This is by far my most vulnerable blog. I feel the need to write it, yet am scared to death to share it. However a blog isn’t a blog unless you write about something personal and share it with others – even complete strangers! So, here we go!
Many moons ago, I might have laughed at someone who explained to me the connections that I am about to make and share with you between my health and my emotions. At the least, I would I have dismissed it. I encourage you to do neither.
Growing up as an only child, I was often lonely. Sometimes I was lonely in a perfectly acceptable way of being comfortable with being alone. I read a lot. I spent a lot of time in nature. I learned to think deeply and to be very introspective. I wrote poetry. I felt close to “a” God, because there was no one else to be close to and I felt His presence in my life. Sometimes though, I was lonely in a way that hurt. My parents worked a lot. They were young when they had me and worked hard to make sure that I had the material things that I needed. I spent lots of time being part of carpools, at babysitters’, being shuffled between my parents’ work after school and eventually being a “latch key kid” when I was old enough. I knew that my parents loved me. They were caring and kind. And they told me they loved me. But often, I felt – invisible. Life sort of spun around me, while I felt unnoticed.
When I was 12, my parents got divorced. Such a common occurrence now. However, in my community and small Christian private school in the early 80’s –there were only two of us that I knew of with divorced parents. No one knew quite how to handle the situation, so it was largely ignored even though I felt very different from everyone else. My mother saw some very hard times from then until I went to college – and quite honestly until this day. As a consequence, I learned to take care of myself – and her. I learned to not depend on anyone else. I was independent and self-reliant because I needed to be. It felt important to be strong for the both of us.
None of this is a sad, feel sorry for me story. I was and am a happy person. My story is not very different than many, many children today. In fact, while I often felt different and lonely, I was also independent and strong and self-reliant. As I grew older and left for college, I felt driven to succeed because I felt that I needed to – I didn’t have a back-up – I didn’t have a typical mom to return home to.
Fast forward to my own mothering years. My husband and I started dating in high school and we have been very close since then. However, there was a time in our marriage not too long ago where things were hard. Not divorce hard. But, difficult to maneuver. After being successful at a great career for almost ten years, I quit my job to stay home with our three babies. Eventually, we decided to homeschool our children. And my stay at home mother years stretched well beyond toddlerhood. I loved almost every minute of staying home with my kids and homeschooling them. We have very fond memories of learning through living together. And in order for us to be able to do that, my husband devoted himself to his business. He worked incredibly hard and we made a good team – he in the outside world and me in our inside world. I don’t have to explain to any stay at home mom how long those days can be though. And how, no matter how grateful your husband is, it can feel like a thankless job to be with the kids 24/7. I didn’t realize that my sense of self sort of melted into the care and taking of three children. Until it was long gone. I did however notice the accolades for the worldly accomplishments of my husband were handed out freely while my “work” at home went mainly unnoticed by others. It caused a lot of tension between the two of us, as I felt quite “invisible” to the outside world that seemed to spin around me as I devoted myself to our children.
Stay with me here – I promise that I am telling you all of this for a reason – a reason directly related to my health. And possibly yours.
My Grandmother (my dad’s mom) was the one person on earth who made me feel visible when I was younger. Always. Every single time I saw her. For much of my life, my grandmother lived with my Aunt and Uncle. And they made me feel special too. They had a big gregarious Italian family with four kids, but were always happy to see me. Even in a swirl of way too many kids for their small house, amongst huge batches of spaghetti always on the stove, and the ten plus pairs of shoes left at the side door – I felt seen. And known. It was a gift from her and them to me. Being seen. Feeling important. Feeling – not invisible during those important growing up years. My grandmother passed away when I was 28 and pregnant with our middle child, a daughter that we named Madeline after my most favorite woman in the world. I missed her greatly, but I still had that big Italian family to visit. They say that everyone has a place that feels like “home” to them. When I wanted to “go home” – this is where I went.
