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By Julia Gumm

?It’s all in your head.

That can be a really devastating thing to hear when you feel sick, especially from a loved one or a physician. After all, how can something you feel so viscerally- chronic pain, migraines, joint aches, even visible skin irritations- be all in your head? These symptoms are all over your body after all, and besides, it’s not like you wake up in the morning saying ??Gee, I wonder how awful I can will my headache to be today! Could I go for a cluster this time?! Let’s hope my liver can handle all the Excedrin I’m gonna hit it with! Go me!

When someone tells you your pain or illness is all in your head, it’s actually pretty insulting. There’s a ?just? implied in that sentence, right before or replacing the ?all,? spoken or not, and it minimizes the seriousness of your discomfort. At it’s best, it’s seems to be a suggestion steeped in the mystical. A possession of sorts?bad spirits have entered your soul through a portal of energetic weakness and are now wreaking havoc all over your body, pinching all the wrong nerves and sitting like a brick in your bloated belly. At it’s worst, you’re being called a neurotic basket case, a hypochondriac milking your misery for all that it’s worth. Either way, what you’re feeling isn’t “real” because the cause of it isn’t tangible or quantifiable in a way we comfortably understand.

Neither diagnosis is especially flattering, nor do they offer much in the way of hope for a recovery. The treatment is usually a chuck on the chin, a slap on the back, a suggestion to take a vacation and a well-meaning ‘snap out of it!”

See, the trouble with how we interpret ‘the words ?it’s all in your head? lies in the dim view we take of the brain and it’s capabilities. We think of it as a big grey lump of gobbledeegook, kinda buzzing along, keeping the involuntary functions going, following direct commands, daydreaming, and when utilized to it’s full potential, inventing marvels like the Shamwow.

We tend to think that our conscious intentions are the only operations being carried out by the control room. And who the hell would consciously order the brain to invent a headache or backache or something more extreme? What kind of nutcase masochists would we be to do that?

Interestingly, as a child, I suffered from a recurring illness. Doctors weren’t sure what it was, but my mother, the high priestess of healing, called it ?Schoolitis. And like Chicken Pox to Shingles, there is an adult version of this disease that is far more painful and difficult to beat- ?Workitis. I’ve experienced nausea, headache, cramps, sore throat, heartburn, hives, constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, panic attack, muscle aches, joint pain and extreme fatigue- all in anticipation of returning to school after a long weekend, or going to a job that I HATE, but have to go to anyway because, hey, we all got a mortgage.

So I had physical symptoms, honest to god sickness and pain, all brought on by just knowing I was on the eve of doing something that I didn’t want to do. That’s how powerful the brain is. How many of us do things in our daily lives that we don’t particularly enjoy? As a kid, it’s easy to understand the issue. School sucks and tomorrow is Monday and son of a gun, my tummy hurts. As an adult, we aren’t as aware of our true feelings. Our instinctual reactions are hidden beneath thick layers of sediment, things like duty, commitment, necessity, love, expectation, need to belong, etc.

But those feelings are still there. Just because you aren’t acknowledging them or feeding the data consciously to your nerves, they’re bound to bubble up somewhere. Perhaps as a pain in the neck. Or maybe you’ll become a tight ass. Sayings like these are interesting because they come from somewhere, you know. We didn’t just pull ?em out of our tight asses. People who are very tense or stressed often develop neck pain that radiates into the shoulders. I know I do. And according to massage therapists and energy medicine practitioners, folks who are unable to let go of themselves and be vulnerable in their lives, quite literally develop tight asses. Not the sexy kind, but the kind where you’re too uncomfortable to relax so you clench the hell out of your butt cheeks, conscious of it or not.

Tight ass can lead to other pelvic pain, as well as lower back pain. Trouble in the body doesn’t exist in a vacuum, you mess one thing up and it’s going to cause reactions up and down the line. So theoretically, you could be in a relationship that you’re not quite comfortable with and bam- you got yourself a walloping case of Tight Ass, which leads to back pain which leads to headache which leads to fatigue which leads to you sick in bed wondering what the hell the problem is. It happens. Your body is often telling you things that you aren’t consciously letting yourself know. It’s smart to listen.

There’s a whole host of these kooky old sayings that seem to have some actual root in corresponding bodily functions. The word ?gall? is defined as ?a cause or state of exasperation? or ‘something bitter to endure. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, a gallbladder attack or gallstones are caused by built up anger and resentments. Or perhaps, ?a state of exasperation.

Jealousy, an emotion connected to the liver in TCM, can cause one to be ?green with envy. The liver produces bile, which is of course, green. In Indian Ayurvedic medicine, the liver is the seat of ?Pitta,? one of the three ?Doshas? or temperaments. Envy is a Pitta emotion. See what I’m sayin??

Ah, this is all just a bunch of hocus-pocus, right? Well, I’m not so sure, and it’s something I intend to explore more deeply here. I think this subtle language of the body is a helpful place to look towards the next time you feel out of whack and go searching for answers. I have no doubt that there are elements to the function of the body that can’t be explained and cured by the very direct, mechanistic way modern medical science approaches healing. Just because a problem doesn’t show up in a blood test doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I’m reminded of an old Star Trek episode where Spock’s tricorder picks up no life form reading, yet right in front of him, moves a living creature. Spock’s tricorder can only detect what it’s
programmed to understand. The life form he discovered was silicon based, not carbon based, so according to that piece of high-tech, 23rd century machinery (despite looking like it came from a bargain prop box in the 1960’s), that life form simply did not exist. (Bonus points to whoever can identify the name of the episode in question.) Likewise, if you expand your programming, if you become sensitive to signals the body is producing that aren’t showing up on the exam table, you will have a better chance of understanding what’s going on with yourself, and giving it the attention it needs.

If you feel like garbage and after ruling all else out, your doctor tells you it’s all in your head, don’t get insulted. See it as a clue. Perhaps there are feelings inside of you that you aren’t honoring and your body is giving you the heads up. So often we are encouraged to ‘suck it up? when it comes to discomfort. Like a cartoon boat springing a leak, you can try and plug it up all you want, but the pressure of the water will force it’s way in somehow or other. Headaches before seeing someone, bellyaching? about the job that’s giving you bellyaches, these are all clues that something is amiss. Instead of trying to squash your pain, try understanding the root. It takes bravery, but you might dig up some interesting stuff and feel much better for it.