Chronic Disease - A Blessing in Disguise
One day while he was being interviewed, Sir William Osler, one of the most famous physicians of the twentieth century, was asked the secret to longevity. He gave an answer that surprised everyone: “Get a chronic disease, and learn to take good care of it!”
How could the secret of long-lasting health and longevity ever be found in having a chronic disease? To have a chronic disease and at the same time be able to extend your life span sounds like a total contradiction. What was on Sir William Osler’s mind when he came up with this enigmatic statement?
In his greater wisdom and glory, Dr. Osler went on to clarify what he meant. He explained that having a chronic disease is really a bless-ing in disguise because it forces you to pay closer attention to your body than you would normally do. In so doing, you benefit all parts of your body, and so your overall health actually can be improved. He further went on to explain that when you have a chronic disease, your body becomes more sensitive, vulnerable, and demanding, and this makes you a better “listener.” You become more aware of your body, and you can more effectively identify what causes flare-ups of your disease, whether toxins in the environment, unhealthy foods, irritating substances, stress or emotional upheaval, or other offensive factors. In the process, you have the opportunity to Iearn how to avoid these factors and lessen the intensity or frequency of the flare-ups. You also have the opportunity to discover how imbalances were created in your body to cause the disease in the first place. These imbalances may have been caused by unconscious, self-destructive habits and tendencies, as well as by unhealthy thoughts and attitudes. With chronic disease, you have the opportunity to learn how to undo the damage, reverse the disease process, and cooperate with your heal-ing system to restore your body to its natural state of health. Doing this requires that you learn to nurture, and be kind and gentle to, your body, exploring ways to fulfill its needs and treat it better.
Having a chronic disease can teach you how to become your own best caregiver, your own full-time doctor, so to speak. And as you learn to cooperate with your healing system in your mission of returning to a natural state of health and wellness, your healing system can help you remain healthy, functional, and symptom free for the rest of your life. This is the hidden meaning behind Sir William Osler’s statement that the key to longevity is to get a chronic disease and learn to take good care of it.
In contrast to this approach, as soon as they are diagnosed with a chronic disease, many people give in to fear, negative thinking, and despair. This response only reinforces the disease process and is a sure recipe for an early demise. Even well-meaning doctors often unknowingly support this pessimistic attitude. The following story illustrates the point.
A man I knew was suspected of having prostate cancer. His doctor ordered tests to confirm that he had cancer, and the tests
came back positive. On his first doctor’s visit after the diagnosis was established, this man asked his doctor whether he should quit smoking. To his astonishment, his doctor replied, ‘At this point, what’s the use?” With his doctor’s negative attitude, he left the office and immediately plunged into a deep depression. Even though the doctor didn’t say it in exactly these words, what he heard was “It is too late to do anything at this stage. Face the facts. You are going to die.” Six weeks later, the man died.
It is important not to deny the reality of an illness; at the same time, it is more important not to become passive or depressed, or to give in to the popular pessimistic notions about what will happen to you as you become more ill. As the late Norman Cousins used to say, “Don’t deny the diagnosis, but defy the verdict!” Because of the connection between your mind and your healing system, remaining optimistic, even when the odds appear to be stacked against you, is crucial.
According to Dr. Oslees wisdom and experience, even if you have been diagnosed with diabetes, or heart disease, or any other chronic condition, it is possible for you to live to be 120 years old. If you watch your diet, regularly exercise, practice stress manage-ment, and use other methods and strategies that cooperate with your healing system, you can learn to positively influence your body’s internal environment and improve your overall health. If you are currently taking medications, you may gradually be able to reduce your dependence on them and quite possibly get off them altogether. In my own practice, I have seen this happen quite frequently.
If you are sufficiently motivated, and you don’t give in to pessimism and despair, a chronic disease can direct and guide you toward a much healthier lifestyle that supports your healing system and improves your overall health. In so doing, the disease can enable you to enjoy long-lasting health. Seen from this perspective, a chronic disease can actually be a blessing in disguise.
I’d like to make an additional point in support of Dr. Osler’s wisdom. There is a saying, “You don’t miss your water until your well runs dry.” In my own experience, I have seen that many people do not honor or value their health unless they are at immediate risk of losing it. In this regard, contracting a chronic, life-threatening disease can serve as a much-needed wake-up call. When you realize your life is on
the line and you are not here forever, it’s amazing how quickly you can become motivated to improve the quality of your health and life. With this clarity and sense of urgency, it is often easier to make sweep-ing, constructive changes in your diet, lifestyle, and personal habits that strengthen and enhance the work of your healing system. When you live your Iife fully, with the awareness that being alive is truly a blessing, privilege, and unique opportunity, you begin to realize the critical importance of your health and your responsibility to take care of yourself. When you participate in healthful, wholesome activities that support your healing system, your overall health improves, and the prospects for greater longevity increase significantly.
As you learn to take better care of yourself, your illness can serve as your ticket to a longer and happier, more productive life. In fact, many people who have overcome chronic, life-threatening illnesses have looked back and declared that their illnesses were gifts, without which their lives would have never been transformed for the better.
And who is to say that once you have a chronic disease you are stuck with it? Since. Dr. Osler’s time, in addition to Dr. Dean Ornish’s studies that proved heart disease can be reversed, many other studies are now showing similar possibilities for diabetes, arthritis, asthma, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and many other diseases. The same mechanisms that cause disease processes to occur in the first place can be reversed and eliminate the disease from your body. If you are currently plagued by a health problem, the sooner you adopt an active role in supporting and cooperating with your healing system, the faster you can heal and be back on the road to long-lasting health.