I remember the first time someone suggested to me that maybe there was a gift to be discovered in my experience of being ill; I thought they were mad. In fact, I was f*$ing furious. How could anyone possibly suggest that being covered head to toe with red, scaly lesions that were so painful and uncomfortable – cracking open and bleeding when I moved – a GIFT!
I immediately rejected this idea and instead continued on my steadfast quest for clear skin trying everything under the sun to make it better.
Then one day I attended a talk and the speaker spoke about the concept of illness being an opportunity for personal growth and transformation. Here it was again, the idea that my ‘dis-ease’ was a gift. I sat and listened to the speaker and could feel my anger rising. However, I also heard a little voice inside me say, “Give her a chance, listen and be open.” So I did, I put aside my anger and judgment and decided to give the speaker the benefit of the doubt and listen to what she had to say.
I’m so glad I did because it was a pivotal moment that changed not only the trajectory of my healing journey, but also my career and how I help guide and educate my patients.
I went home that night and sat with my journal and wrote until the wee hours of the morning. I reflected on my healing journey and how my focus thus far had solely been about resisting or ‘getting rid’ of my psoriasis. I had searched high and low for answers, researched and experimented but saw minimal relief and had found myself in a place of desperation and hopelessness.
I reflected on the fact that up until that point I had a tremendous drive to reject and annihilate my illness, never once entertaining the notion of embracing it and seeing it as a gift. At the time I thought that sort of acceptance meant surrendering and admitting defeat against the ‘enemy’; In my mind it meant I was giving up and would succumb to my condition for the rest of my life and that thought was too much to bear.
However, I had reached a point in my journey where the pain of remaining the same was worse than the pain of change and attempting to adopt the idea of embracing what was happening. I felt exhausted and hopeless in my pursuit of ‘health’ and figured, “Heck, why not try it. What have I got to lose at this point anyway?”
At that moment I remember reluctantly opening my heart and mind – ever so slightly – to the idea that I could embrace my psoriasis and that maybe my body wasn’t broken or working against me after all. Maybe instead my ‘dis-ease’ was a message and my body was trying to communicate a higher wisdom.
Maybe all this time life wasn’t out to get me, but instead working for my greatest good and offering an opportunity for me to discover what I had always been searching for. At that moment I finally gave up all my striving and decided to listen; to let my body be my teacher.
“It is in the willingness to look inside and see with new eyes, that the healing and awakening of our consciousness becomes possible. We begin to see and hear that our body is telling us something, delivering the messages of illness and symptoms. Learning to understand their meaning can be the key that unlocks the door to recovery. In this fashion, the crisis of illness thus becomes the vehicle for transformation and healing from within.” – Dr. Paul Epstein
When we are sick and in pain, it’s totally normal to try to return to health as quickly as possible. It’s a natural response to seek treatments to ‘fix’ or get rid of pain and symptoms that cause us suffering and discomfort so that we can return to our day-to-day lives. But when treatment doesn’t make the symptoms disappear, and we then suffer more physically and emotionally, the search for answers intensifies.
The ensuing consequence can be that we become worn out not just from experience of poor health, but also from our efforts to get well. This often results in feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and worthlessness. It’s at this point that illness provides the opportunity to embark on a journey of self-discovery, healing and spiritual awakening.
Disease may tell the story of our selves, not just our cells. There’s an opportunity for personal growth and transformation in every experience, including illness.
Whether it’s chronic pain, an autoimmune condition or some other diagnosis – even the common cold – instead of seeing illness as something to be resisted and immediately dismissed as something terribly wrong with us, can we see it as a gift? An invitation to transformation and greater learning about ourselves?
Until that point in my life I had never understood that with illness there were potential lessons to be learned — it’s not a common thought. But asking ourselves the question, “What’s the healing opportunity in this for me?” automatically assigns greater meaning to our situation and helps us shift from a fear-based mindset to one of openness and mindfulness allowing our parasympathetic nervous system to take over, relax us and open us up to the inner resources and guidance needed to heal ourselves.
The alternative is to continue to look outside ourselves for the answers which causes us to give away our power and keep us in a state of total panic. But if we can be open to greater meaning and find the ‘gift in the abyss’ we can free ourselves from staying in freak out mode frantically searching for a pill to ‘just make it all go away’. We can liberate ourselves from feeling like a victim wondering, “Why is this happening to me?” and instead embrace what is and allow it to transform us.
If you’re someone reading this who is currently experiencing disease or illness, I encourage you to ask yourself: What is this here to teach me? What is the assignment? Where is the opportunity to learn, to grow? How can I allow this experience to expand me?
At the end of the day there are lessons in life that no one else can teach you other than yourself. There’s no way that someone else can be the expert on all things YOU or your journey. This is true in every part of our lives — whether it’s our health, our work or personal lives.
When it comes down to it, no one else could possibly know what’s right for you other than YOU because no one else knows you better.
Transforming illness into a self-healing journey is the next paradigm shift in medicine and I invite you to make that shift.
So now it’s your change to turn insight into action and ask yourself:
What is this here to teach me?
What is the message or wisdom that my body is trying to communicate to me?
What do I really need to be healthy, happy and whole?
What is the assignment?
Where is the opportunity to learn, to grow?
How can I allow this experience to expand me?
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Also, please feel free to share this with someone who you feel would benefit.