2018 has been an intense learning experience for me, FULL of life lessons and it just keeps on going that way. This year has been a time of intense struggle in my life, on all fronts. (In fact I am ready to move forward into 2019…this 2018 business can, as Uncle Joey would say, Cut. It. Out!)
But I have to look at these struggles as life lessons. Looking back on what has happened so far this year, I can honestly say I have been “woke” in a lot of ways. One way I’d like to touch on today is my relationship with Western Medicine: What it was back when I was a kid growing up, what it was like in my adult years, and what it is today (thanks to 2018).
According to the National Cancer Institute’s Dictionary of Cancer Terms, the definition of Western Medicine (also called “allopathic medicine”), is: “A system in which medical doctors and other healthcare professionals (such as nurses, pharmacists, and therapists) treat symptoms and diseases using drugs, radiation, or surgery. Also called biomedicine, conventional medicine, mainstream medicine, and orthodox medicine.”
I spent most of my life, from the time I was a baby and into my adult years feeling sick. I had frequent stomach aches, constipation, sore throats, sinus infections, and other illnesses such as strep throat, bronchitis, the flu, all things that “normal” kids have and we all get through somehow.
Although I wasn’t horribly sick or terminally ill, which I am grateful for, I always had some kind of problem. On top of that severe anxiety and depression was always a focal point of my life. And to be honest, I never knew I had anxiety until I entered into my twenties. As silly as that may sound, I thought all my physical symptoms were physical symptoms. Not one medical doctor ever said to me, “I think you have anxiety/depression. Let’s look at that.” I just thought having physical problems, and being scared shitless all the time was a “normal” state of being. I knew nothing different than this life. I would think, “Everyone else must feel this way too.”
Once I entered my late twenties, by the age of 28 I was taking about five different prescription drugs daily, at minimum. That was without having some sort of infection and needing antibiotics. I was taking medication for anxiety/depression, chronic sinusitis, asthma, and a thyroid diagnosis. I had sinus infections that returned every two months, waves of bronchitis, urinary tract infections and vaginal infections on a regular basis. And each time I took an antibiotic for one or all of those, I was sure that THIS time, the infection would be knocked out for good. But it would always return like clockwork.
This had been a cycle for me over the course of my entire life, but it wasn’t until my late twenties that I began opening my eyes to greater possibilities. Thoughts that entered my mind were, There has to be more to life than this. I am only 28…what will my medicine cabinet look like at 60? I don’t want to rely on these drugs for the rest of my life...there has to be another way. And the like.
Coincidentally (or not so coincidentally), I found a holistic practitioner who helped me shape up my diet, and recommended some herbal medicine for me as well. That very day I began to change my life and I haven’t looked back since. Today I take zero pharmaceutical medications, and it has everything to do with my diet and lifestyle changes, and my spiritual growth.
I was so interested in this way of living, the natural way, that at the age of 30 I started school for Traditional Naturopathic Medicine. According to naturopathic.org, the definition of Naturopathic Medicine is: “A distinct primary health care profession, emphasizing prevention, treatment and optimal health through the use of therapeutic methods and substances which encourage the person’s inherent self-healing process.” This website also states that “Naturopathic physicians work with their patients to prevent and treat acute and chronic illness and disease, restore health and establish optimal fitness by supporting the person’s inherent self-healing process.” The website also states, “ Naturopathic medicine recognizes an inherent self-healing process in the person which is ordered and intelligent. [They] act to identify and remove obstacles to healing and recovery, and to facilitate and augment this inherent self-healing process.
“Naturopathic doctors follow these three guidelines to avoid harming the patient:
· Utilize methods and medicinal substances which minimize the risk of harmful side effects, using the least force necessary
· Avoid when possible the harmful suppression of symptoms
· Acknowledge, respect and work with the individual’s self-healing process”
In other words, a Naturopathic physician’s job is to honor the innate healing ability of the body, and do everything they can to help support and facilitate this healing without the use of strong or dangerous medications or other substances that could cause harm in the long run.
When I first began my healing journey over a decade ago, I was very strict about everything being “natural” and being handled in a naturopathic manner. That is not to say that I do not practice this today. I still look at everything naturally first, and I always view the person as a whole (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual) when working with not only clients but with myself. That being said I used to be so strict, not only in my practices and but also in my beliefs, that I thought of the medical community in general as being money hungry people who look at patients as numbers in a system. I thought of hospitals as being depressing places that force medications and procedures on the patients against their will. I thought the pharmaceutical industry was an evil, money laundering scam that poisoned people’s bodies and robbed their bank accounts. I was so against mainstream medicine that I got angry when friends or family would tell me about their health struggles. Not angry at them, but angry at the system, and angry at life in general. Talking, thinking about, or analyzing the medical system made my head spin and filled me with rage. And it was all due to my own experience with the medical system growing up, coupled with what I was learning in school about Western medicine vs. Naturopathic medicine.
I was learning that Naturopathic medicine could truly heal from the inside out. That Naturopathic medicine was built to support all systems of the body, so that, on its own, the body’s immune system had the ability to fight dis-ease. That the digestive system was meant to function properly on its own, digesting food, assimilating nutrients, and eliminating wastes appropriately, with the proper support and care from food, herbs, and natural body therapeutics. That the skin was an organ of elimination, and that covering it in drugstore lotions and other chemical substances would only suppress the deeper issue by not allowing the skin to eliminate toxins. I was learning all these new amazing things about the human body and began to view the medical and pharmaceutical industries as the enemy, and that the only way to heal the body, mind and spirit was through natural means.
Fast forward to 2018…
· January 1, 2018: Emotional break down day. Digestive issues triggered after almost two years of eating mostly raw vegan, thinking this was the answer to all of mankind’s ills. I am confused and frustrated.
