If you’ve been on a l-o-n-g healing journey, you’ve probably been there before…in fact, up to your waist in the territory. What am I talking about? I mean the part of your journey where you feel like you are almost drowning in a sea of “stuff” to be researched and read about, to try and figure out what’s going on with your health. We all tend to start there, especially when it comes to fibromyalgia and the like; those “mysery” illnesses where we are largely left to do all our own research, trial and error since very few doctors have a handle on it. We have earned our stripes in this territory, battled our way for years through vague and contradictory “information” to feel out where WE are going and whether we are getting any better yet. We’ve tried out new theories for weeks, maybe months only to find they didn’t get us anywhere. And its exhausting, deeply preoccupying and, in many ways, utterly self-defeating since all you can think about is survival. Its like trying to use the mind to fathom your way out of a tangled ball of string.
Then, maybe (as I did) we reached a point of pulling back from that or gaining a broader perspective over the top of it. There comes a point when we kind-of have to, in order to keep our sanity and, for me, that was when my big spiritual breakthrough occurred. It was the point when I had to gain the over-view or go mad because thing’s just weren’t getting any clearer down here on the ground; as soon as I had one hole in the dam plugged, another one would start leaking water. So I took the deep-dive into a more right-brained perspective of what was going on for me, seeking the pearls of higher meaning and even noticing benefit from some of the pretty challenging things that were going on for me “down here”; in other words, I began seeking the positives of my situation. Certainly, a more meditative approach and the use of energy healing modalities, gaining the perspective that I am the creator of my own circumstances and that my beliefs can determine outcome and so on moved me on in ways I would never have known about had I stayed glued to the ground by the chewing gum of confusion that treating recovery as a long-running “research project” amounted to.
Feeling for the edges of meaning
But lately…and its an interesting juxtaposition with my friend Kat who (as per my recent post Blazing a trail to a new kind of recovery, fully surrendered the left-brained approach to the cancer experts so she could concentrate on the deep-inner healing approach I just refered to) I’ve been feeling increasingly drawn towards an urge to seek “hard” empircial evidence about my mystery condition once again. There just doesn’t seem to be any other way to gain the kind of information I need to get the wheels of recovery turning. All roads point to “healing the gut” being the most important thing I need to focus my attention on, yet I’m more bewildered than I can say by what my gut is telling me. Those food intolerance tests I ran in July generated some frustrating results yet I ran with them, eliminating all of those foods for four months, to no great outcome. Then, as my regular readers will know, I took a plunge into Ayurveda and totally resonated (still do) with what that told me about my dosha and how to eat in such a way as to pacify it…which worked, to a point. Yet at the end of that, I felt more grounded but still in a great deal of quite inexplicable pain; far too much daily, arbitrary and widespread pain for me just to sit back and shrug my shoulders at.
Which is where I am at now. Meanwhile, I reintroduced just a little dairy (in the form of organic goats milk halloumi) into my diet in very reserved amounts and seem to have had no ill effects (in spite of dairy being on my “red” intolerance list) and – yipee – it felt so life-affirming, at last, to eat something I very much enjoy without reservation. This, if anything, has made me even less “sold” on the idea of seeking more diagnosis for how can it be right that eliminating foods that bring so much enjoyment and which don’t even trigger obvious symptoms in the body can be a good thing; my instincts scream against that. Yes, confusion reigns and it feels like such a distinct push-pull between left and right brained approaches.
