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“I need to know when to withdraw from my helping mode,” Natalie told Maté as she continued to care for her abusive husband.
One intervention that has shown to be very impactful is mindful meditation, when people sit in silence and allow their minds to untether themselves from any particular thought.
Over the course of a few months in 1996, her 16-year-old son was discharged from a drug rehab center and her husband was diagnosed with malignant bowel cancer.
While she cared for her husband, she suffered from fatigue, dizziness and ringing in her ears, and finally she went in for a checkup and received her MS diagnosis. Natalie’s husband was combative and aggressive, and it was after particularly nasty encounters that her symptoms were exacerbated. All the while, Natalie’s disease got worse and worse.
“Chronic stress is activation of the stress mechanisms over long periods of time when a person is exposed to stressors that cannot be escaped either because she does not recognize them or because she has no control over them,” Maté wrote.
“We no longer sense what is happening in our bodies and cannot therefore act in self-preserving ways.” The same scenario shows up in his other patients: Barbara, a psychotherapist with MS whose symptoms started after she housed a sociopathic man, against better judgment, or Véronique, who kept her symptoms secret because she didn’t want to place an emotional burden on anyone else.