Recently I was very touched that a friend posted this on her FB wall :
“‘Good, fresh, organic and local food costs more, but it has value,’ she says. ‘Anything with value will cost more, and that value is not getting sick.’ The preventative measure of eating healthy may cost more, but it’s an investment and gets to the root cause, rather than spending money later on doctor visits and pharmaceuticals that much of the time mask symptoms.”
That is an excerpt and quote from a recent article written by Hillary Savage quoting me in the Machias Valley News about food, local economy and Vejibags.
What my friend did not post from the article was this:
“Erickson’s switch to a locally based organic diet was spurred out of health necessity.”
This is my story: I have gradually cleaned up my diet over the past twenty years because I suffered from chronic PMS symptoms, insomnia, migraine headaches, joint pain, sinus infections, and slow, incessant weight gain. For many years, I was dependent on ibuprofen in order to sleep and took antibiotics at least twice a year to treat sinus infections. For several years I spent a great deal of money on ‘natural’ progesterone to alleviate PMS symptoms. And I struggled with extra weight forever. For me, lifestyle changes, especially diet and exercise, have addressed all of these maladies far better than any relief I was ever offered by the American sickness-care industry.
One of my friends has received some potentially very troubling news: she got an abnormal result on a pap smear that requires a biopsy. In addition, she was found to have high blood pressure and has been prescribed blood pressure medication. My heart goes out to her as she navigates the sickness-care system that, in my opinion, has evolved into a huge, highly profitable business venture that includes the pharmaceautical industry as well as the gigantic machine of high-tech medicine. She is navigating this system without being covered by sickness-care insurance. She’s frightened and feeling really helpless. As I said, my heart goes out to her.
Despite huge increases in the number and variety of pharmaceuticals available, and an stunning explosion of sophisticated medical technology, most Americans are not experiencing greater health. That is because our sickness-care industry is a gargantuan business that profits onlyfrom people being sick. This is not a system based on healing arts that build health and well-being.
If you don’t believe me, Google “Americans less healthy now” and you will see that everyone, from Fox News to PBS to Dr. Mercola, everyone is reporting that Americans are not doing well, that they die sooner than people in other wealthy nations. I have no doubt that if I went digging I could find a plethora of statistics substantiating that changes in diet, increases in toxic chemicals in our environment, and increases in stress are coincident with American’s declining health.
In an economy straining to maintain itself, with individuals struggling inside of that economy to maintain themselves, we land soundly between a terrible rock and an extremely hard place. How can people who are struggling to make mortgage payments be counseled to spend more money on clean, organic, food? Fuel and transportation energy costs continue to increase. With those increases it is very tempting to buy cheap commodities instead of real food.
And yet, what is the real cost of poor health? The cost of poor health on every measure is huge.
There are absolutely no easy answers for individuals or for our people as a whole. There are no easy fixes.
I am convinced, however, that for individuals there are many proactive steps that can be taken, both to maintain health and to recover health once it’s been lost.
Case in point: Another friend of mine who struggled much of her adult life with morbid obesity, alcoholism, degenerative knee problems and migraine headaches has addressed all of those over the past ten years. She got into recovery and got sober. She got knee surgery and then started exercising, radically changed her diet and lost the morbid weight. Recently she watched a documentary called Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. (It’s viewable for free, by the way, online or through Netflix). Having addressed alcoholism, my friend has gone on, in the past several years, to address shopping and food addictions. She’s come to see that grains and carbohydrates are not her friends and that high fructose corn syrup is an addictive poison in virtually all processed food. (Google Mercola on that one if you are interested). Now, by following the guy who is no longer fat, sick and nearly dead, Joe Cross, she’s embarked on his green juice regimen and is shedding weight she’d re-gained from stress-related eating over a very difficult past year. Almost miraculously, for the first time in many years, she no longer takes daily medication for migraine headaches, because the headaches are gone. She’s a remarkable person, but she’s not a saint. She came from a highly dysfunctional family. This ability of hers does not come from a perfect childhood or a spotless mental health record. She’s a wonderful example to me of someone who woke up to our culture’s lies and deceit about what is important, what has value, what creates health and illness, and how to live really well without working oneself to death.
