When humans develop an illness, we tend to become preoccupied with wanting to know exactly how it happened. For example, where did the germs come from? What did we do wrong? What aspect of our body is imbalanced and allowing this to occur? When the issue is chronic, we can easily get into a habit of rumination about every little thing we did that could have contributed to our unhappy situation. If you have interstitial cystitis, you probably regularly ask yourself:
Is this being caused by something I eat?
Is this being caused by an infection?
Is this because I had sex in the wrong position?
Is this because I didn’t drink enough?
Am I bringing it on myself by being neurotic about it?
Is it hormonal?
This is all perfectly natural and of course it can be helpful – clearly knowing the cause of something can provide big clues as to how it might be resolved. All the above questions are really an attempt to answer one overarching question: what can I DO about this to make it better?
I sincerely hope that everyone who has a chronic illness finds out their own causes and triggers, so that they can address them and experience optimum health. However, for complex issues this can take time, and indeed for some autoimmune or terminal conditions, there are as yet no answers. I’d therefore like to encourage you to think about another question too: what can I THINK about this to make it better?
Before you all get uppity, I’m not suggesting that it’s your own fault you’re ill; that it’s all in your mind; or that you should throw out all your medicines and mediate. Like it or not though, it is now widely accepted that there is a mental component to healing and that people’s beliefs/emotional processing habits have an impact on their body. I’ve therefore put together a list of questions that might be thought provoking and helpful to ask yourselves. In places, the list includes suggestions that are specific to interstitial cystitis, but really you could substitute most chronic, non-terminal diseases. I have put this list together myself, based on things that have occurred to me over the years when dealing with my own health issues. Sometimes it’s difficult to use some of them when you’re actually in the throes of a flare up or are feeling hopeless, but I would definitely encourage you to consider them when you feel able. For those of you with mental health issues like anxiety or depression, the questions will be easier to do on some days than others – this is totally okay, so don’t give yourself a hard time about that.
Do you believe that it’s possible to heal? (Really ponder this for a few days. If you fundamentally believe that your condition is incurable, or is too complicated to ever be resolved, you’re already at a disadvantage, because you’re trying to achieve something you believe to be impossible.)
If you believe your condition incurable, or that your own version of it will be impossible to heal, is there anything you can do to change this? (Hint: ‘my doctor said it’s incurable’ does not make it absolute fact! Instead of Googling ‘IC is incurable’ try Googling, ‘How I cured my IC’. You would be surprised how many hope stories there are about most things if you change what you Google!)
What secretly-welcome advantages do you gain from having your condition? (You probably know all the things you lose out on, but are you actually sneakily gaining anything from it? Maybe you get lots of sympathy from family and friends. Maybe people take care of you and excuse you from things that you wouldn’t want to do in any case. Perhaps you get special perks at work. Or maybe you don’t work at all and you’re secretly quite glad about this. If you have a pelvic pain condition, maybe you get to avoid sex with someone you don’t really want to have sex with anymore anyway. Maybe you get to feel special, or different, or important because people have to make allowances for you in some way.)
Would it be possible to gain these things in a healthier way? (For example, could you get care and attention for your achievements/qualities instead of because you’re a victim? Could you avoid a job you hate by finding one you love instead? Could you avoid sex with someone by leaving them, or could you rekindle your desire by having a few frank conversations about what has gone wrong?)
Who would you be if you didn’t have your chronic condition? (So often if we experience a health issue for a long time, it starts to feel like part of our identity. If we’re not careful we can start to view our illness as an extension of who we are. I used to have awful anxiety and IBS for most of each menstrual month and when I first started to experience long chunks of time without them, I remember feeling almost empty. Instead of being elated, as I’d always supposed I would, I distinctly remember feeling a little flat and insecure at first, thinking, ‘Now what?’ If you didn’t have your condition, would you experience some loss of identity?)
What would you do if you didn’t have your chronic health condition? (What would it feel like? What activities would you take part in? Where would you go? How would day to day life be different?)
Can you actually imagine a version of yourself and the life you lead that doesn’t have the chronic illness in it?
How close are you to this already? (There is a tendency to procrastinate on everything until some far-away time when we will feel better. Is it possible to start lining up our real life with our ‘when I am better’ life a little more? The more realistic we can make the ‘when I feel better’ times and the easier it will be to allow them to happen for us in real life.)
Is there anything you fear about getting better? (Similar to things you might gain from your condition: are there things you’ll have to join in with/do if your condition improves? Do you somehow feel that without your condition you’ll be incomplete, or a less worthy person? Does being ill allow you to feel like a hero or a martyr?)
Are there any truly positive experiences your health problems have brought you? (Maybe you started to eat more healthily and now take better care of your body than you did before. Maybe you came into contact with someone inspirational that you wouldn’t otherwise have met. Perhaps you learned to appreciate and savour the good days more than you did before. Perhaps you have been able to use your experience to help someone else.)
Do you feel that your symptoms make you less of a person, or a bit of a charity case that nobody could want to spend time with?
What qualities and values do you have at the moment, as you are?
Do you think you’re ‘good enough’ to experience good health? Or do you somehow feel that you have to be ‘less than’ everyone else?
Can you accept your health issue and allow it to do its thing without fighting it? (So often when we’re unwell, we develop a very combative mind set about how we’re going to fight, or win, or struggle against the situation. A little of this can be healthy, but it can also be very draining to feel like you’re constantly battling against your own body. I once read something to the effect of ‘you can never change a situation until you truly accept it’. I really do believe this with regards to health issues. I think if we can find a way to accept them and even welcome them into our lives, thanking our body for the messages it is trying to convey to us, we bring ourselves enormous emotional relief and stand ourselves in good stead for the healing process to begin. I feel like I could fill a whole blog post on this point alone, so perhaps I will expand on it in the future.)
Okay, I hope you will find some of these thought provoking and helpful. The emotional side of healing really interests me and I certainly used it a lot as part of my persistent genital arousal disorder journey. I had to really, as there wasn’t a lot else to turn to, so as well as my Tiny Tips that I shared in an early blog post, I relied massively on my own intuition and feelings! I’ve hesitated to share too much about that in case it comes across as a bit airy-fairy, but I’ve been fresh out of ideas for a more scientific blog lately and then one night I got the idea to list all these questions, one after another! I feel like there is definitely more I want to say about some of the points, so maybe I will post again on this topic in the future. If it’s not your cup of tea, you can always ignore it!
Wishing you the best of health,
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