On chronic illness and Pema Chodron

I’ve been listening to Pema Chodron’s ‘This Moment is the Perfect Teacher’. I love her philosophy and humor and fund her voice relaxing. Anyway, at the end of disk there is a Q&A session I was half listening to. A student asked about chronic illness and Buddhism. I was surprised how much the answer effected me. She cut right to the heart of the matter, it breaks the illusion that I am how I view myself. In my mind I’m strong and capable but that is temporary and elusive. If I allow myself to be attached to that how will I handle aging? Chronic illness is a teacher always with me. I never thought of it that way before. Yet I have found my way to most of the techniques she suggests. I learned to really name my symptoms and how they made me feel. I started out doing out loud and now I can do it pretty effectively in my head. It sounds stupid but often when I am sick I begin to panic which makes the symptoms more intense. The trick is to relax into it, pain, nausea, discomfort, achiness, irritability- feel it fully while focusing on relaxing and breathing. If I can do that effectively my symptoms are immediately eased. However as I have a gastroparesis all of the time my ability to be rational ironically depends on how bad my flare up is. I learned to do thus because I really can not take medicine. I think we are so accustomed to medicine that it is jarring to have a practically untreatable illness. I had no idea how debilitating nausea was or how painful bloating could be, not to mention burping/hiccuping/gagging. Um anti nausea meds don’t seem to help my nausea. In some cases they cause my heart rate to increase which increased my nausea. The only other medicine they can give, Reglan, I had a horrible reaction to. So I smoke marijuana, the best anti nausea medicine on the planet, IMHO. For everything else I breath and relax. When I had my tooth pulled I could take no pain meds, my stomach can tolerate the occasional aspirin and sometimes loratadine for my allergies. That’s pretty much it for meds. So I focused on my breathing. I have arthritis in my hands, hips and lower back. Gastroparesis is not my first chronic illness, I had endometriosis more than 12 years ago. Endometriosis required more than 7 surgeries, 2 of them major, multiple experimental medical treatments all of which left me with a host of other health troubles. When I was 27 I had a total abdominal hysterectomy plus half my bladder and both ovaries removed. I believe I probably got gastroparesis as a side effect if the surgeries or treatments. So now I have the results of this experimental treatments and no meds to deal with them. Yes I spent some time feeling like it was unfair, which illness always is- like who deserves that? But I am lucky with my gastroparesis. First I am disabled, which means I get medical and financial coverage which many people with gastroparesis struggle with. An addition I am married to a man who understands and is patient and kind. I focus on the good stuff and breath.


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