By Nancy Gordon, LCSW
Imprisoned in my body—that is exactly how I felt for too many years after a car accident. As I struggled with the shattering impact of fibromyalgia and a mild traumatic brain injury, I dubbed myself a “Health Hostage.”
My pain-filled days—and my sleepless nights—were consumed with the management of my physical symptoms. At times, I felt I had no life—and the life I had hardly felt like living.
I know what it is like to descend into the depths of disability, but more importantly, I learned how to climb out of that rabbit hole, combining my personal experience with FM and my clinical skills as a licensed psychotherapist.
Yet beyond my clinical skills awaited the most surprising beings that pulled me out of that rabbit hole. Freeing me from the “Chronic Illness Thief” were my two Xoloitzcuintli (Mexican Hairless) service dogs, Toaster and her three-legged hairless daughter, Pink.
Toaster took me by the leash down a path that led me out of my depression and helplessness by giving me something else to focus on besides my misery. Filled with unconditional love, she transformed my life and the entire trajectory of my journey with and through my debilitating conditions.
My precious Pink not only inspired me, she showed me how to redefine myself, my condition, and taught me how to do what I used to do, just differently. She, even more than Toaster at that point, gave me hope again, as I watched her respond to her own disability: her back leg amputation at the age of one. Talk about the option of viewing yourself as a “Health Hostage” by becoming a three-legged dog!
She didn’t just lie down and mope on the floor when she discovered she could not jump on the couch right after her amputation. Instead, she figured out by trying and failing and ultimately trying and succeeding, how to use what she did have left for leverage to get up on the couch: her only back leg. And that became one strong leg! Pink so inspired me that I wrote her story, Pink, The 3-Legged Dog Who Lost Her Leg and Found Her Courage, as the first book in her children’s book series, Pink, The 3-Legged Dog.
What was most impactful for me was to witness the difference between Pink and myself in how we experienced our plight on all four levels: the body, mind, emotions and spirit, all of which impact our behavior—and the choices we make.
Unlike the angst, suffering, and the pain I had on all these four levels for years before Pink came into my life, I realized that Pink appeared not to experience angst about losing her leg at all. She didn’t act as if she were less than who she used to be with four legs. She didn’t cry, get depressed and ride the roller-coaster emotions and thoughts that made my head spin into self-doubt, helplessness, and depression.
No, Pink did what she used to do before the amputation, just differently. Pink was full of joy within days of her amputation; she never gave up doing what she wanted, she just figured out another way. Pink exuded her love of the life she had as a three-legged dog.
As I watched how both Pink and Toaster responded to their own physical problems as they aged, it became very clear to me how much the lack of emotional, mental and spiritual healing affects our bodies, and thus both our psychological and our physical experience of our condition. In other words, our mind and our emotions affect our experience of our physical pain.
Freeing the Health Hostage requires one to transform their relationship to their condition on the emotional, mental and spiritual levels, regardless of healing the physical body—but don’t be surprised if that gets better, too!
- Awareness is the first step because without awareness, you can’t escape the Chronic Illness Thief!™ Becoming aware of how you feel (emotional level), what you think about (mental level) and if you have a connection with (spiritual level) your Higher Self, Spirit, or whatever name you use, is where your power comes from to hatch your escape route. You have to recognize where you are trapped and how that shows up in your life.
On an emotional level, for example, what changes have shifted, even slightly, about your general outlook on life? Do you feel “trapped” by the way you feel forced to live your life, given your health? Do you live “imprisoned in your body,” and perhaps find yourself not leaving the house as often to be out in the world?
This kind of contemplation—an inner assessment of your emotional world, in this example—opens your eyes to the effects of being held hostage by your body. Awareness is the first step to break through those chains (symptoms) that imprison you.
- So, Are You a Health Hostage? Did you find out in your answers to question #1 that you do feel like a hostage to your health? Perhaps you have already described your life as feeling trapped. The next step is to deepen the power of your new awareness by making it more real, more defined, and hence, more understood by you.
You may want to spend time journaling, meditating, or connecting with others about the ways in which you feel trapped in your body, trapped in your diagnosis, in your physical condition, in your hopelessness. When you figure out the ways you behave like a Health Hostage, you can choose to apply that awareness and transform your relationship to your health. THAT is freedom.
- One Chain Link at a Time: Choose to take off one link of those chains with this new awareness. Choice is the ultimate power, because if you only have awareness but take no action on it, awareness can bring you more angst, depression, and anxiety than what you experienced with your eyes wide shut. And that is not the intention here!
Evaluate your own responses to your expanded awareness. Is there one area of the three, (emotional, mental and spiritual,) which seems to make you feel more like a Health Hostage? WAIT! Don’t start with that one! Start with the easiest area to make a choice, take a step, and be successful. What can you do today (which is just 24 hours) to take your “get outta jail” card and free yourself in the area you feel least like a prisoner?
For example, if the least affected area in your life is on the spiritual level, think about the ways you used to be more spiritual, more connected to your experience of spirituality, but somehow, sometime, gave those activities up because of your health. Did you stop going to a spiritual center on a Sunday, for example? Consider making a commitment to go to one service this week, or listen online to a live stream of your favorite spiritual teacher. Most spiritual centers offer live streaming of their services. Hey, that means you don’t have to wait until Sunday. You can start any time, like the hours between 1-5 a.m. when you have insomnia!
- Progress Not Perfection: When you feel like a Health Hostage, it is often easy to give up, rather than take one chain link off at a time. But as the well-known philosopher, Lao Tzu, wisely said, “The journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step.”
After you have spent time on this exercise, wait a day or so, and review what you have written or thought about in this exercise. Think about what you have discovered. Think about how that one step you took will—or may have already—led to a second step.
- Jail Break Payoff: Reward yourself for making a new choice, for taking action, for making a difference in your own life. No matter how small or big, every step counts towards your escape!
- Rinse and Repeat: Follow the exercise steps #1-4 through each of the levels (emotional, mental and spiritual) at your own pace.
- Break Out a Friend! Share your experience with someone and make a difference in their life.
About the Author:
Nancy Gordon, LCSW knows firsthand what it’s like to descend into the depths of disability. With her combined personal experience of fibromyalgia and a mild traumatic brain injury, and her professional experience as a psychotherapist, she offers a unique clinical and personal perspective through her practical guidebook, 7 Steps of Hope and Healing™ The Emotional, Mental and Spiritual Impact of Chronic Illness and Disability.©
Nancy is an international speaker and courageous warrior, whose life purpose is to champion others to live life fully, guiding them to transform their challenges into triumphs. She specializes in empowering online programs, fun, experiential, and highly transformational retreats (including on cruise lines!), and private consultations.
A master and expert in her field, Nancy is also a trainer of trainers. Her years of experience professionally and personally provide a rich and inspirational foundation to empower other professionals to inspire and assist their clients. Her 7 Steps of Hope and Healing™ workbooks and programs are available for professional use with license and credentialing.
For more information, please visit nancygordonglobal.com or contact Nancy at (858) 472-5722 Pacific Time.