Over the years I have discovered piles of useful, effective information apart from the mainstream dogmas of medical presciption and pharmaceutical treatment. Do I approach my friend who is in crisis right now about this? Lack of health is a very tender spot to touch because most of us have so much shame about any kind of personal failure. To embrace the likelihood that the causes of illness are something we might have addressed earlier through lifestyle, nutrition, exercise, stress-reduction, psychotherapy, and/or spiritual practice has the potential to heap hot coals of shame on the head of someone already suffering. Part of me just wants to be kindly and quietly supportive of my friend, to offer no advice or suggest she look for alternative information. I absolutely do not want to approach her in a way that would increase her suffering by giving her the message: “This is your fault because of how you’ve been living.” That would be terrible. And it would be untrue. Because I don’t believe it IS my friend’s fault.
What I DO want to offer is this: We’ve all been duped, and lied to, and mystified about what health and sickness are all about. We’ve felt confused and helpless when it came to health and sickness, like it was a matter of genes and luck. From my experience, health and sickness are about BIG BUSINESS, about making cheap commodities that are a toxic mimic for real food and expensive pharmaceuticals that mask, or numb, or reduce for a time, the ill effects of having ingested those commodities. There’s no real mystery here once you look at it. The American lifestyle now includes processed foods, chemical additives, pesticides, and thousands of toxic substances surrounding us from every personal care product in our bathrooms to every cleaning agent in our kitchens, to the fumes we inhale when filling our cars with gas, to the plastics and the off-gassing we are exposed to when we walk in the grocery store, and includes also most of the pharmaceuticals we are prescribed that rarely cure, and only minimally treat, our ailments. THAT lifestyle is what is causing illness. And that lifestyle is what keeps the economy going. And now that economy is collapsing, which causes more stress, especially as people try to “keep up” in a culture where self-esteem is built by acquiring more stuff. All of that is unhealthy and creates illness. And the fault absolutely lies with no single individual now suffering.
But that isn’t the whole story for me. Because that would be a limited story of victim-hood, of blame, of powerlessness. Personally, I have never thrived when I have been entranced by that story.
Over the years, with the help of years of being on both sides of the psychotherapy recovery process, I’ve learned to step out of THE BLAME GAME, based on stories of victimhood, and into the RESPONSIBILITY GAME based on a story of empowerment. While it is, from my perspective, absolutely no individual’s fault for the state of their health at any given moment, it IS every individual’s responsibility to wake up, to research and then to do those things that will build health and address illness at the level of root causes. At that point people begin to step into their own power to heal.
This is key.
Empowerment is about taking full “Response-Ability”. Full response-ability does not assign fault or involve self-blame. Responsibility simply involves the acknowledgment that we can, and do, make choices every moment, and that we have the ability to respond, more and more, in ways that will build health. If we have food or substance addictions we can admit and address those. We can remind ourselves to eat way less and to eat clean, real food that is not full of chemicals, processed and empty calories, and addictive and harmful substances like high-fructose corn syrup. We can choose to only drink clean water from glass rather than plastic. We can, at least here on the coast of Maine, expose ourselves to lots of clean air by exercising outside every day. Clean food. Clean water. Clean air. We can ask for help and we can begin to tell the truth of our lives to our friends. That will ease the stress of always having to pretend, and stop the need to use addictions to repress our feelings. We can, as Norman Cousins did, watch funny movies and use the power of laughter to help us heal. We can smile at young children and love our own or others’ pets. We can learn to be more present in each moment, to feel what we feel, to allow our feelings to surface and to express, rather than repress, both sadness and joy.
In the end we can do our best. And when we have done our best then we can stop berating ourselves for our human frailties and for the causes of illness that, in this culture, are the result of many, many forces that no single individual is to be blamed for.
We can commit to loving ourselves and caring for ourselves, better and better, moment by moment, each day.
That commitment, for me, defines health and personal empowerment.