Meanwhile, I lost faith in the one route that I was trying so diligently to believe in as my Ayurvedic practitioner started prescribing supplements that, one look at the ingredient list and, I found myself recoiling from because they go against my innate preference for transparency and simplicity when it comes to what I put in my body. As an organic vegetarian who cooks everything from scratch, the idea of taking capsules or powders with ingredients I can’t even pronounce let alone vouch for feels counterintuitive and repugnant to me. Half of these ingredients were things I had no idea of the origin of (or, when I looked them up, made me cringe…and were often not from vegetarian sources). I could only see more confusion ahead if I went along this avenue and so I decided not to, which looked like the end of the track with the Ayurvedic approach. Then came another complication; being that many of the foods I was being urged to make my staples according to my dosha flagged up as possible triggers to my ongoing episode of pain (more on that below) and, certainly, I had made these foods a very big part of my diet for the last three to four months. Certainly there was now sufficient doubt in my mind for me to feel like I could no longer trust even the new food on my menu; which is where I began to feel more than a little bit hopeless again. All I could do was be grateful for what Ayreveda had taught me and move on…but to where.
Take what resonates, leave the rest
So, after all my enthusiasm, this is where I seem to have got to with Ayurveda…I totally relate to the principles behind it and my understanding of doshas has been such a fascinating and useful tool that still rings true. But when it comes to surrendering myself into the hands of a therapist who is trying to tell me to take this or that, without me having any idea why I need those ingredients or what they are likely to do to me (or how they might interact with other supplements I take), I feel no different than if I was to hand myself over to a western GP and unquestioningly take the prescription out of their hand without knowing any of the contraindications or long-term effects of their recommended pharmaceutical drug. As my regular readers know, I stopped going to the doctor for such prescriptions right at the beginning of this journey.
So I’m left at one of those junctures (so familiar on this trek) where the very thing that dazzled me just a few weeks ago seems to have reached the end of its line, leaving me high and dry. I don’t feel that I want to go any further with Ayureveda though what I have learned from it will, forever, form part of the bigger picture that I am gathering. So, where does that leave me now?
Frustrated, disillusioned, thoroughly pissed-off?
There’s no denying that, on an ever-increasing number of days, I’m waking to find myself just plain weary of all this and so pissed-off that the “story” just keeps going on and on and on, never reaching even a plateau let alone an ending. I know there is no “ending” as such (life just keeps on rolling…) but when will I be “normal” (whatever that is…but you know what I mean). Even my friend Kat, who has been through cancer this year, has reached a point where she can shake all that off now and get on with her life, plus she declares she has never been in pain with it…whereas pain just keeps coming at me, on and on and on. Why? Why me? When we reach this point, we HAVE to let the frustraion out, to give it voice, to allow the emotion to vent itself otherwise we turn it inwards and it will only come out again in a different way (probably as, you guessed it, more pain) so we need these heated moments to be allowed passage up through the body and via the vocal cords, or a blog or whatever we use to get things off our chest. We need to witness them, to love-ourselves through them though, as far as possible, not to engage. Just sit with the emotion, acknowledge it and let it fly away. I seem to have been doing a lot of this lately.
Then, almost inevitably, once we’ve done this, we may experience an urge to use the energy of that emotion…for it is an energy that rises in us, and a red-hot one at that…to fuel a kick-ass kind of approach to “tackle this thing, once and for all”. Beware of the consequences of this very-determined feeling because it can throw us straight back into ruminating and researching, deep-diving into remedies and modalities and theories, like getting back on the merry-go-round of self-diagnosis all over again. Which, once the initial blast of positivity wears off, can start to feel like we are right back where we started in the snakes and ladders game. But, hang on a minute, weren’t we supposed to have given up all that “project recovery” stuff ages ago? Weren’t we meant to be thinking and meditating and appreciating and visualising ourselves back to health rather than strategising it? The confusion that follows such a relisation (oh how recovery is full of paradoxes) can be devastating, leaving you feeling more bewildered than ever before.
When is research “good” research
If you took the time to watch my friend Kat share her remarkable journey through cancer in the video on my recent post (above), you will have heard her talk all about how she didn’t choose to engage with her diagnosis, didn’t want to hear her prognosis or about likely symptoms. She wholeheartedly put herself into the hands of the experts, deeply trusting and respecting the doctors and scientists that give their lives to research and treat people going through cancer, so that she could focus on all the other stuff. For Kat, that “other stuff” was a deep inner journey of unwavering positivity and faith that the cancer in her body was not something to be “fought” and that she was going to transform it to become even more than she was before. And she did!
