Yes to immunity!

It’s interesting being an acupuncturist, part of the natural health community and being pro-vaccine.  I see a lot of posts against vaccines on my facebook feed about how harmful vaccines are, and there is nothing that this reminds me so much as conspiracy theories.  It is the one place that the radical left and the radical right overlap, and I find it sad to see as I feel like it undermines the positives that the complementary health world can offer mainstream medicine.

When I thought about how I would engage a friend who happens to be an anti-vaxx-er, what came to me is how fear based that position is.  At first, I was going to poo-pooh that, but then I realized that my pro-vaccine position is also based in fear.  The fear is simply different–I fear the statistical probability of my child being made neurologically different by a vaccine less than I fear the suffering and harm she could come by if she got one of the diseases that she could be immunized for.  Both have the potential to be life long changes made to her development, but she would be unlikely to die from autism as she would be measles or smallpox.  I’ve also read articles written by people with autism who raise the point that they are still people who have the capacity to add to and benefit society (hello Temple Grandin!), and that the fear around it is insulting.  I know that there is a spectrum of autism, and that the more severe it is the harder it is to manage as a person and as a parent.  Yet that argument rests on there being an actual scientific link to vaccines and autism, which there hasn’t been.

 

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Brazil

I’m studying for the MCAT at the Northgate Library here in Seattle.  My desk is right at a window that is level to the sidewalk next to a bus stop with pedestrians walking by at a proximity that would be disturbing if not for the window separating us.  Across the street is the mall, with two American flags flying high above the parking lot outside of Macy’s.  I love being in public spaces when I study–it makes me feel more accountable for studying than I feel when I’m alone, but it does have it’s drawbacks.  Since I’m at a library instead of a coffee shop where people have to spend money to be there, there is a wide section of the population here, including a middle aged man who is watching apparently hilarious videos on the computer about five feet away from me.  There is something that is innately very disquieting about someone laughing alone, and the librarian has had to come over and shush him.

With all of these factors in play, an increasing sense of the absurd has come over me.  Kaiser Permanente has apparently taken out an extraordinary amount of ad space on Seattle Metro buses, with large pictures of people in serene nature settings.  Next to the library is a small, for profit hospital.  The complete commercial and public nature my environment along with those ads driving by me on a semi-regular basis is reminding me strongly of the Terry Gilliam movie “Brazil”.  Though nowhere near as surreal, stylized or depressing, something about health insurance agencies marketing to me with a background of the Discount Shoe Warehouse, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Macy’s and Target that reminds me of that universe of commercial capitalism gone amuck.  I’m a diehard believer that everyone deserves quality healthcare no matter their income level, and that it’s being sold like any other consumer good (and likely will be for the foreseeable future).  With so much money being spent on public relations, it’s no wonder our medical system allows people to fall into debt to receive life-saving/life-preserving medical care.  It’s absurd that that happens to people, and that we as a country are ok with that.   Healthcare should be a human right, not a commodity.

back to DNA transcription…

On Disliking Camille Paglia

This morning after waking up and eating some bread, eggs, and vegetarian breakfast sausage, I became randomly possessed by the wish to know exactly why I dislike Camille Paglia.

More than many other pop culture figures that I can comfortably dislike for no reason–the Eagles, Kiera Knightly, Guy Fieri, to name a few–it suddenly felt like I should know exactly why I personally had adopted the opinion of not liking her, other than the fact that most feminists seem to hold her in contempt.

After briefly poking around the internet and reading snippets of Paglia’s views (biological differences between the sexes, the patriarchy isn’t all bad, women hold some responsibility for their own date rape), I came to the conclusion that I don’t like Paglia because she seems to be more after attention than anything else.  I think this is slightly different than why prominent feminists don’t like her.  I can understand that a little better–she seems like she has no real agenda other than courting controversy and does it in a way that seems to call into question feminism as a cohesive movement by calling herself a feminist while still propounding viewpoints that people on the misogynist end of the spectrum would agree with.

I appreciate that there are people who provoke us, who raise questions and, through that, seek to advance a movement.   I honestly don’t know enough about feminist history to know if Paglia has hindered or advanced feminism as an agenda.   As a movement, I should hope that feminism is strong enough that it can handle having a few gadflies such as Germaine Greer and Paglia periodically saying hurtful shit that makes them sound like ignorant and out-of-touch ivory tower elite/conservative token feminist darlings in order to gain attention.  If it isn’t, that begs some questioning.

