By Suma Varughese
Suma Varughese shares her healing journeys through the clutches of asthma and irritable bowel syndrome, and the lessons it held for her
It has been a long time since I really enjoyed robust health (the idea of being healthy was destroyed for me when I was about 28 or so and came down with TB). While I recovered fully from it, I never quite recovered from my belief that I was somewhat fragile. It did not help that in 1991 when I was about 33, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which fortunately has remained inactive for the largest part.
But my health really began to skydive soon after I took over as editor of Life Positive magazine in January 2005. As long as I was not handling the production of the magazine, and was only writing articles, I maintained a fairly balanced lifestyle, but now with the responsibility of closing the issue every 18th of the month, with not much editorial help, I found myself adopting the very worst habits of the corporate world – working late, eating unwholesome snacks in the evening, having dinner around 11 pm and crashing into bed soon after, waking up late next morning, and straggling in to work. Add to that the enormous stress of the job, and it is no wonder that one short year later, I had contracted asthma.
The alternative route
Almost from the beginning allopathy did not work. Neither tablets nor inhalers helped me, which was a blessing in disguise. Until then, although I did not believe in allopathy, I used to take refuge in it, for the simple reason that I did not believe I had the self-control to go for alternative measures. Fortuitously, I was given the number of an acupuncture doctor in Jaipur called Dr Nagpal who, I was told, was able to heal asthma. Clutching at the straw, off I went to Jaipur. The doctor had a unique approach to asthma. He would insert a catgut stitch in the region of the chest which would melt in about 20 days. In the meantime, it had the same potency as an acupuncture needle would, if inserted 24X7, for 20 days. One had to return to the doctor in successive periods of two months after the first stitch, then three months, six months, and finally a year.
Although my first exposure was not very encouraging, I subsequently began to show improvements. Except for two attacks, I never really had a crisis, but I was susceptible to constant colds and sinus inflammations which invariably resulted in chest congestions. Around the same time, I also decided to shift to ayurveda, for it was clear to me that the triggers for my asthma were essentially food items. My ayurvedic vaidya banned wheat and milk, non vegetarian food, cold food, sour food and most fruits, as well as gas-giving vegetables like cauliflower and cabbage. I was put on the lightest possible diet, and its effect showed up in better health. Although I lost quantities of weight and began to look quite waif-like, at least my colds and coughs did reduce in frequency.
At the same time, contracting the asthma triggered off a frenzy of fear. For several years I had been trying to overcome my food vasana, but I was far from there, and knowing that I could not control what I ate filled me with fear and unsafety, because now if I ate the wrong thing I was actually risking an asthma attack. All this probably added to my condition (Louise L Hay in fact attributes asthma to a sense of unsafety).
There was so much uneasiness around food for me, and I was so out of control, that I had been suffering from stomach problems for several years.
In May 2012, it all climaxed into an inexorable condition, where the stomach refused to be appeased. I was unable to digest any food except the very simplest. If I stepped out of line by even a morsel, I could expect days of discomfort and the inability to eat anything.
I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome after all kinds of invasive tests had fortunately ruled out anything more serious. My weight plummeted, and I was distraught. I knew that this was a karmic condition brought on due to my food addiction, and the only way to heal myself of this condition was to work on my mind. Because once again this ailment brought to the fore my tendency to swivel into a vortex of fear.
The worst possible part of the condition was that no treatment would work for more than a month. I found myself yo-yoing from cure to cure with no discernible guidance. Had God deserted me? Those were indeed some of my sharpest days of anguish ever, and I often wished for death. Meanwhile, I went through wheat grass therapy, ayurveda of two kinds, acupressure of two kinds, naturopathy, spiritual healing, pranic healing, and finally homeopathy.
Through it all, I worked steadily on my mind. It came to me that this illness had actually come to heal me of my mind stuff, and to help me vault over my emotions and thoughts. Fortunately, I soon began to receive a succession of insights that helped me in that task. The first significant one was an understanding of the unity that lay beneath the duality of health and sickness, acceptance and resisteance and so on. I realised that it was the mind’s tendency to want one and reject the other that created the division, otherwise they were one. This helped me to accept my negativities with greater grace.
A few months later during Guru Purnima, in 2013, I was afforded the insight that focusing on my breath was my next spiritual practice, and it would eventually heal me. Indeed, I found that focusing on the breath, taking it deep within me, helped me to relax and that was helping my gut function.
A few months later, I made another significant breathrough when I reached a state of mind where I could experience that nothing was a big deal, not even the IBS. That insight helped me void a great deal of my anxiety and worry. No matter what fear or worry invaded my mind, I would respond, it’s no big deal, and wonderfully enough, it would retreat, knowing when it had been routed.
There were various other insights that came my way, and each time they helped me to go beyond the inefficacy of the latest therapy, and help me become better. It was clear to me that far more than any therapy, this ailment would be healed only by my own mind, and my capacity to love and forgive myself, and to be there for myself. Of late, I am finally finding myself on my own side. No matter what I am feeling or thinking, I tell myself that it is okay to have it and I invite myself to rest in my sacred and perfect self. Each time, I do this, I can feel myself relax.
The journey is far from over and I am still a work in process, but if I were to look back on the road that my illnesses have led me for the last few years, the feeling is of pure gratitude. Through this journey, I have learnt immense amounts of self-control, I have acquired a much higher tolerance for discomfort and resistance, and I am far more at peace with myself. I am in much greater sync with my body and I love and adore it for having been so willing to change and heal. Even my food vasana is abating, though it has not fully gone. If I were to distil my understanding it is this: Who I am is perfect health, and everything else is irrelevant.
I am sure, God willing, that I will see the day when that will indeed become my reality.