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Learning to Trust the Body’s Ability to Heal

Do you believe that your body has the ability to heal itself? Or do you think that some things like age, chronic illness, and mental health problems are beyond any natural healing ability we may possess? Are some people naturally gifted with good health, whilst others suffer with no hope of a life beyond their limitations, or do we all have the opportunity to gain optimal health, whatever that may look like for each one of us?

learning to distrust the body

I’d love to say that there has always been a part of me that at some deep level believed in the body’s ability to heal, but to be honest with you that simply isn’t true. I have been sick, to some degree or another, for most of my life. I was diagnosed with Asthma aged 2, and so some of my earliest memories are of concern over my ability to breathe comfortably. Whilst I seemed to naturally outgrow this particular challenge, by the time I reached puberty other health issues had already stepped in to take their place.

My hypermobile form of Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (hEDS) had made me so clumsy I was regularly at A&E for an x-ray or because I’d got concussion or needed a wound cleaning. And once puberty arrived I was debilitated with crippling cramps, horrific nausea, and incredibly heavy and irregular periods. My teen years were spent trying to cope with these changes in my body, things I believed I had no control over, and I ended up heading into adulthood thinking that this was just my lot.

belief in others vs belief in self

As a result of this, I began to trust in doctors and medication as my only real option for any semblance of a “normal” life. And whilst there is nothing wrong with putting faith in modern medical science, there is a real danger in putting all of your hope into a medical system that still has no answers for many health conditions affecting the world today. If I had an accident and required emergency treatment, for instance, then I would seek out the help of a trained doctor. Likewise, if I developed an acute infection, I would visit my GP. These are areas in which modern medicine excel. But when it comes to chronic conditions, this is often far from the case.

My own experience has been one of seeking help from a variety of doctors and specialists over many years, always putting my hope in the chance that this doctor may finally have an answer for me, and almost always being highly disappointed. I was 17 when first diagnosed with Hypermobility, and 31 before anyone mentioned the term Ehlers Danlos Syndrome to me, explaining that my digestive health issues were probably connected to the same condition affecting my joints. But even with that explanation, there was no real helpful treatment options.

Endometriosis is another condition which has plagued my life, leading me to be on some form of contraceptive since I was 15 (most with very negative side effects), and going through no less than 4 pseudo-menopausal states in attempts to limit my symptoms. Yet you can imagine how many extra symptoms those brought up for me. So, you see, putting all of my trust in the doctors who have no real answers as to why these conditions occur nor how to adequately treat them, led to a deep distrust of my own body. If the doctors can’t even manage it, then how can I?

Image of a stethoscope with the words, "putting all of my trust in the doctors who have no real answers as to why these conditions occur nor how to adequately treat them, led to a deep distrust of my own body. If the doctors can't even manage it, then how can I?"

changing the dynamic

Which brings me to where I find myself today. After 3 decades of believing I was simply a “sick person”, whose lot in life was simply one of physical pain and discomfort, I am finally starting to challenge that belief. I’ve spent the past 3 years of my life becoming increasingly more and more debilitated, to the point where my body barely functions most days. I can trace the initial increase in symptoms to a very specific point in 2015, when a virus combined with a very busy period in my life led to a complete overwhelm of my system. And yet I know that whilst this was the tipping point, it wasn’t the start of this downfall.

A series of events following my pregnancy and becoming a parent to a child with additional needs, led me to disregarding my body’s own needs and placing everyone else’s first. This was a recipe for disaster, given my body’s natural disposition towards ill health. But I didn’t listen to my body’s needs, nor the messages it sent me through my intuition and increasing symptoms. Because I already believed that this was simply my lot in life, to suffer. And that belief goes right back to my childhood.

This ill health I have now is not a new thing, it is something that has developed over a lifetime of distrusting my body, and placing my belief in external sources rather than my internal ability to heal. And when I began to realise just how far back this goes, I realised that I had impossible expectations of what healing might look like. I was hoping for a “quick fix”, something which would take away the most unpleasant symptoms I have each day, rather than building up healing and resilience from my very core beliefs about myself. Those “quick fixes”, which are often medications to alleviate symptoms, are fine in and of themselves, but they won’t lead to long-term healing. That has to come from within.

