A month or so ago, I was reading a book and it brought up a super interesting and unique point that really stopped me in my tracks and made me think a great deal. It asserted that “being sick” is a choice, and that we make this [subconscious] choice to engage in illness due to a “perceived payoff.”
When I first read this, I didn’t know how to feel. I thought, “WTF this is ridiculous…OF COURSE I don’t choose to be sick!” The more I read and understood the text though, the more I came to realize that it’s more or less just proposing that – at a subconscious level – we feel as if illness serves a distinct purpose in our lives; that we feel as if we almost need to be sick in order to have our needs fulfilled. This may mean having someone finally listen to us or believe us about not feeling well, care for us, sympathize with us, or just allow us to rest. And in these ways, being sick is quite useful.
The Role That Being Sick Plays in Our Lives
If you think about it – there’s a lot of wisdom to the idea brought up in my book. Growing up, what was the way to get out of something you realllllly didn’t want to do (like go to school)? Well, if you were sick, you could pretty much get out of anything.
This extends to being an adult, where our lives are FULL of obligations and rushing around from place to place, caring for others, and being expected to be at the top of our game at all times. And what’s the one time when we finally get to shut the door, stay home from work, ask people to leave us alone to rest and reflect, and have an excuse NOT to go to that client dinner, or soccer practice, or cook dinner? Yep, you guessed it. When we’re sick.
So we can see how, in a culture that’s driven by a “GO-GO-GO” attitude, where we’re expected to be “all things to everyone,” and where autoimmune conditions aren’t readily taken seriously by medical practitioners, we’ve come to almost welcome sickness, as it gives us a chance to “check out” of our everyday obligations in a socially acceptable way, or finally be taken seriously by a doctor who constantly reminds you that “you’re perfectly healthy” when in fact, you’re absolutely not.
Similarly, another book titled, When The Body Says No explores this topic in a semi-related fashion. It maintains that we ultimately adopt a sick mentality because we ourselves weren’t (or still aren’t) fully able to say “no,” ask for help, or feel protected and safe like we should have – either in our childhood or adult lives. And with this, we find ourselves using sickness as a sort of protective coating, and as a subconscious excuse to be freed up from the restrictions of our everyday lives.
So, the question I began asking is: Do we somehow hold ourselves back from being well?
Of course we would never consciously do this. We fight tooth and nail every single day to feel better. We try different diets, lifestyles, supplements, testing and doctors, wellness routines, and sacrifice so much each and every day in order to try and heal.
But, subconsciously…do we? Do we somehow self-sabotage with our thoughts and deep-rooted insecurities, and keep ourselves sick?
After I got done being initially pissed at this incredulous suggestion, this is something I challenged myself to sit with and reflect upon. I peeled back the layers of my psyche until I could be brutally honest with myself and say, “Dammit. Yes. Maybe, I do.”
It was a very liberating moment when I was able to admit to myself that yes – maybe there is a small voice inside of me that was scared and thinking, “but…what will protect us if we aren’t sick anymore?” And when I was able to acknowledge this fear, I saw a dramatic shift in my attitude towards being sick, and a profound healing followed.
Reversing the Pattern of Holding Ourselves Back
From there, I took my newfound realization and decided to apply it to my life with some actionable steps. As fate should have it, the lesson that I was currently studying as a student of Paramahansa Yogananda’s Self-Realization Fellowship was talking about cultivating a “will to be well.”
I’m greatly paraphrasing here, but I believe the essence of what Yogananda teaches is that by employing a strong sense of personal and mental willpower to be well, we can overcome any underlying temptation to allow sickness to penetrate our bodies and keep us down.
This idea is reinforced time after time in modern scientific literature, where we constantly hear about the strong connection between body and mind. We also see this idea of “strong will” being exemplified when we hear about mothers who are suddenly able to lift a car up when their child is trapped underneath it. These are extreme instances, but ones that really exemplify the power of pure will.
So, once I had this realization of myself and paired it with an understanding of great teachers and literature, I was determined to change my mental attitude around being sick, and clear up any subconscious ties that I had to the “usefulness” of being sick.
Letting Go of Being Sick
How’d I do that, you ask?
Well, the first step was basically an F-ton of introspection. I got a pen and paper out, and started to think deeply about all of the current areas in my life where I feel like I can’t say “no” and may be relying on my body to do it for me. My list ended up looking something like this:
- I feel bad saying “no” to taking on extra projects at work
- I feel bad taking a day off from work (and essentially saying “no” to work that day)
- I feel bad saying “no” to my fiance when she wants to go-go-go, since we spend so much time catering to my modified lifestyle and pace
- I feel bad saying “no” if a friend asks me to hang out but I just don’t feel like it (for no good reason other than I simply don’t want to)
- I feel overwhelmed at home with chores and tasks around the house, and don’t know how to ask for help
- I feel guilty asking for time alone, or time to just rest and relax, because I feel like I need to be constantly available for others, or always doing something, getting ahead, or progressing myself in some way
Re-reading this list, it’s just so obvious how being sick has really served me in my life. After all, whenever I’m sick, I’m given permission by myself, my loved ones, society and my job, to just do whatever I want to and to [guiltlessly] prioritize my own needs for once.
After I made my list, I decided to write some positive affirmations to start re-empowering myself in a healthy way, and undoing some of those thought patterns that had become deep-rooted within me over the past few years.
I wrote things like:
- It is OK for me to say no
- I am powerful and healthy when I say no
- I am able to accept a day off of work
- I am willing and able to ask for help
- It is safe for me to ask for help
- It is acceptable for me to spend time alone
- I can rest and relax without being judged by myself or others
Then, I wrote a letter to myself. This is a summary of what I wrote in my letter… I acknowledged how being sick has served a huge role and purpose in my life, and thanked it for helping me get through some very negative and upsetting times in my life when I really did lack self-empowerment. I thanked it for being there for me when nobody else was, and for protecting me and giving me a voice when I felt like I didn’t have one. I then gave myself permission to let it go, and I sent illness on its way. I let it know that it had served its purpose, but that now I was safe and happy and healthy, and that I didn’t need it to “help” me any longer. I then said that I was ready to enter into a new phase of my life where I was free to explore who I was outside of being sick. When I was done writing, I sealed my letter and burned it so that I could truly let it go. (You do not have to burn your letter if you don’t want to or if it’s going to present a fire hazard; I chose to do this as an act of ritual for myself, as it felt cleansing to me. You could dowse yours in water, tear it up, throw it away, or just simply fold it up and place it in a safe place. Whatever feels right to you.)
Your letter may also be different than mine, but the basic format and flow applies: acknowledgement, gratitude, and letting go.
Some of this might sound corny, but in my experience, statements and activities like these can help loosen the grip that subconscious thoughts and beliefs have over our lives. These steps aren’t the end-all-be-all to truly unraveling the deeply ingrained thought patterns and personality traits that we’ve accumulated out of necessity and self-preservation over the years, but I figure at least they’re a good start.
So what do you think – did any of this resonate with you? Do you think that illness has served some sort of purpose in your life?