Passionate about Mind/Body Medicine
After a sudden diagnosis of an Autoimmune disorder in my early 20's I set on a path to avoid the dismal progosis I was given. After completing my degree in Biology and Psychology from the University of Waterloo, I searched for an avenue to persue my deep curiosity about the mind body connection to health and disease. Today there are thousands of doctors both conventional and natural steering their practice of medicine to include understanding and treating the whole person. But when I began, there were not many resources that really put the whole picture together. I pieced together my own healing over these 20 years including elements of diet, exercise, natural therapies, supplements and vitamins. Finding my own unique combination of support was essential.
But I always had these nagging feeling that all these approaches were still missing something that I couldn't quite put my finger on...
Then slowly through the process of seeking healing of my autoimmune disease and the process of learning the different natural modalities to help my patients, I began to have a sense of this missing piece. For many patients, a few diet changes, a homeopathic remedy or appropriate supplement would do the trick and they would "get back to normal.
But there were other people, like me, whose symptoms were a more complex mixture of pieces that didn't fit nicely into one neat diagnosis and that didn't always follow a predictable pattern. Many of these poeople would land in my office after their regular doctors didn't have answers or told them "it was all in their heads". These were the type of patients that would respond to treatments, improve a little, but regress too easily. Every time life would present stress, inflammation would spike, symptoms would return and if they didn't have a positive enough lifestyle skills to support them through this stress, then disease relapse would ensue. I found that some people just blindly accepted this life of suffering, believing that they just had to put up with it and adapt their lives around it, like an unwelcomed house guest. These people just kept going to all sorts of different practitioners or therapies and adding more and more to their monthy medical bills.
Then there were other patients who were more like me. They had this feeling that something else was up, that there was more to the story than that they just magically got sick one day and there was no explainable reason except faulty genes and bad luck as much of the conventional medical tradition would have us believe. Or that medical science just hasn't found a cure for their particular problem yet, so they're still just, "unlucky". But somehow a few patients just knew in their gut that wasn't true. They had a profound desire to live a life where they felt whole and happy and refused to allow their freedom to be ruled by uncomfortable, annoying symptoms. They, like me wanted to ask deeper questions and look for deeper solutions.
When we gently delved more deeply into the origin and birthplace of their illness by asking questions like,
"So when was the last time you remember feeling really well?"
" What was going on when you first noticed your symptoms?"
Then what did you notice?"
How was that for you?
Tell me more about that.
Most of the time we could find and label the stressors or the traumas where all the problems seemed to coincide.
It doesn't take more than a few moments for a patient to find the true orgin of their complex illness when they look back and scan their life.
Nine times out of ten there would be quite an emotional release when we would make the connection of all the life stress or trauma they had encountered and the resulting physical destruction that was happening in their bodies. But the leap to say that their physical health problem was CAUSED by this stress was always resisted. And I think this really has to do with the issue of blame.
"If the stress in my life that I experienced, (whether it was my fault or not) contributed to or caused my physical
illness then somehow I am to blame because I wasn't strong enough to handle it or get over it. And that might mean that I suffer from some sort of mental health problem and that is a "no no". So lets look for more "scientific reasons" for why I am sick now.
Let's look for a food allergy\ies, vitamin deficiency, toxic overload, adrenal exhaustion, etc, etc.. And low and behold we find it! And for some people supporting their body in this way IS enough for them to heal and "get back to normal". And that's great. I dont' knock that. But there are still SOME people for whom that type of treatment is not enough. You can give them the supplments, the antiinflammatory diet, the hoempathics, the best care...and its still not enough. WHY?
That was the case for me. I wanted more. I wanted to get to the deepest root problem and heal my body from the inside out. I had developed a deep and profound respect and belief in the human capacity to heal and I believed I had the capacity to do it.
I began to have a shift in mindset surrounding disease as I looked more closely at these complex questions that luckily there was starting to be more and more research about. I started to have a mindset shift as I read this research and realize that the body's reaction to stress if continued for too long could actually cause or contribute to all the gut dysbiosis, food allergies, adrenal exhaustion, etc etc.
