When we finally figure out that we have an allergy or intolerance to gluten, the first practical step we take is to cut it out.
We know what has to be done, and whether we like it or not, we try our best to do it. Pondering our Coeliac Food & Drink Directory, researching on the net, experimenting with all kinds of weird gluten free flours to try and recreate our favourite foods.
It feels like all our time is now devoted to re-inventing our lives without gluten!
It’s easy to get caught up in the technicalities.
But what about the emotional legacy our health challenges have left us with?
With all the extra time it takes reading food labels at the supermarket and the now-obligatory trip to the health store for extra GF supplies, there’s hardly time to deal with ‘feelings’, right?
I want to make a stand for acknowledging and dealing with the emotional fatigue that goes with the territory of what is often a long battle to find out the cause of our health problems.
One of the exercises I do with my clients starts with simply writing down on an A4 page all the negative feelings that come up when they think about their experiences.
Here were some of my words:
Body image. Self-conscious. Loss of confidence – in self and abilities. Feeling anti-social. Disconnected. Different. Apart. Fragmented. Not whole. Boring. Not fun. Everything such an effort. A burden. Guilty. Angry. Weary. Fed up. Fearful. Misunderstood. Not in control. Loss. Bereaved – of my old self. Feel ugly. Unattractive. Unsexy. Unworthy. Embarrassed. Not wanting intimacy. No sex drive. No enthusiasm. Distant. Confused.
Don’t be put off, this isn’t just an exercise in digging up misery! There is great power in getting these emotions out of your mind and on to paper.
The next step is to take a look at what emotions on your list are still having negative effects in your life. For example, for me:
1. Loss of confidence in my abilities had held me back at work, even once I started to feel better. I figured that being ill for so long had dashed any hopes of advancement.
2. I still felt anger and bitterness towards people who had not been supportive, had not really believed me. “See, I told you I was sick! Who’s laughing now?!... um…”
3. Feeling constantly sick and bloated and sore had eroded my self-worth, my body image and any desire for sex! How can you say “not tonight dear, my diarrhea/constipation/UTI is playing up…”
It’s at this point that you know what emotional weak points you need to give love and attention to.
These were some of the steps I took to heal these scarred areas:
Instead of trying to tackle all of them at once, I decided to start with my body image:
* I began a strict self-care regime! This wasn’t an act of vanity, it was an act of love.
* I primped and preened and learned not to massage my legs with magnesium oil after shaving them… Ouch!
* I would massage my belly with chamomile and thank it for always communicating with me.
* I would massage my scalp and thank my hair for growing back now that it was happier.
* I treated myself to reiki sessions and literally felt the emotional blockages clearing (my therapist learned to have plenty of kleenex on hand!)
* I joined a hatha yoga class and pondered that I wouldn’t have trusted a downward dog a year ago…
* I tried my hand at meditation. At first I was terrible at it! But I kept experimenting with guided meditation audios until I found ones that worked for me. This method is now very popular with my clients to reduce stress and anxiety.
After a few months, the difference in my confidence was incredible. In fact, these acts of self-care had a knock-on effect on the other areas I need to give attention to:
I felt less angry towards people and I felt more confident at work. The work in these areas became easier as a result.
I hope this encourages you to do some work on the emotional baggage that is inevitable when you are dealing with a chronic condition. I recognised that those negative thought patterns would continue to hold me back, and even if I felt physically well, my gluten intolerance would still be affecting my life. And I wasn’t standing for that!
It would be great to hear your comments on what emotional effects your experience brought along with it. Like most poisons, better out than in!