It's no secret--stress kills.
Even so, prior to reading The Last Best Cure: My Quest to Awaken the Healing Parts of My Brain and Get Back My Body, My Joy, and My Life, I thought stress, like my love of French fries, would manifest in problems later in life. At only 35 years old, how could stress be the cause of my autoimmunity and a serious relapse of Lyme disease?
The answer is in Donna Jackson Nakazawa's important book. It's about the science behind "psychoneuroimmunology" or PNI for short. This is an exciting discovery about the connection between the nervous system and immune system. Basically, emotional stress suppresses the immune system and may trigger chronic disease.
The Last Best Cure chronicles Donna Jackson Nakazawa's very personal story about the stress of childhood trauma leading to a potentially deadly autoimmune response in her body.
As you read on, you will see this isn't a typical book review. This is a review of how this book changed my life.
Reading the introduction to this book, I felt like Donna was speaking directly to me. Like Donna, I experienced daily fear that my body would continue to attack itself to the point where I, to put in bluntly, would either be gravely disabled or I would die.
At age 29, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune thyroid disorder called Grave's Disease. Then, at age 33, an autoimmune spine disorder called Anklosing Spondylitis. Then, at 34 I was finally diagnosed with Lyme disease. In December of 2014, coinciding with a period of extreme emotional stress, I found out my immune response started attacking a different part of my spine and the soft tissue in my back. This type of response baffled my doctors and introduced me to the growing population of people with autoimmune responses which don't fit into the disease boxes conventional medicine has developed.
I imagine others in this box feel similar to how I felt, confused and scared. If in 2016 we can create a bionic hand that is controlled by the brain, why can't they figure out what is wrong with me and, furthermore, why can't they fix it? I related to Donna's experience of living in constant "fight or flight."
Donna made herself into her own personal science experiment. Changing nothing else, but practicing mind body techniques she changed the disease process in her body. She practiced mindfulness meditation and yoga, and also received acupuncture.
I use the ideas presented in this book on a daily basis trying to keep my autonomic nervous system in check. How truly amazing the human mind really is. What a gift—consciousness--and the ability to fully experience this life.
The quote at the bottom of this post really spoke to me in relation to the discoveries I had in reading The Last Best Cure: "If you woke up tomorrow and your biggest problem was gone, how would you know? What would you do differently?"
How would I know? I would be able to live in the moment most of the time. As was Donna's goal, I would reclaim my joy.
What would I do differently? Well, that really has been the lesson in all this.
Donna talks about how when you feel "bad" physically you lose your sense of self, because in one or many ways you feel broken, defective. Now I know I am simply person with a misfiring immune system. To regain my sense of self, I must learn to trust myself.
This realization in relations to the question: "What would I do differently?" or to rephrase the question "How will I rediscover my sense of self" is going to change my life.
Here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to go out and engage with this wild, magnificent world we live in.
Please read this book. It's for everyone. Anyone who has been diagnosed with a chronic illness, anyone who loves someone with a chronic illness, anyone who experienced childhood trauma, anyone with anxiety or depression, anyone who wants to feel better, anyone who wants to be inspired.
I feel like a new purpose is unfolding in front of me. What if I can find my joy? And what if I can help others find the same?
Next up is reading hew new book, Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal:
"If you woke up tomorrow and your biggest problem was gone, how would you know? What would you do differently?" - Unknown
I'm Kerry (She/Her/Hers) and I am a licensed therapist, writer & speaker. This is a positive space focused on how to thrive in any situation and the transformative power of suffering.