Honestly, after writing all this and thinking of myself as a feminist, I starting questioning more why I don’t like Kiera Knightly than why I don’t like Camille Paglia.  After all, Knightly keeps acting in films that I’d otherwise like to see other than for the fact that they star her.  She’s been honest about her eating disorder, which I appreciate in a celebrity, and she seems to advance a feminist viewpoint in the media.  Hmm…

Past Future

Is it our language that gives us the tendency to let our minds freely drift towards the past and future more readily than the present?

I’m reading David Abram’s “The Spell of the Sensuous”, and he’s discussing the impact that language has on our perception of time and space.  I drift off for a moment reading this and think: how often do we speak in the present tense?

When we narrate our lives to friends, family, and ourselves, in English, we very rarely use the present tense–likely because it’s obvious to everyone there what’s happening in that moment. That this is a trick of our language is easy to overlook. Studies have shown that languages that make less distinction between present and future tenses tend to have populations that save money for the future more easily.

What does this do for us when we’re sitting with ourselves in the present moment?  How often do we find ourselves drifting upon our thoughts to the past and the future?  Could this be linguistic?  Is meditation so late in coming to English and romance language countries due to this as well?  Could be B.S., but I can’t deny that in pondering it, I realize how much mental space I give to my future plans and my past life to the point that it can feel oppressive.

I want my future to contain medical school, but that’s not here now.  My past had a plethora of painful moments that are long gone. Right now in this moment, I’m beholden to neither.  I’m simply sitting down while my daughter naps, enjoying some thoughts, ignoring chores that need to be done.

backtracking

When I first started acupuncture school, my first gut instinct was that I wanted to help veterans who suffer from PTSD.  It was exciting to me–people who are in the grips of trauma have the reverberations of that trauma in their bodies, in their muscles and organs as well as their minds.  Acupuncture at its best has the potential to relax people–though intuitively needles and calming don’t seem like they go together, but hey, there are weirder things–and it seemed so obvious to me that this was something I should do.  Flash forward to when I thought about starting my own acupuncture practice, I was going to focus on ob/gyn.  The thing is, when I was doing it, I never felt what I do now thinking about trauma again.  Today I started Bessel van der Kolk’s “The Body Keeps the Score”, and feel a resounding YES, this is what I want to do.  How did I get so far away from what I wanted to do in the first place?

Even as I wrote that, the answer came to me with a no shit Sherlock clarity.

When I was in acupuncture school in my first year, I got an internship with an acupuncturist and Chinese medicine practitioner who specialized in fertility/gynecology.  From that time forward, I felt like life was leading me somewhere, that I should just go with the flow, that sometimes you end up unexpected places.  So I went with it, took it on as my own.  And I do like some aspects of it, like helping women with menstrual issues and pregnant women manage pregnancy related health problems.  The thing is, when I’m passionate about something, I throw myself into it.  Its not a subtle thing.  I never felt that way about ob/gyn, and I realize now that if I’m going to be successful at what do, I need to follow my zeal, do something that holds my attention, that I care deeply about.  Trauma is that, ob/gyn isn’t.

What I didn’t understand is that there’s a difference between forcing things and pursuing what you’re really interested in.

When I was younger, I had the wrong-headed idea that I could force things to go my way if I just willed it to happen.  After life slapped me down multiple times, I tried instead to will myself into surrendering to the current.  When that internship happened, and when, for a good couple years that practitioner liked me enough, I thought, well, I’ll go with this.  Nevermind that the miracle of life doesn’t particularly call to me, and nevermind that the happiest I’ve been at a job was when I was a healthcare coordinator for homeless youth.

It’s time to get myself back on track in what I really want to do, and to let go of some mistaken notions of what forcing things looks like.  Being focused and having a clear vision isn’t forcing things.  I want to help people with trauma.  Ideally, I’d like to go to medical school so I can be more effective, but if that doesn’t work out, it doesn’t mean that I have to drop that primary goal.  Now, I just have to put one step in front of the other like I have been doing, but this time, aim it at a place I actually want to go.

kitchen sink cooking

As I’ve progressed in my cooking ability, a trend has started.  I have something that needs to be used up, I find a recipe, and, regardless of whether I have all the ingredients or not, I make it work.

Today, I had some cherries that had been in the fridge for…a long while.  They weren’t moldy but definitely a bit shriveled and unappealing.  When that’s the case, making some sort of sauce or baking something is without a doubt the best option.  The flavor combination of cherry almond popped into my head when I began thinking of what to make, so I googled it, and looked at the images.  When I saw this image and recipe for cherry almond thumbprint cookies, my search stopped.

