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  • Writer's pictureKerith Kilhenny, L.Ac.

When Feelings Become Illness

I had a patient who had a cancerous tumor removed from her uterus. She went through the horrible trials of radiation, chemotherapy, losing her hair, constant nausea and the life challenges that come with being so sick. Fortunately now, she is cancer free. I asked her how it was to go through it and how she's feeling now, she said something remarkable, "Ever since I got the tumor removed, my depression has completely gone away. I have not had a moment of being depressed, even through the terrible treatments, I was feeling ok mentally." I was really taken aback by this statement; they were very powerful words. It got me thinking about the mind-body connection, how we carry so much in our bodies, how the body holds our life stories, our emotional journeys, protected by our readable skin, orated by the scars on our limbs and wrinkles on our face.

What happens to our bodies when we have negative emotions? What happens if we don't process and stuff them down, or deny their existence? Where do they do go? Do they come up later? Do we store away fears, negative thoughts in our bodies where they feed our cells and manifest as illness? In my experience of my own emotional body and seeing what happens with patients, the emotional state and health state absolutely have a connection. It's been well documented that stress is a large contributing factor in many illnesses, but what can we do to change this?

When I don't process my emotions, one of two things happen. First they can come out somehow, down the road, usually sideways, targeted at the wrong person! Secondly they get stored in my body, in my muscles and tissues which I feel as a tightness, discomfort or pain. I realized this truth when I started taking yoga. During some of the big hip or front body openers, (pigeon or camel usually) I would begin to cry. I knew that my body was releasing some stored anger or sadness that I had not been able to process. I also saw emotional releases happen in acupuncture school when we began needling each other. Acupuncture moves so much in the body. I had so many big emotions come out in front of others in school, which was challenging at the time but I am grateful for now. 

Maryanne Williamson talks about how our cells know innately what to do, that they all work together, as a “WE” in the body, to help form, grow and thrive. Conversely, she states when the cells don't work together, the rogue cells that don't want to be a part of the "WE" are the ones that become cancer. I believe that we are made to love, be loved, to share in community, to share our hopes, dreams, losses and fears. The "we"-ness that we have for each other is what gets us through; how we identify with each other, that we all experience the same feelings just through different experiences. These feelings might have us isolating alone in front of our computer, checking out from reality, not telling anyone what's really going on. We might feel we don’t want to share these difficult feelings with anyone, that we might burden them, or worse, scare them away. Are these isolated moments where we feed the rogue cells? As we isolate stuffing our feelings, acting like we're fine on the outside, are we sending our cells the message that it's fine to stay in the darkness alone, unsupported and doing their own thing?  What are we without the WE?  How does our outside life and actions affect our inside cells and organs? I do believe there needs to be healthy "ME" time, in quiet reflection and meditation, but when does alone time become unbalanced?

The answer for me today is that if I have negative feelings, I do two things: Talk and move! I actions to work through and move them. I exercise, dance, breathe, meditate, and get acupuncture to help process them, but most importantly I talk to another human and get honest about it. I try not to worry about burdening them with my "stuff", or worry about what they will think. It’s most important that I take care of myself. If you don't have people you trust at the moment, find a therapist, a support group, acupuncturist, or wellness provider. More so know there are a lot of people who feel the same exact way that you do, I know this as I am honored to have my patients and friends get honest with me on a daily basis about what’s really going on. I have learned that being vulnerable, sharing imperfections, letting the darkness out into the light, not only helps to let go of what can could hurt the body, but also helps us to get honest, be vulnerable and stay healthy. 

Let’s support each other in sharing the challenges of our journeys, and not wait until the body is yelling loudly in order to be heard. 

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