Listen To Your Gut - Chapter 1
by Jini Patel Thompson
It is my hope that the contents of this book can be for you, as they were for me, the pathway to autonomy and peace. I initially began work on this book at the suggestion of various healthcare professionals (medical doctors, massage therapists, physiotherapists, etc.) who compared me to all of their other clients diagnosed with Crohn's Disease or Ulcerative Colitis and couldn't believe how healthy I was. I kept hearing again and again, "You should write a book about your methods".
During my initial diagnosis in 1986, the exploratory tests had revealed a fairly severe or widespread case of Crohn's with ulceration present throughout the small and large intestine. Coming from a family of physicians and pharmacists, I had complete faith in the sophistication and efficacy of medical science. At the time of my diagnosis, I knew absolutely nothing about alternative medicine. I merely assumed it was a substandard system of healthcare used by people in third world countries who were uneducated and did not have access to modern medicine. Therefore, in complete faith, I did everything the medical establishment told me to do (and not do) for the first three years after being diagnosed with Crohn's Disease. I finally reached my breaking point when I was ingesting thirteen pills per day, terribly weakened from all the diagnostic and exploratory tests and basically had a life that consisted of thinking or dealing with pain and discomfort on a daily basis. Or I would engage in the flip-side of that, which was desperately trying to ignore my physical body in the hope that it would all just go away. Practically everything I ate made me sick. As well, by this point my doctors were fairly insisting I have surgery. After three years, I finally decided that living like this was no longer acceptable; there had to be something else I could do, something that would give me my life back.
So I went to my gastroenterologist, who headed up a national research team on Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, and I asked him for all the books and papers he had on the subject. He loaded me up with a stack of textbooks and some of his latest research and I took it home and read everything. That's when I realized that the medical profession had very limited information/knowledge about Inflammatory Bowel Disease. I didn't find anything that could even possibly help me, in my present condition, that I hadn't already tried. That realization, coupled with a horrible course of steroids (Prednisone) and the alarming statistics of recurrence rates following surgery, prompted my departure from the medical establishment. The medical treatment protocols did not work for me and I knew I had to find something that did.
I spent the next seven years researching and experimenting with alternative and indigenous healing therapies as I lived and worked in Japan, England, and Canada. I developed my own methods of dealing with each phase of symptoms. I learned to listen to my body and take responsibility for it. Constantly seeking new knowledge and techniques, I used myself as my guinea pig and conducted controlled trials to ascertain what worked and what didn't. This book is the result of that research, which is constantly updated and improved as I continue to research and experiment with the latest therapies, supplements and nutritional information available.
However, I didn't want to write and sell a book about healing methods that worked for me, without finding out first whether they worked for others as well. So, in 1995 I drew up a brief sixty-page booklet of my methods and circulated about 200 copies via friends, family and the Internet for the next three years. My main concern was that my diets, techniques, and methods would actually work and help people other than just myself. I wanted to know that the therapies and process that worked for me would also work for others. Based on the positive, affirming feedback I received (along with emails from people exclaiming, "please publish this!"), I then decided it was time to gather all my information together into a comprehensive book format.
As I began detailing my process and techniques, I soon realized that I had not one book, but two, and to relay all the information together in a single volume would simply be too overwhelming for the reader. My healing process is based upon a mind/body/spirit paradigm; in order to heal, we must heal all aspects of the Self, not just the physical body. However, it's pretty hard to have the time and energy necessary to look at the emotional issues surrounding your colon (for example) when you're doubled over with spasms, having fifteen bowel movements a day. Therefore, I decided to have this book deal primarily with healing the physical body. There are many excellent books already on the market that deal with emotional/mental/spiritual healing (see Appendix A for suggestions) and I strongly encourage you to look at these aspects of your healing simultaneously. Dis-ease is not just a physical phenomenon. By using the diets, therapies and exercises in this book in conjunction with increasing awareness of the emotional/mental contributors to your dis-ease, you should experience fairly direct results in your physical body. You'll probably be able to reach the stage where you're off all drugs and managing the cycle of your disease, along with flare-ups, by yourself and without (or rarely) having to resort to drugs and hospitalization. For some of you, who knows, this first book may be all you need to completely heal yourself. For most people however, I suspect that a more complete and long-term healing will involve using this book to get your most pressing physical symptoms under control, and then progressing on to examine and heal the emotional, mental and spiritual components of your dis-ease (or unease).
