Linda Frazer Fleming, M.S. is a writer and teacher who spends time encouraging people to broaden their perspectives and persevere in their quest for living healthy lives. Her book, Releasing Arthritis: The Seven Year Plan, shares her inspiring personal journey in dealing with arthritis. Her next book, Bones That Carry Weight, a fictional account of learning to live well within the confines of illness, is in the editing stage. To get information about either book, call (831) 429-5987 (Developmental Learning Solutions) or e-mail lindafleming@att.net.

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After a 14-year struggle with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), it seemed that one morning I woke up well. The battle was over. I had been on the healing path for seven of those long years, and the next leg of my journey, finding recognition and importance as a healthy person, would take me another three. By the end of those three years, I was 36 years old.

No longer needing medication or weekly trips to the doctor, I am often asked how I achieved health. People want me to outline - in ten words or less - my "gimmick." Grateful for the opportunity to share what I have learned, I developed a course called Power to Choose. In it, I tell people there is no gimmick - that healing is a process of integrating the body, mind, and spirit, and that the process requires commitment and perseverance.

I had been a teacher, but when I decided to change, I had to leave the classroom. Teaching left me exhausted and unwilling to deal with my commitment to heal. After a decade, however, I am back at it. And this time, I leave the classroom with more energy than when I went in.

After years of searching for the fastest way to change, I finally settled-- at first uncomfortable- into the awareness that it was process that could be roughly broken down into three parts. To succeed, I knew I had to feel fully and live all three, although I never knew how to explain this clearly until I attended a workshop given by Arnold Patent (You Can Have it All), in which he described three stages of change. These three stages are:

Random--the knowledge that a change needs to be made and a general search for ways to do so. This stage can take a month. I have also seen it take years;

Structure--commitment to follow a certain path for however long it takes (it is this part of the process where many people fall through the cracks);

Creativity--the successful leaning and living of what one had set out to change.

When I first offered my course, through an area adult education program, all of my students were physically ill. As time passed and I became more open, people came to the class with a variety of issues: career frustrations, unresolved feelings of anger and hopelessness, unfulfilled relationships, or a deep hunger to develop a more spiritual connection to God and their fellow man. And, each person came to class stuck in one of the first two stages of change.

By the time people arrive in my class, most have gone through the random stage a number of times without a knowing what it was, and have entered the structure stage a number of times as well. They are usually extremely frustrated because they seem to get stuck at the same place every time. This frustration encourages them to give up--until their problems make them so uncomfortable that they try again.

"I tell people there is no gimmick ...healing is a process of integrating the body, mind, and spirit."

A good way to describe the process is to imagine that you want to go on a diet. First, you are very excited about the prospect of losing weight. You investigate all the diets that appeal to you, and then you make a choice as to which diet you will go on. Second, you zealously begin the diet, eagerly awaiting the first sign that it is working. You quickly lose a few pounds, but then the progress slows, even ceases. You feel angry and soon you find yourself at the grocery store buying a bag of goodies and eating them all in the car. Stage three is not achieved, and either you find yourself back where you left off, or you weigh more than you did when you started. Guilt sets in, and self-esteem sinks another notch.

Stage two, or the structure stage, is usually the most thorny, although some people find it extremely difficult to decide on a plan at all. Both of these problems arise because, as we choose or persist, we confront ourselves with the real reasons for our health, relationship, career, or spirituality issues. Whether we are aware of it or not, this confrontation often leads to resistance. If we do not persist in either the decision-making or structure part of the process by plunging into further self-examination, we will give up.

How this resistance is dealt with is up to the individual. It is extremely important, however, to know what is happening. When we can label our reluctance to start or continue the process as resistance to the issues that committed, disciplined structure unearths, we are on our way to change. This awareness is often the most important thing that people get from my class. They leave knowing that change is a multi-staged process, and that resistance is not only normal, but to be expected. They come to grips with the fact that the dream of altering life patterns overnight is a stressful and unrealistic way to approaching change.

The biggest bonus of this awareness is that it lessens a major roadblock to change: guilt. This awareness is the first step toward success, because with it and without guilt, we can feel free to tackle the process of change yet one more time.