Monday, March 16, 2009

Accepting Wellness

I read the following passage in Healing Into Life and Death by Stephen Levine. I can't stop thinking about it, and I'll explain why after you read it.

"A few years ago we were told by a physician a story of one of his patients who 'had tried her damnedest to get rid of cancer and couldn't.' Though she applied the latest techniques as best she could, the cancer spread to a point where it seemed she was about to die.

"Deciding to take a 'last vacation,' she went to the West Coast to spend some time on the beaches of Southern California. During the course of her visit she met a well-known healer who in two sessions of laying his hands on her apparently removed the pain and cancer. Two weeks later she killed herself.

"After the healing she told a friend that if it was that easy to heal she really must be a failure as a person. 'I really do deserve to die.' All the ideas she had about being responsible for her illness and having not previously 'chosen to live' left her feeling great despair and distrust in her own personal strength.

"Because of her belief system, being healed in this manner dis-empowered her. Someone forgot to tell her that all the work she had done until that time had worked to allow her to allow the healing in. The healer, thinking he was responsible for her healing instead of to her healing, perhaps kept too much credit for himself instead of sharing with her that she was already so prepared all it took was a little extra energy in the system to shift the tides."

These days, I've been feeling a bit like the cancer patient, although I'm not despondent, just somewhat shell-shocked. In returning to therapy, I've quickly figured out a lot of things I've been stewing over for years. Suddenly, I seem to have developed a clarity about bipolarity that I never had before. I see pattens of behavior I never understood before. And I can't believe I had to experience so much pain and suffering to figure all this out.

It's not that I believe my therapist has "healed me." Clearly, I am ready to "get it." What I can't believe is that it took me so long to get back into therapy, although I also know I may not have gotten it--even a few months ago.

Unlike the cancer patient, no one has taken away my pain and suffering. feels like it's time to unload decades of hurt and anguish and move on. My question to myself is: How do I cast aside the residue of illness in my heart that is preventing me from shifting the tides?


Andrea said...

Susan -

Wow, that's an excellent question. I guess, I would approach this the way I have approached other "illness in my heart" like divorce, infertility, etc. I started the slow, thudding process of taking in healing, pulling myself on until it gets a little lighter and a little easier...and eventually the illness is replaced or something, I don't know, it's gone, or mostly gone, or at least manageable now.
And once it's manageable, then I can actually start unloading.

Does this make sense?

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Andrea,
Although I had posed the question to myself, I didn't realize how helpful it would be for someone to help me think it through. And I genuinely thank you!

Yes, your answer makes perfect sense to me, and I intend to respond in tomorrow's post.


Wendalyn Love said...

Wow, Susan, as usual you are sharing some profound thoughts! It reminds me of a time years ago when my daughter was at her second year in university and wondering if she had made the right choice. First I listened to her voice her questions and then I said to her that if she weren't doing what she was doing right now, she would not even have the questions or the ability to think them through. Having had that same educational experience but choosing art later for my career, I understood her dilemna. She said that she figured she should have just gone to art school and skipped university. A few years later she went to a college and took residential design and loved it and excelled. Her bosses were delighted to hire someone who not only had the technical training, but also had a well-rounded education.
All this to say to you Susan, that this new therapy for you is just adding some more insights to your well-rounded education, but that this building stone would have no foundation to place it on if you had not already laid so many other foundational stones. It ALL works together, each thing does not work in isolation. I am proud of you that you have had the courage to get back into therapy and the humility that you do not yet 'know it all' even though you sure do know a lot about depression!

etta said...

As a person with a long-term, chronic illness, I finally reached a point where I tired of letting my illness define me. I came to a moment of clarity where, unlike the unfortunate cancer patient in your post, I realized depression was not something that was done TO me. Rather, it was an ILLNESS I had. Like cancer, it was something I suffered through no fault of my own.

Letting go of the responsibility for having the illness (i.e. I was a bad person. I didn't think happy thoughts. I was abused as a child. etc...) ironically, allowed me to take responsibility for my life and my recovery. I spoke up more about meds and med changes. I got back into therapy. I used the DBT skills I had been taught, etc...

Now, I see depression as an illness with symptom-full times and symptom-free times--just like any other long-term, chronic illness! I don't take all the responsibility for the symptom-free times. Likewise, I don't take all the blame for the difficult times.

That's a little bit of what helped me, I think...

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Wendalyn,
That's a great story about your daughter. Thanks for sharing it.

Also, I appreciate the kudos for going back to therapy! My return was long overdue. When I realized I felt stuck, angry, ashamed, and overwhelmed by loss, I finally decided I needed help. (And some of my insight came from my blogging friends.)

And just because I'd had some ineffectual therapists in the past didn't mean that I couldn't find the right person now.

It does take some humility to continue to learn the same lessons over and over! Yikes. I sometimes wonder why all this can't be slightly easier, don't you?


Wellness Writer said...

Dear Etta,
Thanks for your insight on this. Yes, it might help me to look at this as a symptom-full and symptom-free chronic illness. I'll think about it, but it certainly is an apt description of what happens.


oneofsixbillion said...

Thanks for sharing such great insight re: Kushner, Susan. I found this post extremely enlightening and have read it several times, always gleaning a slightly different meaning from it. You have a wonderful way with words and for that I'm very thankful.

I was recently in the hospital for a month for treatment for bipolar and one day my sister came by to visit with a load of books for me to explore. At the time I felt nothing like reading and exploring new meanings, but I forced myself to pick up a book and delve in as much as my fragmented mind would allow me at the time. I read Frankl's Search for Meaning, slowly.

One quote that jumped out at me and that has stuck with me ever since is:

"The purpose of life is to find one's gift. The meaning of life is to give it".

I follow several mental wellness blogs regularly including yours Susan, as well as Gianna's and a few others. I honestly believe that you all write with such clarity and deep meaning that you truly have found the purpose of your life, and by means of your public writing and of all the readers who benefit from it, you have also discovered your true meaning in life. And for that, I thank you all.

With that, I'll leave you with another quote from Frankl which has also stayed with me as I strive for wellness...

"'s main concern is not to gain pleasure or avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life. That is why man is ever ready to suffer, on the condition, to be sure, that his suffering has meaning."

Perhaps humankind's search for meaning never ends. And maybe it's just as simple and as complicated as that.


Wellness Writer said...

Dear Cravinglife,
Welcome to my blog. Thank you for your comment. Thank you for the quotes. And, thank you for what you said about my writing.

These last few months have been so difficult for me. I keep on wondering whether I'm accomplishing anything with this blog, and then I get a comment like yours...and I'm so overwhelmed I'm almost tearful.

Surely, we all hope there's some point in having had this illness...either personal growth or the ability to help others.

Then, there are days when I just think it's just been a ton of pain and suffering, and for what? But, I read a comment like yours...and my perspective totally changes.

Again, I can't thank you enough.