When to Let Go of Your Health Goals

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“I’ve tried every supplement, I’ve been watching my diet like a hawk to see what the problem food is, and I feel like I’ve done everything to get rid of this gas pain that seems to come every afternoon. I’m so frustrated with my body at this point. Why can’t I get totally better?!”

Louise had really been through some serious life trials – a history of disordered eating, multiple psychiatric hospitalizations, 5 psychotropics for 15 years, and an extremely challenging taper process. We had resolved any diagnostic trace of Grave’s Disease, moved her through a beautiful pregnancy, and homebirthbreastfeeding, and yet, it was hard for her to feel – truly feel – the magnitude of healing that had taken place. To embrace what it means to no longer be a patient – not an endocrine patient, not a psychiatric patient, not an obstetrical patient. To simply be herself.

Surrendering the status of patient

One would think that being released from the patient role would feel like getting out of jail. But what if when the jail cell is open, you sort of don’t want to leave? In psychology, this is called learned helplessness: a kind of beating down of any sense of personal power that creates an incapacity to change one’s circumstances. This learned helplessness is what the conventional medical system can do to an unsuspecting consumer. It can give you a label – one that actually feels good to receive because it seemingly validates your felt experience of suffering and struggle – and then you become that label. The lupus patient, the schizophrenic, the diabetic. And you don’t know who you are without this label, without the routine of appointments and prescriptions, without the social currency of your health complaints, and without worrying about your wellbeing. Sometimes, this state of being just feels too familiar to imagine moving beyond – like an itchy wool sweater that you’ve gotten used to and would rather not brave the cold without.

What does it mean to no longer be sick?

What it means is that suffering has taken on personal meaning. Almost the moment that it does, it paradoxically ceases to be suffering. Symptoms stop being a problem and start being an opportunity to learn more about this wondrous vessel your consciousness inhabits.

Your Body.

But is it really your body? Did you make it? As Michael Singer would say, “Go ahead – make an eyeball…I’m waiting!” Or as Alan Watts would say, “You don’t have to think about how to work your thyroid gland, it just happens.” And you are there simply to be with this happening. To support it and allow for it.

It is your body’s process; the depth, timing, and mystery of it is not for you to command.

And like a child having a tantrum, it’s only when you make a practice of really seeing them, hearing them, and honoring them that the tantrums stop and the harmonious dance of mother-child begins. Similarly, it’s only when you stop fighting, domineering, and dictating the conditional terms of acceptance to your body – when you finally stop and you make a truce – then the deep healing begins.

Is your inner control freak at the wheel?

Having been on both the patient and the clinician end, I now find that a lot of the testing, supplementation, and general high-level management of integrative and functional medicine can keep patients stuck in the fighting and commanding posture, lording over their body machine. How about a new probiotic for the less-than-perfect poops, or more pau d’arco to kill the yeast, or perhaps extra l-theanine for the possibility that I might not fall immediately asleep tonight. Do your thoughts ever sound like that? Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with supplements or natural approaches – the point is that the intentionality and the mindset matter. Are you looking to fight a symptom or support the response that it represents?

Stopping this fight entails relinquishing the need to micromanage your body’s expressions, getting to a point where you say – wow, I hear you Body…I’m finally listening. I promise to honor you every day and to trust that you know exactly what you’re doing.

This receptive energetic posture is how you create the conditions for healing. This is how your Body shows you, in the present, that there is something that has yet to be resolved. And only when we listen with curiosity will we be intuitively led to exactly what that is – from a toxic exposure to a buried traumatic memory. No fancy testing required.

First things first – the reunion with the Body

Saying no and setting boundaries is hard. In a people-pleasing social fabric, we are very uncomfortable with the possibility that someone might not like us if we do. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that boundaries set us free. That lines create the empty spaces that we release into. So, before letting go of the Body steering wheel, before understanding that it’s not really your Body to manage, and before bowing to it every day – you have to reunite with this Body. You have to learn what it is to care for your Body even when your mind is trying to tell you that you don’t have time, that it’s not necessary, and that self-care is a precious fad.

I believe in fierce grace.

And the fierce part comes first, in the form of commitment to a higher level of care – Body, mind and spirit – than most of us are comfortable with. Through this ritual – in the case of my patients and Vital Mind Reset participants, a month-long ritual – you send your body a very different signal. A signal that informs a truce. You say, I will prioritize caring for you – nourishing, cleansing, and generally honoring you. And this gesture – even if you don’t even feel it authentically from the start – incites a response. The Body responds with the dissolution of symptoms and early indications that it is, in fact, listening, and that a conversation has begun. But there is a point at which you understand the cosmic hierarchy, and then you bow down to its wisdom and give your Body permission to do its thing, its way. And then your Body shows you where the journey is taking you. A clear Body feels intuitively what is right and what is wrong. And as long as the mind is receptive and not reactive, then there are no longer any mental decisions to make. It all becomes a happening.

The tyranny of perfect health and happiness

The goal cannot and should not be perfect health and happiness. Why not? Because these goals imply that the process of Body truce and honor is simply a means to an outcome that is ever receding into the future. But we are here, right now, having a real embodied experience of this lifetime. It is rich with strangeness and wonder, and if you are courageous enough, it will be peppered with mystical opportunities to grow and to look deeper into the hurt places that need attention, love, and care…and you won’t call them problem symptoms any longer. You’ll call them invitations to finally, truly be yourself.

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About Dr. Kelly Brogan

KELLY BROGAN, MD, is a holistic psychiatrist, author of the New York Times Bestselling book, A Mind of Your OwnOwn Your Self, the children’s book, A Time For Rain, and co-editor of the landmark textbook Integrative Therapies for Depression. She is the founder of the online healing program Vital Mind Reset, and the membership community, Vital Life Project. She completed her psychiatric training and fellowship at NYU Medical Center after graduating from Cornell University Medical College, and has a B.S. from M.I.T. in Systems Neuroscience. She is specialized in a root-cause resolution approach to psychiatric syndromes and symptoms. Learn More