So interestingly, my main excuse for not paying more attention to my website is that I'm too healthy! This website was an invaluable outlet for need to research my disease and for my concerns regarding my own health when I felt lost and confused. Now that I feel that many (though not all) of my big questions have been answered, I have been focusing on other projects, mainly clinical herbalism and running an herbal apothecary. If my health takes a turn, I may return to this blog as a vehicle to record more research.
What I've Been Doing
Of course, as is the case with successful treatment of big chronic diseases like CF, it's hard to tell what things have been the biggest contributors to my improvement. But there are four factors that I can say with absolute certain have helped enormously. The first is diet, and chronologically this was the first big change that I made in my life that helped turn my health around. Almost all of what I've discovered in this regard is documented in this website. I am at the point now where my digestion is so improved that I can eat random unhealthy things and have little to no negative consequences (though I don't make this a habit because I know that if I did, I'd go right back to where I started from). If I eat a little cheese at a party, if there is some hidden gluten in a restaurant dish, if there's sugar in my chocolate, I no longer have to be hyper-vigilant. Generally my guts don't care unless I do this for several days in a row. What a change from when I first started this website! The second big factor was, of course, exercise, as I've discussed before.
The third big factor is a radical paradigm shift in regards to my conceptualization of work, economics, spirituality, and time valuation. I can't really go into the details here as it would take a book's worth (or two) of explanation to do it justice. But to summarize, my health crisis made me wake up to the radical (and painful) realization that if I didn't completely re-evaluate my life and my life goals and think extremely critically about how I was participating in this sick society, I would never heal. I had to break down all of my pre-concieved notions about what made life valuable and worth living, and then I had to rebuild my own paradigm based on my own experiences and wisdom. I had to reject most of the beliefs that this Euro-American culture has regarding health and wellbeing, truth and reality, and discover them for myself. There is no way to understand the difficulty of that task unless you've done it yourself. Most people in this culture don't think critically about the status quo, and so even if it makes them sick or locks them to a hopelessly destructive belief system, they don't know that there are other realities available. For me, this total paradigm shift has led to a rejection of most of this culture's beliefs about "shoulds": "I should get a high-paying job", "I should want to be in traditional positions of power", "I should believe everything that people with advanced degrees have to say", "I should want fancy technology", "I should live up to other people's expectations", "I should believe what this person says because they are highly respected by mainstream people", etc. On a practical level, this has led to a redefining of my life goals and a more realistic understanding of what I should expect from myself before I die. In particular, I had to let go of a lot of guilt regarding my non-participation in the Euro-American production-driven capitalist economy, which was killing me. Once I realized that this system is itself pathogenic, not just for me but for everyone participating in it (even people who don't have a chronic disease), I stopped letting my guilt drain my life away and I started feeling empowered to live my life outside of that box. Life is too short to live according to someone else's standards, especially for me.
The forth factor in my healing has been herbalism. I have graduated from a three-year program in clinical herbalism and I now practice herbalism in a clinic and I help run a non-profit herbal apothecary. Through herbalism I have made deeper connections to my ancestors via exploration of traditional (pre-colonial) Irish medicine. Now I use my own experiences healing myself to help others heal. And even more important, I see herbalism as a tool to heal our broken culture by helping people reconnect to nature, even when they can't take a daily walk in the woods or swim in the ocean.
Paradigm Shifting for Deep Healing
This brings me to the real reason I have written this post. I know people might be curious as to why I haven't written in a while, so now that I've gotten that out of the way, let's talk about something more important and more interesting. I recently read an article written by my teacher, Guido Masé, on how herbalism is something we have in common with all animals, including insects, and furthermore, without it our species will lose its phenotypic elasticity, lose its ecological fitness, and eventually die off with lots of disease and suffering. I recommend you read the article yourself here.
One thing that I've taken away from this article is that the concept he presents - that loss of exposure to ecological pressures leads to a loss in genetic elasticity - has significant implications for the trajectory of modern society. That is, if industrialized society continues on this course of increased dependence on technology, further environmental degradation, reduced exposure to the natural environment and wild ecosystems, and increased exposure to artificial environments (cities and suburbs) and toxic chemicals, it is all but guaranteed that the rapid proliferation of diseases of modernity (e.g. diabetes, heart disease, cancer, autoimmunity, mental illness, allergies, etc.) will lead to global degradation in human health that will at some point be irreversible. Once genetic pathways that promote phenotypic elasticity are trimmed (in the absence of natural ecological pressures) animals become less resilient and less able to adapt to changes in the environment. With the rapid progress of extreme fluctuations in weather as a result of climate change, this is more dangerous than ever before. We need all the help we can get if we are going to survive climate chaos, which is only going to get worse for at least the next century (longer if we continue to do nothing about it).
