When Will I Get Better?

Brain iconAh, the sixty million dollar question, isn’t it? I read an interesting post from our friends at SCD Lifestyle (the ones who do the leaky gut prog here) and the start of it made me remember something I was going to write about. Let’s begin with what they wrote:

Lately, we’ve been getting a lot of questions along the lines of: “When am I going to get better?”

I get emails like this all the time:

“Hi guys, I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease 5 years ago and I started SCD 2 weeks ago. So far my energy is better and my diarrhea’s been cut in half. My only question is: when am I going to heal? Do you think I even will be able to? Right now I can only eat 8 foods.” – Christina

I love this question. Mostly because when I was sick 7 years ago I spent endless hours trolling Google trying to find the answer myself. So I’m going to share some of the writing I’ve done about this before… because I could reply back with any number of cliché inspirational sayings we have, like:

  • “It took a long time to get sick and it takes a long time to get better”
  • “This healing process is a marathon, not a sprint – you’re doing great!”
  • “Everyone has a custom diet that works for them… you just have to keep testing until you find yours”

Each of these reassuring clichés is completely true, but what I love about Christina is: she already started the diet. She already accomplished the most difficult part of taking control of her health by overcoming thoughts in her head like “What if it doesn’t work for me?” or “I don’t have time to cook all this food.”

Starting the diet is not only the first step, but it’s the most important one. Christina is going to be just fine.

How do I know?

She cut her BM’s by 50% in two weeks.

50% Improvement Is Dramatic

Sure, she’s isn’t healed yet, but let me put 50% improvement into perspective for you.

Imagine you finished a new project at work and it was fantastic… a total home run. The following week, your boss calls you into his office and says, “You did such a good job on the last project I’m going to double your salary and give you a 200% raise.”

What would a 200% raise do for your life?

Doubling your income would be pretty awesome, right? Maybe make things a little easier…

Well, so would a natural 50% reduction in your symptoms.

How true is that?! But also how true is it that we often can’t see that improvement for what it is? I am often faced with people who have made really significant improvements in their symptoms and diet, but who can’t see it. All they can see is what they’ve still got left to do and they fail to celebrate how far they’ve come.

It reminded me of what is termed ‘catastrophising’. I did a lot of it, and catch myself still doing it. It helps me to know that, in fact, we are programmed to do it.

Whilst I was reading around for the healing series, I read a lot about the negative bias in our brain. Essentially, we are programmed to look for the danger in life – it’s what kept us safe and alive as a species! – but sometimes it can get a bit out of control.

I think it was Rick Hanson’s work that made me most aware of it. You can read his blog post series on it here:

Confronting the Negativity Bias

In some ways I was aware I was doing it, but eventually it became a habitual and very unhelpful way of thinking. I would wake up every day and my first thought was along the lines of : ‘well, I wonder what I will have to cope with today?’, ‘what symptoms will hit me that I’ll have to get through today?’ etc etc, ad infinitum. I literally steeled myself for what was going to hit. (And I do mean literally there – I became very tense, muscle-stiff, steeled, rigid if you like..) Of course, in some ways it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. You become what you think most…

Now, of course, it is totally understandable when you feel crap and in some kind of pain mentally, emotionally or physically much of the time. I’m not judging myself or you (OK, a bit myself, I admit!). But, I did find I had to become aware of it and make actual conscious efforts to turn it around; to stop it being habitual thinking, a conditioned, almost Pavlovian response. It was part of my healing process to realise what I was doing and to stop it. Easy to say, tough to do.

It is very difficult to try and see the positives in life when you feel so rubbish. I know. That’s why people tell you to write what you are grateful for every day in your journal when you go to bed and such like. It is trite as heck. But it actually works. It is part of the neuroplasticity training, if you like: changing a negative neural pathway that has developed a deep groove with overuse of the negative thinking and building a new positive pathway and repeating it over and over in various ways to strengthen it more and more. It takes time.

Part of my therapy with Julie was a complete fight as I tried to turn this catastrophising around! Oh we argued like heck sometimes. She challenged my thought processes and I defended them to the hilt, of course. We rarely came to an agreement there and then but it seemed to percolate down over the next week or so and I caught myself challenging myself – and of course chuntering about Julie who had invariably been right. Not all the time (she’s reading this and we don’t want her to get a big head ;)) but most of the time. Tsk.

Anyway, I can only tell you what I understand by catastrophising, so I asked ‘our Julie’ for her take on it for us. And she wrote us a new blog post! Have a read here:

Catastrophizing

Ok, so she spells it with a z and I spell it with an s. I had to check that, of course, pedant that I am – you can use either. Phew, thought I was going to have to change all mine!

Anyway, Julie gives some useful tips to help you notice you’re doing it and stop yourself. The bit about not assuming things will be the same every time is a good one. I remember when I started to reintroduce foods again, I was panicking I would get the same reactions as before until she said to me: ‘Why would you think you are going to react? That was before your treatment and this is afterwards. You are totally different now.’ That was very powerful. It worked and it was true and I still say it to myself all the time – building a neural pathway. Lesson learned.

Julie gets it absolutely right in her last bit:

Allow yourself to examine the evidence, searching for real facts not assumptions, and never base the future on the past! Just because something was, does not mean it will always be.

Begin to believe that, and in so doing, your brain will rewire itself and start to run a new programme in the mind and within the body; a new programme that promotes health and wellbeing.

There endeth today’s lesson; hope it helps. In essence, to answer the question we started with ‘When will I get better?’, turn it around a bit and instead ask:

How much better are you already?

Then work on the rest.

You WILL get better, believe it.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s