Disease is a Messenger With Good News

Lately, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around why I became sick. Was it that candy bar I splurged on? Was it that week I skipped my workouts? Is it because I’ve been dissatisfied with my career? Why would I–a healthy young woman who meditates, exercises, and eats organic foods–succumb to a rare and often asymptomatic disease.

I have been desperately grasping for an answer, hoping to make sense of the senseless and direct the blame towards something.

My infectious disease doctor keeps reiterating that I did nothing wrong. “One of my clients,” she told me, “was a professional baseball player, and he was on the bench for over a year. You can bet he was healthy and active. Cocci doesn’t discriminate.”

“Whatever is rejected from the self, appears in the world as an event.” ― C.G. Jung

As much as I want to believe I was just unlucky, I feel as if that answer is too simple. If it’s true that everything happens for a reason, perhaps this illness is a manifested response to past action or meant to prompt a lesson I’ve yet to learn.

A fellow blogger has been reigniting my interest in Carl Jung and his concept of the unlived life. We are all deserving of full and happy lives, yet we often build walls around that which we are unwilling to face. This, in turn, keeps us small and prevents us from reaching our full potential. This unlived life is a weight on our shoulders–a burden that each of us must carry until we reach the point where we can face, accept, and overcome those repressed, ugly, and fearful parts of ourselves that we’ve walled off for so long.

I’m not certain what, if anything, I rejected within myself to bring disease into my life. Generally speaking, I have everything I could ever wish for–food, water, shelter, companionship, security, and self-acceptance. Across all facets of my life, I feel content.

“Suffering is our call to attention, our call to investigate the truth of our beliefs.” ― Tara Brach

Regardless of whether the infection and its spread is the results of self-rejection or bad luck, I am recognizing the experience as a call to listen to my body. Though I have always cared for my body with the gentle firmness of a mother, in retrospect I wonder whether I have simply been going through the motions without honestly checking in with each muscle, organ, and cell.

I continued running despite my legs continually giving out and pushed my sore body when it took a full week to recover from lifting. Even when lying down for the final mediation in yoga, checking in with each body part resembled going through a checklist. Yep, all my toes are still there.

Over the last five months, I’ve been trying to have an honest conversation with my body in its suffering. I create space and ask my physical body where the pain is coming from, as well as what I can do it alleviate it. Though the answers have not come easily, what I have realized is that I’ve been suppressing feelings of physical discomfort for years now.

On our last several hikes, my boyfriend’s endurance has outlasted mine even through I was the one who worked out daily. I was a bit envious, not inquisitive. Health and fitness are an important part of my life, so what does it say about me if I lose strength or fall ill?

I suspect that my body has been pleading for relief for years, and I have ignored it to preserve my vision of who I think I should be–fit, healthy, and happy. What a painful thing to admit to oneself: my body asked for help, and I failed to listen.

“The only sadnesses that are dangerous and unhealthy are the ones that we carry around in public in order to drown them out with the noise; like diseases that are treated superficially and foolishly, they just withdraw and after a short interval break out again all the more terribly; and gather inside us and are life, are life that is unlived, rejected, lost, life that we can die of.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke

My recent journaling and mediation keeps leading me back to the idea of coming back to my body. Our bodies already know how to do everything–make art, dance, sing, make love, and tell stories. We are equipped with all the wisdom we will ever need, and it’s available to us right here and right now. However, when we disconnect from the aliveness of our body, we enter a trance that prevents us from living fully.

When we cut off our minds from our bodies, our perceptions are shaped by distorted fragments of reality. The aliveness–that knowing how to sing, dance, and feel love–is a part of our bodies, and it becomes inaccessible when we dissociate our thoughts from our physical reality. This divorce can cause a tremendous amount of suffering.

The new-found understanding that my body has been struggling to battle an intrusive disease across the last four years paired with the sobering realization that I have been sweeping the symptoms under the rug for the same duration has forced me to more closely examine my mind-body relationship, which I previously though was infallible. The rug has been violently pulled out from under me, and I’m now forced to face everything that was hidden underneath.

“One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.” ― Abraham H. Maslow

Our bodies are like a wilderness, filled with mystery, intrigue, and danger. Just as the most challenging hikes lead to some of the best views, we must commit ourselves to the exploration of our own psyche. Preparing for a long and strenuous hike requires hard work and discipline, as does reentering the wilderness of our bodies.

It is so easy to return to the safety of our comfort zone, to say “no,” and to walk away. It is much harder to face our fears, to listen intently to our bodies, and to chose to grow even in the most infertile soil.

Reconnecting the mind to the body first requires the intention to be present and to stay with your body. We start by simply noticing our aliveness, paying attention to sensations (even when the make us uneasy), and holding the intention to stay in that place. With time, we may learn to shine the light of awareness on the parts of the psyche we’re not open to, gradually opening up the doors to future growth and possibility.

