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Exit Chicago

Updated: Jul 7, 2023

Like many others during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jane G. Doyle found herself in need of a new type of support network in order to maintain the progress of her healing journey during a time of forced isolation.

Jane also realized that the empowering stories featured in her award-winning 2016 book, You Heal You, were now more relevant that ever, with so many individuals, her readers included, having experienced significant personal and collective suffering due to COVID-19. The 2022 edition of You Heal You includes a bonus chapter describing Jane’s continuing healing mission, outlining how she used her 14 Steps to thrive during those challenging times, overcoming fear to focus on healing a recurring injury, in addition to safeguarding herself from the virus.

Always on the lookout for the self-healing tales of other modern-day warriors, Jane discovered the story of Patrick, who shared his journey navigating the uncharted waters of Long COVID–while coming to terms with another, previously undiagnosed health issue–and rediscovering his true spirit along the way.

The following is excerpted from a June 19, 2022 post on The Trunnion, a blog by Patrick T. McBriarty


It’s been too long, since Thanksgiving that I sent an email update. Much has happened.

Most dramatic on November 30th Jim Sugrue and Doc. Lynda probably saved my life by getting me to Illinois Masonic Hospital. I was unable to think clearly or form words and later learned low-sodium spurred by a second bout of COVID (Delta or Omicron, who knows?) and my mistakenly pushing too much water. This gave me a front row seat to learn the old adage is true: Ignorance really IS bliss, for I didn’t suffer and have only fleeting, dazed and confused memories of the initial 36-48 hours. I was so out of it I couldn’t even get concerned, let alone alarmed.

Two weeks later I temporarily relocated to my brother’s house in Wisconsin. Then in mid-January I escaped the cold to the Big Easy and then spent the month of February in Florida catching up with various friends. Upon returning to Chicago it was clear. I needed to put my condo up for sale, and indeed closed the sale on May 20th.

In December my unexpected hospital visit started a pattern for days, then weeks of waking in the middle of the night mind racing, anxious, and unable to sleep. What became three weeks of sleep deprivation poured gasoline on my already weakened mental and physical state. My formerly unshakable confidence in my good health was crushed by the awakened specter of my own mortality.

One night at 2am near the end of this period I awoke in a panic with difficulty breathing and tightness in my chest. I decided it was serious and woke my brother to go to the emergency room. The caring doctors and nurses ran a series of tests to reveal nothing wrong beyond elevated blood pressure. Later that day I realized what the emergency room doctors could not tell me: “Hey dude, relax. You were just freaking out.” I was finally starting to get the memo. A few days later still struggling to sleep (more than 2-3 hours a night) in talking with my sister Anne one morning I had an epiphany. We ended up talking for three hours as I finally realized I had denied living with anxiety my entire life.

Admitting my anxiety revealed a huge blind spot. The revelation shook my confidence and sense of self to the core to trigger an uncharacteristic cascade of questioning my sense of self and perceived lifelong understanding of who I thought I was. As someone who hates being told, “you can’t do that,” the constant drumbeat the past two years of “can’t and don’t” messages from society, mainstream media, friends, and family had crushed my soul, altered my physical well-being, and emotional stability. This gradually escalated my normally mild anxiety and thrown in depression to manifest physically in my chest with occasional difficulty breathing, a constricted feeling and general malaise. The pandemic had mentally ground me down to a shell of my formerly social, triathlon, cycling, sailing self. My mojo had disappeared.

Past decades of endurance sports also likely contributed to erode my resilience. A lifetime of denial and soldiering on had weakened my body’s ability to fully heal itself. Prior to my epiphany I had managed being “out of sorts” (as I formerly labeled anxiety) via sports, sleep, alcohol, and staying active. However, getting COVID early (in March 2020) and a year of Long COVID (May 2020 – June 2021) had physically and mentally diminished me. Fear and weakness prevented me from exercising or drinking my way out of it.

The key tools that normally assuaged my fears and anxiety to manage my demons were off the menu. Past efforts to regularly check-in with myself and work to maintain self-awareness throughout life now seemed a sham. Admitting to myself this huge blind spot left my sense of self fuzzy and unstable. I could not help but call into question everything about who I was and wonder what else might I be blind to. Not trusting myself to this depth was uncharted territory. My foundational buoys of self-confidence, self-reliance, and peace of mind were punctured and unstable leaving me to thrash about for answers. Though I had nothing major wrong physically, this series of small things had added up to leave me adrift with little or no place to turn.

