It has certainly been a while since the last post! Rest assured, I have not abandoned this blog. Many ideas have been swimming around in my mind, and today I feel compelled to share with you one of the most important of those ideas.
I want to have a serious conversation with you about how to approach the Journey we call Healing…
One of my main goals for our patients is to be successful on this Journey and reach their potential for optimum health. “Optimum health” means different things to different people, and each person has his or her own potential, limited only by factors we can’t control, such as some genetics, some lifelong diseases, and some environmental impurities. However, even if you DO live in toxic surroundings, carry some “bad” genes, or have been diagnosed with a lifelong disease, that doesn’t mean that you can’t reach YOUR potential. We just have to find out what that potential is. You may have never experienced it (yet).
During this journey toward optimum health, we undergo a healing process. It’s important to know that “healing” is not the same as a “cure”. Conventional medical school teaches that a “cure” is defined as an “infinite remission” of a disease. Understandably, that becomes their main goal.
That sounds good and noble. But is conventional medicine good at curing disease? Recent statistics indicate that 7 out of 10 deaths are due to chronic disease, the major ones being:
- Cardiovascular Disease (heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and others)
- Cancer (all types, quickly overtaking Cardiovascular Disease as the #1 cause of death)
- Diabetes (especially Type 2, which is exploding, although we are seeing many more adults develop Type 1 than before)
- Autoimmune disease (Multiple Sclerosis, Celiac Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, alopecia areata, Parkinson’s Disease, Sjogren’s Disease, Lupus/SLE, and many others)
- Neurodegenerative and cognitive disorders (such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, as well as other types of neurological problems like neuropathies and seizures)
Another staggering statistic is, one out of every two adults had at least one chronic illness.
Verdict: conventional medicine doesn’t have a great track record of curing. This is not to say that they don’t save lives, especially in emergency or advanced situations–there is definitely a time and place where conventional medicine is exactly the right approach–but its principles don’t hold up so well when applied to treating chronic disease.
We must think instead in terms of healing. A Functional Medicine doctor must know who the person is in order to help make them whole. (This is one of the reasons we ask so many questions on our intake forms!)
Each person has several layers of being
- Our parts – our body and brain – these constitute the “material” layer
- Our mind, thoughts and psychological status – these make up the “awareness” layer
- Our meaning, values, and things we deem important to us – these form the “non-conceptual awareness” layer
- Our transpersonal relationships and spiritual paths – these help us to “transcend”
When we talk about healing, we’re not talking about eradicating a disease. We’re talking about healing a person, a person with dreams, thoughts, desires, wishes, secrets, aches and pains, losses, regrets, hurt, headaches, digestion issues, mobility problems, excess weight, high blood sugar, short-term memory problems, sadness, and many other aspects. We are multidimensional beings.
We are also interpersonal beings, and we identify with our associations, which often include our family, our marriages, our circles of friends, our careers, our communities, and more.
Next, I want to make a bold statement: Illness is a gift. That statement might cause some resistance, to put it mildly–in fact, it might make you angry, but please read on, because I’ll explain. (In fact, despite the tough battle I must fight regarding my own autoimmune diseases–yes, plural–I had arrived at this conclusion myself, for the same reasons I’m about to discuss.)
Illness is a gift in that it presents for the person a HUGE opportunity for growth and transformation. That doesn’t mean that this is always a happy or pleasant journey. In fact, it’s a very challenging path, with many potholes, ravines, unstable rocks, roadblocks, and steep cliffs along the way. Hippocrates, known as the Father of Medicine (the same one who said, “let thy food be thy medicine”, taught us that one can learn how to gain from our illness by one’s own thought.
This means that healing is a journey. When you’re first dealing with your illness, you may experience denial and anger. Eventually, this may evolve into acceptance and benefit and if it does, this is the stage at which you can begin to heal.
A colleague told a story about another friend/colleague of his that developed cancer. His friend became angry, frustrated, and resentful, blaming it on an office issue in which he had a staffing issue with someone he hired. His cancer required a lot of his attention and a lot of time spent away from the office, and he could not allow this issue to continue in his absence. So, he dealt with that issue once and for all and resolved it completely. This was a major stressor that had affected his whole life for years, and the development of the cancer forced him to resolve the issue. Had he not developed it, he might have allowed this issue to continue, dragging him down for the rest of his working life. As it stands, I believe his cancer is in remission, and his office is solid and peaceful.
My own autoimmune disease was a gift as well. If someone had said that to me early on, I would have thought they were crazy. However, I slowly realized as time went on, and I fruitlessly searched and searched for a doctor who could really help me and would take the time to try and solve my mystery, that such a doctor would not be made available to me anytime soon, and that I would have to become that doctor myself, to make sure that no one else went through what I did. So, I went through school and although this cost me dearly (my disease got worse and progressed into multiple diseases), I emerged, tattered and broken, yet alive, and resolute: no one in my care was going to suffer or walk alone. Had I not developed that disease, I would not have found my calling to serve, and I would not have sat here before you. My disease(s) ARE indeed a gift.
