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Posts Tagged ‘health’

One of the things that frustrates me most in life is when I know what’s wrong, but don’t know what to do about it.  There is no instruction manual, there’s no hint, you can’t flip to the last page for the answers.  Some people like it call it common sense, but common sense is only previously acquired knowledge that is applied to situations which are similar to what you’ve already learned.  If you have never previously been taught how to deal with similar issues, then there is no such thing as applying ‘common sense’ to these things.

When our entire lives have been dominated by what the masculine image of feminine is, there is no basis for applying common sense to much of how to deal with these issues.  You can recognize them, you can understand the damaging effects, but you can still be just as lost as to how to *do* something about it.

Part of that is recognizing that our society is very damaged, but that we have other examples, other societies we can look to for guidance.  These other societies don’t even have to be perfect, they just have to do one thing – just one thing – that demonstrates a better way.  They don’t have to necessarily be countries, either.  They can be sub-cultures, organizations, they can be ancient societies that no longer exist, but if we have some record of them, some understanding, then we can start to build a fuller picture of what is possible.

I remember years and years ago hearing about a certain American Indian culture – I sadly have forgotten which nation it was – and the way they recognize a girl’s first menstruation.

The women would gather together and make things.  Just, whatever needed to be made.  Think of it like a quilting circle or something, it was a social thing they did together.  The young girls would be at this circle, and listen to the women talking to one another.  They were, from an early age, surrounded by the stories and points of view of their elder women.  The girls would learn to make the things the women made.  By the time she reached puberty, the girl would have made many things.

When she had her first menstruation, she would be taken into a tent with other women who would pass on more adult knowledge to her than she would have received with the other girls.  They would help prepare her for the changes she would experience, and the changes to come.  They would teach her things at this time that she would not have learned before.

At the end of this, she would leave the tent, and take the many things she had made – whether it was a doll or a pouch or a beaded band – and each item she would give to an elder woman, and she would tell that woman what trait or character she hoped to learn from her.

This is a very sketchy retelling of what I heard, but the gist of it is this: women mentored younger girls and women.  Women told their stories to younger girls and women.  Women embraced one another’s femininity.

Rather than associating menstruation with PMS, bitchiness, and queasiness over menstrual blood, or worse, associating any negative emotion by a woman with the assumption she must be menstruating, this natural female cycle was celebrated and given a beautiful ritual status.

We have been taught to demonize something that lies at the very heart of our femininity, to be shamed by it and afraid of it, to be silent about it.  Imagine the empowerment of our girls if we embraced and celebrated this cycle!  If we stopped shaming the very thing that we have that men don’t!

When we stop being ashamed of it ourselves, men will not be able to shame us with it, either.

Embracing this fundamental natural fact of the feminine can be a catalyst that guides us towards embracing every other natural aspect of ourselves, from our body hair to our diversity in body shapes, sizes and colors.  From our natural complexion to our beautiful wrinkles, to our hair without straighteners or dying out our marvelous gray.

Age used to mean wisdom and respect.  Now it’s something to be feared, fought, denied, and resisted at all costs.  Why?  Because the 18-34 yr old male demographic that is the golden audience for almost every kind of media produced.

How do we achieve this monumental task of reordering our perceptions about our own bodies?  Turn off the TV, put down the magazine, the insidious truth of advertising is that it only works if it can convince you that what you are isn’t good enough.  Otherwise, why would anyone buy a product to make themselves different?  If you were beautiful, you wouldn’t need their makeup and hair products and nail polish and diet pills and clothes and shoes and botox and teeth whitening strips and three-step skin conditioner and tanning salon.

So the last thing these companies want you to believe about yourself is that you’re beautiful!  That you’re okay the way you are.  Your disharmony with yourself is the foundation to their sales!

There is nothing wrong with wearing makeup.  There is something wrong with feeling that you have to wear makeup.  The weight loss industry in the US is a multi-billion dollar a year wake-up call that their fix isn’t working, it’s just keeping us unhappy, unhealthy, and most importantly, it keeps us pouring our dollars into their businesses.

What if we taught our girls that their self-worth wasn’t proportional to the numbers on the scale?  The kicker is, you don’t teach this in a lesson plan with pencils and text books and give a test at the end.  This is taught by modeling the behavior that your weight isn’t your measure of self-worth, by restricting the media’s access to your house which displays one vary narrow and often not even a real image of a woman’s body, by giving them the tools to understand their bodies, and the tools to stand up to those who try to define them by their bodies.

It can be scary to be the one who doesn’t follow the social flow of what is expected of us.  But what is expected of us is to conform to a male ideal of what female should be.  I put it to you: who made men the expert on what it is to be feminine!?  Men have been “telling” us for decades that they don’t understand women, so why do we let them dictate how we understand ourselves!?

We need to create a culture in which women teach women what it means to be a woman.  Where feminine is defined by females.  Where our bodies don’t need to be stretched and cropped, lightened and Photoshopped to be considered beautiful.

Imagine if we found just one thing about our femininity that we could embrace and pursue with all our hearts, the kind of revolution we could create for ourselves.

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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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I am likely one of the few women in the history of this world who actively wants to turn 60.  If I was offered the chance to turn 60 tomorrow, I might well take it if not for the fact that many of the reasons I want to be 60 would be lost in that 25 years I’d be skipping.

I want to turn 60 because while other girls dreamed of being the princess, I wanted to be the old, wizened, grandma woman living in the woods who the young princess or prince or king or peasant never listened to, but she always turned out to be right.

I want to be the woman that children come to for advice because nothing they could possibly say would shock me, but many things I might say would shock them, and for that they’d listen in wide-eyed wonder as I recounted days gone by, or the way their parents acted at their age, or how to make Fairy cookies to make wishes come true.