In my many deep and uncensored conversations with Kat over the course of the months that she was going through this, we talked a great deal about her approach and mine; where they crossed over and, sometimes, stood diametrically opposite, as yin is to yang. Kat began her journey as someone working for Western medicine and with a tendency to approach things from a very organised, logical, left-brained and analytical stance yet her recovery journey (and onwards) encouraged her to soften that approach to integrate a more right-brained approach to what she was facing in her body. Conversely, nothing could be more abstract and “wishy-washy” than the kind of long-running mystery illness that I have faced for over a decade and there are no experts into whose hands I could ever have easily surrender myself knowing they would get me through it; besides, you could say, I am already in such a state of abstraction and flux where my bizarre health is concerned that to dive any deeper into softness would turn my life into a bowl of soup!
In my case, as I am at the moment, there is this very compelling instinct in me that says I do need to get a handle on what is happening at the mechanical level of my body now; I do need to allow myself to take note of symptoms and research data and gather information…for, if I don’t get on and do that for myself, who will? I’ve tried the “trust and it will all come right” approach for years and it hasn’t; in fact, my biggest recovery leaps have always been as a result of research that I’ve conducted, leading to changes in lifestyle or supplements, combined with a positive state of mind that sees beyond the “diagnosis” to appreciate all the ways that what has come about through my health has always enhanced my life in some way or other. All the changes I have made to my life to accomodate my recovery have been life-enhancing, not just for me but for my whole family. That is, until this year when I seem to have hit a very hard wall relating to changes in diet that don’t feel joyful, don’t feel life-enhancing…and just make life plain challenging and rather miserable for us all as I strive to make this work as part of family life.
The problem with diagnosis
What do I mean about maintaining a positive state of mind in the face of a diagnosis? Well, to start with, I feel I need to say that seeking a diagnosis can be problematic ground as soon as you open up to the frame of mind where you are asking that qustion “is there somthing to be diagnosed here?”. Why? Because it presupposes there is a problem. As soon as you go for tests or seek an opinion, there is an inherent assumption that there is something “wrong”. As soon as a test result flags something up, there it is a again…something “wrong”, now written in black and white on a piece of paper (I touched on this recently in my post What part do allopathic medical tests play in a holistic recovery route?). The mind is an incredibly powerful instrument of self-actualisation and as soon as it thinks there is evidence that there is something “wrong” it finds it very difficult to be persuaded otherwise unless logical and demonstrable steps can be taken to rectify this “wrong” thing. And in the realms of chronic illness, there are very few tried and tested steps to remedy all those things that may come up in tests and so the mind is left “knowing” that you are broken in some (or, perhaps, many) ways, which can then actualise this situation because the mind now takes this as “fact”.
The body takes so many of its cues from what the mind thinks and this relationship between them should not be underestimated in a situation where so-called “proof” that something is wrong has been gathered. This is why so many people who are given a short time to live manage to fulfil those instructions almost to the letter. Now, if you are the kind of person who meditates and thinks positive, life-affirming thoughts, who believes in their higher creative abilities which go above and beyond the domain of the body then you will probably balance any diagnosis you receive with a spade load of these approaches…but you will have your work cut out to keep the see-saw level. Like me, you can reach the point where you feel utterly burned out…pitched somewhere between a load of self-sought diagnostic confusion with no easy answers or cures and a monumental effort to balance this with yoga and mediation, positive spin and powerful self-belief that you can recover using the power of positivity – EXHAUSTING! This is what it can feel like to live straddled between two hemispheres and I am at the very frontline of it, which is a hard place to be.
