On healing: Finding the prescription in the problem | Fresh Ideas
Three months ago, I was approached by Joel Sprechman, founder of http://www.onegreatgut.com, because my brother had told him, “Talk to my sister. She’s cured.” Joel has suffered from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and is on a crusade to deliver facts and hope to all IBD sufferers.
Twenty-two years ago, I experienced back pain, weight loss and bloody diarrhea and was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a serious form of IBD. Though sometimes mild, Crohn’s is more often than not, a life-long and life-threatening inflammation of all or part of the digestive tract. The disease has no known cause or cure, and can alternate between periods of acute, active disease and remission. Thus many sufferers are eager to find out what causes a remission.
When Joel asked me to write for his blog, I’d hardly had any symptoms for more than a decade. I had also recently scheduled a routine colonoscopy. Though I flinched to the word “cured,” I’d said “yes.” I felt I might be able to offer some inspiration, for early on in my disease, I had experienced a powerful, meditative moment when I simply “knew” in my mind-body, I would be fine.
On the morning of my recent colonoscopy, I looked into my GI doc’s eyes and said, “You’ll see a perfect colon.” But when the procedure was over she said, “I think I saw inflammation. I took a biopsy. Ten days for the results.” I gulped. Now what “advice” could I offer myself, much less other IBD sufferers? I logged onto Joel’s website and read those long-forgotten IBD horror stories. I felt that old fear rise up. I wanted to run. I found myself saying, “If I don’t know how bad it can be then maybe it will not get that bad.”
Now, my certainty in the power of my mind over body felt risky, arrogant and ungrateful and I watched as I minimized my “success” to myself: my disease had never been severe; it’s only genetic “luck”; my lifestyle improvements (vegetarian diet, therapy, meditation, yoga, exercise, low-stress choices) are what really affected my healing.
I sighed. I didn’t know what I would write for Joel’s readers. My girlfriend recommended John Kabbit–Zin’s classic, “Full Catastrophe Living,” on mindfulness and healing. When I read, “Whether it is a diagnosis of cancer or accepting someone’s death … my working definition of healing is “coming to terms with things as they are.” With those words, I saw how acceptance was the key first-step in my pivotal moment of 20 years ago and my uncertainty of today. Rather than asking myself “will my mind-state heal me,” acceptance opened up a better question: “what is there here for me to learn?”
So I focused on the good mental and emotional choices I could make moment to moment. I watched self-beliefs pop into my head, ranging from the empowering “I will be fine,” to the fearful “this will get me.” And whenever I noticed one of those beliefs trying to cover up something I did not want to feel, I tried my best to choose courage and self-compassion. Ten days later the pathology came back “normal.” Though relieved, I knew I would never be done learning what Crohn’s was teaching me.
Jon Kabbit-Zin’s quote expresses this best: “There is an art to facing difficulties … we can use the pressure of the problem itself to propel us through it, just as a sailor can position a sail to make the best use of the pressure of the wind to propel the boat.”
As with sailors, a self-belief is our north star we steer by. We may or may not get to our north star, but without a compass and course, the winds decide the direction.
Kathy Walters is the mother of a teenage boy, works for Kirkwood Mountain Realty and lives in Gardnerville. Currently, she is working on her memoir “Enough.”