Diary: Happy Sunday

This post about a day in my life was written mainly as a record for myself, and may or not be of interest to anyone else.

Daylight saving in New Zealand ended yesterday and so I got up even earlier than I usually do on Sundays, to catch the ferry into downtown Auckland for choir rehearsal before Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral. It was going to be a full day, as I had been asked to give a reading at the SPCA‘s annual Blessing of the Animals service at St Matthew’s in the City in the afternoon. And then, if I was back home in time, go to a tea party at our neighbour’s house.

I had had a migraine the day before; not the terrible kind I used to get when I was younger, confining me to bed with a bursting headache and repeated vomiting, but bad enough to make the simplest tasks seem like onerous burdens. Every cloud has a silver lining and, after recovering from one attack, there is always at least a week before the next. So despite missing an hour’s sleep, I was migraine-free on the Sunday and able to enjoy all the activities planned for the day.

Choir promised to be a challenge because along with two traditional items from our repertoire, Almighty and Everlasting God by Orlando Gibbons and Jesu Thy Blessed Name by Douglas Mews, we were to give our first performance of Oh For the Wings of a Dove by Felix Mendelssohn. There are only three of us in the alto section and our part is not very easy. But if we did make any mistakes I think they would have passed unnoticed by the congregation as they listened to the beautiful soprano solo and organ accompaniment of this piece.

Mass finished quite early so I had time to sit outside in the spring sunshine and eat my sandwich lunch before walking up to St Matthew’s.

The Animal Blessing Service used to be an even bigger event than it is nowadays, preceded by a procession up Queen St and including larger animals such as donkeys, goats and once even a black bull. Now it is confined to the church itself and dominated by dogs of all shapes and sizes, all apparently having a good time and some barking their heads off. The few cats in their cages kept very quiet. I was unable to bring my dog-share Labrador Ireland, but he would no doubt have caused chaos with his enthusiasm for jumping on top of other dogs and “helping” with my reading.

Animal blessing St Matthews

Besides the prayers and readings we heard three sweet songs from a children’s choir, and a wise and witty address from SPCA’s regional manager about what we could learn from dogs. They never cease to find joy in familiar everyday activities and things, and to show curiosity about new ones. They know the value of long rests, and are not governed by to-do lists. They are free of expectations and blame; if their owners come home late they are simply delighted to see them. They have an endless capacity for love.

After two afternoon teas, first with SPCA colleagues and then with the next-door neighbours, it was home to cook the supper and watch the final episode of Hitler’s Circle of Evil on Netflix. This may sound an incongruous choice, but it is an excellent series which has helped to expand my knowledge about the history of World War II, relevant to the interviews with Bomber Command veterans that I am currently carrying out for the IBCC and will describe in a later post.

Self-healing from “incurable” diseases

Examples of spontaneous remission, in which a supposedly incurable condition recovers without treatment, can be found across the whole diagnostic spectrum. Having seen a number of cases over the years, both among my patients and clients when I was in practice and in my personal circle, I often wonder why occasional patients recover while most others with similar prognostic features do not. In orthodox medical systems, concerned more with illness than with health, these cases are often lost to follow-up and do not attract the interest they seem to merit. They may even be dismissed on the grounds that the original diagnosis was wrong.

Some reports do get published in medical journals, and mostly relate to cases of advanced cancer which were expected to be fatal. These accounts usually focus on biological factors rather than psychological ones. Books for general readers based on a more holistic study of individual patients include Remarkable Recovery by Caryle Hirshberg and Marc Ian Barasch, and Radical Remission by Kelly Turner, and there are many online descriptions.

Sometimes the unexpected recovery takes place for no apparent reason, but sometimes the patients in question firmly believe it is due to specific factors such as a change in diet, a more fulfilling lifestyle, a spiritual awakening, the power of prayer, or cultivation of the “higher” qualities of forgiveness, gratitude and love. Perhaps what these share in common is a sense of taking control of one’s own health, the firm intention to heal, and a firm belief that healing can happen. Such things are largely beyond the scope of the statistical analysis and controlled studies required in “evidence-based medicine”.

Episodic conditions such as asthma, migraine, epilepsy and autoimmune disorders can wax and wane for no apparent reason. Again, more mainstream research is focused on what triggers a flare-up than on why many sufferers have periods of good health in between, or even recover completely. On a personal note, since I reached my mid-60s my migraines have become much less frequent and severe. One explanation is the biological one that I am finally growing out of them. The prevalence of migraine is known to be lower in older people than younger ones and some sufferers, though sadly not all, experience fewer and less severe attacks in later life. This may be because the brain becomes less sensitive with age, or a result of hormonal changes.

Another explanation is psychological. Going back to cancer, ever since reading Laurence LeShan’s inspiring book Cancer as a turning point I have been interested in the idea that self-healing from this or any other disease can occur through what he called “singing your own song” – finding a purpose and joy in life, what is sometimes called being in a higher vibrational state. This makes intuitive sense to me and looking back over the years, during periods when I have been absorbed in some truly fulfilling project – most recently, a return to my childhood passion for writing fiction (see my Amazon page) – my migraines have been less of a problem. Since LeShan’s book was written, many researchers have studied the mechanisms which might underlie mind-body connections such as this. The complex science is well explained in several recent popular books, for example You are the placebo by Joe Dispenza.

Beliefs and expectations have been shown to play a role in predicting the prognosis of coronary heart disease and the same is probably true for any other condition, so although I realise that my severe migraines could come back at any time, I prefer not to think in those terms. The negative messages so often delivered by well-meaning clinicians, such as “there is no cure for x” and “it’s bound to get worse at some stage”, can destroy hope and are not helpful. Recovery may be unlikely, and can never be promised, but as one of my teachers in the holistic approach used to say “Anything can be healed”.