit (Unsplash)


Upcoming Events

“Writing Your Spiritual Journey,” A single-session, online workshop at The C.G. Jung Center. 1-3 pm, November 5, 2021.











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