Straddled between left and right hemispheres
So there I am, straddled, and yet my health is really floundering – still – so what do I do? I even have a new “logical” theory about what may be wrong with me on the table, so does that give the left-hemisphere a winning card? Do I plunge into that side of things (again) and give it all I’ve got or do I ignore it? Am I not just too weary at the thought of exploring any more theories; should I just give up and live with the pain? But then the life I aspire to doesn’t WANT all that pain, I have things I look forward to doing with my life and pain doesn’t allow me to get on and do them. In short, I don’t want to put up with this situation any longer and if a new theory could be THE theory to get me out of here then shouldn’t I give it a hearing? Hmmm, such a dilemma.
Seeking the right kind of help – someone who will work with you
Before I get into that new theory, I just want to finish the story of where I’m at after all those blood tests and the Ayurvedic approach over the summer, all of which seemed to lead me deeper into confusion. The upshot of that is that I have now arranged to see a functional therapist that I first considered seeing two years ago on the recommendation of my pain therapist. This guy will run tests – and then some – to probe to the very bottom of what is going on with my body, so that’s good – right? Well….part of me is still in resistance to that approach for the same reasons that came up two years ago. Two of them are these: the financial implications (this won’t be a cheap process, at all) and the fact he offers a concertedly left-brained approach to exploring what is going on with me. In other words, when he runs his lab tests and comes up with anything “concrete” he will expect me to follow his recovery protocol to the letter. I anticipate, there will be no room for gut feelings, for “but I tried that before and I think I can rule it out” or “why don’t we just explore that possibility cautiously rather than turning my whole life over and sending me to purgatory”.
I anticipate being told that I can’t eat all sorts of foods that I really enjoy, all over again…oh how depressing; this above all makes me want to fall to the ground and weep. Following a year in which I’ve given up my favourite foods and drastically modified my diet more than once, losing all my passion for cooking because what’s the point when I’m left so few ingredients, the thought of going back into this territory just before Christmas is making me quite miserable. Yet there’s a sense of “this could be my best chance to get to the bottom of all this” and so I’m going ahead with it, if with reservations. Maybe the dietary changes that flag up won’t be so very awful this time…and they will be worth it if I feel dramatically different in the end.
Which brings me to one of my key points on this topic…where there is no joy left, we can be sure we have excluded the right-brained perspective. When all we can see is the hard wall of the corridor we are apparently walking and the printed signs and arrows on those wall saying we “must” go this way or that, we can be sure we have lost the over-view and its an imprisonment of sorts. “Down there’ we can only go one or maybe two or three routes (some of its junctions are confusing thus they seem to offer choices…) but we have lost the very point of the journey if we no longer experience the very joy that makes us want to be here in a human body. So if diagnosis only brings limitation and fear, we need to make sure we don’t lose sight of that other perspective…the broader perspective that allows us to see the whole point. If there is anxiety building in me about meeting this functional therapist it is probably because of this; I intend to bring my right-brained perspectives to the meetings and I expect them to be given a hearing – but will they be given the respect they deserve or will this be an expensive exercise in going nowhere (because I do so believe that the holistic approach holds the key)? I find it means so much to me that my right-sided approach be fully “heard”; and I find that just so fascinating to witness about myself since it is what is most different about me, compared to a decade ago.
Is it possible to meet diagnosis with a more right-brained perspective?
Implicit in the very idea of diagnosis is the belief that there is a right way and a wrong way to proceed and we “must” follow a certain route to get to a certain destination. But what if there are still many routes and the diagnosis is only there to give us a hint or a push, not to dominate the whole progression plan?