“Here is a calm so deep, grasses cease waving. Everything in wild nature fits into us, as if truly part and parent to us. The sun shines not on us but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substances of our bodies, making them glide and sing. The trees wave and the flowers bloom in our bodies as well as our souls. And every bird song, wind song, and tremendous storm song of the rocks, in the heart of the mountains is our song, our very own, and sings our love.” ― John Muir

I still struggle to identify as sick, when my entire life has been committed to making choices to support me health and longevity. Perhaps this is the lesson I’m meant to learn: I am not the sum of my choices, nor am I invincible.

I have begun to view my disease as a messenger carrying good news, as disturbing as that news can be at times. Pain and suffering are tugging on my shirt sleeve, maternally asking me to take care of myself. The infection inhabiting my physical body has guided me back to the tender places within myself, a places where I can–and need to–hold myself with compassion. It has told me to alter my diet, get more sleep, stop exercising when it hurts, and to breathe more consciously. Pain has nudged me to investigate my suffering and to nourish whatever I may discover with loving-kindness.

Slowly but surely, I am beginning to accept the pain in my body and personify it as a young child with a scraped knee. My body is home to my soul, so it should to be treated with the same compassion as person who can’t quite articulate what hurts. Perhaps, we deserve to approach our personal ailments with that same gentle inquisitiveness.

“Each patient carries his own doctor inside him.” ― Norman Cousins

Whether the illness I’m experiencing is the result of unresolved emotional issues or simply being at the wrong place at the wrong time, it has taught me the importance of tapping back into my body.

Perhaps we all have slivers of unlived life waiting to be uncovered and experienced fully. The good news is this: wisdom and insight are always available to us, and each wandering into the wilderness will lead us further along our path back to wholeness and wellness.

10 thoughts on “Disease is a Messenger With Good News

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  1. Disease certainly speaks loudly, particularly to those who are not familiar with it. The trick is to understand the message: is it critical, or that of a spoiled brat? I enjoy being healthy, haven’t needed the services of a doctor in over 40 years but it wasn’t always so. Long ago, good health was something I thought I’d never know, then I changed my mind. That was it.

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    1. Sha’Tara, thank you for your insights–profound, yet so simple. If you don’t mind me asking, what did your change of mind entail? Did you reach a breaking point where you were no longer willing to tolerate anything less than perfect health, realize and accept that your ailment was not critical (and perhaps not the true reality of the situation), or something else entirely?
      Disease certainly does speak loudly, and I want to both respect its message and have the courage to send it on it’s way once the message has been received. I believe fully, as I am guessing you do, that the body is a self-regulating system that intuitively knows how to care for itself when provided proper nutrients, exercise, community, and kind thoughts. I suspect my illness stems for some misalignment in my life, whether physical, mental, or spiritual, which means that I hold the key to health–the power to change my mind. So much food for thought, Sha’Tara. Thank you for your kindness and insights. ❤

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      1. I’m going to address your questions to the best of my ability and recollection, since the change happened suddenly in 1979, so a few decades ago. The situation was that I was heading for a life in a wheelchair, my back having completely given out and nothing, it seems, the medical fraternity could do, and what they suggested sounded even worse than the wheelchair and endless pain. My course of action was to do the suicide thing. I was not going to live like that. Many do, yes, and some manage quite well but not me. On the day in question, I ran into an intervention, and that being much too long a story, I’ll give you the gist of it. Whether it was just me, or the work of some “others” (not the earth people kind) it was my mind that was changed. I had a life to live; things to do and I needed my “normal” life to experience myself as a changing being. The back pain/problem disappeared, along with allergies, tiredness, stress – gone. The start was the easy part, the maintenance of the new lease on life was to demand everything I could pour into it, and that meant endless and radical change re: my religion, politics, social endeavours – including the very sudden termination of my first marriage, everything. It was a kind of “madness” that continues to this day. Suffice it to say that it was a total commitment to a new self and a new life, and it was not either socially or economically comfortable but a necessary choice for me.

        Over the decades and the drastic changes I learned to work intuitively with my immune system, knowing that it needs challenges; that the soft modern life is the sure way to destroy what’s left of the species’ immunity to diseases. Our quest for physical comfort (from air conditioning, to eating whenever we think we are hungry, to endless entertainment to stress over money) is a quest for death.

        From what I’ve learned and experienced, our “misalignments” stem from disconnectedness within our “trinitarian” nature of spirit, mind and physical body. If we are spiritually doubtful and mentally stunted or “followers” then our physical aspect will also be weakened. When one or two aspects of our human beingness is ignored in favour of another; when spirit is denigrated to fit in with Neo-Darwinism or such modern thought; when mind is relegated to being nothing more than neurons firing in the brain, then the being is denied access to what I call Life, or the Source (not to be equated to any belief in any god, or with any religious doctrine). We are extremely complex beings and we seldom if ever develop enough self empowerment to get to know ourselves. Thus we fall into the hands of religious, political, medical and psychiatric hacks and they destroy us.

