By Bonnie D. Gifford, M.D.
I am a physician, thoroughly trained in science and Western medicine. I am a graduate of The Ohio State University College of Medicine, board certified in Internal Medicine, with over 25 years of practice experience. The experience has been varied (and sometimes overlapping): 5 years caring for patients on an alcohol and drug dependency unit, 7 years of occupational medicine, 15 years in various urgent care and primary care settings. I am currently the medical director at a minimum security prison for youthful (18-25 year old) offenders who are participating in educational and vocational programs.
I think my career journey as been so peripatetic because I have been so dis-satisfied with the health care system in this country. It is a system based on a business model, focused on technology and drugs, a system that promotes patient powerlessness and provider greed.
Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary defines “health” as “physical and mental well-being; soundness; freedom from defect, pain or disease.” Although cited as “obscure,” in the same dictionary the first definition of dis-ease is “uneasiness; distress.”
I have seen much dis-ease over the years that, in my view, is directly related to dis-connection from a sense of place, from Mother Earth, from each other, and from our inner emotional and spiritual selves.
Most Americans are dis-connected from everything essential for survival. We have lost meaningful connections with the sources of our water, food, shelter, clothing, with our fellow humans in community, with those we love, with The Mystery of Life. No wonder we feel dis-eased!
M. Scott Peck, M.D. (http://www.mscottpeck.com/), author of the best seller, “The Road Less Traveled,” describes psychological distress, including depression, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorders, etc.... as “a descent of grace”. The message of the distress is that something in our life is untenable, and we need to make significant changes.
However, most humans living in modern cultures are so dis-connected and so blinkered in world view that the grace and need are not perceived. Instead, either licit or illicit drugs/substances are sought to numb the dis-ease, and no real change is accomplished.
According to a 2004 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov), at that time almost half of Americans used at least one prescription drug (a 13% increase from 1988-1994), with one in six taking three or more (a 40% increase). Use of antidepressant medication tripled during the same period.
A 2007 Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (www.samhsa.gov) report said that “24.3 million Americans aged 18 or older experienced significant psychological distress” during that year and “16.5 million Americans suffered at least one major depressive episode during this period.”
In his book “Care of the Soul”, Thomas Moore interprets Robert Sardello's work as follows: “In Sardello's description of disease, our bodies reflect or participate in the world's body, so that if we harm that outer body, our own bodies will feel the effects. Essentially there is no distinction between the world's body and the human body.”
So if health is freedom from dis-ease and dis-ease is the result of dis-connection, how, and to what, do we re-connect so we can find health?
I think considering and answering the following questions could be therapeutic:
From where does your drinking water come? A lake or reservoir? A river or deep well? Who or what is upstream? How is the water treated prior to entry into the delivery infrastructure? Where does it go after you use it?
Where does your food originate? No, I don't mean what grocery store. Where and under what conditions was that apple or cow grown or raised? You don't care? Now, there's an example of dis-connection from your body.
Of what is your residence built? Did components come from old growth forests? Do any of the building materials off-gas?
Are your clothes made of natural materials (cotton, wool, linen) or synthetics? Where were the garments sewn, and were the workers paid a living wage?
Who do you love? Where are they now? How do you connect with them?
In what “community” do you participate? How does your personal ethic direct your interactions with that community?
What happens after death? How does your view of this effect the way you live?
In future blog entries and videos we will explore each of these questions and share our perspectives.