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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.