Know Yourself to Help Yourself

A couple weeks ago, I suggested that the ideal doctor-patient relationship would be a partnership. This isn’t going to appeal to everyone because it means we can’t just coast to the end of our lives. This model requires engagement of the patient on several levels—mental, physical and emotional.

triangle of patient engagement

When I taught consumer issues, we talked about our responsibility to be knowledgeable consumers. This means researching the product or service so we know enough to make an informed decision. It also requires that we know ourselves. Our awareness of what is important to us is the only way we can navigate the consumer culture without being consumed by it.

The same principles apply when navigating the healthcare culture. We need external information and we also need knowledge of ourselves.

As healthcare consumers in the twenty-first century, we have access to incredible and overwhelming amounts of information. I’ve linked you to several excellent resources in previous blogs. (See summary at the end of this post.) Of course, this is not a list of what you necessarily need to know. It just covers things that are relevant to the parts of my story I’ve told so far.

Intellectual information is not enough

Information from these sources is valuable but does not equip you to engage fully in your healthcare. You must know yourself to help yourself, otherwise you are dealing with information in a vacuum. There is no context, and no way to sort through all the possibilities to determine what is right for you.

We all need tailor-made solutions for our health issues. Think about clothes. The same garment can suit one person to a T and look completely out of place on someone else. There’s nothing wrong with the garment itself; it just doesn’t work for that person. Clothes shopping becomes easier the more you learn about yourself. You don’t waste time and money on things that don’t work for you.

Of course, there’s more at stake with healthcare decisions. But the principle of engagement is similar. In both situations, it is self-knowledge that keeps you from being overwhelmed by the volume of possibilities.

Knowing yourself is an inside job

When it comes to making health decisions, medical tests and your doctor’s expertise can only go so far. Nobody knows the nuances of your inner workings like you do. That’s why you are an important part of the equation. There are two aspects of knowing your inner workings—physical and emotional. Together they are the body-mind intelligence that Candace Pert wrote about.

Candace Pert quote

As you learn to know yourself, observing your physical condition is useful. Think of physical changes as feedback from your body, the way it’s able to tell you things. For example, long ago I noticed that when I ate fruit for dessert, my meal didn’t digest well. It sat like a lump in my stomach for a long time.

I had no idea why that happened but it didn’t seem normal and the solution was easy—don’t eat fruit when I have other food in my stomach. A few years later I learned about the principles of food combining and then I had the theory to explain what I’d experienced.

However, not all our physical discomforts are so directly and easily identified. I learned that from my experience with inflammation!

As described in Medical News Today, inflammation is

…the body’s attempt at self-protection, the aim being to remove harmful stimuli including damaged cells, irritants, or pathogens—and begin the healing process. …the signs and symptoms of inflammation, specifically acute inflammation, show that the body is trying to heal itself. … Inflammation is part of the body’s immune response. Initially, it is beneficial when, for example, your knee sustains a blow and tissues need care and protection. However, sometimes inflammation can cause further inflammation; it can become self-perpetuating. More inflammation is created in response to the existing inflammation.

Acute inflammation is a response that comes when there’s a trauma and then goes when the condition has healed—your cold is gone and you no longer have a sore throat, the scab has fallen off the cut on your arm, or your twisted knee doesn’t hurt and you can walk normally again.

Chronic inflammation is the term for continuing and self-perpetuating inflammation. It’s a modern health issue of huge proportion. This article by Dr. Josh Axe identifies inflammation as the root cause of many debilitating diseases we have begun to take for granted. This includes arthritis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, cancer, and Parkinson’s.

The good news is that we can help ourselves by making conscious food choices. Here’s his list of fifteen anti-inflammatory foods with brief explanations about each.

Rampant Inflammation

By the time I connected with a functional medicine doctor at age 67, I had spent ten years in a highly inflamed condition precipitated by what I’ve come to call the thyroid fiasco. Apart from belly fat and sore knees, the thing that stood out was my wrists. They were swollen in a way that I just knew wasn’t caused by fat. This photo was taken after my condition had improved a lot, but you can still see a bit of that puffiness on each side above my wrist bones.

wrist showing inflammation

I knew nothing about inflammation…but I should have. As I look back, I realize the first signs were there long before I knew there was the word for what was happening. I was about 39 when I woke one morning and realized my rings felt a bit tight. At some point, I started removing them at night because the tightness had increased enough to be uncomfortable. A year later my waist was two inches bigger, and six months after that, my family doctor discovered that my thyroid was enlarged.

