Archive for the ‘Healing’ Category

tule mat

Tule mat I just made, even though it hurt like hell!

Hi There! You haven’t heard from me in awhile. That is because I’ve been busy getting my Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology . Now I’m done. You may have noticed a change in the subtitle of my blog: I decided to add Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) to the list of topics. Over the years I’ve written about my health here and there, but I’ve recently come to the decision to incorporate more writings about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome into my general repertoire. A lot of this comes as a direct result of my academic studies. One reason is that I feel it is important to advocate for the disease itself, which is grossly misunderstood and something most people simply don’t know much about. Labels can help and labels can harm. The name Chronic Fatigue Symdrome itself is problematic, as it lacks gravity, and comphrensiveness. Fatigue is only one of numerous symptoms.  Nevertheless, for me it has helped tremendously. People categorize things. It is how they communicate. It took me 10 years to accept this label, and my decision to become diagnosed was a deliberate one, and I now bear it with pride.

I’ve spent so much time experimenting with different treatments, that I often thought of creating a second blog, something like trackerofhealth, but decided against it because although it helps to express feelings and organize thoughts, dwelling excessively on the subject can be painful, to make a whole site about it would be a big commitment. So duh, why not combine the two which is a more authentic representation of my life to begin with!

I hope I can be a positive role model  (even though I may sometimes have “dark” thoughts on the subject) for other people with CFS, connecting them with my wildish interests, and for other rewilders suffering invisible, chronic, stigmatized disease who feel alienated from the community at large. The primitive skills scene, and most other DIY scenes, though they pride themselves on providing alternatives to modern society have a long way to go in becoming more accessible to people with disabilities, and I hope to make inroads into changing this. The American ethics of hard work, rugged individualism, and materialism are still very much evident in our attempts to break away.

I envision starting with something simple, support group workshops,  moving up to perhaps a horse packing trip for women with fibromyalgia, up to a whole civilization rehabilitation center for learning and healing (hopefully I will find a healthy, energetic partner to help with this!). Many internships, gatherings, and wilderness programs are  unsuited to people like myself who cannot carry a pack, eat a starvation diet (or a pasta and oatmeal based diet for that matter), or work 10 hour days 7 days a week. Pioneer heros, TV shows, and even Tom Brown Jr. stories can glorify the single-man survival style. For some people this is just not as possible and practical as it is for others. On a philisophical level I believe our culture will continue to create outliers who force us to acknowledge such problems, until a better balance between individualism and communalism can be struck. When marginalized people can’t “pull their own weight”, we must examine what weights they ARE pulling and why. What burdens and wisdom are they holding for the rest of us?


A girl's best friend.

In the field of wilderness therapy most existing programs, though communal, are oriented toward backpacking and short term survival rather than long-term, hedonistically cushy  simple living, which is what many of us rewilding types are all about anyway. While this may be appropriate for rebellious teenagers who thrive on stretching their comfort zone and testing their abilities, it is not neccesarily appropriate for those who have been “broken” by this world, those who have already undergone underworld initiation by any number of difficult and traumatic experiences and need or desire slightly more accomodating accomodations. I already know I can walk 30 miles in a day even with my condition, because I’ve done it, but that doesn’t mean its a good idea. I’ve got nothing to prove to myself.

The world of primitive skills gatherings is also highly communal, but in this craft-based culture a person is often evaluated by what they can produce, or can teach other people to produce. It seems to be less satisfying when, for example, you don’t make a hand drill fire all by yourself. But should it? When friends visit my house, they look at my things and ask, “Did you make this?” And who wouldn’t? That’s what people do. But if I, not even trade for, but just plain buy my hides, or pack basket, or a bow and NEVER make one, am I going to be viewed as less authentic? I don’t know. I hope not. What I do know is that because of my pain, it is difficult for me to complete most crafts, some like hide tanning require physical endurance and a certain measure of strength, but perhaps even worse for me are those that require sitting on the ground and engaging in hours of small repetitive hand motions such as loom weaving, basketry, and beading. I’d rather dig ditches any day. Admittedly, most all of the projects I have ever completed have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

chronic fatigue syndrome

Another reason I am choosing to write about this topic is to give those around me a greater understanding of who I am personally. I am very independent and stubbornly capable of just about everything a normal person is capable of…for a short time. I am tanned, toned, and let’s face it, sexy as hell. I smile and laugh (though I never feel it in my core). I run and dance (though my joints ache, and I get nauseous if I stay up late). I travel alone and lift my 70lb tipi canvas onto its frame. I may come off as shy and skittish, doe-like. I am. People see that, but because of these other things most people don’t know I’m quite ill, and even those who know me well don’t understand the extent of it. You cannot judge the health of a person with chronic disease based on what they do, as this does not take into account the strength of their will, nor can you judge based on what they say, since you have no idea how accurately they are portraying their condition in proportion to the amount of suffering they are experiencing. I would hazard a guess that a good number of people who are accused of negative thinking, actually spend a good deal of time hiding, or skimming over unsavory details as it is not socially appropriate to continually answer the question “How are you?” with “Fucking terrible, and yourself?”

