Sometimes our bodies say,
“I am a hollow reed – music is playing through me.”
Sometimes our bodies say,
“I am a gnarled rag – in need of an amorous cleansing.”
Sometimes: strong, connected, grounded, river rock.
But when the body says
I have become separated from the temple
And we are left with the great divide
It is then,
That our parched and torn eyes
Seek out the hidden Ocean
“Let the water fill the chasm –
And become a pool once more.
Let the rag unfurl its blackened and desperate tangle
And receive a thousand stars.
Let the music have its way again
And soak up the fragrance of love.”
Ear to sky
Knees to ground
Head to stone
Hand to heart
We bow to that Eternal One
Who stands like a guardian of what
We abandon daily.
And when the body says,
I know nothing but longing at the gate –
The stone becomes ground
The cloth a banner
The chasm a bridge strewn
With those fragrant flowers
We return to ourselves.
Music a choir
Freedom an epitaph
The pool an ocean
Abandoning what we love no more.
Tracey Schmidt is a poet and photographer living in Asheville. More of her work can be seen at www.traceyschmidt.com
COMMON SENSE HEALTH
Anxiety… what to do when it becomes too much
If you have been reading this column for awhile, two things have probably become obvious to you. One is, I have a strong belief that common sense approaches (including healthy food, lifestyle changes and appropriate nutrient and herbal supplementation) play major roles in preventing and treating many chronic illnesses. Also, I’m pretty stubborn in my stance against big pHARMa’s domination of our health care system.
Now that I’ve confessed my personal prejudices, let me forewarn you that this month’s discussion on anxiety is no different. Although the article contains opinions from other health care practitioners, therapists, and healers (many from our own WNC community), the overarching theme is that there are plenty of natural, non-pharmaceutical ideas and remedies to help reduce the symptoms associated with anxiety.
Most of us are familiar with feelings of anxiety, especially the ones that precede important events such as having to speak in public or going on a first date. Some anxiety in response to life’s challenges is normal. Anxiety disorders, however, differ in that they cause one to feel frightened and uneasy for no apparent reason. When these disorders are not addressed or treated they can drastically reduce a person’s ability to function, as well as diminish quality of life.
Anxiety disorders include:
Panic disorders; obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD);
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD);
generalized anxiety disorder, and phobias.
According to the National Institute of Mental health, 40 million people (or 18% of adults over age 18) suffer from anxiety disorders—making them the most common form of mental illness in the US. Directly and indirectly, the cost associated with this disorder is approximately $46.6 billion dollars per year.
Drugs to the Rescue:
As is true with much of the research being done on other types of illnesses, underlying causes of anxiety are rarely explored. Instead, research money is spent on the development of newer drugs. Drugs have their place, but when it comes to treating anxiety, many are ineffective and some cause a cascade of health problems. According to Joseph Mercola, MD, “… drugs are rarely ever the solution for treating the cause of mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, which are frequently the result of bioenergetic malfunctioning due to either emotional, biological, or environmental stress.”
Commonly prescribed medications for anxiety include benzodiazepine drugs like Ativan, Xanax, and Valium. They work by increasing the action of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) which in turn activates dopamine in the brain (referred to as the gratification hormone). Since these are the same pathways that are used when heroin is taken, you can see why these anti-anxiety meds can be so addictive. These same drugs also have common side effects that include: an unsteady gait, dizziness, increased risk of car accidents, thinking impairment, and memory loss.
As if that wasn’t enough, many researchers agree that the drugs used to treat anxiety and depression simply don’t work. In several studies, antidepressants have been shown to work only slightly better than a placebo. Dr. Mercola also states on his website: “Medication (for anxiety) will merely serve as a Band-Aid to these “patterned” emotional challenges, and most people would greatly benefit from practicing stress reduction techniques and exercise rather than resorting to drugs as their first choice.”
I’m not suggesting that there is never a time for pharmaceuticals. I’m just pointing out that they are currently overused, they mask symptoms instead of addressing underlying causes of disorders, and the quick-fix approach they offer has a price that many of us are no longer willing to pay.
What else can be done to minimize the symptoms associated with anxiety?
For most of my 34 years as a registered nurse I’ve been preaching the value of nutrition for almost anything that ails you. So, I used to think just cutting out caffeine, taking an herb like Kava, making the right dietary change or taking specific doses of Magnesium and B vitamins were the answers to treating anxiety. But if I’ve learned anything as I’ve gotten older, it’s that rarely does just one approach or intervention resolve a complex problem like anxiety. In addition to the nutritional components, I now acknowledge the importance of examining issues from our past that may be at the root of certain health and mental health problems. Working with someone qualified to assist you in discovering and letting go of old thought patterns that no longer serve you, can be just as critical as nutrient support. In other words, anxiety may be an indicator that we need to release or change in some way, and a variety of strategies (including behavioral and other types of self-healing methods) may be necessary to resolve it.
As Erin Everett, the former editor and publisher of The New Life Journal said in a brief interview: the anxiety she experienced was an indicator that her life was out of balance. Once she listened to herself, made changes—including practicing meditation, working with a plant spirit medicine practitioner, shifted her career, and reconnected with nature—her anxiety diminished remarkably.
More Natural Solutions for Reducing Anxiety Include:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: According to the National Association of Cognitive Therapists (www.nacbt.org) Cognitive-behavioral therapy is based on the idea that our thoughts cause our feelings and behaviors, not external things, like people, situations, and events. The benefit of this fact is that we can change the way we think to feel and act better even if the situation does not change.