In retrospect, a good childhood, few life traumas and decent coping skills helped me tread-water despite nearly drowning in the deep. Clearly my almost singular focus on the physical world had left me vulnerable to this health, mental, and personal crisis. Intellectually I knew and believed in the mind-body-spirit connection, but had never really tested it let alone been pushed and knocked down like this before. The irony was it seemed my body had to almost completely betray me in order for me to grasp the truth.

With the help of some sleep aids over a few nights I gradually regained regular sleep (though that took a month or more). Better sleep gradually calmed the punishing waves of fear and doubt. On the flipside for a week or so, I could in moments glimpse with crystal clarity the interconnections over time of my childhood, family dynamics, life choices, and personal development. As my sleep improved the revealed insights to my soul soon fogged back over to leave an urgency to reconcile who I thought I was versus who I really was. I continued casting about for answers for weeks to come. The oscillation of crises and worries punctuated my daily life which had been mostly reduced to simply fulfilling basic human needs.

The realization that heightened anxiety manifested in me physically sharp and even lingering tightness in my chest or throat was the key insight of my epiphany. This made it clear the subsequent panic attacks instigating most or all of my struggles to breathe. The prolonged oppression of the COVID crisis had killed my motivation, manifested a crap attitude, and instilled a sense of being stuck . . . at say 85 to 90% of full health. In reality I was much worse off than I realized or willing to admit to myself or anyone else.

Additionally, I realized the lingering '"Long COVID” I had whined about the last half of 2021 was bull shit. Oh, I had indeed had Long COVID, but the mix of steroids, prescriptions (including Ivermectin), and supplements initiated in February of 2021 had relieved the chronic fatigue, brain fog, extreme sensitivity to activity, and general malaise by May or June 2021. Beyond that point my struggle physically and mentally was a manifestation of the resulting prolonged anxiety, fear, frustration, and depression.

In early November 2021, I reconnected with a holistic health practice I had used in the past for sports massages. Back in 2016 I begin a program to re-balance my body chemistry, but I failed to go beyond several treatments and initial testing. At this point it was clear, conventional medicine will treat life-threatening conditions and many illnesses but is not in the business of encouraging let alone truly understanding complete wellness or natural good health.

Case in point, Illinois Masonic quickly diagnosed my low sodium and addressed it. However, from a holistic perspective that event was a huge red flag symptomatic of the bigger picture. Mentally, physically, and spiritually I was way out-of-whack. The hospital had nothing to say. And neither the hospital stay nor multiple visits to my Primary Care Physician (PCP), despite good, well meaning people, could identify nor suggest a solution to my ongoing struggle, low energy and desire to feel right again. Guiding me (or anyone) onto a path to full and natural health is not part of their system, interest, nor business model.

As evidence of just how messed up my body was [...] test results from January 2022 reveal[ed] only 3 of 16 essential minerals in the normal range. It is little wonder I struggled to feel good. Almost every measure showed I did not have enough of the minerals my body needed or an excess of minerals it already had. This hair analysis initiated by Back to Natural Health offered a means and measurable path for improvement.

Walking along Chicago’s lakefront one foggy December morning another key insight dawned on me. I had totally lost my sense of fun, adventure, and playfulness, which are elemental to expressing my true self. Chasing multiple careers first as a writer, then documentary film making, children’s author, and nonprofit program director over the past 8-10 years had suppressed my true spirit. The self-imposed goals and my own pressure to succeed had cut into time to nurture friendships, connections, and intimacy. My frustration with these pursuits not reaching the potential I envisioned and chasing these ideals so hard had became a real drag. Sadly, it took a physical crisis and health scare, sleep deprivation, and panic attacks for me to acknowledge a need to restructure my life. I had been too hard on myself and not mixed in enough space and time for fun.

