Updated: May 29, 2019
There is nothing okay about this. Unfortunately, there is everything typical about this.
As a healthcare professional that is positioned on the ‘natural’ side of the fence I do my best to respect and work with the interventions and outcomes on the ‘western’ side. I do this because I know we are all humans and despite the apparent fence between us, we are all on the side of trying to help other humans. For that reason, I have now found myself more on the fence than on a particular side - not because I am trying to make a decision between the two but because I deeply understand the need to mediate between the two. As an MD friend of mine recently said, “They are gonna do it anyway, so we may as well try to figure something out.”
I agree with them. I believe we need to create some kind of bridge between the two worlds that has less landmines than the current trek. I also believe that we need to come to terms with the fact that no matter what kind of medicine a person is looking to for answers, the same underlying cause and effect is at work. The lack of awareness of that cause and effect is concerning.
The current crossover in Canada right now, from Western and Natural medicine is like an unregulated border crossing full of perils and traps that most of those who wander across have no idea are there. From where I stand and what I see in my office up on the fence, I see the exact same problems on both sides, albeit manifesting in different ways. There are too many things falling through the cracks caused by lack of cooperation and there are too many problems being poorly addressed by practitioners working outside of their scopes. It's not okay. And it's expensive - the cost to our healthcare system is enormous and what most people have not quite put together yet, is that Canadian companies are paying for the overflow of that burden in benefit costs, prescription and paramedical in particular, and the most invisible (and usually that biggest) costs are in presenteeism and stress leave. Something needs to be done and the only place where a solution can reasonably be delivered at this point, is in a company's wellness program and initiatives. Even there, so many benefit companies or brokers are hopping on the band wagon to sell a cookie cutter version of a wellness program that we are losing the opportunity to do something great with wellness programs in this country. There is very little strategy going into these things right now.
There are so many people that choose to use just one form of health care and ignore the other(s.) What they often don’t know is that they are losing the potential benefit, balance and perspective of the other. In the free world we live in, to lose the benefit of what those other perspectives could bring, is a tragedy on so many levels. It's also very inefficient. There are also those that do engage in both worlds of medicine but they do not understand how to register one with the other properly and the results can be unpredictable at best. This can make an issue even more expensive in the long term. None of these options are ideal. The back and forth, and hopping to and fro, leads to very full cupboards with mixed results. Rarely are any permanent or long term solutions found.
A while back I headed over to the walk in clinic to get a perspective for myself personally. I cross this bridge all the time too. I was almost two years postpartum, I instinctively knew that I should not be battling the extreme fatigue I still experienced sometimes. I also knew something else, which I asked the doctor about. I said, “So I am way more exhausted than I should be. However, I am in an ongoing high conflict situation and I get threatened and harassed on a regular basis. He stalks my business social media, tells me he will ruin my career here, among other things that I don't want to talk about. Unfortunately, the threats are not bad enough for any law enforcement agency to protect me, so I am stuck with it right now, probably for years. I know that this kind of chronic stress is damaging to the body and could be the main cause of my exhaustion, but I was wondering if we could we do a basic blood test to rule out anything obvious like B12, or iron or whatever else could be causing this…?” The doctor said “Sure, that makes sense to check, we can do that.” And then she said “Would you like something for the stress?” I paused and then replied, “No thanks, I don’t really want to medicate the fact that I have a huge asshole in my life.”
Walking out of that appointment I realized that I was on to something embarrassingly obvious. It took saying it that way, out loud in real life, for the final pieces to fall into the puzzle for me.
I have seen clients who have been trying to solve serious imbalances with ‘natural’ supplements when, in my limited opinion, they could have benefited from an intervention on the Western side of things. Meaning that there have been instances where I can see something going on that is out of my scope, and it really belonged in a doctor’s office. Sometimes clients listen and get a medical opinion, which is usually helpful. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes it catches up with them later. Sometimes it doesn’t. I also see people medicating the effects of childhood wounds, multiple traumas or a current controlling or abusive relationship that they are in, or a job that is figuratively and perhaps literally, killing them. When it’s pretty clear that they are in an chronically stressful and/or abusive situation, usually the last thing they need is a medication to tell their feelings to shut up. What they really need is to be able to feel the full heat of the situation so they can get out before they get seriously burned. On the other hand, sometimes the trauma or the loss or the abuse is so severe that they need the support of a medication to get them from A to B, to a place where they can handle feeling the heat in order to heal. However, if that medication is not viewed as an intervention to get them to a place where they can heal and find balance, it can become a crutch that turns into a prison. To be clear though, that's not to say that there are not very real reasons for individuals to medicate issues like anxiety, etc, when it is truly needed. We are fortunate that we have the ability to help ourselves through a rough patch or in some cases, perhaps a permanent issue that requires regular intervention. Those instances are not what I am talking about here. What I am talking about is when a past or personal situation is medicated in a way that keeps the individual where they are now - when the intervention displaces the other changes that need to happen to restore balance. And don’t kid yourself, ‘natural supplements’ can create the exact same situation. There is no ‘natural’ supplement that can cure the effect of remaining in a chronically stressful or hurtful situation - I find myself saying this more and more. I have also been known to say things like “I don’t have a supplement or diet for your joint pain, you need a physiotherapist.”
