“Whether you have been diagnosed with chronic fatigue, Lyme disease, lupus, fibromyalgia or mold toxicity, managing a chronic illness can feel like an arduous and uphill, murky battle.
When you are experiencing a host of nonspecific symptoms, it can be extremely challenging to find the right course of treatment. So what can you do if you are in the throes of an illness? When you’ve already consulted with many medical professionals and still have no clear answers? When you are not taken seriously and your tests keep coming back as “normal?” When you’re told “you don’t look sick?” When your treatment protocol is offering a dearth of relief? When your symptoms make you feel like you are losing your mind?
These were the kinds of questions I grappled with when I became severely ill after being exposed to toxic mold. I was dealing with debilitating symptoms daily such as tremors, Parkinson-like symptoms, heart palpitations, brain fog, digestive issues—and even limbic brain dysfunction. How do you trust your environment when everything feels threatening? If you are relating with any of this, although at times it may be difficult to imagine your situation improving – significantly – there are some things you can do that can help you remain in a place of safe knowing that you are going to be “OK,” especially during those “take down” moments, in which it can feel like you are suffering in a no-man’s land.
Wherever you are in your health journey, I encourage you to try implementing, at your own pace, a mindfulness practice. The mindfulness exercises that I share here have made a real positive difference in my own healing and for so many of my clients. These exercises are specifically designed to help you remain anchored in inspiring hope, and, most importantly, to support your wholly healing: physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Deeping Your Awareness — The Power of Breath
It can feel scary when you feel like you have no control over your body, and you’re experiencing an onslaught of symptoms. Your greatest ally, especially in the tough moments, is your “staying-on-the-breath.” This is how not to let fear completely take over and leave you feeling bereft of a way of coping. The worry mind expends precious energy in nonproductive ways. This, as you can imagine, works against your healing. By focusing your attention on your breath, you can create some distance between you and what is happening to your body. This will help you harness your energy in more useful ways.
During flare ups or episodes, time slows down. You aren’t just getting through a moment. You’re getting through the next breath. The irony is that the power of breath is as invisible as your chronic condition. Think about this for a moment: What if you surrendered to the idea that in this moment you only have your breath; and then you were able to notice, perhaps, in this breath, I’m OK. In one micro-moment, you just sent a positive message to your mind and body. This one positive message and noticing is pact with new, vital energy, with a new way of being with your sickness. In one single breath, you are sending a positive message to every cell in your body. This one breath allows for new healing potential. This is what deepening your awareness can do particularly in sickness – a real superpower! The more you practice observing, neutrally, the sensations in your body without any story, the more you will keep the mind in check, if you will, so that you don’t let your thoughts take over, steal your hope and yes efficacious breath—which has the welcomed task of transforming fear into soul stamina.
Gratitude – Practice Seeing What Is Going Well
Sometimes it is difficult to notice what there is to be thankful for when it’s hard to see beyond all the ways your illness seemingly limits you. When you focus on what is going well in this moment, you can connect to trust. Is there one part of you, for instance, that is not in physical pain right now? Focus on that part of your body. Maybe in this moment your pain level is a 7 instead of 10. Then you can trust that your body is capable of experiencing less pain than in a previous moment. With mold toxicity, for instance, I would practice noticing when my body was able to “drain” properly and get rid of mycotoxins. This helped me to trust that my liver was capable of doing its job – that is, detoxifying the body. I would thank my liver for being the “peacekeeper” of my body.
When you are able to find the most positive true perspective, this helps you to also see that your thoughts are not all true. The thought: “I will never get better” can now be seen as “my body is showing me that it can heal” or “that I can help my body get better by making one conscious choice at a time.” When you look for the potential micro-moments of healing taking place in your body, you can trust your body’s innate capacity to recover from illness.
Self-Compassion — Wisdom Healing
Living with a chronic illness can send even the most self-assured into a tailspin of self-blame. In my practice, I hear things like “I feel like it’s my fault that this happened to me.” Or, “it feels like I’m being punished.” Or, “I feel undeserving of happiness.” One thing you can do when your thoughts lead to self-blame is to practice turning negative self talk into self-compassion statements like: “I did the best I could with what information I had at the time.” “I am learning more about my health every day and making real positive changes.” “I am learning to accept my situation so that I can focus all my energy toward healing.”