As luck would have it, I can provide an example of attempting to meet a self-diagnosis with a more right-brained perspective on how to proceed from my current circumstances. When I decided to see the functional guy that I’m booked to go and see, it was because I was talking about oxalates to my pain therapist, who (it turned out) knew all about them. Oxalates are found in a great many everyday foods and some people, for reasons not entirely clear, are prone to harbouring them in the body, often as kidney stones but…ever more typically these days, it seems…as tiny sharp crystals in the very fluids and tissue of the body, causing widespread pain and inflammation along with a host of other symptoms which I won’t list here (there’s an ever-growing amount of information on the internet…along with some very contradictory information about which foods contain the highest amounts). In fact, in the latest bout of research and anecdotes, oxalates are being associated with the chronic, relentless and “unsolvable” pain of fibromylagia with ever more frequency (search for the topic by these keywords and you will discover dozens of articles for yourself). In fact, my own symptoms correspond closely enough with what I have read about oxalates for me to feel I have to take a potential link seriously but let me offer this word of caution first (because its one hell of a huge can of worms to open if you’re not ready for it). Before you go off and research this topic like your life depends on it (I know how it is…), just stop for a moment and read on to gain some perspective.
If I was to believe everything I have read about oxalates, I would be facing the prospect of giving up pretty much all the food that makes life worth living for me. We’re talking all nuts (especially almonds) and dark leafy greens (especially spinach), tomatoes and most other colourful fruit and veg (such as berries, oranges and peppers), potatoes, beets, sweet potatoes, quinoa, lentils, many other grains and beans, green tea, coffee, some of my key supplements…on and on and on the lists go, running into entire spreadsheets on the oxalate forums. The emotional reaction I had to this was a resounding “Nooooo! I don’t want to hear this, not after the year I’ve already had giving up so many foods”. So, yes, I’ve done loads of reading and I’ve taken a view, which is this.
OK, I’m prepared to reduce oxalates in my diet for the time being; that is, taking out the main players such as almonds and almond milk (almonds are one of the highest oxalate foods), both of which I was having every day, and by reducing potatoes, which I’ve been eating loads of since Ayurveda and the Medical Medium encouraged me to do so and because I love them. In fact, when I look at what I’ve been eating the most of since early this year, high-oxalate foods dominate the top of that list (until I had my blood tests, I was living off super-food salads dominated by raw green leaves, sprinkled liberally with nuts and served with a side order of green juice) and maybe that is a reason for such a painful year. So. I’m prepared to accept that I may have pushed myself over the limit, in my avoidance of all those other foods I was trying to eliminate (for instance, I introduced amaranth flour so I could bake light and nutritious gluten and yeast free bread but this turns out to be a very high oxalate food) so I will pull back on those particular foods for a while, but I’m not planning to eliminate them altogether. I’m certainly not planning to give up all colourful veg or bananas or avocados…or the blueberries and celery that the Medical Medium lists as so key to recovery. If my oxalates got too high this year then I’ll bring them back into check, but I don’t plan to get extreme about it.
Then, and this is key, I want to focus on why my body has an issue processing oxalates in the first place. In other words, why (when most people can eat them) do I apparently struggle? How can I better support my gut to remedy this? Do I need to reintroduce a probiotic, for instance (possible, yes) and am I getting enough calcium (a key player in binding to oxalate to excrete it out of the body)? These are things I can proactively look into rather than selling my soul to an oxalate avoidance diet that takes away all quality of life and makes me miserable. So many of the people I have seen talking on the many forums on this topic – and its a BIG topic on the internet right now – are struggling to adapt their lives to the point of complete oxalate avoidance, counting the numbers in every food they consume and resigning themselves to this as something think they have to do for the rest of their lives. No! That’s where diagnosis becomes a prison sentence and, potentially, leads to other issues further down the line due to loss of nutrients and, above all, of morale. Don’t ever underestimate the importance of morale when it comes to healing…this is what got my friend Kat through cancer and its been my best friend through thick and thin. Guess what, our right hemisphere is a veritable morale factory because it always sees the much bigger picture; enough to keep things in perspective.
