If medicine is politics then food is religion. I tried so hard for so long to heal myself naturally. Supplements, Meyer’s cocktail IVs, B12 shots, meditation, acupuncture, cupping, juicing, every diet in the book, you name it, I did it. I wanted to avoid medication, western doctors, and any sort of surgery at all costs, and a few months in, my stubbornness landed me in the ER.
This is a touchy, controversial and complicated subject. Everyone has their own idea of what medicine should look like and how we should eat, but I am just here to present you with my own experience and opinion, nothing more. I am not a doctor nor any sort of professional, so feel free to disagree with my thoughts.
I’ve had health problems since I was about 15, primarily GI issues. Whether that was a mild manifestation of my dysautonomia or a different beast, we will never really know. Without doing much research and properly educating myself, I started seeing GI doctors. Bad GI doctors. About four bad doctors in, I was diagnosed with a fructose and lactose intolerance, SIBO, and h pylori. My doctor put on some antibiotics, some miralax, made some modifications to my diet, and sent on me my way. Years rolled by and nothing got better. My body felt so complicated to me. I always had this hunch that there was something wrong, something obscure, and not something that doctors weren't necessarily looking for going on, so I turned to alternative medicine. I started seeing naturopaths. I loved the idea of healing myself with supplements and real food. They payed attention to details, to emotions, the mind/body connection, and I felt listened to. But still, nothing changed for me. I let the idealization of healing myself naturally skew my intuition and my ability to tell what was and wasn’t working. And quite frankly, what I was doing wasn’t working. Considering at this time my problems were more of an “optimal health” issue, I was able to cope enough to function and went off to college. All throughout my first year of college, my GI issues continued, but I found ways to manage. I cooked my own food, went to acupuncture, took my supplements and I was okay.
One foggy February morning, I was driving home from the airport in Portland after spending six hours trying to fly home standby. If you’ve ever tried to fly somewhere standby on a holiday weekend, you’d know it’s a nearly impossible feat. And if you’ve ever lived in the Pacific Northwest, you know that one Californian can only handle so much rain. Excruciatingly homesick, sun deprived, and hysterically crying I turned a corner on the freeway, saw traffic, and hit the breakes. At 75 mph the woman behind me rammed straight into my car, and my head went flying. I was left with a concussion and a huge emotional scar. I felt empty and helpless, and my health started to decline. We are all predispositioned to certain illnesses, but they may not ever be activated in our bodies. I believe I had mild amounts of dysautonomia happening, but the trauma of this accident kicked my nervous system into overdrive. This was a turning point. By the time I got home in May, I knew something was really wrong. Due to my bad experiences with western doctors in the past, I naturally turned to holistic medicine once again. We targeted inflammation and gut health as many holistic healers do. And that is a great approach for some people, but for me, it wasn’t the right approach. I went Paleo, took dozens of supplements, heavy duty probiotics, and again, nothing changed. I went to another naturopath, who I respect and adore, and she was so puzzled by my case. Went to another naturopath, she was also stumped. No one knew what to do. Long story short I started having problems with my heart, became extremely weak, started fainting, and ended up in the ER. At that point I was like… yeah, maybe it’s time to see a doctor.
My pediatrician was pretty concerned, and I couldn’t get into a doctor for months, but I had the opportunity to see a highly recommend nurse practitioner who had a background in naturopathic medicine. I saw this woman with high hopes of improving, and came out with absurd and irrelevant diagnoses. This is a story I will save for another blog post, but let’s just say I walked out of the situation in much worse shape. My health was in rapid decline, and after a failed attempt at my pediatrician desperately trying to get me hospitalized, I ended up with amazing doctors at UCSD and Scripps. It took a while to get to the bottom of what was happening, and we are still not quite there yet, but the incredible tests, technology and care I’ve received has restored my faith in western medicine.
Now, not to say they’re aren’t faults in Western medicine, or in Eastern medicine for that matter. There is no doubt many problems lie within the western way. Over prescribed medication, unnecessary surgery, inattentive care, etc. There are places where it’s lacking, of course, and I’ve experienced many of those places, but the key is BEING YOUR OWN ADVOCATE. You have to put in the time to do the research, listen to your body, know what’s working, and know that your doctor is only human and you are truly the one who knows what’s best for you. Don’t be afraid to disagree just because someone has a PhD!
What’s working for me right now is a healthy combinations of both western and eastern practices. I do acupuncture, take supplements, eat foods that work for me, cupping, green juice, massages, colon hydrotherapy, practicing mindfulness and meditation. But I also take medication, I see doctors, and I will eventually be getting a pacemaker and be doing IV infusions.
In the holistic world there is a lot of stigma around medication, and I’ve been judged on many occasions being someone who is on multiple medications and is under the care of MD’s. “You're tapping out.” “You’re just inflamed.” “You just aren’t meditating enough.” “Drink more green juice.” “Just be vegan.” “The pharmaceutical companies are just trying to exploit you for money.” But some people really do need to be on medication. Sometimes it’s dangerous not to be.
The Eastern/Western binary often feels like the divide we see in politics today. It parallels the deep left/right binary in our country and without getting too political, highlights the problems of extreme thinking. Any extreme school of thought is problematic. The world of food labels is plagued with extreme thinking. Talking about food labels can feel like talking about religion. Paleo is great for inflammation, vegan is ethical, be vegetarian, go gluten free, eat fruit, don’t eat fruit. The plethora of information and opinions out there is overwhelming. Everyone thinks their way is the right way, and the reality is the right way is what works for your body. An unlabeled intuitive way of eating is best for me. I eat what’s not going to make my stomach hurt, and that’s about five foods. One day, I’m going to be able to tolerate more than just five foods, and I’ll eat things because I want to, because they make me feel good, and because they bring me joy. There is no supplement for joy. This journey has taught me how to let go of my expectations and keep an open mind. You have to license to handle your health however you want to, but there is no need for so much judgment and assumption. I am so grateful for all the healers and doctors in my life who continue to provide me amazing support and care. Thank you.