A note to people reading this: You may be tempted to offer helpful medical advice and suggestions. Thank you. Don’t. Almost all people with chronic disease suffer from an overload of “maybe you just need to…”. Most likely they have internalized these messages about what is wrong with them and now feel that they can’t do anything right, can’t eat right, can’t sleep right, can’t exercise right. I have not given up. I am currently undergoing treatment. If you have an herb or supplement I just need to try, I will give you my mailing address and you can send it to me, because I am not buying anything else, nope, not even digging it up. Same with services. You want to come to my house and give me a massage? Sweet. If you want to offer words the best thing to say is something like, “That sucks. I’m sorry to hear you are having such a hard time. Let me know if you want to talk about it more.” If you would genuinely like to help, this is going to take offering real energy, not just ideas. My favorite thing is food and one thing I have a hard time with is feeding myself. Making me food is the number one best thing you can do for me. Contributing energy to helping me finish projects is the next best thing. Cognitive issues like concentration and motivation are huge with this illness so just having someone around helps keep me on task even if I end up doing most of the work myself.

Side effects of chronic fatigue syndrome often include pillow hugging, making frowny faces, and looking hot:

chronic fatigue syndrome chronic fatigue syndromechronic fatigue syndrome


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I was told by, ahem, a psychic recently to change my drinking water, which is primarily Portland tap water. I know that city water is probably mildly bad for me, like duh, but then so are a lot of things from the air I breathe, to food I consume, to the electromagnetic fields I’m bathed in. As an environmentalist first and later one of those chronically ill Americans with what I have referred to as a “nebulous, intransigent allergy to civilization”. I went through a phase of toxin nazi-ism utilizing air and water filters, writing my schoolwork with pencil and paper, and shaking my fist at automobiles, and found, not only did it not noticeably improve my health, it actually made life suck harder and that being friends with people like that just isn’t very fun. So I gave it up for a life of moderate toxic hedonism. I’ll eat cane sugar and swim in a chlorinated pool and sometimes wear aluminum based antiperspirant, especially if it means I have to wash my clothes less often. I HATE doing laundry.

But after getting an off-the-charts lead reading in a recent heavy metals test, I’m slightly more open to suggestion. First though, I want to know what exactly is in this Portland water. According to the front page of the Portland Water Bureau website, they deliver “The best drinking water in the world”. I highly doubt it, but given the state of the world that  is probably nothing to brag about.

Bull Run Watershed

Portland’s primary source of water is rainwater from the protected Bull Run Watershed, located in the Mt. Hood National Forest in the vicinity of Sandy, Oregon. On rare occasions this is supplemented from an underground aquifer system. This water is tested regularly  for 200 contaminants including pesticides and radioactive particles. It is naturally soft water, does not have added fluoride, and is not filtered.

At its source the water is contaminated namely by Beaver Fever (giardia) and other expected surface water organisms. So the water has to be disinfected somehow and that is done using chlorine, and then ammonia is added to form chloramine, which maintains even distribution throughout the system because as we all know from the smell, chlorine evaporates.

The Water Bureau claims this also cuts down on the formation of potentially harmful disinfection byproducts such as trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids from the reaction of chlorine with organic substances. One example of a trihalomethane is chloroform, the old-timey anesthetic. (Not saying that chloroform is or isn’t in our water, just giving an example of a relatable trihalomethane).  Sodium hydroxide (lye) is also added to give it a higher ph 7.2-8.2. No, this is not because so many Portlanders are on a detoxifying alkaline diet, but because it reduces corrosion of lead and copper pipes. Water samples from the reservoir and aquifer at entry into the distribution system include small amounts of lead, fluoride, arsenic, barium, cyanide, radon  and ibuprofen. Eww. The Portland Water Bureau claims most of these pollutants are from “natural sources” in the ground aquifer, but if ibuprofen can get into there, why is it not possible that the others are also a result of or increased by agriculture, sprawl, and industrial development?

