More than 7 years ago I sat down to to write about my journey from “victim to victor” which resulted in the book Asthma Free in 21 Days and ultimately shaped how I live and treat patients. The discovery of the power of mindbody healing has allowed me to become a “victor” despite severe illness and trauma and inspired me to use what I learned to educate and heal others as well as myself. Here’s my story.
As a child, and into adulthood, I suffered from severe Asthma. Most of my childhood was spent in pediatric hospital rooms, under oxygen tents, and taking frequent doses of medications. Even at home it was “medical” business as usual with daily doses of inhalants, allergy shots and other oral medicines. By age seven, I was barricaded in a sterile room, taking oral medication every four hours, and dedicating another two hours a day to inhalation therapy. I was terrified of the “monster” machines, but was always compliant because I was afraid of not being able to breathe. What a childhood! I longed to be like a normal girl – going to school regularly, out playing and enjoying life, instead of being stuck in a room. But all that extra time gave me opportunities to read and learn and I refused to accept this life sentence of limitation and dependency. And so I began to break free. This happened throughout my teenage years and into university where I studied social work and eventually made the connection between emotional and mental stress and the onset of asthmatic symptoms.
After a ten-year search for non-conventional treatments to heal my asthma, I discovered Dr. Gerald Epstein who introduced me to the healing practice he developed called mental imagery. Although skeptical at first, I had tried everything at this point and decided I had nothing to lose and I desperately needed to find something that offered lasting, deep changes for which I had been searching.
During our first session, Dr. Epstein asked me if I wanted to heal. It was a strange question to ask an asthmatic (of course I wanted to heal), but I soon came to understand that serious emotional currents run through every illness. Once I made the wholehearted affirmation that, yes, I wanted to heal, I was on my way to a new life and discovered that there are no set limits in my imagination, no stories about the future or regrets about the past to get in my way.
So I did the work, and within a month I was off oral medications and down to one inhaler. And during this time, came to believe that there is a core question for each of us, one we need to answer if we want to live a whole life.
Six months into my treatment, Dr. Epstein asked me if I wanted to live. It’s a shocking question. And I was surprised when my answer was that “I wanted to die.” Once I uttered the words, it was clear that I had to make a decision to let go of the past and of my life as I currently knew it. This meant seeing each moment as valuable and irreplaceable. It included acknowledging that I am in a relationship with all that goes on in my life even when I am in pain, even when life isn’t the way I think it’s supposed to be. In my heart, I new that making the conscious choice to live was a commitment to seek the healing power that could be found only inside myself.
The most difficult events in life have value, meaning, and purpose. Even pain and discomfort hold value. Realizing this helps us shift our thinking, to change our lives and make even painful experiences things from which we can learn. It keeps us from being a victim and allows us to heal ourselves – that is the power of mindbody healing.
This mindset has allowed me to be asthma-free (to this day), helped me recover from a severe trauma and go on to complete the New York Marathon and eventually beat cancer. In choosing life, I had chosen change. And by deciding that neither the accident or the asthma would hold me back, I had embarked on a path that would take me in a completely different direction from where I had been. This new direction affected my professional life as well. Instead of acting as an authority (having a doctor-patient relationship with them), I chose to be an educator – to teach people how to become their own authorities and to find value and meaning in the difficulties of life, even in the face of chronic pain and fear.
I hope this story helps you to realize the importance of deciding to choose life and begin taking the steps to heal. Whether you’ve suffered from a traumatic event, poor health, alcoholism, stress, anxiety or any other challenge with your mental health, making a shift to change your thinking is the most important step to recovery.
As I always say, “Here, shift happens,” but it’s up to you to decide to begin the healing journey. I’m here to help when you’re ready.
Limitless Potentials is a center for Psychotherapy, Mindfulness Training, and Yoga led by Kathy Shafer Ph.D. Known for her expertise as a certified EMDR practitioner and her mindful approach to cognitive behavioral therapy, Dr. Kathy is also a Certified Addiction Professional, and yoga therapist (C-IAYT). She is the author and creator of the FUN(TM) program which challenges thinking and behavior in her tool box of clinical skills to address trauma, challenges in relationships, mood disorders, anxiety, pain, parenting, family dynamics, and chronic health issues. She gives presentations, conducts workshops on these and related topics, and when appropriate, integrates mindful skills in sessions. Group and family therapy are also offered. To learn more, please call (561) 799-6789.