Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash
By Kellie Mox
Most people didn’t know I was sick, even on my toughest days. My outsides revealed little of the war being waged on my insides. The list of test results that indicated multi-system dysfunction was long, yet I pushed through the daily work of mothering and adulting with determination and commitment. This was what I knew, what I’d always done, and it served me for a time. Until it didn’t.
My story, I’ve come to learn, is not special. There are far too many of us over-working, multi-tasking, driving ourselves to be and do more, and then finding ourselves managing chronic illness and acute disease. If you’re like me, a recovering perfectionist and type-A personality, you may be doing all of it with some added guilt and negative self-talk on the side.
Fortunately, I also had a passion for the inner workings of our bodies and minds. I fell in love with psychology early in life, after a journey through anorexia in my late teens. The universe propelled me along, bringing teachers who opened my eyes to mind-body medicine, spirituality and health, and alternative medicine. Ever the over-achiever, I followed an advanced degree in health psychology with a master’s degree in public health, then health coach training. Even before I knew I was chronically ill, I explored this work personally. I’d been in therapy, read countless self-help books, and worked with various complementary and alternative practitioners.
I had been on a healing journey, a quest of sorts all along, even before the chronic illness set in. But here’s the thing that I didn’t recognize. I’d been searching outside myself for something that I could only find within. I’d been looking for someone or something to fix me, because somewhere deep within, beyond my awareness, I believed something inside me was broken. Until I did the real work of tending to my inner landscape, I was fertile ground for disease.
I was eventually diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease, which drove me to dig deeper into what it means to heal. With much research as well as guidance and support from mentors and healing sisters, I learned just how much of an inside job healing really is. All the diets, supplements, knowledge, and treatments won’t heal you if your inner space is teeming with limiting beliefs, negative thoughts, and disowned feelings.
Don’t misunderstand. How you nourish your body, how you move it and tend to it — these are all important. But a cure brought about by these methods won’t last if your whole self is neglected. It’s important, too, to distinguish between curing and healing. Sometimes healing results in a cure — I am living proof of this. Sometimes, though, people heal even in the midst of dying. Healing, rather than curing, is about cultivating our wholeness. It means learning to love and trust ourselves and express our truths to the world. Healing, in this way, has no endpoint and will continue even beyond any cure you achieve.
Three Seeds to Nurture
While everyone’s path through healing is different, I’ve found there are three seeds we need to nurture in ourselves for healing to flourish.
Self-love is number one, and maybe the hardest to embrace in our culture of self-reproach, self-criticism, and self-deprecation. In addition, many of us didn’t learn how to love ourselves early on, so we have to do the work as adults. It seems intuitive that beating ourselves up emotionally would translate to the body attacking itself, and while it’s not widely acknowledged, this is a critical component of reversing autoimmune disease.
Self-love is dynamic, and it will grow and shift over time and with work. It means caring for ourselves as lovingly as we do our family. It means prioritizing our needs and desires. It means wholeheartedly accepting ourselves, the dark and the light.
How to cultivate it: Setting boundaries in work and relationships, practicing self-care daily, and forgiving ourselves are just a few ways to begin. For me, I’ve learned to embrace “non-doing” as an act of self-love. I’ve been learning the art of gentleness with myself. And I’ve been listening more to my body and what it truly needs.
Self-trust is the second critical component to healing. In our culture, the doctor or other experts know best, but this approach can give away our power. When we disregard our inner knowing or intuition, we may head down a path that doesn’t align for us. When it comes to health, we must choose wisely those people we want to support us in our healing. We can take into account their expertise and opinions, but we are the ultimate determiners of our healing journey.
Self-trust, though, is more than this. Like self-love, it is both a feeling and a skill that we can hone over time. It means having faith, and feeling comfortable, that our inner resources can guide us through life. It means connecting with that still, small voice within.
How to cultivate it: When we name, validate, and allow ourselves to feel our real feelings, when we recognize and halt fear-based thinking, and when we practice mindfulness, we grow our trust in ourselves. My journey involves all these and more, and is greatly reinforced with practice! The more I act in accordance with my inner knowing, the more I am comfortable trusting it.
Self-expression is born from the first two and is the third tenet of cultivating fertile healing ground. It’s not just about expressing our thoughts or feelings. It’s about knowing our truths, living them, and sharing them with the world. It can be difficult to distinguish between our own truths and the truths of our parents, friends, colleagues, and culture. So often we’ve been told stories about ourselves by others. Sometimes we’ve made up our own stories that no longer serve us. Even when we’ve done the work of remembering and owning our truths, there’s the essential piece of sharing them with others.
This kind of authenticity requires a willingness to be vulnerable that can be challenged by societal, cultural, or family expectations of how we should look, feel, be. But it’s a worthwhile effort. Self-expression means reconnecting with what enlivens us, what infuriates us, what drives us. It means fully accepting our truths now and as they evolve. And it means opening ourselves to be truly seen and known, in our wholeness.
How to cultivate it: We can begin by noticing our self-talk, or our stories, and questioning their truth. We can share our vulnerabilities with someone we trust. We can make something that is an expression of ourselves, even if we don’t take the step of sharing it yet. My practice has involved accepting parts of myself that I didn’t like in the past, spending more time in creative endeavors, and recognizing the ways in which I’ve made myself small and blocked my self-expression.
One Journey, Different Paths
My journey has been fraught with twists, turns, and perceived setbacks. Healing is not linear. It’s mysterious and wild, and it can’t be explained by any one framework. But the learning and evolution it brings are exponential and in direct proportion to the investment we make in ourselves. Everyone’s path through healing will be different, but we all need to nurture self-love, self-trust, and self-expression. Without them, we are fertile ground for disease and illness. With them, healing is possible.
Within the last year, my blood tests revealed, seemingly out of nowhere, that my autoimmune markers are gone after nearly two decades of autoimmunity. While I know that homeopathy, diet, meditation, supplements, acupuncture, and many other things supported this cure, I also know that none of these would have had that power if my mind, body, and spirit weren’t fertile ground for healing. I had to first embrace — and continue to practice — the hard work of nurturing self-love, self-trust, and self-expression.