In developing and following the methods and therapies outlined in this book, I have improved my own health to the point where I have been drug and surgery-free for over a decade. While I originally spurned all medical treatment in my search for alternative healing methods, I have since come full circle and now have an integrated, more balanced approach to healthcare. I've found it's not beneficial in the long run to label any system or protocol as "bad" and another as "good". Far better is to stay open to all ways and pick and choose the best, or the most suitable for where you're at in that moment. For the most part (although I have my down spells too), I live a full and active life; own my own business, travel every month or two, work out regularly, etc. As far as I'm concerned, I no longer have Crohn's Disease. However, I do watch what I eat, take supplements and have regular massage and bodywork therapy. My digestive system is the most sensitive part of my body and I will always take special care of it. I still experience intestinal disturbances and still use some of the therapies in this book when required. But, the spectre of "disease" and all its accoutrements (drugs, surgery, hospital visits, exploratory tests, doctors visits, etc.) is no longer a significant or dominant part of my life. I wish for each of you this same freedom and control over your life, body and health.
Etiology and Pathogenesis of IBD and IBS
Many people spend a lot of time and energy searching and hoping for the etiology (cause) of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) to be revealed. I suppose that most people believe that if we knew what caused IBD, we would know how to cure it. This is because we are still looking to fulfill the equation of one pathogen (disease-causing agent) equals one disease, which can be cured with one drug. This is the mindset bestowed on us by the commercial medical and pharmaceutical industries that we have accepted easily (even though the scientist knows the truth to be far more complex).
However, ascribing to this model leaves many questions unanswered. For example, autopsies reveal that the most people have average of 16 viruses in their brain. So why is it that most of us experience no abnormal symptoms or diseases as a result of these viruses? In addition, let's say for example, that it is discovered that Virus X causes Ulcerative Colitis. Ok fine, but that still doesn't explain why you contracted that virus and your twin sister didn't - similar genetic makeup, similar environment, why the difference in susceptibility? If you look at some of the most contagious diseases on our planet, there are always some people who, although exposed, do not contract these diseases. Even when they're living and working in the midst of an entire community of people manifesting a particular illness, some people will not contract that illness. Why not?
The current medical/pharmaceutical model of illness cannot answer any of these questions. Perhaps this is because their construct of disease is flawed. Personally, I think the popular medical model is far too simplistic to adequately portray and understand all the factors involved in the disease/healing/balancing process. However, I also don't purport to have the answers. I don't claim to have developed or defined a comprehensive alternative model that is more accurate or meaningful. At this time, I merely wish to stimulate your own thought process and encourage you to open up to unconventional possibilities and ideas, to pursue the many layers of truth and the many facets of reality, rather than latching onto the flat, easy, one-dimensional answer.
Our bodies are not machines, where one plus one equals two. We are complex, many-layered entities capable of containing any number of apparent contradictions simultaneously. We can be both hot to the touch on the outside with sweat pouring off our skin, whilst being freezing cold on the inside - so cold our bones ache and it hurts to breathe. We can feel a well of deep love and attachment to a dysfunctional parent whilst simultaneously hating them for what they have done to us. A father loses his child and his hair turns completely white overnight. A mother overturns a truck single-handedly to save her child trapped beneath it. How are these things possible? As you begin to open to the expansiveness of humanity, you begin to understand. You also begin to glimpse the possibilities that are present within yourself.
What does all this have to do with healing your dis-ease? Quite simply, it opens you to the possibility of delving into and collaborating with your body. Merging with all aspects of your body/self and treading the pathway of healing together - as a multi-dimensional but unified being, with all parts relating to and supporting each other. It releases you from viewing and treating your body or your intestines as something functioning independently of you and your desires. Subscribing to the medical model will cause you to view the malfunctioning parts of your body with impatience and annoyance, even anger. If you see your body in this manner, you'll just want to feed it the right pill and have it perform properly, damnit! But your body is not a machine, you can't separate the parts from the whole. And what place has healing in the midst of anger and resentment?
