Going through a journey of chronic symptoms in the body is no easy feat! It tests your resilience and perseverance, while activating a shedding process helping you let go of the parts of your personality that contributed to the development of the symptoms in the first place.
Just a few major lessons on my journey have been about developing patience, acceptance, learning to self-soothe my emotions and to sit with uncertainty, while surrendering the illusion of control.
It started with an event or series of events. Traumatic. Stressful. Disruptive to the nervous system, putting it into a state of activation and constant fight or flight. But then the events resolved. Time passed. The external world shifted in positive directions. Yet still the symptoms remained.
For me it showed up in the bowel, but as Dan Buglio calls them, “perceived danger” pain or symptoms can show up anywhere in the body (e.g. back pain, migraines, fibromyalgia, the list goes on). Anything chronic, nonstructural seeming to follow an unpredictable and erratic course that is ill-defined is likely to fall under this umbrella.
The root cause of all these symptoms is exactly this, a perceived danger that something is wrong, fear. Fear of the symptoms, fear of them never going away, fear of daily life being negatively affected, fear that there is actually something wrong.
And it is this fear cycle that keeps them stuck in the body. For 10 years I dealt with relentless erratic constipation, reflux, bloating, pain, classically diagnosed as a simple case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. However, in my experience this was anything but simple. Even jealousy can arise when others are given a “proper diagnosis” for their ailments, as the feeling is that at least they can do something about it or know what’s going on.
Over time I discovered that I did know what was going on. The diagnosis was FEAR.
After so many years of judging the day ahead as good or bad based on whether or not I had a bowel motion and the degree of bloating and reflux present, with an extreme fixation and preoccupation on this area of my body through every moment of the day, I reached a point at which it was time to address the core of what was really at play.
It was time to tell my brain a new message. That I was safe. My body was safe. That there was really nothing physically wrong with my gut (which deep down I had always known), no food sensitivity, bacterial imbalance or leaky walls. That when a symptom showed up it wasn’t a big deal. It would pass. And my body would take care of the automatic process of digestion if my mind got out of its way.
It was then that the true healing began.
It wasn’t the body I had to direct my attention to, it was time to shine the light on the activation of fear in my mind and my soul. The fear that had got stuck, if you like, in the crevices of my being and had remained so activated that it had been limiting my autonomic nervous system’s ability to do its job.
After all the years of seeing doctors, integrative and specialist, naturopaths, acupuncturists, body talk practitioners, the list goes on, it was time to find the true specialist for these issues showing up in my body. Me!
The journey through chronic symptoms is a journey of awakening. It is awakening to the fears lying dormant in our mind and soul. It is awakening to the ways in which we are living our lives that no longer serve us. It is letting go people, circumstances and places that no longer resonate with the person we are becoming.
It was never really about the gut.
My gut was my saviour. My gut had shown me all the ways my ego and personality had been keeping me stuck. My gut helped me see, through a physical manifestation, where I needed to shed something externally or within, through the years the symptoms infiltrated my life.
Perhaps when you next encounter a patient with chronic symptoms that don’t seem to fit a classic pattern, you might like to think twice before dismissing them with a generic explanation for their symptoms. It is important even amidst the pressures of a busy day and patient load to hold a level of empathy for the complex journey they might be on, which will validate their experience and facilitate improved outcomes. By taking the time to ask these questions:
What was happening in your life at the time these symptoms first showed up in your body?
What is your relationship to the symptoms? Do they activate fear within you?
Do the symptoms impact your mood or daily functioning with your attention fixated on what’s happening in your body?
You might even diagnose fear and save that person years or a lifetime of unnecessary suffering.
The mind and body are not separate.
Symptoms may manifest in any body system.
Asking key questions may unmask the underlying issue.
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