Feeling Good: Health and Questions of Psychosomatic Illness
The clear and colored oval platelets speed through the system in perfect harmony with the flow of energized liquid. Carrying their cargoes of food and other products, they whirl through the arteries, negotiating each turn and hairpin curve with professional expertise. This is the city of the future as it exists in each of us today.
Our body is a vast, complex and complicated world, yet it’s beautifully orchestrated for its own function and efficiency. Our heart, the main cylinder, runs on its own momentum and pumps blood each and every day at a steady, melodic rate. Either by main avenues, or by small backstreets, connections are made with each individual cell for its supply of energy and nourishment.
Occasionally, a structure collapses as another grows to take its place. This modernization goes on continually as part of the harmonious process of the humanoid city. It is a designed utopia which is self-regulated and self-constructing. Millions of different operations take place each day without disturbing the balance of the organism as a whole.
Each part of our system has different characteristics, although they all remain connected by a network of tunnels and underground cables. Uptown contains the soft, spongy clump which is our computer. It fields millions of electric and chemical impulses along wires hooked into every location in our system. In another section in this part of town, there are some major bridges and tunnels to an outside environment. Sight, sound and environmental intake units are housed here.
The midtown area is not only the home of our master cylinder, but also a very populated section with different neighborhoods. The most complex area houses the digestive plant with its numerous satellite buildings that process sugar, starches, carbohydrates and other products. A long tunnel, which looks like a shriveled vacuum hose, leads out toward the rear of the city where the sewage plant is located. The respirator utility regulates air and oxygen intake. An elaborate fossil-type bone structure holds the city together and extends into the arms and legs.
Downtown is quite different from the other sections of the city. It begins with a whole network of caverns and structures in which several reproductive organizations have their headquarters. Also prominent are the major waste processing and recycling factories which eject products back into an outside environment.
Although the city of ourselves is intricate and partially incomprehensible, each section, each factory and each individual component participates with exquisite precision.
Then it happens … not for all of us and not at the same time. There’s an explosion. All crisis systems are activated. Normally, these situations are handled as a matter of course … but, at times, sections, entire square blocks are destroyed. The city goes into a state of emergency.
Frequently, even after massive destruction, the city can survive although it has sustained irreparable damage. Any partial impairment, chronic disease, loss of limbs, certain bacterial and viral infections are called illness, sickness or more specifically, lack of health.
If the city has been completely destroyed, the passing is called death. Most of us share fears about losing our health because of the possibility of pain and loss … and, ultimately, dying.
What am I telling myself when I focus on the fear of being sick? As a healthy person frightened of disease, I am fearing what “isn’t.” To concentrate on sickness would be the same as concentrating on the hole in the doughnut … it’s the part that isn’t.
So when I say sickness, I am actually addressing myself to fears of what is not. Instead of focusing on my wants (good health), I attend to my not-wants. I attend to my unhappiness, which is fear of becoming ill or fear of an already existing condition becoming worse. The result is I drain my energy and divert my strength with tension and anxiety. In doing so, I render my body even more incapable of dealing with its distress. By concentrating on nothing (lack of health, future pain or death), I deprive myself of participating energetically in my wants for health. It is when I move toward something that I usually perform with much more effectiveness and clarity than while in retreat.
One of the most meaningful and illuminating words used in this arena is “dis-ease” “Dis-,” from the Latin, means apart, away from or not. “Ease,” from the Old French, means comfort, a natural easy manner of flow. Thus, even the word that denotes the state of un-health in our language, makes a descriptive suggestion: dis-ease … moving away from the natural flow, not at ease or not comfortable with myself.
Undoubtedly, it represents one of the most concise and accurate descriptions of unhappiness.
In Western medicine, the accent oftentimes has been on fighting illness, instead of seriously encouraging good health. Although important inroads have been made regarding preventive vaccines and serums, with some physical fitness programs highlighting the significance of exercise or diet, most of us consult a physician only after we have our diseases and malfunctions. Rather than concentrating on sustaining our physical harmony and health, we tend to fondle our fears and anxieties after a disturbance occurs in our system.
An opposite perspective might be gained by viewing the founding concepts of the ancient art of Acupuncture, first recorded in about 400 B.C. The patient is treated as a whole … his mind (thoughts), his body, his diet and his life-style are all elements of concern. The Acupuncturist seeks not to light disease, but to maintain health. If the patient does become ill, the concept is not to battle “illness,” but to find its cause and rectify it by helping the body maintain its balance. Rather than “treat” the infection, the Acupuncturist concentrates on helping the involved organs correct the situation by energizing or sedating the flow.
The aim is to help the body come back to its own harmony, and through this, correct itself. The hallmark of a good Acupuncturist in ancient China was having not one sick patient. Using his points and meridians of energy, he could detect imbalances before they became disease … in that way, he could then help energize or sedate organs to function property. If he was inattentive or not thorough enough, his patients might become sick and die. When this happened, he would have to hang a lantern outside his office door. This enabled a prospective patient to have a guide in choosing his doctor.