Cherry-Almond-Butter-Thumbprint-Cookies

First came the jam.  Since I was using raw cherries, I had to make my own.  One of the recipes I had come across when browsing involved chia seeds, which I happened to have in my fridge, so I decided a chia seed, lime and cherry jam was the way forward.  Combining 2/3 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon of chia seeds, the juice of 2 limes, and a random shot of whiskey I thought would help my cold two days ago but decided against, I cooked some jam.  It looks more like raspberry jam, but it tastes nicely of cherry.

When making the cookie dough in this particular recipe, I came up against the problem of not having any almond butter.  In my fridge, I had peanut butter and tahini.  I debated between the two, and decided on tahini.  Even with the tahini, I had less than the 3/4 cup called for–less than 1/2 cup tahini is what I was able to pour out.  Since the recipe only had one egg instead of the usual two and only 1/2 cup butter, I figured that the almond butter/tahini was a combination egg-butter substitute.  With that logic, I added one more egg than called for, and instead of 1/2 teaspoon almond extract, I added two.  I also substituted some leftover ground almond meal I had for 1/2 cup of the flour called for.

The trick to this kind of cooking/baking is to never expect a photo worthy result, and to note the outcomes good and bad.  The cookies turned out tasty, but flowed a bit more that the original recipe due to added liquid of the eggs.  In hindsight, it was fine to add the extra egg, but I should have upped the flour/almond meal amount to compensate.  Even better, I could have combined more butter and almond meal to make a literal sort of almond butter, as thumbprint cookies are traditionally shortbread.

While I’ll rarely make pretty things, I do make tasty ones.  It’s more satisfying for me to use what I have, and reduce the amount of waste that comes out of my kitchen than to cook exact replicas of the photos for recipes I’m using.  It’s also fun to find inventive ways around buying groceries to suit the recipes I’m using, and instead to make the recipes suit what I have around already.   Also, it makes the titles of the bakes rather long, as a “Cherry-Lime-Whiskey-Chia Sesame-Almond thumbprint cookie” doesn’t flow off the tongue quite as easily as “cherry almond”.

On self-acceptance

Why is it that so many of us internalize shame, embarrassment, and inadequacy and make it such a huge part of our lives?  I’ve read articles talking about how these things help us navigate the complex social structure around us, developing empathy and other such tools of interpersonal interaction.  But really, why can’t we just realize that we fucked up, grow as a person, then leave behind the wretchedness that we initially felt?  Why does it have to linger?

I read this article about Florence + The Machine where she talks about her newfound self acceptance.  It’s a lovely thought, that we find self-acceptance, but honestly, I think it does everyone a disservice.  Maybe there are some magical people out there that can stumble across self-acceptance and hold it tight, but for many of us it’s a cyclical finding, loosing, then finding again.  Sometimes I can tell myself, “fuck all regrets”, then others, I remember something I did and cringe internally, years and years later.

Part of it must come from knowing that others hold that memory of our mistakes. We remember those who think poorly of us, whom we may have hurt or who hurt us, who may think us stupid/ugly/obnoxious, and we quiver inside, thinking my god, there’s someone out there who wishes bad things upon us, who sees only the worst in us, who may never forgive us.  How horrible.  This is how internet trolls work.  There’s a deeply ingrained part of our psyche that finds this intolerable, even if we never come into contact with this person again, or have even met them at all .

There are many people out there who I wish I could beg their forgiveness, and I’m sure there are people who wish they could have mine.  Mostly, I think we all just want to forget those things and move on.  Some are able to consciously forget what they don’t wish to dwell on.  I’m envious.  The only antidote I’ve found isn’t an easy one, and involves a continuing willingness to look directly at my faults and past mistakes and to slowly, slowly work through them in however long they take.   But this isn’t the only piece–it’s easy to get stuck into rumination.  Cultivating strength from reflection is an art that involves having patience with and forgiving ourselves, and needs a drive behind it.  Spirituality is a wonderful channel for all this, and funnels itself naturally into whatever our life’s work winds up being.

It’s important to me that people never think of themselves as broken messes that can’t be fixed.  It’s easy in this world to feel that way, and to get lost in that emotion.  For so many, it can drive some terrible behaviors and actions that only serve to validate this self-conception.  I think many people who’ve seen or gone through terrible things can feel this way, and it’s hard to give someone a concrete reason for why it doesn’t have to be like this.  It’s something that has to come from the person themselves, and this requires motivation.  This is why self-acceptance is so hard, because we need that motivation to keep up that realization that yes, we’re ok the way we are.  We may not be rich, famous, beautiful, popular, or whatever it is we want to be but aren’t.  It would be lovely if the world embraced us unconditionally and told us, you’re wonderful, you’re whole, you’re loved, but it doesn’t.  We may find it for an instant in a song, in doing good work, in a party with close friends, but then we may loose it again.  The trick of it is to find something that we can keep coming back to when we’re back in the wilds again.

