1. Do not take “no” for an answer
Most of the people whose experiences I have related heard discouraging words from health professionals, especially from medical doctors who told them there was no hope, nothing more to be done and no possibility of getting better. They did not buy it. Instead they never gave up hope that there was help to be found somewhere.
A young man with chronic autoimmune disease had been told for years by hematologists that nothing could be done for him but to maintain him on high doses of steroids that were destroying his health. For years he accepted that view, but as the toxicity of suppressive treatment became more and more obvious, he acted on his intuitive belief that other methods had to exist and began a search that led him to me. I told him I thought he could alter the behavior of his immune system by making significant changes in his lifestyle, exploring alternative therapies and working with mind/body approaches.
A few days later he came back to see me. The hematologist told him that his ideas were crazy. He had tried to give the hematologist copies of the articles he found on mind/body approaches to autoimmunity, but the doctor laughed at him and said he would not waste his time “reading garbage.” This remark so infuriated the patient that he worked up his courage to fire his doctor. With some effort he found another hematologist, who, despite some discomfort, was willing to watch over him and let him experiment. The patient made the recommended changes to his life and weaned himself from prednisone. His blood counts fluctuated for a period, then stabilized at better levels than when he was on the drug. This convinced him he was on the right track and bolstered his motivation to proceed.
2. Actively search for help
Successful patients search out possibilities for treatments and cures and follow up every lead they come across. They ask questions, read books and articles, go to libraries, write to authors, ask friends and neighbors for ideas and travel to seek practitioners who seem promising. Such behavior leads some doctors to label these patients as difficult, noncompliant or simply obnoxious, but there is no reason to think that nice patients are more likely to get better while difficult ones finish last.
Here are the words of a young woman who was healed from aplastic anemia: “There may be different ways to healing for different people, but there is always a way. Keep searching!”
3. Seek out others who have been healed
One of the most effective ways to neutralize medical pessimism is to find someone who had the same problem you do and is now healed. Whenever I come across people who have solved serious health problems, I ask them if they will allow me from time to time to send similarly affected patients for advice and guidance. For example, I know a man in his late thirties who developed rheumatoid arthritis 15 years ago. For years he took larger and larger doses of suppressive medication, and he required several surgeries to correct worsening deformity in one of his hands. Then he began to notice that the fluctuating course of the disease followed his emotional ups and downs. He made a conscious decision to develop a healthy lifestyle and cultivate evenness of mood; as a result, he has been able to stop the progression of the arthritis and eliminate the medication. I have sent him several patients with rheumatoid arthritis—young people who only knew the perspective of conventional rheumatologists—who had no reason to believe they could take charge of their health. He helped convince them that they could modify their disease without depending on drugs and then got them started on the road to healing.
4. Form constructive partnerships with health professionals
Successful patients often ally themselves with health professionals who support them in their search for answers. An ally can simply be a doctor who says, “I don’t know what you’re doing, but whatever it is, keep it up!” Or it can be a practitioner who takes an active hand in suggesting experiments. What you want is a professional who believes in you and your ability to heal yourself, someone who empowers you in your search and makes you feel that you are not alone. Good doctors are willing to say “I don’t know,” and they will take the greatest pleasure in seeing you heal, whatever methods you decide to use.
5. Do not hesitate to make radical life changes
Many of the successful patients I know are not the same people they were at the onset of illness. Their search for healing made them aware that they had to make significant changes in their lives: changes in relationships, jobs, places of residence, diet, habits and so forth. In retrospect, they see these changes as steps that were necessary for personal growth, but the process was wrenching. Change is always difficult; major change can be very painful. Illness often forces us to look at issues and conflicts that we have ignored in the hope that they would disappear. Continuing to ignore them may block any possibility of spontaneous healing, while willingness to change can be a strong predecessor to success.
6. Regard illness as a gift
Because illness can be such a powerful stimulus to change—perhaps the only thing that can force some people to resolve their deepest conflicts—successful patients often come to regard it as the greatest opportunity they have ever had for personal growth and development: truly a gift. Seeing illness as a misfortune, especially one that is undeserved, may obstruct the healing system. Coming to see illness as a gift that allows you to grow may unlock it.
7. Cultivate self-acceptance
To accept oneself, with all of the imperfections, limitations and defects that characterize every human being, represents a surrender to a higher will. Change seems more likely to occur in this climate of surrender than in a climate of confrontation with the universe. When you are sick, surrender does not mean giving up hope of renewed health. Rather, it means accepting all the circumstances of your life, including present sickness, in order to move beyond them. Recall the stages of the process of grieving: Only with acceptance of loss does it become possible to move on to completion and healing. Recall also the words of one man who experienced spontaneous healing: “The trick is to get your ego out of the way, get your concepts out of the way, and just let the body heal itself. It knows how to do it.”
From the book Spontaneous Healing, by Andrew Weil. Reprinted by arrangement with Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.
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