Lessons Learned on a Healing Journey

Lessons learned on a conscious healing journeyBy Beth O’Hara

I remember reading some wise advice several years ago: Don’t tell your mechanic what you think is wrong with your car, but be sure to tell your doctor what you think is wrong with your body.

At the time, I was taking several prescriptions, including an acid blocker for side effects from the allergy medication I was on. Prescriptions just to treat side effects of prescriptions! I followed everything doctors recommended, without question or research. I was about 19 years old at the time and plagued with a number of issues – severe allergies, asthma, endometriosis, severe dysmenorrhea, anxiety, and depression.

It was a revelation to think I could tell the doctors what I thought the issue might be, and that perhaps I could become an expert on my body. It made sense to think no one could really know my body better than me.

My health issues became much worse before they became better, though. I eventually also developed chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, panic attacks, and debilitating joint pain to the point of being unable to walk for months at a time. Sounds like a litany only a hypochondriac could dream up.

There were many points in time when I didn’t want to continue life. My life had shrunk to a very small existence of debilitating fatigue and burning pain canvasing the forefront of my awareness. I rarely left my house and was deeply depressed. The only joy and relief I had was when I was blessed to be able to be in service to another.

The one thing that kept me going was this tiny yet steady knowing that there was a way for me to heal. I had no idea how, but I knew there was. I saw over fifty physicians in twenty years. We would try various prescriptions and when those never worked, I switched to holistic health care.

We treated Lyme, bacteria, parasites, and heavy metals. I had my mercury fillings removed. I did meditation, massage, acupuncture, reiki, myofascial release, trauma healing, therapy, chiropractic care, even affirmations – I whole-heartedly tried everything I had access to and I continued to go downhill. I found spiritual meaning in my illness and practiced surrender, acceptance, and gratitude. I approached it from every angle – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual.

I eventually found an excellent Functional Medicine doctor yet, after a year and a half of different approaches, he finally told me “I just don’t know.”

This was a very dark day for me. I desperately wanted someone to have the answers and guide me out of the living hell I was in. I sobbed for a couple days and then finally let go thinking anyone else could figure this out for me. All I had left was that steady light that said there is a way to heal and I remembered the advice from so long ago that indicated maybe I could be an expert on my own body.

I came across research indicating the patients with chronic health issues who had the best outcomes where those who took complete responsibility for their health. Instead of seeing their doctors as having the answers, they saw their doctors as consultants whose role was to advise and make suggestions. These patients researched their condition and treatments for themselves, and made their own decisions about their health.

This was heartening for me, and I then took on researching and learning about my body as if it were my job. My mission was to study everything I could about chronic pain, inflammation, Lyme disease, joint pain, allergies, and histamine disorders. Every moment my brain fog lifted to where I could read, I studied.

I decided to see my health practitioners as consultants. Fortunately, my physician was very supportive of this, and even said it was a relief for him to not feel like I needed him to carry all the responsibility for my health.

In my research, I found wonderful online support groups with peer support. In these groups, we shared our research and knowledge with one another. A friend in one of these groups suggested the missing link for me – genetics. With her guidance and the support of my doctor, I had gene tests run which showed I had a number of genetic mutations. In combination with early toxin exposures, traumas, and less than stellar childhood nutrition, it seemed these mutations led to a perfect storm in my body.

With further study, online support, and help from my doctor, I was able to track down treatments for these genetic issues, and I’m elated to say my health is better than it has been my entire life! I have tears of gratitude every time I say that. I am still not symptom free, yet I am world's better than even two years ago, and my roughest days now are better than the best days used to be.

Here are the biggest take-aways I learned in recovering from chronic health problems:

1. Take 100% responsibility for your health

This includes interviewing your practitioners to make sure they are qualified to advise you and they share your philosophies about healthcare. Research your health conditions and treatments. Read about your prescriptions and supplements. Even supplements can have interactions and side effects. Some supplements I tried made my symptoms worse. Know what you are taking.

2. Explore your options and listen to yourself

Especially explore your options about irreversible procedures like surgery. When my joint pain began, only my knees were affected. An orthopedic physician wanted to do exploratory surgery to see what was structurally wrong with my knees. My intuition kept screaming no, even though I didn’t have any other explanations. A few weeks later, the joint pain disappeared. It wasn’t until years later I learned the pain was caused by oxalate crystal build-up in my joints, which I now manage with diet and supplements. I’m really glad I didn’t have the surgery.

3. Practice Self-observation and Awareness

Pay attention to what is happening in your body. Keep a symptom journal and track your foods, medications, and supplements. Look for patterns. Inform your practitioners about what you notice. This is invaluable knowledge as they can’t deduce these things for you. It was through tracking these patterns I was finally able to link food choices with some of my symptoms, like larger amounts of nightshades with muscle pain and insomnia.

4. Work on all facets of your health

Our minds, hearts, bodies, and spirits are not separate. No illness is solely physical. Nor is it simply created by our thoughts. All these elements of ourselves are interwoven – take care of all of them simultaneously. My symptoms were from an interplay of genetic, diet, stress, trauma, toxin exposure, and emotional/mental pain. Working with all of these helped me heal.

5. Educate yourself about nutrition

There has been quite a lot of new research on nutrition. Just for example, low fat is not necessarily good. We need saturated fat to insulate our nerve cells and cholesterol to build hormones. The process to reduce fat in many foods alters the chemical structure of those foods. Food delivers the building blocks to heal the body – if you are healing, be sure you are getting as much nutrition, including antioxidants, packed into every meal as possible.

6. Look at everything that goes into your body

When you are healing, you have less ability to rid your body of toxins.

The skin is the largest organ of your body, and it literally eats what you put on it by absorbing the ingredients. Research your skin care products. Skin care products are not regulated. Did you know all synthetic fragrance has been proven to be carcinogenic? And fragrance is in nearly all skin care products. EWG.org is a great, independent website that rates the toxicity of products. There are many skin care companies that make toxin-free products.

Also pay attention to the air quality around you. Cincinnati is a high pollution city. It helped my allergies and asthma to keep my windows closed and use an air purifier at night. How about your cleaning products? Many of those are toxic too. Everything you can smell, you are breathing into your body. Use toxin-free cleaning products.

7. Have fun and relax!

Enjoyment and relaxation shift your body into healing mode. Even when you feel your worst, find something pleasurable. There were many days when I couldn’t get out of bed, and my joys were very simple like the sound of the birds or the way the light streamed in through the window. Take time to soak these things in.

Resting and relaxing are different things. I can rest and still feel agitated. Relaxation is consciously letting stress and agitation go. I did a lot of ‘napitations’ – healing meditations where I would usually fall asleep. Letting myself relax to the point of falling asleep was my daily healing practice.

8. Find support

Healing can be a lonely journey. Keep the company of those who have compassion for where you are and reach out when you need help. Don’t be afraid to ask for support. Even my online friends were a huge comfort to me when I couldn’t maintain a phone conversation. I could just type that I was having a rough day and get a virtual hug, helping me not feel as alone.

Support, healing, and virtual hugs to you on your journey.

Beth O’Hara is a Holistic Health Coach, Iyengar Yoga Teacher, and Certified Enneagram Teacher residing in Cincinnati, OH.  Her listening skills, empathy and intuition make her a compassionate, effective and gifted coach and teacher. She is experienced in working with clients to transform areas that include health and wellness, relationships, self-understanding, self-esteem, and life balance. 


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