Our stories are different, and none of us professes to have developed a ‘cure’ for our particular disorder. But we do know that we were able to recover from our illness by setting off on a journey of discovery that changed our lives irrevocably. It is fascinating to read or listen to each of the stories in turn because they embrace so many different activities, yet show a common theme. Elizabeth became very involved with Feldenkrais, Barbara with various forms of meditation and self-challenge, Deborah embraced Ch’i Kung, Rachelle explored a range of meditation, nutritional and self-healing activities, while I chose cellular hydration, Bowen Therapy, meditation and spiritual development.
It all seems very different, yet there is a commonality revolving around our willingness to take responsibility for our own life and wellness, and stop relying on ‘experts’ to ‘cure’ us.
It is worthwhile reflecting on the real meanings of ‘cure’ and ‘recovery’. The New Shorter Oxford Dictionary (1993 edition) includes the following definitions:-
Cure: medical treatment; curing or preserving fish, pork, etc; the process of curing rubber or plastic.
Recover: restore to health, strength or consciousness; regain health, strength or consciousness after; get better from.
Each of us, at some point of illness, became determined to take control of our lives and find our individual way to become well. Some chose a combination of conservative Western medicine with complementary medicine, while others chose to move away from Western medicine entirely. That doesn’t matter; the important point is that WE CHOSE what was right for us.
We chose to embrace wellness rather than fighting disease. By fighting something, we make it stronger. By filling ourselves with thoughts of wellness, and embracing activities that encourage wellness, we leave no room for illness. This is a complete reversal of the way we have been taught to think; the Western model says that if anything is hurtful to us, we must FIGHT it. Our model says, welcome in love and wellness, and illness can no longer exist. Most importantly, we found ways of celebrating what we had TODAY; we let go of the “I’ll be happy when” syndrome, and found joy in a smile, a hug, a beautiful flower, the warmth of sun on our shoulders, and the hundreds of little blessings we each experience every day.
We all developed confidence in our ability to decide what was good for us. This is difficult because we are constantly reminded, via media and social interaction, that we have allowed certain people to become ‘authorities’ on how we should live and behave; but these authorities can only be influential if we allow them. By deciding to be responsible for our actions, we must work harder to gather information, make value judgments on courses of action, and be willing to face the consequences (good or not so good) of whatever we do. We all made mistakes but we often learn more from our mistakes than our successes.
Creating new thought patterns
Perhaps the most difficult decision of all for each of us was finding ways to explore those dark corners of our minds that had remained silent for so many years. There is strengthening evidence that degenerative disorders are strongly linked to traumatic stress in our early years that remains unresolved 5,6. Often these events or circumstances stay hidden for very good reasons – they are too painful to remember. But our body remembers and, to fully embrace wellness, we need to find ways of allowing our body to express our pain, and resolve it. That may not mean “reliving” painful circumstances, but it does mean acknowledging that life was not always rosy, and we have ‘issues in our tissues’ 5,6. The five ‘recoverees’ chose different ways to make this journey, but we each recognised the need and persisted despite the pain.
We each learned to be very honest with ourselves and those around us, and to create an environment around us that allowed us to live in love – love of ourselves as well as others. That sometimes meant changing the way we thought about ourselves, or behaved towards ourselves. It sometimes meant letting go a ‘toxic’ friendship or relationship that we had held onto because we were afraid of the gap ending it might create. It invariably meant a very significant change in the way we lived.
Healing the body starts in the mind and heart. Science is now telling us what we have known for thousands of years – what we think has a profound influence on the way our body works; and this influence is at the deepest level 5,6. We have seen studies showing that meditation can change almost every bodily function, and that small changes in thoughts lead to an instant change in body chemistry 7,8. Changing our thoughts from “I am sick and I have to fight” to “I am beautiful, loved and happy” reduces the production of ‘stress chemicals’ like adrenaline and cortisol, and increases production of ‘happy chemicals’ like dopamine and serotonin. There are many ways to do this, and some take only a few minutes each day. More than anything anyone else can do for us, a change of thought will start our healing journey.
Practitioners can help or hinder recovery
People diagnosed with degenerative disorders are, first and foremost, people. They are individuals with life experiences, relationships, ambitions, success and failures. Their disorder is a part of the amazing, complex adventure of their individual life, and cannot be separated from that context if they are to find robust health.
