In August of 2010, I dealt with a protracted bout of pneumonia. It lasted for well over a month, with the recovery process a long, grinding one. I wrote a blog about this experience, called The Manifestation of Wellness (Healing Morning, 09/27/2010) in an effort to better understand what was happening with and to my body. Most of us are aware that there is a strong mind-body connection that has impact on our health, although there are differing opinions on the veracity of this concept. Depending on which side of the proverbial fence you stand, it makes sense or it's a bunch of nonsense.
Why am I bringing this up? Because I am currently battling through another bout of pneumonia. What surprised me was that in my mind, I had somehow convinced myself that that last bout of pneumonia had occurred more than two years ago. Imagine my dismay when I searched for the blog article here on Healing Morning and found a clear pattern of approximately a year between recurrences. Granted, last year's pneumonia was in August and this year, it has hit me in October, but they both occurred in fall months and they both progressed rapidly to full blown pneumonia. Of course, many will say that this is simple logic - we're in the thick of flu season, with myriad viruses, bacteria and germs flying about in fall months. I don't dispute that logic at all, and I agree that it is definitely a part of the cycle and pattern I've detected.
What I'm looking at is the mind-body aspect. There are many esoteric tenets that have identified an emotional tie to specific health concerns. I have talked with friends who follow/practice some of these esoteric tenets over the years to identify what the emotional tie is with flu and pneumonia. The following are individual comments that happened during private conversations, so in the interests of protecting the privacy of all, I am not going to annotate a specific dogma, religion or person's name. I will say that I have discussed this topic with people from a wide range of walks of life, spanning many organized religions, esoteric tenets and even what we would call "mountain wisdom" here in the southeastern region.
One friend offered the following information:
"...fatal bouts of pneumonia and influenza usually result from an individual's inability to handle multiple fears and challenges overwhelming them in a shorter, more compressed timeframe. Usually the person is drowned in the flood of emotions (fear, anxiety, panic) that engulf them. The 'internal floods' manifest as severe lung congestion which cuts off their connection to breath and sometimes, ultimately, their connection to life."
"...issues involving the lungs indicate a need to address grief that may have been tucked away and not properly dealt with..."
Yet another, of a mountain wisdom perspective:
"Anything around the heart and the lungs that is severe is telling you that you're literally cutting off your own air. You're allowing something emotional to grow to such proportions that it feels as though you're suffocating, and that begins to manifest physically in your body."I think many of us can admit to being guilty of any of those three. We all battle fear based thoughts on a daily, sometime minute by minute basis. We all have had moments of loss where we didn't properly address the grief stages, whether from personal preference or from necessity of getting back into the hectic pace of work life, we've all done it.
When I began to delve deeply and pick apart the layers of my own life in this past year, I was able to easily identify areas and experiences that I could have dealt with more efficiently and more honestly. I say "easily identify" because when I began this process, it was with a borderline ruthless determination to put an end to this cycle of repetitive illness. I have dealt with pneumonia and respiratory issues most of my life, and I feel it is time to put stop to that cycle.
So, this inner searching had to be very honest. I had to admit to areas where I had possibly been sloppy in my own processing, or where I had avoided tending to my own emotions. THAT was the bigger wake-up call...that I was clearly slapped in the face with the fact that I had been regularly neglecting my own emotions. Those who know me well would say that I am a very nurturing, caring, loving person, yet there I sat, confronting my own culpability. There were both small and large issues where I had failed to care for myself properly because I was focused on caring for the world at large. Over time, this type of personal neglect is going to build up and eventually, something will have to give. The most obvious effect is illness, as all that toxic build-up has to find a path of exit. Now that this illness has set into my body, I am doing my best to ride the wave of it all and allow it to burn off what is necessary to be burned off.
Am I saying that I've been walking around in a constant robotic state, endlessly stuffing down my emotions? Not at all. What I have been guilty of, however, is of allowing myself to fall into what I call a "frozen state" when a slew of crisis points hit all at once. I think that's probably a common reaction, because it hits that instinctive, reptilian fight or flight response deep within our brains. We shut down on some levels in order to keep functioning, promising ourselves that when things calm down, we will address the emotional side of things. The reality of life, however, is that things rarely calm down. Life offers us a steady supply of challenges, scary moments, stressful experiences that lead to grief, anger, loss, frustration and more. My own life in the last calendar year has been chock full of virtually every aspect that I just listed, and I now am looking at the fact that I need to go back and address some of the emotions that I put on hold out of necessity.
