Integrative Medicine

About a year ago I saw a doctor who practices integrative medicine for the first time.  Although I had experienced some progress through acupuncture, massage, and nutritional counseling while we were still living in St. Louis, I didn’t really know what integrative medicine was.  However, after almost three years of symptoms — fatigue, joint pain, psoriasis, and multiple issues with my eyes — and little help from traditional medical practice, I figured I had nothing to lose.

When I arrived at the office on the west side of Ann Arbor, I found it to be understated; it didn’t have all the glitz and glamour of the powerful University of Michigan.  It was a small suite of rooms in a strip mall.  The receptionist called my name, weighed me, took my temperature, found my blood pressure, and asked me to fill out some forms. Some of the forms looked familiar — family history, insurance information, etc. — but mixed in with those were others that were asking me questions no doctor had ever asked me before — questions about diet, mood, temperament, lifestyle, and sleep that went beyond the quantitative I had experienced in the past.

The doctor, an unassuming middle-aged woman, talked to me for over an hour.  She took notes, asked questions, examined me, and then gave me a place to start. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might remember that last December I followed the Ultra Simple Diet on the recommendation of this doctor.  She ordered some blood work and also had me submit saliva samples — yes, saliva samples– to a lab to determine my level of adrenal functioning.

I followed her recommendations, and then — bam! — life got a little crazy at our house for a few months.  I kept eating wisely, but I worked too  much, lost track of my exercise plan, and stopped seeing this doctor.

By the end of summer, I had taken a few steps backward health-wise.  I had fallen into some of my old soldiering habits, ignoring my symptoms and pushing through for the sake of family, work, and, most honestly, selfishness.  My fall visit to my rheumatologist at the U was very disappointing.  I was told I had fibromyalgia and that I should find a doctor who would help me manage my symptoms.  Period.

Well, that was the impetus I needed to go back to the integrative medicine specialist.  I limped into the examination room complaining of pain, fatigue, and — a new one — hot flashes!  I was having up to eight extreme hot flashes during the day and that many again at night.  They stopped me in my tracks during the day and woke me out of a sound sleep at night. Furthermore, I was nearing hopelessness because of the verdict from rheumatology.

Step by step, Dr. Mary Greiner, addressed my concerns.  She used homeopathic medicines to address my symptoms. (Some other time I may write about how affordable these remedies are in comparison to pharmaceuticals.)  She also encouraged me to re-adopt my healthy practices of exercise and rest in addition to the dietary changes that I had been following — no gluten, no dairy, no soy.  And, she said I needed to get in to see a physical therapist in Chelsea, Michigan.  She said it would take me a while to get in to see her, maybe months.  However, I needed to see her because she is the one who could help me.   In fact, I’m pretty sure that Dr. Greiner recommended I see Marcy Boughton during that very first appointment almost a year ago.  I didn’t follow through initially, but finally around August, I called and made an appointment.  Last week I met Marcy for the first time.

Just like Dr. Greiner, Marcy listened to me for over an hour.  She wanted to know my physical history, yes, but she also wanted to know about major life events — my parents’ divorce, my experience with anorexia nervosa, the births of my children, our relocation to St. Louis, my reentry into the work force, and our relocation to Michigan. She wanted to hear how I had managed the stressors and, get this, she wanted to applaud my resilience.  Then, she wanted to affirm that this is a good time to allow my body some time to recover.

Yesterday, during our second visit, after having evaluated my personality type and some other socio-emotional factors, she had me listen to some audio teaching while she was gently applying pressure to assess my body’s needs and address some areas of concern.  Hers is a very gentle practice.  She felt my pulses as my acupuncturist had in the past.  She applied gentle pressure to my neck, my skull, my shoulders.  And, by touch, she found the most troubling area, my right hip.

As she applied gentle pressure to my femur, she played two audios.  The first spoke to my personality — my tendency to do, to achieve, to push, to take charge.  The audio celebrated the strengths of these traits — people like me get things done, they lead people, they have what seems to be unstoppable energy and enthusiasm.  However, the audio also identified the weakness — the tendency to overlook the interior, to neglect self-care, to lose touch with the personal.  The information I was hearing resonated.  On just the second meeting with this practitioner, the dots that I have seen clearly on the page, were being connected with an indelible black Sharpie. The second audio was the next step.  The speaker invited the listener to speak words of affirmation celebrating this driven personality — the strength, the vision, the ability to accomplish.  Then, it invited the speaker to heal, to acknowledge the areas that have been overlooked, to give myself permission to set down my weapons,  to slow down and be kind to myself.  As I listened, Marcy continued to apply pressure to that femur, gently attempting to release its torque.  When the audio was done, she said that during the second half of the second audio she was holding my femur when she felt a snap as though my femur broke and then repositioned itself. Interesting.

This is integrative medicine, folks.  I’m not going to tell you that my pain is gone today (although I will say I am no longer having hot flashes!). But, I’m feeling much better as a whole.  I feel like I am understanding myself — my whole self — a little more fully.  We are, after all, complex beings — we are body, soul, and spirit.  Addressing the needs of the body without attending to the soul and the spirit is, at best, a partial fix.

