The Phoenix Zine

Mind-Body Disconnection

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It begins with a fairy tale.

Once upon a time there was a kingdom ruled by two kings.  The kings worked together in harmony, always consulting with each other before making decisions and new laws for their kingdom.

Although the kings themselves were peaceful, the kingdom was not, and in a short time an insurgency rose up to challenge the reign of the kings.

King Kegan was a thinker while King Clancy was a warrior.  Their diverse views balanced each other and enabled them to make wise decisions as a result.  When the insurgents rose up however, it was clear that the survival of the kingdom rested on the shoulders of King Clancy, and he promptly raised an army to fight.

The battle raged for years, with the kingdom almost being lost several times.  Eventually most of the insurgents were forced into exile in another country.

But the years of battle had taken their toll on the once amicable relationship of the two kings.  King Kegan had been badly frightened by the war and blamed King Clancy for it.  He resolved never again to allow the kingdom to be ruled by brawn, and promptly had King Clancy removed from his position of power and placed in a dungeon.

King Kegan became a dictator to be feared, forcing King Clancy to work from his cell without complaint, as complaining only strengthened King Kegan’s resolve.

Many years passed this way.  The kingdom seemed to be thriving and the insurgents kept at bay.  But after so many years King Kegan began to regret his harsh actions.  He longed to release King Clancy from his imprisonment, but did not know how to even begin to mend their friendship.

The insurgency rose again and King Kegan was urged to free King Clancy for the sake of the kingdom.  King Clancy resumed his command and conquered the insurgents once again.

When the battle was over and the insurgents exiled, King Clancy refused to go back to the dungeon.  King Kegan’s dictatorship ended, and King Clancy ruled with an iron fist.  Although King Kegan was not imprisoned, all of his decisions were reviewed by King Clancy who reserved the right to veto them without further discussion.  Both kings knew this was not the best way to run a kingdom, but after all they had been through, neither knew how to reconnect as joint rulers once more.

At times, I feel like my mind is King Kegan and my body is King Clancy.  When I was a baby, I figure my mind and my body must have agreed and worked together to achieve their goals.  Simplistic goals perhaps, such as grabbing a ball or drinking from a cup, but mutually achieved goals nonetheless.

Once the liver failure started, it was like there was no mind.  All that mattered was physical survival.  My body took over and endured.  When the crisis was over, my mind, badly shaken by facing death, decided it was going to be in control.  No more dealing with the nonsense of what my body did or did not want to do, it would be conquered and subdued.

And for a long time, it worked.  My mind was talented at getting my body to do its’ bidding.  Even when my body protested, my mind was still skilled at pushing my body just a little bit beyond its’ limits.

Heart failure proved to be beyond my mind’s control though.  My body was once again called to fight for survival, and did so successfully.  But while my mind intended to go back to its’ position of leadership, my body had other ideas. 

As a result there are two voices conversing in my head on a daily basis.  One voice represents my mind; the things I want to do.  The other voice represents my body; the things I can do.

I went out for lunch today and the conversation went like this:

Mind: Ah, wonderful.  I’m out for lunch and life is pretty good.  Time to eat and hang out with my friends.  Body, what would you like to eat?

Body: Eat?  Are you kidding me?  Do you want me to be sick?  You know our drugs make me nauseous.

Mind: I can’t have lunch without lunch.  Everyone’s going to think I’m sick or anorexic.  You’ll just have to force something down.

Body: Forget it, it’s not happening.

End of conversation.  I got a drink and no food, because that’s all my stomach could handle.

Maybe it’s naive, but I actually thought the heart transplant would solve the mind-body disconnection.  After the transplant, I believed my body would finally work the way it was supposed to, but I came to realise that healing this disconnection is not the job of my new organ, it’s my job.  Connection comes from respecting that I am both mind and body, not just one or the other.  Respect means paying attention to the needs of both, and doing my best to accommodate them.  An example of a co-operative conversation between my mind and body would be as follows:

Body:  Can’t walk any further; legs are going to give out.

Mind:  Well, I was hoping to walk to that store and go shopping, but let’s take a break, get a drink and sit down.  Then we’ll reassess.

As opposed to what usually happens:

Body:  Can’t walk any further; legs are going to give out.

Mind:  Concentrate, I know you can go further.  I want to go shopping.

Body:  Seriously, if we try to keep walking we’re going to end up on the floor.

Mind: I’m sure you’re exaggerating.

I know what co-operation looks like between my mind and my body.  I know it requires acceptance and understanding, and I know even the thought of it drives me crazy.  I don’t want to make accommodations for my body, I want it to do what I want it to do.  Not what it can do.  That is unacceptable to me.  I call my body stubborn, but my mind is equally so.  And being caught in the middle between two stubborn entities is not a fun place to be. 

Because part of it is about feeling like my body needs to be conquered because of my illness.  Being the master of my own destiny, mind over matter or some other cliche like that.  I admire it in others, and I strive for it myself, but at the same time I wonder: Is this what life is supposed to be like?  Constantly fighting myself and my reality?

I don’t think so.  When I get a glimpse of my mind and body connecting and working together for the same purpose, the feeling is pure bliss.  Most often that feeling comes when I’m working with my hands: knitting, drawing, painting or crocheting.  Being able to achieve with my body what is in my mind is a high I don’t often experience in other parts of my life.  And the days when my mind wants to go somewhere and my body complies without complaint or pain are the days I love best.  Free, loose, ambling limbs – I dream about them, and the dream keeps me going on the days when they are sluggish, aching and downright irritating.

If I really am meant to battle my body into submission with my mind, I don’t think the times when my mind and body connect would feel so incredible.  For me, I don’t think it is about submission, I think it’s about working with what I have.

2 Comments

  1. Amy,
    I have chronic epilepsy, but the drugs I take manage it very well, unless something unusual happens, like being exhausted from meetings and visits six years ago and taking two drinks at a bar, when I’m not really supposed to drink any alcohol. I lost consciousness walking out of the bar, and when I woke up I was strapped to some kind of trolley, and I couldn’t move my body. I thought “Is this what it’s going to be like when I’m really old?”
    Luckily for me, a friend had gone to the hospital with me. As I realized I was being restrained, I asked my friend if it would be possible for my legs to be released. He asked the medical attendant, who agreed, and my legs were released.
    I suppose that being strapped down like that must be something like the way your body feels to you — not possible for your mind to make it do the things you want.

  2. Hey Amy,
    This is an very insightful essay. Up till now, I really didn’t how much of a struggle it is. Thank you for your raw and honest discussion about your life.

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