There is also another layer to this problem and it’s a very human one and it's getting to be a very expensive one - a burden placed not just on our healthcare system but on the companies that employ the people in that healthcare system.
Many doctors, nurses, therapists and other practitioners, express the state of feeling like a failure after a day of seeing patients that just want a quick solution. The patients don’t want to listen to anything about life style changes, dietary adjustments, all of which could reasonably solve their issues without a pill. So many are not interested.
Why are they not interested?
They are not interested because it’s all too much already. For some, the childhood trauma that was never resolved keeps a part of them locked in fight or flight forever, it’s exhausting. If finances are an issue, the debt they have makes them feel like they are drowning some days. All the sugar they eat has them locked down in a vicious cycle of looking to the next hit of sugar or caffeine that will make them feel okay. The effect this has on the nervous system, the stress response and blood sugar regulation can be debilitating. Or a substance like alcohol to help them get through that hour of the day when they feel the worst. The disappointment that their life is nothing like what they thought it would be never helps either. The death of a loved one. The loss of something important. The divorce that took their self-worth away - because if that’s gone, then why would they do anything for themselves if they don’t even like themselves and don’t think they are worth it?
People are hurting, they are drowning on some days, there are no pills for that kind of pain.
I have had this confirmed for me over and over in companies that I work for. When I go into a boardroom of a company that wants to talk to me about employee wellness the same conversation always comes up. They talk about things they have already tried. Maybe a ‘healthy’ food vending machine (we all know I don’t believe in ‘healthy’ food, but I bite my tongue - sometimes) they have done walking challenges, nutrition challenges, maybe even social media/phone time limit challenges. They have done team-building events, they have a great EAP program that no one uses, and perhaps they built a gym for their employees or offer free passes. Time and time again I say, "So let me guess, your participation rate is what, around 10%?" They look at me and do the math in their heads and look surprised. Yup. Always. It was 12% once, it was 8% at another company, but it always hovers around 10%. And then I break it to them: “Anything from the outside, like a ‘challenge’ or a healthy lunch delivery or a free pass to the gym, is only going to be used by the people that are already taking care of themselves.” I pause, and then I keep going. "For the rest of the population that is completely overwhelmed with day to day survival, all you’re doing is adding another layer to the pressure that already feels like a threat to them. If you can’t figure out a way to take some of the other pressure off, figure out a way to help them help little Suzie with her anxiety or little Johnnie with his IBS, or how to manage their debt or give them tools to alleviate manage some of the stress, they are not going to have the wherewithal to help themselves. They won't be able to tackle their own anxiety, high cholesterol or hypoglycemia or sugar addiction or reliance on coffee, mood swings, brain fog, or back pain. If they need coffee to wake up and a glass of wine to put the kids to bed, they don't have spare energy to cook more or move more or meditate. It's not going to happen."
I also find that most companies still haven’t sat down and thought about how much presenteeism is costing them. For the most part they have never wondered how much their employee's kids, who are following in their parent's sugar coated, caffeine fuelled, anxious footsteps, are going to cost them 5-10 years from now. The owners and managers of companies are generally overwhelmed in one way or another - usually doing the job of 1.5 people - so they haven't had the headspace to take a moment and consider how much the company is paying to medicate or placate exactly what I am talking about here. Someone has to start asking these questions, so I ask them, lots of them. How many absent days, stress leave and sick days occur in this country because of an employee that is in a controlling relationship or hasn't dealt with events and painful things in the past that are now making them sick? I may throw in a few informative questions such as "Did you know that the feeling of shame, all by itself, as a single feeling, is a powerful activator of the HPA axis?" (just ask Gabor Mate, he knows lots about this) and then I explain: when triggered, the HPA axis, which manages our stress response, releases damaging cortisol into the body making people sick, depressed or anxious. Debt can create a feeling of shame. Living paycheque to paycheque can create a feeling of shame. Not knowing how to help your anxious child can make you feel like a failure, which can create shame. Past trauma can create shame - you could literally be paying some of the price for something that happened to your employee 20 years ago."
