"Where there is creativity, there is hope." ~ Donna Karan

I love my life more than I hate my pain

by - Friday, September 25, 2015

Author, blogger and ‘quit sugar’ advocate Sarah Wilson wrote a blog post late last year asking “Could female self-hatred be the real cause of autoimmune disease?” An extended version of it was published on news.com.au, similarly questioning “Is self-hatred making us sick?”
The article enraged me.
Immediately after reading it I began writing through my infuriation but was undecided on if I would blog my thoughts and feelings. 
Early this year I revisited the few thoughts I had penned and for some reason decided to try and punch through my brain fog (which has been an epic struggle) to convert my thoughts into an informative, opinionated post.
Sarah Wilson’s words didn’t just get me riled up, they made others angry too, causing a social media storm.
She starts off speaking openly about her experience with Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s. While trying to “pinpoint the original physical cause” of her condition for over 20 years, she explains how she came to the conclusion that “if there is such a cause, it’s definitely got an emotional basis.”
Whenever asked what caused her disease she answers “Once all angles are ironed out – everything points to… anxiety. Or as I like to put it, a profound, visceral, itchy dis-ease with myself.”
I don’t have a problem with Sarah Wilson sharing about why she believes anxiety and a lack of self-care caused her to become ill. More power to her. But then she goes on to imply that women who have an autoimmune disease are most likely sick because they don’t love themselves.
That’s not okay with me.
Sarah enthusiastically and extensively highlights Dr Habib Sadeghi’s teachings – a man who’s convinced that self-hatred is the sole cause of chronic disease in women.
It’s evident that she wholeheartedly agrees with his belief that “Illness is what happens when women, the nurturers of humanity, forget how to nurture themselves.”
This isn’t earth shatteringly profound, it is pseudoscience.
She supports the doctor’s claim, explaining: “When you can’t be the ideal wife, mother, girlfriend, teacher, cook, church volunteer, corporate executive and activist at 20 pounds below your healthy body weight, what’s left but to silently (and subconsciously) hate yourself because you’re not perfect? And so… self-hatred causes auto-immune disease, which, boiled down, is the body attacking itself. So how to heal? With self-love…”
Upon reading this I had a little chuckle at how ridiculous it seems considering I was at my happiest before illness suddenly took over my life. I was bursting with excitement about finishing school and going to university. I was so full of hope. I loved my casual retail job, I loved my body, and I loved my own company. I loved who I was and I enjoyed exercising daily. Taking time out for some self-pampering was extremely important to me. I’ll admit I was a little anxious at times, especially in large social settings, but I never hated myself.
I did not get sick because I forgot how to nurture myself. I took really good care of myself and had a healthy self-esteem. I knew who I was and I knew exactly what I wanted in life; I was confident about the future and usually felt content and at peace.
And now, despite chronic pain, I still take really good care of myself. Self-love and self-care certainly have not been on the back burner. Eating healthy is a high priority. I have a beauty and skincare routine that I try and stick to as much as I can. I do a bit of yoga most mornings and I try to spend the limited energy I have doing creative things that nourish my soul and make me happy. I journal and allow myself to have a good cry every now and then. I make sure I take the time to reflect, meditate, and be thankful every day.
While I did struggle to love my life in the first few years after my diagnosis (a typical reaction to grief, anger, fear, confusion and sadness), I can now honestly say that I love my life much more than I hate my pain – and I hate my pain a lot! It has taken a great deal of time and hard work but I can truly say that I’m proud of the person I am today.
Sure, there have been many times when I have been an utterly miserable self-loathing mess but my unhappiness was caused mostly by medication side effects like low mood, depression and weight gain. Spending two years with an IUD in to help prevent Endometriosis growth really messed with my head. I was depressed, angry and irrational. Emotionally I was all over the place. When I began taking a stronger drug to help get my crippling Rheumatoid Arthritis pain under control, I suddenly gained 12 kilos and plunged into a pit of misery as a result. Going from a healthy size 10 to being overweight in a matter of months greatly affected my confidence and self-esteem that I ended up seeking help from a counsellor.
There have also been many periods when the constant pain and fatigue has profoundly supressed the love I have for myself and for life, but deep down it’s there, and it always resurfaces.
For most women who are chronically ill, self-loathing is a side effect of illness, not a cause.
I am certainly not still sick because I hate myself. I fight every day to love my life more than I hate my pain. I’ve worked incredibly hard over the years with a counsellor, exercise physiologist and a naturopath in attempt to try and better my health. If that’s not self-love then I don’t know what is.
I love the creative, passionate, independent, joyful, strong and resilient woman I am becoming. I am not still sick because I am not nurturing myself enough. I know how to nourish my “grasslands”.
As I type this I have sharp pain in my teeth and I feel like I’ve been hit in the face with a basketball. That’s not because I didn’t love myself nine years ago, it is because chronic pain is poorly understood. 
I’m all for self-love. I think it’s imperative, especially when you’re battling a chronic disease. I adore this quote from Daniell Koepke:

