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 worldartsme.com

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.

Stress Check, the app I use, is a free download to your smart phone. It measures heart rate variability when you place your finger over the camera lens. There are more expensive and sophisticated devices, but my research found that this one compared favourably. For my purposes, it’s sufficient.

A stress measurement device is a useful tool to make the invisible more tangible. My purpose wasn’t to prove that the medical visits were causing me stress, but rather to see what happened when I took steps to deal with that stress.

For me, the big question was why I was finding this experience so stressful. It was surprising because I’m not an anxious person by nature. I don’t get caught in loops of worrisome thoughts. I wasn’t dwelling on fears about what would happen if the tests found something serious. Thanks, Mom, for your sensible philosophy: “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

So…why the stress?

For one thing, I found it difficult when the doctors had strong opinions and disapproved of mine. It created a climate of disempowerment. In such circumstances, it’s easy to feel like a victim. That isn’t constructive and I didn’t want to go there.

What to do?

It helps to stop taking things personally and recognize that doctors are people trying to do their best under difficult circumstances. Coaches and counsellors call this reframing and it is a useful way of gaining perspective in any situation.

In this case, what might it be like from the doctors’ point of view? What if…

  • Doctors work in a broken system, and have very little possibility of changing it.
  • There are high expectations from patients that the doctor will have all the answers. Many doctors take this on and begin to believe it themselves.
  • Patients have often consulted “Dr. Google”before an appointment. They may be asking about things their doctor didn’t learn in medical school.
  • Doctors who are actively practicing medicine have trouble finding time to stay current on all new developments. They may feel put on the spot by patients who arrive with information that’s new to them.
  • Doctors have been sued by patients who took their advice and didn’t like the outcome. It’s not surprising that doctors become cautious and closed to alternative treatments, even those that sound plausible.
  • I’m not a typical patient, and my doctors could be finding it stressful having appointments with me!

A thoughtful essay in The Atlantic discusses why it’s become so difficult for doctors and patients to communicate. It refers to inside accounts from doctors who have written about their experiences in a system that has greatly deteriorated over the past forty years.

There had to be more

Reframing gave me a more generous perspective, but did not do much to reduce my stress. It had to be something going on inside me, and I wanted to get to the bottom of it.

brene brown quote jpeg

Fortunately I have a long history of personal growth work and know some valuable techniques for exploring and dissipating issues like this.

I started by asking myself questions. No obvious reason emerged. The next step was to wonder about things hidden under the surface—things that are running the show even though I’m not conscious of them.

More than 90% of the mind is unconscious, and is the home of many beliefs and stories that were embedded in it as we experienced life. Even though we have grown and matured, these unconscious attitudes can cause behaviours and body responses that don’t seem to make sense in the current context.

As I thought about my stressful medical visits, I became aware of a pervasive feeling that there was a lot at stake and I had to “get it right.” That feeling was causing enormous tension and stress in my body.

It doesn’t seem logical to feel that blood pressure measurements are a high-stake endeavour…although maybe it does. I know that when a person gets on the road of statins and blood pressure medications, it often ends poorly. I’d seen the health consequences of that path with one of my sisters.

In any case, I was experiencing stress and was willing to look at it’s origin with a curious mind. My curiosity took me to my first year in school. Below is a section of Mrs. Percival’s 1952 Grade One class picture. That’s me in the centredark hair, dark sweater, no smile.

My grade 1 photot

It wasn’t that I disliked school. But I was intense about it, as you can see in this closeup.

Me in greade 1

Somehow I had determined that the most important thing at school was to get it right. It seemed disastrous not to do so, as if there was a lot at stake. In case you think I’m exaggerating, I remember crying the first time I only got 95% on a spelling test.

So the same need—to get things right when there’s a lot at stakehad come back to haunt me 63 years later! Being aware of this was in itself a huge relief. And things were even better after I used a simple technique to remove that old stuck energy. I felt entirely different during my next doctor visit, experiencing a feeling of indifference when my blood pressure was taken.

Did my stress measurements and blood pressure immediately drop to normal? No, but there was an encouraging  decrease in both. Because of that, my life felt a whole lot better as I went through the rest of the process and got things sorted.

These days, my stress reading is usually under 5% and both cholesterol and blood pressure are normal. A lot of that came about because I made good use of my inner genie. I’ll introduce her in the near future.

Resourcefulness

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

I found it. Thank goodness!

3 blog im puzzle pdf to jpeg

I finally had help, and could actually believe that recovery was possible. This was ten years post-thyroidectomy, eight months after a hysterectomy to remove endometrial cancer, and four months since the internist had advised me that the only answer for my struggling body was to exercise more and eat less—nothing about quality of food, just to count calories. What a relief to have just spent 90 minutes with a doctor who was on my wavelength! Continue reading

Keeping it together…

“True strength is keeping yourself together

when everyone would understand if you fell apart.”  

 -Anonymous


I’ve often thought it’s a good thing my body fell apart when I was in my fifties, not my sixties. If I had been 67, I might have bought into the cultural story that I was just getting old and this was to be expected. However, at 57, I kept thinking This can’t be right. This can’t be normal. Continue reading

I made it!

celebrating making it to 70

Today is my 70th birthday, putting me at the leading edge of the Baby Boomers. We are a huge group on the verge of change—much of it to do with our health. Our biggest challenge is navigating the healthcare culture and coming out intact rather than broken. I have firsthand experience with that, and over the next while I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned.

This is not a blog about tips, though I will give you some. It is not about which experts have the right answers, though I’ll point you to valuable resources. It is really a blog about mindsets and viewpoints that serve us, and what it takes to make your own life when faced with a disempowering system.
Continue reading