Emotional Healing In A Time of Crisis

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

We are living in unprecedented times in our world. We have just lived through a global pandemic of COVID-19 and the world we knew no longer exists. Anger and frustration are coming out in so many ways all over the world as people struggle with the new reality and many struggle to survive. 

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

To me, it isn’t the physical challenges that the virus presents that worry me, it is the emotional state of our global population. In the US we see riots, campaigns to defund the police, racial tensions, destruction of property and businesses and unprecedented violence. No matter how many of us may want to politicize what is happening, I think it points to something much deeper that has been brewing for much longer than many people realize. People are angry. They are frustrated. Life is getting harder. People work more for less money. There is so much uncertainty about the future. Many have lost their businesses. Their jobs. Their abilities to support their families. People are exhausted and scared. And they see more and more corruption at every level of business and government - which only feeds the anger and frustration that a few profit at the expense of so many. 

 


Photo by Tito Texidor III on Unsplash

I can’t offer a solution to the problems we face as a global community, but I think that we need to be honest about what is happening and be able to express those feelings. We have a right to be angry, frustrated and afraid. And we need to give those feelings a place to go. There is so much “political correctness” that people these days feel that they can’t say anything for fear it will offend somebody. We need to be able to have honest discussions about what is REAL and TRUE. And yes, it might offend somebody. In the present climate, the truth seems to have become a dirty word. The truth might hurt someone’s feelings. The truth might not be what someone wants to hear. And this is part of the problem. Because the truth is what is going to save us. 

For most of my life and career, I have been very conscious of focussing on the good. The positive. Practising kindness. Being loving. Having compassion. But I don’t insulate my life and not let anything negative come in. That would be delusional. When you are healing, people come and they need those things. They are hurting so they need love, kindness, compassion and your positivity and light. Those are the things that start the healing process, and support it until the end. But now I see that we seem to be having a reality problem. Some people are unable or unwilling to accept what is happening in the world. I understand this, as often, the reality is dark. It’s hard. There are things that are difficult to accept. And they hurt. 

There have been a lot of difficult truths coming to the surface lately. And if you don’t know what I am talking about, then you aren’t paying attention. This has been causing a lot of pain and a lot of grief. The new reality, for many, is difficult to accept. 

Another theme I see that is contributing to a lot of pain is that there seems to be a conscious effort to divide us. Break us apart and make us fight with each other. This breeds fear, fear of the “other” and only compounds the feelings of grief, depression, anxiety and isolation that have exploded since this all began. They want you to feel that you are alone. But the truth is, that you are not alone. There are more than 7 billion of us on the planet. We are a global community, and we have the intelligence and creativity to solve any problem we may face. But we can’t solve problems when we are angry, sad and afraid. You cannot focus your energy on solving problems when you are fighting an enemy.

I have been thinking about how we might go about trying to heal from so many of the powerful emotions we are dealing with right now. Both ones that have been building up for years, and the ones that are a result of this new situation that we find ourselves in. Chinese Medicine is really unique in how it looks at our emotions and how important they are to our health and wellbeing. As many of you know, each of the emotions is associated with an organ or an organ pair and when that emotion is healthy and in balance, it is strengthening to the body and that organ in particular. But when that emotion is out of balance, in excess or unexpressed, it is depleting to the body and its respective organs, causing problems in all aspects of your life and health. Generally in our culture, we are not taught that emotions can make us sick, but I think that most of us instinctively know that this is true. How does your stomach feel when you worry? Or how about those headaches when you are angry and stressed? How does your heart feel when you are grieving?

The good news is that because the emotions are built into the system of Chinese Medicine, it also offers solutions and practices we can use to keep emotionally healthy. Each of the seasons, for example, offer us an opportunity to really work to clear old emotions we’ve been holding on to and balance and strengthen the system. I have been thinking that this wisdom is so needed right now. 

