You Have a Say in How Your Medical Condition Affects You

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Twenty-five hundred year old Indian text, "Gita" reminds us of the power we have and the responsibility to sustain and uplift ourselves.

Uddharet ātmana ātmānam
na ātmānam avsādyet
ātmaiva hi ātmano bandhur
ātmaiva ripus ātmanāh

"One should uplift oneself by oneself
One should never degrade oneself
Self alone can be a friend to oneself
Self alone can be an enemy of oneself"

Gita 6:5

In the final analysis, YOU are the one, the only one and no one else who really determines how you respond, react or adapt to your illness.

Your medical condition can have severely painful and tortuous symptoms, even disabling symptoms for the rest of your life. But, you have the final say in how you adapt and adjust to those symptoms and life outcomes. Believe in yourself and your ability to influence the events that happen to you. You really can make a difference.

There is something in you far bigger and powerful than your medical condition, but you have to discover it and then allow it to grow and expand in every aspect of your life.

I have Chronic Pulmonary Disease (COPD) diagnosed in 1994, coronary disease which required a quadruple bypass two years ago and now prostate cancer. I keep reminding myself I am more than my body. It is a medical mantra that we all should say to ourselves and repeat several times a day if we need to, "I am more than my body." A lot of time, it is hard to remember and you may be too overwhelmed to remind yourself of the distinction between your real self and your body but as soon as you can get back to your real self that can never be impaired or diseased, you can find that place of wholeness and perfection. You are the source of your happiness, joy, or self-worth.

To have some degree of control over your destiny requires an expanded mind and an open heart and the result would depend on how you view yourself and your illness.

Our body and mind listen to every word we say. Therefore we have to be careful about what we say because our bodies and minds are listening to us all the time. It is very important to understand the full implications of the language you habitually use to refer to your medical condition. Let's analyze the conscious and subconscious meanings of the terms "disease" "illness" and "medical condition?"

The word, "disease" is composed of two words, "dis-ease" which literally means that a disease would totally rob you of your ease and comfort. So, if I say to myself, "I have a disease that has come to stay with me for the rest of my life" I am literally telling myself that for the rest of my life I would never feel comfortable or at ease. The fact is that in spite of the ongoing discomfort and pain, there can be many moments when we can feel relatively comfortable and at ease.

"Illness" literally means "Evilness," originating from the medieval belief that we become sick when evil takes possession of us. Therefore, being ill is being someone else other than you. The fact is that you are still you in spite of your medical condition. Therefore, the term illness is totally unhelpful.

The term, "medical condition" is non-judgmental, non-evaluative and non-pejorative. It does not necessarily evoke horrific and catastrophic images for the future or the nature of the person. It is better to tell yourself you have a medical condition that has unpleasant consequences and difficult challenges. Positively (and quite accurately), it is a medical condition with progressively refining treatment procedures, rehabilitation techniques and methods of self-care.

Don't let your identity be mixed up with your medical condition. I must constantly remind myself "I am not a diseased person; there is a part of me that is always healthy and strong. Only I can discover and feel that healthy and strong part of me."

Still another ancient Indian text says,

"Purnamadah, purna midam
Purnat purna mudachayate
Purnasya, purnamadaya
Purna meva vashishyate.

"That (the creator)" is whole and "this (the creation) " is whole
From the whole only the whole emerges.
When the whole is taken out of the whole
What remains is also whole

To be "healed" is to become whole again. An "individual" is indivisible, one that cannot be divided i.e.. a whole person. You are an individual, indivisible and whole.

Remind yourself who you really are. The real you will never be diseased or disabled. Only the body can develop dysfunction, limitations or disabilities. The real you reside in the deepest core of your mind and heart and it is not made of physical material, does not follow physical laws, and therefore is never limited or impaired in its function. Your real self was born as whole when it entered this body and would remain whole until it exits this body!

Your whole body may be hurting and uncomfortable, but there is always some part in you that is hurting less or not hurting at all. You may access this part of you. Perhaps, it lies deep inside you. It is comfortable, peaceful and even joyful. Let us call it your 'inner body" or "bliss body." It is peaceful, quiet, joyful, loving and safe. Even though, you may be surrounded by lot of anxieties, worries and fears but when you succeed in accessing it, it would feel safe and peaceful. The challenge is how to access it when everything seems to be so dark and painful and beyond repair and healing.

You can access that safe, strong and joyful part of you by deliberately re-creating and experiencing such positive emotions as love, compassion, happiness, content, gratitude, etc. One way to access it is through heart meditation.

Heart Meditation

In heart meditation, we relax, select a positive emotion such as joy, love, compassion, gratitude, etc. and experience it as fully and vividly as we can.

Potential Benefit: Heart meditation is a mood improver. It will take you out of negative mood into a positive mood and feeling and work as a tonic to your spirits. It is not only a "tonic" for your feeling heart but also a tool for breath relaxation and stress Management. Experience it!

