picnic bench

Seeing through the illusion of illness

I realise the title of this post is likely to raise a few eyebrows at the very least, and perhaps it will even cause some to say ‘illness, an illusion? I think not!’ in some indignation so I’d ask you to hold off on a reaction while I put the statement into context.

A few posts ago I wrote about the first of the things I know to be true, that we are all walking miracles. In that post I shared how I’ve found that taking a little time out of my busy thinking allows me to settle into a space where I know what I need to do in order to be as healthy as I can be. My body is a walking miracle; it stitches, it mends, it overcomes all manner of ailments and happenstances.

And this week has been no exception.

Stevie and I are on annual leave and, like most other people around the globe, we cancelled the holiday we were planning so are mostly on a staycation instead. And, as the tourist industry is slowly opening up here in the UK, we decided to into head to Cornwall just so we weren’t completely wedded to screens the entire break.

You may remember the last time I was in Cornwall was last year and I broke my elbow. This time I fell off the picnic bench I was about to sit on, I swear the bench moved but Steve says I just missed it! I fell right onto my tailbone and it hurt. For a few minutes I was completely winded even though it was no more than a couple of feet off the ground. At first I thought I’d broken something (again! – is Cornwall trying to tell me something?). But after a few minutes of lying still, just giving myself a mental inspection I decided it was OK and manouevered into a yoga postion where I could do a semblance of cat-cow to get the lowest part of my back moving.

Eventually, walking very gingerly and stopping for a much-needed coffee along the way, we made it back to the pub we were staying in where I was able to settle myself on the sofa in our room with plenty of pillows to prop me up.

From that position I was able to see out of both windows. To the left were the rooftops of Lostwithiel, a higgledy piggledy mix of slates, tiles and chimney pots. To the right a lush, overgrown garden leading the eye right up the hill into woodland and fields. It was quiet and peaceful and I dropped into a state part way between awake and sleep, just ‘being’ with the landscapes and the stillness.

And in that state it occurred to me that my body is always doing the best it can with what it has from where it is. And that illness, or in this case the after effects of a minor accident, are illusory in nature. I don’t mean they don’t exist, of course when I moved my back hurt. And if I’m unwell then I will feel a whole host of things from pain and discomfort, through to sickness or diahorrhea.

The illusion is that this is something being done ‘to me’ by a body behaving badly.

The reality though is that my body is acting in perfect harmony because illness (or pain in this case) is the body’s way of dealing with something that is out of kilter. It is perfect because it’s my internal telegraph system letting me know that something is wrong and that I need to pay attention.

I came to see that illness is not a ‘bad’ thing, it’s simply a ‘process’ thing. It isn’t there to hurt me, it’s there to remind me that I’m a whole human being and that I need to take all my needs into account.

Of course, you may now be asking yourself a whole load of questions such as ‘what about the people born with disease, illness or disability?’ and you’d be right to ask those questions. Even in these cases, their body will act in perfect harmony when something else is out of kilter, creating illness and disease in addition to the conditions they are dealing with.

I’m not trying to say that illness doesn’t happen, it does, we can’t deny that. But what we can do is stop labelling it as something ‘bad’ and instead embrace the message it’s giving us, that there is something about us we need to pay attention to.

The simplest metaphor I can come up with is a car; when I’m driving and a warning light flashes, I don’t ignore it. Usually, I’ll get the handbook out and look it up and, depending on what the problem is, I’ll sort it out myself or book it into the garage to get sorted out.

If we treated illness in a similar fashion as the perfect warning light system working as exactly it is supposed to then maybe we won’t go down the rabbit hole of thinking this is something being done to us.

Today is Saturday, my fall happened on Wednesday and, although I still wince when I bend down to pick something up and I do need to lever myself a little out of the chair or off the bed, my back much better than it was. I’ll give it a few more days and if it doesn’t continue to improve then I’ll do what we all should do when something isn’t working, I’ll take myself off to the repairers for a once over and check-up to make sure nothing else is happening I need to do something about. In the meantime, I’ll do a few gentle yoga exercises to help release tense muscles and I’ll also do some visualisation of my internal repair gang hard at work.

Comments are open and I’d love to know what you think.

(Image by Manfred Antranias Zimmer from Pixabay)

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  1. You’re absolutely right Patsy, illness happens for so many different reasons that we can’t pick out just one thing and point to that as the culprit. Our bodies are finely tuned masterpieces that are still way beyond human comprehension. One thing I’ve become aware of though over the many years of working with women’s health issues is the role that stress and stressors play in our health and well-being. And the problem with that is that most of the time we don’t even realise it’s happening. For example, most women’s health issues are caused by a hormonal imbalance of some description. And there are so many ways that imbalance can occur, from the prevalence of environmental oestrogen’s to the ‘always on’ culture that permeates society. There is never an easy answer to anything and if I had a pound for every time I said to a woman over the years ‘listen to your body as it knows what it needs’ I think I’d be a very rich woman 🙂

  2. I’m not sure it’s always the case, but it’s certainly sometimes right that illness is the result of something we’re doing (or not doing) and that correcting the problem might help. Eating vegetables, drinking water and getting some exercise aren’t cures for everything, but those things (if we can) makes us a bit less likely to get ill, and more likely to recover swiftly when we do.

  3. Hi Hilary, I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve got so much chronic pain and I do know that nothing anyone says is going to make that circumstance change. But it’s great you can see that perhaps you might get some relief.

    There are two things I’d like to suggest; the first is to check out Yoga with Adriene on YouTube or her website, you might find this video helpful as a starter: https://yogawithadriene.com/yoga-for-chronic-pain/. The second thing I’d like to recommend is something left-field and it’s a book by a chap called Jack Pransky – you’ll find it here: http://insideoutunderstanding.com/books-by-jack-pransky/somebody-should-have-told-us/. What he points to in the book is the thing that changed my life (and, as a by-product, this website and the work I do). Later, if you want to chat about it maybe we should talk; but I’ll leave that with you.

  4. Linda I just love your blogs. Unfortunately I suffer with chronic pain and no amount of hoping it will get better actually changes that, but it makes me feel a little happier.
    I am still suffering with the menopause, I get repeat water infections and had large fibroids sitting on my bladder. After a total hysterectomy last August I now have burning nerve pain and still get repeat infections. I have drastically changed my diet, to include all the good stuff, cut out the bad stuff, I don’t drink or smoke. I’m on HRT patches and daily pain management. I would like to start some gentle yoga to help body and mind, but don’t really know where to start.
    I was a very fit and active person up to age 50, and would like to get back to how I was.
    Can you recommend any books re yoga or surviving the menopause?