Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What the earthquake did to your body

Yesterday, August 23rd, 2011, the D.C. area was shook up. Since the earthquake, most of us who experienced it have recounted our "where were you when it happened" stories via text, fb, twitter, or phone with friends and family.

I want to dissect the second that I realized it wasn't me that was wobbling, it was the whole building.

I was in my home office calendarizing while listening to the video game my neighbor's kid was playing. All of a sudden, my heart was pounding, my eyes widened, and I sprang into action. Embarrassingly, my "action" was a ridiculous series of darting from room to room looking for what sounded like a rumbling truck out the window while trying to remember when the last time I ate was ("Are these the low blood sugar shakes? Quick! Banana to the rescue!").

After the quake stopped, I could still feel the adrenaline rush that had flooded my body. This natural set of physiological effects is called the Fight-or-Flight or Stress response. Here's what happens in your body in a state of stress:
  • Pupils dilate
  • Hair stands up
  • Heart pumps harder
  • Respiratory rate increases
  • Digestion slows
  • Bladder and bowels constrict
  • Endorphins are released
  • Brain activity moves to survival mode
This response is healthy IF we're actually in a situation that is threatening our life (not if a spreadsheet won't open or traffic is moving slowly). This response was only meant to last 90 seconds. The problem is, many people are feeling this stress response all day every day. When your body is in fight-or-flight mode, it leads to lack of sleep, lack of sex drive,  lack of balanced metabolism, lack of optimal immunity, and lack of emotional satiety.

The book Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers paints the picture of zebras getting this adrenaline rush when they see a tiger. If they escape the tiger's dinner plans, they stamp off the anxiety, shake their manes, and return to chilling with their fellow zebras. Your body is also meant to return to a normal resting state too, and stay there most of the time (gasp).

The good news is that you can help turn off the inappropriate fight-or-flight response by breathing. When you inhale deeply while pushing your belly button way out, your lungs expand, taking in more oxygen your cells need to function properly. Your lungs also push your diaphragm down, sending the signal up your spinal cord that your nerves are OK. Take 3 of these big breaths like this and your body will go "oh yeah, I don't see a tiger running after me".

After the earthquake, when I felt the adrenaline coursing through my veins, I remembered the zebras - I shook it off, waved my mane, and logged online to check in with some buds (maybe it's our virtual wading pool). If you're still on edge about the quake, a trip to your local acupuncturist can help calm your nerves, as well as some nice easy big belly breathing.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Thank you drugs and non-drugs

I am in week 7 of a relationship with a rash. This mystery rash quietly appeared on my ankles and wrists, then wound its way up around my arms and legs like ivy, and got louder and itchier as it spread. Some days I embarrassingly found myself in tears because I was at my wit’s end of not being able to calm this rash, like a screaming child which clung to me, screamed at me, and wouldn’t let me sleep. 

I’ve combed my memory and retraced my steps to pinpoint a food, product, plant or insect I could find, blame, and punish. Nothin’. Then I prayed, pleaded, and surrendered to whatever it was that my body was reacting to. Still nothin’. I sought help at a clinic, took a week’s worth of steroids and allergy pills, which gave me a week’s worth of blissful relief. Then, after the medication wore off, the rash reared its itchy head again, and began spreading up my neck. 

Finally, when I realized this was not going away lightly, I sought the help of my acupuncturist and dermatologist. The acupuncture started clearing out my system with all the natural, God-given healing mechanisms already built into my body. The dermatologist prescribed a stronger, longer dose of steroids to employ man-made chemical technology to calm my erupting skin. I took the help of both, thank you very much.

I re-learned a couple valuable lessons with this rash, to which I am grateful.
First, I have no judgment for a patient who chooses to take prescription drugs. I would love to live in a world where we all lived like healthy cows - a short, lazy life consisting of grass and sunshine. And yet I also embrace life as it has evolved - I love living in this gritty world where my fellow humans have found a way to occupy their time by concocting recipes of stuff that enhances as well as dilutes all that grass and sunshine. I believe everything can be a poison and a medicine, even grass, even sunshine, even drugs. So whatever you would like help with, whether it be itchiness, depression, pain, or the end of your wit, by all means, I will not stop you. I blessed my steroids, smiled at them, took them, and said thank you.

The second thing I re-learned is that I am going into the business of acupuncture to return patients to themselves. When symptoms make themselves known, I have always found the deep desire to go to a doctor and hand myself over to their expertise, so they can deliver a tightly wrapped diagnosis and treatment plan. I want someone to tell me with 100% accuracy what I have, why it happened to me, and how to make it go away. I have never gotten this from any type of practitioner. I have never gotten ‘the answer’. And I’ve heard top-rated, well-known specialists, as well as my dermatologist, say that they are only operating on their best educated guess. 

We like to believe that medicine is a science, and therefore, we can know what it proves to us. But there go my fellow humans again, concocting new technology, new tests, new procedures and new drugs to prove new things and un-prove old things, making our current educated guesses simply a snapshot of what we think we know in this moment of time. Giving someone else the power to make an educated guess about all the history of symptoms and life events that led up to this particular set of symptoms is a major resignation of your own power.  No one can fully know all of you except you. No one is your best wellness advocate except for you. And no practitioner can size you up in a few minutes and reduce your symptoms to “just a rash” or “a herniated disc” or “a tumor”. There has been a whole lifetime and ancestors’ lifetimes leading up to how your genes work, how your body functions, and what this symptom is teaching you now. I’m not saying you can “know” your own diagnosis and treatment plan – I think asking for help from any and all practitioners is definitely helpful – I am saying that by continually and repetitively waking up to our bodies, fully feeling our bodies in each moment, we can be more aware of what triggers aches, pains and odd reactions. 

What this does is empower us as the owners and operators of these meat suits. If this body is truly is a temple, and my spirit truly lives in it, how can I let my life pass by without paying attention to every arch, every window, every door, every step, every surface, every life-giving sensation that courses through it? How can I ever run out of curiosity about it? I want to spend my time in the clinic with patients waking them up to what they already know about their bodies, reminding them of the divinely glorious arches and doorways of their temple, asking them to pay attention to it’s every move, it’s every breath, because it is a gift. It might feel like a tired, painful gift at the moment, and yet it’s still all you’ve got to work with while you’re on this planet. 

I am now on round 3 of steroids, thankfully scratching less and less each day, feeling what the effects and side effects may be, and thanking my body for endlessly teaching me.