Jessica Flanigan

Illness As A Path Of Transformation

Auto Immune Paleo, Blog



It isn’t practical to set up our lives around experiencing only comfort. Yet we do because it is our natural instinct. It is only because I have had so much practice with discomfort that I don’t push it away so quickly now and can see its gifts and value. But I still grumble about it. And so I love my grumbling and I accept discomfort as a doorway to something greater than the place I am in now. In this regard growing our consciousness and clearing up what ails us takes effort and attention. Things going wrong is a wonderful construct however because it is usually only when difficult things happen to us that we enter into transformation. It requires us to pay attention to the very issue that ails us. It asks us to be vulnerable to swim in the deep end of the pool where anxiety, fear and issues around safety, love and belonging live. I very much propose to consider focusing attention on swimming in the deep end of your life because it will create a different relationship to not only what ails you, but it is healing. I consider “the deep end” to be the most thorough way to heal the body and disease as well as heal our lives. Instead of making what ails you wrong, you can use what ails you as information to change the relationship to yourself. When that happens, life is less hostile.  Our “problems” are the path of transformation. Autoimmune disease is a path of transformation if we choose it. The reality is that the very discomfort we are trying to cure ourselves of, is the way out and the way through to healing life.

So here is an example of this in action.

Mary has SIBO and Hashimoto’s. She has been on AIP for a year and tried two SIBO protocols (both failed) and found out she has Cytomegalovirus. Emotionally she feels depressed and hopeless. Anxiety is present a lot. Her relationship to food has “always been strained”. She is in her late 30’s, calls herself a type A personality, and has a great job in corporate fashion. She has not had a successful relationship however. She has deep longing to find her soulmate and have a child, and feels like her time is running out. She lives in fear of relapsing and having a Hashimoto’s flare. She is worried a lot that there is something more she should be doing health-wise and afraid of getting more autoimmune diseases. She meditates, does yoga, follows all the AIP blogs, and works with a therapist. She comments a lot that her anxiety “keeps her locked” in a viscous cycle and the lack of food choices on AIP has both helped her feel moderately better, and makes her feel trapped.  She can’t figure out why she is not better, which is compounded when she reads about all the successful AIP stories she sees online.  She has come to the conclusion that she does not know how to manage such a restrictive diet and be happy at the same time. She has tried reintroducing foods unsuccessfully. Her anxiety has gotten worse on AIP worrying about how to feed herself and she constantly wonders if she will ever flare again. The only things she seems to notice is that the more strict with AIP she is, the more control she feels about preventing a flare.

When we spoke, Mary told me that “I feel that life punished me by giving me this disease” I asked her to describe what she was feeling in her body when she said that.  She felt tight in her chest and felt anxiety and unsettled. This feeling of anxiety and being unsettled is something Mary had spent her life running away from. This is totally natural to feel after all, right? When we feel anxious our body says “anywhere but here”. But I asked her if we could explore that place more. In a visualization, Mary saw herself observing her anxiety so she was not overwhelmed, but could instead get information about it. When she sat in the quiet place and observed her anxiety, she felt tremendous sadness. With great tenderness, she asked herself “Sadness, why are you here?” When she said that, immediately she felt the anxiety that Life Isn’t Safe. And because this was the lens she saw life through, then nothing in life would appear safe including her health plan, her romantic relationships and AIP diet until she changed, healed and loved the lens she saw through. So, we went about changing the lens from Life Isn’t Safe to Life Is Safe. And that was done by her touching loving from inside of herself to Love Isn’t Safe so it could heal, be released and make room for a new and more useful belief of her choosing. Unless we really get to the root of why illness is present and heal it, everything (including diet) is a temporary fix. The good news is that changing what we think about our lives is not complicated and most of the work is really about us choosing ourselves worth our own loving.