Interesting, you’re thinking … but that was ancient China. Sure. But what’s relevant here is a perspective, a focus and, perhaps, some beliefs. The concept is treating the human being as a whole, not as an isolated kidney disease, or a heart attack or another case of diabetes. Also the vision is on what IS, health, rather than on what isn’t, lack of health. The Acupuncturist tries to help the person maintain his health. Naturally, a healthy body is free-flowing and efficient in dispensing with germs and bacteria.
Western medicine, in contrast, wages “war” against disease. It moves against and away, rather than toward. Most of the energy expended is to “beat the disease.” Hit it with everything you’ve got … harsh drugs, amputation techniques, radiation treatment. Battle it until the disease surrenders.
If the methods of warfare are extremely severe, the body may not recover from having served as a battleground. The drugs used in cancer treatment often destroy as much healthy tissue as they do diseased tissue. Ritalin hydrochloride, which is utilized to help “calm” hyperactive children, is actually a stimulant, similar to an amphetamine, or “speed” … it can create a disabling neuromuscular syndrome and destroy brain cells when introduced into the body’s system. Insulin, used in controlling diabetes, after prolonged usage, can cause blindness, kidney failure and lowered resistance to infection. So often the methods are extreme, but they seem unavoidable. To help a child. To save a life.
And yet the question arises … are these methods necessary? Many cases of diabetes would never have developed if our diets and our life-styles were consistent with our nature.
Everything is treated separately, in a disconnected fashion. When was the last time my doctor inquired about my diet as well as my physical activity, my emotional state and my work schedules as an adjunct to my visit? Unless I requested the “classic” physical checkup, my physician only dealt with that specific cold or infection or virus. But my state of health is not separate from who I am and what I do and how I feel. These concepts are more than just metaphors. They might stimulate questions we would want to ask ourselves now. Words have as much power and reality as we give them. No one will suggest that we should not fight disease if we get sick or consult a doctor for our medical ills. No one will try to convince us of anything here … but only present an alternative vision that we can apply or not apply as we see fit.
The accent of medicine could be preventive and curative rather than just reactive. Do I have to battle disease? Isn’t my biochemical system affected by my thoughts and feelings, thoughts and feelings most physicians ignore? And, ultimately, who will be more conscientious about my well-being than me? Consider the statistics released by a House subcommittee of the United States Congress. The conclusion of their research and investigations illustrated that in this country during 1974 there were at least 2.4 million unnecessary operations performed at an expense of 3.9 million dollars causing 11,900 fatalities.
An argument frequently marshaled in defense of the strategies of contemporary medicine can perhaps, here and now, be laid to rest. There are those who would show us statistics suggesting life expectancy over the last seventy-five years has increased dramatically as a result of doctors, drugs and surgery. But those statistics are very misleading. I might assume that if I had been born in 1900, I could have expected to live to about 47 years old. If I were born in 1977, I could expect to live to about age 72. Now that is progress, but what does it really mean to me?
The major factors in the lengthened life expectancy are the highly improved techniques of child delivery and child care, as well as an improved standard of living. At the turn of the century, fatalities during childbirth were extremely high. And many other children did not survive their first year. The result on a graph lowered the life expectancy for everyone. But if we read these figures with one change, the message is very different. When we put aside the data on all those who died under five years of age and concentrate on you and me, who did survive our first five years of life, we find that even after all the research and “medical progress” our life expectancy remains just about the same as it was seventy-five years ago.
Over the last thirty years medicine has become more yielding and willing to accept certain relationships between states of mind and physical conditions. Psychosomatic illness is the general label given all those diseases in this category. It refers to those problems in the body that are believed to be mentally or emotionally generated or triggered (psychogenic problems).
Within the skull there is a mass that receives, processes, stores data and sends impulses to all areas of the body. This computer processing unit is called the brain … but is it all of what is considered the mind? The brain is a mass with many functions, some of which consist of automatic and reflexive triggering mechanisms. The mind, which is the cognitive center, does have its physical seat in the brain. But who’s to say that although the processing takes place in the brain, our best formulating, knowing and meditative Nirvanas are not done in our thumb or kneecap? Off the deep end? Well, perhaps, but then again, maybe there is some bit of information here that can be explored and utilized.
Even if the “kneecap” concept of thinking is discarded, medicine will not dispute the millions of neurons that connect the so-called thinking center with all parts of the body. Nor would they dispute that feedback in both directions is married electrically as well as chemically. Thus, the mind-body marriage is linked at every level.
The suggestion here is that although different parts of our system contain dissimilar elements, when placed in a single harmonious unit (the body), each part functions as an integrated and responsible part of the whole. When there is a malfunction in one organ, it ultimately affects all organs. Our anger and fears alter body chemistry and electrical impulses in every part of our body. Decision by one element of us (mind) to ingest drugs or alcohol certainly affects our other elements.
