Thirty-two years ago, Brownwood counselor Linda Harriss received a startling diagnosis that threatened to completely derail her vibrant life as a wife, mother, nurse and faithful churchgoer. Environmental Illness attacked Harriss’ immune system, leaving her violently allergic to most foods, chemicals and everyday items.
In her new book “But God, Where Are You?” Harriss details the onset of her illness, her time in a Houston isolation ward with fellow-sufferers and how her faith eventually led her through the toughest trial of her entire life.
“When I was going through this in 1985, I was meeting with my doctor,” Harriss said on Friday at the Harriss Center for Counseling. “We were going through all my test results, and they kept talking about all the things I would never be able to do again — if I even lived.
“All I could think was, I don’t want to hear that. I need to find the Lord. I had been a Christian my whole life,” she said. “I was running, trying to find God because I knew that was going to be my answer.”
Harriss said she began journaling during that time and eventually used her entries to reconstruct the events for her book, though it took her years to revisit the painful memories. “It took me 12 years to be able to go back and read those journals,” she said. “I would read a little bit and then start weeping.
“It’s been a journey of healing for me just to write the book,” she said.
One of the most painful aspects of her sickness, Harriss said, was a complete lack of societal knowledge about Environmental Illness. Well-intentioned friends would suggest Harriss’ illness stemmed from a lack of faith. Others considered it a delusion or an attention grab, and one friend even told Harriss that she was rumored to have AIDS. “Back then, especially in 1985, people were totally unaware of the affects of chemicals on our lives, our health, our everything. To be diagnosed with Environmental Illness was something that people just didn’t get.”
Harriss said the experience has left her a far less judgmental, more compassionate person. “I carried such shame because of what was said about me,” she said. “In the book I talk about how people should be aware of their words. Words can either inspire us or destroy us.”
For the most part, though, Harriss said she received tremendous support from her friends and especially her family, including her husband Earl. “My husband refused to let me die,” she said. “I had an amazing husband, family and kids that supported me.”
Today as Harriss counsels at her private practice and helps individuals deal with mental, emotional and sexual abuse, she also encourages her clients to live cleaner lives with fewer toxins and chemicals. A voracious reader and researcher on the topic, Harriss believes chemicals can be partially blamed for a wide variety of modern illness. “In some of those cases, the factor that is prevalent with all of them is that chemical exposure,” she said. “It may not be a huge [reaction] like I had all at one time, but over a period of time it accumulates in our bodies and starts to break our bodies down.”
Despite some doubts during the darkest days of her trial, Harriss said she now understands the answer to the title of her book. “He was always there,” she said. “I had to set aside my doubts and hold on to what I knew to be the truth.”
“But God, Where Are You?” is available on Amazon and www.lindaharriss.com. It can also be ordered through Harriss’ Brownwood office at 325-646-2155.