How to change what we think about our life and beliefs requires us to change the message. I suggest a straightforward approach by saying: 
“I forgive myself for believing Life Isn’t Safe” 

Once you set out with the intention of life is here to help you, I suggest becoming dedicated to stay in that place. For me, I am often called to remind myself of this many times a day. (usually “I trust this. I trust my life. Spirit, show me the way. What appears as hardship is here to help me grow loving for myself”) The more I choose me, the more I build the inner structure inside myself bit by bit and it gets easier to operate from that place. I have some beliefs that I have been working on for years. Others clear quickly. As my life and my heart grow, they are peeled away like layers of an onion and I have learned to appreciate the unfolding of this. I do still get annoyed. “What? This piece about Love isn’t safe, again!!??” But I keep going and trust it. Each time I work touching loving to the things I believe, something changes. The intimacy inside of myself expands. This is potent because one of the roles of illness, suffering and struggle is to help resolve the illusion that we are cut off from the intimacy inside of ourselves and thereby discover our wholeness. There is a wonderful vantage point to use everything as tools to accomplish this. Diet, supplements, success stories, teachers..all help. But the center of it all is you choosing you, and your own loving to do this. “I love myself enough to do this” is the center. Then you are the healer, and the diet is your helper. Not the other way around.

So, how did Mary do? Together we looked at changing some of her core beliefs that were coloring how she saw safety in life. Instead of finding safety through AIP diet, supplements and medications, she decided to vulnerably look at the things that felt scary. Hard at first, but she noticed the more she loved herself tenderly feeling anxious and scared (which previously she harshly judged as weak and failing) she stopped searching so hard for healing. She started having a different conversation with herself which included “everything here that appears broken is the way out.” She stopped being her own worst critic and stopped valuing her healing by how perfect her diet was. And interestingly, she noticed that when she did that, AIP felt more manageable! She did not keep such close tabs on her SIBO bloating because when she did get bloated now, she no longer had a knee-jerk reaction that something was wrong. When she got bloated she saw it as a signal to look at the deeper wisdom. Now when she was bloated or felt her thyroid throb she went to the tender place. “Okay thyroid. I am listening. Should we talk about how uncomfortable my anxiety is? Or how unsafe my voice was growing up in my family?” There, in that vulnerable place she stopped making SIBO and Hashimoto’s something wrong and to cure. She made them her allies of healing. The vessels to deliver her to the places that she started to touch with her own kindness and love. And her anxiety loosened it grip. And her diet became less of a struggle. And she grew a kind of confidence that she has not had before. The confidence that she could love all the pieces that appeared scary and hard.

So, here is my LovingKindness Autoimmune Manifesto.

  1. Being tender with ourselves while we do hard things is love manifested which puts us into alignment of our soul nature
  2. Healing our Life may not equal the body healed
  3. Our Life healed and whole create a different relationship to illness and therefore puts us into alignment of cooperation
  4. Cooperation with our circumstances put US in the center of our life, not disease
  5. LovingKindness means we consider all the places we are judging and we work on forgiving and releasing our judgements
  6. We focus on the relationship we have to our life as the reference point for healing
  7. There is no wrong or right way to do any of this, including diet.
  8. Often my own tenderness is for my folly. “Look how well you are being nervous and anxious today Jessica!”
  9. Nothing is coming present that does not deserve my own compassion and acceptance. This includes all the traits about myself that I have judged as “bad” like over-managing things, sadness, mistakes, anger, forgetfulness…

The bottom line here is that we can rearrange the role of illness in our life, and I am proposing that is the very reason illness is here. To help us uncover our beauty. Our big, beautiful hearts. We are the magnificent beings doing the healing. Illness comes to help us rearrange the loving in our hearts. Us doing hard things then has a very meaningful role. One of transformation.

I love you.



  1. Noriko

    Your Articles has made me realize that my autoimmune disease has brought me much-needed healing process as a whole being including my emotional and spiritual being. My focus has shifted. Thank you for speaking truth. I love you!

    • Jessica

      Hi Noriko! I am so happy this has helped you on your journey. Sending love to you! xx-jessica

  2. Tamara

    I love this! We are a healing family and use our uncomfortable feelings as a gateway to healing and just piecing together the puzzle. I say how fortunate we are, with a stripped down diet, to really be able to hear what our bodies are saying to us. So many are unwilling to listen to the information their bodies are providing to them! Thanks for this great read tonight.


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