In addition, my herbal clients who have complex health issues that are the least responsive to intervention are usually those that have the most modernized lifestyles. That is, people who have little exposure to nature and uncontrolled environments, who live technology-dependent lives, and who have high-stress jobs and complicated social situations are often the most sick. In other words, of the clients that I have seen so far, those whose health problems are the hardest to improve often live in ultra-modernized situations. Interestingly, these people often feel trapped by their modern lifestyles, not liberated by them, as mainstream dogma would have us believe. I have interacted with many people in several different countries, and I would say that some of the most liberated people I have met have been the least modern. When it comes to resilience to the natural disasters inflicted by climate chaos, we've seen recently that those who are the least dependent on modern technology (i.e who don't need grid-dependent electricity to pump or clean their water, who grow their own food, who work at jobs that can function without electricity or complex infrastructure, who still have manual skills like carpentry, welding, gardening/farming, etc.) are the most able to carry on life in the wake of their devastation and the lack of government and/or international aid. I am not saying this to shame or blame people who live modernized lives (I am one of them), and I'm certainly not saying that modernized people are to blame for their own illnesses. I am simply trying to point out a connection between modernity and illness, since mainstream culture refuses to acknowledge any negative consequences of excessive dependence on technology or a lack of nature in our daily lives.
Modernity has its benefits, to be sure. I wouldn't be alive without techno-medicine, and I wouldn't be writing this blog without my computer. But we should not be blind to modernity's many drawbacks, particularly for physical and mental health. Especially for mental health. There are many excellent articles and books out there now discussing the concept of "evolutionary mismatch". In the context of the human body, since genetic evolution takes tens of thousands of years and our societies change at a much more rapid pace (now dramatically changing by the decade, not by the millennia as in the past), our bodies and minds are still adapted to a paleolithic reality, causing our modern culture to be out of sync with our physical and psychological needs.
I mention this because it makes me very sad to see how deeply this mismatch impacts some of my clients. Our society is deeply flawed and not designed to support healthy human life. Violence, racism, misogyny, classism, economic oppression, and political/religious fundamentalism are now rampant in the Westernized world. A growing feeling of being unsafe, especially in the U.S., weighs heavily on the psyche. This effects everyone's health, whether they realize it or not. So when I try to help clients heal themselves, I can only do so much unless they are willing to think very critically about how they are participating in this modern pathogenic society. I truly believe that without this critical analysis of the status quo and the individual's role in it, there can be no deep healing. As you will have gathered by now, I am most concerned with healing disease at its roots. And when the roots of disease are lodged deep in the soil of social and ecological injustice, we must target the root causes of that injustice. Thus, for deep healing, cultural healing, society-wide healing, we must look beyond the individual towards the whole of society. We must look past the trees for the forest.
It may be unrealistic to expect everyone to disengage with all pathogenic aspects of modernity, especially since most of our livelihoods are now bounded by them. We feed ourselves, shelter ourselves, clothe ourselves, and receive healthcare from this flawed system. Many of us feel that if we tried to disengage from the mainstream, we would be endangering ourselves. But we can take small steps to disengage ourselves from the worst of it, and as a result, improve our resilience. For example, avoiding social media and corporate news to instead read books is a great way to change one's media diet. Engaging in "slow media" can have a really significant impact on mental health and make one much more informed in a way that helps us to avoid manipulation by corporate and other hegemonic powers. Keeping a garden, even in a small community garden plot, can help us keep beneficial soil microbes in our lives. Eating organic food, cooking meals instead of eating out, interacting with wild and domesticated animals (especially farm animals), going on daily or weekly walks in natural places, avoiding toxic cleaning products, minimizing interaction with plastics, sitting or walking quietly with no technological stimulation for at least an hour per day, and so on, can be good ways to start on a path of paradigmatic change and healing.
I know that if I had not made these deeper changes to my paradigm and my lifestyle that I would not have seen the big improvements in my health as I have. However, this is not an easy thing to suggest to people. Often my clients are already doing a back-breaking amount of work just to get up in the morning and to put food on the table. Often they are in financial situations that make challenging the status quo excessively burdensome. But nothing is impossible. And the goal is to redefine one's reality so that the work one once thought was necessary is actual revealed to be unnecessary; that there is a hidden way around it. Jumping the tracks from one reality to the other is the hardest part. It is not up to me to decide what someone else is capable of. All I can do is lay out the options and let the person choose for themselves. But it is part of my job to point out options that someone else never knew existed.
I would also highly recommend reading the book the Yin and Yang of Climate Crisis: Healing personal, cultural, and ecological imbalance by Brendan Kelly, LAc. Brendan is a local practitioner of Chinese medicine here in Vermont, and his book is an excellent discussion of how the illnesses that modern society, particularly in America, is experiencing are mirror images of the ecological diseases that our world is experiencing, particularly in regards to climate change. He describes how specific aspects of modernized lifestyles and Westernized cultures lead to imbalances in the five elements in both the human body and the global climate, and also how balancing the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, water) within us can help us return to a state of balance within humanity and the greater ecology. Just as I have described here, Brendan mentions with clear examples how real healing cannot be successful unless we think about the individual's cultural, social, economic, and ecological context.
Working on Other Projects
I will be honest, I am not putting a lot of effort into this website these days, as I am working on too many projects in the other aspects of my life. I continue to respond to comments and questions, so keep them coming. I wish you good health!