In hindsight, these experiences HAD given me what I wanted. In becoming more honest with myself I realized my core goal for each of these was simply learning the process. The learning and trying was what gave me joy. Success from a monetary standpoint was–and still is very hard at any one of these pursuits, let alone all four so late in life. I loaded on top of these efforts the additional hope of making good money. However wanting a high return and wider recognition too much too soon got obsessive and then oppressive. I was chasing hope too hard. I had taken these adventures and myself too seriously. Looking back the money was never really the point. Modest monetary rewards did appear, however the economist in me got sick to his stomach whenever the return on investment for the time and effort was actually calculated. I was ignoring the truth and my own long-time observation that any endeavor takes at least 10-to-15 years of hard work to become financially successful. Meanwhile, I had jumped from pursuit to pursuit and never put in the consistency and years of effort to truly rise above the fray of daily life.

My good fortune was the exploring and figuring out these many pursuits without having to have them pay the rent. The real takeaway was the experience and lessons learned, the many unexpected opportunities of say, going to the Sundance Film Festival, getting interviewed by Phil Ponce on Chicago Tonight (twice), or Rick Kogan on WGN. Even more rewarding were the author school visits and sharing my books with kids to see them get almost or more excited than I did about writing and creating.

My epiphany made it clear I have more to learn about myself and whatever I pursue next should give me joy, stoke my natural playfulness, and feed my sense of adventure. My focus should not be on financial success, rather improving my relationships and myself while enjoying my time and past success.

Thus the past six-months I pulled back from almost everything to first focus on my health. I quit social media, shutout the news, and pushed away as much negativity as possible. Second I decided to sell my condo and get out of Chicago. Returning from Florida my earlier instinct was clear, my 30-year love-affair with the Windy City was over. I needed to try life in a smaller community. Why should I have to fight so hard to make an impact, when in a smaller community more could be done with less resistance. My plan has still to fully evolve, but it was time to reinvent myself, once again. Call it P. McB. 3.0.

After two appointments in November I became even more convinced Maria and Robert at Back to Natural Health (BTNH) would get me on the road to recovery and real health. In those early appointments, they so well read my situation and explained my behaviors, ailments, and their causes with insight and reassurance far better than any physician ever had. We worked out a plan so I could still take my planned vacation south and upon returning completely commit to a recovery plan. I could finally see a path forward. If I had not known or failed to go to Back to Natural Health I am certain I would still be a wreck, at best functioning at about half-speed, and totally unhappy.

Even better the results soon spoke for themselves. While in Destin, Florida via Zoom Dr. Robert and I discussed the results of a battery of tests I had submitted before leaving on my trip. He emphasized how elemental zinc is to proper functioning of bodily systems, and mine barely hit the low end of the “normal” range. So even before we discussed the supplement plan he would present three days later, I ran to Whole Foods and started taking a zinc supplement. That alone over the weekend yielded a huge jump in my energy and concentration levels, something I seriously doubt conventional medicine or a PCP would never imagine to suggest, test, or review.

In the months after returning from Florida, Dr. Robert provided two successive supplement lists including what, when, and how much of some 20-30 supplements at four daily intervals (upon rising, lunch, dinner, and before bed) I should take. He and Maria had already tasked me with preforming a daily coffee enemas. Initially a struggle (and yes “weird”) they eventually became a part of my morning routine. This meant dedicating 1-3 hours each day to improving my health. This included first two per week and then after a couple months a weekly treatment with Maria. This involved a mix of pulse electromagnetic therapy, psyche discussions, infrared saunas, reassurance, and hope. By mid-April on my third set of supplements the heavy lifting of moving toxins out of my body began, particularly for my liver and gall bladder.

Throughout steady, noticeable improvements followed if not daily then every couple days. And week to week there was a consistent upward trend in my energy and spirit. Not to say there weren’t pit falls approximately every second or third day feeling crappy or off. On these days the release of toxins had me feeling uncomfortable in my gut as the toxins did not always move out of my body fast enough. However, as time passed I got stronger and more resilient which helped coping with the rough days easier. There was light at the end of the tunnel after two-years of struggling. It was reassured by the knowledge I was on the road to true health.

In parallel my second priority to leave Chicago was underway. Timing was critical as this was the ideal opportunity to sell and get my equity out of my condo which I had purchased at the last peak in 2008 just before the housing crash. With 20/20 hindsight my sense late-March or early-April of 2022 turned out to be the ideal time to sell. Waiting any longer risked the first of several expected a Federal Reserve interest rate hikes cooling the hot Chicago housing market.