Right brain meets left
So this is how I plan to meet the research I am currently undertaking (and when I say “research” I primarily mean the trial and error experiment of what makes me feel better rather than losing myself on Google). Yes, I still plan to meet with the functional therapist and take on board their advice but I won’t be forgetting how much research and experience of my own I am bringing to the table and will expect him to respect that and meet me in the middle. I don’t intent to allow the “meaning” that the left brain likes to give to empirical evidence to run away with itself through me; there is always another side to the picture or another outcome waiting in the wings and I get to play that card…even more effectively than ever…when I have a better clue what is going on, courtesy of science so I regard it as team work. This is where diagnosis can, potentially enhance my recovery journey without taking it over. After all, that’s just what Kat did…she respected the diagnosis she received, she took the best science advice on offer and she added her own expertise, which was to trust unwaveringly in her own powers of healing. This is the mixed skillset that I now have on offer, too; which is very different to where I was ten or eleven years ago. Back then, I would surrender everything I had just as soon as I heard a “professional opinion”; like my input didn’t matter. That’s completely back to front; I’m the one who creates the very matter of my body, with my thoughts…and no one gets to direct where those go to except for me!
What lies beyond meaning?
Meaning, after all, is subjective (we tend to forget that) and we create it when we attempt to interpret what our experiences are offering up in any moment. We use it to determine what these things are saying about life and, particularly, about us. When we take a diagnosis to mean we are faulty, weak, limited, threatened, compromised, done for…well, guess what…that’s what we get. When we take a diagnosis to mean that our body has hit upon a bump in the road and that we, as master creators of our own experience, get to choose from a variety of angles that we use to tackle that temporary jolt in the ride of life, we open up a much wider playing field of possibility. Some diagnoses have been hung around with so many of the fear-interpretations of other people that we, all too easily, succumb to these perspectives when our turn comes up to hear the same words. People like Kat challenge the need to accept the same meaning that other people have taken on as their own when faced with a diagnosis; and her experience lives out how possible it is to change the outcome. Meaning has also been used extensively in the human mindgame of worth; because when we determine something is good or bad we are, in effect, saying the same thing about us and our prognosis. When we let go of meaning…or at least rise above it…we soften that reaction and allow ourselves to notice the good that can be found, yes, even in a diagnosis that comes as a shock in the beginning. Again, in the same way that Kat is deeply grateful for her cancer and the part it played in expanding her sense of self. When we take on the entrenched and distorted ideas of worth that have been hung around the idea of facing a health challenge, we allow ourselves to lose confidence in ourselves just when we most need to believe in our inherent and unshakeable sense of worth in order to rise above any diagnosis to enjoy an even richer life beyond it. This dualistic way of looking at the world does not serve us well on a recovery path; and an exclusively left-brained approach makes us vulnerable to such a perspective…we are, literally, missing half of the picture.
Direct experience offers us something else (more subtle perhaps, but its always there); allowing us the moment-to-moment, self-evident, sensory feedback that tells us, often, all we need to know to make our next decision. This is where we observe feelings such as joy and contraction, lightness and dread, using them to tell us when to proceed or when its time to move on past (as I just did with Ayurveda). This is exactly what I intend to continue to use, even as I allow tests to be done to probe deeper into the mechanism of my body, because this intuitive approach is as key to my recovery as anything. In fact, any distortions in the way my body operates are, likely, hung-over from times when I failed to take note of all the abundantly self-evident feedback available to me and all that a healing process requires of us is that we iron out some of those kinks in our make-up, which is why our physical symptoms draw attention to them.
As I’ve already elaborated on, we tend to separate ourselves from our most intuitive responses as soon as we embark on setting a health-issue right but why? In a world devoid of all entrained thinking or belief systems, direct feedback via the right hemisphere of the brain would probably have been all I needed to rely on…but, like most people, I am a product of my times and the more analytical side of my brain insists on gathering data. Well, let it…perhaps it won’t be happy until it gets the chance to take part…but not at the expense of the whole picture. I embrace the value of a more scientific approach – and that takes some saying as I have diligently avoided it for years – yet I do so without surrendering up all that I have learned about those other kinds of feedback which are readily available in each and every moment. When we bring both hemispheres into willing partnership, we have the best of both worlds and every opportunity to heal.