The Orthomolecular Approach: According to Bonnie Camo, MD, author of the upcoming book: Natural Medicine, For a Healthy Mind and Body, and a Healthy World, “The term Orthomolecular Psychiatry was coined by Linus Pauling (winner of two Nobel prizes, for chemistry and peace) in his famous article in Science magazine in 1968. It refers to the treatment of mental illness with substances that occur naturally in the human body, such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fatty acids. The brain is dependent on nutrients supplied by the body. If these are inadequate due to a poor diet (deficiency) or a genetic need for more than the usual amount of a particular nutrient (dependency), the brain may be unable to function normally. Orthomolecular psychiatry attempts to determine the biochemical cause of the brain malfunction and treat it with the appropriate nutrients.”
Although not endorsed by the American Psychiatric Association, you can obtain additional information on nutritional approaches for anxiety and other forms of mental illnesses via www.Orthomolecular.org or consult an integrative medical physician familiar with this approach.
Other Nutritional Interventions that can ease anxiety
Stabilizing blood sugar levels by eating a whole food, organic-based diet that includes a healthy form of protein every 4-5 hours and minimizes sugar and chemically laden foods.
Minimizing caffeine and alcohol—both substances, taken in excess, can cause the excretion of nutrients (such as B vitamin, Magnesium, Zinc, etc.) that are essential co-factors in the formation of neurotransmitters.
Optimal Nutrients such as those found in a comprehensive, high potency (especially Magnesium and B vitamins) and absorbable Multi-Vitamin with added fish oil can make a big difference. One of the B vitamins, Inositol is often referred to as “the poor man’s Valium.” One study found that at very high doses it was as effective as SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) in reducing the intensity and frequency of panic attacks.
Exercise changes the level of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that (when properly balanced) helps us sleep soundly and maintain a good mood.
Exercise also increases the body’s production of endorphins which are our “feel good” chemicals.
Meditation and Yoga both help reduce stress by providing tools that calm the mind and relax the body.
Herbs such as Valerian and Passionflower are known for their ability to help calm nervousness and reduce anxiety. Several studies have found the herb Kava reduces symptoms in people with Generalized Anxiety Disorders.
Homeopathics: consult a qualified Homeopath for individual remedies to help with anxiety.
Acupuncture: There is some research showing acupuncture may help reduce the symptoms of general anxiety disorders.
Reflexology: Caroline Hobson Zocher, a licensed massage therapist in Weaverville, finds in her practice that reflexology can be helpful in activating endorphins and reducing anxiety.
Aromatherapy: using essential oils such as lavender and rosemary have been shown to be effective.
Breath Work: breathing deep into the belly and repeating several times slows down the mind and relaxes the body.
Hormone Balancing: estrogen dominance and lack of progesterone can contribute to anxiety.
Emotional Freedom Technique or EFT works by balancing the meridians in a way similar to acupuncture but instead of using needles, the meridians are stimulated by tapping your fingertips on the specific acupuncture points. EFT can be learned by anyone and can be self-applied.
Doing what you love: Eve Davis, the owner of the beautiful holistic Hawk and Ivy B & B in Barnardsville, says in addition to eating a piece of very dark chocolate, she minimizes her anxiety by stopping what she is doing and laying down on the earth. She suggests taking time to do something that feels good each day.
Train your mind toward positive self-talk, whatever subject you’re thinking about.
There’s no one simple solution that will be effective for everyone dealing with anxiety. But when we view anxiety as a form of communication from our body and spirit letting us know something in our life is out of balance (whether that be physical, emotional, or spiritual), we can view it in a more positive light. As Cathy Pidek, a dance and movement therapist told me, she encourages her clients to “pay attention to anxiety, say hello to it and not try to run or hide from it.” Once we open up to its message, rebalancing our life using some or all of the suggestions listed above can make a big difference.
In the middle of the night if I awaken with my own version of anxiety, I repeat the affirmation from the book You can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay: “I love and approve of myself and I trust the process of life. I am Safe.
If I haven’t had too much wine or caffeine and I remembered to put on my hormone cream, it usually works!
Maureen McDonnell has been a registered nurse for 34 years (in the fields of: childbirth education, labor and delivery, clinical nutrition, and pediatrics.) She provides private health consultations at her office in Weaverville, NC and can be reached via email for an appointment (MauraHealth@aol.com) or call 609-240-1315. Maureen is the former national coordinator of the Defeat Autism Now! Conferences and is the co-founder of children’s green health expos: Saving Our Kids, Healing Our Planet. Her published articles on autism and general health can be found at www.SOKHOP.com. In addition to writing a monthly column Common Sense Approaches to Women’ Health, she is the owner of Nutritionist’s Choice multi vitamin: www. NutritionistsChoice.com. Maureen and her husband H Hanson have five grandkids and feel blessed to be living in the beautiful mountains of WNC.
The memories haunt me. We’ve just arrived home as the phone rings. “Life Alert” appears on the caller ID. Adrenalin rushes through my body—a familiar response from the involuntary fear I feel each time one of these calls arrives. The friendly but concerned voice on the other end says that my mother signaled for help but did not answer the callback.
Throwing on my coat, I speed out the door, telling my husband that I should be back soon. At least, I hope I will. “Please, let it be another false alarm,” runs through my mind as I quickly drive to Mom’s home.
Parked in front, an EMS truck’s bright lights flash. A sense of foreboding ripples through me as I rush to the front door. There, three young men appear on the verge of breaking it down. My key slides into the lock; we all rush in.
My mother, on the floor in the living room, leans against the piano. She can’t move. She appears confused. After a quick conversation with the EMTs, I grab pillows and a blanket to give her support and comfort while they get the needed equipment. “Mom, what happened?” I ask. She doesn’t appear to hear my question; I realize that she’s not wearing her hearing aids. I shout “Mom, what happened?” Looking down at her legs in bewilderment she says weakly “My legs gave out on me. They just gave out. I can’t move. I can’t get up.”
