There seem to be two opposing views when it comes to health and wellbeing, the side that states that if you do all the right things, eat nutritious food, work out, meditate and have a strong, positive mental attitude then you will never get ill and in the unlikely event that you do, you will undoubtedly recover.
I used to be a devout believer of this concept; I experienced health issues at different times in my life and had always managed to overcome them with diet, exercise and therapies. It wasn’t the easy route and many times people thought I was bonkers as I cut out food groups, took up special breathing techniques, bought expensive supplements and went to bed ridiculously early to get enough rest. However, it worked for me and the symptoms of the chronic conditions (asthma, IBS, PCOS) that I was advised I’d never be free from, miraculously disappeared from my life. I believed so much in the power of self-healing that I trained in various disciplines so that I could help others
So what lies on the flip side of the health coin? Sometimes it is referred to as the victim status, the voice that declares that if a person is ill there is nothing that can be done to improve the situation. The body or mind is not functioning in the way it should, and that means there will be suffering. Understandably, this leads the person who is sick, with no alternative but to talk about their level of discomfort and the negative impact that it has on their life.
It’s not a viewpoint that would normally be considered a recovery model, and one that I have actively fought against, but as my journey through health continued, this flip side ended up teaching me one of my most valuable lessons, and it has been responsible for altering my thoughts about health and wellbeing forever.
In 2012 despite eating ‘clean’, exercising regularly and doing lots of inner work on my emotional health, I was diagnosed with C.F.S / M.E., my initial approach was to throw myself into finding my way to full recovery as quickly as possible. I may have been confined to the sofa, feeling like I had been run over by a steamroller but my inner geek mustered every last ounce of reserve and began to research. I spent a completely disproportionate amount of time investigating the ways people had recovered from M.E. I categorised and listed options and set about on a mission of wellness. I tried many different approaches, and whilst I improved a little, my progress was not in a linear flow, two steps forward, one and nine-tenths backwards springs to mind! I had read that this was normal, so I tried not to be disheartened and continued on my quest, using different supplements, techniques, therapies and systems. Throughout, positivity was my guiding light but somewhere around the two year mark, I noticed something different rising up within me. I felt an overwhelming sense of anger, I was pi**ed off with the disease, but most of all upset that I was on the receiving end of people’s opinions. Comments varied from ‘you probably don’t have M.E if you’re able to go to out’ to ‘you’ve done really well, someone I know has it and they just don’t try and get better like you do’ to ‘you’ve had a flare up because you’ve overdone it, you do too much’. The judgements made me want to leap up and down (metaphorically of course, as physically that is a big no-no for someone with CFS) and tell everyone how different my life was. I wanted to say ‘ I ache all over and my throat hurts, not just today or for a week or a month but for two bl**dy years’. I wanted to explain that sometimes I went out even when I felt awful, as it stopped me feeling like I was dying inside, and yes, it made things worse. I wanted to justify that having good days, didn’t mean I made up feeling ill. I wanted to sob for the people who didn’t have the recovery I did, not because they were lazy and didn’t try, but because they had a horrific illness that was beyond their control.
I couldn’t blame the other people for their words they were just trying to understand something they had never experienced but in response I, for the first time in my health journey found myself in the place of the victim. I changed my narrative and began explaining what I could and could not do, giving blow by blow accounts of my symptoms. I defended each decisions about how I chose to live my daily life, and I desperately tried to relay that I had not ‘made this happen’ and I could not ‘make it un-happen’.
I dipped my toes into my feelings of despair and then I jumped right in and sank to the bottom – why me? Why was I so powerless? Why did I feel so useless? I grieved for the things that I had lost, the things that I had loved, like running and dancing. I hated the constant battle of balancing rest and activity, and it really was (and still is) a battle; I might have been seen to be doing well, but my previous life of running, working fulltime, socialising and having hobbies that filled each day, was a distant memory. I could no longer have it all; I couldn’t even have a quarter of it. I cried for who I used to be, and cried some more for what I now felt I was.
I didn’t stay in that place for long, but it was long enough to dig beyond the positivity I had manufactured until I reached the truth of the situation. This unveiling made me realise that there is a healing aspect to the victim mentality, and in health you need to draw on both sides. Through feeling helpless we find acceptance and truth, and can begin to honour our real needs.
It made me realise that we live in a completely false reality when it comes to health. Our perception is that we ‘should’ have complete and full health, that this is the normal status, when the truth is that the majority of us are: nursing an injury, recovering from a short-term illness or managing a long term health condition. We are all on a spectrum of wellbeing in each area of our lives, and where we are on that continuum is different for everyone. There are so many variances when it comes to immunity, hormonal balance, mental wellbeing, skeletal integrity, sensory function and cognitive ability, that you can guarantee we will never be 100% in everything.
I am now almost another three years into my recovery journey following ‘pity-gate’ and I am so very grateful that a lot of symptoms have subsided, and my health continues to improve – these days it is more like three steps forward, one a step back, which gives me a lot to smile about. I am still a firm believer that full recovery is possible and I continue to traverse my way through different wellness treatments.
My belief in self-healing is stronger than ever, my experiences have not diminished my trust; they have just given me a greater insight. I now understand that the one sided view, where you push your way to recovery inevitably leads to blame, comparison and disconnection from yourself , there is only so far you can go in this direction before you come full circle and meet the dark side of the victim.
Healing requires a balance, there are things that we can do to support ourselves, but there also needs to be appreciation of where we are in the immediate moment. Whether you are overcoming a short term injury, on a journey of recovery or managing a lifelong condition, it is normal and healthy to experience periods of ebb and flow,
We have all seen a spinning coin; it transforms itself from a still, flat, one sided piece into a dynamic display, where both sides merge into something new. Real health is like that, it is not the absence of symptoms or the relentless pursuit of illusionary wellness. Instead it is something quite magical that requires the seamless blending of self-awareness, acceptance and compassion with experimentation, self-belief and commitment. Inevitably at some point, we will lose momentum, and like the spinning coin will fall unceremoniously on to one side, the trick is, whichever side you land on and, for however long, that at some point, you pick yourself back up and keep spinning.