Self-compassion is forgiveness. When we practice self-compassion, we can forgive ourselves for choices we might have made, for example, that have impacted our health. We are allowing for a greater context that helps us to see the multi-dimensional relationship that we have with our choices.
Another thing that happens when we practice self-compassion is that we are able to stay in the here and now. When we fall into a trap of self-loathing or self-doubting, we often will begin constructing realities or inadvertently drawing on past memories that can further fortify un-serving beliefs. Which is to say that we leave the present moment. What we are essentially doing is reliving some felt feeling or fear that comes from past conditioning and believing a story that we have created around this feeling. In turn, our negative feelings can hold us hostage and then cause us to continuously have knee-jerk reactions to any experience that elicits a similar, and even unconscious, felt experience.
The thing is you need a new context for healing. Self-compassion is the way to flush out negative thoughts. When you practice self-understanding, which happens in the present moment, you then open yourself to a truer way of seeing your situation. As you stay present with your feelings and attenuate your pain with self-compassion, you open yourself to a new and more expansive context. It’s here where you can produce a more loving felt experience which can be parlayed into a more positive reality. Self-compassion then is a blueprint for creating a new context in which to view your current situation or health crisis.
In order to transcend pain, you will need to create a new context. Self-compassion becomes a portal into the present moment, giving you an opportunity to gently be with your feelings and emotions so that old pain can emerge within a new loving context and be transmuted into a more positive felt experience. Hence, self-compassion underpins your physical and emotional healing.
Don’t Just Visualize It –Feel It
What would it feel like to feel better? Use your five senses to help you “sensorize” a felt experience. What does health smell like to you? How would a restored you taste? Practice seeing and feeling a healthy you. See every organ in your body working harmoniously together to restore your health. If you like to draw, you can draw pictures of your organs, for example. One of the things I would do was draw pictures of livers. It helped me to see my liver returning to its harmonious state. My seven-year-old son even wanted to get involved. When I told my son that he could help my body heal itself by visualizing, “sensorizing” a healthy liver, Bay’s eyes lit up with excitement. He asked if he could draw an Oreo liver. I said as long as its functioning properly! Before we knew it, we were drawing livers of all kinds: Star livers, glowing livers, Oreo livers. And then Bay surprised me by drawing a treasure map to the inside of my body so he could fix my liver! It felt like he was transporting healing love directly to my liver.
Finding The Right Support — Gather Your Healing Tribe
Chronic illness is so often complicated to treat, as symptoms can mimic many other conditions, and underlying causes can be overlooked for a long time, especially if the treatment focus is more about symptom management than finding the source.
When I started to get very sick, I was being treated for various things such as migraines, allergies and even menopausal symptoms. I know better now that these symptoms were part of a much bigger story—that is, my being exposed to toxic mold and preexisting factors that likely made me more susceptible to becoming sick. Had I not received some real answers, my health would have continued plummeting leading possibly to a fatal outcome. So, the importance of finding trained specialists who understand chronic illness, in particular, from a comprehensive perspective cannot be underemphasized. This may mean finding a doctor trained in functional medicine or integrative medicine. Or having a combination of conventional and alternative treatments.
While finding the right treatment may look different for everyone, it is important to recognize that your overall wellbeing very much needs your “eyes,” intuition and discernment. After all, when it comes to your health, your “something-just-doesn’t-feel-right” is meaningful information. So then trusting the “data” you already have, from listening to what your body is telling you, will be helpful in gathering your own team of qualified health professionals.
The Gift In Sickness – See The Opportunity To Live Life More Fully
The more you embrace your illness and open yourself to the “isness” of your situation, the more you allow for the possibility to aid in your healing some way – in every moment. When you can accept your situation and learn to be a salve to your pain, by practicing loving kindness and self-compassion, you can transform your relationship with sickness. Your health journey then becomes an opportunity for growth and deep healing: physically, emotionally, psychologically, cognitively and spiritually.
With perseverance, determination and unapologetic self-advocacy, you can get help from medical experts who understand your unique health issues, can determine the right protocol for treatment and greatly bolster the success of your healing. The other important thing to remember here is that you need to get good at engaging the process with mind and heart, for this is also an essential part of your healing.
A corollary to healing completely is connecting to your real and authentic self and engaging the world from a more aligned, heart-centered place. You get to be You again even more than you could have possibly imagined.” ~ Amy-Noelle