It was during a period of extreme stress in my life that I developed inflammatory arthritis. My mother was dying of breast cancer, and on a flight back to my home in Washington, D.C., one of my knees swelled up. Over the next several weeks, the other knee swelled, then my elbows, my shoulders and my ankles began to ache. I felt stiff when I woke up, like a rusty car. I’m a rheumatologist, and now I knew what my patients meant when they said they felt stiff.

I realized that I had inflammatory arthritis. Not a huge surprise, as half my family had one rheumatic disease or another – my mother had rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, my grandmother, lupus, and on and on.

My mother died shortly after I had moved into a new house in Washington, D.C. My new neighbors – a Greek-Finnish couple who had seen me on my deck with my laptop computer, writing what was to become my first book – asked if I was a writer. I said, “Why do you ask?” They said, “Because we’ve always wanted an author to stay at our cottage in Crete.” I said, smiling, “I’m a writer!”

And so began my road to healing. I went with them to their tiny village of Lentas on the south coast of Crete, and spent hours every day swimming in the calm, warm waters of the bay, eating delicious Greek food – tzatziki, dolmades, fresh fish and vegetables, and lots of virgin olive oil. I inhaled the sweet scent of jasmine and lemon blossoms on the night air, the eucalyptus and lavender. I gazed for hours at the blue, blue Mediterranean sea, from my perch in the doorway of a tiny stone chapel on a hill above the town.

New research is telling us that it was not a coincidence that I got sick when I did, during a period of extreme chronic stress, and it was not a coincidence that I began to heal when I went to Greece and changed my lifestyle.