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An Interview with Eileen Laird
Living successfully long-term with your autoimmune disease is not just about food. Sure, food plays a huge part in it, but what about all of the fear and anxiety, and grief you may have surrounding your disease? Or what about all of the things that come up in life, like stress that can trigger symptoms?
Today I have a special guest – I interviewed Eileen Laird from the Phoenix Helix blog and podcast. She has a brand new book out called Healing Mindset that helps to address these non-food aspects of dealing with an autoimmune disease.
In our fascinating conversation, we talked about:
- how her rheumatoid arthritis completely changed her life
- all of the fear and feelings that she felt around it
- some of the things she did
- how she changed her attitude toward using medication for her disease
- why she wrote her book
- how thoughts, mindset, and all that kind of stuff can actually manifest into physical symptoms that you have in your body
- why it's important to have several methods and modalities to try in your autoimmune disease toolbox to address these certain feelings and everything that come up
- and why it's so important to acknowledge and process the grief that comes up surrounding your disease, your diagnosis, the foods you've lost, the lifestyle that may have completely changed for you
- She also teaches us a technique to acknowledge and understand certain feelings so you can get what you need.
- And then she also teaches us three powerful techniques that are easy to incorporate in your life, but will make a huge difference.
I hope you enjoy this conversation!
The Interview With Eileen Laird
If you'd rather watch it, check it out here:
Michele: Hi, everyone.
Today I have a special guest. I have Eileen Laird from Phoenix Helix (the blog), who has been massive, massive inspiration to me, all of my AIP life. I don't know if I've ever mentioned this to you, Eileen, but back when I was starting to think about doing AIP, I was a little intimidated by the food. I had been doing paleo for a while at that time, but I didn't know whether or not the food would be something that I could do. I had tried your spiced root vegetable dish. It was coconut and beets and sweet potatoes, I think. And it was so good! And it made me realize I could do this. So that's why I started doing AIP and look where we are now.
Eileen: Oh, that means so much to me.
Michele: I want to thank you for that. And just welcome you to Thriving on Paleo and to this interview.
Eileen: Thank you! Thank you! It's really fun to be here. You and I have known each other online for years now, and you were on my podcast recently, which was really fun. It's really nice to be here on the channel with you and say, hey to your audience.
Michele: You're welcome.
I wanted to point out that Eileen just wrote this book, Healing Mindset, which we will talk about in a few minutes, but first I wanted to get a little bit of background from you, Eileen. Just in case somebody from my audience doesn't know who you are, or just wants to know a little bit more about your story.
What autoimmune disease Eileen has and her story
So, why don't you go ahead and tell us a little bit about what autoimmune diseases or disease you have?
Eileen: Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Do you want me to just share kind of my journey with it? Or do you have specific questions?
Michele: Yeah. I mean, if you want to go ahead and just tell us.
Michele: Disease onset, all of that kind of stuff.
Eileen: Yeah, absolutely. So, it was 10 years ago. I was someone who had been mostly healthy, most of my life. I had a few things here and there, but nothing major. And I was living a very physically active life. I live in the mountains of North Carolina. I love hiking and kayaking. I was doing that on the weekends and I was a massage therapist. So, it was a very physical job. And then I woke up one morning with just one of my toes hurting, which I just thought was weird. Maybe I walked on it wrong. And then the exact same toe on the opposite foot the next day, which I thought, well, isn't that a coincidence? And that's kind of weird. Then it just quickly spread from my feet to my hands, to my wrist and throughout my body. And within a couple of months I was disabled.
If you looked up rheumatoid arthritis and the diagnosis manual, they could put in a picture of me in 2012. Like, it was just check, check, check, check, check. I had all of the things.
So, they called that rapid and severe onset of rheumatoid arthritis. The bilateral joint pain is one of the red flags for it. I know a lot of autoimmune diseases are difficult to diagnose and people spend a lot of years, seeing a lot of doctors. That wasn't the case for me. If you looked up rheumatoid arthritis and the diagnosis manual, they could put in a picture of me in 2012. Like, it was just check, check, check, check, check. I had all of the things.
I'm laughing about it now only because it's 10 years ago and I'm doing better. And I'll kind of will be talking about that.
I have some confidence in my own resilience. It doesn't mean I'm cured or life is perfect, but let's just say I've risen to this challenge. It's part of my life now. But back then, and frankly, if you had interviewed me a year after that, I'd be crying as I talked about it.
I think for a lot of people, if you're newly diagnosed, it's intense and overwhelming.
It felt how I described it. It was the first time, I felt I was experiencing something I couldn't survive, because that pain that ricocheted around my body disabled me. It was excruciating. When I woke up in the morning, I looked like a 90 year old woman; the way I would shuffle because it hurt to move anything. And that was the best part of my day, because that was a baseline pain that wasn't excruciating. It was just very difficult. And then at night, there'd be one joint that would flare severely to the point that I would gasp in pain if that joint move. So, if it was my wrist, it went into a brace, if it was my shoulder, it went into a sling, if it was my knee or my foot, I had to literally get off my feet for the rest of the night.
I cried every day and usually spent the evenings in my lazy girl chair, kicked up, braced up, trying not to move, whatever was happening, crying, and then just trying to calm down
I couldn't walk.
The worst ones for me was when it hit my jaw, because then I couldn't open my mouth. And there's something very primal about that. Like you can still breathe without opening your mouth, and you can kind of talk, but not really. And you cannot eat. So, it was terrifying and awful. I cried every day and usually spent the evenings in my lazy girl chair, kicked up, braced up, trying not to move, whatever was happening, crying, and then just trying to calm down.
That's when I started meditating for the first time in my life. There's this CD I bought called A Lamp in the Darkness, with guided meditations for difficult times. I highly recommend it to people. It's by Jack Kornfield. And it was exactly what I needed to hear in that moment. It's filled with compassion. Filled with acceptance of what's happening. And not someone telling you it's not happening, or that you should not be struggling so much with what's happening, or it's just this…I don't know how to describe it. It just the fear, the spiral that happens emotionally, pain. Pain doesn't just exist, I think, in a bubble. It's like your mind and your heart just flips out, most of us do if we're in chronic pain, excruciating pain.
