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Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Yes, I’m totally stealing the quantum physics term because… well, it fits.   Or maybe yarn theory would be a better term, since I spin yarn 😉

This isn’t anything new, in fact this is probably retold, rehashed, regurgitated from 10,000 years of existence, but isn’t that what blogs are for?

Take any random ball of knotted string, yarn, thread, rope,… and untangle.  At the end, assuming you succeed, it’s all one continuous string.

Sometimes it’s so hard to discuss one area of life without getting so caught up in every other connected area of life.  But should we even try?  Like that ball of string, there is no area of life that *isn’t* connected.  You can’t tug on this without altering that.  You can’t understand that without looking also at this.

I love watching documentaries.  Even the completely wild crazy Ancient Alien theory documentaries.  I love watching history documentaries and psychology documentaries and sociological documentaries.  And I know I’m not genius, I don’t have multiple PhDs in a wide range of areas… but it’s funny how watching these documentaries it sometimes seems like if they had only brought in experts in some other field of study, that they probably could have figured out whatever it was that had plagued their research a lot earlier and a lot more accurately.

That’s not to accuse them of not doing so.  I’m sure many researchers, scientists, and such often cross fields of expertise to form conclusions.  But it also seems that it isn’t as routine and expected as it should be.

We do this kind of segregation in our own lives far too often.  Sure, sometimes we connect the dots all too clearly (my frustrations at work affect my relationships at home, for example) but sometimes we can’t see the connection, or don’t want to see it…

work – finances -stress – weight – sleep –  gardening – pets – house keeping – allergies – diet – exercise – creativity – relationships – self esteem – work

It doesn’t matter how segregated we try to make these areas of life, they insist on all tying themselves together into a single string, knotted and confused, tugging one affecting the others… there is no such thing as one area of my life… it’s all the same string.

My relationship with my mother affects my house keeping, my housekeeping affects my self esteem, my self esteem affects my work, work gives me a paycheck which affects my finances, which affect my stress levels, which affect my diet and weight, and all of it affects my sleep, which creates a feedback to my diet and weight and stress, which affect my creativity, which affects my self esteem… every aspect of my life is inexorably bound up with every other aspect.

It makes it really hard to focus on certain areas because ultimately the roots have spread so far that I end up having to look at every area which becomes overwhelming.

I watched a documentary on the worship of feminine in the earliest records of Egypt, how the society was matriarchal at the very beginning.  And it got me wondering about how my own views of what it means to be a woman, what “feminine” is, because today we aren’t really surrounded by feminine, we’re surrounded with the masculine idea of feminine.

But then asking what feminine is makes me question if I can even arrive at an answer, precisely because we’re surrounded by the masculine and the masculine idea of feminine, and I can’t be sure that my own opinion hasn’t been so colored by that as to be unreliable for an answer.

Which makes me wonder if that’s why I’ve always had such a hard time writing women in my stories, because somewhere inside I don’t really know what it means to be one, and when I try to write it it comes out wrong because somewhere inside I know that much of what I think I know is wrong, but I don’t really know where to go from there.

I can’t even write “me” in my stories, because I find I really don’t understand myself, or I get lost between what I would do and what I wish I’d do.

And having a hard time writing women only makes me want to do it more, because I feel there’s this gaping hole that I need to explore, this dark chasm that I’ve been afraid to step foot in because the light doesn’t shine far enough to see where I’m going once I start.

That fear, if I’m really honest with myself, keeps me from doing a lot of things that I feel I need to do.  But it also makes me wonder if some of the things I *do* do to try to be feminine aren’t missing the mark, or even misleading myself.

So I have been trying to answer the question “what does it mean to be feminine” and in doing so I’m exploring what other cultures have defined as feminine, or how matriarchal societies worked and were structured.  Because in my culture, I’m told I should compete with other women for a man, I should dress in a certain way to be attractive, I should be a certain weight to be attractive, I should be a certain color to be attractive.   I live in a society that tells me what I *am* isn’t good enough: it sells me clothes and magazines and movies, diet pills and tanning beds, whitening creams and hair straighteners, fake nails and false pretenses.  It sells me “power suits” and teaches the 5 masculine traits to succeed in business.  Nothing about my culture tells me what I am is good.

I work in a male-dominated industry, in a male-dominated department, in a male-dominated industry, because I followed in the footsteps of my father.  Whom I adore without question.  But all of it builds up.

So the string so far is that the question of femininity affects my job, my creativity, my stress levels, my weight, my relationship with my mother, my house keeping… there isn’t any aspect of my life that isn’t touched by my sex and gender, how society views it, how I’ve been taught to view it…

That is my string theory.   Everything is connected.   And it can make it overwhelming to address anything because everything is involved, everything is affected.

