Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Trusting our own dietary individuality

I'm often tempted to base my decisions on scientific research, regardless of whether the results prove to be true in my own experience.  Is a certain food considered healthy?  Unhealthy?  Does it boost my metabolism?  So on and so on.  It is easy to get caught up looking at controlled experiments done on rats, or the study of healthy cultures, to make decisions about my own diet.  But is this really the best thing to do?  

It's important to have balance.  I think as humans it is difficult to be completely objective in our decisions, and often what we believe to be true is actually false.   This makes science a beautiful thing when it comes to making appropriate decisions.  In theory, it provides an objective look what kind of foods can promote health and which tend to be harmful.  

But science is not perfect, and it is not always a good idea to assume that the findings of a study will necessarily be true for us.  It's important to remember that research is conducted on a sample of the population, and the results are completely dependent on the characteristics of that sample.   Many nutrition experiments are done on rats in very artificial situations that do not reflect our environment.  Does this mean they are not applicable to humans? No, they may very well be.  But I really think that each study needs to be taken within the context of our own experience.  We are not always aware of every single variable that is involved, which makes certain findings dangerous to accept as unquestionable truth.

On the other hand, our personal experience can often be misleading.  When my digestive health deteriorated, I began to be fearful of eating certain foods.  I thought that everything was making my stomach problems worse, so I cut out more and more.  I was "listening to my body", thinking that it was telling me that it couldn't handle these foods very well.  This just caused me to become weak and anorexic-looking.  But only when I allowed myself to eat normally again regardless of my stomach, did it start to get better.  The problem still comes and goes but is more manageable now.  In this case I needed to move beyond what I was experiencing, and change my perspective.  Often new information is what is needed to do so.

Knowledge and experience complement each other, we need not rely on either one alone.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Shake Weight!

Bizarre?  Hilarious?  Erotic?  All three? Maybe it's just me but at least I think it's amusing.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The week of hell is upon me

So this past week has basically been the week of hell.  We all have them, there is no avoiding it.   Make a list of every single possible thing that can go wrong,  and be amazed as they all happen, in addition to several other things that you couldn't have thought up if you tried.

Sometimes being overwhelmed can be a good lesson, it teaches me what I need to change about myself to avoid having similar issues in the future.  At least in theory it should work this way, but it seems that over the past year there have been several times that I've stressed myself out to near break-down levels.  Right now I need to look at my ability to handle things, because I have the option of accepting or resisting them and allowing myself to crack under the pressure.  Most of the time I can resist and ignore things if they are small enough, but I think attempting to do that now would do more harm than good.

Are the problems that affect my peace of mind really that big?  I don't know.  I think some of my complaints are valid, while others are exaggerated.  But the thing is, when you are in the middle of it, that makes no difference.  You can tell yourself "it doesn't matter" over and over again, but if you feel that it does matter, then it pretty much does.

I used to have the attitude that "everything happens for a reason".  I now think this is bullshit that people use to try to comfort themselves.  I do believe we can CREATE a reason, find meaning in what occurs.  But is there an inherent meaning in it?  Am I really going through a painful experience because there is an inherent message in it that I am just destined to learn?  Is there some omnipotent being that has decided I will have such and such an experience at such and such a time?  I doubt it.

It's healthy to look for meaning in chaos.  But I'm tired of deluding myself into thinking that everything has some wonderful lesson to be learned from it.  Some things just suck, but happen anyways.  Learning to accept things is an essential skill to develop.  The reason something happens is irrelevant, it's what we do with it that matters.  Was so and so's behaviour towards me unjustified?   Irrelevant, if I can accept it either way.  This is the attitude that I seek to develop.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sleep oh sleep, where art thou?

Good sleep is a wonderful thing.  Waking up feeling calm, refreshed, ready to face a new day.  But in reality, how often is this achieved?  Most of the time I end up having difficulties getting to sleep, or waking up in the middle of the night, waking up too early and not getting back to sleep, or just generally feeling run down.  I'm not sure why that is, but many people that I speak to seem to have similar issues when it comes to getting proper rest.

