A recent podcast of NPR’s Speaking of Faith struck a chord with me. It features an interview with physician and author, Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, who has lived with Crohn’s disease since she was 15 years old. I found the discussion in the podcast to be immensely inspiring, plus it gave me hope. How refreshing it was to learn how Dr. Remen’s experience with battling Crohn’s has actually shaped her as a doctor.
She developed a course called “The Healer’s Art,” which is now taught at universities around the U.S. Students learn that healing and curing are two different types of relationships, while being reminded “of their power to make a difference through their human response and connection to their patients.” My arthritis friends often lament about their doctor’s seemingly inability to understand the psychological and emotional toll that goes hand in hand with a chronic disease. Dr. Remen not only “gets it,” but she offers some amazing wisdom to boot: Dr. Remen:
“Most people try to hold on to the thing that is no longer part of their lives, and they stop themselves in their lives in that way. I have come to see loss as a stage in a process. It’s not the bottom line. It’s not the end of the story. What happens next is very, very important. And, you know, people respond to losses in different ways. When I first became ill, I was enraged. I hated all the well people. I felt that I was a victim and this was unfair. Right? I was angry for about 10 years. I think all of that anger was my will to live expressed in a very negative way. And people often are angry in the setting of a terrible loss. They often feel envious of other people, and this is a starting place. But over time things evolve and change.
And at the very least, people who have lost a great deal can recognize that they are not victims, they are survivors. They are people who have found the strength to move through something unimaginable to them, perhaps, in the past. And just asking people that question, ‘You have suffered a really deep loss. What have you called upon for your strength?’ Most people haven’t even noticed their strength. They’re completely focused on their pain.“