Western medicine seeks to define patients by a disease – “you have Parkinson’s disease, or Multi System Atrophy or Progressive Supranuclear Palsy” – and confirms this with standard tests, scans and medication responses. Reducing people to a disease state enables mechanistic treatment within a limited understanding of physiological processes.
Many complementary therapists try to define patients as organ system functions – “your liver needs work, your parathyroid is sluggish and your gut is really bad” – as if people can be reduced to the sum of their parts. A few see beyond the disorder and help to release them from the prison of their experience.
When people develop a degenerative disorder, they are already vastly experienced in their life; they have spent years, one way or another, developing their life path, building knowledge unique to them, creating wonderful, complex beings that have never been on this planet before, and never will be here again. Their disorder has developed in a unique way, and so cannot be defined or described with generalist or reductionist language. As practitioners, we need to develop skills and a language that relates to each individual, and creates a bond of trust and understanding that allows our patients to fully express the spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical interactions that have led them, uniquely, to display their particular symptoms. It is only within this environment of spiritual interaction that we, as practitioners, can begin to understand how best to support each person’s journey to wellness.
Doctors are placed in an invidious position of judging the health of their patients and recommending treatment. Their training does not allow for any definition or judgment other than an artificially created ‘scientific methodology’, developed mainly during the twentieth century, that seeks to reduce each person, disease or process to individual parts, and not look beyond that. So we see a patient diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes mellitus and osteoarthritis, treated by five or six different specialists all looking only at their limited area of expertise and prescribing treatment accordingly. In the rigmarole of appointments, referrals, tests, scans, examinations and form filling, the patients lose their right to exist as individuals, and become ‘cases’ for each practitioner, to be defined by data, treated by statistical outcome and lost in the cauldron of mechanistic medicine.
We have to do better. [Thankfully, we have a growing body of medical practitioners who are doing better, Ed.] Individual patients deserve practitioners who are brave enough to listen to what they say, observe their gestures and facial expressions indicating their deepest feelings, inexpressible in words. They deserve practitioners who will give time and energy to developing a bond and teamwork that has nothing to do with tests, examinations, scans, laboratory research, statistics or data; practitioners who have the courage and patience to communicate with them at a spiritual level, so that they can find their true being hidden behind the prison bars of physical disease.
It is not enough to say that only those who experience disease can truly understand disease. Health practitioners cannot be fortunate enough to experience every disease we treat and, as we well know, each individual experiences each disorder in a unique way. We can, however, develop observational and communication skills that allow us to reach a much closer understanding of what each patient is experiencing in their terms. We can listen without judging, observe without pre-empting our observations, and develop a picture of individuals in the context of their life experience, values, culture, expectations and ambitions.
As practitioners, we can be joyful with our patients when there is a move towards recovery, encouraging and supportive when the journey seems hard, and provide strategies, and a language, that brings power into our patients’ lives and enables them to continue in their joyous embrace of robustness.
Only when we develop a language and a manner that allows the empowerment of patients in their unique road to health will we be truly able to assist in recovery from ostensibly incurable disorders.
1 “Returning To Stillness”; published by the Neuro Recovery Foundation Inc.
2 “Elizabeth’s Story”; published by the Neuro Recovery Foundation Inc.
3 BREWSTER Barbara Marie, “Journey To Wholeness”; Four Winds Publishing, USA, 1992.
4 BRESLOW Rachelle, “Who Said So?”; Celestial Arts, USA, 1991.
5 VICTOROFF Dr. Jeff; “Saving Your Brain”; Bantam Books (Random House Australia), Milsons Point, NSW, Australia, 2002.
6 McEWEN Professor Bruce; interview by Dr. Norman Swan on ABC Radio National “The Health Report” 10th January 2005; downloaded from ABC website 11th January 2005.
7 KABAT-ZINN Jon, Ph.D.; “Full Catastrophe Living”; Delta Book; Dell Publishing, New York, USA; 1990.
8 LARGE Elizabeth; “Meditation finally gets credit for health benefits”; Island Life; www.honoluluadvertiser.com ; downloaded from website 16th January 2005.
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