The emotions - things that hurt us, cause us grief or stir up anger can be an opportunity to learn something about ourselves. Why are we having these reactions to things that are happening? Why does one person respond to a situation in anger when another might feel grief?

Treating Emotions in the Real World

Helping us to manage the tsunami of emotions we are all feeling right now is the understanding that we must first become aware of the emotions, and then work to change not WHAT we are feeling but how we REACT to those feelings. Read that again. It's so simple, but it will likely change the way you think about how you may be feeling.

In my work with patients, we often start with simple awareness. Let's use an example.

If you are struggling with a particular emotion, let's say grief. Usually (but not always), the person is aware of the grief. The cause is the death of someone close to them, their loss is causing the grief. The lungs in Chinese Medicine are associated with grief, so there might be lung symptoms as well- shortness of breath, asthma, dizziness (not enough oxygen), coughing, etc. Their grief can literally be causing the lung symptoms because intense or excessive grief weakens the lungs' Qi. The person is describing how they are feeling, saying they feel consumed by their grief, out of breath, have no energy and are anxious and stressed because the grief is making it difficult to function because they still need to go to work and look after their young children. And this is it. The grief is a completely natural result of someone important in your life passing away. But the reaction is an increasing feeling of anxiety and panic because there is no space for the grief in their life because they have to keep going to work and looking after children.

So, we look at those feelings first - the anxiety and panic - and we figure out a way to help to manage them. Are you able to take some time off? Could the children go to stay with a grandparent for a few days? Can you take some time to allow yourself the space to grieve? Do you have someone you can talk to about everything you are feeling? All of these things will help release some of the pressure that can make these emotions so overwhelming. Just the acknowledgement begins the healing process. We start with the reaction - the anxiety because of the pressure to keep going normally while you are suffering - and work backwards to the grief itself.

When we get to the grief, there are a few ways that we can help reduce its intensity. We work to strengthen the lungs and build up their Qi, which very often helps lessen the grief's potency. We create a space for the grief to be felt, fully allowing those feelings to be expressed. In Chinese Medicine, the way emotions can be causes of disease is if they are repressed or unexpressed, leading to a stagnation in the body and eventual toxicity. Anyone who has a secret or something in their past they have been holding on to for years can tell you. It has an effect. Holding on to emotions isn't good for you, so finding the proper avenue for their expression is an important part of the healing process.

We are living in challenging times that are unprecedented in our history. Our struggles are multi-faceted right now. People are struggling to find their way in the new reality we face as a global community. The good news is that human beings have incredible intelligence, adaptability and resiliency. If we are able to stay positive, stick together and express what we are all feeling honestly, we can come out the other side of these difficult times stronger and with a new appreciation for everything good that still exists in this world.

If you need help working through what you are feeling right now or healing in general, I am here for you. My information is below.


Featured image photo by Mitchell Griest on Unsplash - Thank you!



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My Struggles Have Made Me A Better, More Empathetic Doctor

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Some of the most useful things that I have been able to bring to my patients are things that I have learned through my own experiences with trauma, pain, emotional issues, illnesses - and how I was able to get through them. These experiences also allow me tremendous empathy for the people I see, both in clinic and in everyday life. My thinking is that the more I go through and GET through, the better I can serve my patients and ultimately, my fellow human being. No matter our financial status, where we are born, our religion, colour or beliefs, we will all experience difficulties, pain, fear, sorrow, and illness at some time in our lives. And it helps to know that you are not alone and that you will ultimately get through it, and be stronger for the experience.

An Unusual Life (Let me get philosophical for a moment)

I have had, well, an unusual life. This has been mostly of my own making, and even though there have been a lot of ups and downs (oh *so* many), I wouldn't change any of it. I have never believed in regret. I believe that every experience that we have in this life contributes to making us who we are - that we are an accumulation of those experiences. I also think that it is important that we are at peace with the person we have become, no matter what may be happening in our lives. This certainly is not always easy. Remembering to be kind with ourselves as we are a young species, and here to learn a great deal which includes things which we judge to be unpleasant like pain, grief, loss, fear, anger, and frustration are all important pieces of the whole. Like Chinese medicine, I believe in a holistic system, with every part synergistically connecting to every other. I can draw so many parallels back to Chinese medicine, which is why I connected to it so strongly and why I fell so deeply and passionately in love with it. It is an allegory for life, and perhaps, all things in the universe and beyond.