What then is the supposed difference between psychogenic and organic illness? Types of heart disease, high blood pressure, ulcers, colitis, diarrhea (some forms) and headaches (other than brain tumors or inflammation) are considered psychogenic. The person is somehow a causal agent in the genesis of the problem. Cancer, diabetes, kidney disease and other internal malfunctions are defined as organic … outside a person’s control. Typhoid, Asian flu, malaria and plague are labeled as communicable diseases that originate external to the body … and, in part, are also outside the person’s control.
The categories appear clear and specific. Psychosomatic problems are illnesses I participate in generating; in contrast to organic diseases over which I supposedly have no control. In that context, the separation does not seem arbitrary, but is it?
How do I know which diseases are which? Consult my doctor! It is supposedly very simple … bacterial and viral triggers versus emotional and mental. Yet, certain types of disease that were called organic twenty-five years ago are today viewed as psychogenic. Twitches, rashes, a variety of digestive disorders, certain heart and blood pressure malfunctions are just a small sampling of illness reclassified. The list has been dramatically expanded in the last decade alone.
There are medical people who will even dispute now among themselves as to the origins of disease. One doctor will tell you that the idea of cancer being psychosomatic is absolutely absurd while his illustrious colleagues work dedicatedly in some large university to prove the opposite. Many will argue that schizophrenia is organic and should be treated with drugs and megavitamin therapy; others will say it’s emotional or psychological and must be dealt with on a cognitive and verbal level. What does it all mean?
It illustrates that even among the so-called experts and professionals, there is heated discussion and dispute about the genesis and treatment of disease. All doctors, to different degrees, will admit to the reality of psychosomatic sickness. Some are investigating whether all diseases, in fact, fall into this category. But in terms of experiments and substantiated scientific proofs, their investigations are still embryonic.
Okay … so what can I, as a medical nonprofessional, know now? First, that what I think and how I feel does affect my body system as a whole. Second, perhaps the missing vision is not that I cause my own sickness or lack of health, but that I precipitate receptivity to sickness insofar as I might divert the body from working properly in harmony with its own flow.
One person gets a dreaded communicable disease, while others do not. One person suffering a serious heart attack never recovers while another does. Two people with the same brain damage (where cellular structure is irrevocably destroyed) from a stroke exhibit dramatically different capabilities during the rest of their lives. One never learns to talk or walk again; the other does. Even most doctors will admit that the difference, in part, has to do with the “will to live” or the person’s “attitude.”
The inference here is that the operative factor in “getting well” or surviving is motivation … wanting. One person might clearly be in touch with wanting to talk or walk again while another person is depressed and founders in his own hopelessness. Perhaps, in his depression and unhappiness, he is distracted from attending to his wants while he grapples with his fears and anxieties.
When I am distracted, I divert my energy and will power and appear to have less motivation or less will to live. The result is increased susceptibility to disease and a decrease in capability of repairing breakdowns in the system I call myself. The contrasting implication might be that in wanting to be happier and in being happier, I’d be in harmony with my natural flow. I would attend to my health and maintenance by simply allowing my body to function properly and not inhibiting it with the chemical, electrical and attitudinal short circuits of fear and depression that dramatically interfere with my physical functions.
One step further … if worry and tension could result in a heart attack or an ulcer, could they result in a tumor? That’s just a question! Unhappiness certainly can prolong a cold or respiratory infection. When we are unhappy, we sap self-sustaining energy of the body and that drain can result in short circuits and breakdowns.
Is a cancer cell a passing experience for the tuned body, but a blockage in the system that is out of balance? Numerous medical people would attest to the fact we all have cancer cells in us; but in many, they do not grow or create a problem. Why do they in some?
Also, how strange to find that many people seem to share fears and even guilts about illness. Their colds, their headaches, their stomach aches and their high blood pressure all seem to be illnesses they feel they had some part in creating … and for which they even might feel guilty, as if they had done it for a particular reason they now regret. In a counseling session, a student said quite casually, “When I gave myself a heart attack …” It was as if our specific illnesses do have meaning and say something about us.
With several associates, I created a score of profiles of people we knew intimately who had recently died. Very quickly, we were confronted with an amazing realization. Each person had died of a disease appropriate to him or her. In most cases, it seemed to fit so exactly, almost as if each person had chosen their way to die.
One person’s father went to the hospital to undergo a routine hernia operation. When he came out of the recovery room, he was very upset by the pain. The doctors had promised this was to be a quick and comfortable procedure. Characteristically, he became angry and furious with the attending staff. By late afternoon, he had brought on an asthma attack. Since he had always been intolerant of his respiratory disorder, he became angry with himself and rigidly fought his body. By late evening, his right lung had collapsed. An hour later, his left lung began to fill with fluid and he was put on a respirator. By morning, to everyone’s amazement, he had died of heart failure.
