I recently started going to a chiropractor in San Francisco. This may not seem like a big deal to most people, but when it comes to changing doctors in any field, be it dentistry, chiropractic, voodoo, whatever, I'm a big wimp. I like the comfort and familiarity of knowing pretty much exactly what to expect every time I go to get my teeth, eyes or spine alignment checked. No surprises! For instance, I'm still seeing the same dentist I've had since I was a kid -- and he took over the practice from the dentist that first took a look at my pearly whites. Dr. Haag is located in San Diego and I moved to Los Angeles in 1990.
Fine. Not so big a deal since we usually get our teeth cleaned twice a year at most. Same deal with getting our eyes checked. And since I had that done in February, I'm good for at least six months.
But chiropractic adjustments...that's a whole other story. I'm used to getting an adjustment at least twice a month, sometimes more, depending on the assorted traumas I put my body through. Since I moved to SF in March, I managed to sneak back down to Los Angeles twice to see my chiro...and I'd probably still be doing that on a monthly basis had Dr. Gibbons, the man who's been cracking my back and neck for 15 years, up and quit the business.
I believe my reaction was something like Darth Vader's in the last Star Wars movie... "NO-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-!!!!!!! With fists clenched skyward, of course.
Find another chiro? Trust some stranger to grab my neck and twist like some cheap ninja neck-breaking move? No way! So I made do with stretching exercises and Alieve, ignoring my increasing discomfort and numerous migraines, the fact that sciatic pain in one or both sides of my lower back would wake up from a sound sleep nearly every night. No, no, really, I'm fine. It's just...a phase I'm going through.
Two Sundays ago I was putting shoes away (yes, I'm still unpacking) and sprained my back. Specifically I sprained the intercostel muscle, the one that wraps around into your rib cage. If you've pulled or sprained it, you'll know exactly the one I'm talking about. It hurts to breath, let alone move. One minute I'm putting shoes on the closet floor. The next minute I'm frozen in a squatting position, arms stretched midway between me and the closet, a pair of shoes dangling from my fingers. Couldn't talk without my breath hitching between each word, couldn't move without help. When I tried to breathe into the pain, it felt like every muscle in my left shoulder was coiling up into a tight little ball, expanding and contracting and sending excruciating, unending bolts of lightning through my body.
Can I just say 'ouch?'
I now have a very nice chiropractor, a woman, who is just as personable and proficient as Dr. Gibbons. She wasn't just interested in the physical symptoms, but asked me a lot of questions about my personal history and whether or not I'd been under any unusual stress the last few months. After my maniacal laughter died down, I gave her the list of major life changing stresses (she says I covered all major five on the list) and she then proceeded to explain why it was possible that I sprained my back while setting down a pair of shoes and why something called Cortisol was affecting my ability to drop the inch I'd gained around my waist since moving to the City of Too Many Good Restaurants.
Evidently I've been in a state of Fight or Flight (also known as the SaberTooth Tiger Around the Corner syndrome) for at least six months, possibly longer. I'm now on a uber-nutritional supplement to get my digestive system back in gear, and I'll be on another supplement to combat that nasty old cortisol. I'm getting regular massage and adjustments, plus a regimen of breathing exercises to deal with the stress of a living situation that allows me very little, if any, time alone (and I'm used to a lot of it), an unstable job, a creative slump, and all the other stresses of life. I'm hoping that it starts to work before I crack...or crack someone's skull with a handy blunt instrument. Let's just say that my temper is a wee bit off the handle these days...
According to an article on a website called About
"The so-called "stress hormone" cortisol
is released in the body during times of stress along with the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine that constitute the "fight or flight" response to a perceived threat. Following the stressful or threatening event, epinephrine and norepinephrine levels return to normal while cortisol levels can remain elevated over a longer time period. In fact, cortisol levels can remain persistently elevated in the body when a person is subjected to chronic stress." It also increases and keeps abdominal fat, btw.
In this state of constant fight or flight, a person's body doesn't heal. It's doing all it can just to survive and keep organs functioning. The body can't absorb the nutritional elements it needs to be healthy. Hair becomes dry and brittle no matter what type of products are used. The skin becomes dull, and Oil of Olay ain't helping. Little injuries, rips in the muscles, inefficient digestion, a number of small, sometimes imperceptible problems, occur. "Gee, look at that pulled leg muscle," says the body. "Sorry, leg, don't have time for you right now! I have to keep this heart pumping! You'll just have to be a little more careful until I can get back to you."
Of course, there is no 'getting back' unless the stress can be alleviated, the cortisol levels reduced, and the body can absorb the necessary nutrients to regain and keep it healthy. And people wonder why, after years of no symptoms, they suddenly develop cancer or some other life threatening illness, or their summer cold takes a sharp left turn into pneumonia. "But I was perfectly healthy!" you say. No, you were just surviving.
According to a recent study, 90 percent of America's population is constantly poised, waiting for that Saber Tooth Tiger to come around the corner. Stress is a constant factor in our lives, with a limited understanding of just how potentially deadly it can be. I have to wonder how much of this stress is a direct result of the aftermath of the tragedy of 9/11 and the current presidential administration's efforts to keep America in an unending state of fear. Bush's war on terror. I believe they want us to be scared so we'll support the war in Iraq, not pay attention to the slow yet steady erosion of personal freedom and environmental protection. And even if I'm just being paranoid about the administration's motives, the affect on the majority of Americans is the same; we're always waiting for that other shoe to drop.
And this pisses me off.
Sure, our world is in a state of chaos. There are terrorists out there, crazy people willing to kill themselves to insure a place in heaven or get laid by numerous virgins. We know that. But we sure as hell don't need our government keeping those stress embers burning and effectively reducing 90 percent of its populations health to the equivalent of walking time bombs.
My favorite quote is "A life lived in fear is a life half lived." Evidently that can be taken quite literally.
I'm not saying that we don't all create and sustain a certain amount of our personal stress. I know a lot of people who thrive on drama, who consistantly refuse to take care of themselves. They create their own problems and stubbornly refuse to change bad habits. But I know more people who genuinely desire to affect positive change in their lives, to lose weight, be positive instead of chronically negative, who do most, if not all, of the right things. And they're still living in state of chronic flight or fight. Myself included.
So I hereby now officially blame George W. for my tummy fat.