A new beginning
The picture above was taken at the beginning of November 2015, as part of a planned photo shoot for publicity pictures, it was my second day full time at Mindful Therapies. I had very little sleep the previous night, I had woken at 2am in extreme pain, nauseous and with a fever. My symptoms lasted 5 hours, during which time I was hallucinating and thought I was going to die. I should have sought medical attention but instead I went to the photo shoot as if nothing had happened. Apart from tiredness I felt ok. A week later the same thing happened, only this time my wife insisted on calling an ambulance. So the pattern began. For the next 4 months I would have regular severe attacks, hospital admissions and numerous tests.
Fear, pain and uncertainty
Although I maintained my regular mindfulness practice, I was struggling to cope. I was fine for a week and then another attack would come along. It effected my work, I could not plan ahead and on more than one occasion was forced to cancel coaching sessions at short notice. I felt I was letting down my business partner, Rachel, I had come on board to help grow the business, some days I could barely write an email. My family supported me but they felt helpless in the face of uncertainty and fear.
The doctors were unsure of the cause, they progressively ruled out disease after disease, nothing seemed to quite fit. I lost weight as it became increasingly uncomfortable to eat. In the previous 30 years I had missed less than 30 days of work due to illness. Suddenly I could barely work a five day week. In March 2016, following ‘My mindful colonoscopy‘ the consultant gave a tentative diagnosis of Crohn’s disease. The regularity and severity of attacks has significantly reduced.
Reframing the narrative
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” – Wayne Dyer
The consultant recommended Crohn’s & Colitis UK, for further information, my research began. Crohn’s disease is a chronic illness that had no definite cause and no clear way to manage the symptoms. The consultant prescribed a course of steroids to reduce flare ups. However, by this time the flare ups had already reduced.
Receiving a diagnosis helped, family and friends were relieved that the uncertainty had cleared and that it was not life threatening. However for me the most important benefit of a diagnosis was the opportunity to practice acceptance. Body scan and breathing helped me to manage the pain and discomfort. But most significantly, loving kindness meditations helped change the way I viewed my illness.
Initially there were feelings of frustration and anger at my body not ‘working properly’ and resistance to the reality that this was with me for the rest of my life. Gradually, with acceptance of my diagnosis, I changed my perspective and internal narrative. Rather than viewing Crohn’s disease and the symptoms as something external that was happening to me, I began to acknowledge that this was something that is a part of me. By bringing loving kindness and compassion to my Crohn’s disease, to myself, my view of my illness changed. Seeing the symptoms in the same way as I would view and respond to a loved one in distress has enabled me to embrace my illness rather than try to push it away or ignore it.
We can’t always change what we experience, but we can always change how we respond.