A friend of mine had an overwhelming fear of cancer. Ever since his college, days, he would run to the doctor with every pain, every swelling, every infection to see if he had contracted it. Finally, at the ripe old age of twenty-seven, a lump was diagnosed as a tumor and surgically removed. It was malignant. Ironically, I remembered our meeting only weeks after the operation. He was more relaxed than I had seen him in years. His search and fear of getting cancer was over and somehow, I believe, having the illness actually relieved him of the fear of getting it. There is an old adage that says we often get what we fear most … but perhaps this is not as some mystical retribution, but because fearing something is often more painful than getting it since in getting it there is a release from the fear (the man who loses his job is a lot more accepting and more relaxed than the one who sees and fears the hatchet falling).
Another person recalled her mother affectionately. She died in her late forties of myeloma, which is a progressively destructive form of cancer that attacks the bone marrow. This woman had always seen herself as frail and weak. Since early adulthood, she had been plagued by severe anemia. In her last years, when cancer wrought havoc throughout her system, it is curious that the disease she contracted rendered her bones brittle and easy to fracture – frail and weak and not unlike her self-image.
Someone else recalled that his father-in-law was a very uptight and prudish man. His manner was stiff, even his stance was rigid. Behind his back, they nicknamed him tightass. He died of cancer of the colon and rectum after having a colostomy. Another person talked about her aunt who had always been quick to anger. Her fury was almost constant, although often repressed beneath the surface. She died of complications from a severe case of high-blood pressure. Another talked about how her grandmother had always been extremely dependent on her husband for support and comfort. She always said that if he ever became sick or died, she simply could not live without him. Two weeks after he had surgery for a brain tumor with a terminal prognosis, the woman dropped dead as she sat on her balcony. Everyone who knew her and loved her easily accepted that she had filled her promise to herself and had somehow managed to turn her motor off by an implicit act of will.
These examples of disease and dying are not evidence that people intentionally hurt themselves. But they might suggest that our unhappiness and fear are related rather specifically to whatever short circuit might ultimately develop in the body. Certainly the woman who saw herself as fragile did not willfully want to contract cancer and experience her bones cracking. But her fears of being vulnerable had to sap the energy from her system and perhaps resulted in a sympathetic body malfunction.
People who are depressed (from fear, anxiety, frustration) are statistically more “susceptible” to disease than others who are generally optimistic and vivacious. Unhealthiness may not be so much the result of an attacking virus or bacteria, but the result of the vulnerability of the body that’s out of balance.
If I am willing to consider a real marriage among all the parts of who I am (body and mind), perhaps I can trace the function and effects of unhappiness on health. When I am unhappy, I usually express it verbally as feeling bad. If pursued, I can often detect parts or portions of my body that reflect the discomfort. My head hurts, my stomach is upset, and my body is exhausted.
Ask anyone how he knows when he is happy, he will probably tell you he feels good and what he means is that he and his body (which are one) are free flowing comfortably without any blockages.
When I am unhappy (fearful, anxious, guilty), my body processes its food differently, alters its chemical output and functions in a state of stress. In order to cope with this disturbance, internal physical operations change. Often these emergency alterations, if sustained, result in certain breakdowns. Acid in the stomach for one afternoon is easily coped with by the body; but after weeks and months, the imbalance starts to destroy tissue. High blood pressure for a short period of time is common to all organisms, but here again, sustained imbalance weakens the entire cardiovascular system. Some of these difficulties can be repaired by surgery, diet, programs of relaxation and drugs. Others are either so chronic or catastrophic that they destroy our systems. As I come to understand this cycle, I can begin to see that my unhappiness has very dramatic and self-defeating by-products … such as loss of health. When my mother scolded me for not feeling bad when she felt bad (she didn’t want me to be heartless and inhuman), neither she nor I realized that feeling bad always has profound side effects (aborted goals, illness, etc.).
If my system is so interrelated, what can I know or do when I have a pain or illness I believe is psychogenic? (Perhaps all illness is psychogenic!) I can use psychosomatic illnesses as signs. Signs of my unhappiness … not indictments that I am stupid or bad for myself. Since my thoughts and feelings register chemically in my body (getting nauseated when I am frightened), I could use them as a guide. My body is one way of letting me know that I am happy or unhappy.
I can use it as a conveyor belt to my beliefs in an Option dialogue. If something hurts, I can ask myself: Am I unhappy about anything (even the pain)? If so, what am I unhappy about? It could provide me with an internal radar system I could effectively use.
Yet, ironically, I could choose to see my illness as an indictment that something is wrong with me … that I am bad for myself. With such a belief, I might decide to “fight” the illness … hate my ulcer, be angry with my headache and furious over my high blood pressure. But in doing battle, I am actually feeding my pains and malfunctions by further disabling my body (my anger and fear increases my blood pressure, contracts my muscles, overacidifies my digestive tract). So in fighting the devil, I give it power.
