When you have a chronic and/ or debilitating illness, it’s hard to imagine ever feeling well. But it is possible. Wellknown chef and certified nutritionist Ariane Resnick spent years fighting a bevy of serious illnesses—Lyme disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, thyroid disease, carbon monoxide poisoning and gastrointestinal distress. Instead of turning to Western medicine, she used holistic medicine practices, diet, behavioral therapy—and a rock-solid belief that she could get well—to turn her health around. She emerged from her illnesses with the mission to teach others how to be well, too. Here is advice from her book How to Be Well When You’re Not: Practices and Recipes to Maximize Health in Illness for turning on the healing capabilities of your body and mind…
WHAT IS WELLNESS ANYWAY?
“Wellness” is a popular buzzword today. More than ever before, people are living with chronic diseases such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis…potentially fatal illnesses such as breast or skin cancer… or serious mental illness. And despite their physical condition, they are seeking to live their best lives.
The National Wellness Institute, which trains health professionals about the concept of whole-person wellness, says there are six dimensions to wellness— physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, social and occupational. The institute also says that wellness requires action. In fact, it defines wellness as “an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence.”
A chief characteristic of wellness is a mindset or belief that you can feel better today and in the future. When you believe that you have the power to feel well, you feel less stressed…experience a sense of hope, relaxation and peace… and are OK with yourself. Important: Research suggests that believing in your ability to be well can dramatically improve your chances of recovering from illness. A review of 16 studies in CMAJ found that people with a variety of illnesses who expected to recover had better health outcomes than people who had negative expectations.
TRAPS TO AVOID
It’s easy to fall into the habit of living the life of a sick person. When you have a chronic or serious illness, your whole world often revolves around going to doctors, taking medications, getting tests and undergoing surgical procedures. You often don’t feel well enough to socialize or work. Your life is reduced to your illness, symptoms and the feelings of depression and anxiety that inevitably occur in these situations.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Avoid these top two illness traps…
Living with an illness mindset. Many people define themselves as an ill person—they become their illness—and it consumes their lives. That focus may be necessary right after diagnosis and during early treatment, but as you get used to your illness, it’s important to change your mindset to one of wellness.
Being at war with your body. Illness often brings on feelings of being betrayed by your body. Don’t bury those negative feelings or tell yourself you shouldn’t have them. Instead, feel the betrayal and grieve for what you have lost, but recognize that whether or not you are ill, you can’t go back in time and be the person you were before.
WAYS TO MAXIMIZE HEALTH
Try some of these exercises to improve your wellness mindset…
Erase naysayers. Some doctors and even friends and family members may tell you that your chances of recovery are slim. Don’t believe them. The world is full of people who recovered despite poor odds, and you can, too. Exercise: Close your eyes, and visualize some of the doctors who told you that you wouldn’t recover. Imagine that you have a big eraser in your hand, and erase their bodies, faces and mouths to silence those words. You even can tell them to “Shut up” or say “I’m not listening to you.”
Play the opposite game. You’ve undoubtedly heard a lot of negative things about your health and prognosis, and these thoughts swirl in your brain on an endless loop. Defuse their power by flipping them on their heads. Exercise: Think of at least three sentences you’ve been told by professionals, be they diagnoses or prognoses, and write down the opposite of each. Examples: “Mrs. Smith, you do not have Parkinson’s disease”…or “Mr. Johnson, you will probably live well into old age”…or “Susie, your blood work is perfection. You are the pinnacle of health.” When you write down these opposite statements, hear them in your mind. You even might want to say them out loud. Important: Don’t write down the negative statements themselves to avoid giving them extra durability and power.
Befriend your body. Shift your focus away from anger and resentment toward your body because it has failed you. Instead, vow to support your body in any way you can so that it can become stronger. Show gratitude for the ways in which it continues to work for you. You may have bothersome symptoms, but you still can see, hear and talk. Important: Even in the face of devastating illness, there always is something to thank your body for. Focusing on gratitude improves your quality of life in a way that being down on your body never can.
Start and end your day with a positive mindset. Every morning and evening, check in with your body. Take time and emotional space to realize you are still alive, your body is still working and you still can accomplish things.
When you first wake up: Greet your body as if it is a loved one, and ask how it is doing today. Instead of complaining about your aches and pains, acknowledge them with a kind, productive thought process. Example: “Right now, I acknowledge that my joints hurt worse than they did yesterday. What is the best way to handle this? What wellness tools do I know help to alleviate my joint pain? Body, I’m in this with you, and together we will work to reduce this pain.” Important: This sort of internal conversation does not come naturally, but putting in the effort to do it can set a body-friendly tone for the day.
When you are going to bed: Say good night to your body, and reflect on what it has been able to do that day—even if that’s only just making it through another day. Find anything you consider an accomplishment, no matter how small, and acknowledge it. Examples: Your lungs spent the day breathing…your heart, beating…your stomach, digesting food.