Today I feel like a young man of forty.
This statement means very little devoid of context, of course, so some background: I turn thirty-seven this summer, so feeling any variation of forty is above my biological age. However, for a large portion of 2010, and even extended periods of 2011, I’ve felt much older than that. I was ready for bed by 9:00 PM. I often had the gait and hobble of a much older person. I joked about needing my hip replaced. I would be very stiff each morning and slow to get moving without coffee and a hot shower. My memory was poor and concentration was lessened, and to top it all off, I had the prerequisite “Get Off My Lawn” irritability.
Similarly, I have felt like I was forty before. Like when I was twenty. Or back when I weighed a knee-shattering 260 pounds I was at 28 instead of the more statistically American overweight range of 210 I am these days. And on days where I felt forty it felt like an OLD forty. Like a “life has taken a toll on my body that I have to pay off every day from now on” kind of forty.
The point here is that I have not done a good job of taking care of myself. But I’m working on that.
What has astounded me the most during the whole “I’m working on that” facet of my life is the degree to which I have come to find that, as much as I love science and chemistry (In high school I got a special exemption that allowed me to take an AP Chemistry class meant for seniors as a junior), the chemists may be trying too hard to invent things, and their chemicals may be doing more harm than good in many cases. Yeah, I know. I know. Alert the media — have you heard about the Lindbergh baby?
Let me give you the first, primary example of what I mean. I was diagnosed with clinical depression when I was in the ninth grade, and first put on drugs for it when I was in tenth grade. As was the rage at the time, I was put on Prozac. And as also the rage at the time, using Prozac made it worse. And I knew it. I really hope those $3 a tablet pills were covered in full by my dad’s insurance and not out of pocket because once I figured out that it was the drugs that was making me think differently I usually flushed each pill down the toilet at “pill time.” First time I’ve mentioned that to anyone other than my wife and my OTHER psychiatrist.
The OTHER psychiatrist, the good one, took on my case after I ended up in the juvenile psych ward my junior year on suicide watch. It was she who took me off of antidepressants completely, and suggested something extremely radical for her field at that time.
Eat more spicy food.
Rather than mess with serotonin blockers and all of that, this doctor was of the opinion that a regular doses of natural capsaicin, in the form of spicy foods, would promote regular bursts of endorphins (known by some as the “Hot Pepper High”) that my mind was otherwise unwilling or unable to stimulate. Not only was that suggestion extremely effective, but I continue to abide by it. As depression is a lifelong battle, on days where I am feeling particularly deep in it, I sometimes count backward from the last spicy meal I had and usually realize it’s been several weeks since I had anything hot enough to make my nose run. Sometimes if I’m in a bad way, I do a shot of tabasco sauce, although it doesn’t feel the same as when it comes from some spicy Asian food.
So homeopathy 1, chemistry 0.
Since moving into our house near a wooded area in 1998, we have had regular bouts of mice infestation. I’ve become very adept at figuring out where to put the traps and killing the bastards, and just this last year think we have located and filled in the “master hole” where they most often have been getting inside, but we also wanted to keep the mice away from things like baby food and flour bags and such. With dogs and kids, we were hesitant to try any poisons or chemical repellents, but we did use a few. The end result of those, if there were any at all, was usually a stinky dead mouse to find later, not a repelled one. We could not find a chemical that was equal parts safe and effective.
Until my research led me to peppermint oil. A small amount of pure essential peppermint oil mixed with some warm water in a spray bottle makes a pleasant-smelling mist that not only keeps mice away, but also ants and other assorted bugs. A soaked cotton ball in a high concentration placed in a “hot zone” worked wonders too. That was the key that finally turned the tide and keep pregnant mice out of the house until it could all be patched and sealed up.
Chalk another one up for home remedies.
My success with THAT, combined with my research on the Head Lice book I wrote, led me to quickly look toward tea tree oil when Emily came home from school with the little buggers. While we did declare war with two opening salvos of chemically medicated shampoo, as people familiar with the situation often lament: they kept coming back. It was only when I created a mixture of tea tree oil and baby shampoo for Emily to use, combined with a tea tree oil spray applied to her freshly washed bedding and clothes, that the invaders quickly disappeared for good.
Natural remedies win again.
So about that young man of forty…. A side note before I get back to that point, however — most people close to me are aware of the discovery my doctor and I made in early 2010 whereby we came to find that my body treats GMO corn and related byproducts (like corn syrup) as a toxin. I want to write that story in greater depth in a later post, as that discovery is central to my existence at this point in my life, and a huge impetus in my working toward a more natural lifestyle that involves things like making my own bread and less chemicals wherever I can avoid them. For those who DON’T know about that, I am remarking about it here, because that is another one where I feel like science (and agribusiness) has betrayed me in a highly personal fashion.
But anyway, along with all my other health problems, I also have lots of “pain points” that are caused by pinched nerves and injuries to my back and knees over the years. At the beginning of this year, I had standing orders of anti-inflammatories at the pharmacist (which I stopped taking because they hurt my stomach), and was buying 500-count bottles of ibuprofen, which I was taking at 600 mg levels four times a day, to only moderate effect (although better than the alternative).
An online friend finally sheepishly suggested that I try Evening Primrose Oil. I say sheepishly, because the vast majority of users of this product in capsule form are women. But I’m pretty open-minded. Especially when it comes to pain relief. Double especially with a cherry on top when it comes to MY pain relief. So I got a bottle of 1300 mg tablets from my local co-op and have been trying it for about a month now.
Results? HOLY CRAP – THIS IS AWESOME. And that there’s my scientific analysis.
I am not 100 percent pain free, but for the first time in a long time I feel like I have NORMAL aches and pains, the aches and pains of a young forty-year old. Manageable ones that go away with a hot bath, a little rest, or a strong frozen margarita. On Wednesday I took my two youngest kids on a four-hour trip in a double stroller ON FOOT through downtown in which we brought flowers for my wife, visited the library, stopped in at the dentist, enjoyed oatmeal cookies in the park, and covered about three and a half miles of walking in and amongst it all. I would never have even considered doing that before in the last nine months. (Of course, being Minnesota, it was winter for like six-and-a-half of those months, but you get the idea regardless).
Now, I’m not encouraging that people go off all their meds. I still use cholesterol medication (although it’s been cut in half since I started eating organic meats and vegetables from our CSA farmers. And I’m still open to the idea that we can find a less-hazardous form of something like DDT to make sure I never have to see a bedbug in my lifetime. Likewise, I don’t think ALL of medical science is a conspiracy — you should still get your kids vaccinated, for crying out loud. But I also think we shouldn’t be in a hurry to run from our ancestors. Many of the solutions I’ve listed above, like the peppermint and tea tree oils, I have testified to before with others, and when I’ve done it to people like my grandmother, their response is usually a nonchalant, “Well, yeah, we did that all the time.” Home remedies and natural treatments aren’t voodoo and wishful thinking. Humans are resourceful and observant, and for every mistake (such as using butter to treat a burn — don’t do that), there’s dozens or more spot on, slam dunk, home run treatments like chicken soup. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve had doctors who have been open and willing to consider these things as part of my treatment and general health care. Not everyone does. Maybe I’m lucky.
And maybe, if I’m really lucky, by the time I’m forty for real I’ll still feel like it.