Symptom –Free Equals Healthy? (Not Necessarily)


Can you tell just by looking at someone whether they have a good diet or not?  Sure, at the extremes, you can tell who’s dying of starvation and who has morbid obesity, but what about everyone in between?  Some teenagers eat predominantly junk food and are still slim (at least for now).  Some overweight people eat impeccably and are getting healthier and exercising, but they’re only part way to their desired weight and dress size.

How about what you feel?  Most people equate sickness with feeling awful.  The “man-cold” is a case in point.  If a minor cold can bring a man down, then everything else is relative to that feeling.  Excruciating pain from kidney stones equal a legitimate problem and sports injuries or accidents might be something that is brag-worthy.  Common symptoms like sluggishness, fatigue, poor sleep, and chronic aches are to be ignored, often for decades, especially since to be “a man” means not complaining or acknowledging pain.  Unfortunately, these symptoms could be signs of serious illnesses like heart disease or cancer.  Yes, it is socially acceptable to talk about acute physical pain that has a clear physical origin.  For some reason, society is uncomfortable about other kinds of pain.  This can be chronic pain that doesn’t resolve easily, or vague pain or organ issues that’s hard to pinpoint or describe.  It can also be pain that cannot be explained in a straightforward manner.  Emotional pain can be especially uncomfortable to bear.  When an acquaintance of mine grieved the early loss of her son (in his 20’s), a common reaction from her close friends was, “You need a stiff drink to help you through it”.  It was as if the friends were saying, “It’s too painful for me to see you in such pain, so you should numb it with alcohol.”

In Western society, the almost automatic response to pain or symptoms is to suppress or numb it, and as quickly as possible.  Sprained your ankle?  Put ice on it.  Trouble sleeping?  Take melatonin.  Anxious?  Take a Valium.  Can’t sit still or have trouble concentrating?  Take Ritalin.  Depressed?  Take Prozac.  Headaches?  Take Advil.  Modern medicine isn’t the only conspirator in this epidemic.  Each time a treatment is applied (pharmaceutical or natural) without looking at the cause and context, we are still doing the same thing – assuming the body is wrong to be acting this way and it needs to be silenced.  But what if the symptom is the perfect body response to an undesirable condition?  You should feel frustrated when things don’t go your way. You should get upset when someone is hurting you.  You should feel sick to the stomach or vomit when you’ve had food poisoning. This is your body warning you of danger, protecting you from further harm and expelling that which is toxic.

Am I saying it’s wrong to ease a person’s suffering?  No Way!!  I’m saying there’s a difference between reducing the perception of suffering and helping a person in a meaningful way. Go ahead and take a sleeping pill if you haven’t slept in days, but don’t think this pill will make the PTSD go away.  Let’s look at this another way.  Here’s a tale of 2 boys.  Both had eczema as babies on their faces, arms, legs and torso.  Baby #1’s parents went to the medical doctor and he was prescribed a corticosteroid cream.  When the eczema didn’t clear up, the mom was told to put him on a hypoallergenic formula.  The eczema continued to worsen, and the boy scratched himself so much he bled.  Sleepless nights ensued and in the daytime the boy was clingy, whiny, fussy, sluggish, and hypersensitive.  The mom took him to a naturopath and acupuncturist once or twice, but didn’t continue because she didn’t see immediate results.  Because he was such a picky eater, the medical doctor didn’t want to limit his diet further.  The parents were told, “maybe he’ll outgrow it” and so the parents continued with the medication.  Baby #2’s parents started with an elimination diet and identified other factors that increased the eczema – conventional laundry detergents, synthetic materials, smog and over-heating.  They started frequent chiropractic care, homeopathy, changed laundry detergents, and avoided food triggers.  The mom took an extended maternity leave, then worked part-time to be able to make food from scratch.  This boy grew to be happy, athletic, confident, relaxed and no more eczema.

Society likes simple solutions, even for complex problems.  K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple, Stupid!  Jammed door?  Kick it.  Naughty child?  Swat her on the bottom.  That’ll teach her!  Rough day at work?  A cold brew will help you unwind.  Someone with an alternate viewpoint?  Shoot an anonymous tirade on social media.  Bonus points for criticizing something personal, like their appearance.  These reflexive responses are faster and easier than learning the greater context and changing the conditions that created the problem.

Let’s take a chronic pain in a person who has suffered multiple concussions.  This can be from multiple motor vehicle accidents, sports injuries, or falls due to dizziness, seizures, dangerous work conditions or physical abuse.  Society is often sympathetic the first time around and gives the victim lots of help.  The victim makes improvement and everyone’s happy, then the next concussion occurs.  This time, the pain and problems don’t go away as readily.  As weeks turn into months or years, the sympathy wanes and people start questioning if the pain is real or if the victim is making it up.  The victim, sensing this reaction, tries to downplay or minimize in their mind the severity of their condition.  But the pain is real and as the body tries to compensate, the suppressed pain can rear up in other body parts and in different ways.

Behavioural issues, personality changes, organ dysfunction, immune weakness or hypersensitivity, difficulty learning or concentrating and fatigue are common compensatory changes when chronic pain and symptoms become suppressed or denied.  Frequently, a child who feels uncomfortable in his own skin fidgets and is distracted in class.  Similarly, men often drown out their emotions by becoming workaholics.  Women who are taught to put others first may deny any pains she might be experiencing (i.e. menstrual cramps, headaches) until they grow into debilitation conditions (i.e. fibroids, depression, fibromyalgia, cancer).  These secondary symptoms and pains are other body systems working overtime to make up for the original dysfunction or to protect you from further pain or damage.  Then, there can be tertiary symptoms and problems from what we do to suppress the original (and secondary) symptoms.  To get an idea of this, just look at the long list of adverse effects of each medication you’ve taken.  It can be like Russian roulette.  If you only take the pill once or twice, you may not feel any ill effects.  Taken daily over a long period of time, you’re pretty much guaranteed at least a couple of the side effects from the medication.  These side effects may be more harmful than the original symptom it was supposed to help.

What is one to do?  Suffer in silence?  No.  Suffer loudly?  Maybe.  Pain and symptoms are your body trying to tell you to correct a situation… with help, if necessary.  The help is not to merely mask the symptom, but to change the situation that created it, and create an environment for healing.  Dealing with the problems or circumstances underlying or surrounding symptoms can be arduous, slow, and frustrating, like pushing an SUV up a sloping road.  Being thorough about it can be expensive, time-consuming and make you look odd compared to others not in the same boat.  Society places a high value on practices that are fast, cheap and easy, like junk food.  Having a community of like-minded people (which can start small… even just yourself and your chiropractor) working together can make the load much easier to bear.

What do you want to believe?  Society is interested in the façade of health – appearance is all that matters.  If you’re looking for more… more attention, more care, deeper relationships, more control over your life, more joy, and more ability to live a purposeful life (especially if others told you that you can’t), then let us know and we’ll see what we can do to help.  We do not think limitations (including labels or diagnoses) have to be permanent and with your cooperation, only time will tell what miracles can happen.