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“It is a radical act of love to befriend yourself.”
~ Jon Kabat-Zinn
Words are powerful
I learned that as a little girl, the first time someone made me cry on the playground by saying they didn't want to be my friend. I learned it again when I was a little older, fighting with my brother in the back seat of the car; I told him my parents didn't love him as much as they loved me. My mother immediately stopped the car and told me in no uncertain terms that it wasn't true, and I was never to say such a thing again. I also learned the power of positive words: accepting compliments without rejecting them (it took practice), and as a young woman in the midst of first love, experiencing the fear and the bliss of saying “I love you” for the very first time, and hearing those words in return.
I'm a writer and an avid reader. Words are my joy and my outlet. But some words I reject, specifically the ones the medical establishment assigns to autoimmune disease:
- Your body is attacking you.
- Your immune system is out of control.
- Your body is broken.
- Your body has betrayed you.
- You will continue to get worse.
When I developed rheumatoid arthritis, my sister started doing some research, and she found a book called, “The Enemy Within.” It's written by a woman with rheumatoid arthritis, who took the conventional medical path to treatment, and therefore embraces that perspective. There's a lot of beauty in the book: her raw honesty about her experience, her encouragement of people to create a full life beyond the disease. But I can't get past the title, and the antagonistic “us vs. our body” viewpoint that permeates the book.
I have a different perspective
- My body wants to heal and is doing everything in its power to do so. Autoimmunity is a miscommunication within the body, not an intentional war within.
- Symptoms are my body's way of telling me something's wrong and asking for help. I had many signals for many years, before rheumatoid arthritis hit. Like many people, I misinterpreted or ignored those signals.
- My body does a million things right every day, which I take for granted. From a steady heartbeat and oxygen supply, to trillions of cells doing zillions of processes every second, sending signals bodywide that let me move my fingers to type these words, allowing me to speak, to sleep, to sing and to love, controlling all aspects of homeostasis from body temperature to cell regeneration, my body is amazing and is totally on my side.
- My body needs my love, not my anger.
- My body's potential is infinite.
- My body and I are one. There is no separation.
This isn't a pollyana viewpoint
It's hard having an autoimmune disease. Even though many of us speak of the gifts that come with life's challenges, let's be honest: we'd much rather be 100% healthy. Some days, you need to cry. Other times, you want to scream. Even though I have improved my rheumatoid arthritis symptoms dramatically, I have a very sensitive body that requires vigilance, and I miss feeling free. But I don't hate my body, I don't blame my body. Every day, I re-commit to loving my body, and I believe that's essential to healing. If your child is sick, do you get mad at them, or do you nurture them, and do everything in your power to help them be well? Don't our bodies deserve that same unconditional love? Don't we?
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Art Credit: A huge thank you to Rita Loyd for the artwork at the top of this post. She has a whole gallery of beautiful images at the aptly named http://nurturingart.com. She kindly gave me permission to include one for this article.