Permission to Improve

The Teaching Tales of Milton Erickson are absolutely fascinating — a testament to the power of our own minds in both the beginning and end of our physical troubles. Erickson was a hypnotist (and somehow I don’t have a problem with that) who used his powers for good, in psychotherapy. His stories are incredibly motivating, even if you don’t share the subject’s ailment.

One part of a story on bedwetting has stuck with me since I first read it, mostly in how Erickson described the process of improving:

“Now, having a dry bed is a very difficult job. You might have your first dry bed in two weeks. And there has to be a lot of practice, starting and stopping. Some days you may forget to practice starting and stopping. That’s all right. Your body will be good to you. It will always give you further opportunities. And some days you may be too busy to practice starting and stopping,but that’s all right. Your body will always give you opportunities to start and stop. It would surprise me very much if you bad a permanently dry bed within three months. It would also surprise me if you didn’t have a permanently dry bed within six months.And the first dry bed will be much easier than two dry beds in succession. And three dry beds in succession is much harder. And four dry beds in succession is still harder. After that it gets easier.You can have five, six, seven, a whole week of dry beds. And then you can know that you can have one week of dry beds and another week of dry beds.”

I took my time with the girl. I had nothing else to do. I spent an hour and a half with her and dismissed her. About two weeks later she brought in this present for me—the first present she had ever given with the knowledge that she had had a dry bed

More than anything, this particular story has given me permission to let my body take the lead, and to trust myself more. To celebrate the small wins, when there are two days without accidents. That it’s okay to be imperfect, because you’ll be imperfect until you get it.

I see that in myself as I struggle to set up new healthy habits, or focus on updating this blog daily. I also see it in my own gut, with the starts and stops of healing, and it reminds me to celebrate the small wins.

One day at a time, then two, then three.

Keep going.

Pavlovian Diarrhea

Every since yesterday, I’ve been thinking about the psychological underpinnings of diarrheic urgency. Why is it that I can play chicken with myself all day, but not feel that gotta go gotta go gotta go feeling until I am literally unlocking my door? How is it that most of the time (with a few legitimate exceptions) I can hold it together until the bathroom door is closed?

Sometimes I wonder if I’ve trained myself into a gut-brain pavlovian response.

When I’m going through a rough SIBO patch, like right now, there are times that I have to go to the bathroom ASAP. To counter that, I’ve learned how to tell when it’s “time” and act accordingly. But, as I’ve also adjusted my life into healing mode, my gut has been slowly improving. That means that the signs gradually change — but my reaction to them does not.

So now I’m stuck in a feedback loop where I’m hyper-aware of all my gut rumbles and movement, but where I’ll also run to the bathroom at the slightest provocation, which doesn’t help build up between-bathroom-breaks stamina, and so on.

I hear about athletes like Michael Phelps visualizing their races — imagining every kick, every breath, breaking down every turn and the last final moments of the race.

Instead of focusing on what can go wrong, Phelps focuses on what happens when everything goes right. He’s rehearsed it so many times, it’s ingrained into a click-whirr response. And so when something actually DOES go wrong, he doesn’t have to scramble to recover, he already has a mental tape to fall back on. A winning tape.

I’d wager that this strategy would also work for my feedback loop problem. Imagine a positive outcome: walking through my front door calmly, guts behaving all civilized-like.

I like it.

Training the Gut

Mike Massimino became an astronaut, but only after applying an extensive amount of work.

And over the course of several years, he applied twice to become a NASA astronaut and both times was rejected in the first rounds. A few years later, he tried again, finally getting an interview. But the interview included a medical exam, which he failed due to poor eyesight.

Dejected, Massimino considered his options. Rather than taking NASA’s third rejection to mean that he should abandon hopes of becoming an astronaut, Massimino was determined to improve his eyesight.

“Even if I could rectify it somehow, which seemed impossible, still no guarantees of anything,” Massimino says. “But before I could even be considered again I had to do that. So I went through some vision training to improve my eyes so I could see better. And it worked.”

I’m intrigued by this idea, this idea that we can exert control over bodily functions that are seemingly beyond our power. We can control things like our breathing, and winking, which are typically both body functions that are taken care of by our autonomous nervous system. We don’t have to control them, but we can, when we take the time and effort. I know it’s possible to build up lung capacity and extend the time that I can hold my breath.

Obviously we can exert control over muscle mass through diet and workouts, as both bodybuilders and Victoria’s Secret models demonstrate.

I’ve even learned how to control my body following adrenaline spikes–trying to get heart rate down, that sort of thing. We have all worked through fear to do something that we don’t want to do.

With that in mind, I have a hunch that it’s possible to control other bodily functions that we normally don’t think about–perhaps digestion?

I will be looking into various types of vision training to see if I can apply them to my gut.