The thoughts going through my head were not helpful.
And so to replace those with ones that were, which I think is what guided meditations kind of help us do. They're a great gateway to meditation when you're someone who finds sitting still or silently very intimidating; there's so many different ways to meditate. First of all, you never have to do it this way if you don't want to.
I actually do that now. But back then, that was not what I needed. And so guided meditation was really helpful for me.
I discovered meditation right around the same time that I discovered paleo and the AIP, and just started doing all sorts of things that frankly I wouldn't have considered before. Like how I describe it is that when life was good, I wasn't highly inspired to make it better. So, I wasn't even gluten free, nevermind AIP. I had gluten-free friends that I pitied because I liked not having to have food restrictions. And meditation was always something I admired in people but I didn't feel, I had the discipline to do. And when I tried to do it, I felt very uncomfortable. It might just be that, I think all of that could still have benefited me then.
I'm really grateful to food as medicine. I'm grateful to the mind, body connection and being able to learn more about it and how to use that positively.
When you look back, you wonder, could you have prevented this thing? Or maybe it wouldn't have been as severe. Maybe it still would've come, but not so intensely. Who knows what the past is.
This opened me up to possibilities and they were all incredibly helpful to me. So, I'm really grateful to food as medicine. I'm grateful to the mind, body connection and being able to learn more about it and how to use that positively.
For anyone listening who's new to the idea of the mind, body connection. And we can talk about some of the resistance people may have to that. But we feel it anyway. Like if you are under a lot of stress and you have autoimmune disease, you will often flare. I think most people have that experience. For me learning this meditation, and a lot of other tools that are in my book, allow me to use that mind, body connection for my benefit instead.
Instead of just being out of control with it, instead of just having stress be yet another thing I can't control, it gives me a measure of control. So, I think it reminds me of food in that way. And when I say this, it's funny. I mean, you can tell I'm a recovering control freak. But I wonder if human beings in general, I mean…we just like to have agency over our lives. And I think with autoimmune disease, there's this middle path we find where there are things that are beyond our control, but there are also the things that are within our control. And the later is really empowering. And so, food is one area that can minimize my symptoms. The mind, body connections is another area that can minimize my symptoms, improve my stress resilience.
There's still things that are going to happen in my life that are highly stressful, that I can't control. And it's not about perfection, or that I'm walking around all peaceful all the time and never have a challenging moment. I mean, that doesn't happen. But when a challenge comes, I have some tools that are available to me and I'm grateful for them.
Michele: I think that's a great way of looking at it; like a tool in your toolbox. Something you can pull out when certain situations arise. You know that meditation works in this or that situation, or maybe just taking some time for yourself, reading a book or something. One thing may work in one situation, one day, but doesn't work out another day, all of these kind of things. That way you have your own personal formula and your own personal diet; once you've gone through AIP and know what you can eat and not eat. So, you have the same thing, your toolbox for all of what life throws at you. I think that's it.
I think if you become too inflexible, where every day you do this exercise and this meditation, then it becomes yet another task and a to-do list that flips you out if life is busy.
Eileen: Yeah. And for me, I think it's a combination of spontaneous meaning, what do I need today? And what do I need this moment? Because autoimmune disease is very changeable. Then there are also habits I've developed that are actually part of my routine now, that give me a baseline of support. So, it's both. I think if you become too inflexible, where every day you do this exercise and this meditation, then it becomes yet another task and a to-do list that flips you out if life is busy. Therefore, there's some flexibility to it, but something mindful is still part of every day. And I'm grateful for that.
Michele: Yeah. That's great. So, other than food and diet, have you used anything else to feel better or manage symptoms or anything like that?
Part of living with autoimmune disease, for 10 years, is coming to terms again, with what you can and can't control.
Eileen: Yeah. So, I do take rheumatoid arthritis medication. I didn't start out that way. I think, I was like a lot of people in this community, who, if I'm being a hundred percent honest, hoped food would cure me. And part of living with autoimmune disease, for 10 years, is coming to terms again, with what you can and can't control. Food didn't cure me but it made me feel a ton better. Like, it reduced the pain dramatically, along with all the diet lifestyle mindset things. There was still a low grade rheumatoid arthritis activity that was manageable in terms of comfort but it started to damage my joints and then it closed it.
On using medication:
I'm past menopause now; I'm 53 years old. And I was 43 when I was diagnosed. So, there's all the perimenopause, hormone fluctuations, and things like that, and there was a moment in there where those kicked up my rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, which isn't too surprising. And then the damage started happening very quickly. This again, opened me up to what I wasn't considering.
For some reason, I saw medication, not as a failure for anyone else, by the way (I've never been that voice in the community). I was very supportive for my colleagues and friends and followers if they needed medication. I was even posting on social media that medication's not a failure. Yet, I personally felt somehow it was if I needed it. And so, it was a difficult decision to make.
I remember something a friend of mine said to me, which was very helpful at the time. She said that people who refused to consider medication are just as closed-minded as people who won't consider anything but medication.
I have a couple of articles on my website that I can give you links to if anyone is facing that fork in the road. I talk about all of the emotions about that experience and the results for me. And again, medication is trial and error. I think for most people it is. A few others are lucky. The first thing they try just makes them feel awesome, and it puts them in remission. That's not how it worked for me. instead, it took some trial and error to find what worked for me. But that was the first thing that put me into a full remission; the damage stopped happening.
I still need my diet, my lifestyle and everything in combination with medication. But, I went from being someone who was very terrified of it — I think, I felt it would hurt me in some way — to being incredibly grateful for it because it supports my health in a really beautiful way and I'm very public about that. And I am a ‘both and' person for myself. Also, I think, I talk about that at the end of the book and not in the beginning, but I'm not making that choice for anyone else.
Again, I've never been that person. If someone is in the audience and they don't want to take it, I want to reiterate, it's your body, your choice. You know what's best for you. But if you need to take it, be gentle with yourself and allow yourself to get what you need, and actually know that it's a success. If medication is available and it's helpful, it's another tool like we were just talking about.