When I began telling my story a few months ago, I started with the removal of my thyroid. But, of course, the thyroid enlargement didn’t happen overnight. As I look back, I can see that the morning puffiness was an early indication of something not working properly. I just didn’t realize it.

Resources in previous posts

Russell Jaffe, MD (#1 in a series: I Couldn’t Have Said It As Well)

Today is the first of a series of occasional posts featuring a video or article that says something I couldn’t say as well. This is Dr. Russell Jaffe, a conventionally trained medical doctor who came to practise functional and integrative medicine as a result of trying to debunk those very philosophies. Let him tell you about it in this 5-minute video…

One of my favourite spots was when he said the essence is to live in harmony with your nature. I’d be interested in hearing what struck a chord with you.

Who is the authority?

After recently catching up on reading my blogs, a friend commented that doctors must have found me intimidating. That got me thinking. Was I? Certainly not deliberately. But perhaps there’s an inherent element of intimidation when I arrive with notes in hand. It’s quite possible they feel I’m challenging their authority.

Who is the authority?

An authority is someone who’s an expert on a subject. Merriam-Webster defines being an expert as having special skill or knowledge because of what you’ve been taught or have experienced. We live in a culture where people gain the status of expert through years of specialized training. This is particularly obvious in medicine, where doctors have been through a dozen years of post-secondary education to qualify to practise.

Continue reading

I’m not a victim here

My weight was now perfectly normal, but blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar were all too high. I was sent on a round of tests. After a few months of tests and meetings with doctors, I felt as if I were unravelling.

stressed zebra cartoon

Image via

I found those months surprisingly stressful. A few days before each appointment, I felt my body seizing up. This intensified when a blood pressure cuff was put on during an appointment, and the readings were considerably higher than usual. And when I got home, my stress was 70 to 90% on the stress app I’d recently begun using. Continue reading


One thing I know for certain, we are vulnerable when we’re without resources. That’s why I continue to listen to on-line wellness interviews and research possible treatments for my own issues. And it’s why I include so many links in my blogs—to help increase your resource pool.

What are resources?

Important physical assets include money, housing, good food and clean water. But our personal attributes and capabilities are also assets. They are the qualities that enable us to function well and sustain ourselves in difficult circumstances. That’s what really interests me. Continue reading

A work in progress

Eventually, my quest to feel normal again led me to a functional medicine doctor. She reviewed my detailed history questionnaire, asked pointed questions, and listened carefully. The news wasn’t good. But she had ideas about how to turn things around.

My mitochondria were in trouble and carbohydrates were playing havoc with my blood sugar. The long and short of it—I was headed for neurologic distress (think Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s) and diabetes.

Mitochondria are small organelles located in most human cells. They are our source of energy, and serve to regulate cellular metabolism. Continue reading

Capacity to Recover

Our bodies want to recover their normal state. They have a remarkable capacity to do so.

In a way, we know that. We’ve all seen cuts, bruises, and broken bones come and go. But I think for most of us, there’s an invisible line in our belief system that separates what we can recover from and what we can’t. With some conditions, it just seems impossible, unbelievable, or fanciful to entertain the idea of recovery. Yet it happens, and bodies return to normal functioning, sometimes even better.

When I left the hospital after my thyroid was removed, this is how my neck looked.

neck 11 days post-surgery jpeg

Stretched skin bulged because a drainage sponge had been inserted Continue reading

It matters what we think and believe

Last week I wrote about the importance of our choices in turning genetic tendencies on or off. What we eat, the way we move, how we process emotions, and what we believe to be true—all of these influence how our genes express themselves. Diet and exercise seem obvious. But thoughts and beliefs? How do they relate to having a healthy body?

Because we are whole
canada Pert quote

Candace Pert was a pioneer Continue reading

Epigenetics = Empowerment

So why did I end up with an enlarged thyroid at age 41? Have a look at this picture of my mother and me.

 Mom and me thyroid jpeg

It seems obvious, doesn’t it? It was in my genes. I was destined to have a thyroid issue. It was set in motion at my conception. There’s nothing I could have done about it.

Not so. That is the old disempowering view about how genetics affect us—the belief that we are at the mercy of the genes we inherited.

Now we have new information that changes the story. But many people haven’t yet heard the updated version. I hadn’t until my first appointment with a functional medicine doctor. Continue reading

Using it well

Access to functional medicine is a gift. Use it well. Understand its scope, find a practitioner who fits with you, and participate in the process.

4 blog im paradigm pdf to jpeg

In all sorts of relationships, it helps to have a sense of where the other person is coming from. This is particularly important when working with functional medicine doctors because their basic premises are different from those we are used to in conventional medicine. Continue reading