Healing Power of the Mind-Body Connection in Chronic Illness
Today is an exciting day, friends! I’m introducing my first ever guest post on my blog, and it’s written by none other than my mom!
My mom and I share so much more than our similar physical features - we also share an autoimmune disease, a signature laugh, and an uncannily similar response to stress and anxiety.
I thought it would offer a great perspective to have her share her story with chronic illness and stress, and how she has been able to take control of her thoughts - which in turn allowed her to take control of her health.
So, I hope you enjoy these words of wisdom from my mom as much as I have over the years!
Nothing about having an autoimmune disease or chronic illness is straightforward.
Not the symptoms, not the diagnosis, not the daily maintenance, and not the outlook for the future. We are each on our own health journey, and the path is a winding one.
My own journey began long before I realized I had embarked on it, and it is only in retrospect that I see the connections in what I was experiencing.
As a child, I had stomach problems which affected my early school years. As an adolescent I had stress related issues during the time of my parent’s divorce which made taking a full satisfying breath difficult. When in college, I had eczema develop which was especially bad during finals.
The path that crosses through all of these experiences is one defined by stress and my body’s response to it.
As an adult I had several idiopathic events of muscle weakness, numbness and tingling of extremities, pre-term labor (twice), and a culminating event of sixth nerve palsy which resulted in paralysis of my right eye and severe double vision.
Since I had become conditioned throughout my life to understand that stress presented itself in a very physical and uncontrollable way for me, I assumed that everything I was experiencing was related to that.
It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease in my late 40’s that the winding path I had been travelling began to make sense. For me, Celiac Disease manifested itself in far reaching ways beyond the assumed GI response. The neurological manifestations were by far the most severe and debilitating.
But again, none of this is straightforward: was every health issue I had experienced due to Celiac Disease? Probably not. Was stress a factor in all of these health issues? To some degree yes, if not the root cause, at least as an exacerbating factor.
Thankfully Celiac can be addressed through diet, and since I was raised in a family who owned a health food store, I had a pretty good jump on eating well, and viewing food as medicine. The stress component though, with its nebulous nature, is the harder component of optimum health to pin down. However, I know that if I neglect this component, all aspects of my health suffer.
So what to do? We all have stress, and we all react and respond to it differently. How best to tackle this very formidable force? What would work for me? With the initial guidance of a holistic health practitioner I learned the value of meditation and relaxation.
As he said, “We are reflex beings, trying to learn the lesson of self-preservation. We react, then we are afraid; we react then we are sick. We are not what we think, but we think what we are.”
He believed that with time, faith in the process, and patience, we can train ourselves to be more peaceful through meditation, and relaxation, thereby revealing our truest potential for mental, spiritual, and physical health.
I realized how powerful a focused mind and directed thoughts could be when I first tried his guided meditation practice.
At the time I was having a bad bout of eczema, and after practicing this meditation for just a few days, I had an amazing healing period, above and beyond what I had experienced with creams and medications.
I was so impressed with the power that I carry within myself, to not only cause ill health, but to actually reverse it.
For me, meditation has been like a reliable friend – always there to help, and always appreciated. But like the best of friends, not just any mediation will do.
It is a very individualized choice, and time must be taken to find the right approach: self-guided, or guided; music or no music; focused on breathing or on a mantra, etc. As I grow in this practice I find my preferences change, sometimes daily; it is a fluid experience.
I find that the mediation that I start my day with stays available to me and can be brought to mind when needed, whether through a saying or mantra, or a breathing pattern.
I have also come to appreciate that not all stress is bad. Not every butterfly in one’s stomach is to be tamped down, nor is it a sign of doing a poor job of controlling stress.
Sometimes inviting stress, which I know will be temporary (volunteering to do a public presentation, going on a job interview, having that long-dreaded conversation with a loved one or co-worker), can be empowering.
Acknowledging the stress and using its power to motivate, to perform, or to learn, is an awesome way to feel in control. Practice makes better (not striving for perfect here!) when it comes to learning how to turn this stress off by changing focus to the present moment and all you have accomplished.
So while we are all on our own winding paths through our own experiences with chronic illness, I want to thank you for coming along my path with me for this short time.
Anytime we can share our experiences, we open up the possibility of helping or supporting someone else who might just find a gem along the path that they can pick up and use.
So love the path you have been on, love who you are for moving forward on it into this present moment, and share who you are in the hopes of finding common ground with others.