I remember something a friend of mine said to me, which was very helpful at the time. She said that people who refused to consider medication are just as closed-minded as people who won't consider anything but medication. She said, we have all of these tools. So, either way, you're cutting yourself off from options. And that was so helpful in that moment, because I needed more options.
Combine it all and then get the best of all the worlds and feel better.
Michele: Yeah. And I think it's so great that we live in this day and age where we have all of those options.
Eileen: So true. I mean the medication that helped me is a biologic medication. It's a relatively new invention in the course of RA. A good friend of mine's mother — I think, she's 75 or 80 — got diagnosed with RA at 26. And I think, all they had was prednisone and whatever NSAID was available at the time, not even Proxin. And so, she's had 25 surgeries, or something that, for joint fuses. Prednisone can be super helpful for people, but long term it can have some pretty intense impacts on the body. So yeah, we have these tools available now that weren't available before, and YAY! for modern medicine and integrated medicine. I love that philosophy because it incorporates a root cause approach and an empowered lifestyle approach. Also, Western medicine has its benefits as well.
Michele: Yeah. Sweet. Combine it all and then get the best of all the worlds and feel better. That's my goal too.
Eileen: Yeah. Yeah. And that's always the goal; to feel better.
Michele: Yeah. And I think that's great that you were able to make that decision and get to that point where you do feel better.
Questioning Negative Thoughts
Eileen: Yeah. And one thing, I guess, since we're talking about healing mindset and mind, body techniques. One extra piece of that story that might be nice to share is I went… So, one of the techniques I talk about in the book is questioning negative thoughts. And it's the simple question is it true? Because a lot of times the mind's very convincing, no matter what it's telling you. And it was saying a lot of scary stuff about medication. So, I went to a counselor who was trained in Byron Katie's method, which is very similar to cognitive therapy, in it's reframing techniques. But it's kind of a self-help one, you can do at home.
You can go to thework.com if anyone's curious to learn more about it.
She just kind of guided me through questioning my thoughts about medication. And I was so peaceful by the time I left. It just kind of helps you tap into what really is true, like cutting through the noise. That was incredibly helpful.
The other thing is I'm familiar with placebo effect, but I don't know if people know the nocebo effect. The idea behind it is that if you really believe something won't help you, it's harder for it to help you. So, if you take a medication and you're hating it, everything about it, you take the pill or you take the shot and you're like, I hate this. That's an obstacle for your body to overcome. It doesn't mean the medication won't work for you, but there's this dissonance right within your body.
I did a lot of journaling and coming to a point of feeling grateful for the medication. I said, thank you every time I took it. And that was a major transformation because I went from hating the idea to feeling grateful for it by the time I was ready to try it. And that's much more peaceful experience. Even when the medications didn't work, I knew I wasn't getting in the way.
You know what I mean?
I was like, we're given this a try. We'll know in a certain period of time, whether this is helpful or not. And I'm open. I am open to it being helpful. If it's not helpful, there are other options. So, it was a calmer way to take in that experience.
The Healing Mindset Book
Michele: Yeah. Well, that's great. All right. So, let's go ahead and start talking about your book. So, tell us what inspired you to write it?
Eileen: Well a lot of what I just shared, about how it was such a big part of my experience, and I knew it's a big part of every person's with autoimmune disease experience. But, I also think it's kind of a murky area. So, when you talk about the mind, body connection and harnessing that for positive, like the anti-inflammatory power of harnessing it for good. A lot of people are like, well, that sounds nice, but how exactly do I do that? And I think for a lot of people, there's a lot of, ironically, mental blocks about a lot of the mind, body connection. And so some people may, for example, just think they don't have the personality to do it. But there's so many ways to do it.
In the book I have 96 mind, body techniques people can try. And that was on purpose, so that you can try a bunch of different things, find out what works for you, and kind of have a selection of favorites. If you're someone who has been doing stuff for a long time and want to freshen up and try something new, there'll be something new for you. There's a lot of beginner stuff. And then there's more advanced things. I just wanted to make it approachable. So, with Phoenix Helix, I think one of the things I try to do is make complicated things as simple as possible.
My other book is a simple guide to the paleo autoimmune protocol. And I thought of that when I was doing this. I thought, well, I want this book to be a simple guide to the mind, body connection. But I want it to be from the perspective of autoimmune disease, constantly being aware of how this may help people with autoimmune disease. So, that's what inspired me to do it. So, when I did it, I was actually thinking about other people.
I was like, okay, this has helped me. Let me create a book that helps other people. But I worked on it for three years, did a ton of research and expanded my knowledge of it. And then of course, my practice of it. And even some techniques that I thought were not for me, I ended up trying and liking. So, that happens too. Like again, questioning the thoughts.
Affirmations were something that I never resonated with. And then once I learned more about, again, different ways you can do it that you're not that Saturday Night Live skit where you're just looking in a mirror saying, ‘I'm wonderful and people like me'. That there are so many different ways to do it. So, it ended up really helping me. And it wasn't intentional.
I think it's a natural progression for people once you've gotten through the food part and maybe the medication and everything to start approaching these kind of things, because you have to understand that triggers often include stress as one of the big things, but also mindset, thought all of these other kinds of things.
I started writing the book in 2019 and I finished and published it now. So, the pandemic happens. All of the world events happen that continue to happen. Life is overwhelming, kind of on an ongoing basis. I think we're all chronically stressed. And on top of that, our lives are still happening. Both of my parents died within that three-year period of time. There was some family chaos that often happens following the death of the matriarch and patriarch. And so, I went through a ton and then it turned out that writing this book, making the time, and continuing to make the time to write the book, grounded me and all of the knowledge that I was writing about.
I think they say that, if you want to deepen your knowledge of something, teach. And writing's one of the ways that I teach. And the book ended up being such a gift for me. So, I'm super, super grateful for that.
Michele: That's great. I really like to hear that.
Michele: And I think we were talking before we started the interview about just how we've gone through the whole diet part and understanding what food works for us and what does not work for us and all of that. I think it's a natural progression for people once you've gotten through the food part and maybe the medication and everything to start approaching these kind of things, because you have to understand that triggers often include stress as one of the big things, but also mindset, thought all of these other kinds of things. And if you don't address them, you're going to be back trying to do the food stuff all the time and it's not really ever going to help. You kind of have to have this balance and all of these tools and really kind of offset them and make sure that you have your toolbox all stocked. That way when things do happen in your life, you know what to do.
