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Finding Health in the Face of Illness

3 Recovery Keys Essential to Wellness

Photo Courtesy of Dr. Scott Rake

This is my face . . .

with titanium plates and screws courtesy of reconstructive jaw surgery. 

Entering the sixth and final week of my first phase of recovery, which has included a no-chew diet, I find myself in improved overall health. 

This type of improvement has happened before: Three times to be exact. 

This time I took note of the lesson and its potential impact on our daily health.

An article on the stoics by James Clear crystallized my thinking.

“Great thinkers, icons, and innovators think forward and backward. They consider the opposite side of things. Occasionally, they drive their brain in reverse. This way of thinking can reveal compelling opportunities for innovation.”
James Clear – Inversion: The Crucial Thinking Skill No One Ever Taught You – Mental Models

Intrigued by this concept of inversion, I considered the patterns that emerged in the wake of my three illness-induced health renewals. 

I discovered the three keys present each time.

Restoring Balance

Diet, rest, and movement all get jolted during illness. We allow ourselves the necessary time during recovery to reset and find our equilibrium. 

Illness #1 – Diagnosed with Crohn’s disease my senior year of college, I was advised to stick to a meat and potatoes diet. 

Turns out it wasn’t what I ate that mattered as much as what I didn’t. 

Cutting wheat and processed foods out of my diet ~ not so easy in the late 1980’s ~  not only quelled my Crohn’s but lead to a renewed vitality and mental clarity.

Learning the value of rest and restorative movement came later. 

Illness #2 – High risk family genetics and fibrocystic disease prompted a preventive double-mastectomy and reconstruction in 2006.

I had a choice, one that my, mother, aunts, and cousins hadn’t, and it increased the vigilance of my recovery. The preservation of my health was a gift that could be honored in making self-care a priority amidst all the other responsibilities and opportunities clamoring for my attention.

“These two threads that run through our life—one pulling us into the world to achieve and make things happen, the other pulling us back from the world to nourish and replenish ourselves—can seem at odds, but in fact they reinforce each other.” 
― Arianna Huffington, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time

Illness #3 – Easing back into a series of yoga poses following this latest surgery revealed a startling realization. 

My body was more balanced after two weeks of recovery than it used to be after a few days of business travel. 

The more sustained hold of each pose reinforced my body’s positive response to healing over stress.

Savoring Company and Contemplation

Visitors, calls, cards, and gifts often express the care of friends and family during times of illness and recovery. The time to be present to appreciate these offerings is another benefit altogether.

Illness #1 – The challenge of coming to terms with chronic illness pulled me away from the joy and the bustle of preparing for graduation.

At that poignant moment, I had the time to reflect on the impact of my health, which opened my eyes to choices and paths I hadn’t previously considered. The genesis of my business is rooted in that time.

Illness #2 – With two school-aged boys at home, my husband and I cherished the outpouring of food and favors from our friends.

More comfortable in the role of giving than receiving, at first I resisted. Again, inversion played a role. A dear friend said simply, “Please don’t deny us the opportunity to do this for you.” A true gift indeed.

Illness #3 – With a moratorium on food and flowers ~ time became the greatest gift of this recovery.

Time with friends visiting or family calling ~ time not spent multitasking and distracted ~ allowed for meaningful conversation and connection. 

Blocks of time in this Minnesota winter to sit by the fire and read stood out in stark contrast to stolen moments in a busy calendar. Fiction, faith, psychology and business ~ books of varying genres challenged my mind, soothed my spirit and prompted the eclectic connection of ideas.

Trading Comparison for Compassion

Whether judging ourselves against our own expectations or against the accomplishments of others, illness is a forced timeout.

We get off track for days, months or more.

Illness #1 ~ Knowing the battles my mother endured when diagnosed with a related ailment in her 40’s, I understood the toll my body would take if I added the stress of expectations. I needed to accept another path.

Illness #2 ~ The sharing with friends during this recovery helped me see how varied our journeys had been. We had each faced challenges we were now open to share. We had become the women we were through our experiences. Through our compassion for each other, we found ways of extending it to ourselves as well.

“Compassion is not a virtue — it is a commitment. It’s not something we have or don’t have — it’s something we choose to practice.”
Brené Brown, I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame

Illness #3 ~ As one of the three percent of cases not dealt with during late adolescence, my recovery looked quite different. No burgers or pizza whipped in a blender, no youthful bounce back from surgical swelling and anesthesia. I had to be mindful and diligent in self-care.

Words of advice: “You have one chance to heal well” struck me with its truth. Yes, I have once chance for the bones to fuse with the titanium forming a unified bond. 

I also have one chance to LIVE well. 

Three Keys to Sustain Health? Yes

“After stress, growth occurs in the state of rest . . . Elite health, creativity, productivity, relationships, and life require complete and regular recovery.”  
― Benjamin Hardy, Willpower Doesn’t Work

Too often it takes the trigger of illness to prompt the kind of rest and recovery we need on a regular basis. 

Instead waiting for illness to force a timeout, why not counter our everyday stresses with everyday recovery?

Integrating these three keys into our lives can ensure that we make the most of our one chance to live well:

Restoring balance

Savoring company and contemplation

Trading comparison for compassion.

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