Thursday, February 19, 2009

Back to Organics

My lower back has been sore for a week. That's not particularly unusual; I get that way a few times a year. I ride it out mostly, do some stretches, and maybe visit my chiropractor. I did that today, and it helped quite a bit. What was unusual was that I went there not expecting relief. I did not feel that my sore back was due to some structural issue. In fact, the only reason I went today was because I had my usual appointment. I told him my far-fetched theory about why I thought my back was hurting, and he actually validated it.

Let me back up a little. I buy and eat almost exclusively organic produce. I say almost because when I need to buy large amounts of fruits or vegetables for a party tray, I might buy commercially grown produce to keep from breaking the bank. (Am I saying my friends are not worth organic?) Also, we sometimes will have fresh produce at restaurants, which you can bet is not organic. Still, I would say that of the fresh produce that I eat, 80-90% is organic, and I have been eating this way for maybe three years.

This past December, I had a bout of soreness in my lower back. We had been going to parties and throwing parties, with plenty of crudités (or for those of you who do not speak French, veggie platters). Since I have been avoiding refined sugar this past year, I would gravitate to these platters at a party. I felt quite gratified in my choices as I filled up on fresh fruits and vegetables instead of cheesecake and brownies. But then the next day my back would be sore.

It was worse when we threw a party, because I would continue eating the leftover produce for days following, and my back would hurt all the while. Finally after making the connection, I formed the theory that perhaps the pesticide residue was having an impact on my body since I was not accustomed to consuming commerically-grown produce. I imagined the little pesty molecules taking up residence in my spine and throwing a party of their own.

Well, it always takes me several repetitions of the same lesson to really get it to resonate into habit. To put it more simply, time goes by and I forget. Last Wednesday night, I was at gathering at a friend's home. We were offered ice cream and a huge serving bowl of the most beautiful strawberries that one could imagine. Shiny, rose-red, huge, juicy and sweet. I had maybe five or six big ones because I was not having any ice cream. They were delicious.

I figured they were not organic, as I was listening in on where they were purchased. I thought briefly about the Strawberry Incident last summer, but I did not care; they looked so yummy. (Last summer with my new blender I was making tons of smoothies using strawberries from the freezer that my husband had picked up at a fruit stand in Los Angeles. My scalp had started to itch something awful; in fact, I was having my husband check me for bugs. I thought I was allergic to strawberries until my nutrition doctor told me that strawberries are the most toxic of all commercially-grown produce. He said to eat all the organic strawberries I wanted. I did, and my imaginary bugs went away.)

Well this time, my head was fine, but the day after these delicious strawberries my back was sore. The following day we had a gathering of our own, and I found myself in a regular grocery store. Oh, the lure! A quart of blueberries for $5! Two quarts of strawberries for the same price! And the grapes! They are not even in season yet, but I succumbed and bought all sorts of berries and grapes. As is my habit, I ate tons of fruit at our gathering to stay away from the cookies and brownies. I continued having equal parts of blueberries and cereal for breakfast for the next several days. To eat blueberries to satisfaction--a taste of heaven. By Tuesday, I was an old woman.

Something started to occur to me as I walked about stiffly. Some vague memory of a recent sore back. I had blamed this episode of soreness on too much sitting, but there was something there in the fog. Then I remembered an email I had written my friend in December. Something about pesticides on crudités. I found it, and sure enough, as I recollected what I had been eating this last week, it was Lesson Two in the series. Those pesty molecules were setting up camp again.

When I went to the chiropractor today, the first thing that I said was that my back hurt but I did not expect an adjustment to help. I told him my theory, and he listened with interest. He said that my theory did have validity. He told me that the body can have a (love this Latin) "visceral somatic response." (Etymology moment: viscera means intestines or soft organs in the abdomen; and somatic can refer to the vertebrate nervous system.)

Essentially, an ailment in an internal organ can cause displaced pain in the spinal area. He said that doctors note that people with gallstones can have pain in the middle back area. Other organs translate to whatever area along the spine whose nerves serve that organ. In my case, he felt that the organ that had issues (based on my lower back pain) was my large intestine. That organ would be consistent with the flushing of toxins from my body.

That is not to say that chiropractic could not help. He continued that there can be displaced pain with misalignment or displaced pain without. Sometimes the nerve pain causes the muscles to spasm which results in a misalignment that is secondary to the pain. I think that is what happened in my case, since my back pain went from sore to hurting sometime on Tuesday, and my doctor found L5 to be misaligned. I was greatly relieved after my adjustment.

So my colon is mad at me right now. I like to think that it is by grand design that our internal organs (which do not necessarily have pain receptors for every ailment) can send a message to a part of our body which can shout loudly. Just because we are not always intuitive enough to understand the language that is being spoken does not mean that the design is any less grand. Our bodies were not meant to digest poison and live to tell about it. The fact that any adaptation at all exists to complain says a great deal about the adaptability of the human form.

