How I overcame chronic illness and miscarriage and found path to hope and confidence in life

My friend could not believe what she saw.

It was the summer of 2005. In less than four months, I had lost 12 pounds from what was already an underweight frame. I was so thin that I had stopped menstruating. I walked very slowly as I approached my friend, because I was very weak.

The dramatic weight loss was the result of following a strict diet that a chiropractor had prescribed after seeing that I was not able to digest fat and carbohydrates well.

That treatment was just one among numerous treatments I had sought out at the time, hoping to improve my health so that I could have a viable pregnancy.

Two years earlier, I had experienced a painful miscarriage that left my husband and me questioning whether we could even have children. I had been suffering from multiple health problems for several years and this pregnancy had finally given us some hope. But it was not meant to be.

With all of the sadness and frustration a tragedy like that brings, I looked for help from every source I could think of to restore my health and get pregnant again. I really wanted to be a mom.

I visited various doctors and other health care professionals and tried many alternative therapies, but none of them worked very well.

“Two years earlier I had experienced a painful miscarriage.”

As my health continued to decline on what amounted to a starvation diet with the chiropractor, my mood deteriorated and my dreams for children and good health appeared elusive.

The good news is that I managed to reclaim my health in that same year, owing to having run into my old friend that day.

When she saw me and my frail body, she teared up, as I reminded her of another of her friends who had eventually succumbed to cancer. We spent a few minutes catching up. After that chance meeting, I realized how ridiculous I had been, chasing after health and fulfillment and, in the process, putting my health at significant risk. I was doing just the opposite of what I had intended!

I was also reminded of a path I had been on shortly before my miscarriage, one that would have allowed me to genuinely care for myself had I not been so caught up in curing my health problems and getting a quick fix to have a happy life.

My health and well-being gradually improved after I rediscovered that path, and I have gotten steadily better ever since. I share my story here so that you can better understand my situation and how a traditional practice for improving one’s character helped me get back on my feet and has helped many other people as well.

Multiple Health Issues Since Childhood

The author (middle) with her older brother and sister when she was 3 years old, in 1972.

I had suffered from numerous physical problems since I was a child.

When I was 3 and a half, I came down with pneumonia and coughed so much that I pulled a muscle in my back. I remember getting sharp pains in my chest if I lay down too quickly on my back.

I would always try to lie down on my side first so I would not feel the pain. I remember saying to my mother when I was about 8 or 9, “Mom, I feel as if I’ve been shot.” She would look at me curiously and chuckle awkwardly.

No one at the time knew what to make of it. It was not until many years later that a doctor told me this was probably trapped gas. Looking back, I realize that I could never take in a full breath, which over time contributed to so many medical issues, such as fatigue and digestive problems.

At age 10, I was involved in a bike accident that resulted in temporary blindness and various cognitive problems.

The author at a birthday party with her mother, at age 10 in 1979.

Before the accident, I had been a very good speller and reader and was able to get good grades without putting in much effort. But after that incident, I went from getting straight A’s without having to work very hard to getting B’s and C’s and struggling. I had notable problems with concentration and memory.

This triggered in me a strong outbreak of resentment and jealousy of those who were not struggling as I was. Anytime one of my family members or peers did well at something and received praise and recognition, I would instantly be full of hate, feeling that I was falling behind everyone else. I felt completely trapped and hopeless.

The author (middle) at her high school graduation with her mother (left) and her older sisters, at age 18 in 1987.

When I was 21, I started suffering from severe headaches. Two years later, a neurologist discovered that I was born with a congenital brain condition and had two large cysts at the back of my brain. I had surgery to remove what they could of the cysts just before I turned 25.

My symptoms did not subside, however, but worsened. I not only was having constant headaches, digestive difficulties, and fatigue, but was also experiencing gynecological symptoms, thyroid issues, and diabetic symptoms.

Becoming a Psychologist

Despite my health issues, I made my best effort to pursue my career goal of becoming a psychologist.

Psychology seemed to be a natural career choice for me. As the youngest of three children, I often felt I did not have a voice, or at least a voice with as much strength and intelligence as that of my siblings. This experience of inferiority worsened with my father’s remarriage, which resulted in three more children, also all older than me, coming into our home.

Feeling unseen and unheard, I became very shy and quiet. I spent a lot of time observing others and longed for someone I could talk with who would not judge me but rather help me feel supported and encouraged.

I wanted to be that someone who could help others who were struggling, who could help them find their voice and tackle many of the challenges that I myself had to deal with in my own life.

The author obtained her doctoral degree in psychology in 2001, at age 32.

At college, I completed a combined undergraduate degree program in psychology and art studies, and upon graduation did various forms of counselling before accepting a position as a psychiatric technician at a local hospital in Philadelphia working with the elderly.

After two years in this position, I went to graduate school to obtain a doctorate degree in psychology. I finished in 2001, at age 32, and became a clinical psychologist.

