Imagining Holistic Healthcare: A Conversation That Includes The Four Bodies

Holistic healthcare is more than seeing the physical body as a whole. We also have (just as) complex emotional, mental and spiritual bodies. All of which need attention and support at the same time, because they are all constantly influencing each other.

My first (and possibly last) time I saw a dermatologist was in 2005. I had just returned from 18 months studying and living in Canada. But I hadn’t come back unscathed.

On my right hand I had a 20 cent piece size eczema welt. If you haven’t had eczema before, you’re missing out. Itchy, oozing, bubbling, red, weeping. If the sarcasm isn’t obvious, eczema sends you a little bit insane.

By the time I arrived in the dermatologist’s office, I’d had this patch for about 6 months. It was definitely a problem while I was in Canada, but I never really thought of engaging the medical system them. (Or if I did, I don’t remember it.)

I showed her my hand, she took a quick look and said:

“You have eczema, this is for life. Use this steroid cream, this hand cream, and make sure you wear the white gloves to bed at night.”

As she handed over the scripts, she asked me:

“What do you do for work? I hope it’s not something where you need to wash your hands a lot as you will have to change careers.”

My voice wobbled a little as I said: “No, not at all.”

“That’s good” she smiled and ushered me out the door.

I left with more questions than answers. With fears about my future and wondering how the hell something I only had for 2% of my life could possibly be forever??!!

And although I never really bought into my eczema being forever, I dutifully used the creams, wore the gloves and avoided water.

But things could have been so different that day. We could have had an entirely different conversation. One focused on seeing me holistically, not just the oozing patch on my hand. We could have factored in my broader being: physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.

Yes we would need more than 15 minutes to have this conversation, but here is what is hope can be possible one day. (And I note the four beings or body’s in the conversation so you can see them more clearly.)

—-

Doctor: I see you have eczema. When did this start?

Me: About 6 months ago, when I was living in Canada.

Doctor: Was that a particularly stressful time for you?

Me: Yeah, really hard. I was lonely at times, the uni part was easy, but I was really struggling with my relationship ending.

Doctor: Did you had someone to talk to about your breakup while you were away? (Emotional being)

Me: Umm, not really.

Doctor: And while you were away did your diet change in any way? (Physical being)

Me: Yes, I found myself eating a lot more sugar. It seems like sugar is added to everything in North America. And the corner store on campus stocked Ben & Jerry’s and those delicious little brownies. I ate a lot of those.

Doctor: Have you had any other major illnesses in the last two-three years?

Me: Yes, I had a kidney and bladder infection shortly before I went away, I was in hospital for a week, had surgery and was on antibiotics for 6 months. It was intense.

Doctor: And were you advised to avoid gluten and dairy, or adjust your diet in anyway, while on antibiotics and for 6 months after?

Me: No.

Doctor: I see you are 24, that can be a confusing time. Do you have stability or clarity about your work or profession? (Intellectual being)

Me: No. Every job I applied for, and actually wanted, rejected me. So I am thinking of going back to school to do a Masters of Law, but honestly, when I worked as paralegal I got so depressed. But I feel like I have no choice, that my only choice is to become a lawyer.

Doctor: That sounds tough. And what about creatively, are you comfortable expressing your creativity? (Spiritual being)

Me: Honestly, I love to paint, and write and dance, but it feels like there is no time for that while I am trying to “get a job” and “find a career.”

Doctor: Okay, you have a lot going on right now. Big changes in your body and your life. It is not unusual to see the physical body struggle when the other parts of ourselves are also struggling.

So here is my prescription.

In addition to the creams and gloves, work on simplifying your diet. This doesn’t have to be forever, but it can help your body heal in the short term if your diet is a bit plainer, more whole foods, less gluten and dairy. Maybe keep a food diary for a month to see what foods triggers the day-after itchiness and make a food plan from there.

And some gentle exercise can also help, walking or qi gong might suit you.

Emotionally I would recommend finding a counsellor or therapist to talk to about your grief and relationships and all the changes you are going through. But if that is beyond your budget right now, I recommend journalling. Not just capturing your day but as an emotional processing technique.

And I know it can be hard to get started but meditation or some sort of mindfulness practice can help, as can finding a way to express yourself creatively, making something just for yourself.

And as for your career, remember you don’t have to decide right away. Don’t let yourself feel pressured. There is a lot of change happening right now, a simple, stable job (like going back to the bookshop that I loved working at) could be just what you need while you navigate these other changes.

Remember change happens slowly. Don’t feel the need to do everything at once, just allow yourself to follow your instincts and intuition. Support yourself physically, as well as emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.

—–

How would you have felt being on the receiving end of that kind of conversation the first time you went looking for answers?

To see the situation from multiple perspectives, to see your life in perspective, but without blame and judgment. And with practical support.

Now I was a confused and stubborn 24 year old, so I may not have done any of those things.

But at the very least, it would have been nice to be able to acknowledge to someone that every part of my life was in turmoil.

Note: I did write the doctor’s “prescription” with my Enneagram Seven self in mind. Including:
– Giving shorter time frames
– Providing options, not requirements
– But not giving too many options which could reduce action
– Trying to reduce perception of being trapped
– Using “temporary” instead of “forever”
– But also giving a realistic time line of healing and change

But that final paragraph is key no matter what our type – trust yourself. Trust your instincts and intuition. Listen to yourself. You are the expert of you.

Because even though our personalties lie to us keep us “safe,” if we don’t trust ourselves, if we don’t believe in our ability to heal and take responsibility for our own healing, it can be hard to commit to the practices and effort that healing requires.