Opening yourself up to the possibilities of humanity and your unique reality will also create a space for you to integrate the different levels of yourself and begin taking some responsibility for your present state. Taking responsibility for the state of your body and your health may be as simple as saying, "Ok, well, since I got this particular disease and not some other, there must be a reason for that. I'm going to start looking at the lesson(s) here for me."
If there was no point in your developing IBS or IBD, no lessons for you to learn, no journey for you to take, then, why did you develop this illness? A scientist identifying Virus X as the pathogen (agent of disease) is not going to answer this question. If all the members of your family, or your class, or your community were exposed to the same environment, then why did you contract IBD when they didn't? Looking for the missing pathogen is not going to give you the answer. Only you can answer these questions. Only you can unite and integrate all the levels of yourself to identify all the contributing and influencing factors in your particular pathogenesis. This is your healing journey and no one else can walk it for you.
Others can, however, support and help you along your journey. This book is designed to assist you in identifying the physical contributors to your dis-ease (or unease) and to provide you with some tools and ideas to correct and balance your physical environment. There are many books available to help you identify the mental, emotional and spiritual elements of your dis-ease and I've listed a few good ones in the Recommended Reading List (Appendix A) at the back of this book. In the meantime, for the sake of your own healing, I encourage you to put aside the quest for the etiology of these diseases. Don't worry about it, don't let it frustrate you, don't devote any more time and energy to it. Turn your focus instead to healing yourself, getting in touch with your body and allowing it to heal itself no matter what the cause. The great thing about this book is that the process and therapies will work irrespective of the cause of IBS and IBD. In fact, since all treatment is based on easily identified symptoms, you don't even need an official medical diagnosis to use and benefit from the healing tools provided in this book. All you need is the willingness to connect with your own body and to open yourself to your own wisdom and intuition.
How Do You See Yourself?
Please be aware that you also have a choice as to which label or diagnosis you accept for yourself and your condition. How do you define yourself and your health? Do you see your intestinal malfunction as you simply experiencing intestinal problems, or do you see your intestines as diseased, do you see or define yourself as a diseased person? Then think of the implications your mindset has on your healing process. Does your definition or label of yourself and your condition place you in a position of positivity, does it foster a healing environment for your mind/body? Or does it carry an inherent negativity and place you in a defeatist disease environment?
Most of us have accepted the label given to us by the medical community, that of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or Ulcerative Colitis, or Crohn's Disease or some other variation. If these labels were used simply as a classification system, as a symbol representing a collection of symptoms, that would be fine and it would be truthful. But there is an insidious aspect to these labels or diagnoses; each one of them also comes with the qualifier of "chronic" or "incurable". This enrages me, because it means that no matter how healthy I am, or how long I've been healthy for, doctors will still say to me, "Oh no, you still have Crohn's Disease, you're simply in remission."
I ask you, does any part of this approach or mentality help you? Does any part of this labeling process, this insistence that you are permanently diseased, lead you to positivity? Does it encourage health and a healing environment? Or does it promote despair, negativity and an ongoing disease-environment for your mind and body? I have always felt that words are very powerful. By accepting the medical profession's label of you as being a permanently diseased person, you are also accepting all the negativity and limiting parameters inherent in a profession that has tended to focus on the disease-process as opposed to the healing process.
The good news is that you don't have to allow medical terminology to define your reality. You can label and define your own reality using words of positivity within a healing framework that gives you access to positive action. Instead of talking about your disease, you can talk about your healing pathway or your healing journey. This will also help you to start viewing your body as a whole, instead of as separate compartments where the parts and systems of your body function separately and independently. Your digestive tract is not the isolated "bad" part of your body, it is merely the genetically-determined needy part, and therefore the area where your whole-body imbalance is evidenced, or displayed first.
