Mind Body Spirit- the golden tripod


Mind body spirit- the golden tripod


My recent battle with illness brought home to me how easily upset my fragile balance can be and more than that, quite how acutely sensitive I am to disruptions to my baseline well-being. It’s easy to forget how complex an organism a human being is, and how aspects of one form of health affect the whole person.

After I came out of hospital the first time, I contracted an infection, probably post-operatively, and was put on strong antibiotics. Though these tablets were designed to fight infection, there were side effects that made coping with being unwell far harder. Combined with the continuing effects of the anaesthesia and the pain relief I needed, my emotional state became acute and I spent most of Christmas Eve crying. Things that normally wouldn’t bother me made me incredibly sad and filled with self hatred. I’m used to dealing with pain, but I am not used to feeling weak and unwell, and try as I certainly did, I found I was incapable of rising above it and being positive. Body, mind and spirit were all out of balance.

Over the next few days, my spirits rose a little, as the deeper meaning of Christmas sank in, but when the infection came back worse than ever, this little improvement vanished and I was hospitalised again, this time to have antibiotics fed to me intravenously. I have seldom felt so utterly bereft as I did on New Year’s Eve, and New Years Day was not much better. The drugs being pumped into me might well have been doing a sterling job of fighting infection but they did little to improve my state of mind or spirit. I made the mistake of reading Oscar Wilde’s short stories(albeit in French) and ended up sobbing silently into my pillow. The Selfish Giant has an ending that would bring tears to most eyes, and so too does The Happy Prince. But the heart of those sentiments went deeper than the tears, and within a few hours, the arrival of two new patients and the interaction with them and their stories raised me again. Looking out of one’s self at moments like this can be very helpful and these two new ladies were good company. With the addition of two hysterically funny night nurses, I went to sleep on New Year’s Day with my sides aching from laughing.

Returning home the next day, I soon realised that I had lost a lot of ground in terms of health and fitness and set about trying to regain it. I am used to a fairly large amount of outdoor exercise, usually walking a minimum of two miles every day. I’ve learned also that I can keep my default depression (virtually) under some control if I can take some vigorous exercise every single day, and the spiritual benefits of being among trees or on the seashore cannot be underestimated either.

When one aspect of health fails us, the others need to be extra strong to reinforce the whole person. You could liken it to a tripod, where each of those three vital components support the person equally. But that metaphor fails because when one element is removed or severely damaged, a tripod would literally tip over. The virtual tripod allows for another element supporting the weaker one while that weaker one is restored. I noticed that the weakening of my physical state meant that a greater strain was placed on my mental and spiritual resources. Long term the same is true: the weakening of the mental and spiritual elements also places a great strain on the physical. The human body responds to stress with a cocktail of chemicals, adrenaline and many others, that were originally responses to extreme physical threats (being gobbled up by a sabre toothed cat or short-faced bear, or similar prehistoric threats) and while being afraid that a colleague or a boss is going to rip metaphorical strips off you produces those same reactions, our responses to such stress do nothing to dissipate those chemicals and hormones. Stress places immense strain on the body: the adrenal glands can become over-active, pumping adrenaline into the bloodstream at inappropriate intervals (this is one of the factors present in panic attacks and anxiety disorders). We seek to anaesthetize the pain of these reactions in whatever way seems obvious to us, by drugs, or drink or sex or exercise.

One of the most important things I have learned about panic attacks is that they end. They ‘time out’. They have no more power than what I give to them. I’ve also learned a few tricks to stop them in their tracks: breathing into a paper bag, equalises the CO2 in the blood, as well as signalling to the spirit that you have control and the attack is not going to kill you. Stepping away and observing my vital signs also goes a long way to restoring some kind of balance. But sometimes it can be so extreme that I need someone else to remind me of what I can do.

Free floating anxiety is a different matter. At a lower level than a panic attack, it’s something that runs along almost unnoticed much of the time. It’s when something else disturbs the system that free floating anxiety comes roaring up into a full blown anxiety state. There are many ways of dealing with this, but I tend to forget all about them when it hits. That’s when I need reminding of the methods: focus on breathing, play music that soothes, take a walk…whatever works. Otherwise I become the squirrel in the cage, racing round in frantic circles, ready to bite whatever comes near me.