"STRESS is actually the most original root issue in all health problems"
And if you treat the adrenals, gut, diet, liver, etc and don't address the body's capacity to release stress, then you haven't solved the whole problem. You will likely see relapse. I began to understand how the brain is changed in situations of long term chronic stress and trauma. These brain changes make the brain more "wired for stress' and make the body more susceptible to the effects of chronic stress. AH HA! I found the reason that when stress contributes to disease it is NOT our fault. It is NOT becuase we are weak or unintelligent or unresourceful that our bodies succomb to the effects of stress, it simply has to do with the massive changes that happen in our brain and body beyond our recognition during the time that we are going through the very stressful time. Then the stressful time ends or changes somehow( divorce, job, kids grow up, move away, etc) and we think we should just recover or pick up where we left off, just get back to who we were before. But we are different, our brain circutry and body chemistry has changed us and we have now laid the ground work for our impending illness. It is truly not our fault.
Also, I dug into the research into developmental trauma and attachment disorders and later connect to chronic health problems and low and behold there were more corelations to what happnes to our brain in development and what happens to our bodies later in life. . Then I learned about the ACE study and my world turned.
The ACE study or the Adverse Childhood Events Study showed beyond any doubt that the events that happen as your brain is developing make permanent changes in the brain and body and clearly are co related to physical illness later in life. For an excellent in depth overview of ACEs and to get your own score see Dr. Veronique Mead, MD, MA's webite and blog. Indisputable, scientific evidence that the physical illnesses we detect on bloodwork and scans have thier seeds planted years or decades before.
With this new understanding of health and how the seeds of chronic illness get planted by our experiences and fertilized by our stress hormones and chemicals, I began to address my Autoimmune disease from this standpoint. I looked at my present life and started taking inventory of the areas of most struggle. At first I took a counselling perspective and started TALKING adn TALKING about the past and where all the issues were and blaming everyone else. But then I undertstood that everytime I druge up the past I make my body live through it all again and further fuel the disease process. Though there is great importance of telling your truth, seeking justice, creating boundaries with people in your life, etc etc, NOTHING can replace the fact that in any given present moment, you have to be able to settle a stress response and rebalance your body in order to create any healing in your life.
So the idea that connecting the mental emotional parts of our life and past is about excessively talking about the past is slightly misguided and can pave the way for people to go off into therapy and spend decades circuling around and around old stories, old traumas and old unresolved feelings. There can be that sense that "I have to get to the bottom of it", or "I have to get to the truth" and then I have to confront all relacted parties and make ammends. WHEW. Thats a big job. But the reality is that you don't actually have to do all that talking and emotional work to heal a present physically heal.
What I learned about healing in all this research is that the only work you actually have to do is with whatever feeling or experience you are having in the PRESENT moment. Every present moment discomfort might be logically related to being triggered into a stress response by a converstaion with your mother, co worker, child, a work pressure, bad weather, thought of anticipation, fear of the unknown, etc etc. But the physical reality in your brain and body that makes you feel uncomfortable is all about adrenaline and cortisol being release by the stress response. Thats it. Adrenaline and Cortisol. Two little chemicals. Ha! The problem is the CASCADE of reactions they initiate in yoru brain and body. They make you feel on edge, they make you want to argue with someone, they make you want to run away, they make you want to shut down and not talk, they make you want to hide and pretend to be someone else, they make you want to eat sugar, drink alcohol, do drugs, have an affair, yell at your kids, spend too much money, compare yourself to others, put people down, be a racist. OMG. All from two little chemicals. Yep two little chemicals start the whole thing.
But they will also save your life. They will allow you to lift a car off your child, run faster than you ever thought possible, fight off an intruder, survive freezing temperatures, perform amazing stunts, etc, etc. Your body has an amazing, incredible set of systems and reactions all set up for your anytime you let it know that you need to survive something. The problem in our world has become that we have messed with this system in two ways:
1) We set it off more often that it was ever designed for. Like the worst case of the boy who cried wolf ever.
2) We have discarded and forgotten that the body ALSO has a recovey plan all set up for when we do have these stress reactions. It has a sequence of POST stress reactions that need to happen in order to reset the body adn the brain.
Amanda Ferris, ND is registered with CONO " College of Naturopaths of Ontario
She is about to complete the Trauma Certificate with the Wilfed Laurier Social Work Continuing Education Program.
She lives in Wellesley with her husband Matt and her three boys, Owen, Aiden, Eric and Labradoodle, Marley.
Licensed Naturopathic Doctor
Practitioner of the Bowen Technique
Extensive Study and Practice of Classical Homeopathy
Practitioner of the Dr. Chris Sowton Dreamworking Method
Areas of Specialization
The practice of Yoga and Meditation to support the healing of chronic physical and mental illness
The teaching of the Science of Stress and Trauma to aid in recovery of chronic physical and mental illness
The practice of Mindfullness as a practical application of healing the chronic physical illness triggered by stress and trauma.