The Body Speaks

IMG_0146I met Ana, a young photographer, at a beautiful beach-side resort and we spent the morning strolling around shooting author pictures.

When I told her that my life was now very quiet, she confided that her life had a manic pace, and she needed to stop running around so much. A bit later, she told me that her sister died two weeks before from liver cancer, and it was shocking because she was in her twenties and had lived a very clean life. When we walked up the steps near the beach she commented that her legs were tired and sore.

An hour later, I mentioned that I had just seen a TED talk by Dr. Lissa Rankin where she described how suppressed emotion could cause internal stress and compromise health. Manda replied, “I’ve been trying to exercise to relieve some of the stress, but I’m just so tired. I usually jog about three miles, but last night I could only walk, and today my legs feel like I ran a marathon.”

“Your body knows. What do you think it’s telling you?”

“Stop running.”

On some level, Ana already knew what she needed to do to heal, and now she was listening.

Healing The World

2014-03-08 14.11.31 HDRA  friend recently told me in a hushed tone that her son was starting psychotherapy and confided that he would be embarrassed if anyone knew about it. But for me, this was good news. We all have our unique combination of crazy, and you can’t get through life without being a bit broken. It is exciting to hear that someone is starting to look at what he/she is carrying because through this process they may experience less suffering and more joy.

I am also grateful when people choose this path because when one person decides to heal, it often shifts the experience of others. This was true for me, and recently my son told me that his experience in our family and in his life changed for the better after I started to work through my issues. The Dali Lama made this exact point when I heard him speak a few years ago on the topic of secular ethics. He said that change starts within the individual and then progressively flows to the family, the community, the country, and the world.

It can be difficult to honestly look within. In these times, remember that when you work to heal yourself, you are also working to heal the world.

Support in England

I was surprised when three books sold in England this week, but then I remembered that the UK Cystitis and Overactive Bladder Foundation requested a copy of the book a few months ago. When I looked online, the book was on their site with a link to Amazon.com-Europe. Mystery solved! Now, each of the four major associations related to interstitial cystitis/painful bladder syndrome are carrying the book. Awesome!

Healing Is Feeling

DSCN3936As I was finishing my book, I looked back on the graph I used to chart my pain during the first few years of my illness. I was surprised by how many days my pain was high, limiting my ability to concentrate or perform tasks for much of the day. I found it curious that my excellent doctor, who was well aware of my level of suffering, did not look at this chart and prescribe more pain medication, and that I didn’t ask for it.

But now that I am on the other side, I am so grateful that she didn’t numb me from the pain because it was this discomfort that pushed me to open up my mental and emotional burden. It was the pain that kept me motivated to process and release the emotional issues that were entwined with my physical discomfort.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a definite place for pain medications, and there were times in my illness when the medication, Cymbalta, was crucial for my healing. On several occasions, I felt like I was falling into despair, wallowing in the dust on this healing path. This medication helped decrease anxiety, depression and nerve pain, and it gave me a little crutch so I could keep walking down the healing path. But this medication didn’t numb me out so I couldn’t feel my physical and emotional pain.

During the fourth year of my illlness, I attended a seminar for an alternative treatment called, “Myofascial Release”. When John Barnes (the person who developed the approach) said, “Healing is feeling”, I immediately, thought, That was true for me.

Expressing my suppressed emotions was crucial for healing my body. This release of emotion was different than lashing out in anger, wallowing in sorrow, reliving the trauma over and over, or adopting the pain like a badge or resume.  I had done all of these before. This was the process of moving through it.

Anatomy of the Mind/Body Connection

In her TED talk, Dr. Lissa Rankin gives the following simple explanation of the mind/body connection.

2014-03-08 13.29.21 HDRIn a stress response, negative thoughts/beliefs/feelings are perceived as a threat. This signals the lower parts of the brain. Messages are sent from the amygdala to the hypothalamus to the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland signals the adrenal glands, which then excrete the hormones cortisone, norepinephrine and epinephrine. This stress response triggers the sympathetic nervous system, and puts us into the fight/flight mode.

According to Dr. Rankin, most people have 50 stress responses a day, and some people can have more than twice as many. I suspect that my body was often in this stressed, fight/flight mode throughout my life, and this contributed to the development of my pain condition.

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The parasympathetic nervous system gives us the counter balancing relaxation response and contains the hormones oxytocin, dopamine, and the endorphins. Dr. Rankin postulates that when the nervous system is relaxed, the body’s natural self-repair mechanisms flip on. Some activities that the research shows may turn on the parasympathetic/relaxed side of the nervous system are: meditation, creativity, massage, yoga, tai chi, friends, work you love, laughing, exercising, and playing with animals.

To heal my pain condition, it was helpful to discover my unconscious thoughts/beliefs/feelings that were stressful, and work through them. Then they no longer became a trigger for the fight/flight response in my body. It was also helpful to actively engage the parasympathetic nervous system, and many of the activities that were effective in the research were also helpful for me. When I learned to live on the calmer side of the nervous system, it helped to restore my happiness and health.

Faith, Hope, Love

I had a small pain flare up recently and three words kept popping into my head: faith, hope and love. It took me a few days to realize that these principles have always helped me move through my pain. If you are hurting, perhaps these principles will help you too.

Faith: Consider that this pain or adversity is not just random torture; it is a part of a bigger picture. Have faith that this experience has purpose and meaning.

Hope: Remember that life flows and changes over time, and that life always has peaks and valleys. Have hope that “this too shall pass”.

Love: Use the pain as a reminder to be accepting and compassionate with yourself, to love yourself fiercely. The more you love yourself, the more it flows to everyone around you too, dissolving hurt and resentment that you may hold inside.

Once again, I am reminded that it is through our brokenness that we become whole.
With these ideas in mind, my body quieted and the pain level dropped.