The Hidden Cost Of Stress By V. Joy Pavelich
Over the past several years I’ve become a Dr. Gabor Maté groupie of sorts. The at times controversial doctor seems to speak a truth that I haven’t heard reflected in conventional approaches. And yet, it’s a truth that resonates deeply with me and the experiences of my life.
He was the one who helped me understand addiction for the first time in the simplest of terms. As a man who works with the most vulnerable on Vancouver’s reputed East Side, in the book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, he simply says “I’ve never yet met an addict who wanted to be an addict.” Profound, and yet for the first time I had to re-evaluate my own biases and look at addiction as something that the individual has to struggle with, but that they wouldn’t choose. Simple. Common. Sense. Who would choose such a path?
He is also one who has broadened my thoughts to look at individuals who are struggling through the lens of what has happened to them, and not what is “wrong” with them. His work in trauma theory has been ground-breaking as we begin to understand the impact of trauma on not just our psyches but on our physical wellness as well.
Trauma takes many forms. Mine has many different facets, which has been the result of multiple life experiences, but nothing could have prepared me for the death of my middle son Eric by suicide just weeks short of his 21st birthday. The morning I learned of Eric’s death was the day my own world separated completely into a “before” and “after.” This was – and continues to be – one of the most extreme traumas I can imagine anyone experiencing.
Our family doctor, who is also a close family friend, advised me early on that the impact of the stress on my body would be similar to a major physical illness. I am not sure I really understood it at the time. But as weeks turned to months his words proved prophetic. I struggled with chronic sinus infections, low energy, depression, my own suicidal ideation, inability to sleep, chronic migraines, and a numbed presence in the world around me. I was the living, breathing dead as I walked through the world without my son.
In another of his books, When the Body Says No, Dr. Mate purports that our minds and body are not just connected, but deeply intertwined.
It was 10 months after Eric’s death when I had been hospitalized for another migraine, my medications losing their efficacy and the Morphine / Maxxeran combination to control the pain and nausea administered once again for a few hours of relief. At this point a good friend made a call to Pure North and asked if they would see me.
This was where I began the important first step of addressing the underlying impact the physical stress of my emotional pain was leading to. It’s also where I began to understand what integrative medicine is.
Comprehensive blood work identified the deficiencies we then strategically tackled one-by-one through a vitamin and mineral therapy, which varied from cocktails of intravenous vitamins to supplements targeting my vulnerable areas. Ongoing bloodwork ensured we were seeing success.
Often people assume that if you are seeking more holistic approaches to wellness that traditional western medicine will be compromised; that the two are separate and apart. The truth is that the two can work together for the patient in a symmetry that is ideal for the individual at the centre of the equation. The way I like to think of it is my family doctor – who I wouldn’t give up for the world – addresses my illness through symptom management, while the Pure North team – who I also wouldn’t give up – addresses my wellness by rebuilding. This is “whole-istic” medicine, as opposed to holistic medicine.
More than five years later I am strong, and I am healthy. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have to keep up on my protocol. I am committed to working together with my family doctor, to see the team at Pure North, to ensure they are both aware of what I’m taking and doing and how I’m approaching my health. In doing so I am not only looking after my current state of health, but my future state of health. I can’t over emphasize the importance of maintenance and not just addressing problems when they occur.
In thinking about Dr. Mate’s work, in understanding how trauma can impact our physical and emotional states and recognizing that our bodies are capable of great healing when we honour what they ask of us, I believe we can attain a state of wellness even in the most difficult of situations. It’s what keeps me coming back.