Not one of the three elements should be disregarded. The body had needs and those needs must be honoured: good nutrition, freedom from illness and injury, sound sleep and so on. The spirit has its needs too, to be fed and cared for as another form of body, and honoured. The mind, that most sensitive of elements, needs care too, to be allowed to grow and expand and be nurtured.

So, my intention is to pay attention to all aspects of my self, and to be aware that what affects one aspect may well have knock on effects on the rest. I am not a collection of hermetically sealed units, but rather a complex system where each aspect interacts with the others in often unpredictable ways, with unforeseen results. I guess it shouldn’t take a genius to figure all this out but too often I have expected myself to cope with knocks without accepting that those knocks will inevitably throw my whole being off kilter for some considerable time.

One day, I’ll get it right.

12 thoughts on “Mind Body Spirit- the golden tripod

  1. You’ll know because you write, but laying it all out in this essay will help. I used to write out my anxieties and in objectively looking at them [and crafting into a poem] I would gain distance, or breathing space.

    You do sound like you have a handle on it, although I know anxiety ambushes. Unfortunately, while time does tend to heal, so few of us have the time, or are willing to give the time to getting ourselves straightened out on all fronts. You sound like you will make the time now that you have sorted it on paper.

    Do you have both seashore and trees? If so I am jealous. There are few things that give so much balm just by being in a location.



    • It does indeed help to write it down. This is an old problem and one I don’t anticipate ever solving as such.
      As for location, it takes me around half an hour via ancient woodland to reach the sea shore, a bit of wild coastline away from the tourist beaches, where I can walk and usually only ever see fishermen and the occasional dogwalker. I then loop round through a second wood, and back into the first by a different entrance before returning home. Its a six mile circuit. I am lucky. I’d have gone mad otherwise by now.
      thanks for the feedback.


  2. I hope you are feeling better, Viv. You talk about the essential tripod, somewhere in the mix is also the heart as your post so vividly demonstrates. I don’t know why but your hospital experience made me think of Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse Pale Rider which I haven’t read for decades and so may be completely unrelated. It’s about her experience of having the flu during the pandemic early this century. If you haven’t read it, have a look – and then you can ask me why on earth I mentioned it!


  3. You are absolutely right about the interdependence between all three elements, however, most of us tend to really comprehend the enormous importance of the balance only when it is seriously disturbed.

    I’ve been extremely harsh to my body for the most of my life and it wasn’t until I started to feel weak, tired and drained of energy along with some other alarming symptoms that I was scared and made up my mind that urgent measures need to be taken. It’s too late though. The harm that has been done is there to last. What I can do is just try to prevent further deterioration.

    Get better soon!


    • I know what you mean Shiona. I did harm to myself as a late teen early twenty something, but thankfully, nothing lasting.
      thanks for the kindness. I hope you find peace yourself.


  4. No one that does not suffer depression can understand how paralyzing it can be. Just Do It is great advice for folks that can, but this disease robs us of the ability to Just Do It just like a drunk cannot just say know to “just one drink”. As common sufferers we can encourage each other to ride the wave but it never lessens the pain. Thank you for your honesty, but most of all thank you for writing about it. There is strength in numbers.


    • Hi Paul,
      No I agree. People who have no experience of it are at a loss to understand. The problem is people who think they have suffered depression(and they may have done) but who find a way through it that they then believe can solve the issue for anyone. The bookshop shelves groan with self help books written from this perspective and they can make the guilt and pain far worse; they promise so much and so rarely deliver anything meaningful and lasting.
      There is strength in numbers and also in honesty and openness.
      Thank you for your visit and your kind understanding words.


  5. My mom suffered with chronic depression and would try to explain it to my siblings and myself. The line I remember most is that it was as though her mind grew its own legs and went wherever it wanted – she had no control.

    I’ve come down to this conclusion. I can remind the depressed person that, in spite of whatever and however they are feeling, I love them.

    My love will still be here when they want to claim it.


    • Your mom was right. I get angry with some of the self help brigade who imply that we do have control over this sort of thing; even were this potentially true, it just makes for greater guilt if an individual can’t manage it.
      Sometimes we have to step back from a person suffering and leave them with some sort of reminder that we are there for them when they want us.


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