The Three Magic Pills Method(TM): The Secret to Optimal Health for Women
My clients are always asking me, “What is the magic pill that I need to take to relieve my pain?” They go from doctor to doctor, therapist to therapist, nutritionist to nutritionist, and more… to find the magic supplement, medication, surgery, or manual therapy technique to relieve their pain, fatigue, hot flashes, and other chronic, debilitating symptoms.
I understand, I’ve been there… When I was very sick, I was given lots of advice (some helpful, some not.) Doctors recommended rest, antibiotics, and antidepressants. Integrative medicine practitioners gave me herbs and vitamins, and helped me to understand the biochemistry of my hormonal imbalance. As I learned nutrition, I began to explore how changing my diet changed my physical symptoms, and using my physical therapist brain, I changed my exercise practices from depleting to restorative. Eventually, I found the path to healing, but there was not one magic pill solution. There rarely is with any chronic health condition.
There are in fact, 3 Magic Pills(TM) required to heal all chronic symptoms, and this is especially true for women.
Pill #1: Spin a Strong Web of Support and Safety
When you’re healing from a chronic illness, your nervous system needs to feel like it’s resting deeply in a strong web of support and safety. Imagine that this web is like a hammock for your body and mind, that feels so comfortable and safe that you could fall asleep in it.
You need to feel relaxed and safe in your financial situation. You need to be surrounded by positive, caring, and empowering people who believe in your body’s ability to heal. And, you need to have iron clad practical support on days you’re in too much pain to drive yourself to your physical therapy appointment, or to take your child to school.
Stop for a moment, and notice… given your current situation, how relaxed is your nervous system on a day-to-day basis? What would you need to do…? Who would you need to ask for help…? To feel really safe in your body and your life?
If you don’t feel safe in your life right now, you’re not alone. Forty-five percent of women in the United States don’t feel safe walking around their home at night (compared with 27% of men1.) Seventy percent of women worldwide experience physical and/or sexual abuse by an intimate partner during their lives2. Far more women live with the fear of poverty and extreme poverty than do men as well (see chart below3.) While it’s not normal to live under the cloud of this fear, most women in the world do.
Now, you may be saying to yourself, “I’m not living in extreme poverty, I’m not under the threat of domestic violence, and I feel safe in my neighborhood.” That’s all good news. And, yet, when we get sick, struggle with chronic fatigue, or experience quality of life altering pain as women, we may experience a more subtle version of this lack of a strong Web of Support and Safety.
When I was experiencing the worst of my postpartum hormonal imbalance symptoms, I experienced extreme fatigue, insomnia, and panic attacks. I needed a very strong Web of Support and Safety to get through those rock bottom 6 months. My husband, daughter and I moved into a small house in a place where my husband had lots of work, so that I could afford to quit my job and focus on healing. Friends drove my daughter to school, and took her for play dates on my worst days. I hired a nanny and a housekeeper to help me do the simplest things around the house and get the errands done so that I could take care of my 4 year old daughter with the limited energy that I had. The house we lived in was just blocks away from my functional medicine practitioner and my acupuncturist, so that I could see them as often as I needed during those 6 months of recovery. While taking a root cause healing approach requires making significant changes to your diet and lifestyle, when you are quite sick, you often can’t do this yourself. When you are in a lot of pain, very fatigued, or scared all of the time, you will need actual, practical help.
In addition, you may need a perspective shift. What do you really need to feel safe and supported? It usually doesn’t take a big house, lots of money in the bank, and 50 close friends bringing you dinner every day to give you a sense of safety. Can you give up some of the things that you thought you needed in order to focus on your healing for awhile? Can you risk asking for help? Can you risk downsizing what you thought you needed in your life and focus only on the most important things for a few months or years while you heal?
Take a moment right now and write down what it would take for you to feel safe in your life? Is it as simple for you as a shift to believing in your body’s innate healing wisdom? Or, do you need significant practical help? Your Web of Support and Safety will look different from everyone else’s. You might need government financial assistance or the support of a domestic violence non-profit agency. You might need to overcome your embarrassment and ask for lots of help from family and friends. You might need to sell your house, and move closer to skilled healing professionals. You might need to downsize your lifestyle significantly so that you can afford to quit your job and still pay for your healing therapies and some childcare support.
Spinning your Web of Support and Safety may not be easy, but doing so is essential. It’s Pill #1. If your nervous system does not feel safe, relief from symptoms of pain, fatigue, anxiety, and autoimmunity will be very difficult, if not impossible. (This explains why women tend to struggle with these issues more commonly than men, doesn’t it?)
