Are You Reluctant to Get Well?

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It’s very possible that your immediate response to this question is anger, resentment, or hurt feelings. You might think to yourself, “I don’t need to hear this. I thought he was empathetic.” You may even be tempted to move your cursor to “unsubscribe” and click hard.

If you’ve got a chronic condition like chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), fibromyalgia (FM), or irritable bowel and you’ve been on a medical quest for a cure, perhaps for years, you might be deeply offended by my question.

However, if this health tip can move even a few people out of the illness rut their lives have become, then, for the rest of you, please try to smooth your ruffled feathers. With enough Googling, you can always find someone with special tests, a new protocol, or at least….nicer.

I first heard of the concept of deep processing one’s chronic illness years ago during talks by Drs. Caroline Myss and Christiane Northrup (to whom my book The Triple Whammy Cure is dedicated). When faced with a chronic condition like the ones mentioned above, they urged asking yourself “Why this? Why now? What does this illness mean for me?” and the key holistic question, “What are my body and these symptoms trying to tell me?”

If you couldn’t come up with any answers–or didn’t like those answers your intuition was sending you–have counseling. Do not, under any circumstances, according to author and former psychotherapist Anne Wilson Schaef, become addicted to your illness.

Some of the discomforting questions Dr. Northrup asked included: When you were a child, was there a benefit to being ill, like increased attention from your mother or avoidance of a bully at school? How would you proceed with your life if you woke up and never had another symptom of your condition ever again? Why did you become angry when your doctor suggested counseling instead of more tests?

It’s not that people necessarily avoid asking themselves these questions. Most likely, it never occurred to them that these would be important questions to be asked and for them to answer.

But what Drs. Northrup, Myss, and Schaef were driving at was this: is it possible that you’re getting some unconscious benefit from being an ill person? Is it also possible that your unending quest for wellness, that ever elusive “cure” for your condition, is an endless holding pattern that allows you to evade the real issues about yourself?

Several years ago, my neighbors over at DePaul University, under the direction of Dr Leonard Jason, conducted the largest analysis of CFS-FM patients ever attempted. During the course of the study, I encouraged dozens of patients from my own practice to enroll. Dr Jason was seeking to corroborate other studies that had shown (a) there was no actual physical disease with these conditions, and (b) psychological counseling and physical therapy were the most effective forms of treatment.

Enrollees were given a thorough medical evaluation with lots of tests, and then divided into different therapy groups. The most telling conclusion was that although everyone showed up for the tests (which revealed nothing except varying degrees of adrenal fatigue), the drop-out rate from all therapies was very high.

(In my opinion, there was one serious flaw in the DePaul study–that little time was spent on medications. FM is definitely a chronic pain condition needing painkillers and muscle relaxants. CFS improves with antidepressants and certain stimulants, like Provigil. Part of the stress that aggravates these conditions comes from untreated symptoms not taken seriously by physicians.)

The important message here is that the study dropout rate was very high. In Freudian terms, this is called resistance, and I’ll talk more about that in a future health tip.

My next health tip illustrates resistance. Until then…

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