In Dr. Andrew Weil's book, Spontaneous Healing, he relates a story told by a patient of his with HIV who experienced a similar frustration with medical diagnostics and doctors trying to define his reality for him:
"The medical professionals gave me six to eighteen months to live when I was first diagnosed,' Mark told me when I met him. 'Since 1985 I can't tell you how many doctors have shown me the Curve - that is, the graph showing the percentage of people per year who develop AIDS after infection. They all try to tell me I'm somewhere along it, headed for destruction. This is really Western medicine's fascination with illness. Here I am with normal T cells, in great health, and they have the audacity to tell me I'm on this curve heading for death. When I see doctors now, I tell them right at the start: Look, I don't even want to hear about your curve. Just check me out, answer my questions, and keep your opinions to yourself! They have also all tried to get me to take AZT [the antiviral drug that is conventional medicine's current treatment of choice for HIV], but all of the people I've known who have used it are dead, so I've refused. And none of them have been interested to hear what I'm doing to stay healthy. They pat me on the head and say, "Whatever you're doing, just keep it up!" I have developed an ability not to buy into the medical system..." (page 235-236)
My hope for each one of you reading this book, is that you get to the point in your healing process where you don't feel you need to accept these labels anymore (and maybe you're already there!) and you throw them away. What a wonderful, liberating move to a healing environment for your mind/body/spirit that will be. Keep in mind that this does not involve denying your existing state and physical health or deluding yourself with positive talk or thinking. It involves full recognition of your existing physical symptoms, but within a framework of healing and positivity. It's the difference between saying, "I'm suffering from an incurable disease" and "I'm having some gastrointestinal problems". Or how about a Chinese Medicine diagnosis: "I have excess wind and fire in my bowels"? Sure you can use the medical label for your condition when dealing with health professionals or people who want the quick answer to, "What's the problem?" But for dealing with and relating to yourself, you may want to use different terminology.
When I use the medical labels of Crohn's, Ulcerative Colitis, IBS and Diverticulitis throughout this book, I am using them in reference to a previously defined set of symptoms and pathology. However, please keep in mind how I really view and treat intestinal malfunctions and that I do not label any bodily imbalance as "incurable".
How to Use This Book
All the information included in this book is of my own personal opinion and experience. My only intent is that you examine it from your point of view, take what you need, adapt whatever you want, and feel free to discard whatever you don't need. Some of the information and ideas presented in this book may be difficult for you to accept. Some of my approach (e.g. no pharmaceutical drugs) may be too radical and you may feel it's not safe for you - no problem! Just listen to yourself and only do what you feel comfortable with. You know yourself better than I do and you should certainly stick to what you feel is true and works best for you.
Keep in mind that healing of any sort is rarely a linear, progressive process. Usually it occurs in cycles or spirals, but it's important to keep in mind that the spirals do spiral upward, so there is continuous improvement overall. Or, you could view the healing process as one where you're doing well, moving in a straight line upwards, then you have a rough spot (often referred to as a healing crisis), so the line dips down for a bit, but then the line climbs upwards again as your healing continues. There are numerous different theories for why the body doesn't just heal in a straight, uninterrupted manner. Personally, I think it's because the body heals in layers, starting with the easiest imbalances and then moving progressively deeper into the more difficult, serious imbalances or malfunctions. As well, part of the healing and balancing process involves the periodic release of toxins, which may make you feel sicker and temporarily worsen your symptoms. But this toxin release and elimination is still an integral part of the healing process. When this happens, even though it feels like you're getting sicker, you've got to try to remember that it's actually part of you getting better.
I think there's also another more nebulous phenomena at work in the healing process and the best way I can describe it is to give you an analogy. Let's look at a middle-aged man (for example) who's got a good career, a nice house, a wife and kids. This man appears to be leading a pretty good life. What the outsider can't know is that this man was sexually abused as a child, but he's never discussed it with anyone or dealt with the memories. He was bullied terribly at school and had few friends in college. All his life, he's held himself tightly wrapped and under control and so appears fairly stable and together.