Since I might interpret this as proof of hurting myself further, I could see it as a reconfirmation of how bad I am for myself. But how could that ever possibly be if I am always doing the best I can based on my current beliefs. When I fight my illness by feeling angry or frightened, I do so because I believe at the time it is the best way to handle the situation … a way, perhaps, to stop the illness from getting worse. If I contracted a serious disease, I might easily and immediately focus on not wanting to die … which is very different from staying in touch with wanting to live. When I am fearful, it is almost as if I can hear a little voice in my body whisper, “You’re not going to make it.” But it is not true, unless I help it become true by believing in it. There is no situation that is hopeless or irreversible. Although I am always trying to take care of myself, maybe there is a better way.
The only thing my pain or psychosomatic symptoms could possibly be saying is that I am not flowing with my wants, with my nature …that I am upset or uncomfortable about something.
Symptoms are neither indictments nor accusations, unless I choose to see them that way.
In order for me to buy the concept that psychosomatic illness is an indictment, there would have to be another supporting belief … that my body is my enemy, that it is doing something against me. How can that be so? Yet the belief can be its own self-fulfilling prophesy … for out of the worry and doubt comes the tension and the discomfort which, in turn, causes an imbalance and facilitates increased susceptibility to all diseases and sicknesses.
And in terms of this perspective, what could anyone mean by self-healing? It would simply be disconnecting the short circuits of unhappiness, allowing myself to flow from my wants and good feeling, permitting my body its own natural harmony … and in the balance, my body would be freer to take care of itself. Perhaps this attitude would then generate other alternatives we could put into effect to help ourselves (changing diets, altering life-styles, eating herbs, etc.) This is not to say that a doctor or surgeon can’t be of crucial assistance to each of us.
The suggestion here is that my psychic comfort is a significant element in the continuance of my good health. In choosing my beliefs and their consequences, I choose my physical destiny.
Feeling good is my body’s way of experiencing my happiness. Pains, dysfunctions and psychosomatic illness can be used to help me dispel my discomforts. If I dismantle the beliefs which generate my unhappiness, I dismantle the energy of my symptom and, perhaps, its lifetime.
Years ago, I used to concentrate on knowing that being overweight was unhealthy, that overeating creates excess fat and, therefore, concluded I must diet. My diet was a not-want. I would badger myself, “Don’t eat!” I attended to my fears and pushed against myself … as if I wanted to eat and be fat. Ironically, in fearing that I would stuff my mouth, all I could think about was food. The whole procedure backfired. But I did not do it because it was going to backfire; I did what I believed would stop me from eating and help me to be healthy. That was the best I knew to do at that time.
What I had not realized was that I had lost touch with wanting to be healthy and trim. If I had taken the Option alternative and had chosen to uncover and perhaps alter my beliefs creating my fears about weight, illness and my physical appearance, I might have freed myself to focus on my wants … to be healthy and trim. My appetite and food intake would then have been adjusted to my wanting, to going with myself … instead of being fed by my anxiety.
Isn’t the person who mournfully proclaims he is addicted to cigarette smoking doing the same thing? “I don’t want to smoke … it’s awful, but I can’t help myself.” “It’s going to make me sick.” “‘I wish I could stop.” All those pronouncements are negative. They speak of fears and unhappiness about sickness and addiction … none of which has to do with wanting to be healthy.
There is no reason to judge this behavior and commentary as good or bad, right or wrong. There is only a question. If I originally believed there was a path to travel in taking care of myself and subsequently found it did not work, would I want to continue? And if not, then I would have changed a belief, which would change my behavior.
One of my students, who had constant stomach cramps, would become furious with herself and literally scream to herself, “Stop being tense, damn it!” In fighting her stomach pains, she made them worse as she increased her tension. In being so busy with her symptoms as an indictment and proof of how bad she was for herself, she deprived herself of getting in touch with what she wanted. Later, after changing some of her prime beliefs, she noticed she was completely free of abdominal pain. “Wow,” she exclaimed one afternoon, “I’ve finally made friends with my body.” What she meant is she had finally made friends with herself and no longer sat in judgment on herself. The Option attitude of to love is to be happy with was ultimately the vision with which she chose to embrace herself. Without expectations. Without conditions.
Awareness of what each of us does is a major step toward change. But actual change is a decision.
As I live more in the Option mode, I find I allow my pains and go with them. In doing so and asking myself what I am uncomfortable about, I can usually uncover underlying beliefs. When I see that the unhappiness is a product of judgments which are either unfounded or self-defeating, it is easy to dispense with them. And as I discard those beliefs, my pains and physical problems resulting from them usually dissipate and disappear. I do not fight or even work on my bodily discomforts … I try to free myself from the beliefs which feed them and clear a path so I can stay in touch with my wanting to be healthy. If there is no time to explore my beliefs, I can quickly ask myself: What do I want? The answer, which usually comes easily, becomes an immediate affirmation of my nature. I use it to turn my head in the direction I want to travel.