She cries out in pain as the EMS crew tries to help her up. It quickly becomes obvious that something’s terribly wrong. “A break?” I think. “But, that can’t be; she’s been on Fosamax for years. Perhaps it’s a sprain.”
The crew checks her vitals, loads her onto a gurney and whisks her to the waiting ambulance. I tail it to the hospital’s ER, with a detour at Starbucks for liquid energy. My husband answers the phone to receive the first of what will be many reports over the next few weeks. “Yes, I’ll be glad to bring dinner,” he says. I’m comforted to know that he will be there soon. It looks as if it will be a long night for us all.
Later, under the dim lights of the ER, a young doctor shows me the X-rays taken on arrival. Perplexed, he says, “It appears that she suffered fractures of both femurs. Here,” he points to the monitor, “are the zigzag breaks.” He’s never seen anything like this before. We later learn that they were spontaneous breaks, not due to a fall. They “just happened” as she walked across the living room. Or as Mom says now, “I didn’t break my bones, they broke me.” Shocked by what I’m seeing, my turbocharged mind tries to make sense of what happened.
I agonize as I think back and realize that years of using the miracle bone-building drug did nothing to protect her. They say, “Hindsight is 20/20.” That’s a perfect cliché for the “aha!” that slowly dawned on me. How did we miss the obvious? The last ten years had included painful, hairline fractures just from climbing to the Acropolis; an unexplained broken pelvis; a fall that resulted in another femur fracture; a split ankle bone the previous summer that came out of nowhere. And yet, no one questioned the efficacy of this drug. Her doctors kept on prescribing it, oblivious to the evidence that it didn’t work.
But worse, we kept on believing in it. Convinced by the advertising hype—including the well-known ads featuring a cute, middle-aged actress—we failed to examine our firsthand evidence critically. It never entered our minds to question the so-called wonder drug. We were truly hypnotized by the “common wisdom,” even though Fosamax’s ineffectiveness and, yes, potential danger, were staring us in the face for years.
Back to the situation at hand… I’m faced with many questions—in the short-term, myriad decisions about what’s next. My mind drifts back to what brought her here and I can’t help but wonder: “How do I tell her?” How do I tell Mom what happened and that Fosamax failed her? I watch as she rests in the hospital bed, eyes closed, IV and wires sprouting from her body. I still can’t believe this happened to my sweet Mom. Duped by one of the pharmaceutical industry’s miraculous quick-fixes, it proved in the end to be too good to be true. I silently wonder how many other women will experience similar fates.
At 86, she did well to survive the surgery to repair the damage. Afterward, unbelievably, a hospital medical doctor tried to put her right back on Fosamax with the explanation that it was important to keep it going, so her bones didn’t suffer. Huh? Say what?
My growing questions and suspicions of the drug led to research to double-check what appeared to be obvious: The stuff didn’t work ‘til now, so why should it in the future? As it turned out, an increasing body of information cast doubt on this drug, for some people. A 2008 New York Times article discussed the growing cohort of women who used Fosamax and other “bisphosphonates” (the active ingredient in these drugs) long term, who were experiencing spontaneous breakages similar to my mother’s. Osteonecrosis (death) of the jawbone was determined to be another “side effect.”
Over the next year, my research revealed numerous concerns, which directly relate to a critical core issue: Standard medicine tends to address the body organ-by-organ rather than as a whole system.
A case in point: The treatment for Mom’s atrial fibrillation (it’s onset several years after beginning Fosamax, and a suspected side effect, as documented in the Archives of Internal Medicine and elsewhere) employs Coumadin, also known as warfarin, to thin the blood. This treatment, in the eyes of the medical community, precludes the use of essential nutrients such as Vitamin K, critical to bone heath. “Vitamin K helps the body to make a protein called osteocalcin, which is the magnet that attracts calcium to the bones,” says James Biddle, MD, (board certified internist and member of the American College of Physicians and the American College for Advancement in Medicine). “Furthermore,” he continues, “Vitamin K has also been shown to remove calcium from arterial plaques, and put it back into the bones where it belongs.” But because most doctors are limited in their understanding of nutrition and the relationship of nutrients—or their deficiencies—to health issues, they typically ignore the need for that nutrient and others for bone health. So, when on blood-thinning treatment, doctors instruct patients to avoid Vitamin K and Vitamin K-containing foods such as green, leafy vegetables (also high in calcium). The potential result? Bone loss leading to osteopenia or osteoporosis.
The nutrients from our foods and supplements fuel and feed our bodies. Their presence and quality can make or break our health; or, as in Mom’s case, her legs. Exercise, of course, occupies a close second as a critical ingredient to good health, especially weight-bearing exercises for bone health. Unfortunately, exercise receives much more coverage than does nutrition.
Sometimes—to highlight the need for “systems thinking” in health care—I point out that my mother is not a giant heart beating in a petri dish. Yes, we’re concerned about her heart condition, but she (as a typical human being), presents a complex collection of interconnected organs, which require a balanced approach to make sure all receive the nutrients needed to maintain health of the entire body, not just a single organ.
The point that standard medical doctors seem not to “get,” as in my mother’s case, is that it can be dangerous to treat a condition with what I’ll call tunnel vision, where consideration of the body’s other needs is excluded from the conversation. For instance, bisphosphonates interrupt the process of the body’s manufacture of CoQ10, critical to heart health. Ditto for statins to control cholesterol. Most doctors ignore this and fail to recommend supplementation with oral CoQ10.
In a broader example, an individual may work with several doctors to address different conditions for which multiple drugs are prescribed that may, in fact, contraindicate one another and lead to side effects that require yet another prescription…and so on. Proton pump inhibitors (e.g. Prilosec and Prevacid) present problems such as this, on and off bisphosphonates.
