We Are Not Our Diagnoses
When we are in pain, it is only natural to want to discover the cause. If our leg is broken or we recently sprained an ankle, or we learn we have appendicitis, both the cause of our pain and course of treatment are pretty clear. But much of the time pain is not so simple. We begin to see physicians and other healthcare practitioners, each with an explanation, each wanting to perform tests so we can be labeled with a diagnosis: “bulging disc,” “tendinitis,” “arthritis.” I can’t tell you the number of times I hear people tell me that the doctor told them these structural issues are the cause of their pain. And why wouldn’t we think that? Imaging clearly shows these processes at work in our bodies, and no one has offered an alternative explanation, so this must be where the pain is coming from.
Now all we have to do is “treat” the problem with surgery, steroid injections, heat, ice, heat and ice, some magical exercises, a balm with some anti-inflammatory properties or a nice tingly sensation, or one of the many other band-aids masquerading as “cures.” We begin to identify so strongly with the one diagnosis or several diagnoses that explain our pain that until the thing is fixed, we can obviously never improve. Thus, we are doomed to pain and physical dysfunction, anger, depression, insomnia, addiction, and other components of the milieu that can accompany preserved pain.
This kind of thinking cannot be perpetuated any longer. I can’t stand hearing such hopelessness regarding healing any longer. It would be great if there were miracle cures, quick-fixes, and easy answers for all of our medical problems. But our bodies are complex organisms designed to adapt and survive, with truly remarkable nervous systems at the heart of everything. We may have to dig deep if we want to discover the impetus of pain and dysfunction, and the “fix” is not likely to be quick. Healing often requires time, patience, help, behavioral modifications, and repeated attitude adjustments (this one has been especially true for me!). That is the truth of the matter. Sometimes surgery is necessary, but very often it is not. Drugs, injections, and exercises all have their role in the healing process, but alone they are likely to fail, just like if we were to put a wrap around a broken leg and keep running.
Healing often requires time, patience, help, behavioral modifications, and repeated attitude adjustments
Our bodies are powerful healers given the right conditions, but we must remember that, ultimately, our health is our own responsibility, and we know our bodies best. Therefore we play an essential role in healing. No doctor can do it all for us. And no one person has all the answers, so we must be invested learners, seekers, and advocates for our own well-being. If we determine that we do not have the time, money, or desire to do what is truly necessary to heal, then we must accept that we have chosen that path for ourselves (though of course cost can be a barrier, and we must get creative).
If we choose to take the path of healing, hope fills the air around us, sustaining us through the process
If, however, we choose to take the path of healing, hope fills the air around us, sustaining us through the process. Healing, whether it is physical, psychological, or emotional, is a great teacher. We learn a lot about ourselves, especially about the shadow, the darkness within that teaches us to become resourceful and resilient so that we know how to find the light no matter the depth of the darkness. We learn to ask for and accept help, to trust the good intentions of others, and to deal in compassion for those whose pain we may not know, but can feel in their words and actions.
Healing, we will find, does not often happen at once like the flipping of a switch, but sneaks up on us in the midst of our journey, and we may find that we feel better but have also discovered a deeper purpose in our lives, deeper relationships with others, and a deeper understanding of our own hearts. Residing within each of us is a light that shines no matter how much dust accumulates atop it. As we heal, we wipe the dust away and find that our light is unstoppable, and our potential impact on the world is undeniable.
I have a lot of technical, scientific information about pain and physical healing that I plan to share in upcoming blogs and in an upcoming workshop about “erasing” pain, but I want to be clear that, in my experience both as a healthcare professional and someone that has had to deal with chronic physical pain and mental health issues, healing is a journey in which we must engage our whole selves. We must look beyond individual diagnoses, and come with a willingness to let go of our initial beliefs and expectations so that we are open to discovering new truths about the roots of our pain and new possibilities and practices along the road to healing.