Each physical malfunction becomes an opportunity to explore and restore … which is not a question when I am healthy, but certainly becomes one when I am not.
But I don’t have to wait for a body malfunction. I can affirm my wanting to be healthy now, which is just another way of accepting and allowing my nature. It is a way of loving myself. In choosing that direction, the many things I can do to maintain my health or reestablish it become apparent (alter my diet, create an exercise program, etc.). When we are clear and comfortable, we each know for ourselves what we can do to enhance and support our health.
The gift I can give myself, right now, is to stop stopping my body from doing its thing by discarding the beliefs which short-circuit it. And then, after I’ve read all the books and consulted all the doctors, I can listen to the voice within me and trust my decisions. Although professionals and experts can be extremely knowledgeable and authoritative in specific areas, the relevance of their information as it affects my life is for ME to decide. Whether I choose to buy their concepts and predictions, take just a portion of their advice or decide to walk alone on untrodden ground, I will know the best route for me. I am the only expert on me as you are the only expert on you.
The Think Page
Questions to ask yourself
- Are you aware of fearing sickness or wanting to be healthy?
- Does your doctor treat you like a total person or just an isolated problem?
- When you feel physically unhealthy, do you think of fighting the problems or restoring harmony?
- If you have a psychosomatic pain, do you become upset with it and fight it, or do you try to understand its meaning?
- Do you see yourself as healthy or sickly?
- Do you fear disease and death? If so, what do you believe about them?
Option concepts to consider
- Fearing illness is concentrating on what isn’t.
- “dis-ease”‘ means not at ease or moving away from our natural flow.
- Illness is one possible consequence of unhappiness.
- Unhappiness saps the energy from our bodies, creating an imbalance and an increased receptivity to sickness.
- Psychosomatic symptoms are signs for us … Questions, not statements or accusations.
- We are always doing the best we can.
Beliefs to consider discarding
- My body is against me.
- The best way to treat disease is to FIGHT disease.
- Psychosomatic illness proves I am stupid and self-destructive.
Q. Why are you unhappy?
A. (Sigh) because less than one week ago, i found out i have diabetes.
Q. What is it about having diabetes that makes you unhappy?
A. Where do i begin?
Q. Where would you like to begin?
A. With me. I’m a thirty-six-year-old man who would like to live for at least another thirty-six years. But now, the odds are against it. Every morning for the rest of my life, i have to get up and shoot myself full of insulin with a hypodermic needle. I’ll be like some sort of a junkie. Hooked but it’s a habit that i can never kick. It’s disgusting.
Q. Why is it disgusting?
A. It’s not normal. I’ve always been pretty healthy. Now, suddenly, i’m a cripple.
Q. What do you mean?
A. For the rest of my life, i’m dependent on a needle … Otherwise, with my sugar count, the headaches, dizziness and blurred vision will ultimately lead to insulin shock and then … Well, it can get pretty hairy. I can’t believe it. Each morning, i take a disposable syringe out of its cellophane wrapping, insert the needle into the insulin vial and then, my god, i push it into my arm and press down on the plunger. The second morning i did it, i looked up at myself in the medicine cabinet mirror and a wave of nausea came over me. Me. I looked like some sort of a freak. It’s only been four days, but it already feels like a lifetime. I don’t want diabetes. God, it’s awful.
Q. I know that you don’t want diabetes, but why are you unhappy that you have it?
A. Because i don’t have a choice anymore. I’m stuck.
Q. Why does that make you unhappy?
A. I want to get unstuck. How’s that for a sick pun!
Q. And if you can’t get “unstuck,” why would you be unhappy?
A. Because in twenty years, when i’m in my mid-fifties, all kinds of exciting things will begin to happen to me. My eyesight will start failing. My veins and arteries will continually fill up with sludge from the injections and the circulation in my legs and arms will start to diminish. And if i’m fortunate enough to get a bad cut or a small clot, gangrene could easily set in … And you know what that means. Do you? (pause) amputation. A leg here, an arm there. Piece by piece. Before my time, i will start to disintegrate. And since i might be blind, i could experience all this in darkness. That’s a bird’s-eye view of my future. Three weeks ago everything was okay … Now, it’s turned to mud. (voice breaking) i can’t believe how miserable this is!
