What my digestive system taught me about being human

Like a lot of people diagnosed with chronic illness, the diagnosis turned my questions from vague (“What the heck is wrong with me?”) to the very, very specific. Because I fancy myself a delightful patient, I like to imagine that my GI doctor was impressed with my inquiries at our first post-diagnosis appointment.

Digestive system diagram enI asked her one that had me stumped: why did my guts twinge when I took a sip of water? There was no way that the water could reach my intestines that quickly, and besides, it was just water!

She explained  that when we swallow something, it kick starts our entire digestive system. Your stomach and small intestine get ready to move food through your system even if you’re only drinking water. So in my case, my already tender guts started churning immediately once I put anything in my mouth.

We are not sets of discrete parts, no matter how many times we’re encouraged to “leave our emotions at the door” or “put mind over matter”. Just as my digestion forms a system in which everything effects everything else, so do all of the swirling abstractions of mind, heart, and soul team up with the body to form a unique, interconnected system.

When I am emotionally moved to grief or worry my immune system goes bonkers on itself and my belly becomes inflamed. When I make time for quiet and solitude my mind is clearer and I do better work. When I feel loved by people I am better able to enter into love through prayer. I’m a system, not a collection of bits that can be separated or a set of symptoms to be individually solved.

A lot of people call this being too emotional, or being “one of those creative types”. We’re supposed to abandon or push away the parts of us that are broken rather than analyze the system looking for ways to be whole. Good luck with that. No matter how hard you try, you can’t keep a sip of water from triggering what it will.  So embrace the big picture, your marvelous individual mystery, guts and all.

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2 Responses to What my digestive system taught me about being human

  1. This is so true. Thank you for a wonderful insight.

  2. Mark Allman says:

    I think the physical affects the emotional and the emotional the physical. Taking care of one helps to take care of the other.

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