What Paradise Taught Me About Social Work

paradise neighborI lived many years in Paradise, CA. My life truly began when I made Paradise my home. I was only 21 years old, having just received my undergraduate degree. I struggled with autoimmune disease and emotional challenges. I felt hopeless and confused, and was clueless when I contemplated the question, "Who am I?" The community of Paradise helped me find these answers and I am who I am because of that community.

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All in your head

cartoon allinyourheadI love this! It has been so important to me to open my mind to the meaning of my symptoms.

Many times, my symptoms have signaled there is something out of balance with my emotions and mental state.

Physical is not "just" physical.

This has led me to many healing options.

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Emotions: I feel it in my gut

stressI always knew that the more stress I experienced the more the Crohn's disease flared. I also know I am a very emotional person. Whether it is good or bad stress (getting a promotion versus a loss of a loved one) the ups and downs of my life are connected to the ups and downs of my gut and vice versa. I identify with these statements that have naturally become part of our language: "that was gut wrenching," "It makes me sick to my stomach," "I felt like I was punched in the stomach." It turns out that these statements are commonplace because we do feel emotions in our guts and these emotions send message back to our brain which are translated and sent as signals back to our gut--through gut contractions. We recognize these gut contractions as cramps, constipation, acid reflux, and/or bloating (Emeran Mayer, MD). We all know there is something called "gut intuition" but our guts house a tremendous amount of wisdom that is speaking to us all the time. This means that the intricate connection between our gut and our brain is a vital component of healing for folks with Crohn's disease, gut-based disorders, mental health issues, and numerous other medical conditions.

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What do my symptoms say about me and my life?

bubblesEmotional connections to symptoms

In my graduate program in social work I was gifted a book called, You Can Heal Your Life  (1999) by Louise L. Hay. In this book there is a list of problems in alphabetical order which are linked to probable causes and plans for new thought patterns that can alleviate the emotional roots of the problem. It didn't mean much to me as I didn't have an understanding of the connection between emotions and physical symptoms at the time. However, several years later, I was working with a patient who was working diligently to get into medical school. His sessions consisted of discussions about meeting the impossible deadlines of his life. He was experiencing a lot of stress as he tried to figure out how he was going to make this happen. At the same time, he developed some medical issues that eventually he disclosed to me: Hemorrhoids.

I stumbled upon this book, stuffed within my shelves, during this time.

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What 'Light Your Sparkle' means to me

sparkle 13I kept the secrets in my home, pretending to be everything my parents' wanted me to be; burying my true self and hiding my pain. My parents' pride-- their acceptance-- became the essence of my existence; I didn't know I was capable of having my own voice--my own pride. It stole energy from my body, maintaining the masks and the secrets; my feelings screamed to come out. With nowhere to go, my feelings expressed themselves through depression, anorexia, and illness. I hated being in my body--I hated being me.

My symptoms screamed to the world that I was suffering. My body tried to get the attention of doctors, teachers, family, friends--and my parents. No one wanted to acknowledge my suffering as it meant an honest interaction with the truth. I submerged my existence to my false self; at least it kept me breathing. I had no identity, no voice, so at least the status quo granted me approval--the pride of others.

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What will you give up to heal?

I haven't always been willing to "give up" the things that were contributing to my illness. However, in order to commit to full healing, I have had to cultivate a willingness within myself to really look at all facets of my illness--diet, relationships, lifestyle, habits, perceived necessities.

Allowing anything that impacts my health negatively to remain part of me or my life is non-negotiable! I am number one!

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A facade breaks down the body

facadeI have had to accept that all of the times in my life where I wasn't being my authentic "me," for many reasons, contributed to a disease process in my body. The more I become who I am meant to be and free myself to live my life in a way I choose--the more healing I have experienced.

"The maintenance of a facade predisposes a person to somatic illness because itimposes a constant stress upon the body.  One tries to be what one isn't which deforms the personality and the body.  When the deformation (stress) persists long enough, the internal structure of the body breaks down.  It is not the facade that breaks down but the tissues of the body."     ~ Alexander Lowen

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