I am 39 years old and I had Crohn’s Disease from the age of 23 until the age of 34. From that statement you’re probably thinking why I said I ‘had’ Crohn’s when the disease is not curable. Let me explain.
One particular morning in July 2006 I wake up and just like every other morning I had a rough sleep, getting up in the middle of the night often, running to the bathroom, getting woken up by my bowels again in the morning, seeing blood in the toilet again, experiencing pain, having very low energy levels and being extremely moody and angry. I then get angry at my wife at the time for no particular reason and get frustrated with my daughter, I am stressing over work and money and I am also frustrated at the fact that I have to go to an appointment with my gastroenterologist to get my results from my colonoscopy, thinking it’s probably going to be another waste of time, but hoping that this time there is something new that he can tell me that might help.
My weight is the lowest it’s been since I was a teenager, I hate eating because I’m either not hungry due to pain or being uncomfortable and when I do get the slightest of hunger I am scared to eat because it will affect my bowels. Because I am thin, I try to eat as much as I can anyway, but it seems to go right through me. My mother tells me that I look like I’m dying.
I leave for my appointment and as usual I mentally prepare considering which service stations with toilets along the way in case I need to go. I go to the specialist office, the receptionist ladies and I greet each other by first names since I have been here so often. When I go in to see the specialist, he says that I have a severe case of the disease and shows me photos of the inflammation with ulcers and polyps which have gone all the way up to my mouth via my oesophagus.
I ask him if there is anything else I can do as I have tried all the different medications he has prescribed for me in the past. He says that I should start thinking about having surgery to have part of my bowels removed and possibly carrying a bag around. He also says that I am high risk of getting bowel cancer and high risk of osteoporosis at a young age from the medication. I come out of the appointment very scared and angry and drive back home.
As I am driving home I ask myself, “Why me? Why do I have to suffer so much?”. I feel sad and depressed and sorry for myself. I get angry at everything including my family, my financial situation, my work, my life, the world, the government and especially the health system for not having a cure or a good enough remedy. “Why do I have to suffer?” I ask myself again and again. This went on for days.
Eventually, somehow, something inside me changed. I made a conscious decision to heal no matter what. Even if the health system says it is not possible, I will find a way somehow. This was my time to heal. Most people didn’t believe that it was possible; others who also had Crohn’s, responded with “It’s not possible. You’re wasting your time – you are not God, and you are not a doctor”. In one way what they said is very true but in another way I believed in myself and what I could achieve.
I took all the responsibility upon myself by listening to myself and my body as well as doing research and experimenting on myself. Other sufferers thought I was crazy because I could actually make things worse for myself. I sought help from a Chinese medicine lady who had Western medicine university qualifications. When I asked her if she thought I can be cured of Crohn’s Disease, her response was, “Yes, definitely, via diet, herbal tea and acupuncture”. So I did as she suggested. It was a really tough change with the new diet (no processed foods or sugar was a big thing) and the herbal tea I had twice a day tasted disgusting.
I quit smoking and drinking at the same time and also spent time for myself, reading motivational and self-help books, learning how to release my own emotions, managing my stress levels, learning how to change my mindset and perceptions, learning how to appreciate life including the smallest things such as the fact that I could see, and even a blade of grass. I did visualisations of perfect health every day and did some yoga and jogging, focused on breathing much more and placed more focus on my belly. I moved out of my depressive state and self-pity cycle and started focusing on health rather than illness, regardless of how much pain I was in or how many times a day I would go to the bathroom – all this while trying to maintain my work from which I was now taking a day or two off per month.
At about four weeks in I was ready to give up. I had no real signs of improvement and I was actually losing more weight. It was very difficult to keep up the diet, and the tea somehow seemed to be tasting worse by the day. When I went to see the Chinese medicine lady she told me that I hadn’t been diligent enough with my food. So I became stricter and she increased my dose of acupuncture. I also took two days off work for relaxation. Although physical improvements were not there, my mind seemed to be more relaxed and I was more positive than I had ever been. I suppose that gave me the courage to continue, and just as well, because by around the six week mark I had shown definite improvement.
I kept with the plan and kept listening to myself and my body. As time went on my health slowly improved. When I was starting to feel quite good I went for a colonoscopy which came out clear. I still remember the exact words of my specialist which were, “Whatever it is that you are doing, keep doing it”. Once it was confirmed that my inflammation had gone I started weaning off all my prescribed medication one at a time. Then I weaned off all the natural medicine until there was absolutely nothing that I was taking for my illness. From that point I slowly reintroduced all my old foods completely including all the not-so-healthy foods I used to love. In Autumn 2008 I was completely symptom free for at least two months – so I even reintroduced my smoking and occasional drinking.
I had reintroduced everything into my life that I had taken away in order to heal. I even stopped exercising and yoga. The only thing that remained that I had used to help me heal was my mindset and perception change. I was a new person mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I appreciated everything. Life was feeling exciting and fresh again. I felt like I was ten years younger and really enjoying life.
It has now been 4-1/2 years and during that time I have not had any flare-ups or any symptoms whatsoever related to Crohn’s disease. I have no special diet or exercise schedule. I am not on any type of medication including natural remedies. What I am doing now is not leaving anything to chance. I have decided to live a healthy lifestyle by choice and have given up most unhealthy habits. I choose to practise well-being in all areas of my life and live my life day by day as if I never had Crohn’s to begin with – and I feel great. Am I cured? Or is it just remission? Either way I am grateful for the last 4-1/2 years of a Crohn’s-free life and hopefully many more years to come.
When I think back and look at what it really was that healed me I find that it was me. I healed me. I did it by paying attention to myself and the four bodies: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Each body affects the other. When we work the more we pay attention to what we are doing the better the result will be. The same factor applies to our health. This is why I think that we all have the solution inside us. We all have the power to heal ourselves, the roots of healing lie in changing the holistic balance of mind and body and only we can do that to ourselves. I’m not saying that the doctors don’t help, because they definitely do but only to a certain point. They are missing something special and that is our own internal healing power. To everybody that is suffering from any illness right now I ask you to find that power within, look for it and ignite it. Trust me, it is definitely worth it.
Joseph Figliano. I am 39 years old, live in Sydney and run my own business in recruitment. I have written this article because I have improved the quality of my life by changing the way I think. It is a true story about my experience in healing using unconventional methods. Authors that have inspired me include Bruce Lipton, Deepak Chopra and Andrew Crockett.
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