· January 2018: New, exciting yoga teaching role has begun. I am scared shitless. My belly is locked up in knots. I’m not sleeping. Body shakes. I’m cold. I’m numb. I hate winter.
· February 2018: Getting used to this yoga teaching position, but I still have a marble in my throat. Family health issues. Blood tests begin. I have candida overgrowth in my gut. Deficient in vitamin D, B-12, and iron. Blood tests indicate dehydration and low adrenal function. WHAT??? I have been working so hard with my raw vegan-ness. Confused as hell.
· March 2018: Kitty has a seizure in my kitchen. Immediate veterinary help. And just like that she is diagnosed with three heart conditions and hyperthyroid condition. I am devastated, confused and lost on what to do moving forward. Must. Have. Wine. Oh wait, I can’t…those digestive issues. Candida. Dang.
· April 2018: Trying to get kitty stable on new meds. They upset her tummy. She stops eating. She’s dehydrated. Emergency vet visits every other week. They stabilize her multiple times.
· May-August 2018: Ok, we are getting stable. I feel more “normal.” Several rechecks on blood levels. Things are normalizing with supplements and eating cooked, warm foods and adding chicken dark meat to my diet. Kitty gets meds twice per day orally and transdermally. She is eating. We got this.
This year has changed my perspective of Western Medicine drastically. Yes, there are absolutely medical doctors out there who consider their patients numbers. Yes, the medical system has its flaws. Yes, the pharmaceutical industry definitely has its downfalls too and is practically unaffordable in some instances. And no, I do NOT believe in relying on pharmaceutical medication to heal.
But, what I DO believe, is I believe in collaboration. I believe that using natural means and combining them with medically necessary medications or procedures is a beautiful thing. I believe that Western Medicine and Naturopathy/Eastern Medicine can be used together in healing. I believe that disease prevention using natural means is essential (Key word: prevention), and at the same time we live in a world where all disease cannot possibly be prevented.
We have all kinds of environmental influences and stressors, all kinds of chemicals and hormones being pelted at us on a daily basis. The only thing we can really do, is to do our best with prevention.
I can honestly tell you that between my own recent health challenge, health challenges in my family, and this new life and death scenario with our cat, we have truly had some AMAZING doctors and practitioners on our team. Yes, to keep our cat alive and comfortable, she has to be on medication, at least for now. No amount of diet changes or supplements could save her life quickly like medication and this awesome team of doctors we have. I believe that, eventually, perhaps, with hard work and lots of research, trial and error, we may be able to one day get her off meds. But the reality is she needs them to survive, and I am eternally grateful, in this moment, that we have medication that can help keep our sweetie alive.
On the topic of human health, sometimes we just need to take medications or supplements to live a fulfilling life. For example, I have seen anxiety and depression take a HUGE toll on some of the people that I love. To the point where their eyes are dark and sunken back, they lose a tremendous and unhealthy amount of weight, and they retreat from society. Sometimes when we are in a situation like this, where quality of life is depreciated so greatly, no amount of therapy or supplements can help lift a person up more quickly or effectively than some sort of anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication. I am not ashamed to say I have taken these in the past, and it can legitimately save someone’s life. I do understand there are dangers to some of these drugs, and I am not trying to be an advocate for drug taking by any means. But sometimes, when you need it you need it. And it can make all the difference in the world, and there’s nothing wrong with it.
As for supplements, between all the blood testing I’ve had done this year, I have finally gotten my levels normalized for just about everything, with the use of supplements. And I take MANY supplements each day. We just can’t do it all with food in some cases. I am grateful for my doctors, and, although expensive, I am grateful for supplements because without them I would not be feeling as good as I do today.
We live in a world where western medicine often criticizes, or does not believe in natural medicine. A world where Natural practitioners, just like me, think of Western Medicine as the enemy. This needs to change. What needs to happen is a collaborative form of care. And I believe it is starting to happen. I am starting to feel a shift.
Energy medicine, yoga, and acupuncture are now being used in hospitals and medical clinics to complement and enhance medical health care. Naturopathic Doctors, in some states, practice natural medicine as well as prescribe necessary medications when the need is there. Acupuncture, longs walks, and yoga are being “prescribed” by medical doctors.
There is not a good or bad side to this. It is simply the world in which we live. I will be eternally grateful for medical doctors, veterinarians, and emergency medicine, as they all save lives. No, the medical system is not perfect. But what is? It needs improvements for sure, but what I see is continuing research happening in hopes of helping people survive in this crazy world. I see doctors, nurses and other practitioners alike, working hard to help their patients feel better. I see hard working, responsible, caring surgical teams performing life-saving procedures. And I see medication helping people remain stable and move forward with their lives, so they can feel somewhat “normal” (whatever that means).
The problem comes in when we start to rely on medication alone to “cure” us. In order to live, it is important for us as a society of humans to do things in our life to create the healthiest version of ourselves we can possibly be. Eating fresh, organic, unprocessed food, getting outdoors and staying active, connecting with others, having some sort of spiritual practices, and the like are just some things we can do to create our healthiest self in the midst of all the chaos.
There is much more I could say on this topic, but I will end with this. I will always turn to natural medicine first, for my care and my family’s care. And at the same time, no matter what happens, I truly believe that there are doctors out there who genuinely care for and want to help their patients. I believe that medication is not all bad, and I am grateful for the medications that save lives. I believe that working co-creatively, between western and eastern medicine is truly a blessing in our modern world. And I encourage you to BE in the space of gratitude for ALL things. Acceptance, kindness, and gratitude can change the world if we all join hands. After all, we are all connected, we are all ONE, as God intended.