However, severe interpersonal problems with his wife lead this man into counseling. It's only when he begins to acknowledge his trauma, when he begins the process of healing his wounds, that the tight, rigid bonds that have held him together begin to unravel. All of a sudden, this apparently healthy, together man can't sleep at night and begins to perform poorly at his job. He doesn't get his yearly bonus so he and his wife have to sell one of their cars. You see, this man seems to be degenerating, he seems to be falling apart and getting worse, but what is really going on is that he is healing himself. He is actually getting better. For the first time in his life he is actually dealing with and healing all the deep-seated, tightly controlled wounds he's been carrying around.
I believe a similar process occurs when we start to access and heal the deeper layers of our physical body. Regardless of the depth and severity of your dis-ease, the balancing homeostatic mechanism will cause your body to hold on tightly for as long as possible, to assume some form of control or pseudo-balance in order to keep your body functioning. Although there may be very serious long-term imbalances present in your system, they may not be apparent initially. However, as you start to heal your body and nurture and support it in its natural healing process, your body will gradually release its hold over these imbalances and offer them up for healing. When your body unmasks a long-term imbalance, you can feel very ill quite suddenly. While it may appear that your condition is worsening, try to remember that it's probably only temporary and your body needs your support and positivity the most at this time. I really encourage you to try not to panic when this happens. It helps to have someone close to you who can act as your sounding board, to help you stay rational and determine whether you do need additional help, or whether you just need to give it a few more days to settle down again. As you implement more and more of the therapies and diets in this book, you'll come to have a lot more confidence in the methods listed and in your own healing ability. But again, only do or don't do what you feel is right and safe for you. Don't give your power and authority over your own body away to anyone, especially not to me or the guidelines in this book!
The contents of this book comprise the results of my personal research and experimentation into alternative, natural healing methods. Choose the area that is easiest for you to work on and begin with that first. As anyone with intestinal problems knows, stress is the number one trigger and inflamer of these disorders, so don't increase your stress (or your child's stress) in your efforts to heal yourself or your child! Just take it slow and easy, realize and accept that you're on a long, winding path and there are no miracle cures or quick-fix remedies. Your dis-ease (unease) encompasses your environment, upbringing, past issues/occurrences, financial state, career satisfaction or lack of, diet, family, intimate relationships, lifestyle, stress, stability, security, peace, self-love, exercise, genetic make-up, your doctor-patient relationship and drugs ingested, to name a few.
The diets, therapies, and techniques in this book demand that you take full responsibility for your health and healing and appoint only yourself as your final, ultimate authority. Do not give this authority away to anyone, not to me, not to your physician, your naturopathic or homeopathic doctor, your spouse or parent. You have everything you need to heal yourself, it is your responsibility, and you are the only trustworthy repository of final authority for your body/mind/spirit. There are many pathways to healing. This book may comprise part or all of your pathway. Only you know what's best for you, only you possess the map of your healing journey.
It will probably take you quite a while to work through and incorporate the diets and techniques outlined in this book, but it will also be well worth it. Imagine what it would be like to be 100% drug free. Imagine what it would be like to go for years without seeing your gastroenterologist (intestinal specialist) or having to go through any more torturous scans and scopes. Imagine what it would feel like to go to yourself first whenever you have a flare or attack (or healing crisis) and be able to deal with and heal the fear and pain without having to rush to the emergency room. Yes, the path is difficult, and time-consuming, and at times nothing can be more frustrating than having to face your own self. However, as you begin to achieve this freedom, you'll also come to realize, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that nothing is more worthwhile.
