Each day, I sit with patients who are facing illness, pain and dis-ease and try to help them make sense of it. Help them navigate a place that feels like it has no map.
Mental hurdles and chronic disease
What I have noticed after so many years of listening to people’s stories is that there are a few themes that always come up. And how a person approaches the underlying issues (that come up for all of us) can make all the difference in the course of their lives.
First Hurdle: Body betrayal and mistrust
The first emotions I see come up is betrayal and mistrust. “Why is my body doing this to me? I can’t trust my body anymore.” It is so common to feel like the body has gone haywire and is out of control.
But what if your body was wise beyond what you could imagine? What if your body was actually doing exactly what is required to try to come back into homeostasis? As an analogy, if the “check engine” light went on in your car, you’d probably take your car to the mechanic. What if the mechanic snips the wire to the light, closes the hood, and tells you you’re good to go? You wouldn’t know that the problem hadn’t been fixed. So why would you accept a similar approach to your body? Sticking with the “check engine” analogy, if the light going off in your car are your symptoms, and your symptoms are a signal to have you look deeper, this is your body’s way of indicating that something is not functioning optimally. We can start to move beyond seeing our body as something that has betrayed us, but rather a perfect guide and friend who is whispering to us that something is amiss and needs attention. We can begin to let go of the anger or resentment we may feel when faced with injury or illness and start honoring the body for the brilliant guidance it is offering.
If you pause to think about what the body does in a day, without any conscious input from you, you will start to realize how truly magnificent and miraculous this body is. It doesn’t go “off the rails” without cause. I promise you.
Second Hurdle: Fear
Another strong emotion that arises (whether we consciously allow it or not!) is fear. Most of us don’t like sitting with the unknown – we prefer to be in control of our lives as much as possible. That often creates a sense of security. If we can deeply analyze the situation then we can come up with the perfect solution and we don’t have to feel afraid of an unknown future any longer.
This is when our very powerful minds can jump in and create all sorts of stories about what is going on. The logical part of us is very much trying to explain why this is happening in order to come up with “the fix” and end your suffering. Make sense? Of course! However, not everything can be explained by the mind – especially things that have an emotional basis to them. So, the mind can go into overdrive trying to “fix the problem”, which then internalizes into something being inherently wrong with us. Translation: this is your fault. The wheel of your mind starts spinning more quickly and frenetically searches for the solution that will make this situation go away.
And that’s when we start searching outside of ourselves for answers. Friends, healthcare providers, and the internet are all quick to provide perspectives and opinions. Some of which can be helpful, but honestly what I see more often than not is that this barrage of misinformation leads us further away from ourselves. Which is where the true answers you seek will be found. Even if your best friend has been cured from cancer with a certain diet, these herbs, and that chemo protocol, it doesn’t mean that it will be what your body requires.
Third Hurdle: Grief
Another common emotion that many of us don’t sit comfortably with is grief. When we are faced with chronic disease, there is often a loss (or potential for loss) that comes with this condition. Loss of life, activities we love, connection as we don’t want to “burden” our loved ones. The mind will push really hard to avoid feeling grief because it doesn’t want you to feel that level of sadness and pain. However, grief is a normal phase of any illness, but many of us feel like we need to be strong and not “give in” to the sadness. There is a difference between wallowing and simply being present to the variety of emotions that may not be comfortable.
It’s important to remember you don’t need to “do” anything about your emotions – just give yourself space to be present to what is here – without self-judgment or criticism. Sometimes having someone to guide you through this process, like a naturopathic doctor or therapist, can be really helpful.
Adjusting the narrative, stopping the pattern of desperation and seeing our body as miraculous
When we look through the lens that our body is wise beyond measure, it becomes easier to stop that pattern of desperation and we have so much more energy to focus on ourselves. If you were to stop the spinning of the mind and invite in some quiet, what would your body ask you to do? What does it require that it hasn’t been getting? And as we sit with the fear, grief and judgment that often comes up when we’re navigating chronic illness, we start to cultivate more self-love and trust. This allows you to deepen your innate knowing which will always act as True North for any decisions that you face, and be your companion through any adversity.
Nicola Dehlinger, ND, graduated from SCNM in 2004. Dr Nicola sees clients from around the world in her naturopathic medical practice, Pura Vida Natural Healthcare, in Durango, CO. She is an expert in the treatment of anxiety, depression, and insomnia. She is able to minimize supplements and medications as her patients become empowered to heal themselves. In addition to seeing clients, Dr Nicola leads group and private retreats. She also teaches a variety of online and in-person classes. In her free time, you can find Dr Nicola in the mountains or the kitchen, enjoying time with her husband, son, and their dogs. Website: www.puravidahealthcare.com