by David Spero
Darlene Cohen healed herself from rheumatoid arthritis, which had virtually paralyzed her. She has written two books on the subject. When I interviewed her, she told me the key was "living from the body's point of view."
That is, do what your body wants and needs, not what social demands or your own expectations and ego tell you to do. "That means living a simple life," she says, "because the body is mainly interested in being fed and relaxed." It really doesn't care much about your pending job promotion or your belief that you let your mother down by dropping out of school.
I often repeat this advice to clients and friends with chronic illness. Our bodies are the most precious thing we have, the greatest gift we are given. They are marvelous and intelligent, the basis of everything we do in life. It can't be right to abuse them and ignore them.
The amazing thing is that when we do act according to the body's needs, when we put our bodies first, we tend to make decisions that are better for us and for our loved ones. We tend to behave in more appropriate, effective, and socially positive ways, and our lives often tend to improve. I recently saw two examples of this dynamic.
Allen is a corporate writer in his thirties, with multiple sclerosis, who has felt highly stressed in his job for the last eight years. He commutes long distances and has fairly frequent clashes with others at work. When this happens, his symptoms tend to get worse, and he never feels he has enough energy. He did cut back to 30 hours a week, on my advice, but his MS didn't stabilize.
Two weeks ago, his supervisor gave him a hard time over something really inappropriate, and Allen noticed his left arm getting weaker. He decided, on the spot, that it was time to quit. "This is not worth losing my body over," he said. It took him eight years to figure that out, but when he did, he acted on it. He has already found another job, much closer to home. It pays a little less, but the reduced commute more than makes up for it. He's happier, more relaxed, has more time for his friends, and is saving the environment a lot of unnecessary gasoline consumption.
A woman named Maggie is 58 and has diabetes that has been rather poorly controlled, largely due to stress. Her children are grown, but her second marriage has been rocky from the start. She would always tell me that she would feel "like a failure" if she couldn't hold on to her husband. She felt guilty about her first marriage, which ended in divorce, and didn't want to split up again. But the relationship was clearly a major stressor that was driving her sugars out of whack.
I kept stressing Darlene's idea. Put your body first, I kept telling her. Last week, she finally decided to make a change. I'm not sure what got her to that point. She proposed couples counseling to her husband, and when he refused, she left and went to stay with her daughter. A couple of days later, he called Maggie and agreed to start therapy with her. They had their first appointment, and while things obviously have a long way to go, Maggie feels much less stressed, because she is taking action and sees hope. So far, she's maintaining her diet better, and her sugars have been well controlled, at least for the last three days. And there seems to be good chances for the marriage.
In both cases, I had to resist saying, "See. I told you so." But it wasn't what I told them. It was what their bodies told them. It was the fact that they finally listened. Put your body first, and, like Allen and Maggie, you will probably be pleased with the results.
David Spero is author of "The Art of Getting Well: A Five-Step Plan for Maximizing Health When You Have a Chronic Illness".