If you believe this  “government propaganda”, and I kind of do believe that this is an accurate description of what is in the water, the Portland tap water doesn’t sound that bad. It appears that most of those contaminants, except cyanide which is attributed to algae in the Bull Run,  come from the aquifer, which isn’t used that often. Household piping adds more lead and copper, but I doubt that is the source of my lead poisoning since I’ve been ill for a long time and don’t believe I live in high-risk housing with lead pipes (if I may so boldly assume that feeling bad has anything at all to do with the lead). So what gives?

Well, the folks at Citizens Concerned About Chloramine (CCAC) a group based in the San Francisco Bay area where water is also treated with chloramine claim it’s pretty bad stuff. They point to research done at the University of Illinois by Michael Plewa indicating some of the disinfection byproducts of chloramine known as iodoacids are more toxic than those of chlorine (abstract here). Note that this research was done on hamster ovaries. Stupidly, no real studies have ever been done on the safety of chloramine tap water, but anecdotal evidence suggests adverse reactions in individuals after municipalities have switched to chloramine, including respiratory, skin, and digestive issues.

CCAC also links to an article about a spill of chlorimine containing drinking water killing steelhead in San Mateo, CA. It reads, “Chloramines have come to replace chlorine as the principal disinfectant in drinking water. It is harmless to humans but not to aquatic life, and it was discharged into the creek at concentrations well above the amount known to be lethal to fish in a scientific study, according to the water board.” Ok, I don’t know how the amount of chloramine in San Mateo water compares to that in Portland water,  nor am I convinced that it is harmless to humans, but do we really think it is okay that our drinking water kills fish!? I am NOT okay with that. Keep in mind that tap water is not just used for drinking, but also bathing, irrigating plants, washing cars, and a variety of other things.

Further Google-vestigations reveal that in 2009 Portland was ranked only 59th out of 100 by the Environmental Working Group in a survey of our nation’s best drinking water, due primarily to the amount of haloacetic acids and trihalomethanes. I’m guessing there is no measure yet for iodoacids. Portland water also contained 15 measured pollutants total, while the national average was only 8.

angry beavers

Given what I have learned, I think I’d prefer the water come out of the tap complete with animal feces, or you know, ideally, not come out of a tap at all, but since that may not presently be a realistic option for some people, my next installment will be considering alternatives for city dwellers including filtration and the delightful (as in sucks the light right out of your soul) task of sorting fact from fiction when people are trying to sell you stuff…on the internet… STAY TUNED.

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I was demonstrating the cold infusion technique to a class of herbalism students when I discovered my new favorite drink: cold cleavers (Galium aparine) infusion. I had never actually used the cold infusion method on cleavers before. “It tastes like Easter!” I exclaimed. “Banana Laffy Taffy!” said Gabe. You can decide what it tastes like for yourself by chopping up a bunch of fresh cleavers and suspending them in a cloth at the top of a jar of cold water approximately overnight.

-Michael Moore says, “It has feeble effects on liver function but it one of the few herbs that has some healing value and yet may be used during hepatitis without fear of irritation,” and “In cases of urinary calculi or gravel…drink two or three teaspoons of the juice in a cup of water three time a day.”

-Juliette de Bairacli Levy writes, “Its refrigerant properties  make it excellent for all fevers, including smallpox and typhus. For skin troubles including dandruff. It is also an effective jaundice remedy…taken internally, cleavers is also a hair tonic and does much to help check tooth decay.”

-Gregory Tilford says, “Herbalists frequently use cleavers in the healing of stomach ulcers, ovarian cysts, tonsillitis or in circumstances where the lymph circulation seems to be chronically or acutely impaired. Because this herb is safe in large doses over extended periods, it is commonly used as a preventative ‘lymphatic tonic.'”

-Susun Weed comments, “I find it unsurpassed for easing tender, swollen breasts, PMS symptoms, and mild lymphedema. It is also reduces allergic reactions.”

-David Hoffman adds, “Cleavers is helpful in skin conditions, especially the dry types, such as psoriasis.”

-Emily Porter says, “That’s all good, but more importantly, it tastes rad.”

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“It is by breaking our hearts that we can give respect to the victims of our culture.” -Laurel Luddite, Fire and Ice

It was a name that came to me in an instant. It had a nice ring to it. Originally it had to do with the ones I’d left behind. Some applied it to my looks, the ones who never even got a chance. Of course, in a new relationship “breaker of hearts” is not necessarily something one wants to be, so the title was somewhat discomfiting and came with the * except Urban Scout’s.

