Friday, August 7, 2020

On Your Own Path of Healing: Book Review of From Burning Out to Burning Bright

From Burning Out to Burning Bright
The body and mind are more interconnected than we think or are fully aware of. This nagging suspicion and fervent belief of mine have found substantial support in the medical sciences as well as in the field of psychology. One of the eye-opening books for me in this regard has been neuroscientist Suzanne O’Sullivan’s book on psychosomatic disorders entitled It’s All in Your Head, which proposes that various health conditions and diseases are caused by and rooted in psychological factors.

Even in the current medical setting, the power of the mind over matter is becoming more and more prevalent. I was pleased to hear that research by Elvira V. Lang, founder of Comfort Talk, has demonstrated that the use of self-hypnosis, often merely soothing words of comfort, can effectively affect pain management by reducing its occurrence and strength on acute-care patients. The influence of the mind over the body has been known for ages and it has been a thorn in the medical sciences, mostly via the effects of placebos, those innocuous sugar pills that in some patients can elicit the same response as certain medications or treatments.

In this age of self-awareness and self-consciousness, we know for a fact that words not only matter but that they can sting and hurt us as well as others. Seen from another perspective, if words of hatred can bring about pain, should we not utter words of love and kindness to each other since they can soothe, aid and potentially even heal and liberate us from pain and suffering?

Some months ago, I had the opportunity to discuss such a holistic view with registered nurse and gemstone and diamond therapy practitioner Jennifer Marcenelle. Our hour-long interview, which turned into a pleasant and informative conversation on health and wellbeing has been documented on my blog previously. Yet now I have had the pleasure to receive her recently published book From Burning Out to Burning Bright, which arrived with a personal and signed dedication by the author.

Although there are a few things we did not see eye to eye on in the interview – and some of them reverberate as well through her book – there are two things to consider. On one hand, there is a significant agreement between us when it comes to the importance of mental and emotional being and its correlation with health as well as the importance of leading a healthy life. I could not agree with her more on the fact that burnout is the outcome of a hectic and busy lifestyle that drives and feeds on chronic stress and negativity.

No amounts of pills, medication, alcohol, or drugs can possibly deal with the void, damage, and devastation that a life of chronic stress brings about. We need to find an approach that does not merely look at or treat the body in isolation but that takes into account the whole person and being - their thoughts, emotions, feelings, perception, and perspective. It is not just the job, the employer, the manager, the co-worker that causes one pain and heartache, but it goes much deeper than that as it has deeper underlying roots and causes.

The second point is that people are unique and different; as a result, they have different needs and requirements. What works for me may not exactly work for you. If diamonds and gemstones can have a therapeutic effect on you, whether it is based on science or it is simply a placebo effect, matters little here as long as it actually works for you. If your faith can strengthen you to deal with illness or stress, then it shall and so be it, and who are we to interfere with that.

One of the things that Jennifer often reiterates in her book is that everyone has their own belief system and that we should respect that. It is not a matter of converting or convincing the other of aligning themselves with our own viewpoints. There should be no hidden agenda nor manipulation when it comes to healing. We want to discover what works best, but the overall aim and purpose are always the same: health and wellness.

In the past, Jennifer was driven by ambition and a constant drive for success that took a substantial toll on her health and wellbeing. In the corporate world, which often uses greed, competition, and envy as a catalyst, there is no respite. She found herself, not unlike many of us, without support or comradeship. Everyone is striving and battling to get to the higher rungs of the ladder, while some may even lack scruples along the way.

In Jennifer’s case things got even more complicated because she was working within the health sector, which radiates and generates its own source of stress. Yet one of the most heartbreaking experiences for her involved a young mother who was awaiting a heart transplant.

The ailing mother received an experimental ventricular assist device, but Jennifer alongside all the other nurses knew in advance that it would not be of any help or assistance. Despite the health of this young woman gravely deteriorating, up to the point of her becoming comatose and her body mummifying, Jennifer’s superiors did not want to halt the use of the device; they wanted to keep the patient alive as long as possible so that the device could obtain FDA approval.

Using human beings and their suffering, let alone the continuous pain and the constant suffering that the patient’s husband and child had to go through, as a pawn for one’s own financial gain is beyond unethical. It is inexcusable and inhumane, and it served as a catalyst for Jennifer's decision to cut ties with the corporate world of greed and ambition. As Jennifer herself puts it, sometimes it takes something powerful and/or awful to bring out and about the best in us and put us on the path of healing.

One of the things, she realized is that the sacrifices she made and the stress that she endured for her work were just not worth its salt. Although it was important to help and serve others as a health practitioner, the business-minded and -oriented hospital system, the management, and administration did not have the best of their patients and employees in mind. In fact, the system was driven by political and economic incentives, for the most part, brought about by what is commonly referred to as Big Pharma.

The physical but more important emotional toll on her body showed and expressed itself in the form of burnout or a complete standstill and breakdown. The catalyst was not only her work nor her harmful outlook and attitude towards her employment, not only her envious and conniving colleagues and co-workers as well as her own flawed perception of what constitutes ambition and success, not only her own experiences of a noxious childhood promulgated by a toxic mother, sisters, and family environment, but rather a combination of all those elements involved.