Stress is a big factor.  When laying in bed and thinking about too many things, it can become nearly impossible to fall asleep.  When I'm feeling calm it's easier to fall into that relaxed state where I can drift off into dreamland.  But often I lay there thinking about the day that has just passed and the day that is approaching.   I am envious when I hear people tell me that they can hit the bed and fall asleep within minutes every time.  Maybe I used to be able to do that when I was a child, I know I used to be a deep sleeper.  But now it seems like my mind likes to begin racing as soon as I lay down, no matter how tired I am.  

Naps are another wonderful thing.  The best is the middle of the afternoon, on a weekend, with the rain falling outside.  I had one of those a couple of weeks ago and I woke up feeling so refreshed and relaxed.  When we don't get enough sleep it feels like the body is running on adrenaline, and often lots of coffee, which just isn't the best way to feel calm and focused.

This past week has been particularly bad for sleep.  I eliminated caffeine for about 6 days and it seemed to have a slight improvement on sleep quality but not as much as I would have hoped, so I continue to enjoy my coffee and tea.   I did notice that I slept deeper and for longer, but I guess I didn't give the experiment enough time to notice the full benefits. 

Work has been extremely unproductive over the past week, so hopefully as of now I will be able to get some decent sleep and get things done.  Doesn't always seem to work out that way...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Can physical symptoms be explained psychologically?

I seem to always be complaining about one physical symptom or another.  Even during the same day it can shift between various ones, but there is always something.  Fatigue, anxiety, pressure in my chest, shoulder pain, stomach pain, headache, etc.  I'm beginning to feel that these can be explained more psychologically than any actual physical cause.

Dr. John Sarno has written several books about this, and has treated many patients experiencing pain and other symptoms that other doctors were unable to get rid of.  He believes there is an epidemic of psychosomatic illness that is currently being treated with medications but which really needs to be treated on a psychological level.  He has a Freudian perspective, and feels that our unconscious emotions can express themselves as physical symptoms, sort of as a way of distracting ourselves from having to experiencing the actual emotions.  So it's a defense mechanism, our body is trying to "protect us" from the intensity of whatever emotions we have hidden in our unconscious.

To treat people, he makes sure that they understand how the process works.  He believes the pain and other symptoms is caused by mild oxygen deprivation, which can manifest itself in just about any area of the body.  His books outline the mechanism in greater detail but I cannot remember them off the top of my head.  Anyways, the symptoms are actually harmless no matter how intense they may seem.  He has cured many people of severe back pain that nobody else has been able to treat, as well as other physical and psychological conditions.

In addition to understanding the mechanism, his patients are asked to begin journaling in order to get out the resentments and repressed emotions that are causing the physical symptoms.  Some also require psychotherapy, and it can take a while for the symptoms to subside.  Often, however, there is a quick improvement.

I'm fascinated by this approach because it offers a completely different perspective on the cause of our physical ailments.  I also am skeptical as to whether or not there is truly such an epidemic of mind-body disorders, or whether this is actually a rare explanation that he is making out to be a common cause of physical ailments.

I would like to believe that this could be a possible explanation for some of my symptoms.  It also makes me feel like I may be a bit crazy.   But psychosomatic does not mean that the symptoms are not real, they are very real.  The difference is that they have a psychological cause rather than a physical one.  The symptom does not feel any different than if it had an actual physical cause.

I intend to give more attention to this and see if there are any improvements in my physical symptoms as a result.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Is life really wonderful?

Life, if looked at objectively, is really a series of problems.  One after another, with temporary relief in between.  I used to think otherwise, but I'm coming to see that this is really how things are.  Maybe "problems" is not the best word, as it implies that there is something wrong happening.  Perhaps more accurately, life consists of a series of "stressors" that require us to respond.  We must remain adaptable, to not become overwhelmed by the day to day events.  These stresses can be interpreted as positive or negative depending on our own state of mind, but we are nonetheless forced to remain on our toes, we can't coast through life without effort.