Ever since I can remember I have been hungry for so many of the experiences that life has to offer. I didn't have a choice in the matter, it was like there was a force driving me, and I could either allow it to push me in the direction of experience or be crushed and ultimately destroyed by it. I wanted to do everything, try everything. I was driven by a curiosity about the world and my existence that has lead me to live a very, uh, interesting life. I was fascinated with travel and wanted to see as many places and cultures as I could. I loved the way that each place had a unique smell, a look, a feel and each would arouse such emotion. I also loved the newness of a different country, a new city or tiny village. I thrived being immersed in a completely alien culture and absorbing as much of it as I could, being exposed to its magic, its customs, rituals, food, and music. There is such beauty, creativity, and wonder that permeates the cultures of the world, and that is what I was after. I loved seeing what each had to offer, and learning how its people communicated, loved, celebrated and mourned. I absolutely think that travel is the best education. I learned more in my travels than I ever could in a classroom or books.

I have also been living my life in, I suppose, a unique way. I knew from very early on that I would never live the life that most people end up living. Buying a one-way ticket to another country and not knowing where you were going to stay, not having a job and not knowing how long you would be there? This is insane! they would say. Going to China alone to work in a tiny city so small (6 million people) it wasn't even on the map, and just hoping it would be ok? Foolish! Moving to Central America with a tiny baby to make a better life with hopes to buy land, live off the grid and create a sustainable community and healing retreat without the resources (yet) with which to do it? Madness. And yet, I have done all of these things with varying degrees of success. With these experiences came a lot of worry, grief, loneliness, frustration, and despair, I am not going to lie to you. And yet, even though they involved a lot of pain and emotions which are hard to deal with, I am glad I did those things because I learned a lot about myself, and how to process all the crazy things that life can throw at you. And even when things are difficult and painful, you do come out the other side, and the feelings then, are often intensely joyful because you have passed through such darkness to get to them. And yet, these experiences are not for the faint of heart. And many would say choices made by someone who may be a few crayons short of a full box.

I was once sitting in a session with a therapist before my imminent departure to a foreign country and he said to me "you know, this thing you are doing, would scare the hell out of most people. Aren't you afraid?" And, this was the first moment that I really thought about fear in connection with the situation. After a minute I said, "no, I am not scared of this at all." And then he asked me the inevitable question. "Well then, what are you scared of?" And the answer came to me quickly. I said "I am scared of being married to someone I don't love, working a job I hate and feeling trapped in a life I don't want. I fear getting to the end of my life and feeling like I never really lived."

Pain & Growth

In my experience, it has been the darkest moments, the most difficult times and when I was deeply suffering that I learned the most. It took me a long time to admit because I didn't want it to be true. I wanted to be able to learn from happiness, joy, freedom, and love, and I have. But not like I evolve when I am facing darkness. But maybe it is just me...

Take Vipassana meditation for instance. This, by definition, is taking a stroll through the winding path of your consciousness, that inevitably leads to some of the darker places in your subconscious. Vipassana is defined as "seeing things as they really are", which, at least in my experiences, have meant the whole she-bang. The light bits and the darker ones as well. And it is the darker ones that we tend to hide from, the ones that hurt us, leave scars and can hinder us in the present until we are able to heal them (acknowledging them first which is usually not easy and can bring up a lot of difficult feelings) and finally let them go.

**if you would like to learn more about Vipassana Meditation you can read about my two Vipassana retreats here - My Ten Day Vipassana Meditation and Vipassana 2.0.