Healing, as she puts it in her book, is a lifelong journey, and it needs to be approached in a holistic manner. She gives many examples of how this could be achieved, but as always, it depends on one’s own personal preferences and dispositions. Yet one thing is for sure: There is no magical pill or prescription to fix or set this wrong straight, but we must understand and realize what is causing and driving these issues, the root problem.

It is often tied with the concept of knowing oneself, knowing what makes one tick and to try and experiment with various methods to find out what works best. It is a trial-and-error process until we find the best method for ourselves, but most likely, it will be various modalities or a combination of tools that will help us advance on the path of healing. We can align ourselves with the Holy Spirit, or any spiritual force that you deem important in your personal life and/or culture, we can engage in and practice psychoanalysis, or any other means and methods you feel is appropriate to get you to understand and know yourself better.

The problems one has are often psychosomatic in nature. Many erroneously assume and believe that psychosomatic symptoms are not real. That is far from the truth. Psychosomatic disorders mean that there is no underlying organic and physical cause of one’s condition. It is caused by an underpinning emotional issue. This does not make it any less real, but it helps us focus on the cause in a much more concerted means and effort. In such situations, medication would have about the same effect as placebos, so it shows us that we could easily dispense with the harmful secondary effects, side effects and potential addiction that tend to be the unwanted outcome of certain types of medicine.

If gemstone and diamond therapy will work for you despite the advents and caution of science, then so be it. It is important to remember that neither I nor Jennifer recommends such methods for underlying organic causes although you can at any time combine them with scientific and medical treatments, be they in addition or in complement to medicine or surgery. In fact, research in Positive Psychology by Martin Seligman has shown that people with a positive outlook are not only healthier and live longer (by about eight years!) but they also have stronger immune systems, less inflammation, and fewer infections, and that they generally recover more quickly from wounds and/or diseases, whenever that is indeed possible.

As I expressed in my conversation with Jennifer in our phone interview, I am not too familiar with but also somewhat skeptical about gemstone and diamond therapy. I also do not have any first-hand experience or knowledge of Reiki, acupuncture, energy healing, or the use of spiritual guides. For those methods, I can only say, if it works for you, then that is great; if it does not, feel free to discard them and find other methods that could help you more.

Yet my stance on cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and its offshoots are a bit clearer as I have more knowledge as well as personal experience about this field. In fact, there are limitations to cognitive-behavioral methods, which neural linguistic programming (NLP) is part of and which is discussed, to some extent, in Jennifer’s book. She claims that it is important to ‘update our mental software’ to help us move in the right direction.

Although thoughts are certainly of importance, and one can reframe and train one’s brain in significant ways due to certain inherent flexibility, often referred to as neuroplasticity, it should not and could not come at the expense or neglect of emotions. The underlying problem here is that most of our harmful thoughts are stored in the unconscious and are not at our disposal or retrieval at the hands of consciousness.

In Jennifer’s case, her burnout was facilitated by feelings of anger and resentment that she herself felt but also absorbed from others, and this caused significant damage to her health and body.  It was also driven by the need to live a life in service of others, of being subservient to the wishes and expectations of others. This was only exacerbated by a toxic work environment, which she compares to an IV drip of poison.

These traumas often have their beginning in childhood trauma. In Jennifer’s case, it was because of her toxic mother, who herself was projecting her own childhood traumas of being a daughter of an abusive alcoholic, Jennifer’s maternal grandfather. Jennifer’s sisters coped with the same stress in different and more harmful manners; they used drugs and alcohol as an escape from their pain and suffering.

Childhood trauma, in Jennifer’s words, creates a disruption to our subtle bodies, the energetic aspects such as meridians, chakras, and the aura, and becomes stored in the body. Our body is, in essence, a “multi-dimensional system of subtle energies” that can have its chi/ki or vital energy flow become congested and blocked. This would reverberate and be felt in each of the distinct seven chakras, which are essentially designated wheels of energy that can stop flowing and lead to potential health problems.

There are two observations that I found of great interest here. The first one is that the most profound part of a person, our highest self, is deep within our core, which is why mystics keep telling and keep reminding us that to find yourself, you must go deep within. The second observation is about the crown chakra. When children are born, their fontanel is soft because it is conceived as the “door in which Soul enters the newborn’s body at first breath.” As a result, in baptism, the water symbolizes a way of keeping open - or rather cleansing - this chakra of the newly born.

The other point, I would like to mention is karma. We usually think of karma as either positive and negative and that basically, our actions would result in reactions charged in either direction. But I was surprised, yet pleased, to learn of a third and even higher distinction, namely the neutral side of karma. Essentially, karma itself has a neutral position. It is not meant to be personal, but it is a kind of scoring system that objectively rewards and punishes us, each according to our own.