Our linear progression of aging tricks us into thinking the lines of our lives are straight.  They’re absolutely not.  Learning is cyclical, and so is life.  It may be a different time, a different place, and we may be a different age, but look closely–the same issues follow us until we’ve confronted them enough times that we’re able to banish them quickly and effectively.  The initial bite will be the same, but the recovery time gets faster.

cultural silencing

It’s odd how much you don’t notice things until they’re pointed out.  I was cleaning my study this past Wednesday, fondly looking over the books that have given me my formal education and I did a mental double take.  Really? Have I studied so few female voices after being in school for such a huge chunk of my life?

I had a lot of pretensions when I was younger, and I believed that a proper college education began with the Greek classics.  I excelled at the humanities in high school, so it was a nice excuse to continue studying what came easiest to me.  The first class I registered for at the Evergreen State College wasn’t anything radical, environmental or social justice related, but a 16 credit course on Stoic and Epicurean philosophy.  From there I signed up for a course on Russian literature, another on romantic, premodern and modern philosophy and art, and returned to the classics my final year.  I studied the pre-hellenic and Hellenic philosophers and their Roman elaborators, I read Chekhov, Bulgakov, Goethe, Nietzsche, Baudelaire, Mallarme, Sartre and Camus.  I think the entire time I was at Evergreen, I read around four or five books written by women.  And I didn’t notice.

My books from that era are still with me.  I loved studying the humanities–it doesn’t get much better than reading about philosophy and the arts to me.  These men have said vital, beautiful and profound things that have guided European-derived culture for centuries.  But it’s crazy that one gender has had a monopoly on all that for so fucking long.  I read Mary Beard’s self-proclaimed manifesto recently, “Women and Power“, in which an extremely well-educated classics scholar points out how much the classics themselves have served to embed misogyny into our venerated cultural roots.  It’s brief but spot on–and damning.  Right now, in this burgeoning era of productive feminism, you can’t stare at a bookshelf that contains the “must reads” of the past thousand years without confronting the fact that so obscenely few of them are written by women.

Why didn’t I see this before as the travesty I see it as now?   It’s an astonishingly simple answer–I accepted it as the way it was.   It makes me a bit queasy to acknowledge this as a woman who spent high school rocking out to Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill, Throwing Muses, and PJ Harvey. “Women’s Studies” never crossed my plate as an undergraduate–it seemed too niche, too reactionary, too…angry.  I wanted to study the intellectual foundations of the culture I was a part of, and it took until, well, now, really, to realize how little of a place I had at that historical table as a Mexican-American woman.

Now that I’m in my mid 30s, have a daughter, and am back in school, I bring this hard earned awareness with me, and it drives me nuts.  I hear the girls in my sciences classes say how much easier they understand things when my male classmates explain it to them, I hear it in the confidence my male classmates speak up in groups, where I and other women have a softer, more questioning tone in their voice.  I hear it, and I push back, but I know I’m pushing against something that doesn’t even realize it’s pushing back, not consciously, not all the time.  It’s not really any of our faults, it’s just been the way things are for the past thousand, two thousand or so years–or more.   It’s hard not to be pessimistic, but necessary that we resist.

I’ve lived a far from flawless life, and am not really in a place to be any leader, but I do see it as my duty to be as articulate, well-read and aware as possible.  At my husband’s urging, I wrote Michael Pollan after reading his book about psychedelics and noticed that the history of those substances here in the US are dominated by privileged white men. It seemed odd to me because the experience of psychedelics Pollan documented was cast as being subversive, liberating and empowering–experiences that seems like they would wonderfully benefit women and people of color.   His assistant wrote me a very kind email back, saying she thought it was an important note and that she’d pass it on.  I know he wasn’t being consciously sexist–again, it’s just the way things are and have been until…well, it’s still the way things are, but we’re actively working on it.  That’s why its so important to point these things out, even if they seem obvious, even if they seem shrill and tiresome. Especially if they seem shrill and tiresome.

