Times have been wild since I have last written. I have been working at the same primary care medical practice, went backpacking solo through Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru, completed a part time post-bachelors program, and have been experimenting with some other projects and goals. ;)
My two year anniversary at the practice is coming up soon, and I have been thinking a lot about what I have learned. My role has been something similar to a health coach, and I have worked with patients with a wide variety of conditions, goals, and personalities. These are people that are both just like you, and not at all, coming from every stage and experience of life.
I am fortunate to be able to get to know patients on a very personal level. I learn their stories, understand their environment, and listen to their struggles, triumphs and goals. This is one side of the equation of their reality. The other side is genetics and epigenetics (the nature in nature vs. nurture). All of these factors converge into a complex web that determines their health and disease state at the present moment.
You cannot know 95% of these things when you look at a person on the street or meet them at an event. It would be hard to know most of this stuff even if you had been known them for years, unless you have a medical background and ask a lot of personal questions… Being able to see how each side of a person, including their genetic and environmental history, lifestyle choices, motivators and challenges, interrelates with their medical pathophysiology has increased my compassion for others and understanding of the amount of power that people actually have to change.
It isn’t just medical conditions that have complex roots; it is every aspect of a person. Their personality, quirks, habits, and choices are all influenced by a multitude of factors. For example…
- Mood disturbances and mental disorders are tied to neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain, which could be genetic, environmental, chemical, or even nutrition related (not adequate intake of necessary precursors)
- People have varying levels of pain perception and stress tolerance due to stress exposure in utero
- Overweight people may be more susceptible to overeating due to low dopamine or altered gut bacteria (ex: h. pylori in excess results in stomach ulcers, but a deficiency leads to a lack of leptin, which is responsible for satiety)
- Sexual orientation and gender identity is influenced by the hormonal exposure in utero (and theoretically there are external factors that can alter this hormonal environment)
- It is theorized that some mental issues, including chronic anxiety and poor self esteem, are related to lack of parental attachment in early life
- Our diets play massive roles in our mood, energy level, sleep, immunity, health, weight, and daily choices. And our diets are massively influenced by our geography, early life experiences, parenting, and socioeconomic past and status.
- Habitual drug or alcohol use can create a cycle involving neurotransmitters that makes it very difficult to break free of (but also- what spurred the first use? )
I think recognition of the influential unknowns also has huge implications for how we interpret and interact with others. With the understanding that each individual is the outcome of an extremely complex web of factors and events, we can have a bit more compassion for our fellow human beings . We are constantly being influenced and changing, and we can’t know what all of those factors are for ourselves (let alone others). More compassion from the acceptance of our ignorance and the complexity of nature v. nurture interactions, in combination with efforts to change what we aren’t content with, could bring about some seriously positive change in the world. Instead of judging other people (and ourselves!), we should try to be more accepting, while empowering others to make the changes they desire.
I have emphasized the complex roots of personalities and medical conditions in order to bring about compassion, not hopelessness. Most days, I hear someone somewhere saying that they have ‘always been’ a certain way. Whether it’s being overweight, anxious, depressed, or whatever, they appear resigned to this particular trait. It seems logical to me that the best way to change something is to get to the root of the problem, and so I have tried to trace back to the start of a certain problem, habit, or quality. Things quickly turn very murky, as there is not usually one answer.
What I have realized though, is that it does not matter. There are countless elements that influence who we are that we cannot change. While you can’t change your early life development, genetics, or what others do to you, you can change what you do and how you think. After all, our bodies are made of the foods we eat, and our personas are made of our actions, words, emotions and thoughts. We do not need to feel resigned to our condition. There are so many things (mental, physical, emotional, personality traits, habits, spiritual) that we can change and the tools are great and varying:
- Addressing medical conditions properly, proper medications
- Probiotics (this can be complicated, different strains do many different things)
- Supplements, herbs (with medical advising)
- Therapy of all types
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction
- Yoga, Tai Chi
- Introspection, brain storming, goal setting and planning
- Calendars and list making
- Positive self talk, positive affirmations
- Regular reminding self of values
- Life coaches, health coaches, career coaches, advisors
- Education, books, reading, studies
In summary, you are awesome. People are complicated with incredibly different life situations. Better to have compassion than pass judgement on others, and focus on making the changes you wish to seek in yourself – because you can. I hope you all have an awesome Friday and weekend!
me, the salt flats in Bolivia