The point: The “left hand frequently doesn’t know what the right is doing,” which can have deadly results. Over 300,000 people a year die from medical mistakes, including side effects of pharmaceutical drugs. How many more die (or have serious complications, such as my mother’s) because doctors ignore the need to address the body’s total needs, in the face of medicines given to treat chronic conditions?
Perhaps a “choir director,” who can coordinate an individual’s medications, nutrition, and supplements to address overall health as well as degenerative disease, is necessary. There are doctors qualified to do this; they are medical doctors and practice “integrative medicine.” You can visit www.acam.org, the American College for Advancement in Medicine, to locate an integrative physician in your area.
Back to Fosamax. Doctors also prescribe these “miracle” drugs without really knowing the cause of thinning bones. So how does one discover possible causes? DNA testing can examine critical markers that can reveal possible causes and treatments to correct deficiencies. In my mother’s case, testing showed that her two “calcitonin receptors” were defective, and that one D3 receptor was defective.
Without this knowledge, it’s a guessing game. Throwing the drug du jour “at the wall to see what sticks,” in an effort to treat the “disease of osteoporosis” (as the pharmaceutical companies characterize it), feeds the pharmaceutical companies’ coffers to the tune of billions each year, but fails to build healthy bones for some. I’m concerned that the “some” will turn into “many,” then “most” as time moves on. We have yet to see.
Other issues that affect bone health include normal aging (we reach peak bone mass at 25 or 30 years of age), menopause in women, and—less commonly recognized—diet. In my research, diet kept popping up as a contributor.
“The reason dairy products harm your bones is because they acidify the body.”
A major dietary issue is milk products, which the dairy industry in this country touts as necessary for healthy bones. “Our health authorities insist that the calcium triumvirate—drinking milk, eating diary foods, and taking calcium pills—is the best dietary approach to preventing osteoporosis,” says Dr. Amy Joy Lanou (Assistant Professor Health & Wellness Department at the University of North Carolina, Asheville) in her book Building Bone Vitality: A Revolutionary Diet Plan to Prevent Bone Loss and Reverse Osteoporosis. “But, if the calcium theory were correct, we would expect countries that consume the most milk, dairy, and calcium to have the world’s lowest hip fracture rates.
“They don’t. They suffer the world’s highest rates of hip fracture,” concludes Dr. Lanou, with abundant statistical information to support her assertion.
The reason dairy products harm your bones is because they acidify the body. The body automatically tries to normalize its pH. To do so, it extracts calcium from the bones in an attempt to correct the level in your bloodstream.
But dairy products aren’t the only culprits. Sugar and starches contribute to bone loss, as they have to the rise in obesity—at epidemic proportions in this country. These products—found principally in packaged foods, baked items, sugary drinks, and so on—also acidify the body and force the body to extract calcium from the bones to correct the pH balance.
After several months in a nursing home, we took Mom to see my doctor who practices integrative medicine, which unites the best of both worlds of standard medicine and a wide range of cutting-edge natural or non-mainstream alternatives. He suggested the DNA testing, referenced above, which would show what was and was not working in her body—in this case, specifically her bones. This knowledge led to appropriate treatment, along with a complete protocol of supplements such as Vitamin K, D3 (6000 units a day), strontium, and calcitonin. Calcitonin, while a drug with some problems, addresses her specific issue (rest assured, we use it cautiously). Her primary care doctor works with us now to balance the new nutrients, introduced for bone health, with her Coumadin therapy.
In an ironic twist to this story, a bone density test, done just a month or so after beginning her new bone health protocol, showed that she had borderline osteopenia rather than osteoporosis, exactly where she started in the 90s before Fosamax! A conversation with the doctor revealed that while Fosamax might have thickened her bones initially so they had the appearance of denser bone, in the end they became fragile, “dumb bones,” as he called them, leading to the fractures.
I asked why bisphosphonates can, potentially, harm bones. The explanation is a bit technical, but important to understand: Drugs such as Fosamax (generic name, alendronate sodium) work to interrupt bone “remodeling,” which consists of a two-step process of “bone loss or resorption and new bone formation or deposition.” A good, written overview of this process is found in Save Our Bones Program: The Revolutionary Program That Reverses Osteoporosis in 3 Easy Steps by Vivian Goldschmidt, MA. You see, our bones go through a natural and continuous tearing down and building up process to maintain health. As we get older, the rebuilding process lessens. The Fosamax “solution” interrupts the tearing down process. What happens next? The old bone doesn’t get moved out and very little new bone accumulates after six to twelve months of treatment. What do you suppose can then result? As in my mother’s case, her bones became even more fragile and brittle and, tragically, fractured. The bones may not be thin, but they lose their compressive and tensile strength—the strength and flexibility to resist fractures.
It’s been over two years now since the fractures occurred. Mom’s odyssey continues: A recent surgery repaired a “non-union” of the fracture and, consequently, the broken hardware in her right femur. Its failure to heal properly is yet another, suspected outcome of Fosamax. Although she will still rely upon a wheelchair, we hope physical therapy will help her walk again.
A couple of falls (since her original fractures) left her bones intact. I asked her integrative specialist in 2010 if her bones could have improved that quickly. His response was that although much is still not known about the speed of change in bone quality, he’s seen evidence that resilience can increase fairly quickly. Are her break-less falls supportive of that? We can only hope.
