Where the mind goes, the body follows
The mind is meant to play a powerful role in the healing process.
Here are the techniques I’ve tried, with varying success.
I heard an episode of the This American Life podcast shortly after the hospital told me that the tinnitus and hearing loss were permanent. It was called ‘In Defence of Ignorance’ and it changed my outlook on the devastating prognosis I had just received.
It’s an inspiring story told by a Chinese-American woman whose Western beliefs are challenged when her 80 year old grandmother in China is diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and given three months to live.
In China it’s customary to give test results to a family member rather than the patient so that they can decide when and how to break any bad news.
The family decided not to tell the grandmother. Knowing her personality, they thought the news would overwhelm her. They believed telling her would kill her, while not telling her would prolong her life.
They then entered into an elaborate lie.
One of her grandsons had recently got married in Japan so they held a wedding banquet in China to give everyone a chance to see her one last time. It was a funeral masquerading as a wedding; they had to suppress their sadness and fake the happiness of a wedding.
It turned out to be a perfect guise. Any tears or sentimental speeches were chalked up to the fact that the family, who live in three different countries, had not been together for 25 years.
At her next annual check up, the results were the same: stage 4 lung cancer, three months to live. This time the family didn’t need to lie. They told her the results were the same as last time so there was no need to worry.
Three years later, the grandmother is still alive and living an active life.
Optimism not pessimism
The podcast convinced me to put the prognosis out of my head and keep the pessimistic doctors at arm’s length.
I surround myself with alternative healers. While they have never said my hearing will return, they have always been optimistic about my recovery and reassured me that my condition will improve.
It’s not been without challenges. I told my hearing therapist that I was going to a yoga retreat run by a cranial osteopath. She said: “be careful of these people who say they can cure you. Your hearing won’t come back”.
I stared at her with disdain and thought: “I need to be careful of people like you”.
Visualisation is meant to have helped cure people of all sorts of diseases.
I close my eyes and lie comfortably on the sofa. There’s lots of evidence to suggest that my left ear isn’t draining correctly. I therefore visualise the fluid in my ear draining perfectly out of a pipe. Drip, drip, drip….
I do this dozens of times a day and mutter ‘drain ear, drain’.
One day I hear a high pitched beeping. Is it a new tinnitus sound?
No, it’s coming from my washing machine. A warning light is flashing saying that it can’t drain properly!
I take this as a positive sign and continue the visualisation. A few weeks later, I kid you not, my sink won’t drain either.
I’m dumbfounded. Can the power of my mind break my kitchen’s plumbing system?
Three plumbers and £270 later, it’s discovered that there’s a big ball of congealed hair in the kitchen drains. Apparently it’s common in bathrooms but not in kitchens.
At this stage I hadn’t been to the hairdressers for over six months as the sound of a hairdryer was too noisy for my sensitive hearing. My hair was not only ridiculously long, it was out of control and there was a constant film of brown hair coating my flat’s floors.
To make matters worse, I couldn’t use the vacuum cleaner as that was also too noisy. I thought I was sweeping all the hair up with the broom but clearly most of it was going down the plug hole after I moped the floors.
The perils of Rapunzel strikes again.
A healing mindset
I’ve worked hard to develop a mental attitude which facilitates healing. I’ve based it on endless conversations with my homeopath and Dr Weil’s brilliant book Spontaneous Healing.
The modern approach is to push through pain and discomfort. It’s like you have to show your body who’s boss. If you have a sprained ankle, walk on it. If you have sensitive hearing, stand in a noisy building.
This creates a conflict in your body which is not conducive to healing. Illness means your body is already in conflict, why create more?
Dr Weil says this notion of conflict is also fuelled by our language. We use warfare imagery when talking about illness: we battle against cancer and say “I’m going to flight this thing”.
However he has noticed that people who’ve experienced healing accept their illness rather than struggle against it.
Based on this, I adopt the following mental attitude:
I firmly believe that, despite the hospital’s prognosis, I will get better. In order to achieve this I surrender to my illness by listening to my body and accepting where I’m up to.
If I feel too ill to leave the house, I stay at home. If someone asks how I’m feeling, I don’t suppress my emotions by putting on a brave face; I tell the truth.
Acknowledging the physical symptoms is not the same as giving into them. It’s a temporary measure to enable my body to heal. I can bring everything back into my life when I’m strong and healthy enough to enjoy them.
It’s been a slow process but I am getting stronger and my symptoms keep improving.
Turns out there really is something to be said for ignorance, optimism and acceptance.