Preparing a home for sale and moving is truly a pain in the ass! When I wasn’t working on my health I was thinning out my stuff, giving things away, fixing things, or boxing up nonessentials. Thankfully my real estate agent Clare Spartz with @properties was great. She talked me off the ledge after the initial shock of explaining my stuff was not “stage-worthy.” Simply put my taste was not bad, per say, but it would not attract the first-time home buyers we wanted. So 90% of my stuff had to go. In addition, I needed to have the entire place repainted, including kitchen cabinets, so the space could then be staged and be best presented for sale.

Clare assured me the extra cost and effort would garner top-dollar for my 2-bedroom, 2-bath, third-floor unit and 2-car garage. The cost and hassle of painting, servicing the HVAC system, moving and replacing light fixtures was great once I took the leap of faith in working with Clare. Four weeks later and after four days of showings we had five offers. All were at or over the asking price and by early-April a contract was in place. Of course, several dramas ensued between the attorney approval, inspections, final walk-through, and closing, but it all got done. Even after closing costs, painting, taxes, agent and attorney fees I ended up a couple thousand ahead. What a relief!

Between you and me I must say, despite getting an “AS IS” offer, it did not mean shit –beyond signaling a strong intent on behalf of the buyer. Once attorneys and bankers got involved there were still inspections, property assessments, niggling push backs, and demands that could make you pull your hair out. Thankfully, the seller’s market and reasonable listing price allowed me to hold firm and not digress into back and forth negotiations.

Underpinning this move was my younger brother Matt. He made room and was happy to have me share his 4-bedroom house in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Without this base, just 90-minutes north of Chicago, it would have been nearly impossible and way more expensive to act so quickly. Of course, I also helped him with a variety of house projects like replacing the upstairs carpet, cleaning the upholstery, and help organizing his three-car garage. Thankfully this arrangement is working for both of us and I am under no pressure to find my own place for the balance of this year or so.

Thanks to BTNH my health and outlook continue to improve and allow me to do more most days. There were days I could do little or nothing as released toxins occasionally left me struggling with bloating, cramps, and nausea. My previously unshakable gut left me as I struggled with an uneasy stomach, low energy, and a short-temper. Hours and occasionally days of this blighted my overall trend of feeling better and better. The coffee enemas both aided the removal and triggered the release of toxins. As I got stronger these bouts became less severe or at least easier to handle. I am especially grateful for the support of BTNH, my brother, friends, and family.

Having closed on my Condo last Friday I am now in a position to figure out where to live long-term. My health is better than it has been for at least two-years. My epiphany helped me recognize staying involved in teaching kids with small boats makes me happy. Giving back and helping to develop these organizations gives me a sense of a larger purpose. Thankfully, Milwaukee has All Hands Boatworks just 20-minutes north of Oak Creek and has been pleased to have my help. Near-term I plan to continue on the Board of Chicago Maritime Arts Center and work with All Hands Boatworks as a part-time instructor and volunteer.

Working with BTNH has readjusted my body, mind, and spirit. Maria and Dr. Robert have guided me onto a new path. Their intuition, and understanding of the complexities of the human body, holistic remedies, and therapy methods have been amazing. Reassured by their insights, experience, and knowledge I fully trust and am committed to the program. It will not be instant nor simple. Yet, in just four-months of steady reform, gobbling supplements (handfuls four-times a day), infrared saunas, cleanses, and weekly treatments I am definitely back on track.

Late summer and fall, I plan to explore other places in the Great Lakes—leaning more toward Milwaukee but also plan to look at Holland-Grand Rapids, St. Joseph, or Ann Arbor areas of Michigan. My plan is to settle three-seasons of the year near Lake Michigan and spend winters down south. I hope to spend this January in the Virgin Islands (St. Thomas and/or St. Johns), then February and March in St. Petersburg as I develop a snowbird lifestyle. There is still much to unravel but we will see how it all unfolds.

Finally if you are in or around Milwaukee give me a call. The chaos of melding two households is fading and we now have two spare bedrooms open for visitors.




Patrick McBriarty is a former businessperson turned bridge historian, writer, and author of nonfiction books for adults and children. His first book, the award-winning Chicago River Bridges, is now considered an authoritative guide to the topic. McBriarty lives in Milwaukee. Learn more at

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