I don't mean to sound cynical.  For the last 5 or 6 years I've prayed and meditated my ass off, but things only seem to get harder as the years pass.  I feel like my past foray into spirituality has brought me more disappointment than comfort.  Maybe that's why I no longer really feel drawn to it.  But maybe the problem is me, that I continue to be disappointed because of all the false positivity that I used to try to fill myself with.

I think to truly find peace of mind, we must accept that reality is really a big garbage heap sometimes.  Or even most of the time.  If we can see that, and be okay with it, then we are no longer prisoners of false expectations.  One of the biggest piles of shit that I've heard was that our teen years are supposed to be the best years of our life.  Boy was that a disappointment.

The "small things" really are what seem to make each day worth it.  A brief interaction with a friend, a good cup of coffee or tea, laughing, taking a nap.  Each day there are small joys and pleasures that are available to us.  Right now I'm sitting at a cafe with a tea and typing what's on my mind, and there's nothing else I rather be doing.

I think learning to enjoy the small things is the only way to stay sane.  I can no longer expect each day to be exciting, adventurous, or easy.  I try, but I'm let down.  It just isn't like that.  So I choose to enjoy whatever I can and not take the rest too seriously.  Because really, does any of it matter?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Doctors suck

I have no more patience for the health care system, we have no choice but to learn to take care of our own health issues.  When it comes to treating just about any ongoing health problem, in my experience, doctors have been completely useless and for the most part very uninformed.

For years I've had various symptoms that nobody has been able to really find an explanation for.  Migraines, chest pain/heart palpitations, anxiety, fatigue, digestive problems with weight loss, and very poor concentration.   Tests are always coming back normal.

This weekend I felt the pressure in my chest becoming more uncomfortable.  This feeling has come and gone for years, but nobody can tell me what it is.  Twice I went for an ECG which was apparently normal.  Now this doctor seemed to question why I was even coming to see him today if I had the problem for so long.  I explained that it came and went and that other tests were normal.  Then he questioned why I was seeing him instead of my family doctor, to which I explained that my doctor was usually at the clinic on that day so I was expecting to see him, but he was not there for whatever reason.  So already I'm basically a burden to this man who seems to think I'm going there for the fun of it on a Friday evening because of I have nothing better to do.  He checks my heart rate and all that and it seems normal.  "I think the problem may be coming from here", he said, pointing to his head.  Thanks, doc.

I asked him about thyroid issues potentially causing this and he said that my thyroid results were completely normal.  Through my reading I've found that TSH lab tests are not exactly a great way of assessing thyroid function, but he replied that it is the standard and there was no problem with it.  So there goes any potential thyroid discussion.

Next I asked about my adrenals.  He looked amused and asked to see my armpits, apparently if you grow hair in that area then your adrenals are fine.   I googled this to find out, I assume that this would be a symptom of Addison's disease rather than more moderate adrenal weakness, but doctors do not recognize that this exists.  There goes any potential adrenal discussion.  At least I know my armpit hair is not lacking.

Finally I asked to be tested for food allergies.  He says did not want to send me to get tested for this because he was not my family doctor, which I suppose is reasonable.  This means I get the opportunity to come another day and wait another hour or two to get a paper that he could easily write for me.  But I think the real reason he didn't want to send me is that I asked him too many questions and he thinks I'm some sort of hypochondriac that doesn't have any real problem.  I should just cut out foods to see what I'm allergic to, he said.   Thanks again, doc.

I did not feel I was taken seriously at all.  I spend a huge amount of time reading about health problems trying to figure out why I don't feel right, but doctors are not open to discussion about anything that they were not taught in medical school.  I'm not a thyroid expert, but even after reading a book or two is enough to learn that typical thyroid tests are inadequate and do not pick up most cases of hypothyroidism.  I can't say that this is part of my problem or not, but it would be nice to be able to discuss it with a health professional.

So the search continues....