What Healing Means in My Life With an Incurable Chronic Illness
When you think about healing, where does your mind go? Do you picture that time you fell off the monkey bars and scraped your knee? How it scabbed up and after a few weeks it was healed?
Maybe you see healing as something a little insulting. How on Earth could the idea of healing apply to a chronic illness that by definition has no cure?
Because healing does not equal cured.
To me healing is something very different.
When I talk about healing, I probably lose credibility or people think maybe I never had “X” condition.
So what do I mean when I say I’m healing?
I’m on a journey and while I’m 100 percent striving to put my physical health first, there are other aspects of my life that need some healing too. There are three parts to healing in my story:
Healing My Physical Health
For years I considered myself to be really healthy and someone who participated in healthy activities, but over the last few months I’ve come face to face with how truly wrong I was. Now I’m working towards changing my habits and lifestyle to truly reflect the overall health I want to embody.
Having a chronic condition, especially one so severe, automatically means I am not in fact healthy. So healing my physical health starts with the exact thing no one wants to hear: diet and exercise.
Now, I’ll be very upfront – this didn’t come as advice from a medical professional, but rather from the lifestyle program (MENT Protocol) I started in April. Part of this program is a very guided approach to understanding nutrition and recognizing different foods that may be causing various nutrient imbalances, and in turn migraines/symptoms.
This has been huge for me. I started with some smaller changes like changing my breakfast from eggs and half a bagel to granola, a probiotic yogurt and fruit. This initial change actually made a huge difference – it addressed some of the severe abdominal pain I was having, made my digestive tract more regulated and predictable, and gave me a bit of an energy boost to start my day.
Since April, I’ve slowly been moving away from processed foods and have added in a lot of fresh, raw veggies to my daily meals.
It’s important to note that none of the diet changes are based on any sort of restrictive practices, but rather pinpoint a few aspects like finding foods that are more nutrient dense, haven’t been processed with loads of chemicals and are easier for our body to digest. In full transparency, these changes have all been temporary for me and after recognizing that my migraines and health were not connected to food, I’ve released the connection to food and am only holding on to the new foods I truly enjoy eating.
When it comes to exercise, I’m still a work in progress – my goals have been small and I’ve focused on simply stretching every morning to wake my body up. This month I can officially say I haven’t missed one day of stretching.
In addition to diet and exercise, I’ve had to focus in on some changes to my physical space as well. These have been minor things like getting a humidfier when I realized the humidity levels were below the norm, as dry air can increase sinus inflammation.
Other changes have been focused on habits. The most important habit I’ve embraced is allowing myself to slow down. I still have to regularly remind myself to implement this, but my pace has definitely been slower now than it has been for years. I’ve abandoned the unhealthy go, go, go mindset that contributed to the rapid deterioration of my health.
Overall, these changes have a huge impact on my health. There is no denying I’m doing remarkably better than I was a year ago. But when I talk about healing, the bulk of it has nothing to do with physical health.
Healing My Emotional/Mental Health
This is the largest aspect of healing I’ve had to tackle.
I may not have any severe mental health conditions or battle with depression or anxiety, but there are many other subconscious thought patterns that can impact my emotions. For example, I’ve been working hard on learning to manage stress. I need to address everything from how I initially respond to good or bad news to how I allow something that has happened to weigh on my mind. Allowing myself to acknowledge that “x” has happened, decide if it has any immediate impact on me, and then realize I can’t do anything about it and simply let it go has been a big shift I’ve been practicing over the last few months.
Another key area is being aware of my emotions. I’m certainly in tune with my health and can explain migraine in a million different ways, but when it comes to emotions I struggle to unpack those. Earlier this week, I made a huge stride in writing about what feels like impostor syndrome. This was incredibly important to put out there, not because I needed anyone else to say “hey, those thoughts you’re having 100 percent aren’t true,” but because I simply needed to say them and reinforce in a more public space that they are in fact not true.
Although I put a lot of emotions into my pieces, it is rarely intentional. If you browse my previous pieces, there aren’t many that actually deal with emotions.
Healing means understand emotions. Healing means being connected to my emotions and then taking that connection and learning to control them. Healing emotionally means taking extra care of myself on a day-to-day basis. It means making decisions that are best for me in the moment, and sometimes being more selfish than I have to. It means I am my number one priority and I have to fully accept that I am no one else’s number one priority — and that’s OK.
I say spiritually in quotes because it has a variety of meanings and I want to use my own definition in the context of my healing. For me, spirituality is simply acknowledging something bigger and choosing to expand my consciousness with concepts that leave room for uncertainty and interpretation. It’s an even deeper connection to my sense of self, and embracing it is the best way I can describe self-love.
Healing on this level means accepting a bit of the unknown and embracing it as a part of every day life. It’s allowing myself to not hold expectations so firmly – good or bad – and not stressing about tomorrows or even today.
I’m not quite sure if “self-talk” would fall into emotional or spiritual healing, but perhaps there’s an overlap. Healing is changing the way we talk to ourselves.
We’ve all got that little voice in our head, and for those of us who spend a good portion of our days in agonizing pain, that voice isn’t always nice. It’s constantly looking for a reason why we’re in pain at this point. It wants to remind us about everything we’re missing out on or the tasks that needed to get done that’ll just be pushed off until tomorrow. It tries to place blame on one thing or another.
Letting go of that little voice is huge. Being able to lay in agonizing pain all day without feeling like you should be doing this or that and not searching for the “why” but accepting that “this will pass, I just need to rest” is huge. Healing is letting go of guilt.
That same healing transfers over to the days where we do feel “normal,” even if our “normal” days would cause most people to call off work.
It’s being OK with spending a few hours doing chores and stopping to rest and having a list of three small things that were accomplished that day. It’s accepting that moving slowly and intentionally through each day, even if slow and intentional is simply making coffee, making your bed and making a pretty painting.
Letting go of the idea that I should be working or making money or forcing a new treatment or pushing myself harder to see what I can handle is healing.
Healing isn’t meant to be an insult to those who haven’t gotten to this point or are choosing to relentlessly fight or push through. Healing doesn’t mean the pain or disability goes away. Healing doesn’t mean you are better or worse than the next person. It simply means you want to take your circumstances and view them in a different, more accepting light. You want to find ways to emotionally be balanced and full of love, even if your health may never reach a balanced space.
And most importantly, healing is a process. It’s full of discoveries and setbacks and wrong turns. The bad days don’t suddenly go away. We don’t suddenly know exactly what we’re doing with our lives. Rather, we choose to recognize that we are never starting back from square one after a setback. We acknowledge our positive strides, learn from some of the setbacks, recognize that everything doesn’t always come with a lesson, and choose to keep building a stronger foundation for ourselves.
Getty image by Sergey Peterman.