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It Makes You Think…

(ACNEM Journal, Vol. 23 No. 3, December 2004)

Who do you think you are?

The answer to this deceptively simple question will dictate how you experience your life — your health and wellbeing, your illnesses, your relationships with others and your perception of your place in the universe. It will determine the work you do, or don’t do, who you marry, or don’t, and what you do on your days off.

There are many ways to relate to an illness. You can ask “Why is this happening?” or “Why is this happening now?” or “Why is this happening to me?”. All valid questions but are they different from each other? Each also reflects your answer to my first question. An illness can be seen as something happening to you from outside, or as an imbalance of processes inside you, or as a spiritual process, or as a challenge, or as an opportunity to learn and grow; or any one of an infinite number of possibilities.

Whether you get ‘better’ depends as much on how you relate to an illness as it does on the treatment you receive, and the treatment you seek also depends on that relationship. If this sounds complex, it need not be. It can be simplified by looking at the whole area as a matter of choices.

Let me illustrate.

You leave your car parked in the street while you go shopping. When you return you find that the tree under which you parked has dropped a sizable branch on your car and damaged it to the extent that you cannot drive it. The branch missed both the car in front of and the one behind you, although there is no reason that it should have. In fact, the branch could have fallen in such a way that it missed your car entirely. How do you respond?

Is someone to blame for this ‘accident’? If so, who is to blame? Who is going to fix things and who is going to pay for it?

You could say that everyone knows that such trees drop branches from time to time and therefore you took a risk parking where you did. Or that therefore the Council should not have planted such a tree in that place. Or you could be ‘philosophical’ about it and say “Okay, that’s happened, now let me do what’s necessary to get my car back to a drivable condition.”

Whatever your response, it is likely to be similar to your response to getting sick.

Perhaps harder to come to grips with is the statement above that an illness is part of a spiritual process or a challenge or an opportunity to learn and grow. Such a response to an illness would come from an answer to the first question in the realm of: “I am an integral part of a larger universal process”. This would lead you to believe that anything you experience is part of that process. And if you believe that the purpose of your life is to grow and learn, then an illness could be seen as an opportunity to do just that.

To go back to your damaged car… you could conclude that no-one is to blame and it’s just one of those things, or no-one is to blame and your lesson is to not park under such a tree, or to use public transport. There is no right answer, but each possible answer will have its own consequences.

Because there is no right answer to any of these questions, it is imperative that we have a healthcare system that can cater to all the various attitudes people have to their wellbeing. There will be people who just want someone to fix them up and there will be those who want some advice as to what is ailing them and then make their own way back to health. And there will be those in between. There will also be some who want to stay unwell for some reason. On the whole, the current healthcare system caters well to those who want to be fixed up, but does badly when it comes to anyone else.

There is an area of study which concerns itself with the relationship between who you think you are and the state of your health — it can be called by various names, such as mind-body medicine or psychoneuroimmunology. It is based on solid research and many articles have been published in reputable, peer-reviewed journals, supporting this relationship. Belief in the connection between your thoughts and attitudes and your state of health leads to a greater sense of empowerment; blaming others or the universe can be very disempowering – if someone or something else is responsible for how well you are, there is not much you can do about it, other than complain.

It may be useful, next time you see a doctor or other health professional, to ask that person: “Who do you think you are?”

First published in Journal of Australasian College of Nutritional & Environmental Medicine,
Vol 23 No 3, December 2004, p 9