What Happens When We Learn Different Ways To Take Care Of Our Health And Feel Great

I’ve spent some time in Africa and South America. I’ve seen a wide variety of diets — some very sustainable and productive, others not. I’ve seen very young and even middle aged people living very healthy lives with minimal medications and stress. I’ve seen the effects of lack of education and medical technology, what it means to go without a computer or telephone, and of course the physical effects of poverty, but I have not seen that many people being cured of disease. I’ve never seen so many healthy people doing so poorly in the ways they care for their health.

Many people, after they have their initial diagnosis or therapy with a neurologist or pediatrician, find that the way they act and manage their health in the present gets much better through practice. These people have to learn how to better adapt to their present circumstances in a way that will help them avoid their future problems. This is not a unique situation in all of healthcare – therapists, home health aides, and pharmacists do it all the time. Yet there is no question that the ways we learn how to take care of our health in the present are extremely important. In fact, just the opposite is often true: Many therapists who work with people with chronic pain are in the habit of treating the problems of those people. They may not know how to properly care for their clients, or even recognize their problems, sometimes because they’re not educated in medical science like a neurologist or pediatrician.

In today’s world, some therapists have become so addicted to the practice of health care that they are willing to take chances and treat people who have already suffered a traumatic brain injury, stroke, or other serious health problem, as if they were the same patients a few days ago. In a typical example, a patient may have a diagnosis of PTSD and not receive proper treatment in the following three months in the hospital. Yet they may not even know that they have the condition. They may be confused and traumatized by the traumatic experience that they have experienced. Many medical professionals in the profession are so concerned with their jobs that they tend to ignore the obvious signs of trauma, including severe emotional and psychological distress. This is another example of how the practice of medicine is being turned into an art in some instances. In the medical world, as opposed to the spiritual world, people can look for a “right” diagnosis and treatment, but in the real world, things are not always as obvious. 

One person I had the opportunity to meet in Nigeria and South Africa mentioned to me that the way they approach their physical health care is different from what we commonly see in America. They see health care professionals as friends that help them in ways that they are capable of managing. They have different models of medicine than western medicine employs. Their doctors are part of their communities, and they take care of them. Their primary goals are to improve and protect their physical health – and they know that they need to. They know how to be healthy, and they know that this involves an emotional, mental, and spiritual connection with the people around them.

I remember the last time I went to visit a relative who had recently retired to the village where I stayed in Northern New Mexico. I had seen two relatives in New Orleans and an aunt and uncle in South Florida, but none have left this world. There was another relative that I had seen two years earlier but I had not seen for one in seven or eight years. I knew the old lady. She had lost her husband in a car accident and had lost her son. She told us that she was not going to be going to the doctor or taking medication for her chronic pain anymore. She went back to where her husband was killed, and she knew how to manage it. She would say her prayers, pray for her soul, and then she would go to her kitchen table and use the same knives she had used to kill her husband. She would find a piece of cloth to wrap around the knife, and her son would hold the cloth over his nose and mouth. “My father has left this place. I must survive on my own power.”

She didn’t just survive; she took on another aspect of life. My grandmother told stories of what it was like to survive on her own power. I would listen in my own personal history of my mother’s father when the oldest of her five brothers passed away. It was like there had been two sets of families in our family, but I was so relieved that the one set lived on. I was reminded that there are other ways we survive. Our way of thinking is very rigid.