But neutral as opposed to positive and negative karma means letting the universe take its course without influencing it too much with our wishes and desires. It does not mean that we should not do good or become indifferent or insensitive to human pain and suffering but rather to do everything in moderation. Neutral karma is indeed the middle path where our actions are undertaken for no other purpose than the greater good of all. It is not about telling the universe what we want or asking for things from the universe, but it is about being receptive and grateful for what the universe gives and provides us.

This is often harder said than done. For instance, Jennifer’s oath as a nurse to help and serve her patients might lead her to try too hard for a patient to recover, but that would be an infraction of the law of non-interference, a kind of mental pushing or wanting things that are not always possible. That would in its turn create more karma. Although the intention is good, it is not the highest form of neutral karma, of letting things, as well as our lives, are and run their course. We must keep in mind that death is the eventual destination of everyone’s life.

While karma tends to balance things out and, in Jennifer’s words, always pays its debts, it can also serve as a powerful tool to help us grow spiritually. In fact, we have the power to choose – even when at times it does not feel like it – and we can always act and break karmic patterns, no matter how harmful or entrenched they may be.

To do so, we must change our mindset and lifestyle in significant ways. We need to first off accept the fact that we are not perfect and that we are here to learn. Healing in a holistic way will help us become whole and that means we would need to find a way of releasing and unlodging unwanted negative energy, thoughts, and feelings alongside our chronic subconscious negativity, the triple feeling of being controlled, deprived, and rejected.

We must also forgive ourselves and follow our hearts, which is not the same as merely following one’s emotions. This takes continuous and persistent work and effort. Jennifer says it may include months of work with various modalities; I think it might be a matter of years to fully recover, but it is more than worth it.

In fact, in modern society, this situation becomes more pronounced because of a general lack of self-care. When people talk about me-time, it should not be only about going to the bar, the spa or getting a mani-pedi or facial, but taking time out to reconnect with oneself, the person one truly is deep inside.

You cannot love others if you do not love yourself first. You cannot forgive others if you do not first forgive yourself. You cannot love God, or anyone else if you do not love and accept yourself first. Whatever path you choose to take, if it takes you to yourself, your higher self, essence, or soul, then you are on the right path to healing and to becoming whole.




Vincent said...

I have experience of "crystal therapy" which sounds very similar to Jennifer's offering. This was one of the many alternative therapies I consulted over the years, including homoeopathy, acupuncture, shiatzu, ayurvedic, shamanism, hypnotherapy, psychotherapy and sound therapy (administered with a large tuning fork). In almost every case I was following up a recommendation from someone I respected. The list is not complete.

In every case I explained at the outset that I sought to cure myself of chronic fatigue syndrome, which had plagued me on and off for thirty years. None of these therapists said they couldn't help me: every one was confident of ameliorating my condition.

As it happens, my elder son is fully-trained as a homoeopath, while my elder daughter offers craniosacral therapy. Such is life.

I should mention that I practised a form of breath meditation for thirty years: an hour every day. The CFS started two years after I started and was cured two years after I stopped. There is a complex connection between the two,

In 2005, the CFS was instantly and permanently cured with the assistance of a Mickel therapist. Not by following the prescribed method but by asking me a simple question. It was like the sudden enlightenment of a Zen student when asked “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” or “How to get the goose out of the bottle without hurting the goose or breaking the bottle?”

His name is Alastair Reece and the question he asked was “What was happening in your life when the symptoms started?” I thought back to a day in 1974, and suddenly saw what I was doing to myself at that time. And walked out of his consulting room as a well person and have been free of CFS ever since, apart from the recently-discovered lymphoma, and consequent heart condition, side-effect of the medication, and which is held in check by another medication

Which isn’t to say that I approve of your interview with Jennifer, her book or the services she offers. I’ve long maintained that alternative medicine thrives to the extent that drug- & surgery- based medicine has glaring limitations.

I don’t see any point in each maligning the other while claiming to know better. It would be a serious error to imply that mainstream medicine does not treat the whole person. In the UK, at any rate, our NHS, fully funded by the government, embraces many specialisms which work together. My GP, haematologist and cardiologist talk to one another as necessary and contribute to the same database which covers their observations and intuitions about me as a person. They’ve probably got me down as an anxious hypochondriac who thinks too much. Exactly the kind of patient who goes in for “alternative therapies” as they are now known but which go back thousands of years to when there was nothing better.

Arash Farzaneh said...

Thank you for sharing your experiences and also for exploring and being open to alternative methods!

Personally, and of all these different therapies, I would wholeheartedly promote, support and approve of psychoanalysis, which is what Alastair was essentially doing/practicing.

Despite it being grounded in facts and research, it is still frowned upon as a field by so-called medical establishments while they are embracing its (inferior) less effective second cousin CBT.

"Anxious hypochondriac" is a term I would also use for myself although depth psychology has shed a bright healing light on the inner roots of my own issues.

Vincent said...

Alastair would never claim to be a psychoanalyst, but perhaps it can be practised unknowingly.

I did a write-up of my recovery which relates how the instant cure came about during the initial history-taking. A miracle, happy accident or psychoanalysis. I don't mind what you call it but it was nothing like Freud or CBT.