Until early in the summer of 2010, when my dear Aunt passed away unexpectedly. I was devastated. To this day, I start to cry thinking about it. I was asked to read a scripture at her funeral and when I woke up that morning I could barely see. And then I could barely walk or ride in the car due to extreme dizziness. And then I was completely unable to move my eyes or feel my face. And then I was in the hospital being told that the MRI showed lesions on my brain consistent with Multiple Sclerosis. I was thrown into a whirl of tests, hospital stays, steroid IV’s, research, doctor’s appointments and illness. After a year of research and dissatisfaction with the conventional medical system, I landed at an Integrative Physician’s office. She asked all the right medical questions which led to a positive Lyme Disease test, the underlying infection that partly caused the MS. However, she also asked a few questions regarding my emotions, my past, my relationships, my family, what was happening in my life when my symptoms began…my real history. After a few appointments, she asked me about growing up as an only child as well as my feelings as a stay at home mom. She asked me to describe how I felt – and without ever thinking or speaking the word before – I answered, “Invisible.” At which point she noted to me that it was interesting that my first symptom of illness was an inability to “see.” The eyes, they say, are a window into the soul.
Let that sink in, because this whole long blog article has finally made the connection that I set out to make in the beginning. Was it just coincidence that I immediately fell extremely ill the day before we laid to rest the last person on earth who made me feel visible in this world during my childhood – at a time in my life when I felt largely invisible to the mainstream adult world? I don’t think so. In fact, I know it wasn’t. It had never occurred to me before, but at that moment with my Functional Medicine Doctor – I knew that somehow my emotions, heart and soul were intricately connected to my illness. I am not saying that all illness is directly connected to your feelings – obviously some things are genetic, some are literally unexplainable or unavoidable or completely random. And I am in no way suggesting that people are responsible for their own illnesses in a way that they should have or could have prevented them. However, there is an unquestionable relationship between the body and the mind that certainly extends to illness – and wellness.
I have read a lot about the subject since the first time it was brought to my attention. The actual science is called Psychoneuroimmunology and is the study of the interaction between psychological processes and the nervous and immune systems of the human body. It is a fairly new field in terms of Western medicine, though ancient cultures and people around the world have always known that these connections were key in the root of illness and the journey to healing.
Some of the best books I have read on the subject are listed here for you. I encourage you to read just one of them. They will change your world if you are dealing with chronic illness or disease. They changed mine.
– When the Body Says No, Exploring the Stress-Disease Connection by Gabor Mate, M.D. “This book shows that people do not become ill despite their lives but rather because of their lives. And life includes not only physical factors like diet, physical activity, and the environment, but also the internal milieu of thoughts and unconscious emotions that govern so much of our physiology, through the mechanisms of stress and the unity of the systems that modulate nerves, hormones, immunity, digestion and cardiovascular function.”
– The Last Best Cure: My Quest to Awaken the Healing Parts of My Brain and Get Back My Body, My Joy and My Life by Donna Jackson Nakazawa “Depending on our state of mind, we trigger a positive floating brain or a negative one. Joy and feelings of well-being can protect our immune systems, and lack of joy and well-being can tax our bodies and deprive our cells….We are all emotional beings living in physical bodies….Scientists are now showing in wide-scale studies that long-ago childhood trauma and adversity play a significant role in how well our immune system functions in adulthood, impacting our lifelong health.”
– (Currently reading this gem!) Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal, by Donna Jackson Nakazawa “If you want to know why you’ve been married three times. Or why the ability to control you drinking is slipping away from you. Or why you have so many physical problems that doctors just can’t seem to help you. Or why you feel as if there’s no joy in your life even though you’re “successful.” Read Childhood Disrupted, and you’ll learn that the problems you’ve been grappling with in your adult life have their roots in childhood events that you probably didn’t even consider had any bearing on what you’re dealing with now. Donna Jackson Nakazawa does a thorough and outstanding investigation of exactly how your childhood made you ill and/or joyless, and how you can heal.”
A large part of my journey to wellness has been healthy lifestyle factors and habits. What I eat, how I sleep, supplements I take, toxins I avoid, reducing stress, using essential oils, healthy movement and exercise. However, much of my journey has also been rooted in understanding the innate need to feel visible in this world, how feeling invisible in childhood and even in parts of my adult life affected my health, how to fill that need myself without dependence on others, and how in turn to help others to feel seen and heard too.
If you are struggling with a chronic illness or disease, I encourage you to make connections of your own between your emotions and your health and address these insights in your own journey to wellness.