“Sometimes even to live is an act of Courage.” Seneca
I’ve wanted to give up countless times over the past thirty years. I’ve wanted the pain and loneliness to be over. I wanted to be done with the hospitals, the doctors, wearing a bag, getting stuck, taking pills. Even though I’ve wanted to quit many times it was never for very long. I’ve always gotten back up. I credit this to my family and the ideas from the authors I’ve read during my illness. Over these last thirty years I’ve read up a lot on philosophy, self-help and neuroscience.What I’ve concluded after all this reading is that my personal philosophy affects my health more than anything else I can do or others can do for me.
I hate being sick. I hate hurting. There is no philosophy that I’ve found that explains with any logic or merit why I’m sick or what purpose it serves. I used to believe in god but that ended when I was in my twenties. My personal philosophy doesn’t seek to understand or justify or explain why I’m sick or in horrific pain. What I’ve sought out is a practical system of thinking to help me live my best life today, enjoy life more and help others around me enjoy more of life as well. I see a personal philosophy as series of ideas that inform my choices, help me set priorities, and endure in the face of overwhelming sickness and pain.
When I ran my first marathon I came across the concept of having an Internal Locus of Control which I added as a key tenet of my personal philosophy. I decided to complete a marathon after almost dying from complications from a surgery. The recovery was horrifically painful. But I decided when I was in the hospital I would compete a marathon. My intention was to reestablish the paradigm that my mind controlled my body and not the other way around. I started walking around the hospital, then when I got home I started walking around the pool and then into the neighborhood.
I had purchased the book “Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer” years before I started the training. So after the surgery I started reading it. Immediately I knew this would be one of the books that changed my life forever. It introduced me to the concept of having an Internal Locus of Control. This means that my actions determine my fate. The opposite is having an External Locus of Control meaning that external events and other people determine the course and outcome of my life. At the time my doctors and family all thought I was nuts to complete the training let alone complete a marathon. I highly recommend the book even if you never plan on completing a marathon.
Seven months after almost dying I completed my first marathon, it took me five and a half hours but I finished. Those seven months of training were more about training me how to think rather than how to run. Later on in the training schedule I would use the techniques in the book to breeze through an 8 mile run after work. Look back on that now seems impossible. But at the time it was just what I did. One of the techniques I really liked was the concept of typing out on an imaginary computer positive sentences while I was running. I would imagine my fingers hitting each letter on a keyboard then it would display upon on the computer screen in my mind. I would spell out “I am strong”, “I can run all day” and “I enjoy running”. These ideas became true. Now its been almost 9 years since I completed the marathon and I haven’t ran much recently. But I have begun using this technique again to help me get my chronic pancreatitis under control.
Having a personal philosophy is vitally important to everyone but especially for those who have a chronic illness. For those who are suffering it can feel like your body, your doctors, the insurance companies and the government are in control of your life, instead of you. But that is merely a choice of how to think. Once you decide that a key part of your personal philosophy is having an Internal Locus of Control new cognitive and physical doors will begin to open. Your body responds to your thoughts I’ve not personally been able to heal myself through thinking. I know it’s not a quick fix but I do believe my thoughts have an extremely important part in healing and helping me to make choices that will lead to a fuller more fulfilling life.
A key part of my personal philosophy is that I do have an Internal Locus of Control. I have the ability to find a solution to every health issue I have and to create the life I want to live. Even if its not a full solution or so called “cure” and even if it takes years to figure it out. I will never stop improving myself and seeking to feel better. I do have the ability to finding ways to live better each day. It’s not always easy to feel like and I have my doubts somedays especially on those days when I don’t even want to get out of bed. But the underlying idea of having an Internal Locus of Control that helps me to keep getting back up after I get knocked back down, whether it’s by a bowel obstruction or a severe pancreatitis attack. I want to live. I want to experience all that life has to offer. I want to fall in love. I want to feel good. I want to feel pleasure not merely be pain free. And that desire plus the belief that my actions can change my fate are what keep me going.
My next two posts will be on the ways Stoicism and the Paleo lifestyle have shaped my personal philosophy and my relationship to my chronic pain and autoimmune diseases.
Keep taking those small steps – they add up
Please leave a comment if you’ve found philosophy helpful in dealing with chronic illness or chronic pain.