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CHAPTER 8 "Accept It!" Alternative Medicines Offer Medicine for the Mind During the spring S. had struggled unsuccessfully to shake off the depression that enveloped her life like a dark fog. With the arrival of summer and, with it, breathing space from her universityobligations, she determined to tackle the emotional and even spiritual dimensions of her new life condition head-on. Instinctually, she turned to books for insight and inspiration. Over the months, she had collected a good number of books on subjects as diverse as meditation, visualization, aromatherapy, and stress management. Some had fallen into her hands serendipitously, as she perused local bookstores for inspirational texts. Others had been sent or recommended by concerned friends and family members. What tied these books together, what made them into treasures in her personal quest for spiritual gold, was their common concern with understanding the mind-body connection and using these understandings as resources for self-healing.1 About a month into the summer, when she was finally ready to face up to these emotionally difficult issues, S. began reading and thinking about the books she had gathered. She soon discovered that, despite the differences in topic and tone, all the books she had collected propagated a set of ideas that has become a powerful current in American culture. These ideas are that the mind and emotions have profound effects on the body; that the individual is in charge of the state of his or her mind and emotions; and that the individual, therefore, is also in good part responsible for her health—and, by implication, her illness.What is wrong with contemporary culture, the critique goes, is the constant striving and struggling against what is.Americans need to learn that the first and most essential step on the road to healing is to accept what is, including disease , discomfort, symptoms, and pain. People who "fight it" only hurt themselves and make it harder to get well. S. found this advice paradoxically empowering and disempowering. 212 chapter 8 "Accept It!" / 213 It was empowering, because it offered hope that she could regain control over her body and her life. Yet it was disempowering, because it placed the responsibility both for causing and for curing or "healing" her medical conditions on her. In locating the cause of the problem in the individual patient, the books on alternative and New Age medicine neglected the possibility that larger structural forces—the inequalities of race, class, and gender, for example, or even biomedicine itself—might be partly at fault in many cases. And by counseling acceptance of what is—the symptom, the disease, the diagnosis—they embodied the powerful assumption that scientific medicine does not or cannot err in its labeling and treatment of disease. At the same time, these approaches ruled out the possibility that continued struggle and search for the source of the problems outside the individual might be a better route to healing in some cases. This chapter describes the messages S. took away from these books and the helpful and less-than-helpful things she did in a desperate attempt to make the mind-cure work where the body-cure had not. Fighting to push the monster of depression away, she struggled to stay focused on the positive, empowering message that if she just followed the right strategies , she could use her mind to conquer the pain in her body and remake her life along new and happier lines. It was a hopeful message, and she threw her energies into it for about a month. Bythe end of the summer, however, S.'s enthusiasm for mind work had fizzled out. Try as she might, the philosophy of acceptance and the techniques of creative visualization did not take her symptoms away or even help her forget about them. In the end she had to find her own way. That way was to keep fighting what everyone—from her doctor to the books to friends and family who echoed popular medical advice—said was the "truth." That way was to continue searching for the source of her pain in locations outside herself . As she pursued her own alternative-to-the-alternative route, S. found that the pervasive cultural discourse of acceptance and individual responsibility , intended to help people, became yet another obstacle she had to overcome. These cultural messages were a hurdle on the road to healing, because they left her feeling accused and ashamed. She was to blame both for her pain and...


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