As anyone with a complex, poorly understood illness can tell you, there’s a lot more to managing your health than doing what the doctor suggests. We usually find our way to complementary or alternative therapies that help us feel better and we learn, sometimes the hard way, how to eat right, manage our energy, and life-hack our way to the best reality we can create for ourselves. Living well, and healing is so much more than just taking care of the body.
You’ve probably seen the phrases “mind, body, spirit” or “mind-body connection” tossed around, but what does that really mean? It’s the ancient understanding that these three integral parts of us are intimately connected. Emotional pain can cause physical pain, physical pain can cause emotional pain, spiritual distress can cause emotional distress, etc. Every part of us is connected.
And, while our mainstream medical establishment acknowledges this connection, as evidenced by the increasing number of yoga and meditation programs in hospitals, most of the instruction we get from our doctors is strictly body-focused and often limited to medications and physical therapy.
In hanging out with so many people over the years with Lyme and other so-called “chronic” conditions, I’ve observed that the big difference between people who recover and the people who stay sick is always this mind, body, spirit link. Folks can do all the therapies and take all the medicines, but if they aren’t also nourishing their mind and spirit, they don’t fully recover. In the Lyme world, this looks like people who are sick for decades, or continue to get well but relapse over and over. It’s really important to address mind, body, and spirit with equal intention. Just as I would never suggest that someone focus only on the body, I would never suggest that someone strictly try and meditate their pain away either.
Why “so-called ‘chronic’ illness?” After supporting so many folks with health challenges, I believe strongly that many illnesses become and stay chronic precisely because people are not addressing all three parts – mind, body, spirit – with equal care and attention.
If you’re not addressing all three right now, that’s okay! It’s not like we learn how to do that in school, and so many of us grow up without spiritual nurturing, even if we grew up with a religious tradition. Also, you can start healing these other parts of your at any time. It doesn’t have to be complicated or require any money either. Simply taking more conscious deep breaths every day could change your life.
The late author and metaphysical healer Louise Hay popularized the spelling “dis-ease,” to illustrate that the cause of illness is a disruption to our natural state of ease. The Latin prefix “dis-” means “apart” or “away.” Illness happens when we get away from our body, mind, and spirit’s natural way of being, usually because of chronic stress or trauma that weakens the body’s natural healing abilities. The trauma can be emotional, physical, or psychological. And the physical cause could be something like a viral or bacterial infection.
I’ve found in my work that most people with chronic conditions have experienced multiple kinds of trauma, i.e. family abuse, multiple concussions, and grief over the loss of a loved one. On top of that, being sick for a long time is, in itself, traumatic, even if you don’t experience medical trauma.
And here’s the thing, you can’t heal trauma with a drug. You might be able to ameliorate the symptoms but the underlying trauma remains and can only be healed by nurturing the mind and spirit. This is where you have to learn to be your own healer.
I know. You just want someone else to make it all better. We all do. But that’s just not how it works, Beautiful. You may want to have teachers, healers, and mentors to support you along the way, but ultimately you are the one who knows you best.
So where to start? I’m actually writing a book about this (stay tuned!) but here are my initial recommendations:
Set the table for healing. Develop some daily practices that reduce stress and calm your nervous system. I recommend that everyone have a mindfulness practice, even if it’s 10 minutes of meditation a day, done in bed. Insight Timer is an incredible resource for starting a practice. Having a regular gratitude practice will begin to shift your mindset from scarcity towards abundance, which naturally reduces stress. Notice when you’re being hard on yourself or stuck in a worry loop. It’s super normal to be stressed and scared when you’re sick but the good news is you can shift your attention. Activist and healer Adrienne Maree Brown says, “what you pay attention to grows.” Focus your attention on the things that serve you.
Learn about spiritual practices and know that they don’t have to be religious. Spirituality, at its core, is about connection – to the divine, but also to the earth and other humans. It might be that sitting by the window and watching the birds helps you feel connected. That’s great. You might just set the intention to explore your spirituality and see what happens. Make stuff up. Create your own rituals. Try out existing spiritual practices. There’s no right way to feed your spirit.
Be curious and explore different avenues for healing support. If you’ve never seen a therapist or a counselor, that might be a great place to start, especially if your health insurance covers it. Know that not all mental health professionals are the same and it may take some time trial and error before you find someone who is a good fit for you. It’s ideal if you can find someone who is literate in your condition(s) and experience. Like, if you’re trans, definitely look for someone who isn’t going to misgender you constantly. If the idea of talking about your experience isn’t appealing, check out yoga therapy. It’s a wonderful healing modality that gets you out of your brain and into your body.
I also recommend exploring some of the often-called “woo woo” modalities to see if they speak to you. I’ve seen even super science-based folks get deep into the woo in the name of healing. You might explore reiki, energy healing, astrology, shamanic journeying, and plant-spirit medicine.
If you don’t have the budget to explore healing modalities outside of allopathic medicine right now, look for free opportunities. A lot of practitioners offer free healing sessions and workshops. They also get that being sick is expensive so ask about sliding scale pricing, or work-trade opportunities if your energy will allow for that. I also ran a video series called Healcast in which I interviewed different holistic practitioners about their work so you can learn the basics of some popular healing modalities like reiki, energy healing, acupuncture, and yoga therapy.
Play. Dance, even if it’s a finger dance. Talk to yourself. Explore and strengthen your intuition by making guesses about things that are verifiable, i.e. how many letters will be in the mailbox today? Place your hands where it hurts and imagine guiding healing energy into the space. See what happens. Be silly and look for hilarity everywhere.Laugh as much as possible.
For support with any of the above, get in touch! Self-healing is my favorite topic!