I’d like to tell you more of this story, but I’ve already used more than enough words for one day.  Perhaps tomorrow I will be able to tell you what I am learning about holding it all together.  For now, though, it’s enough to say that we are complex beings created by an even more complex Creator.

I Thessalonians 5:23

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Whatever you do…, Revisit

Monday’s post, Do Something, was meant to be an encouragement to take a step — any small step — toward making a difference. This post, written in November 2014 and cleaned up in August 2019, reminds me that whatever I do is best when it comes from a place of love.

Last night at dinner sat a student, a teacher, a pastor, a cardiologist, and a soldier…It sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn’t it? It’s not a joke. They were all at our table last night. The soldier asked the cardiologist, “so what exactly do you do?”  The cardiologist answered, “the sexy answer is that I stop heart attacks and save lives, but the reality is that I take a lot of measurements and do a lot of diagnostics.” The soldier answered, “well, my sexy answer is that I jump out of planes and blow things up, but the reality is that I do a lot of paper work and  cleaning.”

We wanna give the sexy answer, don’t we? “I’m editing a novel and coaching a Harvard graduate student.” But, we gotta face the reality, “I do laundry and pick up dog poop.”

Regardless of what we do in our professional roles — both the impressive and the mundane parts — I have become more and more convinced that although our professional roles are important, the “goods” are in our interpersonal exchanges.

It makes no difference if I am the president or a janitor; if I cared about someone today — listened, answered, provided, encouraged — that is the money. It doesn’t matter if my house was clean, my clothing smart, or my bills paid; if I was available for another human when she needed me, my day is made.

Why do I forget that so often? I chase after position, title, paycheck, prestige, authority, when I have been given simple instructions:

Carry each other’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind…love your neighbor as yourself.

Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly.

He didn’t tell me to get a job, or a degree; He said to use my gifts to the glory of God. He has given all of us many gifts, among them the spiritual gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control…These gifts don’t require position or prestige…just willingness. Am I willing to love the person in front of me? Am I willing to be patient? Am I willing to be gentle? To exercise self-control?

Sometimes I think that following God’s simple commands is much more difficult than having a career. His commands require me to lay my own needs aside. I am not always willing to do that. I want to be able to give the sexy answer.

However, when I look back over my life, the people who really made a difference for me weren’t too concerned about the sexy answer. The professor who held my coat for me on a cold winter day, the college nurse who listened kindly every day when I weighed (and judged) myself, the friend who came to my house to care for my kids while I had the stomach flu, the ones who answered midnight texts in the thick of it all, and those who have sat with us and cried. Nope, not sexy at all, but so meaningful. Each was willing to give time, attention, energy, love, patience, and kindness, and I can honestly say that I knew, in each of these instances, that God was motivating, providing, using these people to love me.

That is some powerful stuff.  When we acknowledge that God, who is God, cares enough to provide someone to care for our stomach flu, to help us on with our coat, to notice us in the vastness of life…that’s not sexy, it’s breathtaking.

I wanna be someone that God uses, to His glory…

whatever I do.

Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

I Cor. 10:31

Write away

A friend asked me yesterday if I know what I am going to write before I sit down at my laptop.  Not usually.  I sit down and think “Well, what’s it going to be today?”  Sometimes I just start typing.  Sometimes I look at a blank screen for a very long time.  Sometimes I get two or three paragraphs in, delete the whole thing, lather, rinse, repeat.

On rare very blessed days, I wake up with an idea in my mind, sometimes in the middle of the night, and I can’t get to the keyboard fast enough.  I have a start, I don’t know where it will take me, but I know for sure that I have the topic right. In those moments, I feel like I am being instructed by the Teacher himself, as though He is pushing the words through my fingertips onto the screen, because He knows that is where I am most likely to pay close attention to them.

On other days, I get up, drink my tea, eat my oatmeal, skim Facebook, read my emails, do my Bible study, then come to my computer with a general idea of where I am headed. This type of writing is usually an extension of my Bible study, allowing my brain to explore out what I just studied, making it personal.

Sometimes my writing sorts out what is happening in my life — the death of a friend, a change in medication, a potential job.  This writing usually reveals the feelings that I typically keep below the surface…the ones that are pressing to be examined…the ones that I really need to process in order to move forward.

And today, I am writing about my writing.  Writing allows my soul to breathe.  I learned that when I was very young, back in the days of pink diaries that locked with a little golden key.  I treasured the time I could lie on my bed and write in my diary.  I poured my little heart out into those cheesy little books.  Somewhere along the way I discovered poetry and dabbled a little in finding just the right combination of words to cryptically express my innermost emotions.  Later, poetry gave way to song lyrics, devotions, and lesson plans.

My students often asked me if I would ever write a novel.  “No,” I would say.  “I don’t really know how to write what’s not true.”  And that’s a fact.  The only type of writing I really know how to do is this — putting the ordinary stuff of life on the page in order to make sense of it.

Some people paint.  Others dance.  Some run marathons.  Others garden.  We each have to find the language of our heart and use it to say what’s inside of us.  We know when we’ve found it because we can’t help but run to it, and getting there, we see that others too, miraculously, are blessed.

It’s a mystery, isn’t it?  Someone could be blessed by my fumblings? Your fumblings? But they are!  So, I’ll continue to fumble along.

I Corinthians 12:4

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit…