What is Your Illness Doing for You?

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So, I have been hanging out at home all week, sick.  Today I jokingly referred to it as black lung disease, and my son called it the black plague.  I got him laughing when I sang with my raspy voice to an Imagine Dragon’s tune before school, “don’t get too close, its red inside, it’s where the black plague lies, it’s where the black plague lies…”  We thought I was pretty funny.  I don’t know what it is exactly, but I feel like crap.  My throat hurts.  I wake up with loads of congestion in my chest that I end up hacking up all day long.  I sound a bit like Darth Vader.  I wake up and use cough drops in the middle of the night, because my throat hurts so bad.

During the weekend, the black plague was just a feeling of overall malaise and the subtle warning of impending illness.  I upped my essential oils, I upped my homeopathic remedy, I started taking about 4-5,000 mg of vitamin C per day, and I was drinking green smoothies by the quart.  But in the end, after making it through the weekend, the plague hit me like a ton of bricks.

I was thinking today and had a HUGE Aha!  moment!  For as long as I can remember now, I have associated illness with a sort of free pass to focus on taking care of myself.  I see it also as a reminder from my body that I need to slow down and listen to it and take care of it in the ways that it is telling me to.  This past weekend, I was so excited!  I was lucky to attend Jake Ducey’s (check him out on YouTube and Facebook) workshop titled, “Genius Within.”  When I had seen that Jake was going to have a workshop in San Diego, it sounded perfect. It was one of those times where every line that I read to explain what the workshop was about spoke to me.  I was especially excited to shed light on more of my self-limiting patterns and beliefs, because I am really feeling the need to just let go of all of my old shit, once and for all.  The price was right, the location was close enough to drive there in a day, I really like Jake’s message and positivity, and above all of that, my intuition was very strongly urging me to go.  And then, as the weekend got closer, Matisyahu released his Fall tour dates, and one of them landed in San Diego on the Friday that I would be in San Diego!  So, I was going into the weekend thrilled, but I also had some major Mom-guilt creep in.  For starters, I had only seen Matisyahu with my son, and I knew that he really liked that fact.  Also, because the workshop was all day on Sunday, there was no way that I was going to be able to make it back in time to get my son at the normal time on Sunday night, so I had to make arrangements with his Dad to keep him that night.  I think that Moms reading this will maybe get where I was coming from the most, because I think that in general, it is the Moms who are usually more comfortable putting everyone else before themselves.  I am no different.  So I began to have some major Mom-guilt, to the point that I didn’t even tell my son about seeing Matisyahu until after the fact.  It was a 21 and over show, so he wouldn’t have even been able to go if he was with me for the weekend. Yet, I still felt bad about it.

I knew before last weekend, before today, that I am my own worst critic.  I have always been so hard on myself.  And while I have done a lot of the work to move past that way of being, it obviously still sneaks up on me sometimes.  I ended up having a fantastic weekend!  I got to explore a new beach my first day in town, which was really beautiful.  I find that the ocean is so grounding for me.  I stayed with an old friend/coworker who I hadn’t seen in 13 YEARS! Yikes!  It was so great to spend time with her and reconnect.  Her 5 year-old and 2 year-old daughters treated me like their long-lost Aunt who they adored, which was a lot of fun!  I went out on my own in downtown San Diego (which is GINORMOUS by the way!) to dance for hours to Orphan, Zion I, and Matisyahu!  And I basked in Jake’s positivity for two whole days and connected with some wonderful people who also attended.  I also unraveled some more of my long-held beliefs, and was given some new ways to look at things, as well as new ways to create the life that I want for myself.  I was baby-ing myself the whole time with a cold that was brewing just under the surface.  Today, I realized that in always being so hard on myself when putting myself first, especially since the birth of my son, I generally only give myself a completely guilt-free pass to take it easy in all ways when I am sick.  That was my Aha! moment today.  My thoughts brought on this illness.  My body was wanting me to slow down and take care of me, and my thoughts put it into the Universe that the only way I would do that would be if I was sick.  And boom!  I have been sick all week.  I went to the grocery store for a short trip early in the week and got enough stuff to get us by for the week, but otherwise, I have done nothing but rest and take care of myself while my son has been in school.  I’ve napped.  I’ve taken extra vitamins.  And I’m still chugging the smoothies, because my body is seriously craving greens SO much right now!