We’re not post-racial, and we’re not post-gender.  Sometimes you need to state what’s right in front of you and redundant, just so that we start to realize how much we’ve lost out on up to now.  The voices of women and the powerless have been muted for most of our written history.  There is a fall out from this, and we’re just now coming to it.  It’s an exciting and horrifying time to live in, and it will be interesting to see how it’s incorporated into our tragically flawed cultural tapestry.

Complementary vs. Conventional: On not taking sides

As a licensed acupuncturist who is applying to medical school next year, it goes without saying that my loyalties inhabit a mid point between conventional and complementary medicine.  Because of that, I get somewhat irritated when either side unilaterally dismisses the other.  While people in the complementary health world love pointing out the flaws of the “western” allopathic medical system, due to the niche nature of the practitioners, their grumblings reach half the audience as when the medical establishment dismisses them.  Case and point, you will never find a naturopath, acupuncturist or massage therapist writing an article in the New York Times about how hard it is on patients when their complaints are dismissed or they’re pressured into a therapy they don’t want.  You will, however, find the reverse, such as this article currently featured: “Worshipping the False Idols of Wellness” by OB/Gyn Jen Gunter, who best known for taking on false health claims featured in GOOP.

The middle ground between these two camps is rarely comfortable.  It’s difficult, as a complementary healthcare worker, to go against my colleagues, who I know are coming at healthcare with a sincere eye for prevention.  Yes, many claims by complementary health providers don’t have a firm, if any, backing in science.  Some practitioners of complementary healthcare should indeed be labelled as quacks or frauds for the BS they spout.  But the lack of humility and questioning as to why these trends exist and appear to be here to stay is to the detriment of allopathic medical community.  This unwillingness to look at alternative methods of treatment is one of the contributing factors to our country’s opioid epidemic.  I was going say greed as well, but that’s prevalent in both camps.

We live in a society full of paradoxes.  The junk food industry has made us vast consumers of foods that are harmful to our health and contribute to obesity just as they’re celebrated as part of popular culture.   We’re shown pictures of huge, delicious looking burgers and fries consumed by fit, attractive people on our TVs, when we know the reality to be different.  We’re told “Be healthy!” by our healthcare providers, but not given many cues on how to cultivate that as an enjoyable lifestyle.  Here’s where the complementary healthcare industry excels.  The yoga, the health food, the crystals and woo-woo–they’re a lifestyle that is trying to live by the mandate “be healthy” while making it…well, if not fun then interesting.  The strength of this culture is that it eliminates the mixed messaging of indulgence and self condemnation of the mainstream.  Indulgence here is a massage, treating yourself is a smoothie with “antioxidant” laden berries and wheatgrass–neither of which are necessarily harmful.  The smoothie won’t prevent cancer, but it’s hard to deny that it’s better for you than a milkshake.  And therapeutic massage can be very helpful for long term pain management.

I get it, though.  The worry that people will seek out some DIY health regiment instead of going to their doctor when something is seriously wrong.  As an acupuncturist, I’ve seen it in clinic.  I had to see a woman about 4 times before I convinced her that she needed to go get a biopsy for what turned out to be uterine cancer.  A colleague of mine died from lung cancer, which we first thought was a nasty cough that could be treated with herbs.  What these anecdotes miss, however, is the fear that these patients had that they would find themselves without control over their own lives.  They fear being dehumanized in the fight against whatever is going wrong with their bodies, of having their beliefs invalidated and dismissed.  Yes, perhaps they’re a little out there as to what they believe, but what right do we as their practitioners to flat out dismiss them without taking into consideration what gave rise to these beliefs and where they’re really coming from?  As a non-Christian in a dominantly Christian country, it’s strange to me that where one person is viewed as a kook for their beliefs in crystals and energy healing while another is validated for their faith in God and the power of prayer.   As far as I know, faith has never been scientific, but is generally accepted as a part of human nature.  Do not these beliefs arise out of the same desire for a connection to the transcendental, to something greater than ourselves?

We can work with people with odd beliefs better if we allow them the space to hold those beliefs.  Yes, you can align your chakras with the appropriate crystal to help harmonize your being if that makes you feel good, and you should also be seen regularly by your primary health provider to screen for treatable, preventable disease.  We should also allow people to have more control over the quality of their lives when they’re struck by what could be terminal illness.  We feel we’ve failed as medical professionals if we don’t try everything, even if it means that a person is confined to a hospital for the duration of their lives.  In doing this, we overlook how important quality of life is, and this is what these people on the complementary health fringe are rebelling against.  We need to start listening to what is behind the popularity of the  “wellness industry” that Dr. Gunter rails against rather than simply reacting to it.  The methodology may not be sound, but there’s something there beyond the fads.

 

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