But choosing to seek herbal help, venturing into that oft-maligned universe of “alternative medicine”, and in doing so finding yourself accepting responsibility for your health-related choices, can be a daunting and downright terrifying step for most Americans familiar with our modern medical culture. Beyond “What do you mean, you don’t take insurance? Pay out of pocket??”, it can be unnerving and bewildering to learn that we not only don’t use familiar medical labels like “bronchitis” or “depression” (for one thing, we can be prosecuted for impersonating a medical professional; for another, those names just don’t give us very much information), but we also treat things like reflux and high blood pressures at symptoms, not as diseases in themselves.
Working with a practitioner of these alternative arts is not at all a simple substitute for a visit to your GP. Because of this, I’ve had the question posed to me many times- “Why would someone go to someone like you?” In this question, I hear another: “Why should I bother with what you do?”
There are many reasons people, ordinary people, turn to things like herbal medicine. I’m going to elaborate on a few of them, to give you some idea.
Tonight, as I listen to the rain coming down in buckets outside, I’m particularly grateful for my favorite side gig. I house-sit for a couple families when they go away, taking care of their dogs and keeping an eye on their house. Tonight especially I’m thankful because this house, unlike my own, has a garage! I pulled my little car into their empty bay just a few minutes before the skies opened up (we’re in a flash flood watch until tomorrow, that crazy alert on my phone just scared me half to death.)
This garage I get to use tonight is a nice side bonus to my staying here, and it offers my car some more protection than it usually has, during a storm that seems more severe than we usually get. This is similar to a reason people seek options outside of their doctor’s office, as well. Sometimes they want or need something more, maybe because they found limits to the help they could get inside those offices, or maybe because they have something going on that modern medicine just isn’t fully encompassing.
An alternative practitioner, whether it’s me or an acupuncturist or a naturopath or whoever, is going to see you as a whole being, not as a set of symptoms to identify and remove. For example, when I’m particularly stressed I sleep poorly, and often wake up with crazy tension between my shoulder blades. I can see a chiropractor or the best massage therapist ever or my acupuncturist and get relief from the discomfort, but I know that to truly heal this issue I have to practice my stress management techniques and my good sleep hygiene techniques, both of which tend to slip at the first sign of overwhelm.
My teachers have helped me learn the signs that indicate I need to take extra care with things like my nutrition, my down time, delegating stressful tasks, using herbal support for my nervous system and connective tissues, getting extra sleep, and reducing my electronics time in the evening. From your health care providers you should be learning ways that both you and they can care for you. You should be learning how to strengthen those areas that are usually the target of an illness like your lungs or ears or intestines, to be more resilient to the factors that cause your dis-ease, as well as how to get well again when sickness does strike.
Seeking something more when it comes to your care is a frequent reason people seek alternatives, although it’s a hard reason to express. “I don’t know why I’m not better yet,” “I just keep getting sick,” “My doctor wants to keep doing the same thing and it doesn’t work anymore,” are some of the feelings that cause people to look outside their familiar box.
Even when modern medicine does its best work, we often feel so disconnected to the process that coming out safe and whole on the other side of a procedure only seems like a partial victory.
NPR published an article about a man who had a heart attack, and the differences between his and his wife’s experience, and the experience of the hospital staff. I thought the article served to highlight this disconnect. Not all of the 273 comments (at my posting time) agree, as evidenced by the follow up article about the resulting uproar, but many do. Many people don’t equate being alive with being well or healthy, and they want the full experience. ‘Vertical and ventilating’ isn’t good enough for them.
Alternative health care is a different experience. It’s a fuller and more complete experience, because you are an integral part of it. You are your own garage, and your health is your car. Bring them together and discover how powerful your own protection can be.
That metaphor doesn't work for you? Think about it this way. If you feel dissatisfied, disheartened, unconvinced, or removed from your current state of wellness, what have you got to lose by trying something different? Have an open mind because who knows what will work for you (light beams to do internal surgery, anyone??)