A little self-love certainly goes a long way when you’re facing constant pain. Love has extraordinary potential to reduce pain, depression and anxiety. A little self-love can certainly help you find peace in spite of illness and enable you to cope better.
I really do think that I’d physically be feeling much worse if I didn’t make self-care a priority and didn’t work on being kind to myself. Self-love absolutely improves wellbeing but it can’t always fix everything. I am still sick; my body isn’t functioning correctly. And it’s not because of a lack of love. If self-hatred was the cause of my chronic diseases, I would have loved myself well years ago.
Sarah Wilson also believes that she can spot an “auto-immune type”, stating: “They have an intensity about them, a desire to impress. They’re always the ones at the front of my lectures, frantically taking notes. They have an air of ‘I’m not good enough as I am.’”
So a person who prefers to sit up the front and likes to take detailed notes is more likely to be suffering from an autoimmune disease? Let’s get one thing straight: autoimmune disease can affect ANYONE. Just as perfectionists and people pleasers can have an autoimmune disease, so too can the most relaxed and laid back person sitting up the back of a lecture theatre.
I’ve been battling two autoimmune diseases along with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and while I can be a bit of a perfectionist sometimes (more so for my own satisfaction), I don’t have an unhealthy desire to impress people. I certainly do not have an air of ‘I’m not good enough as I am.’ I also hate sitting at the front of lectures and much prefer sitting as far up the back as possible. I don’t “frantically” takes notes, and I think you’ll be hard pressed to find someone with Rheumatoid Arthritis (or any painful illness, really) who does. People also can’t tell that I’m sick just on a quick observation. Often they are shocked to hear how unwell I am.
It’s interesting to note that Sarah’s lectures are heavily based on food, health and wellbeing. She’s all about inspiring healthy eating and promoting the importance of “quitting the white stuff”, so there’s bound to be many people living with an autoimmune disease in attendance.
Newsflash: that’s why they’re always the ones at the front of her lectures! If she was speaking about life on mars and dinosaur fossils there would probably only be the odd few who have an autoimmune disease. Oh, and here’s a thought: perhaps the ones “frantically” taking notes at Sarah’s lectures are doing so because they just genuinely want to improve their nutrition and health?
The theory that certain mannerisms observed in Wilson’s lectures are always indicative of autoimmune disease is flawed. There are people who prefer to sit up the front in lectures so they can see and hear better, while some people simply want to decrease their chances of becoming distracted so they can get the most out of the lecture. Just because someone is attentive and passionate about what they are learning doesn’t necessarily mean they have (or are likely to develop) an autoimmune disease, for goodness sakes.
There are many people who are anxious and are otherwise well. There are many people who constantly feel the need to impress people who are also perfectly healthy. Therefore it’s narrow minded to assume there is an “auto-immune type”.
It’s wrong to lump everyone with an autoimmune disease into the one box and label them.
Wilson concludes the piece reiterating how self-love is the “key”, pointing out that “You can do all the tests, elimination diets and treatments you like, but boil it all down, there’s always a sneaky feeling that it’s more than the gluten or the toxin or the hereditary predisposition.”
She also reflects on why anxiety is responsible for her periods of disease flare-ups, explaining that “The only feeling there, behind the pain and shittiness, is a cringy, self-flagellating, forward-lunging anxiety. It's always there, whatever the flare. The same feeling.”
I don’t concur with all of Sarah Wilson’s viewpoints. I’m not the only one who found some of the presented points absurd. While there were some people who did appreciate her article, many were outraged and turned to social media and blogging to vent.
A writer on mamamia.com.au even discussed their gripe with it in a piece where they deemed Wilson’s comments regarding autoimmune disease to be untrue, unsafe and immoral. They emphasized a very excellent point I feel I’m testament to: “Disease doesn’t care if you are the most self-loving, self-caring person on the planet. It can strike you down at any time for no reason at all.”
Considering Sarah isn’t medically qualified, her piece came across as expert-y and consequently rubbed many people the wrong way. It caused confusion and controversy. While she didn’t actually say that our diseases are all in our heads, her piece implied that they are. I believe that the article simplifies a very complex issue. To myself and others, it read: Hey ladies! The solution is simple – you’ve just got to love yourself more, that’s what the real problem is here.

