When I was in high school, maybe junior high, my father took a self-improvement course that nearly cost his children their sanity…the Dale Carnegie Course of Self-Improvement. It was, at the time, all the rage for corporate success; i.e., how to make more money for the corporation. Dale Carnegie was the developer of courses in self-improvement, salesmanship, corporate training, public speaking, and interpersonal skills.( Wikipedia)
When I look at his ten principles online today, none of them resonate. What became my father’s mantra is what sticks in my craw …Act enthusiastic and you will be enthusiastic. He touted this (enthusiastically) every morning as he headed out the door, and drilled it into the heads of his three kids who enthusiastically wished he would just go to work, and stop staying that! Yet Dale Carnegie was the first purveyor of woo-woo on my life.
Many would say I have maintained my sanity throughout my life via woo-woo. My longtime employer, a physician, used to say I was the world’s least compliant patient; which I saw as a badge of honor. Never one to accept a diagnosis of most anything, I would do my own research until I could figure out the cause of said ailment and do everything I could to change the behavior that might possibly change the outcome. And most changes I made did affect the outcome; which of course lead me to the fine art of woo-woo. Woo woo being the name the non-believers attach to any theory that is not scientifically or medically proven; which could lead to a whole ‘nother post about the influences of the AMA on American medicine.
For 25 years before I took up quilting, I was a hand-weaver. I like to joke that I became a quilter when I discovered I could buy cloth already woven! And as I sat at the massive floor loom weaving cloth, I watched TV or listened to the radio, and to the various gurus of the time…Oprah, Dr. Phil, Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Brene Brown, Andrew Weill, Melodie Beattie, John McDougall, Eckhart Tolle, etc etc etc.
My inner growth came from listening to all these experts tout their various theories on everything from soup to nuts. To prove this, I designed Inner Growth, number 18 in the Defining Moments series which exemplifies the wealth of knowledge I acquired while weaving and knitting. All the leaves on the tree are designed from remnants of my woven, felted or knit cloth.
So fast forward to 2015 and returning home from taking my husband for a corneal transplant. After being instructed about how to keep a good man down for a month, with 3x daily eyedrops & inability to drive; and knowing full well he was not going to follow directions or cooperate, the stress got me; in the back of the grocery store, where I had stopped to just pick up a couple things.
As I walked to the back of the store, my right knee started to feel weird. Having had already been replaced, the feeling was indeed puzzling. At first it felt numb, then burning pain, then it literally froze and could not be bent. I left the store lurching onto the shopping cart, screaming in pain.
I called my uncle & cousin to meet me at the store & drive my car with hubs in it, home; and to also take me home. They did so. I could hardly walk the two steps into the house, or get set up to ice it.
It ‘flared’ for over two weeks. Every time it started to subside, I would throw fear at it and it would revive. I tried everything and finally went to the doctor when my own ingenuity failed. Over a year of tests, exams, and painful fluid-draining all proved fruitless. There was seemingly no cause for this weird, debilitating and painful knee pain. I read everything I could get my hands on about the pain-body. Nothing made a difference. The more I worried about it, the worse it got. The pain consumed my every thought. Every art reception, every social engagement, I worried that the knee would fail me, and it did, just like that. I was essentially creating my reality, without realizing it.
Finally…a friend suggested a book about the mind-body….titled The MindBody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain by John Sarno, M.D. I bought the book, and it changed my life. Essentially he believes that we all have repressed anger and rage from our childhood, which manifests as pain in the body. Within a day of starting the book, the undiagnosed, weird, debilitating and painful knee pain stopped. It just stopped…after 14 months of trying everything! It took several days to completely reverse as inflammation does, but it stopped. And it stopped for 7 years. I adopted a mantra of ‘this moment.’ Anytime I started to fret, I just thought ‘this moment’ and calmed myself down.
So fast forward again to 2023, when I had a regularly scheduled (5 yr) colonoscopy as Mr. Act Enthusiastic and You Will Be Enthusiastic unenthusiastically had colon cancer at age 62 (and enthusiastically lived another 26 years). Because I have sleep apnea, it was decided that I should have the procedure in the hospital clinic rather than the outpatient clinic so that I would be monitored by an anesthesiologist…who apparently just called it in.
I was already nervous about being out of commission for a day, as I am primary caregiver for my husband with Parkinson’s. I was certainly not counting on an anesthesia overdose which rendered me out of commission for six days. From that, arose incredible anger, stress and bam, the dormant knee flared again. It took me about 10 days to make the connection.
For on that tenth day, I resumed my morning walk, thinking I was healed. As I walked I worried about the knee, what could have caused it, I pondered? Why now, after 7 years? (except for that theory on the 7 year cell-changing cycle). Oh I sure hope it doesn’t happen again, I thought. And bam, it did, right there on the walk, the knee started freezing up again.
It was then, that the same friend said…do you still have that book?! Maybe you need to re-read it? So I hobbled into the studio where I keep my most treasured woo-woo books, and found it. Within minutes of reading the first chapter on the Psychology of Mindbody Disorders, and pondering my own history of repressed feelings, the pain literally stopped, the swelling subsided, and within a day or two the inflammation stopped. Within a week, I was able to resume walking. I started with a half-mile, then 2/3, then ¾ and the other day I got back up to a full mile. The prescription required is simple: don’t talk about it too much as it gives it energy and most importantly, maintain a positive attitude. Don’t overthink the pain, fear and debilitation; think about …this moment!
Last time I realized the pain was caused by fear trapped in my body. This time I tapped into the repressed feelings of being trapped, when I was 18, and stuck at home with my mother (which undoubtedly was no picnic for her, either) for a year, unable to walk, after major “corrective” surgery. I feel that same trapped feeling now. Trapped as a caregiver, particularly for a man who does not want, nor appreciate help, who has a brain disease that affects his better judgment and who is resistant to everything I do to keep him safe, etc.
My new work is on this entrapment which grabbed me by the knee and held me hostage (great metaphor for entrapment) for much of the past 6 weeks. I am eternally grateful to being a follower of woo-woo. All I can say to the non-believers, is if you have ongoing pain, despite countless medical interventions, you have nothing to lose by reading this book; you actually may be holding the keys to the kingdom.
So I remain a firm believer in the fine art of woo-woo, and am now making art to prove it. That and counting down the five weeks till my next respite…