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The issue with "mind over matter"

I think about this pretty constantly. Is "mind over matter" really a thing? Is it really possible to outsmart your body? If so, is this a useful tool? Or is it a harmful lie? Is it just kind of a white lie? Also, (and this is what the whole thing really boils down to for me) is the mind actually separate from the body? Are we our bodies or are we our minds? Do the two have to be mutually exclusive? Or are the mind and the body actually one and the same?

My opinion on this subject has changed drastically and regularly over the years. Early on, right after my diagnosis, I was firmly ensconced in the pro-mind-over-matter camp. Without ever thinking about an alternative, ironically. Actually, this started long before I was diagnosed. For at least a year leading up to my official diagnosis, I experienced intense health issues and paid very little real attention to them. I just kept on going as best I could, thinking these symptoms would go away eventually. This, obviously, did not happen.

It took a few years and another break down before I realized that this line of thought was not so great. Really, really not so great. At this point, I adopted the exact opposite view. There's no such thing as "mind over matter." We are our bodies. The mind is not a separate thing, and therefore cannot overpower the body. The two do not exist independent of one another. I still think this is true, for the most part.

However, I've recently been reading (and re-reading) "Bodies in Trouble: Identity, Embodiment and Disability" by Kristin Lindgren. (It can be found in Gendering Disability, which is an entirely wonderful resource if you're interested in academic-type work on disability, gender and intersectionality. Check it out, yo.) In the essay, Lindgren essentially compares and contrasts different approaches to the issue of embodiment in the disabled community. She brings in examples from people who have completely distanced their sense of "self" from their body, people who identify their body as their "self," some who exist at some fixed point between the two extremes, and some who move along the spectrum according to their needs at that particular time. Honestly, I had a hard time with it at first. My personal investment in the topic was so intense that thinking objectively about the issue was not really an option. I wrote a lot of cynical question marks and aghast exclamation points in the margins. That is, until I realized I still wasn't being entirely honest with myself.

Maggie, you literally named your colon. If that isn't distancing your "self" from your body, I don't know what is. Let's step down off that soap box for a moment and think about the reality of this situation. Just for a moment, I promise. I know how attached you get to that ridiculous box.

The thing is, as much as naming Myrtle has helped me feel more in touch with my body and understand what Crohn's is and how it affects me, it is still a coping mechanism that takes a part of my body and sets it far away from my self, where it is much easier to deal with. That little bit of distance helps me to get some perspective on the experience of living with a disease. Helps me deal.

The truth is, as much as I would love for this whole argument I'm having with myself to be wrapped up neatly, it is incredibly complicated and there is not one answer. I, one person, do not even have one answer. Everything in my experience tells me that the mind is not separate from the body. I know this because everything I experience in my body changes my mental state and vice versa. I'm stressed, I flare. I don't feel well, I'm emotionally on edge. These are not separate events, but manifestations of the same event. Sometimes it really, really helps, though, to think of them as separate. It gives me a sense of control in a situation where I otherwise have very little say in the matter.

There is just no easy answer to this thing. What do you think? Where does the distinction between the body and the mind lie for you? Is there one? Let me know in the comments!

Comments

  1. Thanks for this post, it was thought provoking.

    Living with colitis, I tend to think of my body as getting in the way of what I want to do. It feels very separate from my mind which always wants to be able to be awake and alert and social. My body gets in the way by being tired and in pain and sluggish.

    It helps me stay positive and focused in a way, remembering that my body doesn't completely define who I am. At the same time, though, maybe being more constantly aware of the mind body connection would encourage me to treat my body better (with what I eat and how I sleep).

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for your thoughtful response!

      I definitely know what you mean. It's hard sometimes not to feel resentful of your body for "getting the way" and disconnecting with it a little bit can be an effective tool for getting past those feelings. I definitely think it is a fine line between this being helpful and harmful, though. One that I'm still working on finding, obviously!

      Thanks again! Stay well!

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  2. I love that I stumbled on this - Thanks for adding some more depth to this argument for me! I am un diagnosed still and struggle with this allot myself!

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