There aren’t many things that I equate with success in life that aren’t likewise exemplified in the woman usually labeled as ‘witch’.  Despite not being wiccan or pagan or any such religion, still the concept of the witch in the woods is very appealing to me.  The old woman living on her own in a rustic cottage in the trees, in much greater harmony with the world than those living around her.

Natural medicines, healthy cooking, and many cats and other critters serve to round out the mental image of perfection that accompany the wisdom and wrinkles.  Of course, this mental image exists in a far more mythical European setting than is generally practical or possible in modern day America.

When I turn 60, I will no longer have a mortgage.  When I turn 60, I hope I will have children and grandchildren at last.  When I turn 60, I hope I will actually know who my neighbors are.   When I turn 60, I hope I will at last have the time to devote to these dreams.

So I guess really what I want to be is known as a person who helps others, who has both medicine and advice to give, but both only in very small doses.  I want to be the person that people come to because I haven’t lost the art of cooking and sewing and working hard with my hands and bless the dirt that is on them!

I suppose I really don’t have to wait until I am 60 to achieve those things.  But I think the wrinkles would definitely help things along.

I suppose what I really wonder is, by the time I turn 60, will I still be needed?  I am torn between wanting to be, and hoping I won’t be.  I want the world to have gained wisdom, health and contentment by then, but I fear it won’t.  In which case, I want to be wise, healthy and content so I can teach those around me.

Well, I have 25 years to find my way there.  I hope I arrive on time.

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Part of what contributes to the general apathy and sense of absent culture in America is that very little of America’s culture actually means anything!

I realized this at last when watching a documentary about the rise of Ghost Dances among Native American/American Indian (please pick your preferred adjective) tribes.  These dances had profound meaning to the tribes who practiced them.

That’s what got me thinking about what anything in American culture means, and realizing it means nothing.  There is no spiritual aspect to our dances, there is no deeper heritage connected to our daily lives, our folk-tales no longer teach or warn but have been watered down and sterilized for the masses by Disney.  Even our holidays have limited historical context and are either highly commercialized or highly alcoholized.

Drive fast, shoot guns, buy shit, get drunk, and live happily ever after!  Fuck Yeah, ‘Merica!

Parts of the country have communities that share more among their neighbors than merely streets of address but there is very little depth to any aspect of uniquely American culture.

Even parts of it that aren’t unique have less depth for us than for others.  We have a pitiful voter turn-out rate.  I remember watching the news a few years back where people in Iraq brave IEDs, suicide bombers, and more just to cast their vote.  In the US, a heavy rain can keep someone from the polls.  Even among those who had to fight hardest to get the right to vote, there is a sad turn-out of voters.

Without any meaning to why we do some things, the things themselves become empty gestures, traditions without foundations.  No wonder so many people seek meaning elsewhere, from other places in the world.  There is nothing that American culture has to offer the spirit.

We have fast food outlets in hospital cafeterias while proposing laws regarding the size of our sodas and whether or not we can have table salt in restaurant dishes.  We are a culture that has embraced a certain level of daily insanity to the point that we can’t even see that it’s insane.

Meanwhile, I curl up in my 58 degree Fahrenheit house eating cold food with my fingers that society tells me should be eaten hot with utensils while discussing the insanity in our politics and social interactions, and am thus informed of how not normal I am (totally complementary, by the way) by those closest and dearest to me, leaving me to wonder what normal is for everyone else because this *is* normal for me, I don’t know any other way of living and thinking.

Sometimes we focus too much on what other people think.  Sometimes we don’t think enough of how other people will feel.  We play a strange balancing act between herd mentality and individuality.

We dress just like everyone else in the latest brands, then get upset if someone else is wearing the same thing we are.
We want to have the same stores available no matter where we go but we want everything packaged in single servings.
We go to the same restaurants but have ten caveats for every meal we order.

It used to be if you visited a different town, you had different stores, because stores were owned by people instead of nation-wide franchises.  If you wanted Bill’s Best Garden Tools you had to either be lucky enough to live near Bill’s town, have a relative in Bill’s town, or you had to travel.

Later we had Bill teaming up with Ted to bring Bill’s goods to Ted’s store in another town, Bill’s goods being popular enough to demand a greater supply and Bill being able to produce enough to supply a greater demand.  This was great, especially if the local Garden Tool guy’s goods weren’t very good quality, or maybe you just really didn’t like him.

Now you can travel not just town to town but state to state and find not only the exact same stores, but the store looks exactly the same, the building is built the same, the inside is laid out the same.

Sure, it’s nice I guess, but we’ve lost so much richness and creativity to this kind of universal conformity.  It means nothing we buy really means anything, either.  Half of it is disposable to begin with, and for all we value individuality we have almost nothing that is truly unique (and then we go to other countries and tell them to be just like us!)

So now we have useless traditions filled with meaningless objects and we can move anywhere and have all the things we’re used to and yet we belong nowhere.  And the more we’re forced to be the same the more we act out to set ourselves apart, the more we look to other cultures to find some sense of meaning and fulfillment because American Culture is rooted in being dissatisfied with what you have and who you are: you don’t make enough, you don’t own enough, you aren’t thin enough, your hair isn’t straight enough, your clothes aren’t new enough, your beat poetry isn’t edgy enough, and no one understands you!

So what?

Maybe the reason no one cares about American Culture is there’s a whole lot that isn’t worth caring about.  But there is some that is.  There are some beautiful, golden threads to be found in this vast American tapestry we have woven.   I think my next entry will be looking at some of those.

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