Coming from someone who speaks the functional medicine language where focusing strictly on symptoms is taught as far too myopic, you may be expecting a dialogue as to the relevance of symptoms in uncovering an underlying physiologic disturbance or elucidating a key nutritional deficiency, but actually, the story I am here to tell is one perhaps you’ve never heard before, one that may not entirely make sense after the first or even second read.
Just as we can “cover up” symptoms with a drug, we can do so with an herbal, a botanical or a supplement and I would argue either approach is misguided and potentially harmful.
But why shouldn’t we swiftly treat and remove one’s symptoms with whatever means available?
I hope I do not have to address certain aspects of this question as I think we all understand the analogy of cutting off an arm because you have a hangnail. It may seem like it’s the end of the world, but cutting off the arm is not exactly the best method of palliation and treatment for a hangnail. We must, however, use discernment, awareness and mindfulness to observe symptoms to see what it is exactly the body is trying to tell us. We cannot simply eliminate a symptom and expect to have any reasonable way of discovering why the symptom was there in the first place. And of course, we need the symptom and our mindful, critical thinking to confidently proceed with treatment and avoid cutting off hangnails with chainsaws.
But it hurts, it hurts, I cannot stand the anxiety, the pain, the itching, the throbbing, the dull ache- can’t you just make it go a……. Can I just get some relief you ask?
As I began to say earlier, what if we start asking a different question:
“Why do I feel this way.”
Speak to your symptoms:
“Why are you here?”
While traditional medicine (and functional medicine for that matter) may seek to explain symptoms through entirely physiologic and biologic phenomenon: your nose is runny because of an acute response to literally “flood and bathe” the perceived pathogen with anti-microbial and anti-viral mucous and ultimately create a more favorable environment in which to direct “the pathogen” out of the “internal domain,” I am here to provide an alternative view, one that is less biologic and more well, “phenomenologic.”
For example: why do some people when exposed and infected with the same “cold virus” not manifest a runny nose, but instead, experience a sore throat, a headache, a dull congestion in the chest, soreness behind the eyes, or even nothing at all?
Well because everyone is different, everyone’s physiology is different. Yes, but actually no. This isn’t enough for me. There must be more to this than physiology or root cause disturbance. What is it really that my body is trying to say?
If a pattern of disturbed physiology, a certain infection or a specific nutrient imbalance always leads to the same clinical symptomatology: Why are no two depressed patients ever alike, even if they experienced the “same” trauma, have the “same” disrupted gut microbiome, and the “same” pro-inflammatory cascade disrupting normal brain function?
Well now you are just trying to compare a cold to depression, of course two depressed patients’ symptoms will be different, it is much more complex than a cold. But are they really? What’s the same? What’s different? Does it even matter?
What if “we” actually are the only ones that hold the truth to our symptoms? Not our physiology. Not a virus. Not a nutrient.
We manifest what we can comprehend.
The body speaking to us through symptoms where verbal language cannot.
Taking this to the next level: “We” decide if and how we will react to a cold virus, a sinus infection, a period of intense emotional trauma.
You will not perceive a sore throat unless your “self” (unconscious, perhaps) believes you will understand or be able to understand the meaning of the sore throat and thus modify your behavior, change your thought pattern, or stop/start doing something entirely. The goal here is not to create and make the sore throat go away you see, it is something much deeper, much more nuanced, much more “invisible.” The sore throat may be actually saying “You need to really sleep a couple more hours a night, that relationship you are in right now is not really addressing your need to feel accepted, loved and heard, that job you are in right now- really misaligned with your greater intention to teach and mentor youth, that whole box of Teddy Grahams you downed last night while watching 5 straight episodes of Game of Thrones, not a good idea, those negative thoughts you keep ruminating on: “I am a failure in everything I do,” perhaps should finally be let go.
Stay with me for one last point: What is possibly the most fundamental component of the placebo effect?
You finally accepting, BELIEVING and coming to terms with the symptoms, the information, the actual disturbances your “self” was attempting to address and resolve.
What exactly is behind the disappearance of symptoms?
The “self” no longer perceiving the need for the symptom, perhaps because you were able let go of a negative or false perception, forgive a hurt, or properly and fully address the imbalance that caused the need for the manifestation of the symptom in the first place.
Do I have scientific proof that this phenomenon of symptoms, their “creation” and their resolution actually exists?
The simple answer is no.
The more complex answer is also no.
The truth is, well, I have no clue.
Perhaps, no matter the veracity or validity of the theory I am proposing, there is a sincere message embedded within it that we can all learn and incorporate into our lives:
Before you go bandaging, running away from, suppressing or relieving your symptoms, pause, breathe and ask yourself (and your symptoms) these questions:
1. Why are you here?
2. Why am I feeling this way?
3. What are you trying to tell me?
What am I trying to tell myself?
I wish I could tell you, but alas, I am and will never entirely be “You.”
May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you forever be at peace.