I watched “The Secret” last night, which really further reinforced the things about the Law of Attraction that Jake shared with us at the workshop.  The fact that our thoughts create our reality.  So consider what my thoughts just did in my life.  I was feeling guilty for self-care, but that went away once I was sick.  When I am sick, I give myself permission to put myself first, and I don’t feel guilty about it.  But why do I feel that I must be suffering with a black plague before I can feel OK with putting myself first?  Can you relate?  I can look back on my past and see a similar pattern.  In college is when I first started to think of illness this way.  I would see it as my body’s way of telling me to slow down and be extra caring towards myself.  I would notice that about once a month, I would feel a bit under the weather, and would shift into self-care mode during that time.  Later, when I lost my health, it kind of gave me a pass to allow some of the cards that I was constantly keeping in the air to drop.  I felt completely responsible for the care of my son, the care of the two dogs, and the overall upkeep of the household.  I did the majority of the household chores, and I did the majority of the grocery shopping.  I was exhausted and stressed.  At the time, I was in nursing school, and not working outside of the home, so I felt immense pressure to basically do everything else.  I’ve always been independent and I preferred to feel like I was pulling my own weight.  I kept it up until my illness struck.  And then, over time, I stopped being so stressed about the things I was not able to get done around the house.  And as I have written before, I was forced to take care of myself because of my illness.  I had been so used to just going and going all of the time that I rarely focused on what I needed.  That stretches back for as far as I can see.  I think a lot of us get wrapped up in the go-go-go mentality of this fast-paced society that we’re living in that we rarely stop to just BE.  But for me, those moments where I just stop and soak in my life in the moment are the ones that I treasure the most.

So, the Universe in all of its preciseness of divine timing, told me that 30 was going to be the year where I would finally start to focus on myself and my own well-being for a change.  It gave me a very clear picture, that I lived through, of what life was like without good health.  I was shown that without my health, I essentially had nothing, because I couldn’t even function without it to enjoy my son, to take care of him at times, to walk, to do the chores that needed to be done, or to do things that brought me joy.  When you lose your health, you realize very quickly that everything else in life is secondary.  You can have every other thing going for you, but if you don’t have your health, it’s very difficult to appreciate the other things in your life.  Since January 2016, I have found that having a daily gratitude practice has led to a lot more joy in my life and a lot more things to be grateful for.  I would say that writing out the things that I am grateful for every night before I go to bed has been one of the simplest yet profoundly life-changing things that I have done for myself.  Try it.  I promise that only good will come from it.  And it is especially important to take note of the good things in your life when you’re struggling with illness or some other challenge.

I love when beliefs that have been held in my subconscious mind become conscious!  Once it becomes a conscious thought, I am able to examine it, look at how it’s been affecting my life, and release it if it no longer serves me.  In this case, the belief that I have to be sick in order to feel OK about fully taking care of myself is definitely NOT serving me well.  Can you see that?  It would be much more pleasant to stay healthy and take care of myself, than to spend a week knocked on my ass to force me to do it.

In the movie, “The Secret,” they talk about the fact that illness has no place in a body that is at ease.  I know that I have mentioned in other posts on this blog that I feel like my illness (or dis-ease) stemmed from my utter disregard for myself.  I stopped holding myself as a priority in my own life, I stopped listening to my intuition regarding situations in my life that were no longer serving me.  My body became a breeding ground for dis-ease.  I sometimes have friends who will tell me about friends or family members of theirs who are struggling with ongoing, chronic health problems, and they will ask if they can pass my contact info to the person.  I have always been happy to use my experience to help other people.  I know that the pain has had a purpose in my own life, but I enjoy using my pain to serve as a purpose in others’ lives as well.  It makes my struggles doubly worth it.  So at this point, when I talk to these people who are often also struggling with Lyme Disease, I ask them to really look at their life to see what is going on.  I ask them to look to see if there is something in their life that is causing them stress.  I would ask them to look for the lessons in their illness.  Have they been neglecting themselves?  Are there situations in their life that are toxic for them?  Have they been ignoring their intuition about things in their life?

Now, I would add for those reading this post, is there a way that your illness is serving you?  Is there a comfort in being ill?  Do people take care of you when you are ill?  Do you have less responsibilities when you are ill?  Do you receive more love from people when you are ill?  An even better question would be, do you receive more love from yourself when you are ill?  And I don’t ask these questions to make you feel bad or worse than you already do, but instead I ask you them to break your attention away from the illness you have and direct it to the thoughts that you hold about your illness.  I would say that I definitely give myself more love, more freely, when I am sick.  This week has been a perfect example.  But why can’t I do that for myself all of the time?  Why can’t I always feed myself well and give myself important vitamins?  And make sure that I get enough sleep?  The answer is that I CAN.  Now that I see what I have been doing, I can choose to change it.  And believe me, I don’t need another illness to come along like this one before I make that change!  Just as I have written before, sometimes, we have to get to a point where we’ve suffered enough before we are willing to make the changes that we need to make for a better life for ourselves.