At this point I usually have everyone’s attention in the boardroom.
People are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Some are starting to give up, some are looking in other less safe, and/or more expensive places, for help. So many are in search of holy grail of all pills (be it drug or supplement or the latest antioxidant) to solve their problems. That pill doesn’t exist on any side of the fence. To think that there is one single answer for all the symptoms produced by all the sad, scary, disappointing, heartbreaking, toxic, polluted, refined, altered, chemical-ized, industrialized, modified, confused, dysfunctional, disconnected, terrorized, or traumatic things that make up the current state of our world, is the very definition of insanity. But that’s the bill of goods we have been sold - and we literally pay out of our own pockets to have it sold to us just so we can pay for it again and again and again.
Take another look at the photo above, now imagine a medicine cabinet full of pain killers, cholesterol and blood pressure meds, eczema cream, muscle relaxants, Tums and Nexium, appetite suppressants, Tylenol cold and flu, and ask yourself this: What’s the difference?
It looks different, but the pile up comes from the same need that is continually not being met.
Over the years I have had a lot of people tell me a lot of things about supplements and new discoveries and a lot of people trying to sell me the latest and greatest. It’s all the same, I don’t bite anymore, I know better. It really is all the same.
One memorable and short conversation I had sums it up best:
‘Frankincense kills cancer.’ they said.
“Not if you eat white bread, drink diet coke and spend 4 hours on your phone every day it doesn’t.” I replied.
It’s not the doctor’s fault. It’s not the massage therapist's fault. It’s not the government’s fault. It’s not the specialist's fault. It’s not the system’s fault. It’s not natural medicine’s fault. It’s not Chinese medicine’s fault. It’s not the Iridologist's fault. It’s not even the drug company's fault. (I hate saying that last one, but people, it’s true. They have their faults, some worse than others, but it is not what drives what has happened to us)
We are overwhelmed. Our world has made so much progress that it has backfired on us. Our world has expanded infinitely and we have no control over it anymore. It’s time we took a moment to look at the big picture. It’s time we started looking at our health and happiness differently because there is no answer down the road that we’ve all been travelling on for the past hundred years. If it was around here somewhere we would have found it already. The answer is somewhere else.
If it’s the big picture that you’re looking at then you realize that it is actually everything and then, if it’s everything, that means that the odds that there are a few things we can do to start feeling better, are high. We just have to allow ourselves to individually and collectively feel the pain of it, the cost of all the so called ‘progress.’ If we can understand it while resisting the urge to medicate it in one way or another, then we can find a way out of it.
Looking for a single magic pill keeps you lost in Oz, you’ll never get home. Avoiding the pain keeps you trapped on the edge of that pain forever, because the only way to break those chains is to jump into it and feel it so you can be free - you cannot heal something that you do not allow yourself to feel. You cannot find the 100 real and helpful answers and options that are out there if you keep insisting that it has to be in one pill, or one diet or one supplement, or one book, or one retreat or one prayer.
We didn’t get this way in one moment. Society didn’t get this way in one moment. The earth didn’t get this way in one moment. So we will need more than one moment, one pill, one supplement, one diet, one book, to get back to the balance and happiness and function that we crave. Everything that we are experiencing is a result of everything that has happened, so that means in everything we experience lies an opportunity to start making small shifts that can eventually bring balance back to everything.
It’s possible, but you have open yourself up to the possibility that what you have been looking for doesn’t exist where and how you want it to exist.
We all have a cupboard like the one above. It may look a bit different, it may be in a different room and be full of different things, but we all have one. If these cupboards had actually had the answer we were looking for at some point, then they wouldn't be so full.
Sonia Funk is a Nutritional Counsellor, Employee Wellness Consultant and Owner at The Whole Avocado. To inquire about hiring her to speak at your event, to do some consulting for your company or for individual nutritional counselling, you can reach her at email@example.com or 204.295.3321