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Making the best of your life

8 Jan 2014

Can we be the author of our own medical states?

This week, we're doing quite a lot of planning for the next few months, and one of the things that we will be offering is a roadshow of free clinics to support people with health management, and particularly  to be able to influence their health conditions and experience.

The theme is thorny.  Basically, we are suggesting that to some degree at least, we can author and change our experience of health, illness and well being.  A number of beliefs  underpin our approach. That mind and body is a useful conceptual dichotomy, yet not fully real - we are one entity. That we can influence our thoughts and emotions by where and how we focus our attention.  That we can therefore influence the quality of our own experience. That we can make choices about how or whether we do this.

So, we aim to support people to be `at cause' of their own experience.  Yet we are not suggesting that their experiences are not real, or that they have purposely caused them, or that there are not other factors at play. Neither do we think that because we choose certain paths, choices are easy.

Our observation is that our state of health is a cocktail, influenced by genetic predisposition, habits and behaviours, environment, occurrences beyond our control, attitudes, to mention but a few of the ingredients. So, when I (Jan)  had breast cancer, and a well intentioned colleague said to me `what do you think it is that you have done that caused you to have cancer', I wanted to smack her. Vulnerable, shocked and frightened, I inferred blame in the comment.

However, I did soon take the view that I could influence my chances of recurrence, and choose to believe that my attitude is a factor in my continuing to enjoy good health. I did also review my life and wondered whether a period of heartbreak two years earlier would have influenced the initial mutation of my breast cells to cancerous.

Some years later, Graham developed a debilitating intense experience of pain in his neck. An. MRI scan showed that three of the vertebrae in his neck have disintegrated, resulting in continual friction on the spinal nerve. For two years he suffered to the point of being unable to work and undergoing some considerable personality change. Each day I would take him tea in bed, he would take the first medication of the day, and he would complain about the pain.  We accepted that he would not be functioning until a good half an hour after this ritual was complete. After the two years, and somewhat distressed that I could not make this better for him, I said to Graham.
`Tell me, does complaining about your pain make things any better?'
He thought, and retorted that no, it didn't.
`Is there anything I can do that I haven't yet done', I asked.
No, there wasn't, he told me.
I nodded, and said, a little tearfully, `so would you mind, then, not moaning about it, because it upsets me to see and hear you this way.'
While Graham was initially somewhat miffed at this, he now tells this story as the motivator to change his approach.  In fact, he stopped complaining each morning and put his attention elsewhere.  He then used a mixture of homeopathy, of which he was extremely cynical, and self hypnosis, and although he still has those crumbled vertebrae, has been pain free from that trauma  for over 7 years.
So, we know that we can change pain. 
And this is what the pain management clinics will be all about.
We would be interested to hear from anyone who has comments to make on this subject, and I'll also be posting our thoughts on whether or not there are particular issues connected with illness which is classified as mental rather than physical, or whether, if we take a holistic approach, the same kind of thinking might apply.

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