For you, my reader, a recommendation: If you don’t want to end up in a similar situation, take control of your body and bone health. If you use a bone drug and have any pain or discomfort in your leg bones, ask for x-rays or MRIs immediately. If you have a bone scan that shows osteopenia (the precursor of osteoporosis), reconsider rushing into “treatment.” Instead of reflexively accepting medical advice or drugs from doctors, do the research. Find a doctor that can do DNA testing for you to pinpoint what may be causing your bone loss beyond typical aging, diet, or a sedentary existence. Examine your diet and make changes. Start weight-bearing exercises. For your healthy future, take the time to make an informed decision. If you do choose to use a bisphosphonate or other drug, discuss the length of treatment with your doctor. A few months to a year may be adequate.
You’ll find a growing base of information available on bone health. Some helpful web sites and publications include:
Vivian Goldschmidt’s web site www.SaveOurBones.com. Vivian holds a Masters of Arts degree in Nutritional Sciences and Biochemistry and does continual research into bone health. She was diagnosed with osteopenia, told to take Fosamax and drink plenty of milk. She decided to do the research instead, which led her to improving her own bone health naturally, through her diet, and helping others to do the same. Her excellent publications include The Bone Health Revolution: The Complete Natural Bone Health Resource. She also freely shares articles on bone health via email advisories.
Dr. Amy Lanou’s excellent book (with a foreword by Dean Ornish, M.D.), Building Bone Vitality: A Revolutionary Diet Plan to Prevent Bone Loss and Reverse Osteoporosis, is a must-read. The sub-sub title indicates the content: “Why Calcium, Estrogen, and Drugs are NOT the Answer.” Diet is central to her discussion.
Dr. James Biddle, another local, Western North Carolina resource, offers an excellent overview of osteoporosis/bone health on a CD or DVD available from his web site www.docbiddle.com.
Archives of Internal Medicine abstracts and texts including:
Vol. 168 No. 8, April 28, 2008—Use of Alendronate and Risk of Incident Atrial Fibrillation in Women, by Susan R. Heckbert, MD, PhD; Guo Li, MS; Steven R. Cummings, MD; Nicholas L. Smith, PhD; Bruce M. Psaty, MD, PhD
Vol. 171 No. 11, June 13, 2011—Proton Pump Inhibitor Use and the Antifracture Efficacy of Alendronate, by Bo Abrahamsen, MD, PhD; Pia Eiken, MD, PhD; Richard Eastell, MD, FRCP
• Geriatrics, January 2009 Volume 64, Number 1—Bisphosphonates and low-impact femoral fractures: Current evidence on alendronate-fracture risk, by Jennifer P. Schneider, MD, PhD. This may be obtained at http://jenniferschneider.com/
Susanna Euston is a writer and photographer living in the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina.
©2011 Susanna Euston. All Rights Reserved.
Lee Walker Warren and Corrina Wood
I was standing at the counter waiting to talk to Connie, the attendant, while another patient was asking her, “Have you lost weight?”
“Maybe,” Connie responded with a shrug, “I had a horrible tooth ache last week and didn’t eat much.”
The woman, in her late 50’s and very thin, responded cheerfully, “Well, whatever it takes.”
I stood there with my eyes wide, my mouth agape, and a tangle of thoughts running through my head. “Are women still that deeply stuck in that paradigm? This woman is much older than Connie, why couldn’t she model healthy self-love? Was Connie’s weight (which is quite normal) more important than her toothache? Why didn’t she ask about Connie’s toothache? Am I alone in thinking that line of questioning was toxic?”
As I’ve had a chance to digest that experience, I realize that because I’ve personally worked so hard to shed my body shame, I’ve been ignoring how trapped women of all ages are in this mess. It seems like some level of self- or body-hatred or eating disorder is ubiquitous – almost all women have it.
As a typical modern woman, I too have struggled with food, love, weight, and self-image. I have been desperate for healing, both physically and emotionally, my entire adult life. The road I chose was many-fold.
Among the top priorities were:
- Body acceptance by giving up dieting, refusing to be dissatisfied with myself, and letting myself settle into my natural weight.
- Protecting myself from the media, which gives us up to 3000 messages and images a day about how we aren’t good enough (if we let them).
- Refocusing my life on what feels good and enjoying a deeper relationship with my body.
- Choosing self-nurturance and inner parenting with regard to internalized voices of worthlessness. This mostly meant relearning to eat when and what I was drawn to, as well as replacing negative self-talk with positive self-talk.
- Surrounding myself with women who have real bodies and real issues, finding mentors and models of women with real relationships to their bodies, and developing solid relationships with women as “sisters” in the struggle for liberation.
In thinking of my recent experience, and in preparation to write this article, I took out my notes from my “Love Your Body” presentation. About ten years ago, as part of this lifelong journey to heal my relationship with my body, I decided I wanted to research this issue and to get important information out to women who were still imprisoned by body-hatred. What I discovered was vast and overwhelming. And the worst part—the very, very worst part—are the lies we are told. As I researched, I found that these messages were both out there and inside me:
- Women are in need of constant adjustment.
- Women are worthless (or invisible) unless perfect.
- Women are how they look.
- Thinness equals happiness, success, self-control, and wealth.
- Model thinness is achievable, and masochistic techniques are acceptable.
- If you achieve perfection, what waits for you is the ideal life.
- You must conform or die; if you don’t achieve the ideal, you are a failure.
This kind of thinking sinks in. Often we become unhappy and preoccupied with ourselves and our low self-esteem. Our relationship with food suffers, sometimes starting with girls as young as six years old. Eating disorders take the turmoil to a whole other level.
I knew that self-care was the way out. And body-smarts. Most of the time we are focused on how our bodies look from the outside, which is only one tiny dimension. I wondered how many of us know how to answer these questions. Which part or aspect of our body: is strongest? is most injury‑prone? are we most comfortable with? are we least comfortable with? do others notice first? holds tension or trauma or grief? Or joy or pleasure or ecstasy?