I have seen this for many years with patients. As a practitioner, I like to get deep into things. I want to understand why you are having those headaches, the insomnia, and the panic attacks, so I ask a lot of questions in an attempt to get to the root of things. And I have found that so much of what makes people sick are things that have hurt them in their past that they are dragging with them into their present. That may sound strange, but in my experience, it is absolutely true. As a culture, we are all striving for health, but most of the time that is limited to the physical realm. And yet, as well as physical bodies, we all have emotions, but few of us are taught or have the skills to deal with them in a healthy way. I think that because I was such a sensitive child, and constantly overwhelmed by not only my emotions, but by the emotions of others, that I have been working my whole life to find a balance and a way to deal with them effectively so that they do not become demons that haunt me in my present.

Chinese medicine is well aware of this phenomena and the emotions are considered to be one of the causes of disease. Now, to clarify, HAVING emotions is not a cause of disease, but emotions that are suppressed, unexpressed or expressed in an inappropriate manner are seen to contribute to disease. So basically, emotional health is just as important as physical health, and so it should be. Patients are often surprised at how much attention I give to their emotional state as we talk in each session. And I tell them that it is a hugely important factor and that I need to be aware of how they are feeling so that I can better help them to rebalance and gain the equilibrium that will bring them back to health - body, mind, and spirit.

A Better Healer

I hope that because of all the experiences that I have had, and all the pain that I have been through, that those experiences have made me a better version of myself. A wiser, more compassionate self. And I also think that my struggles with pain, grief, anger, loss and my journeys into the darkness have given me the ability to recognize those struggles in others. I know that darkness, I have spent a lot of time there. I know that place and I can empathize with you if you are there too.

It is rarely the thing that people say they are coming in to see me for that is the thing that needs the most attention. And, because I have been there, in that dark place where you feel like you are hurting and all alone, that I can see that person, take their hand, and hopefully, lead them back into the light. Which is, after all, where we all want to be.

This beautiful quote by Ram Dass is one that has always really hit home for me, in my life and in my work. <3


Faith is Powerful Medicine

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

A subject that I have been thinking about a lot lately is the subject of faith. Specifically the role of faith in healing.

I have, of late, had some experiences that have shown me how important faith is in healing from disease as well as emotional traumas (and the two often go together). It is always humbling to think about how much is involved in healing. It is not just going through medical school, knowing your points, learning the protocols and memorizing herbs, nor is it learning medications, biology, physiology or any of those huge subjects. It is so much more than that. I had no idea when I was in school where a career as an acupuncturist and healer would take me. I feel like school was just a taste, a taste and a viewing of the entire banquet of possibilities, so you could see how much you had to learn. Once you get out of school is when the real learning begins.

Faith is Powerful Medicine : Chinese Medicine Living image from faithunitedmethodist.com

Once you get out into the world and start treating patients you realize that what you have learned in school is only a tiny, infinitesimal fraction of what is involved in the healing process. And that it isn't at all about you. You are a helper, a facilitator of the healing, and that healing is innate in every living thing. You are just supporting it, helping it along. Your healing isn't about me, it is very much about you.

The body is of course, an important aspect. It is the vehicle. It is the physicalness of your being. We must take care of the body, like a temple we should worship every day. But, there is so much more to us than simply a body. We are a soul, a spirit, a mass of emotions, thoughts, and beautiful light. And they are all intwined together, inseparable and interconnected to make up the awesomeness of the one that is us. As all these parts, working together are important in health, they are also just as important in disease. The Newtonian model of physics that led to Western or allopathic medicine sees the body in a mechanistic way, as a machine, and that medicine has been developed with this thinking. The body is reduced to parts, doctors specialize not taking into account the whole, the fact that the pieces are working together and cannot be separated for health to be achieved. In my opinion, Western medicine has made many advancements which have saved the lives of many people, but it is its inability to consider the whole that is its weakness.

