Thursday, June 13, 2013

Emotions and Healing from Physical Illness

I spoke with a previous patient tonight that I hadn't seen in many months.  He had been severely ill with Lyme disease, in severe pain, and very depressed.  As Lyme disease often affects the brain, depression and anxiety are common.  He had been on opioid drugs for the pain and was struggling to find any hope in life. 

This patient fell on hard times, had no more money for medications, and moved away.  He told me that at that time he finally decided, after we had spent a couple of years of working on it, to go completely off the opioid drugs and face the pain.  He went through withdrawals and had a rebound increase in pain, but as the drugs completely left his body he was surprised that he didn't hurt any more than he had while using the pain meds, and even felt somewhat better.

What he found the hardest was now he had to face all of his emotions, which had been suppressed by the pain meds.  He had been going through some difficult life challenges which aggravated his emotional pain, and he said, "All I had was me and my emotions.  I had to feel them because there was no other choice."  As he allowed himself time to feel the pain of the difficult events of his life and his relationships, his physical pain lessened.  He feels that he grew in ways he never would have if he had continued to suppress his emotional pain with the medication.  And he continued to heal from the Lyme disease even though he had no antibiotics or other prescription drugs.  He found how much his suppressed emotions were affecting his immune system and his ability to heal.

I had intermittent and severe low back pain from the time I was 16 until I was over 40.  At times I could barely walk.  I kept a cane in my closet for the times it "went out."  It would last a week or two and then begin to get better.  I tried multiple treatments, many helped, but none resolved the pain.

After becoming a physician, I read a book by John Sarnos, MD, called "Healing Back Pain."  His experience was that over 90% of back pain is caused by the physical reactions to suppressed emotions.  His treatment was simple:  feel the emotions.  He said that the issue causing the emotions didn't have to be resolved; often we have no control over the problem.  But when we allowed ourselves to feel the emotional pain, then we wouldn't have to feel the pain in our backs.

I went back to my diary that I had kept when I was 16.  I found out that two weeks before my back pain started, my first serious boyfriend had broken up with me.  I realized that I didn't know how to deal with the pain of my teenage heart, so I had suppressed it and it went to my back.  I took time to allow myself to imagine myself at 16, and what the pain of losing that first love was like.  I allowed myself to feel the angst and the heartache.

I went through other times that I remembered my back had been bad.  I was usually able to find something that had happened within a week or so, or was happening at the time, that created strong, painful emotions in me.  With a large and growing family, I hadn't had the time to deal with emotions, or even the knowledge of how to.  I took time to remember those times, write about them if it would help bring up the painful emotions, and simply feel the emotions.  It didn't take long to feel them, maybe a few minutes for the most part.  A few issues took several sessions of "feeling" before I felt that I could let it go.

Miraculously, my back pain didn't return for awhile.  Whenever it did, I would ask myself, "Is this physical or emotional?"  Even though I may have done physical things that could have aggravated my back, the answer was always "emotional."  I would take time to discover what had happened that I wasn't feeling, and allow myself to feel.  The back pain would always go away.  Now it is years between backaches, but my back will always remind me if I have emotional things happen and I'm too busy to feel.

That set me on a course that changed my medical practice.  I read "Molecules of Emotion" by Candice Pert, PhD, who discovered that there are neurotransmitter receptors on our immune system cells.  This started the science of psychoneuroimmunology, or how our psychology affects our immune system.  I ended up writing my own book about the effect of emotions on the body, "Healing from the Heart: the Power to Heal from Within."

As a society, we have not taught our children how to feel.  We tell them to stop crying, that to be angry is bad, to hide our feelings, to not show our feelings.  We are supposed to put on a happy face all of the time.  We have no idea how to really allow ourselves to feel.  This has a profound effect on our bodies. The suppressed emotions cause chemicals to release that create disease in the body.

I have found that the majority of people with chronic illness that come into my office are suppressing their emotions in some way.  It may be through opioid drugs or antidepressant medications.  It may be through addictions--alcohol, drugs, sexual, food.  It may be through excessive activity or exercise or work to keep their mind occupied on something besides their negative emotions, and to get that "runner's high".  It may be through video games or sleeping too much.  It may be even through generalized anxiety or OCD.  When obsessive thoughts are focused on one thing, it keeps the psyche from focusing on something more painful.  This doesn't mean that pain pills or medications or exercise, etc. are bad, but if they are partly used to suppress emotions it will be very difficult for the body to heal.

We tend to be afraid of negative emotions, because we are afraid of pain in general.  We are afraid we will get stuck in the emotional pain.  But in my experience, if we allow ourselves to deliberately feel the emotion that we are dealing with, but don't use it to hurt others, it doesn't last that long, and we move through it.  When the pain is acute and we are grieving, it may come back multiple times, but if we allow ourselves to take time to feel, we move through it and our body's are not nearly as affected as if we use some way to avoid it.

Even if we don't know the cause of why we are feeling this way, allowing ourselves to feel the depression or the fear rather than fight it allows it to dissipate, and often opens our minds to greater knowledge of what really is causing the emotions.

More recently, Bruce Lipton, PhD, a cellular biologist, is lecturing and writing books about how our emotional environment and beliefs can affect our DNA though epigenetics, and can be carried through generations.  But they also can be changed by changing our thoughts and beliefs and working through our emotions.

It is time to become aware of what we are thinking and believing and if these thoughts and beliefs are affecting us negatively.  As we become more aware of our thoughts and beliefs and what feelings they cause, we can feel the feelings and change our beliefs from fear based to love based. 

We are each special in the sight of God.  We each have our own purpose on earth just by being who we are, and letting go of trying to be who we are not.  Our weaknesses have the purpose of helping us learn.  Our gifts and talents have the purpose of fulfilling our purpose.  It is good to be ourselves, even if we are "different" or "don't fit in."  In reality we are all different from each other.  Pretending to be the same, pretending to be what we are not to please someone else, only causes stress and pain, and causes our body to get sick.

There are many books on the market related to healing emotions in order to heal the body.  I recommend each person do what it takes to learn to recognize, feel and work through any emotions that may be having a negative effect on their bodies.

If you desire to read "Healing from the Heart: the Inherent Power to Heal from Within", it can be ordered from

Until we meet again,
Dr. Judi