That doesn’t mean the journey was easy. It required transformation. Transformation is not the same as change. Change is what it takes to be different, in which State “A” is different than State “B”. Change involves small alterations, Baby Steps that can be taken quickly, such as vowing to take 3 deep breaths every 20 minutes, in order to relieve stress at work.
Transformation happens on a grander scale in which you begin to identify or connect with something else and ingrain into your core being so that it becomes part of you. An example of this might be the discovery of yoga or Nia for that stress relief, in which you experience a “wow!” moment. When you hit a “wow!” or “a-ha!” moment, you’ve just undergone a transformation.
Another sign you’ve undergone transformation is when you begin to “do a 180” from your previous opinion and believe the opposite of what you believed before. One of my patients, always the skeptic and always one to do what he was going to do and never put much stock into my gluten-avoidance advice, read a particular book, “Wheat Belly”. Not several months later, this man is not only gluten-free but GRAIN-free, realizing that corn (something he once consumed rather freely) isn’t so great, either. Every chance he gets, he strikes up conversations with visitors or even some regular patients in our front lobby, professing the evils of the grain family, especially wheat (“that stuff is killing us!”) I smile and laugh inside. Transformations are beautiful and fun to watch. Witnessing someone go through transformation, as painful and confusing it can be for the patient (and the doctor–we don’t want to see you suffer either!) is one of the greatest rewards for me in practice.
All transformation involves change (lots of change), but not all change is transformation. Almost anyone can go on a crash diet and lose 10 pounds in two weeks to fit into that bikini during Spring Break. Anyone can eliminate gluten for a week. However, some people are so hooked on the adrenaline rush of the evening news cast or political AM radio talk shows that despite the fact that these stimuli are causing subtle, low-grade stress reactions that slowly eat the person alive, they can’t bring themselves to stop watching or listening. Or they can’t simply leave that toxic ex-significant other alone. If these people were to take those steps, they would surely have “wow!” moments…and undergo important, potentially life-saving transformation.
On a grand scale, there have been some pretty famous transformers that not only experienced personal evolution, but shared this with the world; examples include people like Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr…you get the idea. You don’t have to be the next Gandhi, but it might not be a bad idea to use his level of commitment and vision as a role model for your own personal journey.
Sometimes, transformation occurs through the resolution of dissonance. Dissonance is the difference between what you want (more energy, less weight, cancer remission, a sharper mind, fertility, clear skin, better lab test results) and what you’re currently doing (are you eating salads or sodas for lunch? Are you walking or watching violent movies at night?) Sometimes, all it takes is to be AWARE of the dissonance; that alone can motivate people to make changes. Other times, it takes an event that really hits home (such as a heart attack, or a conventional doctor’s mention of an insulin or statin drug trial).
My job as a Functional Medicine doctor is to help YOU facilitate that change, and to walk with you as a guide through your journey, holding your hand in support every step of the way, so that you do not ever feel alone. My patients come to me ready to do something; most aren’t sure what, but they know they can’t keep doing what they’ve been doing and expect different results.
It’s also my job to understand that most patients will likely take steps backward in their journey. This is normal, and it is not a sign of failure. To give up completely and drop out of care without another idea in mind would be failing; to keep going, even if you’ve veered off the path, is not failure. The path to healing is not linear; it spirals and curves, twisting and turning. Sometimes you fall. You don’t need to hide it and you don’t need to be ashamed. You just need to get back up and keep trying.
Spirituality can bring about massive transformation, and even help alleviate some chronic diseases. Some people find God, while others begin to question the religious framework in which they were raised. Still others try out spiritual paths for themselves, dabbling in one philosophy or another, as if trying on clothing to see if it fits. (There is NO problem with that! If you feel drawn to do this, then by all means, please do.) Some people merely get in touch with nature and that provides a spiritual springboard for them. Others seek counseling or cut toxic drama-prone people from their lives. These trials and excisions may cause a little (or a lot of) pain, but they bring about healing.
Every good healthcare professional (Functional Medicine and otherwise) should make Compassion their top priority. Compassion can be eloquently defined as, “where love meets suffering.” It is our job to love our patients for who they are, wherever they are in their lives and on their journeys, leaving no room for judgment or condemnation. If we doctors are to call ourselves healers, this is an absolute requirement…
…because healing is MORE than a cure. Chemotherapy cures cancer, but it does not HEAL the person. Chemo may be necessary in many cases, but that person must also work to heal from the inside and undergo a true transformation.
Let’s walk. 🙂