We all like to think of ourselves as rational people who make decisions based on what is best for us in the long run. Sometimes I actually do that. But, often I don’t. I yell at my sons when I know it’s not helpful. I hit the “Next Episode” button on Netflix when heading to bed would be a much better idea. I eat a second dessert even though I won’t feel great afterwards. I don’t think I am the only one who lets my emotions control a huge part of my actions. Do any of these quotes sound familiar to you?
“I had planned to go to the gym this morning, but I just didn’t feel like it.”
“I keep putting off that doctor’s appointment. It stresses me out.”
“Friends have recommended that diet to me, but it just feels too hard.”
If those quotes do seem a bit familiar, don’t feel bad. We all let our feelings sabotage our best intentions. Like I said, I sure do. Sometime we are aware of it and sometimes we aren’t. The truth is that even when a person is well aware that his or her feelings are controlling their actions, it is hard to change. Finding a way to handle those emotions in a healthy manner can be tough.
The first person that taught me about the power of emotions to derail healing efforts was my wonderful dad, Jim Hillis. He was diagnosed with pulmonary sarcoidosis when he was 69. That’s an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the lungs and difficulty breathing. In many cases it resolves itself or can be managed with medication or other interventions. But, his lungs continued to get weaker and weaker over time.
After his diagnosis, I did a bunch of research and found stories of people who had reduced their sarcoidosis symptoms through an anti-inflammatory diet that was high in vegetables and fiber and low in meat, dairy, gluten and processed food of any kind. I told Dad about this and encouraged him to consider making significant dietary changes. He would probably say that “encouraged” is too gentle a word. I nagged, guilt-tripped and pleaded with him. But, he had grown up in the 30s and 40s in Nebraska and, in addition to being a real class act and a brilliant man, he was a down-home meat and potatoes kind of guy. To his credit, he did try to alter his diet a number of times, by adding more vegetables, or reducing alcohol, red meat, sugar or salt. But, it was never a major change and it was no match for his illness.
So his lung capacity continued to decrease and he was put on increasingly high doses of steroids, which had their own set of nasty side effects. The last time I approached him about trying a more significant diet change, he said to me, “I appreciate your concern, and I know that changing my diet might improve my health. But every time I try to change the way I eat, I get depressed. So, what good is that? Would I be living longer or would I just feel like I was living longer?” (He always had a way with words.) I tried to encourage him to find a place to deal with the feelings of depression instead of just eating a lot of sugar, but he was having none of that. It wasn’t his style. Eventually, I stopped nagging. Less than a year later, after his disease continued to progress faster than the doctors expected, he died of lung failure at the age of 74.
It absolutely breaks my heart when I think about Dad’s inability to change how he ate. I don’t know that a significant diet change would have saved his life. But, I do know that it had a major impact on many other people with sarcoidosis and that he believed that it might have helped him. I also know that, effectively, it was not an option for him because he had no tools to deal with the tough emotions that changing his diet raised for him.
It’s not that my dad was terribly isolated. He and my mother had a wonderful marriage and she was always supportive of him taking care of his health. They had a lot of friends. He was close to all three of his adult children, and well-known and respected as a professor in his field of speech pathology. But, being of the gender, age and background that he was, he still had almost no outlets for expressing and managing really hard emotions.
Let me be clear. I don’t blame my dad. I had the same problem. The detoxifying, healing diet that ultimately got me back to full health was recommended to me in the first year of my illness. But, even though a couple of smart people strongly encouraged me to consider it, I barely gave it a second thought. It was just too far out of my comfort zone. That was too bad. It took me five years of illness and suffering, and a lot of emotional work, to finally come back and take that original advice. Learning from Dad’s experience helped me get the support I needed to take on that challenging diet and get my health back.
So, let me ask you: What big or small change to improve your health have you found too tough to take on? What emotions do you think are getting in the way? What emotional and logistical support could you get to make it more possible to make that change and have the healthier life you want?
Here are some resources to explore this a little more:
- For ideas about how to invite your friends and family to get more involved in helping you through those tough spots, you can look at the section on “Connection” in my free e-book.
- For some thoughts on how taking on big efforts to get healthy makes you a hero, check out this blog post. Remember, if you are working to improve your health, you are definitely my hero. Be your own hero, too.
As always, I’d love to hear what you think. Comment below or email me at janette@HealforRealNow.com.