I just read a chapter in a book by one of my mentors during my integrative medicine fellowship, Tieraona Low Dog M.D. Her words deeply resonated with me and inspired me to write this to you. The chapter was titled “Illness.” I encourage you to read her book, Life is Your Best Medicine. Life can seem too short. Or if we are in an unpleasant situation, it can seem too long. As my friend, we’ve shared some of those intense times. It reminds me of the coffee mug I have, that quotes Winnie the Pooh, “Good friends stay with you till you are unstuck.” She quotes another one of my role models, Rachel Naomi Remen MD,
“Healing may not so much be about getting better, as about letting go of everything that isn’t you – all of the expectations, all of the beliefs—and becoming who you are.” As my friend, you help me see who I really am and sort through those expectations and beliefs. Thank you! I aspire to be the same for you. I see your pain and I feel it. I want to make it better for you. But I realize we are each on our own journey and my role in your journey is to ease the load by being there for you.
Dr. Low Dog’s message includes that we are whole human beings with elements of mind, body, emotions and spirit and that getting sick is something we experience not who we are. We are both experiencing a lot of change now, in different ways. Part of it is this phase of our lives. We’ve both at times in our lives wanted to put the breaks on some of the chaos. We’ve even fantasized that Illness would give us permission to use the breaks. When I broke my arm, I actually slowed down! But, what a shame that I needed that threshold to do it. Today really is the first day of the rest of your life. Dr. Low Dog shared a bit of her story of being diagnosed with cancer in 2009. “Looking back, I realize that I wanted to be everything to everyone all the time: a great mother, great wife, great physician, great daughter, great friend, great supervisor, great teacher, great speaker — not good, not OK, but great. I was strong, smart, and hardworking. I’d been told I could have it all. And I could, we can—but at a price.”
What price do you want to pay? If I choose to buy something because it’s what I really want, then the price is worth it. What do I want? What do you want? One of my favorite songs is Sara Bareilles, The King of Anything. In it she sings, “All my life, I’ve tried to make everyone happy, while I just hurt and hide, waiting for someone to tell me it’s my turn to decide.” A friend is there to tell you it’s your turn hopefully before the cancer or illness tells us. Often our bodies tell us it’s our turn too. I’m trying to take my turn now but shedding my expectations and beliefs (kings of anything) is a challenge. We need each other to keep reminding ourselves it’s our turn and sorting out what and why we have such expectations. And then TAKE YOUR TURN. Per Dr. Low Dog, “One of the greatest lessons that illness teaches is to not put off what’s important, to live life fully…Healing is about being whole. It’s about letting go of the illusion of who we are supposed to be and making peace with who we are. “
My journey or turn right now involves reminding the world of that message about healing as being whole. Medicine can cure or block a disease process but there is more to the picture. My journey is to share that message with the world by starting with sharing the message with you, my friend and living it myself. As we try to be everything to everyone, let’s hold firm and be true to ourselves and our needs. Nurture our minds, bodies and spirits. LIVE IT.
Each day is a gift. If illness is present, let’s look at it honestly. If it is not, let’s become who we are.
Thank you for being my friend!
Image | Meredith Farmer, Flickr/Creative Commons