I live in Boulder, Colorado, one of the most health-centric places in the world. So when I got sick with ulcerative colitis in 2000, I felt like some kind of failure. I was a wife, a mom, and in the middle of my main earning years. It was a terrible time to be sick. I spent a lot of time thinking, "What did I do to create this?"
In Boulder, and I'm sure many other places around the country, people are quite adamant that if you can just fix your mind, you can fix your body. For a while, I sort of bought into this.
But now I know, when you are desperately ill, this idea that your illness is somehow your own creation is horribly discouraging and misleading. In fact, I think it's a form of mental abuse that can make you sicker.
If someone suggests you somehow "created" your illness, remember this: No human really knows how our minds work, or whether or not we "create" anything. If they say they do, they're either God or vastly overstating their wisdom.
With intestinal issues, a lot of people in the alternative health community say, "Oh, it's a diet thing. You're not eating healthfully enough." Lots of people suggested I got sick because of improper nutrition brought about by unconscious eating habits.
Others said it was stress-related. But how can you begin to control stress when you're living in a state of terror because you're so ill? My internist, to his credit, said there was no way of knowing what caused my disease. Maybe it was genetic.
Still, I spent too much time beating myself up, like I was some kind of bad person for not knowing how to think better thoughts or eat better food so I wouldn't get sick. Why wasn't I smarter, more enlightened, more spiritually sound, a vegan?
It wasn't until years later that I realized, with this disease, I was totally out of my league. I standing on the shore while a tsunami broke over me.
Why We Get Sick
After surviving my illness, traumatic medical treatment, and the loss of any fantasy of control over my destiny, here's what I understand. We get sick because:
- Shit happens (so sorry for the terribly appropriate cliché); there's no rhyme or reason for some things in life, so just get over it.
- If we pay attention, we'll learn something good from being sick.
Inflammatory bowel disease is not something we "did to ourselves." It's not karma we created or payback for poor habits. Chalk it up to the fact that life is some grand unknowable scheme. Part of the human condition is that we're caught up in it, for better or for worse.
If it helps, think about the millions of things that actually go right for the vast majority of our lives. There is some balance. You may not see it at this moment, but there is.
Published On: June 03, 2009