The Path to Chronic Illness

This morning, I was reviewing some notes from a Lyme disease conference that I attended last year, and was struck by something that one of the doctors shared at the conference. I guess it’s because what he shared is similar to a theory that I’ve believed for a long time, which is that Lyme disease, and many other chronic illnesses, aren’t caused by infections – rather, the infections are the result of a body that’s been broken down by stress.

This may not be true for everyone, but I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard about people that have gotten sick from Lyme during an intense time of stress.  That stress can be from environmental toxicity, a bad diet, or a harried lifestyle, but more often,  it is the result of prolonged emotional stress.

According to this doctor, prolonged stress causes the sympathetic nervous system, or the body’s fight-or-flight system, to activate and remain activated.  This causes the neuroendocrine (or hormonal and neurological systems) to de-regulate, which then causes problems in the GI tract, which then causes problems in all systems and organs of the body. A weakened body then becomes hospitable to infections and toxins. Therefore, toxins and infections are the result of stress, but the terrible catch-22 is that toxins and infections then add to the stress that was already there before.

The sympathetic nervous system is designed to save us when faced with a strong threat or fear- but it isn’t meant to be continually activated. Continual activation of the fight-or-flight response, even if it is a low-grade activation, suppresses the immune system and gastrointestinal function, making us hospitable hosts for infection.

Unfortunately, the hurried, harried and isolated lives that many of us in the West (and especially in the United States) live, means that our sympathetic nervous systems are continually activated.

Perhaps even more damaging, however, is when we live in fight or flight mode, because of habitual patterns of harmful thinking and beliefs that were embedded into our limbic systems as a result of PTSD or trauma. Early-life trauma is especially damaging. Some examples of beliefs and emotions that result from trauma include fears of abandonment, rejection and not being able to survive in the world.

Lee Cowden, MD and Recall Healing practitioner Gilbert Renaud have linked the development of Lyme disease to a conflict of separation, or abandonment. In other words- lots of folks with Lyme disease have had the disease process triggered by a situation of abandonment, or an early life abandonment, the emotions of which were reactivated later in life and acted as a trigger for symptoms.

I don’t know how often this is true, but I agree with the theory that chronic illness is often triggered by perpetual sympathetic nervous system activation. Or said more simply- FEAR.

Getting sick only adds fuel to the fire of fear, as when your ability to function and provide for yourself becomes compromised, many new fears enter the picture.

I believe this may be one reason why some people with chronic illness struggle to recover. Healing happens when the body is in relaxation mode, but Lyme disease (or any chronic illness for that matter) tends to perpetuate and magnify the stressors that initially caused the illness.

So what do you do, if you find yourself in this sinking boat?

Well…you go after the end products of the stress, and eliminate the toxins and the infections, but you can’t stop there. You’ve got to go after the initial cause(s) of stress.

I’ll tell you what I have done, and what I still do. I pray, and I ask God to show me the emotional conflict(s) behind the stressors that were the trigger for living in “fight or flight.” Sometimes there are more than just a few, but usually, there is a relatively small core set of beliefs that keep the body in fear mode.

I then pray, and ask God to heal me of the lie-based thinking, or the beliefs that led me to live in a state of low-grade anxiety, or outright fear. I then work on replacing the lie-based beliefs with affirmations of truth, and practicing mindfulness of my thoughts as I go about my day.  The patterns of belief and thought are usually deeply embedded in the limbic system and the cellular memory, which is why I ask for God’s supernatural hand to remove the programming from my DNA, and to help me re-wire my thoughts. I don’t think it’s something that most of us can do by willpower alone. We need Him to literally re-wire our belief systems, and feed His thoughts into our minds.

It sure isn’t an overnight thing. I speak from experience. But it is worth the effort, as God promises to heal us, as we seek Him and acknowledge Him in all our ways.  (Proverbs 3: 5-6). And knowing that we don’t have to do it alone- that it is He who works in us to will and to do (Phil 2:13) relieves any pressure on us to perform- another factor that feeds fear.

Sometimes, when life gets hard, I have to get off my computer, turn off my phone, and spend hours, or even days, in the presence of God. It’s the only way I can get out of “fight or flight” mode, and when I do, I return to the demands of life with a greater sense of peace.  And it works. Twelve years ago, I suffered from such a terrible anxiety disorder that it was as if someone were holding a gun to my head 24-7. I lived in constant fear of dying of a heart attack. I even went to the ER once for a relentless panic attack.

Today, I no longer suffer from that kind of fear. I don’t have panic or irrational fears. I still battle to not live in fight or flight, because a lifetime of harmful programming often takes years to undo, and the pressures of society and work lend themselves to SNS dominance. But when I spend enough time in the presence of God, my mind rests, and with that, my body.

If you haven’t been healed by herbals, drugs, vitamins or other remedies, I encourage you to seek God for wisdom about any potential emotional conflicts behind your symptoms, and for the power and ability and wisdom and discernment to resolve those. This can help bring your body into a state of rest, so that you can experience deeper healing.