So I’ve spent the last ten years trying to actually live more fully in my body; to inhabit it joyfully. To eat well and to heal. And to discover more of the truth. The truth I found:
- That real women are all shapes and sizes (an average American woman is size 16).
- The definition of “desirable” changes with culture. It has spanned rotund to emaciated, with various ideals in between.
- Research has proven that there is little or no difference in how fat and thin people eat and that diverse genetic backgrounds contribute to body size and weight.
Models are unrealistically thin and video imaging changes their size and shape even more unrealistically, leaving us comparing ourselves with computer-generated images.
- The purpose of our body is much broader than beauty.
- Body acceptance is not related to weight (you can be any size and hate your body, and you can be any size and love your body).
- A person’s character is not related to their body size.
As I discover these things, I become free, and I develop a deeper relationship with my body. I want every woman to be free. And we aren’t there quite yet. I want to revisit that woman at the counter and say to her, “Instead of encouraging each other to be or weigh ‘less,’ let’s help each other remember these truths:”
- Women and girls are powerful and can be fully at home in their bodies.
- They naturally love food and the strength and beauty it gives them, uniquely and individually.
- Girls and women are natural leaders and are naturally connected to each other through mutual respect, play, and friendship.
- Women are strong, tough, in control of their own lives.
- Women are loving, brilliant, brave, and creative.
I’m still angry with John Robbins, the author of Diet for a New America. I was young (in my early twenties) and looking for affirmation and direction in my life when I discovered his book. In it he talks about the problems with factory-farmed animal products (which I still agree with) and suggests a strict vegan diet for both environmental and health reasons.
He went on to suggest that when women on this type of diet stop menstruating, they become more light, pure, and good. I was relieved, and thought “Oh, that’s why my periods have been coming only every couple of months, and it’s a good thing! I should keep going, cutting out these bad foods!”
Later, through deeper study and life experience, I learned about the dangers of low body weight and loss of menstruation (amenorrhea). Without adequate protein and fat, women’s bodies don’t regulate hormones properly, which can lead to loss of calcium and other minerals from their bones, adrenal and kidney depletion, and exhaustion. I succeeded in having the skinny model body type, but I found my health declining rapidly.
After experiencing many of these symptoms myself, I focused on learning about food and nutrition to uncover the truth about the myths we’re taught. Especially the ones that link a sick and weak body to “light, pure, and good.”
My relationship with food and my body has been such a victory. I went from underweight and mildly bulimic, struggling with food and my body—to a happy, peaceful, and healthy relationship with food and my body. And to honoring the cycles of my monthly moontimes. I realized that when we are optimally nourished, our bodies are fertile. It’s an integral, if messy, part of the rich, full, deep experience of being a woman.
The biggest part of healing has come through the concept of nourishment. When the body is given what it needs, it’s not starving. It can regulate to our ideal body weight. We may not look like a teenage stick-person, but our bodies will achieve the balance they need to keep us well. Some of my favorite resources regarding food are Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, Eat Fat Lose Fat by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig and the Weston Price Foundation website (westonaprice.org). They are focused on nutrient-dense food and strong bodies.
I’m so grateful to be surrounded by women who can work hard and play hard because they eat well. We are changing the face of beauty as we do so. What would the world be like if we demanded real nutrition on our grocery store shelves or demanded real images of women from our media? We’d move from the deep-seated misogyny of our culture that leaves women feeling that they need to deny themselves, to a culture where women’s creative energy can be freed up to care for themselves. Women could find their sacred work in the world—the ways that they can contribute to the healing of the planet.
Lee Walker Warren and Corinna Wood both live in a Cohousing Neighborhood at Earthaven Ecovillage. Corinna is the Director of Red Moon Herbs, making herbal medicines from fresh, local plants, with a focus on women’s health, since 1994. Lee is an herbalist, writer, and manager of a pasture-based, cooperative farm. Together they co-organize the Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference, an annual event taking place this year on October 14-16 in Black Mountain, NC. To learn about the Conference, visit www.sewisewomen.com or call 877-739-6636.
The Trouble With Mattie
by Mary A. Berger
Though Mattalie “Mattie” Morgan’s story is cozy reading, her life at the Autumn Leaves Housing Center For Those In Need is anything but cheerful, snug, and safe. Owner Wynn Prescott and manager Jim Reemes, siyphoning business funds to support their luxurious lifestyles, bully the residents. Swindlers par excellence, they have protected their scheme from every angle.
Located within a triangle formed by Asheville, Hendersonville, and Franklin, North Carolina, few relatives and friends brave the long wilderness drive. Raleigh cohorts detract inspectors and the law. The younger their residents, the more stable their income; Mattie is only fifty-five. They discourage socialization within the complex and provide no transportation to surrounding communities. The dining room serves slop! Physically big men, Mitchell and Reemes intimidate residents with threatening visits to their rooms. Rebellious Salina Shaw, terrified of eviction onto the street, fled in the middle of the night. Insolent staff members reinforce their bosses’ tyranny. Fraud has made them so wealthy that Prescott and Reemes gloat, “. . . it all comes out of these idiots’ pocketbooks.” Not for much longer, guys!
As her story opens, stepdaughter Eva drives a rebellious Mattie to Autumn Leaves. Three years into a happy marriage, a heart attack claimed her husband Gabe. Before she could re-organize her life, a severely sprained ankle and the flu provided Eva ample opportunity to sell Mattie’s condo, coerce a doctor into prescribing the housing center, and abscond with the funds. Exhausted after the long drive and arguing with Eva, Mattie’s arrival is especially disheartening.