But ya gotta start somewhere, right?  So perhaps where I’m going to start is recognizing that I can control certain things, and I can partially control certain things, and I can’t control certain things.

I can’t control what grocery stores and restaurants offer.  I can partially control where I shop and what I buy (finances being a factor, availability being a factor, seasonality being a factory).  But even after all that, I still can control what I eat.  What I eat isn’t just about ‘diet and weight loss’ as some people think.  It’s about physical health.  It’s about *mental* health!  It’s about finances (physical health may mean less doctor trips to pay for).  It’s about creativity (mental health – while often seen as detrimental – I think is critical to creative expression).  It’s about stress (how I eat affects how I feel affects how I deal with things affects my stress) and also affects my sleep.  And all that feeds back into what I eat, because food and stress are far too often linked, craving unhealthy foods or eating too much when stress is highest.

I can’t control what I have to do at work.  I can partially control how well I do it (time frame being a factor, resources being a factor, outside input being a factor).  But I can totally control my *attitude* toward work.  I really do have that choice.  I can either choose to be bitter and resentful, disagreeable and pessimistic, or I can choose to do my best with every job, even if I’m grossly underpaid, even if I think my bosses are insane.  I can bring a positive outlook to myself and my coworkers and help bring my department up instead of down.  That is within my control absolutely.  Which leads to lower stress, and better eating, and… see above.

And now… I can’t control how my society and my culture have chosen to define femininity and women.  I can partially control how much of that I consume.  But what I can control is my choice to seek out other definitions, other views, other ways of thinking.  Even if I can’t change one other thing, I can choose to find this knowledge, to better understand myself.  And who knows… maybe in doing so, every other area of my life will be altered – just a bit – for the better.

Stress at work, lead to the greater consumption of media to distract myself, lead to watching documentaries, lead to hearing about different ways “feminine” is and has been understood in different cultures, lead to a desire to learn… which leads to greater acceptance of myself, leads to reduced stress, leads to better health, leads to improved creative expression, and maybe, just maybe, that might lead to reaching someone else with a message that might help them, also.

We aren’t all different balls of yarn, after all.  We’re all connected.  Tug on me… who knows who else may be affected.

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This ongoing discussion on the merits of herbal/natural medicines got me very animated as I’ve had similar discussions in the past, with varying levels of rhetoric and vile.  I wonder if those who say that natural medicines are utterly useless and have never been proven effective even realize that many of our “modern, conventional” medicines are actually based off natural cures used for centuries and known to be effective.

Aspirin is synthesized from white willow bark, and even today I use white willow bark to ease mild headaches.

Honey has been proven to be effective for healing and preventing infection in wounds.  It isn’t any faster than something like Neosporin, in fact it was a little slower, but it was just as effective.

My sister’s dentist told her to pack a sore tooth with cloves until she could get in to have it looked at, because of it’s numbing properties.

Everyone knows about drinking cranberry juice to help a common urinary tract infection.  Why pay extra for a trip to the doc when you can just chug that down for a while and be fine?

Really, our ancestors were smart.  If they were as stupid as they’re often made out to be, they wouldn’t have lived long enough for us to be here, so they were smart, they were just as intelligent as we are and probably more wise because they had to be.  They knew that all these things around them had, from generation to generation, worked in a certain way.  Ancient Egyptians performed brain surgery.  In the 5th century BC, cataract eye surgery was being performed in India.

So we had advanced surgeries and functional medicines long before the advent of the modern age.  So it isn’t that these natural medicines don’t work – it’s that they don’t always work the way we *want* them to.

It seems there are three major issues with natural medicines once you get past the simple ignorance of history.

One is it’s nearly impossible to determine potency of naturally occurring medicines because the plant itself will vary from place to place, season to season, time of day, and even how old it is.  So yes, it can be difficult to determine or prescribe a dose when the dose may vary widely.  Even today, though, the dose of a medicine is often dependent upon many factors of the patient, body weight, age, gender, and just personal chemistry.  Dosages often have to be adjusted over time to get what works for each person.

Second is that yes, historically, our ancestors did get it wrong sometimes.  There are a lot of folk remedies that – more than not helping – may actually do more harm, and sometimes could kill you outright, but then we do that a lot, too.  We determine later that a medicine is ineffective, or that the side-effects outweigh the benefits, and some medicines, therapies, or cures that have been advanced in modern times are later retracted or revised because of new knowledge, so just because something falls under the heading of ‘modern’ or ‘conventional’ medicine doesn’t make it the best treatment.