Do you notice how you feel when you are depressed or sad? How your body feels? How do you react when you get a phone call with bad news? That someone you love has been hurt, or someone you are close to dies? Could you say that your emotions do not have an effect on the body? That how you feel doesn't have an effect? It is the same with our thoughts because they are so powerful. People live for years with cancer, but it isn't until they go to a doctor and get a cancer diagnosis that they get sick and die.

Faith is Powerful Medicine : Chinese Medicine Livingimage from www.mariashriver.com

Have Faith, it Could Save Your Life

So where does faith come into all this?

It has been proven that when diagnosed with a terminal disease, the people who tend to heal faster and ultimately survive, are the ones who THINK they will. The ones who have faith that they can and will get better. Faith is powerful. This concept has been played out over and over again with patients who have been diagnosed with a life threatening illness. Faith, or the belief that you will heal and survive, seems to be as, or more important than any "medicine" you could take to save you.

Think about this. People can live for years with cancer, but it isn't until it is diagnosed by a doctor that they get sick and die. A statement from a Deepak Chopra book I read as part of my final year thesis when I was studying Chinese medicine. My thesis was about the role of the "mind" in healing. Chopra's argument was that it was having someone tell you the words - that you had a disease that immediately gave it the power to kill you, but when looking at the survival rates, the people who seemed to survive were invariably the ones who thought it was a possibility. That didn't see the diagnosis as a death sentence. Thoughts are powerful.

Faith is not easy. When you are struggling with a life threatening disease, something shifts in your mind. Suddenly you become very focussed and your perspective changes. I believe it is a part of the society that we live in that gives so much power to the words of doctors and not enough power to the healing capabilities of our bodies. I believe that if the body has what it needs it can heal itself. Every time.

Physiologically, it has been proven over and over that worry, doubt and stress put a huge burden on the immune system and weaken the body making it more difficult to heal from disease. Having faith and being positive have been proven to strengthen the immune system and these attitudes lead to better outcomes in instances of illness. It makes sense, doesn't it? Think about how your body feels when you get some really bad news. You can feel it in your body. Maybe you get nauseous, or get a headache or feel faint. Now think about how you feel when you get good news. When you pass an exam, or when you fall in love. Your body feels wonderful and alive, like every cell is vibrating at a higher frequency than it was the moment before.

So, in my experience faith is just as (and often even more) important to the healing process than medicine, or any other physical thing you could be doing to the body. This is why I love Chinese medicine so much. It isn't just about the body, the body is only a part. You are treating the mind, body and the spirit in tandem, because they are all part of you. And all equally important. So have faith, it will keep you healthy and it could very well save your life. :)

Faith is Powerful Medicine : Chinese Medicine Living

Faith is Powerful Medicine


How My Curse Became My Gift.

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

I was a sensitive child. I felt things deeply. But when you are little you don’t understand this about yourself.

I always found it hard to be in a room with a lot of people. I could FEEL what everyone in the room was feeling. It was overwhelming. Because of this, I spent a lot of time by myself. This wasn’t the only reason. I grew up an only child, and we moved a lot. I was good at being by myself. I could spend hours playing by myself, I lived in my imagination. The external world was intense and overwhelming for me, sounds always seemed too loud, smells too strong. When it came time for me to go to school, the experience was terrifying. I was painfully shy and had a hard time in crowded classrooms full of excited children. I begged my parents to let me stay home, but alas, I could not. I had to go to school. These reactions prompted some concern for my parents. I think this is why my father took it upon himself to try to “toughen me up”, which for most children would have been fine, enjoyable bonding perhaps, but for me bordered on brutality. They were worried about me and how I was going to survive in the cruel, harsh world.

Daydreaming

It was at this point that I started to realize that perhaps something was wrong with me, or that I was different in some negative way. I started to notice my parents reaction to my sensitivity to things even though I didn’t know it as sensitivity then. Whenever animals got hurt, I would cry. I still can’t watch humane society commercials. I worried about the environment. I worried about my parents dying and where they were going when they did. I worried a LOT.

