For the past three decades I have been dancing with illness. The title is therefore very relevant to my experience and also to that of others who I know have asked themselves this same question.
One illness I suffered with was caused by a tumour in my left psoas muscle. This had several implications. One was that sometimes the nerves around the tumour would flare up, and I would be in severe physical pain having to take very strong pain-relief (codeine and morphine) and would be bed-ridden for several days. More recently, I could no longer walk any distance without having to stop every 5 or so minutes to recover from the pain caused by standing upright. There was no chemotherapy or radiation treatment that would work for me, so I was left to accept this as a chronic untreatable condition. Then came the side-effects of the powerful painkillers: my digestive system, which was challenged anyway because I tend to somatise my indigestible emotions, became seriously compromised. I lost my appetite, I lost energy and became very thin and weak. A lot of the time I was experiencing severe pain such that I had to resort to the painkillers and so began a vicious cycle. I would enter an ‘episode ‘ of pain, live through it in a daze of codeine or morphine; the pain would subside and I would then be left with the side-effects of the painkillers: constipation, lack of appetite, irritability, constantly feeling the cold, no energy. Doctors suggested steroid injections and shook their heads in sympathy, indicating that I would have to live with these conditions for the rest of my life, and all they could do was help me ‘manage’ the pain.
Another illness was caused by a tick bite which carried the spirochete Borrelia – and it added to my physical discomfort and pain. This illness is – contrary to conventional belief – really untreatable with antibiotics. The spirochetes burrow into any and all tissues and hide – sometimes for years, untouched by the antibiotics. Thus people can have months and years of heavy-duty antibiotics and still carry the disease. I used natural treatments which seemed to help.
Underlying all this was my major dis-ease: a life-long subscription to and unquestioned belief in patriarchal values and, as a consequence, an insatiable commitment to striving because of feeling never good enough.
Meanwhile, friends and family felt either helpless or impatient. A frequently experienced attitude in my spiritual circles was that a) I had chosen this myself, b) it was because I wasn’t learning a lesson and c) I was being a victim because I was in pain and I could choose not to be.
At first I let this get to me because I too was subscribing to that uncharitable belief. I felt ashamed and a failure because, try as I might, I could not exercise any control over this body nor push it any longer nor ignore it. So I suffered in silence, since there seemed no way out.
The last three years have been the most challenging. I spent most of the two winters of 2012- 2013 and 2013-2014 in bed, weakened to such an extent that I could barely walk. However, light began to appear at the end of the tunnel.
In the winter of 2014, after a couple of months in bed, I realised that I did not want to be ill, and that I could no longer help myself through willpower. I could not fix it. I needed outside help and I had to go within. This was a turning point: Ask and ye shall receive – no sooner was my intention known, than help began to flood in. I asked my spiritual friends to send me healing and I turned to alternative therapies to help strengthen the body. A number of books appeared which held promise of healing the mind. I was offered techniques, gadgets and natural remedies. My partner, who had had to become a carer, felt very challenged but made it his business to deal with his emotions and treat me with respect, compassion and kindness, allowing me to start applying these qualities to myself. I began to desist from the striving attitude with which I had brutalised myself all my life and started to instead apply the principles of allowing and accepting my condition and the feeling states in which I found myself. These attitudes create felt experiences. The striving ensures maximum tension in the body, a constant sense of having to make an effort which is the only way I will ever be rewarded, no matter what area of life it applies to and an ongoing experience of pain somewhere in the body.
By contrast, allowing and accepting an experience creates a sense of gentle warmth and relaxation in the body, a sigh of relief escapes the lips and pain is immediately relieved. Allowing and accepting an experience also reveals the layers of suppressed material which the striving had kept in place. Thus, layer by layer, bit by bit, the truth began to emerge.
With the truth, came healing. This has been a long process, there was no overnight miracle, though many miracles happened along the way. My previous posts show how I have been grappling with these issues for a long time. As an issue becomes resolved, another layer heals. It can be physical, mental, emotional, spiritual healing. At the moment I am enjoying much improved physical health: I can walk a good long distance now without ill-effects. The tumour has shrunk and I have not been using any painkillers for 6 months.
Sharing our unique story can be such a gift. And it is important to remind ourselves that every story is unique and that comparing ourselves or seeking to emulate another is not going to yield the solution to our particular situation. But a story can inspire and re-ignite the mostly dormant belief in us that we can heal ourselves, in our own unique way. The healing can be on different levels and show itself in different ways. It may mean living with a physical condition but being emotionally at peace with it. It may even mean dying, releasing the physical body. Or it may mean regaining physical health – each life is so mysterious and individual and our job is to enter into this mystery knowing that we are held and loved by that Source from which we emanate.
So, if I am ill, is it because I am not being spiritual enough?
Having examined this question, I now find it to be nonsensical. My experience of physical illness has been a teaching device to me. It has led me to recognise how I have supported conditions in which illness can arise and thrive. It has revealed the workings of my mind and the tremendous drain on my energy of emotions suppressed and left to become demons which ambush me in unpredictable ways and at inconvenient times. I have also learned compassion with myself and any other who is in pain.
Compassion is not the same as collusion and we need never fear loving another too much!