Searching for Healing

Since many of the conventional medical treatments did not help me, during graduate school I tried a host of alternative therapies, including chiropractic, bio cranial therapy, nutrition therapy, acupuncture, craniosacral therapy and neurocranial restructuring. They seemed to help, but the effects were short-lived.

The author suffered from numerous health problems and tried many different treatments in hopes of finding relief.

When I returned to Philadelphia to complete my postdoctoral internship, I was introduced to a traditional Chinese spiritual practice for the mind and body called Falun Dafa, also known as Falun Gong. It would later change my life completely, but not until I started to truly understand its principles and realize that I would gain nothing by looking outside of myself to solve my problems.

Character Improvement Vs. Pursuit of Health

The person who introduced me to Falun Dafa, a resident in the Psychiatry program, told me that many people had experienced significant improvements in their health after taking up the practice, so I was immediately interested and wanted to know more.

I learned that Falun Dafa consists of moral teachings based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance, which are explained in the primary text of the cultivation system Zhuan Falun, as well as gentle exercises that include four standing exercises and a sitting meditation.

The English version of Zhuan Falun (left), the main book of teachings of Falun Dafa, which has been translated into over 40 languages from its original version in Chinese (right).

Even though it is a spiritual path, Falun Dafa has no religious formalities like most religions in the Western world. Instead, in traditional Chinese terminology it is called a “cultivation practice,” which refers to the cultivation, or improvement, of one’s moral character on the path to spiritual enlightenment.

My fellow resident taught me the exercises and I was eager to learn. But my main motivation for starting the practice was to use it to cure my illnesses. I did not have a clear understanding of the principles, which emphasize improving one’s character by assimilating to truthfulness, compassion and tolerance. As a result, my health never improved.

Finding My Way Back

The author and her husband, John, were married in 2002.

I married in 2002 and a year later suffered the miscarriage I described earlier. In my depression and desperate wish to have a baby, I shifted my focus back to alternative health treatments and stopped practicing Falun Dafa altogether.

When I ran into that old friend that day I was so weak and feeble, I was reminded of the teachings of Falun Dafa and suddenly realized it was time for me to find my way back and truly become a genuine follower of this cultivation practice.

I let go of my desperation for relief and just did my best to abide by Falun Dafa’s principles of being a good person.

Every day I read Zhuan Falun and did the full two hours of the Falun Dafa exercises. I stopped taking the supplements the chiropractor had prescribed, which had not helped me anyway, and started eating whatever I wanted.

The author doing one of the Falun Dafa exercises.

I had two more sessions with the chiropractor. At the first session, he noticed my improvements right away and said I was becoming stronger and looked healthier. He exclaimed with great pride and enthusiasm, “The treatment is finally working!” At the second session, he remarked that he was amazed at my progress. It was then that I told him my recovery was due to practicing Falun Dafa and that I had in fact stopped taking the supplements and adhering to the strict diet.

Reclaiming My Health, Purifying My Heart

Many of my symptoms reduced dramatically after I started practicing Falun Dafa again, and I was able to manage them much better. I even gained some weight! Although I did not experience a full recovery, my overall health improved gradually and became more and more stable.

In particular, as my resentment and jealousy decreased, my physical symptoms improved. Falun Dafa was instrumental in helping me change my mindset and adjust my approach to taking care of my health.

The author dressed as a heavenly maiden on a Falun Dafa float in a July 4 parade.

I understand now that the way to better health and peace of mind comes from purifying one’s heart and mind, not looking outside for the answers. I know that by striving to uplift my own moral character, correct my thoughts, and be mindful of how I treat others, I will be able to eventually return to my true nature and reclaim my true self, which is truthful, compassionate and tolerant.

How could I have expected to feel well when I was so full of anger and resentment? I’ve learned to understand that our thoughts have a tremendous power to impact our motivation, our health, and our happiness. Falun Dafa’s principles taught me how to truly rise above all of the toxic thoughts and feelings that were sickening my physical body and weakening my spirit.

Helping Myself, Helping Others

I have been practicing Falun Dafa diligently for more than 15 years now, and I can say that it has truly changed my life for the better.

The author (left) and a friend enjoying the Asian American Heritage Month celebration in Philadelphia.

I run a private practice in Philadelphia, where I treat children and adults with a variety of conditions, including depression, anxiety, trauma and adjustment disorders. In my patients, I see many of the same emotional trials and tribulations that used to keep me from living the life I wanted to live.

As Falun Dafa continues to brighten my life, it is helping me help others as a psychologist as well.

I encourage you to believe in yourself and trust that at the center of your being you have the answer, no matter what issue or difficulty you might be facing in your life. I also hope that you will have an opportunity to learn more about Falun Dafa and experience its benefits for yourself.

Jessica Russo is a clinical psychologist living in Philadelphia.

Editor’s Note:

Falun Dafa is a cultivation practice of mind and body that teaches truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance as a way to improve health and moral character and attain spiritual wisdom.

For more information about the practice, visit www.falundafa.org. All books, exercise music, resources, and instructions are available free of charge.

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