This essay was published on SivanaSpririt on Novembember 18, 2016
In 1998 I began a course for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome patients at what is now the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, the premier program of its kind in the country. I was so sick at the time I thought I might not be able to continue working, and was considering applying for permanent disability. The program, and the meditation practice I developed there, helped restore my health and in all meaningful ways saved my life. I improved so much I was asked to speak at the Institute’s annual fund- raiser in 1999.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME?
My history is similar to those of many people living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. When I was nineteen, I went to bed one night feeling fine, woke up the next morning terribly sick, and never got entirely well. It took me sixteen years to get an accurate diagnosis, only to learn that there is no standardized medical treatment for my illness. Over the years I tried numerous holistic strategies in an effort to improve my health, but none of them worked until I went to the Institute for Mind Body Medicine and began daily meditation.
LIVING IN DESPAIR
In 1996, for unknown reasons, my health became much worse. By the time I began the program for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome patients I was in a sustained state of despair. I struggled to go to work, and once there, often hid in my office, literally swooning at my desk. Much of the time that I wasn’t at work I was home sick. I’d chosen not to have children because I simply wasn’t well enough to care for them, and I began to fear that I’d also have to give up a career that I loved, and which I’d struggled, at a great cost, to maintain.
FINALLY – HOPE
Because I’d been sick for so long, I assumed that the Mind Body program would teach me tools and practices that I’d previously been exposed to. But I also believed that the program content would be more complete and cohesive that the bits and pieces of health promoting exercises that I’d picked up since I first became sick. I also assumed that if I had previous exposure to a practice, because I was in the program I’d feel compelled, for lack of a better phrase, to do my homework. All of my assumptions proved true.
The first mind body tool we were taught in my class was how to elicit a relaxation response, either through a relaxation tape or meditation. Our homework was to practice this twice daily. My initial reaction to the assignment was, What a drag. I couldn’t believe how much of my precious free time was spent meditating. But then, I began to feel better. I started the program the last week of November, and by mid-December was markedly less sick and more energized. I felt better in December than I had in all of the previous eleven months of the year collectively. Although I worked to incorporate the other tools of the program into my life, I’m convinced that the instrument of change for me was the daily meditation. For years I meditated every day as if it were life saving medication, which in terms of quality of life, it is for me. I continue to meditate regularly.
Because of meditation my health improved, and I had hope. I also had faith that as I learned to use the tools and practices I was taught in Mind Body Program with more skill my health and therefore my life would continue to improve.
A FULL LIFE
Since 1999, I’ve been able to live a full life. I’m still occasionally so severely fatigued that I can barely move, but I continue to practice mind body medicine, primarily meditation and mindfulness. These practices always restore me to functionality, which is now my baseline. I’m doing so well that I wrote a self-help book for other chronically ill patients. Last year, MSI Press published my book, Living Well with Chronic Illness. My ability to remain employment and my book are only possible because I continue to regularly practice mind body medicine. I owe it everything.