Just how much can you take… emotionally? Physically? Professionally? Financially?
At the age of 29, I found out just how much I couldn’t take. I was a few years into running my chiropractic practice and owning my first home. Life seemed manageable and was going well. I’d never been ill beyond chicken pox and poison ivy as a child, and considered myself to be grounded and uneasily shaken. Then a series of stressful events at work and at home—including the untimely death of my cat—nearly put me over the proverbial edge. My medical history was about to be rewritten.
A few days following that terrible week, I went for a jog from my house in Trolley Square to Rockford Park. I had barely made it home when I felt a twisting knot in my stomach. Extreme fatigue set in and I spent every minute not at work resting in bed. Weeks went by and I regained some strength, but the fatigue and dull stomach pain persisted. After meals, my lips would feel cold and clammy while my abdomen burned. I became anxious and fearful. Realizing that the condition was not going away, I knew that I had to do something!
It did not take long to learn that I was suffering from acute gastritis (inflammation of the stomach). This is a condition that can turn into an ulcer and increases the risk of stomach cancer down the road. Medically, I was offered a prescription for Pepcid. I was grateful for the care that the internist gave me, but decided that I wanted to look beyond the symptoms and chose not to take the drug. My chiropractic training taught me the value of identifying the underlying imbalance rather than focusing on suppressing symptoms. Fortunately, I was not dealing with an immediate life and death situation and had time to figure out a permanent solution.
Blood work came back and revealed that I also had a mild infection in the stomach from bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). This bacteria is present in half the people of the world, and is a common cause of ulcers. Most don’t realize they have it because the bacteria are not causing a problem and no symptoms exist. When H. pylori become symptomatic, the medical approach is to treat it with antibiotics. I wanted to use that option only as a last resort.
Following an ugly “poor-me” phase, I decided to look at the situation differently. Instead of feeling like a victim, I began to see my illness as an OPPORTUNITY to change all the parts of my life and “me” that allowed this to happen.
I took a hard and sometimes uncomfortable look at myself and realized that, by mishandling my stress, I had created the perfect environment for illness to flourish. This understanding led me to try yoga and eventually become an instructor. I ate foods that were easy on and healing for the stomach. Before my daily yoga session, I would sit in meditation and prayer. I continued to question my thoughts and reactions to the people and world around me. My morning practice was often uncomfortable and at times tearful as my body and mind released the tensions created by stifled emotions. It seemed as if layer after layer of stress and tension vanished while my stomach began to feel whole again. Months went by and I began to see meaningful change, not only in my symptoms, but with something intangible inside of me.
I learned that the cause of my gastritis was not the absence of Pepcid or antibiotics. It was me, and the cure was to change myself! After one year, my stomach felt and functioned normally. I regained an energetic state and felt empowered by what I had learned and accomplished. The problem was corrected at its source, without drugs and without suppressing symptoms.
It is important to note that there are times when more invasive action with medication and/or surgery is warranted. There are also times when the underlying cause remains elusive. Even if you are taking medications and feel that the condition is “controlled,” you can still see it as an opportunity look for ways to make changes in your life that will improve your level of health.
If your chiropractic or medical physician determines that your condition is not a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment, you may find the below questions useful to turn illness into an opportunity:
Be your own cheerleader. Below are examples that will support you on your journey:
When your life throws you a health challenge, you have two choices. You can feel and act as a victim, or see it as a rainbow that can lead you to a pot of gold. The latter may not be the easy path, but it offers a real opportunity for self-improvement. It’s important to note that opportunities come not only in the form of a new job, stock option or winning ticket. They may arrive as a chronic sinus infection, high blood pressure or pain in the _____ (fill in the blank!). The next time opportunity knocks, open the door and take the journey to a HEALTHIER YOU!