Image of two women doing yoga with the words, " I will always have a genetic condition that affects the connective tissue in my body, and so I will always have to adapt what I do to support that rather than aggravate it. Yoga postures must be adapted, diet must nourish without irritating, adequate rest must be incorporated into my day, and some days I'll just have to accept that it's a bad day"

healing to your optimal version of health

Now, before I go any further I want to make something abundantly clear. I am not proposing the idea that the body can heal from anything and everything. This isn’t some ‘miracle cure-all’. Neither am I suggesting that it is our own beliefs that cause illness. Such thinking is overly simplistic and, quite frankly, dangerous. It suggests that those with serious health conditions can simply will themselves to be better through the power of positive thinking. And that’s bullshit.

Too often those of us in the chronic health community are told that if only we did this, or changed that, we’d miraculously heal. Such recommendations, no matter how lovingly given, are dis-empowering at best and damaging at worst. People need to be believed, they need to have their symptoms respected, and their daily efforts recognised. Life is hard for all of us, and for some people that is most profoundly felt through their physical and/or mental health.

But that doesn’t mean that those of us who do struggle with our health cannot aim for our own personal version of optimal health. And that will look different for everybody. For me it means that I will always have a genetic condition that affects the connective tissue in my body, and so I will always have to adapt what I do to support that rather than aggravate it. Yoga postures must be adapted, diet must nourish without irritating, adequate rest must be incorporated into my day, and some days I’ll just have to accept that it’s a bad day and in order for my body to heal I need to honour what it’s telling me in that moment.

The same goes for my anxiety and the pain felt regarding certain events that have happened in my life. No amount of positive thinking and lifestyle changes will affect my ability to have more children. But I can work on honouring the fact that my body carried and gave birth to this beautiful child of mine, and that my love for him is enough. I can stop beating myself up for not doing more, and cherish what I can do.

Image of a woman looking out to sea with the words, "Sacred work is beautiful, but it isn't easy. It means facing those parts of yourself that you hate the most. It means working with your limitations, rather than trying to work despite them. And it means knowing that it took you a lifetime to get to the place you are right now, so it's going to take you a lifetime of learning to trust yourself and your body."

healing work is sacred work

Over on instagram, my profile says that I am on a “sacred healing journey”. This is something I came up with last year, and it has stuck. Healing requires going into the very depths of your being, having the courage to face the darkest parts of your soul, and learning to trust in your body’s ability to heal. If that isn’t sacred work, then I don’t know what is.

But it’s hard to recognise the power and impact of what you’re doing, when it feels like you’re simply lying in bed,  or battling through your inner demons just to make it through the day. Some days it feels like you’ve done nothing but simply survive – and that’s sometimes exactly how it is. You need to acknowledge these days as a part of your journey, but don’t let them define you. Because those days are the ones which remind you of your feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness. Those are the days which whisper that you aren’t enough, and that this is simply how it is. Those are the days you simply have to survive, knowing that a new day will come.

And when that new day finally comes, you do the sacred work. You go within, you trust yourself, and you learn to find a new way of living. Sacred work is beautiful, but it isn’t easy. It means facing those parts of yourself that you hate the most. It means working with your limitations, rather than trying to work despite them. And it means knowing that it took you a lifetime to get to the place you are right now, so it’s going to take you a lifetime of learning to trust yourself and your body. This isn’t a quick fix. This isn’t a cure. This is life.

image of a woman using her laptop whilst sitting in bed with the words, "we need friends who understand where we're coming from and will walk with us. In the past this was often limited to what was available in your local area, but nowadays you can easily connect with people from across the globe via the internet too."

trust your intuition, choose your tools, and find your community

Because sacred work is so hard, you need to surround yourself with the tools and community to support you along the way. Nobody can hope to do this alone. There is a reason that humanity has long sought community with those who are also on the same path – we need friends who understand where we’re coming from and will walk with us. In the past this was often limited to what was available in your local area, but nowadays you can easily connect with people from across the globe via the internet too.

Of course, the problem with this is that there can often be too much information and too many options to choose from. How do you know what will work for you? Well, I’ve found that the best way is to try out a few things and see what your gut instinct is telling you. If something feels right, go with it. But if something feels wrong, drop it, even if everyone around you thinks it is the best thing ever. It is only the best thing if it feels right to you.