By referencing Dr Sadeghi, the article has lead a lot of readers to believe that Sarah also believes that self-hatred is the sole reason why women are sick.
It’s okay to say that self-love helps healing but it’s not okay for someone to say that self-loathing causes autoimmune disease in women.
I certainly don’t doubt that a deep-seated unhappiness and self-hatred has the potential to make one sick but directly linking self-hatred to autoimmune disease when self-hatred is not an issue for many women battling disease day in and day out is plain wrong, unhelpful and unsolicited.
I’m not at all surprised that Sarah’s piece got people fired up and left some feeling hurt and angry. I understand the backlash against the article given the angle the topic was written from. Assumptions and generalisations were made and I think that’s what annoyed people. Had it been worded differently many more people probably would have respected it.
In my opinion, I feel the articles would have been better received had Wilson said something like: And so… given my experience, I believe that self-hatred may cause autoimmune disease in some people. I think that constant self-loathing has a much greater impact on health than we realise.
But that wouldn’t get as many people fired up, would it?
If Sarah was self-reflecting and exploring the cause of her own condition it would have been more appropriate for the articles to be titled along the lines of: ‘Could my self-hatred be the real cause of my autoimmune disease?’ and ‘Is self-hatred making me sick?’
That’s not really click-bait though, hey?
I can’t help but wonder if there was an ulterior motive behind Sarah’s piece. While I don’t doubt that what she has shared came from a place of vulnerability, I do, however, feel like it was deliberately ambiguous to encourage debate.
After all, she’s a very clever journalist who knows damn well how to write to evoke an impressive response. News sites probably wouldn’t have republished it if they didn’t think it was going to cause a stir and drive traffic to their site.
The writer on Mamamia even questioned if Wilson was “just making outlandish statements in order to generate a response”, too.
The only reason I read both the original piece and the republished version was because of people’s reactions. It was pure click-bait.
Wilson defended her piece by stating on her blog that she was only posing a question and sharing her personal experience. She has stressed that she was simply pointing out the mind and body connection and that she doesn’t write “vulnerable autoimmune posts as click bait”. She also stated that she doesn’t know why all women get sick and is aware that self-love doesn’t cure autoimmune disease, claiming that in her piece she referred to self-love as a vessel for healing, not a cure for disease. She feels that her piece was taken out of context and believes that people didn’t actually read her original post, taking her message the wrong way and passing unfair judgement.
While some of the criticism Sarah copped was a bit mean spirited and aggressive, I do think that some people’s critiques were warranted. What did she expect? When you support a man who preaches pseudoscience there’s a high chance that people will kick up a stink. You shouldn’t quote a man who believes that self-hatred is at the root of autoimmune disease if that’s not what you are saying.
I read ALL articles for context and perspective. Multiple times, actually. And I didn’t agree with how this topic was tackled.
I am not disputing the connection between mind and body. I am fully aware that our emotions play a huge part in our health and that’s why I take a holistic approach to managing my illnesses. The brain does have a role in pain and I think it is pretty common knowledge that the mind can affect the body. Anxiety, stress and self-loathing will exacerbate autoimmune disease and flare symptoms; this I know. I myself, like Sarah have experienced flare-ups because of stress and anxiety.  If I get upset because of a negative experience I had with a doctor or I have a massive freak out about the future, the fatigue and pain can worsen for days.
