MIND OVER MATTER
Joe Figliano uses mental discipline to conquer Crohn’s
I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when I was 23 years old. I’m now 39 and living life without any signs of Crohn’s for the past 5 years. I have been told that there is no cure but I feel like it has healed. I have not taken medication at all or any form of diet or remedy in this time. Many of you may be thinking how is this possible? I will explain how this happened for me.
In July 2006, I woke up one morning and as usual I had diarrhoea with blood in my stool, was experiencing pain, low energy levels, and feeling extremely moody and angry. I was angry even at those I loved the most, including my daughter; work and money also fuelled my stress. My weight was the lowest it had been since I was a teenager. I was not hungry due to pain or when I did get slightly hungry I was scared to eat because it would affect my bowels. I ate as much as I could because I was so thin but it seemed to go right through me, my mother was telling me “You look like you’re dying”. Yet another appointment with my Gastroenterologist looming with very little chance of good news. Just another day for me full of despair.
The specialist said he found polyps which have gone all the way to my mouth via my oesophagus. After the many medications he had prescribed not working for me, I asked him if there was anything else I could do. As an option he suggested surgery to get part of my bowel removed. He also said that I am at risk of getting bowel cancer because of the extent of my Crohn’s.
I started feeling depressed and sorry for myself. I was furious at my life, the world, and especially the health system for not having a cure or a good-enough remedy. “Why do I have to suffer?” I asked myself again and again. This went on for days.
Eventually somehow, something inside me changed. I made a conscious decision to heal, no matter what. This was my time to heal. Most people didn’t believe it was possible; they said I was wasting my time but I believed in myself and what I can achieve.
I started listening to my body, doing research, and experimenting on myself. Others thought I was crazy and said I could actually make things worse for myself, but I persevered. I dramatically changed my diet which was not easy (sugar and processed foods especially), I drank herbal tea that tasted terrible, and had acupuncture. I quit smoking and drinking, made more time for myself, read motivational self-help books, learned to release my emotions, and managed my stress levels. Mentally, I learned how to change my mind-set and perceptions, I started to appreciate life more including the small things such as the fact that I can see and a blade of grass. I did visualisations of perfect health, did some yoga and jogged. Eventually I moved out of my depressive state and self-pity, and started focusing on my health rather than my illness, regardless of how much pain I was in. All this whilst maintaining my work at an average of 40 hours per week.
After about four weeks, I was ready to give up. There was no real sign of improvement, I was losing more weight, and the tea truly tasted awful. I then took 2 days off work and spent that time on my own. But then I realised that although I wasn’t improving physically, I was in a better place mentally and emotionally. I was more relaxed and positive than I had ever been. That was enough to encourage me to continue, and by around the six-week mark, I had shown definite improvement.
I continued listening to myself and my body. As time went on, my health slowly improved. When I started feeling much better, I went for a colonoscopy, which came out clear. I remember vividly my specialist’s exact words when he saw the results: “Whatever it is that you are doing, keep doing it.” Once it was confirmed the inflammation receded, I started weaning myself off all medication, prescribed and natural, one at a time, until there was absolutely nothing I was taking for my illness. By March 2008 I was completely symptom free for two months.
I reintroduced everything that I had taken away in order to heal including my foods, smoking and drinking. I even stopped exercising and Yoga. The only thing that remained that I had used to help me heal was my mindset and perception change. I was a new person mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I appreciated everything. Life was feeling exciting and fresh again, I felt like I was 10 years younger and really enjoying life.
When I think back to find what it was that healed me, I believe it was my attitude. I paid attention to myself and what I call the four bodies: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual, each affecting the others. In all aspects of our lives, including our health, the more we pay attention to ourselves and what we are doing, the better our results are. This is why I think we all have the power of healing within us, and the roots of healing lie in changing the holistic balance between our minds and bodies. Medical practitioners can help us, but we also have something inside of us that they do not and that is our own internal healing power.
It has now been over five years since I had any symptom related to Crohn’s disease, and remain medication-free. I constantly seek wellbeing in all areas of my life, I currently live life each day as if I never had Crohn’s and I feel great. Is this remission or is it something else? Whatever it is, I am grateful for the last 5 years of a Crohn’s-free life, and looking forward to many more years to follow. To anyone who is suffering from Crohn’s, Colitis, or any other illness, I ask you to find that power within yourself, and ignite it, it is definitely worth it.