I think it's really great for a lot of us that have gone through AIP or paleo, or whatever, to get to that point. And then to be able to have a reference guide, to be able to say, okay, well, all right, I want to try something today. What can I try. Or just look through here and say, okay, this is a great thing. I'm going to dive deeper on it or something that.
So, I think it's really great that you have this for all of us that have gone through all of that. So, I love that for us.
Eileen: Thank you, and when you were talking about food, one thing I just want to say to people watching is these techniques can help food tolerance and your stress around food.
Michele: Yeah. That's a great point.
The Mind/Body Connection is real
Eileen: Because stress causes leaky gut, leaky gut increases food intolerance. So, anything we do to calm down, you can even do one of these techniques before you eat and you might digest the food better. Or you might just lower your baseline level of stress, period. And then all of the food you eat, you might digest better. So, again, it's just all integrated.
Michele: That's a fantastic point. So, go a little bit more on about that. Like how the mind, body connection can actually manifest into physical kind of symptoms or things within the body.
Eileen: So, I'm going to throw a big word out called Psychoneuroimmunology and all that is psycho. Psychology: thoughts and emotions. Neuro: neurology. So, both the brain and the nervous system. And then immunology: the immune system.
It's a field of science that is relatively new. It might be 50, 60 years old, really researching this connection. And it's how thoughts and emotions actually do impact the physical body. And it happens in all ways. It's happens because we are integrated human beings. So, although sometimes it feels like, the body is a car we drive, we are our body so anything we're thinking and feeling impacts our body. And one of the ways I just tell people to think about it: Like if you're scared your heart is going to start beating faster, your palms might sweat, little anxiety might give you butterflies, big anxiety might make you nauseous. Stress might give you a headache. We've all experienced that in the immediate moment and then chronically it can do other things.
There's studies where they will take the blood of somebody and then have them do a technique that either elicits joy or helps them relax and then take their blood again. And there is less inflammatory markers in the blood after that.
The research is really interesting and that these techniques can help with so many areas; like for example help people manage pain. They can reduce fatigue, reduce insomnia, allow you to sleep better. They can reduce inflammation. There's all these different ways. Interior the body, like there's studies where they will take the blood of somebody and then have them do a technique that either elicits joy or helps them relax and then take their blood again. And there is less inflammatory markers in the blood after that. And that can be instant. And sometimes they do it more after a six to eight week program and then they'll do it six months later to see if those results stay.
And it stays.
Like if people learn a technique and learn a way to interact with their life in a more peaceful way, which makes sense that inflammatory markers are going to stay lower. So, that's really cool. That's some of the ways that works.
The other thing to think of is it actually improves relationships. Our autoimmune disease doesn't happen in a bubble. So, it impacts those who love us, whoever that may be. It could be a spouse or a partner or friend, brother, sister, roommates, parents, children, all of that stuff. We did Parenting with Chronic Illness, which was the podcast where you share your experience. When we are stressed out and feel unable to manage that stress, it's going to come sideways and impact the people we love. So, it makes sense to me that the research shows that it improves relationships. But yeah, how it's been described to me is Stress can be an inflammatory cascade through the body. And when you use a mind, body technique to reduce stress, it can be an anti-inflammatory cascade through the body. So, it's really using your mind as medicine.
I was basically just trying to not feel that emotion because I felt so guilty for feeling that, that my body was just like, nope. And where my brain was like, nope, you can't feel that. So, let's disguise it as pain in your back. Once I was able to process that pain and let it go, I haven't had back pain since, and it's been two and a half years.
Michele: Yeah. And I can speak from personal experience too. It's interesting. I have a video of how I had excruciating back pain for years, sciatic, or around that area, and where I would have to be on the couch, and wouldn't be able to move for a month at a time. It would go away for a little while, then it would come back and all of this. And then I used some mind, body techniques to actually release emotions, which I had realized were actually resentment against my kids for taking away my time. I was basically just trying to not feel that emotion because I felt so guilty for feeling that, that my body was just like, nope. And where my brain was like, nope, you can't feel that. So, let's disguise it as pain in your back. Once I was able to process that pain and let it go, I haven't had back pain since, and it's been two and a half years.
Eileen: Wow. That's such a powerful, powerful story. And I think we'll do in a minute. I think you want us to take a deep dive into the chapter on grief, and I can see why that resonated with you so much, about allowing space for those emotions that can be frightening to feel. But they're there whether we make room for them or not, they're still there. Two things I just thought of for your listeners, you have Hashimoto's. I have rheumatoid arthritis. But there are two studies that are kind of fascinating. So, the one related in the book that I talk about with Hashimoto's, they did a stress management program and it had a lot of these tools taught, including visualization and cognitive reframing and various things and just deep breathing.
And at the end, I think it was a few months of training, not only had their symptoms improved, but their antibody levels went down. So, just an example of a very physiological response to that. And then with rheumatoid arthritis, they did one on expressive writing, which is the scientific research word for journal writing basically. And it's about processing difficult emotions. That's what they usually focus on as a way to release it. And not only again, did it improve mood, but it increased grip strength and walking speed in people with rheumatoid arthritis. So, again, it's a very physical improvement in your function of life. And it was journal writing. Like there was no exercise or PT related class.
Michele: That's fascinating. And I think we're going to start hearing more and more kinds of situations like this. As more people do put money backing studies into this because right now it's the pharmaceutical industry that has all the money to prove that their pill works. But there isn't a lot of studies out there to find out if journal writing or Qigong or all these other things really can help. But I think people are starting to really kind of wake up to a lot of these other modalities really helping. And so some studies are being performed, and then you get that scientific proof.
Michele: That you might know on a maybe that will work kind of level, but it's really good to see that.
