Back when I was child I genuinely believed that when my mother kissed my knee to make it better, she did actually do that. And as I grew older although that belief faded away in the light of the obvious ‘fact’ of the medical model, it never truly disappeared. Time and again I would reflect on what it meant to be healthy and when my own health challenges began in my mid-teens, some part of me always knew that my mother’s kiss held meaning.
I remember being 16 years old and just about to sit ‘O’ levels, as they were then. I had been having a period for what must have been weeks and I was tired and probably anaemic, so Mum took me to the doctors for a check-up. The doctor, a kind woman, looked at me and my mother and said ‘it’s the exams’ and gave me some iron tablets. Although I was shocked by what she’d said as I expected her to do some sort of medical magic; reflecting back over 40 years later it was that simple conversation that started me on the path that brought me to today.
Today, I know we all walking miracles. Every single minute of every single day our bodies are undertaking massive construction, repair and replacement jobs. If this were an infrastructure project like HS2, the cost would run into billions.
Seemingly all by itself, my body is managed by a minuitae of activity from breathing to moving and experiencing the world around me. My body releases the right chemicals at the right time to let me know I’m hungry, I’m tired or I’m poorly.
It replaces cells and fights rogues. And, in the current coronavirus epidemic it helps fight against viruses that might take hold and do further damage.
My skin reddens in the sun, letting me know I’m in danger of burning, it sweats to keep me cool and maintains an even body temperature, and my ankles swell when I’ve been sat too long at the computer.
This miracle is called ‘life’ and it’s amazing it does so well when we appear to actively attempt to work against it. I stay in the sun too long and get heat stroke or sunburn; I don’t eat when I’m hungry and become lethargic, tired, irritable and my blood suger levels drop to zero; or I eat too much when I’m not hungry so put on weight that might make me think less of myself; and frequently I don’t pay attention when it’s telling me all is not as well as it might be.
Somehow, the ‘I’ that I think I am overides this amazing ‘system’ that just works because ‘I’ assume I know better. I don’t have to worry that a cut won’t heal or the bleeding won’t stop until it doesn’t work as expected. And when that happens it’s easy for me to assume that this is the problem, that it’s just this one part of the ‘system’ that needs repairing or replacing.
But experience over many years of observing my own health and wellbeing, and by talking to thousands of women through the Hysterectomy Association, I have come to know, deeply know, that we are so much more than a ‘system’. I now have a much better understanding of what the doctor meant when she said ‘it’s the exams’.
Last year, all this was brought into very sharp relief for me as I navigated my way through a health challenge that eventually proved to be not much at all. You can read all about it in Life the Universe and Medicine, a series of blog posts detailing what happened and the conclusions I reached.
As I had been advocating to the many women using the Hysterectomy Association over the years, I stopped and paid attention to what my body was telling me. I should point out that I only ‘allowed’ myself to do this because the universe had already intervened with a broken arm so I couldn’t do much else at the time it all started! And thereby lies an insight, of sorts. I was doing something we all do in the West, all the time. We overide the perfect, natural beauty of the human ‘system’ because we have more important (seemingly) things to think about.
When I did stop though, for whatever reason, I noticed that all was not right, that there were things I wasn’t happy with about my health, things I could have done something about, but because I knew better than to the pay attention, never had. Stopping took me out of the game I was playing with the universe, the game of tag or catch me if you can. To be fair there was only ever one way that game was going to end, the universe would always win out, because it always does. It caught me!
Once caught though, I was hooked, literally. I began reading books, lots of books and one in particular caught my eye in the bookstore. It was called How Not To Die by Dr Michael Greger. The reason it caught my eye I guess was that part of me did think that this was ‘it’, I was going to die, although I didn’t realise that until now. Along with the fact we are all walking miracles I also know, because I’ve experienced too often in life to not know, that when the pupil is ready the teacher appears. My teacher had well and truly appeared and this was one lesson I was going to pay attention to.
I was looking for signs and synchronicities and this book became one of those things. In that book I discovered the extraordinary power of two things:
- the food we eat
- the way I thought about food – admittedly this wasn’t part of the content!
I had been a vegetarian for several years until I met my ex-husband when it quickly faded into nothing. This was different. This impacted at a much deeper level and although I can’t tell you what the books says without picking it up, it was such a profound insight I realised that I didn’t want to eat animal products again.
I became a vegan just over 12 months ago without the need to exert will power. I haven’t missed meat, fish, dairy or eggs in the way I might have done in earlier years. I haven’t had to force myself to ‘stick with it’, I just have, even though my husband eats meat and fish occasionally and I buy him cheese and eggs. I say this not to be seen as some sort of saint but to illustrate the point I made right at the beginning of this post, we are all walking miracles and when we stop and pay attention, instinctively we know what to do. I didn’t set out to become a vegan, it was that it suddenly made sense and was the logical thing for me to do.
And now, when I reflect back to the conversation with the doctor at the age of 16, at some deep level I knew she meant that the stress of exams was creating the problem I had, I’ve always known that although I didn’t necessarily want to believe it because on some level it feels like I’m at fault. But this isn’t a blame game, after all how can you possibly know that something is wrong until you stop and take a look at it.
So, my challenge to you is to just take a moment occasionally to stop and check in with what this walking miracle that is your body is telling you. Pay attention to the aches and pains without getting side tracked into them, and see if something arises about where there might be an imbalance in your life. This may come as a thought or a feeling; generally it starts for me a deep-seated knowing in my gut that something is wrong somewhere.
And, when you gently ask the other ‘I’, you know the one that really does know it all (and no, that’s not the conscious mind you’re reading this with!) you may well get an answer.
The challenge though is that the answer may not be something you want to hear!