A dry marble fountain stood in the front yard, flanked by two rusting wrought iron benches. Beyond that, a . . . patch of weeds, in the middle of which sat a couple of broken-down yard chairs. A curt medic insists on carrying Mattie, until, eyes flashing, she drew back her cane and delivered a solid whack to his shinbone. Lauren Shaw, a kindly aide, accompanies Mattie indoors where everything looked so . . . gloomy that she was sure the place must be run by mummies. As she surveyed her new home . . . Mattie was filled with a sudden rush of despair at how drab and dull everything in the little room appeared. Finally, Clare Tibbits, strong drink in hand, declares, “You never really get used to being here, Mattie. You just curl up and die of boredom.”
Mattie deflates as she fully comprehends her predicament: grief for her beloved Gabe, friends who never call or visit as promised, and her plunge from comfort and financial stability to poverty in the shabby housing center. Being Mattie, she quickly recovers and resolves to discover the truth about Autumn Leaves. Clare sounds the battle call: “I don’t know what’s going on around here and it scares me.” Mattie, with Clare as her accomplice, charges forth!
They initiate a game of kick-the-can, a major event at Autumn Leaves. Mattie filches paper and colored markers to make posters announcing a protest meeting. Chicken fricassee that reminds Mattie . . . of something she’d once seen in a test tube . . . projects her from the dining room shouting, “I refuse to eat one more meal here!” From then on, she prepares meager meals in her room. Rumors of a greenhouse on the grounds propels Mattie into the woods with Clare fretting, “. . . there could be a mass murderer hanging out in those woods.” Pity the person who attacks those two! Like their Autumn Leaves’ peers, Mattie and Clare ultimately regret censuring the illusive Gwen.
Reemes admonishes Mattie, but doesn’t press the issue too much because, “She is a looker. . . That’s the only reason she’s lasted this long here: I like watching her walk.” Smugness evaporates when Reemes discovers that Mattie has influential friends unintimidated by the long drive. Scottie, her devoted nephew, is intrigued to learn that Mattie cannot find Autumn Leaves on the Internet; her discovery of a secret computer room brings out Scottie’s hacking best.
Jed Mitchell, Mattie’s friend and lawyer searching for Eva, finds Mattie’s reports about Autumn Leaves intriguing from legal standpoints. So smitten with Mattie that he can barely talk without blushing, he behaves more like a schoolboy than a tough, respected lawyer.
Even with their help, Mattie is discouraged, but she and Clare continually incite the residents to rebel, especially after Mattie personally experiences their greatest fear. Not until tragedy strikes, do they finally unite.
Tackling a variation of elder abuse in the cozy-reading genre took daring on the part of Ms. Berger. As required, she reveals just enough details to establish her plot’s dark side, often through Mattie’s bright perspective. Missing from her story are intriguing character developments. Clare and Gwen, so different in outlook and denouement, present an excellent contrast among Autumn Leaves’ residents. Is the intelligent and kindly Lauren Shaw an angel of mercy dedicated to helping the residents; is she related to Salina Shaw, the victim who fled in the middle of the night; or both? And then there’s the amorous (so he hopes) Bernard – my favorite resident – with surprising gumption in assisting Mattie. Hopefully, Ms. Berger reveals more about these characters in her second book – especially Bernard.
The major problem with The Trouble With Mattie, and a great disservice to Ms. Berger, is NO proofreading. Rare is the page without a plethora of errors, justification gone awry being the most obvious. Many lines contain enormous spaces, others drop to the next line after a few words. Someone and restroom are each one word. Repeatedly, a semicolon replaces a comma: “Come on, Matts; let’s get this monkey moving!” or “Yes; finally.” Three ellipsis points indicating faltering speech are spaced from the word on either side and in between, not: “Oh, we will…er…they will!” A question mark followed by an exclamation point indicates emphasis only if used sparingly – not after the vast majority of questions.
These few examples reveal the overall quality of care NOT taken in the production of The Trouble With Mattie. The first response will be, “This isn’t classic literature, so what’s the big deal?” The big deal is that in our era when language is increasingly dumbed-down, everyone responsible for producing language, whether a cozy mystery or a potential classic, has an obligation to assure readers that language still matters. If we don’t care, then…
“Excuse my interruption, Ms. Ickes, but off your soapbox, please. As the book’s protagonist, I must make an important suggestion in a manner which, I hope, is your first lesson in diplomacy and tact.
On page 51, Dear Publishers, I am referred to as Hattie rather than Mattie. Ms. Berger and I would very much appreciate your attention to that detail in my next book, which, I happily report, is coming along very nicely. Thank you very much. Come along, Ms. Ickes, Clare and I want to begin your second lesson.”
Mary Berger’s writing has appeared in national magazines, small press publications, and in the Hendersonville Times News. She speaks at local libraries and was an exhibiting author at the Blue Ridge Bookfest. Until Mattie’s next book, fans can follow her on Mattiemysteriesblogspot.com
Mary Ickes enjoys corresponding with WNCW readers and welcomes suggestions for books to review. Her e-mail is email@example.com
Change is steadfast
Stretching fully into skin
Growth occurs when spirit untethers
Heart leads back to center
Stretching fully into skin
Questioning mind prodding action
Heart leads back to center
Gentle steps guide my feet towards home
Questioning mind prodding action
Walking beneath a canopy of trees
Gentle steps guide my feet towards home
Words crafted and solitude embraced
Walking beneath a canopy of trees
Sunlight pierces shadow
Words crafted and solitude embraced
Mountains ground me to this earth
Sunlight pierces shadow
I wind further down the trail
Mountains ground me to this earth
Enfolding and replenishing my weary bones
I wind further down the trail
Change is steadfast
Enfolding and replenishing my weary bones
Growth occurs when spirit untethers
Christy Hamrick lives in Lexington, explores the woods of Piedmont and Western North Carolina, writes, practices yoga, and works in Greensboro.
