The body is designed to heal itself. It’s wiser and more complex and capable than most of us can even conceive of. I rely on this every time I put my hands on a patient…. Over the years I’ve had the conversation many times with Dr. Jealous – why are we needed if the body is able to heal itself? The conversation happens over and over because part of the answer lies in the mystery of life… I’m not going to talk about that in this blog. But I do want to talk about what everyone is going through and why it seems to be happening that the body isn’t fixing itself.
Even though we are built to self-heal, there comes a point when those homeostatic systems get overwhelmed. Sometimes we do it to ourselves, with food, drugs and alcohol… or over working or not sleeping enough or moving enough…
We aren’t superheroes or machines. We are just human, and all living forms require certain care – certain nutrients, and rest, and water and movement and love….so if any, or some, or all, of these are deficient, at a certain point we won’t be able to heal.
And sometimes the system is overwhelmed by circumstances out of our control. We are exposed to environmental toxins, we are required to work too much, we suffer a deep loss, we have family members who need a monumental amount of care…. the list goes on. It’s life.
I don’t need to list the things that have happened over the last year, but … the pandemic has just taken a huge toll on everyone. If you lost someone, if you didn’t. Maybe you lost your job, or your income dropped, or you had to manage work while your whole family was home, on the same wifi, all day long… maybe it was just being on wifi all day that was too much. We, collectively, have suffered and lost so much. Individually, each of us has gone through an experience we never would have dreamed possible living here in the land of plenty and freedom….
I remember a conversation I had with a patient back in March of 2020. I said, this is what you’ve been working towards for the last 40 years, building up your capacity, resources, and strength. This is why we have been talking about resiliency. To manage this situation, right now. At the time, it seemed to me, we would all step up our game for a bit. We’d do service, be a hero, take care of what we needed to take care of, for ourselves and our families, and we’d come through it. But now, as 2021 nears its end, and the pandemic does not, the conversation has changed. I have had to ask, what happens when resilience isn’t enough?
I think what happens is, we break a little bit. Maybe, sometimes, a lot.
How does this look? For some people it manifests with grief, sorrow, anxiety, anger, or a feeling of helplessness, or simply experiencing less joy or life purpose. For others it can be very physical – muscle tension, upset stomach, headaches. What happens over and over, however, isn’t always so visible, but it is somewhat predictable. It’s a cycle of physiologic damage. First our autonomic system favors being ready to move into action (sympathetic over parasympathetic) we are seeking solutions, readying for a fight, or defensive maneuvers. We are using our adrenals and an increase in cortisol to “get through it.” After a while these compensatory pathways ( the sympathetic nervous system and especially the adrenal system) are overwhelmed. When that happens, first, we can’t return to normal homeostasis and we have elevated cortisol all the time. Sometimes this feels like anxiety, sometimes it feels like insomnia, or irritability. Some people like the way it feels, or don’t notice it at all, as it’s become the status quo. But then the adrenals start to fatigue, we stop having enough cortisol to get through the day, and that’s when fatigue, depression, pain, and brain fog set in.
During this process, from overdrive to fatigue, our body is inflamed. Our physiologic response to constantly increased levels of cortisol is like fire- we are trying to mobilize fuel, we stop digesting as efficiently, we favor catabolism over anabolic activity, and the result is that we start to have an imbalance in other systems, especially our digestive system. Sometimes the gut lining is eroded, sometimes the microbiome becomes imbalanced. Usually both. This in turn makes it harder to absorb nutrients and get rid of waste products. Toxins start to build up, pathogens have an easier time proliferating and our detoxification and immune systems start to be overwhelmed. All of this manifests as just about anything you can imagine. You’ve seen the lists for chronic illnesses – “you may have candida if -and then a list of 100 symptoms. You might have chronic lyme disease if you have these symptoms: same list.
Autoimmune diseases, Irritable bowel syndromes, thyroid diseases, insulin resistance and diabetes – they all can be traced along this same general path towards an overwhelmed system and damaged physiologic structure and function.
There isn’t anything a good biodynamic treatment can’t help. But when so many of us are experiencing so much, the conversation needs to change. We need a little more intervention – at least more frequently but more importantly we need help from every direction we can get it and consistently. And we need something that we can have supporting us all the time, instead of just when we get in for an osteopathic treatment.
So I have started incorporating new diagnostic tools and treatment protocols into my practice. Using laboratory testing to get information about underlying deficiencies, inflammation, and physiologic damage, I can guide my patients to more targeted lifestyle changes and treatment protocols that people can undertake themselves. Instead of weekly or monthly treatments, there will be daily support through supplements, nutrition, diet, exercise, sleep and education. It will be more work for my patients, but the payoff will be wellness, a restoration of health. I’ll still be treating people, but as osteopathic treatments demand consistent one on one appointments I’m offering more. If I can help people heal themselves through these targeted tools, if patients can create daily rituals and get adequate support through supplement and lifestyle protocols, then I can help more people, even if I can’t meet regularly in person, with each person.
When I was delivering babies there was always a point in the laboring when the mother would say “No puedo” to which I’d reply with deep faith, respect and compassion, “Si, si puedes” And always the baby came within the hour after this exchange. What I offered, most of the time to these women, was moral support and a pair of hands- they did the work even when they thought they couldn’t. The body was built for that.
If it doesn’t fill you with awe, what we can do with a little moral support and another pair of hands…. you might be missing out on something important.
I hope you’ll join me in your own healing adventure – you have my faith, respect, and compassion – you can do this.