Eileen: Yeah. I think that's one thing that helped with the timing of the book. So, there are 140 scientific references in the book. And I say that not to make it sound like a textbook. So, for anyone listening, it's totally meant to be a book where you just open it and there are techniques to try. But I'm a science geek. And I like knowing there's some research out there. And so every chapter has a research highlight specifically, but there's also kind of footnotes throughout. So, if I'm saying something is possible with the technique, there's a study to back that up. It's not just based on my own experience and it is wonderful. And I think you're right. I think it's just going to keep growing. I think there's more philanthropy behind it. Maybe wealthy people who have benefited from the techniques. I don't know. And academic institutions sometimes have mindfulness programs now because it helps students. And so, then there's a whole desire to research further what's happening there.
Michele: Yeah. Exciting time. So, I'm very excited to see what comes out of that. But you said, we're scientific minds. So, I think we also need that little component. It's like get the woo woo. And then you have the science and those two fight sometimes and sometimes one wins over the other. So, when you have those components meet and prove that they work, I think that's really, really helpful.
Eileen: Yeah. And then in the end it's a self experiment. And I think one of the things you teach so much is personalized care. So, again, there's 96 techniques in the book. So, maybe the one that Michele does that she loves, you don't love. There's 95 others you can try. It's totally okay. And so that's really nice too. It's how I feel is the science gives me confidence to explore this and feel I will find something that works for me. And then I find what works for me. And I might change over time, day to day, year to year, depending on what's happening in your life and in your body.
Michele: And I think, it's important to experiment with what works for you as well. I mean, because I've always said hypnosis for me, works great for getting rid of bad habits. I do a hypnosis and habits gone. However, it doesn't always work for me for some other mindset kind of things. And sometimes I've had to do EFT tapping to get rid of it or an NLP technique, which got rid of my fear of driving. Things like that.
Eileen: Oh neat.
You have to try these different things to see what works for you. And then sometimes, something will work in one situation, but may not work in another one.
Michele: You have to try these different things to see what works for you. And then sometimes, something will work in one situation, but may not work in another one, if you're too tired or you know, all these different things. So, don't give up after just trying one. Try several.
Eileen: Yeah. Again, it's that whole toolbox approach. And I love how you have different examples of different things that help you in different areas. Also, it puts a lot of pressure on one technique if it's supposed to help everything.
Michele: Right. Well then everybody thinks differently though, too. I mean you have neuro-diverse people that think completely differently than somebody else and they may process it in a different way. And so therefore this meditation may not work for them, but they might have to do this kind. So, yeah. There's all kinds. Everybody's so unique.
Michele: I think that's just such a important point for everybody to remember that just because one person's saying ‘do this,' don't give up after that. So, having 90 techniques is awesome. That way you can try so many different things.
Eileen: I think that's what I love about the wellness focus in the AIP community and how we are all about the self-experimentation. Like even the autoimmune protocol itself, right? It's an elimination phase. And then you do food reintroductions with the goal of a personalized diet when you're through it. And over time, you continue to personalize as your health journey continues. My diet is not going to be the same as yours even though we started with the same template. And so I feel the same way about a healing mindset. My toolbox may have some of the same tools as yours, but it's going to have a different batch, which is lovely. Yay for uniqueness.
Michele: So, you alluded to it a little bit before, but you have a chapter in your book about grief. Grief surrounding your diagnosis and just all of the things that you have to pull out and maybe not are able to do again. I think it's so important and I'm so glad you included that in here because I don't think it's something that is talked about enough in the autoimmune community. It's something that I think we really, really have to address. So, do you want to go into that a little bit more?
Eileen: Yeah. I mean, it's just real life that autoimmune disease is an intense experience and there is loss associated with it. And that is true whether you're disease is mild or severe. And there's an unpredictability to it, as life is unpredictable. And we know that intellectually, but autoimmune disease makes it very every day kind of real. So, a lot of people don't know how they're going to feel each day when they wake up. Every day is a new day for everyone but there can be a lot of emotions surrounding that. Like for example, when my health is more stable and I'm in remission or very close to remission. So, it's nothing fearful. Life just seems more peaceful. But if I'm experiencing more inflammation in general, more reactivity, going to bed at night can frighten me and getting up in the morning can frighten me. Because I don't know what's coming.
So, part of a healing mindset is self-compassion and grace and accepting your imperfection and autoimmune disease is a pretty clear example of your imperfection.
Therefore, if I have a good day, I'm kind of afraid to go to sleep because I don't know what the next day will bring. So, that's kind of part of the experience. You're also someone with an incurable disease and you might have people tell you ‘don't get attached to your label'. That if you think perfectly, let me tell you, this book is not a ‘you can cure yourself if you think perfectly' because that's cruel. I think, to put that kind of pressure on someone where they feel their disease is their fault and they're a failure if they're not perfect enough to cure it. And perfectionism is its own problem that many of us have, including me. So, part of a healing mindset is self-compassion and grace and accepting your imperfection and autoimmune disease is a pretty clear example of your imperfection.
And that can be difficult. Like if you've been a perfectionist your whole life, which I have, it can feel like a personal failure. So, there's that. And I say all of this being 10 years into my journey. There have been gifts with my autoimmune disease as well. Like I said, it's opened me up to a lot of experiences. It created a new career. In some ways, I'm healthier than I've ever been because of all these things I do to take care of myself. I'm certainly more compassionate with myself than I've ever been. I'm very creative. I feel very empowered. I'm in touch with an inner strength and resilience that had never been tested. I didn't know I had it. Like I said, when I was diagnosed, I didn't know that I could survive it. And I not only survived it, but your website's called, like my goal is to thrive.
That doesn't mean I won't ever have setbacks, but my goal is always to navigate those with as much self love as I can and confidence that life can be good, no matter what the future holds for me. And that's a really beautiful way to be. I think before this happened, I had kind of a narrow definition of what a good life would be. And if it wasn't this, it was going to be something else that would've knocked that off. Because no one who is human has a life that just goes like, no ups.
Michele: A very boring life if they do I guess.
Eileen: Yeah. So, there are losses. Like I was able to go back to work, but the type of body work I did changed. Again is some really beautiful techniques that I got to do more of because I didn't have the strength to do some of the deep tissue work I had done in the past. But so there was a loss with that. There might be, like I still can hike, but I can't hike as far. So, three miles is really kind of my sweet spot. I might have hiked five to 10 miles before that.
