Chronic pain –sometimes referred to as the ‘invisible illness’ – affects nearly one in two Canadians. An estimated 16 million Canadians live with at least one condition considered ‘chronic’ in that it is persistent or otherwise long-lasting in its effects.
Chronic illnesses are a major factor in the continuous growth of our medical care spending and in how they impact the economy through loss of productivity and days at work. But, more – or as – important – is the fact that they drastically limit people’s lives and activities and cause endless suffering.
Conventional medicine treats chronic illness as a ‘functional syndrome’ because, with some type of medication, most people affected attempt to continue normal daily life to the best of their ability. Often they manage the illness with drugs and with recommendations on changes in lifestyle- be it diet or exercise. Still, even with a growing recognition that lifestyle changes can prevent and/or eliminate many chronic illnesses, the use of drugs is increasing at an alarming rate.
Health care experts have begun to see the mind and body as one functioning unit and not separate entities. Some people have difficulty accepting the idea that your mind can create physical changes. But, every day instances of mind-body connection abound. Have you ever gotten the “butterflies” before a very important event? Has your face ever blushed in a real embarrassing situation?
Through education and from witnessing results, there are growing numbers in the medical community incorporating a more integrative approach – from acupuncture to homeopathy to prayer – in dealing with chronic illnesses. What is termed integrative medicine is one which takes into account the whole person – body, mind, and in many cases, spirit. The ‘spirit’ connection has taken significant importance as scientific evidence strongly supports the notion that spirituality and religion can enhance an individual’s health and quality of life.
Studies increasingly show that individuals who have a strong sense of religious faith seem to have greater levels of life satisfaction and seem to have better coping skills when facing stressful life events. Religion and the integration of the spiritual thought of an individual in health care can play a major role in recovery for many people suffering from a chronic illness.
There have been instances where people have found a complete turnaround – from chronic pain and disability to health and full freedom of movement. These stories have brought encouragement to many people over the centuries looking for release from the confines of an invisible illness.
Ancient, yet timely, the spiritual wisdom of the Bible offers some great examples of healings of chronic illnesses. In one instance a woman was hemorrhaging for years and had spent all her money on looking for a cure. Her physical condition made her an outcast. But, determined to get well, she had the faith to enter a crowd and to reach out to touch just the hem of the robe of the Master Christian. She was instantly healed.
Another is of a man who, after 38 years of being unable to function normally, was cured when Jesus – who was not impressed by the litany of problems this cripple faced – told him to stand up, leave his bed of pain and suffering and return to a normal life. He did so immediately – no kind of recuperation necessary.
I saw a sign recently at the Toronto airport that rang with great meaning to me:
Pain makes me Think
Thinking makes me Wise
Wisdom makes me Free
No author was given, but whoever said it sure captured the essence of the important role thought plays in health when we incorporate spiritual wisdom.