From time to time, pain grips Anna’s belly so severely that she has to excuse herself, hide in the bathroom, double over on the toilet, and dab herself with lavender oil to try to keep from puking. The first time it happened, she called her best friend, who took her to the emergency room, where they poked, prodded, scanned, and examined Anna, only to dose her up with morphine, shrug their shoulders, and send her home with Vicodin and a referral to a gastroenterologist.
But then it happened a few days later. So Anna made an appointment with the gastroenterologist, who sticks a scope up Anna’s butt and slaps her with the label of irritable bowel syndrome. Anna tries a few medications, as well as some dietary changes, but the pain actually gets worse. When she tells this to her gastroenterologist, the doctor refers her to a gynecologist, who performs laparascopic surgery on her and diagnoses her with endometriosis. The gynecologist recommends a drug called Lupron, which puts thirty-two-year-old Anna into temporary menopause, but when Anna tries the Lupron, her hot flashes, insomnia, vaginal dryness, and night sweats are so severe that she decides the belly pain is less traumatic than the menopausal symptoms, so she stops the Lupron.
Procedures…And More Procedures
Because the first dose of Lupron hadn’t helped her symptoms, her gynecologist suggests she visit a urologist, so Anna complies. The urologist performs yet another procedure, putting a camera into Anna’s bladder. The urologist detects some worrisome abnormalities and diagnoses her with interstitial cystitis. More drugs are prescribed, as more dietary adjustments are made.
The next week, Anna is doubled over on the toilet, again, soaking herself in lavender oil at least twice a day.
Yet nobody ever talks to her about the fact that her pain only appears when her Devil Wears Prada boss storms down the hall with one of those, “How dare you fail me like this—again?” grimaces on her face.
The Real Diagnosis
None of Anna’s doctors suggest that perhaps Anna’s dysfunctional relationship with her boss is manifesting as physical symptoms because of chronic repetitive stress responses in the body. As I describe in detail in my new book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself, the body is brilliantly equipped with natural self-repair mechanisms that reduce inflammation, alleviate pain, fix broken proteins, kill the stray cancer cells we make every day, fight infection, and prevent major disease. But those natural self-repair mechanisms only work when the body is not flooded with stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine.
What Anna’s doctors missed in their diagnostic and treatment process lies at the crux of her health condition. Perhaps, rather than drugs or surgery or even diet changes, what Anna needs is a new job (or at least a new boss!) so her mind can relax, her stress responses can flip off, her relaxation responses can turn on, and her body’s natural self-repair mechanisms can once again activate so Anna’s body can heal.
A Radical New Intake Form
When I was working in Marin County, where all of my patients were health enthusiasts who ate vegan diets, drank their green juice, worked out with personal trainers, and took twenty supplements a day, I was surprised at how sick many of these patients were. It didn’t make sense. Surely, people engaging in such rigorously healthy behaviors should be the epitome of health! Yet, they were less healthy than ninety-eight-year-old Stamatis Moraitis (whose story I wrote about here)!
So in my patient intake form, I started asking my patients questions most doctors don’t ask.
The Million Dollar Questions
• Is anything keeping you from being the most authentic, vital you?
• Are you in a romantic relationship? If so, are you happy? If not, do you wish you were?
• Are you fulfilled at work? Do you feel like you’re in touch with your life purpose? Do you enjoy the people you work with?
• Do you express yourself creatively?
• Do you feel financially healthy, or is money a stressor in your life?
• Do you feel connected to a Divine source?
• Are you in touch with your authentic sexual self?
• What rules do you follow that you would wish you could break?
And the two big doozies:
• What might lie at the root of your health condition?
• What does your body need in order to heal?
What Does Your Body Need in Order to Heal?
When I asked my patients what their bodies needed in order to heal, they said things like:
• I need to leave my toxic relationship.
• I need to quit my job.
• I need to forgive my father.
• I need to finally write my novel.
What I discovered often helped me diagnose what might really be causing someone’s abdominal pain or chronic fatigue or neurological symptoms. What I learned from this type of intake form allowed me to gently guide my patient interview in a way that left my patients feeling safe enough to go to the dark places, trusting that they could tell me what they might be afraid to even admit to themselves. And when we could speak the truth to each other, miraculous things started happening.
How Anna Healed Herself
Anna admitted to herself that she needed to either set healthy boundaries with her boss so her boss didn’t continue to abuse her and set off her stress responses, or she needed to leave. When her attempts to set boundaries with her boss failed, Anna took a brave leap and bailed on her highly lucrative, career-boosting job. Luckily, the Universe had her back. When her boss’s competition at another company heard that Anna had stood up to the Dragon Lady, he hired her on the spot—with a pay raise and a promotion.
Best of all, Anna’s belly pain resolved—without drugs, further surgery, or even diet changes.
What’s Your Diagnosis and Prescription?
I’m teaching doctors to approach patients and their diagnoses in this new way as part of the Whole Health Medicine Institute (find out more or get on the waiting list for 2014 here). In 2014, we’re also planning to expand the program to help teach not just doctors, but also nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, acupuncturists, naturopaths, midwives, even life coaches who want to add mind-body medicine to their practices.
But until then, you can start this process yourself! In Mind Over Medicine, I teach you how to make The Diagnosis for yourself—and how to write The Prescription, the way Anna did. What you uncover may scare you. You might resist taking the kind of leap of faith Anna did.
But as Martha Beck said when we were discussing this, “If you want big miracles, you have to take big risks. If you want to take smaller risks, you have to accept smaller miracles.”
Lissa Rankin, MD is the creator of the health and wellness communities LissaRankin.com and OwningPink.com, author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself, TEDx speaker, and Health Care Evolutionary. Join her newsletter list for free guidance on healing yourself and check her out on Twitter and Facebook.
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