So the remaining wilting fruit is now tossed. I have instructions to drink plenty of water and some detox tea, and to eat plenty of (organic) greens for awhile. It is a mixed blessing to be sensitive to what others can eat without thought. Sure my back is sore, but I am greatly intrigued by the knowledge that I have gained from this experience. If I ate a king-size Snicker bar at this point in my life, I would probably be bedridden for a few days. But the sensitivity translates to an intuition regarding my body, a discernment about what I choose to eat, and a knowledge gained from experience that I hope to help others by passing on.

Three months later: My back is still sore off and on. Never experienced anything like this. Will post details when resolved. My spirit is still yelling at me, and I am trying hard to translate!

Six months later: Okay, after four months of pain, I went to a friend's party and was dancing. I figured I'd regret it, but it was fun. A friend of mine was dancing next to me, and I thought I'd do an 80's bump with her. Well, she bumped back pretty hard. I limped off the dance floor and the next day could hardly move. But--the next day after that, I was absolutely fine. As of this writing, it's been two months and I remain pain-free. Thank the Lord for outdated dances.
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Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Nature of Nurture

Chatting pleasantly with my uncle this afternoon, I am once again struck with how much he reminds me of my brother. His mannerisms, his sense of humor, his outlook on life--all very reminiscent of his own brother's son. When I once again pointed this out to him, he said, "Well, he just had a birthday too." I took this as his implying our astrological similarities at birth. Two Aquarians may have more in common than birthdates.

The question of nature versus nurture has always intrigued me. How much of my personality and thought processes are affected by innate factors, and how much is affected by the experiences I have had in my life, particularly my early years? It intrigues me even more as I watch my children grow. How much of their behaviors and reactions are due to their inborn life force, and how much can they blame on me when they are in therapy?

My siblings and I are about as different as children of the same parents can be. We look different from each other; we respond to life with varying reactions. My brother always teased me that I was adopted from a band of pygmy gypsies, and sometimes I would wonder. But I can find at least a few physical family traits in each of us that belie that fairy tale. So we are blood related, most likely. But why are we so different from one another after having grown up in the same household?

I remember when I was in therapy in my twenties (as is still vogue), I was immediately asked about my parents. I was confounded by these invasive questions, wondering what my parents had to do with my current situation. They were in a neighboring state, and my relationship with each was very good. But the line of questioning was pursued, and because I was paying this woman, I cooperated. What followed was months of childhood examination, rechewing the bitter cud of every perceived let-down, betrayal, abandonment, or other negative experience I may have had that brought me to the place I was then. Whether this helped my situation directly, or I just eventually got over things, I will never know. But two things happened for sure: I began to see my parents as more human, and the seed of "nurture causes all" was planted in my head.

I find that I am still impacted by the "nurture causes all" mentality as I parent my own children. I reproach myself for any ill behavior on their part, as I believe deep down that I am to blame for poor parenting. If I were more strict, or less strict, or more gentle, or more firm, or if they were in public school, or if we sat down to dinner more often--well, then this ill behavior would not be happening. An instance of poor behavior on their part causes anger on my part. If I were to peel back that anger, I would find fear. Fear of failing as a parent. Fear of messing up their budding personalities. Fear of lining the pocket of some future psychotherapist who will tell my child that it was all their mother's fault.

But what of nature? What about our innate personality type? Society has always pigeonholed people. I envision the pigeons each perched in their own cubby in the pigeon loft. There is something comfortable about being able to put people into our own personal cubbies. It makes us feel more in control when trying to figure people out. We even have pigeon lofts provided for us: the aforementioned astrological signs, Ayurveda doshas, Meyers-Briggs personality types, Type A-B-A/B personalities, race/nationality stereotypes, gender/age stereotypes, occupation/class/religion stereotypes, Generation X/Y/Z, and Chinese astrology, to name a few. And to visually look upon a person is to classify them in a myriad of ways that cannot be counted.

Let's see, I am a Scorpio, Vata dosha, probably INTJ on the Myer-Briggs, Type AB, white, American, female, 40's, homeschooler, middle class, Catholic, Gen X, born in the year of the Snake. If you were to look at me, you would see a tall, slender, reputedly attractive woman with mousy hair and glasses. What does that tell you about me? Even if you are the most easy-going (Type B) non-judgmental (INFP) person, you form perceptions about me. How many of these pigeonholes were the fate I was born into, and how many were affected by nurture?

This question is raised once again for me as I learn about yet one more pigeon loft, that of the homeopathic constitution. Within the philosophy of homeopathy, a person can be categorized as a particular "constitution," based on his physical appearance, his outlook on life, his behavioral reactions, his physical weak links, and various other idiosyncrasies. There are many common constitutions, but also combinations of these common constitutions which form new ones.