I experienced this recently quite significantly. During meditative time (which I have always resisted), I felt an overwhelming rush of love, and realised I was far from alone. From that experience, I began to realise areas where I had been trying to control the uncontrollable. For me, this was most pronounced in my diet. Because of my digestive issues I had gradually restricted my diet more and more over many years, and I had ended up surviving on mostly dry carbs (jacket potatoes, oatcakes etc) and snacking rather than eating proper meals. I was missing out on so much protein and fat, and not allowing my digestive system the power to work effectively (and it’s a sluggish system, so it needs all the help it can get!)

As I began to consider changing my diet, bringing in foods I’d have never eaten before through fear, I started out on the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP). However a week into it I realised that it was not healthy for me. I was beginning to fear eating the wrong things, and my body was wanting less meat and a few more carbs. So I followed my gut (pun intended) and dropped the AIP diet in favour of trusting what my body was specifically asking me for. I had begun to recognise the difference between a craving (chocolate) and an actual need (carbs), as well as recognising that my body was happier eating stews and soups rather than roast dinners.

Image of someone eating soup with the words, "My intuition, once I actually tuned in and listened, had told me the same thing an ancient medical practice was also suggesting. By learning to trust my body's ability to heal, I had tapped into what I needed."

About a week later I stumbled across an Ayurveda dosha quiz, and discovered that my constitution is strongly Vata (air). The description of Vata not only perfectly described my natural characteristics, but it also explained many of my current symptoms. It even recommended eating soups and stews, to avoid food that was too “dry”. My intuition, once I actually tuned in and listened, had told me the same thing an ancient medical practice was also suggesting. By learning to trust my body’s ability to heal, I had tapped into what I needed.

Whatever tools you choose to use, and whichever community you choose to join, remember always that flexibility is the most important thing you can ever embrace. Your needs and preferences will change over time, both as you age and as the circumstances in your life ebb and flow. What works for you now will be completely different to what worked for you last year. So don’t feel as if you have to stick to something long-term if it isn’t working for you anymore. Try new things and go with the flow.

belief is everything

More than anything else, healing is only possible when you believe it is. This has been shown countless times within studies using placebos, for example. That’s not to say that the things you do or take, be that lifestyle choices or pharmaceutical medication, have no effect. Of course they do. Exercise has an impact on the body. Meditation has an impact on the body. Diet has an impact on the body. Medication has an impact on the body. It all does. What I mean is that it is your belief in the possibility of healing that amplifies the effect.

For instance, I have been seeing the herbal medicine team at my local college for about 18 months now. I have a review with them every 4-6 weeks, and we tweak the tincture accordingly. And whilst there was a small, immediate effect from taking the tinctures, it was only once I truly began to believe that this medicine had the power to change my life that I started to see real effects. And, interestingly, most of the effects have been psychological rather than physiological so far.

I’ve begun to trust in my body’s ability to heal itself, and been making changes accordingly. I removed my Mirena and became contraceptive free for the first time since my teens last Summer. And over time I have started to understand and accept that some of the very physical challenges right now are not going to vanish overnight, because my body has to rebalance itself after years and years of neglect and abuse on my part. I have hated on my body for such a long time, learning to love and trust it is a huge thing. And I truly believe therein lies my ability to heal.

Lady standing in summer dress with arms wide dancing as the sun goes down in the distance

Self Care

Prioritising Self Care: Why Do We Struggle With This So Much?

How often do we put everyone else ahead of us instead of actually prioritising our own self care? How often do we think that in order to be a good friend, spouse, parent, or worker we must put the needs of everyone and everything before our own? And how often does that actually work out for us?

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have spent most of your life putting others first. When I look back on my life I can see how I have done this at every step along the way. And when I actually stop to think about that I realise that there is no wonder that I have been so sick lately. Because by ignoring my own needs I have presented a situation in which my body has had no choice but to say “no more”.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. And I’ve realised that if I’m ever going to truly heal and learn to live in a way that is sustainable to my own health, I need to start prioritising self care. And I need to do it right now.

Of course that’s really hard for me, because it goes against everything I have ever believed about myself and what it means to “be a good person”. It makes me feel selfish and I worry so much about what others might think of me. But that’s where the courage comes in, that’s where my word for this year is so very apt for what I need right now. With courage I can feel that fear and do it anyway. Because it is worth it.

And I wanted to share with you how I am doing that, partly because I’m sure I’m not alone in struggling with this, and partly because another aspect of self-care means using this blog for what I need on this healing journey. But as much as I love to write things down, I also find it really helpful to simply share my heart verbally too. So I took to Facebook Live this afternoon and shared the following… it wasn’t very well planned, it certainly wasn’t highly polished, but it was pure, unadulterated passion that poured out.

