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I do believe in fairies but I don’t believe in that.

June 26, 2019

I’ve always believed in fairies and by ‘believed’ I mean I can feel the magic of the world everywhere. Every time I go out on a bush walk (which is quite often) I see little faces in the rock formations, the clouds, the trees even. I smell the signs of a world that hides its self from me;  taste the soil, rain and decaying leaf litter in my mouth as I breathe. I feel the worlds layers open and close like a pulse with every step.

I feel it is a wonderful gift to be able to see and feel the world this way, to be able to weave a narrative into the threads of spiders webs and be able to see the rays of light that filter through the branches as kisses from an all powerful star.  But my ability to see the world like that does not mean that I will believe everything or anything I’m told without first examining it scientifically.

This blog is an exploration of the world of wellness and wellbeing and how people elevate the personal testimony to godlike status.


“I cured myself therefore I can cure you”

I’ve written about this before but it has recently come to the front of my mind again and so I felt compelled to examine it again.

You are a science experiment but in your own science lab.  Your science lab doesn’t just consist of flesh, blood and bone, it’s also got shelf upon shelf of prior experiences, feelings and thoughts.  All of these exist on complex laneways that lead to shelves that only you have, organised in a way that only you can make sense of.

You may remember a time when you tried to untangle a ball of strings. Maybe they were shoelaces, bits of wool or thread, necklaces even.  How hard is it to spot which goes with which and just pull that?  How hard is it to follow one thread and one thread only all the way to the end? How often do you just want to get the scissors and chop the part you want free?

Your science lab is constantly changing. It’s changing position, content and capacity. Some days it is huge and well organised with every bit of equipment you ever dreamt of needing organised in neat, shiny rows.  However, on other days it is a tiny broom cupboard-like space where everything is piled up, twisted and somewhat broken.  In between those two extremes is a lab that is pretty much OK for you as long as you take the time and effort to clean in properly and care for your equipment. Sure you dream of a new this or that, extra something and a few more hours in the day to get on top of it all but you manage, mostly you manage.

This is the lab in which you do your experiment of one.

Everything you do in your life shapes this lab.

Your lab is not my lab. I recognise some of the things you have and follow why and how it is organised to a point but I don’t ‘feel’ it like you do.

And so it goes with your personal ‘cure’.

I can see it and feel it, if I’m lucky it will do something but it won’t ‘fit’ me like it ‘fits’ you because it can’t.


What is wellness and wellbeing?

I’m pretty sure that the wellbeing industry is all about staying well rather than treating illness.

So the medical industry is all about treating illness so we can get well again maybe?

Wellness seems an absolutely worthwhile life cause and one that we probably should take on as our personal missions — stay well, grow, have boundless energy and vitality, clear skin, shiny hair and nails and all our own teeth.  Some of us find it relatively easy to stay well as we are born with a robust genetic blueprint, are nurtured in safety and love with the right amount of resources, including time, and we manage to maintain that throughout adulthood. However, most of us aren’t quite that lucky.

As humans, all of our bodies work fundamentally in the same way whatever life has thrown at us and in that regard we undoubtedly feel we should be knowable, measurable, diagnosable and curable, at least to some degree.

But is wellbeing as knowable and illness?

Can wellbeing be achieved in a prescribed way?

Is feeling well the same as being well?

I actually doubt it.


Wellness and Illness are not opposites. 

I introduced this blog post stating that I believe in fairies.  Now I believe in fairies like I believe in wellness. I believe ( ‘believe’ being the term I feel most appropriate for such a dialogue), that wellness is easier to feel than to map and measure, but just like a belief in the supernatural, the power of this belief lies more in the abstract than the analytical. One of the big issues with some cancers is that you can’t feel them until it is too late.  So you can report feeling well and healthy (and even measure well in all the usual tests) even when you are carrying and growing a cancer. On the other hand, some people feel terrible in spite of any measurable or immediately knowable reason why.  Us humans are funny like that and I wonder if that’s something we don’t really like to admit.

So maybe the wellness industry is more about helping you feel like you are doing all you can to stay well in spite of all of the above? That at least you tried…

But tried what, that is the question.


Trying something that worked for someone like you.

Testimonial Time.

I think that most of us know, deep down, that the control we have over our lives is a bit of an illusion and that this reality makes us feel somewhat vulnerable.  I see this vulnerability played out in the wellness industry of which the beauty industry is a part, well, at least some part of it is.

I wonder if personal testimonies are given so much power because they help us feed some important parts of ourselves:

1) the part that wants to help give others comfort

and

2) The part that makes us feel empowered and in control.

Undertaking some positive action to address these two instincts helps us feel less vulnerable.

The personal testimonial feels like the ultimate gift to give another. We open ourselves up (become vulnerable) by sharing our troubles and struggles with others. In that way we become accessible, approachable and trustable.  Sharing how we overcame a problem, especially one that our audience either has or fears getting, is arguably much more powerful, relatable and wholesome than hearing how a medicine can ‘cure’ a specific disease.  With the latter, it is the pill or maybe procedure or practitioner that has the power, with the former the power is in your hands.  That is both highly desirable and commercially valuable.

As a human I get this in the same way that I ‘get’ how people, myself included, believe in things like fairies. However,  the scientific part of me finds it disconcerting that these personal testimonials get confused with and placed above things like real scientific evidence. I find this hard because I actually believe that the two things can exist together, not as equivalents but as complementary parts of the whole human experience.


Reconciliation.

Throughout this mind-dump of a blog post I’ve been playing with what I see are two sides of my human character, the science side and the in-awe side.  The science side of me can’t really understand how people can ever believe that their experiment-of-one produces transferable knowledge in the type that can be used to treat others. I can’t understand how people don’t recognise their own biases and how these often lead to them jumping to conclusions.  Testimonial experiential experiments are often uncontrolled and have no capacity to ‘blind’ the test subject in the way we do with scientific studies in order to minimise bias. Often still, results are extrapolated out far beyond the scope of the experiment are are Un-repeatable so you basically get one shot and that’s it. Scientific research more typically involves repeating an experiment several times while making small, measurable changes to the conditions.

On the other hand I feel that we’ve often got it wrong with science.  My scientific training has been done in a westernised way.  As such, I’ve been taught to break complex systems down into parts that can be measured, known and then sold independently from the whole.  This is how pharmaceuticals work and how most western doctors go about diagnosing and treating humans.  I absolutely can see the flaws in that way of thinking, how it may win a battle but fail to win the bigger war.  I see how this approach makes it very difficult to give nuanced, holistic care and consideration, and how the things that us humans really need can be left wanting in this model.

But it doesn’t have to be an either /or scenario.


It turns out that what I don’t believe in is pitching ‘this’ against ‘that’.

I believe and am therefore invested in the gentle and quiet art of observation which includes paying attention to your testimonial but not raising it to godlike status.  I believe in the value of taking something apart in order to learn more about the value of each cog, wheel and system. However, I also believe that it has less power in its orphaned state and therefore always has to be returned and viewed as part of the whole.

A scientific approach doesn’t have to mean that anything intangible or personal flies out of the window just as a wellness approach doesn’t have to deny or ignore science.  They are two hands clasping the same heart and they both empower us to survive, live and die well.

So I will continue to be that scientist that believes in fairies as that’s what gives my life meaning.

Amanda x

 

 

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