In the last issue of Healthwatch I described how the different ways in which CFIDS is viewed by the medical community. We are blessed in this country with an abundance of medical traditions, all of which can be of significant benefit with this illness. However, no one health care tradition has all the answers, so we have to learn what their strengths are in order to make an informed choice. For a thorough explanation of the different traditions of health care, see my new book, The American Holistic Health Association Complete Guide to Alternative Medicine (Warner Books, 1996).
What is “Holistic?”
In this issue I would like to expand on the theme of holistic medicine. The term “holistic” is banded about in many different contexts, and implies different things to different people. It comes from the Greek holos which means “all, all together, whole, Wholeness.” In other words, it refers to a perspective that encompasses all the factors involved in health.
There is no such thing as a “holistic treatment” or a “holistic technique.” Rather, holistic describes a point of view, a perspective that takes into account all the factors that contribute to the overall picture. Thus a single treatment like a drug or acupuncture can be applied by someone who has a holistic perspective, but they can also be applied by someone who does not subscribe to such a view.
Holistic medicine is a broad philosophy of healing that considers all aspects of the person as important parts of the healing equation; biochemical, physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, environmental, and one’s relationship with others. it sees health as a verb, an on-going process that is continually being influenced by all these interacting aspects of a person’s life.
CFIDS affects the person on all these levels, and the come of CFIDS is influenced by what happens on these levels. This is why there is no single cure for the disease. If you are looking for a single cure, a magic bullet, a drug, an exotic high tech-treatment to heal you, you are destined for disappointment. CFIDS is a holistic disease that requires a holistic approach for recovery.
Why do People Recover?
When people recover from CFIDS it is almost always a result of their taking action on multiple levels-a holistic approach (and yes, people do recover, despite some denial of this in the CFIDS community),
This illness is characterized by widespread imbalances and disharmony in multiple systems of the body. The immune system is in a state of disarray, churning out chemicals (cytokines) that cause the symptoms of fatigue. Digestion is disturbed, leading to incomplete digestion and poor absorption of needed nutrients. The neurological system is affected, causing cognitive problems and sleep disorder, which further impairs the body’s efforts to heal. Even the heart and respiratory systems are affected.
The healing process is characterized by widespread re-balancing and re-harmonizing among these multiple systems. It’s interesting to note that, in this movement, as you read these words your body is striving behind the scenes to make this healing process happen. You don’t even have to understand the details of how this is occurring, because every cell has a clear genetic blueprint of what perfect functioning looks like. There is a life force moving through you that serves to energize this healing process, supplying the cells with the energy needed to bring all these systems back into balance and harmony.
Steps to Recovery
What’s required of you is to support your body’s inherent efforts to heal. This means not just leaving it up to the doctor or the drugs, but doing what you can to support the healing efforts that are already underway within your. How can you do this? The most powerful steps you can take are the simplest.
Accept the fact that recovery is possible for you. This acceptance is necessary before you will wholeheartedly follow through with the remaining steps.
Take an honest inventory of what you are consuming (caffeine, sugar, and junk food vs. wholesome, natural food and purified water), and take appropriate supplementation. If you don’t know what to take, talk with someone trained in nutritional therapy (most doctors are not)-
Take stock of the impact of your relationships on your health. If you are involved in a toxic or stressful relationship, change it through communication or counseling, or get out. True intimacy can actually enhance the body’s healing responses; chronic stress impairs them.
Notice how your daily habits affect your health; e.g., watching TV late at night is a nervous system stimulant that impairs the quality of your steep, and eating too late in evening leads to poorer digestion.
Use treatments that directly work with your body’s vital energy, such as acupuncture, Chinese herbs, Ayurveda, homeopathy, and massage therapy or body work.
Commit yourself to a self-healing practice such as prayer, meditation, visualization, chi kung, or yoga, and follow through religiously every day.
This is holistic medicine for CFIDS. Remember, there is no one single treatment that is a cure. The term “cure” is becoming obsolete in the face of more and more complex chronic illnesses like CFIDS, cancer, fibromyalgia, and environmental illness. Yet the fact that people have recovered from all these illnesses proves that holistic medicine works. And recovery itself is not the only reward, for this is also a path to deeper self-knowledge.
Editor’s note: Dr. Collinge began working with CFIDS during the Lake Tahoe epidemic in the 1980’s. His book Recovering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Guide to Self-Empowerment (Putnam, 1993) set of tapes, The Home Program are available form the CFIDS Health Buyers Club.