How to Find Mental Strength When Dealing With Illness and Injury

Inline_Mental_Strength_Illness_Injury_08.31.17However tough, rugged, and badass we might consider ourselves, the fact is none of us is indestructible.

The human body, for the miracle that it is, is vulnerable as well as mortal. Even those of us in perfect health may at some point become injured—with or without the possibility of full recovery. Most of us are down for the count (or moving more slowly) a couple times a year with this or that virus. But even with the best Primal efforts, there are those among us who will go through medical crises. For all of us, age will inevitably diminish some of our faculties (although not how the culture tells us it must).

How we mentally move through these experiences will certainly have a hand in our prognoses, but more importantly it has the power to cultivate a more unconditional resilience.

The history of life itself revolves around the struggle to survive, to fend off, to recover. Remains of our prehistoric ancestors reveal their struggle with broken bones, episodic pestilence, and even (in some cases) long-term disability. Our lot has always been up against the pitfalls of physical existence. Recent generations, I think, had an easier time accepting this truth than we might.

Today we enjoy remarkable medical advancements. We know more about nutrition, fitness, and health than ever (although we’re still waiting for CW to catch up on that front). Although more of the population contends with chronic disease than ever, our perceptions of health have also undergone a curious shift that can isolate disease, injury, or even common illness.

After all, we’re supposed to be too busy, too ambitious, too invincible for a standard sick day.

In a society that jokes, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” and aggrandizes overworking, what does that mean for those who need to spend months if not years (or the rest of their lives) downshifting into a lifestyle that requires them to center life around self-care?

Blame it perhaps on culture and media forces that favor the shiny, happy and distracted over the complex, nuanced, and messy. Troubles aren’t fit for public display. We go away for help. Give us the inspiring comeback story, but the gritty process is best left behind the white curtain, thanks.

It’s a far cry from our ancestral imprint.

While we can and should be grateful for our sophisticated care systems, state-of-the-art facilities, and corrective treatments, they have, to some degree, resulted in disease being more marginalized and people feeling more medicalized. There are exceptions of course—developments that thoughtfully speak back to this trend, that seek to reinstate community, ritual, and even spirituality within health treatment and wellness care. Human story and connection can be profoundly healing forces on their own after all.

I see many people come to the Primal lifestyle with various kinds of illnesses, injuries and disabilities. Some have chronic conditions they’re looking to overcome through lifestyle changes. Others are more interested in a measure of relief or alternative means for enhancing their lives beyond certain personal incapacities (temporary or long-term). A Primal lifestyle has something powerful to offer for all of these intentions.

Regardless of their particular goals, however, many of these folks navigate extra emotional or mental hurdles—short-term or long-term—in moving their health and lives forward. The journey may be more nuanced and profoundly meaningful, as we all witness in MDA success stories. The Blueprint’s promise is just as solid, just as bold in these circumstances: you can make progress in a Primal lifestyle—no matter what your current medical status or physical hardship.

Chronic (but Reversible) Conditions

Whether it’s type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, “high” cholesterol, or a digestive or autoimmune disorder, you may have been told it was a life sentence—and perhaps one that will ultimately take your life. Perhaps you’ve lived with that story, that expectation for years—even decades. Maybe with a standard American diet, reduced activity, psychological stress, or the side effects of multiple prescriptions, your symptoms have worsened over time, and it’s only appeared to confirm the initial prognosis.

But there’s plenty of reason to reclaim hope.

Many of the people in the MDA Success Stories section began their Primal endeavors with exactly the same diagnosis—and prognosis. They were told they would be on medication their entire lives. They heard that their conditions would inevitably worsen with time and perhaps even result in growing complication, illness, and incapacity. Their reality, however, ended up looking much different, thanks to their Primal efforts.

Countless readers have overcome or significantly decreased the burden of these types of conditions with the right changes. And here’s an important point… Reclaiming vitality isn’t a black or white affair. Perfect ideals shouldn’t discourage us from valuing progress. 

Success doesn’t come overnight. It might take some additional care in shaping the Primal eating or fitness ideals to certain immediate needs or limitations. It’s imperative to take your time. Use your intuition and self-attunement to discern what’s a manageable step forward. Get support from those who have been through the process and those who know your story.

Talk to your doctor about your Primal changes, but know you may not get resounding encouragement if he/she thinks in conventional terms. Nonetheless, keep up on your lab testing, learn what additional markers may give you better or more precise information. Consider taking advantage of a consultation with a Primal-friendly physician or a Primal Health Coach, particularly if your condition is advanced.

Bring compassion to the beliefs you once held about your condition even as you leave them behind. All of us know and do the best we can with the information we have available to us at any given time. Make feasible but encouraging short-term goals you feel good about, and keep making them as you surpass each milestone. Actively rewrite your story through journaling, talk therapy, photo albums or other means to follow and demonstrate the efforts and achievements you never believed would be possible again.

Physical Injury, Limitation, or Chronic Pain

It’s probably safe to say that thousands of Primal adherents came to the Primal Blueprint with a history of physical limitation related to injury or disease. For some, physical limitation might be a relatively recent occurrence. For others, it’s been something they’ve lived with for years. This may go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway—because there may be issues of substantive damage, muscle imbalance, decreased flexibility or structural misalignment, get support with an appropriate medical professional, physical therapy provider, or appropriately trained coach.

Remember, even if you can’t do all of the Primal Essential Movements, you will find ways to make your current and developing abilities work for you. Be creative with substitutions and adaptations. Bringing certain exercises to the pool rather than unpaved trails may open up your program and limit strain on joints for example.

Be patient, and work with a series of short-term goals without an over-attachment to a final outcome. Work with the idea of evolving acceptance. Those who live long-term with chronic pain, for example, often share that a certain dimension of surrender relieves the psychological struggle they experience, which can free up energy for physical effort. If nothing else, you aren’t working against yourself. Frustration, especially when we direct it against ourselves, is draining.

Naturally Shifting Abilities

As I’ve written many times in the past, among the boons of a Primal lifestyle is its ability to roll back the common effects we assume are inevitable results of aging. It’s unfortunate that we accept poor health as an inescapable outcome of moving into later decades.

Many of us here offer proof that aging doesn’t have to equate with limited opportunities. Nonetheless, I think some changes are natural to experience. As I say regularly, see what feels fine and what doesn’t. Use your own instinct to target/revise exercise. If your body responds better to more recovery time, let yourself take it. If alternatives to running sprints feel more effective, do those.

You may find that you’re just choosing a slower or more mindful rhythm, and (in keeping with that) different exercises or lifestyle practices appeal that didn’t before. Perhaps you want more time between heavier exercise bouts. The next day you might feel a day’s hike through some area hills more than you used to, or you might take longer to make the same trek. You might not have the same patience for a frenetic schedule or social drama. (Personally, I consider this one of the gifts of later decade living.) You’re more selective in what you give your time and energy to.

In keeping with that, it’s critical to recognize the abilities and capacities we have now that our younger years didn’t offer. We’ve likely grown in self-attunement, in equanimity, in patience, in compassion, in gratitude. We’re more comfortable saying no to what doesn’t serve us. We’re more cognizant of the elements and practices of life that do.

Primal health isn’t about looking a certain way or meeting any given set of criteria. No matter where we’re at in physical health or capacity, the Primal lifestyle offers us a means to enhance the life we have—not to feel we fall short of an ideal.

The ancestral story reminds us that we’re meant to move and progress through life, not feel fixed in place. The Primal story is our story. It’s dynamic, fluid, fluctuating just as we are—each of us from a unique and promising space.

Thanks for stopping by today, everyone. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the comment board. Have a good end to the week.


About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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