Updated: Aug 27, 2019
One of the greatest travesties of historical medicine was the separation of the mind and body. I really never knew the history, to be honest, so I did a little research. It seems that back in the 17th century, Rene Descartes, the renowned philosopher, mathematician, and scientist, believed that the body worked like a machine, each organ, each cell like a cog in a machine, serving a purpose. While correct in that belief, he further believed that the mind and the body were totally separate. Descartes needed the bodies of the deceased to learn more about how the body functioned. Descartes made a "deal" with the Pope. He agreed to separate the mind and body in his research. The mind was left to the church, while the body was left to science. Thus setting the playing field for centuries to come, the separation between the body and mind. It's only within the last century and really, more like the last quarter century, that modern Western medicine is finally beginning to, again, recognize that there is a connection between our minds and our bodies. Chinese medicine practitioners have always worked under the belief that the mind and body are just two parts of a whole. People can develop symptoms of dis-ease in either or both. Don't buy it? Think about this....
Ever get really embarrassed? What happens emotionally? You feel weird, shy, ready to run. Those feeling that happen in the mind are not without physical symptoms in the body. You may feel flush, your cheeks become red, you may even feel physically ill.
How about when you've had a very tough, challenging, long day? Ever had a tension headache or a migraine? The stress and emotional wear you felt during the day caused your body to react.
There is absolutely no denying that the mind and the body are two components, deeply connected, of one whole system.
So, why don't we look closer at the connection when we are treating disease? Why is the medical community just now beginning to take a holistic approach to health?
My father, who was an addict, addicted to cigarettes and alcohol, received minimal advice from physicians to combat his addiction. In a sense, they turned a blind eye. When he quit drinking and smoking, cold turkey, he turned to food. His underlying anxiety and reasons for addiction were never ever addressed. As he continued to gain more and more weight, the advice was a low cal diet. These were physicians who had known him forever. They knew about the addiction and then saw the weight gain. Not one ever recommended that he seek support for his mind, not just his body.
When I first developed alopecia areat, my own research indicated that the disease itself was typically triggered by stress. There was no doubt that stress was, and is, a huge part of my life and, at that time, I had no idea how to manage it. I went to my general practitioner who prescribed a cream to put on my scalp. I wasn't pleased with that as I felt it was a band aid and not a cure. So, I turned to an internal medicine physician. We had lengthy discussion about all aspects of my life. We, not only, discussed my physical health choices, but also my mental health. We discussed things that I could do to help manage stress in a better way. He also offered medication, which I declined, however, there was a very holistic approach in our conversation.
When I think about these very different experiences, my father's and mine, I wonder how very different things could have turned out. Perhaps, had his psychological needs been addressed, he may have had a longer life.
Regardless, I'm pleased that the idea of dualism, is evolving into an understanding that while the mind and body are certainly different entities, they both dwell and one, each affecting the other.
Throughout the past two decades, I've invested quite a bit of time learning to manage stress and anxiety. Some of that research has lead me to remove toxic people and situations from my life. Further, I've learned some strategies that I'll be talking more about in the coming weeks.
Consider that Chinese medicine has been practiced for over 2,000 years. It's still practiced today. It's encouraging to see many of these practices enter into mainstream medicine. Many options such as acupuncture, acupressure, massage and herbal medicine are even covered by major health insurance.
Descartes discoveries set our society on a path of focusing toward the physical and ignoring the needs of our mind and the connection it may have to our physical health. My hope is that we, as a society, learn to support our minds to keep our bodies healthy and when our bodies become diseased, part of our treatment includes that of our minds.
To our health.