I’ve spent years learning exactly why myself, my family, and my friends can go to countless doctors with symptoms, and walk away with no answers. Whether we’re told nothing is wrong when we know we feel like crap, or dismissively written a prescription that doesn’t seem to fix the problem, it’s frustrating. But what’s most frustrating to me is that so many of us have grown so used to it that we never even stop to question or wonder if, just maybe, we deserve more.
The reasons modern medicine isn’t working for us are complex, but there’s a single idea that has the power to turn how you approach your health (and your healthcare) upside down. This idea is so important that no amount of herbal knowledge will help you much without it, and the idea is this:
You will not get better or see your symptoms resolve until you do something about what is causing those symptoms to show up in the first place.
This might seem like common sense, but it’s not a perspective your doctor will use when you show up with your most common complaints. If you’re struggling with, say, stomach pain and constant headaches, what will your doctor do? They’ll pinpoint the symptoms (stomach pain, headaches) and they’ll recommend medications to help relieve both. If you’re lucky, the meds will help with the pain a little.
The real issue is that noticeable symptoms like these show up when things have been going wrong in the body over a long time. And because the systems of the body are so closely connected, the first dominoes that started the tumbling domino trail ending in stomach pain and headaches might not be found in either your stomach or your head.
You’re put on medications and sent out the door, because as far as your doctor (and conventional medicine) are concerned, you’re all taken care of. But nothing is fixed.
Our body when we’re dealing with symptoms like these is like a really annoying smoke alarm. It just won’t stop, and we can’t find the off button, so we take it and throw it across the room in the hope that just maybe it will stop its incessantly high-pitched squeel.
Let’s face it: with an approach like that, we’ll be lucky if the beeping stops. But even if it does, we’re overlooking a pretty big issue. There’s a fire. A cocktail of medications might relieve the symptoms, but all we’re doing is turning off the danger signal and ignoring the fire that’s inevitably raging inside our body.
A healthcare model that’s actually going to get to the root of our symptoms will have to look more like detective work and less like cookie-cutter formulas. “These three people all have headaches, so we give them this painkiller” turns into “These three people all have headaches, so we try to help the pain while figuring out what could be causing the headaches for each of them.” It’s an individualized kind of healthcare.
You get the problem. But what can you do about it?
- Commit to being proactive about your health.
The unfortunate truth is that unquestionably obeying your healthcare provider is not in your own best interest. Yes, doctors went to medical school. No, they’re not stupid. But that doesn’t mean that they’re always right, either.
It’s easy to get stuck in this way of seeing doctors as authorities who must be listened to and obeyed. Remember that you are your healthcare provider’s client. You choose them and you pay for their services, so do not by any means feel bad about learning about your options and choosing a doctor who will work with you.
- Do a little brainstorming.
You don’t have to know all about anatomy and physiology or figure everything out on your own, but there’s some useful brainstorming you can start with right now. Get out a piece of paper. Now think about your biggest health complaints, the symptoms that show up for you on a regular basis. Not just things you think your doctor would care about, but anything. Pain, sleep issues, no energy, random crying…whatever. Write it all down.
Keep this list for yourself and your healthcare providers because it will come in handy in putting the pieces of your health story together and in tracking your progress over time. Now think back to a time in your life when your remember feeling your best. What happened after that? Jot it down. This can help you see the beginnings of connections that will be important down the line.
- Find your helpers.
A huge step on your journey to getting to the root of your symptoms and achieving awesome health is finding knowledgeable helpers. Let’s face it: that doctor who only wants to prescribe you pain meds, or who looks at you like you’re crazy if you question anything, isn’t going to help you get where you want to go.
Helpers can take many forms: health coaches, herbalists, functional medicine doctors, nutritionists. The key is finding people who are knowledgeable in the science of the body, who care about evidence-based options that really work, and who will work with you to get to the root of your symptoms. The best helpers are good listeners who make you feel like a primary player in your own journey to feeling your best.
The good news in all of this? Once we begin to understand that symptoms are signs of a deeper problem, we can take back the power to take control of our health. We can know that feeling crappy doesn’t have to be as good as it gets for us. That there are answers, and that the first step in truly getting better is being brave enough to ask questions.
Because you, believe it or not, are the number one authority in your own health.