When to do the Heart Meditation?: After you have done at least a couple of minutes of Heart and Lungs "Tune-Up" in which you have inhaled as if through the crown of the head into the heart center and exhaled out from the heart center through the toes. With each exhalation, you have let the body become even more loose and relaxed.

Technique: Perhaps, at this point your breathing is smooth, slow and quiet. You are ready to create and experience a positive emotion such as joy, love or compassion. Choose one of these positive emotions or any other you would like provided it is a positive emotion.

"Start inhaling and exhaling from the heart center. Feel your heart is breathing in and out in a relaxed manner. Your heart gently expands with in-breath and relaxes with the out-breath. Perhaps, the breathing is soft, smooth and slow. Now experience your chosen emotion, emotionally and physically, first in your heart and let it flow over into the rest of the body. Perhaps, you may recall a specific and person/s with whom or towards whom you experience that feeling fully and vividly. Experience it all over again with the same intensity now!

Example of heart meditation on joy: "Having established the relaxed heart breathing smile with your heart. Let that smile from the heart flow over to the eyes. Smile with your eyes and face. Feel the feeling of joy in your whole body.

Recall a specific time and place and person if any when you felt immensely joyful. Re-experience that joyful moment.

Example of heart meditation on love: "Having established the relaxed heart breathing, feel the emotion of love in your heart. Perhaps your heart softens and opens up when you vividly experience all the emotions you experience with love. Recall a specific time, place and person when you felt the love in your heart. Re-experience that love in this moment. What were all the feelings you were feeling towards the person you intensely loved? Was there happiness, joy, sensation of thrill, an emotional high or some feelings along those lines? Let the love feeling from the heart flow over to the face and the whole body.

You may choose to experience love for your partner, sibling, friend, child, or the love for everyone, the love for humanity or God,

Example of heart meditation on compassion: Think of a person, real or imaginary who is less fortunate than you are, has less than you do or is sicker than you and need more help than yourself. Having established the relaxed heart breathing, bring that person in your heart. See yourself helping that person with such things as cooking, giving medicine, pushing the wheelchair, bringing flowers or doing another act of compassion and help. Feel the kindness and compassion and the joy of helping a joy of helping that person.

We have some homework to do

Ellen Langer, author of Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility points out that "there is always a step small enough from where we are to get us to where we want to be (p.35). Langer goes on to say that you take that small step, then take another and you can get a mile closer to your goal. After all, as a Chinese saying goes "A journey of ten thousand miles begins with the first step.

Langer in the Counterclockwise makes another good point to save us from falling into a negative mindset and the point is that "Certainty is a cruel mindset." Don't be certain about the discouraging prognosis of your condition. Embrace uncertainty about your medical condition when uncertainty offers you hope.

Are you nervous about staying sick and getting old? Consider that negative beliefs about aging make us age faster. Therefore drawing negative scenarios about sickness and aging all the time in your mind can be more harmful than is necessary. Free yourself from constricting and self-limiting mindsets. Instead, adopt a possibility thinking, "Everything is possible" including a cure for your medical condition.

Psychologist Becca Levy conducted a study in which she asked people about how they viewed the process of getting older. She asked them questions reflecting negative views as, "Things keep getting worse as I get older" or, "As you get older, you are less useful." Questions reflecting positive view of aging were such as, "I am as happy now as I was when I was younger." Twenty years later, Levy found that those who viewed the health and aging more positively lived on average 7 and years longer.

We can speculate from these findings that we might be better off by keeping an open mind for all possibilities and encouraging the mind that questions and defies all negative assumptions and beliefs.

Keep reminiscing and fantasizing about the time when you were totally healthy and strong, agile, and invincible. Discard the reality clock sometimes in the spread of the day.

Few people are totally sick or totally healthy. Health is multidimensional. You may be sick or weak in one area but healthy and strong in other areas. Identify the aspects in which you are okay or healthy?

Accept your condition. Acceptance is not surrender. What "is" is! It is with the acceptance of what it is that the real work can begin.

List your personal assets/ qualities that can help you in dealing with the challenge.

Clear up all the prevalent misperceptions, myths and misinformation related to your medical condition. Be skeptical of the medical "verdicts" and opinions. History tells us that over time all medical opinions have to be revised by new knowledge.

Recognize and list some of the barriers to seeking help and pursuit of health and happiness

Don't hesitate to seek others' help when required. Have zero expectations from others. Stay connected. Help, nourish and support others when you can.

Recognize the "depressive equivalents," that is, masked depression often unrecognized by the health professionals and deemed as an unavoidable "fate" by individuals

Keep in balance the positives as well as the troubling issues pertaining to family/partner

Don't grieve over the "loss of control" over life you thought you once had. It's an illusion we all have. Life in the final analysis is unpredictable and known to take unexpected turns but we should do everything we can to build on what we got

Return to Chronic Illness Coping 
Return to Self Help 

Copyright 2010, Mind Publications 
Posted October 2010


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