Chronic illness is stressful. That is why self-love and good stress and anxiety management is paramount. I have to try and limit the impact of stress and anxiety as much as possible so that I can either prevent a flare-up or at least minimise it. Is stress or anxiety the culprit behind all of my flare-ups, though? No. Often chronic illness means frequent painful flare-ups. There are many factors that can induce a flare. For me it can be factors like overexertion and weather changes. Flare-ups also occur for no apparent reason. Acute episodes of pain, fatigue and inflammation are just a fact of life for those of us living with a chronic disease.
My concern with Wilson’s article is the negative impact it could have. It’s extremely misleading. It could cause people to assume that those who suffer from anxiety must hate themselves when anxiety and self-hatred don’t always go hand in hand. The way the piece was written may lead those living with anxiety disorders, who are otherwise perfectly healthy, to worry that their anxiety will eventually make them chronically ill – and the last thing those battling anxiety need is something more to be worried about. Some women may read it and blame themselves for being sick, and that’s just not healthy. Ignorant people may start assuming that chronic health conditions are psychological. Those of us living with invisible illnesses don’t need that; we have enough trouble as it is getting people to understand that we are in fact physically sick and that our bodies are not functioning correctly.
We also don’t need doctors telling us to go home and love ourselves out of being sick because it’s not possible. I once saw a doctor who dismissed my debilitating headache as a tension headache caused by stress and anxiety. “Women don’t know how to relax”, he told me. “Go home and stop worrying about it and your pain will go away”. It didn’t go away. Turns out the constant pain I was experiencing was nerve pain, which I now manage with medication.
We don’t need more doctors adopting Dr Sadeghi’s stance and palming us off as anxious self-haters – that’s medical negligence. We don’t need more labels. We are not all self-haters.
I am by no means attacking Sarah personally, she seems lovely and has great skin and hair to boot. I do have some respect for the woman. I have been following her popular (and controversial) ‘I Quit Sugar’ diet for over a year now and have benefited greatly from some of the health and dietary advice she shares. Her recipes have changed my life. She has helped me more than some doctors have been able to, and for that I am grateful. I greatly admire her courage, determination and honesty. I take my hat off to people who write about anxiety and chronic disease and share it on the internet, it takes a lot of guts.
The cookbook that has changed my life.

I just think that writers need to tread very carefully when writing about this topic and feel that this particular piece could have been worded better. It wasn’t a wise choice to praise Dr Sadeghi.
There is no denying that love is powerful medicine. I agree that self-love and daily nourishment play an important part in good health and that love can encourage healing, I just don’t agree with how Sarah Wilson relayed the message.
Personally, I think Dr Bernie Siegel said it best when he said “I am convinced that unconditional love is the most powerful known stimulant of the immune system. If I told patients to raise their blood levels of immune globulins or killer T cells, no one would know how. But if I can teach them to love themselves and others fully, the same changes happen automatically. The truth is: love heals.”
What did you think of Sarah Wilson’s article? How did you interpret it? Do you agree or disagree?

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