I have a lot more to my health journey than I have written on this blog so far.  I will write about it as I feel guided to do so.  But at one point towards the end of my time on antibiotics, a woman was placed on my path who served as a sort of counselor for me.  I remember that during our first phone call, she asked me about my life.  After I had told her about my life which invariably included a lot of information about my health struggles, she said to me, “boy, you’re really holding onto your illness aren’t you?”  I remember being kind of stunned, and a little bit pissed off at her response to what I had just told her.  I said something like “well, yeah, I take handfuls of medications and supplements several times a day and pay out-of-pocket for a specialist that I have to go see at least every 12 weeks.  My illness is part of my life.”  Well, in that moment, I didn’t really “get” what she was saying to me.  It took me some time to understand.  But eventually, I did come to understand.  You see, when I got ill, I began to identify myself as sick.  The people around me began to identify me as sick too.  Once I had the diagnosis of Lyme Disease among others, the Lyme became part of my identity.  I identified myself as someone with Lyme Disease.  But you see, I am no more Lyme Disease than you are cancer, or MS, or Lupus, or depression.  I am NOT my illness, just as you are NOT yours.  I was able to flip that switch in my mind after several weeks of being off of my antibiotics, so that I could do a few rounds of medications for the yeast that was becoming more of an issue in my body.  I had been so used to having a flare whenever I came off the medications, but this time was different. (I believe a big factor for me was that I had been on a homeopathic remedy for about 7 months by this time.)  I wasn’t having a flare, and so it gave me space to ask myself some questions.  Like, what makes me sick?  Am I sick because I have had lab work come back positive for several different infections?  Or am I sick based on how I feel?  I decided that because I was managing to work full-time while taking care of my son on my days off, and I was feeling good, that I was not sick.  I had intended to go back on my antibiotics, but I decided that I was going to let how I felt be my barometer for how I was doing rather than some labs.  It was at that time that I stopped telling people that I had Lyme Disease in the present tense.  I started to talk about it only in past tense, if I even brought it up at all.  I began to think of myself as healthy, and I started just being grateful for how I felt in the moment.  I stopped identifying with my illness.  I stopped identifying myself as a sick person.  And my life changed for the better.

This isn’t to say that I don’t have lingering symptoms.  No one has ever told me that I am cured and in fact, this week, my PCP went over labs with me from September and she concluded that I am still “not well.”  Strangely, that felt more warm and cozy and familiar to me than if she had said I was cured.  I easily took on that illness cloak again.  I even told a few people what she had said.  But since then, I have decided that me not being well is no longer part of my belief system (nod to Jake Ducey).  I am not going to allow numbers on paper or cells in my body to determine my health.  I am going to judge my health based on how I feel.  When my body asks for something, I am going to aim to give it what it needs on a consistent basis.  I have been asked if I worry that I will get Lyme again.  (Yes, you can get MORE Lyme, or re-infected with Lyme following treatment!!)  But I am not worried.  I choose to no longer live my life from a place of fear.  I believe that I have gleaned the lessons that I was meant to learn from my illness, so I do not believe that I will have a repeat of Lyme.  I believe that I will continue to be as healthy as my thoughts, which I am always working to improve.  Our thoughts really do create our reality.  What kind of reality have you been creating for yourself?  What feels comfortable to you even though it causes you strife?

Jake reminded us all this weekend that every 7 years, every cell in our body gets replaced.  So every 7 years, we essentially become new people made up of brand new cells!  I’m almost at the 8 year anniversary (November 27th) of passing out at home and losing my health.  None of the cells that were present in my body on that day in 2009 even exist anymore!  How cool is that??!  For me, it was a great reminder, because I have come to see and experience the power of my mind.  Our minds have the power to keep us feeling ill long after every cell in our body has been replaced by a new, healthy cell.  And our minds have the power to free us from our dis-ease.

I invite you to consider that sometimes using our mind to free us from dis-ease isn’t necessarily about getting cured from that which ails us.  Sometimes, it’s about shifting the way that we think about the illness that makes all the difference.  I see my illness as a blessing because of the level of gratitude that I now live with every day.  I could not have gotten that any other way.  So I would not wish it away or go back in time and change things so that I wouldn’t lose my health.  Life is not happening to us, it’s happening for us.  We are not victims, we are students. It is OK to grieve for the loss of your health.  It is OK to feel angry and sad.  It is OK to feel like it is unfair, and to throw shit.  Just try not to live there forever.  Your illness is not a torture device, but rather a teacher.  In the thick of my illness, I would have told you that you were crazy if you told me that in 8 years, I would be writing about how grateful I am that I lost my health.  But here I am.  And I am no different from you.  Our illness may have the same name, or a different name, but that’s meaningless in the grand scheme of things.  We all have the ability to choose peace in every situation, peace with what is.  Because, I have found that it’s usually the way that I am thinking about something that causes me the most suffering.

When I look at a situation and say OK, this is how it is, I can decide how I want to show up.  I am in control of my thoughts, feelings, and actions.  That’s it.  I encourage you to think, feel, and do things that make you feel good as often as possible.  Work to shift yourself into a place of ease, so that dis-ease no longer lays claim to your body.  You are not your body.  You are not your illness.  You are much more expansive than either of those.

Listen to Michael Franti’s “Hey Hey Hey” HERE

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