I mention several books and resources I’m using in this video, which I have listed links to below if you’d like to check them out. And I’d love to hear about your own ways of prioritising self care, so please do share those in the comments below too.

Louise L Hay – Affirmations
Louise L Hay – Wisdom Cards
Abby Wynne (and her book How to Be Well)
One Woman Revolution (and their YouTube channel too)
A Woman’s Book of Yoga (and New Mum Online who introduced me to this book)
Neale Donald Walsch (and his books Conversations with God)

It’s Okay To Not Be Okay!

It’s funny, isn’t it, how things that inspire us can also be the things that stress us out and make us feel bad about ourselves. The internet is particularly good at presenting these things to us, don’t you think? All those Instagram posts and Pinterest boards and Facebook memes that show us, time and again, that we do not have to be beaten by life’s circumstances, that we can choose to thrive even in the darkest of moments, and that anything is possible if only we decide we really want it, are all shared with the greatest of intentions. And most of the time they achieve what they’re meant to – they inspire us to aim for something better. And yet, sometimes they can make us feel so much worse, because they seem so out of reach for us. Have you ever noticed that?

Don’t get me wrong – I love a good inspirational quote, positive affirmation, or success story. But sometimes, just sometimes, it all gets a bit unbalanced. We see snapshots of people’s lives, hear the stories of how they overcame difficulties to achieve great things, without ever truly seeing the reality of what they had to overcome in the first place. We come into the story at the end, after the battle has been forged, and though we may be shown snippets of the battle, a quick overview from where they were once to where they are now, they present us with the idea that it’s not okay to not be okay.

Maybe it’s a personal thing, maybe this isn’t relevant to you at all, but I’ve found that there is a very big difference between wanting to make change in your life because you want to improve it, and feeling like you have to overcome a challenge because it’s somehow unacceptable for you to be struggling with it in the first place.

there is a very big difference between wanting to make change in your life because you want to improve it, and feeling like you have to overcome a challenge because it's somehow unacceptable for you to be struggling with it in the first place.

Take, for instance, my healing journey right now. I am so terribly sick at the moment, and I am so anxious and stressed about what this means for me and my future. I do not want to be defined by my illness, and I certainly don’t want it to control my life. In that way, I am completely inspired by those who share their stories of overcoming ill health to become happier and healthier than they ever have been.

But on the flip side of this, I feel pressure to not succumb to ill health, to make sure that I do everything in my power to ensure that it doesn’t define who I am and what I do, so I hide the struggle and aim to be positive, even when deep down I am terrified. Because, at some point along the line, I have come to believe that it is not okay to not be okay.

I feel shame that I have been signed off work sick, I feel guilty that I am so heavily reliant on my family for support and have hardly seen friends in months, I even feel bad that the receptionists at my GP surgery now know me by name, and worry that people will judge me as a hypochondriac when I list off all the symptoms and specialists I am seeing right now. And this all stems from that belief that it is not okay to not be okay, that I have to somehow fight this battle and come out victorious, ready to shut the door on this stage in my life and show how I overcame the odds to create an amazing life for myself, whatever that may be.

But here’s the thing – this is a false belief, I know it is, but it is so hard to break. Because it is not alone, it is supported from all sides by similar beliefs we have ingrained into our psyche: it’s not okay to be unproductive; it’s not okay to feel sad, anxious, or depressed; it’s not okay to need help; it’s not okay to fail; and so on and so forth. We live in a society where mental health is still a taboo subject for many, and being poor, sick, or out of work is portrayed as being something you can simply change, if only you tried harder. And we’re so used to that mentality, that we don’t even think to question it.

I know that my shame and guilt and fear right now all come from these very beliefs. I recognise that my habit of worrying over the future and desperately trying to fix things, come from this feeling of not being good enough. I understand that I am my own worst enemy, and that I need to change my own perspective so that I begin to truly believe that it is okay to not be okay. Because right now I’m not okay, far from it. Right now my battle is with myself, to learn that it is okay to simply be and that doing so doesn’t mean I have lost.

Inspirational change doesn’t happen overnight, it is a journey that begins with a single step. And sometimes that first step is accepting that it’s okay to not be okay, at least for now.

Inspirational change doesn't happen overnight, it is a journey that begins with a single step. And sometimes that first step is accepting that it's okay to not be okay, at least for now.