Q. I understand what you believe are the future ramifications, but why are you miserable about it now?
A. Because i don’t want all those monstrous things to happen to me.
Q. Why do you believe they would?
A. I don’t know for sure. But i’m telling you what’s in the books … What’s on my doctor’s lips.
Q. What are you afraid would happen if you weren’t unhappy about those future consequences?
A. Ah … I guess i believe they’re more likely to happen.
Q. Are you saying that your unhappiness somehow might hold off those possibilities?
A. May be! If i wasn’t unhappy about it, i might then just welcome it by doing nothing about it.
Q. Do you believe that?
A. As i was saying it, no.
Q. Do you think it’s possible to not be unhappy about it and still try to prevent it?
A. Yes. Yes, i do. (long pause)
Q. What are you feeling?
A. I was beginning to feel okay, but then i felt this anger … From deep down, way inside.
Q. What are you angry about?
A. (His face becomes flushed.) You really want to know …that damn doctor. We’re talking about the crisis of my life and he just keeps me waiting in a small cubicle for over an hour. It’s like being stuck in a glorified closet. Then, he enters. Poker-faced. And very casually, he tells me my sugar count is unbelievably high, which would explain my symptoms and then he hands me a box. As i’m reading instructions on how to take insulin, he gives me this quick, cool rap on diabetes and insulin like i’m an idiot. I told him i know what it means and what i know differs from his pretty pictures. He laughs condescendingly and assures me by the time i’m in my fifties, they’ll have discovered new methods of treating my problem. And that’s it, fella … Too bad. The doctor had about as much grace as a firing squad. I even asked him if there were books he could recommend. Immediately, he became indignant, suggesting that he would worry about the problem … That was his job. Bullsh*t! The moment i left the office, he went on to the next body.
Q. Why does that get you so angry?
A. We’re talking about my life. That’s my arm i’m injecting, my veins which are going to clog, my eyes which will grow dim. I don’t mean to be melodramatic, but i don’t want to be crippled …
Q. Then why do you believe you would?
A. What? (stares intently at the floor) why do i believe that? Because it’s going to happen … All i have to do is keep shooting up for twenty years and i’ll be wasted.
Q. I understand the possible effects of insulin injections, but what is it about those eventualities that disturbs you?
A. I’m helpless. I can’t do a damn thing about any of this. I feel like a defenseless victim. And you know that kills me; i can’t exactly call this totally unexpected. I come from a family with a long history of diabetes. Yet, i was brought up on rice krispies, sugar-coated flakes, candy, ice cream and cake. Whoever talked about diet and balance? Everyone was supposed to eat their way to good health. And it didn’t matter much what you stuffed into your mouth. Unbelievable. It just drives me crazy to think about it.
Q. About what?
A. That as a kid i was stuffed with garbage and then, as an adult, i continued the insult to my system. Look at me, thirty-five pounds overweight, three teaspoons of sugar in my coffee at least three times a day and a history of diabetes in my ancestry. No small wonder i’m sick. I guess i put the final touches on … I did it; i’m responsible.
Q. What do you mean?
A. I didn’t take care of myself. I did everything wrong. The result is my pancreas died before its time and i’m condemned to the needle. (he pounds his fist on the table.)
Q. What are you angry about?
A. Why didn’t i do something when i could? Why didn’t i take care of myself?
Q. What you did is done … Part of the past. Why are you unhappy about it now?
A. Because i was an idiot. Dumb, just plain dumb. How could i ever feel happy about that?
Q. What are you afraid would happen if you weren’t unhappy about not having taken care of yourself?
A. I guess that i might be doomed to repeat it … Ignore my health even more.
Q. Are you saying that if you weren’t unhappy about what you did, you wouldn’t take care of your health?
Q. Why do you believe that?
A. I don’t know. (pause) wait a minute. That’s ridiculous. I don’t believe that. I don’t have to be unhappy to take care of my body. I never quite looked at it that way before. That’s nice to see. Okay, okay but it doesn’t solve it.
Q. What do you mean?
A. I don’t want to be hooked on insulin the rest of my life. I couldn’t stand it!
Q. Why does that make you so unhappy?
A. Because i don’t want to be an insulin junkie.
Q. Sure, i see that, but there is a difference between not wanting to use insulin and being unhappy about using it.
A. I’m unhappy about using it because of what it ultimately does to your body.
A. You sure as hell would be unhappy if you knew you would be blind and maybe crippled in twenty years.
Q. If i did, i’d be unhappy for my reasons. What are yours?
A. I want to find another way; that’s why i’m so unhappy.
Q. What are you afraid would happen if you weren’t unhappy about taking insulin?
A. I might just take it without questioning, without searching.
Q. Why do you believe that?
A. I don’t know. If i was loose and cool about it, maybe i wouldn’t do anything.
Q. Do you believe that?
A. No. Not exactly.
Q. Let’s take the “not exactly.” are you saying that by being unhappy, you would be more motivated to search for alternate ways?
A. (Smiling) i guess so. It sure seems like that … But there it is again. I do that a lot. I never realized how much being unhappy is part of my system. I can see not being miserable and still trying to find other solutions.
Q. What do you want?
A. Well, it’s going to sound crazy, but my brother is into acupuncture, cell salts and herbal healing. He researched the situation with all his cronies and was told by one eastern doctor that certain herbs and leaves boiled in water and served as tea four times a day will retard the manufacture of almost all of the glucose made by the body. They say this would completely alleviate the need for insulin. We’ve talked every night and he’s pushing. But it’s my body and i’m afraid.
