Janette Hillis-Jaffe is a health coach and consultant. These seven habits are summarized from her book, the Amazon bestselling “Everyday Healing: Stand Up, Take Charge, and Get Your Health Back… One Day at a Time.”
My husband and I call 2002 to 2008 “The Dark Years.” Virtually overnight, I went from a high-energy go-getter to being mostly bedridden, with intense aches, debilitating fatigue, vertigo, and intermittent bronchitis.
Doctors gave me various diagnoses, but chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) or “an unknown autoimmune disorder” seemed like the most accurate.
The worst part of having an illness like CFS — besides the terrible symptoms, missing out on life, and the indignity of people doubting that I was really sick — was the crazy-making, full-time job that was searching for ways to get better. Through some painful on-the-job training, I developed the following seven habits that eventually enabled me to manage my symptoms and get back on the path to fuller health.
Before I continue, it’s important to acknowledge that CFS is a broad diagnosis, and that people who have it will reach varied levels of wellness. I was fortunate enough to fully regain my health, and have seen many others do the same. Everyone has their own path to health, and whatever your potential is, I hope these suggestions can help you find yours.
1. Take Charge
Make sure you recognize that you are responsible for your own healing, and that your healthcare providers are your expert consultants.
After years of hoping to find the doctor with the cure, I realized that I needed to change my approach. I came into every appointment with a friend to advocate for me, along with a list of questions, a chart of my symptoms, and research on treatments. I got third opinions, and refused any treatment if the provider couldn’t produce two patients for whom it had worked, and who were still healthy one year later.
2. Experiment Persistently
Be open to big changes, and question your assumptions.
During the early years of my illness, I experimented with my diet a great deal. I cut out wheat, dairy, and sugar. I tried an anti-Candida cleanse, being vegan, a six-week Ayurvedic cleanse, and more. When none of those helped, I concluded that while eating healthy helped a bit, food couldn’t heal me. I was wrong. I was only able to recover my health when I questioned that conclusion.
After five years of illness, I took on a strict, raw vegan diet that I had ruled out as too extreme four years before. Within 12 months, I was feeling better.
3. Nurture Your Heart
Establish a daily practice that can help you manage the hard emotions that might sabotage your healing efforts, like journaling, peer counseling, or meditation.
I was part of a peer counseling community, and had daily structured, two-way listening and sharing sessions with other counselors. These lasted anywhere from five to 50 minutes.
These sessions enabled me to stay on top of the grief, fear, and anger that might have otherwise led me to give up or feel unable to make the big diet and lifestyle changes I needed to make.
Adopt a fiercely confident attitude about yourself and your ability to get healthy.
When the person leading a mind-body class I was in scolded me that my cynical attitude “wasn’t serving” me, I decided to become more optimistic. I started to look at treatments that didn’t work as useful data, not signs that I would never recover. Exercises like writing a termination letter to the anxious critic in my head helped me build my optimism muscles.
5. Create Healing Spaces
Use organizing principles to set up your home in a way that supports your healing.
Practicing qi gong every day was an important part of my healing, but I had been a chronic qi gong procrastinator until I cleared out half of our family room to create a lovely practice space, with all the equipment I needed — a timer, CD, and CD player — in a nearby closet.
6. Organize Your Medical Information
Having a handle on your medical information will make you a more powerful advocate for yourself.
I am a congenitally disorganized person. So, after years of papers flying all over the place, a friend helped me create a physical notebook, with tabs for “Articles,” “Notes from Medical Appointments,” “Medical History,” “Current Medications,” and “Lab Results.”
I had all of my lab results sent to me, and I alphabetized them with tabs, like “Lupus,” “Lyme,” “Parvovirus,” and “Parasites.” That made every appointment more productive for me and my providers.
7. Be Open
Talk with your friends and family openly, and invite them to support you in your healing journey.
After five years of illness, I finally got over my delusion that I didn’t need help. Once people began coming with me to appointments, spending time researching options with me, and coming to visit, I had the confidence to take on the strict healing diet that had felt too difficult before.
Nachman of Breslov, an 18th century Hassidic rabbi from Ukraine, famously said that “a little bit is also good.” Wherever you are in your healing, taking steps to strengthen even one aspect of your journey can make a real difference in moving you toward a healthier future.