Last month, in The Stages of Grief in Lyme Disease, I wrote about how I finally found acceptance in dealing with chronic Lyme disease and how it had changed my life. In some ways, I accepted what had befallen me because I saw a few signs that I was progressing, but what also helped me to cope were my religion and/or spirituality. I truly feel that my beliefs and spirituality helped me to attain 110% wellness at one point at which most doctors in 2002 would have said was unheard of. In many ways, I was left with the thought that I had to accept my fate of barely being able to walk without assistance, loss of night vision, and to learn to live with all the nerve pain and limitations that came as a result of the damage to my central and peripheral nervous systems from Lyme disease and the coinfections of Babesia and Bartonella. Spirituality played an important role in the how I faced my chronic illness, suffering, and loss.
Don’t get me wrong: I went through the usual doubts and questions that many of those dealing with chronic Lyme disease are going through or have gone through. During these times of anger, not only was I angry at the doctors and myself, but I was also angry with God. Often, I caught myself wondering why I was being punished by God with this insidious disease (and I had many other thoughts along those lines!). After all, we’re only human. It wasn’t until I let go of this anger and embraced my religion and spirituality that I felt I saw the most improvement in my body and soul.
As my physical health improved, my faith and spirituality also grew. Ultimately, I feel they had a dramatic effect upon the state of my health. My hope improved and instilled optimism and helped me to cope with the most difficult days and nights. I noticed that I didn’t feel so isolated and alone, had fewer feelings of doom and gloom, and I began feeling more relaxed. I found comfort in my religion: reading certain passages gave me solace and strength. It also helped me accept whatever fate was bestowed upon me.
There have been several studies on the relationship between health and spirituality/religion and how it has helped those with chronic and terminal illnesses. One study showed that those with AIDS had a much better chance of surviving longer than those that did not have a belief system or spirituality in their lives. Another study “found that patients with cancer who had high levels of spiritual well-being reported more enjoyment in life, and higher levels of meaning and peace, even in the midst of cancer-related symptoms such as fatigue or pain.” Other studies have shown that those with strong spirituality and/or religion heal faster from surgery, have lower blood pressure, and are less prone to anxiousness and depression. In addition, those with illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis also cope better and accept what they have been dealt with fare better than those that do not.
On the flip side, there are still some that still believe religious beliefs can be harmful. Some believe that religious beliefs can encourage lowered self-worth, guilt, and fear. Some feel that physicians should avoid promotion of spiritual practices because it is considered inappropriate or intrusive and can cause harm to the wellbeing of their patients. Those that have this belief also point out that there is no guarantee that spirituality will promote good health. And, of course, some feel that it is a huge risk if people substitute prayer for the necessary medical care or treatment that is required for their illness.
I’m not religious: How do I get through it?
Often, spirituality is associated with religion. However, it doesn’t have to be. I grew up in a family where religion was part of my upbringing, and it instilled hope and promise; but, often, those that deal with chronic Lyme disease lose their relationship with their religion or seek out other means of spirituality. Spirituality can be about a belief that there is a power greater than oneself; that there is a higher being or an awareness of the meaning of life or that all living creatures are connected somehow. Thus, some find peace, comfort or hope through things such as music, meditation, or altruism, selflessness and compassion for others. Spirituality can also be expressed as the “inner life of a person.”
Despite the controversy that still remains about the impact of spirituality and religion and its role within the medical field, some scientists feel it is worthwhile to focus on the validity and connection between spirituality and health. With the supportive evidence that spirituality plays an important part in healing and wellbeing, more and more patients that suffer chronic illness, such as chronic Lyme disease are incorporating spirituality into their daily health regimen in the hope of improving their health and wellbeing. In addition, more medical schools are including spiritual teachings in their curricula.
In embracing my religion, I learned that my faith in God, my inner peace, and empathy toward others was a contributing factor to the improvement of my health. At a time when I lost faith in medical treatments for my illness and not being able to get all the answers that I needed, I found that acceptance, forgiveness, hope and faith seemed to have a positive effect on my health and healing.
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Ultimately, if you have been very ill and have lost all hope and faith in the medical system and have come to a standstill in your treatment, you may want to consider adding spirituality into your life, as well as things such as forgiveness, hope, faith and/or social support and prayer. Adding spirituality may help you to get through it. Whenever I feel alone or begin to lose hope, I look to these lines: “You’ll get through this. It won’t be painless. It won’t be quick. But God will use this mess for good. In the meantime, don’t be foolish or naïve. But don’t despair, either. With God’s help, you’ll get through this.”
Do What’s Best for You
In a nutshell, it seems that those that have added spirituality into their lives, live longer, cope with what life has thrown at them better, have enhanced recovery from illness and/or surgery and improved health outcomes. Do what is best for you to help you get through it!
1. Ironson, G. and Stuetzle, R. Fletcher, M. An Increase in Religiousness/Spirituality Occurs After HIV Diagnosis and Predicts Slower Disease Progression over 4 Years in People with HIV (2006 Dec 21). J Gen Intern Med. (Suppl 5): S62–S68. doi: 10.1111/j.1525-1497.2006.00648.x Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1924782/
2. Testimony before the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, Committee on Appropriations, United States Senate, Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Request, Statement of Harold Varmus, MD, Director, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Wednesday, May 11. (8 November 2011). Retrieved from http://www.cancer.gov/about-nci/legislative/hearings
3. Puchalski, C. The Role of Spirituality in Health Care (14 Oct 2001). Proc (Bayl Univ Med Cent): 352–357. PMCID: PMC1305900 Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1305900/
Lydia Niederwerfer is a Lyme disease survivor, a freelance blogger, founder of Lyme-Aware.org, and is passionate about spreading awareness of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. She is a devoted wife, loving sister, and inspires many of her friends and fellow Lyme Warriors. She also shares the trials and triumphs she has experienced in her journey with Lyme disease on her blog at Lyme-Aware.org. Lydia has a B.A. in Business Administration, majoring in finance and works within her area school district.