I need to create a more timely approach where I am honoring my own fears and reactions. Everyone has a different freak out point - that thing or event that hits that will cause a meltdown to occur. I won't go into specific detail about my own freak out point, but I think the central, common denominator for most is a loss of control. We all have a very clear picture in our minds of who we are "supposed" to be, how we are "supposed" to project ourselves and how we are "supposed" to be perceived. Strong. Independent. Intelligent. Powerful. Happy. Successful. Plug in the label of choice - we all have a persona we identify with. It's when something....or many somethings....hit all at once and possibly jeopardize that persona that fears set in. Freezing up, for many, is the result. For me, that freezing up process is an internal one. While that can be a good coping mechanism for the short term, it is the long term fall out that I am now focused on mitigating. It's time to find a better method for dealing with high levels of stress, rather than putting them immediately on the side burner to tend to at some foggy future date that rarely receives true attention.
I know the habits I've neglected that are helpful - yoga, meditation, reading and writing for pleasure, spending time with family and friends, being out in nature, being artistically creative. The firm truth is that I need to get back to creating time for myself first. This is a malady that has reached epidemic proportions the world over, putting ourselves last. We all know that if we are not healthy, we are not going to be of any good to those we love, we are not going to be efficient co-workers, employers or employees. That analogy of the airplane going down is a good one - unless YOU put the air mask on yourself FIRST, you won't be able to be of any use to anyone else as the plane goes down.
In my own personal experience, how apt is that analogy? I failed to put my proverbial oxygen mask on throughout much of 2011, and the result has been that my body finally rebelled in a manner that mimicked my emotions....I got sick with a respiratory illness that rapidly progressed to pneumonia. I cut off my own oxygen supply, in a way, from freezing up over and over. From putting my own emotions on hold to tend to everything else in the world, I was communicating to myself on an emotional level that I didn't matter....and I slowly cut off the oxygen. The smarter move would have been to immediately reach for that proverbial oxygen mask, to take care of myself first, to establish a clear airway for myself first, so that I was given time to access tools to carry on.
As that proverbial plane goes down, reverting to crisis thinking has become a negative habit for me that I now need to change. Will it be an easy process? It can be, if I embrace change instantly, but that's not a realistic expectation. I'm like most people in that I adapt to change slowly, and my own spin on it is to be very methodical in my approach. Falling dramatically ill is as good a wake-up call as any, I guess. It's highly unpleasant to be this ill, so who wouldn't want to investigate new behaviors that can help to avoid a repeat of that experience?
I also want to stress that I am not indicating that I believe we are 100% masterful creators of every single illness that strikes us. I would not suggest that certain dread diseases are brought about by our own intentions, conscious or otherwise. I do, however, believe there is truth to some of the emotional tenets I've discussed here; I think that if we are not mindful of our emotional state, this, in turn, can possibly compromise our immune systems enough to allow opportunistic maladies a toe hold in our bodies and then illness can be the result. If there is even a fraction of truth to this concept, then it behooves me to do some personal house cleaning and put some clear focus into my daily habits and the care that I give myself. Yearly bouts of pneumonia are unnecessary and I am aware that each bout is dancing with a knife-edge of uncertainty as to the outcome. Pneumonia, as has been impressed upon me over and over by medical professionals, is not something to take lightly.
So, getting back to that plane going down analogy, we know that I'm not a pilot, obviously. I can't fly a corporeal plane. But I CAN pilot my own Life Path and I can make better, more conscious choices when I am in the midst of a maelstrom of stressors. I can choose better reactions and I can take care of myself FIRST, and don that oxygen mask as the plane goes down. That plane going down isn't necessarily a bad thing, because all stories have a natural life cycle. That is a topic for another blog, perhaps. For now, as this specific plane goes down, it is absolutely possible to save the flight by donning that personal oxygen mask. By saving myself first, I can do so much more for the rest of the world. Breathing is good, yes? I remind loved ones of this regularly, so it is with a gracious acceptance that I embrace the concept as well.