For much of her life, there was a duality of interests with Cara. She was drawn to the sciences and there was even a time she wanted to become a doctor. She decided to take a different path when she realized she hated dissecting little critters—a deal-breaker for sure. She then turned to her other love—the arts. Cara graduated with honors as a Fine Arts Major from Agnes College. Had she been able to peek into her future, she would have seen both passions converging.
After getting her degree, it was the art galleries in Asheville that called her to move here. Like many new graduates, Cara wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted to do next. She looked for work at local galleries and considered becoming a curator someday. Eventually, she landed a position as co-manager at Mud Hunter, a local pottery gallery.
It was here her boss and Mud Hunter owner, Mary Helen Horan, mentioned being interested in finding a hand cream that would help potters’ hands—which become extremely dry when working with clay all the time. Horan could not find anything she liked for this purpose, so she asked Cara if she was interested in creating this lotion and offered Cara a small loan to get her started.
Cara was intrigued with the idea and quickly accepted the challenge, knowing all too well about dealing with dry hands. Cara’s mom is a nurse and suffered regularly from severely cracked hands. If you’re like me, you too can appreciate this chronic condition that may seem minor, but can really be frustrating and painful.
A Science Experiment
Cara approached her quest for the perfect lotion like a good scientist. She gathered data about what lotions worked best for her friends, family, and from Mud Hunter’s customers. She wanted something that would nourish with rich botanical oils–not just moisturize. And of course, everyone agreed it couldn’t be greasy.
Cara had soon accumulated quite a list of lotions that worked for people. Other than a variety of ingredients she couldn’t pronounce, she noticed a lack of nourishing botanical oils in these popular drugstore lotions. So Cara decided to base her formula on rich ingredients like shea butter, kokum butter, and aloe, and scent them only with pure essential oils. It was then she went to work.
In the back studio at Mud Hunter, she began combining elements in varying proportions in a large bowl. She began her “trials” on Horan, her friends, and of course, her mom. She experimented with a few oils, and eventually settled on tangerine and lavender—two scents that were popular with her prospective customers.
When I asked her about the expectations she‘d had when she started, Cara could only imagine making the cream for her friends and family as gifts. But within a short period of time, she discovered the blessings and the challenges of having her own business.
Soon, she learned how to brand her product, create a web site, and how to get to market. I first met Cara when we both were participants in the Fundamentals class at Mountain BizWorks. Cara would later reflect how she wished she had taken the class earlier—because she found it invaluable.
After trying her hand cream, I was immediately “sold.” I loved the fragrance and the way it worked on my hands—soft and definitely non-greasy. I bought several jars for myself (to keep in convenient places in my home and car) and for gifts. I can attest that (after trying many products that were ineffective) since I have started using her hand cream, I no longer experience any cracks in my fingers during the winter months.
Cara was surprised how much she enjoys the community of other small business owners. One of the things about being a business owner is that it’s never boring. Owning your own business means the sky’s the limit—there is no ceiling. You can make it what you want it to be. And people in Asheville are so willing to help each other.
She occasionally seeks out a sounding board for prioritizing her goals and talking through her creative ideas. She has gone back to Mountain BizWorks where she utilizes their GO program. With her coach, Helaine Green, she receives individual guidance regarding her goals and an opportunity to brainstorm new ideas with someone.
But her learning has not stopped with just her business. Cara realizes that she has increased her personal confidence and discovered the power of one person. She recently held a benefit party to help the earthquake victims from Haiti. She was pleased how the Asheville community rallied together and she was able to raise three thousand dollars, which was doubled by a generous donor and then contributed to the Red Cross Haiti Fund. She loves giving back to a community that has given so much to her.
Eventually, Cara would like her business to completely support her as well as providing opportunities for others in our community. Until that time, like many new entrepreneurs, she works part-time to manage her expenses—little luxuries like food and housing (ha ha).
She markets her product via spas, galleries, and local festivals such as Big Love and Big Crafty. She has a great deal of pride when she connects with her customers and hears how her product has made a difference in their lives.
Cara would love to create a body lotion—something just as nourishing to the skin as her hand cream, but lighter and meant to cover a larger portion of the body. She also plans to add an airport-size tube that tourists could take home in their carry-on bags.
As a small business owner myself, I quickly learned you do not arrive. There are always changes you are making or planning to make. One suggestion I made to Cara was to consider writing more of her story on her web site about how her products were developed. I love her story and it’s a way to connect with potential new customers. I would love to see some testimonials from satisfied customers—like me—who simply love her hand cream!
When I was talking with Cara, I immediately pictured her making a pitch to Whole Foods. I visualized mass production. I saw her products on shelves and in lots of specialty shops around the country (or world). Although Cara would love to be written up in the Style Section of the NY Times, she is more inclined to grow her product organically—through word of mouth. She loves the Asheville community and appreciates being with others who are doing what they love.
Going bigger definitely results in a whole new ballgame. No longer could she create her cream in her home, and would need to develop a business plan for extensive growth. As a big supporter, I can’t wait for the day her products take off. Check out her web site for more information and to find locations where her product is being sold: www.caramianaturals.com
Jane Falter is an Encore Career Coach who specializes in supporting mid-life adults to identify and achieve what’s next for them—whether starting their own business or changing jobs or careers. Jane has recently earned her ACRW (Academy Certified Resume Writers) diploma—a prestigious designation among resume writers. Follow Jane on Twitter or LinkedIn. Sign up for Jane’s monthly newsletter on her web site at www.JaneFalter.com or for more information about her services.