I’ve been thinking a lot about the mind-body connection. I am about to have minor surgery (repair of a torn meniscus in my right knee, to be shortly thereafter followed by the same procedure on the left), and, as it often happens in this synchronistic Universe, I began to see a lot of images having to do with how what’s happening in our hearts and minds affects our bodies in corresponding ways.
Growing up, I had a lot of headaches, sore throats, aches and pains, earaches, sleeplessness and unexplained ailments. My father used to call me a hypochondriac and hypersensitive, and said that all of my physical problems were psychosomatic, which to him meant it was all in my head, and not “real.” When I was a Psych major in college, I learned the true meaning of psychosomatic (“psych”– pertaining to the mind; “soma” – pertaining to the body), and finally found something about which my father and I could agree. My pain and illnesses were, indeed, psychosomatic – which means that mental and emotional trauma and stress had become physical illness over time. It’s the physical manifestation of PTSD and other stress responses that the body uses as a mechanism to protect itself, which begin to cause deterioration when it can no longer safely process the trauma.
I am a word nerd, and love the way we use language to express physical conditions – not realizing just how literal we’re being. So, for example, “what’s eating us” – worry, fear and guilt – ends up disrupting our digestion. Too much “back-breaking” work, or “shouldering a burden” (again, guilt may factor in here) leads to backaches and shoulder pain. A “broken heart” – sadness from disrupted relationships – can manifest as physical heart ailments – palpitations, pain in the chest, even heart failure. Headaches (“this is making my head explode!”) may result from perseverating thoughts and stress that keeps our minds abuzz and won’t let us relax and “shut off.” Things that are a “pain in the ass” or felt on a “gut level” – that make us unhappy or that we try to avoid – may lead to lower GI issues (I’ll spare you the details). Someone’s figurative “kick in the teeth” prevents us from smiling, and often causes us to clam up in anger or sorrow. I see now that my childhood sore throats were connected to my lack of voice in a house where I was contantly told to “shut up,” and not talk back (I still become hoarse or lose my voice when I’m nervous). My earaches, to the verbal abuse I heard on a daily basis.
Our bodies have ways of letting us know that emotional pain is harming us, even if we try to suppress it or pretend it’s not there. What began as a centuries-old theory about how the “humors” of the body affected certain functions, waned with the advent of pharmaceuticals and other allopathic methods, then resurged in the “peace-loving” sixties and seventies, is now a scientifically proven and accepted fact with lots of research behind it (see, for example, this now somewhat dated research compendium).
For a while I had a job for which I was ill-suited. I was, admittedly, over my head, but instead of helping me through, my boss constantly micromanaged, belittled and bullied me. It became a living nightmare, and I hated going to work every day. This was made worse when, a few months after I started the job, my best friend died unexpectedly and I had to try to process my grief in this toxic environment. I began to get sick. I was diagnosed with diverticulitis, and had some attacks that put me in the emergency room. I had headaches, and couldn’t sleep. I had an incident at work of scintillating scotoma or retinal migraine, for the first (and, happily, last) time in my life (quite frighteningly, this is characterized by a sudden blind spot in one’s vision, sometimes – though thankfully not in my case – followed by a debilitating headache. Many people to whom it happens believe, as I did, that they are having a stroke). And then came the rashes. It was almost as though all the emotions I had stuffed into my body (along with comfort food, and the weight began to pack on) were trying to claw their way through my skin from the inside out. I went to a doctor at one point and described the terrible itchy, red, angry rashes I would get at work. She asked me about my work (looking for possible triggers of contact dermatitis), and as I was describing my workplace situation, a rash began to bloom on my legs before our very eyes. She was so astonished that she called in her colleagues to witness this phenomenon. The diagnosis and treatment? The stress of your workplace is damaging your body. Quit your job. Which I did soon thereafter.
Since that graphic illustration of how my thoughts and feelings affected my body, I’ve been more mindful about how I deal with emotions and stress. I’ve forced my “Type A” personality to slow down. I’ve done some work to discover the roots of my stress, depression, anxiety and guilt and to work on healing them. I give myself permission to relax, to honor my needs and not to let guilt or a false sense of obligation lead me to push my body beyond its limits. I’m working on loving myself more – which means a greater focus on self-care and self-nurture… because I deserve it, and realize that there’s no need to punish myself for perceived failures.
One of the changes I have made is to reestablish a yoga practice, finishing with the shavasana or “corpse” pose and meditation. One day during meditation I began thinking about the affirmations I was repeating – “I am a Healer. I am Healing. I Heal.” It struck me that each of those phrases has a dual meaning. I am a Healer (my body heals itself/I am able to heal others, through Reiki, compassion and connecting them with their Highest Selves). I am Healing (my body is in the process of getting better/I have the power to spread wellness to those around me, as a healing balm). I Heal (myself and others). Affirmations should always be uttered in the present tense, and each of these phrases focuses on the now. It is very true that as we heal ourselves, we heal others, who in turn heal us as well. It’s a simple but profound concept, and I believe this realization was gifted to me by my Angels and Guides.
The body has an astonishing ability to heal itself, if we let it. I have a great deal of respect for medical practitioners, since many of them feel a true calling to help others and to make a difference in the world. Not to minimize the value of those who are educated to go in and make the repairs, but our bodies have evolved the ability to mend its wounds and to keep itself healthy. It just needs help from us, in the form of good hygiene, healthy and nourishing fuel, a safe environment and care, nurture and proper rest. It can’t do it alone, and the way it fights to maintain stasis when we don’t practice the things that keep us well is by getting sick.
So what’s up with my knees and my need for surgery? Is it a harkening back to my Catholic days spent kneeling in prayer? Some sort of trauma and a feeling that I was forced “on my knees” by those with whom I was in relationships? Actually it’s probably due to my genetic predisposition to early-onset osteoarthritis, in combination with overenthusiastic Zumba adventures. Sometimes a cigar is, truly, just a cigar.
What is causing your body dis-ease? What keeps you from having a body that is well and healthy? What thoughts, emotions or anxieties are eating away at you? YOU have the power to heal yourself. And healing will give you insight into how others are suffering, and how you are able to share your healing with them as well. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to embark on this journey to a healthier you, and a healthier Universe. You are a Healer. You are Healing. You Heal.