And third is a general misunderstanding of how natural medicines are often meant to work in the first place.  We want fast, we want effective, and we want proven.  And even today it seems we can get two out of the three at best.  We can get proven and effective, but it takes time.  We can get fast and effective “experimental” drugs, and we can get fast, proven drugs that work ‘sometimes’, and all of them with side effects that make me think that the original problem might be preferable!  I’ve actually had a doctor prescribe me pain pills that made me so sick I decided the pain was better than the sickness the pills caused!

Today we have this picture of how medicine works: you go to a doctor, you get a pill, you take this pill for X number of days, and you’re better.  The only role the doctor plays in this is to write you the prescription to get the pill.  And it seems even more and more, those “X” number of days means “for the rest of your life.”

Natural medicines often work almost entirely differently.  You go to a doctor, and they prescribe you a medicine, but rather than that being the end of their role, they will be involved in the entire process, ensuring that the medicine is working, and working as expected.  They may increase or decrease the dose depending on how you respond.  They may add another complementary medicine to help.  They can ensure that if you begin to have side effects that they are caught quickly.  They aren’t just the Pill Despenser ™ that many people have come to expect.

And you know what?  This is exactly how modern medicine often works as well!  So I don’t know why some people continue to knock natural medicines when all in all they aren’t too different in approach or effectiveness than modern.

Years ago when I was in therapy for post traumatic stress and at the time moderate depression, my therapist suggested St. John’s Wort tea.  It didn’t “cure” me, but it helped.  That was the point.  I wasn’t supposed to drink a cup of tea and magically feel better.  It was supposed to be a temporary stabilizer for my moods, and that in combination with plain old *walking* which is again proven to improve mood.

When I had a certain type of glandular infection, my doctor gave me options.  she said the conventional approach was to give direct injections of antibiotics to the area (this type of infection did not respond to oral antibiotics.)  She also said that could be combined with lancing the area and letting the glands drain.

Neither of these options sounded terribly inviting.  First, I’m terrified of needles, and second, lancing basically means *cutting it open and letting it drain* so yeah, no.

The natural remedy was to go to the local co-operative, buy some goldenseal powder, make a paste, and apply it to the skin with a warm compress.  The goldenseal contains natural antibiotic qualities and would be absorbed into the skin to help fight the infection.

I decided that was the way I was going.  The very first application relieved the pain.  It took a few weeks to fully get rid of the infection, but it did work.

Okay, it took longer than either of the conventional remedies would have.  But you know what?  Now when I get that same kind of infection again, I don’t have to necessarily go back to the doctor and pay for another examination, pay for another round of antibiotic shots.  I go back to the co-op and buy more goldenseal.  (actually, I keep it stocked in my house now.)  I also keep a tincture of it for when I have sore throats, it takes the pain away instantly and lasts for a few hours, but it does taste utterly vile (so I guess that proves it’s medicine?)

Now wait a second, I hear you say.  You just contradicted yourself!  You cut the doctor out of the process.

Yes, I did.  Because once the first round was over, once I had a mind of what was normal, what to expect, then I can reasonably determine that I have the same infection, and treat it the same way.  Barring any complications that arise, I don’t necessarily have to go back to the doctor for the same thing again.

Diagnose myself?  Treat myself?  Who do I think I am? I didn’t take medicine in college, I’m not qualified to act as a doctor, the arrogance!

But just watch TV for a few hours and count the number of drug commercials that are being marketed directly to you, the consumer, in the earnest hope that you will go to your doctor and say “Give me this!”  You diagnose yourself, and want to treat yourself, but that pesky need for the doctor to prescribe it gets in the way.

So really, the only thing that keeps modern people from using modern medicines the same way we use natural medicines is the stop-gate of needing a prescription.  So the argument of self-diagnosis and self-treatment quickly becomes a non-issue.  The only thing to watch out for is when the treatment doesn’t work or complications arise, you do have to go back to the doctor.  But you have to do that with conventional medicines, too, so it really isn’t an argument for or against either one.  It’s something they have in common!

Really, when it comes down to it, natural medicines are just like conventional: it’s best used under a doctor’s care, but even so there are plenty of over-the-counter that can be used more or less at will.  The dosage often needs adjustment.  They aren’t always effective, or as effective as we’d like, and sometimes they just taste terrible.

Really, the two major differences between natural medicine and conventional medicine?

One: drug companies can’t patent a naturally occurring plant.  They can only patent a specific kind of extraction or synthetic equivalent, so modern medicine pushes profits.  Use the “purple pill” instead of a natural equivalent so the patent holders can get their exorbitant kickback.