As an herbalist, I thought, perhaps I should change my name to “Healer of Hearts”, but it just didn’t have the same oomph. Then my heart was broken and it seemed even less fitting. However, last night in bed while reading an obscure anti-civilization book lent to me by some friends called Fire and Ice: Disturbing the Comfortable and Comforting the Disturbed While Tracking our Wildest Dreams by Laurel Luddite and Skunkly Monkly, the name Breaker of Hearts took on new meaning,

Epidemic levels of rape and assault. The greatest mass extinction in the planet’s history. Global warming. Nuclear proliferation. Loss of top soil. The libraries are overflowing and the internet is flooded. This information is not new and you do not need new information to add to the list, to measure exactly the height of the walls around us. The weight of what we already rationally know is causing us to sink deeper in our cynicism and denial…

…Start with a clear-cut, a conquest, a whale carcass, a dead child. Start with whatever tragedy is nearest your heart, trying to get in, rubbing the muscle raw. Stop resisting. Feel it. To escape this prison, your heart must break.

Now I see why I don’t have to change my name. To allow one’s heart to break and break fully, is the first step to healing. Most of us go around with it broken anyway, but we refuse to acknowledge it, and are unable to let go. I had a vision once in regards to pain. They wanted their story to be known. In it pain and fear were tiny, sad little creatures, a lima bean and a chihuahua, that lived in a dark cave underground. At first they pretended not to be, but it became clear that they were very lonely. The only way they knew to get attention was to amplify themselves up into the world through a giant organ.

To many people grief, their own and especially other people’s grief, is an inconvenience. If we were to truly feel it, we would be unable to get anything done, to sleep at night, to go to work.


Perhaps the work we do is not the work we need to get done. But there is more to it than this. There are times when awareness is not enough, for self-preservation is our instinct. There are good reasons many of us do not allow ourselves to fall apart. The threat of death is real. If we lose our jobs, we lose our ability to feed ourselves, or our children. If we display our full range of emotion we may lose relationships when those who see a part of themselves in us but are not willing to go there, feel threatened and run. Did anyone ever tell you things have to get worse before they get better? This is one of those times. Be brave.

I believe that what I call breaking the heart, is the same as what indigenous African teacher, Sobonfu Somé calls “falling out of grace”.

As we fall from grace it looks and feels to us as if we are failing. Indeed we call it “failure”; a part of us dies. But this is the process by which we make space for the birth of something new, something true to ourselves.

It seems that within civilization most of us begin the fall from grace the moment we are born. This has nothing to do with a biblical original sin, but rather the fact that the world is currently a traumatic place where unhealed hurt is passed down from generation to generation and it is very difficult to feel safe.

In Sobonfu’s world there are two keys to regaining a state of grace: community and ritual. Community in this context refers to human community. The most important members of your community are the people you regularly interact with; friends, family, and coworkers. However, it could be said that the community includes not only the whole world of people but also all of nature and all of the invisible spirits who dwell there. If any one of these is suffering, we are all suffering a little bit. We cannot export our pain to Third World countries, nor can we keep it all to ourselves.

In the African Dagara tradition, in order to fully grieve it is necessary to have the support of a witness, ideally, an entire community. In this way even if everybody has some grief, it is unlikely that they are all in the throes of it at exactly the same time. Having a non-judgemental community creates a safe space for letting go. You know that while you are grieving someone will be there to take care of you.

In the indigenous Mayan village of Santiago Atitlan as described by author Martin Prechtel, as well as the Dagara tradition, grief is viewed as poison to us, but food for the ancestors. This is where ritual comes in. Ritual is a creative event that takes place in a sacred time and space, dedicated to a specific intent such as releasing grief. Allowing the spirits to take our grief prevents it from bouncing back and forth amongst one another. Thus ‘talking things out”, can only be so effective and perhaps sometimes completely unnecessary. During her trainings, Sobonfu is very fond of tits! That is, when shit talking and petty squabbles begin to get a group down she yells out TITS! which stands for: Take It to the Shrine.

In summary, there is much work for us to do to allow our hearts to fully break, let alone fully heal. The good news is, we are so hungry for healing it is difficult to go wrong. If you want somewhere to start. I’ll tell you just one thing. Next time someone asks you how you are doing, tell them the truth.

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