Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Why a holistic approach?

I believe one of the handicaps we all face with this disease (or these diseases if you believe there are more than one), is the modern medical paradigm of "reductionism" in which we analyze and study the minute details of whatever we can measure, and generate medical "factoids" from that and then try to find a treatment from those factoids. Sort of like the blind men and the elephant, with each CFIDS treatment being one blind man, and the disease being the elephant. My own improvement only started when I decided to start addressing the whole elephant, and that required a holistic approach. Holistic does not mean just wishing oneself to be well, or imagining wellness into being through intention. Holistic simply means to take an integrated, whole-person approach to a disease. Holistic medicine honors the incredible complexity of the human, and respects the interconnectedness of each of our systems, organs, thinking processes, feelings, and relationships.
When I review all that I have learned about CFIDS, the co-infections, the depressed endocrine system, the metabolic dysfunctions, the self-regulation problems, and the cognitive impairments that are both causes and effects of some aspects of the disease, I do not see how any treatment that is not holistic can hope to improve the overall health of a person with CFIDS or Lyme. Part of these co-factors for our illness seem to come from the changes in the world around us, and the changes over the past 30-50 years have been drastic and most are irreversible. We can not remove the toxins from our environment very easily, we can not take away the threat of future infections from powerful super-bugs and possibly bugs engineered to evade our immune systems. We can not remove the stress of living in a world that both embraces and rejects pluralism, and the natural conflicts, international tensions, and local challenges those bring. Maybe over time the human race will improve, but we need to find ways to survive in the here and now. We live in the present.

So even if I can imagine ridding my body of all co-infections, toxins, and reducing my stress levels, I can not prevent these triggers from occurring again. I will be re-exposed, I will have heavy stress again, we all will, and we have not acquired any kind of biological immunity. There is no immunity to super bugs, or toxins, or super yeasts and fungi, or life stress. So how do we fight this long-term battle? By changing ourselves, by becoming one of the people who can survive in this challenging world, by becoming like those who have not succumbed to this disease. By being stronger and better. This is an obvious holistic challenge.

So what is this holistic approach then? What do we need to work on? We need to work on all levels of this disease. We need to identify the 'whole person' problems that made us susceptible to infection, solve those problems, correct the damage where possible, assist the immune system where possible, kill the co-infections we can without upsetting the body's inner ecology, assist with the detoxification where needed, restore proper nourishment, and promote healing by re-training the body and mind. And I believe that for many or most people with CFIDS today, the whole person problems involve a combination of biological, emotional, mental, and even spiritual issues. As I have reviewed the CFIDS literature I have found people who claim to have gotten well by focusing on just one or two of these holistic areas. And there really are stories that are convincing. Some have gotten well by changing their stress levels, some by detoxification, some by lots of antibiotics, some through resolving long-standing emotional issues, some through spiritual renewal. But usually, when you get the whole story you discover that they did more than just work on that one area, they either had already worked on the other issues previously for some other health problem, or they were not aware but actually were working on all of these areas.

So I believe that a holistic approach is the only real solution, a long-term change. A holistic treatment is not like a drug or supplement, the results are not immediate and are only drastic when you look back a year or more and realize the changes. But the holistic treatment stays for life, it is a permanent change, and I believe and hope it can give us back much of our lives, for many years to come.

Here is one other angle, one more reason I believe a holistic approach is the only sensible approach for a complicated disease in a complicated system such as the human body-mind-soul. My background includes a decade as a computer programmer. Sometimes I like to think of this disease in terms of my experience as a programmer, designing and debugging complicated software systems. Even the most capable and skilled computer programmer will run into some system problems once in awhile, as a software system design gets highly complicated. This usually happens over years, as software is maintained. Eventually you get to a point where the system needs some restructuring. And 'holistic' thinking about the problem is often required in order to understand the nature of the system, any problems or limitations that are occurring, and how best to rebuild the system to work better.

When conducting a restructuring of a complicated software system you must revisit all elements of the original design. Has the purpose of the system changed? Are there new requirements that have emerged over the years? Are the existing processes adequate or do they need to be updated? Are there chronic errors or problems that need to be addressed and have languished, and been patched-up again and again? These last issues, chronic problems, are often the stimulus to rebuild the system. And the rebuilding will take a variety of forms, from changing the environment to re-writing much of the basic software that guides the system. This is really a holistic type of treatment plan for the software, and I believe this is somewhat parallel to the circumstance of a person with CFIDS. There is no part of our existence that should not be carefully scrutinized, no sacred cows, we need to be open to the truth about our situation and condition, and not protect ourselves from the truth. The cure is change, without change, we will just treat the symptoms, until the system fails entirely. Change is mandatory for rebuilding any complex system.

I am not suggesting that we abandon the biologically-focused treatments that are helping us. Quite to the contrary, those may be essential components of a holistic treatment. However, I do believe that over time, as we begin to recover, our need for the biological treatments will be reduced and maybe some can eventually be discontinued. They are crutches only, and not a long-term solution. The solution is healing and eventually recovered wellness, and I believe that requires a holistic approach.


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