Basically, all constitutions can be decent and likeable people when in balance, and each have their own foibles when out of balance. The beauty of homeopathy (similar to Ayurveda) is that one can affect one's constitution in a positive way. The homeopathic constitutions map to homeopathic remedies. (Not all homeopathic remedies are constitutional--not by a long shot.) Using your own homepathic remedy helps to balance your constitution. And similar to astrological philosophies, homeopathic constitutions can have varying degrees of compatibility, depending on the combination of people.

I used to have fun with horoscopes and would read my mother's Sun Signs book when I was a teenager. I found all sorts of matches to what I perceived as my personality, or what I wanted to perceive. I wonder how much of that reading impacted who I became (nurture) instead of it reflecting who I was innately (nature). When I was younger and more of a wild card, I used to be proud of being represented as a scorpion born in the year of the snake. Now it bears little resemblance to who I am, or who I want to be. Did I change? Or did my perceptions change? If I changed, then it debunks the whole nature concept of astrology. (It matters not to me anymore, as one paragraph is all I would want to indulge on this subject anyway.)

Homepathic constitutions have more in common with Meyers-Briggs, in that they do not involve pagan fables and the alignment of the stars at the time of birth. They do however, claim an innate nature, particularly in that homeopaths are often able to type even a baby. I was fortunate to recently have my constitution pigeonholed by a talented homeopath, while I was interviewed as an example to our class.

Without going into it too deeply, I am considered an Argentum Nitricum, or Argent Nit for short. For those of you with a chemistry background, you may recognize the remedy as silver nitrate. This constitution is a combination of two others, one of which is perfectionist, detailed, and punctual, and when out of balance can be fear-based, anxious, and OCD. The other constitution is friendly, easy-going, and deep thinking, and when out of balance can be fear-based, worrying, and a people pleaser. I immediately noticed that these two constitutions seem so opposite. Interestingly, I have always thought of myself as a woman of extremes, or as one who sees both sides, or as one who can have a completely opposite reaction depending on my mood.

Reading up on my constitution was not a situation of trying to make the black glove fit. It just fits. One trademark idiosyncrasy involves trembling. Argent Nit tremble. I tend towards whole body shivering when I am highly emotional, whether for good or bad. On my dates with boys in college, we would be sitting there overlooking the city lights. In anticipation of our first kiss, I would be trembling like crazy. When asked if I were cold, I would always respond yes in a desperate attempt to not appear too excitable. The poor guy would never be able to offer the chivalrous jacket off his back, because it was 87 degrees in Tucson in the late evening. Yet there I sat shivering.

My poor son was terrified one time when we were alone in our hotel room in Julian. I had eaten something bad, and was terribly sick. I lay on the bed shivering uncontrollably off and on, and it scared my boy so. I kept trying to tell him to not worry; Mommy just trembles. I don't think I had him convinced.

I started to take this homeopathic theory seriously when I began to take my constitutional remedy daily. The first week, it was like I kept looking over my shoulder to see who took over my body. I was under-reacting constantly. I was underwhelmed. I was calm. I was even PMS'ing and I was calm. I was letting go. The anxiety that was always just under the surface was gone. My corners were rounded.

That was a few months ago, and I feel changed. I still scream and yell and carry on sometimes, and my husband asks, "How's that constitutional working for you?" The fact is I don't take it daily anymore, just when I remember. I am having a withdrawal reaction from not being the perfectionist, the purist, and the hardliner that I used to be. I feel a part of myself disappearing. I know it is just my ego not wanting to let go. Balancing my constitution is upsetting the status quo, so I fight it. It's an ongoing process.

I find it an interesting exercise attempting to pigeonhole those around me. I am by no means an expert, but some people are easy. My children are the only ones that I plan to intervene and force feed their constitutional remedies. But I cannot express the emotions that I felt when I figured out and read about my son. Right there, in black and white, someone had written about my sweet, social, naive, gentle, goofy, irresponsible boy. He was no longer a product of a failing mother who was ruining him with "nurture causes all" parenting. He is who he is, and now that I know that, I can parent him without the fear-based anger that it is all my fault. I can even choose to parent him differently to better respond to his nature (as well as force feed him lactose pellets).

Of course, we cannot brush aside the effects of nurture. Our experiences and relationships constantly shape and change us. We store trauma in our very cells which can either be cleared or can fester within us. We can inspire those around us, or stifle their creativity. We can allow nurture to impact us deeply, or rise above it to stand firm regardless. It is the nurture that allows us to reach the potential that nature has provided for us.

I come out of all of this recent instruction with a more balanced viewpoint in the nature versus nurture debate. In fact, it is no longer a debate to me. As one prominent psychologist puts it when asked about nature versus nurture, "Which contributes more to the area of a rectangle, its length or its width?" So with the debate put to rest, I find myself with less guilt, more tolerance, and complete forgiveness of my past. I can take what I have to work with in both myself and my children, and make the best of it as I nurture each of us.

One of my favorite cartoon characters as a child was Popeye. I can still see him zipping open that spinach can, cascading the green contents into his mouth. This childhood experience nurtured me well when it taught, "I yam what I yam."
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