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

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