I was 16 when I decided to move from my paediatric medical team to one that specialised in adult care. The little fault in my genes was beginning to make its presence felt and I was displaying a growing number of symptoms. My parents were terrified by my decision. It would mean moving from what was regarded as the best paediatric unit in the country to the care of a specialist who had recently moved to Australia and was largely an unknown. Yet even at that young age, I had identified that the doctor I was seeing did not serve my needs because I didn’t feel empowered or a participant in my own care. It did not mean he wasn’t a highly intelligent, capable doctor or that he had not done a great job in my care up to that point, however at that time he was no longer the doctor right for me. It was the best decision I could have made. Even though I may not have been able to articulate what I was feeling at the time this awareness of what I, as a unique individual, needed to enjoy the best health possible and to be willing to advocate for that, has been the most important lesson in my health journey.
I spent most of my childhood and teen years trying to ignore the fact I had Cystic Fibrosis however when I began to feel the call to share my experience more publicly a it was like a fire ignited in my heart. Here was a way that I could combine my own experience with illness and my passion for helping others. It suddenly made what I had been through ok and gave me a new sense of purpose. But as I started to reflect on my health journey and the messages I wanted to share, feelings of inauthenticity and confusion began to rise in my stomach.
My health experiences cannot be fitted neatly in a package with square edges the way for a time I thought it needed to. Although I laugh at this thinking now, I think it is a sad reflection of the health debate that pulls headlines and floods social media….Contrary to the sides that have been created by this discourse my approach to health cannot be described as either natural or conventional but a powerful combination of both. I am happily dancing on the fence. And in my pursuit to help others I have learnt that that is totally ok. What I realised in my reflection is that it isn’t about natural or conventional, alternative vs. mainstream. It is about health. My health. Something that is not definitive or predictable and at times has benefited from one approach only to have it be a miserable failure the next.
My reality, as many others, is that I live with a chronic illness. As much as I would love to flush my myriad of medications down the toilet and rely on meditation alone, it is about as realistic as the notion that I would be doing everything possible for my health if all I did was take those same medications. I have been told by just as many naturopaths about the ‘evils’ of the pharmaceutical medications I take as I have doctors suggest I am throwing my money away on natural supplements. I have felt the incredible guilt and shame of being ‘a bad patient’ when I have been told what I am doing is ‘wrong’ or ‘harmful’ (even when I have found it to be effective). I have felt the confusion, the overwhelm and paralysing ‘what if’ fear when I have chosen the ‘wrong side’ of the current health headline. And now I realise that it isn’t about picking a side but about educating myself and choosing the selection of tools that address my needs, nobody elses.
I have been the key researcher into this body for twenty seven years. I have come to accept that I can’t control many aspects of my health however being proactive in the treatments I undergo and the practitioners that I allow to know me intimately and see me at my most vulnerable, allows me to feel empowered in my own care. Some days that choice means fuelling my body with nourishing foods and others it means being guided and educated by a health professional.
I meditate, I exercise, I eat food that serves my body, I do daily physiotherapy, I take a cocktail of medications that would confuse most pharmacists and I have participated in medical research. I believe in the importance of all of them. Perhaps in the perfect world the former three would be enough and I am certainly under no illusion that the pharmaceutical medications I take don’t come with their own set of risks and complications but for me, in my reality these are the things I have learnt that my body needs. I work my little butt off to build a strong foundation with all I can naturally and then I marvel at the miracle that is medical science to help me live the life I love.
I am grateful every day to be supported by an amazing team of medical practitioners who I respect deeply, who allow me to be open and honest and discuss all my approaches to health with them without feeling judged or shamed. They are the people I have chosen to guide me because I feel listened to valued by them as a person not just a patient. I am trust them with my life in the most literal sense. I believe it is because of this integrative approach that I am currently experiencing the best health I have ever enjoyed as an adult and importantly, I feel completely confident and at peace with the choices I have made to achieve it. That to me is successful and effective healthcare.
Health is such an incredibly emotive topic because it is something we value to fiercely. Isn’t it true that ill-health is the one thing we are all fearful of? When we improve health we improve life. The simple and the hard thing about health is there is no single answer. No one-size-fits all magic fix for any problem. In fact, when it comes to health there is no right. Health is both a science and an art. While the media is antagonising us to fight the war between the two worlds, the people we are claiming to want to help are feeling confused, overwhelmed and vulnerable.
At its heart the fact is most of us want the best health possible and we will make take the path we believe will get us there in the best shape. At the end of that path we are the only ones who can judge our success and know whether we made the right choice because we are the only ones who know the criteria upon which we base it. I truly believe health has been pulling headlines because neither side can give us all the answers and the time has come to collaborate instead of compete.
When I look back at my health journey I am deeply proud of that 16 year old girl because although she didn’t understand why, she understood the importance of feeling involved and listened to and proactive in her own care. She knew how crucial it was to make a choice that she believed would best serve her and give her peace despite what others said. It is that same girl that has taught me that it is possible to have your green smoothie and swallow your pills too and helped me find the right people to help me do that. Because that is exactly what my body needs to enjoy the best health possible. Isn’t that what we are all trying to achieve anyway?
Photo Credit: Emma Newby ( somewilddarling.com )