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January 25, 2011

Perspectives on Chronic Illness

Written by: Matthew Wagner, L.Ac., M.S.O.M.

Chronic illness affects more than just our body, it affects our mental well-being, as well.  Those fortunate enough to be healthy and free of illness often have a hard time finding sympathy for those who are sick.  However, all people who suffer from any chronic illness, such as chronic fatiguefibromyalgia, or candida, know how deeply, negatively impactful, the condition can be on all aspects of their lives; from energy and vitality, to being able to sleep and feel well-rested, to being well enough to maintain friendships, and to the foods someone eats, among other things.  Physical or functional illness often dramatically affects our overall emotional well-being in a negative way, making us more likely to feel hopeless and depressed.

On the other hand, it’s important to recognize how hopelessness, negativity, and depression lock us into patterns of disease, lengthening healing time or preventing healing entirely.  Chronic complaints are often hard to identify, and even harder to treat.  Therefore, when someone who is sick finally has a label for their illness, they tend to identify with that label and, in a sense, “become” the disease.  While this is entirely natural, and often a comfort to the individual, it can greatly affect healing.

Looking at health holistically, we must recognize that mind and body are one.  If this is so, then not only will the pain of the body affect the thoughts and feelings of the mind, but the thoughts and feelings of the mind will affect the body, as well.  In short, if we think we feel bad, we will feel bad.  If we think we’re sick, we will be sick.  This is not a trite statement, and doesn’t diminish the seriousness of the person’s illness in any way.  However, it does dictate the level at which we treat disease, and makes that treatment multifaceted and thus more complicated. 

For example, what started as a physical or functional complaint, which may have been entirely natural and expected for the conditions of the time, becomes an outlook on life.  As a result, what would have healed naturally in its own time, is made to endure when mental patterns reinforce physical patterns.  This is complicated issue, which doesn’t respond as well to any medical treatments, whether allopathic medicine, or Chinese medicine.  In general, it requires more acupuncture and Chinese herbal treatments than one would expect. 

Therefore, in the treatment of chronic disease, it is essential for the patient to be able to begin to view him or herself in new way; as a healthy person, momentarily sick and needing rest, instead of as a sick person, doubting the body’s ability to heal.  This shift towards better perspective will allow the body to heal as the body should, and will allow the patient to recognize the subtle shifts towards better health that the body makes along the way.  In this way, even though one is healing from a chronic illness, which by its very nature takes a long time, the patient will at least be able to enjoy life as they heal, free from identifying with the illness that affects them.  When the patient is able to step out of the way of their own healing, healing time naturally shortens, as the body’s natural resiliency is allowed to function properly, and will respond more quickly and dramatically to acupuncture and Chinese medicine.