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You Better Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself: Finding Balance While Managing Autoimmunity
I’ve come to learn on this healing journey that I can vigilantly practice all the allergen-free, anti-inflammatory clean-eating I like, but if I don’t get a grip on my emotions and practice some serious stress management, I’m in T.R.O.U.B.L.E. That’s right: I gotsta check myself before I wreck myself.
#AIPBalance and Mindfulness
A group of bloggers from the AIP Community decided to designate this week to #AIPbalance in an effort to draw attention to the reality that managing autoimmunity is about so, so much more than the food we eat. It’s about attention to mindfulness; it’s about establishing activities that promote not just physical health but also emotional and mental wellbeing; and it’s about reducing any stress that will exacerbate chronic illness.
A Bit About the Worst of Times to Get to the Best of Times
I’ve been dealing with Crohn’s Disease for more than 20 years now. Chronic illness takes a toll physically, yes, but also emotionally and mentally, which, if you ask me, are aspects of the self that are a hell of a lot harder to confront.
About a year ago, I was at an all-time low. I was infuriated with this disease. My pride was hurting from having to cut back on work hours and secular opportunities because I was too ill to pursue them. I was reeling from loss of hope after taking medications that simply weren’t working and causing side effects that were in many ways worse than the Crohn’s symptoms. I was simultaneously angry at and fearful of my colon. I could find no peace. I was stuck in a powerful, horrific vortex of protracted and pervasive pain of body and mind. And although I knew I couldn’t give up, I was enduring some seriously dark moments.
Almost exactly one year ago, while battling sweats from an insidious and unyielding year-long infection and while exhausted from relentless and excruciating trips to the bathroom (I’ll spare you the details…this time!), I typed these words into a search engine: “healing Crohn’s naturally.” This is when I came across paleo as a concept followed shortly thereafter by the discovery of AIP. Within weeks of committing to a paleo lifestyle, my bloodwork and thus nasty symptoms associated with IBD started to improve, and now most of the time, I feel excellent, euphorically so. For the first time since being diagnosed with Crohn’s, there are many days when I feel like I don’t have Crohn’s. And that feeling, my friends, was and is pure, unadulterated bliss.
What can bring that bliss to a screeching halt? Stress. I’m endlessly alarmed by the potency of stress, of its capacity to derail my progress like nothing else. So I’ve learned to respect and honour my body and mind. I’ve come to understand (by learning the hard way) that I simply cannot afford to let stress and anxiety get in the way of my healing. So I want to share with you just a few resources from my arsenal for keeping stress at bay. These aren’t necessarily original points, but I hope in mentioning them, I can reiterate just how exceedingly important it is to be proactive in stress management.
Eliminate the Mind-Body Disconnect
It took months of therapy before I finally acknowledged how much I hated, nay, not a strong enough word. Let’s try detested and reviled my colon. I personified that bitch as monstrous, as an ill-willed and malevolent creature who was out to get me. As long as I was reinforcing such destructive thought patterns, healing was a long way off. I began to see a therapist who helped me reconcile with my colon. She aided me in perceiving my colon as an integral part of ME, worthy of all the TLC I had to give. We practiced different techniques that allowed me to strengthen a healthy mind-body connection, which leads me to my next point.
Get Over the Stigma Associated with Psychotherapy
Seeing a psychologist was a foundational stone on my path to healing. Once I stopped berating my large intestine and started loving and nurturing it instead, I was able to move forward a whole lot less angstily. (Yeah, I coined that. And, yeah, it’s a clunky coinage.)
First my therapist allowed me time to just talk and talk and talk, which was cathartic and healing in itself. Then we turned to establishing tools I could use to promote a healthy relationship between my body and mind. We made use of visualization, which is incredibly powerful as well as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), which was so effective that I often felt sedated after a round.
I researched therapists and found one who was just the right fit for me. I was drawn to her, specifically, because she was a Certified Hakomi Therapist and so mindfulness and a respect for Eastern philosophy were as important to her as they are to me.
Find and Do Something that Promotes Inner Peace
Yoga and meditation are absolute necessities to my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. I don’t feel “whole” without a regular practice, and so I prioritize and plan my activities around yoga and meditation. I know if I let my practice slip, my ability to cope also slips, and then, welp, that whole nasty slippery slope is there in front of me in all its stressful splendour.
Autoimmunity is often described as a betrayal because the immune system, the very system that is meant to protect us from harm, goes rogue, turning on itself, eventually causing severe tissue damage. But, like therapy, yoga and meditation have allowed me to gain perspective on the part of my body affected by autoimmunity. The movement of body and mind augmented by breath is tremendously therapeutic.
Yoga and meditation grant me inner peace, which can be hard to come by when dealing with chronic illness. You might prefer a different activity, perhaps playing an instrument, going for gentle walks, giving and getting hugs, or knitting (I hear it’s all the rage now). What remains important is that you find and do something that promotes inner peace.
You Are Worth the Effort
I could go on, but it occurs to me that the three foregoing points have been potent in helping me get on and stay on this path to healing. Never forget that you are worth all the effort. Many autoimmune warriors continue to heal their bodies in spite of serious and daunting diagnoses, and you can too. Never give up and always remember to take care of your mind as well as you do your body. Namaste, Lovelies.