One thing I want to be clear about now I'm in a good place, so it may not feel I am giving list, like people who are watching enough space for the grief. But if you are in the place I was, when I was diagnosed, where I was crying every day, that's a place where those emotions need room to be. And then there are going to be different times where that continues to happen. I mentioned, my parents dying; they were older and in poor health. So, in some ways that was a blessing. But any time your parents die, that's a total change forever for the rest of your life making room. For that grief. I had some health setbacks during the pandemic. Like a lot of people did, not COVID, but just the pressure of the world, and personally, and they were really hard for me.
I think when you repress sadness and grief, it's harder to feel joy, true joy, because that's still there in our bodies.
And there was fear and anxiety and sadness that I think part of healing and recovering from that setback was making room for those emotions. So, I'm kind of rambling. But I know sometimes, like you were saying, people just don't talk about this. And especially in the mind, body community with it's idea of positive thinking, that somehow, if you honor your experience, by recognizing you're feeling sad or scared and you allow yourself to feel sad or scared that somehow that's not healthy for you, not positive enough. And that's really not how it goes. I think you need to feel all of your emotions to be able to feel all of them well. So, I think when you repress sadness and grief, it's harder to feel joy, true joy, because that's still there in our bodies. And the last thing I'll say too, again, with some of those research studies and they're linked in the book. There's research showing the physical symptoms that can arise when you repress emotions.
The more we accept and express how we feel, even if it's painful, the more quickly those feelings pass and the less damage they do to our body.
And the more we repress painful feelings and try to avoid them, squish them down, power through them, judge them, and judge ourselves for having them, telling ourselves ‘I'm a negative person if I feel sad', or ‘I'm a negative person because I acknowledge that I'm having a hopeless day'. That increases physical symptoms, there's a whole host of issues related to that. There was a study that looked at people who does this over a long period of time and it increases risk of death. I almost didn't put that in book because I don't want to trigger more fear where people are like, oh gosh, now I'm going to kill myself because I don't want to feel this. It's not that direct. It's just an example of how it's a lot of pressure on the body. It increases stress at a foundational level. And they come sideways.
I mean, we kind of know that anyway. So, yours came out through back pain. It may come out as autoimmune flares, increased reactivity, but it also comes out in irritability. With less stress resilience things will bother you faster because you're using so much energy to just try and manage the emotion and anything that comes in can automatically feel like the straw that broke the camel's back. And so what's nice, again, about these techniques – and we can share some of them – is there are tools that you can have that can give you confidence that you can feel something painful and survive that. I think that's part of it too. I mean, these emotions hurt and we tend to turn away from pain or run from it. It's counterintuitive that if we use a tool to turn toward it, we can move through it. And I need to a lot of these lessons. It's not you learn them for life. Or maybe you do. You might be more enlightened than me.
Still, my instinct is to turn away from pain. It's just my instinct. And I'm noticing that now. So, that's a mindfulness thing that I've gotten, which is nice. So, if something comes up, that's an unpleasant thought or an emotion that's challenging for me, my mind looks for a distraction, like right away. And if I notice myself refusing to look at something that's a red flag. Very quickly I go ‘I'm not going to look at that'.
Then I think ‘maybe before bed tonight, get your journal out and find out what's happened in there'. And then it stops dogging me. It's not throughout the day but intermittently it pops up and I'm like, ‘I'm not looking, I'm not feeling'. So, those tools, yeah, they're really empowering. And you get experience with being able to survive something, again, over and over again. I think that's kind of what resilience is. You continue to get faith in your own ability to move through things that are difficult and that might be physical and it might be emotional. Is that too long of an answer?
Michele: No, not at all. And I wholeheartedly agree. I think one of the things that has helped me to understand that fear and all of these things are just sensations that you have in your body that are connected to the thoughts. So, fear, a lot of times you might feel something here or your face all these different kind of things. And so taking a step back and kind of being a scientist or looking at yourself as an experiment, and saying, ‘okay, I'm experiencing this feeling' and start with the happy ones. Usually it seems to be a good way to learn it. See what it feels like in your body and understand it. Then look at another emotion and understand that. And to me, that really helped because then it wasn't as scary. So, it's just something that's happening somewhere else. And now I almost kind of welcome interesting feelings, wondering ‘what's going to happen now?'
Eileen: Isn't that wonderful? I love how you put that. It's adding calm into fear emotions that are challenging. And I know what that feels like. And I think most people know what that feels like. And then if you, like you said, you just kind of pay attention and see what happens. And it moves through. Sometimes that's even the thing. So, when I said if I'm having more symptoms in my life, emotions are going to be more present for me before bed and when I first wake up. Sometimes it'll just be meditative, it's not even a special technique. I'll just watch. So, I'll feel sadness roll through me. And there's certain things that may happen in my body with that like my eyes may tear up and there's a heaviness on my heart and a vulnerability that I feel, and then it might just pass. So, it's just already gone.
I didn't have to do anything. It just passes. And then anxiety might come through and that feels more buzzy and a tingle kind of body wise and almost like an extra vigilance and my digestive system gets involved. And then that might pass. And so that's really nice when they're mild. It's so cool. You don't even have to do anything. I mean, it's just like, just know you're human and you've got these feelings. And then I notice peace will come through and joy will come through and they're mixing. And then when I get up – so this might be happening in the morning – and then I'll get up saying, ‘okay, I'm having a variable emotion day to day, so that's fine', and ‘just be gentle with yourself'. And that's kind of my intention for the day and I move forward. And then other times it is overwhelming. It's something that's intense. And then I need one of these tools to just allow me to provide a container that gives me extra strength. So, that's the toolbox part. It's like, okay, this emotion is hard, at least in this moment. How can I meet it in a way that isn't this hard.
The RAIN Technique
Eileen: And speaking of which, do we want to talk about – I'm sure you're familiar with this technique because you're educated on all this stuff – but the RAIN technique? Would that be a good one to share with people?
Eileen: And maybe you're not familiar with it.
Michele: Maybe explain it. Maybe I am.
