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Illness as Metaphor: Fungus Part B

Marcey Shapiro, MD

Any infection has a lot to teach us about ourselves. Emotionally and spiritually, fungus present in the body leads people metaphorically to deep, stagnant issues. Filaments of these issues touch and affect many areas of life. Fungal infections often illuminate core issues, longstanding and deeply held beliefs, and protracted dysfunctional patterns of action that affect the individual broadly.

We can appreciate the fungus and what it offers. Patients often find that the emotional and spiritual issues related to fungus are interwoven in their lives, affecting many ways of being, just as fungus interweaves in tissue. When I have patients with a fungal overgrowth, I encourage them to look for deep-seated and possibly stagnant issues that entangle many areas of their life.

Take, for example, a digestive fungal overgrowth, what is often referred to in Integrative medicine as “candida overgrowth”. I encourage patients with this condition to consider looking at ways they are not digesting their life. Examining their words to themselves and their basic behaviors is often fruitful and illuminating.

I have one patient, “Janet,” who had a persistent and severe fungal overgrowth in her digestive tract, confirmed by stool tests. She could not tolerate any sweet foods. Even raw carrots or butternut squash triggered symptoms of anal itching, terrible bloating, and skin rash. When we looked at her life, there was a lot that the fungus was showing her. Her life severely lacked sweetness. She described her husband as aloof yet controlling, belittling and disdainful of her. She had really wanted children. She believes her yeast symptoms began around the time her husband flatly refused to consider more offspring (he had two children with his first wife) and had a vasectomy without consulting her. She “knew” she should leave him but she feared destitution if she divorced. He is wealthy and their pre-nuptial agreement was very restrictive. She also described him as “vindictive.”

When we looked deeper we saw that none of these issues was new in her life. She and her husband, who was older and very much like her father, had been married for more than fifteen years. Her mother had been “beaten down” and escaped into quiet alcoholism in her fifties, dying of breast cancer at sixty-two.

Today Janet is improving. She began psychotherapy and consulted a divorce attorney to better understand her rights. It turns out that her situation is not so bleak as she had imagined, and although she would not be wealthy after a divorce she would be comfortable. She has realized that happiness is the most important thing to her and has been spending more time outdoors by the bay. She got a dog that she loves and who adores her. She carries his picture on her phone. Janet remains careful with her diet and considers the fungus a teacher; she can now eat carrots and an occasional serving of berries without any flare of her symptoms.

This case, although extreme, is not atypical of the deep types of problems that fungi can illuminate and help us clarify. Fungi, infections, and disease processes have wisdom to share with us. They are not “the problem,” and thinking of them in that way can derail our healing by preventing us from seeing their gifts.

Excerpted from Transforming the Nature of Health: A Holistic Vision of Healing that Honors Our connection to the Earth, Others, and Ourselves by Marcey Shapiro, MD, published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2012 by Marcey Shapiro. Reprinted by permission of publisher.

Stay tuned for more thoughts from Marcey Shapiro, MD,  on “Transforming Health” and Heart Centered Living

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