Q. Of what?
A. Of going into shock insulin shock … And ending up face down on the sidewalk.
Q. Do you believe that will happen?
A. Sure, if i’m not careful.
Q. Are you saying you won’t be careful?
A. No, of course not. But suppose i don’t know and something happens. I’m afraid to hurt myself and yet i know using the insulin is hurting myself. You see how confusing it all is. I don’t know what to do. I get so mixed up with all the anger and fear.
Q. What do you mean?
A. My brother’s suggestions are really interesting …they’re beautiful because, if they worked, you’d be healing the body in a natural way. But sometimes i think i listen to him only because i’m so afraid of the insulin. And yet, that’s not altogether true. I’d like to go a more natural way … A special diet and exercise feels right to do, but not the injections. When i told the doctor about the herbs, he laughed in my face. He said it was ridiculous and that i must not ever dare to go off the insulin. His tone of voice scared me. But it’s more than that; i can’t stand him.
A. Because he doesn’t give a sh*t. Whether i lived or died, it doesn’t matter to him. He just goes by his book.
Q. Even if that’s so, why does that disturb you so?
A. Because he’s playing god with my life.
Q. How’s that?
A. He prescribes insulin and i have to take it
Q. Do you see yourself as forced to take it?
A. No, no … But what else can i do? He’s supposed to know, so i follow what is said to me.
Q. Then why are you angry with him?
A. Because sometimes i think he doesn’t know or care to know. I tell him what an herbalist suggests and he laughs in my face. But just maybe it could work. I’m not saying its the solution, but how about considering everything. After all, this is supposed to be the man’s medical specialty.
Q. And if he chooses to see it only one way, what is so upsetting about it?
A. Like i said, i don’t think he goes beyond his nose.
Q. And if he doesn’t, that’s for him to do, but why does that make you unhappy?
A. Because i have to listen.
Q. Why is that?
A. (Pause) if i don’t, i’ll get sick.
Q. Why do you believe that?
A. Because he’s supposed to be the expert.
Q. Then, are you saying that you are listening because you believe it’s in your own best interest to do so?
Q. Do you have to do that or do you want to?
A. (Smiling) i want to. I see. I see. By following him, i’m deciding to do that. Okay … That’s good to understand because now, more than ever, if i’m choosing, i want to give it my best shot.
Q. And what’s that?
A. To move in another direction, but, you know, i’m still afraid.
Q. Afraid of what?
A. Of making more mistakes. After all, if i had been more aware and more concerned, i could have lost weight, changed my diet and perhaps avoided this entire mess. So i’m part of my diabetes. How can i be sure that i would know what to do?
Q. What do you want to do?
A. Try the herbs. You know, my brother has always been the odd turkey of the family with his weird friends and unorthodox way of life. Yet, he really made sense. In a way, he made more sense and explained more to me than the doctor. Man, i’m almost there. I keep trying to decide whether i want to try the leaves and roots because i believe they could work or just because i’m frightened of the insulin. I don’t want to act out of fear.
Q. Then why would you?
A. That’s a good question. Before i came in here, i was ready to jump at anything. I was so afraid and so angry at myself and the physician. But now, i feel much, much better.. . Calmer, not afraid. Now i know i’d like to try the herbs. (chuckling) i’m really trying, but i still feel a lump in my throat.
Q. What do you think it means?
A. I’m still uncomfortable … Not like before, but something is still there.
Q. What are you uncomfortable about?
A. Suppose i’m wrong?
Q. Why should you be unhappy if you were wrong?
A. I might hurt myself.
Q. Why do you believe that?
A. You know, when you asked me that before, it seemed like an insane question. I’m not sure i believe i would hurt myself … I think i just assumed it. After all, i can set it up so that if the symptoms appear again, i can take the insulin. Maybe i can slowly replace the dosage of insulin with the herbs … While having my blood checked every day. (laughing) that’s the way right there. Why couldn’t i do it?
Q. What do you want to do?
A. I want to try the herbs. I do. I’ll still drop weight and do the exercise too.
Q. How do you feel?
A. Good. Excited. I’m not totally clear about why i didn’t take care of myself all these years, but now i want to try. I feel more connected with my body than ever before. It’s like i just opened up a whole new world.
Over a period of four weeks, this student, whose sugar count had been extraordinarily high, withdrew from using insulin by replacing it with a specially prepared herbal tea. His count was restored to normal for a person his age. When he informed his doctor about his successful experiment, the physician did not believe him and immediately dismissed him as a patient. Not once did this man of medicine seriously question his patient about the nature of the alternate therapy.
Although there is no attempt here to suggest or to draw attention to herbs as a new, applicable or even useful treatment for diabetes, this dialogue does stand as a testament to one man who actualized his wants and found another way. Like many of us, he had initially given up his desire to explore and decide his future because of fear and the belief that someone else knew better than he did about what to do for himself. When coming from comfort and clarity, he, indeed, had become his own expert.