Eileen: Yeah. It's a meditation technique that kind of came out of the mindfulness meditation community. I think Michele McDonald created it and Tara Brach who's a big meditation teacher has written books about it and it's called RAIN and it's a technique for basically navigating challenging emotions. And so it's an acronym. And they're four steps to the technique R-A-I-N. So, the first technique is recognize and it's just know when you're feeling something, because there's an emotional intelligence to just that. And I feel really good at repressing emotions…My mother was really good at repressing emotions. She didn't always know what she was feeling when she was feeling it. And so that's the first one. Just giving yourself space to recognize I'm sad, I'm scared, I'm angry.
The A part is to allow it to be there. So, you're not going to run from it. And you're also not going to try and fix it. I'm very good at trying to fix it right away. Like manage it and get rid of it somehow. Instead, the A is to just allow it to be here.
Then you investigate, which is exactly what you talked about. So, it's how is this emotion feel in my body? What thoughts is it inspiring going through my mind? Or are there thoughts inspiring the emotion? And then there's – it's usually a cycle – what is the emotion, making thoughts that go through my mind? And again, without judgment just investigate with curiosity. What's your body doing? What's your mind doing? And what are your impulses? So, what's your go to when this emotion comes up. So, you might suddenly be craving sugar, or a drink, or a cigarette, or want to go running, or want to hug. Some of the things your impulses might be something really positive. And then others might be things that, hey, we all make room for at different times in our life, but might not always be positive. So, for me, sugar cravings come up under stress. Absolutely. But obviously the ones I think, without meaning to, those are three impulses I have when I'm having challenging emotions. So, sugar, movement – whether it's walking or going for a drive and both of those are healthy choices. And then I love to call my husband in for a snuggle, which is very soothing for me. But just to know what your impulses are and in which ones you might be able to choose mindfully instead of just reactively.
Then there's the last one, and I think that's the last choice. So, N is stands for nurture. So, that's what you do. So, you've identified the emotion. You've allowed it to be there. You've become aware of what your impulses and thoughts and body feel like. And then you have a choice to make in this moment. And that's really powerful. So, it's just, you ask yourself, what do I need? What would be helpful for me right now? Can I be kind to myself in this moment? And if so, what would be the gift I would give myself? And then you do that. And it's kind of a really beautiful journey this emotion has taken you on. So, even when I describe it feels less frightening, right. Even if the emotion was frightening to begin with.
Michele: Yeah. It sounds very powerful. Yeah.
Movement is a Wonderful Tool
Eileen: Yeah. It's both simple and powerful. So, that's one of my favorite ways to navigate challenging emotions. And then the other that I mentioned before journaling is so great for it. If you're a writer like I am, writing's really helpful. But if you're not, a lot of people do art. Whether it be in a journal, you can do a visual journal, which is art. You do not need to be an artist. But it taps into a different part of our brain, different expression. Maybe you're having trouble with these steps of RAIN where you're like, I don't really know what I'm feeling, I don't really know why I'm just feeling murky and confused. If you do some art, it can be a release. It doesn't need to go through the conscious mind. You can bypass that and just trust your inner self to let that out, your art. So, that's another really beautiful way to do it. When you have challenging emotions, what is your go to?
Michele: I think lately it's really been EFT, because I really feel the acupressure points really kind of helped me process through that and then it just releases. And I used to be the kind of person that, I would hold onto anger. And if my husband and I got in a fight, I would have to go somewhere because I could not let go. Or if my dog jumps at somebody or something that causes anxiety or stress, I would hold onto that for a long, long time. But now if I can just run through one or two cycles of EFT, it just comes out. And then lately, I've been practicing Qigong too. So, I'm going after my Qigong certification to become a teacher. And I really find that has been super helpful as well; also for that release of the energy, the negative energy within me.
Eileen: That's awesome. And I'm glad you mentioned both of those because you're using your body to move through your emotion too. And that's absolutely true. Like the mind, body connection works all ways. And so yeah, there's a lot of body techniques, whether it's Qigong and the tapping part, like you said, just doing the EFT thoughts isn't usually as effective for people as the tapping. Just somehow involving your body and can be incredibly powerful. And then there are a lot of therapists who actually incorporate body work into sessions for that reason too. That emotions can be held in our bodies again in that kind of unconscious way. And if you move your body, you're also helping move that emotion. Even when I was a massage therapist, one of my specialties was lymphatic work, which for people with autoimmune disease is really helpful anyway.
It supports our detoxification and the more inflamed you are, the more compromised and overwhelmed that system can become. So, it's beautiful. But what I also noticed is when my clients were going through times of crisis where maybe a partner died or there was something really challenging happening. So, that's a period where those emotions are present at a much higher level. They said the lymphatic work always moved the emotions through. And that was interesting. Like if they were repressing emotions, I would feel more stagnation in their system. And if they had told me, they were doing things on their own.
These would come up after the session. I'd be your lymph was moving pretty good today and still be however many weeks since I saw you last. And they'll be like, well, I was doing ‘maybe it's Qigong'‘. I was doing something to keep that moving'. So, the body's a wonderful tool. Often us with autoimmune disease have a complicated relationship with our body. And a lot of times the feelings we have towards our body may not be positive, but it has so much potential to help us as well. And those are some great examples.
We can't hate our bodies. Our bodies are not out to get us. They are us. We are part of it. We are part of this miracle that is able to do all of the heartbeats and all of the functions, the digestion and all that kind of stuff every day. And we have to understand that it's a miracle that we can do that.
Michele: Yeah. We can't hate our bodies. Our bodies are not out to get us. They are us. We are part of it. We are part of this miracle that is able to do all of the heartbeats and all of the functions, the digestion and all that kind of stuff every day. And we have to understand that it's a miracle that we can do that. To be able to love it in that way.
Eileen: That is beautifully said, I couldn't agree more. And for anyone watching, who doesn't feel that way right now, we will both, I think I can speak for Michele too, to say no judgment. This is a process and there is a chapter in the book called befriending your body. There are steps you can take to do that. And it can be a non-linear journey. Because you might continue to have challenging feelings about your body, but if you can mix in some appreciation, it helps a lot.