But, there were many things that were my solace from the worries of the world. I felt deeply connected to animals, especially my pets. I could feel what they were feeling and always knew what they needed. I loved being outside in nature and the gentle hum that came from the plants and environment was comforting to me. I spent hours outside playing, building, walking. I was a daydreamer. I still am. I thought up entire worlds, people and complex scenarios where I would spend time in my imagination. This is what made me happy as a child, I had a rich inner life, but the real world and all its darkness, violence and death worried me deeply.

The importance of imagination

I think that my parents really worried about how I was going to make it. Of course they loved me and thought I was wonderful, but I suspect they wondered how I would deal with the harsh realities of life. I had heard them tell people what a “sensitive” child they had, and this was always accompanied by an expression of concern and received with a knowing look of sympathy. Being a sensitive kid was tough. My best friend's mother died suddenly in her sleep one night when we were 11 and I cried for a week because I was so sad for her and terrified my parents were next. When my pets died I was beside myself and couldn’t function. When I saw injustice or cruelty, I became angry and depressed that people couldn’t be more kind to each other. I worried about the state of the planet and the people on it. I still do.

Making it through high school was a miracle. As a shy, awkward teenager, high school is a special kind of hell. Thankfully, I went to an arts high school and found a lovely group of people just like me, and we all got through it together.

Much later when I had a little more life experience and some more tools at my disposal I figured out a way to explain the way I was and why I was so easily overwhelmed by certain situations and felt everything so deeply. I realized that the bandwidth in which I take in stimulus is waaaaaaaay bigger than it is for a normal person - so, for most people parties with lots of people are fun and a place to relax and enjoy themselves, but for me they are overwhelming, over stimulating  and exhausting. For some people seeing an animal being hurt is sad but manageable, but for me it is devastating and will haunt me for ages.

Years later when I was in school learning Chinese medicine something amazing happened. In those years, you are learning to heal by first healing yourself, and it is an intense process that can take you to unexpected places. In second year we began our clinical hours in student clinic treating patients.  I began to realize that I was easily able to tell why someone wasn’t feeling well and what they needed. I could organize my questions around what I felt from them instead of following a protocol or instructions. Instead of feeling three levels of the pulse, I could feel eleven. I could tell within a few minutes when someone in clinic was sad, or depressed or afraid and that this was the reason they weren’t well, often without ever speaking to them. I knew when holding a patient’s hand would do more than sticking them with needles. I knew when listening was far more important to someone's recovery than herbs or dietary therapy. I knew the problem and the reasons for it, even if the person's words were telling us something completely different. It was incredible, I knew what people needed without even trying.

It was while I was in school that I changed the way I felt about myself. Instead of being someone who had a weakness that needed to be overcome, I became someone with a gift. I just hadn’t ever known how to use it before. This thing I had, it turned out, made me very capable of helping people feel better. Figuring out why they weren’t feeling well and what to do about it. This sensitivity allowed me to feel on many deep levels and ascertain the root of the problem and how to correct it.

Now, after being in practice for many years, I have been able to hone my sensitivity which allows me to get to the root of a patient’s problem quickly and efficiently. I use what I “feel” from them as much as listening to the words they are telling me to diagnose and treat them. Because of this, I am able to resolve their problems because I know what caused them and how to best approach their treatment. What I love about Chinese medicine is that it is about the person you are treating, not the disease. The way they feel is just as important as what is happening inside their bodies, and being sensitive is the best tool I have to be able to help people rebalance and get well.

I am so grateful that I was able to find a profession that allowed me to realize that this thing that had always made life more difficult, actually made me a better healer. Accepting that being sensitive was not in fact a curse, but something incredibly valuable was very healing on many levels. The whole experience made me realize something else… that there are no such thing as curses, there are only gifts.

The gift of sensitivity

I urge you to find yours, and go out and use it to change the world.

words of wisdom

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How my curse became my gift | Chinese Medicine Living