Hopefulness & Hopelessness: Musings on The Spiral of Chronic Illness.

Via on Mar 13, 2013

HOPE

I’ve had a hopeful past month with my own illness, migraine headaches.

Whenever something like this happens, it makes me want to jump up and down and say, “hey, something amazing happened, and I feel hopeful and I want you to too!”

And then, inevitably, I have a month ravaged with migraines, and I spin back into hopelessness…

And that’s what keeps me from sharing the little triumphs and small successes along the way.

Once back into hopelessness, I feel like it negates all the joy and possibility that the good events and momentary changes created.  It makes me feel like, who am I to believe that things could change? Suddenly I’m embarrassed to talk about my experiences with my illness, because the fact I’ve not yet cured myself renders null all my triumphs.

Brutal, right?

Talking with a client today who has both migraines and epilepsy, we mused on how the healing path is a tricky one to navigate, because of course the end goal is a cure—no more headaches! No more migraines!

But without the definite promise of a cure through mindful action and engaging intelligently with the illness, would we stop these actions?

It’s a hard alternative to look at—giving up hope. In battle terminology it’s called “Death’s Ground”—the place in battle where the only alternative is to die.  So, given that unsavory option, one chooses to fight for your life.

With the migraines I feel like I’m on Death’s Ground; that, combined with the sincere, wholehearted belief in human capability to change keep me moving forward.

I remind myself, after all there was a time in my life (more than half of it) where I didn’t have migraines. If that’s true, change for the “worse” could as easily become change for the “better.”

My teacher Ana Forrest has a history of migraines and of epilepsy. She has healed herself, or at the very least has these illnesses so well under control that they rarely if ever rear up.

What she has accomplished seems like magic, like a miracle.

Have you ever witnessed a healing miracle?  I haven’t. When people cure themselves of cancer, asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome, whatever, it’s always reported after the fact, by the person who accomplished the healing feat.  Have you noticed, there’s rarely people around—like doctors—to corroborate what happened? Never family members, friends who say, “yes this person was sick, and then they weren’t.”

And that probably makes sense, because you don’t actually know at the time that you will succeed—exactly the conundrum in discussion here, and the hopelessness that undercuts a person’s willingness to talk about the process during the process.

And this is probably why this video of the Gulf War Vet paratrooper has gone viral—there’s evidence that one can see. Without a doubt, that man healed his back and his knees using yoga.

I have no doubt that Ana truly has healed herself, because I trust her intrinsically.

But she’s a person of magic beyond what I think I will ever know, and healing one’s nervous system and endocrine system is a different matter than healing joints and connective tissue…

This logic then leads me to: And therefore, maybe the kind of healing experience she’s had is not to be mine…

And right here is where the fighter in me recently stood up and said, “fuck that shit.”

Actually, my warrior stood up about a year ago, and challenged me to use my yoga more skillfully, to change my nervous system’s chemistry. And at that point I realized that when Ana said, “Erica’s neck is made of rebar,” well, I took offense at the time, but later realized she was right. Damn her! She was right…

Maybe it was that paratrooper’s willingness to document evenhandedly both the failures and successes along the way that actually contributed to his success. Maybe he already had some resoluteness. Maybe he accepted the possibility of failure, and decided it didn’t matter.

For me, though I seek to weed out my migraines, ironically I credit their appearance in my life with everything that is good about it today.

I would not give up the treasured lessons I’ve learned along the way, nor the paths I’ve chosen as a result.

And for that I thank this ongoing healing crisis for all the gift that it’s brought me, and will continue to.

That said, I feel that it is important for those who have chronic illness to catalog both the triumphs and the miseries of the illness, and not only talk about it when we’re feeling sick.

Let me start with my recent hopeful turns.

In the past two months I have had instances where I’ve been able to make the headaches go away, without the assistance of pharmaceuticals.

>>Once with mindful breathing, attention to what I was doing, and good posture.

>>Once with yoga practice (By the way, I think the Iyengar treatment for migraines doesn’t work, and is horribly ill-conceived.  For me at least.)

>>Again with a serious crack of the upper back, and neck.

>>Most recently, over a two-day headache, with a combination of yoga, breathing, and awareness about posture.

Additionally, I’ve had amazing insight from tracking sensation in my yoga practice, ones that have lead me to start looking for the source of the headaches in deeper patterns not only in my neck, but also in my back, hips, legs, and specifically ankles.

Finally, my acupuncturist cupped my back for the first time, and as a result I have new sensation in the upper back. I think that the cupping pulled apart adhesions and scar tissue.

These instances are deeply internal, and hard to verbalize in all of their intricacies. They don’t lend themselves well to a YouTube video.

Belief in a future healing outcome involves faith.

This may further explain why it is so fraught to discuss.

“Faith is the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities not beheld.” Hebrews 11:1.

Part of the conundrum is that the alternative is not to believe. Healing of a certain variety is therefore, by definition, a spiritual event—choosing to believe in the things hoped for, but not yet beheld.

The difference between blind faith, and what I consider my own faith, is that the hopefulness I feel is founded on real, evident demonstrations of the possibility of change. They are the events that I have listed above. They are the product of my own work, investigation, and application of my intelligence. These things are tangible.

And for this reason—because above all I choose to believe in me—I will choose to believe, and not to give up hope, regardless of how hopeless the situation appears. I wish this for you too.

 

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Ed: Kate Bartolotta

 

 

About Erica Mather

Erica Mather, M.A., E-RYT 200, is a lifelong teacher. She has been teaching yoga in New York City since 2006. Erica created "Adore Your Body," a Signature System for addressing body image challenges, and is the Founder of The Yoga Clinic NYC. Check out her website and follow her on Twitter.

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2 Responses to “Hopefulness & Hopelessness: Musings on The Spiral of Chronic Illness.”

  1. Robyn says:

    Hello. I used to have migraines and now I rarely do, but I really have no idea why! I wish I had a magic answer. One thing I've become increasingly aware of is how many people seem to overcome health issues through diet — essentially eliminating processed foods. As a yogi, you probably already take good care of yourself and eat well (I try but I slip up a lot), but it's just a suggestion to throw out there just in case you happen to live off Cheetos, Tuna Helper and soda pop (joking). I have a friend who had MS and once she cleaned up her diet, all signs of it disappeared and doctor's no longer could detect it. If I wasn't a believer before that, I guess I am now!

  2. howard says:

    A year ago I was diagnosed with a Chiari malformation (when the brain stem descends partway into the spinal cord), and I thought I had found an explanation for my headaches. The reality was more complicated, and though I am managing better now i can't tell you what I've done to achieve that. Perhaps the lapse in symptoms is momentary, perhaps my improved diet, exercise, and sleeping habits have turned my health around. All I know is that living with a chronic condition means living with a greater degree of uncertainty from day to day.

    So thank you for your words of encouragement, and know that there are people who understand what you are going through right this very instant, and you can reach out to them too.

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