Michele: Yeah. And I was going to say, also kind of going back to the grief, but also with this, that you're going to have ups and downs where you're going to feel you've got it covered and then something's going to happen in your life. And speaking from experience with my son, with his autoimmune disease of type one diabetes. When he first got it, my husband and I both grieved a lot more than he did, because he didn't know all of the events of in his life that we were thinking of that were going to be affected, because he didn't know about them. So, we pre-grieved, whereas he didn't grieve, but now he's starting to hit some of them and he gets upset then. And I noticed that with myself.
I will maybe think of going to a new location for vacation and thinking about, ‘okay, how am I going to eat the way that I need to eat'. And so that's when grief hits again. Or having situations where I'm going to go to the beach and then I look at my body and I have that body image issue, stuff like that. So, you're going to hit those kind of things often throughout your life. So, it's not like it's going to be a one and done situation. So, having the tools, again, to be able to deal with these situations is really important, I think.
Eileen: Yeah. And with practice, they pop into your head more often. Again, it's not about perfection. It's just that, it's interesting. So, I practice meditation for 10 years now and the mindfulness of daily life is so much stronger from that. It's just, I notice things more. I'm much more likely to notice thoughts and feelings going through my mind and body than I did before meditation was part of my life. And then that gives me options. So, I'm also much more likely to identify what anxiety feels like. So, during the work day for me, especially if I have a lot to do, I can get there's an interior kind of ramping up that can kind of happen. And so I'll often take a mind, body break kind of mid afternoon, that seems good. And it just kind of resets me down at a calm level, but I know what it feels like when I'm not addressing it, when I'm just working, work and work and work and working, but it's not a calm working. It's a, I'm working, working. It's a different feeling.
So, I think you get practice, but yeah, there's so many ways you can just enter from baby steps. And every baby step helps. I really believe that, because 10 years ago, I wasn't doing, I was brand new to it and I wasn't doing anything fancy. Like I said, I did a guided meditation. It was probably 15 to 20 minutes a night. And then I kept a gratitude journal, which was pretty simple before bed. It helped me see my world outside of my pain. My pain was all I was feeling. So, I just needed to focus on something positive and that really helped change the way I was looking at my life. But again, that takes five minutes before bed and those were by themselves profoundly helpful for me.
Michele: I bet. Yeah. That's great. Do you want to share a specific technique or baby step or something that, that the audience could try?
Eileen: Yeah, absolutely. So, we've shared a lot today already, but I think ending with baby steps is good. And then actually, I'm going to just go ahead and share three, one in the morning, one in the mid afternoon, one in the evening. So, people can just pick one to try. So, the morning one which is before getting out of bed, just start your day with three slow deep breaths if that's comfortable for you. If you have an autoimmune disease where breathing is challenging, just focus on slow breaths. They don't have to be deep. If you do not have challenges with that, that deepness can kind of loosen up your body and re-oxygenate after sleep. And it just starts your day with a relaxing thing and then just set your intention for the day. That can literally be that and counts as a morning routine. It can be three breaths and an intention.
So, the intention can be, I'm going to be kind to myself today, or I'm going to trust my inner wisdom today. Or I'm going to increase my self care today, if you haven't been doing that. Or I'm going to make time for joy today. It doesn't have to be one of these. It can be anything you want it to be. So, that is a simple morning routine.
I'm just going to say you are worthy of loving yourself, feeling better, getting the support that you need, taking life in baby steps and knowing that it is okay if you are imperfect. Your life can be absolutely beautiful, even if it's imperfect and your health can be improved, even if a cure is not possible.
Then midday, I think one thing that's fun. Have you ever heard of affirmations, Michelle? I love those. So, I said, affirmations are something that don't naturally resonate with me. And when I heard about affirmations it's if your mind, say you said an affirmation in your mind tells you that's not true. If you're one of those people and I can resonate with, you just put what if in front of the affirmation and it opens your mind up to the possibility.
And so it can be, for example, what if I am worthy? What if I am strong? What if I am healing? What if my immune system is coming into balance. And those are beautiful. They're very soothing to me and my mind doesn't argue because it's what if, just it's a magic phrase. So, I love that. Not my idea by the way. I found it in the research, but I really love that technique.
And then before bed, the one I recommended, the gratitude journal. If you want to write it down, then you can kind of reference it again. If you're having a bad moment and look at happy things. But if you don't want to do that again, when you get in bed again, they say count your blessings before you go to sleep is kind of a classic tradition. Just think of three things from the day and see if you can feel gratitude for them.
And again, simple things. So, if you're a parent, it could be your child's laughter. It could be, you went for a walk today and there's spring flower blooming. It could be that you tried new recipe and it came out really good. It could be that you watched a TV show that made you laugh. Doesn't have to be huge, but it's just counting those moments. You go to bed, happy. It cuts through that evening anxiety for me. And so those are three things that only take a few minutes and good places to start.
Michele: Those are beautiful. I love those. So, do you have any final parting advice or anything for anybody that's maybe struggling with their autoimmune disease or this mindset stuff or anything that?
Eileen: You're not alone and all those affirmations. I'm just going to say you are worthy of loving yourself, feeling better, getting the support that you need, taking life in baby steps and knowing that it is okay if you are imperfect. Your life can be absolutely beautiful, even if it's imperfect and your health can be improved, even if a cure is not possible. I think learning to live vitally and happily with grace, allowing ourselves to feel everything we need to feel, is absolutely possible.
Michele: Love it. So, where can we find you if we want to know more?
Eileen: Yeah. So, my website is Phoenixhelix.com. I have a blog and a podcast and a few books including this one. And you can find all of that on my homepage, but if you're interested in the book, again, it's called Healing Mindset, a guide to the mind, body connection for people with autoimmune disease. Yay.
You can find it on my website, but you can also find it on Amazon, and Amazon websites around the world.
And if you live in a country that does not have an Amazon website, there is a PDF version sold that you can download today.
Michele: Nice. Well, it was so great having you on. I really enjoyed our conversation.
Eileen: Yeah, me too. Me too. This was really fun.
Michele: Yeah. Well, thank you so much and thank you to everybody watching. Appreciate it. And we'll see you later.
Eileen: Okay. Bye-bye.