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      2. Thank you so much for taking the time to respond with such honest transparency, Sha’Tara. I’m so inspired by what you’ve shared–the mind is such a powerful tool, so it doesn’t surprise me at all that your desire and need to live a “normal” life was enough to help you body shake its ailments. It sounds almost as if that commitment live your best life and become your most authentic self was a catalyst that has fostered tremenous growth, even though it required sacrificing the old and familar. That takes a lot of courage.

        I completely agree that people’s addictions to comfort, conveinicnce, and pleasure are killing them. Though people claim to be busier and more productive, what are they truly accomplsihing? More anxiety and depression, paired with a little extra spending money, maybe. Self-awareness and subsequent self-empowerment require commitment, courage, and disciple, which seems to be a tall order for a large portion of the population.

        Thank you again for your insights! You’ve given me so much to think about.

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  2. I’m touched by this. I’ve known some in similar straits. Slight resemblances to things in my past as well. And perhaps future. But look — I know it is entirely presumptuous; I know nothing about you. Still, may I speak my intuition? Hearing what there is to hear in what you write… no — it is not your body that is the matter. We do not see a lack of listening to your physical nature in your case story; instead we see perhaps too much listening to it. Which suggests this focus has been at the expense of something else. Maybe something which wishes to become. I sense you must look somewhere different for relief from your puzzle, not at your physicality. At something in your soul, your ways of sensing the world around you, how your feelings arise and are inspected or ignored. With gentleness but a childlike commitment to naivete, this must be undertaken, Good luck.

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    1. Thank you for your insight–it’s given me a lot to think about and, as much as mind wants to resist the idea, I believe there’s truth in your intuition. Maybe the health problems are the manifestation of, as well as a distraction from, some other issue, perhaps on a spiritual or emotional level.
      Thank you for prompting me to dig deeper and get honest with myself, and for the reminder to practice gentle firmness and curiosity on the journey. …I think this is going to be an important catalyst for me.

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  3. Hello, and thank you for following my blog which was the impetus for coming here to your blog site.

    I don’t know your whole story here, or what is making you sick, but I can commiserate in part as I struggle with Lupus like symptoms (an autoimmune thing).

    The one thing that I can say about myself and my struggle (and mostly successful) attempts to stay healthy, is that it isn’t all physical and it isn’ t all emotional. Nor is my affliction imagined.

    You haven’t failed in some way to honour yourself or be the best you can be. Whatever you are experiencing is real and attacking your wellbeing. And you shouldn’t blame yourself or beat yourself up over your attempts to fight it off.

    I did notice, that in all of your words, you mentioned lots of positive attitude to exercise, good thought processes and so on. These words suggest that you are addressing everything that is external to you. But you did not mention ‘loving you’ specifically.

    Sometimes, we do not live perfect lives. Yes, we might have our physical surroundings that give us basic care, but sometimes a relationship, be it work, personal or circumstantial, leaves us slightly uneasy. We dismiss it as ‘necessary’ to keep life ticking along. It is wise to examine any unease and think on ways to reduce it, if not eliminate it. That is one step on the road to recovery – when we are not constantly worrying about or dreading something.

    May I also suggest that you give yourself permission to love yourself exactly as you are and not wait until you are as you think you should be. Love is the strongest emotion of all. When we muster it to full strength, it overcomes adversity, illness, stress, worry, and most negative things that plague us.

    Your body may be ravaged by invasive bacteria or viruses but send love to your affected body parts, when you exercise, send love to your aching muscles, when you have negative thoughts, send love to your brain. This is a very powerful emotion that has more healing effect than you can imagine. When you remove that knot of worry in your stomach with loving warmth and acceptance, you free much of your immune response from those worrying activities, to actually go and do the real business of fighting infection and reducing inflammation (the real killers).

    The reason many alternate healers are sought is not for their medical prowess, or their ability to cure, because these of course, are not the case. The reason that people seek alternate healing is desperation. Healers recognise this, and send love to your body, along with their own energy and that which they draw from a higher self. This simply replenishes you, gives comfort and allows your body to redirect those immune responses to where they are needed. It is that simple, but also that powerful.

    My dear, we are all on the earth for different reasons and some of us will have long time spans, and some short, but don’t spend your time rehashing what has already been. Accept, forgive, and move on with love for yourself. You are, whatever you are and that is your journey. Might as well love it instead of hate it. 😊

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    1. Thank you so much for you kind and loving words, Colette! It’s really given me so much to think about. Though I’ve heard it from my doctor repeatedly, it feels much more meaningful to hear from someone in a similar sitaution that the affiction is real, but also the reminder that this is my journey, so I might as well own it and love it!

      I also really appreciate your mention of self-love because this is something that has been of utmost importance to me for years, but I think it’s taken the backseat lately (at a time when I most need it), partically because I’m currently unable to participate in some of my pre-illness self-care activities. I’m really going to consider what my mind/body/soul triad needs *right now* to feel loved, appreicated, and cared for just as it is.

      Thank you!! ❤ ❤ ❤

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