Overcoming vs Coming to Terms with a Chronic Illness

In numerous circles lately I’ve heard people talk about “overcoming” and healing themselves from various health challenges. Many of these people claim that they can help others naturally overcome their health challenges, too, through their coaching (note that these people are not licensed healthcare providers). For these people who have successfully healed themselves, I would like to understand more about how they define “healing.” What does that mean to each of them? For those who have healed themselves and overcome their sometimes very severe health challenges, it’s truly wonderful. I’m sincerely happy for them. Is there, however, another unintentionally harmful side to their message?

While these people’s messages of healing and hope are great, to me they also have a vibe of toxic positivity. They make it sound like all you have to do is a year-long juice cleanse (one person’s claim) or do energy work and you’ll no longer have any of your health challenges. As a former licensed holistic health professional for 14 years, I stand behind holistic approaches when appropriate, and have witnessed my clients experience lasting relief from chronic pain and life transformation because of our work together. It’s true that anything is possible, and what I also know to be true as a former practitioner and as a human living with chronic health conditions, is that every person and body are different. There is no “one size fits all” model of healthcare, self-care, diet/way of eating, exercise regimen, etc. Some approaches work well for some, while others do not. My modality of bodywork, Structural Integration, was certainly not the right fit for all potential clients at any given time, but it certainly was for countless others who came to me. Same goes for any treatment or modality whether it’s holistic or allopathic (Western).

So what’s wrong with healing yourself? Absolutely nothing. But telling people that the way you did it will work for them is. Your way certainly might help others, but claiming that it “will” rather than it “could” is deceptive. How do you know? If these people can foresee the outcome then I’d love to meet them and learn more. Words matter, especially when they imply a guaranteed outcome to vulnerable, often desperate people who have struggled for a long time.

If you’re American, and likely even if you’re not, then you know firsthand that our healthcare system is broken. In an age when it takes eight months to get an appointment, medical appointments last a mere 15 minutes, and a physician rarely even touches you, it has become critical to get extremely educated on your diagnoses/conditions and advocate for yourself (learn ways do this in my book). Sometimes, though, it doesn’t matter how educated and proactive you are, how good your healthcare team with their alphabet soup of credentials is, or how many times you see your shamanic practitioner, your health challenges don’t/won’t go away, and sometimes they get worse. Such is my story with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and its numerous repercussions. Perhaps its yours or someone’s you know, too. It’s why I get miffed when I hear people claim that their approach will “heal” you, too. As a practitioner, never would I claim this. Some health challenges can be overcome, and some cannot no matter what you do or who you see. When someone with such a condition then tries the miracle program that worked for that person and doesn’t experience the same outcome, then they can feel like it was their own fault and that somehow they failed, when in fact it just wasn’t the right approach for them at that time or at all. This can then spiral into more hopelessness and depression. When you try everything and nothing helps, it’s one compounded defeat after another, and it takes a huge toll energetically, emotionally, and financially. There comes a time when you ask, “What do I do when I can’t “overcome?” The answer: You come to terms.

I first remember encountering the phrase “coming to terms” when reading The Choice by Dr. Edith Eger, an Auschwitz survivor and one of my sheroes. You can’t make what she experienced go away, just like your health challenges at the moment, but you can come to terms with the experience. Coming to terms is a form of acceptance. As mentioned in previous posts and videos, acceptance is not resignation. It is an active process. Acceptance requires you to stay proactive, doing the best you can do with what you have in the moment on any given day. What that looks like for each person will vary in any moment. Coming to terms means no longer living in denial or clinging to the unrealistic hope that tomorrow you’ll wake up and all your problems will be gone. Coming to terms requires work. It acknowledges your reality, respects your limitations, and focuses on moving forward with your life both in spite and in recognition of your challenges. Coming to terms demands that you work with, process, and feel your grief in healthy ways and with support. Coming to terms means you know when to try another treatment, provider, modality, or approach without attachment to the outcome, and when to take a break when you recognize unnecessary, unhealthy, clingy desperation.

To overcome, by dictionary definition, means to overpower or prevail over, but when dealing with chronic health challenges that might be here to stay for the rest of your life, what if, instead, you worked with, rather than always be at war against them? Your body is not the enemy or something to conquer. Remember that bodies are always trying to work the best they can with what’s available. All that is in your control (and mine: note to self) is (in most individuals) your actions, your thoughts, and your level of effort. We can’t always control what our bodies do or don’t do. All we can do is support ourselves and our bodies the best we know how with the resources available to us. It can take a lot of trial, error, time, energy, and money to figure out what makes your challenges the most manageable. Even if nothing has helped yet, know that something could be discovered or created in years to come that will. And if not, then you continue to do the best you can with what you’ve got.

Fledgling birds must overcome their fear the first time they take that leap from the tree and fly. Humans had to come to terms with the fact that we don’t have wings and had to find other ways to fly. This is how we pivot and move forward. We take the leap when it’s appropriate or necessary, and we find other ways when it’s just not possible. So overcome some of your fears, overcome some of your other life challenges, and come to terms with the rest. I’m right there with you.