What do we mean when we say, "I'm not feeling well" or "I'm sick"? Usually we are expressing the fact that we are in pain, something is "wrong" with us, and we can show this with physical symptoms. The symptoms can vary, may last a long while or just happen once - but we know inside ourselves that something has shifted and we are out of balance. We can describe disease as dis-ease, a discomfort or imbalance and our body offers us symptoms as its reaction and as evidence of the problem. All the symptoms our body produces are there for a reason. They are clues to help us solve the riddle of what is "wrong" with us and they are evidence that our body is making every possible effort to heal us.
When we catch a cold or are affected by any acute infection, our body will marshal all its resources to fight and resist the assault from the bacteria or virus. We may produce a fever, which can slow the reproduction of the infective organisms and is part of our immune system's response. A common symptom of a cold is a runny nose - and this too is the way our body chooses to clear and discharge the thick mucus and the by products of fighting the infection. Of course these symptoms too can become life threatening. A fever, which goes too high, can bring on serious complications. But all the time, our body is on our side , fighting to support us, to help us survive, to get better - in any way it can.
So how do we manage these symptoms?
Many conventional medical approaches focus on eliminating the symptoms. This is usually done with drug treatments. The absence of symptoms by suppression is not cure. Often if we have not discovered the original reason for the illness, then as soon as we stop the drug, then the same - or different - symptoms return.
This approach works by trying to support your own body’s healing process. During an acute, short term illness, that means we can help to speed a natural process. If the illness is more chronic, then our aim is to re-stimulate and support the body's own efforts to heal. We do this by offering remedies that prompt an energetic response and do not suppress symptoms.
What does a diagnosis tell us?
The first challenge for conventional medicine is to diagnose the sick person's condition - to find a label for it. There is a good logic to this. Once you know what is wrong, then you can decide how to respond and what treatment to offer. Unfortunately (or perhaps even fortunately) people do not always fit into boxes so neatly. A diagnosis of "acute rhinitis" (or a cold) or even "rheumatoid arthritis" is only the beginning of the story. Even under such semi-specific headings, we are all going to have individual responses and to produce a variation of symptoms as our body reacts in a very personal way. When treating conditions homoeopathically we are more concerned with the individual response than with the diagnostic label.
What is a disease?
We live in an increasingly complex society and recognition of "new" disease is part of the development of medicine as a therapy. Sometimes these "new" diseases have different names - e.g. Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalitis. The name can help us, as a description, to understand what is going on and then we can explore how this particular person is affected. Increasingly conditions are being considered as "disease" or "syndromes" which are not infective or actual illnesses. This will often happen if a drug has been developed to "deal" with the symptoms. In this way, it seems to me, that conditions are being medicalised, which are actually part of human life, and which may have other solutions, rather than automatic drug treatment. Menopause, for example, is a transition time in a woman's life. It is not an illness and should not be an excuse to medicalise automatically what is actually an adjustment process. A diagnosis and an explanation of a disease process, linked to the symptoms an individual is experiencing gives them information. Armed with information about our condition, about the possible outcomes, treatments, options and consequences, we can choose how we wish to address our health problems. With choice comes power and responsibility. Some of us are more ready than others to take on this responsibility - but with it comes freedom.
Who has the power?
The dynamic between doctor or therapist and patient is important. Their relationship is crucial to the recovery of the patient and carries in itself a huge responsibility. When the doctor holds (or is given) all the power, there is an imbalance in the relationship and it can sometimes prove too heavy a burden for an individual therapist to bear. People become healers and work in the medical field in general because they are motivated to help others. They cannot do this on their own. We need to encourage a partnership in the doctor/therapist and patient relationship, so that each can play their own important role. The practitioner has expertise in his or her own field and the patient knows their own symptoms intimately. TOGETHER they can choose the optimal treatment path, reviewing it whenever necessary. So maybe we need to challenge ourselves next time we are ill or just out of sorts? Maybe that is our opportunity to accept responsibility for our health and decide just how much we can do to support ourselves. In partnership with a supportive practitioner we can choose whether treatment, drugs, better diet, healthier lifestyle, less alcohol, more exercises --------- or a mix of these can help us most. Taking a "pill" is easy. It may have side effects. It may not heal the real problem. Inside ourselves we often know what that problem is. We now need the courage to face the real reason for our illness and to become engaged in our own healing process.