Children with IBD or IBS
As the parent of a child with IBD or IBS, you're going to have to walk a fine line between ministering to your sick child, and not letting their dis-ease take over your family or obliterate your other children's needs. Please try to spend quality time with your other children and remember that just because they're physically healthy, it doesn't mean they don't have needs that are just as crucial to their mental, emotional and spiritual health. Devoting all your time and energy to your sick child doesn't serve them or their siblings (or your spouse/partner) in the long run. Strive to maintain a balance of interaction and attention within your family and it will only impact positively on your child with IBS/IBD. Dr. John Harrison, MD, who wrote one of my favorite books (Love Your Disease - It's Keeping You Healthy, Angus&Robertson, An imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 1994) has a wonderful approach to maintaining a healthy family dynamic:
"Children respond very quickly to a change in the reward system and are very aware of its ramifications, as demonstrated by the five-year-old client of mine overheard by his parents as he pointed out to his three-year-old sister: 'If you want Mummy to look after you, just get sick, that's what I do.' When children come into my office and one member of the family is ill, I am careful to pay equal attention to the healthy. Since some of them like coming to see me, I arrange times for them to visit when they are well. They begin replacing illness with wellness." (pg.250)
There are entire books written on the family dynamics surrounding and often supporting illness, but for now, the main factor to be aware of is to spend quality time with and attention to your healthy children as well. Also, waiting on your sick child night and day and catering to their victim status is not going to help them be well. It's just going to help them be weaker. Try to come up with words and actions that make your child feel strong. Give them as much autonomy and decision-making responsibility as you can. Help your child to feel that he/she is in control, that she has options, that he has the strength to make decisions and reclaim his body. Your ill child can be a caring, contributing member of the family too. Look for and point out ways (no matter how small) that they can demonstrate caring and concern for other family members. This will help your child to feel like a more equal, capable member of the family, whilst balancing the family dynamic.
Further Exploration Sections
At the end of each chapter is a list of questions or activities to help you explore for yourself the contents of each chapter. This section is where you take the techniques and concepts presented as a result of my experience, and turn them into the techniques and concepts that will work for you as a result of your experience, who you are, and where you're at in your life. In short, the Further Exploration section is where you take all the information presented here and make it your own. This is perhaps the most important part of this book. Don't let this be just one more book that you read and say, "Oh yeah, great ideas, I'm really excited, this sounds as if it will actually work!" and then put the book aside and never do anything with it. The knowledge and techniques in this book can only help you if you put them into practice. Begin while the feeling and motivation is still fresh within you.
In each Further Exploration section I've listed some bullet-point questions and concepts to stimulate your own brainstorming process. Use these questions and ideas as a springboard to thoroughly investigate your own truth, feelings and reality surrounding the techniques and concepts presented in each chapter. You can do the Exploration sections in order as you read through the book, chapter by chapter, or you can read the whole book first and then go back and do the Exploration sections. If you read the entire book first, you may want to re-read each corresponding chapter of the book again right before beginning the Further Exploration section in order to stimulate your thoughts and feelings. Buy yourself a spiral-bound notebook, or an esthetically pleasing diary notebook of some sort (something that feels special), and write down your Exploration section answers, thoughts and ideas in your special book. You could title the notebook "Map of My Healing Journey" (or something similar) and keep it for any future exercises or writings you might have. The important thing is to actually write down your answers to the questions in the Further Exploration sections. Just answering them in your head will not result in the same enlightenment and integration that committing your thoughts to physical form will result in.
Yes, it will be difficult. Yes, you'll probably try to put off actually doing it. Wading through the jungle of our Self is a difficult and time-consuming process. But if you want to restore yourself to wholeness, then you must take the time and you must discipline yourself to face your tangled jungle, one step at a time. Don't be discouraged, you don't need to sit down and go through every page at once. Choose the easiest chapter for you to start with and simply begin there. Take as much time as you need to thoroughly work through your issues and practices involved with that section and make the necessary changes. Then you may need to take a break and just 'be' for a while. Excellent! Then, when you feel ready to handle the next step, go back and choose another chapter to work on. Get ready to see your weaknesses transformed into strengths and your limitations into opportunities as you reclaim your natural state of wholeness and completeness.
© 2000 Jini Patel Thompson, published by arrangement with Caramal Publishing. All Rights reserved.
Jini Patel Thompson was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease in 1986. She has remained drug and surgery-free for over a decade by using natural healing and treatment methods. She is the author of the recently published Listen To Your Gut: Natural Healing & Dealing with Inflammatory Bowel Disease & Irritable Bowel Syndrome.