Two: without the need for a prescription, it can be easier to abuse or misused natural medicines, but given the ease at which convention is abused, it’s hardly a difference worth noting.  Mostly it just requires the same care as any other drug.

And before anyone says I’m against modern medicine, re-read everything I’ve just written and tell me where I said that.

Anyway, that’s my $2.50.

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The American culture pushes meat as the main course in a meal, almost every meal.  There are very few meals where the meat is considered the side dish, and mostly these are breakfasts (such as pancakes and bacon) but when we talk about what a meal is or what we ate, we almost always list the meat first, as the main dish, and everything else is “with a side of”.

Hamburger and fries.  Steak and potatoes.  Chicken noodle soup.   The meat is almost always listed first, even when it isn’t the majority of the meal!  Pork fried rice.   Clam chowder.  Heck, sometimes it’s even meat with a side of meat!  Steak and eggs, bacon-wrapped pork, steak and prawns.

When was the last time you read that someone had a salad with a side of steak?  Asparagus with salmon?  Vegetable casserole with chicken?

The reason I bring this up is that I’ve been learning just how language shapes our thoughts, like how mindsets shaped the language to begin with.  When we think of food as a meat-based affair, we are set up to misrepresent portions on our plate.  While protein is important for the body, it actually shouldn’t be the main course, and it certainly doesn’t have to be animal protein.  I’m not a vegetarian, but I do accept that our society puts far too much weight (ha, pun) on meat not just in every meal, but *as* every meal.

Being tight on money, meat was one of the sacrifices my diet had to make.  I eat eggs regularly, and beans, and sometimes tofu, and occasionally chicken if it’s on sale, but beef and fish are generally beyond my budget.  I have a little extra these days and enjoy spending it on fish more often, but not daily and certainly not several times per day.

It struck me how ingrained this idea of meat being the meal and vegetables the side when someone asked what I had for lunch.

My lunch consisted of half of a red bell pepper, a third of a cucumber – sliced, two stalks of celery, five radishes, two cherry tomatoes, a sprig of parsley, all fresh.  It also consisted of 2 oz of salmon, a piece of pita bread, and a dab of salsa.

The vegetables consisted of about 3 cups total volume.  The salmon was maybe 1/4 cup, with a 5″ round piece of bread.  The vegetables far outweighed and out measured the fish and bread, and yet when I started to reply with what I ate for lunch, I automatically said “Salmon with a side of…” but no, wait, that wasn’t right!  I had a tray of fresh cut vegetables with a side of salmon and pita bread!

At this point you’re probably rolling your eyes and sighing “why are you getting so hung up on semantics?”  Part of trying to change my health and lower my weight is recognizing the way we are meant to eat.  I’ve met people who acknowledge that they should eat more vegetables, but don’t know how to fit them in.  One person noted that after a burger, there isn’t much room left to eat a big salad.

That’s why semantics are important, I think.  We have the mindset that the focus of our meal is the meat, and the rest should be sort of tucked in around the edges, but only if we have room.  Instead, we should be creating our meals around vegetables, using them as the focus and the main course, and using meat more as a seasoning and less as an entree.

Rethinking the way you approach food can be a bit overwhelming, and certainly takes time to retrain your thinking.  When deciding what to have for dinner, think first about what vegetables you have on hand or what’s fresh and available in stores.  Then think of what whole grains and proteins you can mix in.

One trick some cultures use is to take small amounts of meat and slice them very thin or into small pieces.  This distributes them evenly throughout the dish and sometimes you don’t even know you’ve really eaten far less meat.  Stir fry, stew, and casseroles are great way to use this technique, using very thin slices of beef or well chopped chicken, you can get a little bit of meat in most bites without edging out vegetables as the main ingredient.  You can extend ground beef by mixing it with beans for sloppy joes, meatloaf and tacos.

Besides just the benefit of adjusting our ratios of vegetables, grains and meats, we can also help our budgets because meat is more expensive than vegetables.  Less money out at the grocery store means more money for other things.

If we start thinking about vegetables as our main food source, and meat as the side dish and more for flavor, I think we can go a long way in re-imagining how we relate to food and how food relates to our health.  And it starts with small, conscious steps toward changing how we think about and relate to food.

My goal for the next month is consciously ask myself “what did I eat?” and practice answering with “vegetables, and a side of…” instead of “meat, with a side of…” Because that both reflects what I’m actually eating most of the time, and helps keep me oriented towards vegetables as the main source of nutrition in my diet.  As I lessen my automatic response to focus on meat and grains as what I think of first when it comes to what I eat, the actions of preparing vegetables first and meat and grains secondary will follow.  Thought proceeds action, so I’m going to keep healthy eating as part of the conscious thought during meal planning.

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