Our culture is obsessed with rational thought. The problem is that our nervous system does not function “rationally,” and so some of the things that I found helpful may seem a little “out there”, but they worked. Two of these that I’m lumping together are visualizations and talking to my symptoms. For me both involved using my imagination to tap into deep aspects of my physical and emotional experience.

Lots of guided meditations involve various types of visualizations that can be used to help calm the nervous system. One of the things I found helpful was lying in bed imagining—and then really feeling—negativity in my body as black strings wrapped in a tight knot around my guy or heart or spine or woven throughout my limbs, and I would imagine allowing all the negative black strings that were from external sources (e.g. fears I’d picked up from my parents or friends or society) to fly from my body and go back to their original source. I also found an audiobook on Shamanic meditations , and doing those, I “accessed”(?) a spirit animal that would suck up and eat the black negativity strings like spaghetti.

If I had a symptom, such as a migraine or ringing in my ears, I would lay in bed and ask the symptom what it wanted me to know or what it wanted from me. Or I might just visualize sending those questions down my spine if the symptom was intense fatigue or anxiety. Often, the symptoms would represent themselves to me as monsters or demons that hated me and that were hellbent on destroying me. But after I let them have their say or go on their attack, they would morph into little kids that were just playing dress up as monsters and who were really scared and not sure what else to do to stay safe.

I’m here to tell you: it was weird. But every single time I allowed my imagination to take over and tap into the illness and let the illness have its say, I got better. At one point, I came across a book describing an old, lesser-known Buddhist technique of talking to your inner demons and then feeding them love, which was similar enough to what I was allowing my imagination to do that I felt better about what was going on internally. By the time I came across that book, I was pretty good at talking to my “demons,” so I didn’t personally find it as helpful, but it had some interesting suggestions.

I also had more “normal” experiences—sort of. For example, my aunt passed away, and I cried and was upset when I learned the news, but when I went to bed that night, I could feel all the signs of a migraine coming on. So I asked the migraine what it wanted me to know. What was I still missing? And the pain in the side of my head screamed back that I was still really upset. I realized that, although in this case I had been able to cry and be sad about the news, there was still more emotion that needed to be felt. So I lay in bed and let myself really feel the sadness—I don’t remember if I cried much more, but I felt the sadness all through my body. And I never got a migraine.

In any case, the gist of this weird section is that, being rational about a chronic illness may not help. I had to allow myself to feel and imagine all sorts of weird things in order to get better, and doing so really was a critical aspect of recovery for me.