Pill #2: It’s Not Just Fruits and Vegetables
When I was healing from my illness, and I understood that my nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle choices were essential to my path to healing, I tried a lot of crazy things. After taking antidepressants that didn’t help and left me with some awful side effects, I was willing to try anything. I had some kind of herbs injected into my gums. I ate raw egg smoothies and sardines for breakfast. I even tried swimming to the point extreme fatigue in order to try to overcome my insomnia. None of this was helpful.
Fortunately, in the last 9 years, the field of functional medicine has evolved rapidly, and I have been able to learn an evidence-based approach to healing chronic pain, chronic pelvic pain, chronic fatigue, chronic insomnia, chronic brain fog, chronic gut issues, chronic anxiety, chronic autoimmunity and more in the women I serve by learning from skilled colleagues, working with hundreds of patients, and reading and publishing scientific literature. Plus, in the last few years, I have been able to combine my understanding of physical medicine as a physical therapist with my skill as a functional nutritionist (just a few months away from achieving my doctorate in the field) to see how to use the best of physical and manual therapy, nutritional biochemistry, and lifestyle medicine to support my clients to heal from complex hormonal imbalances, pain conditions, functional brain issues, and autoimmune issues.
Fortunately, you don’t have to get dual doctoral degrees in physical therapy and functional nutrition to have access skilled healing recommendations. We care for patients here at The Integrative Women’s Health Institute individually, and educate the public in our group programs for chronic pelvic pain and fertility (more coming soon!) And, if we’re not the right healing team for you, we can help you put together a skilled healing team in your community. We have a wide network, globally. We train health and wellness practitioners in more than 30 countries.
What is most important thing to remember when you’re taking Pill #2? Get great care. It may take some searching to find excellent practitioners, but they exist and we’ll help you find them. You will need to invest time and money to get great care. Don’t settle. Your health is of immense value.
Pill #3: You are Your Own Healer
When I was very sick, I had to have a great team of people around me, and my whole family had to make some significant sacrifices so that we could focus on my health for awhile. I had an amazing Web of Safety and Support. Then, I had to weed through some unhelpful/ dangerous practitioners to find a skilled, experienced, and caring team of healers who I could trust. I paid them a significant amount of money, and spent a lot of time with them during those first 6 months of my recovery. All in all, my full recovery took about 2 years, and cost more than $20,000. It was well worth it. I now have great energy, am running a global business, and have a great family and friends. But, getting here from there was not easy.
I had to make some very significant changes to my lifestyle. I gave up dairy, gluten, sugar, alcohol, and caffeine completely for 2 years. I learned how to cook, and stopped eating at restaurants. (In grad school my specialty was slice and bake cookies, and the first meal I made for my husband was burned hot dogs. So, when I say, “I learned how to cook.” I mean I was a complete beginner.) I completely changed how I exercised, and went to yoga 3 times a week for 18 months before I was able to tolerate anything more vigorous. I went to bed (still do) at 9:30pm. I stopped watching television. I stopped working. I asked for an embarrassing amount of help. I took my supplements every day. I drank lots of water. I started a mindfulness practice. I moved (more than once.) In short, I took responsibility for doing the work of healing my body and mind.
In fact, I still do a lot to maintain my health resilience. There is no end point when it comes to maintaining our health. Now, I am far more resilient, and I want to stay that way. I like being able to work, travel, take care of my kids, or go to a hip hop class. I love food and socializing. But, I still avoid dairy, caffeine, and gluten, and most sugar and alcohol. I still go to bed at 9:30pm most nights, and other than the occasional HGTV binge, I don’t watch TV.
All of my patients do the very same thing. They get up every day and take their supplements, eat the breakfast that is most nourishing for them. They spend time in meditation or prayer each week. They sing, exercise, sleep, play outside, choose the kinds of work that nourishes them, and connect with their family and friends regularly. They have also had to end toxic relationships, quit toxic jobs, and move to less polluted parts of the world. They are honest about when they need more help, and where they could be doing more to take responsibility for their health. They need less help now, but they still ask for help and give help in order to strengthen their relationships.
When you have your own Web of Safety and Support in place, you are equipped with skilled functional nutrition, physical therapy, and lifestyle medicine recommendations, and you take responsibility for doing the daily work of optimizing your health, you have immense power to be healthy, happy, and of service in your life. That is my wish for you.
While the specific formulas are different for each of us, healing a woman’s health always takes 3 Magic Pills.